Catching up

As many have probably noted, I haven’t had much time or energy for updating this blog in quite a while. To rectify this I thought I’d make an effort to at least share the many interesting links that I’ve gathered since I last posted. In fact, there are so many links that I probably have to do this in parts. Let’s start with those relating to tools, process, and software.

Level editing

Some game teams develop their own level editors; definitely companies selling game engines, they really don’t have much choice. We also see (PC) developers who want to ship a level editor with their game to help build a user community. Others too make their own level editors, for various reasons. However, many games teams (including ours at Sony Santa Monica) rely on using commercial art packages like Maya or 3D Studio MAX as their level editor, to avoid reinventing the wheel.

However, we don’t necessarily need full-blown art packages or custom-designed level editors. We can find novel uses of other pieces of software for level editing. For example, there’s been occasional talk about using Google SketchUp as a level editor. It seems this is beginning to happen with e.g. the SketchUp to Hammer export plugin and with the SketchUp plugin PlayUp that allows exporting to SandBox 2 (Hammer and SandBox 2 being the level editors for Valve’s Source engine and the CryEngine 2, respectively). Some sources suggest the $495 “Pro” version of SketchUp is needed for exporting into a reasonable format (.obj), but this article points out that the .kmz files output from SketchUp are really nothing but renamed .zip files containing Collada .dae files.

We can go even simpler, using a spreadsheet as a level editor. The Toolsmith blog has two different posts on using Excel for this purpose. Over at Coderhump Ben Garney talks about using Google Spreadsheets for game tweaking.


Joe Duffy offers a good article on being a software architect (or a programmer manager). Lots of food for thought, whether you are running a team or not.

Parallel computing is here to stay. With it, it has brought a whole set of problems that we didn’t use to have to deal with. Joe Duffy (again) has links to several articles talking about this paradigm shift.

Mick has a nice article on optimizing asset processing.

Maciej talks about crash handlers/reporters. If you don’t have one, you should!


On the software side of things, Cedric Collomb compares six free image viewers. Vince Scheib points out that Input Director is an improved synergy (both being programs to share mouse and keyboard between two computers, across the network).

At the EntBlog you can read about three free productivity booster tools (Launchy, AutoHotkey, and xplorer2). It also seems like he actually found a valid use for Twitter! Dropbox seems interesting too.

A tool I’ve found useful and end up using on and off is ToDoList. I’m not sure if it’s useful, but the free collaborative whiteboard at Twiddla is nevertheless pretty cool.

Symbolic (Maple, Mathematica) and numerical (MATLAB) math programs are really useful pieces of software but they cost way too much for the occasional tasks I need them for. Fortunately there are free alternatives. Instead of MATLAB, try Scilab or Octave. Instead of Maple and Mathematica, try Maxima (a derivative of the CAS granddaddy Macsyma). Wikipedia has a nice overview of other free and commercial computer algebra systems.

To finish things off, for some awesome out of the box thinking read this bank robber news story.

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  1. Serg said,

    May 24, 2009 @ 5:13 am

    Thanks a lot, Christer!

  2. Beautiful Pixels said,

    May 24, 2009 @ 11:53 am

    Nice links…

    Thanks for the links, My fav was accidentally Eskil Steenberg’s Tools of Love on the top of the Toolsmith blog….

  3. erich666 said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    Great links – thanks in particular for Twiddla (I’ve been looking for one of these) and XnView.

  4. PolyVox said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    Thanks Christer, those are some great links. I’ve been using Dropbox for a while and can confirm it’s very useful :-)

    I’ve always meant to put some time into CAS systems – I’ve played with the open source YACAS which is small and elegent but haven’t done anything fancy with it yet.

  5. jstanard said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

    For symbolic math, also check out Sage ( It’s a free and open source math suite meant to replace all those others. It’s built on top of Python with natively optimized libraries. There’s also a graphical version that runs in a web browser. If you don’t want to download it, you can create a free account on their site for the web version (

  6. - the blog » Catching up (part 2) said,

    June 8, 2009 @ 1:51 am

    […] previous post contained some of the links I’ve gathered in the last 6 months. Here’s another post to […]

  7. Real-Time Rendering » Blog Archive » Utilities said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 4:55 am

    […] events have got me thinking about useful utilities: Christer Ericson’s post, getting a Mac laptop, and sending my older son off to college (to Northeastern, in Computer […]

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