No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #26

This week I was supposed to rant about my work in progress some more, but I just so happen to have a bunch of links to discuss, so I'll just show you this:

Yes, after many wasted days and a coding marathon, the basic gameplay is all in place. The game is fast, furious and fun. And I just spent entirely too much time putting together a miserable animated GIF. Don't worry, you're not missing much; sound isn't in yet.

Let me tell you how I ended up with that. Read and laugh. Or weep, as the case may be.

I didn't really want to make a video, you know. Online video is so much trouble. But it was becoming too difficult to get good screenshots. I tried in every way I could think of: by pausing the game at key moments, with a dedicated key... you name it. They miss the most interesting moments, and just don't do the game justice in the end. So I went ahead and tried to record anyway, figuring I could at least end up fishing some decent stills out of the screencap. And since Salix OS ships with recordMyDesktop...

No. Just no. Maybe I'm using the wrong options (I'll have to try again), but it drops my framerate down to "unplayable", and the result looks wrong. So what else? I don't feel like building xvidcap myself, and somehow I doubt the results would be so much better. But! It turns out VLC has a desktop recording mode, which really prefers to work at a very low framerate -- 1FPS by default. Which turns out to work well, and leaves me with a perfectly usable Ogg Theora video. Now to turn it into an animated GIF, because seriously? One frame per second?

Easier said than done.

Actually, at first I wanted to extract just the best stills and make a kind of slideshow. Tried with VLC -- it can't step through the video. PiTiVi can't save a screenshot from a clip, and Avidemux can't even open Ogg Theora videos. Um, huh? I ended up using ffmpeg to extract the individual frames, all 264 of them. Which gave me the idea to just use them as such. GIMP can make animated GIFs, right?

Sure it can. But you just try putting 264 large layers into a single image. It almost brought down my system. But that's all right! Image Magick to the rescue! After figuring out how to deal with the odd way it does cropping, I trimmed the frames down to a size the GIMP no longer chokes on. At last, I could export the final animation you can see above. After three hours, many false starts and a near-headache.

And that, my fellow game developers, is why you want a dedicated marketing person on your team.

Now let's see about everything else.

This week's theme appears to the graphics in old games. Over at the Rampant Coyote, Jay Barnson praises the new crop of games remaking some of the classics with updated technology. But looking at each pair of screenshots, I can't help but notice how the original cartoonish art is clean, crisp and colorful, while the new "realistic" art is all muddled textures and fuzzy lighting that make it impossible to tell what's going on in the scene. Are you sure that's progress?

And what was wrong with that old low-poly art? This other article calls it "atrociously ugly" and I just don't see it. In fact I looked just recently at videos of the games mentioned there, and Super Mario 64 looks fine to me. Whimsical, sure, and full of sharp corners... but FUN! One year later, Ocarina of Time was downright beautiful. As for Final Fantasy VII, now that one is kind of ugly, but that's mostly because the prerendered backgrounds clashed badly with the characters. And so we end right back at the issue of style...

That's why I was heartened to read, over at Gamasutra, about the making of a game in classic Nintendo style, only without the limitations. Of particular interest to me was the middle segment on color palettes -- a topic of special importance to videogame art. Attack Vector for example uses Dawnbringer's 16-color palette, a very popular option these days. Amusingly, I can recognize it anywhere after a few weeks of working on the game. Then again, I always liked colors.

I'll finish with a record break that will make you go "awww!" I once highlighted here the excellent gaming blog of a (then) 12-year old, and just two weeks ago I wrote about the story of a developer who started working on his game at 14. But it turns out you can make a videogame at an age as young as 8! Interestingly, the game not only looks like a cheap 8-bit title from over 30 years ago, but plays like one too: it's old-school hard -- not a compliment -- in exactly the same ways. That says something about the way people approach game design, wouldn't you say?

At what age did you code your first game? I must have been 15 or 16.