Let a billion videogames bloom

Everything game development: news, lessons, discussion

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.

Read more...

Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, roguelike, retrogaming, classics

Comments? Tweet  

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.

Read more...

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

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #299

08 December 2019 — No Time To Play

Have you noticed how lately nobody's talking about VR anymore? Everyone goes on and on about game streaming instead. Another solution in search of a problem, that nobody wants except for corporations looking for another gimmick to sell. Makes me wonder, why the desperation? It's not like the gameing market is slowing down. On the contrary, it's booming; one of the few industries to do so lately.

Or is it? I do tend to look mostly at the indie scene, with only the occasional glance towards the mainstream. What if something's going on there that won't become obvious to most people until the crisis starts? You'd think lots of studio closures at once is business as usual in this industry, but these days there's an awful lot of them, and it's been going on for a while now.

Until I can offer more than speculation, let's look at some other trends. The big players are readying new consoles. Everyone seems to be after a slice of the board and tabletop game pie. And everyone is chasing the Chinese market. You'd think they know better: dictatorships are notoriously prone to mood swings, and never as prosperous as they seem.

But hey, if greedy bastards are in such a hurry to break their necks, who am I to get in the way?

Let's look at some news instead, also without comment as it's been the norm lately:

With that, only one newsletter is left in 2019. Kind of early this year, but that's part of the fun with the holiday break. See you next week!

Tags: business, technology, retrogaming, hardware

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #292

20 October 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Last time I mentioned a mysterious side project. As of this weekend, it's complete: a new port of Robots in Spring to native Linux. See the update at the bottom of that page for details; for now, let's just say it's been fun but it has to remain a diversion until further notice. Then again, great things often start out that way.

For now something else is on my radar: PROCJAM starts in less than two weeks, and I'd like to get in. My early plans for it weren't very exciting, but after some reflection it turned out I was looking at the problem from the wrong angle. Just got to pick up my work on the Eightway Engine from where it left off in August and go from there. Only in another direction.

Otherwise, not much to say this week. The game industry continues to act surprised that videogames are still political and VR is still a solution in search of a problem. Oh, a niche market of enthusiasts is well-established by now, including one or two of my friends; but they're not going to make even one manufacturer rich, let alone everyone who was expecting a revolution. Does this remind you of anything? Here's a hint: FMV in the mid-1990s. Which was a quarter century ago... in other words before most of the current crop of "experts" was even born.

Now you know why people in this line of work never seem to learn.

In the way of news, this week we have: more classic games now playable online, a neat little graphics engine for web browsers, and the closing of a retrogaming community. Details below the cut.

Read more...

Tags: retrogaming, preservation, graphics, procedural-generation, community

Comments? Tweet  

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.

Read more...

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

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #286

08 September 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I've done little in the way of gamedev this week, mostly because a failed computer migration sucked up half of it and stressed me out to no end. In my defense, I'm planning a couple of articles (one on interactivity, the other on level generation in roguelikes). Meanwhile, you can enjoy a few minor updates to Buzz Grid: the game now looks closer to how it was originally supposed to, and should move more smoothly on top of that. Might try to give a similar treatment to Square Shooter as well, but no promises yet. Oh, and there's also a new project on the way, with more planned for the autumn.

Oh, about that migration. Look. I've been out of the loop for a while in regard to hardware and software. But my 10-year-old PC, running a 5-year-old operating system and apps, is giving signs of fatigue. Luckily I own a slightly newer machine, that couldn't be used for a while due to an overheating problem. Having finally fixed it, I set out to install Debian 10 and migrate all my files over.

Turns out, the overheating problem wasn't fixed. Or rather, it might have been, but for modern software seemingly being made for top-tier gaming rigs with liquid cooling. In fact, Debian 10 by itself, running in text mode, causes a Celeron CPU to run worryingly hot, as I discovered when installing it on my even older laptop. The Atom I'm on right now wouldn't stand a chance to run a graphical desktop and web browser released this year.

Fellow programmers, are you nuts?

Plenty of people are stuck with low-end computers. Older computers. Slightly defective computers. Even if we could afford buying replacements, why should we have to? No seriously, what exactly changed in the HTML5 standard recently to make a three-year-old browser obsolete? DeviantArt, I'm looking at you here. Oh, and by the way: Firefox, what exactly are you doing with all the CPU and GPU cycles you're gobbling up like a pig these days? Because you're still slow as molasses. Then you wonder why people flock to the competition.

