No Time To Play

Tag: game design

Weekly Links #122

by on May.29, 2016, under Gamedev, News

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.

 

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Weekly Links #120

by on May.15, 2016, under Case study, Gamedev, News

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.

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Weekly Links #119

by on May.08, 2016, under Gamedev, News

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:

But that’s really just a nitpick. Until next time, have fun.

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Verb-oriented game design

by on May.05, 2016, under Gamedev

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…)

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Weekly Links #118

by on May.01, 2016, under Gamedev, News

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.

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Weekly Links #99

by on Dec.06, 2015, under News

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.

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Quo vadis, game developer?

by on Dec.25, 2014, under Opinion

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,

“ow”.

Fair enough. I owe you an explanation, Emily. Pun not intended at all.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #50

by on Dec.22, 2014, under News, Opinion

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.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #45

by on Nov.16, 2014, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. After submitting VoxelDesc to the Procedural Generation Jam, I figured it would be nice to have an entry developed during the actual jam for a change, which is sort of the point, you know? Especially after getting a ton of visits and not one comment for what I thought was a fairly original concept. As it happens, inspiration struck, and in less than a week I came up with this:

It’s supposed to become a twin-stick shooter, but for now I focused on the procedural parts, namely the level generation and graphics engine (and I had to figure out fast how to bang out a semi-plausible city map, however abstracted — pro tip: BSP trees don’t work here). I’ll hopefully have something to shoot at by the end of the jam, now that the deadline has been quietly extended by a day.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #34

by on Sep.02, 2014, under News, Opinion

This is another short week. The biggest news, of course, is that the overgrown boys of gaming — you know, those who take pride in the size of their virtual, um, guns; those the big publishers still target exclusively — have crossed every imaginable limit. It’s not the first time Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency fame has taken flak for pointing out the frightening amount of misogyny in gaming. But this time one of the drooling baboons has ventured into the criminal realm, driving Ms. Sarkeesian to leave home and seek police protection from direct and credible threats.

Just to make it clear: I like games with big guns too. And I’m not above seeking a bit of eye candy every time I can. Maybe that makes me a little sexist; maybe all men are, just a little. But what this guy did? It’s not just literally against the law. It casts a dark shadow over both gaming and real men — you know, those who show a minimum of respect towards the other half of the world’s population.

If you can’t do that, then get the fuck out. Just… out. There’s no place in civilized society for violent bigots. And societal standards are already way too low as it is.

(continue reading…)

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