No Time To Play

Archive for June, 2017

Weekly Links #176

by on Jun.25, 2017, under News, Off-topic

Hello, everyone, and welcome to a rather disjoint newsletter. No sooner does a game jam end, that another comes along. The traditional Open Game Art game jam has moved to itch.io, and is set to begin in less than a week. Also on itch.io you can now find Jonathan Cauldwell’s Arcade Game Designer, a popular tool in the retrogaming community, whose members keep pushing the limits of 8-bit machines. And while we’re partying like it’s 1987, here’s the story of Minitel, France’s original take on a public computer network.

Moving on, fans of interactive fiction might want to know that the XYZZY Awards are open for voting, while people who design adventure games (but not only) would do well to read about the urbanism of Thimbleweed Park. In more technical news, someone apparently made it possible to run Pygame games in the browser (via the Lemmasoft forums). I haven’t tried it, but the article also documents a game developer’s journey, so it’s worth a read for that alone.

Last but not least, it’s good to hear that Machinarium is getting a remaster. Which is awesome, because I bought this excellent adventure game years ago but could never run it on any of my boxes. Ironically, I should have better chances with a game built on DirectX than the original Flash format.

Which of course says a lot about the sorry state of multiplatform graphics APIs in 2017. Oh well, see you next week.

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Weekly Links #175

by on Jun.18, 2017, under News

Oh, wow, I got reviewed! Well, not me specifically. The awesome Jupiter Hadley made a YouTube feature on the ZX Spectrum Basic Jam, and Lost in the Jungle is at the top of the list. Watch part one below:

Dear game designers, pay attention because we have much to learn from this video and its second part. Slowness, poor graphics, little to no sound… none of that is a problem as long as the controls are responsive and the goals clear. Speaking of which: check out The Royal Game of Ur, a game that sadly didn’t make it on time for the event, but easily meets any standard of commercial quality for the ZX Spectrum.

From retrograming to interactive fiction, we have an article on the structure of Choose Your Own Adventure books — as in, the eponymous series — and another on what Twine can reveal about your game structure, whether you’re using it as intended or more imaginatively. The latter matches my experiences, too, in good and bad ways alike.

Last but not least, shortly on the heels of my article on encounter-based game design, Alexis Kennedy proposes resource narratives as a new term for games like Fallen London. The world of game design turns out to be a small one again.

That’s it for this week, but don’t worry, I have plenty in the works, especially now that things have calmed down a bit. See you!

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Encounter-based game design

by on Jun.15, 2017, under Case study, Gamedev

Perhaps the most infamous feature of roleplaying games, computer and tabletop alike, is the random encounter. Dreaded by players, panned by reviewers, it’s nevertheless been a constant presence in the genre, ever since its original appearance in Dungeons & Dragons. It made sense in the latter, which was always at least partly a resource management game, but few modern RPGs preserve that aspect (except for roguelikes). And in a game that tries to tell a story, random encounters are just an annoyance, regularly getting in the way for no good reason.

Which is a shame, because encounters have been the basic unit of storytelling since ancient times. What else is a fairy tale than a string of encounters the protagonist runs into along a linear road?

(And the protagonist’s journey in a fairy tale is linear. Plotted on a map, it may well meander all over, but it must still be followed strictly from end to end. Straying from the path always leads into trouble, and turning back is the worst sort of failure.)

Having recognized this basic truth, about a year ago (as of June 2017) I started thinking how to take advantage of it in game design, because unless open-ended exploration is part of a game’s appeal, the map can turn into a dead weight. Players can easily tell when they’re being presented with false choice. Making good maps is hard; can you afford to waste time and effort only to have the results rejected for being pointless?

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #174: public announcement edition

by on Jun.11, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, dear readers. Despite the doubts I was expressing last time, not only I got another entry into the soon-to-end game jam, but also made a game design breakthrough on the same occasion, as detailed on Tumblr. Exciting times ahead!

