Lisp Hackers Hit Another Startup Homerun

The other day, I got snagged by the headline Flektor Case Study: Counter to prevailing Web 2.0 wisdom. Hey, I’m a sucker for contrarian articles. I also like and understand the Web 2 dot oh. Yet… I think the whole industry needs to, as they say in Hollywood, “pull it back a little”. I’m not hot on the whole widgets thing, but I do have some friends here in the valley that are in that industry (RockYou!, slide, and Meebo).

So I gave it a read. After a few paragraphs it got even more interesting. These guys were game developers and they used that development style/methodology to produce their product. They focused on several things. First, they focused on quality and had a large QA staff for a company that size. Second, they made their app creation tools super simple to use. The product managers and the designers could turn around new products very quickly. The analogy used in the article is that of level editing on top of a game engine. Neat.

As I read on, it was mentioned that the founders were Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin. Aha! Of course! These were the guys that made Crash Bandicoot. They were Naughty Dog software, which was purchased by Sony. These guys are Lisp hackers. They were a poster child for the Franz Lisp company. I always thought it was cool that these ex-MIT hackers used Lisp to build great console games. Dynamic languages and garbage collection aren’t supposed to work in the console world.

I searched my blog for the old post I had on GOOL. I thought I posted about their technology before, but I can’t find the post. Essentially, they had a great Lisp derivative and runtime that ran on the console. The system would allow for hot code replacement right from Franz Lisp/emacs/whatever. Essentially, you could imagine having a character on the screen doing their death sequence. Then you change some code/state and bring them back to life. Real RAD development for gaming. Something that would be really really hard to do in MSVC. Not only that, but the system was fast. For example, their language also allowed you to tie cpu or gpu registers to variables. Very good tech and very good games. Who knows if they used Lisp at Flektor, but I definitely need to check out their product now to see what the quality level is like.

Anyways, there it is again. That pattern. Certain people who do extraordninary things tend to continue to do extraordinary things. If I were an investor, I would place a lot of value on this team. These guys really know how to execute.

Update: Got a few comments about GOOL. When I read the papers back then, their language was called GOOL. I think it was 1998 or earlier. It was the Oopsla conference in San Jose when Anomorphic Systems got bought by Sun. The newer language GOAL was created for the PS2 when they did Jax and Daxter in 2001.

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8 Responses to Lisp Hackers Hit Another Startup Homerun

  1. Peter Seibel says:

    Try searching for GOAL, not GOOL.

  2. A Lisp hacker says:

    Their language was called GOAL (not GOOL), and they by design eschewed garbage collection.

  3. count0 says:

    From their job recruiting page, I guess they use ruby and c++…at least.

  4. Joel Reymont says:

    Flektor’s backend is written in Rails, not Lisp. I can take a wee bit of credit for that.

  5. marco says:

    It seems Flektor had sponsored some patch to clsql (http://clsql.b9.com/changelog.html), so I guess they use Lisp.

  6. Adam Bossy says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GameOrientedAssembly_Lisp

  7. Adam Bossy says:

    The previous post didn’t copy correctly at all.

  8. Jaba Adams says:

    GOOL was used on Crash Bandicoot, and was a precursor to GOAL, which was used on Jak and Daxter, IIRC.

    There was an article on GOOL back in the 1997(?) Game Developer’s Conference Proceedings.

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