Newsletter July 2014

Origins

This is the online version of the Von Neumann Defense Force monthly newsletter. Do you want mailings like this, every month, delivered right to your inbox? Then subscribe to the newsletter and make this wish a reality!

Welcome

Hello, and welcome to this month's Von Neumann Defense Force newsletter! I'm Hanno, VNDF's lead developer, chief visionary and overall jack of all trades. Get ready for this month's topics:

Have fun with this month's newsletter and please email any feedback to mail@hannobraun.de. I love hearing from people!

The Story So Far

This is the first Von Neumann Defense Force newsletter, which seems like a good occasion to talk about the origins of VNDF, how it came to be and what happened since then.

For many years Von Neumann Defense Force had only been an idea in my head, one I occasionaly talked about with friends but otherwise never acted on. All this changed in April of 2013 when I finally started to work on the project. The first piece of work I finished was a document named GOALS, painting the project's vision in broad strokes:

1. Hello World
2. ???
3. Space MMO

For those in the audience not familiar with computer programming, the first step describes the traditional first milestone that almost every software project will start out with: A simple program that does nothing more than print "Hello, World!" (or something equally simplistic) to the screen.

I immediately went on to master that first step, and while I haven't managed to make anything yet that could actually be called "MMO", I'm proud to report that after almost 15 months of off-and-on work and exactly 2799 changes made to the project's source code, I am firmly into step 2.

In the beginning, Von Neumann Defense Force was written in C, a venerable programming language that lacks many of the comforts its more modern descendants bring to the table, but is unsurpassed in many respects and thus still has its place in a lot of programmer's toolboxes. In the beginning I made slow but steady progress, figuring out how to approach the basic systems required by a multiplayer game: Network communication, 3D rendering, understanding player input and the like. While all of this was great fun, my choice of programming language showed its drawbacks: Many basic tools that are included with more modern languages are not provided by C, so a lot of things that could have been easy, required some figuring out on my part.

A lot of that changed towards the end of 2013: Rust, another programming language which had been on my radar for a while was finally approaching a point were it was becoming usable for me. Rust is a pretty new language that is being developed by Mozilla, the fine people that also bring us the Firefox web browser. In some ways, it is almost the opposite of C: Where C is old and established, Rust is young and unproven. However, in constrast to a lot of other programming languages that have been developed since C appeared in the 70's, Rust allows the programmer to control the computer very precisely, like C did, but doing so in a novel way that is much safer to use, preventing many mistakes that C would allow.

I decided to bet on Rust and started rewriting Von Neumann Defense Force in this new language, a process that would take me a few months (I don't remember exactly, but I think I was finished around February or March 2014). So far I'm very happy with this decision, and after the initial time investment of the rewrite, my bet is starting to pay off, allowing me to do a lot of things better and more efficiently than I otherwise could have.

Which brings us to today. In the months since I finished rewriting the project, I have added new features, refined existing ones and continued my overall work of figuring out how to create a multiplayer game that can meet my vision. While I'm still working on the technical fundamentals (which won't be finished for a while), the rough outline of a game is starting to appear in front of me. I hope that over the next few months, I can shape this project into something that can convey to you what I am trying to do. Until then, you will have to contend yourself with my vague descriptions, which I plan to expand on over the next few newsletters...

...unless you are a newsletter subscriber, of course! Newsletter subscribers can already try out an early prototype and see the current lack of game with their own eyes, in all its embarrassing detail.

Development Update

The last month was a slow one. Unfortunately, this thing called "money" and my ongoing efforts to obtain some of it have required a large amount of my attention.

Aside from that, marketing has been on my mind! While the project is not nearly ready to actually show to people (I show it to newsletter subscribers anyway, against my better judgement), I expect I'll need some early testers within the next few months. I guess this is as good a time as any to start drumming up some attention.

The prime example of my marketing efforts is certainly this newsletter you're reading right now. I've also spent some time to write some sales copy to get people to subscribe to the newsletter, but I'm not very happy with it. I don't think it gets my point across at all. I'm currently working on a replacement, which turned out to be a lot of work, but should be finished soon, so stay tuned!

With all these distractions, not a lot has happened with the actual development of the game. I've cleaned up some of the game logic code. This will make future work in this area much easier, but otherwise doesn't have any visible effects. I've also started work on improving my development infrastructure. I won't bore you with the details, but over the last few months, the time it takes for me to be able to test a change that I've made in the game has increased a lot, as the project grew bigger and more complex. This makes me less effective, of course, so any work that improves the situation should pay off pretty quickly.

By the time the August newsletter arrives, I hope to have finished the replacement for the current website text and the improvements to my development environment. After that, I'll get back into the development of new features. I hope to be able to publish a first prototype at some point, but right now I have no idea how long that will take. One thing is for sure though, you'll hear all about it here!

In Other News

Of course, my recent exploits are not the only thing that have been happening. Maybe some of the following will be of interest to you!

Do you know Kerbal Space Program? If you don't, what are you still doing here? Go check it out right now! Even if you do know it, you probably should check back soon. It looks like the guys over at Squad are gearing up for the next release and boy, does it look good! Check out their latest video for a taste!

New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft that launched in 2006, will arrive at Pluto in a year! It's suprising how little we know about that little ex-planet, so lots of interesting findings are guaranteed.

This is certainly not news anymore, but I really like this video of Huygens landing on Titan in 2005. History was made that day!

See You Next Time

Thanks for reading, and see you next month for VNDF's August newsletter. Besides informing you of the latest happenings, I plan to write about my vision for Von Neumann Defense Force. See you then!