Hello, everyone. You might like to know that my new book Make Your Own Programming Language is now also on itch.io. This version isn’t as pretty, but it’s more printable, with fewer pages and no syntax highlighting. The content is otherwise identical, and you get the same file formats.
In actual news, Emily Short’s RPS column for this week is a presentation of Texture, the hot new authoring system for interactive fiction. And you know… it bothers me to no end that people sing the praise of Texture’s input system after bashing two-word parsers for decades. Because that’s what Texture did: it reinvented the two-word parser. Which of course is perfectly fine, but can we please acknowledge and address the issue?
On a rather different note, via Vintage Is the New Old here’s a story about someone remastering a ZX Spectrum game after a quarter century — a very instructive, if overly technical, look at history. More approachable is an article about the masters of Commodore 64 games, but the moral is the same: we’re truly blessed nowadays. Why did the hardware makers from decades ago have to make their systems so damn quirky? In retrospect, the quirkiness appears to go way beyond what was needed to squeeze more features out of that limited hardware…
I’ll end with Hardware Gaming 101’s brief overview of Thomas Was Alone, the strange indie platformer from a few years ago that proved there was a huge market for games not driven by technology, and opened the way for more recent successes in the same vein — a most welcome trend if you ask me.
Until next time, consider the lessons of the past.
Hello, everyone. This week, Vintage Is the New Old notes that the Internet Archive just uploaded 13 years’ worth of Nintendo Power issues. Which reminded me of the times in 8th grade when all the boys would gather around a classmate whose parents were wealthy enough to get him issues of a similar magazine from France, along with Famicom games. It would be years before I got my own console, a Chinese clone, and by then everyone else had moved on to the SNES. But magazines still made people gather around in the classroom…
In unrelated news, we have a couple of rants, like this one about big game companies jumping into virtual reality feet first and messing things up, thus giving the medium a bad reputation. An interesting argument, but I predict that’s not what will kill VR again — rather it will be the realization that VR is still a gimmick with nothing new to say. And from a different source, here’s an opinion piece about what actually matters in procedurally-generated games. Gee, you mean some people play games for the (gasp) mechanics? As in, the one thing that’s unique to the medium? What a surprise… not.
I’ll end with an article on testing interactive fiction with automated gameplay, which contains some ideas easily applicable to other genres, like board games. It’s a kind of fuzzing, really, with comparable benefits and limitations. Also, the bit about repeating game states made me think about certain rules from the games of Chess and Go — it’s not just an issue for computers.
But you already know to take inspiration from the analog world, don’t you?
Is it a book? Is it a piece of software? It is a game? The second edition of Make Your Own Programming Language, that I finished writing today, has a little of all three. Most importantly, it tries to recapture the fun of making the computer follow your instructions, that forgotten quality of programming that used to lure so many people decades ago. It will soon be out to beta-readers, and then I’ll let you know.
In other news, Rock, Paper, Shotgun is running a series of articles on the future of procedural generation, specifically about spinning lore for computer role-playing games. Which would be pretty interesting, except for most roguelikes that would be overkill, while in more conventional CRPGs handcrafted characters, stories and settings are the whole point. Do games that aim to have emerging narratives even need that much detail, especially if it’s ultimately fluff?
Going forward, via Jay Barnson, here’s a Gamasutra article about Chrono Trigger’s Design Secrets, that manages to be useful even though I never played the game. And Jimmy Maher’s history of computer story games has reached the demise of Infocom; check out the quote from Marc Blank, who was stating who knows how long ago what myself and others have been blogging about all spring:
If all of a sudden you can ask any question, but there are really only three questions that are important to the story, you’re either going to spend all this time coming up with answers that don’t mean anything or you’re going to have a lot of “I don’t know that,” which is frustrating. I always suspected it was a dead end. The nice thing about the command-oriented game is that you can come up with a pretty complete vocabulary and a pretty complete set of responses. As soon as it becomes more open-ended — if I can say, “I’m hungry” or “I like blue rubber balls” — how do you respond to that?
