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The One Man MMO Project: A Day in the Life of a Game Programmer
by Robert Basler on 02/14/13 01:01:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I saw this post on Gamasutra yesterday, and I thought "maybe people wonder what programmers do all day." So here it is.

8:12am Wake up.

8:26 Hug the family goodbye as they head out for the day. Cover head with blankets, not ready to get up yet.

9:02 Roll into the office.  Check on, then TwitterGamestop says that 60% of the people it surveyed wouldn't buy a game console if it wouldn't play used games.  Yeah sure. 

The house is quiet this morning so I can hear my Microsoft mouse beeping.  I think there's a dying capacitor in it. I took out the batteries to shut it up. I only use that mouse for games anyway. I have a Bamboo touchpad I use for my day to day. It's hazy today, but fairly bright, so there's some hope for blue sky. Nothing interesting on Slashdot. Not much on the blogs I follow, although I learned that Twitter has a feature to block people who annoy you.  I've never had a problem with that.

9:42 Heading out for a walk. Normally I just walk around the neighbourhood, but today I have a destination.  Tomorrow is Valentine's day and I need some candy for my girls so I'm heading to Charlie's Chocolate Factory which sells very good chocolate. They also sell big bags of factory seconds at half price. I don't think walking to a chocolate store is any kind of win for my health.

10:50 Walking over the overpass I noticed that the grooved pavement gives the cars a weird whirring noise as they pass. If I need a cool sounding flyby sound effect that's where I'm going to record it.  I bought a pound of chocolates along with the treats for the girls. I also stopped at Tim Hortons and bought a blueberry muffin for breakfast.

11:17 Had breakfast and a shower, time to get some work done. I've been working on improving the performance of my entity system and fixing some issues with my replication. It's been hard coding, I haven't had even a tiny break to think in four days, just typety-typety-type. I got it down to four build errors last night, but instead of fixing those I'm going to code up the rest of the changes to the replication system. 107 files changed and six new files so far.  Kind of a whopper of a change list that is. Found one bug in the original code - a cut and paste error that might explain why players occasionally showed up as the wrong color on the map.

I needed a fast integer log function to figure out how many bits an integer was using, found this cool page.  What did we do before Stack Overflow?

11:54 I forgot I had to drive my daughter to another school today. I'm waiting in the car in the school parking lot with the laptop implementing the new log function.

1:18pm Back in the office, Deadmau5 on. I find Deadmau5 good for coding.

3:02 I have all the replication code written, one build error left to fix, I need a pure base class to get rid of a dependency I don't want in the client. Starving! Break for lunch.

3:14 I got a home-made chocolate chip cookie for dessert! Everybody's home, sun is shining, back to coding.

4:22 Clean build! Most of the time I work in a Visual Studio project which builds a subset of the game and its tools - it's a lot faster building, but for this build I loaded up the full project.  Hmm, I found a compiler generated copy constructor for one of my classes, I don't like those.  I try to remember to add assignment operator and copy constructor declarations to my classes (private ones for classes that can't be copied.) I wish you could turn off copy constructor generation in the compiler, or at least make it a warning. 

I'm working through the runtime bugs now, I don't know how I ever found bugs before I discovered ASSERTs.  I have a lot of ASSERTs in my code now, so not much makes it past them, so far I've only had one crash to fix. In the end though, there's still no substitute for single-stepping through your code to find bugs.

5:30 Taking a break to make beef with broccoli and snow peas stirfry for dinner.  I don't cook as often as I used to, or as elaborately. When this game is finished I'm going to start cooking more again. I have this completely unrealistic fantasy that once it ships that work will be less demanding.

9:45 Checking in with Twitter because it says I have two new followers today, but they don't show up in my followers list. Twitter is kind of unreliable.  I'm watching a movie with my wife and continuing with the debugging.

12:11am Everyone's asleep. Serialization is working, all the data gets packed into a packet and the new log function works great. Visual Studio's ability to edit running code is super helpful for reducing iteration time when you have to start a bunch of server programs for every test run. Tomorrow I'll tackle debugging the decoding of all that data on the client. I estimated this task at 5 days, and this is the end of day 5, but it looks like it should all be running tomorrow so that's something.  Klok says I've worked 8 hours today in eight separate blocks of time. Wednesdays are pretty broken up for me.

12:46 Finished cleaning up this post. Time to turn off the PC and relax.  What did you do today?

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Cameron Brown
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This is great, because I did wonder, as I hope to do it myself. Do you still find programming engaging?

Robert Basler
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When I was at EA I had the opportunity to try moving on from programming, and I didn't like it. I like to build things. I've been programming for 31 years now (I started young) and I still love it - it's what I do best. Exposure to so many brilliant programmers at EA invigorated me with new ideas and I continue to learn new things and get better at developing code.

Steven Christian
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I'm in the same boat and I found this super-interesting, especially with all of the software/code references.
I admit to googling at least ASSERTs and Klok. And sending myself a reminder to re-read this when i get home from work.
Thank's a lot!

