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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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Weekly Links #312

22 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Call me flighty, but I switched tracks again this week.

In my defense, the game port I described last newsletter was a stop-gap project, meant to fill the time until something better came along. Well, something did. First published a few months ago by the IFTF, the official Twine specifications were recently finalized. It took a while longer for an idea to crystallize in my mind. This is the result:

Screenshot from a desktop text editor with a list down the left side, showing a passage from some sort of gamebook.

This is about as simple as it gets, yet it's perfectly capable of working with the story data generated by Twine. Not as friendly as the official IDE, but a lot more so than compiling source code with Tweego from the command line. And unlike either of those, Tee-Wee Editor makes authors remember to pick a story format. Currently, most people have no clue that's a thing they can do, and that causes all kinds of issues.

Besides, think of all the obscure authoring systems that could easily be implemented as story formats for Twine and compatible tools, thus becoming part of a vibrant ecosystem. It only takes awareness, and my little toy can help with that.

In the way of news, this week we're looking at one company trying to capitalize on current events in a rather transparent way, then a good handful of links with no comment. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, business, adventure, history, roguelike

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Weekly Links #311

15 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! After a meaty issue comes a thin one. It's in big part because I spent most of the week working on a desktop port of Laser Sky R, using C++ and SFML. Which is quite a bit of work because I have limited experience with the former, and none with the latter.

Mind you, it's working out. SFML proves to be just as easy to use in practice as it seemed at first sight, as it uses both OpenGL and C++ to its advantage. Maybe trying too hard to stay simple, by its lack of features that are needed in most projects, such as the ability to anchor a drawable from the center or any corner, or length and normalize operations on vectors. Both however should be easy to add. It seems to be intentional too, as even a simple framerate counter is left as an exercise to the programmer.

As for my next point: I've known C++ for years, but hadn't used it much before, preferring dynamic languages instead, not to mention something with garbage collection. But newer dialects are much better; between auto, move semantics and to_string, to mention just a few small things, the old workhorse is looking much better and turns out to be perfectly usable too. What differs from, say, Python is that C++ requires self-discipline. You have to plan out your code. It's still very flexible, allowing for a lot of freedom, but that has to happen in an orderly fashion. Which happens to suit me just fine. For prototyping I can always use something else.

In the way of news, this week we have a handful of links with only brief commentary. Details under the cut.

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Tags: programming, classics, adventure, interactive-fiction, business

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Weekly Links #310

08 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I started this week by taking that closer look at SFML promised last time. As the test is a success, I'm now seriously considering using it for a much-needed game port. First, however, to deal with a little side project that imposed itself on me. (Creativity works in strange ways.) Which I only started on Friday, after spending most of the week migrating old articles to join the new one above in the engine section of the website.

In unrelated news, this week I also wrote a mini-rant on Twine and community, while Emily Short shared some thoughts about the GDC cancellation, as part of her end-of-February link assortment. In the mean time, many more events of all kinds were canceled worldwide, prompting worries about the long-term effects on various industries. Gee, you mean outsourcing so much to just one country was a bad idea? Or for that matter making so much depend on a few huge annual events set up in rich countries, such that it takes ridiculous amount of money and planning to get there? And then you have all the private companies suddenly discovering the value of letting people work from home. It only took them 35 years to figure it out. Worse, it was fear that prompted the decision, after all the rational arguments were ignored.

In more cheerful news, the 7DRL Challenge took place this week. Details under the cut, along with comments on two long-form articles. Which I'm afraid makes for a very short editorial, but sometimes it can't be helped. Thank you for reading.

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Tags: meta, rpg, classics, business, hardware, roguelike, community

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Twine and community

03 March 2020 — No Time To Play

This started out short only to grow and grow. Over on the Intfiction.org forum, Chris Klimas is asking for feedback on the Twine wiki. I never had an account, because reasons, but this matter is so important I promptly launched into a Twitter thread, contrary to my habit. Let me expand on it here where my followers won't be flooded.

For one thing, the last edit to the Twine wiki is spam. It's been sitting there since the end of November. That doesn't inspire confidence.

Second, a wiki is a community, not a piece of software. Without the community, what you have is a quirky, overly technical CMS. And frankly, when it comes to community Twine has long-standing problems.