I'm so tired.

In the way of news, this week we have a tip to help preserve Flash games a little while longer, and a retrospective of Dragon's Lair. Details under the cut.

Read more...

Tags: hardware, technology, preservation, arcade, retrogaming

Comments? Tweet  

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

Read more...

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

Comments? Tweet  

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.

Read more...

Tags: news, arcade, retrogaming, classics, representation

Comments? Tweet  

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.

Read more...

Tags: indie, business, interview, retrogaming, philosophy

Comments? Tweet  

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

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #257

17 February 2019 — No Time To Play

This week is starting out strong for a change. On Sunday was published an interview with Felipe Pepe of The CRPG Book Project fame (via K.D.). And on Monday we got an article about Sega's Super Scaler technology, that powered so many arcade classics. I've only played OutRun and AfterBurner II out of them, and my favorite 2.5D game isn't among them, but I'm still in love with the style, and even created my own graphics engine to keep it alive.

Also on Monday, an indie creator shares his first year of game development in words and screenshots, and it sounds like an amazing journey. People get up to speed damn fast these days.

A much bigger story emerged as the week went on, extensively covered by numerous sources: that of Activision firing 800 Blizzard employees despite Blizzard making record profits in 2018, just because those profits were a little bit below expectations. Never mind the sheer callousness of the decision, and the way it was handled. Never mind the "I told you so". Right now I'd love to hear from those people who insist that without the big publishers we wouldn't have seen a lot of great games that made history. Tell me, how many more great games we could have seen from Blizzard, and now we never will because their corporate owner is forcing them to focus on milking cash cows instead of, ya'know, continuing to innovate?

Enjoy your capitalism. I'll be over there playing little indie games made with PICO-8.

Speaking of which: just last week I was reviewing a new fantasy console. Soon after, a post on the PICO-8 forum reminded me of this big list on GitHub. And you know... that's kind of cool actually. Making a new fantasy console has turned into a sort of hobby. One I get all too well, having created several authoring systems for interactive fiction that hardly saw any use. But at least each of mine has a unique gimmick I can explain easily. Whereas with most fantasy consoles, there's no obvious reason to use one over the others.

Which, of course, is a valuable insight in itself. Cheers!

Tags: retrogaming, arcade, rpg, interview, business, tools

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #253

20 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. This week I can't think of anything to write an editorial about. Might as well talk about plans instead. And those don't involve any new games until summer, unless something happens along the way. Plenty of other things to do for a while:

  • redo the user interface of ASCII Mapper and release version 2.0;
  • port Electric Rogue to Python and Pygame, not so much for its own sake but to make the NoTime engine reusable as promised so long ago;
  • make a couple more tech demos based on it;
  • maybe take another shot at Deep Down in Darkness, now that I know what was wrong the first time around;
  • maybe tinker some more with Adventure Prompt and/or Ramus 2; their respective websites in particular need work.

Plenty to pick and choose from, then. It remains to be seen how much I'll actually get done.

In the way of extended news, this week we have an interview with Mike Cook about his creation Angelina, another with three leaders of GOG.com about the way they got to where they are now, and a write-up about the way game jams contribute to queer representation. Details after the cut.

Read more...

Tags: game-jam, representation, retrogaming, publishing, interview, game-design, AI

Comments? Tweet  

Weekly Links #251

06 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As of this writing, No Time To Play has been around for eight years (and a half), and the newsletter for five. Join me as we embark on a new five-year mission to explore strange new ways of using interactivity in art. And look, people already have things to say about it!

Too bad news are thin on the ground, which makes sense given the date. Guess I've been spoiled by previous years. Oh, there are the usual retrospectives, predictions... and scandals. Not so much things worth mentioning. The industry sounds more and more like a broken record, and I don't see the situation improving, on the contrary. Only the indie scene is more vibrant than ever, with Itch.io seeing a surge of new release announcements as of January 1st. While GameJolt, on their part, has stopped sending me updates, even as they made noticeable updates to the site and I got mentioned in a forum thread! (Watch video #3, right after the 13-minute mark.) That's not the only breakage I see, either. Bleh.

In the way of extended news, this issue we have: a game jam in honor of the public domain and a retrospective of real-time, first-person dungeon crawlers; details after the cut.

Read more...

Tags: meta, news, game-jam, retrogaming, rpg

Comments? Tweet