No Time To Play

Off-topic

Make software for people, not machines

by on Feb.23, 2017, under Off-topic, Opinion

This is somewhat off-topic here, pertaining as it does to software in general, not just games; though in my defense, the article that prompted it, called How Technocratic Hyper-Rationalism Has Birthed Right-Wing Extremism, does turn out to be about games in the end. But games are software, and software development has been going through a massive crisis lately. Two, actually: one of burgeoning complexity, and one of relevance. And this ties into a bigger trend — pointed out by the aforementioned article — of people focusing more and more on the shiny toys while forgetting the who, the what and the why.

I ranted against techno-utopianism before: the childish belief that more shiny toys will somehow cure all the world’s ills by their mere presence, when it’s not the toys you have, but how you use them. (Look at the hubbub surrounding clean energy and self-driving cars when the Paris Metro has been automated and nuclear-powered for decades — and yes, nuclear is cleaner than coal.) Or that computer algorithms are somehow objective and unbiased, a notion recent case studies have thoroughly dismantled, but one technocrats love, for obvious reasons: it justifies the status quo in which they rule the world.

In the software industry, this attitude took the form of successive technologies being touted as panacea. In turn, we were sold structured programming, logic and functional programming, OOP, UML, XML. More recently it was frameworks, and now everything is package managers and deployment systems.

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Weekly Links #158

by on Feb.19, 2017, under Case study, News, Off-topic

Hello, everyone! It’s yet another good week, despite my interests still lying well outside gaming for now. Let’s start with a couple of game retrospectives from Hardcore Gaming 101, first the long-lost and recently unearthed Warcraft Adventures, then of a much newer title: Tim Schafer’s big comeback Broken Age. Which, if anything, illustrated both the potential and the danger crowdfunding holds even for a veteran game designer with countless fans. And still in the way of game retrospectives, Emily Short’s latest RPS column is about games that involve dressing up and going to a party, preferably with a good dose of swashbuckling. Much like her own creation Pytho’s Mask, that’s still among my all-time favorites.

In more technical news, we have another RPS article, this time on tools for RPG writing (think branching conversations and quests), and via Juhanna Leinonen, the announcement of a tool for translating interactive fiction. Not much to say there, except that tools are as hard to make as they are increasingly needed for good games, so it’s worth paying attention.

I’ll end with a story that’s more about art, culture and people than games, but still relevant in my opinion: Vanishing Point, or How the Light Grid Defined 1980s Futurism. On this note I bid you a good week. Until next time.

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A first look at the Go programming language

by on Jan.12, 2017, under Off-topic

It’s not easy to keep up with new developments in IT, especially when you work long hours, or for that matter when you no longer learn quite as easily as you used to when you were twenty. So far I was lucky to pick my technologies well: expertise in Python, HTML5 and even Java (for now) has only grown more marketable in recent years. It still felt like falling into a rut as of late, and moreover I kept stumbling across projects written in the Go programming language. After some hesitation, I decided to take the plunge, and it turns out I can still learn a new programming language in a couple of days. Go me!

And what a language it is.

Go is mostly targeted at server-side software, which makes it less relevant for games unless you’re doing multiplayer. Then again, it’s just as good for command-line apps (think tools), and there’s a healthy choice of libraries for text-based user interfaces that don’t require separate DLLs.

But what’s it like, exactly?

  • It compiles to native code like C++;
  • has garbage collection like Java;
  • the package system resembles Python modules;
  • the object system resembles the one in Haskell;
  • control structure syntax is like in Perl 6.

I’d say Go is an odd duck of a language, except it’s more of a platypus. Good to see programming language designers having some guts, after decades of slavishly imitating C.

