Interview: Sideways

Ever wondered what the head developer on Feenix gets up to on a daily basis? How much work is involved or how he got started on the project? Perhaps some insight into the new Emerald Dream realm which is due for release soon?

I managed to snag the one and only Sideways for a cup of tea and a chat today to find out what it’s like being a Feenix Developer and to find out a little bit about what makes him tick.

Click below to read more…

Clodagh: So today folks, I’m joined by none other than Mister Sideways! First off, thanks for taking some time out to join me today, I know you’re a busy dude!

For all the people that don’t know what it is that you do on the server, can you give us a brief job description?

Sideways: Hello Clodagh, I am glad I could make some room for you.

The closest title to describe my work would probably “Development Management”. I am planning, organizing and executing anything related to development and workflow. I work with all our developers on a daily basis and make sure the fixes are completed properly and in time. Additionally I make sure that our tester team knows what needs to be looked at and is in synchrony with our developers.

Clodagh: So give me an example of what your day-to-day work would entail. From morning til night.

Sideways: Sure. Well I usually start the day around 6 am by checking on all of our servers for uptime, connection status and any issues I may find. Simultaneously I check on the forums for any posts which could be important to my work such as server issues or “cannot connect” posts. Once that is done and no developers are awake yet to bother, I am eating breakfast. That is something I never miss. It happens every now and then that I miss lunch and dinner, but you can be sure that I will never miss breakfast. Otherwise my day would be ruined before it began already.

Anyway, after that there is mostly some kind of meeting planned, be it developer, team leader, tester or management meeting. Depending on the current focused projects, developer meetings can also be split into 4 different smaller group meetings – Core, Script, Database and Web development. Those meetings can easily take up to an hour. After those, I usually take what has been discussed in the meetings, summarize it and work out project plans based on it.

Even though we have those meetings, there is still a lot of personal contact involved in development management. I try to talk to each and every developer at least twice a week, to be able to react on subtle changes of mood or mindset in a fast way. Those talks help me to stay in touch with our developers and improve our workflow regularly. I probably use 25-50% of my time for talks actually. So yes, those talks take a few hours too.

If there is no server update or server crisis coming up, this is usually when we hit lunch time. At around 2-3pm I review projects and check if we need to reassign developers to be able to meet deadlines or if I can help out with a quick fix on a certain issue. Then I most of the time prepare announcements or prepare our Live branch (where our code for the live servers is located) with the new fixes, prepare the changelog and set a time for the update on the next day. After that I merge new untested fixes into our Test branch, which is then applied on our private testing realms for our testers to check on it.

Evenings are usually the time when I take on applications and arrange interviews, and keep organizing the usual developer work and the bug tracker during that.

This is pretty much a usual day for me.

Clodagh: Wow, that sounds like quite the workload man…. what did you have for breakfast today?

Sideways: Butter bread with pepperoni and tomatoes, coffee and fresh orange juice 🙂 I have a bit of a weird taste when it comes to breakfast.

Clodagh: That is…. a rather… bizarre thing to eat for breakfast o_o!

Sideways: I like it. Haha

Clodagh: So… when and how did you get started on the Feenix project?

Sideways: That is quite a long story. I will try to keep it short.

I have started to develop on wow servers 5 years ago, on another project. When I played there, I ran into so many bugs and I started getting impatient with the developers there, so even though I never worked with C++ or SQL before, I couldn’t resist to jump in and improve the server. So I contacted one of the developers there, called Blackthunder, and asked him how I could get started. He was quite helpful and understanding even though I was.. rather noobish.

Anyway, I sticked to the project for a year and improved quite a bit. The project split and I followed Blackthunder from one project to another. At some point I had enough of the drama that was usual business between those projects back then and took a break. One day, pretty much exactly 2 years ago, Blackthunder contacted me on skype and told me about this project he was working on now and how great it was. Personally I was not in contact with Feenix before, but I gave it a shot and agreed to start as a scripter.

It was in September 2010, when I first met Feenixes, who I hope everyone knows. At that time I had no clue where this would be heading, so I just contributed a few fixes every now and then when I had time, until I finished my BsC degree in Computer Science and Business Management in February 2011. At that point I got more interested in the project and started working restlessly, simply because I fell in love with it. It is an amazing feeling to you know that you can satisfy thousands of people with the work you do. It caught me so much that I kept working and even started ignoring my RL over it.

