Signing off

Dear readers,

Thank you for being with me. Some of you have been here since this blog started. It's been a ride. So long, and thanks for all the fish (obligatory line).

The final edition of the newsletter was very popular, but the one before that exceeded all my expectations. Talk about ending on a high note. Love you all.

It had to end. Sorry. I'm sad about it too. Made the decision half a year ago, when it became clear that a relaxed posting schedule wasn't enough to keep me going. Kept me going for a year and a half more than expected, so that's a win. But the past 18 months have been hard. Looking older now. Feeling older, too.

And the ongoing world situation is only part of it. I'm a lonely, angry man whose only friends are too far away. Having a hobby helped for a while. Now it's a drag on my time and energy. Besides, a blog needs to end at some point, like a book.

Oh, I plan to keep writing. Got no shortage of outlets for that:

Don't forget about itch.io and the new site, either. Hopefully there will be more soon. Been saying that for months. So far no luck.

I plan to make more games, too. Got The Unwanted Hero to finish, and new ideas for Electric Rogue 2. Hopefully more later. Couldn't say right now.

Enjoy the holidays, and see you again someday soon, somewhere nearby. Cheers.

Tags: meta, community, personal

GameDev News for 25 December 2021

Merry Christmas, everyone, and welcome to the final edition of the No Time To Play newsletter. I hope it makes your day.

To get the bad out of the way, let's start with a couple of PC Gamer headlines from around mid-December:

Past the clickbait title, the article makes some good points. But also, dunno. You mean setting and mood can make a game genre as much as mechanics? Who’d have thought. And yes, when people say they want something new, they usually mean more of the same. Also, sci-fi is often just fantasy with shiny space-age trappings, and not in the sense Star Wars is, but in the way it looks back at a mythical past, despite the appearances. The way the future used to look like. Speaking of which: you do realize that games where you have to replay many times until you learn to line everything up perfectly have existed since, oh, I dunno, Infocom’s Deadline (1982) and Suspended (1983), right?

Moving on, we have a whole bunch of game retrospectives:

  • for one, HG101 hits the nail on the head: "If you’ve heard of Umurangi Generation, it’s probably because of game critics calling it one of the most important games of the time, an angry, spiteful game pissed about the state of the world." Yes, thank you. That's exactly how I heard of it, and it's always fun to know more;
  • and just on Christmas Eve, Kotaku looks back at 50 Years of Traveling The Oregon Trail; I'm still reading this one, so not much to say about it;
  • but as of the day before, the 50 Years of Text Games series nears conclusion, with 2019 and AI Dungeon: that absurdly expensive Markov chain some people were daft enough to hail as the future of computing. Still a good story, of course.

In fact, it made me laugh. Poor critics, fearing they suddenly became obsolete. No, really? Oops! Welcome to postmodernism 2.0, everyone. Not that there was any chance of it happening. Let alone for authors. But we should have asked all those questions of ownership long ago.

Last but not least, we have a list of Top Advice for D&D DMs that works just as well for writing. In fact, some of it is stuff I've been telling people for years.

And that's it! Really. See you once more before New Year's Eve, when we say our good byes and talk about the future. Happy Holidays!

Tags: business, rpg, classics, AI, text-based, tabletop, writing

GameDev News for 15 December 2021

Hey, everyone. Chatting about optimization recently prompted me to write a little rant about it. Nothing new, but the reminder is needed now and then.

In kinda-related news, Wireframe Magazine invites people to code their own landscape engine as pioneered by Mike Singleton in The Lords of Midnight. I already did that, thank you very much. Took me five years of on-and-off research, but the resulting engine became the basis of my best games so far. The article seems to describe a different technique from the one I found though.

Then we have a couple of articles on game design:

And going back to game history for a bit:

  • From Felipe Pepe, we get RPG Maker: History & Games, self-described as "A look at the last three decades of this legendary indie dev tool". A lot of things I didn't know are in there.
  • Last but not least, this December, the Digital Antiquarian tackles Might and Magic. No wonder he needed an extra week to start.

