Let a billion videogames bloom

Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

When games grow and time passes

17 September 2019 — No Time To Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: strategy, philosophy, game-design

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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 #267

28 April 2019 — No Time To Play

The muses are funny sometimes. Somehow over the course of last week I went from dungeon crawls, through fighting games, and all the way to space strategy games.

(Screenshot of a terminal emulator showing a game map and command line.)

Yep, that's a clone of Super Star Trek. Don't ask. Let's just say people love classic games, and there's a shortage of modern versions for this one. Even though, surprise surprise, it's a more complex game than it seems. Definitely not a toy as I expected initially. But then, that's all for the best. Instead of this being just practice for the game I really wanted to do (an older design), it will be the first part of a duology. To top it all, I seem to have come up with yet another fictional setting, this time retro sci-fi. And that in turn opens up all kinds of possibilities.

In the way of news, we have a chat about diversity and crunch with Tanya X. Short, and a bigger discussion of the line between hobbyist and indie. Both painful yet necessary these days. Details below the cut.

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Tags: indie, business, interview, retrogaming, philosophy

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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 #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.

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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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