The Blog

Posts from 2009

Dec 11

Thank You Open Source

By David Czarnecki

Here is a probably incomplete list of open source software/libraries/tools we use here regularly at Agora Games. Thanks!




Factory Girl



















Nov 19

Large files with NGINX, GZip, and SSL

By Jason LaPorte

I ran into an interesting issue today when deploying a crappy password change app I wrote as an exercise in rails. It turns out that by default, NGINX has a gzip buffer size of 4 * 4k/8k, with the bit size depending on what platform the service is running on.

As a result,

4 * 4k = 16384 bytes (16KB) 4 * 8k = 32768 (32KB)

After gzip, when converted to be plain text, the amount of data returned to the browser nearly doubles (about 52KB in the case of larger). The default javascript library included by rails for AJAX (prototype.js) is 127k, which led me to find this limit.

And so, getting to the point, the limit applied to the gzip buffer needs to be increased within NGINX’s config files for each site that will use a file larger than these pre-set sizes. You can do so using the following:

gzip_buffers 16 8k

This will set the buffer size to 16 * 8k, or 128KB – the uncompressed size of the library, eliminating the issue.

In the future if you find NGINX truncating large files for no apparent reason, this is likely why.

EDIT – In NGINX versions post 0.7.28, the default limit of gzip_buffers has been increased to 32 * 4 or 16 * 8 (rounding out to 128K, as noted above) depending on platform. It may be wise to double check any configs you may have to ensure you are not explicitly setting a lesser value, or upgrade NGINX if needed.

Oct 12

Spelunking into your logs with Splunk

By Tim Jones

At Agora we’re experimenting with Splunk as a error collection and reporting tool.  The idea is that all our services will spit out error information to syslog which will be picked up and indexed by Splunk.  Splunk will be configured to display info about recent errors, email summaries of those errors and generally be the starting point for discovering problems with our systems.  In our previous infrastructure error collection and reporting was handled on a per-project basis.  As we’re now moving to a more service oriented approach that involves a small number of generic but highly configurable services deployed over a large number nodes we needed something different.  Splunk seems ideal for this.  It accepts a number of different data sources ranging from syslog to raw log files to inputs from random UDP and TCP ports so we can easily integrate with systems we’ve written and, more importantly, those we haven’t.  It also has the summary and reporting capabilities we were looking for so we can chart errors over time periods, dig for trends and see which services are acting up.

The biggest problem I’ve had so far while working with Splunk is the documenation.  There are a lot of options and the documentation for those options is spread out over a number of distinct manuals.  Some options are poorly documented or not at all and often it’s not clear, even once you’ve found the proper option, where/how the option should be used.  The following is an attempt to lay out some of those problems I ran into and what the solutions are so you don’t have to go looking yourself.  This list will likely continue to grow over the coming weeks and months.

  1. Extracting fields from search results

Splunk automatically extracts certain fields from your search results.  This is all well and good but what if you want to pull out your own values?  As an example we stick a field into our syslog output that indicates what service the log entry came from.  This would be extremely handy since we’d then be able to filter out entries for a particular services, build charts with color coding based around the services and so on.  It turns out this is pretty easy.  Although this functionality is mentioned in the ‘User Manual’ most of the ral documentation for the commands used can be found in the ‘Search Manual’ (grrrr).  The portion in the User Manual can be found by search for ‘Extract fields with search commands’.  For the command information look for ‘rex’ in the ‘Search Commands’ section of the Search Reference.Anywho, the trick is in the ‘rex’ command.  This can be chained onto your search request (something else that was not obvious) like many other Splunk commands:

  sourcetype=“syslog” foo | rex field=_raw “[0-9a-z]{2} err [(?.*?)]”  

The rex command takes a regular expression and produces fields based on matches.  The field option specifies which of Splunk’s default fields you want to match against (search in the Splunk manuals for ‘Use default and internal fields’ for a list of all available fields).  The regex in this case matches two alphanumeric characters followed by the string ‘err’ followed by a service name in brackets.  The ? notation in parentheses indicates a match that should be saved in the ‘service’ field.

