No Time To Play

Tag: interactive fiction

Weekly Links #185

by on Aug.30, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone, and welcome to a belated newsletter. In my defense, I’ve been unwell for the past few days. On the plus side, I actually completed my game port! Expect a release announcement next week.

Let’s start with a couple of retrospectives, one of Starwing (yes, the European edition), and one of Tekumel, a lesser know but highly detailed fantasy setting for roleplaying games.

In actual news, we learn that D&D will have more queer content, and while normally I’d be skeptical of such an initiative, the powers that be at WotC actually got it right, by hiring queer people to tell their own stories. This might just work out, if they manage to refrain from executive meddling, so stay tuned.

Moving on to actual game development, we have someone sharing their first experiences with Twine, and it’s incredibly cute how they insist that Twine allows one to make games without any programming, only to go ahead and give examples of… wait for it… code! Admittedly Sugarcube markup, not JS, but an if-else clause is an if-else clause. Are people so afraid of the idea of programming that they’re lying to themselves to such a degree? Grace Hopper’s early research into human-friendly languages seems to suggest so, and Inform 7 takes that conclusion to its logical extreme, with results that speak for themselves. An idea for future design work… to mirror the past.

Last but not least, via the Dragonfly BSD Digest, we have a sizable and well-curated list of OpenBSD gaming resources. Surprisingly, it’s about much more than emulators. Good to know!

And with that, I’ll leave you to enjoy what’s left of this Sunday. Cheers!

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Weekly Links #184

by on Aug.20, 2017, under News, Opinion

You’d think vacation season is on the way out in the northern hemisphere, but my newsfeeds are still suffering from a dearth of interesting gamedev news. Admittedly there have been at least a couple of major conventions recently, including the WorldCon; this could be a factor.

To start with interactive fiction, you can still vote in the Introcomp 2017, and the Elm Narrative Engine has a new version out, that promises to bring rule-based storytelling to a whole variety of game genres, if those beautiful demos are anything to go by. In related news, here’s an article about Alexis Kennedy’s life and inspirations.

Next we have an article about the most historical games on PC, and another on what fantasy can learn from history. (It’s telling how both of them praise Crusader Kings 2.) What can I say? It would be easy to blame the theme park “Middle Ages” so common in fantasy fiction on the Americanization of world culture, but remember Tolkien’s utopian, impossibly idealized Shire. This is nothing new. And The Witcher, for all it’s solidly rooted in a specific legendary — that of Medieval Poland — has been roundly criticized for indulging in many of the same cliches as more generic fantasy.

Me, I’d settle for more fantasy stories acknowledging the fact that a sword was goddamn expensive, hence a medieval fighter was a lot more likely to use an axe, or even just a club. The former not only uses much less metal, but can also double as a versatile tool (if suitably designed). And most fighters back then were in fact peasants 80% of the time if not more.

But this could be a much longer discussion. I’ll end with an intriguing find: a game programming tutorial that teaches how to implement a Tetris clone in Lua and ncurses in the form of a literate source code file. Well done!

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Weekly Links #183

by on Aug.13, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone! This week, issue #18 of The Spectrum Show Magazine is finally out, with my coverage of a game jam from two months ago. It may seem glacially slow at the pace of the Internet, but it’s the price we pay for a taste of the old days. More timely, Emily Short covers the Introcomp 2017, a still ongoing event as of this writing. And still in the way of events, the XYZZY Awards may have been late and without a ceremony this year, but they were still live-tweeted, and David Welbourn collected it all.

Next, in the way of tabletop RPGs (always an important source of inspiration and game design experience, if nothing else), we have an article about The Call of Cthulhu as historical fiction, and another about the balance between character death and character creation.

Last but not least, going back to adventure games, there’s a brief interview with Brian Moriarty

And that’s it for this week, because I’m tired, not in the mood and with relatively few links due to a busy schedule in the weekend again. See you.

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Weekly Links #181

by on Jul.30, 2017, under Case study, News

Hello, everyone! The XYZZY Awards announced their winners early this week, for once without a ceremony. Oh well. In related news, Choice of Games interviewed Christopher Huang about his new commercial game for the platform, and Jason Dyer writes about yet another edition of Adventure.

Speaking of events, itch.io marks the Ludum Dare taking place this weekend with an article on development tools, which also expands on their treatment of fantasy consoles from a few days ago.

In the way of game design discussion, we have a treatment of distant backdrops in adventure games. Not much to comment there, unlike with this retrospective of SimCopter and Streets of SimCity. Which has a lot to say about the importance of making games with a soul, but the bit that hit me the hardest was — again — about graphics:

Empirically, the 3D graphics industry has homogenized since 1996 and stranded SimCopter outside the pale of rendering convention. Fewer development houses write their own renderers. Unreal, CryEngine, and Unity all offer similar features based on the same academic research. SIGGRAPH attendance has declined since New Orleans ‘96. These factors combine to give SimCopter a one-of-a-kind graphical style.

Which, you know, does much to explain why so many modern games blend into an amorphous mass the moment you take a couple of steps back from the monitor. Never mind the industry’s terminal risk aversion and lack of imagination. Dear indies, don’t make the same mistake. Emulating the looks of classic gaming systems is fun, but can only take you so far. Dare to innovate.

