No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #24

I meant to work on my game some more before this week's issue, but an impromptu trip messed up my schedule something fierce. Luckily, I'm hardly hurting for content.

I'll start with a fascinating post-mortem. Via Gamasutra, here's the story of a hobbyist programmer's game that was 13 years in the making!

The story, itself told with skill and humor, covers six big problems that marked the project. Three of them are very, very familiar.

Ambition: This is the first and likely biggest problem that kills a lot of creative projects. Pro tip: one small, completed and polished game is worth ten epic tech demos that never go anywhere. Step on your ego and get something done. Because if you can't finish a small game, you don't stand a chance with a big one.

3rd-party engines: It's tempting to reuse an existing engine and spare yourself some work, but really, in most kinds of games the generic "engine" part is a minority of the code: stuff like a game loop, rendering loop, elementary math and physics... might as well just copy-paste them from your previous project and accept that everything else will be new.

There are exceptions to this, of course. Simple text adventures or visual novels can get away with just building content on top of an existing engine. And famous shooters started out as mods of another — Counterstrike, anyone? But those are the lucky cases.

Flexibility: I wrote about it before, and I'll do so again. BE FLEXIBLE. Plans are made to be changed, and if you don't do that when necessary, you're in for a world of pain. Time will run short; some of your ideas will turn out ot be unworkable; players will have different ideas about what's good and fun in your game than you did. Would you rather stick to your "grand artistic vision", or make a thing people like?

In other news, last time I wrote about an ugly story of game studio mismanagement. Now Kotaku treats us to an entire collection of (anonymous) testimonies of projects canceled and developers being sacked after sacrificing their lives for work they can't even show off afterward. Sounds like the treatment of Army veterans, doesn't it?

At least I was able to read those stories, despite many of them hitting close to home. Because you see, out of my 15 years of webdev work, the first 10 vanished into a black hole, and the rest mostly consisted of projects nobody would want in their portfolio. The only things I can show off proudly, after a respectably long career in this field, are my own small creations -- stuff I did on my own time with no change of getting paid for it.

It can get much worse than that. I had to stop reading the companion blog to The Trenches — a webcomic about MMO developers — because of too many triggers. Think of what that's saying about what people do to each other in this business. Or any business, come to think of it. Because as far as I can tell it's the same everywhere.

I'll conclude with some news about text adventures. The same Gamasutra announces that Steam is now selling text adventures, and that's awesome. As part of a larger trend, it could mean that a new age of commercial text adventures is upon us. Great news for everyone who worked so hard to keep the genre alive during the 1990es and 2000s.

But this new gold rush means that a lot of people are getting into game development who maybe aren't ready for it. Elsewhere we have a rant about Twine failing to keep its promises. And while I'm definitely biased as a professional programmer, frankly all this whining about programming being hard is starting to grate on my nerves. Yes, making games is programming, even if you do it with a visual tool. That was one of the first topics I wrote about on this blog! Why is it still a surprise? Programming isn't writing code, it's making a myriad of tiny decisions and somehow communicating them to the computer, which — guess what — is just a dumb machine after all, and doesn't know what you mean (but do you? I've had my share of people with jumbled thoughts trying to tell me how to do my job).

And what's with people complaining about the exacting requirements of programming language syntax? I bet we've all run across sentences where misplacing a comma or swapping two words would completely change the meaning. As for case sensitivity, you just try ignoring proper capitalization in the following sentence: "I helped my uncle Jack off a horse." (Thanks, fluffy!) And we humans are infinitely better at dealing with ambiguity than computers are...

Newsflash: everything worth doing is hard. Apparently we've grown way too comfortable here in the developed world, to the point of forgetting this simple truth. And that makes us vulnerable.

Last but not least, I'd like to highlight this article about writing for games vs. traditional fiction. Not much to say... having done both, I agree with pretty much everything. Go take a look.

And that's all for this week. Now to work on my game some more, hopefully. Thank you for reading.

P.S. In the original comments, fluffy pointed out the joke in question was in fact an adapted bash quote.