Friday, December 21, 2007

Citizens Bank of Canada uses TheoWorlds' ecard to sponsor a food drive

Citizens Bank of Canada used our Christmas Gingerbread Cookie Decorator ecard to sponsor its food drive. Here is the link:

Citizens Bank of Canada will donate a dollar to the Canadian Association of Food Banks for every gingerbread card sent between December 10, 2007 to December 25, 2007 up to a maximum of $5000.00.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TheoAvatar SDK - minor update

There is a small update for our TheoAvatarSDK users. It fixes the bug related to the interface (not to the isometric engine itself). The Room List was acting weird in some rare situations, and would sometimes switch users to an empty room. It has been fixed. All you have to do is to locate the "roomList" movieclip on the scene or in the library (It's the one containing the ListBox with the room names) and then replace a couple of lines (or just the whole code, if it's easier for you):

Here is the new code.

Special thanks to Drew Bennett from BYOB Simulation, who pointed this bug out to us. Drew is working on a very interesting business simulating portal using our TheoAvatarSDK. We plan to review it sometime soon.

If you want to find more about TheoAvatarSDK - visit

Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas eCards for web2.0

We updated our highly popular Christmas Gingerbread Cookie Decorator eCard for the incoming season. Now, after saving a new card, there is a new option available to you - copying the code snippet that can be pasted into your own website. So if you have a MySpace or FaceBook page, a personal blog or website, you can display your saved card directly on it!

Besides that, we also optimized our icing engine, so now it will not slow down after you add a lot of icing on the cookies.

Have fun with our ecard and spread the joy of Christmas! You can access it from here:

Monday, November 19, 2007

5pm is officially released

5pm - a new generation project management tool - is finally released.

You can give it a try - there is a 14-day free trial. The registration is quick and easy. No credit card is required.

Visit: for more details.

P.S. To help you get started, we also created a short Video Introduction with Adobe Captivate:

Friday, November 02, 2007

Lego City Builder built with TheoAvatarSDK

MindOrchard team used our product - TheoAvatarSDK - to create the amazing Lego City Builder. It lets you create your own city maps and export them to jpegs.

Thanks to Arran D'Aubigny for the link.

Ever wanted to build your own online world? Try our TheoAvatar SDK - a tool that helps you build multi-user 3D chats like TheoAvatar in Flash. It comes with Map Editor, source code and documentation. It runs on both ElectroServer and SmartFoxServer. Purchase it today and start digging into the exiting world of Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO)!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

5pm demo goes live

About a week ago our web development division launched the 5pm™ demo - the next generation web-based service for managing projects and tasks. Give it a try here:

You will notice the powerful and original interface, powered by web2.0 technologies like AJAX. As we mentioned before, the Flash interactive timeline was developed by

Feel free to play with the fully functioning public demo. The commercial version will be released soon and it will come with a 30-day free trial. Make sure to register your email in order to be notified about the release.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When your AOL friends don't get your emails...

... you may not even know about it. AOL uses extremely aggressive process to filter out the spam. Often, suspicious emails are deleted, without even getting into the spam folder. So the end user doesn't even have a chance to check if it's really spam, and the sender doesn't get any errors or a bounce back messages. It's like an Emails Black Hole. Most likely it can be tuned up through the email settings, but not many bother.

Today we got one of many emails related to this issue: "i can not fu##ing reseve letters from this website from my friend". This is actually the whole email, not a quote. I just had to hash out a couple of letters. No hellos or good buys, not even checking the spelling - straight to the point. But I can see where the frustration comes from. This is just another user who created a nice ecard on our website, emailed it to a friend (through our form) and... nothing happened.

Long time ago I looked into this problem, but gave up. Today I gave it another try. If you are sending many solicited emails to your users - this information is for you. If you spam people, please stop reading and go punish yourself somehow.

The best place to look for official information on this matter is here: Looks like if AOL treats your IP address as a source of spam, and this is not true, the way to fix it is to apply to their AOL Whitelist. The phone call to their service center confirmed it. So I filled in the form, submitted, confirmed... and got rejected in a couple of minutes. "Your web request has been denied because you do not appear to be the owner of the IP address(es) in your request". That's nice, considering that we are using a shared server - surely I'm not the owner of that IP. Next, I contacted our service provider and they said they will try to fix it... That's where the story ends so far...

So, if you are sending many solicited email, you may want to re-check the situation with AOL. Time by time they are introducing some changes and trying new things. The reality is that you will need to invest some additional time into your AOL users.

And for all those who want to make sure that our ecards arrive to their friends - just copy the link that is generated at the end and paste it into your own email. This way it will not be lost or end in the spam folder.

Have fun with our Halloween Pumpkin Carving ecard!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Get your Halloween Avatar

Is it too early for Halloween? Not according to our stats.

In the past week we've seen a significant jump in the number of Halloween e-cards created through our website (

Web surfers even found a new way to use it, by creating their own Halloween Avatars. It's pretty simple. Just carve your pumpkin, press the 'Print Screen" button and paste as new image into Paint, then then resize/crop.

I'm attaching the avatar we created for our website.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Visualizing your projects on a timeline (from TheoLabs)

Projects exist in a time continuum. They start at some point, exist for an amount of time and then reach the deadline (hopefully). Keeping this in mind, we developed a timeline view to show progress and tasks - you can preview it here. This project is developed as a part of a bigger application - 5pm™. It's a second generation project management tool, developed by our QG|Software division.