Once your search has been executed you should see that you can now filter on whatever fields you extracted, create charts with them, etc. 2. Extracting only those results that have a particular field

So you’ve created a regex to extract certain fields from your result set but the results that don’t match your regex are still in the result set.  How do you filter those out?  The solution is actually pretty simple:

<your_original_search> | rex <your regex> | search your_field="\*"

Likewise you can find those that didn’t match by negating the lookup:

<your_original_search> | rex <your regex> | search NOT your_field="*"
  1. Changing indices for search

By default your searches will only hit the ‘main’ index.  If you’ve created your own index it won’t be searched by default.  To use your index in a particular search just add it to the search string:

index=my_index foo NOT bar

To add your index to the default list so you don’t have to modify every search you’ll need to modify your roles a bit.  Visit the Roles page in the Manager, select your role (probably user or admin if you haven’t made any modifications here, and scroll down to the ‘Default indexes’ list. 4. Displaying the body of a message in an event table

In our main dashboard we wanted to show a list of the 5 most recent errors.  This actually turned out to be more difficult than you might have expected.  The date, host, and a few other pieces of data showed up fine but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to get the body of the log message to show up in the table.  There is a special field called _raw for each result but adding that to the table had no effect.  In the end my solution was to create a regexp against my search results that extracted a parameter called ‘body’.


sourcetype="syslog" err | rex field=_raw "[0-9a-z]{2} err \[(?<service>.*?)\] (?<body>.*)"

Event Table:

<title>Most recent service errors</title>
<searchName>Service errors with body</searchName>
<option name="count">5</option>

The events table:


  1. Changing the default app

With a normal install the launcher is the default app.  This gets kind of annoying after a while.  To change it to your own app you can adjust the defaultnamespace option in $SPLUNKHOME/etc/apps/user-prefs/local/user-prefx.conf.

default_namespace = my_app
  1. Email alerts

Email alerts are built around scheduled searches.  When saving or editing a search you’re given the option to provide a schedule for it.  Change this option so that the search is run on some interval and additional options will appear including one to send an email alert.  Additionally you can modify the search to only include a certain time range.  These features are very handy when used in combination.  Schedule your search to run every 30 minutes and adjust the start time to -30m and you’ll get alerts about all errors that occurred during that time.

Mail settings themselves can be found in Manager -> Email alert settings. 7. Stacked time-based charts

Took me a while to sort out this one.  The first thing you need to do is group your data into larger time periods.  If you have one column for each second your graph is going to be pretty useless.  Instead you should consolidate your data into large groups such as one per minute or one per hour.  I’ve found that dividing your time range by roughly 30 gives the best graphs.  To actually perform this grouping you need to add the ‘span’ option to your search:

sourcetype="syslog" foo NOT bar | timechart span=1h count

This will produce a count of all the items containing foo and not bar for syslog in intervals of one hour.

Next you need to stack the resulting groups.  Annoyingly this is done at the view layer.  In my case I was adding it to my dashboard.  The relevant lines looked similar to the following:

<searchName>Service errors in the last 24 hours</searchName>
<title>Service errors in the last 24 hours</title>
<option name="charting.chart">column</option>
<option name="charting.chart.stackMode">stacked</option>

There is a reference for all these options in the Splunk docs.  Search for ‘Custom charting configurations’.

The end result looks something like this:


  1. Edit everything manually

The Splunk Manager interface is rather clunky (not entirely the developer’s fault, there are a lot of interdependent options) so after a while you’ll likely get sick of it.  That’s perfectly fine.  All the options are written out to config files per app.  All your changes are written out to $SPLUNKHOME/etc/apps/<yourapp>/local and override those options in $SPLUNKHOME/etc/apps/<yourapp>/default.  The default directory can be used as a handy reference for available options as well.  Note that some system wide options such as indices and roles are written out to $SPLUNK_HOME/etc/system/local. 9. Don’t delete the ‘user’ role

If you do you’ll be sad as it breaks everything.  I’d attempted to remove the role and replace it with our own modified version.  The result was that every page I visited gave me a “Client not authorized” error.  To resolve the problem delete the ‘disabled = 1’ line from $SPLUNK_HOME/etc/system/local/authorize.conf. 10. Adding output to syslog(-ng)

