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. As I was saying last time, the IFComp results were announced on Monday, and this year I was intrigued by several of the games for a change. Actually playing them hasn’t been so smooth. One is Windows-only, and I can’t be bothered to install Wine. Another has illegible gray-on-black text that also overlaps in places. (Does it perhaps expect a maximized browser window?) Yet a third runs in real time and doesn’t even pause after a screenful of text. Dear game developers: accessibility matters.
But there’s a gem or two among them — see my review of Untold Riches. I also tried Scarlet Sails, but gave up when my only available option was unacceptably stupid. Thanks for reminding me that a historical pirate’s life was short, squalid and painful.
Somewhat off-topic, right-wing military sci-fi has a tarnished reputation nowadays (which has made a lot of puppies sad, but that’s another story). Still, I used to enjoy the early Honor Harrington books when I was younger, so it was nice to hear that a Honorverse tabletop RPG is coming next year. What roleplayer hasn’t dreamed of commanding vast fleets in battle while dealing with political intrigue on the side, and even the occasional duel? Not to mention that from tabletop to videogames there’s just one step. We can expect more goodies from the franchise in the coming years.
In actual game development news, the authors of a recently Kickstarted game have published their early brainstorming process, and it’s an instructive read. Note the increasingly wacky and complicated ideas, none of which makes me want to even bother starting the game. That’s what happens when you set out to make one for the sake of it. If you don’t even care about your own driving idea as an author, how are you going to finish your creation, never mind getting your audience to give a damn?
In art, you must have something to say. Doesn’t have to be profound. It just has to matter — to you, the author. And as it turns out, most ideas that matter can be readily expressed in a non-interactive format.
I’ll end with a cool use of procedural generation, for once not to create game content, but the kind of fluff that makes the player believe they’re having an impact on the virtual world. Which, as Undertale spectacularly demonstrated in recent months, is a thing players are hungry for.
Until next time, consider what you’re giving your audience.
Welcome, everyone, to another short week. I’d complain again about the usual stuff but you’re probably tired of hearing it. The big thing is of course the Interactive Fiction Competition, but I won’t cover it — plenty of mainstream outlets are taking care of that. Suffice to say, Emily Short thinks it’s the strongest edition ever, and that’s a huge compliment.
For my taste this is the best IF Comp in 21 years of comp history. Such variety and color; so many authors doing their best work yet.
— emshort (@emshort) October 8, 2015
(Also it’s worth noting that Twine is powering the most entries this year, and nobody’s bitter about it for a change. Let’s hope the peace lasts.)
But frankly I’m more excited about the next big event this autumn. Set to start in less than a month, the Procedural Generation Jam is once again calling for participants, and organizer Michael Cook writes about his expectations. What can I say? I understand the sentiment, but the truth is I got into procedural generation for two reasons: one, because it allows me to express game content as code, which comes naturally to me as a programmer, and two, because that way I can actually play my own games, rather than knowing all the maps by heart.
(And yes, programming can be natural. Programming is a species of mathematics, and mathematics is a language for describing the natural world. So there’s no real contradiction.)
But don’t worry, hand-crafted worlds and stories aren’t going anywhere. Over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun we have a top of the best RPG worlds, while Hardcore Gaming 101 posts a retrospective of the Gabriel Knight games — both of them good reminders that quality writing makes a real difference. Which is especially meaningful to point out when literary games are all the rage these days.
But I’ve run out of content again. See you next week.
With my schedule messed up again by a death in the family and a fight with bureaucracy, I almost forgot it was time for another newsletter. The week’s highlights are a couple of articles about the so-called “indiepocalypse”, and how it’s way overblown: one relying on statistical analysis, the other on a look at history, and both drawing the same conclusion: good games still sell, bad games still tank. Nothing to see here, move along.
In other news, Techdirt alerts of even more game-breaking DRM changes on Windows. And for game developers, @gnomeslair points at a dialogue editor based on Twine. I wrote about alternate uses for Twine before; this is someone taking the same idea to its logical conclusion. And via the same source, here’s an article about the best games based on books — food for thought whether you’re a developer, writer or player.
Last but not least, I want to talk about a very personal writeup titled Video Games Versus Disability. Mind you, I’m able-bodied. But I’ve met blind people who play MUDs and interactive fiction because hardly any other kind of game works for them, and it pains me just to think of that. As for hearing… I remember playing Blade Runner back when my English wasn’t nearly this good (my spoken English still lags behind), and wishing for subtitles to help me along a little. Imagine being physically unable to hear the game at all. Come to think of it, try playing your own game with the speakers unplugged. Screen contrast turned way down. A metronome tick-tocking in front of the screen. The language changed to one you don’t speak well. These will give you just a taste of how some people experience not just games, but every waking moment of their lives. Can you make something they can enjoy anyway?
