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Interview med Filip (1. Maj 2017)


Any favourite TV series at the moment?
Nothing at the moment. I don't watch TV too much, mostly because I hate commercials during the shows, so it must be a really good series to make me change my mind. Last year I enjoyed watching Vinyl (hey, I am a musician too) and I was quite annoyed when the show had been cancelled after the first season. Anyway, when I feel nostalgic, I still have a couple of all time favourites to watch over and over - Star Trek, Red Dwarf, Friends, Simpsons, Futurama, this kind of stuff. :-)

Why did you start BK, and what determined that you would let it go downhill...was it a work related decision?
Well, back in 2002 I used to be an avid player of board games. However, I don't remember that any game site of those times would satisfy my expectations (one of them had no tournaments, another one had no player rating, etc.). So, I did what I always do in similar situations - I tried to create my own solution. And after 2 months of programming, BrainKing was born. :-)

I would not say that I let it go downhill. Actually I still hope that someone would take over and re-ignite the development process. As I said in my announcement, my interests lie elsewhere, so it would not make much sense to keep the site forever with all responsibilities and commitments.

What was the most stressful part of owning Brainking?
To do everything yourself, which is how it worked since 2008. I am not a system administrator, so if something goes wrong on the system level (it happens very rarely but still happens sometimes), I am usually lost.

What is your favourite and least favourite food?
I love Japanese cuisine, so I could say that anything that contains fish or seafood (with rice, deep fried vegetables, etc.).
Least favourite? That would be a long list because when it comes to a food, I can be very picky. Ask my wife. :-) Generally said, I never eat a meat unless it is extremely lean.

Do you still like to play in Brainking? What games do you prefer?
Not much. I still play some games with my wife but that's about it.

How did you get interested in programming?
Heh, it goes back to my childhood when I'd been fascinated by early video games. You know, two short vertical lines, a little circle between them, a console connected to a black and white TV set, the first tennis simulation. :-) I think I'd got my first "programming" lessons from my mum who used to work as a programmer for a year or two. I always liked the possibility to make those small things at the screen do what I program them to do (well, with limited possibilities of home computers of those days). So my interest had got a real boost and since then, I'd been trying to improve my skills.

By the way, I never studied programming or information technologies at a university, my field of studies was actually just a mathematics. So, everything I know about that, I learnt myself.

Dear Fencer, assuming you find someone willing to take over the site and to pay a fair prize, what kind of advises would you give him/her?
Never get overconfident and don't be afraid to expect the worst. People who want to exploit the rules are very creative and they won't ask you if you have a time to fix possible vulnerabilities. Spend as much time as possible to keep the site secure, even if it means to postpone any other development.
Yeah, and always explore new ways to generate the income. There are good times and bad times, what looks like a great and reliable revenue stream one year, could easily become a dog the next year.

for what kind of reasons would you reject an offer for taking over brainking.com, I can imagine not only the prize matters??
My intention is to sell it to a person/company who really wants to keep the site as it is and restart the development. If I get an offer from someone who just plans to get the BrainKing database, extract all useful information and use it for marketing campaigns, I would reject that.

But the price matters too, of course. I have my own estimation and I would not go below that.

did you already consider in the past to get an employee to do the work on brainking.com? and if so, what came out?
Nope. It's extremely hard to get a good employee who would do a quality work and never try to do anything bad (like stealing the know-how or data). I mean, I could imagine to cooperate with a person who would work as an advertising contract guy, for instance. But paying a full-time programmer was always out of question.

rethinking the time when you developped brainking.com and the time of maintanance: are there things you would do differently today and why?
I would probably try to find a model that would not require the site to be continuously up and running. It does not happen to often now (in fact, I don't remember when it happened for the last time) but it used to be quite frustrating when BrainKing got stuck or inaccessible for a longer time period, people timeouted in many games and expected me to fix it "somehow" very quickly. In fact, I would probably create a completely different kind of a game site - I have no idea how it could work but I would think of something. :-)

do you spend a lot of time online during your free time?
Yes, I guess so. I need to be online for my full time job and my hobbies have something to do with the internet as well. Even on holidays I usually have at least my iPad. And no, I am not a network addict. :-) I just like to get as many information as possible, it's a good thing to know things.

do you have an emotional connection to brainking.com, was it somehow your "baby" ?
I would lie if I answer "no way, it's just a piece of Java code and some database tables, nothing personal". You can hardly do something for 15 years and have no emotional attachment to it. As I said, I still think that BrainKing won't be turned off completely. Actually, I don't want to make any promises but as long as I find it profitable, it will probably stay (probably! no promises), although there won't be any updates and guarantees. We'll see.

