The past couple of weeks have been pretty interesting. For starters, in that time we have moved into a new building in Redmond. We had been due for a move for some time as we've been growing our staff to support a number of product initiatives. The result was a lot of double-booking of office space, something that runs counter to the long-time Microsoft cultural ideal of one employee, one office (at least for full-timers). It's not too uncommon to double-up contract staff who are only on board for short assignments but we had many, many--some senior--full timers sharing space and it was only a matter of time before we burst our seams. Plus, the space in the building we were in was not very condusive to collaboration. We were basically arranged along two very long parellel hallways with no "common space" for impromptu meetings or just hanging out.
Our new space is quite a radical change. Perhaps it was just because we were so deprived but I, for one, think it's HUGE. We now have space for everyone (and room to grow) as well as several large open areas stocked with a conference table as well as less formal seating. These spaces also include whiteboards, corkboards and A/V equipment and we've started to use them for many of our previously "closed door" meetings. Each space is more-or-less surrounded by offices of folks from each product team (one for TS, one for FS, etc.) so there's a natural gathering point for team meetings and folks wandering by can catch a glimpse of what's happening. Fortunately the space is partitioned in such as way that we should not have random visitors who might see or hear things they shouldn't. So far, so good. It's far and away the best space I've worked in during my tenure at Microsoft. (Speaking of which, I also celebrated my 10th anniversary with the company over the same weekend that our offices were being moved.)
Coincident with the move was the annoucement of a big reorg within the studio. This had been brewing for quite some time so I think only a few people were caught by suprise. One goal of the change was to align reporting structure with product deliverables to establish a clearer line of authority and responsibility for decisions. (For those of you playing "Business Buzzword Scrabble" I think that last sentence scored a Triple Buzzword Bonus. I thought of going for a Synergy Multplier Bonus but thought that might sound too contrived.) What that meant for me was that I got a new boss. Victor was formerly the studio Development Manager (meaning all the programmers reported to him) and he and I worked together as project leads on FS2004 and FSX. Victor's been around Aces about as long as I've been at Microsoft and is a great guy. (Trivia: he also holds the patent--along with Jason "Pixelpoke" Waskey--for the first version of Autogen.)
And, lest the product team loose momentum, the past two weeks have seen a lot of progress on TS2, most notably the initial audio implementation. Up until now we've been running the game with no sounds. Having them in game really makes a difference and adds to experience immensely. It brings back memories from running trains in Vancouver, BC, back when the project was just getting started. Several of us had the chance to get some instruction in train operations (classroom, simulator and the real thing) north of the border. We all got a chance to drive a GP-9 and practice coupling and uncoupling to cars. For me there were several signature sound experiences that stood out. One was the sound (and feeling!) of throttling up the diesel engine. You really got a sense of the power at your command, even if it was a measily 1500 horsepower in my case. The other memory is of the bang associated with coupling. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, even if you've only just driven past a rail yard. Our instructor suggested a coupling speed of 4 MPH or less and even that resulting in some big noises. Then at one point he decided we were "babying" the train too much and decided to demonstrate a "hard coupling" at (and I'm guessing) 8-10 MPH. Whoa! So having these sounds in game is really bringing back memories and making the experience really start to take shape.