Weekly Links #330

This wasn't supposed to happen until the end of the year, but I can't keep up anymore. Beginning in August, with the site's 10th anniversary, Weekly Links becomes GameDev News and will be less periodical. In other words, I'm only going to compile an issue when there is enough content. Apologies for the sudden decision. Stuff happened.

In happier news, I have cover art for the upcoming book! Here's a teaser:

Book cover with abstract markings suggesting either nodes in a graph or leaves in a tree, on a sky-blue background with a superimposed grid.

My third beta-reader should also be done within the week, leaving me ten days to get everything ready for the big launch.

Last but not least, let's see what happened this week in games and game development. For one thing, an interview with Amanita Design. I hadn't heard about them since Machinarium; turns out they spent the intervening eight years working on another game in their inimitable style. This should be good. On a related note, Vintage is the New Old lets us know that Now you can play Myst on an Apple II. And speaking of people I hadn't heard from in a while, my friends at Tech the Lead added the long-planned game section in the mean time. It looks different enough from other mainstream outlets, too.

Wish there was more to this issue seeing how it marks such an important moment, but my recent difficulties in making a good newsletter contributed to the decision. See you... uh, in two weeks or so, I guess. And have a great Sunday.

Tags: meta, adventure

Weekly Links #329

Hello, everyone! As of this writing, the notimetoplay.org domain name is secure until next summer, and hosting is funded until the end of the year. I'm also done beta-reading a friend's book, so I can focus on making cover art for my own.

Otherwise, not much in the way of news about games, because I've been more into web design these days. Hoping to get back into the groove after the anniversary, though more slowly than before. After 10 years of doing this, it's simply time to lean back and take it easy for a while. Besides, with dozens of games and hundreds of articles published, making sure people can find them and read them, and not just now but in the future too, becomes a pressing issue. And as you've probably noticed, attempts to expand onto social media or the like have had mixed results at best.

Aother recent obsession has been reviving two machines that count as retro by now: my old ASUS EeePC 701, and my crappy old Android tablet. And funny how the latter, for all its warts, is still proving more pleasant to use than the former. It can even run a modern Tcl/Tk environment in the form of AndroWish, not to mention the programmer's editor and keyboard. Despite an obsolete operating system. You can probably guess where this is going.

But I did find a few cool things online this week. Like this Neocities site about historical games, which is exactly what it says on the tin. Or Vintage is the New Old covering the release of PunyInform 1.0, a new way to make text adventures for 8-bit computers (and not only), using tried-and-true technology. Last but not least, The Digital Antiquarian tells the story of Beneath a Steel Sky. And it's worth reading.

On the minus side, that makes for a really short newsletter, and I've got nothing else in the way of padding. Oh well, enjoy the Sunday and see you!

Tags: meta, personal, tabletop, retrogaming, interactive fiction, adventure

Weekly Links #328

Hello, everyone! Not much changed since last week. More abuse revelations, more resignations, and the web app I mentioned last time is now released. Beta-reading of the book is still ongoing.

So much for having a proper editorial. Apologies for yet another short edition. In my defense, we have a decent amount of links, and even things to say about one of them.

Right on my birthday, Ars Technica posts a long, detailed history of Flash from its humble beginnings to its relatively recent demise, complete with testimonies from key people. And you know... Steve Jobs may have been a jerk and the bane of good engineering, but in that infamous essay he only echoed the concerns of industry at large. Flash wasn't just proprietary, insecure and a resource hog. It was such a mess that even after key components were open-sourced, and the rest extensively documented, 3rd-party clones just couldn't come close to playing anything but the simplest animations properly. Successful preservation efforts leverage the official player, not open source implementations. No, Flash was terrible engineering even by IT's abysmal standards. And frankly? Its much vaunted ease of use was never apparent to me. Even as an authoring tool, Flash sucked. There, I said it.

In other news, we have a fan translation of Gunpei Yokoi telling the story of Game-and-Watch devices, an oral history of Spore that Gamasutra just resurfaced after nearly two years, and a scathing critique of the videogame industry. (If you're reading this on Tumblr, rememeber to click through for the links.)