We plan to add editing capabilities to the timeline (imagine just dragging your tasks around) and other cool features.

To find more about this project and track its development, go to The beta release is coming out soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

SmartFoxServer announces BlueBox - connect through firewalls and proxies!

BlueBoxgotoAndPlay() announced BlueBox today - a new SmartFoxServer add-on designed to allow connections behind firewall and proxies. Once the add-on is installed, the Flash client will be able to redirect its connection to the BlueBox, if a direct socket connection is not available.

Excerpt from their website:
"BlueBox enables players under restricted network configurations to play and enjoy fast multiplayer apps and games with little to no noticeable performance loss. All existing SmartFoxServer applications can take advantage of the BlueBox without any code change!
Just recompile your SWF files with the provided API and you're up and running."

Though solutions like that existed before, known as "http-tunneling", gotoAndPlay() claims to use a better modification that uses less traffic.

Still marked as "beta", it will be a great addition to SmartFoxServer.

P.S. My contact at Electrotank informs me of a similar solution that is in development.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New features added to our 3d world avatar engine (preview from TheoLabs)

TheoWorlds Builder (TheoSDK 2) - a new generation platform for building online games and avatar chat worlds - was updated with new features:

  • Elevations support. Now maps can have hills, different floor levels and so on. The picture on the left shows the map in the edit mode - a grid of tiles with different height covers the map, defining its shape.
  • New map graphics. We worked hard on creating high quality maps and here is the preview of the first one.
  • Map background/foreground support. Instead of covering the whole map with tiles, you can also use a background image. A foreground image can be used too - in this example the disco light installations are always in the front.
Here is the link:

Check the blog posts for other features.

For those who are interested in this product, but don't want to wait for the release, check TheoAvatar SDK and TheoSDK - our existing platforms for creating online games and multi-user 3D chats like TheoAvatar in Flash. Both come with Map Editor, source code and documentation.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

TheoWorlds Labs opened

I have good news for those who are interested in how our products are made. We just opened TheoWorlds Labs - a section where we will be posting previews of our projects in progress. You will be able to see steps from our projects, before they reach the final release.

First link is a preview of our new 3d world engine - TheoWorlds Builder (TheoSDK 2) - a new generation platform for building online games and avatar chat worlds:

For those who are interested in this product, but don't want to wait for the release, check TheoAvatar SDK and TheoSDK - our existing platforms for creating online games and multi-user 3D chats like TheoAvatar in Flash. They come with Map Editor, source code and documentation.

Friday, August 31, 2007

"I got my crabs from Dirty Dick's"

The title drove your attention, right?
I've seen it first on a road side billboard. One of those nice peace of southern humor used for advertising.

Dirty Dick's is a small crab house in Outer Banks, NC. It doesn't looks like much from the road, except for their sketchy slogans (another one - "If you never been to Outer Banx, you don't know Dick").

This clever and fun branding clearly works. I gave it a try. The place was packed and the food was great. After dinner I stopped by their store and bought a set of t-shirts, postcards and other merchandise - all featuring the "Dirty Dick's" theme in various ways. I probably spent on it all more than I spent on the dinner. And now my friends know about this place too.

This is a great example of viral marketing that uses good humor to deliver the message.

"Make your message fun" is our motto here, at Though we work in a different industry, and are more conservative with our jokes, I couldn't resist bringing you this example. I hope you found it entertaining.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

ElectroServer 4 announced! A groundbreaking release.

Yesterday Jobe Makar (Electrotank) told me that they just announced ElectoServer 4 - the newest update of their popular socket server. The release is scheduled for September 2007. You can check the details here:

For those who don't know, ElectroServer is a multiuser server geared toward Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO) made in Flash.

It's been a while since the release of ES3, and their main competitor - SmartFoxServer - looks to be ahead of he game. But the guys from Electrotank didn't just sit on their hands: the new release is the result of a year of hard work.

The announcement page features a multiplayer tank battle game with bots and real users playing in real time. It looks very good, especially taking in consideration that Jobe put it together in ten hours, just a day before this announcement.

The list of new features is impressive. Video and audio streaming is something completely new. Check their homepage - - for an example of video streaming. ES4 is claimed to be tested on 200,000 concurrent players.

I contacted Mike Grundvig - one of the owners and the engineers behind the ES, who works remotely from Kansas City (Electrotank is based in North Carolina). He took his time and answered my question. Below is a compilation of this interview:

Dis: This "200000 gamers" test, can you tell me more about it?
Mike: That was a huge amount of work. We actually had to create a rather sophisticated set of load generating tools that we could run on multiple machines. ES4 supports two modes currently, a "stand-alone" mode and a "distributed" mode. Standalone is just like ES3 or our competitors. The server runs in a single VM on a single machine. Distributed mode uses multiple servers broken down into two types: a registry and many gateways. The registry manages and maintains state, while the gateways handle user connections. This is a LITTLE bit like the origin-edge approach Flash Media Server supports but not quite.

Dis: So how did you simulate the "200,000 gamers" test?
Mike: We used 10 gateways and 1 registry for the server-side of things. We are so confident in our performance results, we are giving away the source to the load generators and directions on how to use it to test in your own environment when you install the server. The load generation required something like 7 machines in the end. The tests were VERY accurate and realistic. When the server is released, we will release some charts showing the stats. The gateways were dual core blade servers. The registry was a quad-processor, dual core server. Everything running Linux.

