Tag Archives: Release

Restore Like Never Before: Introducing Backblaze Computer Backup v9.0

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/restore-like-never-before-introducing-backblaze-computer-backup-v9-0/

A decorative image displaying the title Backblaze Computer Backup and v9.0.

Get ready. The release of Backblaze Computer Backup 9.0 is rolling out now through the end of September.

Backblaze Computer Backup 9.0 is available today in early access, and restoring your files is about to get a whole lot easier.

What’s New in Backblaze Computer Backup 9.0?

Whether you’re a longtime user or just getting started with Backblaze, version 9.0 provides you with an unparalleled backup and restore solution. With our latest release, you get our most requested feature: a dedicated restore app for both macOS and Windows clients that makes the process of restoring your data even more intuitive, seamless, and streamlined than before. The new version also comes with essential bug fixes and performance improvements to keep your back up experience ahead of the curve for both security and speed. 

Backblaze Restore App: macOS and Windows Highlights

Whether you’re using our macOS or Windows clients, you can now recover your important data with even more ease.

Here’s a peek into some of the new features we have in store with our new Restore Client App: 

  • Simplified restore initiation process. When you’ve lost important files, the last thing you want is a demanding process sitting between you and restoring your data. With the restore app, you authenticate your Backblaze account and initiate the restore directly from your desktop. Once authenticated, you can browse your file tree and kick off the restore process immediately.
  • No limits for restore size. There are no limits to restore sizes inside of the restore app. Conserving disk space is important and you shouldn’t have to worry about downloading a .zip and having enough additional space to unzip it as well. 

If you’re interested in a comprehensive tutorial on how to use the new restore app, we’re here to guide you. Let us walk you through the process.

We’re excited that our version 9.0 release compliments your already robust methods of accessing your data. To access your backup from anywhere, you can log in to www.backblaze.com to initiate a restore and use our iOS and Android apps to access your files on the go. 

Backblaze v9.0 Is Available in Early Access Today: September 13, 2023

We will be taking feedback and slowly auto-updating all users in the coming weeks, but if you can’t wait and want to download the early access release now on your Mac or PC:

  1. Go to: https://www.backblaze.com/status/backup-beta
  2. Select your operating system and download the v9.0 app.
  3. Install the early access release on your computer.

Please note, since this is in early access you might hit some bugs. Please reach out to our Support Team if you have any questions or if you want to give feedback—we always like to know how things are going.

The post Restore Like Never Before: Introducing Backblaze Computer Backup v9.0 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Things Might Look a Little Different Around Here: Technical Documentation Gets an Upgrade

Post Syndicated from Alison McClelland original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/things-might-look-a-little-different-around-here-technical-documentation-gets-an-upgrade/

A decorative image of a computer displaying the title Introducing the New Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage Documentation Portal.

When you’re working hard on an IT or development project, you need to be able to find instructions about the tools you’re using quickly. And, it helps if those instructions are easy to use, easy to understand, and easy to share. 

On the Technical Publications team, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our docs just that—easy. 

Today, the fruits of a lot of thinking and reorganizing and refining are paying off. The new Backblaze technical documentation portal is live.

Explore the Portal ➔ 

What’s New in the Tech Docs Portal?

The documentation portal has been completely overhauled to deliver on-demand content with a modern look and feel. Whether you’re a developer, web user, or someone who wants to understand how our products and services work, our portal is designed to be user-friendly, with a clean and intuitive interface that makes it easy to navigate and find the information you need.

Here are some highlights of what you can look forward to:

  • New and updated articles right on the landing page—so you’re always the first to know about important content changes.
  • A powerful search engine to help you find topics quickly.
  • A more logical navigation menu that organizes content into sections for easy browsing.
  • Information about all of the Backblaze B2 features and services in the About section.

You can get started using the Backblaze UI quickly to create application keys, create buckets, manage your files, and more. If you’re programmatically managing your data, we’ve included resources such as SDKs, developer quick-start guides, and step-by-step integration guides. 

Perhaps the most exciting enhancement is our API documentation. This resource provides endpoints, parameters, and responses for all three of our APIs: S3-Compatible, B2 Native, and Partner API.   

For Fun: A Brief History of Technical Documentation

As our team put our heads together to think about how to announce the new portal, we went down some internet rabbit holes on the history of technical documentation. Technical documentation was recognized as a profession around the start of World War II when technical documents became a necessity for military purposes. (Note: This was also the same era that a “computer” referred to a job for a person, meaning “one who computes”.) But the first technical content in the Western world can be traced back to 1650 B.C—the Rhind Papyrus describes some of the mathematical knowledge and methods of the Egyptians. And the title of first Technical Writer? That goes to none other than poet Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame for his lesser-known work “A Treatise on the Astrolabe”—a tool that measures angles to calculate time and determine latitude.

A photograph of an astrolabe.
An astrolabe, or, as the Smithsonian calls it, “the original smartphone.” Image source.

After that history lesson, we ourselves waxed a bit poetic about the “old days” when we wrote long manuals in word processing software that were meant to be printed, compiled long indexes for user guides using desktop publishing tools, and wrote more XML code in structured authoring programs than actual content. These days we use what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors in cloud-based content management systems which make producing content much easier and quicker—and none of us are dreaming in HTML anymore. 

<section><p>Or maybe we are.</p></section>

Overall, the history of documentation in the tech industry reflects the changing needs of users and the progression of technology. It evolved from technical manuals for experts to user-centric, accessible resources for audiences of all levels of technical proficiency.

The Future of Backblaze Technical Documentation Portal

In the coming months, you’ll see even more Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage content including many third-party integration guides. Backblaze Computer Backup documentation will also find a home here in this new portal so that you’ll have a one-stop-shop for all of your Backblaze technical and help documentation needs. 

We are committed to providing the best possible customer-focused documentation experience. Explore the portal to see how our documentation can make using Backblaze even easier!

