PlayTech sells YoYoGames, GameMaker to Opera

Five years ago, YoYoGames was acquired by PlayTech. Today, I see the news that they have sold the company off for a loss of about $6.4M. Update: It’s come to light that the new owner is Opera.

It was a $16.4M purchase in 2015, and during this time they put a ton of development into GMS 2, released it, and so it’s a bit concerning that this hasn’t resulted in YoYoGames becoming a more valuable property.

On the other hand, I can well understand it. In the past several years, I have never felt comfortable with the new GMS 2.x UI. I find it awkward, unintuitive, ugly, and frustrating to use compared to the GMS 1.4 and earlier versions that I learned first. And at the same time, competing technologies like Unity 3D, Unreal Engine, and Godot been strong competition.

From a coding standpoint, there’s no question that the GML programming language has gotten better and better as YoYoGames continued to develop it.

From a UX standpoint, it’s been a crapshoot. The UI has some nominal improvements, but overall I feel like they changed too much too fast, and I could never get used to it. I spend way more time looking for the feature I want to use, and then wondering why it doesn’t work the way I think it should, and it completely kills my productivity and along with it my desire to work with the tool.

In fact, it’s a big part of why I haven’t done much game development in the last year, and have mostly dropped out of the pursuit.

I hope the new owner does better and continues to make improvements with GameMaker. It was very good at its original intended purpose of making it easy for game developers who are not primarily programmers to create simple 2-D games.

Many amazing games have been built with GameMaker over the last 22 years, which shows clearly the merit of putting simple, usable tools into the hands of creators who wouldn’t know where to begin with tools intended for professional programmers. Hopefully even more will be made in the years go come.

It will be interesting to see what the new owner does with the property. I want to see a product like GameMaker continue to serve the market it has traditionally done well with, while offering features that make it viable for professional game developers as a first rate tool.

Playing REDDER (Anna Anthropy) in 2020

Usually we hate to forget things. But one of the best things about being able to forget is that you can have a cherished experienced again as though for the first time.

REDDER was a game by indie game developer Anna Anthropy and first released on the web in 2010. I played it for the first time not long after, and it remains to this day one of my favorite puzzle platform games. Few games have made me want to design my own games as much as REDDER, and that’s perhaps the highest compliment I can think of to give it.

I’ve re-played it multiple times since then, and always enjoy it so much.

This year is the first year that Adobe has ended support for Flash, the technology that REDDER was originally built on. I have written previously on the impending death of Flash, and what that means for tens of thousands of video games that were built with it during its 25+ year history.

I feared that this would result in a vast, rich cultural legacy becoming more and more inaccessible. I still fear that. Adobe didn’t just drop support for Flash, didn’t just cease continuing development of it. They pulled the plug. Browsers stopped supporting it, so now in order to run Flash objects in a browser, one needs to keep an outdated browser. This of course has its own problems, and very few people will continue do do it. Moreover, as the userbase moves into a post-flash browser-scape, web hosts will over time have less and less incentive to continue hosting legacy Flash experiences, and in time perhaps the only ones that will persist will be deliberate historical preservation efforts.

That’s a damn shame, because REDDER belongs in the Smithsonian, or the Library of Congress, or both.

Fortunately, Anna Anthropy has re-packaged Redder, in a desktop OS format that wraps a Flash player into stand-alone application, and allows it to be enjoyed on Windows and Mac OS X. It is available for $5 on itch.io, and is worth every penny.

What a beautiful thing it is that I can forget this game just enough to be able to come back to it and experience it again, re-discovering the solutions to the maze and helping my little space explorer friend in their quest to collect all the diamonds to replenish his stranded spaceship.

The platforming is basic. You move, you jump, that’s it. There’s no wall jumps, no edge hanging, no coyote time, it’s pure basic simple. There’s no shooting, no destroying enemies. Your only tools are your brain, to figure out how to get past obstacles and get to where you need to go, and your agility, to accomplish the task. There are save points, to make the deadly obstacles a lot less annoying. There are switches to flip, which toggle special colored platforms into and out of existence, which serve as doors and platforms that block your way or create bridges to access deeper reaches of the world or traverse deadly obstacles to add an element of risk to the challenges you’ll face. When one type is on, the other type is off. And together they serve as the building block of the platform puzzles you’ll need to solve to win the game.

