No Time To Play

Tools for the sake of tools

by on Oct.08, 2015, under Off-topic

Dear software developers, I like package managers and version control too, but this is getting ridiculous. An increasing amount of software is only published online as a git repo, so I must have git installed and know the first thing about using it even though my regular VCS is Bazaar. I also need npm installed even though I don’t use node.js, because plenty of Javascript libraries don’t seem to be available any other way anymore (you can’t just download them from GitHub and expect them to work). Python stuff, too, is starting to become pip-exclusive. Good thing I don’t code in Perl and Ruby; I would also be required to use cpan and gem on top of everything else.

All too often, what I want is a small library to help with a specific task, but instead you’re offering me giant frameworks caught in a mesh of dependencies, that would dwarf my application and make it extremely difficult to distribute. I want to write apps for anyone to just download and run, but instead you’re forcing me to think about ecosystems. I need to use my computer, and you’re talking about leveraging the synergy of the cloud. I ask for a hammer, you offer a hydraulic press factory.

Get a grip on reality, because you’re basically floating away like hot air balloons by this point. And talk to ordinary people for a change, because in your enthusiasm for technology you have forgotten it has to meet real needs, or else we’re just going to look elsewhere.

Yes, I’m a software developer myself, and I love my work. But all too often as of late I’m tempted to throw it all away and take up farming instead.

Wake up, while you still have something to wake up to.


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Weekly Links #90

by on Oct.04, 2015, under Gamedev, News

With my schedule messed up again by a death in the family and a fight with bureaucracy, I almost forgot it was time for another newsletter. The week’s highlights are a couple of articles about the so-called “indiepocalypse”, and how it’s way overblown: one relying on statistical analysis, the other on a look at history, and both drawing the same conclusion: good games still sell, bad games still tank. Nothing to see here, move along.

In other news, Techdirt alerts of even more game-breaking DRM changes on Windows. And for game developers, @gnomeslair points at a dialogue editor based on Twine. I wrote about alternate uses for Twine before; this is someone taking the same idea to its logical conclusion. And via the same source, here’s an article about the best games based on books — food for thought whether you’re a developer, writer or player.

Last but not least, I want to talk about a very personal writeup titled Video Games Versus Disability. Mind you, I’m able-bodied. But I’ve met blind people who play MUDs and interactive fiction because hardly any other kind of game works for them, and it pains me just to think of that. As for hearing… I remember playing Blade Runner back when my English wasn’t nearly this good (my spoken English still lags behind), and wishing for subtitles to help me along a little. Imagine being physically unable to hear the game at all. Come to think of it, try playing your own game with the speakers unplugged. Screen contrast turned way down. A metronome tick-tocking in front of the screen. The language changed to one you don’t speak well. These will give you just a taste of how some people experience not just games, but every waking moment of their lives. Can you make something they can enjoy anyway?

Until next week, think about those who Are Not Like You™. Thanks.

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Weekly Links #89

by on Sep.27, 2015, under News, Off-topic

Despite my best efforts, some weeks are really empty. For what it’s worth, I finished another toy: TB-40, a programmable calculator running Tiny Basic. It took twice as long to code as the other one, and sure enough it’s also twice the size. Not so much fun to use on mobile devices as I’d hoped, but oh well, it’s a learning experience.

More generally, I’ve been using GitHub a lot more as of late. It’s a very nice service even if you don’t use Git (I don’t), so in an effort to take better advantage of it I uploaded a few more of my older projects. Among them RogueBot, not that there’s much to it. But perhaps someone will find the code useful — in particular, the game-window.js microframework, a product of 5 years’ worth of practice making HTML5 games.

But enough about me. In a recently unearthed interview with Shigeru Miyamoto from 1998, the legendary game developer cautions against chasing realism in graphics. And while that strategy didn’t always work so well for Nintendo, you might remember how World of Warcraft took the world by storm in 2004 with blocky, cartoonish artwork that worked even on low-end computers, while everyone else was busy trying to hide the sharp corners with annoying bloom effects.

And because I already filled up a page of text, here’s a bit of humor to cap it off: How being a cat is like being in a videogame. Have a chuckle… and a good next week.

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Weekly Links #88

by on Sep.21, 2015, under News

Having been offline for the weekend due to yet another outage (so much for Talk Like a Pirate Day), I find myself late and with insufficient links to make a newsletter. Perhaps I could mention the latest toy I’ve been working on — RPN-40, a programmable calculator trying to stay simple and fun. Or perhaps Hardcore Gaming 101’s retrospective of C.P.U. Bach, which may seem off-topic. But think about it: in 1994, computers were already able to compose music. 21 years down the road, they are even able to design videogames. How can we harness that ability?

