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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
It was another of those weeks when I had to wait for the weekend to find any links at all. On the plus side, there are a whole bunch of new tabletop games listed in our annotated RPG links. Since I’ve been working on one of those, there was little else on my mind as of late.
Anyway, in the way of cool things happening, Nightwrath alerted me of someone from Reddit putting together a huge torrent of around 700 roguelikes. The really cool thing? The list includes my own Tomb of the Snake. Yaaay!
And because it’s been a while since I mentioned anything related to game development theory, Jay Barnson writes about the way better graphics lead to a look-but-don’t-touch effect.
Annoyingly enough, this is all for today, despite my best efforts. Oh well, until next week.
When I was first making plans for Attack Vector, I already knew from prior experiments that sprite scaling wasn’t going to work well in software. Hardware might have been a lot more powerful in 2014 than in the days when Space Harrier saw the neon light of arcade parlors, but we’re accessing it through so many layers of software complexity that most of the difference is wasted. Oh, I could have used sprites prerendered into multiple sizes, but for various reasons that felt like the wrong thing to do in this case.
The next option would have been vector graphics, as I used in several games, but I soon realized it was going to take a lot of code, use proportional amounts of CPU (thus negating the advantage) and look ugly to boot. I needed some way to create my assets in advance, in a scalable format that was simple to render.
So I remembered my own voxel tutorial. But that raised a problem.
You see, there are voxel editors out there, but using them is tedious to the point of being impractical for any model larger than a few units in each direction. And making my own before I knew exactly what I needed sounded like a recipe for derailing the project.
But then it occurred to me that I was never going to see my assets from the back, and the solution imposed itself: combine flat sprites with depth maps to create a kind of digital bas-relief.
I was checking out the vector tag on itch.io, and couldn’t help but notice there are only 26 games on that page — few enough to count by hand. And two of them are mine. I have more. In fact most of my games have vector graphics. Sure, they’re code-intensive and CPU intensive, but nowadays computers have CPU power to spare. And with the wildly different screen resolutions of modern machines, especially mobile devices, vectors offer a scalability advantage over pixel art, while
being just as pretty and colorful. Not to mention we need the diversity.
This is why I’d have expected game developers to use vector graphics much more often. It’s disappointing to see they aren’t. Why aren’t they?
Hello, everyone. In just a week, Tomb of the Snake has become the most popular game on No Time To Play. Not so much on itch.io, where traffic is conspicuously thin. I’m yet to figure out exactly why. Perhaps a dearth of non-Windows gamers on the service? More experimentation is in order.
Speaking of which, for the past four days I’ve been working on my next game, and as it turns out there is such a thing as too much color. I mean, compare these two screenshots:
I don’t know about you, but between psychedelic and girly I choose the style that doesn’t hurt my eyes. Hopefully my players will agree.
Well, on to this week’s other news.
With all the stuff on my mind this weekend, I basically forgot to work on my newsletter at all. But better late than never.
Continuing on the topic of programming languages from last time, Shamus Young argues in The Escapist that videogames need their own programming language. And while he makes some excellent points as always, I think he’s misplacing the blame. Like here:
[The C programming language] was created in a world where software was less complex than it is today. Your typical AAA game of 2014 will be thousands of times more complex than entire operating systems of 1972. Consequently, the language is focused on saving memory and CPU cycles, and not focused on helping the coder manage terrifying levels of program complexity.
Well, see? That’s your problem right there. Modern software is insanely complex. More complex, in fact, than anything else the human species has built. No machine with moving parts ever has millions of components. NONE. It would fall apart the moment you turned it on. But in software we make it happen just because we can — the worst possible reason.
Or so we think. How many hours of your life have you lost to crashing apps, crashing operating systems, lying servers, flaky networks?