The post Things Might Look a Little Different Around Here: Technical Documentation Gets an Upgrade appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Announcing: Backblaze Computer Backup v8.5

Post Syndicated from original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/announcing-backblaze-computer-backup-v8-5/

Announcing Backblaze Computer Backup 8.5! Our latest release builds on version 8.0’s speed boosts and brings with it not only a redesigned application for Mac and PC, but an improvement to our Safety Freeze feature, which prevents your backups from becoming corrupted. Here’s a brief overview of what’s new for this release:

macOS and Windows:

  • Safety Freeze enhancements: improved efficiency and reduced false-positives.
  • Visual refresh: We’ve completely refreshed both of our client apps.
  • Minor text, bug, and performance improvements: We’ve cleaned up some of the language to make things easier to understand and have tightened up some of the code.

macOS:

  • SwiftUI redesign: the macOS app has been completely redesigned from the ground up using SwiftUI.

In More Detail

Safety Freeze Enhancements

Our Safety Freeze feature is designed to protect your backups and prevent them from being corrupted if something goes wrong on your computer. Over the years we’ve updated the feature based on feedback and tried to make it more transparent to the end user. With the updates in version 8.5, we’ve added a self-healing component which attempts to fix some of the false positives that caused an erroneous Safety Freeze to occur, especially when a user is moving from one computer to another.

Visual Refresh

With the Swift redesign on macOS, we felt now would be the perfect time to also change some of the visuals in our apps. We’ve updated both of our client apps to make them better looking, simpler to use, less cluttered, and easier to understand.

SwiftUI Redesign

In preparation for macOS Ventura, we’ve rewritten the macOS app in SwiftUI. There’s nothing but good news here. This refresh helps future-proof our macOS app and also keeps the same system efficiency you know and love from Backblaze-built applications.

General Performance Improvements

Everyone’s favorite: “general bug fixes and performance improvements.” We’ve also updated and simplified a lot of our client text to go along with the visual refresh and deliver a better, easier-to-understand overall app.

Backblaze v8.5 Is Available Today: September 15, 2022

We hope you love this new release! We will be slowly auto-updating all users in the coming weeks, but if you can’t wait and want to update now on your Mac or PC:

  1. Right click on the Backblaze icon in your menu or taskbar.
  2. Select Check for Updates.
  3. Download v8.5 from the Backblaze Updates page.

Also, this version is now the default download on www.backblaze.com. Please reach out to support if you have any questions or if you want to give feedback—we always like to know how things are going.

The post Announcing: Backblaze Computer Backup v8.5 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Releasing Often Helps With Analyzing Performance Issues

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/releasing-often-helps-with-analyzing-performance-issues/

Releasing often is a good thing. It’s cool, and helps us deliver new functionality quickly, but I want to share one positive side-effect – it helps with analyzing production performance issues.

We do releases every 5 to 10 days and after a recent release, the application CPU chart jumped twice (the lines are differently colored because we use blue-green deployment):

What are the typical ways to find performance issues with production loads?

  • Connect a profiler directly to production – tricky, as it requires managing network permissions and might introduce unwanted overhead
  • Run performance tests against a staging or local environment and do profiling there – good, except your performance tests might not hit exactly the functionality that causes the problem (this is what happens in our case, as it was some particular types of API calls that caused it, which weren’t present in our performance tests). Also, performance tests can be tricky
  • Do a thread dump (and heap dump) and analyze them locally – a good step, but requires some luck and a lot of experience analyzing dumps, even if equipped with the right tools
  • Check your git history / release notes for what change might have caused it – this is what helped us resolve the issue. And it was possible because there were only 10 days of commits between the releases.

We could go through all of the commits and spot potential performance issues. Most of them turned out not to be a problem, and one seemingly unproblematic pieces was discovered to be the problem after commenting it out for a brief period a deploying a quick release without it, to test the hypothesis. I’ll share a separate post about the particular issue, but we would have to waste a lot more time if that release has 3 months worth of commits rather than 10 days.

Sometimes it’s not an obvious spike in the CPU or memory, but a more gradual issue that you introduce at some point and it starts being a problem a few months later. That’s what happened a few months ago, when we noticed a stead growth in the CPU with the growth of ingested data. Logical in theory, but the CPU usage grew faster than the data ingestion rate, which isn’t good.

So we were able to answer the question “when did it start growing” in order to be able to pinpoint the release that introduced the issue. because the said release had only 5 days of commits, it was much easier to find the culprit.

All of the above techniques are useful and should be employed at the right time. But releasing often gives you a hand with analyzing where a performance issues is coming from.

The post Releasing Often Helps With Analyzing Performance Issues appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Cherry Kisses, on Steam

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2020/11/30/cherry-kisses-on-steam/

Cherry Kisses title screen, showing Cerise at a counter

🔗 Steam release
🔗 itch release

Whoops! I meant to write about this when it originally came out, in April, but never quite got around to collecting my thoughts. Here is a very rushed subset of them.

The game is extremely NSFW, but the commentary below is not.


The game itself

I like the game. It’s essentially a visual novel, but disguised.

I’ve played a decent number of visual novels, and I’ve thought a lot about them and their role as kind-of-games, and I’ve noticed the thorny bits that I don’t like. And my thoughts have circled around the notion of player agency.

Agency is what makes a game feel like a game. You have input, in a broad sense. You can do something to the game, and it will react appropriately (fingers crossed).

This theory explains the awkward position of visual novels. The bulk of the experience is reading a passage, pressing spacebar, and GOTO 10. You don’t have meaningful input; pressing spacebar isn’t a decision, it’s scrolling.

When you do have input, it generally comes in the form of a menu. But this doesn’t feel like you’re making a choice; it feels like one is being extracted from you in the middle of an otherwise passive reading experience. The base form of the game is reading, and that has been interrupted at a predetermined point to demand something of you. You often don’t have enough information to make a meaningful choice, either, so this becomes a game of saving at each branch and performing an exhaustive depth-first search of the story. As time goes on, you end up skipping through more and more of the early parts, and may hit a point where you go down a decision branch not even remembering what form the story took before you got there.

This is a weird experience.

