No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #217


I'm trying something new as of this week.

Ever came across a game album? It's like a music album, except made up of several short games instead. Usually inspired by music, it seems, but they don't have to be; the same principle applies regardless.

So allow me to present Robots in Spring, a collection of whimsical little games with some common themes:

As of this writing, the first one is complete and playable (it's even about robots!) and a second title is lined up. They won't get much polish -- the whole point is to have some fun and move on before burnout sets in, because I've had plenty of that lately. And frankly, simplicity is underrated nowadays, when even indie productions try to be as big and sophisticated as possible.

Now for the week's news.

The week opens with Gamasutra writing about interactive fiction worth studying by any game developer, and it warms my heart, because I pointed out many times how much the mainstream stands to learn from this long-neglected genre. (That's now mainstream itself, but still.) The choice of examples, however, is a bit disappointing, with almost half being undisputed Infocom classics and one being a graphical adventure that, while a cult classic, has well-known failings.

What bothered me the most, however, was this: why do all articles about interactive fiction in big media have to open with a quote from Zork? Every. Single. Time. Why?! My first text adventure was The Hobbit (hello! Europe here; we exist too, you know), and I played it 10 years after release. And I'm older than the average player.

Speaking of which: no, younger audiences probably weren't introduced to interactive fiction by either Fallen London or 80 Days. Most likely, it was via Depression Quest or some other high-profile Twine title. That tells you not just who plays such games nowadays, but also who makes them, because in this genre authorship and readership always went hand in hand. It's a big part of its tradition. And neither StoryNexus nor Ink foster participation in the same way Twine does.

Still via Gamasutra we learn of an interview with Tim Schafer by The Guardian. It reads more like a collection of quips, but that man always has so much sense. Look at the way he praises diversity in gaming and the creativity of children, or blasts the way publishers treat art like a cash cow and nothing else. I do disagree with him on two points:

  1. Games are all about being interactive. It's just that interactivity is having meaningful things to do, not lots of things to do, like much of the industry seems to think. That's why Twine games are so popular, and why those simple CYOA games he mentions playing with his young daughter work so well. (By the way, I used to do it too as a kid, with my friends. Guess that would count as tabletop roleplaying in retrospect.)
  2. What people call "ideas" and "inspiration", I call having life experiences to speak of. Ever sat with an older relative listening to their stories? What were they about? My bet is home, travel, strife and home again -- same as Frodo's. The difference is who went through all that, because no two people ever walk the same path.

So if you want to be creative, don't sit and think. Go forth and live. But do listen to the advice of elders, because they often know what they're talking about even if they're wrong about some things. We all are, you know.

To cap off the week, PCGamer posts a history of the Wolfenstein franchise, originally written last autumn. Interestingly, they recently ran a write-up on its precursor Catacomb which contradicts this one in claiming that no, publishers did not in fact believe in the seminal first-person shooter. Not until it started flying off the (proverbial) shelves, and by then Id Software was the first big indie success story. Speaking of which: what royalty cheques? The game was shareware, with the first mission distributed for free on BBSes and the rest sold by mail order.

On the plus side, the article points out how designing the levels for the game was unexpectedly hard, simply because there wasn't much to work with. Once again, dear game designers, theme matters -- as the demo for the much later sequel (not Spear of Destiny, that was more like an expansion) demonstrated. By the way, note how the writer doesn't seem familiar with Alistair McLean's books, that were such a huge influence on the series. Kids these days. Also:

While id's involvement was limited, people from the studio were involved in helping out with areas like animation, advising on art and helping to research in areas like World War 2 timelines for added authenticity. In a game featuring robotic, Tesla-coil-powered undead Nazis. "There was a ton of World War 2 research that went into the development," Todd explains.

Um, yes. You want authenticity even in fantasy. Why is it surprising?

There's more to the story though, so read on.

With that, the week is more or less concluded. Thanks for reading!