As mentioned previously our Splunk setup is largely based on syslog but because we want to have raw syslog files in addition to having them indexed by Splunk we allow syslog to write the logs to disk and then have Splunk watch the created files.  Some information such as facility and log level get lost during this process with most default syslog configurations.  To resolve this we did a little bit of reconfiguring to our syslog installs.First, it’s important to note that we actually use syslog-ng rather than vanilla syslog.  Syslog-ng has some handy options for templating output as of 1.5.3.  For each destination you can specify a template function:

destination df_syslog { file("/var/log/syslog" template("$FULLDATE $FULLHOST $TAG $LEVEL $MESSAGE\n") template_escape(no)); };

FULLDATE includes the year in the timestamp.  FULLHOST provides the hostname.  TAG is a hex encoding of the facility and level.  $LEVEL is a text representation of the level.  $MESSAGE is obviously just the message.  The template_escape(no) directive says that quotes should not be escaped.  Also note the newline at the end of the template.  Without it your output will be rather unreadable.

And for reference the default appears to be similar to:

"$DATE $FULLHOST $MESSAGE\n" template_escape(no)
Oct 7

Integrating Lighthouse and Instant Messenger in Ruby

By David Czarnecki

The Introduction to the Lighthouse API mentions something you might do with the Lighthouse API is “Accessing and creating tickets through your Instant Messenger client.”. How easy is it to do this? Surprisingly easy.

You will need to download and install the Lighthouse API gem and the Net::TOC gem.

Run this in an irb session.

 require 'net/toc'
 require 'lighthouse'
 require 'sanitize'
 include Lighthouse

 Lighthouse.account = 'shaft'
 Lighthouse.token = 'hesonebadmotherfushutyourmouth'"someaimaccount", "someaimpassword") do |msg, buddy|
 project = Project.find(Sanitize.clean(msg).to_i)
 buddy.send_im("Here is some information about your project: #{}")

You should then be able to add ‘someaimaccount’ to your AIM buddy list and send a project ID and have it return the project name.

And boom goes the dynamite!

You’ll of course need to change the Lighthouse account and token as appropriate (or use username and password for logging in). msg is a little weird and although it’s a string, it’s HTML, so you need to strip out any tags before doing anything. And of course you’d want to add in some way of parsing the input from the user into some DSL (Domain Specific Language) for interacting with your fancy new Lighthouse AIM bot.

Happy hacking!

Oct 1

Mocking HTTP request and response with Python and Mox

By Aaron Westendorf

I recently started integrating with some web services in Python and wanted to be able to test all the requests and responses with valid and invalid data. However, I need to be able to do this without actually hitting the web service when testing. And of course I don’t want to change my web service code to conditionally do things if running in a test environment. Enter mocking and Mox.

One of our engineers, Tim, has written an excellent post on his adventures as a Ruby programmer getting up to speed on testing and mocking in Python using Mox. You should read it.

Back to my issue with mocking the HTTP request and response.

Here is what I came up with. I first created a MockResponse class that adds a read() method to the string class.

class MockResponse(str):
  Mock response class with a method called read which will be used similar to the response from an HTTP request to a URL
  def read(self):
    return self

And here is a test in which I mock out the request and response for the method. I don’t so much care what the request string is passed to the open call, so I use IgnoreArg(). And I return the XML that would be returned by the actual web service to indicate the username and/or password were incorrect.

def test_logging_in_to_network_with_bad_username_and_password(self):
    my_network_service = MyNetworkService('foo', 'bar')
    self.mock(urllib2.OpenerDirector, 'open')'''30000ACCT_LOGIN_FAILED7'''))

    self.assertEqual(False, my_network_service.login())

If there’s a better way, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Sep 4

Go go Section8!

By Brian Corrigan

We just (as in 10 minutes ago!) launched the statistics portal for Section8, a first person shooter by Timegate and SouthPeak Games.  Go check it out at and join our clan while we still have a few spots open!

If you haven’t yet played Section8, you owe it to yourself to download the demo on XBOX Live or hit up GameStop for a copy.  The single player action is fun and the multi-player totally rocks.