I wanted to try to improve the feeling of a VN without altering the substance, so this one is disguised as an RPG. I mean, not really an RPG, but that brand of top-down “walk around and interact with stuff” framing.

You play as Cerise, and the entire game takes place in her shop. At any given time, zero or more customers are present, and you can either twiddle your thumbs at the counter or talk to one of them. Whatever you do will generally advance time by an hour, which may change the set of customers; some folks left or arrived while you were busy doing something else. And different folks have different reactions to being ignored, so the whole game becomes one large meta scheduling puzzle.

The thing is, this could’ve been done just as well with a menu at the start of each hour, asking who you want to talk to. The gameplay would’ve been functionally identical. But this scheme feels completely different (at least to me) for several reasons:

  1. Instead of choices being “on top of” the prose, the prose is on top of the choices. It feels like the choices you make cause the prose to happen, rather than being forks in the middle of a river you can’t escape. You can wander around the shop as long as you like, taking breathers, and time will not pass until you, the human at the controls, cause something to happen. (You could say the same about a menu in a VN, but there you can’t do anything else either; the entire game is frozen until you interact with this modal dialog.)

  2. You can do other things. Not many, granted, but you can examine every single object in the shop, and they all have different descriptions (even if they look identical). A typical visual novel doesn’t give you the opportunity to go on frivolous tangents, but I think a big part of games is being able to forget about the progression for a minute and fuck around with something that looks interesting. Stop and smell the roses, in this case literally.

  3. A menu spells out all possible options with equal priority. They’re just items in a list, after all. A physical world, on the other hand, can add subtle differences — choices may be more or less obvious, more or less compelling, or be presented in some way that adds to the narrative. For example, while customers tend to show up at arbitrary spots throughout the shop, your girlfriend Lexy will wait for you right behind the counter, suggesting a more personal relationship even if you don’t yet know who she is. Or consider the ubiquitous option of ignoring everyone in the shop and passing time at the counter instead. That would usually be pointless, so it would be obnoxious to list in every single menu, but having it as an option in-world makes it less obvious… which is perfect puzzle fodder. Just saying.

As an added bonus, every character in the game has a “happiness” rating from -3 to 3. If you can help them with their problems, their happiness will increase. The numbers are largely arbitrary, but you do get a final score tally at the end, and that gives some sense of measured accomplishment that’s more nuanced than a mere good/bad ending. You can ignore it altogether and be happy with the story you got, or you can go down the rabbit hole and try to find the unique path through the game that will make everyone happy and get you a perfect score.

These feel like really subtle design decisions that have an equally subtle impact on the experience. I don’t know what impact it had on anyone else, but I really liked the results. I didn’t mind playing through the game a gazillion times while I was developing it, because it’s just nice to play. The story isn’t especially deep, but it has a lot of little lighthearted interactions with a variety of characters, and sometimes different threads impact each other in really subtle ways. Sometimes I ran across an interaction I’d forgotten I’d written! It feels like the kind of story game that you can’t merely grind every ending out of, one that always has a chance to surprise you a little.

I still have other ideas for making narrative games that feel more player-controlled, so fingers crossed that I can pull them off.

Steam, numbers, business

This is the first game I’ve put on Steam, a platform I’ve long had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s cool that video games have something like a package repository. On the other hand, that package repository is owned and controlled by a single company that sits back and rakes in billions (30% off of every sale!) from a glorified FTP server, something that Linux distributions do for free. And it’s normalized casual DRM, which I do not enjoy. (If I did it right, then manually running Cherry Kisses while Steam is closed should simply run the game without interacting with Steam at all.)

On the other hand, I can’t deny the impact. The Steam release earned more in its first two weeks than the itch release did in more than a year.

…okay, that isn’t an entirely fair comparison. The itch release also had a free “demo” version that was exactly like the “real” version, only with lower-resolution artwork. Loads of people played that (almost 20k downloads as of now), and in retrospect we may have shot ourselves in the foot a bit by offering a free version. But I do like when people can play my games, and releasing anything only in a paid form feels like extorting people out of their money.

I am not good at business. It mostly feels bad.

Despite that, the game has somehow grossed a bit over $10k in the last eight months (which shrinks to $6k net after the Steam tax, VAT, and refunds). That’s not a windfall, but it’s far more than I ever expected to earn on the back of a month-long jam game, and it all went to paying our 2019 taxes so it’s like nothing ever happened. It certainly makes me optimistic about selling something meatier.

Creating the Steam release

We did update the game somewhat for Steam, a process that ended up consuming almost a month somehow and still didn’t cover everything we wanted. The most obvious in-game things were the addition of character profiles, an image gallery, and an options menu — which is to say, all UI things, which I had to build in LÖVE, by hand, which was an incredible pain in the ass. But it works, somehow.

Of course I also added a bunch of Steam achievements, which were kinda fun to decide upon. It’s a story game, so they’re mostly of the form “encounter this bit of the story”, but that’s fine?

But oh boy, the thing that really took the longest time was linking to Steam at all. You get a DLL/SO, some header files, and some hit-or-miss documentation, and the rest is up to you.

The library is, of course, designed for C++.

I am not using C++. I am using Lua.

This posed something of a problem.

I prefer not to touch C++ with a ten-foot pole, so writing some glue on the C++ side did not sound appetizing. (That would’ve also left me with the difficult problem of compiling that code for platforms I do not own or develop on.) That left me with binding to the Steam API from the Lua side.

After several days of Googling, finding years-old projects that promised to do this, and completely failing to get anywhere at all with them, I resigned myself to writing something from scratch. LÖVE uses LuaJIT, which comes with the excellent FFI library, meaning I could bind to C with nothing more than a header file.

The Steam API does have a C compatibility layer, but it is basically not documented, so I had to do some guesswork to get from the documentation to the parts I actually needed. Also, the core of the Steam API is this hokey async messaging system built out of macros and C++ metaprogramming, so I had to do a clumsier polling thing using disparate parts of the C API instead. I finally discovered that there’s example code in a big honking comment in the headers themselves, except the example code is wrong, so I had to fix that as well. Plus all the obtuse bugs like with padding on different platforms which for some reason is baked into the messages that Steam sends because C programmers don’t know how to actually fucking serialize anything. It was an adventure!!

