Let a billion videogames bloom

Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

Weekly Links #321: philosophy edition

24 May 2020 — No Time To Play

You know, it occurs to me that game designers don't understand artistic media in general, not even their own.

You see, in books you tell a story through words. In ballet, through dance. In comics or movies, through pictures. And neither words, dance or pictures have to tell a story; all can still be art just fine without a narrative attached.

It stands to reason that games should tell stories through gameplay, if they do at all. They shouldn't have to, however, to be considered art.

So why is it that 40 years after Pac-Man we still struggle with this simple idea? Part of it is of course that we only think it's Art with capital A if it's the kind of stuff aristocrats used to enjoy. We don't even apply that rule consistently, because opera was once popular, low-brow entertainment. So was Shakespeare's theatre. Then again if human beings were willing to remember their history, we wouldn't be in this big mess now.

But mostly, it's that even those game designers with a background in philosophy are probably trained to think philosophy means Thomas Aquinas or Wittgenstein. Anything invented this side of 1920 just sort of exists, right? It's nothing worth thinking about. And definitely not worthy of much respect since it's less than a century old.

That's why we never quite came to grips with phones, either.

You caught me: we're having another week with no news worth commenting on. Well, there's another history of the Minitel system, though it fails to mention any games, and more topically the fact that Microsoft open-sourced GW-Basic; naturally, not before it was reversed-engineered by others, thus making this moot but for the historical interest. Oh! There's also Emily Short pointing out that in game design, like in other arts, you must have something to say in order to get anywhere. Gee, you think this relates to what I wrote above?

Until next week, when we can hopefully spend some time being playful instead.

Tags: game-design, philosophy

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Weekly Links #319

10 May 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Thanks for being with me today. Not many of you are left. This site's readership has been in freefall since at least the start of the year, and it's getting really hard to stay motivated. Which of course leads right into a vicious circle, but there you have it.

For what it's worth, Tee-Wee and Ramus are still getting views, if slowly, and I'm sitting on another feature to give the latter. To my surprise, last year's Keep of the Mad Wizard is also staying right ahead of both. To think I was ready to take it down from Itch.io! And Glittering Light 2 is slowly catching up with games that had years to become popular. So this year's hardly a bust. But then, what gives?

Oh well, I'll see once we're out of lockdown, and able to get a new computer, so I can safely work on the second No Time To Play book. One more week to go, if all is well. In the mean time, there's a game engine to review (it's a surprise) and not much else in the way of plans.

As for news, today we have a write-up on reverse-engineering N64 games, along with a couple of links without comment. Details under the cut.

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Tags: meta, preservation, game-design

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Games, progress and grognards

09 May 2020 — No Time To Play

This Friday, Gamasutra resurfaces an old reprint of an even older editorial by Chris Crawford, the game industry's tragic philosopher. And well, in some ways it's spot-on about the state of game development in 1997. The tech rat race never stopped, for one thing. But in other ways, it also suffers from his usual failure to look under the surface:

Yet Command & Conquer is little more than a remixing of design concepts that we've seen hundreds of times in previous games. Doom is just a souped-up version of Wolfenstein 3D, which in turn was based on an Apple II game called Castle Wolfenstein. Myst is an utterly conventional adventure game, in design terms no different from the original Adventure computer game, only souped up with '90s graphics.

Bwahahaha! Really?! C&C famously developed the concepts in Dune II, which in turn built on its predecessors; Doom massively improved upon Wolfenstein 3D, which wasn't Id Software first shooter of the sort, either. (By the way, the original Apple II game was 2D and stealth-oriented.) As for Myst being no improvement upon Adventure, which by the way hadn't been the state of the art in adventure games for fifteen years at that time... yeah.

Each of those games refined and grew the concepts introduced by its predecessors. Sometimes clumsily. In fits and starts. But that's how art moves forward. Engineering, too, not that anyone ever seemed to know in a culture that glorifies inventors and "original" thought to the detriment of those who toil for decades to turn the rough gem of an invention into a product everyone can use safely.

And speaking of decades: At the time, games like Nethack and Angband had already been around for ten years, give or take, continually built upon and improved along the way. So what Chris Crawford claimed he wanted to see already existed. By now both have been around for over thirty, having spawned impressive family trees too.

Maybe look outside "the industry" now and then. And lower your gaze. You can see a lot better without your nose getting in the way.