And speaking of that, via Michael Cook I learned of this blog post about procedurally generating cities. Having done just that (in a simplistic way) for RogueBot, I can certainly appreciate the work described.

Last but not least: Rock, Paper, Shotgun — which has been leaning noticeably towards my range of interests as of late — has an article about designing magic into fantasy worlds. Which of course applies to all media, not just games; the article doesn’t talk at all about implementation issues. Tip: you basically need a scripting engine to have magic in your game. The simplest implementations I’ve seen resemble the example in my article about code versus data. But the narrative angle matters just as much, if not more.

And that’s pretty much all I have for today. See you next time.

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Weekly Links #87

by on Sep.13, 2015, under Gamedev, Miscellaneous, News, Opinion

This will be a quick newsletter again, if not quite as short as last time. Let me start with a link I found on the last stretch, to a Rock, Paper, Shotgun roundtable discussing Kickstarter in 2015. Here’s the one paragraph that struck me:

Isn’t it fascinating though that, when it comes to less conventionally commercial games, people would rather be sold a dream than reality? You’d get more backers for a weird or cute kickstarter than you would chucking a few dollars at something existent on, right?

And that’s funny, because I was just talking to a friend the other day (hi, Chip!) about Patreon, and how he often has to lie to himself that the less-than-epic rewards that artists sometimes come up with (and we don’t blame them, mind you) are actually worth the money he gives them. While on, most titles sell so badly that a single sale can noticeably buoy me in popularity listings. And I get that dreams look better in people’s minds than finished creations, which can’t help but have flaws. But has the absurdity of capitalism reached such heights that it’s time to fire the creators and just sell pure marketing to a public who doesn’t need the actual products anymore because they already have too much stuff?

In unrelated news, the highly successful launch of Super Mario Maker prompts Gamasutra to publish an article about the many ways hardware limitations defined the original classic, and how they can still inform its modern successors. And over at The Escapist, Shamus Young explains why your not-so-old computer suddenly can’t play the latest games anymore. A good reminder for game developers about the complexities of computer performance. No, your machine isn’t typical. There’s no such thing as a typical PC.

Last but not least, Hardcore Gaming 101 treats us to a retrospective of The Last Express, and Polygon explains how Dragon Age costumes are influenced by cosplayers. I’d heard before about creators going for cosplay-able costumes, so this is pretty cool.

But that’s all for this Sunday. See you next week.

P.S. A gentle reminder that No Time To Play is on if you want to show your support. Thank you.

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Weekly Links #86

by on Sep.06, 2015, under News

Welcome, readers. We’re having a short newsletter again, and all the news are about programming. Let’s start with Jay Barnson telling a war story about the perils of assumptions and arbitrary limits. I already shared my opinion in a comment over there, so I won’t insist. Speaking of opinions, John Carmack has one about the best programming language for beginners, and it turns out to be Racket, a Scheme dialect and IDE. And while on the topic of great programmers, Nature magazine of all places has a feature on Ada Augusta Lovelace, who was born exactly 200 years ago (minus four months), and went on to theorize the very notion of a programmable computer, and what programs might look like — including, if I understand correctly, the three fundamental control structures!

Last but not least, not feeling up to tackling a big project, I worked on another toy library this week. VGForm is a very simple JSON-based format for vector graphics, designed to be easily rendered with common graphics APIs such as the HTML5 canvas or AWT’s Graphics2D. It’s born from my early struggles with using vector graphics in games — too bad the idea didn’t occur to me earlier! But the best course of action is always obvious in retrospect…

On this note, thanks for reading and see you next week.

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Weekly Links #85

by on Aug.30, 2015, under News

Hello, everyone. I could divide this week’s links along several lines, so it’s hard to decide. Let’s start with the latest link I acquired: via @twinethreads comes the news that the word hypertext is 50 years old, and Ted Nelson’s interview answers are fascinating, especially about interactivity — my favorite topic as of late. And since I mentioned Twine, here’s an inteview with Chris Klimas, who talks briefly about the platform and the community around it.