At some point Feenixes and Athairne decided to give me a chance to build and organize a professional developer team to provide our servers with the best support out there, and I gladly took that chance. Since 2011 we have grown quite a lot and established a pretty good working structure and organization for our developer teams. With over 10 professional developers across all areas of development (Core, script, database, web) and several volunteers and freelancers we can provide a great amount of fixes for all our servers and tackle projects no other server in 1.12 has ever thought of implementing on a population we have. Pathfinding, gameobject line of sight and all of our performance updates, just to name a few.

This is how I came to Feenix and a bit more, sorry about the side-tracking :p

Clodagh: Awesome – thanks for sharing that with us all – I’m sure you’ll get a load of follow-up questions on it from the more technical-minded folks on the server in the blog comments !

What do you love and what do you hate about your job?

Sideways: That is quite a question. It is not that easy to answer. I love the responsibility, the progress and the opportunity to build something together, while everyone on our project has the chance to personally improve himself everyday and feel the difference. And of course I love the challenge, it is not like I can just throw out a patch and say that is it for the next month. It has to keep running, every day.

On the other hand, that is probably also the only negative aspect about my job. I have to be available, every day and every hour of the day if necessary. The same goes for other top management positions on our servers, that is just unavoidable. It is a challenge and you need to find a good balance to be able to shut your job out if you have a free moment in private, otherwise you probably won’t be able to do it for long.

Oh, and of course our players can be challenging too every now and then.

Clodagh: Yeah… that’s always going to be the case I guess for people who don’t realise just how much work is actually involved in keeping a project like this afloat. But I think the overwhelming majority of people on the server really really appreciate all the work you and the team do here.

So onto more important stuff – when you aren’t in the Feenix batcave, what do you like to do for fun?

Sideways: I usually just meet with friends or family, relax a bit and drink a glass of good wine. During summer I like to get out for a bit, jump into a pool and swim 1-2km until I feel refreshed and ready for work. Winter is snowboard season, even though I slacked with it last year, I really enjoy snowboarding. Other than that, I sometimes play LoL, not in the last month(s) though due to our high amount of releases and projects this summer. I was quite good with akali though, if I might say so myself.

Clodagh: So wine – would that be your favourite alcoholic beverage?

Sideways: Yes, definitely. Drinking wine properly is like a journey to a new country, you have to look, smell and taste it. You can’t compare it to normal drinking.

Clodagh: So this is how you got your alcoholic reputation?

Sideways: Actually no, that comes from my forum avatar which is taken from the movie “Sideways”. When I uploaded that I didn’t even think about it showing a bottle. It is a complete coincidence.

Clodagh: Haha – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that movie, that’s how you got your name then?

Sideways: Hehe you might think – but no, my name goes a long way back into my past playing CS 1.6. I was in a team called Sideways back then. I didn’t even know a movie with that name would exist until I googled it.

Clodagh: Have you always had a keen interest in World of Warcraft as well then?

Sideways: No, at first I hated it. When I came from Counter Strike and tried it because a friend wanted me to check it out, I was confused by a fully automated targeting method and the crazy long grind of vanilla wow. My first character was a rogue I leveled to level 12 or so, until I ran all across Silverpine Forest into Old Hillsbrad to find out that I am way too low level for this zone. I died 20 times on my way to it. Yes, I was a total RPG noob, I needed something to shoot at, what the hell are spells and professions? I ragequit for a few months, but picked it up later on and leveled a mage which I sticked to and played all the way till wotlk. During TBC I discovered my love for multiboxing and played quite successful in arena in season 3, 5 and 6. WoW got me hooked, but wotlk was so boring that I started 10-boxing raids, wrote my own boxing programs and helpers and successfully cleared Naxxramas, most of Ulduar and ICC. Once I realized that only boxing kept me playing, I dropped all my accounts and never really looked back.

Clodagh: Multi-boxing full 10 man raids is pretty intense!

Enter the…

Clodagh: So, everyone’s very excited about the launch of Feenix’ new server – How is Emerald Dream coming along then? and what are your personal aspirations for it?

Sideways: Everyone on our team had extremely high expectations towards ourselves when we first started with the project, and I have to say the whole team did a great job to meet those expectations. To name a few examples:

Creature spawns – The spawn locations of all creatures in the world and instances (over 60.000), have been completely remade. If you compare our spawns to the one on other servers (even on our servers currently), you will notice that the details are there. With the help of old 1.12 data, we were able to recover the blizzlike positions for every creature in our world. Additionally, all health, mana, armor, resistance and misc stats have been redone with the help of that data to make it as blizzlike as possible.

Creature waypoints – Again, this has been redone for every creature in the world which is using waypoints. We previously had 45.000 waypoints stored, which is already quite impressive. But with the help of the data I spoke about above, we managed to successfully implement 270.000 waypoints, our world has life in it like no other, that is for sure.

