No Time To Play

Tag: user interface

Weekly Links #180

by on Jul.23, 2017, under News, Opinion

Hello, everyone. The big news this week is that after months of work the French interactive fiction community has a new home on the web, a modern website with a game database, tutorials and social networking features.

In the way of discussions about game design, we have an explanation of player-hating features of Dungeons&Dragons (via hyratel). Briefly put, it was originally a resource management game with — it turns out — some extra-hard play modes, that people later carried over without questioning the initial purpose. Moving to computer games, we have some words about user interface in adventure games, that echoes last year’s talk of narrow parsers. Last but not least, the inimitable Jonas Kyratzes talks about the texture of games, specifically how there’s a place for highly polished titles as well as rough gems.

Next we have a couple of interviews, one with Steve Cook about his 1000 Creators project, the other with David Braben, creator of Elite: Dangerous (via Gamasutra) — a disappointing, but remarkably insightful exchange.

Before concluding, I’d like to say a few words on game engine snobbery — a much-discussed topic in recent days. On the one hand, I have a good friend who won’t make her dream game in RPG Maker, otherwise an ideal match in every respect, for fear it won’t be taken seriously, and that’s a damn shame. I also routinely witness arguments on this subject in the visual novel community, and they’re as pointless as you might imagine. But this kind of snobbery can go the other way as well. Just look at the royal disdain with which the interactive fiction community has always treated not just homebrew games, but also less-known authoring tools that may not be quite as big and capable as Inform or TADS but still contain innovative features. Maybe that will change now that a homebrew game not just won the IFComp with high acclaim, but also single-handedly revolutionized IF interfaces.

But we’ve had enough negativity for one week, so I leave you in the company of videogame-inspired music.

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Weekly Links #171

by on May.21, 2017, under News

If I had a dollar from everyone who assured me that this time virtual reality will really take off, unlike the previous several occasions, because “now the technology is better”, I’d… probably have a few more games in my library, to be honest. Not the VR kind, though. According to Le Monde (article in French), all those tech companies that jumped enthusiastically on the bandwagon just a year or two ago are now quietly pulling out, despite decent hardware sales. Turns out, adoption isn’t use, as the stats from Steam seem to indicate. And while the article tries to shift the blame onto the nausea many people experience from those goggles, I still say the real reason is being a solution in search of a problem. Wish reality had proven me wrong; friends who play e.g. Elite: Dangerous in VR certainly seem to love it.

In other news, we have an article on RuneScape’s enduring appeal, another on how fighting games have evolved with the market (via Gamasutra), and also from Gamasutra a write-up on the Japanese approach to story in games. Note how much it talks about theme: it’s the same advice I give aspiring writers: figure out what your story is all about. This is so important it can’t be stressed enough. I disagree about building the world first, but then games have somewhat different requirements.

On a different note, it was enlightening to read about the challenges of running an abuse-free server for children with autism, and that it’s getting easier to make games for blind people. For a different kinds of accessibility, Mark Johnson writes about the basics of game literacy. And you know… while games can be obscure (Nightwrath just bought me a copy of Eador: Genesis and I can’t make heads or tails of it), I must give this one to the commenter who pointed out that gauges have been everywhere in the real world ever since the thermometer. The issue isn’t teaching new players to recognize a gauge for what it is, but to notice it in the first place. Situational awareness is a learned skill, and people who haven’t played games before, or at least driven a car, generally aren’t trained to direct their attention all around.

Last but not least, from a roguelike developer we have some thoughts on slow application development. I’ve written before about games that took over a decade to make, some hobbyist, others more professional, not to mention the still ongoing Ultima Ratio Regum (since I just mentioned Mark Johnson). My readers can probably think of more mainstream examples.

But for now, see you next week. Have fun in the mean time.

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Weekly Links #170

by on May.14, 2017, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone. I have good news and bad news. The good news is, I’ve been working on a game based on my recently revived 2.5D engine. The bad news is, I’m running out of steam and might switch tracks for a while. So for now, have some screenshots:

Yeah, yeah, I went right back to first-person after explaining how it doesn’t really work, but the visible pathways should help. As for the limited draw distance, I already had to redo the backgrounds once as it is, and anything further away looks bad in the first place. The theme just requires first person here, it can’t be helped. As for the map generator, you might recognize the one from RogueBot, somewhat refined. It feels kind of cramped in a game with tile-by-tile motion, but enemies and limited moves should fix that. Whenever I get to it, that is.