No, seriously. The official Twine website used to have a forum, remember? It was closed down and replaced with a Q&A service... that was also closed down not long after. Sure, I get it. Chris Klimas would rather work on Twine than manage a community, which is a time-consuming and stressful task. (It can also be highly rewarding.) But who else to do this? Dear programmers, code is just an enabler. What we really are is public servants.

That's not all however. Another reason why a Twine community can't seem to endure on the web is due to prominent contributors who are abrasive at best if not outright toxic. And people would rather use crappy software with kind, helpful maintainers. It works out a lot better overall. Remember how Quest was saved?

(Now, maybe the Twine server on Discord is better. I'm afraid to try.)

It will take work to turn that ship around, and half-hearted efforts doomed to be soon abandoned aren't going to cut it. At this point, I'd recommend merging the Twine wiki into the IFWiki, and maybe looking into setting up a Twine community on Itch. There's precedent. But y'all must learn to respect people. And in recent years, the project as a whole has been giving out lots of bad vibes.

Twine is less a tool than an ideal. And now the ideal is trademarked.

Tags: interactive-fiction, community

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Weekly Links #309

01 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! It's another week with little in the way of noteworthy headlines, but still some good news on my part. For one thing, Glittering Light 2 now has a Python port!

Screenshot from a 3D game rendered with colorful ASCII characters, and using a desktop-style GUI.

Moreover, the original edition now has improved frustum culling (backported from Python), and both support strafing. It's less useful than expected, but still good to have. Also, comparing the two editions has given me useful insights into camera angles, zoom levels, drawing distances and so on. As I expect this engine to be used for many more games, that's worth a lot.

In the way of news, this week we have the book publishing industry hilariously thinking videogames (and fantasy) are a niche, along with a few headlines with little to no commentary. Details under the cut.

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Tags: business, publishing, roguelike, rpg, news

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Weekly Links #308

23 February 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! This is another edition where I'll be talking more about plans than results. The promised Tkinter port of Glittering Light 2 is likely to take another week, and I don't even have an interesting screenshot. I'll be done just in time to watch the 7DRL, which was the plan all along. One must make some time to play now and then, you know.

In the way of plans, I'll probably spend the spring building up a scaffolding for Electric Rogue 2, to be completed in autumn. It worked great for the first game, and will also leave me time to prepare the new book. Might even manage to squeeze in another EightWay Engine demo featuring a trick I haven't shown off yet.

Meanwhile, it turns out I have even more to say about game genres. It seems to be a leitmotif of 2020 already, which is fine with me. Writing is easier when you have a guiding line. I've also been doing more work on the website, mostly shuffling old links around. Anything more would require some serious restructuring, and I just got it into shape. The trick is finding a way to organize ten years' worth of material such that it doesn't become overwhelming. And that requires careful thinking.

As for the news, this week we have a cursory look at SFML, and three headlines with little commentary, but still very much worth reading. Details under the cut.

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Tags: tools, graphics, retrogaming, game-design, representation

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Myst, Doom and false dichotomies

22 February 2020 — No Time To Play

Much virtual ink has been spilled on comparisons between Myst and Doom, two of the three mega-hits of 1993, arguably the single best year in the history of computer games so far. The latest to chime in is Jimmy Maher, a.k.a. The Digital Antiquarian, in a write-up titled The Drawbacks to Success. In his usual manner, it's long, detailed, exquisitely documented... and trying way too hard to be neutral. But then, that's why Jimmy's a reputed scholar while I'm just a punk.

Here's the deal: for one thing, I am one of those crazy people who played both Doom and Myst and loved them both. The difference is, I can consistently finish Episode 1 of the former without dying, admittedly on a lower difficulty; whereas in the latter I only ever managed to visit (and complete) one of the other Ages, not nearly enough to win the game. Coming from a cerebral kind of guy with terrible reflexes, that should speak volumes.

Second, the widespread idea that Myst somehow failed to influence videogames is completely wrong: the game spawned not one, but two genres: the walking simulator, and the escape room game, which later spilled over into the real world. How's that for a success? That neither genre much resembles its original inspiration testifies of the creativity involved in both. Contrast with first person shooters, which are often indistinguishable from each other. And note how many of them tell their story through video or audio logs. Sounds familiar?

