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Weekly Links #321: philosophy edition

24 May 2020 — No Time To Play

You know, it occurs to me that game designers don't understand artistic media in general, not even their own.

You see, in books you tell a story through words. In ballet, through dance. In comics or movies, through pictures. And neither words, dance or pictures have to tell a story; all can still be art just fine without a narrative attached.

It stands to reason that games should tell stories through gameplay, if they do at all. They shouldn't have to, however, to be considered art.

So why is it that 40 years after Pac-Man we still struggle with this simple idea? Part of it is of course that we only think it's Art with capital A if it's the kind of stuff aristocrats used to enjoy. We don't even apply that rule consistently, because opera was once popular, low-brow entertainment. So was Shakespeare's theatre. Then again if human beings were willing to remember their history, we wouldn't be in this big mess now.

But mostly, it's that even those game designers with a background in philosophy are probably trained to think philosophy means Thomas Aquinas or Wittgenstein. Anything invented this side of 1920 just sort of exists, right? It's nothing worth thinking about. And definitely not worthy of much respect since it's less than a century old.

That's why we never quite came to grips with phones, either.

You caught me: we're having another week with no news worth commenting on. Well, there's another history of the Minitel system, though it fails to mention any games, and more topically the fact that Microsoft open-sourced GW-Basic; naturally, not before it was reversed-engineered by others, thus making this moot but for the historical interest. Oh! There's also Emily Short pointing out that in game design, like in other arts, you must have something to say in order to get anywhere. Gee, you think this relates to what I wrote above?

Until next week, when we can hopefully spend some time being playful instead.

Tags: game-design, philosophy

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Weekly Links #320: interactive fiction edition

17 May 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! It's another week when the news from game development at large failed to hold my attention. In my defense, for once it's because I've been doing a lot of my own work, and there's even more coming. So let me tell you about it.

To begin with, I wrote Try this INSTEAD, the promised game engine review; the game port it mentions is still unfinished for reasons you'll see in a moment, but going very well. It's just that my plans have shifted.

You see, after trying various new things to do with my phone, so I can cut down on computer time (never mind why), I finally ended up installing a Z-Machine interpreter, namely Text Fiction. Chosen for its small size, it also proved to be gorgeous, and very well designed for its purpose. I can only play certain games that way, but that's less of a problem than you'd expect, for reasons explained in my second article this week, Text games forever.

Which brings me to current plans. On this blog, I always treated interactive fiction as just another game genre to compare against others and learn from. Arguably for the best, seeing how my own attempts flopped badly (especially on Itch). Text adventures mean a lot to me anyway, and after ten years of No Time To Play I need to spend some time doing things I love without having to think of an audience.

Oh, the site isn't going anywhere (unless disaster strikes). There will still be news and reviews, and the occasional experiment too. Not to mention the upcoming second book, which looks poised to hit the 28K-word mark. From now on however it's all going to be much more personal and relaxed. And starting next year, who knows. Something must change in any event.

Thanks for sticking with me throughout this all. Until next week, be well.

Tags: interactive-fiction, meta

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Weekly Links #319

10 May 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Thanks for being with me today. Not many of you are left. This site's readership has been in freefall since at least the start of the year, and it's getting really hard to stay motivated. Which of course leads right into a vicious circle, but there you have it.

For what it's worth, Tee-Wee and Ramus are still getting views, if slowly, and I'm sitting on another feature to give the latter. To my surprise, last year's Keep of the Mad Wizard is also staying right ahead of both. To think I was ready to take it down from Itch.io! And Glittering Light 2 is slowly catching up with games that had years to become popular. So this year's hardly a bust. But then, what gives?

Oh well, I'll see once we're out of lockdown, and able to get a new computer, so I can safely work on the second No Time To Play book. One more week to go, if all is well. In the mean time, there's a game engine to review (it's a surprise) and not much else in the way of plans.

As for news, today we have a write-up on reverse-engineering N64 games, along with a couple of links without comment. Details under the cut.

Read more...

