Let a billion videogames bloom

Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

No replacing the human touch

23 January 2020 — No Time To Play

It's Thursday, and you know what they say about Thursdays.

Coming up as a surprise from one of my favorite blogs about the history of tech is The Automated Dungeon Master: from Tolkien, through D&D, then gamebooks and finally CRPGs, concluding with AI Dungeon 2; a mind-blowing overview, long-form and peppered with thoughtful insights. I'm going to quote just one paragraph from the latter part:

All of this delight, unfortunately, cost the creators of these games a great deal of time and money. In a D&D campaign, all of the richness of the world and its denizens is conjured up gratis in the minds of the players by the spoken words of the DM. In Baldur’s Gate, however, every choice, every possibility offered to the player in the name of openness had to be put there by someone. The game is, in effect, a very elaborate, lovingly illustrated and sound-tracked, flowchart. Every temple, every dungeon, every line of dialogue, every character animation, every side quest, came from the toil of artists, writers, and programmers.

Yup! And while some text adventures famously tried to fix that by treating the world like a simulation, where stuff can happen through the emergent behaviors of various elements, that too has proven faulty. Ultimately, bringing an imaginary world to life remains a titanic effort, and there's no way around it. Not even AI.

And no, procedural generation as featured in roguelikes can't create new content, but only remix what the developers have added in. Procedurally generated worlds can be later enriched by the players, as EVE Online amply demonstrated; but it's not a feasible approach in single-player games like The Elder Scrolls series, leading to what the article highlights as a problem.

Because ultimately worlds are made of people, and you can never replace people.

Learn to love.

Tags: rpg, worldbuilding, philosophy

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Weekly Links #303

19 January 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Soon after posting my previous newsletter, I managed to figure out what game to make, exactly, out of the three or so ideas I had for my new prototype. It's going to be a sequel to Glittering Light, that will hopefully do the concept justice for a change.

Screenshot from a roguelike game using ASCII art in 3D to depict a palace interior with red brick walls and colorful markings on the floors.

In other news, it has recently come to my attention that keypress events are deprecated in modern browsers. Had to update my venerable keyboard handler, that I've used in half a dozen games or more by now. Which also improved compatibility with Chrome and derived browsers. You can see the new one at work in Electric Rogue (also on Itch.io and Game Jolt). Enjoy!

From external sources, this week we have a write-up on the design of game verbs, vector font recommendations, and some links with little or no comment. Details below the cut.


Tags: game-design, graphics, programming

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Weekly Links #302

12 January 2020 — No Time To Play

You know, there's a reason why I'm not afraid to set projects aside: they give me something to pick up later, which is a lot easier than starting from scratch all the time. This time it's a new roguelike made with the EightWay Engine, in which I'm trying out new ways to use ASCII art. In 2.5D, no less.

Screenshot from a 3D game depicting a ruined maze-like building surrounded by trees, rendered abstractly with ASCII characters.

I can only show you a screenshot for now because I stopped to write a level generation how-to. Like the game, it was intended for the PROCJAM last November, and things didn't work out. So I'm making both of them in a new year and decade instead.

Well, the game might take a little longer, as I explore new territory in graphics, level design and gameplay at the same time. Famous last words, you might say, but it's very much in line with the original goals for No Time To Play, that I allowed myself to forget for a while, then struggled to remember.

Anyway, as for news, this week we have a book on the Doom modding community and some thoughts on AI Dungeon 2. Details below the cut.


Tags: roguelikes, classics, shooter, history, game-design

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Weekly Links #301

05 January 2020 — No Time To Play

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to 2020. I took some time over the holidays to release a small text adventure called Kitty and the Sea (IFDB link); you can read more details over there, since it's technically not a No Time To Play project, but I did use it as the prompt for an article about the link between walking simulators and interactive fiction.

Minimal, abstract art depicting a cat's paw print overimposed on a seascape: seagulls gliding over the water, under a warm sun.

On a related note, my previous newsletter was unusually popular for some reason, and that factors into my plans for the months ahead. Details below the cut, along with a couple of classic game retrospectives to give 2020 a good start.


