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Feature: 'Dirty Coding Tricks'

When the schedule is shot and a game needs to ship, programmers may employ some dirty coding tricks to get the game out the door -- here are nine real-life examples.
Programmers are often methodical and precise beasts who do their utmost to keep their code clean and pretty. But when the chips are down, the perfectly-planned schedule is shot, and the game needs to ship, "getting it done" can win out over elegance. When the schedule is shot and a game needs to ship, programmers may employ some dirty coding tricks to get the game out the door. In an article originally published in Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine earlier this year, here are nine real-life examples of just that. For example, contributor Noel Llopis recalls gold candidate day for an original Xbox game. After a full day's playtest things looked good to go -- when disaster strikes in the shape o a hard crash. One dinner and many hours later, our dreams of getting out on time shattered, we manage to track it down to one data file being loaded in with the wrong data. The wrong data? How's that possible? Our resource system boiled down every asset to a 64-bit identifier made out of the CRC32 of the full filename and the CRC32 of all the data contents. That was also our way of collapsing identical resource files into a single one in the game. With tens of thousands of files, and two years of development, we never had a conflict. Never. Until now, that is. It turns out that one of the innocent tweaks the designers had checked in that afternoon made it so a text file had the exact same filename and data CRC as another resource file, even though they were completely different! Our hearts sank to our feet when we recognized the problem. There's no way we could change the resource indexing system in such a short period of time. Even if we pulled an all-nighter, there was no way to know for sure that everything would be stable in the morning. Then, as quickly as despair swept over us, we realized how we could fix this on time for the gold candidate release. We opened up the text file responsible for the conflict, added a space at the end, and saved it. We looked at each other with huge grins on our faces and said: "Ship it!" In another example, during the development of Raven Software's new Wolfenstein, David Dynerman encountered trouble setting up Xbox 360 controller support and decided on a shortcut: In the existing event system, each event was passed around with two integer arguments and a void pointer in case you needed extra parameters. So the goal was to associate a controller ID with each input event. No problem -- just pack the controller ID into one of the event's integer arguments, right? Of course, they were both already in use. Then came the next idea: Let's just use our fast no-fragmentation per-frame allocator to reserve some memory, plop the controller id in there, and then pass a pointer to it in the event's pointer slot. It turns out that the event system would take it upon itself to free() the event's void pointer after processing the event. Of course this was totally incompatible with the multiheap approach that we were using. Moreover, there were a few legacy Doom 3 chunks that actually relied on the event code calling free(), so we couldn't just remove the call without non-trivial changes across the codebase. What about adding a third integer parameter? Well, that would involve changing several hundred function calls. The deadline is looming, I can't spend much more time on this. So, I did the unthinkable -- I packed the controller id into the pointer parameter. I marked it as a horrible hack in a 4-line all-caps comment, and checked it in. This worked fine for a while, and lasted until the whole input system was replaced with something a little better down the line. You can read many more dirty coding tricks from resourceful, time-crunched developers in the full Gamasutra feature (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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