But after all that, I managed to get achievements working, and also leaderboards. Neat, cool, etc.

The game does leak coroutines indefinitely if it’s run through Steam but can’t connect, though. Sorry.

Man. The Steam website has so many features, and the documentation explains them all in one succinct list, but fuck me if I can actually find any of them. So many things are not linked from obvious places; there have been many times I knew a particular page existed but could not figure out how to get there, and ultimately I started relying on address bar history instead of trying to navigate this website.

And so many features are awkwardly built on top of older features that are actually something completely different. Like we have a “developer” page on Steam, but the only part of it we can really control is a single line of plain text at the top. If you go to the “about” tab, it just shows you that line again! That’s all we can put there! You have to click “visit group page” (why would you do that??) in the sidebar of that page to actually get to something we can control.

In stark contrast to itch, Steam really wants your store page to look like a Steam store page and not like a your-game store page. Your artwork (and there is so much artwork) has to be manually approved by a human, and along the way I discovered some extremely unintuitive rules, like that the library header has to be SFW even though it’s only visible to people who already own the game. Store pages also have a “legal” section, but I couldn’t list open source libraries I used (and their licenses) in that section, because I’m not allowed to have links. Like, at all. They really don’t want you to have links. Games exist independently of the humans that made them in the world of Steam; they are isolated jewels floating in a vast space that is linked directly to gaben’s bank account.

I cannot comprehend how weirdly low-key hostile the whole experience felt. All so they could take a third of my money.

Oh, and there’s no Mac release, because I do not have a Mac on which to sign Mac software and do not wish to pay Apple for the privilege, and Mac software does not run any more if it’s not signed. Sorry. Yes, I fucking know about fucking right-click open, please stop fucking telling me about that, that is not useful for software that is run from someone else’s launcher.

Reception

People seem to like it?? I mean, I’ve had a dozen or so people tell me to my face that they had an especially good experience with it, that it was cozy and upbeat and just nice. For a few of them, it apparently helped ease some aversion they’d had to sex, simply by showing it playing out well.

It’s funny that I thought so hard about the general design and how agency worked and all that, but 99% of the feedback has been about the feeling of the prose itself — something that just kinda fell out of my fingers. I guess I’m not surprised — after all, if these players thought as hard about game design as I do, they’d probably be designing games.

As of this writing, there have been 19.5k downloads on itch and 1750 sales on Steam. Of the Steam sales, a hair under 80% of the people who own the game have actually played it, so if I extrapolate wildly, maybe 17,000 people have played it.

But I don’t see anyone talk about it outside of my immediate circles, which feels a bit weird. Maybe? I’m not sure what the “normal” amount of conversation about an admittedly niche game is. I don’t know how things really spread by word of mouth, and I thought this might be an opportunity to gleam some insight about that, but it has not visibly materialized even though the game is being bought by people I don’t personally know.

On the one hand, it’s a sex game, so many folks are less likely to talk about it. (A couple people even specifically asked if Steam has a way to hide what game you’re playing from your friends — and, alas, it does not.) On the other hand, it’s a furry sex game, and furries are traditionally not so tight-lipped.

Maybe there’s not that much to say; the impact it’s had on people I know has been fairly personal, and if it didn’t have that kind of impact then it’s just a cute little story game.

Lessons learned

I have no idea. There are so many confounding factors here that I don’t know how to conclude anything.

I guess I’m pleasantly surprised by how many people bought a fairly short game for $7. As it turns out, people will give you money for a thing if you ask for it? That’s nice to know.

Releasing on Steam is such a huge pain in the ass lol.

Sales spiked right at the beginning and then flattened fairly quickly, but it still sells a few copies a week, so it looks like it’ll be a little trickle of income for a while. It’d be cool to get a few medium-sized games on Steam as an extra source of income. I suspect porn games have a bit more staying power, too.

Writing UI by hand sucks ass. I gotta switch to Godot asap.

Lexy’s Labyrinth

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2020/09/26/lexys-labyrinth/

Screenshot of a small tile-based puzzle with a number of different elements, taken from CCLP1

🔗 Lexy’s Labyrinth
🔗 Source code on GitHub
🔗 itch.io later

Here is Lexy’s Labyrinth, a web-based Chip’s Challenge emulator.

It’s easy to get into and mostly speaks for itself, so here is a story.


Once upon a time, there was a puzzle game called Chip’s Challenge. It was created in 1989 for the Atari Lynx, an early handheld that is probably best known for… uh… Chip’s Challenge. It stood out as a curious blend of Sokoban head-scratching with real-time action, and it was one of the first computer puzzle games that had a whole pile of different mechanics and relied on exploiting the interesting interactions between them[citation needed].

The game found wider recognition with its inclusion in Microsoft Entertainment Pack 4, and later the Best of Windows Entertainment Pack (charmingly abbreviated “BOWEP”).


That in itself is a curious story — numerous features of the Atari Lynx version were lost in translation, most notably that the Lynx version has the player and monsters slide smoothly between grid cells, whereas the Microsoft port has everything instantly snap from one cell to the next. Also conspicuous is the presence of several typos in level passwords, which are exactly consistent with a set of notes a player took about the Lynx game, but which would be impossible in a straight port — the Lynx level passwords weren’t manually set, but were generated on the fly by a PRNG.

Screenshot of the Microsoft edition of Chip's Challenge, showing the first level, courtesy of the BBC wiki

The most obvious explanation is that the developer responsible for the Microsoft port didn’t have access to the Lynx source code, and in fact, had never played the original game at all. That would explain nearly every major gameplay difference between the Lynx and Microsoft versions, which are all things you’d never notice if you only had static screenshots and maps to work from. Given that restriction, hey, not a bad job.


