I wanted to play Christopher Huang’s games from the Peterkin Investigates series ever since becoming acquainted with his short stories — a delightful trio that skillfully brings classic detective fiction of the Agatha Christie persuasion into the 21st century. My interest was compounded because, you see, these games are meant for beginners, and as such rely on a restricted command set (did I mention it’s interactive fiction?) — a topic I’ve given quite a bit of thought to, earlier this year. The author was even kind enough to provide me with my own copies: playing them in a web browser is rather too slow on this elderly computer. And yet it took me a shamefully long amount of time to actually play them. But I did, at last, and so should you.
Hello, everyone. As I was saying last time, the IFComp results were announced on Monday, and this year I was intrigued by several of the games for a change. Actually playing them hasn’t been so smooth. One is Windows-only, and I can’t be bothered to install Wine. Another has illegible gray-on-black text that also overlaps in places. (Does it perhaps expect a maximized browser window?) Yet a third runs in real time and doesn’t even pause after a screenful of text. Dear game developers: accessibility matters.
But there’s a gem or two among them — see my review of Untold Riches. I also tried Scarlet Sails, but gave up when my only available option was unacceptably stupid. Thanks for reminding me that a historical pirate’s life was short, squalid and painful.
Somewhat off-topic, right-wing military sci-fi has a tarnished reputation nowadays (which has made a lot of puppies sad, but that’s another story). Still, I used to enjoy the early Honor Harrington books when I was younger, so it was nice to hear that a Honorverse tabletop RPG is coming next year. What roleplayer hasn’t dreamed of commanding vast fleets in battle while dealing with political intrigue on the side, and even the occasional duel? Not to mention that from tabletop to videogames there’s just one step. We can expect more goodies from the franchise in the coming years.
In actual game development news, the authors of a recently Kickstarted game have published their early brainstorming process, and it’s an instructive read. Note the increasingly wacky and complicated ideas, none of which makes me want to even bother starting the game. That’s what happens when you set out to make one for the sake of it. If you don’t even care about your own driving idea as an author, how are you going to finish your creation, never mind getting your audience to give a damn?
In art, you must have something to say. Doesn’t have to be profound. It just has to matter — to you, the author. And as it turns out, most ideas that matter can be readily expressed in a non-interactive format.
I’ll end with a cool use of procedural generation, for once not to create game content, but the kind of fluff that makes the player believe they’re having an impact on the virtual world. Which, as Undertale spectacularly demonstrated in recent months, is a thing players are hungry for.
Until next time, consider what you’re giving your audience.
No really, that’s the book’s title. How To Make Games, by Trent Steen, is a 29-page PDF, nicely typeset (albeit unprintable) and chock-full of illustrations. Like my own book, it aims to help people get started with making games. Unlike me, however, the author outright recommends downloading GameMaker and learning to use it. I can’t help but agree with the advice on taking off: start small, recreate the classics for practice, don’t worry about assets at first. Tired of hearing all that? Sorry. There’s a reason why all successful game developers keep saying it.
In subsequent chapters, the book goes hands-on with game design issues such as prototyping, helping players learn the game without the need for a tutorial or manual, and making small, tight designs. There’s a chapter on playtesting, and another about participating in game jams. Last but not least, there’s a bit of advice about tackling bigger projects, and the gist of it is: take care of yourself.
What bothers me about the book (apart from being the competition, har har), is that it doesn’t go more deeply into the issue of making or obtaining assets, which is a necessary and not at all easy step. Simply mentioning SFXR for making sound effects would help a lot. I also disagree with the author in one regard: do fall in love with your projects. Don’t work on a game you don’t care about. It will show.
Love your games enough to finish them. They need that kind of love.
Hello, everyone. As I’m writing these lines, No Time To Play is down, so I can only hope you’ll get to read them soon. One of my biggest finds this week has been a CRPG Directory listing an eclectic mix of mostly retro games in the genre, along with other resources such as blogs and forums. Interestingly, among them is listed Battle for Wesnoth, and I can’t even fault them considering how many RPG elements that game has. But most intriguing to me was the first entry:
The Adventure Creation Kit is a visual tool for making RPGs in the style of old Ultima games, running in DOS. And while that style of game ultimately lies outside my sphere of interest, I couldn’t resist taking a good look at ACK. Here’s what I discovered.
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:
- 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.
- For various reasons, I can’t write these days, and spare time is too precious to waste.
- 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.
You know the saying, when it rains it pours. That’s the story of this newsletter, pretty much. Most weeks I scramble to find a couple links worth writing about. Today I don’t even know where to begin.
For one thing, after long months of intense development, Jason Scott officially announced The Internet Arcade and The Software Library — two huge collections of classic arcade and 8-bit computer games, respectively, playable online right inside a web page. That’s huge; while emulators and old games are available elsewhere (see World of Spectrum for an amazing collection of resources), they’re usually focused on one platform and require some amount of expertise to get running. Whereas here we have a veritable potpourri, as easily accessible as old photographs on Flickr.
I’ll start this week’s newsletter with a signal boost. Friends of mine are working on a new RPG, a steampunk mystery, and they need some funding to make it happen. Details are scarce right now, but here’s what they have to say about it:
So, check out Hounds of Londras on Indiegogo, and spread the word. Thank you very much.
It seems appropriate that I’d have a week with few links again just as I have an announcement to make. I also have a game creation tool to review, and some ranting at the game industry, and that’s enough for now so let’s go.
The big news is that I’m returning to game development! I’ve been absent for a year, and I won’t be long most likely, but still. Here’s what I have so far:
Yep… that’s a first-person shoot’em up with voxel art — meaning the game is only rendered with voxels. I ran into difficulties right off the bat, which is why all I have now is scrolling scenery, but it’s coming along nicely. No, I won’t have a HTML5 version this time. Sorry.
As if to compensate for the slow week before Easter, the gaming world returned with a vengeance to give me the most links I had since this year started. Luckily I know how to prioritize, so here we go.
The big news, of course, is that I’ve been invited to a game in the Storium beta. It’s a new web-based platform for roleplaying games, currently running a Kickstarter to fund further development. I gave it a try at the insistence of an acquaintance who’s already in love with the idea. In all honesty, I was halfway intrigued by the Kickstarter video, which makes it look like StoryNexus and phpBB met and had a child before moving on.
I don’t care for puzzles, as for stories, suffice to say that I play text adventures (and many videogames) mainly for the joy of inhabiting a virtual world which I can explore and play around in. That’s also why I was attracted to MUDs, the text adventures’ multiplayer cousins. It’s an amazing feeling, being able to not only play with your friends in a fantasy world, but to build that world piece by piece from within even as you play.
But MUDs suffer from the same problem as text adventures, namely that nowadays most computer users have been educated to fear command lines, not to mention equate videogames with flashy graphics. Moreover, as the Web has pretty much subsumed the Internet, to the degree that many don’t realize e-mail exists outside the browser, explaining to potential players why they have to download a dedicated client can be hard. And putting a command line inside a webpage comes with its own set of issues.