Dis: Tell me more about new server API.
Mike: The server API for developing games is similar to the ES3 model, but very different in
implementation. For instance, I'm sure you are familiar with the problem of Flash recieving too many messages inbound per second. This can cause wierd lag-like behavior in the client. To combat this, developers usually have to write code that aggregates and queues messages
dynamically. In ES4, we have a very simple way that your plugin can automatically specify an outbound message to be queued for delivery and the server aggregates for you. The plugin can even specify the queue drain speed and the rest. If a message is named, then the server will only send a single instance of it. In ES4, we have a very simple way that your plugin can automatically specify an outbound message to be queued for delivery and the server aggregates for you. The plugin can even specify the queue drain speed and the rest. We always keep the message size as small as possible. The speed at which the queue drains is up to the game developer but can be changed on the fly and it is plugin specific. ES4 supports two basic protocols to keep message size down. A highly condensed text-based protocol and a tiny binary protocol for AS3 clients. Of course, we also have enough RTMP support in there for audio/video too.

Another cool feature you might be interested in, is the fact that we support strongly-typed objects spanning languages now. So clients written in java can send native data to an actonscipt plugin and vise-versa. We have this ability interspersed all throughout the server so that public/private messages, room/user variables, etc. can contain a payload of typed data. The data is sent over the wire in a neutral format but we convert it to the appropriate data type
on the recipient side. So a "long" sent from a java plugin becomes a "number" on the AS2 client.

Also, we built the server intending to support multiple languages easily and now we just need to add some.

There are lots of other kick-$$$ abilities in the server too ;). For instance, we are now a fully web-based administration. It's rock solid and supports everything. Like we support the ability to upload extensions (groups of plugins/event handlers) via the web. So you create an extension, zip it up and you can upload it to the server from the admin and deploy it. Also extensions support hot reloading. We will have a big article on the exact behavior of reloading. I think people will understand what we are talking about when they see it.

Another huge plus: we now have multiple language filters/flooding filters and they can be
specified uniquely per room, and users can be in many rooms/zones at once. For instance, you have a MMO game where people need to be able to check with each other while running around the world.

There is a lot more under the covers and we are documenting it as fast as we can.

Mike also revealed that they will be launching a new redesigned website, so it looks like ElectroServer is up for some big breakthrough.

In light of this announcement it makes sense to mention their competitors - SmartFoxServer. Interestingly, the SFS is behind the major hit Club Penguin, while ES is powering Webkinz. Those two major MMO are going head to head, and the later one may even have the lead, according to - read our last blog port about it. This makes this competition even more interesting.

I contacted Marco Lapi from SFS team, asking about their latest plans, and got this reply:

"The next release will concentrate on firewall proxies, we're releasing a new SFS module that will extend connectivity to all those clients who can't establish a direct socket connection. This is probably the request that has been asked more frequently, so it was about time to focus on the issue. We have evaluated various "canonical" solutions but none of them offered a good-enough performance when compared to a speedy socket connection. Finally we seem to have solved the problem.

We're currently in beta and results are really promising. A public beta should follow during September."

So, with both major players announcing new releases in September, it looks like it's going to be a busy month for MMO developers!

Ever wanted to build your own online world? Try our TheoAvatar SDK - a tool that helps you build multi-user 3D chats like TheoAvatar in Flash. It comes with Map Editor, source code and documentation. It runs on both ElectroServer and SmartFoxServer. Purchase it today and start digging into the exiting world of Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO)!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Webkinz vs Club Pinguin

Some of you may be familiar with Club Penguin - a virtual world built in Flash. What you may not know, is that this nice portal is being purchased by Disney for... $700 million! takes a look at other leaders in this field and compares them using their own metrics. Check the original post here:

Thinking about building your own virtual community? Take a look at TheoAvatar SDK - a kit for building avatar chats. It comes with documentation and source code. It's the fastest way to have a demo for your potential client up in no time!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Running TheoAvatar on SmartFoxServer

In order to run TheoAvatar 1.2.2 on SmartFoxServer, you will need to use 1.4.x version or older, which is available for download here:

PRO Win:

PRO Linux:

Basic Win:

Basic Linux:

Here is the 1.4.2 (for SFS PRO) patch page -->

Note that if you purchase SmartFoxServer 1.5.x license, it will
also work for 1.4.x, as it's independent from server version.

Thanks to Marco Lapi ( for providing this info.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Easy fundraising for non-profits on web

If you are a small (or not so small) non-profit organization, looking for new fundraising ideas through the internet – this article is for you. Web can be a very lucrative ground for fundraising. The organizational costs are low, and you can reach people across geographical borders.

There are many ways to collect money for your generous purposes on the internet, besides the traditional donation form on your website. What if I tell you there is a way to easily collect money through the internet without asking people for hard cash? A fundraising campaign that runs on good spirit and a little bit of technology. Easy to set up, maintain, track and… free. And no, it’s not a scheme of any sort. Not even a big secret – I’ve found mentions of it around the internet. I’ll just go into a little more detail here.

So what are the ingredients and how does it work?

