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Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

Weekly Links #261: classic MMORPG edition

17 March 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The big news this week is that I managed to complete a command-line port of Ramus 2:

(Screenshot of a terminal emulator showing a fragment from Roger Firth's Cloak of Darkness.)

Well, for certain values of complete. There are many more features to add. But hey, now you can play games natively on Linux and Windows. Source code is available, too. This lets me better understand the system, paving the way for other future improvements, and frankly it makes the whole thing look a bit more like a serious effort, if not exactly professional.

In related news, I started work on a gamebook using Ramus 2, because what's an interactive fiction authoring system without an original game made with it? No promises as to when it will be done, but the concept is strong and should work out.

Now, on to the week's major events. In mid-march, we have big things coming to Itch.io, EverQuest at 20, and a request for help. Details below the cut, and please read to the end. Thank you!

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Tags: indie, mmo, rpg, roguelike, tabletop, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #260

10 March 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! My adventures in teaching continued this week. And, you know...

Back in my day, any programming manual started with a crash course on things like base-2 and boolean math, and computer architecture. Now tutorials start with, "copy-paste this code into a new file". Guess the immediate consequences.

We desperately need to teach kids that game programming is 80% algebra, logic and analytic geometry. And that's a problem for two reasons: one, they've been conditioned to fear those in school, and two, language is a huge barrier.

Sure, about one third of the world's population speaks English these days, for better or worse. But how many of them are comfortable with English? Native speakers are a lot less numerous, and other people may lack the opportunity or inclination to practice much. On the other hand, translating books is a gigantic effort. The official Python tutorial is only available in four languages total, and the rest of the documentation is encyclopedic in size. I'm not sure what to do. Automatic translation doesn't really help. Crowdfunding concerted efforts, maybe?

Anyway, onward to the news.

On Monday, Konstantinos Dimoupoulos shares his Wireframe Magazine article on how to plan horror cities. Not much to say there, this is all excellent advice.

On Tuesday, I finally got around to preparing a download package for Ramus 2. It only took me two years! Since then, I've been slowly working on a command-line runner for the same, that I hope will open up new possibilities.

On Wednesday, things got interesting. Just last week, I was talking about the unfortunate implications of humans-as-default in fantasy roleplaying. Well, look what just crossed my Tumblr dashboard: a discussion of the "common" language trope. And I love the proposed solution. There! Was it hard to make your ISO Standard Fantasy Setting not be a repeat of the British Empire except with elves and dwarves for colonized people?

On Friday Rock, Paper, Shotgun has words about the way space trading games have evolved as the future proved a lot less glamorous than once thought, from the freewheeling optimism of Elite to the disheartening realism of games like the recent (and acclaimed) Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. A poingnant reminder of how my generation's dreams were shattered, to say the least.

Enjoy this Sunday. While times aren't too bad yet.

Tags: game-design, rpg, programming, philosophy

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Weekly Links #259

03 March 2019 — No Time To Play

This week's editorial is an open letter to people just starting out making games.

Dear beginners,

I'm so happy you want to learn how to make games. Welcome to the club! The more, the merrier. Can't wait to see what you come up with.

So, you picked Python and Pygame as a starter kit. Excellent choices! Python makes programming fun, and Pygame brings all the tools you need right there at your fingertips.

There's just one thing: even with those, you won't be able to make much of a game on your first day. Or your first week. Or your first month. You've embarked on a multi-year journey. If that sounds like too much, sorry. There are no shortcuts.

Oh, it's not a hard journey. You're going to meet cool people, learn useful stuff, tinker with cool toys... Step by step, your dreams will take shape. Just not instantly. Have a little patience. And don't try to cheat, because you'd just be cheating yourself. This is no history test. You're not in school. This is for you.

Do yourself a favor and read the official Python tutorial first. Even if you already know another language. Doubly so if you don't! That stuff is the foundation of everything you're going to build. Make sure you understand it before moving on to the next level. You'll be surprised how many (text-based) games you can make even just with that.

Likewise with Pygame. The official documentation lists some tutorials. At least look through them. Get an idea of what's possible.

Or you can go with books. Many people swear by the Invent with Python series. See if you like them better, it can't hurt to look.

Last but not least, read example games. Make changes. See what happens. Ask questions. You'll find people to help you.

Just PLEASE take the time to do it right. Or else it will seem a lot harder.

Signed: someone who's been doing this for a while.

In the way of news, we have a capsule review of the Basic Fantasy RPG, MobyGames at 20, and more. Details after the cut.

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Tags: tabletop, rpg, review, history

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Weekly Links #258: impatient learner edition

24 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, and welcome to my weekly gamedev newsletter. This Sunday I'm a little short on news again. Between finishing up another interpreter, and writing a piece of flash fiction, not many news managed to hold my attention. Might as well take the time to write about an issue I've been noticing lately.

Look, we all have to start somewhere, and in the beginning it's normal to trip and stumble a lot. So when you know you're still learning? Maybe don't rush. Lately I see people trying to get started making games with Pygame who clearly haven't yet mastered, not just Python, but elementary programming concepts like loops and lists. And they don't seem to take the hint when gently pointed in that direction.