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Weekly Links #128

by on Jul.10, 2016, under Gamedev, News, Off-topic

Hello, everyone. This week I must confess to a couple of broken promises. I didn’t get around to uploading a fix for the bug found in the online version of Glittering Light. And last time I forgot to announce my decision to abandon the graphical port of Tomb of the Snake. Sorry, but an already overengineered game was only getting even more so, FreeBasic’s supposed portability turned out to be illusory where it mattered (though SDL carries part of the blame), and the community less than friendly. But I learned a few things; my next projects will be tools, not games. Hopefully you’ll find them useful.

In other news, early this week Konstantinos Dimopoulos alerted me about Procedural Content Generation in Games, an academic textbook on the topic that’s nevertheless an easy enough read overall. It seems the project was launched a few years ago, but it’s only now ready for publication. Grab it while it’s still free!

Also in the way of long reads, Hardcore Gaming 101 is running a six-part feature on the Fallout series. And for the impatient, my friend Chris Meadows compares two online games of Catan. Last but not least, a piece of news not related to games, but just too cool to pass up: the source code for the Apollo 11 mission is now on GitHub! Amusingly, lots of people have been submitting pull requests, some jocular, others not so much.

But that’s about it for the past week. See you around.

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More about diversity and representation

by on Feb.21, 2016, under Off-topic, Opinion

I wrote about representation in games before. It’s a complex problem that will take many small steps to solve, all of them partial and faulty. But we need to take those steps already, and that’s why I was happy to see one of my favorite bloggers tackle the problem again. In his article You Are the Hero, David Chart explains why representation is hard, and why you can’t always satisfy everyone.

And you know, Mr. Chart makes a couple of good points there. Like the fact that just having a “brown” character isn’t enough. Roma Gypsies may not feel represented by a Pakistani for example. But! I’ll argue that even having Roma characters isn’t specific enough — there are multiple sub-groups to consider, and going too specific may well have the opposite effect. Moreover, all too often the issue is that people from marginalized groups find nobody at all to identify with in a story: all the remotely important characters are rich straight white men. (Who solve all their problems through violence — that’s another good point Mr. Chart makes. It’s horribly unrealistic: most people hate violence, and for good reason, since in the real world it just begets more violence, and solves absolutely nothing.)

That said, I’m not at all convinced it’s so hard to write stories that appeal to a large number of social categories. I’ve read AND written books that feature rich and poor, old and young, women, people of color, sexual minorities and disabled people at the same time, with sufficient prominence, and it never once felt forced. It’s a lot easier than you think. Minorities… simply exist and are among us. You don’t need any special reason to feature them.
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Tools for the sake of tools

by on Oct.08, 2015, under Off-topic

Dear software developers, I like package managers and version control too, but this is getting ridiculous. An increasing amount of software is only published online as a git repo, so I must have git installed and know the first thing about using it even though my regular VCS is Bazaar. I also need npm installed even though I don’t use node.js, because plenty of Javascript libraries don’t seem to be available any other way anymore (you can’t just download them from GitHub and expect them to work). Python stuff, too, is starting to become pip-exclusive. Good thing I don’t code in Perl and Ruby; I would also be required to use cpan and gem on top of everything else.

All too often, what I want is a small library to help with a specific task, but instead you’re offering me giant frameworks caught in a mesh of dependencies, that would dwarf my application and make it extremely difficult to distribute. I want to write apps for anyone to just download and run, but instead you’re forcing me to think about ecosystems. I need to use my computer, and you’re talking about leveraging the synergy of the cloud. I ask for a hammer, you offer a hydraulic press factory.

Get a grip on reality, because you’re basically floating away like hot air balloons by this point. And talk to ordinary people for a change, because in your enthusiasm for technology you have forgotten it has to meet real needs, or else we’re just going to look elsewhere.

Yes, I’m a software developer myself, and I love my work. But all too often as of late I’m tempted to throw it all away and take up farming instead.

Wake up, while you still have something to wake up to.

 

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Weekly Links #89

by on Sep.27, 2015, under News, Off-topic

Despite my best efforts, some weeks are really empty. For what it’s worth, I finished another toy: TB-40, a programmable calculator running Tiny Basic. It took twice as long to code as the other one, and sure enough it’s also twice the size. Not so much fun to use on mobile devices as I’d hoped, but oh well, it’s a learning experience.

