It’s safe to say that I like interactive fiction a lot better than computer role-playing games. Just about the only CRPG that ever piqued my interest was Planescape: Torment. Which, sure enough, may well be the most adventure-like such game ever created, with much more of a focus on storytelling than combat, and with a setting that came alive (literally, within the game’s fiction) in a way few other games managed. You could say it’s a matter of patience, but I spent countless days, weeks at a time, playing strategy games, and also sank plenty of hours in roguelikes — the RPGs’ low-tech, mechanistic cousins. So this isn’t about preferring story over gameplay, either; in fact, some of my all-time favorite games are shooters.
May seem strange, then, that someone like me would be interested in trying out Eamon, an RPG as old-school as they get, and of a flavor that wasn’t all that popular even back in the day.
But inspiration can be found in unlikely places. For one thing, Eamon is a cult classic: released as public domain software in 1982, it was recreated more than once, and the Deluxe edition (easily playable forevermore thanks to DOSBox), was last updated in 2012 — no less than three decades since the original! Apart from the early Ultima games and Infocom’s library, I can’t think of many games the same age that people worked as hard to preserve.
Can’t believe it’s been a month since my article on the use of outliners in games. Between playing Master of Orion and working on a game design inspired by it, my initial idea took a backseat for a while, before coalescing into a specific product. I’m happy to announce Ramus 2, a new system for playing CYOA games written with general-purpose productivity software as opposed to dedicated tools — which, incidentally, allows for authoring on mobile devices without an always-on Internet connection. Much more work is needed, of course, from documentation to utilities for packaging stand-alone games, but the groundwork is laid, and the concept works surprisingly well.
Otherwise, I finally got around to getting a good look at Eamon, a text-based RPG engine from 1982, that was last updated in 2012 (an incredible 30-year run!) if not in the original form. Should probably get around to writing an article about it, because there are lessons to learn.
(Speaking of updates to old games, the original 8-bit Prince of Persia just got a modern level editor. How cool is that?)
In other news, this week Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an article on playing roguelikes when you can’t see, and another on the modders making games more gender-diverse. It’s great that inclusivity is becoming a hot topic in game development. More conventionally, Ars Technica has a history of open-world gaming, and PC Gamer a list of game design sins (both via K.D.). The latter two are actually old, but good enough to include.
We’re not done quite yet. For fans of adventure games, whether graphic or textual, there’s a long and entertaining interview with Tim Schafer, while Emily Short is answering to a letter about the state of Inform 7.
To cap an already long newsletter, I give you these musings on music in games. Something that tends to give me trouble, even more so than sound effects. Turns out, it is a genuinely delicate issue.
Oh well, see you next time.
Hello, everyone. I’ll start with an article left over from last week, that I couldn’t show you because the site was down. Namely, about ephemeral gaming, and not just in the sense of bit rot, but simply the ability to play (for instance) World of Warcraft as it was in 2010, to pick an arbitrary year. Never mind recreating the mindset of players at the time, the mood it brought and the kind of interactions it led to.
Which is all good and well, but, um, you do realize a theatrical play or live music concert is an equally ephemeral experience, and nobody sees it as a problem to be solved, right? We record the performance, write down our thoughts about the cultural context and move on. And as the article points out, people already do that for videogames as well. Not just in the sense of let’s plays — I’ve seen videos of grand battles in the aforementioned MMORPG, recorded by a designated player, complete with commentary about the who, what and why.
But yeah, the Ancient Egyptians never writing down the rules of Senet because “everyone knew how to play the game”… that was just silly of them.
Still in the realm of scientists tackling games, here’s a couple of papers on the communities around game-making tools (it’s in French, but one of the papers is in English). I’m still working my way through the first one, but the bit about making imaginary videogames before having the means or skills to do it for real brought back childhood memories. As for the idea that making games is a game in itself… that’s our motto here at No Time To Play, so, pretty much?
In related news, we have an article about games that cater to more than the flight-or-fight instinct that’s the typical male response to violence. Turns out, another instinct people have is to protect the innocent and make allies, and not nearly enough games address that, leaving much of the potential audience out in the cold. Gee, I wonder why.
