The Blog

Posts from July 2011

Jul 29

Who Reads the Manuals?

By Leslie Brezslin

So I recently ordered my own copy of Mortal Kombat and it arrived just a few days ago. Once in my impatient hands, I savagely tore open its containing box without a fragment of mercy; ending with something similar to this:

After that, I proceeded to remove the inferior plastic barrier that stood between me and the future of gory deaths that I’d be responsible for. Having taken care of the plastic with my razor sharp teeth, I pried open the casing open to reveal a fairly well decorated DVD and a booklet on the side. Naturally the booklet never experienced the faintest drop of my attention, but the DVD was pampered with the greatest of care. I removed it from its casing, popped it into my PS3 and enjoyed the awkwardly menacing side of me that enjoyed achieving the bloodiest of fatalities.

Today, with most things, you normally learn as you go along. Somehow, I find myself remembering how I use to value those little booklets that I now show no love to. In the past, before delicately removing the DVD, I would have carefully removed the manual and used it to avoid the learning curve. Now, I realize that it had been a long time since I had read a game manual and will probably be an even longer time before I read another one. So I wonder, are game manuals worth it or have they become a waste of our limited resources? I personally think they should be available on the website or on the game disk. Of course, I haven’t ruled out that I may be the only one who doesn’t care for the manuals, so let me know your thoughts on our Facebook or below!

Jul 25

Gaming through the ages

By Leslie Brezslin

An overly sized brick that weighed a ton in my hands, comprising of a 2D, black and white screen and some buttons. That’s exactly how the six years old me would have described a Gameboy. Even with its primitive characteristics, the Gameboy is a feature in an evolutionary timeline that started many years before its arrival. If we go back to the beginning of human time, I’m sure that you’d be able to find some relative of gaming regardless of how basic. Competition and play are part of human nature, so whether it was punching wholes in the ground or killing the most mammoths, games can easily be made of anything.

A game is defined as: an amusement, pastime or an activity, which requires skill and is usually some form of competition. Of course, by that definition not many things are subject to exclusion, but a search on Wikipedia or Google nowadays assumes a video game reference. Since man started tracking time, the earliest forms date back to 3000BC, one of which was a simple game of dice. Additionally, they were used then as they are today, as your common pastime for amusement or for competitive/ gambling purposes. Using the Romans as a prime example, they even had what became known as professional gamblers and eventually prohibition laws.

Nowadays gaming has evolved into different categories. These include but are not limited to card games, board games, sports and the popular video games. Video games have also gone as far as merging all categories and changing the way they are experienced. Consider an ancient game like chess for example; it can now be played in a new environment without the physical board. Video games go as far back as the 1940s in early cathode ray tube-based missile defense systems. Originally designed for mainframe computers, videogames later expanded into consoles, personal computers and handhelds.

Today, society has made it hard to fight a gaming addiction because they’re virtually everywhere. Most people have access to computers that undoubtedly hosts them, consoles have gotten cheaper, more affordable and best of all (depending on who you ask), they’ve invaded the mobile phone area. Some of the phone game graphics even rival popular handheld console systems. Hardware in systems is becoming more powerful and will continue to advance as time goes on. Today, we have consoles that offer 3d technology and some as far as virtual reality. I wonder what’s next, brain chips that let your mind be the console, maybe? Anyhow, for those of us that were old enough to enjoy them, I ask which was better, Gameboy, Atari or Game Gear. I personally vote for the Gameboy. Let me know in the comments below or on twitter.


Jul 21

A New Challenger Appears! Videogames <= Art?

By Leslie Brezslin

I’ve noticed that there are some who hesitate when it comes to positively correlating video games and art.  Of course a statement like there is an art to playing (insert game) is invalid, but what about the finished product itself? This quote “Video games can never be art” by Roger Ebert has me stumped because games are simply hybrids of the art we take for granted everyday. For some, to appreciate a compilation,  one must examine each of the individual parts. To begin, what is art?

Wikipedia describes art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”. Although this definition doesn’t go into specifics, there are many mediums through which art (specifically modern art) is experienced. Other than the two mentioned, some of the others include but aren’t limited to music, photography, literacy and motion pictures.

