Exclusive: Christer Interviewed for the GLN!
GLN: Hi Christer. Firstly, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed here. I know people are interested in what you have to say, so it's great that you could find the time. I've asked around for a bit of inspiration on the questions so the majority don't come from me, though some are my own. I've decided to break the interview down into 3 sections - Christer the man, Christer the Blood Bowl player, and Christer the FUMBBL creator.
Let's get started!
GLN: I've decided to keep this section quite short, just a brief insight into life. So, how's life these days?
Christer: Hi, life's certainly keeping me busy these days but I have nothing much to complain about. Things are pretty good! :) I'm living in a 2 bedroom rental apartment in Stockholm with my girlfriend and two cats.
GLN: Nice. It looks like a beautiful city and I'd love to visit someday. What is a typical Christer day?
Christer: Very briefly, it's mostly: Wake up, go to work, work (developing data warehouse software for the financial industry), come home, dinner, check in on FUMBBL, deal with critical issues if any, decide if I'm alert enough to do some dev work and if not, play some random game (currently Diablo 3) or watch a TV show.
GLN: That sounds intensive, though you should know your dedication to FUMBBL is appreciated. What other games do you like to play in your spare time?
Christer: I already mentioned Diablo 3, which is something I've been playing on and off since it was released. In general, I'm a fan of Blizzard games and have been playing WoW relatively actively for quite some time (since release). Beyond Blizzard games, I play some more casual type games on the Playstation (the LEGO and Ratchet & Clank franchises). I've also been known to play some shooters (Halo, Destiny, and am looking forward to trying The Division when it's released).
Christer the Blood Bowl Player
Here are a number of questions related to Blood Bowl, though not to FUMBBL specifically.
GLN: Right, time to talk Blood Bowl! If you could change one rule in Blood bowl, what would it be and why?
Christer: The Team Value formula. I understand that it's designed to be easy to calculate on pen and paper, but it's a very crude formula that's not very accurate. With a more complex TV formula, a truly perpetual league like FUMBBL would function better with fewer problems. For example, some power skill combinations (such as Claw, Piling On, Mighty Blow) could be balanced by a TV modifier rather than a change in the skills themselves.
GLN: Taking it further then, if you had ultimate power over Blood Bowl which direction would you like to take it?
Christer: Much like the intent of the LRBs, I'd try to push it further towards allowing perpetual leagues to function better. The LRB6 / CRP ruleset does a reasonable job doing just that, but I figure it could do with more iteration to accomplish a stable environment.
The Goblin Snakka Fungaltoe once experimented with an all Troll team. The Trolls had no idea what to do beyond punch anything that got near them and stand around scratching themeselves. The team recorded some of the worst statistics ever recorded for a Blood Bowl game.
GLN: Indeed. A lot more is possible in a digital environment than would be feasible for a tabletop game. Changing tack now, what would you say is your favourite race, team and player?
Christer: I've always been partial to Khemri as a race. It's not the fact that they're a relatively bashy team, but the theme really appeals to me. My favourite team is probably my "Forgotten Kings". They're a copy of my real life team which I spent a lot of time researching. The theme of them isn't very original (Egyptian deities), but I took the time to research the mythology and looked up how to write their names in hieratics (an evolution of hieroglyphics, designed to be written with a brush). That was a lot of fun for me, and the resulting team will always be special to me. As for a favourite player, that's very difficult... My play style tends to sacrifice players quite a lot which means I don't really get attached to the players themselves. I don't even think I've ever had a Legend level player on any of my teams! :)
GLN: Haha. Me neither, funnily enough. When researching questions for this interview one that came up a few times was:
When did you last play tabletop Blood Bowl and how often do you play?
Christer: Oh, that's a tough one... I don't really play tabletop these days. The last time I played was probably on the NAF World Cup way back in 2007.
GLN: Coming up for 9 years! That's a good while. I'm hoping to break out the lead and cardboard next week :)
This is a kiss / marry / kill like question: If you had to buff one race, nerf one race and disband one race (remove from the game entirely) which would you choose and why?