Jack Nilssen
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I remember when I tried this. Then I hit the content wall & realized I'd need an army of me's to make enough swords & monsters to make the game even remotely interesting. Best of luck, fella.

Robert Basler
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Thanks, I'll take the luck. The issue of building content was one of the big problems that I had to figure out early. I haven't said too much about what sort of game it is yet, but I'm using a combination of story, game mechanics and a bit of procedural content to keep that particular issue off the table.

Gavin Koh
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I do see a mirror of sorts in your diary here, so I absolutely know what the feeling is like. I am flying solo for my Facebook game (Pachinko Parlor @ and I am up to my neck in work, work, work.

For me, I work from home, although it's a lot more hectic with my baby daughter running and climbing all over. Thank goodness for grandparents.

Gregory Duplat
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sounds like a relaxed day to me.
Usualy it's more like:
7am girlie wakes up, needs new diapers, is hungry, trying to sleep for another 30 minutes.
7.45am standing up after my daughter tried to jump on me around 100 times.
8am trying to get some breakfast, girl is hungry again, she wants to eat alone (she's only 16 months old though).
8.30 starting PC read mails, blogs, etc.
10am daughter wants to play ball.
10.30 starting up all needed software (UDK/Notepad++/UnCodeX)
11am banging my head on desk trying to find why the documentation is not up-to-date on the unreal engine.
12am Wife wants me to take care of daughter 'cause she wants to cook.
1.30pm done with eating, back to PC, check mails and blogs.
2pm starting new build and testing latest features, found some logic issues in Kismet
3pm daughter wants to eat again, can't wait until she gets a bit older so she can grab food by herself :)
4pm back to scripting and trying to find a solution for SplineActors not working as intended.
5pm wife bickering because I spend too much time on my game, so decide to spend some time with her until we eat.
8.30pm wife and daughter going to bed, nothing on tv, lucky me.
9pm going back to UDK, trying to get some animations working, not going well.
Reading tutorials and watching youtube videos to learn a bit.
5am already, been at it for hours but I managed to get some stuff working. Late, will be a short night as usual.

Gavin Koh
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Here's mine,

0830 Wake up and have my breakfast.
0900 Start up my PC and read news, email, Facebook messages, etc.
0930 Power-up Scirra's Construct 2 and start working.
1230 If it's Mon, Tues or Thurs, break for quick 15 minute lunch. Otherwise, an hour lunch out with my girl.
1245 Back to work, or 1330 Back to work.
1530 Break for a jog (if possible).
1630 Resume work.
1800 Attend to chores.
1900 Wait for wife to return.
1930 Dinner.
2000 Back to work (not mentally focused here) and leisure.
2300 Supper.
2315 Back to work.
Around 0030 to 0245 Go to sleep.

Work entails rectifying bugs, putting in new game features, designing new levels, and drawing new graphics (with Gimp and Inkscape). Very often, I have do some RTFM-ing; mind you, but Facebook documentation is not the most enticing novel length material out there to peruse through.

Couple all this with bouts of family happiness and 15 minute breaks at Facebook social games or catching up with Yahoo, Linkedin, Gamasutra or Facebook news, and *that* is how I slog through a day.

Steven Christian
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I just got C2 in a Steam Sale and I must say it's fantastic.
I have already made leaps and bounds in my logic and the layout/order of my programming, all without having to learn a new language from the ground up.
Awesomely quick prototyping and checking of real-time and logic-errors.

Lex Allen
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This was pretty funny. One thing I would request. I love orange, but your colors are way to saturated on your website. It slapped me in the face and burnt my retinas at the same time.

You can saturate small areas for impact, but not the whole site! Ayayay. :D

Robert Basler
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Funny that you should mention this because I occasionally have problems with page designs that are difficult to read. And actually you do win for being first to mention the colors. ;)

I looked into letting the user change their stylesheet to an "easy reading" one this morning (which should be pretty easy) but I don't want to mess with the site's code today.

If this is a common problem for you, in Firefox there's Options|Content|Colors|Allow pages to choose their own colors instead of my selections above. Uncheck that box and my site is black and white with blue links.

Dave Hoskins
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Hey Lex, don't be a colour snob! 'Burnt your retinas' did it? Did it really?
I used to hate people that used 'programmer colours' but now I'm older, it just seems like I was just following the crowd.
Yeah, I think he should dump the fun computer game colours and go for the corporate light grey on a white background look.

Lex Allen
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I wasn't being an orange color snob, but it's too saturated, so it makes it difficult to read. I never said to get rid of the orange. I actually said that I like it.

I'm not going to be the first or last one to mention that, and YES! It burns my retinas, so I have to squint to read it, but it's so uncomfortable, that I can't read it for very long.

Come on, Dave. I'm trying to help here! No snobby business here whatsoever.

Dave Hoskins
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Sounds like you need to turn the brightness down, or your peepers will start to bubble!