Clicks on the internet are worth money. If they wouldn’t – we would not be invaded with banners and spam. But not all of it is evil. Small and big businesses are struggling to get their message in front of potential buyers, and they are ready to pay for it. Last time you were “googling” on the internet, looking for some product, you probably noticed the non-intrusive ads on the top and on the right side of the search results. Those ads are relevant to your search. It’s just a way for companies to appear within the first pages of that search.

It’s such a big business for Google, that they make now much more money on selling advertising than their search engine. Google has extended the idea of contextual advertising to the whole internet – everybody can register and start placing Google ads on their own website, making some profit when people click on those ads. This model is called AdSense.

You can find more details on AdSense on Google’s official website: . But all you have to know is that it’s free to set up and the more visitors you get to your website – the more money you can make. Google takes care of the rest, like matching the ads with your website content.

The key is to generate enough clicks on those ads, usually by having a very popular content. So how can it help a non-profit? How can you bring more users to your website?

We, at, came to this idea by accident. In order to promote our brand we developed a set of highly interactive ecards for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

Ecards are a perfect viral marketing tool for the internet. We took extra time to create original ecards, investing a lot of time in it and, at the end, it paid off. We got a lot of attention and even got mentioned on CNN Headline PRIME news. At this point, as a way to cover our traffic expenses, we decided to give AdSense a try. The results proved to be very good for such a small website.

For our Valentine’s Day campaign we decided to share a part of our modest AdSense income with The Salvation Army. And that’s when I started to think about how this model could be used for fundraising.

Events like Christmas, naturally, generate a huge amount of traffic for Christmas-related ecards. People exchange them with each other, across geographical borders, spreading the spirit of holidays. It’s also a good time for non-profit organization to appeal to people’s best qualities. All you have to ask them is to keep sending those ecards to their friends and family and anybody they know, because every single click generates a small amount of money for your organization. This will make them even more willing to do so. It’s fundraising driven by good spirit (do not forget the technology).

Setting such campaign takes a couple of easy steps:

  1. Setting up a page on your website with an ecard from Sure, it can be any other ecard, but quality and originality will set you apart from many others. At this point we have Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day ecards. We are also working on a birthday one right now. You can get more info here: . The best part is that we license our ecards to non-profits with no initial payment. You can pay the cost later, from money generated from your campaign. If it never works for you – you don’t have to pay us. But we know it will work. Setting up the ecard(s) takes 2-3 days maximum.
  2. Setting up an AdSense account. Though it’s free and simple, Google uses a snail mail registration, so you may want to start this process in advance. We can help you with that or offer alternatives. The ads can be placed anywhere on the page, usually beneath the ecard, like on our website.
  3. Sending your ecard around and tracking the AdSense income. Easy like that. The data is updated hourly, so you will be able to track your campaign step by step.

Besides the cash generated from AdSense campaign, you will also build awareness of your organization, and this can bring more donors through traditional channels. So it’s a win/win situation. A free promotion that actually generates money, while asking people nothing more than greeting each other during the holidays.

If you are interested to give it a try – email me at . I’ll be glad to talk to you.

- Sergei

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Creating avatar chat characters

Our artists at just finished creating a new set of characters for TheoAvatar chat - they can walk, sit and even dance. Each character's animation is made from 32 frames with multiple matching layers of clothes. It took about 400 images to assemble each character.

In case you are planning to create your own The Office Space game or the next Habbo-like online community, here are some tips from our animators on drawing avatar characters in isometric view:

  • If you are trying to draw realistic human avatars with high level of details, you'll need to use references. There are two options here: 3D and photography. If you choose 3D, the easiest way is to use characters libraries from Poser. If you are more comfortable with photography, you can just capture your co-workers on the camera. Just make sure they know about it. We used the latest approach as it was more fun. Doing it in 3D would, probably, be faster.
    After you resize down these reference pictures, you can draw on top of them, adjusting the details on the pixel level.

  • Use minimum number of frames to represent each animation. Try to keep your total files size small and also reduce the amount of work. To keep it as smooth as possible, make the differences between frames smaller. For example, if you draw the walking animation - try smaller steps and less arm swing.

  • Animate the characters in Flash early. Don't rely on animated GIFs. Moving the characters around in Flash will help you test the animation early on. You can do corrections while it's not too late. It also helps you find the optimal animation speed.

  • Draw symmetrical characters so you can "mirror" their animations of opposite directions. For example, our characters are moving in 8 directions, 3 of them being just "mirrored".

  • Less is more. If you are using multiple layers of clothes (for customizing the look) you will have to animate each of them to match the character's animation. So more character animations you have - more clothes animation to create. It grows almost exponentially, so stand the temptation of creating a lot of "cool moves".
For inspiration, check devianART gallery on pixel art isometric characters:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

New Google Analytics comes with Flash flavor

This week Google Analytics subscribers will notice big changes. Google spent a year working on the new update, and, finally, it's out.

One of the biggest additions is new graphs made in Flash. They are auto-resizable and take the full screen width. I say, it's about time. Seriously, it isn't too difficult to implement something like this in Flash. But the difference is huge - I found it very handy on my widescreen laptop. Compare the old and the new Flash visitors graphs (actual proportions from my screen):

Now you see the difference. It's like trying to watch a movie through a keyhole and then getting a HDTV!

The sole fact of Google using Flash is worth mentioning. I'm not going to give a big propaganda speech on Flash. But there are some things this technology is good for besides web games and "flashy" animations: data visualization and interaction. Google graphs are packed with nice features: rollover hints, draggable timeline range picker, overlapping graphs and more. It's light, fast and informative.