Tags: interactive-fiction, strategy, classics, graphics, programming

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Weekly Links #300: interactive fiction edition

15 December 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The week had just started when Leaf Corcoran gave a heads-up that Chooseco was sending takedown notices to Itch.io over games labeling themselves as Choose Your Own Adventure. (The Verge has details.) Which, as Robin Johnson promtly pointed out, is incredibly hypocritical: but for hobbyists reviving the genre since ten years ago and change, they wouldn't have a business anymore, let alone a brand to defend.

"Intellectual property" in all its forms is an absurd notion to begin with. That trademarks live forever is Kafka-esque. To attack the very people who give you any brand recognition at all should be suicidal. It's time we start making it so.

Then again, earlier this autumn the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation trademarked the name Twine, more than ten years after the tool was created. And their first warning was also to fans, as opposed to any commercial interests you might argue they are defending against. Funny move from an organization supposedly founded to preserve and advance, you know, a cultural heritage.

Good thing I settled on making my gamebooks with Tweego instead. Hint, hint.

In the way of news, this week we have a discussion of choice in story games, and a technical issue with the aforementioned CYOA tool. Last but not least, three more links without any commentary, and what you can expect during the holiday break, which will be unusually long this year. Arguably appropriate for the end of the decade. Details below the cut.


Tags: interactive-fiction, business, game-design, writing, philosophy

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Weekly Links #299

08 December 2019 — No Time To Play

Have you noticed how lately nobody's talking about VR anymore? Everyone goes on and on about game streaming instead. Another solution in search of a problem, that nobody wants except for corporations looking for another gimmick to sell. Makes me wonder, why the desperation? It's not like the gameing market is slowing down. On the contrary, it's booming; one of the few industries to do so lately.

Or is it? I do tend to look mostly at the indie scene, with only the occasional glance towards the mainstream. What if something's going on there that won't become obvious to most people until the crisis starts? You'd think lots of studio closures at once is business as usual in this industry, but these days there's an awful lot of them, and it's been going on for a while now.

Until I can offer more than speculation, let's look at some other trends. The big players are readying new consoles. Everyone seems to be after a slice of the board and tabletop game pie. And everyone is chasing the Chinese market. You'd think they know better: dictatorships are notoriously prone to mood swings, and never as prosperous as they seem.

But hey, if greedy bastards are in such a hurry to break their necks, who am I to get in the way?

Let's look at some news instead, also without comment as it's been the norm lately:

With that, only one newsletter is left in 2019. Kind of early this year, but that's part of the fun with the holiday break. See you next week!

Tags: business, technology, retrogaming, hardware

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Weekly Links #298

01 December 2019 — No Time To Play

Dear makers of video tutorials: cut it out. Cut it out with your "learn gamedev with X and Y in Z lessons" series, where you have beginners copy-pasting bits of code before they know why indentation matters in Python. You're perpetuating a culture of instant gratification that's destroying the world. They're not going to get bored if you first teach them how to make, dunno, a guess-the-number game. In text mode. Using input. And they'll be grateful later. So will the rest of us, when we don't have to spend much of our time pointing people at, you know, the beginner-level tutorials they should have started with in the first place.

Conversely: dear beginners, code is just text. You don't need a fancy IDE that will sing and dance and make your coffee. A humble text editor is enough to get you started. Just get Geany or something. You want to set up your language and libraries independently of your editor anyway. Other people won't have it! Besides, you need to know what's happening behind the scenes anyway. Otherwise you'll be helpless when things go wrong. When, not "if". You'll go asking for help, and people will try, but you won't even understand their explanations.

Education is like building a house: you have to do it right. Otherwise it will come crashing down on you sooner or later, and many people will bear the costs.

In the way of game development news, I'm afraid this week is kind of thin on the ground. We do have a couple of game design lessons worth reading though. Not so much comments:

Otherwise, there's my new direct-to-wiki interpreter construction tutorial. Which gave me a lot of ideas, so languages will be my focus for a while. Hopefully not to the detriment of games, but you know how it is.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Sunday and see you in a week for the next-to-last newsletter of the decade. Thank you for reading.

