Hello, everyone! With the recently concluded Game Developers Conference keeping everyone busy, I don’t have as many links today as for the last two weeks. But hey, as Michael Cook points out, not everyone could make it, and what they have to say is no less interesting. Like this article about ahead-of-time versus runtime procedural generation. Or this essay on videogames and genre, which comes up with a novel angle: in games, because they’re interactive, genre has two axes, not just one like in static media. In other words, it’s a field, not a line. Which explains why everyone, myself included, have had such a hard time getting a grip on the concept for so long.
In other news, over on Eurogamer Alexis Kennedy writes about game endings (via K.D.). Pretty ironic for someone famous for creating a neverending text-based MMO. I don’t agree with his position, by the way: while Undertale’s habit of remembering past playthroughs blew everyone’s mind, it also frustrated a lot of players who found themselves locked out of the best ending because they played too violently at first, as they’ve been conditioned to do for two generations. And sure, that’s how real life works… but the whole point of games is that they’re not real life. He also seems to forget that MMORPGs (including his own) had to compensate for the players’ inability to save and reload by making death inconsequential, also in order to avoid frustration.
When what you do has permanent consequences, however virtual, it’s no longer fun and games. Not that games have to be fun. But consider what exactly you’re putting in front of an audience.
Last but not least, via Emily Short, here’s a Kotaku article about black people in videogames. Unsurprisingly, the gist of it is that we’re still limited to stereotypes and caricatures, and that’s a terrible state of things this far into the 21st century. Especially as Unesco just hailed videogames as a great way to foster empathy between human beings in a world plagued by violent bigotry.
But that takes us into really dark territory. See you next week.
Hello, everyone! The 22nd Interactive Fiction Competition ended earlier this week with a result that surprised no-one, despite being a major first: as the official announcement points out, Detectiveland is the very first parser-less game to actually win the event! As the IFComp is the oldest and largest of its kind, that’s especially meaningful. But don’t worry, parser games aren’t going anywhere — although many of them are likely to be of the restricted parser variety, going forward.
In related news, here’s a postmortem of two competition entrants. Note how hard it is even for an experienced author to customize a game engine. If you’re new to game development, not to mention programming, don’t try this at home. Don’t be that guy who fights his tools every step of the way, then blames the tools. Choose an engine that matches your vision on most points, then compromise on the rest. Tip: compromise means you have to yield some too, not just the other side.
To tune into the mainstream news channels for a moment, over on Eurogamer Alexis Kennedy writes about the importance of games in difficult times, while Kotaku extensively covers EVE Online going free to play. Last but not least, someone out there is making a 3D RPG that emulates a tabletop game, complete with rolling virtual dice among the miniatures. An intriguing take on things, to be sure.
Last but not least, my recent launch of Adventure Prompt garnered enthusiastic reactions, giving me a good reason to continue the project. To begin with, I added some missing features to the interpreter. An update to the editor, including more documentation, will follow soon.
Until next time, have fun, and thanks for reading.
Oh well. That’s what happens when you have a ton of hobbies. After several weeks of game development, I went back to writing fiction for now. But that doesn’t mean news are passing me by. This week’s most powerful story is about the struggles of a Muslim game developer, ranging from the representation of Middle Eastern people mostly as enemies to be shot, to the simple fact that traveling to conferences can be difficult these days if your name is Muhammad. See my longer comment on Tumblr. Much food for thought, in any event.
On a more cheerful note, I have a couple of very sentimental articles. First is an homage to Tetris, with interesting remarks about the author’s unique genius. Then this write-up about what happens when MMOs close down. In short: people become invested in the virtual worlds they frequent. People begin to care. Because that’s what people do. There are memories you’re leaving behind. And friends. Who are as real as the game was virtual. But somehow we’re supposed to just move on because “this is capitalism”? There has to be a better way.
Last but not least, in actual game development news, it appears there are people out there porting indie games to arcade cabinets, and it’s a fascinating trip to take. The best postmortem I’ve read in a long time, really. Especially as many of my own games want to be arcades at their core, but I never quite went the whole way with them. Someday, perhaps.