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Weekly Links #180

by on Jul.23, 2017, under News, Opinion

Hello, everyone. The big news this week is that after months of work the French interactive fiction community has a new home on the web, a modern website with a game database, tutorials and social networking features.

In the way of discussions about game design, we have an explanation of player-hating features of Dungeons&Dragons (via hyratel). Briefly put, it was originally a resource management game with — it turns out — some extra-hard play modes, that people later carried over without questioning the initial purpose. Moving to computer games, we have some words about user interface in adventure games, that echoes last year’s talk of narrow parsers. Last but not least, the inimitable Jonas Kyratzes talks about the texture of games, specifically how there’s a place for highly polished titles as well as rough gems.

Next we have a couple of interviews, one with Steve Cook about his 1000 Creators project, the other with David Braben, creator of Elite: Dangerous (via Gamasutra) — a disappointing, but remarkably insightful exchange.

Before concluding, I’d like to say a few words on game engine snobbery — a much-discussed topic in recent days. On the one hand, I have a good friend who won’t make her dream game in RPG Maker, otherwise an ideal match in every respect, for fear it won’t be taken seriously, and that’s a damn shame. I also routinely witness arguments on this subject in the visual novel community, and they’re as pointless as you might imagine. But this kind of snobbery can go the other way as well. Just look at the royal disdain with which the interactive fiction community has always treated not just homebrew games, but also less-known authoring tools that may not be quite as big and capable as Inform or TADS but still contain innovative features. Maybe that will change now that a homebrew game not just won the IFComp with high acclaim, but also single-handedly revolutionized IF interfaces.

But we’ve had enough negativity for one week, so I leave you in the company of videogame-inspired music.

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Weekly Links #179

by on Jul.16, 2017, under Case study, News

Hello, everyone. Only half a dozen links today, and relatively disjoint, too. Let’s go in reverse chronological order.

For one thing, Gamasutra reposts an old postmortem of KOTOR, with some interesting lessons to take home. On a related note, if about a newer game, Hardcore Gaming 101 runs an in-depth article on Tides of Numenera, covering what works and what doesn’t in this much awaited title. Without going into details, the former’s problems are still relevant, while the latter’s are sadly unsurprising.

But often the difficulties in this business aren’t technological but human in nature, and it was refreshing to hear about Unity’s new program to help developers from the Middle East make it to conferences in Europe. Not much to say about this either, except it’s about time to make the global discourse be about the whole world again.

To go off-topic for a moment, Peregrine Wade writes about why short movies matter, It’s a very good point, and once again, gaming is ahead of the film industry (not to mention the book industry) in recognizing the value of shorter works that don’t outstay their welcome. And interactive fiction was there first.

Speaking of which, Jason Dyer discusses moments that can only work in a parser-based game, in the context of an obscure old adventure, while on the intfiction.org forums the prolific reviewer known as Mathbrush started an overview of every year in the IFComp, that’s already at 2002 as of this writing.

But I’m already at the end. See you next week.

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Weekly Links #178: retrogaming edition

by on Jul.09, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another week with lots of links about gaming old-style. But I’ll start with something different: my friend fluffy is at it again, this time with a kind of super-Arkanoid focused on music and physics. Watch the latest video below:

Next, we have news for fans of adventure gaming. For one thing, as of this week Double Fine Productions has a presence on itch.io, with remastered editions of many classics. How appropriate then that PCGamer would run a new interview with Tim Schafer about the making of Full Throttle. Then there’s an article about the music of Sierra games, and I know all too well how music can bring a game to life. One more reason for me to value free culture.

On a related note, nominations for the XYZZY Awards are in, and you can now vote on round two. Then we have some more musings on CYOA books and the importance of bad endings in making choices meaningful. And while I agree in principle, most bad endings in CYOA books (or for that matter most text adventures) are 1) barely hinted if at all, and 2) completely unsatisfying non-conclusions that just cut the story short without giving anything like closure. And that’s not even counting the ability to lose on a single bad roll of the dice, through no fault of your own. So much for meaningful choice.

Last but not least, Vintage is the New Old covers and Eurogamer write-up about the reasons people still make NES games. And if you’ve been paying attention lately, you know it’s not just nostalgia.

But I’m over quota again. See you next week!

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Weekly Links #177

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

Hello, everyone. After its relative success in the recent game jam, I felt compelled to make an improved Lost in the Jungle (also on itch.io and on Game Jolt) in HTML5, that improves pretty much every aspect of the game. Many thanks to the friends who tested it and provided feedback! In related news, as of this week the book of the blog is two years old, and still half off for the month of July.

For the game developers out there, while Konstantinos Dimopoulos describes the labyrinthine realities of the medieval city, Mark Johnson muses about burnout and doing too much. Having suffered from that repeatedly, I can only agree.

It’s also been another good week for retrogaming, with a story on the renewed popularity of classic games and another on how the Magnetic Scrolls games were recovered from ancient backup tapes (via Vintage is the New Old and Gamasutra, respectively). Last but not least, while on the topic of text adventures, the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation just announced taking over the Interactive Fiction Archive.

Gee, who would have thought that just as we can still appreciate 80-years-old silent movies in grainy black and white, so can we still play and enjoy games from the 8-bit era, so it’s worth preserving them for the public?

Good news for the future, then. Enjoy the week.

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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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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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