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.)

Brief guide to the 2D canvas in HTML5

by on May.18, 2017, under Gamedev

I started making web games using the 2D canvas API in 2009, early enough that people still went “I can’t believe it’s not Flash”. A year or two later, everybody and their dog was making canvas-based games, so mine weren’t special for long, but oh well. On the plus side, my skills are still entirely relevant eight years down the road — a lucky break in this world where we all have to run as fast as we can just to stay in place.

The canvas API isn’t exactly huge or obscure, and the Mozilla Developer Network covers it well. It can still be daunting to learn from scratch, especially if you don’t yet know what you’re going to need in actual game development.

As it turns out, I only ever use about two dozen fields and methods of the canvas element’s 2D context; you may be able to make do with even fewer. Of course, that’s just for the graphics — setting up a game loop and accepting input is another story.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #170

by on May.14, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. I have good news and bad news. The good news is, I’ve been working on a game based on my recently revived 2.5D engine. The bad news is, I’m running out of steam and might switch tracks for a while. So for now, have some screenshots:

Yeah, yeah, I went right back to first-person after explaining how it doesn’t really work, but the visible pathways should help. As for the limited draw distance, I already had to redo the backgrounds once as it is, and anything further away looks bad in the first place. The theme just requires first person here, it can’t be helped. As for the map generator, you might recognize the one from RogueBot, somewhat refined. It feels kind of cramped in a game with tile-by-tile motion, but enemies and limited moves should fix that. Whenever I get to it, that is.

On the plus side, hey, I got to practice my Inkscape some more, and people seem to like the look. Also, refactoring code can be very fun, not to mention good practice. So yay.

In the way of news, we have an interview with Sid Meyer, then a history of hit points, that turns out to be quite complex and unexpected. And while Konstantinos Dimopoulos kicks offa series on medieval urbanism that’s equally useful to fantasy writers and game developers, Bruno Dias shares some thoughts about replacing the interactive fiction parser, that complement my own from a while ago. Clearly these ideas — which have been floating around for a while — are coalescing into something solid. It was about time, too.

Last but not least, via Vintage Is the New Old comes the news that next month there will be a Sinclair Basic game jam, which is especially tempting to someone like me. I even know what game I’d like to try and make. But whether I’ll actually take part is another story entirely.

Until next week, stay motivated.

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Weekly Links #169

by on May.07, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone. Despite everything, this week also came with plenty of interesting events in gaming. So many in fact that I had to trim multiple links, and it’s still a lot. Shall we?

Let’s start with an interview with the director of Wolfenstein 3D, occasioned by the game’s 25th anniversary. And there’s a ton of good advice in there, some of which I follow (embrace limitations, and don’t burn out), some I unfortunately fail at (use the best tools available, and if there aren’t any, make your own). And still on the topic of classic games, we have the first article in a series about the history of Sierra, which in turn quotes from a recent interview with two of Sierra’s creators — both valuable bits of history.

Now for something completely different. Over at PC Gamer, there’s an article about the portrayal of mimics in videogames (the D&D monster). I had high hopes for the article, too, because one of my favorite webcomics, Rusty and Co., features a mimic turned adventurer — and a talkative, witty one at that. But there was no mention of it. There was, however, a mention of Luggage from Discworld… but not a single word about Luggage’s origins as a character in a novel written to parody fantasy cliches.

Dear people in gaming, do you ever read anything outside of reviews and strategy guides?

In the way of game design, Jason Dyer illustrates the biggest problem with random number generation, while the creator of Cogmind writes about clever uses of RNG seeds. And you know, I considered doing just that, but in my one game that could have used the trick, Spectral Dungeons, generating each level is so slow it would be especially annoying to do it all over every time. I am, however, careful to use a separate RNG for world generation versus enemy behavior when at all possible.

Also on the Grid Sage Games blog there was a discussion of various versioning schemes, which are as thorny as they are arbitrary, as we know from Windows, the Linux kernel, or the race between Firefox and Chrome. My advice? Don’t fuss too much over it unless you develop software according to a strict plan; just pick a scheme, and use release code names to make things more clear.

To end with a couple of items from the world of interactive fiction, Emily Short writes about the place of parser-based games in 2017, while over on the intfiction.org forum there’s a discussion about compass-based navigation, with some surprising conclusions.

I should probably write a come-back with my own extensive thoughts on mapping and virtual places, but for now this newsletter is way over quota, so see you!

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Weekly Links #168: diversity edition

by on May.02, 2017, under News

Sometimes outages have the worst timing. As of this writing, I’ve had no Internet for over 24 hours, and it could be another day or more until it’s fixed, due to May Day falling on a Monday. But the show must go on.