Tags: meta, preservation, game-design

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Games, progress and grognards

09 May 2020 — No Time To Play

This Friday, Gamasutra resurfaces an old reprint of an even older editorial by Chris Crawford, the game industry's tragic philosopher. And well, in some ways it's spot-on about the state of game development in 1997. The tech rat race never stopped, for one thing. But in other ways, it also suffers from his usual failure to look under the surface:

Yet Command & Conquer is little more than a remixing of design concepts that we've seen hundreds of times in previous games. Doom is just a souped-up version of Wolfenstein 3D, which in turn was based on an Apple II game called Castle Wolfenstein. Myst is an utterly conventional adventure game, in design terms no different from the original Adventure computer game, only souped up with '90s graphics.

Bwahahaha! Really?! C&C famously developed the concepts in Dune II, which in turn built on its predecessors; Doom massively improved upon Wolfenstein 3D, which wasn't Id Software first shooter of the sort, either. (By the way, the original Apple II game was 2D and stealth-oriented.) As for Myst being no improvement upon Adventure, which by the way hadn't been the state of the art in adventure games for fifteen years at that time... yeah.

Each of those games refined and grew the concepts introduced by its predecessors. Sometimes clumsily. In fits and starts. But that's how art moves forward. Engineering, too, not that anyone ever seemed to know in a culture that glorifies inventors and "original" thought to the detriment of those who toil for decades to turn the rough gem of an invention into a product everyone can use safely.

And speaking of decades: At the time, games like Nethack and Angband had already been around for ten years, give or take, continually built upon and improved along the way. So what Chris Crawford claimed he wanted to see already existed. By now both have been around for over thirty, having spawned impressive family trees too.

Maybe look outside "the industry" now and then. And lower your gaze. You can see a lot better without your nose getting in the way.

Tags: game-design, history, philosophy

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Weekly Links #318

03 May 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Early this week, a young developer asked the Itch.io community for advice on starting out. While it's usually hard to give generic advice, I wrote this in response:

Make the games you like to play, because you'll be playing them a lot.

Be patient, because you're not going to make great games in a week, or a month, or a year. It will take much study and practice. You'll probably fail a few times, too.

Start with something simple. Don't turn your nose at text-based games, for example. People love them, and you have to start with something you can handle.

Talk to people. Play their games, too. Then show them your games.

Try all kinds of engines. Try to learn programming. Figure out what you like best and what you can do good work with.

Don't give up easily.

Be kind.

More people had interesting contributions, so check out the whole topic. And in the way of news, we have a new old interactive fiction blog, a history of early shareware games, and a headline of great importance for No Time To Play and the internet in general. Details below the cut.

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Tags: education, interactive-fiction, history, business

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Weekly Links #317

26 April 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I didn't do much game-related this week, apart from updating the default Ramus stylesheet. Been working on a grand web design project, part of my other website, the personal one. Which did involve bringing over a nice set of links, that you can find in this month's archive. Plans for the near future involve another game port, more as a time-filler than anything. I was hoping to write more for the upcoming book, but there's no more time, or much to add, honestly. A nice, big conclusion to wrap it all up, sure.

Otherwise, I added recovered screenshots to the project pages for Glittering Light 2 and Tee-Wee Editor, and might do that for others, too. In fact I plan to make all my work more website-centric in the future, since clearly it's safer online than on my own hard drives. Well, for as long as I can keep paying the hosting bills anyway. (Don't worry, it's all covered for now.)

There are bad news, too. My spare computer is already acting up, with 20 days to go until I can replace it. Hopefully it won't stop the next three newsletters from coming out on time; That would be a sad last year of this run.

In the way of news, this week Gamasutra posts a retrospective of Facade, while Ars Technica reports that Japanese retrogamers will donate 100 SNES consoles to families that are stuck inside these days. And it can't be easy to come by original machines from 30 years go. Cool, isn't it?

This concludes a short, thin newsletter. I'd have liked to add a little art piece or something to round it up, but things kind of took me by surprise. Oh well, enjoy the Sunday and see you next week.

Tags: meta, news

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Weekly Links #316

19 April 2020 — No Time To Play

Happy Easter, everyone! I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, my main PC suffered a hard drive failure on Tuesday. The good news is, I lost very little, and could pick up my projects from where they were. Ramus in particular is now at version 2.2 and counting. Even better, two out of three users have returned after all this time; in fact, one of them had never stopped using the original!

