We had a chance to sit down with the head of Tribes 2 Maps, the "Dynamix IRC God" himself; Ross Carlson aka Bytor. We talked to him about how he got to where he is now, his accomplishments and projects and the future of Tribes 1 / 2 IRC.
the Junkyard: Please introduce yourself to the community.
Bytor: Hey all ... Bytor here ... my real name is Ross Carlson, I'm a 29 year old web application developer from the cow-filled state of Vermont. I've been involved with the Tribes community since I bought Tribes 1 a few days after it hit the shelves. I work as a contractor for Dynamix, maintaining the Tribes 1 and Tribes 2 chat servers and overseeing the chat community in general, including overseeing the chat moderators and programming the various bots which help keep things civil in the chat rooms.
tJY: What have you been up to lately?
Bytor: My time recently has been split between three things: My main "job", which is part owner and director of product development at
www.CollectorOnline.com, a leading e-commerce web site for the antiques and collectibles industry, performing my duties as chat server administrator for Dynamix, and building my mapping site, www.Tribes2Maps.com - that site takes up a LOT of my time because I constantly find ways to improve it, and get constant suggestions from the site visitors.
tJY: You can't just walk up to game developer and ask for a job, what did it take to get to where you are now?
Bytor: Funny you should say that, but that's about all it took. I didn't start out in the position I'm in now though. At first I was a volunteer moderator in the main #tribes channel on the Tribes 1 IRC server, irc.dynamix.com. Just after I bought the game, I spent some time in the chat and discovered that it was sorely lacking in "control". There were people spamming the channel like crazy, and doing other llama-like things. I emailed the chat contact at Dynamix and volunteered to be a moderator. They gave me the moderator password to the channel, no questions asked, hrmmm. So, there it began.
The next thing I did was create ShazBot, the bot that everyone loves to hate. ShazBot was created to handle auto-opping the moderators, as well as handling some of the more mundane moderator duties like preventing spammers and people who are using foul language.
The next thing I did was to volunteer to move the server over to a Linux-based server solution. The server was on a terrible Microsoft Chat server, which was always crashing and dropping people's connections. They accepted my offer to install the IRC on a dedicated Linux server, and that lead to my ongoing contract to maintain the servers and oversee the moderators.
tJY: With Sierra keeping their watchful eyes on the boys at Dynamix, what's a day in your life like?
Bytor: I very rarely deal with anyone from Sierra. I deal mostly with Dave Georgeson and Daryl Nichols, who are the producer and co-producer of the game. Since I work from remote, most of our communication is via email or IRC. I generally only get on the phone with them when there is a pressing issue. I also dealt with Mark Frohnmayer quite a bit as they were getting ready to release Tribes 2. Nowadays I work with Kelly Asay quite a bit, who is the community developer. Mostly we identify and fix chat-related bugs and discuss new features.
tJY: Tribes2Maps is quite an extensive site, what gave you the initiative to create it?
Bytor: I wrote quite a few maps for Tribes 1, and I had a small site just to host my own maps. During that time, I looked at a lot of custom maps made by various authors in the community. The biggest problem I found when I was looking for other maps to check out was the fact that no single site did a really good job of providing maps for players and server admins to evaluate before downloading and installing them. Most sites didn't include screenshots, or they had no reviews, or they had a great selection, but no way to quickly search the maps if you were looking for one in particular. So, I took it upon myself to create a site that focuses exclusively on maps, and provides all the tools and features that players and server admins need in order to find, evaluate, and download custom maps.
I'm a strong believer that no single web site can be the greatest site for more than one or two things. In other words, a site that tries to have "everything" will never be the best site for any one of those things. To be a truly great site, it needs to focus on one or two aspects. That's why Tribes2Maps.com focuses on maps exclusively.
tJY: What, in your mind, is the ultimate goal of T2M?
Bytor: I don't think I have an "ultimate" goal so to speak. My initial goal for the site has already been reached. That goal was for the site to be the de facto standard for Tribes 2 maps. I wanted it to be the site that everyone thinks of when they want to find a map. I feel that goal has already been met because I see people posting in the forums built into Tribes 2 when they create a map, and they talk about my site as if there is no question if the map is or will soon be available on Tribes2Maps.com. Maybe I'm patting myself on the back to much here, but that's the impression I get when people refer to my site.
So, my goal from this point on is to keep up the top-notch reputation that the site has earned, and continually add new features to the site, while always staying focused on being the definitive Tribes 2 mapping resource.
tJY: Is T2M run by Dynamix or is it an independant site run by yourself and your cohorts?
Bytor: T2M is my own pet project. It is not affiliated with Dynamix in any way.
tJY: Just what is involved in running T2M? Do you update the site daily, or is everything dynamically driven?