Christer: The buff race would be easy: Khemri. Probably super biased, but I feel the latest Khemri change was misguided. Prior to the change Khemri were, in my opinion, too strong short term and too weak long-term. The changes they made didn't really affect the short term of the team much, but utterly annihilated the high-end gameplay of them. I think that's a major mistake and it would have been better to nerf the low TV play while buffing the development of the team.
The nerf part is harder. I'd perhaps tone down the kill stack access of the Chaos Pact team. Not entirely sure how, though... Perhaps reintroduce the double roll requirement for mutations, or possibly require ST 4 for Piling On.
As for disbanding, that's even harder. Maybe the Ogre team. It's essentially a big guy team, but nerfed to the point of being silly. I figure it's in need of a redesign more than removal though... Another candidate (for similar reasons) would be Vampires.
GLN: Interesting, interesting. And finally for this section the most important question. Do you T16 foul?
Christer: Hah, yes! :) Mostly as a retaliation when I lose the game. :)
Christer the FUMBBL Creator
This section will contain FUMBBL-specific questions, relating to both the general usage of the site and it's history, and the site's ongoing development. It's the largest section, and understandably the one people have most questions about.
GLN: Right, let's kick off this section with simple but divisive question. Who do you think is the greatest coach you have seen on FUMBBL?
Christer: There are many really strong coaches on the site, and there are many people who are truly nice people. I hesitate to name people though as I'm sure I'd forget to mention some of the people who would deserve a shoutout.
GLN: That's exactly the sort of answer I was expecting. :P One of the most common questions people asked was 'How many man hours do you spend running FUMBBL?'
Christer: I don't count. Some weeks I do very little, while other weeks I spend a lot of hours fixing things. The staff team deal with most of the day-to-day issues with disconnections and all sorts of support tasks, and I'm humbled by their dedication to the site. I do all of the site maintenance myself though (hardware upgrades, software upgrades, restarting the game servers, etc.) but those tasks tend to be super intensive for a limited period of time (as in, 20-30 hours over a weekend). Over the years, I've spent thousands of hours on the development and maintenance of the site.
GLN: Another common question, and one I'm sure you've heard many times before: Why don't you play more games on FUMBBL?
Christer: Mostly because I proritise my FUMBBL time to the forums, support / maintenance and development. In a way, I also feel like I need to keep somewhat of a distance in order to be objective. Some of the things I have to deal with require me to make decisions when coaches disagree with ruling of a staff member. If I was super involved and had just played a game against someone who crushed my team, it would be hard to stay objective.
GLN: What motivates you to give so much time and money to FUMBBL given that you aren't a regular player?
Christer: FUMBBL evolved to what it is today partly because I want to keep up to date with the technology that is needed to run a site like this. It's a way for me to test various technologies in practice rather than just read about them. For example, VLANs, VPNs and SSL and Code signing certificates which are all things I've implemented on the site and wouldn't have if I wasn't running FUMBBL.
In addition to this, the community of FUMBBL is truly incredible. While there are harsh tones every now and again, I figure the people here are super friendly in general and I'm very happy how people step up and do things for the betterment of the community itself.
It's also a way for me to play around with the development aspect and trying out various technologies from a code perspective. I do work as a developer as my day job, but having a project like FUMBBL to work on in my free time is very different (no deadlines, no estimates). However strange it may sound, it's actually pretty meditative to just focus on a specific problem or feature and not have to worry about all sorts of other time / budget constraints.
GLN: It certainly is a great community we have here. What is the one thing that you would like to change about FUMBBL?
Christer: The core that I built the site on (PostNuke). It's served me pretty well over the years, but it's showing its age and there are things I actively dislike about it. For example, there is a fairly immediate problem that I need to deal with relatively soon; the database abstraction layer it uses (PHP's mysql module) is deprecated and has been for years. There are newer abstraction layers that are supported, but the problem is that the core system FUMBBL uses is based on the old one. Changing to the new one is likely to cause issues. At some point, I'll end up doing the migration though, but replacing the whole core system is unlikely to happen. It's simply too much work for very little benefit, and it would cause problems for users. Changing to another platform would, for example, force me to switch to another forum module which is another headache I am not sure I want to deal with.
