MysticDungeon.club Random Thursday Update

Redesigned the front as a software gallery, got Portal Worlds working with my common input system, adapted Amazing (the dumb maze game).

I might get Heist adapted this weekend. Cityscape needs either a custom character set, or I add sprite graphics to the retro screen, which is a better plan. I have a bunch more JS games and demos, most can be adapted pretty quick. Porting the Mystic Dungeon RPG from Python is harder, but on the list.

Still thinking about the forum idea, I haven't seen a lot of interest yet, but a place for smack-talking would be nice.

It's really quite nice just having an easy way to focus on the game design or UI mechanics, and not have to make infrastructure from scratch every time.

Everything should be usable without an account, but you can't post scores unless you do!

MysticDungeon.club

I've finally got my web games/tech demo site MysticDungeon fully running SSL, a proper Node & database server, and all the existing games ported to my common "Learn2JS" framework. High scores and hit counters work for all of them; I haven't set up a really stable migration tool yet but that's on the TODO list before anything more serious gets stored there.

If you run into any bugs, let me know here or on fediverse.

Upcoming will be getting a couple features in PortalWorlds finished, then the rest of the Umbral Adventure world, and some more tools in Grimoire, which will be a tabletop RPG journal/toolkit, more for Referees to use as a virtual screen/notebook than as a coop gaming tool, but you could screen-share it if you needed to. Proper user accounts instead of an unverified screen name will be part of that.

I'm still thinking about if I should replace the old BBS with a forum, or what. Rebuilding the Mystic Dungeon game is on the list, that's part of what the Umbral Atari-like screen is for; nice ATASCII line-drawing characters instead of the few ANSI chars it supported.

Retrospective: PortalWorlds

What worked, what sucked, lessons learned, The More You Know, and knowing is half the battle, go Cobra, etc.

JS: Test Your Libraries -1

Especially the hard-to-test parts. I had one "obviously correct" array shuffle function I've been using for maybe 10 years:

WRONG RIGHT
function arrayShuffle(arr) {
    for (let i = arr.length-1; i >>= 1; --i) {
        const j = Math.floor(Math.random() * i); // WRONG. NO.
        const tmp = arr[i];
        arr[i] = arr[j];
        arr[j] = tmp;
    }
    return arr;
}
/** Fisher-Yates */
function arrayShuffle(arr) {
    for (let i = arr.length-1; i >= 1; --i) {
        const j = Math.floor(Math.random() * (i+1)); // RIGHT. YES.
        const tmp = arr[i];
        arr[i] = arr[j];
        arr[j] = tmp;
    }
    return arr;
}

And because of that, I got a distorted shuffle. I only noticed because no mob using my dumb-as-rocks not-even-AI would ever choose to move north… everything ended up piled up at the bottom of the map.

It's hard to test randomness, but you can check that values are in a sane range. For a decade I've had wrong code just copy-pasted into new projects because I never checked my assumptions.

JS: UI Libraries are Great +1

I mean, I knew that. But how easy it is to throw something up is a bit of a surprise every time I do it. It's a fast, dynamic, functional/OOP language that also has good graphics and sound libraries (I didn't do sound in PortalWorlds, but I will before 1.0), and tolerable event handling these days.

I'm not releasing the full source, but in a week or two I'll add a few more things and release my common library under BSD license. This is mostly stuff from my Learn2JS project, and some from TTMS-76, but those have a giant framework for running scripts, this is just a few functions for a pure JS application, and greatly condensed.

Pulling in common code makes this stuff so much easier.

JS: Application Structure -1

There's no proper "run loop" in PortalWorlds, and late in the process that bit me in the ass.

What you should do is, collect events, put them in a queue. Every X milliseconds (I usually use 30 FPS, so 1000/30=33.333ms) have setInterval do an event-update-redraw loop. If something takes a long time or requires animation updates, it must be done in chunks or in a background thread (using Web Workers ). This is true of any application, not just games.

What I did wrong is having events immediately perform actions, and the setInterval just does update-redraw. This is much easier, but it's wrong. I have no control currently over blocking user actions, and animation has to all happen at once.

The trick I used is to keep a "frame" counter, and that chooses animation frames, moves floating text and the tracers of missiles and fireballs. Next turn invoked by user event just wipes those out. An amusing side-effect is missiles vaporize corpses as they fly past.

Switching to a correct run loop isn't super hard, but does require changes to all my timing and animation hacks, so at this point it's not worth it.

JS: Fonts -1

I used Oryx's "simplex" font, which looks fine and bitmappy in web pages, but in Canvas it gets antialiased, and I wasn't able to make it stop. So I have to make all fonts slightly larger than I'd like, and they're still kind of blurry.