I don't even know why you wouldn't do such things in Flash. Still, I find other companies trying less obvious paths. For example, Yahoo Pipes pushed javascript to the maximum. The same solution made in Flash would be much more "native". I think it's about the skills range in such companies. There is historical alienation of "pure" developers from technologies like Flash. It's still more on designers side. Macromedia, now Adobe, is changing things through Flex, but it still needs time to become mainstream.

When companies embrace Flash for what it's good for, the results are amazing. Check, for example, Digg Labs with their BigSpy, Stack and Swarm tools. Those things are not developed in-house, which is not surprising. But their partnership with stamen design has proven very productive.

Sure, development and design is not about the tools. The results are what matters in the end. At the same time, some tools are just better at some things and when taking advantage of it, the outcome can be very rewarding.


Monday, May 14, 2007

TheoWorld's Birthday Cake Decorator wins Adobe Site of the Day

I just got a notification from Adobe about being selected as an official Adobe Site of the Day for tomorrow. Our Birthday Cake Decorator brought us the 4th SOD award.

All four awards were won in a short span of 1.5 years with our line of original interactive ecards. Check the rest of the ecards here:

We've been licensing these ecards to our clients and the results are very positive. It's an out-of-the-box viral marketing campaign than can be set up in 24 hours!

Find more about licensing our award-winning ecards here:

- Sergei

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Service down" = "time to play"

CrazyEgg keeps it fun even in bad situations. Their "service down" page features a mini Flash game, to divert your attention and anger while you are waiting for the services to come back.

Spicing the mundane system error pages with jokes has become a good tradition for web-20. Here is a good blog about it.

What sets this example apart is that the game is custom-branded. And, since the chance of seeing it should be pretty low (ideally), the users may appreciate that extra time CrazyEgg puts in such things.

If you are interested in Flash games, or are looking for game engines to brand them for your site, visit

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 launches Birthday Cake Decorator ecard

We just finished working on our latest project. It's a birthday ecard. You can decorate a virtual cake and send it to your friends or even embed it in your website/blog!

We extended the engine we used for our Christmas and Valentine's Day ecards by adding more features and increasing the performance.

The ecard was developed for our client . You can check the Birthday Cake Decorator ecard here: (scroll to the bottom).

We plan to create a similar version of Birthday Cake Decorator and make it available for licensing. Feel free to contact us if you are interested.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Happy April Fool's Day! Google introduces Gmail Paper.

Here, at, our motto is "Make your message fun". We believe in the power of humor and that a good joke can go a long way. Humor is extremely viral and can supercharge your message. In the worst case, they will be just be laughing... at you.

Today is April 1st, and the intenet is just bursting with great jokes.

Google, the internet leader, released today Gmail Paper - a way to get hard copies of your emails... by mail. Go check their Gmail homepage, or read this post by David Berkowitz (screenshots are attached in case Google removes it tomorrow).

"Do no evil" and "Make your message fun"! Happy April Fool's Day!

Sunday, March 25, 2007 store goes "Fat Free"

We just switched to "Fat Free" shopping cart from e-junkie. It supports PayPal and Google Checkout (we didn't add this one yet). The cart screen doesn't load into a new page, but works on a separate layer on top of the website. So it doesn't get in your way. It's very light and easy to use. So just go ahead, give it a try and buy something in our store.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Learning to play Blackjack

If you ever go to Vegas, I have a tip for you - stick to Blackjack. It gives you the highest chances of winning, and you have some control over the game. Nothing will drain you faster of money as the mindless pulling of a "slut-machine" handle. As an alternative, you can just sit by the bar, play video Blackjack and rotate your ten bucks for half an hour. The drinks are free while you are playing! Just don't forget to leave a tip.

In order to lose your money slower (forget about winning in Vegas) you have to learn the Blackjack rules. The basics are simple, but when it comes to double ups, split hands and things like that - there is more to remember. You can find the complete table with all the right moves for every possible combination on the web. The best way to engrave them in your brain is to practice playing. You can do it online and for free at:

We created this version of Blackjack for the History Channel website. It will give you tips on each hand and will help you remember the right moves.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Office Space Diary

"March 17, 2003 Monday
The luck ‘o the Irish! Yeah baby! Can’t wait to tip back some green beer…in celebration of my Irish heritage. So what if I’m not Irish…"
No, this is not a note from my personal diary. It's from the dairy of the main character of "The Office Space" game we did back in 2003. It's a map-based game, and each new map represents a new day at work. The idea is to "survive till vacation", which is on July 4th. There are 131 maps, and each starts with a short diary note. All together they create a sad-and-funny story of a generic, middle-aged office worker trapped in his cubicle.

We thought it would be nice to have this story leading the character through the game. It's all about details, though I didn't think anybody was really going to pay attention to these texts. To my surprise, when the game got a silver award from I.D. Magazine, they did mention the diary entries.

You never really know what details will appeal to the end user. We just like to play with details like that and at the end it pays off.

For those who want to check these diaries without playing the game, we are attaching them below.

Office Space Diaries

January 2, 2003 Thursday
The new year celebration has come to an end. Your carpet is soaked in alcohol, there is a mountain of dishes in the sink, and nameless faces are passed out in your living room. As you race to beat the clock, you can’t get your car door to unfreeze, and you spill steaming, hot coffee down your wrinkled suit. Once you get your “mileage” care warmed up, you slide to work listening to “Everybody Hurts”. You startle from your daze as you realize it’s the first day of the work year…and 4 th of July is far, far away.

