Hello, everyone. Today was supposed to be a brief newsletter, but things didn’t work out that way, so bear with me. Let’s start with a couple of videogames-in-the-mainstream news. First there’s The Guardian running a feature on walking simulators, and while it’s good to see the genre getting recognition, it’s equally dismaying to see how quickly people forget history. A lush, exotic island that the player can explore at their leisure, putting together a story from scattered pieces, and giving it their own interpretation? A meditative experience? Environment as narration? Where have we heard all that before?
Oh wait. The description perfectly fits Myst, that took the world by storm nearly a quarter of a century ago, and went on to sell six million copies (not counting the rest of the franchise) before being relegated to a cult classic status. But sure, let’s rewrite history and pretend walking simulators descend from first-person shooters instead. Never mind all the puzzle-less interactive fiction that showed the way for graphical adventure games even as the latter were dying a shameful death — and nobody paid attention; I don’t expect most game journalists to be aware of those. Myst, however, is a different matter. Learn your history, folks.
(Admittedly, it was the Bioshock games — a FPS franchise — that first took a hint from Myst and brought that particular storytelling technique back into the limelight. But, tellingly, the article fails to mention Bioshock, too.)
In unrelated news, Techdirt covers the story of a game developer that sued Steam customers over negative reviews (I’ll spare you another rant), only to have their games promptly dumped from the same Steam. Not out of any love for free speech, of course. Funny, though, how treating people well in fact goes hand in hand with good business, rather than the two being at odds. Too bad the Valves of the world are so few and far between.
In the game design department, Emily Short tackles the problem many developers have recently discovered to their dismay: namely, that procedural generation is inherently repetitive. And of course she’s right: making sure your level generator can create a variety of situations for players to deal with is a good idea. But even that is missing the point; nature, after all, can be repetitive too. A multi-hour train ride through certain parts of Europe will reveal an endless parade of forests, rivers, ponds, hillocks and forests again. What makes most places special isn’t some unique landscape feature, but all the time we spend there, and the memories we gather of the place.
What can players do in your game that’s actually meaningful to them?
Speaking of what players can do in games, just yesterday Konstantinos Dimopoulos spotted this pair of interviews with the creators of Mario 64, from the distant past of 1996. Note how the recurring theme is, you know a game is good when players have fun just stomping around doing random stuff. And on a similar note, Gamasutra is running a postmortem of the Sorcery games by Inkle Studios, detailing the challenges of adapting a beloved gamebook series to a digital medium.
But I already wrote way more than planned, so until next week, remember to value the past.
Hello, everyone. I failed to write more than a couple of lines on Laser Sky since Thursday, because real life, but there are plenty of links this week as well. For one thing we have a trio of classic games retrospectives: if you wanted to know what happened to Cyan after making Myst, or what it was like to work on Bioshock, or yet again what makes Call of Cthulhu special, you’ll be well-served.
In other news, my friend fluffy has a very nice write-up about what Undertale meant to them. Not much to say about that except “go read it”. Got a few more comments on this longer interview from the Don’t Die project, that touches on personal games, crunch and more. See, it starts by pointing out how people in the game industry take themselves much too seriously, and while that’s obviously true, I disagree with the provided explanation. No, it’s not mostly 15-year-olds. When are we going to accept that most gamers are pushing 40 these days? They’re pushing 40… and they’re still insecure, abusive brodudes. Of course they are. Masculinity is hollow.
Who do you think the younger gamers and developers are learning from?
And now for the I-told-you-so segment. From MIT Technology Review we learn that most people use VR not to explore 3D worlds, but to simulate watching good old 2D movies — not even the kind that pop out of the screen — on a virtual home theater setup, even while squeezed into a cramped airplane seat. Which begs the question, why not simply use those little LCDs strapped to your eyeballs to fill your field of view directly with the 2D movie you wanted to see in the first place?
Ah, but then you couldn’t brag about the size of your GPU, am I right?
(Speaking of which, it’s been a while since I last heard of a 3D movie being advertised in theaters. Looks like that, too, proved to be a short-lived fad… AGAIN. Just like last time. And yes, there was a last time. But no worries, people will make yet another futile attempt in 30-40 years or so, after mostly everyone will have forgotten the last pathetic failure.)
Last but not least, I didn’t even get around to buying a PICO-8 license, and there’s already a freeware clone in development. Such a blatant clone, in fact, it’s downright suspect. Might be worth playing with anyway. And in the game design department, here’s an article arguing for achievements in roguelike games as a way to offset the frustration of undeserved permadeath. An idea to keep in mind for my next attempt at one, whenever it happens.
In the mean time, have a nice week, and thanks for reading.
