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Weekly Links #182

by on Aug.06, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. Having been away for a couple of days, I was left with few links for the week. It’s for the best, then, to announce a surprise project:

Yep, it’s a desktop port of Escape From Cnossus, an exercise in figuring out just how much to update now that all those 8-bit limitations are entirely gone. Not going to say much more right now; hopefully next week.

In other news, it’s game jam season (not that it ever ends anymore). Ludum Dare 39 took place last weekend, and while I didn’t follow, this rogue-lite for the Pico-8 is surprisingly good. But one a year is plenty enough for me.

Last but not least, Emily Short reviews Chris Crawford’s latest book — always an interesting discussion — and Konstatinos Dimopoulos continues his series of articles on medieval cities, with many lessons to take home. But the gist is: keep in mind that cities are alive, born out of the needs and dreams and day-to-day existence of people who use them for a home, temporary refuge or simply a pit stop. Treat them as the result of ongoing social processes at work, not as static artifacts born whole, and you’ll do fine.

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Weekly Links #181

by on Jul.30, 2017, under Case study, News

Hello, everyone! The XYZZY Awards announced their winners early this week, for once without a ceremony. Oh well. In related news, Choice of Games interviewed Christopher Huang about his new commercial game for the platform, and Jason Dyer writes about yet another edition of Adventure.

Speaking of events, itch.io marks the Ludum Dare taking place this weekend with an article on development tools, which also expands on their treatment of fantasy consoles from a few days ago.

In the way of game design discussion, we have a treatment of distant backdrops in adventure games. Not much to comment there, unlike with this retrospective of SimCopter and Streets of SimCity. Which has a lot to say about the importance of making games with a soul, but the bit that hit me the hardest was — again — about graphics:

Empirically, the 3D graphics industry has homogenized since 1996 and stranded SimCopter outside the pale of rendering convention. Fewer development houses write their own renderers. Unreal, CryEngine, and Unity all offer similar features based on the same academic research. SIGGRAPH attendance has declined since New Orleans ‘96. These factors combine to give SimCopter a one-of-a-kind graphical style.

Which, you know, does much to explain why so many modern games blend into an amorphous mass the moment you take a couple of steps back from the monitor. Never mind the industry’s terminal risk aversion and lack of imagination. Dear indies, don’t make the same mistake. Emulating the looks of classic gaming systems is fun, but can only take you so far. Dare to innovate.

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Weekly Links #180

by on Jul.23, 2017, under News, Opinion

Hello, everyone. The big news this week is that after months of work the French interactive fiction community has a new home on the web, a modern website with a game database, tutorials and social networking features.

In the way of discussions about game design, we have an explanation of player-hating features of Dungeons&Dragons (via hyratel). Briefly put, it was originally a resource management game with — it turns out — some extra-hard play modes, that people later carried over without questioning the initial purpose. Moving to computer games, we have some words about user interface in adventure games, that echoes last year’s talk of narrow parsers. Last but not least, the inimitable Jonas Kyratzes talks about the texture of games, specifically how there’s a place for highly polished titles as well as rough gems.

Next we have a couple of interviews, one with Steve Cook about his 1000 Creators project, the other with David Braben, creator of Elite: Dangerous (via Gamasutra) — a disappointing, but remarkably insightful exchange.

Before concluding, I’d like to say a few words on game engine snobbery — a much-discussed topic in recent days. On the one hand, I have a good friend who won’t make her dream game in RPG Maker, otherwise an ideal match in every respect, for fear it won’t be taken seriously, and that’s a damn shame. I also routinely witness arguments on this subject in the visual novel community, and they’re as pointless as you might imagine. But this kind of snobbery can go the other way as well. Just look at the royal disdain with which the interactive fiction community has always treated not just homebrew games, but also less-known authoring tools that may not be quite as big and capable as Inform or TADS but still contain innovative features. Maybe that will change now that a homebrew game not just won the IFComp with high acclaim, but also single-handedly revolutionized IF interfaces.

But we’ve had enough negativity for one week, so I leave you in the company of videogame-inspired music.

