Archive for category Software

Revision Control / Software Versioning

TortoiseHgOne of the challenges that programmers face when making changes to their codebase is not  breaking the existing code. Many programmers will use an incremental test process where changes are made in small steps and tested at each change to make sure that the program still works as expected.

As programs grow larger and more complex it becomes more and more likely that changes made now may have a negative impact on other areas that are not immediately apparent, or that you may miss including a new test case into your testing process, allowing the impact to go undiscovered until a later date.

At other times you may be exploring a new approach and realise that it is not going to achieve what you wanted therefore you need to go back to an earlier version and pursue a different approach.

This becomes even more complex when more than one programmer is working on a project. How do you make sure that if each person is working on a different, or even the same, area of the program that all the changes get made, that they do not conflict with each other, and that everyone has the current working code to work with?

This is where revision control comes in.

The basic idea is to have a system that tracks changes to the project code, and sometimes other files, so that you can efficiently monitor the codebase, as well as share and integrate code from all of the programmers working on the project. Most work via a central code repository that you ‘check’ code in and out of, and the repository manages different branches of code so that changes can be undone, merged, revised, ‘forked’ (creating a new branch seperate from other code), etc. For most of the currently available systems the repository is stored on a web server (can be local, intranet or internet) for easy sharing and administration.

In the past I’ve used Microsoft’s Visual SourceSafe (which used to be integrated with Visual Studio 6), and dabbled with Subversion (SVN) when playing with other people’s code, but as I am a lone programmer I thought that SVN might be a bit over-the-top for my needs, so I had a look around for a lightweight local repository solution.

I came across Mercurial, a free distributed source control management tool, and went looking for a Windows shell, which lead me to TortoiseHg, which provides an all-in-one solution of a shell and toolbox for Mercurial.

Installation and set up are quick and easy, it provides all of the functionality that you’d expect from a revision system, and it is amazingly easy to use. It can be used by one or many programmers, and with a local or remote repository stored as a folder or on a web server. Branching and merging are simple to do, and the documentation for both TortoiseHg and Mercurial present basic tutorials to in-depth descriptions of the software.

If you’re embarking on any large coding projects I’d recommend giving TortoiseHg a look.

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Firefox 4 is here

Firefox 4 is finally out of beta. Quicker (with hardware acceleration), uses less memory (up to 25% less so far), and has more screen real-estate available (no status bar, and menu moved to the title bar).

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TiddlyWiki

I have been gradually transcribing and organising my game design notes into design and background documents (from assorted electronic notes, handwritten notes, code fragments, and other scribbles) and I was thinking about the best way to organise all of this info so that it makes sense and is easily editable as I further develop the game.

A single document format tends to become unwieldy as it gets larger so I considered a wiki-like system as it would provide the flexibility to work on small parts, re-organise as needed, link to in various ways from within and without, etc.

One solution that I came across was the TiddlyWiki a single HTML file that has all the characteristics of a wiki, and which is both highly customisable and supports many varied plug-ins to change it’s behaviour. An added benefit for me is that whilst it’s simple for me to edit, when I publish it to my webspace it is automatically read-only.

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Blade Runner Screen Saver

In early 2006 at the request of a couple of the denizens of the usenet newsgroup, alt.fan.blade-runner, I created a Windows screen saver using (without permission) some sampled video from the Westwood Studios computer game version of Blade Runner and sound files sourced from the web.

It shows the balcony scene (which itself was borrowed from a scene within the movie), with ‘Blade Runner Blues’ playing in the background and some general ambience sound effects. It has some configurable options, like volume and frequency of sounds, and should run on any Windows box from Windows 95 up to Windows 7 (it has been tested on 98SE, 2K, XP and Win 7 x64).

I can’t host the file here due to file restrictions, so if you are interested in having a copy please leave me an email address in a comment and I will post it to WeTransfer for you.

Note: this program was written in visual Basic 6 and requires the VB6 runtime which is not included with Windows 7 or 8. You can download the runtime at Microsoft VBRUN60.exe.

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