Dwarf Fortress on Steam, Polygon’s Coverage

Dwarf Fortress has arrived on Steam, and me and blogmate Phil Nelson are so enthused! I bought it at full price nearly immediately, even though it’s $30 (there is no game in the world that’s a better value proposition for the money!) and played through the tutorial, and was pleasantly surprised that the interface learning curve is much better! The gameplay curve is just as high as it ever was, but that is all part of the game whose tagline is “Losing is fun!”

Longtime Urists will have a little adjusting to do, as some of the keypresses have been changed, some options moved around, there are no Kennels now, and it’s not obvious how to de-designate areas like tunnels to be dug. But compared to how it was before it’s an unquestionable improvement!

There’s also excellent pixel-art graphics, zoom support (hold Ctrl down while rolling the mouse wheel) and even a lot of new music! I wish there was an option to return to the ASCII-ish graphics, but with Steam support for mods I’m sure if they don’t provide it themselves, a fan will make it before long. And if you don’t have $30 rolling around in your pocket or purse, the game is still free on the official website, just as it ever was.

Polygon has not rested on this release, and immediately posted several useful articles for enthusiasts and prospective fortress chiefs, most of them written by Jeffery Parkin!

Dwarf Fortress on Steam ($30)Dwarf Fortress at Bay 12 Games

Roguelike Celebration: Joel Ryan on Creating the Sil-Q Tileset

Sil-Q is an Angband variant. Joel Ryan, aka MicroChasm, made its tileset which shows a lot of care in its creation. Sil-Q’s tiles are modular, so humanoid monsters can hold weapons, and also have strong silhouettes to aid recognition. It’s full of the kinds of concerns pixel artists have to worry about!

Silhouettes of various monsters in Sil-Q
As a bonus, the talk provides this lineage of Sil-Q!

Romhack Thursday: Zelda in Low Res

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

When people think about NES games, they often think of pixel art. Big chunky pixels! It’s one of the defining aesthetics of our era. The NES occupies a niche between the truly blocky graphics of the Atari VCS era and the 16-bit consoles, which don’t have a much greater resolution than the NES (since the limitations of CRT displays were a big factor), but had a much greater color depth that could help smooth things out.

But it can be interesting, visually, to try to find a middle ground between the Atari and the NES. That is where the subject of this post comes in: The Legend of Zelda Chunky Edition, a graphics hack by Zero Meaning.

There are no words for how much I love this look!

Only the graphics have changed, and just to make them more blocky, instead of the prevailing trend for remakes, which is to make them less so. (Oh also, the bright cyan of Link’s Blue Ring tunic has been darkened a bit.)

For some reason, this look suits The Legend of Zelda a lot! The greatest challenge to making it, I think is figuring out how to represent letters and numbers. You can see from the title screen above that the S, R and numeral 8 posed particular challenges, as did the copyright symbol.

There’s not a lot more to say about this one! So here are a few screenshots of Zelda, chunky style.

Let’s Learn About Pixel Scaling and Rotation

When you start using emulators, it won’t be long before you’re brought up against the choice of which scalers to use, a bewildering collection of options with names like Nearest Neighbor, AdvMAME3x, and RotSprite.

Resizing pixel images in an intelligent way is a difficult problem for many reasons. Most techniques intended for use on photographs won’t apply, since they’ll produce unacceptably blurry results when applied to extremely low resolution art. Pixel art is designed so that every dot matters, and adding new pixels carelessly can cause problems, such as Mario flipping us the bird in the right-hand image below:

Mario vs MMarrioo:A possible result of bad upscaling.

Additionally, being done frequently in real-time emulation, scaling algorithms must be fast. Yet the fastest solution, called Nearest Neighbor, produces very blocky results, and also only really works well if images are scaled up to an integer multiple of the original in X and Y dimensions.

A good backgrounder of various issues is available from an old blog post here, but there’s been some interesting advancements in the field since then. RotSprite is a good contemporary solution that also can rotate pixel art images well.

The problem of rotation is made simpler by a nifty trick that’s used by many image editors and libraries. It turns out you can rotate an image by an arbitrary amount with three simple shear operations. (If you don’t know what shearing is, it’s just tilting an image by some amount in a direction. It’s pretty awesome that this works since shearing is easy to do.)

Example image borrowed from the above linked page. I’m amazed this works.

News 6/28/22: Chack’n Dwarf

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Here’s all the most important gaming news for protoplasmic organisms! Fortunately our interest sphere intersects well with Earth gaming culture for some reason on which I will not speculate!

The Verge, Jay Peters: Steam now supports Nintendo classic controllers, the ones they released to support their Nintendo Switch Online service and are only sold to members of that service. This includes all of the controllers they released, including SNES and N64, which are probably the most interesting for general use.

IGN, Ryan Dinsdale: a fan is remaking The Simpsons: Hit and Run, and in the process is making hand-drawn versions of the cutscenes. That’s the one that was inspired by the 3D Grand Theft Auto series, not the one that was inspired by Crazy Taxi and is said to have been taken off the market due to a Sega patent on the gameplay (that one was Road Rage). It’s especially worth noting that according to this video, the game will never be made available for download, leading one to wonder… why are so many people posting about it, then? That’s a lot of animation work for one person’s enjoyment, I have to say.

Destructoid, Chris Moyse: Bubble Bobble predecessor Chack’n Pop is coming to the Arcade Archives series. You can get some information on it from Jeremy Parish’s NES Works video on the NES port. BTW, I’d like to just shout out to Jeremy for being one of the most watchable, least strident and obnoxious, YouTube content producers out there. Anyway, Chak’n Pop. It’s a much less interesting game than B[u,o]bble, and only supports one player in any format, but you might find it interesting? But, is it $8 worth of interesting? (Eight whole dollars? Really?)

Image from Polygon article, ultimately from Bay 12 Games

At Polygon, Charlie Hall expresses appreciation for the greatness of Dwarf Fortress‘ upcoming pixel art in its eagerly-anticipated Steam version, by artist Neoriceisgood. It seems like nearly everyone involved with gaming has a non-zero quantity of evil in their soul in some place, but Tarn and Zack Adams are as pure as you can find. I hope this works out for them. It’s so difficult to make it as an indie developer, especially one with such a niche following like DF. We wish them all the best.

And Liam Doolan at NintendoLife notes that video board game developer Asmodee Digital is, due to the closure of an important networking back end service (because of Amazon), ending online multiplayer for its Catan implementation. They’re also taking Pandemic off of the Switch eShop on July 31 (just three days from now!), although they seem to be hinting that it’ll be back in an improved and retooled version eventually. People who have already bought it will still be able to download it, but it won’t be sold to new users.

Pixel Art Manipulation Tools

Tiled is a popular open-source tool for tilemap construction

Popular and prolific game asset creator Kenney has a page up at Github that links to some of his favorite tools for manipulating pixel art, such as creating sprite sheets and extracting images out of them. It’s got a lot of useful info! If you have an interest in this style of art, especially making games with it, these programs are worth having in your toolbox.

Kenney: Manipulating pre-made game assets

Sundry Sunday: Pixel Orson Welles Disses Game Characters

It’s Sunday once again! You crossed, not a finish line, but a significant leg of the race. You deserve a reward. Here is one.

Orson Welles’ hilarious high-brow yet earthy tone, presented both as actual quotes and adapted, twice, have made the rounds lately. (Note: Welles had wide-ranging opinions of various degrees of cultural suitability, and so his posthumous imitators imagine he would now.) Here is a video of a pixel Orson Welles (no word on if he is also pixelated) trash talking various game characters. He is especially dismissive of Cool Spot.