Oh, things won't be the same again. Ramus now requires a browser that follows standards, rather than relying on hacks to pull off various effects. And browsers like Safari or Internet Explorer still don't have a lot of features all others added long ago. Please don't ask. I'm uncomfortable enough with our over-reliance on web browsers for games and apps as it is.

That said, so far I've been doing a decent job of keeping requirements at a minimum, and the improvised scripting language added in the latest version offers a clear way forward. One that no longer depends on the moods of a library developer. It's not the most compact I could have added, nor the most friendly, but there had to be a compromise between implementation size and ease of use.

Still, years of interpreter construction practice are paying off big time right now, and I couldn't be happier.

In the way of news, this week we have a book excerpt about the making of Warcraft II, followed by a story about the origins of shareware, both the term and the practice. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, programming, strategy, business

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Weekly Links #315: Reviving Ramus edition

12 April 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I set aside one interactive fiction tool for the moment to work on another. Except the Ramus hypertext system isn't new; its first release was in 2011, fully nine years ago! At the time, various factors caused me to abandon it much too early, which was a shame because people had actually used it...

Well, now it's back, better than ever, and this time I plan to keep at it.

Like with so many other things, to write version 2.0 from scratch I needed one afternoon; what took years was the learning process. Barring a longer analysis, here's a few hints:

  • even tiny Javascript libraries of the sort listed at microjs.com are dangerous dependencies unless you're willing to take over maintenance yourself;
  • modern web standards are flexible; you don't need to invent your own tags and attributes, or twist them to the point of breaking to use them in novel ways;
  • for that matter, web browsers have all kinds of neat stuff built in; even smooth scrolling has been available in some browsers for maybe five years now.

A black box you can only drop into your project untouched isn't code reuse.

Come to think of it, that might as well be the motto of Ramus going forward. I now call it a template, and that changed my entire attitude towards the project. Just like that, I have a roadmap, with clear signposts along the way. Ride on.

The bad news is, no other topical news caught my eye this week, so the Weekly Links end here for now. See you next time!

Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, programming

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Weekly Links #314

05 April 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The big news this week is of course Tee-Wee Editor reaching version 1.0:

To discuss an obvious change: the user interface now sports a second toolbar; I tweaked the widget layout to account for it. Makes the user interface kind of busy, which is reason enough to refrain from adding much more. Beware, young programmer: people always ask for features they don't really need. But any new feature is a burden not just on you, but them as well. Makes it that much harder to spot the stuff you actually need and then click on it. That's why people are desperate for simple software in an era when even command-line tools suffer from way too much complexity.

Three times now Tee-Wee has been praised for being much more accessible than its older cousin. Which in turn is much simpler than some of the competition.

Weren't these authoring tools supposed to let anyone make games?

In the way of news, this edition we have an interview with Jon Ingold and a retrospective of The 7th Guest, in addition to my own detailed release announcement from Itch. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, interview, writing, tools, classics, adventure

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Weekly Links #313

29 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Life is funny sometimes. On Friday, I had resigned myself to postponing the first release of Tee-Wee Editor. Then it turned out that remaining issues were small enough to fix on Saturday morning, with an afternoon left to throw together a homepage. You can find it at the link above, with more details about the project and this alpha release than I can fit here. Let me point out something else instead.

Quite simply, Twine isn't nearly as well-known as it might seem from the ruffled feathers it caused in the interactive fiction community. Again and again while working on this project, I found myself having to tell people what it is. Some of them have at least heard of CYOA. Others still need the acronym expanded.

Guess that explains why my interactive fiction has been consistently the least popular stuff I have on Itch.io, forcing me to remove promising creations again and again. Simply put, the genre never ceased being a niche, despite the success of high-profile games like Fallen London and 80 Days. Meanwhile, everyone's heard of roguelikes, a much more esoteric genre. Go figure.

Dear interactive fiction enthusiasts: are you content with it being the literary fiction and poetry of gameing?

In the way of news, this week we have a history of multiplayer roguelikes, that warranted ample commentary, and then a couple of classic game retrospectives. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, roguelike, retrogaming, classics

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