My definition of an artist is a person who creates expressive works through available tools and mediums. Consider a composer, while Mason William’s choice was the acoustic guitar, Jimmy Hendrix made a name for himself with the electric guitar.  The question is however, with the broad spectrum of tools that mankind has developed through the centuries, where do we draw the line between what’s art and what’s not?

Painting, a classic art, liberates the trappings of the imagination by providing a platform for recreation and self-expression. Painting has gone from cave walls to the Mona Lisa over the years and below is an example by Johannes Vermeer called “the view of Delft”:

Now consider this work from one of the scenes in Brink:

This is an artist’s imagination of a world that doesn’t even exist. Regardless of the tools used to create it, the realism and openness to interpretation is at least similar to that of Vermeer. I regard re-creation and imagination as residing on two different planes of creativity. In my opinion, to paint something as it is in front of you isn’t as challenging as painting something as it could be. The interactivity of that world that games allow, tell a story but its brilliance isn’t limited to there. Lets take a motion picture. In this example, we’ll use a scene in a movie that derived from the book “Black Hawk Down” by Mark Bowden.

Compare this same scene to the popular video game Call of Duty:

Will anyone  argue that films aren’t art? Black Hawk Down, won academy awards for its editing and sound; the aesthetics of the film. Undoubtedly, popping in a video you game will bring you very similar characteristics including performances. While Black Hawk Down is an expression of the battle of Mogadishu, COD is a portrayal of World War II. Although subjected to opinion, the only overlaying difference between the two, is the way they are experienced.

They say when you wish to study emotion, you should consult an actor or musician, because it’s the true core of their professions. Music affects the mood and can be found in the background of most if not all films. It helps carry the scene and guide the audience as to how they should be feeling at any point in the plot. In the gaming world, before speech was a norm, music ruled all platforms and represented ninety percent of the sound that would be seen in games (the other ten percent representing the attempts at sound effects). Today, games have grown to feature both.  Some compositions have even grown to become so popular as to ignite re-creations or rearrangements (a feature that was only popular with historic classical pieces or pop music). Take for example the Kingdom Hearts theme song, Dearly Beloved: Now compare that simplistic yet beautiful melody to this is composition by Kyle Landry:

Like the videos above, a quick search on Youtube bears many results of personalized variations; a growing arena. After all, what is art if not versatile enough to allow you to relate or re-express it as you see it?

As stated by Kellee Santiago in her TED talk, games are the cave paintings of what it can and probably will become. Although I agree that we’ve only scratched the surface, I think that games aren’t the cave paintings but the evolution of the chicken scratch. It goes further than its predecessors in individualizing the experiences and allowing for a broader range of interpretations. Games are no longer just coded pixels, they’re stories, paintings, and compositions. The code only allows them to mobilize and be experienced in a different way than the mediums before it. You can’t mix all of the components of art together and disregard the hybrid as something different than its parent class. So are games works of art? yes! if you disagree, let me know in the comments below or on twitter.

Jul 20

Soonatra - 'Coming Soon' pages on Sinatra

By Logan Koester

I was recently tasked with creating a “coming soon” page for a new project. The requirements were the usual:

  • Some description of the project features
  • A form to signup for an email list / invites
  • Display a few posts from an RSS feed
  • Show some screenshots of what we’re building to collect early feedback

We’ve also been increasing our focus on A/B testing (aka “split testing”), so I wanted a way to try out different headlines and see which angle users find most interesting.

This all sounds well and good, but it is very frustrating to take time away from the beginning of an exciting new project to invest in a page that will only be online for a few short weeks.

I decided I don’t ever want to do it again, so I created  Soonatra.

Soonatra is a simple  Sinatra-based framework for creating these pages quickly.

Soonatra reduces the steps involved to: - Create a mailing list (we’re using  Mailchimp) - Choose some colors/graphics that fit well with your brand - Write the page copy and set an RSS feed url. - Deploy to a free  Heroku account and park your domain.

It is easy to extend and manage multiple themes thanks to  Compass, and does not require a database, instead using  Redis for RSS feed consumption and tracking A/B test results.

You can fork the git repo and have your site up and running in minutes.

See  README.textile for all the juicy details.

