No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #225: off-topic edition


It can't be always about game development. This week, for instance, I took a break to work on the No Time To Play website, adding a whole new section. It's about game engines, which just makes sense given our focus, and after all it mostly just ties together content that was already there, isolated into little subdomains. Still goes a long way towards making GitHub less needed, and frankly, having more content right at home is a better way to attract visitors. Even if it's niche content, or rather, doubly so then; there's no shortage of generic 3D engines out there, with feature lists that all read the same. Somebody has to make all the other stuff. Do you have any idea how many people are asking for a 2D platformer engine, for instance? And hardly any dedicated options exist.

Supposedly it's very easy to make one. Oh yeah? Then why isn't everybody and their dog making their own, like it happens with text adventure and visual novel engines? alerts me that the ArchiveRL project just had a major update. Aiming to build the ultimate roguelike archive, in the words of its maintainer, the archive includes over 700 games for a variety of platforms. And a good handful of those are mine, up from just Tomb of the Snake last time I checked. Which is incredibly rewarding, especially after the recent chain of disappointments I've been through. Here's to more awesome roguelikes.

This Friday, The Digital Antiquarian writes about the humble MS-DOS and how it became so successful despite all its ugly warts. What Jimmy seems to be missing is that MS-DOS was simple. People could easily pick up the handful of commands it supported and just get their job done. In years of using DOS, professionally and less so, I've never met a single person who was actually afraid of its command line. And once Norton Commander came along? It made even that "cryptic" and "scary" command line a non-issue, with the single best GUI ever designed -- one that modern graphical apps struggle to reproduce, poorly.

As for programmers needing to write their own drivers? Pray tell me how things are any better today, when manufacturers typically abandon their components almost before they ship out the factory door, and never even give you the specs. At least on Linux someone is going to successfully reverse-engineer them sooner or later, and come up with a driver that actually works, and more importantly remains available forever.

Now, about the memory issue, which is real and still plagues modern DOS clones, I blame the engineers at Intel, who went with that bizarre 20-bit addressing scheme instead of anything the least sensible. What was DOS supposed to do, exactly? That was the hardware it was expected to run on.

But again, seriously, I've never met a single person who was actually afraid of the DOS command line. Never ever. Not. One. Person. It wouldn't surprise me if that was 100% Microsoft propaganda, that they used to sell their brand new Windows 1.0 -- a product so obviously terrible AND derivative it was essentially a joke, with Steve Ballmer's infamous line "it even has a clock!" as the punchline. No. Just no. Be critical when you read stuff like that, folks.

Oh, and by the way, VisiCalc could not, in fact, auto-recalculate the spreadsheet in real time as you changed a cell. Detecting the chain of dependencies was still an unsolved problem. You had to make all the changes you wanted, then tell it to recalculate -- often in multiple passes.

(It was still revolutionary, of course. Something it achieved while running on that "unsuitable for business use" Apple II, and not the much more powerful IBM PC. Funny how that goes.)

And yes, 8-bit machines are in fact powerful enough to run a graphical desktop. The C64 had one too. That the aforementioned Apple II had one even before the IBM PC was on the market may be news to me, but surprising? Not in the least. You know what else the Apple II had first? Expansion slots, and an open architecture, complete with schematics included in every box. Too bad a certain other Steve hated that approach, and wanted to kill it -- his own golden goose. More evidence that successful businesspeople succeed despite themselves.

Speaking of which: gee, you mean a computer you can't program with self-hosted tools is basically a toy? (Eyeing the nearby Android smatphone.) I wonder who's responsible for that, 'cause my Palm and my Nokia both have on-board interpreters...

All that said, getting a glimpse of the very first windowing system for personal computers, that I hadn't known existed, is great. That is why we need software historians. Thank you, Jimmy.

And that's about it for the week, because I was too focused on other things. See you next time, hopefully with more.