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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.


On Sunday, Eurogamer published a retrospective of the Mattel Intellivision, the early console that dared compete with the Atari 2600, and failed despite superior hardware and software. Not much to say there, it's a good read with lessons to learn from. Too bad businesspeople never do that, as the article points out. And gee, you mean the simple, cheap solution always wins over the sophisticated one that few can afford or make use of? Just like the stolid IBM PC with its scary DOS prompt trashed the artsy Amiga in the end? Who would have guessed. It only happens every single time.


On Monday, reputed interactive fiction author Jim Aikin posted a comparative study of parser-based versus CYOA games. He echoes my own thoughts about that for the most part. I don't share his pessimism, but more on that below; what really bothers me is the idea that having a world model makes it straightforward to add interaction. Sure, declare something a chair in TADS 3 and the system will let you do all kinds of things with it out of the box. But will any of it be meaningful? Fun? Obvious? Because the latter is a feature, not a bug. And as many an aspiring author learned the hard way, players all too often miss all the fiddly little details you've painstakingly added, only to latch onto the one thing you left out because it wasn't important to the story, and you missed a spot.

And how exactly does a choice-based system prevent you from setting up a map the player can roam freely? My one Texture game works that way, and so does my favorite Twine. As for all choices being explicit, that doesn't make them easy. An easy choice might as well not be one, and then the story would in effect become linear. Which a lot of parser-based works infamously are...

Last, I also wrote about the way culture, touchscreens and inherent limitations form a perfect storm blowing away at the parser. But is it really likely to go away altogether? Sure, people don't use command lines much anymore... except when directing IRC and Discord bots. And young people discover MU*s all the time. Few enough for the medium to remain a niche, but you know what? It occurs to me that popularity is a trap. Interactive fiction didn't need it to outlive Infocom.

No, what threatens the genre is loss of relevance. Between Twine, Ren'Py and RPG Maker, Inform and TADS are increasingly hard-pressed to explain what it is they can do better than systems that are easier to use, much more flexible, and yes, able to yield modern-looking games with much less effort. At least Quest has found its niche (here's that word again) among fans of text-based RPGs. And even there is has serious competition.


I'll leave you enjoy the Sunday, and don't forget: No Time To Play needs your help this month. Please send a few dollars to my PayPal account, or else buy a book. Thank you much.

Tags: business, hardware, history, interactive-fiction

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