No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #232


One week ago, Laser Sky Zero was little more than a sideshow meant to stave off depression. It was also halfway through development, as it turned out: the second shooter in a row I finish in just eight days. And this time it's not a straight clone of the original, but a game with enough improvements to be its own thing: more enemies, more power-ups, and a different weapon system that's still every bit as fun. It's not nearly as successful though. People just want web games. So while I have lots and lots of ideas for a sequel, especially now that the game world has taken shape in my mind, it's my other game concept that should be done next. So much for moving to the desktop. But hey, I also make games for myself, and being able to play this one in full screen is uniquely satisfying, if not enough of a selling point to be worth the trouble.

First, however to write about all the things this quick string of projects has taught me. And about everything else that happened this week.

A fellow member of the chat server points me at this Eurogamer piece reporting on Discord launching their own digital game store. Now it becomes obvious why they refused to verify, an increasingly well-known (and well-regarded) online marketplace: they've just became competitors. That's not the problem; the more, the merrier. What worries me is their plans to take over everyone's installed games. And please, that's not "sponsorship". The correct word is publishing. They aim to become publishers. Don't let the generous terms fool you. What do you think will happen if your game won't sell, and they lose the investment?

The big news this week appears to be Nintendo's renewed attack on ROM-hosting websites, and the collateral damage it causes. In particular, Raphaël Lucas recommends this piece on, and I won't repeat all the excellent points made there. Suffice to say, my first computer, too, was an unauthorized clone running unauthorized copies of games that were no longer in print by then. So was my first (and only) console. In my defense, I was still a kid in the early 1990s, and Romania didn't yet have a law to protect author's rights. But do I need to defend myself? I wouldn't be where I am today, writing these lines here, but for being able to start out without asking anyone for permission.

Because this is what we're really talking about: not money, but control. And Nintendo is demonstrating once again, for all the world to see, that legality and morality have little to do with each other. Not that it will change much.

Oh, wow. The Digital Antiquarian's history of Windows has reached part 8, and I didn't say a thing about the last 5 of them. This one irks me again.

The Xerox Star office system ... was still lacking in many areas compared to the GUIs that would follow. Windows were neither free-dragging nor overlapping, and its menus were one-shot commands, not drop-down lists.

That's a toolbar. It's called a toolbar. A concept we had to rediscover after drop-down menus proved a bridge too far for many computer users. The Star's "workmanlike" GUI was designed to, yes, help people work, not pat them on the head condescendingly the way Macs still do to this day. Its other big imitator, X11, that powers Unix systems since about the same time, inherited that spirit, for all its supposed ugliness. Later, commercial desktop environments? Not so much.

The Star, on the other hand, was engineered to ensure that the non-technical office worker never needed to see a line of code; this machine conformed to the human rather than asking the human to conform to it. One might say that Smalltalk was intended to make the joy of computing — of using the computer as the ultimate anything machine — as accessible as possible, while the Star was intended to make make you forget that you were using a computer at all.

Making machines conform to humans, instead of the other way around. What a beautiful concept. That's why you can steer a car by turning your body in the direction you want to go. Oh wait, no? How about this: a car only goes as fast as a human can drive it safely. What do you mean, that's not true either?

We conform to our machines all the time. It's called a compromise. We are, after all, supposed to be more adaptable than a box of screws. Engineers deliver what they can at a given time, and we go the rest of the way. Except, it seems, with computers. Computers are magical and expected to simply know what we want to do -- even when we don't know ourselves. Isn't it?

I'll take a computer that empowers me any day. One that doesn't try to hide what it is, and does its best work in the way it works best. A tool to count on.

Microsoft ... understood early, as IBM did only much too late, that the best and perhaps only way to get your system software widely accepted was to sell it pre-installed on the computers that ran it.

And that's the secret to the success of Windows, not its supposed ease of use or "intuitiveness". There's no such thing, especially in computing. For more than a decade, the vast majority of computer users first ran into Windows as the default way to use a computer and got used to it such as it was. The rest of us, those who had already cut their teeth on 8-bit micros, then DOS?

We could easily see through Microsoft's bullshit, and that habit stayed with us.

Not much then, but good stuff. See you soon.