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Weekly Links #266: good business, bad business

21 April 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I'll keep it short today. Even after release, Keep of the Mad Wizard keeps providing inspiration. This time in the form of an article about combat in videogames. Which in turns suggests what I should work on next. An early experiment has already fizzled out; got two more ideas to try in the coming week. Details once I have something more solid, even just a prototype.

In the mean time, let's see the news.

I had just published the previous newsletter when this crossed my Twitter feed: an in-depth explanation of how Telltale Games crashed and burned so suddenly, late last year. And damn if it doesn't sound familiar:

  1. young company does innovative work by a fresh formula;
  2. they take off slowly and do just fine for a while;
  3. one day they capture lightning in a bottle and become famous;
  4. they start dreaming big, and take investors on board;
  5. investors turn out to care about nothing except obscene profits;
  6. company burns itself down trying to satisfy them.

You know... just like every single business I ever worked for that actually meant something to me. Dear young entrepreneurs: are you ever going to learn? At all?

Go read the article for the grisly details. But gee, you mean treating your best people like shit until they leave you to become the competition is a bad idea?

In other news, someone has finally remade 8-bit classic The Sentinel, and (as reported by several sources) Jason Scott strikes again, putting up on GitHub the complete source code of Infocom text adventures. And oh, there's also Hardcore Gaming 101 covering Unreal.

Last but not least, we have the first interview with employees of ArenaNet, makers of Guild Wars, after the massive layoffs from a few months ago. Note how these were handled compared to other high-profile cases, and how the company continues to systematically reject crunch. Reads like sci-fi, doesn't it?

Until next time, be kind to yourself.

Tags: business, classics, interview

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Weekly Links #264

07 April 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As of right now, Keep of the Mad Wizard is on the home stretch.

(Screenshot of a computer role-playing game showing a character sheet.)

Since last time, I implemented potions, added more content, and figured out what to do for the endgame. Even added a good chunk of it, apart from the ability to solve it with spells. Also a prologue and epilogue, that give the game at least the pretense of a story. The game is coming out shorter and easier than expected, but it's not automatic, and feels balanced enough. It even requires different play styles for the three classes!

And because working on a game is great for inspiration, I wrote yet another article about CRPGs, more exactly scope versus accessibility, for player and developer alike.

In the way of news, we have the long-awaited release of Pygame 1.9.5, Itch.io's new job board, a write-up about licensed games and a retrospective of the King's Quest series. Details after the cut.

Read more...

Tags: rpg, game-design, programming, business, classics

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Weekly Links #263

31 March 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I made considerable progress with the game for the past week.

(Screenshot of a computerized gamebook presenting a combat encounter.)

Among many small changes, the game flow is considerably improved in places, combat now works, and generally most rules are implemented. In fact, only potions are left to add. And of course lots and lots of content, though I've started working on that, too. Only the endgame still needs more thinking. It would be nice to have more than a simple cutscene. Not sure what though.

No less important is the article I wrote about this iteration of the game design, which reopens an avenue of research I thought abandoned. And then there are various refinements and additions that will go into the second edition of Battles&Balances, the magic system in particular.

In the way of news, we have business shenanigans in the game industry, a discussion of colonialism in games, and the Spring Game Jam organized by Open Game Art. Details below the cut.

Read more...

Tags: rpg, game-design, business, representation, game-jam

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Weekly Links #257

17 February 2019 — No Time To Play

This week is starting out strong for a change. On Sunday was published an interview with Felipe Pepe of The CRPG Book Project fame (via K.D.). And on Monday we got an article about Sega's Super Scaler technology, that powered so many arcade classics. I've only played OutRun and AfterBurner II out of them, and my favorite 2.5D game isn't among them, but I'm still in love with the style, and even created my own graphics engine to keep it alive.

Also on Monday, an indie creator shares his first year of game development in words and screenshots, and it sounds like an amazing journey. People get up to speed damn fast these days.

A much bigger story emerged as the week went on, extensively covered by numerous sources: that of Activision firing 800 Blizzard employees despite Blizzard making record profits in 2018, just because those profits were a little bit below expectations. Never mind the sheer callousness of the decision, and the way it was handled. Never mind the "I told you so". Right now I'd love to hear from those people who insist that without the big publishers we wouldn't have seen a lot of great games that made history. Tell me, how many more great games we could have seen from Blizzard, and now we never will because their corporate owner is forcing them to focus on milking cash cows instead of, ya'know, continuing to innovate?