More generally, I’ve been using GitHub a lot more as of late. It’s a very nice service even if you don’t use Git (I don’t), so in an effort to take better advantage of it I uploaded a few more of my older projects. Among them RogueBot, not that there’s much to it. But perhaps someone will find the code useful — in particular, the game-window.js microframework, a product of 5 years’ worth of practice making HTML5 games.

But enough about me. In a recently unearthed interview with Shigeru Miyamoto from 1998, the legendary game developer cautions against chasing realism in graphics. And while that strategy didn’t always work so well for Nintendo, you might remember how World of Warcraft took the world by storm in 2004 with blocky, cartoonish artwork that worked even on low-end computers, while everyone else was busy trying to hide the sharp corners with annoying bloom effects.

And because I already filled up a page of text, here’s a bit of humor to cap it off: How being a cat is like being in a videogame. Have a chuckle… and a good next week.

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Weekly Links #82

by on Aug.09, 2015, under News, Off-topic

I have a dearth of links again, after last week’s plenty. I guess my current project is taking its toll. Turns out, doing the writing and the layout and the artwork for a tabletop RPG, however modest, uses up a lot of energy. But oh well, won’t be long now.

While we’re talking tabletop, I recently started following rpg.net again, and this week their long-running history of RPGs touched on the issue of women in the industry. This may not seem too relevant to computer games until you encounter a number of famous names that shaped the fantasy genre as we know it today. And with franchises crossing media boundaries so easily nowadays, that matters more than it seems.

Wait, did I mention women in gaming? Here’s the story of a game nobody would touch because it has a female protagonist. (Spoiler: Square Enix took it in the end.) Do you suppose we still have a bit of a problem in the industry?

Last but not least, Shamus Young explains in his column why romance is kind of bland in modern RPGs. And he has a point. Just like with story in general, you can’t have much depth and emotional impact when your protagonist is a blank slate, and the story must get to a satisfying end no matter what the player chooses.

Or can it? Tabletop RPG players often manage it spectacularly well. Maybe videogame designers ought to look more outside of their narrow bubble. A lot more.

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Weekly Links #74: minority representation edition

by on Jun.14, 2015, under News, Off-topic

Funny thing: just last week I mentioned the issue of racism in games. It just happens that one of the games accused of being “too white” is recent mega-success Witcher 3. Well, a few days ago Nightwrath pointed me at this article by a man from Poland, who essentially points out that there’s more to representation than skin color. To wit:

I get it — there are no AAA games with all Brown or Black characters. I wish there were; I would eagerly play them too. But to Moosa I say: please understand that until The Witcher, there were no AAA games about Poles either. Although we’re a smaller and tighter group than you, we finally got our game. I hope that you finally get yours too. But you have no right to begrudge us ours.

And you know, maybe I’m speaking from a position of white privilege, but I simply can’t find a fault in this argument. It’s as if gay people played a game with an all-black cast and complained that all the characters are straight.

Look, all minorities need much better representation in media. But forcing the issue will just lead to bad games no-one will want to play, thus sabotaging the whole effort.

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Weekly Links #70: writing for RPGs edition

by on May.17, 2015, under Off-topic, Opinion

It’s always ups and downs I guess. Just a week again I was complaining about health issues. Now I’m well again, as for Glittering Light, it now has sound as well as something that can pass for a title screen. The plan was to also have built-in credits, a scoreboard and all the goodies, but that would just take too much effort at this point, especially with the lack of attention the game “enjoys”. It pains me, because I know I can make a game look professional — I did it with Attack Vector, and it wasn’t that hard. But that was back then.

Otherwise, this is another week with few news, so I’m going to fill the space with commentary instead. Specifically, about RPGs, writing, combat and how it all applies to other kinds of games.

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