No Time To Play

Miscellaneous

Weekly Links #92

by on Oct.18, 2015, under Miscellaneous, News

Gaaah! Almost forgot to write the newsletter on time again. Been busy, you see, with yet another coding project (still unrelated to games). Though who knows — the ability to focus on writing your game as opposed to wrangling your tools is increasingly important these days, so simplicity matters a lot. I’ll keep you informed.

This week @JuhanaIF points us at a postmortem of 80 Days that does a good job of relating the difficulties of making such a big game. And while on the topic of interactive fiction, Hardcore Gaming 101 gets around to reviewing Fallen London. A good way for me to see what has changed since I stopped playing… and what hasn’t.

Of direct interest for developers is this article on architecture in videogames. Once again it turns out that in order to make games (or, indeed, any software) it’s more important to know about the real world than programming. In this case history, geography and materials. And you know, I’m hardly an expert myself, but I find it baffling and worrying that an educated person today doesn’t know why the compass points matter when building a house. Are we so deeply invested in the myth that we have somehow “conquered nature”?

Last but not least, the Wall Street Journal is running a piece on how videogames are saving the symphony orchestra. Amusingly, they write about videogames as if we were still in 1985 (which says a lot about the kind of people they allow to make decisions in the newsrooms). But otherwise, it’s good to know that games have found yet another way into mainstream culture; I remember years ago when symphonic orchestras were arranging music from famous movies such as Star Wars or James Bond and thinking how cool that was.

Culture is culture, and that’s awesome. See you next week.

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Weekly Links #87

by on Sep.13, 2015, under Gamedev, Miscellaneous, News, Opinion

This will be a quick newsletter again, if not quite as short as last time. Let me start with a link I found on the last stretch, to a Rock, Paper, Shotgun roundtable discussing Kickstarter in 2015. Here’s the one paragraph that struck me:

Isn’t it fascinating though that, when it comes to less conventionally commercial games, people would rather be sold a dream than reality? You’d get more backers for a weird or cute kickstarter than you would chucking a few dollars at something existent on Itch.io, right?

And that’s funny, because I was just talking to a friend the other day (hi, Chip!) about Patreon, and how he often has to lie to himself that the less-than-epic rewards that artists sometimes come up with (and we don’t blame them, mind you) are actually worth the money he gives them. While on itch.io, most titles sell so badly that a single sale can noticeably buoy me in popularity listings. And I get that dreams look better in people’s minds than finished creations, which can’t help but have flaws. But has the absurdity of capitalism reached such heights that it’s time to fire the creators and just sell pure marketing to a public who doesn’t need the actual products anymore because they already have too much stuff?

In unrelated news, the highly successful launch of Super Mario Maker prompts Gamasutra to publish an article about the many ways hardware limitations defined the original classic, and how they can still inform its modern successors. And over at The Escapist, Shamus Young explains why your not-so-old computer suddenly can’t play the latest games anymore. A good reminder for game developers about the complexities of computer performance. No, your machine isn’t typical. There’s no such thing as a typical PC.

Last but not least, Hardcore Gaming 101 treats us to a retrospective of The Last Express, and Polygon explains how Dragon Age costumes are influenced by cosplayers. I’d heard before about creators going for cosplay-able costumes, so this is pretty cool.

But that’s all for this Sunday. See you next week.

P.S. A gentle reminder that No Time To Play is on itch.io if you want to show your support. Thank you.

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No Time To Play is five

by on Aug.11, 2015, under Miscellaneous

It says much about my state of mind this year that on the blog’s fifth anniversary I waited until evening to write a few lines. Two years ago I complained that things seemed to be looking down. Turns out, they can always get worse. For a while after that post, I didn’t work on games at all. Then I started coming back in a way, slowly and half-heartedly. Guess it showed, because basically no-one noticed my games from the past few months. More recently, finances and ISP outages alike threatened the blog itself, to the point that I decided to write a book and start a Tumblr so No Time To Play can at least survive in other forms should the worst come to pass. Sadly nobody noticed those either…

The upswing from all this? Unlike a couple of months ago, I want the blog to survive. Five years is a lot of time, and good things have accumulated here. Moreover, I do see a future for videogames now, though it’s far from the glorious VR-fest everyone else seems to dream of. If things seem slow for the moment, it’s because these days I’m working on a different kind of game, that only involves computers tangentially. But I’ll come back eventually. I always do.

What matters is that you, my readers, are still here when that happens, or else there’s no point to me plodding along. So, happy reading.

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What about vector graphics?

by on May.21, 2015, under Miscellaneous

I was checking out the vector tag on itch.io, and couldn’t help but notice there are only 26 games on that page — few enough to count by hand. And two of them are mine. I have more. In fact most of my games have vector graphics. Sure, they’re code-intensive and CPU intensive, but nowadays computers have CPU power to spare. And with the wildly different screen resolutions of modern machines, especially mobile devices, vectors offer a scalability advantage over pixel art, while
being just as pretty and colorful. Not to mention we need the diversity.

This is why I’d have expected game developers to use vector graphics much more often. It’s disappointing to see they aren’t. Why aren’t they?

