No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #43

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.

Then we have two pieces of valuable game development advice from prominent members of the interactive fiction community. But rest assured that it applies to creating in any genre. Here's Emily Short on writing in collaboration with the system, while over there Carolyn VanEseltine advises on scoping for game jams. Both are topics I've touched upon myself in the past, and I'll have to do it again, because keeping it simple appears to be a perennial problem. As for the highly esoteric concept of letting your game systems tell the story, instead of having the two fight all the time, well, maybe one day we'll see that becoming the norm. But not anytime soon.

Speaking of systems and stories, I've recently tried a couple of nice Android games. One is Pixel Dungeon, a roguelike with beautiful pixel art, excellent UI design (which works just as well on the desktop, with a mouse) and a variety of things to do. On the minus side, the game is absurdly hard, arbitrary and provides no obvious way to get better at it. After trying for several hours (which amounted to dozens of playthroughs I think) and invariably dying on level 4, I simply gave up for good. Sorry, 35+ gamer here.

At the other end of the difficulty spectrum, Gloomy Dungeons 3D is a first person shooter inspired by Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, except with modern graphics, and more of a story (too much, even; at best I have the patience to skim all that tiny text). The game starts off dead easy, a good idea considering the awkwardness of touch controls. It even has a tutorial! But it's getting steadily more challenging, while staying true to its roots, and the five hours of gameplay it boasts are likely to feel like a lot on a tablet.

While on the topic of reviews, it's worth noting that Kotaku is running a glowing review of Tie Fighter, occasioned by the legendary game being published on GOG. Funny how truly excellent gameplay and story survive the test of time. You think anyone in the industry is listening?

In unrelated news, there was a trend a few years ago to make games with cel shading (not "cell"), which means giving 3D graphics the appearance of traditional animated films. That trend has largely died off by now. Or so I thought. Fresh on Steam is a game with anime shading! I'm not in the target audience, but still. How's that for style?

Last but not least, I have a fondness for the Logo programming language, having used it in the past both to learn and for fun. More recently I even wrote my own dialect of it. But while there are multiple Logo implementations out there, actively developed and presumably in use, the language has long been out of the limelight.

Which is why I was delighted to learn that LibreOffice has, in recent versions, grown a Logo interpreter. Yes, you can write Logo code right in your document and have it produce some nice turtle graphics by way of illustration. The dialect implemented is rather too Python-like for my taste (um, hello? different languages, anyone?) but that's just nitpicking, really.

Having an interactive interpreter always at your fingertips is an experience no computer user should be deprived of. You'd think the Javascript console in any web browser would serve that role well, but for some reason it doesn't. So any alternative is more than welcome. Hats off to the LibreOffice team, and see you next week.