No Time To Play

Tag: graphics

Weekly Links #123

by on Jun.05, 2016, under Gamedev, News

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?

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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:, 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 #114

by on Apr.03, 2016, under News

Hello, everyone. I don’t have much patience to watch video anymore, so when something on YouTube catches my eyes these days, there’s a good reason. Via Konstantinos Dimopoulos, here’s a short documentary about the much-maligned CGA graphics the IBM PC originally launched with, and its many hidden qualities.

Speaking of retro graphics, Jay Barnson alerts his readers of the just-started Low Rez Game Jam, that challenges entrants to make a game running in just 64×64 pixels! That may seem too restrictive — less than the Game Boy — but as I pointed out in the past, creative people have been able to make do with only 16×16! What can you do with 16 times as much?

In unrelated news, the authors of 80 Days recently wrote about the decision to open source their development tool. Among various details, one thing that grabbed my eye was the idea that the story always moves forward if you don’t specify anything else. Which is not unlike how Ren’Py works, and answers one of the thorniest questions in interactive storytelling. But more of this in a future article. For now, while we’re on the topic of interactive fiction, Emily Short just posted a brief bibliography about IF history, which just so happens to include material of particular interest to regular readers of No Time To Play.

I had one more link for today, but it warrants much ampler commentary, so I’m leaving it for another write-up. Stay tuned.

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Weekly Links #108

by on Feb.21, 2016, under News

Hello, everyone. I won’t be so talkative today, having already spent my energy on the previous rant. Let’s start with Develop magazine explaining how practical models defined the original Doom. Which is pretty funny, considering how Hollywood went through a period of all CGI, all the time around the turn of the millennium, only to rediscover the value of practical FX. But I had no idea game developers would also resort to props and such in the past. Maybe that would be a better way out of the uncanny valley than even more polygons?

Then there’s Shamus Young with an overview of randomness in gamesanother issue I tackled myself in the past. In the same key, a thread on the forums discusses what card-based mechanics can do that dice can’t. Worth keeping in mind, especially as I gave serious thought to making games based on card mechanics but never got around to it.

Last but not least, it turns out someone is implementing a Civilization clone on a Commodore 64. Which is way cool, and proves once again (are you tired of hearing this already?) just how badly we’ve been underutilizing computer hardware for the past… oh, more than 30 years now. And as a post scriptum, here’s a spoilerific retrospective of Planescape: Torment by Hardcore Gaming 101.

Have a nice week, and see you next time.

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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, 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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Weekly Links #97

by on Nov.22, 2015, under News, Review

Hello, everyone. As I was saying last time, the IFComp results were announced on Monday, and this year I was intrigued by several of the games for a change. Actually playing them hasn’t been so smooth. One is Windows-only, and I can’t be bothered to install Wine. Another has illegible gray-on-black text that also overlaps in places. (Does it perhaps expect a maximized browser window?) Yet a third runs in real time and doesn’t even pause after a screenful of text. Dear game developers: accessibility matters.

But there’s a gem or two among them — see my review of Untold Riches. I also tried Scarlet Sails, but gave up when my only available option was unacceptably stupid. Thanks for reminding me that a historical pirate’s life was short, squalid and painful.

Somewhat off-topic, right-wing military sci-fi has a tarnished reputation nowadays (which has made a lot of puppies sad, but that’s another story). Still, I used to enjoy the early Honor Harrington books when I was younger, so it was nice to hear that a Honorverse tabletop RPG is coming next year. What roleplayer hasn’t dreamed of commanding vast fleets in battle while dealing with political intrigue on the side, and even the occasional duel? Not to mention that from tabletop to videogames there’s just one step. We can expect more goodies from the franchise in the coming years.

In actual game development news, the authors of a recently Kickstarted game have published their early brainstorming process, and it’s an instructive read. Note the increasingly wacky and complicated ideas, none of which makes me want to even bother starting the game. That’s what happens when you set out to make one for the sake of it. If you don’t even care about your own driving idea as an author, how are you going to finish your creation, never mind getting your audience to give a damn?

In art, you must have something to say. Doesn’t have to be profound. It just has to matter — to you, the author. And as it turns out, most ideas that matter can be readily expressed in a non-interactive format.

I’ll end with a cool use of procedural generation, for once not to create game content, but the kind of fluff that makes the player believe they’re having an impact on the virtual world. Which, as Undertale spectacularly demonstrated in recent months, is a thing players are hungry for.

Until next time, consider what you’re giving your audience.

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Weekly Links #96

by on Nov.15, 2015, under News

It’s an awkward moment to post this newsletter: the Interactive Fiction competition is set to end at midnight, and the Procedural Generation Jam two hours after that. But then, once they’re both done I’m going to need some time looking at the entries, so maybe it’s better to leave them for next week.

