Tag: game design
Is it a book? Is it a piece of software? It is a game? The second edition of Make Your Own Programming Language, that I finished writing today, has a little of all three. Most importantly, it tries to recapture the fun of making the computer follow your instructions, that forgotten quality of programming that used to lure so many people decades ago. It will soon be out to beta-readers, and then I’ll let you know.
In other news, Rock, Paper, Shotgun is running a series of articles on the future of procedural generation, specifically about spinning lore for computer role-playing games. Which would be pretty interesting, except for most roguelikes that would be overkill, while in more conventional CRPGs handcrafted characters, stories and settings are the whole point. Do games that aim to have emerging narratives even need that much detail, especially if it’s ultimately fluff?
Going forward, via Jay Barnson, here’s a Gamasutra article about Chrono Trigger’s Design Secrets, that manages to be useful even though I never played the game. And Jimmy Maher’s history of computer story games has reached the demise of Infocom; check out the quote from Marc Blank, who was stating who knows how long ago what myself and others have been blogging about all spring:
If all of a sudden you can ask any question, but there are really only three questions that are important to the story, you’re either going to spend all this time coming up with answers that don’t mean anything or you’re going to have a lot of “I don’t know that,” which is frustrating. I always suspected it was a dead end. The nice thing about the command-oriented game is that you can come up with a pretty complete vocabulary and a pretty complete set of responses. As soon as it becomes more open-ended — if I can say, “I’m hungry” or “I like blue rubber balls” — how do you respond to that?
To end on a nostalgic note, here’s a blog post about abandoned arcades, and the slow death game cabinets are sentenced to when left exposed to the elements. Thankfully, there is interest in rescuing these old machines as of late, so for the most part arcades are a bit of history we can expect to survive.
Until next time, don’t let the past be forgotten.
Hello, everyone. After a week lost to false starts and self-doubt, I’m ready to announce that my roguelike Tomb of the Snake will be getting a graphical port for Windows and Linux, more than a year after launch. The “graphical” part is central, because it will make the game appealing to more people, and also it will keep things fresh for me. Not that I’m looking forward to designing an inventory screen from scratch, but it beats being bored.
In other news, this week Shamus Young wrote about the mistakes Doom didn’t make (that would be the new one, not the 1993 original), and the quest designers of Witcher 3 wrote about their approach. But more interesting to me is an article Nightwrath sent about a new trend in retro game aesthetics. Remember two years ago when a blogger was complaining about the supposed ugliness of early 3D games? Turns out, people actually like that look enough to revive it on a wide scale these days, introducing a whole new generation of gamers to the pleasures of using their imagination.
Once again, it turns out style matters. Do you have a favorite game aesthetic?
Hello, everyone! After bringing the desktop port of RogueBot to a playable state, I went back and redid the original online edition as well, to make it look better and bring it more in line with the new version. And while the results aren’t perfect, it’s a good time to take a break and give another project some love.
In the mean time, we have an interview with two Greek game developers about adventure games, and a feature about the founders of Id Software now that they moved on. In the way of hands-on gamedev articles, you can read some musings on making failure fun, and some more on the subtle differences between user interfaces. And while the latter uses examples from interactive fiction, the lessons it teachers are widely applicable.
(Since I mentioned interactive fiction, it’s worth nothing that the XYZZY Awards ceremony was last night, and Birdland, a Twine game, basically took all. Haven’t played it yet, but it’s at the top of my wishlist.)
And from the same Emily Short, who is active as always, stay tuned for the upcoming Bring Out Your Dead game jam, an event where you can show off your works in progress that never went anywhere, but you think are worth seeing anyway. Amusingly enough, another very similar jam is running right now, and I already entered my visual novel intro Before the Faire, that I made two years ago but couldn’t finish, despite a good start.
Last but not least, lately I’ve been circling a nice little gamedev platform called sdlBasic, that I hope to use in an upcoming project. While lurking on their forums, I found a link to this list of art asset resources, unknown to me until now. One link in particular grabbed my attention: game-icons.net, a sizable repository of monochrome vector icons with a variety of possible uses.
But I have to look more closely into it first. Have a great week.
Another week, another delay. If you were waiting for my latest text adventure, I’m afraid it’s still in beta-testing, for reasons outside of my control, and I’d rather not lose patience and release an untested game. Maybe if the delays continue. In related news, I started porting RogueBot to the desktop, something I should have done long ago. Got plans for another port as well, to be announced when it’s certain enough.