Speaking of genres: gee, you mean back at the time a lot of people would have been drawn to a game that looked different for a change? Most other adventures were the interactive cartoons of Sierra and LucasArts, that put you in the shoes of a loser solving nonsensical puzzles in an absurd world. Is it any wonder that most people would rather play a brave knight or space marine mowing down monsters?

And by the way: I'm sick and tired of snobs insisting that the faceless, nameless protagonist of early videogames is somehow inferior. All the people who remember Zork but none of the many text adventures that followed beg to disagree. So do the millions who bought Myst and, wait for it, Doom. Being able to imagine yourself as the protagonist is a huge part of what makes stories great. Weren't you doing that with each and every book you used to read as a kid?

Even games not usually considered first-person, such as Master of Orion, have plenty of moments where they are. And those are what you'll usually see in screenshots: the experience of actually being there. The game proper, who cares.

Tags: game-design, philosophy

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Weekly Links #307: roguelike edition

16 February 2020 — No Time To Play

When I released Glittering Light 2 last week, it was silent. That was a deliberate choice, to keep me from burning out at the last moment. Turned out to be a good decision, as adding audio took longer than expected... then longer still. But it worked in the end, and the game now sounds better than it has any right to. I was even able to reuse a few effects from the previous game, and just those it was missing the most, too. Too bad traffic on Itch.io petered out just before I uploaded the new version, but oh well. It's now one of my top viewed (and played) games.

Before that however, I took the time to write more words about how game genres evolve. Turns out I wasn't the only one, as you'll see below. A timely subject, because yes, it's 2020 and most people think roguelikes are normally real time. Feel free to shake your cane at kids today, some of us would rather try and keep up with the changing times.

And then at the other end of the work week I wrote a longer article that is and isn't related: What is an RPG to you? Because yes, the answer is often very personal.

As for my plans for the immediate future, there are several possibilities:

  • a Tkinter port of Glittering Light 2;
  • which in turn would pave the way for a long-planned Pygame port of Electric Rogue;
  • alternatively, some preproduction work on a sequel to the latter, for which I have a few ideas.

In the way of news, we have comments surrounding a long write-up about the definition of roguelikes as a genre. Yes, again. Details under the cut, along with the usual links without commentary.

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Tags: roguelike, game-design, philosophy, politics, worldbuilding

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Genres evolve and so does language

09 February 2020 — No Time To Play

Yesterday afternoon I got caught between two people on Discord. One thought Diablo doesn't qualify as a roguelike. The other hadn't even heard of Diablo; their idea of a roguelike was The Binding of Isaac. And if you think that's strange, consider this hilarious tweet. Of course roguelikes are supposed to be real-time! Making them turn-based? The horror!

Welcome to 2020.

Having just released a roguelike of my own (right before this year's 7DRL), this matters to me. I have nine of them now, which is a lot by any measure. And while they try to be modern in ways that matter, they also try to preserve what's good about the genre, such as turn-based gameplay and ASCII art. Trust me, I care.

But things change, folks. We can't go on clinging to the past. And it's a lot easier to give an old word new meanings than to invent new combinations of sounds all the time. Especially as the former provides much-needed continuity.

Not a trick question: when was the last time anyone literally hung up a phone? Think back. No, further back. In the days of Laurel & Hardy, when the earpiece in its resting position dangled from the hook instead of being balanced on top of it.

When did phones last have a literal hook at all?

And since I mentioned Laurel & Hardy: did you know that when talkies first came out, purists made a big fuss? People insisted that movies were supposed to be silent, as an inherently visual medium. Yes, seriously.

No prize for guessing what audiences thought about that. There's a reason why even silent movies came with music and sound effects; they just had to be performed live on stage while the movie played. A dead art now. And it was an art.

You win some, you lose some. Either way, life goes on. And that's why my latest game has ASCII art except in 3D, and turn-based gameplay except at the pace of an action-adventure. It is still enough "like Rogue" to deserve the name?

Trick question: nobody cares anymore. Move on and let people enjoy their omnidirectional shooters with procedural generation and permadeath.

Tags: roguelike, philosophy

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