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[blog] Let’s stop copying C

Ah, C. The best lingua franca we have… because we have no other lingua francas. Linguae franca. Surgeons general?

C is fairly old — 44 years, now! — and comes from a time when there were possibly more architectures than programming languages. It works well for what it is, and what it is is a relatively simple layer of indirection atop assembly.

Alas, the popularity of C has led to a number of programming languages’ taking significant cues from its design, and parts of its design are… slightly questionable. I’ve gone through some common features that probably should’ve stayed in C and my justification for saying so. The features are listed in rough order from (I hope) least to most controversial. The idea is that C fans will give up when I call it “weakly typed” and not even get to the part where I rag on braces. Wait, crap, I gave it away.

[blog] Embedding Lua in ZDoom

I’ve spent a little time trying to embed a Lua interpreter in ZDoom. I didn’t get too far yet; it’s just an experimental thing I poke at every once and a while. The existing pile of constraints makes it an interesting problem, though.

[blog] A Rebuttal For Python 3

Zed Shaw, of Learn Python the Hard Way fame, has now written The Case Against Python 3.

I’m not involved with core Python development. The only skin I have in this game is that I like Python 3. It’s a good language. And one of the big factors I’ve seen slowing its adoption is that respected people in the Python community keep grouching about it. I’ve had multiple newcomers tell me they have the impression that Python 3 is some kind of unusable disaster, though they don’t know exactly why; it’s just something they hear from people who sound like they know what they’re talking about. Then they actually use the language, and it’s fine.

I’m sad to see the Python community needlessly sabotage itself, but Zed’s contribution is beyond the pale. It’s not just making a big deal about changed details that won’t affect most beginners; it’s complete and utter nonsense, on a platform aimed at people who can’t yet recognize it as nonsense. I am so mad.

[blog] Accessible games

I’ve now made a few small games. One of the trickiest and most interesting parts of designing them has been making them accessible.

I mean that in a very general and literal sense. I want as many people as possible to experience as much of my games as possible. Finding and clearing out unnecessary hurdles can be hard, but every one I leave risks losing a bunch of players who can’t or won’t clear it.

I’ve noticed three major categories of hurdle, all of them full of tradeoffs. Difficulty is what makes a game challenging, but if a player can’t get past a certain point, they can never see the rest of the game. Depth is great, but not everyone has 80 hours to pour into a game, and it’s tough to spend weeks of dev time on stuff most people won’t see. Distribution is a question of who can even get your game in the first place.

Here are some thoughts.

[blog] Inktober

Inktober is an ancient and hallowed art tradition, dating all the way back to sometime, when it was started by someone. The idea is simple: draw something in ink every day. Real ink. You know. On paper.

I tried this last year. I quit after four days. Probably because I tried to do it without pencil sketches, and I’m really not very good at drawing things correctly the first time. I’d hoped that forcing myself to do it would spark some improvement, but all it really produced was half a week of frustration and bad artwork.

This year, I was convinced to try again without unnecessarily handicapping myself, so I did that. Three weeks and more than forty ink drawings later, here are some thoughts.

[blog] Word-wrapping dialogue

I have a teeny tiny pet peeve with dialogue boxes. Er, not dialog boxes — dialogue boxes, the ones in video games with scrolling lines of dialogue.

A fake dialogue box, with scrolling text that jumps when it wraps

I recently wrote a dialogue box, and I saw a game that made this mistake, so here’s a post about it.

[blog] Doom scale

I’ve been dipping my toes into Doom mapping again recently. Obviously I’ve done it successfully once before, but I’m having trouble doing it a second time.

I have three major problems: drawing everything too small, drawing everything too rectangular, and completely blanking on what to do next. Those last two are a bit tricky, but struggling with scale? That sounds like a problem I can easily solve with charts and diagrams and math.

[blog] Succeeding MegaZeux

In the beginning, there was ZZT. ZZT was a set of little shareware games for DOS that used VGA text mode for all the graphics, leading to such whimsical Rogue-like choices as ä for ammo pickups, Ω for lions, and for keys. It also came with an editor, including a small programming language for creating totally custom objects, which gave it the status of “game creation system” and a legacy that survives even today.

A little later on, there was MegaZeux. MegaZeux was something of a spiritual successor to ZZT, created by (as I understand it) someone well-known for her creative abuse of ZZT’s limitations. It added quite a few bells and whistles, most significantly a built-in font editor, which let aspiring developers draw simple sprites rather than rely on whatever they could scrounge from the DOS font.