As you progress through the game, the graphics and music begin to glitch. It’s subtle at first, a tile here and there, and it adds an element of mystery to the game. As you continue to collect diamonds, the glitching increases, until, near the end the entire game is out of control with random tile animations. When the final diamond is collected, the entire facade is stripped bare, and everything turns into raw collision boxes, color coded — a clean, pure visual language.

At the end of the game, visuals stripped bare, at last we can behold the simple beauty of REDDER.

There are only three types of hazard in the game: patrolling robots, which traverse horizontally and are deadly to touch but never react to your presence in any other way; “drip guns”, which shoot deadly pellets that you must duck, jump, or otherwise avoid with good timing, and electrical fields which don’t move and must be avoided.

For all its simplicity, the game provides an engaging challenge to find your way through the complex, maze-like alien world, and collect all 27 diamonds.

One thing I love about REDDER is that there are no locks. You start out with all your powers, and apart from the switch platforms that are the only real puzzles blocking your progress, there’s nothing preventing you from doing anything, going anywhere that you can go in the game, from start to finish.

What I love about this is that this forces the design to challenge you in ways other than “oh if you get the item, you can get past this”. This comes down to understanding the map — the twisting, interconnected pathways connecting the grid of screens that comprise the world of REDDER, how platforms and switches relate to one another, flipping switches in the correct order to allow passage, and having a modest desgree of skill to master the timing and agility needed to make the jumps and avoid the dangers.

It’s a casual play — I would call the vibe relaxing. The music is soothing and evokes a spirit of exploration and puzzle solving. The game provides a fun challenge without relying on fear, anxiety, or frustration. Toward the end of the game, as the graphics and background music become increasingly glitch-ified, the game does start to produce a bit of anxiety. If you’re playing the game late at night, it can almost feel like your lack of sleep is to blame for the game’s breaking down. I really like this. To me it is the “something extra” that gives the game a memorable mystery, a question left unanswered, which both frees and empowers the player to come up with their own explanation, should they choose to.

Additionally there are three secret hidden rooms off-map. These serve no purpose other than to delight you for finding them, and perhaps provide a clue or an auteur’s signature.

BORR
ROB?
OWOR

It seems there have been a few changes from the original in this version. I don’t remember these secret rooms having these messages — a web search reveals that the original REDDER had secret rooms with the words “ANNA” “TRAP” and “PART”. TRAP and PART are of course pairs that make a palindrome, and ANNA is a palindrome, and REDDER is a palindrome. There’s something up with palindromes in this game.

But I don’t know what ROB? OWOR and BORR mean. It makes me wonder what else may have changed, and why the changes were made.

Insert Coin Bally/Midway/Williams Documentary

A few years ago, I backed a Kickstarter project to produce Insert Coin, a documentary of Bally/Midway games. The project finally delivered, and so far it looks like it’s been worth the wait. Luminaries from the arcade industry of the 80s and 90s, Eugene Jarvis, John Tobias and Ed Boone, and others give interviews talking about the development of classic titles from Defender to Mortal Kombat. If you’re a fan of these games, it’s well worth checking it out.

“Atari VCS” launches

“Atari” has finally shipped a physical product to its Indiegogo backers.

I didn’t back the campaign, because I didn’t have faith in the company calling itself “Atari” these days to deliver value. One of the backers received theirs already and has published an unboxing/review on YouTube.

And there’s a lot of rough edges. The controllers work differently, depending on whether they’re connected via USB cable or by Bluetooth? Hitches in the e-commerce experience, getting double charged for a failed download? You have to pay for Atari Vault Vol 2, a collection of 30+ year old games? Browser accounts aren’t properly connected to the local user? Really? I wish I could say I am surprised.

The launch library is, as expected, sparse and uninspiring, offering nothing new beyond a warmed-over Missile Command remake. I haven’t seen the new Missile Command in detail — it looks OK, I guess — but having participated in numerous game jams, and knowing the original Missile Command, I know enough to say that a Missile Command reboot could be tackled with a game jam’s worth of effort — in other words, 2-3 people, 1 weekend, bam, playable new Missile Command game. Realistically, to be completely generous, a game like that could be developed in a month or so.