I played the BOWEP edition of Chip’s Challenge as a kid and was completely enamoured. I suppose what got me the most was the same thing that I found so compelling about Doom: the ability to modify your environment, whether by using blocks to clear water or toggling green blocks or generating new monsters from a clone machine. Being able to affect my environment in (more or less) free-form ways felt curiously powerful.

Well, let’s not think about that too hard. I’ll save it for my therapist.

Some years later I discovered an incredible tool called The Internet, and with it I learned of the impending Chip’s Challenge 2, a sequel with way more tiles and possibilities! Fantastic!

Unfortunately, there was a complication. Epyx, the original publisher of Chip’s Challenge, had gone bankrupt (somehow!) and had sold most of its assets, including the Chip’s Challenge rights, to a company called Bridgestone Media (now Alpha Omega Productions), a Christian propaganda distributor.

You read that correctly.

Bridgestone, a company that generally dealt in movies, had some very peculiar ideas about the video game industry. Apparently they expected the assets they’d acquired to magically make them filthy rich — you know, just like Jesus would want — despite having acquired them from a company that had just evaporated. As such, they told the original developer, Chuck Somerville, that he could only release Chip’s Challenge 2 if he paid them one million dollars upfront.

He did not have one million dollars, and so Chip’s Challenge 2 languished forever.

(At this point, in hindsight, I wonder why Chuck didn’t simply change the story and tileset and release the game under a different name. Apparently he did start on something like this some years later, in the form of an open clone from scratch called Puzzle Studio, but it was eventually abandoned in favor of Chuck’s Challenge 3D. But I still wonder: why start a brand new thing, rather than rebrand and release the existing thing?)

We did have some descriptions of new Chip’s Challenge 2 mechanics, and so at the ripe old age of 15, with no idea what I was doing, I decided I would simply write my own version of Chip’s Challenge 2.

In QBasic.

Also I didn’t really understand how to handle the passage of time, so the game was turn-based and had no monsters.

But, given all that, it wasn’t that bad. I found the source code a few years ago and put it on GitHub along with a sample level and a description of all the tiles you can use in the plaintext level format. I’ve got a prebuilt binary for DOS (usable in DosBox) too, if you like — just have a levels.txt in the same directory, and be sure it uses DOS line endings. I used to have one or two actual levels, but they have tragically been lost to the sands of time.

Screenshot of my QBasic implementation of Chip's Challenge, using all character-based graphics

That would’ve been 2002.


Thirteen years later, in April 2015, a miracle occurred and defeated the Christians. Chip’s Challenge 2 was released on Steam.

It was fine. I don’t know. Over a decade of anticipation gets your hopes up, maybe. It’s a perfectly good puzzle game, and I don’t want to dunk on it, but sometimes I interact with it and I feel all life drain from my body.

Screenshot of CC2, with an overlaid hint saying: "This is Melinda.  Being female, she does some things differently than Chip."
Screenshot of CC2, with an overlaid hint saying: "She doesn't slide when she steps on ice.  But she needs hiking boots to walk on dirt or gravel."

I don’t even know whether to talk about this completely unreadable way of showing hints or the utterly baffling justification of “being female” for these properties.

But it’s fine. The game was Windows-only, but it was old Windows-only, so Wine handled it perfectly well. I played through a few dozen levels. Passwords were gone, so you were free to skip over levels you just didn’t feel like playing.

And then they patched a level editor into the game, and it completely broke under Wine. Completely. Like, would not even run. It’s only in recent years that it even tries to run, and now it can’t draw the window and crashes if you attempt to do anything.

The funny thing is, apparently it doesn’t draw for some people on Windows, either. It doesn’t for me in a Windows VM. The official sanctioned solution is to… install… wined3d, a Windows port of the Wine implementation of Direct3D.

I don’t know. I don’t know! I don’t know what the hell anything. This situation is utterly baffling. What even are computers.


I gave up on the game until recently, when something reminded me of it and I tried it again in Wine. No luck, obviously. I spent half a day squabbling with bleeding-edge versions and Proton patches and all manner of other crap, then resorted to the Bit Busters Club Discord, but they couldn’t help me either.

And then something stirred, deep inside of me. This game wasn’t that complicated, right? I actually know how to make video games now. I even know how to make art, sort of. And sound. And music. And…


And here I am, a month later, having replicated Chip’s Challenge in a web browser, fueled entirely by some new emotion I’ve discovered that lies halfway between spite and exhaustion. My real goal was to clone Chip’s Challenge 2 so I can actually fucking play this game I bought, but it is of course a more complex game. Still, CC2 support is something like 60% done; most of what remains is wiring, tracks, and ghost/rover behavior.

CC1 support is more interesting, anyway — there are far more custom CC1 levels around, and Lexy’s Labyrinth exposes almost 600 of them a mere click away. Given that the original Microsoft port was 16-bit and is now difficult to run (and impossible to buy), and the official (free!) Steam release is fairly awkward and unmaintained (the dev mostly makes vague statements about “old code”), and even the favored emulator Tile World has the aesthetics and usability of a 1991 Unix application, I’m hoping this will make the Chip’s Challenge experience a little more accessible. It has a partially working level editor, too, which lets you share levels you make by simply passing around a URL, and I think that is fucking fantastic.

LL cannot currently load level packs from the Steam release, but it’s a high priority. In the meantime, if you really want to play the original levels (even though CCLP1 is far better in my experience), it’ll load CHIPS.DAT if you’ve got it lying around. Also, it works on phones!


Probably the most time-consuming parts of this project were the assets. I had to draw a whole tileset from scratch, including all of the CC2 tiles which you don’t even get to see yet (and a few of which aren’t actually done). That probably took a week, spread out over the course of the entire last month. Sound effects took several days, though they got much easier once I decided to give up on doing them by wiring LFOs together in SunVox and just use a bunch of BeepBox presets. I spent a couple days on my own music track, and half a dozen other kind souls chipped in their own music — thank you so much, everyone!

And thank you to the Bit Busters Club, whose incredibly detailed knowledge made it possible to match the behavior of a lot of obscure-but-important interactions. The Steam version of CC1 comes with solution replays, and LL can even play a significant number of them back without ever desyncing.

