Chosen links

Links - 9th April 2023

Idle threat: what incremental games say about our relationship to work

On the other hand, Mat Jones asks in his essay on free-to-play Let it die “What even are videogames if not perverse, unintentional exercises in alienation?” Idle games situate us in patterns of production, and nature sim versions take that one step further by implying that the process of producing things that produce other things is relaxing. You’re focused mainly on development and accumulation, two processes that have been troubled in the city-building conversation. This is the darkness at the heart of my floating zen garden: at its base, Garden Galaxy is a (one-time payment based) gacha that is framed as a zen garden for relaxation.

To play any game, you need to do something to progress. You can walk around and look at flowers or talk with NPCs all day, but the majority of the time you have to wake up and participate in some system or another. The difference is that Garden Galaxy and games like it use loops that were created in much more work-centered, sometimes even predatory games. Can these more pleasant versions ever get out from under that shadow?

None of these questions takes away from the fun I had with Garden Galaxy. But as we’ve done with genres like the city builder and the strategy game, it’s worthwhile to examine the roots of the idle game and treat its descendents to the same examination, so we can reimagine how to really use games to trouble processes of work and production—and maybe, in the spirit of idleness’s earlier definition, truly relax.

SQL:2023 is finished: Here is what’s new

SQL:2023 has been wrapped. The final text has been submitted by the working group to ISO Central Secretariat, and it’s now up to the ISO gods when it will be published. Based on past experience, it could be between a few weeks and a few months.

In the meantime, we can look at what is new. The changes can be grouped into three areas:

  1. Various smaller changes to the existing SQL language

  2. New features related to JSON

  3. A new part for property graph queries

Let’s look at each one.

What’s your dark matter strategy?

With the most optimistic take, summing across ALL of these audiences (no overlap), you only capture ~33% of the market. Meaning if you, as a developer content creator, reached every conventional audience there is on every platform there is, you still would not be reaching two thirds of developers. And those you could reach would be majority newer developers who have the time and desire to spend on your content.

The other 2/3 of developers aren’t spending their free time at meetups or watching livestreams. They’ll maybe go to one conference every three years. They don’t care about the hot takes. They have to look up the acronyms you take for granted. They don’t know what new framework is obviously the future, and which code pattern was so yesterday.

Custom game engines: a small study

A couple of weeks ago I played (and finished) A Plague Tale, a game by Asobo Studio. I was really captivated by the game, not only by the beautiful graphics but also by the story and the locations in the game. I decided to investigate a bit about the game tech and I was surprised to see it was developed with a custom engine by a relatively small studio. I know there are some companies using custom engines but it’s very difficult to find a detailed market study with that kind of information curated and updated. So this article.

Against innovation

I went online and started asking everyone I know in audio engineering how to deal with this situation. To my surprise, the advice I got back was nearly unanimous: unplug. Stop updating. Revert to the stable system you had before. And take everything offline so this doesn’t happen again.

It seemed a clever solution to my small-scale, personal studio problem. But I was taken aback when some of the professionals who offered this advice said it is what they do, too. Even with their very extensive skillsets. Could it be that some of the most sophisticated audio technicians I know - mastering engineers in particular, those tasked in our industry with maintaining and constantly improving audio standards - choose to ignore innovation for the sake of stability?

Grid world

When I was a kid, my dad gave me a piece of paper with a grid printed on it. It consisted of larger squares than standard graph paper, about an inch in size. It was basically a blank chessboard. The columns of the grid were labeled with letters (“A”, “B”, “C”, etc.), the rows labeled with numbers (“1”, “2”, “3”, …). My dad then helped me draw a map of an imaginary island within the grid’s boundaries. I sketched the squiggly coastline of my island, forming a splattered blob shape, within which I added the obvious necessary features all mysterious islands require: forests of crudely draw trees, a mountain with a cave entrance leading to a secret underground network of caverns, an abandoned hut on the beach. There were variations of this game: sometimes the map was of a completely imaginary place, but other times we mapped a known area — like our backyard — and added fantastic elements.

My dad showed me how we could use the labeled rows and columns of the grid to address places of interest in our imagined islands: buried treasure was at square “B-4”, the entrance of the cave was at square “C-2”. We listed out the landmarks next to the map, creating a coordinate-based index. The grid plus index elevated my child-like imaginary treasure island into the grown-up world of official maps and systems, and thereby transformed it into a real, visitable place.

An obsession was born. I was intoxicated by graph paper. The emptiness of a totally blank page intimidated me by demanding that I make the first move, but graph paper invited my participation by steering my pencil in the grooves of its strictly regular lines. The grid was like a friend who had already done half the work for me. I drew mazes, maps, patterns, plans — all held by the sturdiness of the grid. The effect was soothing. Through the grid’s lattice, all my drawings, no matter how primitive, took on an air of rational certainty.