Maybe I write too much about text-based games, but in my defense the written word is awesome. It’s the closest you get to a digital medium without actual computers (what, with letters and words being discrete symbols by definition), and one of the most flexible as well. Communication doesn’t get more pure than a stream of symbols flowing back and forth; you can write them down on paper, ticker tape, or walls, going left or right, up or down, and even lay them out in three dimensions, as the Ancient Egyptians amply demonstrated. You do have to pick one path when reading, but hey, that’s what we call hypertext nowadays.
Early computer games, from Hamurabi (Doug Dyment, 1968) to Adventure (Will Crowther, 1976) were limited to a linear stream of text, simply because they had to run on teletypes. For the same reason, input was also limited to typing words on a keyboard. But that limitation also meant you exchanged words with the computer from equal footing — what people in the real world call a chat.
And so, a command line remained the defining way to interact with text adventures, helpers like a clickable compass rose notwithstanding. Oh, there were always a few games that tried to emulate the pick-a-choice interface popularized by gamebooks in the 1980s. But those were hardly on anyone’s radar until 2009, when Twine swooped in. At which point it became impossible to ignore all the people shouting that the emperor is naked.
Hello, everyone. This week felt like very slow progress, but after a long coding session yesterday, the game ended up nearly complete:
Not depicted: the horrible screen flickering every time you make a move on higher zoom levels; hopefully it will go away on more powerful computers, because clearly double buffering in sdlBasic isn’t working the way I thought. But hey, it runs, and looks just fine too. Water is surprisingly nice for such a simple trick, and knowing the exact screen aspect ration enabled me to come up with a nice non-verbal HUD — the minimap is displayed on-demand like in the new online version. Speaking of which, I found a bug in the latter that made speed boosts basically useless by the time you found any. Going to upload a fix soon, along with the desktop port.
In other news, this week I found yet another HTML5 library to ease roguelike development. Unlike the competition, rl.js is a single 600-line file, and doesn’t try to include the kitchen sink. It handles input, output, tilesets — including procedural art features — and manages the map, including collisions. In other words, a focused (and very well documented) product. Only its use of the General Public License is a potential obstacle.
Still on the same topic, there’s a new roguelike review blog in town, and it might just be worth following for a fresh perspective. And speaking of perspectives, just yesterday I was pointed at an academic, yet quite readable, article on diversity in games with procedural generation. Tl;dr version: the data structures and algorithms we use, even the programming languages, encode biases and assumptions, of which we have to be aware, lest we end up conveying unintended messages.
Last but not least, the news surfaced a few days ago of the brand-new Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation, which aims to future-proof certain tools and services the IF community has come to depend on. A most welcome initiative.
But I’m over my quota again. Until next week, code mindfully.
Hello, everyone. Once again I have a newsletter with none of the links promised in the title (well, one — see below). At least I have a screenshot for you, after a little coding marathon yesterday:
It’s all very early, of course, but the switch to graphical tiles already reveals multiple problems with the village level generator, that ASCII art was concealing. And it’s beginning to dawn on me that I won’t be able to sell this new version either, despite the fact that it will take a lot more work than expected. Not with all the free games out there looking much better. But hey, I’m learning things, and if it appeals to people other than UNIX beards for a change, it’s already a win.
Speaking of which. I’m using a Creative Commons tileset by David Gervais (via the downloads on Open Game Art). If it looks unimpressive, well, blame my relatively primitive level generation; those tiles are capable of much more. And while they look individually tiny, collectively they allow for a fairly generous game window — one that still fits on cheap laptop screens. But boy, was it tricky to think of a good window size and layout! What is it with pixel art being largely stuck in the NES era? The Super Nintendo already used tiles of 64×64 pixels a quarter of a century ago — not that tiles have to be square. But more about that in an upcoming article, if I manage to order my thoughts about it.
Until then, don’t dismiss retro graphics.
Hello, everyone. After a week lost to false starts and self-doubt, I’m ready to announce that my roguelike Tomb of the Snake will be getting a graphical port for Windows and Linux, more than a year after launch. The “graphical” part is central, because it will make the game appealing to more people, and also it will keep things fresh for me. Not that I’m looking forward to designing an inventory screen from scratch, but it beats being bored.
