No Time To Play

Posts by Felix

(A programmer and Web developer by trade, Felix has grown up with the Sinclair Spectrum and has played (and coded!) games on several generations of PCs starting with the XT, and lately on J2ME-enabled cellphones. He's fond of turn-based strategies, interactive fiction and MUDs, but has been playing and making mostly casual games as of late.)

Weekly Links #192

by on Oct.15, 2017, under News

Life is ironic sometimes. Just as I’m migrating this site off WordPress (work is continuing, by the way, just more slowly now to avoid burnout), another major gaming website just went in the opposite direction. Hopefully it will work out for them. Already they’ve been running into the problem, pointed out by Martin Fowler years ago, that blogs tend to bury still-relevant content under an avalanche of new posts. And as I learned from bitter experience, a CMS can make it harder to maintain content, unintuitive as it may seem.

In other news, we learn that source code for the classic platformer Aladdin has been recovered, and actually compiles, yielding all kinds of fascinating insights. Not so lucky are fans of the 1997 Blade Runner game, whose source is lost forever. On a related note, we have the story of how RPG Maker got to be looked down upon. I rant enough about copyright and engine snobbery alike, so I won’t insist. Just remember how much we used to learn by taking old things apart… and consider how little we’re able to do it now. No wonder progress has slowed down to a crawl in many fields, while people have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Last but not least, while I’m busy recycling old content, figured I might as well do the same with a handful of 3D models, remade in a form usable in games in the hope someone might find them useful.

This is it for the week. Enjoy!

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Weekly Links #191

by on Oct.08, 2017, under News

Oh my. As of this week, the IFComp 2017 is on, and it’s the biggest edition ever for the second year in a row, at no less than 79 entries! Judges seem undaunted, but if you want to help them it will be appreciated. On that note, can’t help but wonder what will happen if this trend continues. The community has grown large, and while that’s awesome, certain traditions like the IFComp might need more than updated rules, going forward.

In other news, we have an article about the challenges of adapting games from other media, and a more technical write-up on why porting games to PC is hard. The latter won’t be a surprise to anyone who understand the difference between a console with its fixed hardware configuration and PCs with their myriad options, but clearly some gamers need this explained point by point.

From the same source we get a comparative review of three roguelikes, much like those I used to do (how time flies). And elsewhere entirely, via Vintage is the New Old, there’s the story of rediscovering a 35-year-old type-in game and meeting its author — who turns out to be a really interesting person.

Last but not least, Jimmy Maher’s history of narrative computer games has reached Lemmings, and it’s a fascinating chapter indeed, especially given the context he built over the previous month.

Have fun, and see you next week.

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Weekly Links #190: retrospective edition

by on Oct.01, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone! As announced a few days ago on the other blog, our new website is coming along nicely, including a redesigned game showcase. The migration is about halfway done, or almost (not counting the newsletter), so we’re on track for a New Year switchover if all goes well.

In other news, we have two pieces on the history and influence of Metroid and Ultima Online, respectively, the latter written by none other than Raph Koster himself. We also have a history of real-time strategy games (long read!) with which I have a quibble: look, admittedly the first Dune failed to influence the genre, but to dismiss it as a mere adventure game? Kids these days… You haven’t played it, have you?

On a very much related note, a Thimbleweed Park developer explains how they made the game into more than just a nostalgic throwback. And without any connection, have some tips on interactive storytelling that can apply just as easily to a computer RPG as to a tabletop game.

Last but not least, the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation just announced setting up a Twine knowledge base that will gather solutions to common problems in a single, easy to search location.

But I’d rather not overextend myself today. See you next week.

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Weekly Links #189

by on Sep.24, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone! This week more than half the links are about looking backwards. Via Vintage Is the New Old we learn of a history of Nintendo arcade games, showing a less known face of the company. Their earliest effort was especially interesting. In related news, there’s a new effort to preserve videogame history, focused on a less-known form of marketing from the 1980s. Then we have a (reprinted) postmortem of Civ 5, and a look at Van Buren, the canceled Fallout 3 prototype from before the franchise was revived. Turns out, Chris Avellone prototyped the story in the form of a tabletop RPG campaign, long before he had an engine. Which not only took care of the game design early, in a portable way, but consider this: had New Vegas never happened, he would still have had a product, albeit in a different medium.

Speaking of game design, we have someone exploring how much rules really matter in videogames and not only, then some thoughts on how to stop players from hoarding — a detailed, well-considered analysis. I applied technique #1 intuitively in Escape From Cnossus, and it works great, by the way.

For the more technical developers out there, I’ll end the week with the story of an OpenGL shader and the trouble it caused. Keep in mind that fluffy is a professional with years of experience coding advanced experimental computer graphics. You likely aren’t. Are you sure you want the headache?

Until next time, use the level of technology you can handle and get away with.

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Weekly Links #188

by on Sep.17, 2017, under News

My ZX Spectrum games on tape!

It’s here! It’s actually here! A cassette tape with my two ZX Spectrum roguelikes! Won’t be able to use it, of course, for lack of suitable hardware, but oh well.

In other news, we have a review of Grimoire that should be instructional of any game developer with grand ambitions, a story about Home of the Underdogs, the famed abandonware site, and another about the making of Carmen Sandiego (that only covers the very first game in the series).

Moving on, readers with an interest in game art might like this write-up on the geometry of light and shadow. Arguably less on-topic is that the FreeDOS project has released their 23rd anniversary e-book (more of a zine, really) under a generous free culture license — a reminder of simpler days and cartoon-like games with bright colors.

But this is all for the week, as my interests have shifted again from game development to web design. See you next time, hopefully with new plans.

