No Time To Play

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Weekly Links #136

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

Hello, everyone! Despite difficulties that nearly killed the event, Ludum Dare 36 took place last weekend. My friends Chip Caramel and Jimun were at it again, and came up with their best game yet. Check this out:

Around the same time, I was briefly involved in a Tumblr conversation about the point of videogames, and the consensus is what I’ve been pointing out for years now: that games express themselves through the way they interact with players, and unless a game mechanic is front and center, what you have isn’t a game. Read for details.

On a similar note, Alexis Kennedy of Fallen London and Sunless Sea fame explains why more content won’t save your game — a write-up that starts kind of abruptly, but has a lot to say by the end. And still in the game design department, here’s the first installment in a comparative history of videogames from the perspective of inventory systems. Knowing how tricky it is to make a good one, I say that’s as useful as it is unusual.

I’ll end with a little bit of history. Remember a while ago when Jason Scott recovered the source code for the original Prince of Persia? Turns out he’s been at it again, making available previously unknown alpha and beta builds of Karateka — Jordan Mechner’s other classic. Game designers can now see how the seminal beat’em up took shape, and that’s no less important than writers being able to read the early drafts of famous novels or poems from centuries past.

On that thought, I’ll leave you enjoy the Sunday. Have a great next week.

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Weekly Links #130

by on Jul.24, 2016, under News

Hello, everyone. It turns out I missed a link last week, but it’s too good to pass up. Via Roguebase we get this interview with a co-author of Rogue, and it’s a wonderfully refreshing read. And via Vintage is the new old we learn of a new retrogaming zine, that provides a lot of content for a free publication. It’s clearly aimed at a North American audience, which kind of leaves me on the outside, but YMMV.

Last but not least, there are many books out there on how to get started with game development. I even wrote one myself. Not many of them are aimed at kids, though, and this is where Anna Anthropy’s new book comes in. (Hat tip to Emily Short for the link.) Which reminds me that back in the day, all those Basic programming books were squarely aimed at children, with colorful, whimsical covers depicting friendly computers as playmates, and full of references to whatever was popular in media at the time. When did game development turn all adult and serious?

Oh wait, I know: when the kids of the 1980s grew up. And that’s us. How did we manage to so thoroughly forget that programming was supposed to be a game?

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Weekly Links #129

by on Jul.17, 2016, under Gamedev, News

You know, it’s funny. Usually when I’m working on something not related to games, the newsletter tends to be pretty thin, since my attention is directed elsewhere. This week is an exception, and a big one at that.

Let’s start with news from interactive fiction, where there’s a new authoring tool on the block. After years in development, Texture was just opened to the public, prompting Emily Short to interview co-author Jim Munroe. An interesting experiment, but I’d rather explore the interface from Infocom’s Journey, as detailed by Jimmy Maher

Moving from IF to retrocomputing, via Vintage Is the New Old we get an interview with a C64 developer from Sweden — an intriguing history lesson. And from the same source, Nintendo launches a NES clone with dozens of classic games built-in… more than ten years after cheap South Asian clones of the legendary console went out of fashion. Good morning, big N. Last but not least, the world’s first graphical MMORPG (it ran on the C64 nearly 30 years ago!) has been open sourced, and they’re trying to get it running again. Specifically, the server, which is a rather thorny problem, for reasons both technical and legal.

To end with a trio of random links, the annual Procjam conference and gamedev event just announced its upcoming zine (with a call for submissions), and for fans of tabletop roleplaying there’s a new web-based tool to make rule supplements that look just like official D&D books. And knowing the kind of work that goes into good-looking RPG books, I can only appreciate the effort. Last but not least, let me highlight ComboPool, a Pico-8 game that manages to blend billiards with 2048, of all things.

Goes to show that limitations really do spur creativity. So be creative.

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Weekly Links #125

by on Jun.19, 2016, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. Having at long last finished with a translation project that took me all spring and then some — way longer than expected — I finally had a few days to work on the desktop port for Tomb of the Snake more intensively. And it’s also taking longer than expected. Too much, in fact, for a project I won’t be able to monetize. At least it’s this far along:

It’s basically just an interactive mock-up at this point, but the framework is in place to add mouse support next, along with modal overlays like the help screen. I still don’t know what the cave levels will look like, or where to get all the icons for the game screen (it should be entirely playable with either mouse or keyboard). As for the inventory screen… more experienced game programmers dread coding them. But you can’t make a graphical RPG without knowing this stuff.