I’ve been ignoring pretty much everything else for a month to get this in a usable state, so I’d like to take a break from it for now, but I’d really like to get all of CC2 working when I can, and of course make the level editor fully functional. I love accessible modding tools, you don’t see many of them in games any more, and with any luck maybe it’ll inspire some other kid to get into game development later.


…okay, I haven’t been ignoring everything else. I also reused the tiles I drew for a fox flux minigame in a similar style, except that you place a limited set of tiles in empty spaces and then let the game run by itself. Kind of like… Chip’s Challenge meets The Incredible Machine.

Recording of a minigame, showing a drone character interacting with moving floors and following instructions on the ground

(That arrow tile has since been updated to be more clear, but it means “when you hit something, turn around instead of stopping and ending the game.”)

I guess two little puzzle game engines isn’t too bad for not quite a month of work!

Star Anise Chronicles: Oh No Wheres Twig??

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2020/05/10/star-anise-chronicles-oh-no-wheres-twig/

Title and logo for the game

🔗 Play it on itch.io
🔗 Play it on the PICO-8 BBS (where you can also download the cart and view the source code)

(I originally drafted this just after publishing the game, but then decided to start a whole series about its development and wasn’t sure what to do with this! But it’s solid and serves a different purpose, so here it is.)

It’s been a while, but I made another PICO-8 game! It’s a little platformer with light puzzling, where you help Star Anise find his best friend Branch Commander Twig. It’s only half an hour long at worst, and it’s even playable on a phone!

This is the one-and-a-halfth entry in the Star Anise Chronicles series, which after several false starts, finally kicked off over Christmas with a… uh… interactive fiction game. Expect the series to continue with even more whiplash-inducing theme shifts.

More technical considerations will go in the “gamedev from scratch” series, but read on for some overall thoughts on the design. Both contain spoilers, of course, so I do urge you to play the game first.


The first attempt at a Star Anise game was two years ago, in early 2018. The idea was to make a Metroidvania where Star Anise had a bunch of guns that shot cat-themed projectiles, obtained a couple other cat-themed powers, and made a total mess of a serious plot happening in the background while he ran around collecting garbage.

After finishing up the Steam release of Cherry Kisses last month, we decided that our next game should be that one, which would now be Star Anise 2 (since i’d already released a Star Anise 1 some months ago). We have, uh, already altered these plans, but that’s the background.

I don’t really know why I started on this game. I guess there’s some element of stress to working on a project with someone, even if that someone is Ash (my spouse), and especially if I’m supposed to be driving it forward. I have to tell someone what to do, and then if I don’t like the result I have to ask them to fix it, and a lot of tiny design questions are out of my control anyway, and all of this is happening on someone else’s schedule, and I have to convey all the project state that’s in my head in a complicated non-verbal form, and… all of those things are a constant low-level source of stress.

So I guess we’d just finished a game that I’d designed, and it was looking like we were about to start a sizable project where I was the design lead again, and I wanted to make something I could finish by myself as an interlude.

And so I sat down with a teeny tiny tool to make a teeny tiny version of what I expected would be our next game.

Design

The basics were obvious: run, jump, land. I gave Star Anise little landing particles early on — they’re in the bigger prototype, I love landing puffs in general, and having them be stars adds so much silly personality.

I knew I wanted to have multiple abilities you collect, since that’s the heart of Metroidventures. I briefly considered giving Star Anise a gun, as in the prototype, but gave up on that pretty early. I would’ve had to sprite a gun, a projectile, a projectile explosion, enemies, enemy attacks, enemy death frames…

Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with drawing all of that. The concern was that PICO-8 has a very limited amount of space for sprites — in the configuration I was using, 128 sprites of 8×8 pixels each. Star Anise himself takes up 9, even with some clever reuse for his walking animation. The star puff takes 4. The common world tile, plus versions for edges and corners, takes up 9. That’s 22 sprites already, more than 17% of the space I have, for absolutely nothing besides jumping around on solid ground. I would have to keep it simple.

That led me to the first two powers, both borrowed from the prototype:

  • AOWR starts conversation with NPCs and opens doors. I can’t really take any creative credit here, since these are both things Anise attempts to do with aowrs in real life.

  • Papping activates levers and knocks over glasses of liquid. Anise only does one of those in real life. (In the prototype, this is a gun — which shoots pawprint-shaped projectiles — but I’d already been thinking about making it a “melee” ability first.)

I adore both of these abilities. I think they both turn some common UI tropes on their heads. NPCs, doors, and levers are all things you usually interact with by pressing some generic “interact” button, but hitting a lever (and meowing at a door) adds some physicality to the action — you’re actually doing something, not just making it go.

And pressing A to talk to an NPC doesn’t really make any sense at all! Consider: almost universally, even in games where the player character speaks, pressing A to start a conversation leads off with the NPC talking. So what the hell did you actually do? What does pressing A represent actually doing that results in someone else casually starting a conversation with you, seemingly unprompted? I have no idea! It’s nonsense! But Anise meows at me all the time and I always respond to him, which is perfectly sensible.

The third power, telepawt, is a little newer. We’d conceived a cat teleporting power pretty recently, but it was more involved and required some big environmental props. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t possibly do much of interest on the tiny PICO-8 screen (16 × 16 tiles), but I do like teleporting abilities! I briefly considered ripping off Axiom Verge, but I’ve already done that in fox flux, and the physics are a little involved… and then, lo, inspiration! Combine the two ideas: teleport great distances, but in a controlled and predictable way, by teleporting to the point on the opposite side of the screen. It felt like a very 8-bit kind of power, and I could already imagine a few ways to hide stuff with it, so off I went.

And that seemed like a reasonable progression. A way to talk (and progress through doors), a way to interact with objects, and a way to move around. I decided about halfway through development to make jumping a faux powerup as well; it stretches out the progression a bit more by making you walk past potential jumps and then come back to them later, which is important when I don’t have much map space to work with.