January 3, 2003 Friday
Well, I guess it’s time to suck it up and make my New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I was a mess…didn’t even make it a week. This year will be different! I will succeed. Firstly, I will lose 25 pounds. I will quit smoking. AND I will not drink during the week. It’s Friday, so I’m giving myself the weekend off – will start full steam ahead on Monday!

January 6, 2003 Monday
Okay. I am ready to go. No cigarette with my morning coffee. No smoky treat on the commute to work. Had a huge breakfast of eggs and bacon – I am LOVIN’ this Atkins thing!

January 7, 2003 Tuesday
Chewed a whole pack of Nicorette after I beat the living daylights out of the copier. Is it too much to ask for a stupid machine to copy front and back?

January 8, 2003 Wednesday
Last night I strangled my dog Tootsie. I NEED a cigarette!!! Just one little puff. One tiny little hit off a Marlboro, and I will be satisfied. NO! I can’t do it. Will buy the patch and join an on-line support group. At least I’ll have someone to talk to at work.

January 9, 2003 Thursday
I have a savior! Found low-carb bread. Can you actually believe it?! I am sooo gonna stick to this diet. Doc Atkins is my hero!!!

January 10, 2003 Friday
Feel like crap. Went out with a few guys I use to bowl with. I didn’t drink. Took some crap for that. I smoked. I caved in. I couldn’t help myself! I have to look on the bright side – at least it’s pay day!

Read the rest of the diary here:

Monday, March 05, 2007

How fast is our Flash isometric engine

A lot of questions on our Flash isometric engine ( are about performance. The most common one is: how many characters can we have on one map, without a significant slowdown. We did put together a simple performance demo:

It's a large map with 20 characters moving simultaneously and using collision detection. As you can see, it runs just fine.

This test doesn't do any network synchronization (which is used in mutiplayer games and chats). It just tests the Flash rendering/calculation speed. In out TheoAvatar chat we limit the number of users per room to 10. It's not because of synchronization issues, but because having overcrowded chat rooms makes it very difficult to communicate. It's better to have multiple smaller rooms.

If you want to create your own Flash games and chats using our engine, check the information on TheoSDK and TheoAvatar SDK pages.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Valentine's Day ecard numbers

It's time to share the results of our Valentine's Day e-card campaign.

The numbers aren't so high as for Christmas, but still look very good. The traffic it generated nearly reached 30K visitors some days (second after Halloween e-card). The percentage of sent ecards (out of all viewers) was the highest. It could be just love, but the fact that we are donating a % of our advertising income to The Salvation Army may helped also.

Income from Google AdSense was half from the one generated for Halloween or Christmas. Still we had one day with the income over $100.

All the numbers show that Valentine's Day has the shortest attention span - the interest jumps up and then drops back pretty fast.

Here is the traffic graph that covers all three of our e-cards:
It gives a very good idea about the traffic our ecards generated. Notice the flat traffic area before Halloween. The boost the ecards are generating is amazing.

Consider this: a major(!) traffic increase for a period of 5 months, covering October to February. That's the combined outcome of a viral marketing campaign using our three ecards: Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day.

If you are interested in using such campaign for your own business, find more on:

Monday, February 26, 2007

Working on Flash avatars

Just something we've been working on "behind the curtains"...

Our animators are creating a couple of new avatar characters, that could be used with our TheoAvatar chat. I'm attaching a small preview.

You can notice the lady is not dressed for the winter season. That's because we start with our characters half-naked and then add layers of clothes on top of it. It gives the possibility to mix-and-match the clothing, creating many different combinations.
Our new characters have a higher quality, more details and smoother animation. Plus, the fact that it's bitmap makes it fast for Flash to work with them...

Feel free to contact us if you need custom characters for your chats or games.

Monday, February 12, 2007

We received another Adobe Site of the Day award

Adobe (former Macromedia) selected our Valentine's Day Flash interactive e-card as an official Adobe Site of the Day. We'll be featured on their site in the Showcase section ( Tuesday , February 13 , 2007.

That's the third SOD we have earned. The first two were for our Halloween and Christmas ecards.

The bad news is that our server can't handle all the traffic and went down five times today (read the previous post about our problems with the provider). Beware what you wish for (big traffic) :-).

Valentine's Day - send a sweet e-card to your sweetheart!

Just a couple of days left till Valentine's Day!

Don't forget to send an e-card to the people you love. This year we
created a special e-card just for this event. Go to:

and create your own.

For each e-card you create we are also donating a percentage of our
advertising income to The Salvation Army!

Share the love and have a Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

About the all-mighty gods of hosting in the world of small business mortals

Ever felt that hosting issues are like forces of nature – they are uncontrollable and make you feel powerless? When your website is down – you cease to exist. Simple as that.

We are in the middle of our Valentine’s Day campaign with our interactive ecard - Yesterday published it, and the numbers sky-rocketed – 41542 created ecards in one day. It redirected some traffic to our website and also put some load on our server that handles the database. The bad news is that our servers went down four times in the past 24 hours!

We are hosted at and used their services for years. A good thing about is the fast response time. When I submit a ticket, they fix the issue within 5 minutes most of the time. Generally, it’s been an ok experience, except that $2000 traffic overcharge bill (I may talk about that another time, though I’d rather forget about it).