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Weekly Links #179

by on Jul.16, 2017, under Case study, News

Hello, everyone. Only half a dozen links today, and relatively disjoint, too. Let’s go in reverse chronological order.

For one thing, Gamasutra reposts an old postmortem of KOTOR, with some interesting lessons to take home. On a related note, if about a newer game, Hardcore Gaming 101 runs an in-depth article on Tides of Numenera, covering what works and what doesn’t in this much awaited title. Without going into details, the former’s problems are still relevant, while the latter’s are sadly unsurprising.

But often the difficulties in this business aren’t technological but human in nature, and it was refreshing to hear about Unity’s new program to help developers from the Middle East make it to conferences in Europe. Not much to say about this either, except it’s about time to make the global discourse be about the whole world again.

To go off-topic for a moment, Peregrine Wade writes about why short movies matter, It’s a very good point, and once again, gaming is ahead of the film industry (not to mention the book industry) in recognizing the value of shorter works that don’t outstay their welcome. And interactive fiction was there first.

Speaking of which, Jason Dyer discusses moments that can only work in a parser-based game, in the context of an obscure old adventure, while on the intfiction.org forums the prolific reviewer known as Mathbrush started an overview of every year in the IFComp, that’s already at 2002 as of this writing.

But I’m already at the end. See you next week.

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Weekly Links #178: retrogaming edition

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

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another week with lots of links about gaming old-style. But I’ll start with something different: my friend fluffy is at it again, this time with a kind of super-Arkanoid focused on music and physics. Watch the latest video below:

Next, we have news for fans of adventure gaming. For one thing, as of this week Double Fine Productions has a presence on itch.io, with remastered editions of many classics. How appropriate then that PCGamer would run a new interview with Tim Schafer about the making of Full Throttle. Then there’s an article about the music of Sierra games, and I know all too well how music can bring a game to life. One more reason for me to value free culture.

On a related note, nominations for the XYZZY Awards are in, and you can now vote on round two. Then we have some more musings on CYOA books and the importance of bad endings in making choices meaningful. And while I agree in principle, most bad endings in CYOA books (or for that matter most text adventures) are 1) barely hinted if at all, and 2) completely unsatisfying non-conclusions that just cut the story short without giving anything like closure. And that’s not even counting the ability to lose on a single bad roll of the dice, through no fault of your own. So much for meaningful choice.

Last but not least, Vintage is the New Old covers and Eurogamer write-up about the reasons people still make NES games. And if you’ve been paying attention lately, you know it’s not just nostalgia.

But I’m over quota again. See you next week!

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Weekly Links #177

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

Hello, everyone. After its relative success in the recent game jam, I felt compelled to make an improved Lost in the Jungle (also on itch.io and on Game Jolt) in HTML5, that improves pretty much every aspect of the game. Many thanks to the friends who tested it and provided feedback! In related news, as of this week the book of the blog is two years old, and still half off for the month of July.

For the game developers out there, while Konstantinos Dimopoulos describes the labyrinthine realities of the medieval city, Mark Johnson muses about burnout and doing too much. Having suffered from that repeatedly, I can only agree.

It’s also been another good week for retrogaming, with a story on the renewed popularity of classic games and another on how the Magnetic Scrolls games were recovered from ancient backup tapes (via Vintage is the New Old and Gamasutra, respectively). Last but not least, while on the topic of text adventures, the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation just announced taking over the Interactive Fiction Archive.

Gee, who would have thought that just as we can still appreciate 80-years-old silent movies in grainy black and white, so can we still play and enjoy games from the 8-bit era, so it’s worth preserving them for the public?

Good news for the future, then. Enjoy the week.

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Weekly Links #176

by on Jun.25, 2017, under News, Off-topic

Hello, everyone, and welcome to a rather disjoint newsletter. No sooner does a game jam end, that another comes along. The traditional Open Game Art game jam has moved to itch.io, and is set to begin in less than a week. Also on itch.io you can now find Jonathan Cauldwell’s Arcade Game Designer, a popular tool in the retrogaming community, whose members keep pushing the limits of 8-bit machines. And while we’re partying like it’s 1987, here’s the story of Minitel, France’s original take on a public computer network.