Until next week, think about those who Are Not Like You™. Thanks.
Having been offline for the weekend due to yet another outage (so much for Talk Like a Pirate Day), I find myself late and with insufficient links to make a newsletter. Perhaps I could mention the latest toy I’ve been working on — RPN-40, a programmable calculator trying to stay simple and fun. Or perhaps Hardcore Gaming 101’s retrospective of C.P.U. Bach, which may seem off-topic. But think about it: in 1994, computers were already able to compose music. 21 years down the road, they are even able to design videogames. How can we harness that ability?
And speaking of that, via Michael Cook I learned of this blog post about procedurally generating cities. Having done just that (in a simplistic way) for RogueBot, I can certainly appreciate the work described.
— Danny Goodayle (@DGoodayle) September 17, 2015
Last but not least: Rock, Paper, Shotgun — which has been leaning noticeably towards my range of interests as of late — has an article about designing magic into fantasy worlds. Which of course applies to all media, not just games; the article doesn’t talk at all about implementation issues. Tip: you basically need a scripting engine to have magic in your game. The simplest implementations I’ve seen resemble the example in my article about code versus data. But the narrative angle matters just as much, if not more.
And that’s pretty much all I have for today. See you next time.
I never know how to open up these newsletters, so I’ll get right down to it: my new book is out! It took me five weeks (excluding the delays) to write, typeset and illustrate the whole thing, and even though we’re only talking 13500 words and 32 pages, it was exhausting. But now it’s out, and after publishing two books in one summer it’s time for some programming again. Speaking of which.
It’s been a month and a half since David Wheeler contacted me about further developing Jaiffa. He thinks it can be turned from a learning toy into a serious authoring system for interactive fiction, and his early work towards that goal is promising. (Check out the tutorial!) Should have covered this earlier, but Tales of Space and Magic was just starting to absorb all my attention. Well, better late than never.
In unrelated news, it turns out that Windows 10 will refuse to run games with some forms of DRM. And never mind how that will impact the honest people who bought the game, while pirates will have no problem — again. But as Jay Barnson points out, some of those games that won’t run anymore are Microsoft’s own! Securing their OS… or shooting themselves in the foot? You decide. And in the mean time you might be in the market for old games, which still sell despite being easy to pirate, proving once again that convenience beats all.
Until next time, sell smartly.
No really, that’s the book’s title. How To Make Games, by Trent Steen, is a 29-page PDF, nicely typeset (albeit unprintable) and chock-full of illustrations. Like my own book, it aims to help people get started with making games. Unlike me, however, the author outright recommends downloading GameMaker and learning to use it. I can’t help but agree with the advice on taking off: start small, recreate the classics for practice, don’t worry about assets at first. Tired of hearing all that? Sorry. There’s a reason why all successful game developers keep saying it.
In subsequent chapters, the book goes hands-on with game design issues such as prototyping, helping players learn the game without the need for a tutorial or manual, and making small, tight designs. There’s a chapter on playtesting, and another about participating in game jams. Last but not least, there’s a bit of advice about tackling bigger projects, and the gist of it is: take care of yourself.
What bothers me about the book (apart from being the competition, har har), is that it doesn’t go more deeply into the issue of making or obtaining assets, which is a necessary and not at all easy step. Simply mentioning SFXR for making sound effects would help a lot. I also disagree with the author in one regard: do fall in love with your projects. Don’t work on a game you don’t care about. It will show.
Love your games enough to finish them. They need that kind of love.
For the second time this year. No Time To Play is down as I write these lines, so I don’t know when my words will reach you. Clearly it was a bad idea to keep all my eggs in one basket. For various reasons, I can’t change hosting companies now, and even if I did, that wouldn’t solve the underlying problem of having a single point of failure.
So in an effort to expand and diversify, I started a No Time To Play tumblelog, with a different focus (though still related to game development). Additionally, I’ll be trying to put together a No Time To Play book, starting from a selection of content on this blog that stands on its own and best represents my original vision. Don’t hold your breath, though. I just can’t make any promises.
On to the week’s news…
It’s always ups and downs I guess. Just a week again I was complaining about health issues. Now I’m well again, as for Glittering Light, it now has sound as well as something that can pass for a title screen. The plan was to also have built-in credits, a scoreboard and all the goodies, but that would just take too much effort at this point, especially with the lack of attention the game “enjoys”. It pains me, because I know I can make a game look professional — I did it with Attack Vector, and it wasn’t that hard. But that was back then.
Otherwise, this is another week with few news, so I’m going to fill the space with commentary instead. Specifically, about RPGs, writing, combat and how it all applies to other kinds of games.
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.