There was another, but I'm not sure how to describe it briefly. Oh well, have fun this Sunday and see you next time, when I might try writing a thought or three about rekindling an old flame. Cheers!

Tags: classic, shmup, hardware, history, technology, preservation, critique

Weekly Links #327

Hello, everyone! The scandal I mentioned last time escalated over the course of another week, until it culminated in a high-profile resignation from an equally high-profile game company. Let's see how much it helps.

In other news, beta-reading of the upcoming book has been moving forward after some delays, and it should be done with time to spare, ahead of the site's 10th anniversary on the 11th of August. And speaking of the website, I also started work on replacement software for this very blog, that will allow me to preserve the permakinks and my workflow once the switch happens. That in turn means the switch can happen much sooner, say over winter break.

Reinventing the wheel is usually a bad idea. It's still better to craft your own when the other choice is hobbling forever more due to a poor fit.

That makes for a short editorial, so let me fill this space with a remark: lately, some online publications I peruse have their game section padded out with news about movies instead. On one hand it's a sign that games are now mainstream, period, and that's great. Still, do I detect a degree of ennui in the press? Are you running out of things to write about a medium that still won't grow up? Maybe look at the indie scene instead. It's a different world.

In the way of news, this week we have advice on communication in game design, business blunders, and a critique of a critique of a cult classic. Details under the cut.

Read more... Tags: business, platforms, meta, adventure, writing

Weekly Links #326

Hello, everyone! This week started with yet another important figure in our creative field being outed as a sexual predator. As usual, that gave some other people the courage to come forward and bring to light systematic harassment in a number of large companies and event venues. Again.

All this is made even more poignant by the comic industry facing a reckoning of its own at the same time. Makes you wonder when the next scandal can be expected from Hollywood, too. Or maybe publishing.

Because all of them are riddled with problems of this sort. All of us.

Ah, you don't like that last part? Feeling the need to get defensive? Then make sure you're not a part of the problem. Let abusers know they won't find an ally in you. Speak up. Staying silent makes you complicit.

In happier news, via micro.blog we have My 10 Year Game Development Journey, the very personal story of a developer from the Philippines. Which once again reminded me of two things with modern society:

  1. The lengths people must go through, especially in poorer countries, to avoid ending up in a soul-crushing job where they barely eke out a living by exploiting other people for the benefit of a greedy boss.
  2. How much of their time and passion creators put into Flash before it was taken away from them. You'd think we'd learn something from that debacle, but no, we're gleefully reenacting it with Unity.

Yes, it will happen again, and likely sooner than we expect. Get ready.

Before concluding, I should probably highlight the Neonauticon Web Directory, a small, personal and quirky listing that's definitely worth a look. Oh, and this weekend Hardcore Gaming 101 covers Bubble Bobble.

Enjoy, and see you next time!

Tags: community, politics, indie, curation, classics

Weekly Links #325

Hello, everyone! Since last time, I moved more articles from the wiki to the Adventure & RPG section. There were quite a few I'd forgotten about. On a related note, I found a bunch of newsletters that are now out of order due to the way BashBlog handles timestamps. It should be easy to figure out the correct dates and put them back into place, but seriously? Dear programmers: the file is not the document. There's a reason why print books have a title page inside the covers, that mostly repeats the same information.

Still in the way of web design work: while waiting on my beta readers, I spent much of the week redoing the software that powers the link section. That allowed me to put some of them back in their proper place, chronologically speaking, and move those that predate said section into the archive. See above for why that's important. Also, some of the content on this site has moved a lot over time before I found the best place for each piece. Imagine if I hadn't been able to do that. Oh wait, that's exactly why getting the content out of WordPress back in 2017 was months of hard work. Even if WP does in fact let you go back and edit old posts.

And that's why I'll have to migrate my blog again at some point. Hopefully not for another 18 months though.

In the way of news, this week we have extensive commentary on the legacy of Doom, and good news from the D&D front when it comes to representation in games. Details under the cut. (It's been a while since I could write that.)

