Weekly Links #271



So the big news this week is that yet another open console has been announced, and as usual techies are excited to no end. I say techies, not the general gameing public, because the public is just going to stick with the Switch, or at most the PS4 if they're loaded. Just the way it went with the Ouya. Remember that one? How much people insisted that no no, see, this one was going to succeed where all others had failed, because... er... um... one of them has to sooner or later?

Needless to say, it didn't, and the only reason I bother to mention it is that the other big news this week was the Ouya store finally closing down for good. Yep, turns out it was still alive, to everyone's genuine surprise. The timing of these two announcements seems too close to be a coincidence. Not that it matters.

What matters is: I love open consoles. I love the idea and very much wish for one to succeed at last. Heck, ten years ago I wrote an incendiary opinion piece explaining why they were the wave of the future.

Do you need a diagram to figure out how far off the mark that prediction was?

This phenomenon puzzled me for the longest time. In retrospect, however, the reason why this keeps happening is obvious: yes, it's the nerds who love the hardware itself. The techies. The tinkerers. Those who just want a shiny new piece of electronics to fool around with and push over the limit. Those to whom the Pi is already old hat.

And we're a minority. Everyone else just wants something to play games on. Which nowadays they can easily do on a smartphone. Why do you think Nintendo has been leery of allowing Pokemon titles on any device not manufactured by them? It's the only thing that keeps the DS going. That, and the traditional loss-leader model of game consoles makes them a good value proposition.

In other words, exactly what open consoles aren't. Hint: custom devices sold in small series, even at cost, are going to be expensive. And manufacturers want to make a profit. They're, you know, businesses. It'd help if an open console became wildly popular, allowing economies of scale to drive down costs.

But then it would just be called a PC.

In the way of news, this week we have:

  • a survey about the Interactive Fiction Competition;
  • thoughts about fictional books players can read inside videogames;
  • my newest teaching project, a shoot'em up in just 200 LOC.

Sadly I have to end with a new request for financial help. See below the cut.

Via Jacqueline Lott we learn of a survey about the Interactive Fiction Competition, aimed at (potential) participants on either side of the judges' table, old and new alike. I can say with confidence that if you can take a few minutes to fill the form, your answers will be taken into account, and that will help the organizers considerably. So dig in, and spread the word. Thank you.

Via Raphaƫl Lucas we hear of a Eurogamer piece about the in-game books of Morrowind. Beyond the literary analysis itself, it should be said that adding lore like that to a fantasy world is more important than it seems. Not only because it gives the player more stuff to do, or discuss online, but because one thing games do is bring imaginary worlds to life. And people in a living world are going to produce, wait for it, culture. Even if you don't make up fantastic encyclopedias like in Dune or the eponymous Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or fictional diaries like in Myst, at least consider what people in your world would write on the walls of their buildings. Both the more official inscriptions by the architects and owners, and the graffiti left by construction workers... or vandals.

Also, gee, you mean game writers need to know stuff beyond the latest fashionable grimdark fantasy series to come up with something worth the readers' time? Who would have thought.

Go expand your horizons, worldbuilders.

Last but not least, I took a few days this week to code a small teaching project: a shoot'em up in 200 lines of Python and Pygame. It's very barebones, of course; I couldn't even fit a title screen in so little space. Yet it demonstrates a whole bunch of things people ask about all the time. And unlike other games of similar size, this one is actually balanced and fun, if erring on the easy side. Enjoy, and hope this helps!

Before concluding, I need your help again. Hosting bills for Q3 are coming in less than a month as of this writing, and book sales haven't gotten any better since March. Last time I had to pay out of pocket for want of a couple bucks; this time I said eff it and helped out two fellow creators, so the hole is closer to 10 USD in size. If you could send even a fraction of that to my PayPal account, it would come in handy. Thanks, and see you next week!


Tags: interactive fiction, rpg, worldbuilding