The Game Chronicles – A Gamer in Corporate Narnia

by Zdravko Verguilov, ServiceNow Platform Developer, Do IT Wise

Believe it or not, it’s that time of the year again. And I’m not only referring to the holidays, but also the end of the hectic Q4. So maybe it’s time to chill a bit, and what better way to do that than a trip down memory lane? 

Contrary to the popular story, the ghost of Christmas Past is a good friend of mine. It always brings me back to my trusty HP Vectra VL, with the good old Pentium II inside. Nowadays, 266MHz sounds less than impressive, but it was just enough for some serious entertainment back then. So, every year when my buddy the ghost comes, I see myself having the time of my life with classics like C&C, Diablo, Heroes, StarCraft, and many others. Games like those played a vital role in forming my personality. Once a gamer – always a gamer, it’s a specific trait that never disappears.  

Windows XP came out exactly 20 years ago. It coincided with the emerging but quickly spreading fast home Internet service. With it came a suite of games, most of which were network-based. I’ve had the chance to play against real people before, but this was something new – it was there, available 24/7, just a click away. Among them – the one that got my attention and would eventually eat up numerous hours in my teens – ‘Internet Reversi’. 

Internet Reversi

The game itself is a strategic masterpiece. Created in the 19th century, its revised version, also known as ‘Othello’, came out in the 1970s. It looks like a simple board game initially – whoever has more chips (officially called ‘disks’) in the end, wins. Then you have your first few games and realize the four corners are the key to victory and start trying to outmanoeuvre your opponent to get them. Even if you do, one wrong move could cost you the victory, leading to some very intensive plays. 

There was also a sort of a game chat included in the XP version, which only allowed selecting a predefined phrase from a drop-down. I’m quite sure that one boosted my creativity a lot, as you need to be very creative to be able to communicate or simply troll someone while only having a predefined set of seemingly harmless phrases at your disposal. Because, you know, there HAS to be a way to get your revenge somehow, for that loss you just took… 

Years passed, Windows XP eventually became obsolete. Some of the games continued with Vista and 7, before eventually being sent to the Eternal Fields of Obsolete Software without too much noise. My teens are long gone, and the ghost of Christmas Present finds me dwelling on a piece of JavaScript code. The fun-loving gamer ended up in corporate Narnia. It’s the same as the one in the books, seemingly endless and full of magical creatures, the only difference being that you don’t need a special wardrobe to get there. OK, maybe you do, but that’s a whole other topic.  

It’s a place where Productivity is king, and ServiceNow – its weapon of choice.  But how to make it more fun? Games in ServiceNow? Don’t be ridiculous. Multiplayer ones?  

Let’s just discuss it for a moment. Work is done by people, and people like fun. They also need those moments of rest that they spend… being people. That’s why all companies have break rooms. That’s why in most break rooms, there are games. A lot of them are board games to include more people and encourage building a team spirit. But, since the ‘Thing That Shall Not Be Named – 19’ sent us all home indefinitely, we lost that. So, bear with me here, if break rooms improve productivity, and we no longer have access to those, why don’t we make virtual ones?  

I know that’s not ServiceNow’s primary application. But turn-based board games? Why not? We have the Portal, and although AngularJS is also slowly heading for the Eternal Fields, that doesn’t make it any less powerful of a tool. It wouldn’t cost the backend too many resources either, with a simple call going back and forth every second or two.  

So, there I was, with the crazy ServiceNow gaming idea in my head. Which game would be a good match with the restrictions and goals I had on my hands? How about the first one of this type that I ever played? 

Board game? 
Check. 

Multiplayer? 
Check. 

Turn-based? 
Check. 

Simple enough for a realistic development effort? 
Check. 

It was the perfect match. Not only would I have my game, but I’d have a true homage to Windows XP and its games, which played such a role in my formation. Exactly 20 years later! The ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will love this! And this, my fellows, is how an idea is born. Then I just had to add the missing pieces in order to have the full picture. First, before going for Reversi, I needed a simpler game to prove the concept. I chose Battleships, another childhood favorite, and it paved the way beautifully for the main event: 

Another thing I wanted to include in the project was the learning and knowledge-sharing aspect. This thing was a golden opportunity for people with less experience on the Portal to get their hands dirty and learn while doing something fun – as we all know, that’s the best form of learning. That’s how it became a team effort, and the result is beautiful. We have officially proven the concept, and we have two multiplayer 2D games, that are actually fun and engaging. Adding leaderboards made the competition real. Here’s our finished game: 

Reversi Game

We also had a little portal page to help game creation and/or joining existing ones: 

Virtual Game Room

As you can see, a third one is on its way. It’s been on its way for a while now, but that’s how it is (see the ‘hecticQ4’ in the beginning). Once that is done, we have a big one to come – an actual, full-scale board game for up to 8 people. Think D&D-scale title.  In the next parts, we’ll see more details on the challenges the team faced, and how we overcame them. So, stay tuned fellow developers, some sweet code is coming your way! 

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