And then…

And then, nothing. MegaZeux was updated for quite a while, and (unlike ZZT) has even been ported to SDL so it can actually run on modern operating systems. But there was never a third entry in this series, another engine worthy of calling these its predecessors.

I think that’s a shame.

[blog] Music theory for nerds

Not music nerds, obviously.

I don’t know anything about music. I know there are letters but sometimes the letters have squiggles; I know an octave doubles in pitch; I know you can write a pop song with only four chords. That’s about it.

The rest has always seemed completely, utterly arbitrary. Why do we have twelve notes, but represent them with only seven letters? Where did the key signatures come from? Why is every Wikipedia article on this impossible to read without first having read all the others?

A few days ago, some of it finally clicked. I feel like an idiot for not getting it earlier, but I suppose it doesn’t help that everyone explains music using, well, musical notation, which doesn’t make any sense if you don’t know why it’s like that in the first place.

Here is what I gathered, from the perspective of someone whose only music class was learning to play four notes on a recorder in second grade. I stress that I don’t know anything about music and this post is terrible. If you you so much as know how to whistle, please don’t read this you will laugh at me.

[blog] I entered Ludum Dare 36

Short story: I made a video game again! This time it was for Ludum Dare, a game jam with some tight rules: solo only, 48 hours to make the game and all its (non-code) assets.

(This is called the “Compo”; there’s also a 72-hour “Jam” which is much more chill, but I did hard mode. Usually there’s a ratings round, but not this time, for reasons.)

I used the PICO-8 again, so you can play it on the web as long as you have a keyboard. It’s also on Ludum Dare, and in splore, and here’s the cartridge too.

Isaac's Descent

But wait! Read on a bit first.

[blog] Testing, for people who hate testing

I love having tests.

I hate writing them.

It’s tedious. It’s boring. It’s hard, sometimes harder than writing the code. Worst of all, it doesn’t feel like it accomplishes anything.

So I usually don’t do it. I know, I know. I should do it. I should also get more exercise and eat more vegetables.

The funny thing is, the only time I see anyone really praise the benefits of testing is when someone who’s really into testing extols the virtues of test-driven development. To me, that’s like trying to get me to eat my veggies by telling me how great veganism is. If I don’t want to do it at all, trying to sell me on an entire lifestyle is not going to work. I need something a little more practical, like “make smoothies” or “technically, chips are a vegetable”.

Here’s the best way I’ve found to make test smoothies. I’ll even deliberately avoid any testing jargon, since no one can agree on what any of it means anyway.

[blog] Attribution on the web

The web is a great thing that’s come a long way, yadda yadda. It used to be an obscure nerd thing where you could read black Times New Roman text on a gray background. Now, it’s a hyper popular nerd thing where you can read black Helvetica Neue text on a white background. I hear it can do other stuff, too.

That said, I occasionally see little nagging reminders that the web is still quite primitive in some ways. One such nag: it has almost no way to preserve attribution, and sometimes actively strips it.

As a programmer, I’m here to propose some technical solutions to this social problem. It’s so easy! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

[blog] Storing Pokémon without SQL

I run veekun, a little niche Pokédex website that mostly focuses on (a) very accurate data for every version, derived directly from the games and (b) a bunch of nerdy nerd tools.

It’s been languishing for a few years. (Sorry.) Part of it is that the team has never been very big, and all of us have either drifted away or gotten tied up in other things.

And part of it is that the schema absolutely sucks to work with. I’ve been planning to fix it for a year or two now, and with Sun/Moon on the horizon, it’s time I actually got around to doing that.

Alas! I’m still unsure on some of the details. I’m hoping if I talk them out, a clear best answer will present itself. It’s like advanced rubber duck debugging, with the added bonus that maybe a bunch of strangers will validate my thinking.

(Spoilers: I think I figured some stuff out by the end, so you don’t actually need to read any of this.)

[blog] I wish I enjoyed Pokémon Go

I’ve been trying really hard not to be a sourpuss about this, because everyone seems to enjoy it a lot and I don’t want to be the jerk pissing in their cornflakes.

And yet!

Despite all the potential of the game, despite all the fervor all across the world, it doesn’t tickle my fancy.

It seems like the sort of thing I ought to enjoy. Pokémon is kind of my jam, if you hadn’t noticed. When I don’t enjoy a Pokémon thing, something is wrong with at least one of us.