I’d originally planned for items to be separate from abilities, but ran into a couple problems, the worst of which was that I really didn’t have much screen space for sprinkling more items around. I ended up turning items into abilities in their own right, which I think was an improvement overall; now you can crinkle the plastic bag wherever you want, for example.

The game deliberately doesn’t try to explain itself; PICO-8 only has six buttons, and four of them are a d-pad, so I figured button-mashing (as in ye olde NES days) would get everyone through. Still, several players were confused about how to jump (and possibly gave up before even acquiring jump?), and one didn’t realize you could switch abilities, despite the up/down arrowheads on the ability box. Not sure what to learn from this.

The map

I struggled a bit with the map. PICO-8 has a built-in map editor with enough space for 32 screen-sized rooms (arranged in an 8 × 4 grid), which it turns out is not very many. I also very much did not want the game space to be confined to exactly that size of rectangle, so I knew I’d have to do some funky stuff with room connections. (Armed with that power, I ended up making loops and other kinds of non-Euclidean geometry, but hey that’s plenty appropriate for an imaginary moon.)

The bigger problem was designing the rooms outside of the PICO-8 map editor. I tried sketching in Krita, and then on paper, but kept running into the same two problems: it was tedious to rearrange rooms, and I didn’t have a good sense of how much space was available per room.

I found a novel solution: I wrote a Python script to export the map to a PNG, opened it in Aseprite, and edited it there — with each pixel representing a tile and the grid size set to 16. Now I knew exactly how much space I had, and rearranging rooms was easy: double-clicking a cell selects it, and holding Alt while dragging a selection snaps it to the grid. Here’s the beginning part of the game, screenshotted directly from Aseprite at 400% zoom:

A very pixellated map, with bright pink lines to indicate odd connections

When it came time to pack it all back into a rectangle, I copied the whole map, rearranged the rooms, and numbered them all so I could keep track of connections. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad a workflow.

The non-Euclidean map connections came in handy for packing secrets in more efficiently; most of the secret stars are off-screen, making them harder to find, but I couldn’t really afford to have a dedicated treasure room for every single one. So I crammed two treasures into the same room a few times, even though the two routes you’d take to get there are generally nowhere near each other.

Doors helped stretch the map out, too. It’s probably obvious if you think about it in the slightest, but doors don’t lead to different rooms; they reuse the same room. But some tiles only appear in the overworld, some tiles only appear in cave world, and actors (besides doors) don’t spawn in caves. That seemingly small difference was enough to make rooms vastly different in the two worlds; the most extreme case is a “crossroads” room, which you traverse vertically in the overworld but horizontally in cave world. (Honestly, I wish I’d done a bit more of this, but it works best in rooms that only have two overworld exits, and there ended up not being too many of those. Also, caves are restricted to basically just platforming, so there’s only so much variety I can squeeze out of them.)

Designing caves was a little trickier than you might think, since the PICO-8 map has no layers! If something needed to occupy a tile in the overworld, then I could not put something in the same place in cave world. Along with the design nightmare that is telepawt, this gave me a couple headaches.

I do like the cave concept a lot, though. I love parallel versions of places in games, and I have an unfinished PICO-8 game that’s centered around that idea taken to extremes. It’s also kind of a nod to my LÖVE games, all the way back to Neon Phase, where going indoors didn’t load another map — rooms were just another layer.

Aesthetics

Originally, PICO-8 had a fixed palette of 16 colors. You could do palette swaps of various sorts, but you can’t actually change any of the colors.

But since I last used it, PICO-8 gained a “secret palette” — an extra 16 colors that you can request. You can’t have more than 16 colors on the screen at a time, but you can replace one of the existing colors with a “secret” color. There’s also an obscure way to tell PICO-8 to preserve the screen palette when the game finishes, which means I could effectively change the palette in the sprite editor. Hooray!

I didn’t want to completely change the palette, so I tried to keep the alterations minor. For the most part, I gave up reds and pinks for a better spread of greens, purples, and yellows. Here’s the core PICO-8 palette, the secret PICO-8 palette, and the game’s palette, respectively:

A very bright palette, a softer and warmer version of the same colors, and a mix of them

I think I did a decent job of preserving the overall color aesthetic while softening the harsh contrasts of the original palette, and the cool colors really helped the mood.

Note that I changed the background color (color 0 isn’t drawn when it appears in a sprite) to navy and promoted black to a foreground color, which helped black stand out more when used as an outline or whatever. Probably the best example of this is in the logo, traced from the vector logo I made for the first Star Anise game.

Hmm, what else. The tiles themselves felt almost forced, if that makes sense? Like I could only draw them one way. PICO-8 tiles are a rinky-dink 8 pixels, and boy that is not much to work with. If I had a lot of sprite space, I could make bigger metatiles, but… I don’t, so I couldn’t. I tried a lot of variations of tiles, and what I ended up with were pretty much the only things that worked.

I love how the emoting came out. I knew I didn’t have nearly enough room for facial expressions for everyone, but I wanted to give them some kind of visual way to express mood, and the tiny overlays kinda fell naturally out of that. I think they add a ton of personality, especially in how everyone uses them differently.

I’m pretty happy with the sound design, as well. I’m an extremely amateur composer, and I wrote 90% of the music in a few hours on the start of the last day, but I actually like how it came out and I like going back to listen to it. The sound effects are, with some mild exceptions, pretty much excellent — the aowr is incredible, it has fooled other folks in the house more than once, and I knew I had it right when I had a blast just running around mashing the meow button.

I’m also happy with the dialogue, and hope it conveys the lunekos’ personalities in just these few interactions.

While writing the ending, I had to stop in mid-draft to go cry. Then I cried again when I finished it a few days later. I’ll miss you forever, Branch Commander Twig.

If you did, thanks for playing.

Advent calendar 2019

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2019/12/01/advent-calendar-2019/

Calendar of things I made during December, with little screenshots

🔗 Advent calendar, with links to individual projects

Happy new year!

