No Time To Play

Tag: game design

Weekly Links #175

by on Jun.18, 2017, under News

Oh, wow, I got reviewed! Well, not me specifically. The awesome Jupiter Hadley made a YouTube feature on the ZX Spectrum Basic Jam, and Lost in the Jungle is at the top of the list. Watch part one below:

Dear game designers, pay attention because we have much to learn from this video and its second part. Slowness, poor graphics, little to no sound… none of that is a problem as long as the controls are responsive and the goals clear. Speaking of which: check out The Royal Game of Ur, a game that sadly didn’t make it on time for the event, but easily meets any standard of commercial quality for the ZX Spectrum.

From retrograming to interactive fiction, we have an article on the structure of Choose Your Own Adventure books — as in, the eponymous series — and another on what Twine can reveal about your game structure, whether you’re using it as intended or more imaginatively. The latter matches my experiences, too, in good and bad ways alike.

Last but not least, shortly on the heels of my article on encounter-based game design, Alexis Kennedy proposes resource narratives as a new term for games like Fallen London. The world of game design turns out to be a small one again.

That’s it for this week, but don’t worry, I have plenty in the works, especially now that things have calmed down a bit. See you!

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Encounter-based game design

by on Jun.15, 2017, under Case study, Gamedev

Perhaps the most infamous feature of roleplaying games, computer and tabletop alike, is the random encounter. Dreaded by players, panned by reviewers, it’s nevertheless been a constant presence in the genre, ever since its original appearance in Dungeons & Dragons. It made sense in the latter, which was always at least partly a resource management game, but few modern RPGs preserve that aspect (except for roguelikes). And in a game that tries to tell a story, random encounters are just an annoyance, regularly getting in the way for no good reason.

Which is a shame, because encounters have been the basic unit of storytelling since ancient times. What else is a fairy tale than a string of encounters the protagonist runs into along a linear road?

(And the protagonist’s journey in a fairy tale is linear. Plotted on a map, it may well meander all over, but it must still be followed strictly from end to end. Straying from the path always leads into trouble, and turning back is the worst sort of failure.)

Having recognized this basic truth, about a year ago (as of June 2017) I started thinking how to take advantage of it in game design, because unless open-ended exploration is part of a game’s appeal, the map can turn into a dead weight. Players can easily tell when they’re being presented with false choice. Making good maps is hard; can you afford to waste time and effort only to have the results rejected for being pointless?

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #172

by on May.28, 2017, under News

Coincidences are often funny. Just a week ago, I was musing over on Tumblr about the importance of geography in games, and here come Jimmy Maher and Emily Short pointing it out in their articles about game adaptations of Tolkien and high-agency narrative systems, respectively. The latter, by the way, is about interactive fiction structured in ways that are neither the room-and-compass model of parser-based text adventures, nor the node-and-choice model of gamebooks or Twines. Something to keep in mind.

In retrogaming news, according to Le Monde the videogame conservation movement has reached France (article in French), while across the pond The Atlantic notices the Internet Archive’s collection of emulated MacIntosh software. And still in the way of nostalgia, Polygon writes about more famous game designers who started out with BASIC, either on a school’s mainframe or else (like I did) on an 8-bit home computer.

(Not so retro is Engadget‘s article about writing for Fallen London. which meshes well with Emily Short’s own.)

Less fun was learning that the modern mobile ports of cult classic Lords of Midnight will soon be in limbo for lack of a licensed engine. And sadly it’s something I wrote about before, including a story very much like this one (scroll down for the link). Dear game developers: either buy a perpetual license to your engine, including source code (otherwise it’s useless), or else stick to open source. Failing that, roll your own. The initial convenience of off-the-shelf code is illusory anyway.

Last but not least, I just learned that game designer Tanya X. Short has launched a pledge against crunch that’s all the more important as influential voices in the industry are actually defending this abominable practice. Well, I signed, along with over 500 others so far, and hopefully it will make a difference down the road.

Until next time, take good care of yourselves.

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Weekly Links #171

by on May.21, 2017, under News

If I had a dollar from everyone who assured me that this time virtual reality will really take off, unlike the previous several occasions, because “now the technology is better”, I’d… probably have a few more games in my library, to be honest. Not the VR kind, though. According to Le Monde (article in French), all those tech companies that jumped enthusiastically on the bandwagon just a year or two ago are now quietly pulling out, despite decent hardware sales. Turns out, adoption isn’t use, as the stats from Steam seem to indicate. And while the article tries to shift the blame onto the nausea many people experience from those goggles, I still say the real reason is being a solution in search of a problem. Wish reality had proven me wrong; friends who play e.g. Elite: Dangerous in VR certainly seem to love it.

In other news, we have an article on RuneScape’s enduring appeal, another on how fighting games have evolved with the market (via Gamasutra), and also from Gamasutra a write-up on the Japanese approach to story in games. Note how much it talks about theme: it’s the same advice I give aspiring writers: figure out what your story is all about. This is so important it can’t be stressed enough. I disagree about building the world first, but then games have somewhat different requirements.

