No Time To Play

Tag: rants

Weekly Links #186

by on Sep.03, 2017, under News

Hello, everyone. I have so many links this time, commentary will have to be pared down. Clearly, September is here.

For starters, here’s a long-form article about designing videogame cities, a highly recommended read. My own process is a lot less formal, but much of the advice still applies. And while my own urban environments for games so far have been tiny (if made to suggest a much bigger world beyond), my fiction has been another story entirely.

In other game design news, we have some musings about story mode in games, and observations about the effects of limited parsers (on interactive fiction). More technical are two write-ups about level compression in NES games and porting a game to DOS, respectively.

Speaking of specific games, we have a retrospective of Populous, and the story of how fantasy gamebooks conquered Britain. Moving into actuality, here’s a Syrian refugee’s saga made into a game, and an interview with Kenney Vleugels about his efforts to support indie game developers with asset libraries. Having used one of his sound packs in Square Shooter, I appreciate.

To end with a rant, it seems VR has failed to catch on. Again. And aside from the requisite I TOLD YOU SO, look how people are blaming the technology for “not being there yet”. Notice what’s wrong with this picture? A year or two ago when the craze started, everyone insisted that “this time it absolutely has to catch on becase the technology is finally here“.

So which is it, boys? You can’t have it both ways. Either the tech is ready this time, or it’s not.

Better yet, you might want to admit that VR keeps failing because it’s still pointless. If people had found any use for it, they’d have pounced on the medium long ago. You know, the way they did with 8-bit home computers.

But as always, remembering history remains a problem for human beings. Cheers.

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More about diversity and representation

by on Feb.21, 2016, under Off-topic, Opinion

I wrote about representation in games before. It’s a complex problem that will take many small steps to solve, all of them partial and faulty. But we need to take those steps already, and that’s why I was happy to see one of my favorite bloggers tackle the problem again. In his article You Are the Hero, David Chart explains why representation is hard, and why you can’t always satisfy everyone.

And you know, Mr. Chart makes a couple of good points there. Like the fact that just having a “brown” character isn’t enough. Roma Gypsies may not feel represented by a Pakistani for example. But! I’ll argue that even having Roma characters isn’t specific enough — there are multiple sub-groups to consider, and going too specific may well have the opposite effect. Moreover, all too often the issue is that people from marginalized groups find nobody at all to identify with in a story: all the remotely important characters are rich straight white men. (Who solve all their problems through violence — that’s another good point Mr. Chart makes. It’s horribly unrealistic: most people hate violence, and for good reason, since in the real world it just begets more violence, and solves absolutely nothing.)

That said, I’m not at all convinced it’s so hard to write stories that appeal to a large number of social categories. I’ve read AND written books that feature rich and poor, old and young, women, people of color, sexual minorities and disabled people at the same time, with sufficient prominence, and it never once felt forced. It’s a lot easier than you think. Minorities… simply exist and are among us. You don’t need any special reason to feature them.
(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #105

by on Jan.31, 2016, under Case study, News, Opinion

Hello, everyone. I had yet another week of writing and editing, with more editing and art coming, not to mention other things. So yeah, still not much attention span to spare here. But the news are no less worth it.

The big one this week was that a computer had beaten a world-class GO champion. Which is incredibly meaningful, because it’s not the kind of problem you can solve with more processing power (unlike the time when Deep Blue defeated Kasparov at chess). You have to build genuine intelligence into your code — and somebody did. It’s part of the same trend as self-driving cars; funny how fast AI has advanced once we gave up on trying to blithely imitate people, and just treated it like another tool in the box.

Anyway, in unrelated news, it turns out that procedural generation of text predates computers by centuries. Which makes perfect sense, because the concept of computation has been around for much longer than the idea of an universal computer, and indeed doesn’t depend on it. In fact, there is a staggering variety of natural processes that can perform computation — one of them, DNA self-duplication, gave birth to us. That people thought of it (in a very meta way it turns out) so long ago is a lesson worth learning.

