No Time To Play

Tag: interactive fiction

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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Weekly Links #169

by on May.07, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone. Despite everything, this week also came with plenty of interesting events in gaming. So many in fact that I had to trim multiple links, and it’s still a lot. Shall we?

Let’s start with an interview with the director of Wolfenstein 3D, occasioned by the game’s 25th anniversary. And there’s a ton of good advice in there, some of which I follow (embrace limitations, and don’t burn out), some I unfortunately fail at (use the best tools available, and if there aren’t any, make your own). And still on the topic of classic games, we have the first article in a series about the history of Sierra, which in turn quotes from a recent interview with two of Sierra’s creators — both valuable bits of history.

Now for something completely different. Over at PC Gamer, there’s an article about the portrayal of mimics in videogames (the D&D monster). I had high hopes for the article, too, because one of my favorite webcomics, Rusty and Co., features a mimic turned adventurer — and a talkative, witty one at that. But there was no mention of it. There was, however, a mention of Luggage from Discworld… but not a single word about Luggage’s origins as a character in a novel written to parody fantasy cliches.

Dear people in gaming, do you ever read anything outside of reviews and strategy guides?

In the way of game design, Jason Dyer illustrates the biggest problem with random number generation, while the creator of Cogmind writes about clever uses of RNG seeds. And you know, I considered doing just that, but in my one game that could have used the trick, Spectral Dungeons, generating each level is so slow it would be especially annoying to do it all over every time. I am, however, careful to use a separate RNG for world generation versus enemy behavior when at all possible.

Also on the Grid Sage Games blog there was a discussion of various versioning schemes, which are as thorny as they are arbitrary, as we know from Windows, the Linux kernel, or the race between Firefox and Chrome. My advice? Don’t fuss too much over it unless you develop software according to a strict plan; just pick a scheme, and use release code names to make things more clear.

To end with a couple of items from the world of interactive fiction, Emily Short writes about the place of parser-based games in 2017, while over on the intfiction.org forum there’s a discussion about compass-based navigation, with some surprising conclusions.

I should probably write a come-back with my own extensive thoughts on mapping and virtual places, but for now this newsletter is way over quota, so see you!

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Eamon: between CRPGs and interactive fiction

by on Apr.13, 2017, under Case study

It’s safe to say that I like interactive fiction a lot better than computer role-playing games. Just about the only CRPG that ever piqued my interest was Planescape: Torment. Which, sure enough, may well be the most adventure-like such game ever created, with much more of a focus on storytelling than combat, and with a setting that came alive (literally, within the game’s fiction) in a way few other games managed. You could say it’s a matter of patience, but I spent countless days, weeks at a time, playing strategy games, and also sank plenty of hours in roguelikes — the RPGs’ low-tech, mechanistic cousins. So this isn’t about preferring story over gameplay, either; in fact, some of my all-time favorite games are shooters.

May seem strange, then, that someone like me would be interested in trying out Eamon, an RPG as old-school as they get, and of a flavor that wasn’t all that popular even back in the day.

But inspiration can be found in unlikely places. For one thing, Eamon is a cult classic: released as public domain software in 1982, it was recreated more than once, and the Deluxe edition (easily playable forevermore thanks to DOSBox), was last updated in 2012 — no less than three decades since the original! Apart from the early Ultima games and Infocom’s library, I can’t think of many games the same age that people worked as hard to preserve.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #165

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

Can’t believe it’s been a month since my article on the use of outliners in games. Between playing Master of Orion and working on a game design inspired by it, my initial idea took a backseat for a while, before coalescing into a specific product. I’m happy to announce Ramus 2, a new system for playing CYOA games written with general-purpose productivity software as opposed to dedicated tools — which, incidentally, allows for authoring on mobile devices without an always-on Internet connection. Much more work is needed, of course, from documentation to utilities for packaging stand-alone games, but the groundwork is laid, and the concept works surprisingly well.

Otherwise, I finally got around to getting a good look at Eamon, a text-based RPG engine from 1982, that was last updated in 2012 (an incredible 30-year run!) if not in the original form. Should probably get around to writing an article about it, because there are lessons to learn.