In other news, this week Shamus Young wrote about the mistakes Doom didn’t make (that would be the new one, not the 1993 original), and the quest designers of Witcher 3 wrote about their approach. But more interesting to me is an article Nightwrath sent about a new trend in retro game aesthetics. Remember two years ago when a blogger was complaining about the supposed ugliness of early 3D games? Turns out, people actually like that look enough to revive it on a wide scale these days, introducing a whole new generation of gamers to the pleasures of using their imagination.
Once again, it turns out style matters. Do you have a favorite game aesthetic?
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.
It was another of those weeks when I had to wait for the weekend to find any links at all. On the plus side, there are a whole bunch of new tabletop games listed in our annotated RPG links. Since I’ve been working on one of those, there was little else on my mind as of late.
Anyway, in the way of cool things happening, Nightwrath alerted me of someone from Reddit putting together a huge torrent of around 700 roguelikes. The really cool thing? The list includes my own Tomb of the Snake. Yaaay!
And because it’s been a while since I mentioned anything related to game development theory, Jay Barnson writes about the way better graphics lead to a look-but-don’t-touch effect.
Annoyingly enough, this is all for today, despite my best efforts. Oh well, until next week.
Hello, everyone! By the time you’re reading this, Tomb of the Snake is out, three days ahead of schedule — mostly because I cut one last feature, but also because it seemed fitting to announce it on my usual posting day. (That it happens to coincide with Easter in my neck of the woods is more on the awkward side.) Here’s what you’re getting:
It’s both more and less than I hoped for. It’s no big deal, certainly not perfect, but it fills an underserved niche or two, and it was a surprising amount of work for what’s in there. Get the game
from itch.io, on GitHub or even here on No Time To Play. I hope you enjoy it, and remember: feedback is welcome!
Now on to the few other news I have this week.
Did I ever tell you about my friend Sera? She’s a very geeky girl who likes videogames and anime a lot. I’ve been meaning to highlight her Let’s Play series here for a while now, but couldn’t pick a suitable video — we have very different tastes in gaming. But recently she posted this:
Now that looks like a lot of fun. Sexist fun, as Sera points out in the video, but some girls like boobs too, you know? It can be forgiven for once. So, enjoy. And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out Sera’s fundaiser. (Yes, she’s transgender, and she needs your help. Any bigoted comments will be deleted. I don’t care.)
Now on to the few gamedev news I have this week.
I don’t even know how to say this, so I’ll be brief: to the few people who read this blog and want it to stay online, I need your help. As of April 1st, I won’t have enough money left to eat, let alone pay for web hosting. The former is my problem; for the latter, I could use some spare change. My costs are $14/y for the domain (paid until July) and roughly $7/mo for the hosting (which includes my Internet access).
How you can pay: all of our games have Flattr buttons on their respective pages; I sell a few of them over on Itch.io; and of course you can use PayPal directly — leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch. Thank you very much. I want No Time To Play to stay up.
In other news, as you can see I made more progress with Tomb of the Snake — right now in the way of user interface. It’s not as much as I would have liked, but I’ve been working on another long-form article (and having some very bad days, but that’s another story). Don’t worry, it’s all coming along nicely.
Now let’s see what else happened in the world of gamedev this week.
Another week of development, another screenshot. I did much more that isn’t easily shown, such as adding mouse support, optimizing startup times and making sure the game can run on a monochrome terminal. Amazing how little work you need to keep a game running on supposedly obsolete machines as well as the latest Mac. Of course, Python and ncurses help a lot here — but that, too, is a lesson.
Speaking of lessons, I long wanted to make a roguelike with a variety of map types in some sort of logical progression, but even with the basically unlimited RAM and CPU of a modern machine, managing all the level generators is a hassle. Unless a game is focused on exploration, it’s better off with just one type of map, made as interesting as possible. Parametrization goes a long way here.
Now on to gamedev news that aren’t about me.