In other news, Vice magazine has an article about the importance of Doom, and Gamasutra is running a piece on action RPGs. The former makes familiar arguments, but the latter came up with a new one (for me at least): namely, that computer RPGs letting one player control an entire party misses the entire point of tabletop games, namely to let each player identify with their one character. And why bother with a party at all, since you lose the social interaction aspect in the first place? Suddenly, I’m seeing roguelikes and games like Morrowind in a different light…
(That said, I just have to point out that the original Diablo totally failed to keep the novelty level high, its generated dungeons lacking both variety and especially color.)
But this week’s big story is Eurogamer’s feature on Lionhead, occasioned by the legendary studio’s closure at the end of April. (Warning, long read.) And you know what? This may be Peter Molyneux and Fable we’re talking about, but the story of their ultimate failure is drinking game material. Take a sip every time:
- unchecked ambition;
- mistaking chaos for creativity;
- months-long death marches;
- brodude culture;
- massive overextension;
- poor quality control;
- flights of fancy;
- greed-driven financial decisions;
- tone-deaf marketing;
- executive meddling.
We’ve all heard this exact same story so many times by now, studios and publishers alike really have no excuse anymore. And still they refuse to learn. So be it then. But consider how many amazing games — games out of reach for a small indie team — simply never get made because of it.
You know the saying, in science no experiment is a failed experiment. So I’ll chalk up my little adventure in CYOA writing to a learning experience. You see, I had this story idea rattling around in my head for a while now, but it was too weak to work in static fiction. But I had this notion that games can get away with much weaker stories than books, and meant to try Squiffy anyway. I also had this plan of writing the story in a linear fashion at first, use Squiffy’s “continue links” to split it up at key moments, and only then start worrying about choices, flags, alternate text and what not.
How naive of me. Even before I started writing in earnest, I was already thinking in terms of passages and branches. How do people manage to use Twine and still come up with a linear story? A theme was even emerging where the game would offer daring/caution options early on, and that would open and close some alternate paths later, based on which score was higher.
Trouble is, the story didn’t work. At all. After three days of barely making any progress, I had to decide it couldn’t pull its own weight in any way, shape or form, and interactivity didn’t help either. So much for that. Oh well, I’ll know better next time.
In related news, as of this writing none of my beta-testers have given any signs of life for a week, so City of Dead Leaves will be a little late. Better than releasing a completely untested version out of impatience, I hope you’ll agree.
And now, for the links:
- From Gamasutra, we get a brief history of the fireball in fantasy games. It’s fascinating how a single spell can have such a past.
- Elsewhere, the Witcher 3 quest designers talk balancing story with gameplay and declaring war on fetch quests. Nightwrath points out this has been amply discussed before, but this particular article is new.
- Last but not least, there’s Pico Racer, a little blast from the past — a pseudo-3D racing game for the Pico-8 fantasy console. The author even has an extensive blog post detailing how it was made. Apart from the game proper, I’m impressed by how well Pico-8 itself runs on my old computer, where even my carefully coded HTML5 games sometimes stumble. Too bad the engine doesn’t seem to support actual game controllers.
But that’s really just a nitpick. Until next time, have fun.
Born of technical limitations, parser-based interactive fiction has proven to have enduring qualities. Fans of the medium invoke the natural feeling that you’re simply having a conversation with the computer, as well as the impression of freedom — that for a while you can suspend your disbelief and pretend you can type anything at all at the prompt. Myself, I like how you can easily see what you did a moment ago, so there’s less to remember, and just as easily repeat a recent command, with or without changes, no matter how complex it is.
The downside to that, of course, is that the illusion of complete freedom shatters all too easily, and that presumes you were able to enter “the zone” in the first place. Which just isn’t for everyone. Commands have to be learned, you can’t just stumble upon them like in a graphical game, and despite many attempts at tutorials, both interactive and less so, beginners still struggle. Perhaps because tutorials can teach you the form, but not so much the mindset — the method behind the madness, that you need in order to intuit new commands by yourself. The latter is something you must figure out alone. And sooner or later, you will have to.
Because, you see, not only does interactive fiction partly rely on discovery — on making some possible actions non-obvious — but there are way too many commands to teach them all outright. If I’m not mistaken, top-tier authoring systems each provide about one hundred default verbs, of which three quarters will be completely irrelevant to any particular story. But you still have them at your fingertips, and unless the author takes great pains to steer you away from all that fluff (an undue burden, considering how many other details they need to take care of), you’ll be left to navigate a maze of fake options in search of whatever nuggets of meaningful interaction are sprinkled throughout.