On a different note, it was enlightening to read about the challenges of running an abuse-free server for children with autism, and that it’s getting easier to make games for blind people. For a different kinds of accessibility, Mark Johnson writes about the basics of game literacy. And you know… while games can be obscure (Nightwrath just bought me a copy of Eador: Genesis and I can’t make heads or tails of it), I must give this one to the commenter who pointed out that gauges have been everywhere in the real world ever since the thermometer. The issue isn’t teaching new players to recognize a gauge for what it is, but to notice it in the first place. Situational awareness is a learned skill, and people who haven’t played games before, or at least driven a car, generally aren’t trained to direct their attention all around.

Last but not least, from a roguelike developer we have some thoughts on slow application development. I’ve written before about games that took over a decade to make, some hobbyist, others more professional, not to mention the still ongoing Ultima Ratio Regum (since I just mentioned Mark Johnson). My readers can probably think of more mainstream examples.

But for now, see you next week. Have fun in the mean time.

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Weekly Links #170

by on May.14, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. I have good news and bad news. The good news is, I’ve been working on a game based on my recently revived 2.5D engine. The bad news is, I’m running out of steam and might switch tracks for a while. So for now, have some screenshots:

Yeah, yeah, I went right back to first-person after explaining how it doesn’t really work, but the visible pathways should help. As for the limited draw distance, I already had to redo the backgrounds once as it is, and anything further away looks bad in the first place. The theme just requires first person here, it can’t be helped. As for the map generator, you might recognize the one from RogueBot, somewhat refined. It feels kind of cramped in a game with tile-by-tile motion, but enemies and limited moves should fix that. Whenever I get to it, that is.

On the plus side, hey, I got to practice my Inkscape some more, and people seem to like the look. Also, refactoring code can be very fun, not to mention good practice. So yay.

In the way of news, we have an interview with Sid Meyer, then a history of hit points, that turns out to be quite complex and unexpected. And while Konstantinos Dimopoulos kicks offa series on medieval urbanism that’s equally useful to fantasy writers and game developers, Bruno Dias shares some thoughts about replacing the interactive fiction parser, that complement my own from a while ago. Clearly these ideas — which have been floating around for a while — are coalescing into something solid. It was about time, too.

Last but not least, via Vintage Is the New Old comes the news that next month there will be a Sinclair Basic game jam, which is especially tempting to someone like me. I even know what game I’d like to try and make. But whether I’ll actually take part is another story entirely.

Until next week, stay motivated.

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Weekly Links #168: diversity edition

by on May.02, 2017, under News

Sometimes outages have the worst timing. As of this writing, I’ve had no Internet for over 24 hours, and it could be another day or more until it’s fixed, due to May Day falling on a Monday. But the show must go on.

I’ll start with an article that’s not about games at all — in fact it’s about diversity in superhero comics. But the following quote applies all too well to games, and in fact any other medium:

“Diversity” as a concept is a useful tool, but it can’t be the goal or the final product. It assumes whiteness (and/or maleness and/or heteronormitivity [sic]) as the default and everything else as a deviation from that. This is why diversity initiatives so often end up being quantitative—focused on the number of “diverse” individuals—rather than qualitative, committed to positive representation and active inclusion in all levels of creation and production. This kind of in-name-only diversity thinking is why Mayonnaise McWhitefeminism got cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi while actual Japanese person Rila Fukushima was used as nothing but a face mold for robot geishas.

On a related note, the analysis of visual novels I mentioned two weeks ago continues with a look at VN protagonists, and the conclusion is inescapable: (Note: EVN is short for English-language Visual Novel, as in original as opposed to a translation from Japanese.)

Despite VNs being portrayed as escapist literature with generic self-insert protagonists, our analysis seems to suggest the reverse. Fans far prefer protagonists with strong identities, and EVNs are leading the way in exploring stories with more diverse characters. The videogame industry could learn something from our little medium.

To top it all, Jimmy Maher writing about the history of Wing Commander points out the way a cheesy action game from 1990 did better than many modern titles at diversity and inclusion, despite its reliance on ethnic stereotypes, simply because it tried in earnest.

Moving on, straight from the horse’s mouth we get a look at Blizzard’s past with the making of Starcraft, and at their future with an interview about how World of Warcraft might evolve. In unrelated news, Warren Spector talks to Gamasutra about doing your own thing as a game designer (and asking bigger questions).

And speaking of game design, as the only piece of news this week that’s actually on topic we have Emily Short with a collection of links about spatial storytelling, that as usual apply to much more than just interactive fiction.

Enjoy, and see you next time.

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Weekly Links #167

by on Apr.23, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. This week’s big news is of course that the original Starcraft is now free, occasioned by the launch of a remastered edition (via Sébastien Delahaye‏). It’s just the last in a line of classic game revivals this spring, and while rediscovering the classics is good, I wonder what it says about the present of videogames.

Speaking of revivals, I spent a week or so bringing back — for the second time — my turn-based sprite scaling engine, and at long last it seems to be working out. Details to follow soon; for now, here’s a screenshot.

