Tales from The Trenches Archive

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Wanting to Excel

A while back I worked as a GM at an online gaming publisher. Probably not surprisingly, spreadsheets were used to track many things. Item distributions, promotions, various tables of game-related data, etc. Things that naturally fell into spreadsheet format. So over the years, a lot of Excel documents had accumulated, with base templates, layouts, and even functions so that you could easily copy and paste data in for quickly extracting the needed information. At one point I was assigned to perform this sort of data extrapolation. Specifically, paste in data concerning how much we’d made on a certain promotion, broken down by reward tier, and crunch it.

There was only one problem: I didn’t have Excel installed on my machine. No problem, said my lead; he’d go get IT to bring over the disc and install it. A while later he returned with bad news: due to recent company policy, only team leads were allowed to install Office, to save money. Except, of course, the leads were always busy doing important things—they would never have the time to sit down and do what essentially amounted to mindless data entry in Excel.

The temporary solution was for me to use my lead’s computer while he was busy in meetings to do the task. You may be thinking “well just import it to Google Docs!” Well, you see, this particular spreadsheet had a VB macro that did some amount of voodoo, and nobody there knew who wrote it or how it really worked (typical). And while reverse-engineering the code at my lead’s desk would have no doubt been a thrilling task, it wasn’t an option.

Eventually they gave up asking me or anyone else to do that sort of thing, and god only knows if it ever got done at all. One thing I did manage to accomplish, as a parting gift before quitting to take on a programming job where I was actually provided with the tools to do my job, was to create a Google Docs spreadsheet to automate custom item code generation for one of our games. It was an elaborate system where each item class had a binary code, and different attributes had different numeric modifiers, all strung together into a giant series of digits that had to be input in the right place during server maintenance to generate and gift the item to a player. This was all done by hand by looking at multiple enormous tables and looking up values, so as you might guess, not only did it take ages but mistakes were made pretty often. And after a user complained, they had to wait until the next maintenance cycle to get it corrected.

So, having spent a few hours designing a clean, self-contained spreadsheet to auto-generate these codes ( which for perspective, it took several hours just to manually create each week’s codes to begin with), I got a hero’s sendoff on my last day.