GLN: What's the biggest technical challenge you've had to overcome while creating FUMBBL?
Christer: There are no huge challenges I can think of to be honest. I've certainly spent a large chunk of time on certain things. Migrating the database to new hardware and new versions of the database was certainly time-consuming and took a lot of effort over a couple of weeks. And it's not only hardware that can be challenging. Coming up with a method to deal with round-robin schedules ended up being very very hard. To begin with, it felt like a relatively simple problem to solve, but it turns out it's part of a class of problems that's called "NP complete". These are mathematically hard to solve and I ended up reading math papers to come up with a solution I was happy with. I find this kind of problem solving very interesting though, and I don't mind spending time on them.
GLN: Where do you see the future of FUMBBL?
Christer: From the start, I never set out to make the site a large community and league. Back in 2003, I never thought it would become this large and it still amazes me that so many people play here every day. For the future, I hope to give more control to the coaches. The league changes are one aspect of that, and I've also been thinking of ways to allow things like tracking tabletop leagues on the site. The tournament part of the site could certainly help out tabletop commissioners and having the site do things like skill rolls and team tracking would ensure less "mistakes". ;)
At some point, I'm also hoping that we can move away from a Java client to HTML5. This would simplify things for users and in theory allow playing on a tablet.
GLN: Taking that a step further, if there were no financial or technical obstacles, what would you like to see FUMBBL become?
Christer: As for the financial aspect, it would be great to have enough stable financial support to proactively replace hardware over time. With 4 servers running the site, it would be great to be able to replace one server per year to reduce the risk of hardware degradation. Another thing I'd enjoy would be to have multiple ISPs connected so that there was a backup in case of downtime. Also, having redundant hardware to even further reduce downtime would be interesting to set up and implement.
In terms of evolving FUMBBL itself into other things, I haven't really put that much thought into it. One possibility would be to support games other than Blood Bowl.
GLN: You mentioned the new [L]eague changes a little while ago. How long currently have the new [L]eague changes taken to implement and how much further is there to go?
Christer: I spent a couple of years thinking about how to implement it from a technical perspective, and testing various things. The implementation itself is also pretty hard to get done because it's tricky to come up with an easy way to make it work from the user perspective. The current partial implementation that's available on the site is too complicated and confusing for users and I want to simplify that somehow.
As for how much is left, it's likely going to be an ongoing process over a long time. There are so many things that are possible to expand on once all of the core functionality is in place.
GLN: Are you pleased with the changes so far and how they've been received?
Christer: Overall, I'm happy with the basic technical structure of it, and how it's implemented. There are some aspects I need to rethink a bit and I absolutely need to figure out a way to make it easier for league commissioners and participating coaches. It's super confusing right now, and I'm certain there is a way to make it easier (although I don't have a solution in mind right now).
As with a lot of things, the reception is hard to evaluate. If I implement something that works reasonably well, there's an initial "oh, that's cool" response followed by silence. It's actually pretty hard to know if it's working fine or not used at all! :)
In an ideal word, I would be running leagues on my own, but I simply don't have time to do that.
GLN: Thanks for that insight Christer. Coming full circle now back to the first question (which you cleverly evaded): Which coach from times gone by do you think you / the site misses the most?
Christer: From my perspective, I wish Mr-Klipp was still around. He helped me out with development early on, and helped FUMBBL get ready for "general use" faster than I would have been able to on my own.
As for "the site", I'm not sure to be honest. There's such great diversity among coaches I can't really tell who they'd "vote" for.
In a more general sense, I personally wish the IRC chat had more traffic. IRC is such a great way to chat with people and I really think it strengthens the community. Another thing I may try (again) at some point is setting up a voice chat, as that's something I happily join myself for other games.
GLN: Thanks for that Christer, and thanks for your time. I'm sure people will enjoy reading your responses.
And that's all for now, thanks for reading another great issue of the GLN.