No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #231


Just three days after wondering why I should bother, my Laser Sky demake is looking delightfully retro... and more like a proper prequel. That's great. Makes a lot more sense than clumsily trying to do the same thing all over again on a less capable platform. It lets me try new ideas, gives people a reason to play, and paves the way for making the other desktop port, the big one I was planning, into a sequel to complete the trilogy. Hey, if good old shoot'em ups are still popular, might as well focus on that for a while. And if it also results in an educational, reusable code base, even better.

Sometimes doing a good job is its own reward. Now let's see the news.

Over at Vintage is the New Old, Alec Foster revisits the original arcade version of Double Dragon. How one’s experience changes perceptions! Never having seen the original arcade game, which for some reason didn’t make it to these shores, unlike other famous (and less so) titles, all I had was the Spectrum port. Which was slow as molasses, but featured a surprising amount of moves, along with various weapons and even barrel throwing. So while it wasn’t exactly my favorite, it’s one game for the old machine that I definitely remember. Good times!

To start the weekend, Gamasutra is running a piece on the importance of easy game-making tools, ostensibly my own main research topic this year. It starts with a brief overview of historical options, which is good. Then moves on to the "programming is hard, waaah!" part, which is bad. Once again, beginners will happily learn how to program if you lie to them and PRETEND it's somehow not programming. You see it with Twine. You see it with Quest. You see it with Inform 7. That's not why RPG Maker is valuable. It's valuable because the hard part in making a game is creating all the content: art, maps, dialogue, you name it. And having an integrated, visual editor for all of that helps tremendously, not to mention all the building blocks already there at your fingertips.

You don't believe me? Years ago, before Unity was a thing, YouTube was full of RPGs stuck at the stage of "a little dude running around a nearly-empty map" made with premade assets. Even when beginners had to cobble together their own 3D engines from scratch, coding the engine wasn't the hard part. Nowadays at least you'll see more games that are actually playable... but use plain cubes for most of the graphics. Even though Unity has an asset store. Even though with a few more primitives, like cones and cylinders, you can already make pretty compelling environments...

Even collecting free content is a lot of work, isn't it? But sure, let's blame programming. Dammit, people.

Over on we have part two of the Chess game postmortem I mentioned at the end of July, and it somehow manages to get from user experience to making the AI opponent seem more human. Then it goes back, only to point out how small details can have an oversized effect. Also mentioned repeatedly is how sometimes a couple of words printed on screen speak more loudly than fancy visual effects. After a point the whole thing begins to look overwrought however. Like, yeah, knowing you have limited resources should have been a cue to maybe leave out some of the fluff and instead polish the aforementioned AI a bit more instead. Since, you know, that's kind of essential in a Chess game.

But what can you expect when for decades we've all been conditioned to think "the public" (that nebulous, fuzzy mass) rejects anything that's not 90% glitz.

Pro tip: it was a shameless lie all along. Focus on the things that matter.

Not a bad week if I may say so myself. See you next Sunday.