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The ArmourSoft Inc. Newsletter

Die Haus Orgel

October 1995/Issue #8
Published, oh, about quarterly, give or take
All contents copyright 1995 ArmourSoft Inc. Send submissions, subscriptions, complaints, questions, and recipes for good karma to: ArmourSoft Inc., [obsolete mailing address deleted]
Inside this issue:
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Whither thy operating system?

ArmourSoft and the future of game programming

Software companies, large and small, are constantly plagued by two critical questions: "What kind of hardware/software platform are our current and potential customers using?" and "What kind of hardware/software platform will our current and potential customers be using in the next couple of years?" Small (i.e. only one programmer) companies like ArmourSoft are particularly vulnerable to the effects of this issue because we don't have the resources necessary to produce versions for every conceivable platform. We have to be very careful how we allocate the limited resources available to us.

Fortunately, we have a few tools to help us to divine the answers to those two perplexing questions, particularly the registration cards for Shipbase III. We get a pretty good idea of what computer stuff our current customers are using by what they put down in the "hardware" box on the SB3 reg cards. Combining this information with what we pick up from meeting people at game conventions and what we glom from the Internet, we can get a fair idea of the situation throughout the wargaming hobby.

This is the sort of thing you'll see illustrating the pages of The Book of Tanks.

Just after we released SB3 in July 1993 the reg cards started coming back indicating that a lot of gamers were running old PC's, mostly 286 and slow 386 class machines but with a fair number of older PC/XT/8088/8086 machines still in service. Since then, the reg cards have been indicating that a lot of gamers have been upgrading recently, due probably to falling hardware prices. For the past year or so, most of the reg cards have said that the gamers are using 486 and Pentium machines.

Continued - see Adultery on Page 2

ArmourSoft follows adultery

in the dictionary

Continued from Page 1

Granted, the reg cards only give us a statistical sampling of people who own a PC (or are thinking about buying a PC; at least two people have told me that they bought SB3 first and then went out and bought a computer to run it on!) and are interested in computer-assisted naval miniatures wargaming enough to spend $40 on it and felt like taking the time to return the reg card. This obviously doesn't include anyone who isn't interested in naval wargaming in the 1890-1945 period and those who don't like the idea of computer-assist wargaming for whatever reason. So, for the bigger picture, we need to look towards other sources of information.

(At this point we're primarily interested in knowing about potential Tankbase, Shipbase IV, Generic Legions, and Red Chicken Rising (aka SpaceShipbase) customers, which covers a pretty wide range of miniature wargame enthusiasts. We're not really interested in statistics for gamers who don't play miniature wargames, although we really would like to generate a lot of interest in Tankbase among the fairly sizable crowd of tactical level board-type wargamers.)

During the first year, the reg cards indicated that pretty much everybody was using MS-DOS, very few used Windows at home. Since then however, more and more people are using Windows at home, probably because nearly every new PC sold comes bundled with Windows. Recently we've been getting more and more requests for WIndows versions of SB3, and now we're even starting to hear from a few "new" users (i.e. people who just started using computers within the last year or so and are used to everything looking like a Windows application, having no idea what DOS programs have been like all these years) asking, "How come SB3 looks so crude? Where's the icons?"

The Iguana

Up until now, we've written all our software (SB3, the games we wrote in our pre-commercial days, and the projects currently in development) with a particular set of guidelines: no graphics (or in the case of SB3, graphics only in one area), no sound effects (aside from the sci fi games), no frills, emphasis on ease of use and speed of play. ArmourSoft game programs aren't "proper" computer games, they're not intended to have snazzy graphics, they're intended to be huge databases with good user interfaces to be used in conjunction with the wargaming tabletop. However, times are a-changin' and we can't really get away with that approach for much longer. Our customers have faster, more powerful computers now than they did two or three years ago, and peoples' expectations are changing as the entire software world continues to evolve.

Right now, most of you are probably using a combination of MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows. You probably do some things in DOS (particularly games), other things in Windows. Most of you have Windows 3.0, 3.1, or Windows for Workgroups 3.11. By the time you read this many of you will have picked up Windows 95. A fair number of miniatures wargamers have Apple Macintosh computers. We don't know how many, but we'd like to find out; more on that later. As far as we know, very few wargamers use OS/2.

Photo processing software is pretty cool. Check out this photo of a P51D we touched up!

