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Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

Weekly Links #314

05 April 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The big news this week is of course Tee-Wee Editor reaching version 1.0:

To discuss an obvious change: the user interface now sports a second toolbar; I tweaked the widget layout to account for it. Makes the user interface kind of busy, which is reason enough to refrain from adding much more. Beware, young programmer: people always ask for features they don't really need. But any new feature is a burden not just on you, but them as well. Makes it that much harder to spot the stuff you actually need and then click on it. That's why people are desperate for simple software in an era when even command-line tools suffer from way too much complexity.

Three times now Tee-Wee has been praised for being much more accessible than its older cousin. Which in turn is much simpler than some of the competition.

Weren't these authoring tools supposed to let anyone make games?

In the way of news, this edition we have an interview with Jon Ingold and a retrospective of The 7th Guest, in addition to my own detailed release announcement from Itch. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, interview, writing, tools, classics, adventure

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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 #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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Weekly Links #302

12 January 2020 — No Time To Play

You know, there's a reason why I'm not afraid to set projects aside: they give me something to pick up later, which is a lot easier than starting from scratch all the time. This time it's a new roguelike made with the EightWay Engine, in which I'm trying out new ways to use ASCII art. In 2.5D, no less.

Screenshot from a 3D game depicting a ruined maze-like building surrounded by trees, rendered abstractly with ASCII characters.

I can only show you a screenshot for now because I stopped to write a level generation how-to. Like the game, it was intended for the PROCJAM last November, and things didn't work out. So I'm making both of them in a new year and decade instead.

Well, the game might take a little longer, as I explore new territory in graphics, level design and gameplay at the same time. Famous last words, you might say, but it's very much in line with the original goals for No Time To Play, that I allowed myself to forget for a while, then struggled to remember.

Anyway, as for news, this week we have a book on the Doom modding community and some thoughts on AI Dungeon 2. Details below the cut.

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Tags: roguelike, classics, shooter, history, game-design

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Weekly Links #301

05 January 2020 — No Time To Play

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to 2020. I took some time over the holidays to release a small text adventure called Kitty and the Sea (IFDB link); you can read more details over there, since it's technically not a No Time To Play project, but I did use it as the prompt for an article about the link between walking simulators and interactive fiction.

Minimal, abstract art depicting a cat's paw print overimposed on a seascape: seagulls gliding over the water, under a warm sun.

On a related note, my previous newsletter was unusually popular for some reason, and that factors into my plans for the months ahead. Details below the cut, along with a couple of classic game retrospectives to give 2020 a good start.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, strategy, classics, graphics, programming

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Weekly Links #297

24 November 2019 — No Time To Play

Three weeks ago when I announced the text-based edition of Space Cruiser Orion, it was a complete surprise to discover how many people liked it. Trouble is, there's no good place to put the game up, either here or on Itch. What to do? Why, just upload the archive somewhere and link to it directly.

So here it is, for now only in a 64-bit edition. Sorry about that; right now the 32-bit system I could use for development isn't so easy to set up. The binaries are only for Linux, too, and I'm not sure how useful the source code is to most people. For what it's worth, instructions are included.

As an aside: dear software developers, there's a big difference between "sorry, can't make something for you to run right now" and a snide, snotty "everyone's on 64-bit by now". Um, no. Wrong. If that was true, people wouldn't be asking. Never dismiss the needs and wants of others. That you can't help everyone is another story. Least you can do is show a little respect.

Otherwise, fluffy alerts me of a campaign to save the .org top-level domain. Enough with the privatization of everything. The Internet is a public resource and must be treated as such. And also continuing from last time, my new research into scripting engines has been going well. It should bear fruit soon.

In the way of news, we have a retrospective of the Robocop arcade tie-in, and more lessons the game design of Doom. Funny how that one game continues to be an inspiration after more than a quarter century. Details below the cut.

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Tags: news, arcade, classics, shooter, game-design

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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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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 #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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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

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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.

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

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Weekly Links #277

07 July 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! During the month of June, Sunset Flight was one of the most popular games on No Time To Play. By way of contrast, I'll soon have to take it down from Itch.io for lack of interest. And speaking of interest, the recently revived Buzz Grid is also getting a lot of views. Might have something to do with the mobile support.

