No Time To Play

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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Weekly Links #82

by on Aug.09, 2015, under News, Off-topic

I have a dearth of links again, after last week’s plenty. I guess my current project is taking its toll. Turns out, doing the writing and the layout and the artwork for a tabletop RPG, however modest, uses up a lot of energy. But oh well, won’t be long now.

While we’re talking tabletop, I recently started following again, and this week their long-running history of RPGs touched on the issue of women in the industry. This may not seem too relevant to computer games until you encounter a number of famous names that shaped the fantasy genre as we know it today. And with franchises crossing media boundaries so easily nowadays, that matters more than it seems.

Wait, did I mention women in gaming? Here’s the story of a game nobody would touch because it has a female protagonist. (Spoiler: Square Enix took it in the end.) Do you suppose we still have a bit of a problem in the industry?

Last but not least, Shamus Young explains in his column why romance is kind of bland in modern RPGs. And he has a point. Just like with story in general, you can’t have much depth and emotional impact when your protagonist is a blank slate, and the story must get to a satisfying end no matter what the player chooses.

Or can it? Tabletop RPG players often manage it spectacularly well. Maybe videogame designers ought to look more outside of their narrow bubble. A lot more.

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Weekly Links #81

by on Aug.02, 2015, under News

People are funny. It’s the height of summer, everyone’s on vacation, yet for once I have a full newsletter. Let’s start with a couple of headlines about consoles — one about the fate of the OUYA, the other about vintage consoles still selling in Brazil. It’s almost as if getting the best out of what we already have beats always chasing after new toys nobody asked for! Naaah… ya think?

On a related note, PC Gamer has a feature on how full motion video is making a comeback, now that we know to use it for its strengths rather as a technological gimmick. At last, people are starting to figure it out. And while on the topic on how to use tech well, here’s a comprehensive overview of color in games.

Last but not least, Jimmy Maher has a write-up titled The 14 Deadly Sins of Graphic Adventure Design, which is really about much more than that. Such as interactivity being the whole point of games, or being familiar with the state of the art in whatever genre you are creating.

But these days I’m working on an entirely different kind of game. See you around.

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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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