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Immature on the Internet

16 April 2019 — No Time To Play

It's scary to think back. Years have passed since I became a moderator on the Itch.io community forum (unpaid, mind you; people have been asking). It's a part of my life now, and that means a lot. It's also made it a lot harder for me to express personal opinions over there. Not because of any interdiction, but simply because everything I post sounds official when it comes with a moderator badge attached.

So any venting has to happen over here. Sorry about that.

There are people who think they are somehow entitled to a good spot in search results on the site. And not as in asking if we sell advertising spots (we don't, but people could ask if they had serious intentions). No, they seem to expect good placement for free. Somehow. Out of 160K projects. That's not a typo. As of this writing, there are one hundred and sixty thousand games hosted on Itch. No matter how you sort them, only a tiny fraction will ever fit in the first ten pages of results... or the first hundred pages.

Oh, we've done things to mitigate that. Our ranking algorithm is designed to make projects bob up and down in listings all the time, so that more of them get a moment in the limelight. But "more of them" can only be relative when there's so many.

There are people who take an invitation to show off their own work and keep beating a drum, much too loudly, until a staff member has to come and ask them nicely to tone it down because they're disturbing the other guests. At which point they start screaming censorship. And never mind what that word means. We have a report link on every game and every forum post. When someone uses it, we pay attention.

And when we make it clear to those people that their childish tantrums don't fly, they suddendly turn very very nice and try to butter me up. Funny how they always start by approaching someone they perceive as being lower on the totem pole. Do they think me some timid, naive intern just out of college? Because I'm over 40. I've worked in all kinds of jobs, with all kinds of people. Think again.

Sure, every place online has to deal with this sort of crap. There's an ongoing incident over on the Open Game Art forums. Boy, am I glad not to be involved in that one. Ours are seldom so bad. And we still have to ban someone roughly twice a year on average, if memory serves. Which we only do at length, after much hesitation. That's an unwritten policy we have. We think it's better than the alternative, even though it sometimes means letting abusive behavior slide, to the detriment of marginalized creators who found a home with us after long wanderings.

Some people still call us dictatorial for even raising the prospect.

Some people clearly aren't used to being told "no".

I see you. I know your tricks. And I have a duty to everyone else. So be good.

Tags: personal, meta

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Weekly Links #258: impatient learner edition

24 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, and welcome to my weekly gamedev newsletter. This Sunday I'm a little short on news again. Between finishing up another interpreter, and writing a piece of flash fiction, not many news managed to hold my attention. Might as well take the time to write about an issue I've been noticing lately.

Look, we all have to start somewhere, and in the beginning it's normal to trip and stumble a lot. So when you know you're still learning? Maybe don't rush. Lately I see people trying to get started making games with Pygame who clearly haven't yet mastered, not just Python, but elementary programming concepts like loops and lists. And they don't seem to take the hint when gently pointed in that direction.

And you know what? I've been through the "gonna make the ultimate MMORPG" stage. It never went anywhere either, of course. But that was after 8-9 years of programming as a hobby, and another 3 or 4 profesionally. At least I had a reason to be overconfident. And a team of friends with similar or better skill level.

Kids are growing up so fast these days. With that however seems to come a degree of impatience. Which isn't helped by "easy" tools like Scratch, which do nothing but sweep complexity under the rug. At least Love2D won't let you forget there's a game loop behind the scenes, even if it's normally hidden from sight and not under your control. Even better, you can pop the hood open and fiddle with it if you know what you're doing.

Back in my day, the entire computer was like that. You wanted a loop? You'd use a GO TO. Keeping track of multiple sprites? Use an array of X and Y coordinates. It was damn hard. I wouldn't go back for anything but the simplest games. (There's a reason shoot'em ups were so popular in the 1980s.) But the moment when I got a friend's explanation that the complex clockwork movement of a game like Dizzy resulted from every single sprite being updated little by little in turn, while music played one note at a time?

That flash of revelation is going to stay with me until death. And this level of understanding makes all the difference.

In the way of extended news, we have a new tool for retrogaming enthusiasts, and advice for launching a career in games writing. Details after the cut.

Read more...

Tags: retrogaming, tools, personal, philosophy

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New beginnings

01 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Happy New Year, dear readers. If you can read this, the No Time To Play blog has come home at last. Even more, it's now future-proof. Well, not as much as I'd like. This format will have to be revisited again in five year's time. But you know what? By that point, this site will have been online for fifteen! If it's still around then, having to reboot the blog again will be the least of my worries.

As part of this renewal, I'll make a deliberate effort to talk about No Time To Play in the singular. It's been just me for years, after all, apart from Nightwrath's moral support (and occasional link to comment on), and Kelketek's contributed article from... yikes, 11 months ago already. Might as well make it more personal.

What to write about in 2019 is the thorny question. At the beginning of last year, I set myself game-making tools as the topic of choice. That worked, after a fashion, but for my failure to reach a satisfying conclusion. Gonna have to do that before moving on. And then... what?

Suggestions are welcome. It's just that we'll have to talk on social media somewhere. Sorry about that. Can't have them all.

Well, there is something. After a string of disappointing releases, I spent the past few months trying to rekindle my interest in making games. And you know what? That was the entirely wrong way to look at things. Some of my best work in recent years, as measured by audience interest, has been little interactive toys that are only tangentially game-related. A tabletop RPG sourcebook in Twine format. An unfinished walking simulator. A low-tech graphics engine and suite of tools.

Earlier in autumn I expressed the opinion that maybe we should stop thinking in terms of game design. Writers don't think in terms of "novella design". They think of what they have to say. Let's go one step further and stop thinking in terms of games. Interactivity itself is a medium; let's see what we can express with it that we can't in any other way.

It doesn't have to be a contest. It doesn't have to be a product. Or even art.

Let's make nice things that bring people joy. We can sort them out later.

Tags: meta, personal, tools, interaction, philosophy

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