Tags: game-design, history, philosophy

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Weekly Links #307: roguelike edition

16 February 2020 — No Time To Play

When I released Glittering Light 2 last week, it was silent. That was a deliberate choice, to keep me from burning out at the last moment. Turned out to be a good decision, as adding audio took longer than expected... then longer still. But it worked in the end, and the game now sounds better than it has any right to. I was even able to reuse a few effects from the previous game, and just those it was missing the most, too. Too bad traffic on Itch.io petered out just before I uploaded the new version, but oh well. It's now one of my top viewed (and played) games.

Before that however, I took the time to write more words about how game genres evolve. Turns out I wasn't the only one, as you'll see below. A timely subject, because yes, it's 2020 and most people think roguelikes are normally real time. Feel free to shake your cane at kids today, some of us would rather try and keep up with the changing times.

And then at the other end of the work week I wrote a longer article that is and isn't related: What is an RPG to you? Because yes, the answer is often very personal.

As for my plans for the immediate future, there are several possibilities:

  • a Tkinter port of Glittering Light 2;
  • which in turn would pave the way for a long-planned Pygame port of Electric Rogue;
  • alternatively, some preproduction work on a sequel to the latter, for which I have a few ideas.

In the way of news, we have comments surrounding a long write-up about the definition of roguelikes as a genre. Yes, again. Details under the cut, along with the usual links without commentary.

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Tags: roguelike, game-design, philosophy, politics, worldbuilding

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Weekly Links #308

23 February 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! This is another edition where I'll be talking more about plans than results. The promised Tkinter port of Glittering Light 2 is likely to take another week, and I don't even have an interesting screenshot. I'll be done just in time to watch the 7DRL, which was the plan all along. One must make some time to play now and then, you know.

In the way of plans, I'll probably spend the spring building up a scaffolding for Electric Rogue 2, to be completed in autumn. It worked great for the first game, and will also leave me time to prepare the new book. Might even manage to squeeze in another EightWay Engine demo featuring a trick I haven't shown off yet.

Meanwhile, it turns out I have even more to say about game genres. It seems to be a leitmotif of 2020 already, which is fine with me. Writing is easier when you have a guiding line. I've also been doing more work on the website, mostly shuffling old links around. Anything more would require some serious restructuring, and I just got it into shape. The trick is finding a way to organize ten years' worth of material such that it doesn't become overwhelming. And that requires careful thinking.

As for the news, this week we have a cursory look at SFML, and three headlines with little commentary, but still very much worth reading. Details under the cut.

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Tags: tools, graphics, retrogaming, game-design, representation

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Myst, Doom and false dichotomies

22 February 2020 — No Time To Play

Much virtual ink has been spilled on comparisons between Myst and Doom, two of the three mega-hits of 1993, arguably the single best year in the history of computer games so far. The latest to chime in is Jimmy Maher, a.k.a. The Digital Antiquarian, in a write-up titled The Drawbacks to Success. In his usual manner, it's long, detailed, exquisitely documented... and trying way too hard to be neutral. But then, that's why Jimmy's a reputed scholar while I'm just a punk.

Here's the deal: for one thing, I am one of those crazy people who played both Doom and Myst and loved them both. The difference is, I can consistently finish Episode 1 of the former without dying, admittedly on a lower difficulty; whereas in the latter I only ever managed to visit (and complete) one of the other Ages, not nearly enough to win the game. Coming from a cerebral kind of guy with terrible reflexes, that should speak volumes.

Second, the widespread idea that Myst somehow failed to influence videogames is completely wrong: the game spawned not one, but two genres: the walking simulator, and the escape room game, which later spilled over into the real world. How's that for a success? That neither genre much resembles its original inspiration testifies of the creativity involved in both. Contrast with first person shooters, which are often indistinguishable from each other. And note how many of them tell their story through video or audio logs. Sounds familiar?

Speaking of genres: gee, you mean back at the time a lot of people would have been drawn to a game that looked different for a change? Most other adventures were the interactive cartoons of Sierra and LucasArts, that put you in the shoes of a loser solving nonsensical puzzles in an absurd world. Is it any wonder that most people would rather play a brave knight or space marine mowing down monsters?

And by the way: I'm sick and tired of snobs insisting that the faceless, nameless protagonist of early videogames is somehow inferior. All the people who remember Zork but none of the many text adventures that followed beg to disagree. So do the millions who bought Myst and, wait for it, Doom. Being able to imagine yourself as the protagonist is a huge part of what makes stories great. Weren't you doing that with each and every book you used to read as a kid?

Even games not usually considered first-person, such as Master of Orion, have plenty of moments where they are. And those are what you'll usually see in screenshots: the experience of actually being there. The game proper, who cares.