Hello, everyone. I’ll start by highlighting a couple of rants. Over at The Guardian, Michael Cook comments on public reactions to AlphaGO’s recent victory, and why our view of artificial intelligence may be skewed. In related news, Newsweek reports on a talk at the recently concluded Game Developer’s Conference about Muslim stereotypes in videogames. I wrote about it just two months ago, so I won’t insist. And on his blog, Jay Barnson comments on the old contract, recently unearthed, that nearly killed the Ultima series. Last but not least, an article over at Gamasutra explains in detail what makes award-winning game Her Story work so well.
If I were to draw any conclusion from this week’s news, it would be that mentalities are everything. But that apparently remains too hard to grasp by people who make a fetish of high technology. And one day this willful blindness will get us all in really hot water. Have a nice week.
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?
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.
Hello, everyone. I could divide this week’s links along several lines, so it’s hard to decide. Let’s start with the latest link I acquired: via @twinethreads comes the news that the word hypertext is 50 years old, and Ted Nelson’s interview answers are fascinating, especially about interactivity — my favorite topic as of late. And since I mentioned Twine, here’s an inteview with Chris Klimas, who talks briefly about the platform and the community around it.
Still in the famous names department, over at Boing Boing the one and only Anna Anthropy talks about game-making tools. See my own comments on the other blog. And because interactivity and books seem to be the key words this week, a shout-out to Chris Meadows of Teleread writing about electronic literature. Elsewhere, one of my favorite webcomic authors reminds people that imagination is the best graphics engine. If only modern games would leave anything to imagination…
Now for the business side of gaming. At The Escapist, Shamus Young explains how Spore could have been better, and his indictment of modern business stings. Along the same lines, The Daily Dot presents a survey according to which adult women are now the largest demographic in gaming. Guess who doesn’t seem to have caught on yet. And on a slightly different note, PC Gamer has a story on how GOG rescued 13 Forgotten Realms games from licensing hell. Good thing they’re persistent, eh?
Last but not least, I spent most of this week working on Bast, an experimental implementation of the programming language proposed here and here. Not that I have a need for it right now, but maybe you’ll find it inspirational. Thanks for reading, and see you next week.
I was going to write a big rant about programming languages for this week, but I tried and it’s just not coming together. Suffice to say, people keep inventing new ones to fix what they perceive as wrong with the old ones. And invariably, the newcomers turn out to miss the point entirely. These days everyone is gushing over Go and Rust. Bwahahaha! Remember Vala? I didn’t think so. Or D, for that matter? Hint: the idea of “fixing C++” wasn’t born this decade. Heck, Java was born from the same misguided good intention. And we all know how that worked out.
Pro tip: technologies that endure are those that build on the past and work with it. Because if you keep tearing everything down and starting anew, you’re never going to make any real progress.
Hello, everyone! For the past week, I’ve been playing a little Risk variant called Compact Conflict. It’s made in HTML5 and clocks in at under 13K minified! You can easily lose because of a little bad luck at the start, but it’s so fast and compelling I can’t be angry with it. Most remarkable is the AI (with three difficulty levels!) crammed into that tight space. I have much to learn…
In the way of game development talk, Gamasutra is running a postmortem titled Creating Epic Scale Games on an Indie Budget. It’s a topic we care about here at No Time To Play, and the article gives some interesting answers. I can’t help but notice that the game in question is a 2D work in the vein of Star Control, rather than the glorious 3D-fests chock-full of FX most people think of when they hear “epic”. Do you suppose that has anything to do with the subject matter? You know my opinion.
Three years ago I wrote an article about Final Fantasy XIV, a game that should have changed the MMORPG scene. And it somehow did, but not in a way that anyone could have foreseen. The initial release of the game got some pretty bad reviews, both from the gamers and the critics, being considered a failure. It was rejected even by most of the Final Fantasy fans, which I guess it was a sign of a bigger problem here.
About the Final Fantasy franchise
The Final Fantasy franchise is an interesting case when it comes to MMORPGs, because fans of the single player games (FF I-X, FF XII-XIII) do not exactly overlap with the fans of the online ones (FF XI). Of course, back in 2003 most of the people who started to play FF XI were probably fans of the series, but I think in time that game attracted a more “MMO hardcore” audience, which kept growing and which usually would do some activities more specific to games of the genre (Everquest), like raiding. There is a large FF fanbase population who never even touched the MMO or they tried it and never liked it, or simply just moved out along after a few weeks/months. Some of them also probably never liked the idea of paying a monthly subscription anyway.
If you’re at all interested in gaming, you must have heard by now of the SimCity debacle. Whether it was a publicity stunt, incompetence or simple disrespect for the players (after all, always-on DRM had been already reported to cause problems in beta, never mind prior experience with other titles “featuring” the same protection scheme), the entire story might have blown over as EA added more hardware and compensated their customers with a free game. But no… the rabbit hole is getting deeper by the day.