Hello, everyone! Thanks to a couple of generous donors, No Time To Play is financially secure for the next year. (Myself not so much, but that’s another story.) Many thanks to Mark Burger and Christopher Vincelli!
In other news, I don’t have any new screenshots this week but Tomb of the Snake is also progressing nicely. Now you can actually ascend with the McGuffin and win the game, and I’m nearly done adding monsters. Should have a playable version in two weeks to one month (famous last words, I know). I’m cautiously optimistic about this one — based on feedback, people seem to like roguelikes that blend tradition with modernity, rather than going to one extreme or the other.
But on to news that aren’t about me. There are plenty this week, and half of them are only tangentially related to game development.
You know what HTML is, right? It’s the file format browsers read in order to show you pretty web pages, with all the bells and whistles you’re accustomed to. It can get quite complex, but at its most basic it nothing more than this:
Here is some bold text for your enjoyment.
Let’s look at the HTML that produces the text above. Tell me, is it
code or data?
Here is some <b>bold text</b> for your enjoyment.
It looks like data, right? After all, it’s mostly text, meant to be read by human beings. They even call these HTML documents! How could anyone think it’s code?
Well, I say it is, because it instructs your web browser to do five things in sequence:
- Display “Here is some “;
- switch to bold text;
- display “bold text”;
- switch to regular text;
- display ” to work with.”.
Does that look like programming to you yet? Maybe it’s not cryptic enough. Let’s see how the same effect could be accomplished with an older language called Troff, that they used in the mainframe era:
Here is some .B bold text .R for your enjoyment.
There you go. The exact sequence of instructions I listed above, made explicit — a big no-no nowadays, when we like to pretend computers are easy. But even if you just select the text and click “Bold” in your favorite editor, deep down you’re expressing the same thing — a little computer program.
I don’t even know how to say this, so I’ll be brief: to the few people who read this blog and want it to stay online, I need your help. As of April 1st, I won’t have enough money left to eat, let alone pay for web hosting. The former is my problem; for the latter, I could use some spare change. My costs are $14/y for the domain (paid until July) and roughly $7/mo for the hosting (which includes my Internet access).
How you can pay: all of our games have Flattr buttons on their respective pages; I sell a few of them over on Itch.io; and of course you can use PayPal directly — leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch. Thank you very much. I want No Time To Play to stay up.
In other news, as you can see I made more progress with Tomb of the Snake — right now in the way of user interface. It’s not as much as I would have liked, but I’ve been working on another long-form article (and having some very bad days, but that’s another story). Don’t worry, it’s all coming along nicely.
Now let’s see what else happened in the world of gamedev this week.
There’s a new interactive fiction magazine in town, and it’s a monthly, too. Launched in January, IFography is at issue #2 already, and it has much to say: interviews with lesser-known authors, reviews of obscure games and opinion pieces in a very personal style — a much needed breath of fresh air. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but with many of the big names in IF being academics, the prevailing discourse in the community can get… starched. The perspective of a 16-year-old whose native language isn’t English can teach the rest of us a lot.
(Yes, actually English is my 3rd language too, but I stopped thinking of it as foreign a long time ago. As for the age angle, at 16 I was playing The Hobbit on a ZX Spectrum. That was nearly 22 years ago — and many in the community started out even earlier. We desperately need younger voices.)
Between this and the recent move to revive SPAG Magazine, maybe it’s time to be optimistic about interactive fiction again.
You know strategy games, right? You start with a few units; they harvest resources with which they build buildings; those in turn make more advanced units that can engage the opposition and hopefully win. All while gathering even more resources, upgrading your settlement and so on.
If you thought Starcraft or Settlers of Catan when reading the above, you’re on the right track.
But strategy games didn’t begin with those. They didn’t even begin with Dune 2. One of the earliest such games — the first great hit — was called Hamurabi and could be played with a teletype. Yes, it was a text game, much like the original Adventure and Rogue, and almost as addictive as them. Other famous strategy games were born during that era, such as Star Trek and Trade Wars.
You’d think all of them belong in history books, but during this century a new crop of browser-based multiplayer games have been eschewing graphics again in favor of an interface some people have derisively called “playable Excel documents”. In all honesty, it’s hard to fault them when you look at OGame; at least its competitor Travian still bothers to have a map.
But the joke’s on them, because these games are enormously popular.
Another week of development, another screenshot. I did much more that isn’t easily shown, such as adding mouse support, optimizing startup times and making sure the game can run on a monochrome terminal. Amazing how little work you need to keep a game running on supposedly obsolete machines as well as the latest Mac. Of course, Python and ncurses help a lot here — but that, too, is a lesson.
Speaking of lessons, I long wanted to make a roguelike with a variety of map types in some sort of logical progression, but even with the basically unlimited RAM and CPU of a modern machine, managing all the level generators is a hassle. Unless a game is focused on exploration, it’s better off with just one type of map, made as interesting as possible. Parametrization goes a long way here.
Now on to gamedev news that aren’t about me.
Hello, everyone. As I’m writing these lines, No Time To Play is down, so I can only hope you’ll get to read them soon. One of my biggest finds this week has been a CRPG Directory listing an eclectic mix of mostly retro games in the genre, along with other resources such as blogs and forums. Interestingly, among them is listed Battle for Wesnoth, and I can’t even fault them considering how many RPG elements that game has. But most intriguing to me was the first entry:
The Adventure Creation Kit is a visual tool for making RPGs in the style of old Ultima games, running in DOS. And while that style of game ultimately lies outside my sphere of interest, I couldn’t resist taking a good look at ACK. Here’s what I discovered.
All right, so, the bad news is my mood swings continue. The good news is, I was able to do enough work on my game again to show you a new screenshot. And all on a Sunday afternoon, too!
Okay, so the cave levels look uglier than I remember. Either I broke the old code while recovering and porting it, or else it was a case of rose-tinted glasses. But I learned a lot about procedural generation in recent years, so it’s just a matter of patience. The code needs significant clean-up anyway.
As for the news this week, we only have two again: the most overused words in game titles, and an interview with Jeff Vogel.
I shouldn’t have continued this newsletter past New Year. Once again all I have for you is a couple of links, and not even a progress report, having failed to keep working on my game. At least I learned a new thing or two, but my enthusiasm truly is gone and it’s time to admit it.
So here’s a resolution: no matter what happens, this newsletter ends with issue #75, right before No Time To Play’s fifth anniversary. There’s a good chance I won’t have the money to renew the domain anyway, in which case it’s all moot. Sorry about that.
But for now, this week’s topics are game accessibility and artificial intelligence — two things I care about despite not being very skilled in providing either.
These really aren’t good days for me. Took me a week to put together less than 500 lines of code, mostly copy-pasted from elsewhere too. But persistence pays, and right now I can at least show you a couple of screenshots:
As I pointed out last time, it’s a roguelike for the Linux console, written in Python. I happen to like the language anyway, and since it comes with a curses module by default that means I can have exactly zero dependencies apart from Python itself. As for why text mode, I’m seriously bothered by the gratuitous overuse of technology these days. When text-based roguelikes require SDL or even OpenGL (wish I was kidding), something’s rotten in the state of IT. Several of my friends work in text mode at least some of the time, their reasons ranging from tradition to poor eyesight. And having done real work on remote servers over SSH, I know that making text-based user interfaces is a skill worth acquiring.
More about the game itself next week; for now, on to the links.