It will all have to wait, however. Got another game port in the works that’s both smaller and more likely to sell, then the book mentioned above. In the mean time, let’s see this week’s other news:

As announced three weeks ago, the Bring Out Your Dead game jam started yesterday, and as of this writing there are fifty entries, with nearly as many to come if the number of people subscribed is any indication, so I’ll wait until next week to highlight my favorites.

Until then, the same Emily Short just got herself an interactive fiction column in Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and her first article is about parser games with a reduced command set — a topic myself and others have also covered as of late. This is turning into a trend; hopefully something will come out of it.

Last but not least, it was great to learn that the issue of videogame preservation has now come to the attention of academia, and the article presents not just some issues I hadn’t thought about, but also some novel solutions. Tl;dr — Let’s Play videos may be more valuable than you think.

And speaking of game preservation, only yesterday I stumbled upon a site where you can play DOS games right in your web browser. Has it been two years already since DOSBox got an Emscripten port? My, how time flies…

Either way, sometimes living in the future is awesome. See you next time.

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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: game-icons.net, 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 #120

by on May.15, 2016, under Case study, Gamedev, News

Another week, another delay. If you were waiting for my latest text adventure, I’m afraid it’s still in beta-testing, for reasons outside of my control, and I’d rather not lose patience and release an untested game. Maybe if the delays continue. In related news, I started porting RogueBot to the desktop, something I should have done long ago. Got plans for another port as well, to be announced when it’s certain enough.

In other news, Vice magazine has an article about the importance of Doom, and Gamasutra is running a piece on action RPGs. The former makes familiar arguments, but the latter came up with a new one (for me at least): namely, that computer RPGs letting one player control an entire party misses the entire point of tabletop games, namely to let each player identify with their one character. And why bother with a party at all, since you lose the social interaction aspect in the first place? Suddenly, I’m seeing roguelikes and games like Morrowind in a different light…

(That said, I just have to point out that the original Diablo totally failed to keep the novelty level high, its generated dungeons lacking both variety and especially color.)

But this week’s big story is Eurogamer’s feature on Lionhead, occasioned by the legendary studio’s closure at the end of April. (Warning, long read.) And you know what? This may be Peter Molyneux and Fable we’re talking about, but the story of their ultimate failure is drinking game material. Take a sip every time:

  • unchecked ambition;
  • mistaking chaos for creativity;
  • months-long death marches;
  • brodude culture;
  • massive overextension;
  • poor quality control;
  • flights of fancy;
  • greed-driven financial decisions;
  • tone-deaf marketing;
  • executive meddling.

We’ve all heard this exact same story so many times by now, studios and publishers alike really have no excuse anymore. And still they refuse to learn. So be it then. But consider how many amazing games — games out of reach for a small indie team — simply never get made because of it.

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Weekly Links #118

by on May.01, 2016, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone! It’s Easter for me today, and a beautiful spring day to boot, so I’ve been taking it easy. Doesn’t hurt that City of Dead Leaves is almost ready for the first round of testing, and I have another article coming soon too (already posted on Tumblr, if you’re in a hurry). And while on the topic of interactive fiction, here’s Emily Short interviewing someone from the world of literary hypertext. A somewhat dry, academic discussion as you may imagine, but still good for expanding horizons.

In more relatable news, my friend Kris, whose game I plugged a couple of weeks ago, is back with a good write-up about game design issues in WildStar. He makes excellent points, too. Developers of MMOs in particular, but of other game genres as well, feel obliged to create sprawling worlds, then find it very difficult to fill them with meaningful content. While the toy villages in Runes of Magic feel colorful and bubbling with life. As for the ridiculous situation where every single player in a MMO is “the chosen one”, what can you expect? We’ve barely figured out how to tell good interactive stories to audiences of one, or at most a small party. And not everyone has gotten the memo on that, either.

(Meanwhile, EVE Online continues to generate headlines in the real world every couple of years or so. Go figure.)