What is going wrong with AIT is the amount of times our servers go down. I know we are experiencing spikes of traffic (up to 35K on Halloween), but still. Take yesterday – we got 7K visitors (nothing huge), and our server goes down. It’s fixed, works several hours, then goes down again. I just keep submitting tickets, and they just keep rebooting it. I don’t know what the “99.9% uptime guarantee” is about.

Also lately we purchased a dedicated server from AIT. Half year pre-pay. It’s a Windows box, but we decided to move to a Unix one (surprise, surprise). I bought 3 “Pay-Per-Incident” tickets, as I was told, submitted the request and… one and a half weeks later I’m still waiting. Called them three times, and each time I was told “it will be done tonight”. Looks like “tonight” never came. Good thing we don’t host anything there yet, but imagine your business site being down for 1.5 weeks.

Sure, servers go down and issues happen, but I’d like to minimize the risks if possible. I talked to other small businesses, and it looks like we have more issues than normal. Jobe Makar ( recommended, which is what they use. I also found this nice list:

I guess hosting issues are just something that comes with the territory, but there are options. It’s worth investigating. Maybe even reconsidering your present situation - I am.

All other small businesses, feel free to share your hosting experiences. I’m sure there are a lot of “fun” stories.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Book of Google

Remember those “Choose You Own Adventure” books? You got to choose where your story would go next, usually at the end of the page. It was pretty cool back in times…

Google today is a lot like a big gamebook – you can browse in infinite paths and build your stories.

I don’t talk about some meaningless internet browsing on a Friday afternoon. The one that starts from a link your friend forwarded to you, some random news headline or just a shiny banner that caught your attention. Then you just jump subjects in an ADD–manner, ending with a mesh of information on global warming, fondue recipe, newest i-gadjet, whale conservation program, and the weather forecast. Anything to kill time.

I’m talking about a real Story. The one that just grabs your attention and makes you dig into it. And, as with a gamebook, you never know where it will bring you.

One day, a couple of years ago, I was googling on the most addictive games of all time. Tetris is the best selling computer game ever, so I ended up checking some details on it. What grabbed my initial attention is the history of Tetris creation.

It starts back in the 80s, in the backwaters of the Soviet Union. Two men and a teenager are killing their spare time at some academy labs by developing small games. I google on and click on, and the story just takes off from there. What follows is the uncontrolled game popularity, international legal battles and soviet government involvement. The story continues all the way through the fall of the Iron Curtain, with some of the original creators moving to United States and more legal battles. It ends up in Pal Alto, California with a double-murder suicide and the “I’ve been eaten alive…” note. What an incredible chain of events. A great story about moral corruption...

You can find all the bits of that story on the internet and google your way through it. Don’t just go through a single article with somebody’s aggregated version of it. Because web today is an infinite gamebook, and you can read any story your own way.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Our experience with AdSense + seasonal ecards

We started using Google AdSense about 4 months ago, placing the first one on our Virtual Pumpkin Carver ecard.

The setup was so easy that I don’t know why we didn’t try this before. We just didn’t want to clutter our pages with advertising, but there is a lot of empty space on our ecard pages, since they are designed for 800x600 resolution screens.

We also tried it on Christmas and Valentine’s Day ecards, so here are some numbers…

The CTR rate was pretty good - about 2-5%. I guess, this is due to the placement and blending of the ads. Plus, not having many additional “competing” links on the same page. The keyword popularity comes by default (“Christmas” is still very popular during Christmas holidays). And the viral nature of the ecards assures the stream of traffic. All the ingredients are there.

The seasonal nature of holiday ecards means that you can reap pretty good benefits for a short amount of time.

Our page impressions averaged at about 8K per day, with a maximum of 54K. The price per thousand impressions averaged at about $3. Nothing huge, but enough to cover our traffic bills.

Halloween pays higher – I guess there is less competition. We even had two days with >$100 income. But the interest in it drops pretty fast. The income graph looks like a cliff.

Christmas pays less, but the income graph looks like a rounder mountain that stretches on a larger area. In the long run, both seasons bring about the same income. It makes perfect sense, since it’s all linked to the amount of money the advertisers make during those periods. More money is spent on Christmas, but there is more competition for the keywords. Less money is spent on Halloween, but the competition is also smaller. It kind of levels out.

I don’t have the Valentine’s Day data yet, but so far it started slowly. There are some interesting eCMP jumps. Like this morning the price per thousand impressions was about $43 (it should get back to normal later in the day)! I’ve seen several weird eCMP jumps, but, so far, this is the biggest one. I guess a lot of guys in anticipation of the trouble they will get in after their crude behavior during today’s Super Bowl decided to make it up to their girlfriends/wives.

Generally, Google AdSense works very smoothly. The service is easy to use and the checks keep coming in regularly by snail mail (feels kind of cool to be paid by Google). Feel free to share your own experience with Google AdSense.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nickelodeon launches Nicktropolis. A quick look "under the hood".

A couple of hours ago Nickelodeon Online launched the Nicktropolis website – an online 3d chat community for kids. I tested it as soon as it became available.

My interest is easy to explain: 3D worlds, in particular online chats, are one of the things we do well at Theoworlds. We even developed our own isometric engine.