And you know what? I've been through the "gonna make the ultimate MMORPG" stage. It never went anywhere either, of course. But that was after 8-9 years of programming as a hobby, and another 3 or 4 profesionally. At least I had a reason to be overconfident. And a team of friends with similar or better skill level.

Kids are growing up so fast these days. With that however seems to come a degree of impatience. Which isn't helped by "easy" tools like Scratch, which do nothing but sweep complexity under the rug. At least Love2D won't let you forget there's a game loop behind the scenes, even if it's normally hidden from sight and not under your control. Even better, you can pop the hood open and fiddle with it if you know what you're doing.

Back in my day, the entire computer was like that. You wanted a loop? You'd use a GO TO. Keeping track of multiple sprites? Use an array of X and Y coordinates. It was damn hard. I wouldn't go back for anything but the simplest games. (There's a reason shoot'em ups were so popular in the 1980s.) But the moment when I got a friend's explanation that the complex clockwork movement of a game like Dizzy resulted from every single sprite being updated little by little in turn, while music played one note at a time?

That flash of revelation is going to stay with me until death. And this level of understanding makes all the difference.

In the way of extended news, we have a new tool for retrogaming enthusiasts, and advice for launching a career in games writing. Details after the cut.

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Tags: retro, tools, personal, philosophy

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Weekly Links #257

17 February 2019 — No Time To Play

This week is starting out strong for a change. On Sunday was published an interview with Felipe Pepe of The CRPG Book Project fame (via K.D.). And on Monday we got an article about Sega's Super Scaler technology, that powered so many arcade classics. I've only played OutRun and AfterBurner II out of them, and my favorite 2.5D game isn't among them, but I'm still in love with the style, and even created my own graphics engine to keep it alive.

Also on Monday, an indie creator shares his first year of game development in words and screenshots, and it sounds like an amazing journey. People get up to speed damn fast these days.

A much bigger story emerged as the week went on, extensively covered by numerous sources: that of Activision firing 800 Blizzard employees despite Blizzard making record profits in 2018, just because those profits were a little bit below expectations. Never mind the sheer callousness of the decision, and the way it was handled. Never mind the "I told you so". Right now I'd love to hear from those people who insist that without the big publishers we wouldn't have seen a lot of great games that made history. Tell me, how many more great games we could have seen from Blizzard, and now we never will because their corporate owner is forcing them to focus on milking cash cows instead of, ya'know, continuing to innovate?

Enjoy your capitalism. I'll be over there playing little indie games made with PICO-8.

Speaking of which: just last week I was reviewing a new fantasy console. Soon after, a post on the PICO-8 forum reminded me of this big list on GitHub. And you know... that's kind of cool actually. Making a new fantasy console has turned into a sort of hobby. One I get all too well, having created several authoring systems for interactive fiction that hardly saw any use. But at least each of mine has a unique gimmick I can explain easily. Whereas with most fantasy consoles, there's no obvious reason to use one over the others.

Which, of course, is a valuable insight in itself. Cheers!

Tags: retro, arcade, rpg, interview, business, tools

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Weekly Links #256

10 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. Some weeks I get so caught up in a project or other that it leaves me little attention to spare for gaming news worth commenting on. This time it was the interpreter architecture mentioned last week. Figured I'd give it a good workout, you see, and work out it did, a lot better than expected. As of this writing I'm on the way to releasing a real-world, if not very useful, version. People are already interested in the online preview, so my hopes are high for once. And damn if it doesn't feel good to have a scripting language that can be ported to a new platform literally in hours, even as it's grown enough to not really be a toy anymore.

In the way of news, I hear the big publishers are all complaining about a terrible 2018, financially speaking. By which they mean profits are a few percent below their unreasonable expectations, so they're firing hundreds of people to keep the obscene bonuses of CEOs intact. Cue a "meanwhile, in Japan" moment: it was just last month, if memory serves, that Nintendo management cut their own wages in half so they'd have enough to keep paying their employees. Again.

That's why they continue to be so successful, folks: for all their sins, Nintendo is a humane business, and it shows in everything they do. Including games.

One other topic this week: at the very last moment, fluffy alerts me of a new game development tool called Môsi. It's inspired by Bitsy, except with a lot more features and designed for making games on a smartphone.

Or so it's supposed to; on mobile Chrome all I got was a blank screen. On desktop I can play the example, and browse through the various editor tabs, though actually editing sprites and rooms doesn't work in either Opera or Firefox. Oh well, Môsi is in early development. And there's quite a bit to look at: you can choose the size of your game world, that of a screen, a sprite, and even how many colors your game will have. Sprites can have multiple animation frames, and rich interactions are possible, including branching and looping. In other words... programming (cue finger wiggling), though it's all visual.

Not much more to say about it at this point, but this right here is a thing to watch closely. Could easily take off in a big way. And did I mention it's open source?

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the Sunday!

