Let a billion videogames bloom

Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

Weekly Links #280

28 July 2019 — No Time To Play

So, my post from two weeks ago made the Dragonfly BSD Digest, a well-known and highly-respected linklog in the tech community. As of this writing, it had five times the usual number of readers, but no reactions. Maybe it's better that way, given its controversial nature.

In even better news, I started working on my game again. By now it looks like this:

Game screenshot depicting a dogfight against round spaceships from a first person perspective, in an abstract landscape suggested with neon-colored bars.

and people seem to like it, for various reasons. So even if the going is slow, I don't mind because the time taken will have been well used anyway.

As an amusing aside, the game was freezing randomly for short intervals after adding enemy missiles. As it turned out, trying to draw a filled circle in software when it was scaled too big took a lot of time. Dear fellow programmers: trust me, you're optimizing much too early and in the entirely wrong place.

Now for the news. We have quite a few this week:

  • how the myth of white, male Middle Ages came to be;
  • what being a game designer means;
  • the things game developers have to put up with from certain fans;
  • a sound critique of Steam's new automated curation features;
  • advice on making game enemies OK to kill.

Last but not least, a tribute to the late Rutger Hauer. Details below the cut.

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Tags: meta, history, game-design, community, curation

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Weekly Links #276: archival edition

30 June 2019 — No Time To Play

We're halfway through 2019, in more than one way, and I wish there were more news to mark the moment. Well, the kind that warrants a comment anyway. Stuff keeps happening, of course, but when it's not about mainstream gameing, then it must be about often rehashed themes. Maybe I need some new sources of information. Hard to find one that's genuinely different, however, without going into obscure niches.

(To be honest, working on an unrelated website also distracted me from games. Well, partly unrelated. I keep my tabletop RPG and interactive fiction work elsewhere because, well, not sure why. Went back and forth over it many times.)

As of this week, the source code for Keep of the Mad Wizard is also available from the IFArchive. Hopefully this will benefit someone; not many people choose to share theirs in the same way. Guess one can always re-import a published game, but it's not the same thing when the original was written for Tweego and not Twine proper. Besides, this makes my intent explicit. And not many Twine games seem to use status bars, let alone RPG features.

Last but not least, I can scarcely imagine a more reliable backup. IFArchive rocks!

In the way of news, this week we have a write-up about tool reuse in games, even between very different genres, then another large archive of historical documents from the world of interactive fiction, and last an account of how No Time To Play is doing financially. Details after the cut.

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Tags: RPG, tools, history, interactive-fiction, preservation

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Weekly Links #274

16 June 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The dust is starting to settle over the website, but I'm not quite done yet. Changes are just getting smaller:

  • The two editions of Sunset Flight can now be downloaded from the same place;
  • The game section as a whole was tweaked and reorganized;
  • More content originally published elsewhere was brought over to the wiki.

On a different note, two more games are now on Game Jolt as well: Space Cruiser Orion and the older Escape From Cnossus HD. The trick is picking titles that fit well and have a chance to elicit even a bit of interest; not an easy thing over there.

Plans for the immediate future involve tweaks to a number of games, and bringing back Buzz Grid, that right now only exists online as a handful of articles on the wiki. Got an idea for how to do it right. But it might take a little while, as my personal website also needs work right now.

In the way of news, we have a write-up about advergames, and a few links without comment. Also a reminder that No Time To Play still needs your help. Details below the cut.

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Tags: meta, history, interactive-fiction, rpg

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The four-letter N word

13 June 2019 — No Time To Play

Lately, people keep coming to online marketplaces and ask if it's all right to publish games that expound certain ideologies. They invariably turn out to be Nazis. They'll say so unprompted; simply wait a little. It's scary how soon they'll start with the usual spiel about "free speech" and how liberals, the big meanies, supposedly apply the four-letter N word to anyone they don't like.

Just in case it's not clear: that's a myth. The word in question has a widely accepted meaning based on ample historical precedent. Maybe you've heard of a little dance a while ago called World War II. It "only" resulted in 20 million dead, more than the population of Romania nowadays. When you wear a brown shirt with a swastika on the sleeve and do the Nazi salute? It's a safe bet that next thing we know you're going to advocate for the genocide of certain marginalized groups, like Jews, Roma, queer people, or the elderly and disabled.

It happens every single time. Funny that.

Also funny how adherents of other ideologies, like Anarchists and Communists, feel no need to ask if it's all right to publish games about their political message. Nor do people who make games about Syrian refugees, or the situation in Gaza. They also never seem to complain about being "silenced", even as mainstream media systematically vilify all these groups if they're mentioned at all.

Gameing is among the only safe places for those who have no voice, along with fan fiction and indie comics. Or so it was until three years and change ago. Now we live in a world where the creators of Wolfenstein have to defend the idea that people who want to kill others for being different should be fought by any means necessary.

Somehow, all those fictional jackboot-wearing demons and wizards with their superweapons don't scare me nearly as much as the average dudes in brown shirts with their cowlicks. The latter can all too easily kill me for real.

No, it's not all right to let them speak. Though Wormtongue might disagree.

Tags: history, politics

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Weekly Links #272

02 June 2019 — No Time To Play

You'd think it's a curse or something. Not a week after a much-hyped new console was announced, its manufacturer turned out to be a trademark bully, thus promptly squandering all that goodwill they had gained. That makes two trademark bullies within a few days. And neither is a megacorp with an army of lawyers to keep busy.