on a chat some users suggested itsyourturn or goldtoken could take over the site, if no one makes a fair offer to you... do you think they were able to programm a surface/interface in order to preserve todays brainking-features? cause their sites look different and might use different rankings etc.? what do you think about this phantasy?
I am sure it would be possible and, if I get such an offer, I believe they would prefer to keep BrainKing as a standalone site with all current features. It would be very difficult to blend it with another site, mostly because BrainKing is not compatible with their technologies (as far as I remember, some of them are still running on Perl). There could be some kind of semi-integration, like a single sign on (one user/password for multiple sites). We'll see.

did you already get some serious offers for brainking.com and if so, why didn't they suit or does one?
In fact, the very same day I had posted by announcement, I got 10 different offers of some kind. However, none of them turned out to be a serious one, or at least that's what I think when people suddenly stop to communicate for no apparent reason. Is this normal these days and I am just living in the past? :-) Well, there are still almost 9 months left (at the time of writing this answer), so anything can happen.

do you think it was worthy for you to build up brainking and keep it running for so long? do you regrette something related to that?
From a business point of view, it was definitely worthy, given that me and my family lived on that for almost 10 years. In fact, the membership and subscription model is not the best one, but the advertising system (which is mostly passive and does not require too much action) definitely beats it.
Another thing is the, I would say, psychological press which I've been experiencing over the years. Maybe it's just my problem because I hate to do things only half perfect and I feel every related issue (low performance, slow site response, failing hardware, people trying to exploit bugs, ...) we were facing in the past as a personal failure. I admit that I didn't have a slightest idea (15 years ago) what it meant to run a site like BrainKing, so maybe I just wasn't prepared enough. Anyway, no matter how bad I felt sometimes, it was a priceless experience.

now a question which I don't mean so seriousely: knowing that without brainking.com i gonna loose my favorite cloning backgammon game, how BAD do you feel about that? think about, this might be a reason to keep brainking online, if you don't find any buyer ...
I feel BAD about quitting every game that is unique at BrainKing, including the cloning backgammon. :-) As I said, there is still a chance that I won't turn the site off ... anything can happen.

What aspects of the brainking site are you particularly proud of? and which ones were the hardest to implment?
Hmm, since I used to be a chess player and BrainKing was mostly focused on chess-like games (at least in the past), I am kind of proud of the nice number of chess/checkers variants. As for the hardest feature to implement, I would say it was Go - the only game that required to use a recursion (to detect complete areas) which is always a risk and can easily lead to endless loops if something is overlooked. I remember that I was almost lost in the middle of the implementation, so I found and downloaded a Go application in Java, decompiled and reverse-engineered its main algorithms to shed a light into a darkness. :-) Fun times to remember.

Which particular games were the hardest to implement? and were there any which you thought to implement but didn't because of the difficulty?
Ha, I think I answered that in the previous questions which was probably meant to be in a more global context, right? :-) Anyway, besides Go, I guess that Ambiguous Chess was a challenge too because the abstract chess model never supported its original features (choosing an opponent's piece that he would use a make a move). The solution contained some nice model improvements, along with some not-so-nice hacking of the original code, but it works and that's what counts.

To answer your second question, I believe that abandoned the idea to add Progressive Chess (the abstract model would have been completely rewritten) and also games for more than 2 players. Yes, we have the Poker Tables, but that was just a personal challenge I had put on myself, because I wanted to have at least 1 real-time game written in JavaScript - and since I used to play online poker those days, I took it as an interesting programming exercise.

Now that you are trying to sell the site and if you could go back, would you still have implemented the black rook offer?
No no no, it was a big mistake. Or, at least, I would not make it as a lifetime subscription because, unless you have someone to pass the site to and bear the burden for you, you can hardly fulfil what people expect out of it. I guess I was quite naive and thought that I would keep BrainKing forever, no matter what happens. And certain things happened (like Liquid who suddenly stopped working with me), I lost my motivation, etc. Still, since the most Black Rook memberships had been purchased in 2007-2008 (and many of them for a half price, actually), I would say that people got at least the 10 years value - I mean, I will say it in 2018 when BrainKing will lose the official support.

How many languages can you speak?
I speak Czech (native language), Slovak (very close to a native), English, some Russian and a very little French. Since I currently work for a company that develops a CAT tool (computer assisted translation), maybe it will inspire me to learn something new. I like languages (BrainKing has 15 of them), so it could be a nice challenge. :-)

what is your worst-case-scenerio in case someone buys the site from you? I don't mean shutting down the site because of no one buying it, only the worst-case scenario of a new owners purpose about brainkings future etc.?
My intention is to sell BrainKing to a buyer who loves board games and would be willing to take over the further development and bugfixing in this context. So, in fact, I never thought of a worse case scenario - if they invest their money, what would they just dump the site? Well, maybe it could be worse if a new owner pollutes the pages with annoying flashing advertisements and would turn it to a cash generator only. Hard to say.