Still in the famous names department, over at Boing Boing the one and only Anna Anthropy talks about game-making tools. See my own comments on the other blog. And because interactivity and books seem to be the key words this week, a shout-out to Chris Meadows of Teleread writing about electronic literature. Elsewhere, one of my favorite webcomic authors reminds people that imagination is the best graphics engine. If only modern games would leave anything to imagination…

Now for the business side of gaming. At The Escapist, Shamus Young explains how Spore could have been better, and his indictment of modern business stings. Along the same lines, The Daily Dot presents a survey according to which adult women are now the largest demographic in gaming. Guess who doesn’t seem to have caught on yet. And on a slightly different note, PC Gamer has a story on how GOG rescued 13 Forgotten Realms games from licensing hell. Good thing they’re persistent, eh?

Last but not least, I spent most of this week working on Bast, an experimental implementation of the programming language proposed here and here. Not that I have a need for it right now, but maybe you’ll find it inspirational. Thanks for reading, and see you next week.

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Weekly Links #84

by on Aug.23, 2015, under News

cover-thumbI never know how to open up these newsletters, so I’ll get right down to it: my new book is out! It took me five weeks (excluding the delays) to write, typeset and illustrate the whole thing, and even though we’re only talking 13500 words and 32 pages, it was exhausting. But now it’s out, and after publishing two books in one summer it’s time for some programming again. Speaking of which.

It’s been a month and a half since David Wheeler contacted me about further developing Jaiffa. He thinks it can be turned from a learning toy into a serious authoring system for interactive fiction, and his early work towards that goal is promising. (Check out the tutorial!) Should have covered this earlier, but Tales of Space and Magic was just starting to absorb all my attention. Well, better late than never.

In unrelated news, it turns out that Windows 10 will refuse to run games with some forms of DRM. And never mind how that will impact the honest people who bought the game, while pirates will have no problem — again. But as Jay Barnson points out, some of those games that won’t run anymore are Microsoft’s own! Securing their OS… or shooting themselves in the foot? You decide. And in the mean time you might be in the market for old games, which still sell despite being easy to pirate, proving once again that convenience beats all.

Until next time, sell smartly.

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Weekly Links #83: virtual world edition

by on Aug.16, 2015, under News

I hate it when that happens. Between my project being on hold due to unforeseen circumstances and my mind being on 3D art these days (what started as some illustration work turned into more), I find myself at the end of the week with just one topic for you. One. Pathetic, isn’t it? At least that gives me extra room for comment.

It was via Chris Meadows of Teleread fame that I heard about this virtual tour of abandoned Second Life sites, and while SL is still populous overall, that instantly reminded me of the months I spent in 2009 exploring empty MU*s. And those usually were completely deserted, forgotten even by the sysadmins running the servers. Apart from the medium — text versus graphics — similarities are striking. Outdated announcements stuck to a wall; weird objects in surreal surroundings; the feeling that someone could pop in any time, despite the server stats showing the last login to have been years before.

Which only serves to remind me that Seltani, which I reviewed with much enthusiasm two years ago, became a ghost town before the year was over. Even I abandoned it for the most part, shamefully so. That’s what happens when you fail to establish a tight community, I suppose — absent that, virtual worlds remain a solution in search of a problem, and pretty graphics can’t help. What did we expect when we reacted to the complete freedom of cyberspace by trying to recreate the limitations of meatspace within it?

In completely unrelated news, it’s not often that a gameplay trailer catches my eye, but Rolling Torque looks very much like a low-poly, highly colorful, spiritual successor to Marble Madness, and the retrogamer in me can’t fail to find that compelling. I’d play it, and that’s rare these days. See you next week.

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No Time To Play is five

by on Aug.11, 2015, under Miscellaneous

It says much about my state of mind this year that on the blog’s fifth anniversary I waited until evening to write a few lines. Two years ago I complained that things seemed to be looking down. Turns out, they can always get worse. For a while after that post, I didn’t work on games at all. Then I started coming back in a way, slowly and half-heartedly. Guess it showed, because basically no-one noticed my games from the past few months. More recently, finances and ISP outages alike threatened the blog itself, to the point that I decided to write a book and start a Tumblr so No Time To Play can at least survive in other forms should the worst come to pass. Sadly nobody noticed those either…

The upswing from all this? Unlike a couple of months ago, I want the blog to survive. Five years is a lot of time, and good things have accumulated here. Moreover, I do see a future for videogames now, though it’s far from the glorious VR-fest everyone else seems to dream of. If things seem slow for the moment, it’s because these days I’m working on a different kind of game, that only involves computers tangentially. But I’ll come back eventually. I always do.

What matters is that you, my readers, are still here when that happens, or else there’s no point to me plodding along. So, happy reading.

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