Tags: game-design, philosophy

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Weekly Links #306

09 February 2020 — No Time To Play

I had more screenshots to show you this week, but things precipitated, and Glittering Light 2 is now gameplay complete! So as planned initially, I released it right here and on Itch, where it quickly accumulated an impressive number of views and plays, not least due to a signal boost from Leaf on the official Twitter account. Thank you!

Montage of screenshots from a videogame, showing cover art, stats, a minimap, and a game over screen.

As noted in both places, while the game is fully playable, it's also completely silent now, so I'm not counting it as finished quite yet. Audio to come soon.

In other news, we have a retrospective of Loom, with my own comments on world building and game design lessons, then a couple of headlines with little comment. Details under the cut.

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Tags: meta, roguelike, adventure, worldbuilding, game-design

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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 #304: strategy game edition

26 January 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! This week I changed speeds and worked on the game UI for a while to keep things fresh. Here's the main menu:

There's also an in-game control panel not unlike in a JRPG (if they have a specific name, please let me know). And of course cover art, that you can see on my DeviantArt.

I've also made some updates to my old tech demo Midnight Meadow, as part of the ongoing reorganization that I only mentioned briefly in the site-wide newsfeed. And then there are more plans for the Eightway Engine, to be announced later.

In the way of news, this week we philosophize about a seminal strategy game, then look briefly at some links about this and other game genres and how they relate. Details below the cut.

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Tags: game-design, philosophy, strategy, shooter, history

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Weekly Links #303

19 January 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Soon after posting my previous newsletter, I managed to figure out what game to make, exactly, out of the three or so ideas I had for my new prototype. It's going to be a sequel to Glittering Light, that will hopefully do the concept justice for a change.

Screenshot from a roguelike game using ASCII art in 3D to depict a palace interior with red brick walls and colorful markings on the floors.

In other news, it has recently come to my attention that keypress events are deprecated in modern browsers. Had to update my venerable keyboard handler, that I've used in half a dozen games or more by now. Which also improved compatibility with Chrome and derived browsers. You can see the new one at work in Electric Rogue (also on Itch.io and Game Jolt). Enjoy!

From external sources, this week we have a write-up on the design of game verbs, vector font recommendations, and some links with little or no comment. Details below the cut.

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Tags: game-design, graphics, programming

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Weekly Links #300: interactive fiction edition

15 December 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The week had just started when Leaf Corcoran gave a heads-up that Chooseco was sending takedown notices to Itch.io over games labeling themselves as Choose Your Own Adventure. (The Verge has details.) Which, as Robin Johnson promtly pointed out, is incredibly hypocritical: but for hobbyists reviving the genre since ten years ago and change, they wouldn't have a business anymore, let alone a brand to defend.

"Intellectual property" in all its forms is an absurd notion to begin with. That trademarks live forever is Kafka-esque. To attack the very people who give you any brand recognition at all should be suicidal. It's time we start making it so.

Then again, earlier this autumn the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation trademarked the name Twine, more than ten years after the tool was created. And their first warning was also to fans, as opposed to any commercial interests you might argue they are defending against. Funny move from an organization supposedly founded to preserve and advance, you know, a cultural heritage.

Good thing I settled on making my gamebooks with Tweego instead. Hint, hint.

In the way of news, this week we have a discussion of choice in story games, and a technical issue with the aforementioned CYOA tool. Last but not least, three more links without any commentary, and what you can expect during the holiday break, which will be unusually long this year. Arguably appropriate for the end of the decade. Details below the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, business, game-design, writing, philosophy

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Weekly Links #298

01 December 2019 — No Time To Play

Dear makers of video tutorials: cut it out. Cut it out with your "learn gamedev with X and Y in Z lessons" series, where you have beginners copy-pasting bits of code before they know why indentation matters in Python. You're perpetuating a culture of instant gratification that's destroying the world. They're not going to get bored if you first teach them how to make, dunno, a guess-the-number game. In text mode. Using input. And they'll be grateful later. So will the rest of us, when we don't have to spend much of our time pointing people at, you know, the beginner-level tutorials they should have started with in the first place.

Conversely: dear beginners, code is just text. You don't need a fancy IDE that will sing and dance and make your coffee. A humble text editor is enough to get you started. Just get Geany or something. You want to set up your language and libraries independently of your editor anyway. Other people won't have it! Besides, you need to know what's happening behind the scenes anyway. Otherwise you'll be helpless when things go wrong. When, not "if". You'll go asking for help, and people will try, but you won't even understand their explanations.

Education is like building a house: you have to do it right. Otherwise it will come crashing down on you sooner or later, and many people will bear the costs.

