Let a billion videogames bloom

Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

When games grow and time passes

17 September 2019 — No Time To Play

This was supposed to go in the newsletter, but it quickly ballooned into its own thing. Via the Pygame Discord server, here's a post from last week about What Happened to the Real Time Strategy Genre. I've followed trends in the area even less than the author, so let's see what they have to say:

In any case this brings us to the first thing that happened to RTS games: They innovated like crazy, created several new genres and split up into many smaller genres.

This includes things like tower defense, tower offense, more hero focused games like League of Legends, (but also some games in the the Dawn of War series) the new genre of auto chess, the tug of war genre, (still not really popular outside of StarCraft 2 mods for some reason…) survival strategy like RimWorld, idle games, blends with 4X games, non-combat RTS, Pikmin–likes, and probably more that I’m forgetting.

Which is good insight. MOBA games sprang from one Warcraft III mod. Tower defense started as an informal challenge for its direct predecessor. Idle games... maybe if you see them as offshoots of ultra-casual economic simulations like the infamous FarmVille. Either way, all these subgenres appeared because it was what people wanted to play. And as the author points out:

When you make the game that you should make, (“should” according to what’s hot right now) instead of the game that you actually would want to play, it usually doesn’t turn out that well.

Yep... I keep telling aspiring creators: write the stories you'd like to read. Make the games you'd like to play. The art you'd like to see. It's not even about setting versus following trends, but having something to say. Doesn't even have to be original. It does however need soul.

But there's one point the author misses entirely: ultimately, there's nothing wrong with gameing having some classics that remain great to play for a long time. Old books don't become automatically boring by virtue of being old. Shakespeare is still popular, too. And not always in the original form, either; we come up with updated versions all the time.

Which is exactly what people have been doing with games as of late. And just in time to rescue some of those old masterpieces from oblivion as bits rot away.

Tags: strategy, philosophy, game-design

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #287

15 September 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Just over a year ago, Discord opened its own game store. Yesterday, it closed down, as reported by much of the gaming press. I couldn't be bothered to look up the details. They deserved it. Anything else is fluff: that subscription services tanked in the e-book world, too, and for that matter it hasn't been easy with audio and video either. Or that the market was already crowded, which is a red herring in the first place. There's something to be said about a business branching out of its comfort zone: it seldom goes well. And all the MBA bullshit you might hear about the reasons why is bunk.

Maybe stop treating everything as a business first. Maybe stop trying to nickel-and-dime everyone all the time. We suffer from an excedent of capitalism and a deficit of humanity, and that's ruining the (global) economy instead of helping.

Itch.io started out as a labor of love, and look how far it got. It wasn't even a proper store yet when I joined. It probably still doesn't earn even its owners enough to live on (don't take my word for it, this is only a personal suspicion). Yet its mindshare is such that if the service ever failed to sustain itself, many people and organizations would be willing to help, and not for a profit, either.

In the way of news, this year marks a rather unusual anniversary: Spiderweb Software, the (in)famous developer of hardcore RPGs that did indie right years before the word existed, is 25! To mark the occasion, they've released an equally unusual strategy RPG, and they're even selling it on Itch, a first for them. Our curator-in-chief took the opportunity to interview Jeff Vogel, and it's definitely worth a read. Won't take much of your time. Note the remark on people being driven out of the industry by burnout before they can pass on their experience, thus leaving each new generation make all the same mistakes anew. Then we wonder why crunch persists and games are still buggy.

For something more cheerful, check out my recent article on interactivity in games. And while you're at it, maybe help keeping No Time To Play afloat. Thank you very much.

Tags: business, rpg, interview, game-design

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #286

08 September 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I've done little in the way of gamedev this week, mostly because a failed computer migration sucked up half of it and stressed me out to no end. In my defense, I'm planning a couple of articles (one on interactivity, the other on level generation in roguelikes). Meanwhile, you can enjoy a few minor updates to Buzz Grid: the game now looks closer to how it was originally supposed to, and should move more smoothly on top of that. Might try to give a similar treatment to Square Shooter as well, but no promises yet. Oh, and there's also a new project on the way, with more planned for the autumn.

Oh, about that migration. Look. I've been out of the loop for a while in regard to hardware and software. But my 10-year-old PC, running a 5-year-old operating system and apps, is giving signs of fatigue. Luckily I own a slightly newer machine, that couldn't be used for a while due to an overheating problem. Having finally fixed it, I set out to install Debian 10 and migrate all my files over.

Turns out, the overheating problem wasn't fixed. Or rather, it might have been, but for modern software seemingly being made for top-tier gaming rigs with liquid cooling. In fact, Debian 10 by itself, running in text mode, causes a Celeron CPU to run worryingly hot, as I discovered when installing it on my even older laptop. The Atom I'm on right now wouldn't stand a chance to run a graphical desktop and web browser released this year.

Fellow programmers, are you nuts?