(Speaking of updates to old games, the original 8-bit Prince of Persia just got a modern level editor. How cool is that?)

In other news, this week Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an article on playing roguelikes when you can’t see, and another on the modders making games more gender-diverse. It’s great that inclusivity is becoming a hot topic in game development. More conventionally, Ars Technica has a history of open-world gaming, and PC Gamer a list of game design sins (both via K.D.). The latter two are actually old, but good enough to include.

We’re not done quite yet. For fans of adventure games, whether graphic or textual, there’s a long and entertaining interview with Tim Schafer, while Emily Short is answering to a letter about the state of Inform 7.

To cap an already long newsletter, I give you these musings on music in games. Something that tends to give me trouble, even more so than sound effects. Turns out, it is a genuinely delicate issue.

Oh well, see you next time.

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Weekly Links #158

by on Feb.19, 2017, under Case study, News, Off-topic

Hello, everyone! It’s yet another good week, despite my interests still lying well outside gaming for now. Let’s start with a couple of game retrospectives from Hardcore Gaming 101, first the long-lost and recently unearthed Warcraft Adventures, then of a much newer title: Tim Schafer’s big comeback Broken Age. Which, if anything, illustrated both the potential and the danger crowdfunding holds even for a veteran game designer with countless fans. And still in the way of game retrospectives, Emily Short’s latest RPS column is about games that involve dressing up and going to a party, preferably with a good dose of swashbuckling. Much like her own creation Pytho’s Mask, that’s still among my all-time favorites.

In more technical news, we have another RPS article, this time on tools for RPG writing (think branching conversations and quests), and via Juhanna Leinonen, the announcement of a tool for translating interactive fiction. Not much to say there, except that tools are as hard to make as they are increasingly needed for good games, so it’s worth paying attention.

I’ll end with a story that’s more about art, culture and people than games, but still relevant in my opinion: Vanishing Point, or How the Light Grid Defined 1980s Futurism. On this note I bid you a good week. Until next time.

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Weekly Links #152

by on Jan.08, 2017, under News, Opinion

Hello, everyone! We’re having a slow week again, and most of it dedicated to interactive fiction as usual (sorry). For one thing, PC Gamer puts the recent IFComp in the spotlight, thus further cementing the genre’s return to the mainstream. And via K.D. we learn that Douglas Adams was working on a modern Hitchhiker’s Guide game right before his untimely death in 2001. It’s a bit of non-news, really, as the assets being lost means there’s no chance of reviving the project after all these years. Doubly so as those assets were likely made for VGA displays back in the day, which would make them unusable in the 4K era.

And that, of course, highlights yet again the folly of obsoleting perfectly good technology at the drop of a hat. Imagine if vinyl had been completely abandoned within the year from CDs hitting the market. No more support for turntables, nothing. Entire collections of old, rare music becoming completely useless unless people worked hard to maintain failing hardware until there were just no more dead units left to scavenge for parts. That’s what we’re doing with computer games, and before you ask why we should bother preserving some piece of shovelware, the answer is that you can only know a classic in retrospect. If you didn’t take care of it on time, sixteen years down the road — when you finally realize it wasn’t just another piece of shovelware after all — you can only weep for the loss. And that’s terrible.

Last but not least, my friend Kris is at it again with a batch of capsule reviews for tabletop RPGs and board games. Enjoy, and see you next time.

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User interfaces in text-based games

by on Dec.18, 2016, under Case study

Maybe I write too much about text-based games, but in my defense the written word is awesome. It’s the closest you get to a digital medium without actual computers (what, with letters and words being discrete symbols by definition), and one of the most flexible as well. Communication doesn’t get more pure than a stream of symbols flowing back and forth; you can write them down on paper, ticker tape, or walls, going left or right, up or down, and even lay them out in three dimensions, as the Ancient Egyptians amply demonstrated. You do have to pick one path when reading, but hey, that’s what we call hypertext nowadays.

Early computer games, from Hamurabi (Doug Dyment, 1968) to Adventure (Will Crowther, 1976) were limited to a linear stream of text, simply because they had to run on teletypes. For the same reason, input was also limited to typing words on a keyboard. But that limitation also meant you exchanged words with the computer from equal footing — what people in the real world call a chat.