Congratulations to both the team at Timegate our internal project team including:

  • Producer - Steven Flenory
  • Associate Producer - Mike Jodon
  • Lead Engineer - Eric Torrey
  • Contributing Engineer - Ola Mork
  • Interface/Frontend Engineer - Josh Childs
  • Lead Interface Design - Christian Arca
  • Interface Design - Elliott Haase
  • QA - Joe Falzano & Devon Smith
  • Systems Administrator - Jason Laporte
  • Visual Design - ID29 (Special shout out to our buddy Bryan Kahrs!)

Nice job all around folks.  Now get ready for the next round of features!

Aug 18

Major League Gaming + Agora Games = Crazy Delicious

By David Czarnecki

Major League Gaming acquires Agora Games

I’m just going to parrot the MLG news post here.


Deal brings online, multi-platform development expertise to fast-growing competitive gaming property

NEW YORK CITY—AUGUST 18, 2009—Major League Gaming today announced that it has acquired Troy, NY-based Agora Games. Known for both its technical expertise and elegant product development, Agora has built some of the leading video game community applications in the industry. Together, Agora and MLG will work both to enhance MLG’s online offerings, as well as to expand the services that both companies currently offer to the game publishing community.

“Cross-platform video game competition is what MLG is all about,” said Matthew Bromberg, president and CEO of Major League Gaming. “We already operate the largest online competitive gaming property in the world. Agora is the leading developer of multi-player communities in the world. Coming together with Agora allows us to double-down on our biggest strength.”

Over the last four years, Agora has developed some of gaming’s highest profile, most ambitious community websites for titles including Guitar Hero, Transformers, Call of Duty World at War, and Dance Dance Revolution. Their technology currently tracks game play statistics for over 25 million players around the world. Founder Michael DelPrete will remain as president of the wholly-owned subsidiary. Agora will continue to operate out of its Troy, NY office. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“MLG has shown the world that competitive video gaming is both a great live sports experience and can be the basis for a thriving online business,” said Michael DelPrete, founder of Agora Games. “We share a vision of the marketplace, and we’re confident the combination will better serve our existing customers and open up new opportunities to expand our offerings.”

The acquisition presents significant opportunities for game publishers. Agora has become the go-to technology developer for handheld and web-based extensions of video game experiences. Major League Gaming has proven its ability to build massive audiences around exciting new competitive social experiences. Together, Agora and MLG will partner more deeply with publishers and developers looking for deeper engagement, more ever-green experiences, and greater unit volume.

ABOUT MAJOR LEAGUE GAMING Major League Gaming is the largest professional video game league in the world. MLG is the dominant media property exclusively targeting the approximately 40 million consumers in North America who have a passion for playing video games as a competitive social activity, while giving sponsoring brands access to this highly influential demographic. We represent the best professional gamers and give millions of aspiring players around the world an opportunity to compete, improve their skills, and socialize through our thriving online community and live Pro Circuit competitions.

Aug 13

More Transformers Please!

By Christian Arca

Once again, our work for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on the Nintendo DS has been ‘called out’. This time it’s Wii DS UK from - you guessed it - across the pond. They call Battle For Eath a, “bright light.” Here’s their bit about Battle For Earth:

While there’s the usual ‘link-up with your friends and kill them’-style deathmatch, allowing players who own either version of the game to pound on each other with the named characters from the story or their character from the main game, there’s also a special mode called Battle For Earth, which lets players duke it out for fame and glory, a list of the best players available on the official website.  The missions are more or less the same as the ones available in the main storyline, so it’s not ‘true’ DLC, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for any DS owners looking at their console-owning comrades in jealousy. _For the full review be sure to visit _

Aug 11

wiredump_dev = STDERR

By David Czarnecki

If you are ever debugging SOAP web services from Ruby and wondering what information is going across the wire to/from the web service, wiredump_dev = STDERR, may be your best friend.

def some_method_that_uses_a_soap_web_service
  storage =
  storage.wiredump_dev = STDERR
  response = storage.DoSomething(...)

When the DoSomething web service method is called, the Ruby SOAP library will print out the request and response to STDERR.

It is invaluable. Trust me!

Follow-up (8/13/2009): A friend pointed me at Handsoap, a library for creating SOAP clients in Ruby, which is an alternative to SOAP4R. It apparently does not suck. YMMV.

Jul 23

Job Posting - QA Engineer

By Nicole Plummer

Agora has an opening in our QA department, join the horde!!