No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #243


What a weekend. DST just ended in the EU, we had a 5.8-magnitude quake in Bucharest, and to top it all, weather is unseasonably warm. Again. If all that sounds like it has no connection to making games, you're right. Haven't been doing any of that for the past week. On the plus side, I have a decent amount of topical news. And hey, updating old projects is important, too. More so if they can be reused, or at least provide inspiration.

Doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention, but most happenings aren't so happy. PROCJAM 2018 ends today, but their website seems stuck in pre-jam mode. Too bad, I was looking forward to their excellent zine Seeds. Another major studio closed, the latest crunch scandal keeps raging, and one or two high-profile games have ceased development.

Last but not least, I brought back my gamedev books, and they're free until I can sort out the issues with selling them. Enjoy!

I knew about PLATO as the birthplace of the computer RPG, a computer network decades ahead of its time: its heyday was nearly half a century ago, before I was born. Built to be an educational system, it succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its creators... but not in the way they had envisioned. Suffice to say, all those games that would soon serve as prototypes for the nascent microcomputer revolution had to be well-hidden from system administrators, and passed from hand to hand. You think GitHub is a pioneer? PLATO was there first.

And people haven't forgotten. After being revived a few years ago and made available over the web, through emulated servers and terminals, it's now being placed at the core of a modern online community. Not content to announce the event, Vintage is the New Old runs a long-form overview of the system, including details that are new to me.

And no, you don't have to hide the games anymore. How cool is that.

On Wednesday, K.D. points at a Gamasutra retrospective of the Deus Ex game editor, an offshoot of the now-legendary Unreal Engine. Besides the historical details, I can't help but notice how even back then designers had a hard time accepting technical constraints. And that's baffling. How do you even call yourself a designer then? Working within constraints is the very definition of design!

But that's a rant for another place. More important is the leitmotif of making tools for the real people who need them, not some imagined, ideal "users". And then there are the reminders of how much in the games we love is smoke and mirrors. It's the impression that counts... and that's fine.

Also on Wednesday, we get a long read titled How to Make a Roguelike. Not a tutorial, but advice on how to get started, and even better, how to keep at it. There's piles of good advice there: about choice of tools, organizing your work, learning more, asking questions and generally reaching out. And you know, funny how all successful developers say, don't start with your dream game. Start small. You can build upon your first game once you have one -- a solid foundation. Oh, and pick a theme. Don't just make yet another generic fantasy game. Or cyberpunk. Or post-apoc. Especially of the Mad Max variety.

I'll add that you're not going to succeed on your first attempt. Or your second. Maybe your third. If each attempt takes you years, you'll burn out before getting to have a completed game. Especially if you also neglect talking to people about your work. This isn't about building a fandom, it's about your sanity! As for theme, that's not just to stand out of the crowd either. Having a theme can help you make all kinds of decisions. How will you figure out how deadly to make the combat if you don't know what kind of a world it takes place in?

It's not just about roguelikes, either. The same advice applies to any kind of game you care to make. Like RPGs, which differ mostly in that you also have to create lots and lots of content yourself, in addition to all the mechanics.

Show me the tiniest game, with one village and one dungeon with a handful of levels. Make it fun. Get it done. Then we can talk about your epic masterpiece.

On that note, see you next week, and thanks for reading.