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Weekly Links #67

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Gamedev, Miscellaneous, News

Hello, everyone. Just two weeks after my last game (and nine days of effective development), I’m giving you something else to play with:

Glittering Light is a casual turn-based maze game that runs in text mode. That’s marketing speak for “almost a rogue-lite, but not quite”. It was supposed to be more complex, but when it got to a playable state balance was already good enough. So I left good enough alone.

For now you can get the game right here. It runs on Linux and Mac, but this time other versions are coming, so stay tuned.

In the mean time, I have other gamedev-related news.

(continue reading…)

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A hierarchy of user interface tech?

by on Apr.23, 2015, under Miscellaneous

I’ve been wondering as of late if it would be useful to make a hierarchy of games by the level of user interface technology they require. For instance, the original Adventure only requires a teletype for output (and input, see below). Rogue already needs a character-addressable display, say a videoterminal. Once you can work with pixels, you can make anything from Dizzy to Doom. And then you have the vector displays arcades experimented with for a while, back when CRTs were still a thing.

Beyond that, things get more blurry. I mean, obviously most modern games require 3D acceleration, but that’s only a matter of quantity, not quality. It’s entirely conceivable that future CPUs will be able to render in software games we can only run on expensive GPUs right now. But for now the distinction may still be meaningful. Or is it?

Or we can look at input. Much has been written about single-key games, but what about games that can be played with only a D-pad and one action key? (Think feature phones.) Games that can be played with just the mouse? Never mind what can be played with the keyboard alone — that covers everything from the aforementioned Adventure and Rogue all the way to *Master of Orion*. But gamepad support on PC games is such an uncommon feature nowadays to warrant its own tag in various catalogs.

The question is, what could such an analysis teach us outside of a better historical understanding of how computer games evolved?

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Weekly Links #64

by on Apr.05, 2015, under Gamedev, Miscellaneous, News

Did I ever tell you about my friend Sera? She’s a very geeky girl who likes videogames and anime a lot. I’ve been meaning to highlight her Let’s Play series here for a while now, but couldn’t pick a suitable video — we have very different tastes in gaming. But recently she posted this:

Now that looks like a lot of fun. Sexist fun, as Sera points out in the video, but some girls like boobs too, you know? It can be forgiven for once. So, enjoy. And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out Sera’s fundaiser. (Yes, she’s transgender, and she needs your help. Any bigoted comments will be deleted. I don’t care.)

Now on to the few gamedev news I have this week.

(continue reading…)

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Code versus data: a battle for the ages

by on Mar.26, 2015, under Miscellaneous

You know what HTML is, right? It’s the file format browsers read in order to show you pretty web pages, with all the bells and whistles you’re accustomed to. It can get quite complex, but at its most basic it nothing more than this:

Here is some bold text for your enjoyment.

Let’s look at the HTML that produces the text above. Tell me, is it
code or data?

Here is some <b>bold text</b> for your enjoyment.

It looks like data, right? After all, it’s mostly text, meant to be read by human beings. They even call these HTML documents! How could anyone think it’s code?

Well, I say it is, because it instructs your web browser to do five things in sequence:

  1. Display “Here is some “;
  2. switch to bold text;
  3. display “bold text”;
  4. switch to regular text;
  5. display ” to work with.”.

Does that look like programming to you yet? Maybe it’s not cryptic enough. Let’s see how the same effect could be accomplished with an older language called Troff, that they used in the mainframe era:

Here is some
.B
bold text
.R
for your enjoyment.

There you go. The exact sequence of instructions I listed above, made explicit — a big no-no nowadays, when we like to pretend computers are easy. But even if you just select the text and click “Bold” in your favorite editor, deep down you’re expressing the same thing — a little computer program.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #57

by on Feb.15, 2015, under Miscellaneous, News

I shouldn’t have continued this newsletter past New Year. Once again all I have for you is a couple of links, and not even a progress report, having failed to keep working on my game. At least I learned a new thing or two, but my enthusiasm truly is gone and it’s time to admit it.

So here’s a resolution: no matter what happens, this newsletter ends with issue #75, right before No Time To Play’s fifth anniversary. There’s a good chance I won’t have the money to renew the domain anyway, in which case it’s all moot. Sorry about that.

But for now, this week’s topics are game accessibility and artificial intelligence — two things I care about despite not being very skilled in providing either.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #52

by on Jan.14, 2015, under Miscellaneous, Opinion

Hello, everyone! This week we have postmortems of two important gamedev events that happened this autumn. Having participated in one of them, and being tied by nostalgia to the other, I found the parallels especially interesting. I’m talking of course about the Procedural Generation Jam and the Interactive Fiction Competition, and I’ll get back to both of them in a moment.

But first, a personal anecdote. This weekend, I spent half a day with a particular group of old friends — a rare enough event. As it happens, we had a PS4 at the place where we met, with a healthy library of several dozen games. And because someone briefly dropped by with their 7-year-old boy, it was a no-brainer to try and find a game or two in there for him.

(continue reading…)

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