Tags: education, game-design

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Weekly Links #297

24 November 2019 — No Time To Play

Three weeks ago when I announced the text-based edition of Space Cruiser Orion, it was a complete surprise to discover how many people liked it. Trouble is, there's no good place to put the game up, either here or on Itch. What to do? Why, just upload the archive somewhere and link to it directly.

So here it is, for now only in a 64-bit edition. Sorry about that; right now the 32-bit system I could use for development isn't so easy to set up. The binaries are only for Linux, too, and I'm not sure how useful the source code is to most people. For what it's worth, instructions are included.

As an aside: dear software developers, there's a big difference between "sorry, can't make something for you to run right now" and a snide, snotty "everyone's on 64-bit by now". Um, no. Wrong. If that was true, people wouldn't be asking. Never dismiss the needs and wants of others. That you can't help everyone is another story. Least you can do is show a little respect.

Otherwise, fluffy alerts me of a campaign to save the .org top-level domain. Enough with the privatization of everything. The Internet is a public resource and must be treated as such. And also continuing from last time, my new research into scripting engines has been going well. It should bear fruit soon.

In the way of news, we have a retrospective of the Robocop arcade tie-in, and more lessons the game design of Doom. Funny how that one game continues to be an inspiration after more than a quarter century. Details below the cut.


Tags: news, arcade, classics, shooter, game-design

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Weekly Links #296

17 November 2019 — No Time To Play

Lately I just can't seem to get a break. After securing a little funding for No Time To Play earlier this autumn, now the site's future is in doubt again as the .org top level domain was just bought by a private equity company. In other words, one of those shady investors who squeeze dry everything they touch and vanish into the night. To call them vampires would be an insult to the likes of Dracula and Lestat. Oh well, if paying for the domain name becomes untenable, it shouldn't be too hard to migrate most or all content. The question is, where? To Neocities? That's also a .org domain... Maybe to a friend of mine who offered before. Which would even allow me to keep the wiki. Oh well, I'll see.

Meanwhile, I took a break from working on games in favor of an interpreter. Again. Might end up with something for here, too. Hoping for a sequel to Tiny scripting engines for everyone, in fact. Again, it remains to be seen.

In the way of news, this week a bunch of things caught my eyes, but I have little to say about them except "go read". So without further ado, here are the links:

(You can also find all of them in the link archive for November.)

With that, only four weeks' worth of newsletters are left in 2019. Happy Blade Runner Month!

Tags: meta, news, representation, technology, strategy, indie, classics

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Weekly Links #295

10 November 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. I forgot my own rule this week, and posted a tabletop RPG review right here on the blog instead of the wiki with all the others. Did put the requisite links there, but it's not the same thing. And while I feel safer with new material stored as plain text, it does spread content around again just as it had settled in a new shape. Oh well.

In the way of development, I took a break from games for a few days to work on a couple of tools and also make plans. And what I'd like to do in the near future is more ports, even if not many people will play them. Some of them will find a place on the website. Maybe most. Others, not so much. Hopefully some writing will fall out of it for a change, because it's been a while. Can't promise though.

As for news, the week begins well. On Tuesday, Hardcore Gaming 101 covers Strike Commander, an offshoot of the more famous Wing Commander series. Oh, boy, here we go with the drinking game again:

  • It's yet another story of horrid crunch in the early 1990s. Can't help but think no game ever made was worth the ruined lives, let alone this relatively obscure tech demo and filler.
  • That said, you mean software rendering was already so advanced in the same era, only to be thrown away in a few short years because hardware manufacturers needed to sell their newfangled GPU boards?
  • Ha ha, there was a time when 3D modeling was considered grunt work. Oh dear. How things change.
  • What doesn't change is how tightly games are connected to the political context of when they were made. This isn't new, folks. We were just taught to accept media upholding the status quo as being somehow "apolitical". No more.
  • Wait, Freelancer took 6 frickin' years to make?! Chris Roberts really hasn't learned a thing in his decades as a game developer, has he.

Good read, right there, and not too long. Give it a few minutes of your time.

Too bad there wasn't much else worthy of note until Sunday. Oh well, enjoy what's left of the weekend, and see you next time.

Tags: shooter, classics, graphics, news, meta

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