On the plus side, hey, I got to practice my Inkscape some more, and people seem to like the look. Also, refactoring code can be very fun, not to mention good practice. So yay.

In the way of news, we have an interview with Sid Meyer, then a history of hit points, that turns out to be quite complex and unexpected. And while Konstantinos Dimopoulos kicks offa series on medieval urbanism that’s equally useful to fantasy writers and game developers, Bruno Dias shares some thoughts about replacing the interactive fiction parser, that complement my own from a while ago. Clearly these ideas — which have been floating around for a while — are coalescing into something solid. It was about time, too.

Last but not least, via Vintage Is the New Old comes the news that next month there will be a Sinclair Basic game jam, which is especially tempting to someone like me. I even know what game I’d like to try and make. But whether I’ll actually take part is another story entirely.

Until next week, stay motivated.

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User interfaces in text-based games

by on Dec.18, 2016, under Case study

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.

(continue reading…)

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Announcing Adventure Prompt

by on Nov.17, 2016, under Gamedev

Seven years ago, I discovered MUSHes and MUCKs, also known as text-based virtual worlds. I stayed for the community, but what drew me to them in the first place was online building: the ability to build text adventure settings interactively, in the same environment and in the same way one navigates the same settings: by typing commands at a prompt.

Since then, I dreamed of bringing that unique quality to interactive fiction somehow, but could never think of a way to make the concept compelling enough, especially compared to the sophistication of modern authoring systems. So the idea stayed in a corner of my mind.

Fast forward to this spring, when I had an idea for a kind of text-based RPG with interactive fiction elements. As explained nearly a month ago, part of that failed concept found new life in a Twine game prototype. But then I got around to playing Robin Johnson’s Detectiveland, and something clicked. This! This is what I was looking for: interactive fiction with a proper world model, except with a button-based interface instead of a parser (which just isn’t friendly to touchscreens… or attention spans). And because this UI is equivalent to a two-word parser, the simplified world model of MU*s would be a good match instead of a letdown. Moreover, Detectiveland has been incredibly popular, revealing a demand for retro, stylized text adventures closer to classic Scott Adams titles than baroque Inform 7 epics.

(continue reading…)

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Three faces of Twine

by on Oct.20, 2016, under Case study

This spring, a friend of mine came up with an excellent gamebook made in Twine (now also on itch.io). At the time I appreciated not just the story itself, but also the way it worked around engine limitations to offer the player a character sheet at appropriate moments. And Kris isn’t the only one making RPGs in Twine, as I started to notice more recently. Which is a bit of a problem when using an authoring tool designed to display one passage at a time from a choose-your-own-adventure story, and not much else.

But what if I told you Twine has another face, one that allows you, with minimal effort, to make games with all the usual bells and whistles:

unwanted-hero

  • a proper save dialog with multiple slots;
  • more generally, a modal dialog system;
  • graphical user interface elements;
  • a fully customizable sidebar;
  • toolbars and status lines.

It’s called SugarCube, and it’s as well-documented as it is powerful. Also heavyweight, which is why Twine 2 ships with the older, less capable branch in the package. For some reason, however, its capabilities aren’t well-known, even though plenty of Twine-using authors prefer it to the default Harlowe.

(continue reading…)

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Coming soon: Laser Sky

by on Sep.29, 2016, under Gamedev

Funny how much morale matters in game development. While this weekend I was in no condition to work on Laser Sky, the game was in a condition to be seen by a few early testers, and that gave me the energy to go on. Not that the feedback was so great: everyone’s first reaction was to call it sluggish and unresponsive. It didn’t feel that way to me, but when three people say you’re drunk…

So the first thing I did on Monday morning was to make the player’s ship accelerate just a little faster. Which, to my surprise, improved the game balance, and subsequent testers merely remarked the game is slow-paced. In other words, exactly as intended. Success! Most of them also praised the graphics, though one tester was put off by the same “paper airplane” enemies another loved. There’s no accounting for taste. And hey, both of them recognized the inspiration despite the abstract shape. Go me.

laser-sky-art

Anyway, as predicted last time, the rest of the day was spent adding sound effects. They’re from the same Creative Commons pack I used for Attack Vector, except a different selection (twice as wide, too), and with no additional sources. So the two games ended up sounding nothing the like. Couldn’t locate any suitable music, but a friend offered to help with that, and from what we discussed it seems we’re on the same wavelength. So this should be great.