Enjoy your capitalism. I'll be over there playing little indie games made with PICO-8.

Speaking of which: just last week I was reviewing a new fantasy console. Soon after, a post on the PICO-8 forum reminded me of this big list on GitHub. And you know... that's kind of cool actually. Making a new fantasy console has turned into a sort of hobby. One I get all too well, having created several authoring systems for interactive fiction that hardly saw any use. But at least each of mine has a unique gimmick I can explain easily. Whereas with most fantasy consoles, there's no obvious reason to use one over the others.

Which, of course, is a valuable insight in itself. Cheers!

Tags: retro, arcade, rpg, interview, business, tools

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Weekly Links #256

10 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. Some weeks I get so caught up in a project or other that it leaves me little attention to spare for gaming news worth commenting on. This time it was the interpreter architecture mentioned last week. Figured I'd give it a good workout, you see, and work out it did, a lot better than expected. As of this writing I'm on the way to releasing a real-world, if not very useful, version. People are already interested in the online preview, so my hopes are high for once. And damn if it doesn't feel good to have a scripting language that can be ported to a new platform literally in hours, even as it's grown enough to not really be a toy anymore.

In the way of news, I hear the big publishers are all complaining about a terrible 2018, financially speaking. By which they mean profits are a few percent below their unreasonable expectations, so they're firing hundreds of people to keep the obscene bonuses of CEOs intact. Cue a "meanwhile, in Japan" moment: it was just last month, if memory serves, that Nintendo management cut their own wages in half so they'd have enough to keep paying their employees. Again.

That's why they continue to be so successful, folks: for all their sins, Nintendo is a humane business, and it shows in everything they do. Including games.

One other topic this week: at the very last moment, fluffy alerts me of a new game development tool called Môsi. It's inspired by Bitsy, except with a lot more features and designed for making games on a smartphone.

Or so it's supposed to; on mobile Chrome all I got was a blank screen. On desktop I can play the example, and browse through the various editor tabs, though actually editing sprites and rooms doesn't work in either Opera or Firefox. Oh well, Môsi is in early development. And there's quite a bit to look at: you can choose the size of your game world, that of a screen, a sprite, and even how many colors your game will have. Sprites can have multiple animation frames, and rich interactions are possible, including branching and looping. In other words... programming (cue finger wiggling), though it's all visual.

Not much more to say about it at this point, but this right here is a thing to watch closely. Could easily take off in a big way. And did I mention it's open source?

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the Sunday!

Tags: tools, programming, business

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Weekly Links #255

03 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! It's been another week when I didn't work on games. Instead, my attention has been consumed by yet another scripting language. Or rather, a framework for making any number of them very easily, in tiny amounts of code. This is more important than it seems. For one thing, it will finally allow me to put one in Adventure Prompt, a goal that drove much of my research in recent years. And then, the radical simplicity of the system opens up opportunities I couldn't even consider before. Enter the guerilla scripting engine, that you can add to mostly any software on a whim. It's that easy.

Details soon. In the mean time, lets see what's new in the gaming world.

Not reporting, in any event. Dear game journalists, do you realize that various platforms get exclusive titles all the time? That's not a "war", it's business as usual. And the only result is that the rights holders soon discover how much money they're leaving on the table, so they back out of the exclusivity arrangement. Hopefully.

People do it all the time with Steam and nobody bats an eyelid. But enter Epic's new store, and people seem unable to think clearly all of a sudden. For some reason.

(Also, duuudes. Can you please stop with the 60FPS snobbery already? It's getting tiresome AF. And damaging.)

On a more cheerful note, Ren'Py just turned 15, and its amazing journey gives no signs of slowing down quite yet. Which fills me with joy. Maybe one of these days I'll manage to pick it up again, too.

Last but not least, this weekend Hardcore Gaming 101 covers Dune (Cryo's 1991 game), in their usual detailed manner. I'm yet to finish reading as of this writing, but it brings back all kinds of memories. Funny how the Dune game that didn't span a major, enduring genre remains the one that's fondly remembered, and amply discussed when it comes up.

With that, I'll let you enjoy the Sunday. Bye!

Tags: programming, business, adventure

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