The smarter way would be to use a bitmap font, and a very simple bitmap text renderer. That's what I do in Perilar: Dark Weaver, with an ATASCII-inspired fantasy font. But in 7 days I didn't have time to write and test that.

That's on a "maybe later" list for 1.0. Alternately, I could figure out how to get them antialiased in Canvas?

JS: Minimizer -1

I used to use yuicompressor, which renames variables and aggressively minimizes your code into unreadable but very compact line noise. But with the long-drawn-out death of Yahoo!, that hasn't been updated in a decade, and it doesn't handle ES2020.

I could probably have run everything thru Babel and then yuicompressor, but it's time to move on? So I just used Crockford's jsmin which only removes whitespace. It might be a good time to look into compiling JS to WASM binaries.

My build.zsh script:

#!/bin/zsh
rm -rf portalworlds*.zip
rm -rf build
mkdir -p build
mkdir -p build/js

# *.js -> .min.js
for f in js/*; do
    n=`basename $f .js`
    perl -ne 's/const DEBUG = true;/const DEBUG = false;/; s/^\s*DLOG.*$//; print;' $f >build/$f
    jsmin-crockford <build/$f >build/js/$n.min.js "Copyright (c) 2020 by Mark Damon Hughes. All Rights Reserved."
    rm build/$f
done

# index.html
perl -ne "s/\.js'/.min.js'/; print;" index.html >build/index.html

cp -R favicon.* style.css i ttf build
cd build
zname=portalworlds-$(date "+%Y%m%d_%H%M%S").zip
zip -r9Xq ../$zname * -x "*.DS_Store"
cd ..
echo $zname

Game: Combat Design +1

So I knew I wanted combat to be very swingy (allowing anything from instant death to instant kill), but not have levels or many stats; I didn't have time or inclination to make another detailed RPG!

Instead, combat works by adding your current strength and enemy's current strength, rolling 2 dice in half that range, so central results are more likely, but it's easy to get results at either far end. Then apply the difference from your strength as damage to you or the monster, depending on which side of the line it's on:

const roll = Math.floor(dice(2, this.strength + mob.strength)/2);
if (roll <= this.strength) {
    const dmg = Math.floor( (this.strength - roll) * (100 + this.getDamage()) / 100 );
    mob.takeDamage(dmg, true);
} else {
    const dmg = Math.floor( (roll - this.strength) * (100 - this.getDefense()) / 100 );
    message(mob.toString()+" hits you for "+dmg+" damage");
    this.takeDamage(dmg);
}

Kind of ridiculously simple, but it makes for symmetric combat, so player-attacks-monster and monster-attacks-player have the same results. It's not practical for a tabletop game, but this is a really fun mechanic in a computer game.

Damage and Defense from gear just modify the result by percentiles, they don't affect attack roll at all. If your strength + defense % is less than the monster's strength, you can be one-hit-killed, and vice versa.

Experience adds to current strength, and increases base strength if you're near max; you need to finish fights against slightly superior foes unharmed to grind up strength.

Game: Spells +1/-1

I knew I didn't have time for a lot of magic, and I never feel like I'm finished with magic systems anyway. So here I just picked 4 types: AOE damage, AOE control, escape, and heal; or as the game knows them, Fireball, Sleep, Invisible, and Heal. Then rather than have MP and worry about regeneration, I just give you "base" spells in each based on class, and you can pick up scrolls to add new points to current spell total. When you heal with mana potions or going thru a portal, you get back your base spells.

Last three were trivial: Sleep just searches a radius and has a die(100) > strength chance to give humanoid or animal targets a sleep condition for 2d4 turns; if they're sleeping, they skip the turn. Invis just sets an invis condition for 2d4 turns; mobs ignore you if you have that condition. Couple places like melee and taking damage I manually clear the Invis and Sleep conditions. Heal just heals 50% of base strength, woo.

Even with just 4, doing Fireball turned out to be quite challenging (the Application Structure problem); how do I show it go across the board, maybe have a turn or two delay, then explode? Well, it does it by moving 4 steps every turn, and only having the fake animation for a tracer of where it's been.

Game: Permadeath +0

Permadeath happened more by lack of save state than any intention. I much prefer to have save slots, and then you can choose to save your game and reload last or earlier, or you can play hardcore and never reload. It puts the moral burden of choosing permadeath on the player, not the developer.

But JS localStorage doesn't really have room to stash a huge amount of data. In Reaper's Crypt I had a very aggressive compression for the map (which looks like a giant grid of tiles but it's really about 64 rooms per level), and it's still problematic, sometimes maps just can't be saved.