Next, two articles for game designers: a brief one on how to choose content for a roguelike, and the other (via Jay Barnson) on a better way to design dungeons. Short version: just as wordlbuilding in general should serve the purpose of the story you’re trying to tell, a dungeon should be all about its inhabitants. Past or present, I would add.

I’ll end with two write-ups about higher-level issues: one about that point when camp in a game goes from useful shortcut to offensive stereotype — and what that says about our understanding of history — the other (via Taleslinger) about the lack of cultural self-awareness in Duke Nukem 3D, with a diversion into the surreal, imaginative level design enabled by a pseudo-3D engine, and the way it contrasts with the hyper-realism of newer games.

And that’s about it for today, because people have been resting after Easter. See you!

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Weekly Links #164

by on Apr.02, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. It’s one of those weeks with lots of links, so I’m going to try and keep comments short in compensation. Not that I usually succeed.

For one thing, No Time To Play now has a proper presence on GitHub and on Imzy. There’s no set goal for either yet, but hey, it says “we exist”. Good thing can happen from casting a wider net.

On to gaming news. Tides of Numenera barely hit the market, and word surfaced that its spiritual parent Planescape: Torment is also getting an enhanced edition — officially, that is. (Which is bound to be better than fan-driven restoration efforts (in fact it likely incorporates some fan patches), and it’s a signal that game companies are starting to see the value in videogame preservation.) And another classic getting the same treatment is Starcraft. Still in the way of nostalgic comebacks, here’s an in-depth look at Thimbleweed Park.

But it’s not just players who get nostalgic for the old days. Game designers might enjoy reading the design document for Asteroids — a single hand-written page, as it turns out — while for interactive fiction authors there a long interview with the creator of 8-bit authoring system The Quill (both via K.D.).

Why is it important? Because we can learn from the past. We can also learn from tabletop games, as I did, and more designers are learning to as of late. Learning what? The importance of trains in games, for instance (via Michael Cook) — or rather, the importance of suggesting a wider world outside the software-imposed boundaries. A principle just as important in games as in fiction.

But now if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to help a friend get started roleplaying on a MUCK. See you next week.

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Weekly Links #156

by on Feb.05, 2017, under News, Opinion

Hello, everyone! While still working insanely fast on a project only tangentially related to games (and getting overly tired in the process), this week I somehow managed to gather a nice collection of links on the side.

In the way of legendary game designers, there are good news and bad news. The bad news is, Pac-Man’s creator just died. No comment, except that he’ll be remembered. On the other hand, Richard Gariott isn’t only alive and well, but he was just interviewed by Polygon over his new autobiography. And I dunno about the book, but the write-up makes for pretty good reading.

For the game designers among us, Jay Barnson has a few thoughts on character generation in RPGs. And, well, show me someone who made the acquaintance of D&D and didn’t immediately try to roll a character or ten, even before they had any way to actually play them. Sure, organic development has its place — I went with that approach in my own roguelikes — but the fix for unfamiliar options isn’t removing them, or for that matter forcing the player to read a huge-ass manual upfront. Rather, make sure that:

  1. The process itself is fun and lets players express themselves, and
  2. no single choice is wrong once the game starts.

As for we writers, of games or anything else, Alexis Kennedy just published an excellent article about worldbuilding. And it’s a lesson I had to learn myself the hard way, after my first few attempts at imaginary universes fell flat. In his words:

This does not mean that invented worlds don’t need to feel consistent. Let me say that again, without the double negative, because it’s important: invented worlds should feel consistent! But an invented world can be consistent and detailed and very very dull.

Which is exactly what happens when you build your world first, i.e. before the story. Which is very much putting the cart before the horses. Because you see, what he doesn’t say is that for an audience to care they need something to empathize with. And people don’t empathize with rocks. Give me some characters first; make me care about them, and then I’ll care about their world by extension, even if their world is a tepid medieval village.

But I could write a lot more about that. Let’s finish by pointing out the recent release of Twine 2.1. Which is a bigger upgrade than it sounds, so be sure to check the forums for issues ahead of time.

Have a very nice week.

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Weekly Links #154

by on Jan.22, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone! Once again, I’ve been busy coding stuff that’s not related to games, so there won’t be many links today. Let’s start with the fact that as of last Sunday No Time To Play is on Game Jolt as well. Don’t expect much activity from that direction, but it’s one more way to connect with us if you’re so inclined.

In other news, my friends have been at it again, Kris with some thoughts about setting in videogames, and Sera with an article about who media representation is for. Needless to say, I recommend both, for different reasons.

Then there’s this article I’ve been pointed at, about the educational value of practicing game design, even if your game never ends up being published, or even played by many. Couldn’t agree more, even though I noticed that more often with programming language design, rather than games. Either way, nothing can beat hands-on experience when it comes to learning. All the theory in the world is useless until you see for yourself where it came from.

But that’s enough preachiness for a week. Until next time, roll up your sleeves and make something.

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