“Atari” have spent $3 million and 3 years creating a cool-looking case and joystick for a commodity PC that runs a Free OS and have developed a front-end for it that could be used to deliver new original games, first-party exclusives, if Atari had them. but all they currently offer is Google Chrome browser, Netflix, and a couple bundles of emulated games that have been available for 30+ years, and absolutely don’t need a new console to deliver them.

Legend of Zelda Overworld Randomizer

Another awesome Legend of Zelda romhack, this one by Garret Bright. This one is an overworld randomizer.

It takes the rom file for the original Legend of Zelda (not included), and replaces the original overworld map with a completely new map. The new maps are randomly generated by a seed function, and the seed value always generates the same map, so if you find one that you find especially interesting, you can easily share it with your friends, without copyright violations, by sharing the seed.

Hyrule #25325045

The randomized overworlds seem to be well designed, for a randomized generator, in that they feel like they are following similar design principles that are evident in the original game, meaning that the maps are playable, and feel like they are broken up into zones, much like the original. It doesn’t just take the existing overworld screens and re-arrange them, it creates new tile layouts for novel overworld screens that have never been seen before, and stitches them together to create a coherent overworld consisting of distinct zones.

But, curiously, some design rules that are present in the original game, are not followed in the randomizer. For instance, in the original, most dungeon entrances have a single enemy roaming around outside, but in the randomized maps, this does not seem to be the rule. Also, enemy placement seems to be less concerned about starting Link in a part of the world that is far away from the more powerful monsters. You can expect to start on a screen with the cave to the Wooden Sword, but you may find yourself surrounded by blue Leevers, Peahats, and Moblins sooner than you’d expect to run into them in the original. And the trick where leaving a single enemy on each overworld screen prevents the screen from re-spawning enemies again doesn’t seem to work any more.

I’ve always wanted to see more games made with the original LoZ engine, so this is probably one of the best things ever. Now I can play unique Legend of Zelda games for the rest of my natural lifespan. If only there was something that created new dungeon maps and new items as well. Perhaps we’ll get something like that one day. Until then, I’ll be burning every bush, and blowing up every rock, until I find every secret there is to find in a virtually limitless multiverse of alternative Hyrules.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in world 25325045.

You can download the overworld randomizer at bitbucket.org.

Atari Age 2020 Pre-Order

Atari Age, the fan-operated homebrew operation that holds the most legitimate claim to the legacy of Atari-that-was, has opened up pre-orders for a new batch of games for the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and 400/800/XE systems, and even the Atari Jaguar.

Zoo Keeper - Champ Games - Atari 2600
Zoo Keeper (2021, Champ Games) – Atari 2600

I’m most excited about Zoo Keeper, a faithful port of the early 80’s arcade classic to the 2600 developed by Champ Games — who have been killing it with their talented Atari 2600 ports of classic arcade games like Galaga and the upcoming Robotron 2084 — and Ninjish Guy in Low-Res World, a homebrew platformer for the 2600 in the vein of Super Meat Boy. I’ve been looking forward to playing a 2600 homage to one of my top early 80’s arcade classics Zoo Keeper for quite some time.

Ninjish Guy - Atari 2600
Ninjish Guy in Low Res World

Also worth a look releases are Deepstone Catacomb, a zelda-like adventure game, which looks really well done for an Atari 2600 title. Venture Reloaded, another early dungeon crawler, finally does justice to the classic arcade game Venture, should appeal to fans of the original.

Deepstone Catacombs - Atari 2600
Deepstone Catacomb

Fans of the maze genre should find Hugo Hunt and Robot City to their liking. Dare Devil shows off some impressive chiptune chops and parachuting action reminiscent of classic games like Frogger, Freeway, and of course Sky Diver. But it appears to be an update or direct sequel to 1983 release, Parachute. Cannon Head Clash is a really fun-looking 2p artillery duel with destructive terrain and frantic action. If you enjoyed games like Outlaw/Gunslinger, and Combat on the 2600, this is one to check out. It’s even available for SECAM60 television sets, which is amazingly rare for a homebrew. Avalanche should appeal to fans of Activision’s classic paddle game, Kaboom! Tower of Rubble features fantastic audio, and super-slick animation and platform-edge hanging action as you struggle to stay atop a crumbling tower of falling blocks.