For December, I had the absolutely ludicrous idea to do an advent calendar, whereupon I would make and release a thing every day until Christmas.

It didn’t go quite as planned! But some pretty good stuff still came out of it.


Day 1: I started out well enough with the Doom text generator (and accompanying release post), which does something simple that I’ve wanted for a long time but never seen anywhere: generate text using the Doom font. Most of the effort here was just in hunting down the fonts and figuring out how they worked; the rest was gluing them together with the canvas API. It could be improved further, but it’s pretty solid and useful as-is!

Day 2: I tried another thing I’d always wanted: making a crossword! (Solve interactively on squares.io!) I didn’t expect it to take all day, but it did, and even then I found a typo that I didn’t have time to fix, and I had to rush with the clues. All in all, an entertaining but way too difficult first attempt. I’d love to try doing this more, though.

Day 3: I’ve made a couple SVG visualizations before — most notably in my post on Perlin noise — and decided to take another crack at it. The result was a visualization of all six modern trig functions, showing the relationships between them in two different ways. I’m pretty happy with how this turned out, and delighted that I learned some relationships I didn’t know about before, either! I do wish I’d drawn some of the similar triangles to make the relationships more explicit, but I ran out of time — just orienting the text correctly took ages, especially since a lot of it needed different placement in all four quadrants. I vaguely intended to get around to doing a couple more of these, but it didn’t end up happening.

Days 4 and 7: I love the PICO-8‘s built-in tracker, which makes way more sense to me than any “real” tracker, and set out to replicate it for the web. The result is PICOtracker! Unfortunately, this one didn’t get fully finished (yet) — it can play back sounds and music from the hardcoded Under Construction cart, but doesn’t support editing yet. Most of my time went to figuring out the Web Audio API, figuring out what the knobs in the PICO-8 tracker actually do (and shoutout to picolove for acting as source code reference), and figuring out how to weld the two together. I definitely want to revisit this in the near future!

Day 5: I’d been recently streaming Eternal Doom III and was almost done, and I keep being really lazy about putting Doom streams on YouTube, so I finished up the game (which took far, far longer than I expected) and posted the whole thing as a playlist. It spans like 24 hours. Good if you, uh, just want some Doom noise to listen to in the background.

Day 6: I’d expected Eternal Doom to be a quick day so I could have a break, and it was not. So I took an explicit day off.

Days 8 and 13: I made flathack, a web roguelike with only one floor! The idea came from having played NetHack a great many times, and having seen the first floor much more than any other part of the dungeon — so why not make that the whole game? It needs a lot more work, but I’m happy to have finally published a roguelike, and I think it already serves its intended purpose at least a little bit: it’s a cute little timewaster that doesn’t keep killing you.

Days 9–12: I got food poisoning. It sucked. A lot.

Days 14–20: Fresh off of making flathack in only two days, I got a bit too big for my britches and decided to try writing an interactive fiction game. In one day. Spoilers: it took more than one day. But I think the result is pretty charming: Star Anise Chronicles: Escape from the Chamber of Despair, a game about being a cat and causing wanton destruction, and also the first Star Anise Chronicles game to actually be published. A good chunk of the time was spent just drawing illustrations for it, which weren’t strictly necessary, but they add a lot to the game and they did get me back in an art mood.

Day 21: I feel like I’ve been scared of color for a long time, and that’s no good, so I drew and colored something.

Day 22: I drew some weird porn, and colored it too! Porn is just a blast to draw, and it’d been a while. I’ll let you find the link on the calendar if you really want it.

Day 23: Did not exist, due to becoming nocturnal.

Day 24–28: I started a big reference of a bunch of my Flora characters way back in November 2018, but I tried to paint it when I didn’t know what I wanted in a painting style, and eventually I gave up. Flat colors are better for references anyway, so I tried again, and this time I finished! I’m really happy with how it came out — I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of art, maybe, just as I hit five years of trying. Again, it’s wildly NSFW, but the link is on the calendar.


All told, I didn’t quite end up with 25 distinct things, but I did make some interesting stuff — some of which I’d been thinking about for a long time — and I’ll call that a success.

I’d love to get flathack to the point that it’s worth playing repeatedly, make more crosswords, and finish PICOtracker — but those will have to wait, since my GAMES MADE QUICK??? FOUR jam is coming up in a few days!

And speaking of which, I need to put a bunch of this stuff on Itch!

Doom text generator

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2019/12/01/doom-text-generator/

Screenshot of a generator with controls for the font, color, scale, and alignment

🔗 Doom text generator, locally hosted

I’ve been mad my entire life that one of these didn’t seem to exist. ZDoom can print arbitrary text, of course, but only if you fuck around writing and compiling an ACS script or whatever! There’s no console command for it! Outrageous!!!

So I finally made this. It took like ten hours, which I have to say, is fucking incredible.

I don’t want to make a whole blog post out of this (I mean it was only ten hours) but a few points of interest:

  • Probably most of the work was in getting stuff out of Doom and into a usable format. The end result is a thorny combination of three different file format parsers (half of which I threw away), manual extraction from game files via SLADE, both PyPNG and ImageMagick for some reason, and way too much JSON.

  • Did you know that the small Doom font’s | (pipe) character is inexplicably assigned to lowercase y? Neither did I! It’s the only lowercase letter in the font — it only supports uppercase.

  • I fucking love CSS grid.

  • The colors are done using ZDoom’s font color translation. I always thought those were palette remappings — which is what “translation” means elsewhere in ZDoom — but no! They actually use the perceptual brightness of the font, stretched to the full range, and then mapped to a color gradient. It’s not at all what I expected (which led me to some dead ends early on), but it’s kind of cool.

  • Implementing undocumented RLE is fun because if you’re off by even a byte somewhere you suddenly have either ten times more or ten times less data than you expected and it’s all complete garbage.

  • I haven’t put the source code up yet but will eventually. I want to put it on itch, too, but I have to put together a whole page and stuff and I’m very tired now.

Anyway now you can make your own cool in-game textures and other shenanigans, enjoy!