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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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D6 Dungeons makes tabletop roleplaying fresh

08 November 2019 — No Time To Play

It pays to watch the release announcement section on Itch. My latest find is yet another rules-light RPG called D6 Dungeons: 50 pages of adventuring goodness for younger players. I made a point of reading it all before writing these lines, contrary to my habit. Turned out to be a good idea, too.

D6 Dungeons does a lot of things right and a few things wrong. More importantly, it does most things in its own way. Health in particular is tracked in a manner that makes you feel it, not with boring old hit points, and special abilities spice up the combat system. Which by the way offers enough mechanics that you don't need to improvise all the time, while being genuinely simple and fun. There are both classes and skills: you start with generic characters and make them your own later as you progress. Magic is freeform, but you get guidance as to difficulty levels and limitations (arcane magic can't heal, divine magic can't injure). Last but not least, rolls are based on a dice pool system I haven't seen before. At a glance, it all seems to err on the easy side, which is fine with me and makes sense given the game's target audience.

In the way of downsides, the text states repeatedly that each enemy is denoted by a single number, its difficulty rating, but then goes on to give most of them two or three scores depending on which skill you happen to be rolling against this Friday: stealth to bypass them, intimidation to make them back down and so on. (Speaking of which, this is a game where mechanics really do support alternatives to combat, unlike bigger, more famous RPGs.) Another problem is all the stuff that's mentioned but not explained, like poison, stunning or non-lethal damage from wrestling and such. Narrators will want to house-rule this stuff as needed.

Other things seem broken at first, only to be fixed later. The initial skills of each base class don't overlap at all, meaning you're hosed unless you have one of each in the party. But optional rules let you swap out starting skills, and extra classes have more interesting combinations. Equipment seems rather expensive at first, but the sample adventure makes it clear the narrator is expected to hand out treasure generously. Orcs and goblins are introduced as man-eating brutes, only to be suggested as playable classes down the road. There's even a talent tree system if you want it, clearly inspired by videogames but more general-purpose as befits a tabletop RPG.

All in all, an entertaining read (the writing helps too), and a fresh take on tabletop roleplaying, especially for beginners, but not only. Worth your time.

Tags: tabletop, rpg, review

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Weekly Links #294

03 November 2019 — No Time To Play

So, PROCJAM started on Friday and I'm not in after all. The game I had in mind didn't work out for a number of reasons, and I have no plan B. Maybe next year. Just like last year. And every year it gets harder to care at all.

Otherwise, been working on something, but it's not going to be public any time soon. Most people couldn't play it anyway:

Screenshot of a text-based strategy game running in a terminal emulator, showing an abstract star chart and colorful user interface.

Yep... it's a port of Space Cruiser Orion to the Linux console. Kinda hoping to use it as a springboard for a future ZX Spectrum edition. People still seek those out, you know? More so than games for other platforms, actually. It's kind of amazing. And hey, been learning new things. That's always fun. Gonna share details soon, in fact. Just not today.

Speaking of which: this may seem like an odd choice after my recent rant against Linux users. But this isn't for them. This is for myself and a few friends. Making stuff for a nebulous "public" looks more and more like a mistake anyway.

Otherwise, the Interactive Fiction Competition is on for another two weeks, and it occurs to me that November is also the month of NaNoWriMo, and for that matter the NaNoGenMo.

Funny how things tend to come full circle. Have a nice Sunday.

Tags: meta, news, game-jam

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So much for games on Linux

29 October 2019 — No Time To Play

Many years ago, I used to be a Linux advocate. You know the type: trying to tell everyone how stable and fast Linux was, that it looked great unless you chose otherwise and was easy to use if you just wanted to use it, and how it obeyed you as opposed to a distant faceless corporation, even while being able to do all the same things as commercial operating systems.

People were incredibly indifferent, and that puzzled me until one day. It was an ice-cold shower to discover just how well they knew all that and how little they cared.

