GameDev News for 5 January 2021

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the first newsletter of a new year. While activity is picking up nicely enough, news worth mentioning aren't any more numerous than usual. Doesn't help that I'm still not back into making games and I'm not sure when that will happen. Doubly so after the fateful decision I made and announced on Christmas day. You'll be first to know.

Meanwhile, let's see the news. Over the holidays, we've had:

  • A Switch-lookalike portable console running Ubuntu, and apparently focused on emulation, because of course. In other words, yet another product nerds like me will love the idea of, and dream of buying, but hardly anyone is actually going to. Hasn't this happened enough times before? Most people don't want Linux. They've decided so, because reasons, and nothing we do or say is ever going to change anyone's mind. We really need to refocus our efforts.
  • The long-awaited release of Ultima Ratio Regum 0.8: that epic, quixotic roguelike research project. It took five years, and it's ironic how in the end the biggest stumbling block was migrating to Python 3 and new tools. Don't you dare complain about planned obsolescence ever again if you agree with Python 2 being abandoned; you can't blame a greedy corporation on this one. Look how much effort it took to redo perfectly working software, and for what? Because nerds don't want to pay the price of popularity?
  • On a more cheerful note, we have a French language article about Texture, the interactive fiction authoring tool. Namely, a discussion of its affordances, and how they shape any games made with it.

Last but not least, see below the cut for a longer comment on a somewhat surprising topic. Cheers!


Right on New Year, The Digital Antiquarian posts a history of flight simulators for personal computers, and for the first time in a while I have lots to write about it. Why is it so strange that people would allow themselves to dream while looking at nothing more than lights in the dark? I spent countless hours enjoying Frontier Elite II precisely for its long, meditative flight sequences, as landings were exceedingly difficult, more likely to end in disaster than not, and combat outright impossible. And there wasn't even much at all to look at during those flights, seeing how they took place in, you know, space.

Speaking of which, note how its seminal predecessor stuck to wireframe graphics and a simplistic flight model to make the game tractable on 8-bit machines rather superior in raw CPU power to a C64. Titles that did manage flat-shaded 3D on the same, like Total Eclipse or The Sentinel, did so by being not quite in real time: you could only move or turn in small increments, with the screen visibly updating after each keypress; effective framerate must have been well under 5 frames per second. Yes, you can make a game semi-playable even so, but it takes some creative compromises. We call that art.

No, seriously, how is it a surprise that people don't care so much about objective, measurable realism? To this day many audiophiles will swear up and down that vinyl sounds better than audio CDs. And subjectively they're right: vinyl's analog imperfections make the sound seem warm and natural, while too much precision screams "artificial". In this way, too, worse is better.

But enough ranting. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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Tags: hardware, roguelikes, interactive fiction, graphics, technology, history