What's all this mean to ArmourSoft? In a nutshell, we only have enough resources (i.e. programmer-man-hours) to create software for one single major platform and closely-related variants. Currently, we program everything in Microsoft PDS. Once development of Tankbase is completed, we're going to switch to programming everything in Visual Basic, which will allow us to easily port our existing code without too much hassle as well as giving us the ability to program for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. A new question arises: do we support Windows 3.1/3.11, or Windows 95, or both? Many of our current and potential customers already have Win 3.1/3.11, but many will get Win95 sometime in the next 6 to 12 months. Win95 will run most software written for Win 3.1, but Win 3.1 won't run software written for Win95. So, in the near term it looks like we'll be writing for Win 3.1 and making sure it works properly in Win95.

We'd like to write for the Mac. We really would. There are three things keeping us from doing so right now:

  1. the time required to convert the program code from its current state to Mac form
  2. the time required to learn how to do #1
  3. the fact that we don't have a Mac.

We're hoping the switch to Visual Basic will help out with #1 and #2. If it turns out that we can port the code over (probably from Windows format to Mac rather than from DOS to Mac) with only a few days' work, and we can pick up a used Mac for a couple hundred dollars (or better yet, borrow one for a week or two) we will start work on some Mac versions.

There is another issue we have yet to resolve: intra-Mac compatibility. While it's possible to write software that will work on nearly every PC/XT/AT/286/386/486/Pentium, the same doesn't hold true in the Mac world. Something that runs on a new Power Mac may not run at all on an older 68000 Mac. We have to determine the lowest common denominator, hardware-wise, as it applies to wargamers with Macs.

A couple of people have asked us the obvious question: "Why doesn't ArmourSoft just hire a programmer to do the Mac version?" There are two reasons why that's not a feasible option at the moment. Most importantly, the "hire" part of that plan. ArmourSoft exists mostly as a part-time business, almost a hobby. There isn't any money to hire anybody. We've got one guy doing all the game design, writing, typesetting, photography, layout, and programming, and he hasn't received any compensation for any of it yet. What money we do get goes right to paying for direct production costs (e.g. printing books and boxes, diskettes), shipping and postage costs, and taxes. There isn't any money left over for extraneous luxuries like paying the programming staff. A programmer competent enough to port SB3 or TB over to the Mac would probably expect to be paid at least $15,000 for the project; there's a lot of source code, and they're not simple programs. $15K is more than we intend to pay for the entire production costs for Tankbase, total.

The second issue, assuming we could find a Mac programmer willing to work on a huge 12-month project for, say, thirty-five bucks, is reliability. We've had real bad luck in the past when it came to putting teams together to get things done, not just programming but every other aspect of producing and selling wargames. Since ArmourSoft's beginning, many people have volunteered to do all sorts of tasks, always with the best intentions I believe. When things came right down to it and deadlines loomed and people realized how much work was actually involved (as opposed to how much work appeared to be involved at first glance) a lot of people found themselves backing out. Of course it didn't help that the whole operation was being run by a guy who has the attention span of a stunned newt.

ArmourSoft gets more new equipment

Thousands flee, mostly out of habit after all this time

Although there's still a great deal of work to be done on the game design and programming of Tankbase, the time is approaching when we have to make some decisions on what to do for the written documentation, i.e. the rulebook/instruction manual, to be entitled (of course) The Book of Tanks. Specifically, we have to start thinking seriously about the illustrations.

Originally we were going to use the same tried-and-true approach we did with Shipbase III, using lots of photos of ship miniatures. In the case of SB3 the ship photos were generously provided by GHQ. Unfortunately, there are already at least two other tank games on the market that feature lots of photos of GHQ microarmour, and we wanted to try something different this time around anyway.

So, we bought ourselves a new Artec A6000C color flatbed scanner (aka "The Scanner of Death") and took a couple of day trips down to the tank museum at Aberdeen Maryland to photograph everything in sight. We used black & white film (anybody remember that stuff?) for most of the shots, which turned out gorgeous (if we do say so ourselves). We've also got a lot of color photos from other tank museums we've visited over the years.

Of course, what we really wanted was to have cool original 3-view line drawings of every tank type ever conceived, but we couldn't find anyone willing to draw that many pictures for free. Instead, we'll have some quite nice original photos of well over a hundred vehicles. For tank game rulebook pictures, it should be a nice change of pace from the usual cheezy sketches, fuzzy photos of miniatures, and stock archive photos that have already been published in half a dozen other places.

Just What the Heck Does "Wither" Mean, Anyway?