Plenty of people are stuck with low-end computers. Older computers. Slightly defective computers. Even if we could afford buying replacements, why should we have to? No seriously, what exactly changed in the HTML5 standard recently to make a three-year-old browser obsolete? DeviantArt, I'm looking at you here. Oh, and by the way: Firefox, what exactly are you doing with all the CPU and GPU cycles you're gobbling up like a pig these days? Because you're still slow as molasses. Then you wonder why people flock to the competition.

I'm so tired.

In the way of news, this week we have a tip to help preserve Flash games a little while longer, and a retrospective of Dragon's Lair. Details under the cut.

Read more...

Tags: hardware, technology, preservation, arcade, retrogaming

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #285

01 September 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. This week, the game industry is having its very own #MeToo moment, as victims of harassment and rape stand up and speak out all together. As a man, I tried to keep my mouth shut for the most part, because this is a time to let women be heard. Let me add just one thing.

We've all known for a long time that the game industry is an incredibly toxic place, and this hurts everyone. Got my own war stories that I thought were pretty damn bad. But what I'm hearing these days makes me shudder. Once again, my cynical self is left in the dust as things go off the deep end. This, folks, is how bad we've allowed things to become. Crunch and GG were part of a pattern, see. Now at last we're getting the whole picture... and it's worthy of a horror story.

Enough with the excuses. You know what to do. No more praising these men to heaven and back. No more letting it slide. If you can demand extra romance options in your favorite game, you can also demand that the people working on it are treated with respect. For that matter, call out sexism in the games themselves, because it's often a red flag. Not to mention it perpetuates incredibly damaging ideas of how real women ought to be treated. In game companies and everywhere else in society. Which these days is already crumbling as it is. And we're running out of time to fix pretty much anything. Help out already.

In recent years, I started to notice how fearfully women look at me simply because I happen to be walking behind them on the street. In broad daylight, in circulated places. And I have these monsters to thank for it. One of them I even praised repeatedly in my newsletters.

Never again.

(Edit: woke up to the news that one of the people unveiled as abusers in this scandal took his own life. Which only caused even more abuse to be heaped upon... the victims. Good going, people. You didn't learn a thing from this whole story.)

In the way of gamedev, this week we have a write-up about cultural appropriation, and an article of my own about game cameras, in addition to a new request for help.

Read more...

Tags: news, politics, representation, worldbuilding, graphics

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #284

25 August 2019 — No Time To Play

Talk about pent-up creativity. After the successful relaunch of ASCII Mapper, it was time to also pick up the project that made it necessary in the first place. And when I did, it took me just five days to reach this point:

(Screenshot showing four wide corridors made of glowing columns that intersect at a fountain of light. On either side of the viewport are touchscreen controls.)

That was while going through another tech demo, by the way. Which in turn required the use of a map editor, thus validating my decision to do things in this order.

Either way, I have an engine! And a new kind of in-engine editor to go with it as well. Both have been giving me new insights into the best ways to use them, and now I'm bubbling with ideas again. For now however enjoy Make-a-Maze. You can find it either on Itch.io or on Game Jolt. Updates to follow soon!

In the way of news, this week we have word from the world of interactive fiction, a few thoughts on game graphics, and a couple of links with little comment. Details after the cut.

Read more...

Tags: tools, interactive-fiction, graphics

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #283

18 August 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Those of my readers who also follow me on Mastodon already know this, but for everyone else I have a surprise: as of this week, ASCII Mapper has a desktop edition, as originally planned 20 months ago. There was no time for a proper write-up before the soft launch last evening, so for now let's just say it looks like this:

(Screenshot of a desktop application showing a network of pathways drawn in ASCII art, and assorted controls.)

and already has more features than the original web edition. More details coming soon; in the mean time, you can also get it on Itch.io and on GitHub. Development will continue as time allows.

In the way of news, this week we have a discussion of politics in games, a retrospective of Pac-Mania, and words from the world of interactive fiction. Details after the cut.

Read more...

Tags: tools, politics, retrogaming, game-design, interactive-fiction

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #282

11 August 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Today is a rare event: the 9th anniversary of No Time To Play falls on newsletter day. In fact, last time it was before I began the newsletter. Yep, we've been around for nearly a decade. How cool is that?

In the way of news, on Wednesday I released Attack Vector Zero: Cybersphere, in all the usual places:

Because I was otherwise busy, there are no other links this week, so see below for a few words about my new game.

Five years ago and change, when I first conceived of the Attack Vector series, it was supposed to have vector graphics, hence the name. It was also supposed to be a Space Harrier pastiche; somehow, it ended up using voxel graphics and an urban environment instead. That didn't work out very well at all, even after remaking that first attempt as Sunset Flight, which took me way too long; an irksome failure, in more than one way.

The idea for a prequel and/or demake arrived in the same roundabout fashion that defines all my creative process; it involved my previous experience making one for another game, Laser Sky, and some thoughts about the classic Star Raiders, whose obscure sequel is one of my all-time favorites. So this spring I started working on a bunch of visual effects that could help make a similar game while needing little code and little CPU. By modern standards, anyway; how far we've come!