For now, have a nice week.
You know, considering I haven’t really done anything in the realm of interactive fiction since about 2009 — with minor exceptions — I write about that particular genre a lot. Partly it’s nostalgia, and the friends I made over time. But mostly it’s because the gaming industry spent the past 18 years or so advancing graphics technology, while text adventure authors were busy perfecting things like puzzle design, map construction, story structure, NPC interaction, natural language processing… All those unglamorous tasks you can’t brag about in numbers, but which make or break a game to a much higher degree than “ZOMG! It’s running in 4000×4000 at 240fps! It requires four graphics cards linked together and cooled with liquid helium!”
And that’s why I have a whole bunch of interactive fiction links again.
All right, so I’m going to state the obvious by pointing out it was Easter, so for once I have an excuse to not give you many links.
The big news is of course that Richard Gariott has recovered the source code for Shroud of the Avatar, one of the world’s earliest CRPGs, which he wrote to run on teletypes way back in 1977. And now he’s organizing a contest to have it ported from the original BASIC to modern web-based platforms. A neat idea, but for two little details: (continue reading…)
It was a really slow week at the end of January, but a handful of links caught my eye anyway.
First, a piece of gaming history, namely how the Japanese RPG was born. I wasn’t surprised to learn that some of the familiar tropes were born of technical limitations, but it turns out the genre was brought to the land of the rising sun by a Westerner who missed his D&D gaming group and didn’t even speak the language. Now, that’s fascinating. (By the way, have you noticed how many legendary games were created by people with no prior knowledge of computers, let alone videogames? We need a lot more cross-polination here.)
Three years ago I wrote an article about Final Fantasy XIV, a game that should have changed the MMORPG scene. And it somehow did, but not in a way that anyone could have foreseen. The initial release of the game got some pretty bad reviews, both from the gamers and the critics, being considered a failure. It was rejected even by most of the Final Fantasy fans, which I guess it was a sign of a bigger problem here.
About the Final Fantasy franchise
The Final Fantasy franchise is an interesting case when it comes to MMORPGs, because fans of the single player games (FF I-X, FF XII-XIII) do not exactly overlap with the fans of the online ones (FF XI). Of course, back in 2003 most of the people who started to play FF XI were probably fans of the series, but I think in time that game attracted a more “MMO hardcore” audience, which kept growing and which usually would do some activities more specific to games of the genre (Everquest), like raiding. There is a large FF fanbase population who never even touched the MMO or they tried it and never liked it, or simply just moved out along after a few weeks/months. Some of them also probably never liked the idea of paying a monthly subscription anyway.
Felix just wrote a post on Seltani and its work to create a more accessible MUD experience.
There is another project which has similar aims, but more indirectly. It’s aimed at the developer who wants to customize their MUD completely, using a language that offers quick development: Python.
It’s called Evennia, and it brings a host of game-changers (pardon the pun) to the table.
I don’t care for puzzles, as for stories, suffice to say that I play text adventures (and many videogames) mainly for the joy of inhabiting a virtual world which I can explore and play around in. That’s also why I was attracted to MUDs, the text adventures’ multiplayer cousins. It’s an amazing feeling, being able to not only play with your friends in a fantasy world, but to build that world piece by piece from within even as you play.
But MUDs suffer from the same problem as text adventures, namely that nowadays most computer users have been educated to fear command lines, not to mention equate videogames with flashy graphics. Moreover, as the Web has pretty much subsumed the Internet, to the degree that many don’t realize e-mail exists outside the browser, explaining to potential players why they have to download a dedicated client can be hard. And putting a command line inside a webpage comes with its own set of issues.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted; I’ve literally had no time to play as it turns out! But as things have settled down, I’ve had a little more time. Mostly occupied with my web comic (warning: blatant plug).
Anyway! I had a lot of fun with a game last night, and I wanted to share it.