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Spotlight: Danny Price, software dev

Posted: Wed, 15th Sep 2010, 2:33pm

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Simon K Jones

Force: 27955 | Joined: 1st Jan 2002 | Posts: 11683

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FXhome Team Member

Rating: +1

A little over a year ago Daniel Price joined the FXhome software dev team, marking the beginning of the largest expansion the company has ever experienced.

Danny has been working alongside FXhome veteran Tim Edwards on several projects, most of which have yet to see the light of day. Danny is responsible for creating perhaps the most important part of any product: the user interface.

We thought it was time for the community to get to know more about Danny and dutifully fired off a bunch of probing questions about his work and other interests…

1. How did you hear about the FXhome job?

Through a recruitment agency; I was unhappy in my previous job (long story) and put out some feelers. I was really impressed by FXhome and was surprised and excited when they offered me a role.

2. Were you already familiar with Norwich?

Yes, I went to college here (City College) and loved it. There were few opportunities for graduates back in 2003 however so I had to move elsewhere.

3. Had you been looking to move to Norwich, or did you come here specifically for the job?

I loved studying in Norwich and had often thought about moving back here but I had to move where the work was. It’s a lovely city! There’s a lot to see and do here but it’s small enough to be able to get around easily. Most importantly, it has a very positive ‘atmosphere’, which is more than can be said of the some of the towns I’ve lived in.

4. Is it difficult to accept a coding job when you don’t have any real details about what it is you’re going to be coding?

Not really. Code is code and while the context changes, the tools rarely do.

My previous job involved writing vehicle physics engines, networking and hardware drivers which was all-new to me but I picked it up.

The job before that involved working on a CAD package for architects that required a crash course in timber-frame construction. I’m not sure of the difference between a noggin and dwang but I know my headbinders from my soleplates!

And the one before that involved business-logic in telesales, OLAP reporting, workflows and that sort of thing. Working in graphics and effects is a lot more interesting!

5. How does the work environment compare to previous places you’ve been?

Night and day! FXhome is hands-down the nicest place I’ve ever worked in. The offices are lovely and after staring at breezeblocks I’ll never take a window-view for granted.

There are no ‘day-coders’ here; everyone is really enthusiastic about the company and our products. Nor is there an us-vs-them atmosphere like I’ve experienced before. No silly politics. We’re all part of one team.

6. You specialize in interfaces. What does your normal working day involve?

I’ll get a new design mocked-up and will think about how to implement it in the simplest, most straight-forward way with the data available. Sometimes a prototype is required but we also have an ever-increasing set of existing code and developer-experience so there’s rarely much trial-and-error.

It’s not always possible to translate those designs completely; occasionally we’ll find a better way of doing something or (more likely) will run up against some edge-case or strangeness that prevents it. But I like to think we nail it 95% of the time.

Other developers are often working on related tasks so we’re always testing each other’s code.

The feature is then bashed by QA and I try to squash the bugs. smile

7. You also code outside of work. What can you tell us about the heavy vehicle simulation project?

I love tanks and tracked vehicles and have been dabbling in various physics simulations for a while. It turns out that modeling realistic tank tracks in real-time is really, really hard and most games don’t attempt it and use texturing tricks to fake them. Typical physics engines can’t handle all the forces involved and tend to become unstable.

I spent a lot of time coming up with something that looked decent without making too many compromises thanks to the open-source but very low-level ODE physics engine. You can see some of my old attempts on my YouTube channel.

Eventually I hope to build a game/simulation that accurately models historical vehicles. I’ve also been looking into ballistics and damage models.

8. How did you get involved with the game modding scene? What modding project were you part of?

A space-trading-combat game called Escape Velocity used to be fairly popular because it was very easy to extend and modify.

I’m not much of an artist but I’ve dabbled in 3D modeling and rendering and there was always demand for artists who could create new designs for spaceships, weapons etc, animate them and put them into a mod.

I worked on a few ‘total conversions’ for Escape Velocity Nova and provided many ships models and ‘sprites’. EV was a 2D, top-down game and everything was pre-rendered.