All of these new games show that the Atari 2600, released now 43 years ago back in 1977, still has many extra lives nearly half a century later, and nearly three decades after the last Atari 2600 rolled off the assembly line. The dedication of the programmers who pull off these minor miracles to their craft is astounding. The fact is that every produced by the homebrew community these days are among the best ever released on their platform. While the prices might seem steep at $40-50 apiece, the games are produced by hand in small batches, and are every bit as professionally presented as the best games produced by top industry developers during the system’s heyday. If you’re a fan of the system and still have working hardware hooked up in your house, they are absolutely worth their price.

I haven’t even looked at the titles for the other systems yet, because my budget frankly can’t take it. Just about game I have looked at looks like a game worth playing, with most of them being must-buys.

Legend of Zelda HD Remaster

The original Legend of Zelda has received a HD remaster treatment by the romhack community.

The hack is playable through an emulator called Mesen. Mesen is free, and you’ll need a copy of a specific version of the original of the Legend of Zelda ROM as well as the HD remake files in order to play it.

Applying the HD remake files to the game is not difficult, but requires following a series of instructions that are demonstrated in the video below.

I gave it a try. The graphical updates give it a look on part with the SNES, and have a look reminiscent of Zelda III: A Link to the Past, although the sprites appear to be original artwork, not rips from the SNES ROM. Likewise, the audio sounds much like a SNES update of the original LOZ soundtrack.

The terrain sprites are fantastic, and make old Hyrule look spectacular. The repetitive tiled look of the original is completely made over, and now overworld features like bombable rocks and burnable bushes are a bit less of a pain than they were before — rather than having to try to burn every single bush on the screen, there’ll be one bush (or a small handful) of bushes that will stand out and look suspicious from the rest of the background terrain.)

I’m not as impressed by the character sprites. Moblins, Goriya, and Stalfos all look less charming than they did in the original. Creatures like Octorocks, Tektites, Leevers, and Kees look like they are done better, to me.

One thing I notice right away is that Link’s HD sprite looks visually smaller than the original, but his hitbox doesn’t seem to have changed. This makes him feel somewhat clumsy, and I kept colliding with enemies when it looked like I should have a bit of space between us. While I’m sure this can be gotten used to, to me it’s an unfortunate, huge, and immediate negative. Ultimately, enjoying a videogame comes down to gameplay, not graphics, and gameplay is impacted by an improper hitbox like this. I believe the developers of the HD Remaster could fix this pretty easily by making adjustments to Link’s sprite.

Another thing I noticed is that when climbing up/down stairs, there is no animation showing Link descending and disappearing into the dark hole, as there is in the original.

The HD Remaster enhances the game in a few other notable ways: increased bomb capacity, pressing Select toggles your B-inventory item so you no longer have to pause to the subscreen to select it, text draws faster, and the dialogs are somewhat altered from the original, offering better translations and more useful clues than were present in the original.

I’ve played through the first dungeon. I notice that in the dungeons, the map doesn’t seem to give you any visual indication to differentiate between rooms you have visited vs. rooms that you have not yet reached. This is another gameplay issue that I feel should be rectified by the maintainers of the mod.

Overall, this seems like a fantastic mod, very well done, but not without minor flaws. It is nevertheless enjoyable and should not be missed if you’re a fan of the original game. Nintendo legal often clamps down on fan projects like this, so if you want to play this yourself, it’s best to grab it while you can. Although, the maintainers do appear to have taken pains to separate the mod pack from anything that directly infringes on Nintendo copyright, such as the original ROM that is needed in order to make the mod pack work.