And for the worldbuilders out there, if you ever had trouble giving characters from different parts of the setting distinctive names and speech patterns, here’s a highly useful checklist. That’s definitely a weak point of mine, though I’m trying, so it’s most welcome.

Last but not least, just Friday came the news that indie game host and review site Jay Is Games will no longer update. And while I wasn’t a regular reader (or even an infrequent reader), the name means something in the gaming world. So long, then, and thanks for all the fish.

For what it’s worth, No Time To Play keeps going. See you next week.

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Weekly Links #115

by on Apr.10, 2016, under News

Well, things certainly didn’t go as planned this week. After a newsletter long enough that I had to set a link aside, then giving up on it and writing an entirely different article instead, today I have only two links for you. Over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun we have an article arguing in favor of letting players enjoy a game’s story, without having to run the gauntlet of RPG combat if they don’t want to. Parts of it even echo Cheetah’s old rant about configurable games. And I’ll add, probably not for the first time either, that it’s grand time for game developers to stop thinking they have to make the players earn the story, a bit a a time, by running a gauntlet repeatedly. That doesn’t make your story interactive any more than making players click to advance a fixed dialogue. Learn to let the story move forward constantly, even if you lose control to a degree. That’s the whole point — you’re ceding some control to the player. If you don’t want that, why are you even making games in the first place? Go write a novel instead. I like novels more than games these days, anyway.

In unrelated news, @ifictionfr alerts me of an old interview with Steve Meretzky of Infocom fame, recently republished. It contains some trivia I never heard before, as well as scans of the design documents for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — a surprisingly informal mish-mash of handwritten notes. Not much to say there, except to recommend it. So have fun, and see you next week.

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Weekly Links #101

by on Jan.03, 2016, under Gamedev, News

Happy New Year, everybody! The week after Christmas wasn’t very active, for obvious reasons, but things did happen. First among them is that I’ve been working on a new game! Deep Down in Darkness was supposed to become a first-person dungeon crawler, not unlike classics in the vein of Dungeon Master, except with eight directions instead of the usual four — as suggested in this old article.

Turns out, it’s not working out the way I want it, for various reasons I’ll outline in a full article soon. What I learned from the attempt is invaluable however, and the new style of mobile-friendly UI you see in the screenshots works like a charm. So it’s a win anyway.

In other game development news, a friend of mine who develops in PuzzleScript used it to make a match-3 game — a genre I like, and a relatively unusual use for the platform. (Though not as much as a run-and-gun game.) And just because it’s so quiet these days, maybe it’s worth mentioning that next week Sophie Houlden will be running a Myst Jam — something I’d love to enter if puzzles were in any way my thing. Wonder if there will be any entries based in Seltani.net?

Last but not least, on the last day of 2015 we got retrospectives of the year in interactive fiction are related topics: one from Emily Short, the other from Juhana Leinonen.

But that’s enough for now; the year is just starting. Have fun, and see you next week.

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Weekly Links #98: nostalgia edition

by on Nov.29, 2015, under News

It wasn’t three weeks ago that I was linking to a very nice retrospective of the Gabriel Knight games. Well, here’s an even more detailed five-part postmortem of the famous trilogy. Apart from the wealth of technical information in the articles, I can’t help but notice two factors that I think were very important to the success and enduring fame of the franchise: the story came first — and it was a story the writer cared very much about, not just something written on order. Consider that when setting out to make a game.

Speaking of retrospectives, here’s one of Fantasy World Dizzy, my favorite in the series. And while on the topic of adventure games, the incredible Jason Scott just made public a treasure trove of Infocom documents (see here and here). Beyond their value for historians and game designers, it’s worth noting that they did write down all that stuff, and then someone went through the trouble of preserving it. Hooray for thinking of the future.

Last but not least, a moving story about somebody reviving an old Atari 800 and TV set from the same era for a gaming night in the family. Note that both antiques are still working perfectly, over 35 years later, and they’re no less fun than a modern console. A pretty good return on investment, wouldn’t you say?

In unrelated news, from a blogger I haven’t quoted lately comes an article about the importance of software specifications. Which is most welcome seeing how the complexity of modern software is all too often underestimated — and games are some of the most complex apps out there.

Have a nice week.

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