Tags: tools, programming, business

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Weekly Links #255

03 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! It's been another week when I didn't work on games. Instead, my attention has been consumed by yet another scripting language. Or rather, a framework for making any number of them very easily, in tiny amounts of code. This is more important than it seems. For one thing, it will finally allow me to put one in Adventure Prompt, a goal that drove much of my research in recent years. And then, the radical simplicity of the system opens up opportunities I couldn't even consider before. Enter the guerilla scripting engine, that you can add to mostly any software on a whim. It's that easy.

Details soon. In the mean time, lets see what's new in the gaming world.

Not reporting, in any event. Dear game journalists, do you realize that various platforms get exclusive titles all the time? That's not a "war", it's business as usual. And the only result is that the rights holders soon discover how much money they're leaving on the table, so they back out of the exclusivity arrangement. Hopefully.

People do it all the time with Steam and nobody bats an eyelid. But enter Epic's new store, and people seem unable to think clearly all of a sudden. For some reason.

(Also, duuudes. Can you please stop with the 60FPS snobbery already? It's getting tiresome AF. And damaging.)

On a more cheerful note, Ren'Py just turned 15, and its amazing journey gives no signs of slowing down quite yet. Which fills me with joy. Maybe one of these days I'll manage to pick it up again, too.

Last but not least, this weekend Hardcore Gaming 101 covers Dune (Cryo's 1991 game), in their usual detailed manner. I'm yet to finish reading as of this writing, but it brings back all kinds of memories. Funny how the Dune game that didn't span a major, enduring genre remains the one that's fondly remembered, and amply discussed when it comes up.

With that, I'll let you enjoy the Sunday. Bye!

Tags: programming, business, adventure

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Weekly Links #254: game accessibility edition

27 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hey, everyone. I had little to do this week but throw myself into work, for what little it's worth. And the first thing on my plate was to finally redo the homepages for Adventure Prompt and Ramus 2. Which took some thinking, but came out damn well, and enjoyed a warm reception. Now all that's left is to make download packages for both of them. Got many more ideas, but first the basics. And then there's my latest pet project, that I'm going to announce soon, either later today or else tomorrow. Spoiler: it's yet another scripting language.

In the way of news, this week we have in-depth coverage of the French Interactive Fiction Competition (in English, natch), via fiction-interactive.fr. It's fun to try and spot the unique flavor of the French school in a very well written analysis. In unrelated news, Gamasutra has a collection of quotes on accessibility from 2018. See also the extended news below, but one in particular struck a chord with me:

"If games didn't have subtitles, I wouldn't know English today, so yeah."

Many more are good though, so be sure to skim it.

As for extended commentary, there's a detailed review of Hyper Light Drifter, new regulation regarding accessibility in games, and a now-forgotten Star Wars MMO that once meant something. Details after the cut.

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Tags: indie, game-design, accessibility, mmo, rpg, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #253

20 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. This week I can't think of anything to write an editorial about. Might as well talk about plans instead. And those don't involve any new games until summer, unless something happens along the way. Plenty of other things to do for a while:

  • redo the user interface of ASCII Mapper and release version 2.0;
  • port Electric Rogue to Python and Pygame, not so much for its own sake but to make the NoTime engine reusable as promised so long ago;
  • make a couple more tech demos based on it;
  • maybe take another shot at Deep Down in Darkness, now that I know what was wrong the first time around;
  • maybe tinker some more with Adventure Prompt and/or Ramus 2; their respective websites in particular need work.

Plenty to pick and choose from, then. It remains to be seen how much I'll actually get done.

In the way of extended news, this week we have an interview with Mike Cook about his creation Angelina, another with three leaders of GOG.com about the way they got to where they are now, and a write-up about the way game jams contribute to queer representation. Details after the cut.

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Tags: game-jam, representation, retrogaming, publishing, interview, game-design, AI

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Weekly Links #252

13 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As gaming news worthy of attention are fashionably late this week, I took the time to write an article about alternate uses for gamedev tools. It concludes my year-long exploration of this particular topic, at least for now. Not that I'll stop working on my own tools, or finding cool new uses for them. The focus will simply be on other things. And hey, that's a good season finale, that foreshadows the next one like it's supposed to.

In the way of news, on Wednesday, PCGamer posts a fascinating insight into how the Infinity Engine was made. And on Thursday we have a couple of game development blog posts worth mentioning:

  • First, a look at the virtual city of Rubacava. For those who can't place it instantly, that's from Grim Fandango, one of the most famous graphical adventures ever made. Not much to say there, Konstantinos Dimopoulos knocks it out of the park as usual. I'll just add that cities are dear to my heart, most of my own fiction (less so my games) taking place in one, and even though I only know Rubacava from the game's novelization, it's still a special place.
  • Then, musings on designing the user interface of a sci-fi business simulator. Note how many examples they took inspiration from, some fictional, others very much real. If only designers of practical software did the same, because Prosperous Universe sounds like a game to watch closely.

Last but not least, Anatoly Shashkin points out that a history of Ocean Software from a few years ago was just released for free on the Internet Archive. Unfortunately all the download options are gigantic. Can't tell you much about files I can't actually open on my computer. But if you have a beefier machine, knowing how 8-bit pioneers did their great work is probably worth the trouble.

Enjoy, and see you next week.

Tags: news, tools, rpg

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