Because they know and don't care, you see. Fast forward fifteen years to 2018, when Microsoft pushed a Windows 10 update that would literally delete all your files. A few people complained a little, for a short while, then the whole story was completely forgotten. And nobody did anything. Even literally losing all their work wasn't enough to make people switch. I think it's safe to say Windows could burn down their house and they still wouldn't budge.

Then again, who was going to convince them? Linux users? Let me tell you a story about those, too. In recent years I started putting out native games for Windows and Linux, thanks to a convenient open source runtime. And people would complain I only had 32-bit builds. (Turns out, 64-bit Linux is terrible at staying backwards-compatible.) So at the first opportunity I started providing those all-important 64-bit builds. And nobody's downloading them.

Linux users are just a handful of loud jerks. I should have known that, too, from my days in a Linux User Group. They don't actually use Linux. They fool around with Linux, not so much because it's fun (though it can be), but because it makes them feel smart. Oh, they want to run games, but only to prove Linux can do it too. So it has to be the same big-name stuff everyone else is already playing. Not that they actually play, they just demo.

At least Mac users make things with their OS of choice. And complain about it at every turn, even if they would never switch either.

Might as well go back to making games for the ZX Spectrum. Those are by far the most popular out of everything I released. Yes, really. And that speaks volumes.

Tags: publishing, platforms

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Weekly Links #293

27 October 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As of this week, I have the framework for an Eightway Engine game up and running. Don't want to make too many preparations before PROCJAM, though at least some preproduction work is in order. Let's see how much of it I can do while working on something entirely different.

Otherwise, most gaming news this week appear to be of the "industry executives act surprised when fads prove to be fads" variety. Despite, I might add, all the warnings. Then again that's human beings for you: ignoring countless alarm bells and red flags until it's too late, then crying that nobody warned them.

Meanwhile, indie games continue to soar. Too bad successful developers thereof fall prey to survivor bias and start handing out terrible advice. Dear young creators: don't believe everything you hear!

Speaking of which: I continue to be impressed by the number of high-school students who get started not just making games but putting them online too, thanks to services like Itch. Even younger sometimes. And all too often, the teachers who should be first to help them fail in their duty, leaving volunteers on chat servers to pick up the slack. In the past, I've complained about some of these kids being impatient or clueless, but now I see it's often not their fault. When school and commercial products alike promote instant gratification at every turn, it's hard to blame impressionable young people for buying it.

We're all educators, and we're responsible. Let's act the part already.

Meanwhile, this week we have an interview with the creator of several classic 4X games, and a retrospective of a horror classic, as befits the season. Enjoy!

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Tags: strategy, classics, interview, business, education

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Weekly Links #292

20 October 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Last time I mentioned a mysterious side project. As of this weekend, it's complete: a new port of Robots in Spring to native Linux. See the update at the bottom of that page for details; for now, let's just say it's been fun but it has to remain a diversion until further notice. Then again, great things often start out that way.

For now something else is on my radar: PROCJAM starts in less than two weeks, and I'd like to get in. My early plans for it weren't very exciting, but after some reflection it turned out I was looking at the problem from the wrong angle. Just got to pick up my work on the Eightway Engine from where it left off in August and go from there. Only in another direction.

Otherwise, not much to say this week. The game industry continues to act surprised that videogames are still political and VR is still a solution in search of a problem. Oh, a niche market of enthusiasts is well-established by now, including one or two of my friends; but they're not going to make even one manufacturer rich, let alone everyone who was expecting a revolution. Does this remind you of anything? Here's a hint: FMV in the mid-1990s. Which was a quarter century ago... in other words before most of the current crop of "experts" was even born.

Now you know why people in this line of work never seem to learn.

In the way of news, this week we have: more classic games now playable online, a neat little graphics engine for web browsers, and the closing of a retrogaming community. Details below the cut.

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Tags: retrogaming, preservation, graphics, procedural-generation, community

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Weekly Links #291

13 October 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Another week, another big scandal in the game industry. I'll only say one thing this time: game developers will never again be able to pretend they're somehow "apolitical". Or that it's possible to separate capitalism from politics for that matter. There goes that damnable delusion, and good riddance.