Awakening from cryo-sleep

So I guess GDEX had a virtual event last weekend, or recently, or whatever. You know, because of the COVID pandemic.
I didn’t attend the virtual GDEX this year, and for the last year+ I have been inactive as a game developer, due in large part to the feeling of hopelessness that I have about ever doing anything meaningful or memorable in that field. The tools frustrate me, programming feels like drudgery, the market is brutal and impossible. So why even bother trying.
Mind you this is all in my head, I just have an incredibly negative, defeatist attitude about life, and this poisons me every day that I’m alive, and I wish I could have a brain surgeon cut that part of my brain out of my head.
An odd coincidence that Fri-Sat I made a tiny little snake game for my own satisfaction. I didn’t make it for any reason other than I wanted to make something, and feel what that feels like again.
For some reason though, this morning I recalled a dim memory of a GDEX from several years ago.
I was walking in to the event, feeling like an imposter, a nobody, never worked in the industry, just a wannabe who had a life-long dream of working in game development, ignited from the moment I played my first video game.
I was walking into the building where they had the event that year, this was the first year that they held it at COSI, and some random guy who was also walking into the event starts talking to me, and I tell him who I am, and as I’m telling him about my website and the couple of books on GameMaker that I donated my time to for no compensation other than my name appearing in the book, the guy KNEW WHO I WAS. He was like “Oh you’re that guy! I’ve read some of your tutorials! They were helpful!”
I’m standing there, not quite an important person, and yet there’s this guy who knew of me because of my work, and he had been helped by it.
I don’t need to be, like, a rock star, or anything, but being recognized on the proverbial street by a random person I ran into at an industry convention kindof almost made me feel like a rock star, almost. Like, yep, that’s me, the guy who can’t learn how to program good, so he publishes little tiny increments of progress on a website in order to not lose track of what little he could figure out because it sucks when you spend 12 hours pounding your head against some problem, finally figure it out, and then can’t remember it the next time you need to do it, so I put it on the web so I can find it again when I can’t remember it myself. That’s me. I’m that guy.
And I just kindof shrugged it off, and forgot all about how, no matter what other failures I don’t even bother to try to accomplish in my life, there’s direct evidence that I did a thing that was meaningful in the field of game dev.
OK, maybe I didn’t make Pac Man or Tetris or Mario, and I’m not a “successful indie developer” who has a following and a career and goes around saying important things to people who want to hear them because I’m the one saying them.
But I was able to figure out how to make some pixels wiggle on the screen using trigonometry, and because trig confuses the shit out of me and a lot of people, I decided to write up what I had figured out while it was still in my head since I’d for sure need it again, and to make sure it was really good I published it so that someone who reads it might suggest an improvement, maybe.
And then other people came by and read it, and I still get about 50 or more readers a day, and like 375,000 people have visited the site since I started it, which sounds like a lot of people. And they walk around in real life and you can randomly encounter them, and tell them who you are, and they will sometimes know who you are already, after you start telling them about you.
And then you still don’t have a million dollars, or any dollars really, but you feel different after that, you feel a way that you could never have felt unless you did those things.
And I realize, like waking up out of cryo-sleep, that I can, you know, keep doing things.
 

So, here’s a vlog from a guy with a successful youtube channel where he talks about astronomy, because he loves the cosmos and seems to know a lot about it, and his latest vlog is about how he’s glad that he’s no longer homeless, because vlogging about astronomy is totally a thing you can do if you really love astronomy. This seems like an important reminder for those of us who have a passion for a topic, or a goal of some kind, and can’t seem to believe in ourselves long enough to do a thing significant enough for us to feel like we did a thing of significance.

Tangle: A simple Snake clone

After about a year of not feeling like doing anything related to game development, last night I felt like making something. 

So I stayed up all night and made a simple Snake clone that I call Tangle. 

There’s nothing special about this project, it’s just a bare bones, no frills clone of the classic snake game, but I think for a few hours work it’s decently well done, and it plays well. 

I think it took about 2-4 hours to build, and would have taken about a quarter that if it wasn’t for the fact that I haven’t done anything with GameMaker in a long time, and have never felt comfortable using GMS2’s revamped IDE.  It’s minimalist, so don’t expect a whole lot, is what I’m trying to say.  But enjoy it for what it is.

itch.io

play in browser