Speaking of last time, I forgot to announce that for two months, June and July, the book of the blog is half-off to mark its second anniversary. In a similar vein, RogueBot is now free — I should probably mirror the desktop edition here — and another price cut is coming.

I’ll conclude early today with a couple of retrograming news. While Jimmy Maher just posted the first article in a new series on Soviet computing, I very belatedly discovered a modern magazine dedicated to the ZX Spectrum, that’s both free and high-quality. Issue #17 just came out, so don’t let the backlog grow too long!

For now, however, I have a couple of older projects to revive, and a new one to massively expand. See you around.

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A glance at the Nim programming language

by on Jun.08, 2017, under Off-topic

I love learning new things. That’s helped me stay on top of this ever-changing business we call IT. And part of the fun is how random it can be. Take the past two days: I was reading about the new zipapp module in Python; from that I moved to the setuptools suite, which in turn mentioned the reStructuredText file format. Curious to know what other tools support it, the next day I looked over a suitable list… which in turn mentioned the Nim programming language.

That made for a really busy evening.

Nim belongs to the new crop of application programming languages, like Go and Swift, that embrace garbage collection, type inference and high-level data structures to ease the burden of overworked software developers, while still providing the performance and simplified distribution that come with native code compilation. Unlike the others, however, Nim doesn’t have a powerful corporation behind it, instead being a community project.

First impression: for Unix-like platforms, Nim comes in a source package with few dependencies apart from a C compiler. It builds without a hitch, in a little more time than Python 3 (not that I measured), and runs out of the box without being installed. Setting up cross-compilation for Windows was as easy as installing MingW and adding a couple of lines to a configuration file; for other operating systems I’d need a virtual machine, but oh well. The generated executables aren’t too large despite the static linking, either.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #173

by on Jun.04, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone! The ZX Spectrum BASIC game jam that I announced three weeks ago started on itch.io on Thursday. As my own entry was ready much earlier than expected (and there’s a blog post already lined up), getting another one in is very tempting. But deciding what to make that would work well in slow, line-number Basic yet still be compelling isn’t so easy. Stay tuned.

In unrelated news, open source strategy game FreeCiv has had a HTML5 client for a while. But now they’ve been working on a WebGL-based version (via the Dragonfly BSD Digest). And you know what? Never mind all the problems they’ve been running into, that simply wouldn’t exist in 2D. Never mind that they’re doing everything with shaders — presumably because “it’s easier” — so a lot of players stuck with on-board graphics adapters won’t be able to play it. Notice how this new, “improved” version is a muddled mess compared to the cartoony, pixelated art of the past. Like modern 3D almost always is.

If this is progress, I want a Nintendo 64.

Moving on to the game design department, from the IGN we learn why the world needs more trash games, while itch.io points out what every developer can learn from short games. More specific is Bruno Dias’ search for an ideal quality-based narrative system, that complements Emily Short’s from last week. I’ve been forming my own ideas about it, but that’s a story for another time.

Until next week, embrace imperfection.

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A brief guide to Pygame

by on Jun.01, 2017, under Gamedev

For a web developer moving into games, HTML5 was a natural first choice. Doubly so for a Linux user who wanted his games to run on other operating systems without much fuss. But browser compatibility wasn’t so great either (it still isn’t even in 2017), and many people don’t like playing games in their browser, for all the convenience it brings.

Having just discovered the joys of Python, and happening to like a game made with it — called Monsterz — the Pygame library was an obvious choice. It’s ported to all the major platforms, well-documented, and very easy to use while still powerful. I remember seeing complaints about the Pygame community online, but my experience has been good.

One downside is that up until the recent revival Pygame only worked with Python 2.7, but then it’s what Mac users get by default; I’ll try to keep my code forward-compatible in case you have version 1.9.2 or newer. I was also surprised to see just how many Pygame functions I use in practice: over seventy! And that’s still only part of the API.

If you happen to be on Linux or Mac, you already have Python installed, but Windows users need to get a suitable runtime from python.org; either way, you also need to install the library, either through a package manager or directly from pygame.org. Make sure you get compatible versions for both.

(continue reading…)

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