No Time To Play

Weekly Links #80

by on Jul.26, 2015, under News

It was another of those weeks when I had to wait for the weekend to find any links at all. On the plus side, there are a whole bunch of new tabletop games listed in our annotated RPG links. Since I’ve been working on one of those, there was little else on my mind as of late.

Anyway, in the way of cool things happening, Nightwrath alerted me of someone from Reddit putting together a huge torrent of around 700 roguelikes. The really cool thing? The list includes my own Tomb of the Snake. Yaaay!

And because it’s been a while since I mentioned anything related to game development theory, Jay Barnson writes about the way better graphics lead to a look-but-don’t-touch effect.

Annoyingly enough, this is all for today, despite my best efforts. Oh well, until next week.

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Oh look, another book on how to make games

by on Jul.23, 2015, under Review

how-to-make-games-coverNo really, that’s the book’s title. How To Make Games, by Trent Steen, is a 29-page PDF, nicely typeset (albeit unprintable) and chock-full of illustrations. Like my own book, it aims to help people get started with making games. Unlike me, however, the author outright recommends downloading GameMaker and learning to use it. I can’t help but agree with the advice on taking off: start small, recreate the classics for practice, don’t worry about assets at first. Tired of hearing all that? Sorry. There’s a reason why all successful game developers keep saying it.

In subsequent chapters, the book goes hands-on with game design issues such as prototyping, helping players learn the game without the need for a tutorial or manual, and making small, tight designs. There’s a chapter on playtesting, and another about participating in game jams. Last but not least, there’s a bit of advice about tackling bigger projects, and the gist of it is: take care of yourself.

What bothers me about the book (apart from being the competition, har har), is that it doesn’t go more deeply into the issue of making or obtaining assets, which is a necessary and not at all easy step. Simply mentioning SFXR for making sound effects would help a lot. I also disagree with the author in one regard: do fall in love with your projects. Don’t work on a game you don’t care about. It will show.

Love your games enough to finish them. They need that kind of love.

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Weekly Links #79

by on Jul.19, 2015, under News

You know how every time somebody points out sexism in games, people point at the traditional, stereotypical audience composed of horny frustrated boys? Never mind those are now a minority of people who play (no, I won’t use the ‘g’ word). But as it turns out, even that audience is bothered by sexist games. So much for that myth. I’m beginning to suspect the real brodudes in gaming are in fact part of a very specific (and older) age group. Identify it, and you’ll know where they come from.

In other news, Jimmy Maher writes about an 8-bit, 2D game that was essentially like Second Life, except 15 years earlier. It’s a fascinating read, both for people who don’t get what’s so hard about making a MMORPG, and for those who think anarchy is a good idea.

While it’s all about old games, it turns out there are people who still make arcade-style pseudo-3D racing games. Note the remarks on cutting features to fit the target system. Gee, turns out I wasn’t crazy after all.

And if people still making games like in the 1980es blew your mind, wait until you read about this developer who ported his brand-new game to DOS. Cue more writing about optimization, and cutting stuff when nothing else works — also in order to fit a game on a mobile device with limited resources.

You see, making games like in the old days isn’t about nostalgia. It’s about all the hardware we have right now that people actually use, for all kinds of reasons, and that’s not a multi-thousand-dollar gaming PC. Not to mention that the latter aren’t getting any faster these days, either, while software keeps getting bulkier.

Code smartly, folks.

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Weekly Links #78

by on Jul.12, 2015, under News

It’s no coincidence that at times when I’m not working on games myself, I also can’t seem to find many links for the newsletter either, though my selection of sources doesn’t change. The human brain works in funny and obvious ways sometimes. And in fact I am working on a game these days, just the tabletop roleplaying kind. But that’s another story.

Anyway, this week I caught Emily Short reviewing… an autobiography. Specifically, that of Neil Patrick Harris. How come? Turns out, it’s written in CYOA form. What to call it? A serious game it ain’t. A regular game then… but it’s not fictional. All the open possibilities in new media, and we simply have no words for anything outside a very narrow category of computer-based entertainment.

In any event, the whole story prompted me to tweet this:

and judging from the reactions, I may be onto something.

In other news, over at The Escapist, writes about the obstacles to porting games between PC and consoles. Tl;dr version: business, business, politics, players, marketing. Somehow, we keep finding ways to waste energy and potential…

Last but not least, there’s a new blog out there (started in January) covering the history of computer games from the author’s personal perspective. The latest post, about Battle Chess, discusses how fluff can be used well to make a game genuinely more interesting, lengthen the playing time and even influence the player’s objectives. A lesson most game developers never learned.

Until next time.

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Weekly Links #77

by on Jul.05, 2015, under News

notimetoplay1-justinHardly any links of interest this week so I’ll take the opportunity to toot my own horn. After various delays, the first No Time To Play book is finally out! As mentioned on the book’s page, it’s available for sale on itch.io and on Scribd, in a variety of formats and for only a couple of dollars. If you enjoy it, a signal boost would be much appreciated. Thank you.

In other news, Emily Short covers the recently concluded 2015 edition of the International Conference on Computational Creativity, and I couldn’t help but notice a couple of highlights: first, sortingh.at, a kind of interactive wizard (heh heh) to help people get started with game development, using the most suitable tools and resources for their project. If I had to nitpick, it’s too bad none of the recommendations were able to surprise me. That speaks volumes about the state of game-making tools today (a topic much more relevant to the new No Time To Play tumblr), but the service itself is fine. And because I mentioned my new tumblr, a topic even closer to its spirit is casual creators — tools that enable people to manifest their instinctive creativity quickly and easily, so that they can take joy in what they do even if the results are limited. Having used a meme generator myself to express a particular idea when I needed to, this sounds like an important concept, one that warrants more attention.

