Legend of the Greasepole gets the Silverlight 4 + Analytics treatment

Legend of the Greasepole Title Screen

Legend of the Greasepole has been ported to Silverlight 4 and reincarnated on http://greasepole.net.

Greasepole is the long-suffering game about multimedia tribute to the inexplicable Engineering traditions at Queen’s University in Canada. Over 50 students contributed to the project back in the day.

There’s a significant AI component to Greasepole – the autonomous “frosh” characters have models for learning and communicating with one another.

A couple of years ago I ported it from C++ to C# and XNA. I abstracted out a series of services (graphics, sound, input, timer, persistence) so that it might ultimately be ported again to a platform like, say, Silverlight or something. Why? I don’t know, maybe I’m a little obsessed with the illusion of preservation.

The Silverlight 2 version was a bit shaky. Silverlight 4’s hardware acceleration and bitmap caching make it pretty solid. It is also awesome to hear from friends that it apparently works on the Mac.

Analyze These… Shenanigans

I also added a little analytics. Although it should probably be said that the Greasepole event largely defies analysis, the game itself does not, and so this is the first time I can let someone poke their head in and see how the froshies are doing all around the world.

Back in the day, the worldwide best time was in excess of a mere 53 minutes. But I had to learn that by way of Sean Murray (class of ’05; wonder where he is now) sending me a screenshot. Now the interwebs will tell us immediately. (Admittedly, it’s not a fair fight against Sean, because the frosh are now permanently in “keener” mode, and the Options screen has been replaced by a dozen trendy Achievements for you to “unlock”).

So get going stalling those frosh, and my question for you is – what statistics would you like to see?

“Number of pints Al ‘Pop Boy’ Burchell has quaffed?”

“Number of hippos fed”?

“Height of human pyramid vs time”?

I am going to enjoy cooking up visualizations for some of those.

(Coding notes: A few new VS2010 things helped with this update: Web.config transformation (rocks), improvements to Web Publish functionality, XAML designer, Entity Framework experience… and more.)

Play Legend of the Greasepole Online Edition.

TechDays 2009: ‘What’s New in Silverlight 3’ Follow-up

TechDays 2009Thanks to everyone who came to my “What’s New in Silverlight 3” presentation this morning at Microsoft Canada’s TechDays 2009 event in Halifax.

A few months ago, I delivered a Silverlight 3 presentation at a Toronto usergroup event. The follow-up resources I referenced after that presentation are thorough, and still relevant today, so please visit that page for links to online Silverlight 3 resources.

The screenshot below is from one of today’s demos: a Silverlight 3 app, running in Google Chrome, capturing stills from a stream of HD video that I shot at dusk last night with my trusty Nikon D90.

If you’re looking for evidence that Silverlight runs in Chrome, you can point it (or, for that matter, any browser with Silverlight installed) at the much cooler Silverlight demo running here – it’s mai FractLOL.

Capturing frames from video: the WriteableBitmap Silverlight 3 sample, running in Google Chrome!
It's today's Silverlight 3 WriteableBitmap sample, running in Google Chrome!

If you have more Silverlight questions or follow-up, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the blog [or just mail rob at rob burke dot net].

p.s. A few weeks ago I presented “Building Modular Applications in Silverlight and WPF” at TechDays Toronto, so if you’re interested in line-of-business apps in Silverlight, you might also find that follow-up helpful.

TechDays 2009: ‘Building Modular Applications using Silverlight and WPF’ Follow-up

TechDays 2009I’ve just finished delivering the “Building Modular Applications using Silverlight and WPF” session at Microsoft Canada’s TechDays 2009 event in Toronto.

What a difference a year makes! At last year’s TechDays, my presentation was all: “Silverlight is new and awesome! Let’s lap around some awesome Silverlight features!”

But this year, as Silverlight and WPF have gained some maturity, many of us are now working on more complex projects enabled by these frameworks.

So this year’s theme, appropriately, was designing for change. It was about taming complexity in real-world Silverlight and WPF apps with patterns, conventions, examples, and a little glue code.

What we covered

After a brief primer on the MVVM pattern, the core of the presentation was a lap around Prism, a.k.a. the Composite Application Guidance for Silverlight and WPF released by Microsoft’s Patterns and Practices group.

We looked at the structure provided by Prism’s Shell and Bootstrapper, demystified Dependency Injection (over breakfast), and then explored the Region Manager, Modules, the Event Aggregator, and Commanding.

Taming Complexity and Designing for Change

Prism's Stock Trader Referencec Implementation
Prism's Stock Trader Reference Implementation

Complexity in the software development lifecycle comes in many forms, including but not limited to:

  • integrating multiple disparate sources of data,
  • dealing with changing requirements,
  • managing features delivered by distributed dev teams,
  • creating complex interactive views,
  • rapidly skilling up new resources on a project,
  • cleanly separating concerns for different roles (like designer and developer), and…
  • well, I could go on.

It seems to me like a good way to tame complexities like these is to design for change. Prism helps you do this. So does MVVM.

I’ve worked with WPF since it was called Avalon, but only recently started using Prism.