What drove my interest even father is the fact that back in November 2004 Nickelodeon actually purchased the bundle of TheoSDK/TheoAvatar SDK products from us. Both products are based on our own isometric engine. The first one is for building games like “Office Space”. And TheoAvatar SDK is for building 3D chats like TheoAvatar.

Basically, TheoAvatar SDK is a fully functional 3D flash chat with basic features. It comes with a map editor, all the sources, and the documentation. It’s a kit that can help you create your own 3D chat without building it from scratch. A jump-starter, if you will.

Sure, after the sale, I was looking forward to see how Nickelodeon would use it (if at all), but nothing happened after that – I didn’t see any 3d chats created by Nickolodeon Online.

But here we are, about two years later, in 2007 and Nicktropolis comes out, so my natural question was: Did they use any ideas from our engine or may be they just built something totally new. I went to their site, registered, entered my “parent’s email address” (well, those things are made for thirteen years old, what do you expect?) and before I knew it - I was in.

I can’t speculate about how much of TheoAvatar SDK code/ideas are used there (sure I can, that’s what blogs are for), so I’ll just share my observations.

First thing I looked at was the 3D engine itself. Well, it’s actually an isometric engine – Flash doesn’t do any real 3D (unlike Shockwave). I’m talking about the main functionality – the engine that builds the map/rooms, places objects on it and allows characters to move in pseudo-3D space. You would think they all look the same - “well, it’s all similar code, but the graphics are different from one chat to another”. But trust me, when you build your own, you start to notice all the differences. For example, there are tile-based engines, and coordinate-based ones (no, it’s not an official classification, I just invented it). There are engines that support big maps with scrolling visible area and ones with the maps that fit inside the main screen… And so on…

Nicktropolis uses a tile-based engine, with characters moving in 4-directions (that’s why they move weirdly in a zig-zag manner, when going in non-diagonal directions)…



There are a lot of similarities, down to the details. Same character customization options (“hair/shirt/pants/shoes”), same navigation and even tile size. Sure, those can all be coincidences. Or may be they got some of the ideas from the same sources we did – there are so many implementations out there. I don’t remember even who we “cloned” initially (all right, we all started by trying to replicate Habbo Hotel).

Below are some details for the technical guys. All the other normal people please feel free to skip it (just jump to “WHATEVER”).

There are some details that are more difficult to spot, unless you coded them. For example, the synchronization algorithm. The one that compensates the internet latency, and makes sure that all the users see about the same on their screens. I remember I implemented the Dead Reckoning algorithm in TheoAvatar. It requires less data to be exchanged between clients and, generally, is pretty simple to implement. I also kept the collision-detection between characters (can be turned off) – some chats just prefer to let the characters walk on top of each other.

Dead Reckoning works pretty well, as you can see. Sure, the higher the internet lag - the bigger the synchronization issues. You end up with a character in one corner of the screen, while in reality, he is in another one already – the information about his movement came way too late. TheoAvatar comes with latency emulation mode, that, when turned on, can delay the packages between the clients and the server by a given amount of time. It comes in pretty handy when you need to test it locally.

Anyway, in cases when data on the client side is “out of sync” – you see a character in a totally different position than it really should be – there are a couple of ways to fix it. The usual, “brutal” way, is to just instantly reset the data, and place the character into the right location (you will see a character just “snapping” instantly to another position). But in TheoAvatar we also support another way – we modify the speed of the characters in order for them to “catch up” with their real position. Instead of “snapping” characters around the map, we just accelerate them temporarily without breaking the movement flow. It’s just a nice simple trick.

Then there is the path-finding algorithm – you can’t build a 3D world without it. Ours is pretty simple. Nothing like A* or anything like that. But it’s blazingly fast and works fine on simple maps. It uses some simple human-like logic – it will try one direction, and if failed, tries another (well, I meant normal human logic). So there is some typical behavior that is easy to spot when you know where to look.

Well, “WHATEVER”, using the teenage jargon…

So all those things seem to work similar in Nicktropolis. Can’t say I’m surprised. Why reinvent the wheel? The whole idea of TheoAvatar SDK is to serve as pre-built wheels for your new car model.

Instead of that, Nickelodeon significantly extended their 3D chat functionality. In fact, it’s a full online community.

Naturally, there is the usual registration, customization, buddy list and all that. Plus, the pretty much standard, shopping layer – users can buy objects and use them to decorate their own rooms. A nice way to teach a teenager the value of the virtual buck, while training their consumer reflexes. Besides that, Nickelodeon added various mini games you can play with your characters, themed areas (visit “Nicktoons Boulevard”) and just a lot of other features. You just can go ahead and explore. It’s actually, pretty funny.

There are some small visual bugs. And I’m not a fan of their graphics (especially the characters). But, generally, it works smoothly. Plus, hey, it’s still a beta!

Sure, building something huge like
Nicktropolis is not an easy task. I bet they had a big team brainstorming on this one (and, maybe, it took two years). But it doesn’t mean you can’t start something like that on your own. Starting small and then just adding new features is a way to go.

And if you don’t feel like reinventing the wheel, and want to jump straight to the “cooler” features outside walk/talk – TheoAvatar SDK could be a solution for you. At least Nickelodeon never complained about their purchase (no, we didn’t move our legal address).

Feel free to email our team at .

P.S. Nickelodeon, Flash, Shockwave, etc. – you know who’s trademark are those and who they are registered by.