No Time To Play

Opinion

Weekly Links #105

by on Jan.31, 2016, under Case study, News, Opinion

Hello, everyone. I had yet another week of writing and editing, with more editing and art coming, not to mention other things. So yeah, still not much attention span to spare here. But the news are no less worth it.

The big one this week was that a computer had beaten a world-class GO champion. Which is incredibly meaningful, because it’s not the kind of problem you can solve with more processing power (unlike the time when Deep Blue defeated Kasparov at chess). You have to build genuine intelligence into your code — and somebody did. It’s part of the same trend as self-driving cars; funny how fast AI has advanced once we gave up on trying to blithely imitate people, and just treated it like another tool in the box.

Anyway, in unrelated news, it turns out that procedural generation of text predates computers by centuries. Which makes perfect sense, because the concept of computation has been around for much longer than the idea of an universal computer, and indeed doesn’t depend on it. In fact, there is a staggering variety of natural processes that can perform computation — one of them, DNA self-duplication, gave birth to us. That people thought of it (in a very meta way it turns out) so long ago is a lesson worth learning.

In the way of actual game development, one of my favorite people in gaming interviews the creators of 80 Days, and while it’s not exactly new information, the way it’s put together makes it fresh again, so give it a read. Last but not least, another story that made waves this week: in a lengthy blog post, an indie game developer explains why they had to fire most of the crew after a successful game launch. And you know, I can understand just fine why someone would make the kind of mistakes described in the article, having seen very similar stories play out before (from the perspective of an employee who had to be laid out). But I wish people would figure out already that:

  • ambition is bad;
  • you shouldn’t put all your eggs in a single basket;
  • ambition is bad;
  • Steam is not your friend;
  • ambition is bad.

No, seriously. I’m sick and tired of hearing how you’d supposedly never have started anything without ambition. I seem to start — and finish — a whole lot of different things, and while none of them has reached epic size or widespread success yet, I have a lot more to show for my efforts right now than my friends who rushed to build a dream castle before they had a solid foundation, and it all crumbled to rubble one day.

Until next week, consider the virtues of patient work.

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Actually, players do want sequels

by on Dec.20, 2015, under Opinion

You know, as of late it’s become almost trite to criticize the gaming industry’s lack of creativity as they churn out sequel after sequel. So it was refreshing to see Shamus Young, in his column at The Escapist, tackle the problem from a novel angle. Namely, that sequels ruin the sense of wonder players have upon exploring a new and surprising setting. In his own words:

This works about as well as opening a present, and then re-wrapping it and opening it again. The thrill of anticipation is gone, and the fact that everyone expects you to still be surprised is actually kind of annoying.

This is a good point, especially as it has nothing to do with the quality of said sequels — as he points out, they’re often good games. It’s just that they’re too same-y, not even bothering to visit new corners of the same setting. And as a writer, I can only sympathize with him.

But there’s a big issue with the entire argument: it’s not publishers who want more of the same. It’s players — as evidenced by the way they keep buying each new sequel with the same amount of excitement as last time. Seriously, there are even people who buy essentially the same FIFA game year after year. Don’t you think they know?

It’s not just players either. If it was publishers pressuring studios to meet market demand, you’d expect at least indie developers to make novel games out of their own desire for expressing artistic freedom. So what kinds of games are the most popular on the indie market?

Platformers, puzzle platformers and metroidvanias. Unless it’s some variation on one of the Zelda games…

Look, people like familiarity. They like it so much, even when using fantasy to escape the monotony of day-to-day life they still go for the same fantasies they already know inside and out. That’s why they’d rather go see the 7th Star Wars movie than some new, unproven title. Or why they’ll go to see yet another Star Trek movie after the reboot already disappointed them twice. Oh, they’ll occasionally give a chance to a new franchise, like Halo or Mass Effect… then they’ll consume every little bit of related media: dozens of novels, countless fanfics, you name it.