As is usually the case, we had a great time at the summer conventions. We've been laying low on the convention scene this year in order to concentrate on developing TB, planning on putting on some big demo games at the '96 cons, and enjoying this summers' events as mere attendees. Origins was a blast, but we really went wild in the vendor room at Historicon. We picked up the entire WWII navies for the British, Dutch, French, Italians, and Germans (!), all in 1:6000th scale (!!). These are the Hallmark miniatures we mentioned a few issues ago, finally available here in the US from The Emperor's Headquarters.

The ships themselves are quite tiny as you might expect. Each comes with a seascape base (molded onto the hull in the case of destroyers and smaller ships, separate for larger vessels) all of which begs the question: how to mount 'em? They're beautiful as is, but we're the kinda guys who like to have the ship name printed right on the miniature base. We're experimenting with gluing a rectangular magnetic base to each miniature base, painting the entire base area an ocean-sort of blue, printing up the ship names in a non-serif font (e.g. Times New Roman or Helvetica, but not bold or italics) at 8 points on a decent laser printer on regular white paper, cutting out each name carefully, and gluing the names to the magnetic base. The end result looks quite nice and the labels are surprisingly legible.

We're working on the same problem with mounting microarmour. TB will be playable in "ID tag mode" and "non-ID tag mode", the first requiring unique ID labels for each individual miniature and infantry stand and the second mode not requiring any labels at all. Since microarmour also tends to be really small (hence the name), many gamers have difficulty telling one tank type from the next. We can tell the difference between a Panzer III and a Panzer IV in 1:285th scale at a distance of six feet, but many gamers can't. So, it's also a nice idea to have a small label with the unit type neatly printed on the base of the miniature.

We're still trying to find the perfect solution to the microarmour basing issue, so if you've got any good ideas, please let us know. Our current method-in-testing involves gluing each tank miniature to a small rectangle cut from magnetic sheeting, with about 1/8th inch of the base sticking out past the left and right sides of the miniature. We put a label on the right hand side with the tank type on it, and a label on the left side with the unit name on it.

Of course, people may wonder why we'd want to use magnetic bases for wargame miniatures when we've got computer software nearby.

The answer to that is probably cosmicly connected somehow to

The DIPCo Section

A Word from the Iguana

Listen up, lowly inhabitants of Earth. I've scheduled the invasion of this pitiful excuse you have for a planet for next Thursday morning, and I don't want any of you mucking it up by getting in the way. I don't want to hear any of you whining and complaining about personal freedoms this and basic human rights that. Just shut up and accept it. Oh, and it would be nice if you had some snacks made up ahead of time for the invading troops, you know, cookies and milk and that sort of thing. Maybe little plates of scrambled eggs with some curry powder on it. I love that stuff.

Anyway, my legions of loyal minions will be marching in to subdue your primitive culture in just a few days. It would help if you stood on the curbs in front of your houses, holding your valuables. Just hand everything to my legions as they go by. This would speed things up immensely and I think everybody will be much happier. Make sure you have all your cash and jewelry handy, plus any bonds or investment portfolios you might have. You know what else would be nice, I've been looking for a remote control that would work with my VCR and the cable box and my TV set. I've tried several generic remotes that I picked up from other subdued planets, but they only seem to work for the TV or the VCR, or maybe the VCR and the cable box but not the TV. It really ticks me off. The neighbour kid set me up with a home-made device that sort of works on all three, but it's got wires hanging out of it all over and it's really ugly and I don't want it sitting on top of my TV set. I keep worrying that it'll catch fire or something. Plus the fast-forward button doesn't really work right. So, as my invading armies march gloriously by, if you've got any remote controls that might work with my TV and VCR and cable box, hand those over too. Put a little note on it so my minions will know to forward it directly to me.

Oh, and another thing. If my forces should happen to start burning your houses, for gosh sakes, don't rush about trying to put out the fires. My troops are professionals, they invade for a living, they know what they're doing. If they should start torching the place, rest assured that they have a darn good reason for it. They work very hard at their looting and pillaging and they take it very seriously. Don't be getting in the way and don't try to undo all the effort they've put into their jobs.

My lackeys are also very sensitive, so don't call them names or spit at them. You people are so antagonistic, I just don't understand you. Here you have an opportunity to be invaded by the finest force of toadies the universe has ever known, so just relax and enjoy it.

You are allowed to grovel by the way, as long as it's tastefully done. In fact, it's almost expected. If the troops are doing a particularly good job of looting and pillaging and you're pleased with the service, you can grovel a bit more than the usual amount. If you decide not to grovel at all, you should tell the invading troops, and explain to them your reasons why so they'll know to do a better job next time.

That is all. You may return to your paltry lives. Just remember, that's next Thursday morning. Don't forget the curry powder.

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