Weekly Links #283



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.

The week was off to a slow start. On Thursday, Eurogamer explains why we now talk about politics in games so much. As I recently wrote on another blog, the tl;dr answer is that we've been tricked into ignoring politics for so long, now that we've learned to pay attention again there's a whole lot to deal with all at once. Which can be painful. Doubly so with the realization of how bad we've allowed things to become. And if politics in games sometimes feels heavy-handed? As a character in one of my stories says, "a brick to the face is subtle". In other words, anything less will fly right over the heads of most people. If people complain about bluntness? Good! At least they noticed you trying to make a point.

There is one aspect the article doesn't explain well IMO. Greater graphical realism means games can hit harder. Anything they care to depict, good or bad, is amplified the more life-like it looks. It can't be taken lightly anymore. That's one of the reasons why toy guns are stylized and colorful, and why old James Bond movies were so campy. Oh, so you don't like the scrutiny? Never mind that you begged people to take videogames seriously. Maybe give another look to all those pixelated sprites and low-poly models that you now scoff at.

On Friday, Hardcore Gaming 101 covers Pac-Mania, as part of their series on sequels to the seminal arcade game. I never played most of them, but Pac-Mania got an excellent port to the ZX Spectrum. In fact, it was also recently covered by The Spectrum Show Magazine in issue #25. And sure, the game was bigger and more interesting than the original, what with the isometric art (at an unusual angle) giving a much better sense of being right there. Too bad it was also confusing, due to a monotonous landscape and lack of automapping, and ultimately too hard for my taste. As this new article mentions. I never knew the problem was specific to the 8-bit ports, but it makes perfect sense knowing their tiny screen resolution and in some cases lack of hardware scrolling. A game design lesson to take home, then: a game's landscape needs to have some variety, even if it's otherwise not interactive. Doubly so if you can't see very far at all. And add a minimap, dammit! If you end up staring at the minimap more than the main view? It's a clear sign your game's camera is broken. Fix that instead of removing a useful feature.

Last but not least, via the IFDB comes the news that the XYZZY Awards winners for 2018 have been announced. And since we're talking interactive fiction, it turns out the IntroComp was also delayed, and is accepting votes for another two weeks from now, or almost.

That's it for today. Enjoy, and see you next time.


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