But that will take some thinking. See you around.

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Measuring hardware performance

by on Jul.02, 2015, under Case study

I recently had to swap my refurbished computer for a hand-me-down, to get rid of an annoying hardware defect. Both have the same amount of RAM and storage: 2 gigs and 80 gigs, respectively. The difference is in the CPU and GPU, and that’s where the comparison becomes very interesting.

You see, the old one was an AMD Sempron 64 rated at 3000+ (real clock speed 1.8GHz), with an embedded nVidia 8800 for video. The new one is an Intel Atom 330 at 1.6GHz, dual-core and hyperthreaded, with an Intel GMA 950 accelerator. You’d think multiple cores would help a lot with performance, but each individual core is slow as molasses by modern standards (which is absurd and ridiculous, but there you have it), and most software isn’t multithreaded, so it can’t take advantage of the extra cores. The result? Overall, a more responsive system as one misbehaving process can’t hog the entire CPU anymore. But individual apps are now over 50% slower…

Good thing the next games I’m planning are all turn-based.

As for the GPU? Suffice to say, Super Tux Kart — a lightweight game by any standard — used to run at roughly 70FPS on the 8800 with default settings (and original nVidia drivers), while on the GMA 950 it crawls at under 10FPS, with quality turned most of the way down. In fact, turning down the settings didn’t seem to make much of a difference at all.

Somehow, the game is still perfectly playable anyway. (continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #76

by on Jun.28, 2015, under News

Hello, everyone. In accordance to the new policy, I’m skipping the introduction. This week’s theme is game performance. Nightwrath sent me this link about what Kotaku thinks is a low-spec laptop. And it’s scary. I could rant about it at length, but these three recent tweets do a better job:

Having recently switched from a 7-year-old computer to another 7-year-old computer myself, I heartily agree. Especially as I have friends — and I mean in the US, not Romania — who would love to have my “ancient piece of junk”. More about this in an article soon.

In the mean time, consider this: there are people out there still making amazing games for 33-year-old 8-bit computers and pushing the limits. Imagine the kinds of games we could still make for the machines that used to run Baldur’s Gate 2, if only we cared about making the best of what we already have. But we don’t, because apparently it’s easier to build a marketing campaign on raw numbers…

And because I mentioned games for old computers, @gnomeslair links to a list of homebrew games for legacy platforms. I actually played one or two of them, and you know what? Even the primitive Atari 2600 can do a lot more than its hardware specs would suggest. Think about that.

Last but not least, you know what those 8-bit computers gave us? Generations of good programmers — people who grew up knowing that computers are made to be tinkered with, as someone from Microsoft points out.

Having grown up with the ZX Spectrum, like many of my friends, I can confirm that’s indeed the case. Modern software development may be infinitely easier, but it’s nowhere near as inviting. And that makes a difference.

It’s not for the best, either. Have a nice week.

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Weekly Links #75

by on Jun.21, 2015, under News

You know, this was supposed to be the newsletter’s last issue, but a lot of things happened since I took that decision. For one thing, I asked my readers to chime in with opinions, and my site promptly went down for eight days. Not exactly conducive to dialogue. Besides, when I made that decision, my interest and confidence in games were at an all-time low. In the mean time I started turning this blog into a book (coming soon!) and started a new one as well, with a different focus. To top it all, I’ve been writing new articles here as well.

So here’s the deal: the newsletter isn’t needed as much nowadays, but it is a good reason for me to keep up with the world of gaming. So I’m going to keep it going, just with a lot less commentary. That will free my Sundays to do more productive stuff, while still keeping the blog updated weekly. Stick around.

Now, on to this week’s news.

(continue reading…)

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Voxels, revisited

by on Jun.18, 2015, under Gamedev

When I was first making plans for Attack Vector, I already knew from prior experiments that sprite scaling wasn’t going to work well in software. Hardware might have been a lot more powerful in 2014 than in the days when Space Harrier saw the neon light of arcade parlors, but we’re accessing it through so many layers of software complexity that most of the difference is wasted. Oh, I could have used sprites prerendered into multiple sizes, but for various reasons that felt like the wrong thing to do in this case.

The next option would have been vector graphics, as I used in several games, but I soon realized it was going to take a lot of code, use proportional amounts of CPU (thus negating the advantage) and look ugly to boot. I needed some way to create my assets in advance, in a scalable format that was simple to render.

So I remembered my own voxel tutorial. But that raised a problem.

You see, there are voxel editors out there, but using them is tedious to the point of being impractical for any model larger than a few units in each direction. And making my own before I knew exactly what I needed sounded like a recipe for derailing the project.

But then it occurred to me that I was never going to see my assets from the back, and the solution imposed itself: combine flat sprites with depth maps to create a kind of digital bas-relief.

bas-relief

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #74: minority representation edition

by on Jun.14, 2015, under News, Off-topic

Funny thing: just last week I mentioned the issue of racism in games. It just happens that one of the games accused of being “too white” is recent mega-success Witcher 3. Well, a few days ago Nightwrath pointed me at this article by a man from Poland, who essentially points out that there’s more to representation than skin color. To wit:

I get it — there are no AAA games with all Brown or Black characters. I wish there were; I would eagerly play them too. But to Moosa I say: please understand that until The Witcher, there were no AAA games about Poles either. Although we’re a smaller and tighter group than you, we finally got our game. I hope that you finally get yours too. But you have no right to begrudge us ours.

And you know, maybe I’m speaking from a position of white privilege, but I simply can’t find a fault in this argument. It’s as if gay people played a game with an all-black cast and complained that all the characters are straight.

Look, all minorities need much better representation in media. But forcing the issue will just lead to bad games no-one will want to play, thus sabotaging the whole effort.

(continue reading…)

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