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Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

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 #318

03 May 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Early this week, a young developer asked the Itch.io community for advice on starting out. While it's usually hard to give generic advice, I wrote this in response:

Make the games you like to play, because you'll be playing them a lot.

Be patient, because you're not going to make great games in a week, or a month, or a year. It will take much study and practice. You'll probably fail a few times, too.

Start with something simple. Don't turn your nose at text-based games, for example. People love them, and you have to start with something you can handle.

Talk to people. Play their games, too. Then show them your games.

Try all kinds of engines. Try to learn programming. Figure out what you like best and what you can do good work with.

Don't give up easily.

Be kind.

More people had interesting contributions, so check out the whole topic. And in the way of news, we have a new old interactive fiction blog, a history of early shareware games, and a headline of great importance for No Time To Play and the internet in general. Details below the cut.

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Tags: education, interactive-fiction, history, business

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Weekly Links #312

22 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Call me flighty, but I switched tracks again this week.

In my defense, the game port I described last newsletter was a stop-gap project, meant to fill the time until something better came along. Well, something did. First published a few months ago by the IFTF, the official Twine specifications were recently finalized. It took a while longer for an idea to crystallize in my mind. This is the result:

Screenshot from a desktop text editor with a list down the left side, showing a passage from some sort of gamebook.

This is about as simple as it gets, yet it's perfectly capable of working with the story data generated by Twine. Not as friendly as the official IDE, but a lot more so than compiling source code with Tweego from the command line. And unlike either of those, Tee-Wee Editor makes authors remember to pick a story format. Currently, most people have no clue that's a thing they can do, and that causes all kinds of issues.

Besides, think of all the obscure authoring systems that could easily be implemented as story formats for Twine and compatible tools, thus becoming part of a vibrant ecosystem. It only takes awareness, and my little toy can help with that.

In the way of news, this week we're looking at one company trying to capitalize on current events in a rather transparent way, then a good handful of links with no comment. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, business, adventure, history, roguelike

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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 #290: tabletop RPG edition

06 October 2019 — No Time To Play

All right, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, one week into October I'm still struggling to get back on track. Please stand by. On the other hand, some things have been moving forward. Space Cruiser Orion is now available for 64-bit Linux, both on No Time To Play and on Itch.io. And more of my games may soon be available in native Linux versions; hopefully that will get people to play them for a change.

As for the world of gaming, what mostly held my attention this week was that Evil Hat Productions, makers of the Fate roleplaying game, uploaded more of their expansive catalog to Itch.io, and several acclaimed titles are now pay-what-you-want. I review one of them in this newsletter, and more are likely to follow. Well, there's also the IFComp, but I have less to say about that.

Which unfortunately makes for a short editorial, and there aren't many trends to comment on. Well, apart from Discord being in trouble. That, and someone was recently noting how popular horror games appear to be on Itch. Which is interesting, and anecdotally matches my own impression. Not that horror was ever not popular as a genre, in any medium, but these days it seems to be everywhere all the time. And it's probably a facile remark to note how that reflects the zeitgeist: we live in scary times, with no way out that we can see, and that's going to show in the art we make. A far cry from roughly a century ago, when fear of industrialization gave birth to the fantasy genre.

Oh well, let's see the week's highlights.

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Tags: news, tabletop, rpg, review, history

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Weekly Links #276: archival edition

12 September 2019 — No Time To Play

We're halfway through 2019, in more than one way, and I wish there were more news to mark the moment. Well, the kind that warrants a comment anyway. Stuff keeps happening, of course, but when it's not about mainstream gameing, then it must be about often rehashed themes. Maybe I need some new sources of information. Hard to find one that's genuinely different, however, without going into obscure niches.

(To be honest, working on an unrelated website also distracted me from games. Well, partly unrelated. I keep my tabletop RPG and interactive fiction work elsewhere because, well, not sure why. Went back and forth over it many times.)

As of this week, the source code for Keep of the Mad Wizard is also available from the IFArchive. Hopefully this will benefit someone; not many people choose to share theirs in the same way. Guess one can always re-import a published game, but it's not the same thing when the original was written for Tweego and not Twine proper. Besides, this makes my intent explicit. And not many Twine games seem to use status bars, let alone RPG features.

Last but not least, I can scarcely imagine a more reliable backup. IFArchive rocks!

In the way of news, this week we have a write-up about tool reuse in games, even between very different genres, then another large archive of historical documents from the world of interactive fiction, and last an account of how No Time To Play is doing financially. Details after the cut.

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Tags: rpg, tools, history, interactive-fiction, preservation

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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 #274

16 June 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The dust is starting to settle over the website, but I'm not quite done yet. Changes are just getting smaller:

  • The two editions of Sunset Flight can now be downloaded from the same place;
  • The game section as a whole was tweaked and reorganized;
  • More content originally published elsewhere was brought over to the wiki.