Read more... Tags: meta, shooter, tabletop, rpg, representation

Weekly Links #324

Hello, everyone! This week's big story is the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. Started early last weekend, it ended up carrying over 1600 games from over 1300 creators, and as of this writing it has made a staggering 6 million dollars! It's so big, Itch.io buckled under the load; our dev team was hard at work for days just to ensure people could browse the games and claim those they wanted. Pretty much everyone online sat up and paid attention. I like to think at least some of the other similar efforts launched since then were inspired by it.

All the money goes to a couple of legal defense funds for Black Lives Matter protesters in the United States.

In other news, I spent almost half the week writing an article about data-driven game engines. Yes, it uses text adventures as an example (again), but Twine and Unity work on similar principles: both pair a visual editor with a runtime -- the engine proper -- that turns the output from the editor into a playable game, and bundles them together for distribution. Many others work in the same way. And I've seen too many people confused about which is which and how it all fits together.

Otherwise most of my time went into some web design research that won't become relevant for this site until next year or more. So rather than talking about it, I'll let you enjoy this week's news with no commentary.

Have a great Sunday, and see you next time.

Tags: community, interactive fiction, retrogaming

Weekly Links #323

Hello, everyone! By the time you're reading these lines, the second No Time To Play book has been sent to the first beta readers. I should be working on the cover, but instead been mapping my next game: a job divided between graph paper and a little software suite called ScottKit, that I'm arguably abusing for this purpose.

Speaking of which: I went out of my way to install Ruby, then ScottKit pulled over a dozen dependencies of its own via the Gem system... and one of them in turn required a couple of development packages, not to mention a C compiler. Good thing I'm on Debian 10, where all that is either preinstalled or else a command away... if you already know what to do. I had to poke around a little, and I'm a programmer with 20 years of Linux experience.

Dear Ruby folks: you don't want ordinary people using your software, do you?

That said, ScottKit is a great way to quickly sketch up a playable version of the game, that you can go around and see what it's really like, unlike a drawn map. And because it's so simple, you have to focus: for one thing, rooms are reduced to one line of descriptive text (not even name plus description). Details can be added once you have sensible geography.

In the way of news, this week we have a few, but still no commentary:

Last but not least, HG101 covers Pillars of Eternity, a game I wanted to know more about. Too bad the game's description bored me to tears right from the start, leading me to skim the rest quickly. That is why epic CRPGs ended up in the same place as adventure games, folks.

Consider making your games meaningful, not big. And see you next Sunday.

Tags: meta, interactive fiction, history, retrogaming, preservation, rpg

Weekly Links #322

Hello, everyone! As alluded to a couple of newsletters ago, I picked up Inform 6 again at the end of May, for the first time in 14 years. Not with a new game, mind you, but an old one: Secret of the Starry Depths. It worked out even better than the original Adventure Prompt edition: a final nail in the coffin for this authoring system nobody loved.

Oh, I'll continue to experiment with homebrew interactive fiction. After bringing Ramus back to life in a flurry of activity earlier this spring, I let it fall dormant again, and it's nowhere near done. Nor are we done exploring what games can look and play like.

Speaking of which, it's probably time to start putting together the second No Time To Play book, write a conclusion, make cover art and so on. Better to have it ready in advance of the site's 10th anniversary and twiddle my thumbs for a few days or weeks than to be late due to something unexpected.

As for what will follow, one thing I want to do is create a graphics section on the site and move more articles off the wiki. It's kind of a problem, as the front page is arguably becoming unwieldy, but that just reflects how much there is to read.

Last but not least, there's the news. And this week we have (checks notes) nothing again. Well, for those with an interest in story games, the Narrascope conference is on as of this weekend. I'm looking forward to learn what's in store for Inform 7 and especially Twine, but there's also a game jam hosted on Itch as a companion event to the conference. And they accept projects already started, which is welcome. More game jams should do just that. (Also the unranked bit. Please. Enough with the competitions.)

With that, have a great Sunday and see you next time.

Tags: interactive fiction, meta, game jam

Weekly Links #321: philosophy edition

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