Last but not least, Gamasutra tells us about Warren Spector tracing Deus Ex back to a game of D&D, while an acquaintance has been writing a series of articles about development on the ZX81. And I’ll leave it at that because I’m way over quota again. See you next week.
Oh, wow. The gaming world must have been really active this week, because I picked up a ton of links without even trying. Gonna keep commentary short, OK?
Let’s start with a number of retrospectives: a brief one of Street Fighter II (the arcade version; to me it was always a Super Famicom title), a longer one of the recently rediscovered Habitat, the world’s very first graphical MMO, that a team is now trying to revive; and an interview with John Romero about a long-lived tile editor.
Still on the topic of tools (it’s a recurring theme this week), Emily Short posts some general advice on making your own, which applies to a lot more than interactive fiction. Especially relevant considering the vast number of tools these days made for easy, visual creation of HTML5 games. Fans of retrogaming might be more interested in how to set up Arcade Game Designer on the ZX Spectrum, while for RPG developers there’s Uncharted Atlas, an unusually realistic generator of fantasy maps.
In more general game design news, we have an article about blending procedural generation with handcrafted content, and another about basing a game in real-world history. And for an announcement I can’t possibly pass on, Seltani is now on itch.io.
I’ll end with a bit of a rant. My friend and regular reader fluffy has returned to game development after a long absence, with a jam entry called Colorful Critter. And unfortunately I was completely unable to play the game on Linux. See, fluffy went with Love2D for this project, which is a very tempting choice (I considered it). Trouble is, Love2D games are nowhere near as portable and easy to distribute as its creators would have you believe. Let’s take it step by step:
- Most Linux distributions carry an ancient version if at all.
- Official binaries are only available for Ubuntu.
- The Windows build doesn’t work under Wine.
- Building from source is way too much trouble just to play a few games.
It should be noted that most of these issues are due to the use of SDL2, a notoriously finicky library with multiple components and dependencies that make it hard to build and ship with a game, an issue made worse by its creators’ insistence that people stick with dynamic linking. (Pro tip: no programmer is going to pluck a DLL straight out of another app and use it as such; they’ll look for the official website.) And yet it’s somehow become a de facto standard for 2D and even 3D game development. Go figure.
But I’m already way over my quota for the week. See you next time.
Hello, everyone! While still working insanely fast on a project only tangentially related to games (and getting overly tired in the process), this week I somehow managed to gather a nice collection of links on the side.
In the way of legendary game designers, there are good news and bad news. The bad news is, Pac-Man’s creator just died. No comment, except that he’ll be remembered. On the other hand, Richard Gariott isn’t only alive and well, but he was just interviewed by Polygon over his new autobiography. And I dunno about the book, but the write-up makes for pretty good reading.
For the game designers among us, Jay Barnson has a few thoughts on character generation in RPGs. And, well, show me someone who made the acquaintance of D&D and didn’t immediately try to roll a character or ten, even before they had any way to actually play them. Sure, organic development has its place — I went with that approach in my own roguelikes — but the fix for unfamiliar options isn’t removing them, or for that matter forcing the player to read a huge-ass manual upfront. Rather, make sure that:
- The process itself is fun and lets players express themselves, and
- no single choice is wrong once the game starts.
As for we writers, of games or anything else, Alexis Kennedy just published an excellent article about worldbuilding. And it’s a lesson I had to learn myself the hard way, after my first few attempts at imaginary universes fell flat. In his words:
This does not mean that invented worlds don’t need to feel consistent. Let me say that again, without the double negative, because it’s important: invented worlds should feel consistent! But an invented world can be consistent and detailed and very very dull.
Which is exactly what happens when you build your world first, i.e. before the story. Which is very much putting the cart before the horses. Because you see, what he doesn’t say is that for an audience to care they need something to empathize with. And people don’t empathize with rocks. Give me some characters first; make me care about them, and then I’ll care about their world by extension, even if their world is a tepid medieval village.
But I could write a lot more about that. Let’s finish by pointing out the recent release of Twine 2.1. Which is a bigger upgrade than it sounds, so be sure to check the forums for issues ahead of time.
Have a very nice week.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to my last newsletter for 2016; after this one, I’m taking a holiday break. It occurs to me that I’ve been posting this thing for three years now — half the time that No Time To Play has been around — and I’m yet to miss an update, though many have been late or else not very interesting.