Gameobjects – Doors have been readded to many dungeons. Veins and herbs have been completely respawned with the precise data we recovered to make it as blizzlike as possible.

Quests – We have split quests into 3 categories – Zone, class and instance quests. Our testers ran through all zones out there and tested every quest available – and they have found a lot of broken quests, I can assure you. Over 400 zone quests have been successfully fixed (that is 90% of the issues we have found). At the time of this talk, about 150 class quests have been improved to be completely blizzlike. We even corrected issues such as quest texts showing the class name instead of race name, and similar. Quests over all have been improved drastically, and in my opinion are in an unmatched state.

Instances – 90% of all instances have been tested and fully reported, at the time of this talk we are sitting at 11 instance reports which have been resolved and we will continue until every little detail has been corrected.

Pathfinding – We have managed to implement a pathfinding system which does not only provide a very good looking movement for creatures, but is also saving a lot of resources compared to others. Therefore we will use it on Emerald Dream for every creature in the world right from the start.

Debuff priority system – If you have heard about it before, it is the thing that allows only 16 debuffs on one target. The issue about this system has always been a lack of information on how to prioritize debuffs. We have digged up every source of information and successfully created a system which simulates the blizzlike debuff system exactly like it was back then.

This is just a sneak peek of what we did in preparation for Emerald Dream. However, due to our development system, all of these changes will also apply to our other servers over time, every member of our community will profit from it.

I personally always wanted to create a 1x blizzlike server, but in the past it was simply unrealistic. 1x servers cannot exist with the amount of quest and instance bugs they usually have. My personal standards are probably higher than the ones of most of our players, but my aspiration always was to create the perfect server, which is unrealistic for any project. I think we are coming very close with Emerald Dream.

Clodagh: Woah, that makes me even more excited about the whole thing :O Going back in time to Vanilla World of Warcraft, just as it was created with the releases all happening over time is something that really appeals to my own sense of nostalgia, I’ll definitely be making a character there.

*THE QUICKFIRE ROUND

Clodagh: What’s your favourite music genre?

Sideways: Completely mixed. But if I had to choose – Rock

Clodagh: Favourite band or singer?

Sideways: I am not sure if you know him, but that would be “Falco”

Clodagh: Rock me amadeus?

Sideways: Yes, he has quite a few awesome songs.

Clodagh: Favourite food?

Sideways: Steak, good balanced (not totally bloody)

Clodagh: Dogs or cats?

Sideways: Cats, I have 2

Clodagh: Dota or LoL?

Sideways: I didn’t play DotA a lot, so I have to say LoL

Clodagh: Blondes or brunettes?

Sideways: I have to say blondes, otherwise I could be in trouble.

Clodagh: You’ll be stranded on a desert island for 6 months – what 3 personal possessions do you bring with you?

Sideways:

Laptop
Wireless internet stick (or satellite connection if there is no wireless internet available nearby :P
A second monitor to speed up my work

Clodagh: Haha true geek 😀 Which country would you most like to visit?

Sideways: I fell in love with Australia when I was on a trip there for a few weeks. I would go back to it immediately

Clodagh: What do you miss most about being a kid?

Sideways: Interesting question. I think being out in the nature, I used to run around in our forests and hills a lot, we even had “gang wars” going on to take over more parts of the forest. That was quite fun

Clodagh: Sounds like irl night elves :O If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

Sideways: Get the money somewhere safe, move to Australia and get back to work. Just not that intense, I think.

Clodagh: What was the very first thing you bought with your own money?

Sideways: A laptop, way too expensive.

Clodagh: Favourite class in wow?

Sideways: Mage

Clodagh: Are you allergic to anything?

Sideways: I pretended to be allergic to bees to get out of a course once. But I don’t think I am allergic to anything.

Clodagh: Biggest phobia?

Sideways: Phobia? Well, there is one thing I really hate. People biting into their fork/spoon when they take a bite from the food on it. I could kill if I notice that. I don’t have phobias really though, things happen anyway if they do. Phobias won’t change that

Clodagh: So if a huge spider landed on your face you’d just be like…. “sup?”

Sideways: I have nothing against spiders. I would bring it outside and let it go.

Clodagh: That’s it for now Sideways, thanks again and I hope this give folks a little insight into the man behind the wine bottle. Any final words?

Sideways: I hope people keep enjoying our servers and keep supporting us like they do already. This keeps us going and brings us closer and closer to the perfect server.

And a big thank you to all developers, testers, gamemasters and supporters for the good work they all do each day.