To end on a nostalgic note, here’s a blog post about abandoned arcades, and the slow death game cabinets are sentenced to when left exposed to the elements. Thankfully, there is interest in rescuing these old machines as of late, so for the most part arcades are a bit of history we can expect to survive.
Until next time, don’t let the past be forgotten.
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?
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.
Hello, everyone. Hard to believe it’s been only one week since I started work on a desktop port of Glittering Light, because it already looks like this:
Mind you, it’s not even an alpha right now, and there are compatibility issues that may yet kill the project; but even if it does, I’ll still recommend sdlBasic as a nice little tool for rapid prototyping and such — it’s a surprisingly well-designed dialect and implementation, with a tiny but friendly community.
In the mean time, the Bring Out Your Dead game jam, after closing yesterday, reopened again for a few more hours. (If you’re reading this on Sunday, you might still catch it!) My list of favorites however remains unchanged: Total Oblivion, an experimental tabletop RPG with an intriguing subject matter that’s quite relevant these days; Kulhwch, a text-based room escape game made in Twine (and in verse, no less), which proves — in the small — that you don’t need hunt-the-pixel puzzles for the genre to work; and an interactive comic prototype by a veteran of the interactive fiction community. Other entries are worth a look as well; if you drop by, leave the authors a comment, because socialization has been scarce during this jam as well.
On to more conventional news. While my neighbor from the south Konstantinos Dimopoulos writes about implying size and complexity in game cities (goes for any kind of virtual environment, really), one of Defender‘s creators talks about the bright future of arcade games. Last but not least, in Le Monde of all places there’s an interview about what made Super Mario 64 so special. It’s all in French, but the short version is, that was the first console game to feature a vast, wide open 3D world with sandbox gameplay — something we nowadays take for granted on all platforms.
So, games to play, lessons to learn and a new toy to play with. It’s been a pretty good week after all. Have fun, and see you next time.
Hello, everyone. I don’t have much patience to watch video anymore, so when something on YouTube catches my eyes these days, there’s a good reason. Via Konstantinos Dimopoulos, here’s a short documentary about the much-maligned CGA graphics the IBM PC originally launched with, and its many hidden qualities.
Speaking of retro graphics, Jay Barnson alerts his readers of the just-started Low Rez Game Jam, that challenges entrants to make a game running in just 64×64 pixels! That may seem too restrictive — less than the Game Boy — but as I pointed out in the past, creative people have been able to make do with only 16×16! What can you do with 16 times as much?
In unrelated news, the authors of 80 Days recently wrote about the decision to open source their development tool. Among various details, one thing that grabbed my eye was the idea that the story always moves forward if you don’t specify anything else. Which is not unlike how Ren’Py works, and answers one of the thorniest questions in interactive storytelling. But more of this in a future article. For now, while we’re on the topic of interactive fiction, Emily Short just posted a brief bibliography about IF history, which just so happens to include material of particular interest to regular readers of No Time To Play.
I had one more link for today, but it warrants much ampler commentary, so I’m leaving it for another write-up. Stay tuned.
Hello, everyone. Once again I have a handful of links but this time there’s much more to say about them. At this spring’s GDC, a new voice rose to talk about the way emulation may be the only way to preserve old games going forward — and with them, a big part of our era’s culture. Which echoes Shamus Young making a similar argument exactly one year ago in The Escapist. You already know my opinion so I won’t insist.
