Interview with Alain TÚsio
creator of floc.net

By Millis Miller




The following interview is with Alain TÚsio, responsible for one of the most important add-ons to the PBEM Diplomacy world, that of the automatic mapper floc.net. For those not in the know, this allows games played either on the njudge or DPJudge (the latter also hosted on the same machine) to be graphically displayed. Gone are the days when players had to use colour pencils on paper maps to track their games, now they have an on-line system automatically updated. Indeed, such is its importance that any new variant must have floc.net support if it is to have a chance to succeed.

Q: Firstly, tell us something about Alain TÚsio, the person.

I'm French, 31 years old, live in Paris, and am single. For work I'm designing and programming software for asset management.


Q: What first got you interested in Diplomacy?

I played before I had internet with friends at school, along with many role-playing and strategy games. I started playing on internet in 1996. I'm not really good, just average.


Q: Why did you decide to create a mapping service?

It started with some scripts I've been using locally when I played a lot, up to 30 NoPress games at a time. I liked the way mapit works with postscript templates. This was a good opportunity to learn how to build a website too.


Q: How long did it take to do, and what were the difficulties involved?

A couple of hours a week for two years, difficulties were essentially it being my first online project, handling judge outputs which aren't meant to be read by programs.

I didn't start from scratch: I don't write mapit postscript templates myself, I just add some minor fixes when I get a request. David Norman provides maps for new variants tested on USTR, Manus Hand added the great center center colorization stuff and wrote the python implementation I'm running. Fernando Blesa from the MachFix mailing list maintains the version which handles Machiavelli variants. A lot of individuals send fixes for existing maps, often variant creators.

Even if mapit is great, it wasn't written for multiple variants, this lack of modularity makes it hard to fix bugs and add new features for all variants automatically.


Q: How easy is it to maintain now, and what are the typical problems at the moment?

I had some hardware problems some months ago, it's a pain to recover from a hard disk crash and manage not to lose the data stored during the downtime. The mapping engine is stable now, most of the requests I get these days are updates for new variants and fixes to changes in judge outputs. I have a cvs repository for all the stuff, I think it can be considered as the reference for mapit now. (For the curious you can browse through changes for the code which parses judge incoming mails or mapit). A lot of people help and send fixes for maps, which is great. If you want to change something on a map, please follow these steps:

  • download a one page postscript file of a running game
  • make the modifications you want on it, check the output with Ghostscript or some other postscript viewer
  • send me the original file you downloaded, and the modified one, so I can apply the changes to the template

    I'm not really good at tracking requests so I have a new system for keeping a trace of them; please submit bug/feature requests here. If you sent me a mail and I didn't reply, or I said I'd do it and forgot, please also submit an issue.


  • Q: What other Dip-related things are you hosting on your server?

    My machine also hosts the DPJudge by Manus Hand. The DPJudge is a rewritten judge with similar mail format, a web interface and some other interesting things like the infamous Payola variant. Also there is an njudge adjudicator USOS that I host too, run by a mysterious guy named Nightshade.

    You can see the games currently being tracked on floc.net here (at the least the ones I know about).

    I also have an online interface to the JDPR ratings database (some search pages which went a bit far), fed by data computed by Doug Massey. The JDD project has been formed to make this semi-automatic with continuously updated ratings.


    Q: How much does it cost to run, and do you accept donations?

    About $150/month for the machine and the connection (if you're ever looking for web hosting for dedicated servers, atjeu.com is great). I don't need money, I use it for other personal purposes and to host my company's site which pays for part of the cost.

    Something I do need is someone to provide a mirror in case of downtime, so if you have a stable machine with some resources available (some gigs of disk space and cpu, bandwidth peaks only when my machine is out of order, running linux or bsd) please tell me, I'll do the setup


    Q: Do you play Diplomacy at all?

    Only one internet RT game and 2 board games during the last year because of real life constraints (it scares me just to think how it will be when I'll be married with children!).

    I planned to go to WTC 2004 this year, I had even booked my flight, but a real-life problem prevented my going at the last minute.


    Q: What does the future of PBEM Diplomacy hold for you?

    I believe in unregulated markets, planning is evil. Maybe I'll work on a semi-automatic ratings system if I find some time. Maybe some people will start a new judge implementation from scratch, with a database backend, web services and a fat client interface.


    Thank you Alain for your time and providing us this glimpse of your thoughts and involvement in this great hobby!



    Millis Miller
    (millis@diplom.org)



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