I’ll start with an article that’s not about games at all — in fact it’s about diversity in superhero comics. But the following quote applies all too well to games, and in fact any other medium:

“Diversity” as a concept is a useful tool, but it can’t be the goal or the final product. It assumes whiteness (and/or maleness and/or heteronormitivity [sic]) as the default and everything else as a deviation from that. This is why diversity initiatives so often end up being quantitative—focused on the number of “diverse” individuals—rather than qualitative, committed to positive representation and active inclusion in all levels of creation and production. This kind of in-name-only diversity thinking is why Mayonnaise McWhitefeminism got cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi while actual Japanese person Rila Fukushima was used as nothing but a face mold for robot geishas.

On a related note, the analysis of visual novels I mentioned two weeks ago continues with a look at VN protagonists, and the conclusion is inescapable: (Note: EVN is short for English-language Visual Novel, as in original as opposed to a translation from Japanese.)

Despite VNs being portrayed as escapist literature with generic self-insert protagonists, our analysis seems to suggest the reverse. Fans far prefer protagonists with strong identities, and EVNs are leading the way in exploring stories with more diverse characters. The videogame industry could learn something from our little medium.

To top it all, Jimmy Maher writing about the history of Wing Commander points out the way a cheesy action game from 1990 did better than many modern titles at diversity and inclusion, despite its reliance on ethnic stereotypes, simply because it tried in earnest.

Moving on, straight from the horse’s mouth we get a look at Blizzard’s past with the making of Starcraft, and at their future with an interview about how World of Warcraft might evolve. In unrelated news, Warren Spector talks to Gamasutra about doing your own thing as a game designer (and asking bigger questions).

And speaking of game design, as the only piece of news this week that’s actually on topic we have Emily Short with a collection of links about spatial storytelling, that as usual apply to much more than just interactive fiction.

Enjoy, and see you next time.

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When sprite scaling meets free roaming

by on Apr.27, 2017, under Gamedev

As of spring 2017, it’s been nearly five years since my first shot at a first-person engine with eight directions based on sprite scaling, inspired by a certain 8-bit classic. At the time I wasn’t aware of any newer game made in the same style; in the mean time, the aforementioned classic was ported to modern platforms and even got a spiritual successor. It took me until the winter of 2015 to try again myself. Still not with a strategy game, mind you — in fact I tried for a roguelike, probably with Necklace of the Eye fresh in mind. Never got around to explaining why it fizzled out, either; a mistake I’ll rectify below.

Point is, after 16 more months it was time for yet another take on the concept. And as it turns out, third time’s the charm.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #167

by on Apr.23, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. This week’s big news is of course that the original Starcraft is now free, occasioned by the launch of a remastered edition (via Sébastien Delahaye‏). It’s just the last in a line of classic game revivals this spring, and while rediscovering the classics is good, I wonder what it says about the present of videogames.

Speaking of revivals, I spent a week or so bringing back — for the second time — my turn-based sprite scaling engine, and at long last it seems to be working out. Details to follow soon; for now, here’s a screenshot.

Next, two articles for game designers: a brief one on how to choose content for a roguelike, and the other (via Jay Barnson) on a better way to design dungeons. Short version: just as wordlbuilding in general should serve the purpose of the story you’re trying to tell, a dungeon should be all about its inhabitants. Past or present, I would add.

I’ll end with two write-ups about higher-level issues: one about that point when camp in a game goes from useful shortcut to offensive stereotype — and what that says about our understanding of history — the other (via Taleslinger) about the lack of cultural self-awareness in Duke Nukem 3D, with a diversion into the surreal, imaginative level design enabled by a pseudo-3D engine, and the way it contrasts with the hyper-realism of newer games.

And that’s about it for today, because people have been resting after Easter. See you!

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Weekly Links #166

by on Apr.16, 2017, under News

Happy Easter, everyone! I’ll start by reminding you that we’re one week into the Spring Thing interactive fiction festival, and it’s the largest edition ever. Still three weeks to go, too, if you want to vote or something.

The other big news this week is about The CRPG Book Project which, as announced by Indie Retro News is near completion: a free history of computer role-playing games by a largely European team, told in a couple hundred capsule reviews and a thousand colorful screenshots, that gives equal space to famous classics and obscure titles (some never translated into English) that nevertheless had a massive influence on the genre. A labor of love, put together over several years, and amazingly enough released for free.

Still on the subject of videogame genres, the first part in a series of articles on visual novels was just announced on the Lemma Soft forums, and it starts out strong with an analysis of current trends.

