Gonzo blogging from the Annie Leibovitz of the software development world.

Month: May 2004 (Page 1 of 2)

SimExplorer back on schedule

Hi guys,

Okay so things have been quiet for awhile. I’ve been working on fixing up the framework and I have to tell you my brain is much better for it.

For the last couple of years, I’ve had a real problem with some of my Sims code. It’s all tied into various other code and it makes for a very ugly mess. In the programming world there are things you can do like putting modules into separte DLL files to separate things and make your system cleaner (makes for updating the system easier too). This was the plan all along with most of the tools here. Having a common DLL that’s shared amongst all the tools and when I updated it, all the programs would update. That hasn’t become a reality as there were too many inter-dependancies that made it a nightmare to try to even build the projects, let alone update them.

This is now fixed and I’m releasing a new SimExplorer to test it out. All of the viewable types in the Sims formats (IFF, WLL, FAM, etc.) are now broken out into separate DLLs with a single DLL providing all the core Sims functionality. Okay, so from a user perspective this is nonsense and you guys are probably just screaming for the software. From an update perspective, it’s awesome. When a new expansion pack comes along or a bug needs to be fix I can just release a small DLL file that you drop onto your hard drive and voila, everything is immediatly updated to work with it. Neat huh?

Anyways, here’s the call for testers again. Nothing formal this time. Just email me and I’ll send you a copy to test. There’s a built-in bug reporting tool in the program so if you experience something just click on it to send off the bug and I’ll try to reproduce it (the reporting tool does a snapshot of your system so you don’t have to tell me what hardware you’re running or anything about your computer in the error message).


Personal Portals

I’ve been thinking about Personal Portals recently. There’s no definitive definition out there, but here’s a shot:

personal portal

noun A Web page that offers content and services customized for an individual.

Example Citation:

“Some function as ‘personal portals,’ collection spots for all sorts of information that matters to the computer user, such as local weather reports, a favorite sports team’s schedule, local museum openings and CD releases.”

—Siona LaFrance, “Online Calendar Services Vie for New Users,” The Times-Picayine, May 13, 1999

This is not to be confused with a full site like here, but something more, well… personal. At work for example, I have hundreds of bookmarks (maybe thousands) that I have in my browser. Bookmarks in a browser (Favorites) are not the most organized and you end up create folders and sub-folders trying to make them appear organized. Instead, what about using a web page to organize this information (and in some cases, several pages)?

Too many people do not take advantage of the fact that your browser does not have to immediately go on to the web and slow up the system to load the Netscape, AOL or Microsoft home pages which are designed to promote their companies and services. This takes time and gets old fast. Your best bet is to load a page from your local hard disk. This is such a page which loads instantly and links to commonly used sites. You don’t need a web server to do this as you can load static pages into your browser directly.

I find this to be a more organized way to find stuff and is suited to me. Sure, having a system give you the ability to capture your own preferences is great (like a SharePoint Portal Server My Site) but it means you hammer the server everytime you launch your browser? Does that make sense when you don’t have to? At work we have the browsers configured to go to our intranet home page and you can’t change it (a GPO is pushed down setting it back to the corporate website). However if I have to visit a internet site, I’m always loading up a page from our servers for no reason? Okay, again this is the place to push information out to employees that’s deemed important but why not let the user go there if they want? More often than not, just sending me to the corporate page is going to desentize me to the content anyways if I’m always ignoring it because it’s just a tunnel to what I really want.

There are other advantages/disadvantages to this idea. Ctrl+D is a great way to quickly bookmark a site and if I told a user they had to edit a local file to add a new link rather than press a button they’d keel-haul me (look it up, it’s very painful). Overall though, give a user a local template (or choice of templates to start from) and simple instructions to add their own content and you might win some over. You can even have contests or something where you work as to best personal portal page or whatever.

Of course I could never sell this idea where I work but your mileage may vary.


The first thing to do is create a portal page. This can be done by capturing and saving a page from the web or creating your own (if there’s interest, I’ll put together some simple boilerplate pages to use). You can capture a web page from the web by using the “Save As…” function (click on File on the browser menu bar, then drop down to Save As..) and save the file as home.htm in your “My Documents” folder.

Once you’ve properly saved the file then do the following:

In Microsoft Explorer click on View then Internet Options. This opens your options folder and right at the top (under the “General” tab) it asks you for your home page address. Click on the Browse button and locate the “home.htm” file you just saved and then click on OK. You can test the page by clicking on the HOME icon on the browser toolbar. It should load this new page instantly. You can now use the HOME icon for quick access to the many links on the Universal Home Page.

To customize the page just load up that “home.htm” file into a program that can edit it for you like an HTML editor. You can also edit “home.htm” with Microsoft Word! Then save it back to your My Documents directory to use the new links. Be creative and have fun!

Nothing like a good ripping

So I tried out the new BodyShop. Interesting tool, but not sure of the purpose. I mean, you can create new Sims for The Sims 2 and build some parts for it but without the game I’m struggling to see the value here? Guess they’re taking the same approach they did with V1 where people built all kinds of floors and wallpapers prior to the game and they figure everyone will be building all kinds of Sims.

Anyways, feels like it did when I started writing tools for The Sims. Lots of new file formats to poke into and see what was there. One thing that is apparently missing from the tool is the ability to export a preview image of your Sim. So the tool isn’t very useful for webmasters that want to get nice unique characters up on their sites or for people to generate previews for downloading Sims characters. Have to look into what that’s all about and see if anything can be done.

Overall I think people are finding the tool pretty positive, although there seems to be a few reports of having problems running it. I think this is just the tip of the iceburg. Knowing the Sims community like I do, most people are running the bare minimum to run the game because they’re not die-hard Quake III players with the latest $500 video card. So while there will be a few people with problems running this tool, they’ll be more when the game comes out. We’ll see…

Back on The Sims bandwagon

Looks like things are heating up with The Sims 2 now so I figure I’ll just post the info as it comes in.

The Sims 2 Website now offers downloads of the Sims 2 Body Shop as well as a starter pack of content that is required for its operation. There is accompanying HELP, a FAQ, as well as downloads of user manuals in various languages on how to get going creating your own little people for the upcoming get a life sequel.

Be prepared, the download for the tool is 100 MB and the starter pack (which is required) is another 100 MB. So that’s a good night for just downloading for anyone on dial-up or slow(er) connections. Even on Cable or ADSL, you’re still looking at 15-30 minutes of download time.

Let the games begin (again).

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