In the way of actual game development, one of my favorite people in gaming interviews the creators of 80 Days, and while it’s not exactly new information, the way it’s put together makes it fresh again, so give it a read. Last but not least, another story that made waves this week: in a lengthy blog post, an indie game developer explains why they had to fire most of the crew after a successful game launch. And you know, I can understand just fine why someone would make the kind of mistakes described in the article, having seen very similar stories play out before (from the perspective of an employee who had to be laid out). But I wish people would figure out already that:

  • ambition is bad;
  • you shouldn’t put all your eggs in a single basket;
  • ambition is bad;
  • Steam is not your friend;
  • ambition is bad.

No, seriously. I’m sick and tired of hearing how you’d supposedly never have started anything without ambition. I seem to start — and finish — a whole lot of different things, and while none of them has reached epic size or widespread success yet, I have a lot more to show for my efforts right now than my friends who rushed to build a dream castle before they had a solid foundation, and it all crumbled to rubble one day.

Until next week, consider the virtues of patient work.

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Tools for the sake of tools

by on Oct.08, 2015, under Off-topic

Dear software developers, I like package managers and version control too, but this is getting ridiculous. An increasing amount of software is only published online as a git repo, so I must have git installed and know the first thing about using it even though my regular VCS is Bazaar. I also need npm installed even though I don’t use node.js, because plenty of Javascript libraries don’t seem to be available any other way anymore (you can’t just download them from GitHub and expect them to work). Python stuff, too, is starting to become pip-exclusive. Good thing I don’t code in Perl and Ruby; I would also be required to use cpan and gem on top of everything else.

All too often, what I want is a small library to help with a specific task, but instead you’re offering me giant frameworks caught in a mesh of dependencies, that would dwarf my application and make it extremely difficult to distribute. I want to write apps for anyone to just download and run, but instead you’re forcing me to think about ecosystems. I need to use my computer, and you’re talking about leveraging the synergy of the cloud. I ask for a hammer, you offer a hydraulic press factory.

Get a grip on reality, because you’re basically floating away like hot air balloons by this point. And talk to ordinary people for a change, because in your enthusiasm for technology you have forgotten it has to meet real needs, or else we’re just going to look elsewhere.

Yes, I’m a software developer myself, and I love my work. But all too often as of late I’m tempted to throw it all away and take up farming instead.

Wake up, while you still have something to wake up to.

 

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Weekly Links #83: virtual world edition

by on Aug.16, 2015, under News

I hate it when that happens. Between my project being on hold due to unforeseen circumstances and my mind being on 3D art these days (what started as some illustration work turned into more), I find myself at the end of the week with just one topic for you. One. Pathetic, isn’t it? At least that gives me extra room for comment.

It was via Chris Meadows of Teleread fame that I heard about this virtual tour of abandoned Second Life sites, and while SL is still populous overall, that instantly reminded me of the months I spent in 2009 exploring empty MU*s. And those usually were completely deserted, forgotten even by the sysadmins running the servers. Apart from the medium — text versus graphics — similarities are striking. Outdated announcements stuck to a wall; weird objects in surreal surroundings; the feeling that someone could pop in any time, despite the server stats showing the last login to have been years before.

Which only serves to remind me that Seltani, which I reviewed with much enthusiasm two years ago, became a ghost town before the year was over. Even I abandoned it for the most part, shamefully so. That’s what happens when you fail to establish a tight community, I suppose — absent that, virtual worlds remain a solution in search of a problem, and pretty graphics can’t help. What did we expect when we reacted to the complete freedom of cyberspace by trying to recreate the limitations of meatspace within it?

In completely unrelated news, it’s not often that a gameplay trailer catches my eye, but Rolling Torque looks very much like a low-poly, highly colorful, spiritual successor to Marble Madness, and the retrogamer in me can’t fail to find that compelling. I’d play it, and that’s rare these days. See you next week.

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No Time To Play is five

by on Aug.11, 2015, under Miscellaneous

It says much about my state of mind this year that on the blog’s fifth anniversary I waited until evening to write a few lines. Two years ago I complained that things seemed to be looking down. Turns out, they can always get worse. For a while after that post, I didn’t work on games at all. Then I started coming back in a way, slowly and half-heartedly. Guess it showed, because basically no-one noticed my games from the past few months. More recently, finances and ISP outages alike threatened the blog itself, to the point that I decided to write a book and start a Tumblr so No Time To Play can at least survive in other forms should the worst come to pass. Sadly nobody noticed those either…

The upswing from all this? Unlike a couple of months ago, I want the blog to survive. Five years is a lot of time, and good things have accumulated here. Moreover, I do see a future for videogames now, though it’s far from the glorious VR-fest everyone else seems to dream of. If things seem slow for the moment, it’s because these days I’m working on a different kind of game, that only involves computers tangentially. But I’ll come back eventually. I always do.