Next for a bit of nostalgia: Slashdot points to a look back at 8-bit computing, and it’s pretty damn thoughtful as listicles go. On a slightly different note, someone just came up with a graphic adventure engine for the Pico-8 inspired by LucasArts’ SCUMM, and coming surprisingly close.

To end on a less cheerful note, Play the Past has a feature on death in online virtual worlds. Being part of such a community that was hit repeatedly by the deaths of prominent members, the whole thing struck a chord with me.

But I have more to read and think about, not to mention today to deal with. See you around.

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Eamon: between CRPGs and interactive fiction

by on Apr.13, 2017, under Case study

It’s safe to say that I like interactive fiction a lot better than computer role-playing games. Just about the only CRPG that ever piqued my interest was Planescape: Torment. Which, sure enough, may well be the most adventure-like such game ever created, with much more of a focus on storytelling than combat, and with a setting that came alive (literally, within the game’s fiction) in a way few other games managed. You could say it’s a matter of patience, but I spent countless days, weeks at a time, playing strategy games, and also sank plenty of hours in roguelikes — the RPGs’ low-tech, mechanistic cousins. So this isn’t about preferring story over gameplay, either; in fact, some of my all-time favorite games are shooters.

May seem strange, then, that someone like me would be interested in trying out Eamon, an RPG as old-school as they get, and of a flavor that wasn’t all that popular even back in the day.

But inspiration can be found in unlikely places. For one thing, Eamon is a cult classic: released as public domain software in 1982, it was recreated more than once, and the Deluxe edition (easily playable forevermore thanks to DOSBox), was last updated in 2012 — no less than three decades since the original! Apart from the early Ultima games and Infocom’s library, I can’t think of many games the same age that people worked as hard to preserve.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #165

by on Apr.09, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Can’t believe it’s been a month since my article on the use of outliners in games. Between playing Master of Orion and working on a game design inspired by it, my initial idea took a backseat for a while, before coalescing into a specific product. I’m happy to announce Ramus 2, a new system for playing CYOA games written with general-purpose productivity software as opposed to dedicated tools — which, incidentally, allows for authoring on mobile devices without an always-on Internet connection. Much more work is needed, of course, from documentation to utilities for packaging stand-alone games, but the groundwork is laid, and the concept works surprisingly well.

Otherwise, I finally got around to getting a good look at Eamon, a text-based RPG engine from 1982, that was last updated in 2012 (an incredible 30-year run!) if not in the original form. Should probably get around to writing an article about it, because there are lessons to learn.

(Speaking of updates to old games, the original 8-bit Prince of Persia just got a modern level editor. How cool is that?)

In other news, this week Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an article on playing roguelikes when you can’t see, and another on the modders making games more gender-diverse. It’s great that inclusivity is becoming a hot topic in game development. More conventionally, Ars Technica has a history of open-world gaming, and PC Gamer a list of game design sins (both via K.D.). The latter two are actually old, but good enough to include.

We’re not done quite yet. For fans of adventure games, whether graphic or textual, there’s a long and entertaining interview with Tim Schafer, while Emily Short is answering to a letter about the state of Inform 7.

To cap an already long newsletter, I give you these musings on music in games. Something that tends to give me trouble, even more so than sound effects. Turns out, it is a genuinely delicate issue.

Oh well, see you next time.

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Weekly Links #164

by on Apr.02, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. It’s one of those weeks with lots of links, so I’m going to try and keep comments short in compensation. Not that I usually succeed.

For one thing, No Time To Play now has a proper presence on GitHub and on Imzy. There’s no set goal for either yet, but hey, it says “we exist”. Good thing can happen from casting a wider net.

On to gaming news. Tides of Numenera barely hit the market, and word surfaced that its spiritual parent Planescape: Torment is also getting an enhanced edition — officially, that is. (Which is bound to be better than fan-driven restoration efforts (in fact it likely incorporates some fan patches), and it’s a signal that game companies are starting to see the value in videogame preservation.) And another classic getting the same treatment is Starcraft. Still in the way of nostalgic comebacks, here’s an in-depth look at Thimbleweed Park.

But it’s not just players who get nostalgic for the old days. Game designers might enjoy reading the design document for Asteroids — a single hand-written page, as it turns out — while for interactive fiction authors there a long interview with the creator of 8-bit authoring system The Quill (both via K.D.).

Why is it important? Because we can learn from the past. We can also learn from tabletop games, as I did, and more designers are learning to as of late. Learning what? The importance of trains in games, for instance (via Michael Cook) — or rather, the importance of suggesting a wider world outside the software-imposed boundaries. A principle just as important in games as in fiction.

But now if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to help a friend get started roleplaying on a MUCK. See you next week.

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