Do you still like board games? What is your favourite one? What is your favourite chess variant (besides from standard chess)?
Yes, I do but I am more like a casual player now. With a full time job, a family (wife and 3 kids), catching up with my music ambitions (composition and performance) and other things, I barely find a free time at the end of a day.
However, I always loved to play Shogi. It can be considered as a chess variant too, I guess. :-)

In which programming language(s) is BK written?
BrainKing is written in 100% pure Java because it was always my Language No. 1. Despite some performance problems in the past (12 years ago), it is doing a very good job now. I would not change it.

Do you see a chance that anyone will be able to look through the BK code who did not write it him/herself? (not meant so serious :)
Yeeeeees, although the code is terrible (I was not too experienced programmer when I had created the core of the site), I am sure that a good coder would adapt to it quite quickly. I always tried to follow at least some common patterns, so maybe it's not as a big mess as I think. :-) And I would definitely add a documentation.

What is your favourite programming language?
It's still Java, although it has its pitfalls and obstacles and it's not the best solution for every problem. But I have a long history (17 years) in this language and it became quite mature tool in version 8, so I guess I would stick with it.

With the arrival of the president of Trump, whether he be an ally for Russia?
What should I say, another theory of a conspiracy? :-) I am not a fan of Donald Trump (people who follow me at Facebook know that) but I cannot be sure that the situation would be better if these things ended up differently. I just hate populism and populists - and I hope that people will learn and think about connections and relations in deeper details, next time.

When you first started out with Brainking, how long did you think it would last?
Back in 2002, I never thought of that, actually. I was like "let's try it and see how it turns out". :-) I like a challenge - and my challenge was to create a game site that would be as good as competing sites, and hopefully better in something as well. And I wanted to try to make a living just by myself, not as an employee of another company.

What are your ambitions after Brainking?
I've got an important position in my company (I mean, the company I work for), so I believe a significant portion of my ambitions would be related to my job there. And I must say I like it this way. :-) Besides that, I am a hobbyist musician (I play piano, guitar and compose my own tracks), so there are some unfinished music projects I would like to finish, at last. I also used to develop mobile apps, so maybe I will try a new project on this platform. We'll see.

if a group of brainking player would decide to try to set up a crowdfunding to take over brainking as a community of interest,let's say as a non-profit project, to be able to invest all income to a programmer etc. - my question to you is: for how much money would they need to set up a crowdfunding, if bound to a non-profit concept? I guess the price would then maybe be smaller, would you consider then to go down with the price?
That's an interesting idea, really. I never thought of it in that way. I think that I would like to see a more detailed proposal and understand how it could work but, from a former board game enthusiast's point of view, I would be happy if the site is run by people who love this job.
So, I am definitely open to this idea and if there is a serious offer of this kind, I am always here to discuss it.

How did you come to create BrainKing ? Any specific cause ? (a meeting with someone, hardware coming free, extra free time irl, ...)
I think that after moving to Prague (in 1996), I had slowly abandoned my chess ambitions and started my programmer career, but the idea to play interesting board games occasionally never left me. Then, after a couple of years, an old friend of mine had contacted me and asked for a short chess lesson. Since we had lived in different cities, he pointed me to a chess server (I don't remember which one). I had been a very simple site with classic chess only but the possibility to play chess easily over the internet caught my attention immediately. I had been curious and done a quick research, ending up at several more advanced game sites with many different games, and I had become a regular player on some of them. However, I always felt that something had been missing there - no tournaments at one of them, no player rating at another one, etc. So, one day I had lost my patience, called myself a "real programmer" (ha ha) and decided to create my own site that would have everything. 2 months had passed and the first version of BrainKing came to life. :-)

What made you decide to stop working on BrainKing, when was that ?
Hmm, the feeling of a "burnout" started to surface 4 years ago but I still thought that I could work it out somehow. However, it was only a matter of time when I came to the final decision. Things might be different if at least one of potential buyers actually completed their part of a deal - it's a pity, especially if people simply stop to communicate. I find it difficult to actually believe someone else, after all these bad experiences.