Jul 20

A Redis cache for RSS consumption

By Logan Koester

If you’ve ever wanted to include some data from an RSS/Atom feed on a page from Ruby, you’ve probably run into this problem:

It’s completely unreasonable to hammer the feed provider with a request every time the page is rendered, but it’s no more reasonable to use a big relational database like MySQL just to cache some stupid tweets or blog posts, especially if your application wouldn’t otherwise need one. But apparently this layer of persistance has been deemed out-of-scope by the creators of popular RSS consumer libraries such as  Feedzirra.

So I wrote a little gem called  feedzirra-redis to take care of this as transparently as possible. You can use it just like you would  Feedzirra normally, but your feeds and entries do not disappear at the end of the script, so you can do the dirty work from a Rakefile via cron instead of in the web request/response cycle while your users impatiently twiddle their thumbs.


$ gem install feedzirra-redis


See the  README and  test suite for example usage.


Jul 8

June Recap

By David Czarnecki

As June comes to an end, we remember that it brought more to us than the official start of summer. Below is a high level view of just a few of the projects and events that took place this month.

MLG Columbus Lets start off with our biggest event, MLG Columbus. This month’s Pro circuit was held during the weekend of June 3-5 in Columbus Ohio and obtained notable success. Throughout the weekend, nearly 15 thousand people showed up to support their favorite gamers. That however, was nothing near the 22.5 million people who streamed the event from their computers. With the major updates we made to our systems, we formulated the equation for a very successful pro circuit event that tromped the ones before it.


This month we added a few new goodies to our Github portfolio accessible at Some of which include:


Haigha provides a simple to use client library for interacting with AMQP brokers. It currently supports the 0.9.1 protocol and is integration tested against the latest RabbitMQ 2.4.1 (see errata). Haigha is a descendant of py-amqplib and owes much to its developers.

The goals of haigha are performance, simplicity, and adherence to the form and function of the AMQP protocol. It adds a few useful features, such as the ChannelPool class and Channel.publish_synchronous, to ease use of powerful features in real-world applications.

By default, Haigha operates in a completely asynchronous mode, relying on callbacks to notify application code of responses from the broker. Where applicable, nowait defaults to True. The application code is welcome to call a series of methods, and Haigha will manage the stack and synchronous handshakes in the event loop.


Gondola is a ruby gem which aims to bridge the gap between two very prominent, open source, quality assurance tools, Selenium IDE and Sauce Labs. Many quality assurance professionals who don’t have the necessary technical skills to write Selenium webdriver-based unit tests prefer to do their web regression testing using solely the Selenium IDE and then exporting those test cases by some means to Sauce Labs' system.

Gondola offers an easier and more convenient system for dispatching tests written in Selenium IDE to a Sauce Labs account. Gondola transforms the html that Selenium IDE produces by default and ships it to Sauce Labs across a number of browsers in parallel. Test suites and projects can be easily organized with simple file directory structures.

Beyond the console application that comes with the gem, Gondola offers a small API for integrating Gondola’s features into custom web apps. This allows a user to bring Gondola’s simplicity into an existing testing suite or a new web application. Specifically, we have a plan to write a sample Gondola web app to demonstrate its power.

We’ve also added updates to the projects that were the deliverables of previous months. Check out the Git page for a full list.

Webby Awards

The Webby Award is the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet. This year we won two webby awards, one for lifestyle and another for the other for games.

Mortal Kombat Fight Stick

This classic trophy is a gift from Warner Bros for the work that we did on the latest Mortal Kombat game. Currently, we are powering the stats on their website and are responsible for the creation of their in-game chat features.

So has received numerous updates and features over the course of this month. One of those, is the user generated content feature with options such as SSO/login integration_, _video uploads, user channels and a user videos page. We’ve also added video rating and moderation capabilities along with several addition improvements on the back end of the site.

MLG Store

There have been quite a few updates deployed to the MLG store, making it simple and enjoyable to get the things you want. We’ve also heightened security in order to protect your information and prevent fraud while fostering a painless checkout process.

These are just six of the things that went on during the sixth month of the year. Here at Agora we’re constantly working and implementing new back-end and front-end updates. Thank you to the team for a productive month and to you our followers for your support. For more detailed and on the spot update information, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Github.