That said, I'm sick and tired of art snobbery. Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater House was a grand creative statement that sparked a revolution in architecture, but it was also completely uninhabitable. The homes we live in are still boringly box-shaped a century later, even as reinforced concrete lets us build pretty much anything we want. Why? Because boxes work.

Well, so does competently executed entertainment that doesn't try to win any awards.

To avoid ending on a sour note: there's a new Basic for 8-bit micros out there, that can compile for multiple target platforms from one source, via tools like cc65 or z88dk. That could be good news, especially for fans of 6502-based platforms; the Speccy already had good tools.

But this is all for mid-December. See you on Christmas, when we say good bye.

Tags: programming, retrogaming, game design, history, tools

GameDev News for 5 December 2021

Hello, everyone! December starts with fewer news than usual (though we've had worse), so I'll try to compensate by talking about them more.

  • PC Gamer announces: Canceled Fallout RPG from 2003 is being resurrected. Yes, that means Van Buren. And as a fan work, no less! What can I say? Never played either of the first two games much, they're not my style at all. But this is great news for people who couldn't get into the newer installments. And it's pretty amazing that enough of the game was already done that it can be meaningfully picked up and finished. Not to mention, without the resources of a big game studio.
  • Over on Lemmy.ml, people are discussing ideas about a federated game store. Naturally, itch.io comes up a lot in conversation. What I don't see mentioned is how they propose to handle payments. In fact, hardly anyone outside of the OP even brought it up at all. And that's by far the hardest part. Not technically, either. Take it from a web developer who worked with e-commerce software and sites for years.
  • Last but not least, Vice Magazine writes about the flipside to the Ion Storm debacle: how kindness saved the cult hit Anachronox. Which is a breath of fresh air; I didn't think there was anything left to add about this story. That said: ever wondered why it's always young people with no experience working in this kind of studio, on this kind of project? It's because anyone older will know better, and run away screaming.

That's all I have today. Sorry. Hopefully the final two newsletters will be richer, and then we can wrap up nicely with one last post right before New Year. Then maybe next year I'll get around to making a game again, or for that matter working on the site some more. Couldn't say right now.

Meanwhile, thanks for sticking around. See you mid-month with more!

Tags: classics, rpg, community, business, history

GameDev News for 25 November 2021

Hello, everyone! The annual Interactive Fiction Competition ended just a few hours after my previous newsletter and results were announced a week later.

In other news, we have a couple of headlines from the corporate world:

It's still something, especially in context. But most of us just want to make games, so here's something more useful:

Last but not least: going back to interactive fiction for a moment, the 50 Years of Text Games project is now at 2014, therefore 80 Days, the game that brought modern CYOA into the mainstream. A good write-up, but I remain unconvinced about the game and the tool it was made with. Pretty much everyone I talked to who played it remembers 80 Days as all style and no substance, and Ink was always inscrutably cryptic to me.

(Frankly, it all sounds an awful lot like Fallen London in some ways, and not just because they share an aesthetic. Unfortunately it's all the bad ways, including a lot of fever-dream fantasy that doesn't feel at all grounded, or relevant to anything that actually happens in the story.)

Oh well, see you next month, as this blog begins to wind down.

Tags: interactive fiction, business, preservation, game design, tools

GameDev News for 15 November 2021

Hello, everyone! I was reading through a software manual and almost forgot what day it was. Not that we have anything special today, just a smattering of assorted news:

  • Friday, the Digital Antiquarian writes about the time when a bunch of jackasses with no taste tried to sully the burgeoning field of videogames with disgusting filth they dared called "transgressive", and thankfully fell flat on their faces, in The Dark Eye (no connection to the famed German RPG). Look. At least Doom was fun. Rude, noisy fun that could get problematic, but still. Crucially, you were supposed to shoot demons, not philosophize about them: a message as powerful as it's simple.
  • Then we have another great post about the NFT sham, this time relevant to games.