It was an entirely web-based project and unfortunately the team broke up as college etc got in the way but I still have most of the renders and models.

9. You’re the official office WW2 history expert (as of now). What first got you interested in the period?

It’s a fascinating period of history that forever changed the world. I’m always learning something new.

10. What aspects of WW2 do you study? Do you have a broad interest, or specific areas that captivate you?

Mainly the technology - people on all sides came up with some fascinating stuff in times of desperate need; like guns that could shoot around corners, pigeon-guided missiles and bat-bombs.

The period also saw the development of some amazing aircraft, ballistic missiles and tanks like the Vampir that used IR sights for use in night combat. And we can’t overstate the impact of the atomic bomb or the computer.

There’s also the military history - the war saw some truly titanic battles that are often neglected in films.

11. What started your hobby of model tank building? How does one go about building a remote control tank?

I bought my first RC tank two years ago on a whim and was hooked.

You can buy a basic tank from eBay for £50 and then upgrade it with a better transmission, metal tracks, better suspension etc. Most models have smoke, sound effects and BB guns although IR systems are becoming more popular.

Some people like to fix the manufacturing errors, source custom parts etc to make their models true an historical unit or vehicle.

I like 1/16 scale because it’s big but not stupidly big and is great for painting with an airbrush.

12. When you’re not coding or modelling, you’re outside cycling or playing korfball. Have you always had a good balance of sport and work?

Not really! Up until very recently the only ‘sport’ I played was pool.

13. How did you get introduced to korfball? It’s not a majorly well known sport in the UK.

I saw an advertisement at the UEA for a local club not long after joining FXhome but only started playing this summer. It’s a strange sport that is only superficially similar to basketball.

Teams are mixed and you can only mark other players of the same gender and cannot shoot for the basket when marked so it’s very much dependent on teamwork.

14. Have you ever considered combining your miniature tank hobby with filmmaking to recreate some kind of epic battle sequence?

It’s surprisingly difficult to get a remote-controlled tank to move the way you want it to! Software is a bit easier.

Big thanks to Danny for introducing us to the wonders of pigeon-guided missiles!

Alas, this is the last in this current series of Spotlights. However, in a couple of weeks we'll be starting something of supreme awesomeness, so stay tuned...

Posted: Wed, 15th Sep 2010, 3:44pm

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Toruk Macto

Force: 55 | Joined: 21st Jan 2010 | Posts: 201


Really those tanks, should buy one for my films.

What software did you use for that awesome tank treads video?
Posted: Wed, 15th Sep 2010, 4:05pm

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Force: 13360 | Joined: 30th Oct 2001 | Posts: 6094

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You sound awesome. biggrin

Hmmm.. *cough* Is there a chance you might sell those spaceship models you did for an indie game? So they'd be used again? smile
Posted: Wed, 15th Sep 2010, 4:30pm

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Force: 1045 | Joined: 22nd Jan 2010 | Posts: 32

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Gold Member

It's very cool to see how multi-talented the FXHome Dev team is. Great article!

And thanks for making the UI for my new favorite program!
Posted: Wed, 15th Sep 2010, 6:10pm

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Force: 7300 | Joined: 7th Aug 2009 | Posts: 40

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FXhome Team Member

Toruk Macto wrote:

Really those tanks, should buy one for my films.

What software did you use for that awesome tank treads video?
My own smile
Posted: Wed, 15th Sep 2010, 6:16pm

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Force: 7300 | Joined: 7th Aug 2009 | Posts: 40

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FXhome Team Member

Sollthar wrote:

You sound awesome. biggrin

Hmmm.. *cough* Is there a chance you might sell those spaceship models you did for an indie game? So they'd be used again? smile
They date back to a time when 'HD' was a twinkle in someone's eye. Now everything's true 3D and there's no room for frames of pre-rendered sprite anymore sad

I still have all the models but they were produced in an ancient (and very strange) Mac 3D program called 'Mechanisto' and so are not compatible with anything else. I'm planning to write my own modeling application that will be designed along similar lines and will run on modern hardware.