And don’t even get me started about continuity. You just try writing a story that takes liberties with established events or setting rules. Look at all the fan efforts to determine a “canon” chronology for the aforementioned Zelda franchise, that likely wasn’t meant to have one. (In the end it was revealed to have a trident-shaped timeline. Fun!) Or the amount of energy spent trying to divine what’s really going on in Five Nights at Freddy’s — a game that wasn’t initially supposed to make much sense by itself, let alone be part of a series.

Last but not least, sometimes you really do have one more story to tell about the same characters. Why make it about someone new that readers must learn to care about all over again?

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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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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.

(continue reading…)

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The Bad and Good of Python

by on May.14, 2015, under Opinion

I’ve been learning and using Python quite extensively for the past few years, and every time I mention that to someone they go, “ugh! that language with the indentation-based syntax”. And I’m like, really? That in my book is a quality of the language. Seriously, don’t you indent your code meticulously anyway? Python simply spares you from also having to bother with curly braces, or extra keywords.

But the fact that people complain about that mostly tells me they haven’t used Python enough to discover some of its real downsides. It has plenty, and they’re becoming quite familiar to me as of late. So let me give you some good reasons to hate Python, before I explain why I favor it over other programming languages anyway.

(continue reading…)

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Object Oriented Stupidity

by on Apr.09, 2015, under Off-topic, Opinion

Allow me to get philosophical for a moment.

It occurs to me that a tomato isn’t a tomato because Zeus has decreed so. We only call it a tomato because it has a particular combination of properties. Its name comes from its properties, not the other way around. So object-oriented programming has it exactly backwards…

Then again, this is the same brain bug that causes lawmakers to ban tactical knives when kitchen knives are just as dangerous, and in fact any object with a sharp edge can cut, while any object with a sharp tip can stab, regardless of what we call it or what it was built for. Think an ice pick.

On a related note, it occurs to me that a car doesn’t drive, while a triangle doesn’t draw. So writing car.drive() and triangle.draw() is just nonsensical. Sure, nowadays a car can drive itself, but it’s still a transitive verb.

I sometimes make fun of Haskell, but it may well be the only programming language with a sane object system…

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Paradigms of Programming

by on Apr.02, 2015, under Opinion

It occurs to me that Inform 7 was so successful because it redefined interactive fiction authoring as writing prose, while Twine’s impact was due to redefining CYOA authoring as constructing a graph. Both were revolutionary — paradigm shifts in the truest sense of the word — because they allowed authors to practice their craft in the language of the craft itself. Where by language I don’t mean the specific symbols you work with, but more generally the system of communication you employ to describe whatever is on your mind at any one time.

The world of programming at large would do well to learn from these success stories. Because while Inform 7 radically changed the way people can describe games to a computer and each other, Haskell for example merely shifted the blame.

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Weekly Links #58

by on Feb.23, 2015, under Gamedev, News, Opinion

All right, so, the bad news is my mood swings continue. The good news is, I was able to do enough work on my game again to show you a new screenshot. And all on a Sunday afternoon, too!

tomb-of-the-snake-20150222

Okay, so the cave levels look uglier than I remember. Either I broke the old code while recovering and porting it, or else it was a case of rose-tinted glasses. But I learned a lot about procedural generation in recent years, so it’s just a matter of patience. The code needs significant clean-up anyway.

As for the news this week, we only have two again: the most overused words in game titles, and an interview with Jeff Vogel.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Link #55

by on Feb.02, 2015, under Gamedev, News, Opinion, Review

You know, it’s odd. Over the past year and a half, I lost my interest in games completely, yet here I am, not just continuing to write about games, but also making one again. There are three reasons for that:

  1. It’s an idea that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for too long, and I’d like to get it out, not unlike the story I wrote last autumn.
  2. For various reasons, I can’t write these days, and spare time is too precious to waste.
  3. I’m less burnt out on programming than usual for some reason.

So yeah. It’s too early for a screenshot, but it’s going to be a roguelike for the Linux console, written in Python/ncurses (for reasons I’ll explain in the future). And that’s a skill that can prove useful for much more than just games.

Now, on to this week’s actual links.
(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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