Hello, everyone. You might like to know that my new book Make Your Own Programming Language is now also on itch.io. This version isn’t as pretty, but it’s more printable, with fewer pages and no syntax highlighting. The content is otherwise identical, and you get the same file formats.
In actual news, Emily Short’s RPS column for this week is a presentation of Texture, the hot new authoring system for interactive fiction. And you know… it bothers me to no end that people sing the praise of Texture’s input system after bashing two-word parsers for decades. Because that’s what Texture did: it reinvented the two-word parser. Which of course is perfectly fine, but can we please acknowledge and address the issue?
On a rather different note, via Vintage Is the New Old here’s a story about someone remastering a ZX Spectrum game after a quarter century — a very instructive, if overly technical, look at history. More approachable is an article about the masters of Commodore 64 games, but the moral is the same: we’re truly blessed nowadays. Why did the hardware makers from decades ago have to make their systems so damn quirky? In retrospect, the quirkiness appears to go way beyond what was needed to squeeze more features out of that limited hardware…
I’ll end with Hardware Gaming 101’s brief overview of Thomas Was Alone, the strange indie platformer from a few years ago that proved there was a huge market for games not driven by technology, and opened the way for more recent successes in the same vein — a most welcome trend if you ask me.
Until next time, consider the lessons of the past.
Hello, everyone. For once, I only have my own bad mood to blame for the shortness of this newsletter. As promised three weeks ago, my latest book, Make Your Own Programming Language, is live on Leanpub. It’s only of interest to programmers, especially those with a taste for retrocomputing and retrogaming. But you know my opinion: piecing blocks together in GameMaker is still programming, whether you realize it or not. And game design works best when you have at least a trace of process, as opposed to banging things together until they stick. So give it a try.
In unrelated news, all everyone’s been talking about lately is No Man’s Sky. That’s also the case of Michael Cook, who brings it up as an example of the language we use to discuss procedural generation. And you know… I couldn’t help but notice the fatigue of many reviewers when they mention how many millions of billions of planets there are in that game, and how they’re never going to see the vast majority of them. Which fortunately doesn’t really matter…
I guess the creators of No Man’s Sky forgot that the original 8-bit Elite was originally planned to have 282 trillion galaxies, or 2 to the power of 48 (presumably another byte was going to be used for the planets in each galaxy). And never mind that it would have made the artificiality obvious, especially on a home computer from the 1980s. But visiting 2000 star systems is a plausible goal for the determined player — there are just enough of them to make for a huge playground, yet few enough that you can actually remember some of your visits afterwards… and care. While enough content to fill millions of galaxies (a sizable chunk of the observable universe) just sort of blends into an amorphous mass. A statistic, if you will.
As an aside, let me underscore again than an 8-bit computer from the early 1980s, with just 64 kilobytes of RAM, could easily have handled a procedural universe on a scale comparable with the one in No Man’s Sky (if a lot less detailed). What exactly are we doing with a million times more memory and computing speed?
Hello, everyone. With all my attention these days going into efforts to self-publish a couple of new books, I ended up not just with few links, but also nothing much to say about them at all. Still, let me see if I can find a few words.*rifles through pockets*
For one thing, An Accidental Man’s retrospective of landmark computer games has reached Prince of Persia, and the article has much to say about storytelling via gameplay, something most game designers don’t even try to achieve, instead running scared right back to cutscenes. (Or worse, spin-offs in other media entirely.) Maybe it is because, as I wrote on other occasions, most creators don’t even like games, and keep trying to turn them into movies or books…
In unrelated news, Gamasutra is running a feature on the state of game development in Africa. Which is, sadly, pretty much what I was expecting. But hey, it’s a big continent, and people are trying. It’s the rest of us, elsewhere in the world, who need to pay attention.
— Mike Atherton (@MikeAtherton) February 5, 2016
Last but not least, a couple of friends alerted me to the tweet above, to the effect that UK publisher Usborne now offers free downloads of their old Basic programming books from the 1980s. I haven’t looked at them yet, but such books often have more than historical and nostalgic value: there was a lot of ingenuity involved in designing compelling games small enough to be typed in without excessive effort, not to mention able to run reasonably well on 8-bit machines despite being written in Basic. We’re truly spoiled nowadays… and we don’t seem to know what to do with our privilege.
And that’s really all I have this week. See you around.
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.
Hardly any links of interest this week so I’ll take the opportunity to toot my own horn. After various delays, the first No Time To Play book is finally out! As mentioned on the book’s page, it’s available for sale on itch.io and on Scribd, in a variety of formats and for only a couple of dollars. If you enjoy it, a signal boost would be much appreciated. Thank you.
In other news, Emily Short covers the recently concluded 2015 edition of the International Conference on Computational Creativity, and I couldn’t help but notice a couple of highlights: first, sortingh.at, a kind of interactive wizard (heh heh) to help people get started with game development, using the most suitable tools and resources for their project. If I had to nitpick, it’s too bad none of the recommendations were able to surprise me. That speaks volumes about the state of game-making tools today (a topic much more relevant to the new No Time To Play tumblr), but the service itself is fine. And because I mentioned my new tumblr, a topic even closer to its spirit is casual creators — tools that enable people to manifest their instinctive creativity quickly and easily, so that they can take joy in what they do even if the results are limited. Having used a meme generator myself to express a particular idea when I needed to, this sounds like an important concept, one that warrants more attention.
But that will take some thinking. See you around.