No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #203


Hello, everyone! Two issues have been on my mind this week. One: why do game developers seem to think everyone who plays on a PC has a high-end gaming rig? Some of us can't afford anything better than a business machine with integrated graphics... sometimes not even from this decade! Fine, so I shouldn't be able to play a modern 3D game with all the bells and whistles... but a 2D one? With graphics that would look at home in Commander Keen? Why in the world would you need SHADERS for it?! Maybe if you were emulating the look of an old CRT... but you're not even doing that. I'm not sure what you think you're doing.

On a different note, it occurs to me that game developers tend to think of controls as incidental to a game, rather than an integral part of the design. But a game can feel very different when played with a controller as opposed to a mouse and/or keyboard, even if both map just as easily to in-game actions. And how a game feels to the player is a big part of its identity. Besides, have you noticed how let's-play videos often feel off because you can't see what the player is doing with their hands? That's how fundamental interactivity is to games.

Moving on to the news, first about my own work in progress. Another week into development, I already have fog of war, monsters, basic combat and a semi-working character sheet. This game is coming along at surprising speed, and I wonder how much of it is due to experience plus code reuse, and how much to the sheer power of Tkinter. Either way, this should be actually playable soon. It's the little details that are going to kill me, most likely. Will let you know.

For more game design lessons, via Raphaƫl Lucas we learn of a brief write-up about Ultima Underworld, focusing on how it managed to give the feeling of a living, breathing world that pulled players in like few others before or after it. Namely in two ways: one, by creating a coherent geography and ecology as opposed to a theme park centered around the player, and two, by allowing for free experimentation even if it led to disaster in-game. The former is hard enough even in static fiction that entire tomes have been written about it, so I'd better not go into details here. The latter issue... it reminds me every time how much my aunt used to enjoy playing with my old bootleg Famicom after I passed it on, even though she played the games all wrong and died all the time. Me, my uncle and my cousin would yell at her, but she'd just laugh it away and pick the controller back up.

Fun does not require winning. Fun doesn't even require competition, or challenge. And most people just want to have fun playing games. So let them. Make failure entertaining -- the exact opposite of punishing it. And if you have to end the game because its logic simply requires it, make it fun to start over.

(My aunt is fine, by the way, and still enjoys using the internet from my cousin's PC, but never got into the more complicated games typical for the platform.)

And because I mentioned worldbuilding: for the second week in a row, Konstantinos Dimopoulos has something to say about the crafting of credible videogame cities, this time in an interview of decent length taken by 80 Level. As usual, most of his advice applies just as well to static fiction, though some is game-specific, such as how to help the player navigate. Or is it? A big part of my writing deals with the various ways characters get around, from following large boulevards to vaulting over fences. But more important is remembering why your imaginary city exists in the first place, because they've all been founded with a purpose in mind, and that determined their growth.

That, and the people in the city, because it's always about the people in the end.

Last but not least: if you're a creative person, you're probably familiar with the drive to do something related to your craft all the time. If not working on a project, then marketing, networking or study. With the pressures of everyday life, any downtime feels like you're not doing enough to keep up. It's hurting us, and we know it, yet we still act like that.

That's why I welcome this blog post on Gamasutra explaining with excellent analogies why taking breaks is essential for creative work, and there are so many reasons. To avoid burnout; to take care of yourself; to refill your inkwell. Also to look at the world with fresh eyes, and see things as only you can. Because art is for yourself, too.