No Time To Play

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.

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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

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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.

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GUI toolkits and videogames

by on Jun.11, 2015, under Gamedev

Used to be, games didn’t need a proper Graphical User Interface the way applications do. They’d show a title screen, you’d press fire, the game would start. After game over, they’d show you the high score list and that was that.

Nowadays expectations are a little higher. Any game needs at least push buttons or some sort of menu, so you can see the credits, choose your language or turn off sound. As a next step, you’ll also need a dialog pane, textbox control and image control so you can depict an NPC speaking, for example. By the time you move on to strategy games, we’re talking sliders and spinners in addition to the lists you need for, say, an RPG — practically all the controls in a full-blown GUI toolkit. And that’s a problem, because the latter aren’t easy to make at all.

But what if you could make a game using a general-purpose GUI toolkit, say Swing, or Gtk+?

That wouldn’t fly for a lot of games, mind you. Regular GUI toolkits are too slow to render in real time, and they don’t render to OpenGL anyway, as a general rule. They also don’t have visual appeal as a primary design consideration. (Unfortunately — I’ve talked to many people who think they should. But see below.) Still, that leaves plenty of open possibilities, as I’ll explain in a moment.

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Weekly Links #73

by on Jun.07, 2015, under News

Thought I was done gathering links for this week’s newsletter when Nightwrath pointed me at this postmortem of an indie RPG that was no less than 10 years in development. And that’s funny because this week I’ve been editing old blog posts for the book, and my first big article here begins with a handful of links to stories in the same vein. It seems people never learn: yes, you have to start small, and by that I don’t mean a smaller RPG, but a simpler game.

Oh, if you do have the fortitude to keep at it for 10 years or more, results can be wonderful. But do you?

And now for other news.

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Weekly Links #72

by on Jun.03, 2015, under News

For the second time this year. No Time To Play is down as I write these lines, so I don’t know when my words will reach you. Clearly it was a bad idea to keep all my eggs in one basket. For various reasons, I can’t change hosting companies now, and even if I did, that wouldn’t solve the underlying problem of having a single point of failure.

So in an effort to expand and diversify, I started a No Time To Play tumblelog, with a different focus (though still related to game development). Additionally, I’ll be trying to put together a No Time To Play book, starting from a selection of content on this blog that stands on its own and best represents my original vision. Don’t hold your breath, though. I just can’t make any promises.

On to the week’s news…

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Weekly Links #71

by on May.24, 2015, under News

How time flies. I never noticed when the spring came to an end. It’s basically summer already, and there’s just one month left until my self-imposed deadline for discontinuing this newsletter. I tried to start writing regular articles again as a replacement, but that didn’t quite work out, and indeed this blog might be better off lying fallow for a while. What’s worse, having no passion for games anymore, or having your passion return only to see nobody else cares?

My dear handful of readers: I know you’re out there. Give me a reason to keep this blog updated come July, because if I take a break it may well be for good.

Anyway, on to this week’s few headlines.
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What about vector graphics?

by on May.21, 2015, under Miscellaneous

I was checking out the vector tag on itch.io, and couldn’t help but notice there are only 26 games on that page — few enough to count by hand. And two of them are mine. I have more. In fact most of my games have vector graphics. Sure, they’re code-intensive and CPU intensive, but nowadays computers have CPU power to spare. And with the wildly different screen resolutions of modern machines, especially mobile devices, vectors offer a scalability advantage over pixel art, while
being just as pretty and colorful. Not to mention we need the diversity.

This is why I’d have expected game developers to use vector graphics much more often. It’s disappointing to see they aren’t. Why aren’t they?

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Weekly Links #70: writing for RPGs edition

by on May.17, 2015, under Off-topic, Opinion

It’s always ups and downs I guess. Just a week again I was complaining about health issues. Now I’m well again, as for Glittering Light, it now has sound as well as something that can pass for a title screen. The plan was to also have built-in credits, a scoreboard and all the goodies, but that would just take too much effort at this point, especially with the lack of attention the game “enjoys”. It pains me, because I know I can make a game look professional — I did it with Attack Vector, and it wasn’t that hard. But that was back then.

Otherwise, this is another week with few news, so I’m going to fill the space with commentary instead. Specifically, about RPGs, writing, combat and how it all applies to other kinds of games.

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