No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #235


I've been feeling down again this week. There was more to do after releasing my WIP, but none of it seemed important enough. So instead I rested, thought... and blogged. Rather a lot, but it was worth catching up with things.

On Tumblr, you see, it's all too easy to be distracted by all the cool stuff other people post, and forget about adding to the discourse. It's so much easier to just hit Reblog, after all. No Time To Play has been relatively immune to the problem because of its focus; my personal corner, not so much. Even though Tumblr is a blogging platform, and allows if not encourages longer posts. (Wish it also nudged people to use the "read more" feature, but oh well.)

Microblogging platforms make it worse. Especially since they've started offering bigger but not sufficient character counts, and easy threading of posts, instead of making people think about their goals.

"What are you trying to share? A link, a picture, a quote, a brief announcement?"

You know my answer. This is why you're here after all. So let's see this week's news.

Ultima Ratio Regum is one of those things that can't be easily described in a few words. It's a long-running research project that's more about the journey than the destination: a rare kind indeed, especially in gaming. Also the brainchild of someone who's worth listening to no matter what they're talking about: Dr. Mark Johnson, one of those rare academics who aren't just worldly, but possessing of notable accomplishments both inside and outside their field of study (in his case, some unlikely world records). This is why I've been following with fascination the multi-year story of his roguelike to end all roguelikes if it was ever completed, which seems unlikely.

And now this story has reached a major turning point that strikes a chord with me, by virtue of being the same thing I went through last autumn. That websites become part of our lives in the modern world is a notion we haven't yet internalized, and we struggle to cope. It's good to see I'm not alone in this.

If you have a blog or website, value it and fight to preserve it. You'll thank yourself later.

When I wrote my Pygame guide last year, packaging games for distribution (so that players don't need to install their own runtime and libraries) was one of the big hold-outs. Now that development is in full swing again, the chief maintainer has turned his attention towards the issue, with the beginnings of a guide that people can contribute to. Which of those options you will find convenient, if any, is another story. At least now there's a bunch of them to choose from, so give it a read. Towards the end there's also some mention of where to publish the game and how to promote it, which is a nice addition, especially as gets the place of honor. Definitely a good resource already, then, and it's not even done yet. Recommended.

On Monday, Gamasutra points at this epic retrospective of World of Warcraft, replete with testimonies and historical photos. Right off the bat, I want to point out that while many WoW-wannabes came and went over the years, its direct inspiration Everquest still goes on, albeit in the small. And I mean the original, too, not just the sequel! Clearly enough players appreciate difficult, open-ended gameplay to make that formula viable. Also, gee, you mean that once you get people used to spoon-fed quests they'll want more and more of them, so you'll never get a break anymore?

Of course, it's easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight. Just like nobody at the time had yet figured out how real and meaningful social events can be in a virtual space. Despite decades of prior examples, I might add, but culture catches on damn slow. And transparency towards audiences is still a thorny, unsolved problem after all these years.

Anyway, much more interesting are the game design issues. Including how much of a game is often smoke and mirrors, and breaks down if you let the audience see it from too close, or a different angle. Or how the Looking for Group tool was born, before turning into a meme and having a famous webcomic named after it. Most importantly, there's the timeless lesson that players often have different ideas of what makes a game fun than designers do. Ignore that at your peril.

Another recurring theme is that designers and artists do their best work while talking to the engineers. If something the former want is feasible without undue effort, the latter will be happy to add support. If they say it's too hard to be worth the trouble? Listen to them, dammit. Accept some limitations. Your game will be better for it. And speaking of art, it turns out that real-world inspiration helps a lot. Not to mention the roots of your own lore.

But I wrote too much as it is, and there's still more in there, so go read.

In other news, we have the story of an eventful game port. And not much else, so see you next time.