You know, for a game development blog I don’t post about game design nearly often enough. This week is an exception. Let’s start with Gamasutra’s case study of good first levels — an important part of any game, if by no means the hardest. (Ultimately, the first level is also the easiest to make.) More specifically, we have an article about prefabricated sections in procedurally generated levels and another on powerful uses of color in game graphics. Plenty of things to learn from both!
Going on, Polygon is running a long-form feature about the making of Final Fantasy VII (warning: really long read!) And you know, it would be a much more interesting story if it didn’t sound exactly like most other such stories. Politics, money, technology, ambition, cockiness… stop me when you grow tired of the drinking game. Is the industry ever going to learn any better?
Last but not least, fans of interactive fiction will be happy to hear that textadventures.co.uk is saved! A new team stepped up to take over, and the transition is ongoing as of this writing. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
Speaking of which, stay creative, and stay tuned. See you!
Hello, everyone. It turns out I missed a link last week, but it’s too good to pass up. Via Roguebase we get this interview with a co-author of Rogue, and it’s a wonderfully refreshing read. And via Vintage is the new old we learn of a new retrogaming zine, that provides a lot of content for a free publication. It’s clearly aimed at a North American audience, which kind of leaves me on the outside, but YMMV.
Last but not least, there are many books out there on how to get started with game development. I even wrote one myself. Not many of them are aimed at kids, though, and this is where Anna Anthropy’s new book comes in. (Hat tip to Emily Short for the link.) Which reminds me that back in the day, all those Basic programming books were squarely aimed at children, with colorful, whimsical covers depicting friendly computers as playmates, and full of references to whatever was popular in media at the time. When did game development turn all adult and serious?
Oh wait, I know: when the kids of the 1980s grew up. And that’s us. How did we manage to so thoroughly forget that programming was supposed to be a game?
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.
Oh my. Late again and for once I have no excuse. So let’s get started.
I’m the kind of player who, when sitting down to try out a MMO, spends a lot of time choosing and customizing an avatar. Nightwrath always gets impatient, but come on. Isn’t the avatar supposed to represent me well? This is why this article about dress-up games caught my eye. Not so much the examples they give — Hero Forge is much more to my taste. But that would require going into details. Point is, dress-up isn’t just for kiddies.
Moving on. On the 30th anniversary of the NES launching in the US, we get an in-depth retrospective of the console’s development. And apropos of nothing, here’s a personal history of the text adventure, a thoughtful and informed write-up. Last but not least, it turns out White Wolf has been sold again, from one computer game publisher to another. It remains to be seen what sort of vampire games we can expect this time.
At last we get to a headline actually related to game development. Well, the concept of a complexity budget applies to all software. It just happens that games are often among the most ambitious software projects, and it tends to kill them very dead.
Don’t make that mistake. Keep it simple… son.
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.
It’s no coincidence that at times when I’m not working on games myself, I also can’t seem to find many links for the newsletter either, though my selection of sources doesn’t change. The human brain works in funny and obvious ways sometimes. And in fact I am working on a game these days, just the tabletop roleplaying kind. But that’s another story.
Anyway, this week I caught Emily Short reviewing… an autobiography. Specifically, that of Neil Patrick Harris. How come? Turns out, it’s written in CYOA form. What to call it? A serious game it ain’t. A regular game then… but it’s not fictional. All the open possibilities in new media, and we simply have no words for anything outside a very narrow category of computer-based entertainment.
In any event, the whole story prompted me to tweet this:
You know what gaming needs? Non-fiction games. Documentaries in game form. Coloring books and fine art albums alike.
— Felix (@felixplesoianu) July 8, 2015
and judging from the reactions, I may be onto something.
In other news, over at The Escapist, writes about the obstacles to porting games between PC and consoles. Tl;dr version: business, business, politics, players, marketing. Somehow, we keep finding ways to waste energy and potential…
Last but not least, there’s a new blog out there (started in January) covering the history of computer games from the author’s personal perspective. The latest post, about Battle Chess, discusses how fluff can be used well to make a game genuinely more interesting, lengthen the playing time and even influence the player’s objectives. A lesson most game developers never learned.
Until next time.
You know, this was supposed to be the newsletter’s last issue, but a lot of things happened since I made that decision. For one thing, I asked my readers to chime in with opinions, and my site promptly went down for eight days. Not exactly conducive to dialogue. Besides, when I made that decision, my interest and confidence in games were at an all-time low. In the mean time I started turning this blog into a book (coming soon!) and started a new one as well, with a different focus. To top it all, I’ve been writing new articles here as well.
So here’s the deal: the newsletter isn’t needed as much nowadays, but it is a good reason for me to keep up with the world of gaming. So I’m going to keep it going, just with a lot less commentary. That will free my Sundays to do more productive stuff, while still keeping the blog updated weekly. Stick around.
Now, on to this week’s news.
Thought I was done gathering links for this week’s newsletter when Nightwrath pointed me at this postmortem of an indie RPG that was no less than 10 years in development. And that’s funny because this week I’ve been editing old blog posts for the book, and my first big article here begins with a handful of links to stories in the same vein. It seems people never learn: yes, you have to start small, and by that I don’t mean a smaller RPG, but a simpler game.
Oh, if you do have the fortitude to keep at it for 10 years or more, results can be wonderful. But do you?
And now for other news.
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.
This will be another newsletter without any screenshots. The HTML5 port of Glittering Light is coming along, but slowly, and I have nothing to show off quite yet. So I’ll just jump into the news. Most relevant events this week happened in the world of interactive fiction, so that will be the main course. But first, a piece of news that’s as sad as it was predictable: the Ouya console is in trouble.
I called it. I totally called it, right the moment they announced the Ouya as this new thing never before attempted. Which wasn’t true: open source consoles have been around for many years now. In fact they seemed to have peaked around 2009. I even wrote an article at the time suggesting they’re the way of the future.
And they weren’t. Every single open source console was a total flop in the market. A terribly sad thing to a nerd like me. I’d love to own them all, and develop for them.
But nobody would play my games.
The reasons why aren’t simple; a write-up on this topic would take up several newsletters. But these are the facts. The GP* series, the Pandora, the Dingoo A320 were just a few famous examples. Ever heard of them?
I didn’t think so. And that’s because only a few nerds with money — a niche in a niche — ever bought any. And nerds never have a shortage of toys to play with. (Just look at the Raspberry PI.) It’s not the nerds who need catering to.
So, that’s the tl;dr version. Now let’s see about more cheerful news.