For now, other news. After Prince of Persia, another gaming classic has its source code recovered and made public. Atari’s Star Raiders is now on the Internet Archive, in the form of a book full of 6502 assembly code. A few volunteers have started moving it to GitHub, but from here to being able to rebuild the game is a long way. Still, it’s one more bit of gaming history preserved for future generations.

Moving on. Nowadays it seems hard to believe, but there was a time when PCs didn’t come with built-in sound cards. Well, there’s a book out recounting how it all started, and it turns out the Sound Blaster won via business trickery, not technical excellence. Where did we hear that before? Oh yeah, it’s how Microsoft ended up utterly dominating the operating system market for decades. Still think capitalism has your best interests in mind?

Last but not least, I rant often enough against the dangers of always chasing the latest fad in computer graphics, so it warms my heart to see that artists from outside the digital realm understand the issue better than people who spent decades immersed in it. As the article points out,

The odd thing about games as opposed to more traditional mediums such as painting is how entire aesthetics are often considered obsolete as technology progresses. Imagine if cubism or impressionism were simply tossed aside with the invention of digital painting.

Oh, there is the occasional exception to that, such as pixel art, but we need many more such exceptions. And while my own experiment with low-poly art didn’t go anywhere, the potential is obvious. So consider it, maybe?

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Weekly Links #95

by on Nov.08, 2015, under News

O hai there. The long-awaited second edition of the Procedural Generation Jam started on Friday, but this year I don’t have any suitable project lined up. Been doing some 3D art in POV-Ray, maybe something can come out of that. Until then, here’s an article about generating stories about images with a neural network. It works surprisingly well; in fact I’ve seen much worse fan fiction out there written by human beings. And I can easily imagine all kinds of playful applications once this becomes mainstream.

In unrelated news, I just stumbled over a personal blog post about participating in a two-hour game jam. What jumped at me was the bit about small, single-color sprites. I’m no pixel artist, but when you’re working with 8×8 bit-maps there is only so much room for mistakes; that’s how I was able to make the art in Escape From Cnossus, still one of my better looking games despite being a literal 8-bit title. So yeah, let me say it again (and again): embrace constraints, they are your friends.

Last but not least, a link from last week but too good to pass up: the making of Duke Nukem 3D. My favorite bits were about the dangers of changing engines mid-development (which is akin to changing horses mid-race; remember what killed Daikatana?) and how the biggest problem with Duke Nukem Forever was that the tone and attitude just weren’t acceptable anymore by the time it came out; the world had simply moved on.

Never mind tech; is your game’s message able to withstand the test of time?

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Weekly Links #89

by on Sep.27, 2015, under News, Off-topic

Despite my best efforts, some weeks are really empty. For what it’s worth, I finished another toy: TB-40, a programmable calculator running Tiny Basic. It took twice as long to code as the other one, and sure enough it’s also twice the size. Not so much fun to use on mobile devices as I’d hoped, but oh well, it’s a learning experience.

More generally, I’ve been using GitHub a lot more as of late. It’s a very nice service even if you don’t use Git (I don’t), so in an effort to take better advantage of it I uploaded a few more of my older projects. Among them RogueBot, not that there’s much to it. But perhaps someone will find the code useful — in particular, the game-window.js microframework, a product of 5 years’ worth of practice making HTML5 games.

But enough about me. In a recently unearthed interview with Shigeru Miyamoto from 1998, the legendary game developer cautions against chasing realism in graphics. And while that strategy didn’t always work so well for Nintendo, you might remember how World of Warcraft took the world by storm in 2004 with blocky, cartoonish artwork that worked even on low-end computers, while everyone else was busy trying to hide the sharp corners with annoying bloom effects.

And because I already filled up a page of text, here’s a bit of humor to cap it off: How being a cat is like being in a videogame. Have a chuckle… and a good next week.

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Weekly Links #81

by on Aug.02, 2015, under News

People are funny. It’s the height of summer, everyone’s on vacation, yet for once I have a full newsletter. Let’s start with a couple of headlines about consoles — one about the fate of the OUYA, the other about vintage consoles still selling in Brazil. It’s almost as if getting the best out of what we already have beats always chasing after new toys nobody asked for! Naaah… ya think?

On a related note, PC Gamer has a feature on how full motion video is making a comeback, now that we know to use it for its strengths rather as a technological gimmick. At last, people are starting to figure it out. And while on the topic on how to use tech well, here’s a comprehensive overview of color in games.

Last but not least, Jimmy Maher has a write-up titled The 14 Deadly Sins of Graphic Adventure Design, which is really about much more than that. Such as interactivity being the whole point of games, or being familiar with the state of the art in whatever genre you are creating.

But these days I’m working on an entirely different kind of game. See you around.

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