Bytor: The site is very dynamic, and entirely scripted. It runs itself. The only thing I do is screen each map submission for errors, bogus files in the .zips, etc. When someone sends in a map, I get an email. I click a link in that email to inspect the zip file contents, and if everything looks good, I click another link to activate the map so that it is immediately available for download on the site. Other than that, I am active in the
site forums, and constantly adding new features. And of course I write reviews for the site as well, along with the other staff reviewers. That involves playtesting the maps on my T2 server as well. We can't possibly playtest and review every map that is submitted, so part of my job is to choose the maps that will be reviewed.
tJY: How long was T2M in the making and did you create all the code yourself?
Bytor: I started working on the site in April of 2000. It was originally going to be for Tribes 1 and Tribes 2 maps. I put the design together in a couple evenings, then started the coding. I had the bulk of the code done in about a week, and then I just did some tweaking and testing. So, I'd say the site was built in about a month's time. I did 100% of the design, graphics, CGI scripting and database programming myself.
By that time, T2 was on the horizon, and due to the enhanced editor and the promise that maps with custom terrain would automatically download to the player's machines, I decided I would tighten the focus of the site even more, and only support Tribes 2 maps because I knew there would be a flurry of maps created for the game. Unfortunately, the game was delayed for several months, so the site just sat on my development server for a while until T2 finally came out earlier this year.
tJY: What does being the "Dynamix IRC God" entail? What's a daily scenario...
Bytor: Remember that this isn't a full-time job for me, so I don't fill my entire day doing IRC related things. I would say I spend on the average two to three hours a day doing IRC related things. I am just about always logged in to the chat servers, so I can keep an eye on the official channels, and the servers in general. My typical duties include dealing with troublesome users, dealing with channel takeovers, helping users with channel and name registration, and working with the moderators. I also do regular server admin stuff on the server machines themselves, such as rotating log files, clearing disk space, etc. Every month or so I upgrade the server software entirely, in order to patch up a security exploit, or add new features, etc. I also spend a fair bit of time programming the various bots that run on the servers.
tJY: How are you involved in the development of T2 IRC?
Bytor: I didn't get involved with the T2 development until just before the beta began. I worked with Mark Frohnmayer (aka GotMilk?) helping him test the customized IRC server that he wrote to handle the T2 chat and community features. I also did some minor server admin related coding, such as a watchdog program to ensure that the server processes were always up and running. I was there mainly as an advisor, and server admin. I wouldn't be considered part of the "Dev team". The only real programming I do for T2 is the IRC bots, and some customization of the IRC server code for Tribes 1.
tJY: Will standard IRC commands be implemented into the T2 client?
Bytor: Some already are, but most aren't. We will be adding more as we identify the need and/or demand for them as the game progresses and the community grows.
tJY: What actually goes into the creation / administration of an IRC server?
Bytor: It's very similar to web server creation and administration. You set up a machine with a high speed connection, install an IRC server software package (of which there are several to choose from), perform any configuration or customizations, then open it up. Administration involves keeping up with software upgrades and security patches, as well as monitoring the server to make sure it has enough bandwidth, CPU, and memory resources to handle the load on the server. Pretty boring stuff really!
tJY: Will irc.dynamix.com be taken down and replaced with the T2 IRC server in the near future? Distant?
Bytor: That is highly unlikely due to the fact that the T2 IRC server is HIGHLY customized to incorporate the T2 authentication and community features. The Tribes 1 IRC server will remain available as long as it's still in use by T1 players.
tJY: What is the ETA on mIRC which can be used for T2?
Bytor: I can't say. The developers are hard at work polishing the game itself, which takes higher priority right now, understandably so. We know that people really want the mIRC access, but we know that people want enhancements to a kick-butt game even more, so that's where Dynamix is focusing their efforts right now.
tJY: What would you say is the most rewarding thing you get from working so closely with the community?
Bytor: The most rewarding thing for me is to simply see the vast number of people that use the IRC as the central hub of the community. The fact that the IRC service is very highly used for it's intended purpose is testament to the fact that I am doing my job well. /me pats himself on the back.
tJY: Just out of the blue - what's your favourite game and why?
Bytor: Hands down, Tribes 2. I played Tribes 1 for HOURS on end, every day, for many, many months. It was my all-time favorite game ... right up until I got my paws on Tribes 2. In my opinion, Tribes 2 is everything that Tribes 1 was, with considerable added depth. The new vehicles, weapons, and packs add several new dimensions for me. In Tribes 1, I was almost exclusively a flag runner. That was the one position that I was able to perform well in.
In Tribes 2, because of the added features, I find myself really enjoying medium defense, cloaked assassin, pilot, as well as flag runner. That makes it even more enjoyable for me than Tribes 1, and that says A LOT. The enhanced graphics are just icing on an already yummy cake.