Monday Links 30

Via Robin Sloan comes Fabien Sanglards deep dive into the engineering behind the Street Fighter II arcade machine and the graph paper and scissors process the team undertook to ensure all their sprites fit inside the tight memory budget.

If the CPS-1 capabilities were a blessing for artists, it was a problem for project managers. In an era where ROM chips were very expensive, a game was allocated a ROM budget at its beginning which it could not exceed.

Before the CPS-1, remaining within the budget was a simple matter of a division. The number of #sprites allowed to the art team was ROM size / rectangular sprite size. But the free form factor introduced a tracking problem.

In order to make the best use of the capacity we had, we wrote the ROM’s capacity on a board, and cut and paste the pixel characters on the board.*

If there was space left on the board, then there was open capacity in the ROM. So, from there we started filling in the spaces, like a puzzle.

I very much enjoyed this short episde of the Bike Shed podcast where Daniel Nolan talked about why he likes working and fixing up existing software:

I don’t want to just know what a quick fix is or something like that. I want to actually get in. I want to read this, you know, like, an example, like, a gem that won’t upgrade, like, I want to go dive into that source code. I want to see what the source code is doing. I want to figure out the why, you know. I don’t want to just Google for, like, hey, I can’t upgrade this gem. What do you think I should do? So I’ve always been super curious. That’s how I’ve been able to sustain in software development and not really get burn out. It’s what makes me tick.

Doom meets House of Leaves in MyHouse.wad

Do you have a couple of hours spare to watch someone else play Doom II? This video is worth it.

A few weeks ago an innocuous post on the Doomworld forums announced the release of MyHouse.wad. Players expecting to find a basic 90s-style level of a suburban home instead found a conversion of the game that pushes the engine to its limits and creates an experience much more like the novel House of Leaves than your typical run and gun Doom experience.

There’s something to be admired about the time, effort, and skill that goes into creating works of art like this with old-school tools.

(via myhoye on Metafilter)

Monday Links 29

Chelsea Troy: How do we get a tech team to make a big technical change?

…when individual contributors understand how a system currently works, changes make some part of that understanding obsolete. And the obsolescence of that understanding means an initial investment in rebuilding the understanding to restore one’s ability to maintain the system. To restore one’s power on the team.

I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole recently and found the profile of Sophie Wilson, who somebody should make a movie about. This section on the development of the Acorn Proton is a great story of smart, competent people getting stuff done:

Hauser employed a deception, telling both Wilson and colleague Steve Furber that the other had agreed a prototype could be built within a week. Taking up the challenge, she designed the system including the circuit board and components from Monday to Wednesday, which required fast new DRAM integrated circuits to be sourced directly from Hitachi. By Thursday evening, a prototype had been built, but the software had bugs, requiring her to stay up all night and into Friday debugging. Wilson recalled watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on a small portable television while attempting to debug and re-solder the prototype. It was a success with the BBC, who awarded Acorn the contract. Along with Furber, Wilson was present backstage at the machine’s first airing on television, in case any software fixes were required. She later described the event as “a unique moment in time when the public wanted to know how this stuff works and could be shown and taught how to programme.”

Cal Newport on Overload and Jerry Seinfeld on Doing Nothing

My work break is going gangbusters. I’m firmly embedded in the pro-leisure circuit, the aim of which is to be like Jerry Seinfeld and do nothing. Seinfeld is right though, doing nothing isn’t as easy as it looks. I’ve filled my time with plenty of stuff: family activities, running and gym, gardening, meeting folks, and even doing stuff with computers. There hasn’t actually been a lot of actual nothing. Seinfeld puts it like this:

The idea of doing anything which could easily lead to doing something that would cut into your nothing and that would force me to have to drop everything.

I’ve been repeating that quote to a few folks recently and I was reminded of it again while listening to the latest Deep Questions podcast from Cal Newport.

In the deep dive section Cal talks about workplace overload and the causes of it. He cites the overheads of modern work - handoffs, coordination, context switching, etc as the major cause of overload and burnout. It’s not the writing of the strategy document, it’s the meetings and emails and IMs to discuss it that wear you down. Like Seinfeld with doing nothing, people find it hard to do their actual jobs because the idea of taking about doing the work could easily lead to having a meeting to discuss doing the work that would cut into actually doing the work and that would force you to just do more stuff.

Yeah, ok, I need to workshop that.

As you might imagine, I don’t miss coordination convos, nor do I miss planning meetings for the upcoming quarterly planning and I especially do not miss those Slack messages that just start with “Hello…”

Here’s the Seinfeld bit:

And here’s Cal Newport on overload: