No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #250: text-based game edition

Hello, everyone! This week, the competition between online game stores has heated up considerably, with Discord, who joined the fray a little before Epic, already trying to one-up the newest entrant. Amusingly, people seem as delighted with the latter as the gaming press seems unimpressed. Out of touch much?

Speaking of that, several news outlets point out the multiple studios delaying or altogether canceling their Steam releases of upcoming games in favor of the Epic game store and its new paint smell. Never mind whether it's wise to trust the latter that much quite yet. Never mind that exclusivity in favor of anyone is always a terrible idea. More importantly, this move says a lot about the real opinion many developers have on Steam: they're fed up with it, and don't believe it's worth the trouble anymore.

We all know what that means, don't we. The beginning of the end. Good riddance.

Via PlanetIF we learn of an unusual postmortem, in which a piece of interactive fiction has been made in no less than three different languages, and what it took. I had no idea Inform 7 was so flexible! In fact, it probably took more work to make it accept a narrow keyword-based command set than some of the changes described in there. Note how much the project was helped by having a web-based frontend based on hyperlinks instead of asking players to deal with the actual parser. And note how much Inform 7 was designed for the (anglocentric) interactive fiction of the 1990s as opposed to what we ended up with in the 2010s, and what people want to do with it.

Guess that's what modern layers around the system are for. And ingenious people working with each other.

Via Temple of the Roguelike we learn of Slashie's new article on the connection between the eponymous game genre and good old Dungeons&Dragons. And it's a deeper, more complex connection than just the theme or core mechanics. The article provides several points, arguably obvious in retrospect, but still important to discuss. Special mention for the point that "dungeon generators" predate computer RPGs (and still exist in analog form). Which is true for procedural generation as a whole, by the way. And another special mention for the point that both kinds of game rely heavily on the player's imagination. Which is true for all textual media. Such as gamebooks. Or modern parser-driven CRPGs, that are still popular in the Quest community, for instance.

As for the ability to restore a saved game being important in long, involved RPGs with a handcrafted story as opposed to a roguelike, what is it with games forcing players to retry a failed challenge again and again instead of dealing some consequences and, you know, moving on? For that matter, why should combat and story be at odds in a game? Didn't we already have this conversation, only about puzzles? Oh wait, we did, and it turned out most people didn't really want puzzles, apart from those who overvalue cleverness.

Ultimately, however, I love to see other people comparing the computer with an automated game master, like in the introduction to my own Battles&Balances. Great minds think alike, and all that.

To end the week on a high note, this thread on the forum suggests that ScummVM will soon have support for classic text adventures, at first from Infocom and Adventure International, with more formats to be added. Incidentally, that will also open up the interactive fiction scene of the 1990s and early oughts to a new audience, and possibly rekindle interest in parser-based games, which has been on a downward trend as of late.

With that, we wrap up 2018 in game development. Stay tuned for some important announcements in the following days.