It had to happen sooner or later. This week I could barely scrounge up a couple of links, and I have little to write about the most important of them. To wit, the already famous Twine has reached version 2.0 — a huge leap forward as it now runs in any modern web browser, making it available on new platforms such as Linux and Android, and more casually accessible to just about everyone.
And since we’re talking Twine, remember when the default interface for interactive fiction wasn’t hyperlinks, but a command parser? Turns out, experiments are ongoing, as Emily Short points out on her blog. But while experiments are good as a general rule, the examples in the article fail to get me excited, for reasons I’ll explain below.
For now, let’s talk a little about card games.
With all the stuff on my mind this weekend, I basically forgot to work on my newsletter at all. But better late than never.
Continuing on the topic of programming languages from last time, Shamus Young argues in The Escapist that videogames need their own programming language. And while he makes some excellent points as always, I think he’s misplacing the blame. Like here:
[The C programming language] was created in a world where software was less complex than it is today. Your typical AAA game of 2014 will be thousands of times more complex than entire operating systems of 1972. Consequently, the language is focused on saving memory and CPU cycles, and not focused on helping the coder manage terrifying levels of program complexity.
Well, see? That’s your problem right there. Modern software is insanely complex. More complex, in fact, than anything else the human species has built. No machine with moving parts ever has millions of components. NONE. It would fall apart the moment you turned it on. But in software we make it happen just because we can — the worst possible reason.
Or so we think. How many hours of your life have you lost to crashing apps, crashing operating systems, lying servers, flaky networks?
I was going to write a big rant about programming languages for this week, but I tried and it’s just not coming together. Suffice to say, people keep inventing new ones to fix what they perceive as wrong with the old ones. And invariably, the newcomers turn out to miss the point entirely. These days everyone is gushing over Go and Rust. Bwahahaha! Remember Vala? I didn’t think so. Or D, for that matter? Hint: the idea of “fixing C++” wasn’t born this decade. Heck, Java was born from the same misguided good intention. And we all know how that worked out.
Pro tip: technologies that endure are those that build on the past and work with it. Because if you keep tearing everything down and starting anew, you’re never going to make any real progress.
Hello, everyone. We had a long weekend in Romania, courtesy of December 1st falling on a Monday, and I spent it meeting with friends. In exchange for the newsletter being late, I give you a new version of RogueBot:
Yes, after going in the wrong direction for weeks, I completely redesigned the gameplay, and it’s off to a good start this time. Even with just the absolute basics in place, it feels like a game. It’s frantic. It’s challenging. (If you want an easy game, try Buzz Grid.) It requires both dexterity and planning. And it feels like there’s room for improvement, both on the player’s and the developer’s side.
In other words, a success.
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.