No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #44

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 4000x4000 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.

First we have Carolyn VanEseltine with a couple of technical write-ups. Twine as a prototyping tool is exactly what it says on the tin, and something I suggested myself in a very early No Time To Play article. As for Welcome to adventure, it's an intro to Inform 7, that guides the reader through reimplementing the good old Adventure. This first part focuses on creating and linking rooms, which -- as I noted in my own test drive of the language, is the part Inform 7 makes trivially easy. Which isn't very useful, because that's very easy in any authoring tool, the map being any game's most basic feature. It's the hard stuff an authoring tool should make easier, and none of them seems able to do it. Perhaps because the real difficulties are fundamental...

Second, via the awesome Gnome's Lair, here's a possibly older write-up by Emily Short about the making of Bronze, which ends up being all about puzzle design. Note how theme and narrative tie directly into the nature and structure of puzzles: there's simply no excuse for filler material! I recommend this article to anyone planning to make an adventure game, RPG or the like.

Last but not least, Eurogamer is running a feature on the history of Multi-User Dungeons, a.k.a. MUDs. I was only familiar with text-based virtual worlds starting with TinyMUD, i.e. just where this article leaves off, so I found it intriguing enough. Special mention for the bits about life in England in the 1960es, and the political message inherent in the genre. And of course the connection with modern MMORPGs, too easily forgotten otherwise.

In unrelated news, Jay Barnson makes the case that hiding the stats in RPGs is a bad idea, because they stand in for all the rich, complex feedback from the real world that the computer can't possibly simulate. An idea worth remembering. Without any connection, Kotaku reports on the crazy journey to save Grim Fandango. That's hardly surprising, of course. Jordan Mechner needed the help of world-class experts to recover the source code to Prince of Persia, and he wasn't trying to make the game work again! Then of course there was all the trouble involved in modernizing the Infinity Engine games.

Never mind the thorny issue of archiving; always stick to standard file formats for your assets. Afraid someone will "steal" them? We only have Nosferatu today thanks to pirates. Not to mention certain key pieces of the recently remastered Metropolis. Code is less of an issue -- notice Tim Schafer praising ScummVM. But I'd still put as much as I can in scripts, just in case I lose the source code or it becomes uncompilable down the road. (There's another good argument in favor of scripting.)

Speaking of good practices: I've been hanging out on quite a bit as of late, and I couldn't help but notice just how poorly some developers present their games. Look, I'm hardly an expert in marketing, but the least you can do is give it some cover art and a descriptive tagline. Oh, and do make sure the title isn't misspelled, while you're at it.

Now, let's see if I can cobble together a proper entry for the Procedural Generation Jam 2014 in the remaining week... Wish me luck, and see you next time.