To balance out the bad stuff, we have a couple of useful resources:

Last but not least, there's a new book out there about Unix shells called Userland, and of course it starts by comparing them to a text adventure. For once, the original Adventure, as opposed to its more famous direct successor. It's short, but good.

That's all for today, so I'll just cut this short. Enjoy, and see you next time.

Tags: history, business, graphics, tools, education

GameDev News for 5 November 2021

Hello, everyone! In-between finishing up my latest tools (which I'm now using productively), I also got around to updating Tee-Wee Editor, for the first time in 18 months:

Screenshot from a desktop text editor with a list down the left side, showing a passage from some sort of gamebook. It looks like modern Linux software.

It's not a big update, but it's an important update. Now it feels right for a change, you know? And still in the way of tooling work, I also wrote an article about my side-trip into learning to use Cython. Might as well, given what my primary programming language is.

And now for news from the world of games at large, this time below the fold.

Read more... Tags: meta, tools, history, procedural generation, interactive fiction, rpg

GameDev News for 25 October 2021

I've been on a roll lately. Shorty after my previous release, here's Scrunch Edit, a similar-yet-different outliner that nicely complements its older sibling:

Screenshot of a desktop application showing a tree of headings down the side of a text editor, along with a toolbar and other widgets. There aren't any icons.

Even better, some of the new tricks I came up with can be backported to Tee-Wee Editor, which could use another version, after much too long.

Otherwise, game-related news have been scarce at the end of October. From Game Developer Magazine we learn some game design tips out of Sid Meyer's newly published memoir (warning, long read), and in less happy news that Activision Blizzard continues to self-destruct (thankfully just a short update). Kotaku has details, but I can't be bothered to add more links.

Instead, let me highlight The Digital Antiquarian writing about Harlan Ellison and the way his most famous story was made into a videogame against all odds. What stood out to me was the editorial by Johnny L. Wilson, who reached the same conclusions about violence in videogames a quarter century before I did in this article. Funny that.

But this is it for now. Enjoy, and see you in November, when stuff is expected to happen for a change.

Tags: tools, game design, business, new media, history

GameDev News for 15 October 2021 (game history edition)

Hello, everyone! It's mid-October, and winter is coming early in the northern hemisphere. In the way of good news, plenty of people seem interested in OutNoted, though few tried it so far. Even better news: it spawned another project that I hope to announce next time.

There aren't so many links today either, but what's there is quite good. To wit:

  • In early October, HG101 covers Doom, and the introduction made me laugh out loud. There's also an in-depth comparison of the various console ports. Of course the sequels get articles of their own.
  • Then we have a French language story that makes some surprising connections: Why visual novels are in first person.
  • On a related note, there's an excellent question on the LemmaSoft forums: How do you write a plot?
  • And for its 20th anniversary, ScummVM has a massive new version, including among others Glulx support, giving it the ability to play hundreds, maybe thousands of text adventures. See also the more personal coverage from Vintage Is the New Old.
  • Last but not least, The 50 Years of Text Games project has reached 2009 and Fallen London, or Echo Bazaar as it was called at the time; I reviewed it in 2011, and played for many more years after that.

That's it for today. Not bad for these gray, gloomy times. See you around!

Tags: tools, adventure, history, writing, retrogaming

GameDev News for 5 October 2021

Hello, everyone! I've been working on yet another hare-brained scheme lately, and just happened to release a big new version yesterday. Meet OutNoted, an outline note-taking editor for the desktop:

Screenshot of a desktop application showing a tree of text notes in the main work area, along with a toolbar and other widgets. There aren't any icons.

It's hosted on the sister site, and I'll just let you take a look. But first, some news. Only a few today:

And in more positive news:

But it's time to end the first newsletter of Spooky Month. Have fun, and see you!

Tags: tools, publishing, history