On a different note, two more games are now on Game Jolt as well: Space Cruiser Orion and the older Escape From Cnossus HD. The trick is picking titles that fit well and have a chance to elicit even a bit of interest; not an easy thing over there.

Plans for the immediate future involve tweaks to a number of games, and bringing back Buzz Grid, that right now only exists online as a handful of articles on the wiki. Got an idea for how to do it right. But it might take a little while, as my personal website also needs work right now.

In the way of news, we have a write-up about advergames, and a few links without comment. Also a reminder that No Time To Play still needs your help. Details below the cut.

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Tags: meta, history, interactive-fiction, rpg

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The four-letter N word

13 June 2019 — No Time To Play

Lately, people keep coming to online marketplaces and ask if it's all right to publish games that expound certain ideologies. They invariably turn out to be Nazis. They'll say so unprompted; simply wait a little. It's scary how soon they'll start with the usual spiel about "free speech" and how liberals, the big meanies, supposedly apply the four-letter N word to anyone they don't like.

Just in case it's not clear: that's a myth. The word in question has a widely accepted meaning based on ample historical precedent. Maybe you've heard of a little dance a while ago called World War II. It "only" resulted in 20 million dead, more than the population of Romania nowadays. When you wear a brown shirt with a swastika on the sleeve and do the Nazi salute? It's a safe bet that next thing we know you're going to advocate for the genocide of certain marginalized groups, like Jews, Roma, queer people, or the elderly and disabled.

It happens every single time. Funny that.

Also funny how adherents of other ideologies, like Anarchists and Communists, feel no need to ask if it's all right to publish games about their political message. Nor do people who make games about Syrian refugees, or the situation in Gaza. They also never seem to complain about being "silenced", even as mainstream media systematically vilify all these groups if they're mentioned at all.

Gameing is among the only safe places for those who have no voice, along with fan fiction and indie comics. Or so it was until three years and change ago. Now we live in a world where the creators of Wolfenstein have to defend the idea that people who want to kill others for being different should be fought by any means necessary.

Somehow, all those fictional jackboot-wearing demons and wizards with their superweapons don't scare me nearly as much as the average dudes in brown shirts with their cowlicks. The latter can all too easily kill me for real.

No, it's not all right to let them speak. Though Wormtongue might disagree.

Tags: history, politics

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Weekly Links #272

02 June 2019 — No Time To Play

You'd think it's a curse or something. Not a week after a much-hyped new console was announced, its manufacturer turned out to be a trademark bully, thus promptly squandering all that goodwill they had gained. That makes two trademark bullies within a few days. And neither is a megacorp with an army of lawyers to keep busy.

People have wondered how it is even possible to trademark the use of a very common term. Um... you do realize we live in a world where dictionary words like "apple", "android" and indeed "word" are trademarked, right? Despite trademark law in many jurisdictions explicitily stating that's not allowed. But it's hardly a secret that what is legal depends on how much money one has. Just like it always did.

And you know... I've been making games as No Time To Play for almost nine years now. Recently, I became aware of a much newer Canadian outfit operating as NoTime Studios. My reaction was to reach out to them in friendship. They never answered, which left me a little worried ever since. But it's that easy not to be a jerk. Never mind how hard it is to keep coming up with unique, original names for things in a world with millions of creators and billions of works. This isn't a zero-sum game. Nobody needs to fail for someone else to succeed. We can win together.

Most of us have figured that out already. Straight white boys still don't get it.

In more cheerful news, I took the time this week to update the No Time To Play wiki, because the game section was unfinished and looked awful. The technology section was reorganized as well, giving more prominence to the programming languages most used for games here.

Otherwise, we have a retrospective of the Mattel Intellivision, and more talk of parser versus hyperlinks in interactive fiction. Last but not least, a renewed request for help. Details below the cut.

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Tags: business, hardware, history, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #270

19 May 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! It was another week with nothing to post until Saturday. In my defense, I've been working hard on a visual edition of my game, which in turn uncovered some omissions in the prototype, so I had to go back and fix those too. Despite that, it took essentially as much time to make: another two weeks. Not bad at all, seeing how I had to make a GUI and it all took twice as much code overall.

So I give you Space Cruiser Orion. It was a bit rushed, to be ready in time for the newsletter. Still got to add sound effects and another small feature. But it's fully playable, even winnable, and doesn't it look gloriously retro?

And because this editorial is too short, let me announce that a sequel was planned from the beginning. Should be a lot easier to do, now that many details are all figured out, including a bunch of support libraries. Hopefully a few more ports, too, if this game proves popular enough, but somehow they never seem to be. Maybe some day.

In the way of news, we have a technical article about implementing game saves, and a couple of books about the implementation of classic first-person shooters. Details after the cut.

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Tags: graphics, programming, history

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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 #259

03 March 2019 — No Time To Play

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

Dear beginners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tags: tabletop, rpg, review, history

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