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.
I have a dearth of links again, after last week’s plenty. I guess my current project is taking its toll. Turns out, doing the writing and the layout and the artwork for a tabletop RPG, however modest, uses up a lot of energy. But oh well, won’t be long now.
While we’re talking tabletop, I recently started following rpg.net again, and this week their long-running history of RPGs touched on the issue of women in the industry. This may not seem too relevant to computer games until you encounter a number of famous names that shaped the fantasy genre as we know it today. And with franchises crossing media boundaries so easily nowadays, that matters more than it seems.
Wait, did I mention women in gaming? Here’s the story of a game nobody would touch because it has a female protagonist. (Spoiler: Square Enix took it in the end.) Do you suppose we still have a bit of a problem in the industry?
Last but not least, Shamus Young explains in his column why romance is kind of bland in modern RPGs. And he has a point. Just like with story in general, you can’t have much depth and emotional impact when your protagonist is a blank slate, and the story must get to a satisfying end no matter what the player chooses.
Or can it? Tabletop RPG players often manage it spectacularly well. Maybe videogame designers ought to look more outside of their narrow bubble. A lot more.
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.
Thought I was done gathering links for this week’s newsletter when Nightwrath pointed me at this postmortem of an indie RPG that was no less than 10 years in development. And that’s funny because this week I’ve been editing old blog posts for the book, and my first big article here begins with a handful of links to stories in the same vein. It seems people never learn: yes, you have to start small, and by that I don’t mean a smaller RPG, but a simpler game.
Oh, if you do have the fortitude to keep at it for 10 years or more, results can be wonderful. But do you?
And now for other news.