People have wondered how it is even possible to trademark the use of a very common term. Um... you do realize we live in a world where dictionary words like "apple", "android" and indeed "word" are trademarked, right? Despite trademark law in many jurisdictions explicitily stating that's not allowed. But it's hardly a secret that what is legal depends on how much money one has. Just like it always did.

And you know... I've been making games as No Time To Play for almost nine years now. Recently, I became aware of a much newer Canadian outfit operating as NoTime Studios. My reaction was to reach out to them in friendship. They never answered, which left me a little worried ever since. But it's that easy not to be a jerk. Never mind how hard it is to keep coming up with unique, original names for things in a world with millions of creators and billions of works. This isn't a zero-sum game. Nobody needs to fail for someone else to succeed. We can win together.

Most of us have figured that out already. Straight white boys still don't get it.

In more cheerful news, I took the time this week to update the No Time To Play wiki, because the game section was unfinished and looked awful. The technology section was reorganized as well, giving more prominence to the programming languages most used for games here.

Otherwise, we have a retrospective of the Mattel Intellivision, and more talk of parser versus hyperlinks in interactive fiction. Last but not least, a renewed request for help. Details below the cut.

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Tags: business, hardware, history, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #270

19 May 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! It was another week with nothing to post until Saturday. In my defense, I've been working hard on a visual edition of my game, which in turn uncovered some omissions in the prototype, so I had to go back and fix those too. Despite that, it took essentially as much time to make: another two weeks. Not bad at all, seeing how I had to make a GUI and it all took twice as much code overall.

So I give you Space Cruiser Orion. It was a bit rushed, to be ready in time for the newsletter. Still got to add sound effects and another small feature. But it's fully playable, even winnable, and doesn't it look gloriously retro?

And because this editorial is too short, let me announce that a sequel was planned from the beginning. Should be a lot easier to do, now that many details are all figured out, including a bunch of support libraries. Hopefully a few more ports, too, if this game proves popular enough, but somehow they never seem to be. Maybe some day.

In the way of news, we have a technical article about implementing game saves, and a couple of books about the implementation of classic first-person shooters. Details after the cut.

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Tags: graphics, programming, history

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Weekly Links #268

05 May 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As expected, my game prototype took another week to finish, or almost. I took a break before starting on a more presentable version; in the mean time, you can enjoy it in command-line glory, like the original mainframe game:

(I was going to embed the gist here, but it turns out to pull the whole damn thing, not just a nice little box with a "view more" link like any reasonable person would expect from, you know, an embed code. So hop over to GitHub to get Space Cruiser Orion. Bonus points if you get the reference. Classic sci-fi for the win!)

You'll need a Python interpreter (normally version 3, but 2 might just work), and some familiarity with the subgenre; there is extensive built-in help, but no tutorial. And it could use one, the game being quite a bit more involved than it appears at first. Which is what drew me to it in the first place, and what makes a modern port worth doing. Wish I had the energy for many of them. Speaking of which.

In the mean time, I also wrote a 700-word review of Space Trader, a now-classic mobile game that I somehow never heard of when my Palm was still new, so I'm catching up belatedly. One thing the review doesn't mention is how many other ports there are apart from the two Android versions: to iPhone, Windows and even Java. The latter works, too, so you can play pretty much anywhere.

As for the news, this week we have a chat with Julian Gollop of X-Com fame, and a piece about politics in videogames. Details after the cut.

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Tags: history, interview, game-design, politics, classics, review

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Weekly Links #259

03 March 2019 — No Time To Play

This week's editorial is an open letter to people just starting out making games.

Dear beginners,

I'm so happy you want to learn how to make games. Welcome to the club! The more, the merrier. Can't wait to see what you come up with.

So, you picked Python and Pygame as a starter kit. Excellent choices! Python makes programming fun, and Pygame brings all the tools you need right there at your fingertips.

There's just one thing: even with those, you won't be able to make much of a game on your first day. Or your first week. Or your first month. You've embarked on a multi-year journey. If that sounds like too much, sorry. There are no shortcuts.

Oh, it's not a hard journey. You're going to meet cool people, learn useful stuff, tinker with cool toys... Step by step, your dreams will take shape. Just not instantly. Have a little patience. And don't try to cheat, because you'd just be cheating yourself. This is no history test. You're not in school. This is for you.

Do yourself a favor and read the official Python tutorial first. Even if you already know another language. Doubly so if you don't! That stuff is the foundation of everything you're going to build. Make sure you understand it before moving on to the next level. You'll be surprised how many (text-based) games you can make even just with that.

Likewise with Pygame. The official documentation lists some tutorials. At least look through them. Get an idea of what's possible.

Or you can go with books. Many people swear by the Invent with Python series. See if you like them better, it can't hurt to look.

Last but not least, read example games. Make changes. See what happens. Ask questions. You'll find people to help you.

Just PLEASE take the time to do it right. Or else it will seem a lot harder.

Signed: someone who's been doing this for a while.

In the way of news, we have a capsule review of the Basic Fantasy RPG, MobyGames at 20, and more. Details after the cut.

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Tags: tabletop, rpg, review, history

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