Did you ever meet any people from BrainKing in real life?
Sure, we used to have several local meetings in Prague and some other Czech cities in the past. You can find the photos in the BrainKing gallery. :-)

What other projects, besides BrainKing did you work on as programmer?
You can find them on my LinkedIn Profile. :-)

https://www.linkedin.com/in/filiprachunek/

Did you create all the code and images etc of BrainKing by yourself?
I think I had downloaded some basic game images and country flags from somewhere (it was 15 year ago, I really don't remember). But all the code is mine and only mine.

Do you play board games on-the-board as well, or only online ? Which board games ?
Nope, not much. Very rarely I have a casual game of chess with a friend, but that's about it.

Which games would you like to have added to BrainKing if possible ?
I would be nice to have a Scrabble like game here. In fact, I had started to work on it (9 years ago) and gave it a temporary name Brainble :-) , but never finished this subproject.

Does your whole family play at BrainKing ? .. and did they ever beat you ? In which games ? :-)
My wife still plays here and it's true that she was really said when I had told her about my intention to sell the site. She understands my reasons and supports me, which I am very grateful of, but still, she would love to see it around, and not only because we met there. :-) My daughters used to play when they were younger and they don't anymore, but I can hardly blame them when I don't show any enthusiasm myself. And my 7 years old son prefers to play GTA and Starcraft, which is quite understandable too. :-)
I got beaten many times in backgammon and ludo by all of them.

Did you ever have any plans to move to another country? If so, which country?
No, I never wanted to move to another country permanently (maybe temporarily). I don't say that living in Czech Republic is flawless (far from it) but I cannot think of another place that would be so much greater in all important aspects to be worth moving with my whole family. Furthermore, I like to live in EU and I seriously hope that it will stay as it is (despite Brexit).

Whats the best local food in your country/region? Please give us the recipe :-)
Ha! I am not the best person to ask about this because I hate the Czech cuisine! I don't even drink beer. :-D If I should pick just one cuisine to eat for the rest on my life, I would pick the Japanese one. I could have fish, rice, sushi, Japanese soups etc. over and over.
So, it might be better if you, in case of a real interest, ask my wife instead. She is a very talented cook and, unlike me, loves Czech meals. ;-)

Which books do/did you like to read?
Douglas Adams, Andrzej Sapkowski, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Donald Westlake, Stanislaw Lem, Michio Kaku, Alan Dean Foster, to name a few authors. I am also a big fan of books based on a lore of popular games (Warcraft, Starcraft, etc.).

Did you always work as a programmer, of had other jobs as well?
Yes, I always worked as a programmer, regarding my main source of income. I made a few thousands of dollars as a musician in the past too, but it was more like a passive revenue (if you remember mp3.com site, for instance).
I don't say that programming is my dream job but it is still one of the top paying ones, which is quite an important details when you have a family to feed. :-)

Which achievement on BrainKing are you most proud of?
Hmm, from a programmer's point of view, I am very happy with the self-healing system I had developed several years ago - even if a fatal error occurs, BrainKing is capable of recovering almost automatically from it, with a minimal human intervention. I am also satisfied with the performance, the site with all its components runs on a single server and never goes out of resources.
If I look at it as a player, I really like the tournament system which is also fully automatic and, although not flawless, offers many features that make it very flexible. This is also one thing I would like to see improved by a new owner because there are still many great ideas that could be implemented.

Outside of your next project after Brainking, what will you fill your free time doing? Time with family?
Time with family, definitely. And, as I already answered elsewhere, I would like to revive my music projects which had been hibernated for a long time. Plus, there will be always something new I would like to try.

What do you like to do for fun?
My current passion is a music composition and production, I can spend literally hours to tweak a synth patch to create an original sound that would fit my ideas. And, although I am definitely not a genius pianist, I love to improve my skills on piano as well.
Besides that, I like to spend time with my wife and kids, play computer games, watch my favourite films or TV series, explore new technologies, read old books.

If you sell Brainking, will you still keep your account and play here? Perhaps you will lose your "White Brain King" status and become a pawn membership?
Yes, I think that I would like to observe how it changes/improves over time. Once the burden and responsibility is eliminated, it could be an interesting experience. Maybe I would even pay for a membership to support it. :-)

For many of us, Brainking has become a part of our daily lives for many years... Do you feel a sense of accomlishment for impacting so many people's lives?
I seriously hope the impact was mostly positive and did not create many troublesome situations. :-) And life is full of changes, nothing lasts forever. It is always a satisfaction when people say that what you created is good, even if you think otherwise from time to time. So yes, I feel a sense of accomplishment. It is nice to look back and say "I did that".

I am still chasing down "Achievements"... will you not shut down the site until I break 3,000?! haha
Heh. Do we even have that many achievements? :-) I'll try to keep it up as long as possible.

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