And so, a command line remained the defining way to interact with text adventures, helpers like a clickable compass rose notwithstanding. Oh, there were always a few games that tried to emulate the pick-a-choice interface popularized by gamebooks in the 1980s. But those were hardly on anyone’s radar until 2009, when Twine swooped in. At which point it became impossible to ignore all the people shouting that the emperor is naked.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #150

by on Dec.11, 2016, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone, and welcome to my last newsletter for 2016; after this one, I’m taking a holiday break. It occurs to me that I’ve been posting this thing for three years now — half the time that No Time To Play has been around — and I’m yet to miss an update, though many have been late or else not very interesting.

Speaking of which, after failing to sell for a year, even after a fire sale, this autumn I made Tales of Space and Magic free. And it still failed to attract any views, let alone money. So for the past few days I’ve been trying something new, namely to turn the original PDF into a Twine. Which works quite well, if far from perfect, courtesy of all the implicit cross-references (now made explicit). Let’s see if this new edition will fare any better.

In the way of community updates, Vintage Is the New Old has a new face, that makes it look a lot more readable and modern, if a bit same-y. Not as good is the news that textadventures.co.uk will close down unless a new owner can be found before March 1st. We’re talking an order of magnitude more people than there are on IFDB, many of them students using interactive fiction as a learning tool. To ask what famous games have been made with Quest misses the point. This will be a loss no matter how you look at it, and I know from experience that once broken apart, a community can’t simply reform elsewhere: it’s gone for good.

Moving on to game design, Mark Johnson of Ultima Ratio Regum fame posted an article on the private lives of NPCs, while Jimmy Maher concludes his series on Wings (the classic flight simulator) with an excellent lesson for game designers:

Those other flight simulators define realism as getting all the knobs and switches right, making sure all the engines and airfoils and weaponry are in place and accounted for. (…) Wings was a reaction against that aesthetic. Instead of building a game out of exhaustive technical detail, with no thought whatsoever given to the fragile human being ensconced there in the cockpit in the midst of it all, John Cutter asked what it was like to really be there as a pilot on the Western Front during World War I — asked what, speaking more generally, it really means to be a soldier at war. Michael Bate, a game designer for Accolade during the 1980s, called this approach “aesthetic simulation” — i.e., historical realism achieved not through technical minutiae but through texture and verisimilitude.

In other words: dear developers, games are for people. Get a life first.

Happy new year and see you in 2017.

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Weekly Links #149

by on Dec.04, 2016, under Gamedev, News

Aah, that’s better. I actually have a few links for you this week. But first, let me announce that Adventure Prompt now comes with a proper demo you can play. It’s not much, but it highlights all the important features of the engine. Not so much the feel of the authoring system, but that would be hard with an inherently interactive app. Special thanks to Kevin C. Redden for all the research on backpacking that I didn’t have room to mention in the game, and to everyone else for the interest.

In other news, my friend Sera is at it again with an article titled The Woman On The Cover: Becoming A Woman In A Man’s World. It may not sound like it’s about videogames at first, but believe me, it is — though it’s an issue that impacts all of society. As the owner of StoryDevs was writing just recently:

It’s fundamentally immoral to pretend our communities are apolitical. Silence is always a vote for the status quo, one that continues to be cruel and divorced from humanity’s best interests. If we’re to fix the issues at hand we need to be talking about them in all communities, not denying they exist or redirecting people to other places because “we don’t do politics here”.

Politics is always on topic in art spaces because the arts have always been affected by politics. And the times in history that the arts have been most endangered has often coincided with injustices against marginalised groups and political upheaval.

Amen to that. But for now, let’s move on.

Earlier this autumn, I mentioned a PICO-8 clone in development. In the mean time the project went through a name change, and now people are actually using it to make games. Which makes me feel a lot less guilty for not getting around to it myself.

Last but not least, I was just wondering how NaNoGenMo went this year, when this overview of one particular participant group crossed my Twitter timeline. And there’s quite a bit to see in there.

Until next time, keep an eye on new game-making tools.

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