In the way of game development news, I'm afraid this week is kind of thin on the ground. We do have a couple of game design lessons worth reading though. Not so much comments:

Otherwise, there's my new direct-to-wiki interpreter construction tutorial. Which gave me a lot of ideas, so languages will be my focus for a while. Hopefully not to the detriment of games, but you know how it is.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Sunday and see you in a week for the next-to-last newsletter of the decade. Thank you for reading.

Tags: education, game-design

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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 #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 #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 #288

22 September 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Between beta-reading a friend's novel and my ongoing adventures in computer migration, I've been unable to work on my new game. Ideas, of course, keep piling up. Might finally be able to rescue an old demo and turn it into the walking simulator it was shaping up into before I was forced to stop. Between this and the new plans for Deep Down in Darkness, we're talking enough work for many months, and a corresponding amount of writing.

(Speaking of which: September is at an end; hosting bills are coming tomorrow, and I'll have to pay them out of pocket for the second time this year. Not a problem this time; by December, or next spring, things might not look so good anymore. Please read to the end of this newsletter to find out how you can help for next time... while there's still a No Time To Play website to help out with.)

Meanwhile: continuing from two weeks ago, I've been looking at the current crop of laptops in stores, and came away disgusted. Never mind that the hardware is... slippery? Can't think of a better word to use. But mainly, everything on offer seems designed for housewives who just want to browse Facebook and little else. (What do you mean, I'm not supposed to set the time myself in the BIOS? I was programming computers before you were born!) When did every PC manufacturer turn into an Apple wannabe who can't even do imitation well? Maybe top tier machines would make for decent workstations, but those cost an ARM and a leg. It's a terrible, terrible time to get a new computer. Maybe next year.

How different it felt to finally revive my old Asus Eee PC 701. Yep, I have the original model, still in working condition. And it feels real, dammit! Hefty. Reliable. Terribly slow by modern standards (no way it's going to run a modern browser), but the SSD makes for decent boot times. And there are still Linux distributions small enough that you can fit two of them (two!) on a 4-gigabyte drive, with room to spare. So this diversion was the high point of the week.

As for the news, enjoy the technical breakdown of a modern NES game, a discussion of difficulty in games and related settings, then my own write-up about game genres. Details under the cut.

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Tags: hardware, retrogaming, accessibility, game-design, philosophy

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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

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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

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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 retrospecive of Pac-Mania, and words from the world of interactive fiction. Details after the cut.

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

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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 #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.

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

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Weekly Links #269

12 May 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! With the command-line prototype out of the way, it was time to tackle the game as intended. And it's been coming along remarkably well:

(Screenshot of a retro strategy game drawn in primary colors, showing an abtract galactic map.)

This despite some firsts for me, such as having a proper mouse-driven GUI in a SDL-powered title, complete with text input. Which required some custom coding, but you know what? All games used to, back in the day, and they did just fine. It's been fun to work on, and not even hard for the basics. In fact, I often have to write more code than this to get a proper GUI toolkit do what I need. And damn if it doesn't look gloriously retro. The right font also helps a lot with that part.

So it happens that a week in, the game looks poised to take no longer than the prototype did (despite already being bigger), and yield some reusable code too. Feedback has been good as well, and there's even a player's guide now. Stay tuned.

In the way of news, this week we have a big rant about an equally big coverage of the Star Citizen debacle, and a whole bunch of links for retrogaming enthusiasts. Details below the cut.

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Tags: business, game-design, interaction, graphics, philosophy

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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 #265

14 April 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! This week's big news is that I released Keep of the Mad Wizard, after exactly one month of working on it. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It remains to be seen if this will also translate into popularity. In any event, I just had my largest simultaneous release yet, with the game available in four places:

And that's not all, either. I also spent Friday preparing and releasing a second edition of Battles&Balances, the RPG rule system used in the game. It now has a proper magic system and proper support for wizards or other characters with special abilities, such as martial artists, along with other small improvements.

Now to give it cover art at last, and then a short break before the next project.

In the way of news, we have a postmortem of Das Geisterschiff, a game I last mentioned in early January. Not much to say there, it's a very enlightening read overall. Just note the bits about cutting features that don't carry their own weight, and about doing your own thing, not what you imagine a mass audience would like.

Not much else today, I'm afraid. It was one of those weeks. I'll end with this blog post about photorealism in art, which applies just as well to games as it does to animation. No, it's not just nostalgia that drives people to make them with pixel art or low-poly models.

But sure, real-time raytracing is finally here. Ask yourself what happens when even that gets old.

Tags: tabletop, rpg, postmortem, game-design, graphics

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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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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 #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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