When I go back now and look at my pre-Prism code, it looks fine in parts, but organizationally, it reeks of uninformed, trainwreck stuff. If I could speak to Rob vPrevious, I would insist that he take the time to learn Prism.

Do your time in Prism

I did my time in Prism
I did my time in Prism, so I did

So my call to action for all serious WPF and Silverlight devs is:

Finally – if you are a Silverlight or WPF developer, and are looking for a place to work on interesting projects on a scale that demands you plan for change, please contact me.

For those of you who came out today, thanks for the engaging conversations afterwards, and I hope you found the presentation a helpful primer on Prism. May it help you get up the learning curve and start using the P&P guidance in your own applications!

Please write me with your own Prism thoughts and stories.

This year, the theme was designing for change. It was about taming complexity with patterns, conventions, examples, and glue code.

it was a deeper Senior Dev / Architect level discussion that discussed the MVVM pattern and Prism, the Composite Application Guidance for Silverlight and WPF.

Four Perspectives on Delivering ‘Return on Experience’ Follow-up Notes

And now, as promised, the link-laced follow-up to this week’s “Four Perspectives on delivering ‘Return on Experience.'”

Our UX Gurus on the panel were:

and in addition to their insights on Wednesday night, they’ve kindly helped me compile these links.
(If you want to contact any member of the panel, they’re first-initial last-name at infusion.com, or ping me.)


The panel began by reflecting on the masochistic teapot made famous by Donald Norman on the cover of his book The Psychology of Everyday Things, to remind us that in the software industry, what we create for our clients often becomes an everyday thing.

Are we making things that are functional but masochistic like this teapot?

what's "Return on Experience"?

The panel then weighed in on Deborah Adler’s redesign of the Target Rx medicine bottles, which was bravely showcased by Microsoft as a UX case study from another industry during the second day keynote at Mix09.

It was a story arc that highlighted the many elements of ‘return on experience’ – everything from safety and customer satisfaction, through brand awareness and driving revenue.


Then we reflected on the co-existence of the Development and Design lifecycles. There were varying opinions on where each person on the panel feels squeezed for time and resources in the cycle.

Ernie’s more thorough PM’s Gantt chart (very much not shown here) was a sobering dose of reality. We considered techniques for determining the point at which the value to the client diminishes when you add more time and resources.

New Tools, New Processes

I did a Sketchflow demo. We created an interactive prototype. It had the “right level of fidelity” and the panel remarked that the “sketchy” look helps manage client expectations.

At a high level – there was love. Sketchflow should change our software development lifecycle.

But some easy things were hard. We integrated sample data (and Susan quite fairly called me on it when I talked about a designer “databinding” to “sample data.”  (If Blend wants databinding to be [the designer’s] job then the designer says “but it’s not my job!”). We looked at editing a data template (for a Listbox full of items) and everyone agreed this experience was currently way too hard without grokking a number of Blend and XAML-specific concepts.

Especially valuable is Sketchflow’s ability to solicit feedback from clients with standalone prototypes. Ernie remarked that it was when he saw Sketchflow run “live” as a  standalone prototype that he saw how valuable it could be. Integrated client feedback was a big win. We also saw how it can generate Word doc summaries, and all eyes lit up.

We remarked on its incredible potential, which it’s not quite living up to just yet. Earlier on in the presentation, we’d hit upon this theme that a good user experience should never make the user “feel stupid” – but for new users Sketchflow can unfortunately make some of its target audience feel stupid.

For a v1, though – wow – we all saw the value, and deeply, desperately want it to be awesome. Ernie said he’d go back to his team the next day and tell them to start using it.

Roles and Expectations

After the break, we talked about roles and expectations. Given the changing tools and processes, we wondered what should be expected of different roles.

We noted how “designer” is a “suitcase word” that carries many different meanings. Susan saw all these “people” in the Venn Diagram and just wanted it to be clear that in real life, it’s often all a single, multi-faceted “person.”

(Design) Surface

Most of the panel are, or have been, involved in Infusion’s Surface projects, so we took a moment to talk about design and user experience as they relate to that platform.

Susan remarked that Surface development demands UX design skills “to the extreme.”

The Surface design challenges include: attracting the attention of casual users, encouraging users to overcome the novelty of simultaneous multi-user interaction, and embracing the lack of an “up” direction. It’s “hyper-real,” and there is a need to consider the affordances of design elements used on this multi-user touch-table application.

What can we learn from games?

We had Dan Wilcox from the games industry, so we also asked him what we can learn from the gaming world if we’re trying to build line-of-business apps instead.

Dan agreed that a significant challenge is showing users what they can interact with, and how. That “affordances” thing again. He talked about how the games industry has improved in its ability to guide people through 3D landscapes, and perhaps similar cues could influence navigation through user interfaces. He gave examples of where games are blurring the boundaries between user interface and game world.

The Future of User Experience

Then we talked about the future, because that’s always fun.

But the twist here was: what kind of UX considerations will come into play as we design for new kinds of interactivity?

We ran out of time because we wanted to run down the street to see the Surface app before Rogers closed, but now you have time to explore, and add your own thoughts below…