(continue reading…)

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Weekly Links #122

by on May.29, 2016, under Gamedev, News

Hello, everyone! After bringing the desktop port of RogueBot to a playable state, I went back and redid the original online edition as well, to make it look better and bring it more in line with the new version. And while the results aren’t perfect, it’s a good time to take a break and give another project some love.

In the mean time, we have an interview with two Greek game developers about adventure games, and a feature about the founders of Id Software now that they moved on. In the way of hands-on gamedev articles, you can read some musings on making failure fun, and some more on the subtle differences between user interfaces. And while the latter uses examples from interactive fiction, the lessons it teachers are widely applicable.

(Since I mentioned interactive fiction, it’s worth nothing that the XYZZY Awards ceremony was last night, and Birdland, a Twine game, basically took all. Haven’t played it yet, but it’s at the top of my wishlist.)

And from the same Emily Short, who is active as always, stay tuned for the upcoming Bring Out Your Dead game jam, an event where you can show off your works in progress that never went anywhere, but you think are worth seeing anyway. Amusingly enough, another very similar jam is running right now, and I already entered my visual novel intro Before the Faire, that I made two years ago but couldn’t finish, despite a good start.

Last but not least, lately I’ve been circling a nice little gamedev platform called sdlBasic, that I hope to use in an upcoming project. While lurking on their forums, I found a link to this list of art asset resources, unknown to me until now. One link in particular grabbed my attention: game-icons.net, a sizable repository of monochrome vector icons with a variety of possible uses.

But I have to look more closely into it first. Have a great week.

 

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Verb-oriented game design

by on May.05, 2016, under Gamedev

Born of technical limitations, parser-based interactive fiction has proven to have enduring qualities. Fans of the medium invoke the natural feeling that you’re simply having a conversation with the computer, as well as the impression of freedom — that for a while you can suspend your disbelief and pretend you can type anything at all at the prompt. Myself, I like how you can easily see what you did a moment ago, so there’s less to remember, and just as easily repeat a recent command, with or without changes, no matter how complex it is.

The downside to that, of course, is that the illusion of complete freedom shatters all too easily, and that presumes you were able to enter “the zone” in the first place. Which just isn’t for everyone. Commands have to be learned, you can’t just stumble upon them like in a graphical game, and despite many attempts at tutorials, both interactive and less so, beginners still struggle. Perhaps because tutorials can teach you the form, but not so much the mindset — the method behind the madness, that you need in order to intuit new commands by yourself. The latter is something you must figure out alone. And sooner or later, you will have to.

Because, you see, not only does interactive fiction partly rely on discovery — on making some possible actions non-obvious — but there are way too many commands to teach them all outright. If I’m not mistaken, top-tier authoring systems each provide about one hundred default verbs, of which three quarters will be completely irrelevant to any particular story. But you still have them at your fingertips, and unless the author takes great pains to steer you away from all that fluff (an undue burden, considering how many other details they need to take care of), you’ll be left to navigate a maze of fake options in search of whatever nuggets of meaningful interaction are sprinkled throughout.

It’s one thing to gently weave a consensual illusion, and another to actively mislead the player, then shrug and smile when they call out your lie. (continue reading…)

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GUI toolkits and videogames

by on Jun.11, 2015, under Gamedev

Used to be, games didn’t need a proper Graphical User Interface the way applications do. They’d show a title screen, you’d press fire, the game would start. After game over, they’d show you the high score list and that was that.

Nowadays expectations are a little higher. Any game needs at least push buttons or some sort of menu, so you can see the credits, choose your language or turn off sound. As a next step, you’ll also need a dialog pane, textbox control and image control so you can depict an NPC speaking, for example. By the time you move on to strategy games, we’re talking sliders and spinners in addition to the lists you need for, say, an RPG — practically all the controls in a full-blown GUI toolkit. And that’s a problem, because the latter aren’t easy to make at all.

But what if you could make a game using a general-purpose GUI toolkit, say Swing, or Gtk+?

That wouldn’t fly for a lot of games, mind you. Regular GUI toolkits are too slow to render in real time, and they don’t render to OpenGL anyway, as a general rule. They also don’t have visual appeal as a primary design consideration. (Unfortunately — I’ve talked to many people who think they should. But see below.) Still, that leaves plenty of open possibilities, as I’ll explain in a moment.

(continue reading…)

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