Speaking of which, after failing to sell for a year, even after a fire sale, this autumn I made Tales of Space and Magic free. And it still failed to attract any views, let alone money. So for the past few days I’ve been trying something new, namely to turn the original PDF into a Twine. Which works quite well, if far from perfect, courtesy of all the implicit cross-references (now made explicit). Let’s see if this new edition will fare any better.
In the way of community updates, Vintage Is the New Old has a new face, that makes it look a lot more readable and modern, if a bit same-y. Not as good is the news that textadventures.co.uk will close down unless a new owner can be found before March 1st. We’re talking an order of magnitude more people than there are on IFDB, many of them students using interactive fiction as a learning tool. To ask what famous games have been made with Quest misses the point. This will be a loss no matter how you look at it, and I know from experience that once broken apart, a community can’t simply reform elsewhere: it’s gone for good.
Moving on to game design, Mark Johnson of Ultima Ratio Regum fame posted an article on the private lives of NPCs, while Jimmy Maher concludes his series on Wings (the classic flight simulator) with an excellent lesson for game designers:
Those other flight simulators define realism as getting all the knobs and switches right, making sure all the engines and airfoils and weaponry are in place and accounted for. (…) Wings was a reaction against that aesthetic. Instead of building a game out of exhaustive technical detail, with no thought whatsoever given to the fragile human being ensconced there in the cockpit in the midst of it all, John Cutter asked what it was like to really be there as a pilot on the Western Front during World War I — asked what, speaking more generally, it really means to be a soldier at war. Michael Bate, a game designer for Accolade during the 1980s, called this approach “aesthetic simulation” — i.e., historical realism achieved not through technical minutiae but through texture and verisimilitude.
In other words: dear developers, games are for people. Get a life first.
Happy new year and see you in 2017.
Hello, everyone! The 22nd Interactive Fiction Competition ended earlier this week with a result that surprised no-one, despite being a major first: as the official announcement points out, Detectiveland is the very first parser-less game to actually win the event! As the IFComp is the oldest and largest of its kind, that’s especially meaningful. But don’t worry, parser games aren’t going anywhere — although many of them are likely to be of the restricted parser variety, going forward.
In related news, here’s a postmortem of two competition entrants. Note how hard it is even for an experienced author to customize a game engine. If you’re new to game development, not to mention programming, don’t try this at home. Don’t be that guy who fights his tools every step of the way, then blames the tools. Choose an engine that matches your vision on most points, then compromise on the rest. Tip: compromise means you have to yield some too, not just the other side.
To tune into the mainstream news channels for a moment, over on Eurogamer Alexis Kennedy writes about the importance of games in difficult times, while Kotaku extensively covers EVE Online going free to play. Last but not least, someone out there is making a 3D RPG that emulates a tabletop game, complete with rolling virtual dice among the miniatures. An intriguing take on things, to be sure.
Last but not least, my recent launch of Adventure Prompt garnered enthusiastic reactions, giving me a good reason to continue the project. To begin with, I added some missing features to the interpreter. An update to the editor, including more documentation, will follow soon.
Until next time, have fun, and thanks for reading.
Hello, and welcome to an eventful week, if you’ll pardon the pun. The PROCJAM unconference took place just before the weekend. Released on the same occasion, the first issue of their newsletter pack a hundred full-color pages of little treasures for anyone interested in procedural generation. Stay tuned for the upcoming game jam of the same name. In the mean time, as Slashdot reminds, the 22nd edition of the IFComp still has three weeks to go. Take a look!
In the way of game design advice, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a write-up about choice in RPGs, and the gist of it is: let the player feel like they’re making an impact on the game world, even if it’s often an illusion. Give them at least a bit of agency. And elsewhere there’s a long, thoughtful essay about what made Ultima VI great. And while the bit about mapping games by hand is iffy, I actually considered using a flood fill algorithm for visibility in my roguelikes. It just never occurred to me that it simulates environmental awareness better than line-of-sight, simply because we also use memory.
Which reminds me that monitors have their color generation adjusted to match the sensitivity curve of the human eye, the Vorbis audio codec compresses sound based on how people hear, and some features of POV-Ray drop any pretense of physical simulation in favor of sort-of reproducing things we can see in the real world…
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. 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.