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.
There’s something about parser-based interactive fiction. For years, my interest has been slowly declining, but never entirely vanishing. I kept playing, and reviewing… and once every four-five years even authoring a new one. My “new” work in progress was actually started last year, but I became discouraged and abandoned for a while. Guess that wasn’t meant to last. Especially as for the past few months, finishing old abandoned works has been my modus operandi.
So stay tuned for City of Dead Leaves, a puzzle-light interactive fiction mood piece about someone looking for their lost love in a post-apocalyptic city. It won’t be especially deep, or smart, but hopefully you’ll like it either way. Doubly so as how the game came to be is a story in itself, that you’ll hear when it comes out.
And now, for the important news. After a long delay, SPAG Magazine issue #63 is finally out! A rather thin issue, from which stands out an article about voting blocks the likes of which have plagued the Hugo Awards as of late, and their impact on interactive fiction. Also, the magazine appears to be in new hands (again), which might just be good news.
Still in the way on interactive fiction, allow me to plug a friend’s recently launched Twine game, a text-based RPG reminiscent of traditional gamebooks. Dragon Fate may be ISO Standard Fantasy, but it’s no less interesting for that. It even makes fun of some genre cliches. And while it’s not exactly deep, there’s some metaphorical meat on those bones. Give it a try.
Last but not least, a couple of post-mortems: From Ars Technica, The Making of RuneScape, occasioned by the game’s 15th anniversary. Happy birthday! As for Gamasutra, this week they brought us the story behind NetHack’s latest update, which concludes with a promise that it won’t be the last one. Hopefully the next release won’t take another 12 years, either.
With that, I leave you to enjoy the Sunday. Have fun and make games!
It feels so good when links worth sharing appear to seek me out on their own. I’ll start with a couple of retrospectives. For once, Hardcore Gaming 101 runs a feature on a modern game, that only seeks to emulate the classics: L’Abbaye des morts. I remember it being widely discussed on the World of Spectrum forums, and never realizing it first saw life as a PC game. Fun!
In unrelated news, it turns out that personal games (a topic I mention with increasing frequency) are becoming mainstream, as evidenced by this article in The Telegraph. Good news indeed. And while I stopped following the Don’t Die project some time ago, there’s the occasional interview I simply can’t miss. This one covers many of the ugly problems with the modern game industry, from the endless crunch mode that’s the normal way of life for developers, through burnout, abusive behavior online and back to the killing of creativity. Along the way, they even find the time for a jab at virtual reality, a piece of tech everybody always seems to want except for the buying public. But sure, this time it just has to catch on. Or else next time. Just like we’ve been saying for decades now.
Last but not least, I just found out about a 20-part tutorial on making your own roguelike in Java. I haven’t looked at it, but from the table of contents it looks pretty detailed. And then there’s an article about making games more accessible through visual cues and other forms of assistance. Which promptly reminded me of Cheetah’s old plead for configurable games. Because we don’t all have the same abilities, even if you don’t factor in the little issue of gamer aging.
Until next week, help combat snobbery in gaming.
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.
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?
Gaaah! Almost forgot to write the newsletter on time again. Been busy, you see, with yet another coding project (still unrelated to games). Though who knows — the ability to focus on writing your game as opposed to wrangling your tools is increasingly important these days, so simplicity matters a lot. I’ll keep you informed.
This week @JuhanaIF points us at a postmortem of 80 Days that does a good job of relating the difficulties of making such a big game. And while on the topic of interactive fiction, Hardcore Gaming 101 gets around to reviewing Fallen London. A good way for me to see what has changed since I stopped playing… and what hasn’t.
Of direct interest for developers is this article on architecture in videogames. Once again it turns out that in order to make games (or, indeed, any software) it’s more important to know about the real world than programming. In this case history, geography and materials. And you know, I’m hardly an expert myself, but I find it baffling and worrying that an educated person today doesn’t know why the compass points matter when building a house. Are we so deeply invested in the myth that we have somehow “conquered nature”?
Last but not least, the Wall Street Journal is running a piece on how videogames are saving the symphony orchestra. Amusingly, they write about videogames as if we were still in 1985 (which says a lot about the kind of people they allow to make decisions in the newsrooms). But otherwise, it’s good to know that games have found yet another way into mainstream culture; I remember years ago when symphonic orchestras were arranging music from famous movies such as Star Wars or James Bond and thinking how cool that was.
Culture is culture, and that’s awesome. See you next week.
Hot on the heels of Spectral Dungeons, here comes my second roguelike for the ZX Spectrum. Developed in half the time (due to the reuse of more than half the code, not to mention the added experience), Escape from Cnossus improves on the formula with a less generic theme, more complex and pretty levels and interesting decisions to make.
I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a game for the ZX Spectrum ever since discovering the ZXBasic compiler. I even wrote an article giving reasons why it makes sense to develop for retro computers. And this month I finally put my money where my mouth was. Gentlemen, I give you… Spectral Dungeons!
This is not only my first serious game for the Speccy, but also my first completed roguelike, so development hasn’t been smooth.
Ever wanted to know how Warcraft and Starcraft were made? Now’s your chance. The man who led development on both projects is writing multipart postmortems on both of them:
The rest of Patrick Wyatt’s (very new) blog covers a variety of programming topics, some specific to game development, others more general — an excellent addition to any blogroll.
My latest game went online on Friday. I spent Saturday coding improvements, and there’s one still on my list. But I forced myself to take a break, not just in order to avoid burnout, but also in order to summarize how it went. Funny how such a small project can teach you so much.
What went bad: 8 months in the drawer.
I actually had the base mechanic implemented in the summer of 2010, but then a combination of real life and not knowing where to take it from there conspired to keep the project in suspension. And when I finally figured out how to continue, worked kicked up again, sapping my creative energy.