It’s one thing to gently weave a consensual illusion, and another to actively mislead the player, then shrug and smile when they call out your lie. (continue reading…)
Hello, everyone! It’s Easter for me today, and a beautiful spring day to boot, so I’ve been taking it easy. Doesn’t hurt that City of Dead Leaves is almost ready for the first round of testing, and I have another article coming soon too (already posted on Tumblr, if you’re in a hurry). And while on the topic of interactive fiction, here’s Emily Short interviewing someone from the world of literary hypertext. A somewhat dry, academic discussion as you may imagine, but still good for expanding horizons.
In more relatable news, my friend Kris, whose game I plugged a couple of weeks ago, is back with a good write-up about game design issues in WildStar. He makes excellent points, too. Developers of MMOs in particular, but of other game genres as well, feel obliged to create sprawling worlds, then find it very difficult to fill them with meaningful content. While the toy villages in Runes of Magic feel colorful and bubbling with life. As for the ridiculous situation where every single player in a MMO is “the chosen one”, what can you expect? We’ve barely figured out how to tell good interactive stories to audiences of one, or at most a small party. And not everyone has gotten the memo on that, either.
(Meanwhile, EVE Online continues to generate headlines in the real world every couple of years or so. Go figure.)
And for the worldbuilders out there, if you ever had trouble giving characters from different parts of the setting distinctive names and speech patterns, here’s a highly useful checklist. That’s definitely a weak point of mine, though I’m trying, so it’s most welcome.
Last but not least, just Friday came the news that indie game host and review site Jay Is Games will no longer update. And while I wasn’t a regular reader (or even an infrequent reader), the name means something in the gaming world. So long, then, and thanks for all the fish.
For what it’s worth, No Time To Play keeps going. See you next week.
I’m almost done with the newsletters for the year, but things are somehow just heating up. Let’s start with a couple of highly unusual games: Chris Meadows noticed this guy who made an XCOM game in Excel — an impressive effort by any standard. And from the recent additions feed at itch.io, here’s a murder mystery game in the form of a PC virtual machine (you need VirtualBox to run it). Hardly unprecedented in the analog world, but still a challenge to common notions of what can be a videogame. And while we’re talking unusual games, take a look at this article about Soviet arcades. Which was news for me as well — in Romania we had imported second-hand machines instead, making for quite a different landscape.
In actual game development news, Jay Barnson makes an interesting point: not only computer hardware has plateaued, we couldn’t make good use of more computing power in games even if we had it: the law of diminishing returns is even more unforgiving than Moore’s Law. Maybe this time people are ready to listen.
Last but not least, a couple of game design articles. Via @gnomeslair, the easiest game design exercise is a brief foray into the simplest type of board game there is. Having beta-tested just such a game (to say nothing of the many I played as a kid), I can attest it’s not as straightforward as it seems. And Shamus Young continues presenting his work in progress with a discussion of how to teach the game to your players. It just happens that the issue of too many enemy types and no single path through the game is familiar to me from roguelikes. And the solution is… not keeping every new enemy type until the end. You introduce them, let them become the main enemy for a few areas (levels or whatever), then you phase them out. And if the players encounter bits of your game in the “wrong” order, big deal, they’ll see at most a handful of different enemy types at once, a few of which will be familiar from before. Not enough to be overwhelmed.
Roguelikes achieve that by having templates of theme and difficulty for each level — a good idea even if you’re designing your entire map by hand. Divide et impera? Call it what you want. And have fun until next week.
I was going to work on a game these days, both because change is good (I just finished writing a story) and in order to get an old promise out of the way. But sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to. After a quote from my latest newsletter made the rounds on Twitter, I made the mistake of sharing a link to the whole thing. Given the controversial nature of what I wrote, guess it was a lucky thing that only Emily Short answered me, and her entire reaction to it was, I quote,
Fair enough. I owe you an explanation, Emily. Pun not intended at all.
It had to happen sooner or later. This week I could barely scrounge up a couple of links, and I have little to write about the most important of them. To wit, the already famous Twine has reached version 2.0 — a huge leap forward as it now runs in any modern web browser, making it available on new platforms such as Linux and Android, and more casually accessible to just about everyone.
And since we’re talking Twine, remember when the default interface for interactive fiction wasn’t hyperlinks, but a command parser? Turns out, experiments are ongoing, as Emily Short points out on her blog. But while experiments are good as a general rule, the examples in the article fail to get me excited, for reasons I’ll explain below.
For now, let’s talk a little about card games.