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Making simple games in sdlBasic

by on Sep.14, 2017, under Gamedev

When I first seriously got into making games for the desktop (it wasn’t my first attempt), the biggest problem appeared to be finding a cross-platform development system that would be reasonably easy to use. No C/SDL for me, sorry. I want to make games, not fiddle with bits and worry about memory leaks.

Turns out, an even bigger problem is ease of distribution, because any framework or library for games seems to be composed of countless DLLs, that in turn depend on other DLLs, and putting them all together is like herding cats.

This quickly led me to check out the various Basic compilers out there, which normally practice static linking, and whose runtimes include support for graphics and input as a matter of fact. Most of them however are Windows-only, some quite expensive, or with an ugly API, or no built-in sound support…

After a failed experiment or two, the situation seemed desperate, when I happened upon something a bit different: sdlBasic, an interpreter (not compiler!) that packages a complete set of bindings to the eponymous library into a stand-alone executable you can just copy around without a worry. It’s even open source!

Don’t be put off by the age of official packages: newer, unofficial builds can be found on the forums. Which, by the way, I warmly recommend. The community is small, but very friendly and helpful, always up for discussing and improving a cool demo, or suggesting workarounds for any issues you might run into.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #187

by on Sep.10, 2017, under Case study, News

Hello, everyone. I didn’t have any room left in the last newsletter, but the new Escape From Cnossus has been released! It took a while, but better late than never. Even more awesome is that the original Spectrum game, along with its older brother Spectral Dungeons, can now be preordered on tape from Bumfun Gaming. The latter is only for hardcore retrogamers, of course; any profits will go to charities and/or tool developers in the scene.

In other news, Introcomp 2017 has ended, and in an unrelated but historic decision, video game writers can now be nominated for a Nebula. Last but not least, game developers might like this little case study in optimization from fluffy, my friend and frequent commenter.

And now, about the future of No Time To Play. Last week’s incident shook me. We’re still not out of the woods, though I’m staying on top of things for a change. But the magic has been broken. It’s painfully obvious how much this site has stagnated, even as the name has spread to other places. We have all this wealth of articles, news and links, all relying for presentation on a lumbering app that’s getting harder to customize as time goes by, and can’t really be trusted anymore.

We need a complete revamp… and I can’t see it. Not yet, anyway. But something has to give.

Thanks for staying with us through rocky times, past and coming.

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Security advisory

by on Sep.04, 2017, under Miscellaneous

Dear readers,

Recently our website was cracked, with the apparent purpose of turning the server into a zombie. I think all traces of the intrusion are now gone, and we should be more secure going forward (hardening efforts are still ongoing). But you know how it is. Should you notice any more suspicious activity, contact @felixplesoianu on Twitter or leave feedback on our Tumblr sideblog. (Anonymous submissions should be enabled.)

Thanks for staying with us.

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Weekly Links #186

by on Sep.03, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone. I have so many links this time, commentary will have to be pared down. Clearly, September is here.

For starters, here’s a long-form article about designing videogame cities, a highly recommended read. My own process is a lot less formal, but much of the advice still applies. And while my own urban environments for games so far have been tiny (if made to suggest a much bigger world beyond), my fiction has been another story entirely.

In other game design news, we have some musings about story mode in games, and observations about the effects of limited parsers (on interactive fiction). More technical are two write-ups about level compression in NES games and porting a game to DOS, respectively.

Speaking of specific games, we have a retrospective of Populous, and the story of how fantasy gamebooks conquered Britain. Moving into actuality, here’s a Syrian refugee’s saga made into a game, and an interview with Kenney Vleugels about his efforts to support indie game developers with asset libraries. Having used one of his sound packs in Square Shooter, I appreciate.

To end with a rant, it seems VR has failed to catch on. Again. And aside from the requisite I TOLD YOU SO, look how people are blaming the technology for “not being there yet”. Notice what’s wrong with this picture? A year or two ago when the craze started, everyone insisted that “this time it absolutely has to catch on becase the technology is finally here“.

So which is it, boys? You can’t have it both ways. Either the tech is ready this time, or it’s not.

Better yet, you might want to admit that VR keeps failing because it’s still pointless. If people had found any use for it, they’d have pounced on the medium long ago. You know, the way they did with 8-bit home computers.

But as always, remembering history remains a problem for human beings. Cheers.

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Weekly Links #185

by on Aug.30, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone, and welcome to a belated newsletter. In my defense, I’ve been unwell for the past few days. On the plus side, I actually completed my game port! Expect a release announcement next week.

Let’s start with a couple of retrospectives, one of Starwing (yes, the European edition), and one of Tekumel, a lesser know but highly detailed fantasy setting for roleplaying games.

In actual news, we learn that D&D will have more queer content, and while normally I’d be skeptical of such an initiative, the powers that be at WotC actually got it right, by hiring queer people to tell their own stories. This might just work out, if they manage to refrain from executive meddling, so stay tuned.

Moving on to actual game development, we have someone sharing their first experiences with Twine, and it’s incredibly cute how they insist that Twine allows one to make games without any programming, only to go ahead and give examples of… wait for it… code! Admittedly Sugarcube markup, not JS, but an if-else clause is an if-else clause. Are people so afraid of the idea of programming that they’re lying to themselves to such a degree? Grace Hopper’s early research into human-friendly languages seems to suggest so, and Inform 7 takes that conclusion to its logical extreme, with results that speak for themselves. An idea for future design work… to mirror the past.

Last but not least, via the Dragonfly BSD Digest, we have a sizable and well-curated list of OpenBSD gaming resources. Surprisingly, it’s about much more than emulators. Good to know!

And with that, I’ll leave you to enjoy what’s left of this Sunday. Cheers!

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