It was so good to see how much people liked those early tech demos. We crave the simpler pleasures of decades past, that could entertain us without being exhausting. And somehow I managed to come up with visuals resembling an arcade game from the mid-1990s whose name escapes me now (something something Blaster); a fellow game developer had to point me at it. Add the core gameplay of the aforementioned Star Raiders II and stir well to get a literal blast from the past. Embracing technical limitations: what a concept!

The big surprise was this dead simple retro demake coming out noticeably larger than the previous game in the series with its fancy graphics engine, and that was with just the core gameplay added in! Worse, I can't and won't sustain the same work pace from even just a year ago anymore, so things now take longer. It just made sense to publish the game unfinished for now, and come back later with fresh eyes. Wouldn't even be the first time; just the first time I do it on purpose.

Hopefully you'll enjoy it even so. And hey, it's open source like all my games. You know, just in case.

With this, I'll let you enjoy the Sunday. See you next time!

Tags: meta, news, game-design, classics, technology

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #281

04 August 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Work on the game picked up over the past week. It now looks better, has a title screen (and high scores), and different enemy types.

Montage of four screenshots from a videogame depicting a first-person dogfight against round spaceships, rendered in a retro, abstract style and neon colors.

Along with less visible additions such as gamepad support, this makes for everything I wanted in the initial release, apart from audio. Once that goes in, it's time to hit Publish and move on to other things for a while. No more burnout for me. At least this game has plenty of room for improvement, once I feel like working on it again. Besides, it will be open source as usual. So stay tuned!

In the way of news, this week we have:

  • some more thoughts on the slow death of Flash;
  • beginner mistakes with TCP;
  • To Pong or Not to Pong?;
  • a new interview with Al Lowe and
  • a retrospective of the Wing Commander series.

And that's about all. Details under the cut.

Read more...

Tags: news, preservation, programming, adventure, classics, interview

Comments? Tweet  

As Flash dies a little more

01 August 2019 — No Time To Play

On Wednesday, we learn from Gamasutra that the latest Chrome disables Flash by default, another step towards phasing it out. And you know, it occurs to me there's something about Flash nobody has said in all these years.

Yes, it was a security and performance nightmare, not to mention a horrid design.

Yes, it was still used to create a huge chunk of Internet culture, that will now be lost to time, and that's awful. Another victim of the Digital Dark Ages to come.

But don't you dare blame the people who worked for years to reverse-engineer Adobe's technology. Efforts to clone Flash date from before Macromedia was acquired, and some of them looked promising indeed.

None of them ever got close to providing a replacement, even after parts of Flash were open sourced, and the rest publicly documented. Ask yourself how that's possible when old games whose source code was lost, with assets in ad-hoc formats, regularly get modern replacement engines that run better than the original.

Just how badly was Flash made? Just how complicated is it, really?

And then, how did we ever let ourselves be fooled into building so much on shifting sands, when we knew exactly what would happen? Hello! Old floppies and word processor files? How quickly we forget.

Meanwhile, the humble text files produced by Usenet and BBS culture will remain forever readable, by printing them out and carving them into stone if all else fails. So will anything uploaded to Archive of Our Own. Animated GIFs, too. Remember when people used to say they were obsolete because we had Flash? Guess who's having the last laugh after all.

Too bad none of that can replace an interactive medium. You know, the one thing that can only exist on a computer. And nothing remotely comparable exists today, except arguably Twine. Which also depends on a monstrous pile-up of technologies known as the modern web browser engine. Of which only two endure.

I'm tempted to just make text-based games in Lua or something and be done with it.

Tags: new-media, preservation, technology

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #280

28 July 2019 — No Time To Play

So, my post from two weeks ago made the Dragonfly BSD Digest, a well-known and highly-respected linklog in the tech community. As of this writing, it had five times the usual number of readers, but no reactions. Maybe it's better that way, given its controversial nature.

In even better news, I started working on my game again. By now it looks like this:

Game screenshot depicting a dogfight against round spaceships from a first person perspective, in an abstract landscape suggested with neon-colored bars.

and people seem to like it, for various reasons. So even if the going is slow, I don't mind because the time taken will have been well used anyway.

As an amusing aside, the game was freezing randomly for short intervals after adding enemy missiles. As it turned out, trying to draw a filled circle in software when it was scaled too big took a lot of time. Dear fellow programmers: trust me, you're optimizing much too early and in the entirely wrong place.

Now for the news. We have quite a few this week:

  • how the myth of white, male Middle Ages came to be;
  • what being a game designer means;
  • the things game developers have to put up with from certain fans;
  • a sound critique of Steam's new automated curation features;
  • advice on making game enemies OK to kill.

Last but not least, a tribute to the late Rutger Hauer. Details below the cut.

Read more...

Tags: meta, history, game-design, community, curation

Comments? Tweet