Last post was #200 on this blog. I’m kind of glad it happened to be my first proper article in a while, rather than yet another newsletter. This blog has been on life support for way too long now — at least a year if I remember correctly. And if I didn’t have a handful of faithful readers I’d just stop posting entirely.
Anyway, this week ended the Procedural Generation Jam 2014, after a most welcome one-day extension. Oh, I was already in, and entries were accepted after the deadline anyway — all very informal and friendly — but it was fun seeing how much I could do within the allotted time. Which was less than I hoped, due to lack of energy, but oh well.
But I showed off my entry before. I’d like to talk about the others today.
It’s a truism in creative circles that getting noticed in this day and age is hard. It’s a big Internet, a lot of people make stuff, and audiences have increasingly little attention to spare, not to mention money. Publishers overcome that problem by reserving large budgets for advertising, but indies often lack that option. It can be disheartening to spend weeks or months on some labor of love and see absolutely nothing in return.
And all too often, when I check, it turns out they didn’t do anything to get noticed. Like, anything at all. They just posted some of their work online, and waited.
I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.
Hello, everyone. After submitting VoxelDesc to the Procedural Generation Jam, I figured it would be nice to have an entry developed during the actual jam for a change, which is sort of the point, you know? Especially after getting a ton of visits and not one comment for what I thought was a fairly original concept. As it happens, inspiration struck, and in less than a week I came up with this:
It’s supposed to become a twin-stick shooter, but for now I focused on the procedural parts, namely the level generation and graphics engine (and I had to figure out fast how to bang out a semi-plausible city map, however abstracted — pro tip: BSP trees don’t work here). I’ll hopefully have something to shoot at by the end of the jam, now that the deadline has been quietly extended by a day.
You know, considering I haven’t really done anything in the realm of interactive fiction since about 2009 — with minor exceptions — I write about that particular genre a lot. Partly it’s nostalgia, and the friends I made over time. But mostly it’s because the gaming industry spent the past 18 years or so advancing graphics technology, while text adventure authors were busy perfecting things like puzzle design, map construction, story structure, NPC interaction, natural language processing… All those unglamorous tasks you can’t brag about in numbers, but which make or break a game to a much higher degree than “ZOMG! It’s running in 4000×4000 at 120fps! It requires four graphics cards linked together and cooled with liquid helium!”
And that’s why I have a whole bunch of interactive fiction links again.
You know the saying, when it rains it pours. That’s the story of this newsletter, pretty much. Most weeks I scramble to find a couple links worth writing about. Today I don’t even know where to begin.
For one thing, after long months of intense development, Jason Scott officially announced The Internet Arcade and The Software Library — two huge collections of classic arcade and 8-bit computer games, respectively, playable online right inside a web page. That’s huge; while emulators and old games are available elsewhere (see World of Spectrum for an amazing collection of resources), they’re usually focused on one platform and require some amount of expertise to get running. Whereas here we have a veritable potpourri, as easily accessible as old photographs on Flickr.
With the Interactive Fiction Competition in full swing, it’s no surprise that people talk about IF more than usual. Enough that even jaded ol’ me can find a bunch of news worth mentioning.
I’ll start with a signal boost: Jimmy Maher, a.k.a. The Digital Antiquarian has launched a Patreon to help fund his efforts of documenting the history of narrative computer games. His isn’t just any blog either: you’ll seldom find better documented, more balanced write-ups on any popular topic like that. There’s something to be said about having an academic background, it seems.
So if you can, give Jimmy a hand. He more than deserves it.
Having recently worked on two projects that involve voxels, I couldn’t help but notice that for an obsolete rendering technology there seem to be quite a few game engines based on them. Most are quite different from the kind of thing I do (though many seem to rely on procedural generation… why am I not surprised). But a friend just pointed me at the current Humble Indie Bundle, and it includes one project that features remarkable similarities to my own work.
Note the pseudo-3D camera (with just two degrees of freedom!) and the very small scene size — 128x128x64, probably chosen because it’s near the psychological treshold of one million voxels. It also has physics — and I don’t understand why everyone sees “voxels” and thinks “destructible environments” — plus a manual editor of the sort I recently criticized, but which may work well enough if all you’re ever making with it is tiny “3D tiles”, as the case appears to be here.
Also, why is everyone so keen on releasing their engine and toolchain before they have a solid game made with them?
This is the second time in just a few weeks that I almost didn’t have a newsletter, so I’m going to ramble a little more than usual about the couple of topics I do have. First is that the little toy I’ve been working on is nearly ready for release (in fact I’ve been sending review copies already). And yes, I tried using the system look and feel this time, just for kicks. Looks surprisingly good.
Hello, everyone! For the past week, I’ve been playing a little Risk variant called Compact Conflict. It’s made in HTML5 and clocks in at under 13K minified! You can easily lose because of a little bad luck at the start, but it’s so fast and compelling I can’t be angry with it. Most remarkable is the AI (with three difficulty levels!) crammed into that tight space. I have much to learn…
In the way of game development talk, Gamasutra is running a postmortem titled Creating Epic Scale Games on an Indie Budget. It’s a topic we care about here at No Time To Play, and the article gives some interesting answers. I can’t help but notice that the game in question is a 2D work in the vein of Star Control, rather than the glorious 3D-fests chock-full of FX most people think of when they hear “epic”. Do you suppose that has anything to do with the subject matter? You know my opinion.