But most importantly, I picked up again a project started a month ago that wasn't developed enough to mention at the time:

Screenshot of a retro game mockup: two rows of neon-colored bars suggest an abstract landscape going to the horizon. Distant rows of spheres flank a crosshair.

Yep, it's a retro-styled prequel to the aforementioned Sunset Flight. It's my second shooter to get this treatment; hopefully this one will be more successful. Might take a while though, due to other projects and obligations. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Prince of Persia is 30 (as of last Sunday), and in unrelated news we learn of a new job in gamedev: cultural proofreader. Last but not least, a reminder that No Time To Play still needs your help. Details below the cut.

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Tags: news, arcade, retrogaming, classics, representation

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Weekly Links #268

05 May 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As expected, my game prototype took another week to finish, or almost. I took a break before starting on a more presentable version; in the mean time, you can enjoy it in command-line glory, like the original mainframe game:

(I was going to embed the gist here, but it turns out to pull the whole damn thing, not just a nice little box with a "view more" link like any reasonable person would expect from, you know, an embed code. So hop over to GitHub to get Space Cruiser Orion. Bonus points if you get the reference. Classic sci-fi for the win!)

You'll need a Python interpreter (normally version 3, but 2 might just work), and some familiarity with the subgenre; there is extensive built-in help, but no tutorial. And it could use one, the game being quite a bit more involved than it appears at first. Which is what drew me to it in the first place, and what makes a modern port worth doing. Wish I had the energy for many of them. Speaking of which.

In the mean time, I also wrote a 700-word review of Space Trader, a now-classic mobile game that I somehow never heard of when my Palm was still new, so I'm catching up belatedly. One thing the review doesn't mention is how many other ports there are apart from the two Android versions: to iPhone, Windows and even Java. The latter works, too, so you can play pretty much anywhere.

As for the news, this week we have a chat with Julian Gollop of X-Com fame, and a piece about politics in videogames. Details after the cut.

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Tags: history, interview, game-design, politics, classics, review

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Weekly Links #266: good business, bad business

21 April 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I'll keep it short today. Even after release, Keep of the Mad Wizard keeps providing inspiration. This time in the form of an article about combat in videogames. Which in turns suggests what I should work on next. An early experiment has already fizzled out; got two more ideas to try in the coming week. Details once I have something more solid, even just a prototype.

In the mean time, let's see the news.

I had just published the previous newsletter when this crossed my Twitter feed: an in-depth explanation of how Telltale Games crashed and burned so suddenly, late last year. And damn if it doesn't sound familiar:

  1. young company does innovative work by a fresh formula;
  2. they take off slowly and do just fine for a while;
  3. one day they capture lightning in a bottle and become famous;
  4. they start dreaming big, and take investors on board;
  5. investors turn out to care about nothing except obscene profits;
  6. company burns itself down trying to satisfy them.

You know... just like every single business I ever worked for that actually meant something to me. Dear young entrepreneurs: are you ever going to learn? At all?

Go read the article for the grisly details. But gee, you mean treating your best people like shit until they leave you to become the competition is a bad idea?

In other news, someone has finally remade 8-bit classic The Sentinel, and (as reported by several sources) Jason Scott strikes again, putting up on GitHub the complete source code of Infocom text adventures. And oh, there's also Hardcore Gaming 101 covering Unreal.

Last but not least, we have the first interview with employees of ArenaNet, makers of Guild Wars, after the massive layoffs from a few months ago. Note how these were handled compared to other high-profile cases, and how the company continues to systematically reject crunch. Reads like sci-fi, doesn't it?

Until next time, be kind to yourself.

Tags: business, classics, interview

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Weekly Links #264

07 April 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As of right now, Keep of the Mad Wizard is on the home stretch.

(Screenshot of a computer role-playing game showing a character sheet.)

Since last time, I implemented potions, added more content, and figured out what to do for the endgame. Even added a good chunk of it, apart from the ability to solve it with spells. Also a prologue and epilogue, that give the game at least the pretense of a story. The game is coming out shorter and easier than expected, but it's not automatic, and feels balanced enough. It even requires different play styles for the three classes!

And because working on a game is great for inspiration, I wrote yet another article about CRPGs, more exactly scope versus accessibility, for player and developer alike.

In the way of news, we have the long-awaited release of Pygame 1.9.5, Itch.io's new job board, a write-up about licensed games and a retrospective of the King's Quest series. Details after the cut.

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Tags: rpg, game-design, programming, business, classics

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