Moving on, fans of interactive fiction might want to know that the XYZZY Awards are open for voting, while people who design adventure games (but not only) would do well to read about the urbanism of Thimbleweed Park. In more technical news, someone apparently made it possible to run Pygame games in the browser (via the Lemmasoft forums). I haven’t tried it, but the article also documents a game developer’s journey, so it’s worth a read for that alone.

Last but not least, it’s good to hear that Machinarium is getting a remaster. Which is awesome, because I bought this excellent adventure game years ago but could never run it on any of my boxes. Ironically, I should have better chances with a game built on DirectX than the original Flash format.

Which of course says a lot about the sorry state of multiplatform graphics APIs in 2017. Oh well, see you next week.

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Weekly Links #175

by on Jun.18, 2017, under News

Oh, wow, I got reviewed! Well, not me specifically. The awesome Jupiter Hadley made a YouTube feature on the ZX Spectrum Basic Jam, and Lost in the Jungle is at the top of the list. Watch part one below:

Dear game designers, pay attention because we have much to learn from this video and its second part. Slowness, poor graphics, little to no sound… none of that is a problem as long as the controls are responsive and the goals clear. Speaking of which: check out The Royal Game of Ur, a game that sadly didn’t make it on time for the event, but easily meets any standard of commercial quality for the ZX Spectrum.

From retrograming to interactive fiction, we have an article on the structure of Choose Your Own Adventure books — as in, the eponymous series — and another on what Twine can reveal about your game structure, whether you’re using it as intended or more imaginatively. The latter matches my experiences, too, in good and bad ways alike.

Last but not least, shortly on the heels of my article on encounter-based game design, Alexis Kennedy proposes resource narratives as a new term for games like Fallen London. The world of game design turns out to be a small one again.

That’s it for this week, but don’t worry, I have plenty in the works, especially now that things have calmed down a bit. See you!

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Weekly Links #174: public announcement edition

by on Jun.11, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, dear readers. Despite the doubts I was expressing last time, not only I got another entry into the soon-to-end game jam, but also made a game design breakthrough on the same occasion, as detailed on Tumblr. Exciting times ahead!

Speaking of last time, I forgot to announce that for two months, June and July, the book of the blog is half-off to mark its second anniversary. In a similar vein, RogueBot is now free — I should probably mirror the desktop edition here — and another price cut is coming.

I’ll conclude early today with a couple of retrograming news. While Jimmy Maher just posted the first article in a new series on Soviet computing, I very belatedly discovered a modern magazine dedicated to the ZX Spectrum, that’s both free and high-quality. Issue #17 just came out, so don’t let the backlog grow too long!

For now, however, I have a couple of older projects to revive, and a new one to massively expand. See you around.

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Weekly Links #173

by on Jun.04, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone! The ZX Spectrum BASIC game jam that I announced three weeks ago started on itch.io on Thursday. As my own entry was ready much earlier than expected (and there’s a blog post already lined up), getting another one in is very tempting. But deciding what to make that would work well in slow, line-number Basic yet still be compelling isn’t so easy. Stay tuned.

In unrelated news, open source strategy game FreeCiv has had a HTML5 client for a while. But now they’ve been working on a WebGL-based version (via the Dragonfly BSD Digest). And you know what? Never mind all the problems they’ve been running into, that simply wouldn’t exist in 2D. Never mind that they’re doing everything with shaders — presumably because “it’s easier” — so a lot of players stuck with on-board graphics adapters won’t be able to play it. Notice how this new, “improved” version is a muddled mess compared to the cartoony, pixelated art of the past. Like modern 3D almost always is.

If this is progress, I want a Nintendo 64.

Moving on to the game design department, from the IGN we learn why the world needs more trash games, while itch.io points out what every developer can learn from short games. More specific is Bruno Dias’ search for an ideal quality-based narrative system, that complements Emily Short’s from last week. I’ve been forming my own ideas about it, but that’s a story for another time.

Until next week, embrace imperfection.

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