On a happier note, Cybersphere is now available for 64-bit Linux (also on Itch.io) and my secret sideshow is also progressing nicely. Not much else to report for now; being both busy and sick sapped my time and energy this week something fierce.

Speaking of which: this is supposed to be a newsletter, but often an older thing I missed is just too good to pass up on. On Monday I got pointed at an article on open-world game design in the Zelda series, and it's one of those where my own words couldn't do it justice, so I just have to quote the author instead:

Shigeru Miyamoto has gone on record many times saying why he didn't over-explain the world of Zelda. Its gaps were calculated to create playground talk, and the game was an attempt to give an increasingly urban population the experience of exploring a disappearing rural countryside. Zelda 1 was meant to be a simulation of having a big backyard for kids who didn't have one. And backyards don't come with maps or tutorials. Life doesn't either, which is what backyards are supposed to teach you.

Which reminds me of the scientific studies from a while ago finding that videogames improve coordination and quick decision making. Could we maybe add personal agency to that list someday?

Hard to say. Mostly, the article talks about simulationist game design versus scripted interactions. A discussion that also takes place every so often in the interactive fiction community, but nobody ever sees it as a hint to simply let go and allow players to find their own fun off the beaten path. Perhaps because here in the western world, people don't get the difference between narrative and story.

Good thing we have other cultures to learn from, then.

Tags: news, rpg, game-design

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Weekly Links #290: tabletop RPG edition

06 October 2019 — No Time To Play

All right, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, one week into October I'm still struggling to get back on track. Please stand by. On the other hand, some things have been moving forward. Space Cruiser Orion is now available for 64-bit Linux, both on No Time To Play and on Itch.io. And more of my games may soon be available in native Linux versions; hopefully that will get people to play them for a change.

As for the world of gaming, what mostly held my attention this week was that Evil Hat Productions, makers of the Fate roleplaying game, uploaded more of their expansive catalog to Itch.io, and several acclaimed titles are now pay-what-you-want. I review one of them in this newsletter, and more are likely to follow. Well, there's also the IFComp, but I have less to say about that.

Which unfortunately makes for a short editorial, and there aren't many trends to comment on. Well, apart from Discord being in trouble. That, and someone was recently noting how popular horror games appear to be on Itch. Which is interesting, and anecdotally matches my own impression. Not that horror was ever not popular as a genre, in any medium, but these days it seems to be everywhere all the time. And it's probably a facile remark to note how that reflects the zeitgeist: we live in scary times, with no way out that we can see, and that's going to show in the art we make. A far cry from roughly a century ago, when fear of industrialization gave birth to the fantasy genre.

Oh well, let's see the week's highlights.

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Tags: news, tabletop, rpg, review, history

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Weekly Links #289

29 September 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Thanks to a generous donation by my friend WereWolf, the hosting costs for No Time To Play are covered until next summer. So I can stop pestering you for a while. Any extra funds received will still be appreciated, of course.

In other news, due to recent developments I'm finally in a position to offer 64-bit Linux builds for my games. Currently, Escape From Cnossus HD is available in the new edition, both on No Time To Play and on Itch. Where, it turns out, I had never uploaded the latest builds from this summer. Oh well, better late than never.

On the minus side, I'll be less able to support the 32-bit editions going forward, especially for Windows. No reason to take them down, of course, you'll just be on your own with them. Oh, and I took the game entirely off Game Jolt, along with most of my titles from this year. They're just not moving. I'm not sure what to even offer the kind of people who go there to play.

Oh, I do have new games planned, and improvements to existing games, and articles to write... so much to do, so little energy. Should be more able to work on them in October, but how fast is another question entirely. Especially as I'm forced to make some changes in my workflow, and the kinds of things I can work on. Will let you know.

Anyway, for news this week we have changes coming to the event known as PROCJAM, words about the future of Ren'Py, and some philosophical considerations about Doom 2. Details under the cut.

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Tags: community, tools, classics, shooter, game-design, philosophy

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