Saturday, 11 April 2009

500th Post

This is the 500th blog post on Ascii Dreams - an achievement I've been waiting to reach for a little while now. I hope you'll excuse a little self-indulgence at this milestone.

I started Ascii Dreams following the advice of a number of people on that I should post my 'design diary' notes in a blog, instead of spamming the newsgroup with posts. My first article generated what I feel was a positive, albeit long thread, spamming the news group with posts discussing classes versus skills, with my position opposed to both. I would also like to think it indirectly inspired Ironband, an Angband variant by Antoine - the first person to reply in the thread:

There are no classes in Ironband - all characters can fight, shoot, sneak and cast spells. You can specialise by raising the appropriate stats (e.g. Intelligence and Wisdom for casters). The other stats are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Agility, Stealth, Perception and Luck.
It seems inevitable at some point as a blogger, you begin to worry more about traffic stastics than the quality of your writing. I achieved some early infamy through blogging, with articles being linked to by notable games journalists, up and coming games journalists and getting Slashdotted. But the Ascii Dreams traffic has remained consistent at around 150-400 visitors per day as opposed to experiencing the exponential growth which would support a web based advertising model - much to the disappointment of my wife. Unsurprisingly, the top read article is The Death of the Level Designer - a title I only partly regret choosing. More surprising, or perhaps not depending on your understanding of the human condition, is the popularity of the article on how to play different region DVDs on your Macbook:

Unique Pageviews
Avg. Time on Page
Bounce Rate
% Exit

1. 57,894 47,101 00:03:43 74.40% 68.10%
2. 27,803 25,866 00:04:44 85.67% 80.53%
3. 9,916 8,090 00:04:00 62.68% 54.21%
4. 8,950 8,366 00:03:39 89.93% 88.73%
5. 5,870 4,697 00:03:00 42.85% 34.12%
6. 4,987 4,621 00:02:48 86.17% 84.16%
7. 3,763 3,494 00:01:33 80.00% 78.58%
8. 3,481 3,041 00:02:50 51.39% 40.94%
9. 3,348 2,577 00:03:34 80.91% 73.45%
10. 3,325 3,086 00:04:37 75.16% 49.98%

Anyone who starts a web blog on an obscure game genre from the 80s and expects to become a celebrity has delusions of grandeur. Which is why I'd like to thank Simon Carless for giving me a writing platform for thinking outside of my comfort zone over at GameSetWatch. Simon is one of those people that you cannot overstate his generosity - he has provided unfailing support, kind advice and allowed me to express my delusions on a public platform shared by far more respectable games writers than myself.

The experience of interacting with the wider games journalism community has been similar to my experience with any cultural subgroup - as long as you're polite and have something interesting to say without offending anyone while keeping them entertained, you can very quickly meet the core influencers; which I've done so just long enough to realise that the motivation behind and issues underlying any clique remain basically the same: outsider vs insider, public vs private, person worth knowing vs object of interest. To reiterate: you're not missing out on anything if you're blogging in quiet, writing for yourself, with a small group of appreciative readers.

It still appears early days, but I have high hopes for the Procedural Content Generation wiki. I think my first mistake in expectations in creating the wiki was that programmers who were lazy enough not to generate game content by hand, would some how roll up their shirt sleeves and throw aside the same principles to write a wiki full of web content. Nonetheless there is a small but dedicated community of contributors who are building up a useful link repository to other procedural resources, and acting as a central collection of all things procedural. It's no, but the procedural generation field feels in its infancy - and may yet remain just a curiosity instead of powerful set of tools that are widely used by the game industry.

What has been the most gratifying, and I hope an indication of the usefulness of this blog, has been the feedback from the wider roguelike community - both directly, and indirectly. I always appreciate whenever someone on references an article here, or another roguelike blogger, of which there are a few now, links to this blog to agree with or refute a point I have made. I won't pretend that I'm a great programmer or game designer, but I've spent a long time developing Unangband - over 10 years - and I will continue to share the lessons I've learned and problems I'm having while working on the game.

Will Unangband ever be finished? I believe so, and I have a firm idea in my head of what the game will play like - at least for version 1.0. I'm at the point of development now where I'm more comfortable discarding bad game play ideas, instead of putting in everything I could possibly implement, and more work is spent 'modernising' and tidying up the code base than implementing new features. There are still plenty of hurdles to clear, and ongoing motivation will always remain an issue for an amateur developer such as myself but the end is in site: sometime in the next 5 years, of course.

As for blogging, I still have a number of large themes to explore in the same extended multi-article form that I've been using. While the total volume of content has fallen, and frequency of posting slowed a little, that has as much the increased incidence of real life instead of any change in the idealised game blogging savant personality I try to maintain here. I'm not someone project my personal hopes, fears and stories in blogging form: it's not your business what I'm doing in the real world, and I won't be someone who tries to foist their personal or political views on you - except on the very rare occasion where they intersect with the gaming sphere. I realise who I am as a person will inevitably leak onto the page - just remember that I'm not the person you think I am, so try to avoid idealising or denigrating me based on what small part of me you see here.

I've really enjoyed writing the last 500 posts. Please use this opportunity to request anything you want to me to discuss in more detail: I've had a request for more writing about my table top gaming experience which I'm sure to bore you with at some point. Comments, criticism and baseless praise are welcome - and we'll be back to a regular, more faceless, less fanciful service shortly.


Jotaf said...

It's not a faceless service; you, like many people, write as if you're talking to someone, not like those bland articles you get on newspapers (not that they're not supposed to be like that). It's always an interesting read.

Congrats and keep it up! I'm guilty of not increasing your page views count much since I use RSS to see if there's anything new. Now if only there was such a thing for comments...

Dan Kline said...

Congrats and thanks! You're still one of my insightful game design favorites. I'm looking forward to checking out the PCG!

Nick said...

Good work indeed. The roguelike world in general (!) and *bands in particular can be rather, um, inward-looking at times - it's good to see someone facing out at the general gaming community.

Having said that, I also agree that there's nothing wrong with just focusing on what you like and the people who are interested in that too. In particular, it's very freeing to do something that you enjoy and to regard anyone else's interest in it as pure bonus.

Rodneylives said...

500 posts, great work!

theotherhiveking said...


And Yes, that death of the level designer article was the one i clicked first :p

Mostly because the title, Also i found the procgen wiki very useful for our project, dungeonhack.

Good work and keep posting :)

Darren Grey said...

Congrats on the 500 posts! Your blog is one of the few I ever follow; the quality is just so high. I may not agree with everything you say, but it always gives me food for thought :)

Slightly unrelated, but I think you'll appreciate this latest piece of procedural loving:

Antoine said...

Uh yes that would be correct.

I still read Ascii Dreams regularly despite not doing any roguelike stuff these days. Keep it up as long as you enjoy it.

Antoine said...

PS Have you considered procedurally generating the Procedural Content Generation wiki?


Andrew Doull said...

Jotaf: Check out the RSS comments feed on the right hand side of the page. Not that you'll see this comment telling you to do so.

Darren: UR is one of those other roguelike blogs I enjoy following - thanks for reminding me. I've added it to the roguelike links.

Antoine: My procedural approach was starting a wiki...

Andrew Doull said...

Everyone else: Thanks for the kind words.

Dave said...

Congrats, Andrew. Your blog has been a real help and inspiration in my own struggles with roguelike development and roguelike blogging.

Here's to 500 more!