What matters is that you, my readers, are still here when that happens, or else there’s no point to me plodding along. So, happy reading.

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Measuring hardware performance

by on Jul.02, 2015, under Case study

I recently had to swap my refurbished computer for a hand-me-down, to get rid of an annoying hardware defect. Both have the same amount of RAM and storage: 2 gigs and 80 gigs, respectively. The difference is in the CPU and GPU, and that’s where the comparison becomes very interesting.

You see, the old one was an AMD Sempron 64 rated at 3000+ (real clock speed 1.8GHz), with an embedded nVidia 8800 for video. The new one is an Intel Atom 330 at 1.6GHz, dual-core and hyperthreaded, with an Intel GMA 950 accelerator. You’d think multiple cores would help a lot with performance, but each individual core is slow as molasses by modern standards (which is absurd and ridiculous, but there you have it), and most software isn’t multithreaded, so it can’t take advantage of the extra cores. The result? Overall, a more responsive system as one misbehaving process can’t hog the entire CPU anymore. But individual apps are now over 50% slower…

Good thing the next games I’m planning are all turn-based.

As for the GPU? Suffice to say, Super Tux Kart — a lightweight game by any standard — used to run at roughly 70FPS on the 8800 with default settings (and original nVidia drivers), while on the GMA 950 it crawls at under 10FPS, with quality turned most of the way down. In fact, turning down the settings didn’t seem to make much of a difference at all.

Somehow, the game is still perfectly playable anyway. (continue reading…)

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Quo vadis, game developer?

by on Dec.25, 2014, under Opinion

I was going to work on a game these days, both because change is good (I just finished writing a story) and in order to get an old promise out of the way. But sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to. After a quote from my latest newsletter made the rounds on Twitter, I made the mistake of sharing a link to the whole thing. Given the controversial nature of what I wrote, guess it was a lucky thing that only Emily Short answered me, and her entire reaction to it was, I quote,

“ow”.

Fair enough. I owe you an explanation, Emily. Pun not intended at all.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #49: code complexity edition

by on Dec.16, 2014, under News, Opinion

With all the stuff on my mind this weekend, I basically forgot to work on my newsletter at all. But better late than never.

Continuing on the topic of programming languages from last time, Shamus Young argues in The Escapist that videogames need their own programming language. And while he makes some excellent points as always, I think he’s misplacing the blame. Like here:

[The C programming language] was created in a world where software was less complex than it is today. Your typical AAA game of 2014 will be thousands of times more complex than entire operating systems of 1972. Consequently, the language is focused on saving memory and CPU cycles, and not focused on helping the coder manage terrifying levels of program complexity.

Well, see? That’s your problem right there. Modern software is insanely complex. More complex, in fact, than anything else the human species has built. No machine with moving parts ever has millions of components. NONE. It would fall apart the moment you turned it on. But in software we make it happen just because we can — the worst possible reason.

Or so we think. How many hours of your life have you lost to crashing apps, crashing operating systems, lying servers, flaky networks?
(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #38

by on Sep.28, 2014, under News

Hello, everyone! For the past week, I’ve been playing a little Risk variant called Compact Conflict. It’s made in HTML5 and clocks in at under 13K minified! You can easily lose because of a little bad luck at the start, but it’s so fast and compelling I can’t be angry with it. Most remarkable is the AI (with three difficulty levels!) crammed into that tight space. I have much to learn…

compact-conflict

In the way of game development talk, Gamasutra is running a postmortem titled Creating Epic Scale Games on an Indie Budget. It’s a topic we care about here at No Time To Play, and the article gives some interesting answers. I can’t help but notice that the game in question is a 2D work in the vein of Star Control, rather than the glorious 3D-fests chock-full of FX most people think of when they hear “epic”. Do you suppose that has anything to do with the subject matter? You know my opinion.

(continue reading…)

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