No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #39: controversy edition

Howdy, everyone! I've been working on a new pet project as of late, and for once it's neither a story nor a game. Say hello to VoxelDesc, a voxel painting program that uses a command line instead of the usual click-click-click.

As of this writing, it's not nearly ready for prime time, but it's progressing fast enough. Soon I'll be able to see if it's a good tool for making game art, or whatever other uses people might find for it. Stay tuned.

Other news this past week include a retrospective of the classic game Elite, a new website dedicated to pixel art and this year's edition of the Ludum Dare October Challenge. I wrote about it before, two years ago; I'm glad to see it wasn't a one-time thing. Not that I managed to make even $1 with my games in the mean time...

Then there's the news that someone is trying to rebuild a MMO from the 8-bit era. How cool is that? Yay for reviving history.

In the way of game development, Shamus Young is making a plea for pleasant and helpful error messages, specifically from compilers. And you know, he has a point. I've been burned by misleading error messages myself. But I've also seen what happens when a compiler tries to be friendly. Specifically, Inform 7 will happily write you a little essay, nicely explaining what seems to be wrong and where, and what you were most likely trying to do instead.

Which usually just points you in a completely wrong direction, that is, if your eyes don't glaze over outright.

Look, I agree that compiler errors are often obscure. But a computer, a stupid machine, trying to second-guess me never works out. You can't fix this problem by trying to stroke the little programmer's head. Make it simple; make it clear; make the syntax of your programming language less ambiguous. There will never be a C or C++ parser that's not a scary pile of kludges, and the error messages can't help but reflect that. Fix the problem at the core.

For another controversial topic, three years ago I was writing about the place of hypertext in interactive fiction. Tl;dr: it was a pariah. Back then, Emily Short herself dropped by to tell me it's not so, that nobody in the community hates hypertext. That it's all sunshine and rainbows. And you know what? I believed her. Especially as in the following months we've seen the rise of Undum, then Choice of Games, then Twine. The mainstream was looking at IF with new eyes, to the point of making it commercially viable again. Make no mistake, that was due to Twine -- which is almost a common noun by now. And a verb, too, because that's how the English language works.

And here we are in 2014, having to defend hypertext from those who think it's destroying parser-based interactive fiction. Somehow, "I told you so" doesn't begin to sound adequate. Has the community really made any progress in the mean time? Or is it only a veneer of modernity spread over the same old hidebound attitude?

We almost let Usenet drag us into the history book with it once. Then we nearly turned into the cabal that's been an inside joke for so long. Now we're trying to chase off young blood again? It's a death wish, I tell you.

But that's not the most controversial topic I have for you today.

You see, I'm a social justice warrior, and I'm proud of it.

You think that's childish, don't you? You think I'm just an entitled white man in a developed country, whining about first world problems.

So why don't you ignore me?

Go! Go worry about grown-up matters like the war in Syria and the price of gas. Pat yourself on the back for being such a mature, responsible person and just don't mind little young me. Come on, close this browser tab.

Except you can't, can you?

You can't, because there's shit on your doormat, and it stinks. You keep trying to ignore it, and it's just getting worse. Yet instead of cleaning it up, you hate me for pointing it out to you.


I think you're feeling guilty. I think you know I'm right. That it is your problem too, and you can do something about it. You should, but you'd much rather not. It makes you way too uncomfortable.

So here's the deal: either accept that my worries are real and help out, or if you insist to pretend they're non-issues, sit back on your couch, enjoy your sitcom, and let me do my work.

You won't even know I'm here. Except one day you'll notice the stink is gone..

Enjoy the peace and quiet.