In unrelated news, we have this short Golden Axe retrospective. I must confess my experience playing the game was very different. While my 15-year-old self wasn’t above staring at pixelated nudity, that was the last thing on my mind while playing a fast action game on a small EGA monitor. And I’m pretty sure that at least in the PC version the dwarf did have an axe — the whole point was that he had a slow attack that could cleave in half multiple enemies at once, while the woman had a light, fast blade that did pitiful damage, with the male barbarian being average in that department. And guess which character was my only chance of actually making any progress…
To change the topic once again, someone who worked on many of the big LucasArts games made public a bunch of design documents. And it turns out there was a proper sequel planned for the Atari classic Star Raiders — not the one that ended up on the market. What stands out in the PDF: how game designers at the time did consider potential marketing needs, but at the same time made provisions for when a feature was just too hard to implement properly. Which is the opposite of my experience in software development: what the boss decided absolutely HAD to be implemented at any cost. Yet somehow I was always the one being accused of inflexibility. Somehow.
It’s also amusing to see just how much of a Star Wars rip-off the game concept was, plus the terms liberally pilfered from Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (the first one). Originality may be overrated, but there’s inspiration and there’s just sort of making a childish mash-up of cool concepts with no rhyme or reason. Then again, that perfectly describes Ultima I, and that’s the game that single-handedly launched the modern CRPG genre. Your mileage may vary.
Last but not least, it’s been three weeks since Rhianna Pratchett was mentioned on this blog, and here she is taking the stage again to remind people that storytelling in a game is more than just the writing — the entire design contributes, and developers need to learn how to work together in telling a story.
Then again, if people knew how to truly work together, the world would have become a utopia long ago. Cheers.
Hello, everyone. I won’t be so talkative today, having already spent my energy on the previous rant. Let’s start with Develop magazine explaining how practical models defined the original Doom. Which is pretty funny, considering how Hollywood went through a period of all CGI, all the time around the turn of the millennium, only to rediscover the value of practical FX. But I had no idea game developers would also resort to props and such in the past. Maybe that would be a better way out of the uncanny valley than even more polygons?
Then there’s Shamus Young with an overview of randomness in games — another issue I tackled myself in the past. In the same key, a thread on the rpg.net forums discusses what card-based mechanics can do that dice can’t. Worth keeping in mind, especially as I gave serious thought to making games based on card mechanics but never got around to it.
Last but not least, it turns out someone is implementing a Civilization clone on a Commodore 64. Which is way cool, and proves once again (are you tired of hearing this already?) just how badly we’ve been underutilizing computer hardware for the past… oh, more than 30 years now. And as a post scriptum, here’s a spoilerific retrospective of Planescape: Torment by Hardcore Gaming 101.
Have a nice week, and see you next time.
Another week, another close shave. It was only yesterday that I found a link worth sharing, but what a find! Over at Vice Magazine there’s a book excerpt arguing that the ZX Spectrum encouraged creativity more than any other 8-bit platform:
Other machines had more sophisticated sound and graphics, and provided built-in features to make writing games easier. A good example is the Commodore 64, which not only had an advanced sound chip but the ability to use sprites, graphical objects that made animations easier to create. “The trouble was, that guided everyone into making games that all looked incredibly similar,” recalled Spectrum games programmer Jon Ritman. The Spectrum had no such hardware support, and yet its simplicity and origins as a machine to be explored made it a flexible medium to create games that did not have to obey the rules. “The Spectrum was just ‘here’s a bit of screen’. It’s laid out in a funny way, which is a bit of a pain,” explains Ritman. “But you just draw things. And you could do whatever you want. It might not be as fast, but you can do whatever you want, and I think that as a result you got more interesting ideas on it.”
I wrote repeatedly about the value of working with a dumb drawing surface (always controversially, I might add). And then there’s the bit in Jimmy Maher’s Amiga book where he points out that all the technical cleverness of the platform’s legendary chipset was of no use when Doom came along and required raw processing power. Yet the creativity angle is fresh to me, however obvious in retrospect.
In unrelated news, the amazing Michael Cook recently posted the first in a series of articles about Danesh, his new tool for exploring procedural content generators, and it’s a very promising concept indeed. (Hooray for fuzzing becoming a mainstream programming tool. Whether you call it by that name or not.)
But that’s all for today. See you next week.