I could save the character as of last portal you entered, and regenerate maps. But that encourages "stair-scumming", which I do have a problem with. So instead this is very arcade-like, you just play until you die, then insert another quarter.

I do plan to add a scoreboard, both local and maybe server-based for a copy hosted on mysticdungeon.club.

Personal: Shipping is Awesome +1

Actually finishing something and making it public without a decade-long process is amazing. It's not perfect, and I know nothing is perfect, I should just ship things, but I can't normally do that. Having a hard deadline and meeting it was the best feeling.

Personal: Drone-Slack Balance -1

I was desperately exhausted afterwards. Bone tired all day Sunday, and I'm still feeling it on Monday. 7 days in a row, even with a couple shorter days, is about 3 or 4 days too many.

I'm nocturnal. I like to wake up ideally just before midnight (but sometimes backslide to evening if Real Life interferes), eat and coffee, then work until dawn, walk the dog at sunrise, maybe get my own walk in (tiny dog cannot keep up for a mile+), then finish up and goof off until early afternoon when I can sleep. The schedule weirds out some daywalkers, but it's quieter and more compatible with "morning people" (ugh) than waking in afternoon and sleeping at dawn, which I did for decades.

But normally that work is 3 days of code, 1-2 days of writing or art, 2-3 days of just playing videogames or going Outside, doing Real Life AFK stuff.

Drones who can work all the time frighten me, they're basically Terminators. People who Slack all the time frighten me, they're a waste of precious oxygen & water, and I may foolishly try to rely on these people and get nothing. You need to be in the middle area.

Project Status

Made a lot of progress on Perilar Dark Weaver map generation. Hopefully this week I'll get ruins finished.

Spent a little too much time on the new Mystic Dungeon, the TTMS-76 virtual retro-console started on tilde.town but is now replacing the BBS. It now has scoreboards for the games! I still need to finish Heist, which turned out to be bigger than I first thought. In a bit I'll get yet another damned login system done, and from there a forum. I wonder if anyone else would be interested in making games for it? I've got a trivially easy framework, so if you know any Javascript at all it's fun to work with. All BSD licensed.

Updated StupidComments.css to block some more inline "affiliate" blocks and Youtube spam segments.

I started making a console Pomodoro timer, and it works, but needs persistence and a teeny bit of task management before I can release it. Very soon.

RPG-wise, I wrote a bit more of my "survival D&D" game Delvers in Darkness (aka Dungeon Hell), which is looking to come in well under 16 pages for a full Holmes-type dungeon game; maybe 32 if I write more on the setting, which since I complain about that in everyone else's games, I should. Haven't looked at my light game in a bit, and don't know when I'll get back to that.

Tower of Babble

Programmers almost compulsively make new languages; within just a few years of there being computers, multiple competing languages appeared:

It proliferated from there into millions; probably half of all programmers with 10+ years of experience have written one or more.

I've written several, as scripting systems or toys. I really liked my Minimal script in Hephaestus 1.0, which was like BASIC+LISP, but implemented as it was in Java the performance was shitty and I had better options to replace it. My XML game schemas in GameScroll and Aiee! were half programmer humor, but very usable if you had a good XML editor. Multiple apps have shipped with my tiny lisp interpreter Aspic, despite the fruit company's ban on such things at the time. A Brainfuck/FORTH-like Stream, working-but-incomplete tbasic, and a couple PILOT variants (I think PILOT is hilariously on the border of "almost useful").

Almost every new language is invented as marketing bullshit based on a few Ur-languages:

  • C++: Swift
  • Java: Javascript (sorta), C#, Go
  • Awk: Perl, Python, PHP, Julia
  • C: Rust
  • Smalltalk: Objective-C
  • Prolog: Erlang, Elixir
  • ALGOL: C, Pascal, PL/1, Simula, Smalltalk, Java
  • LISP: Scheme, ML, Haskell, Clojure, Racket
  • BASIC: None, other than more dialects of BASIC.
  • FORTRAN: None in decades, but is the direct ancestor of ALGOL & BASIC.
  • COBOL: None in decades.

A few of these improve on their ancestors in some useful way, often performance is better, but most do nothing new; it's plausible that ALGOL 68 is a better language than any of its descendants, it just has mediocre compiler support these days.

Certainly I've made it clear I think Swift is a major regression, less capable, stable, fast, or even readable than C++, a feat I would've called impossible except as a practical joke a decade ago. When Marzipan comes out, I'll be able to rebuild all my 15 years of Objective-C code and it'll work on 2 platforms. The Swift 1.0 app I wrote and painfully ported to 2.0 is dead as a doornail, and current Swift apps will be uncompilable in 1-2 years; and be lost when Apple abandons Swift.

When I want to move my Scheme code to a new version or any other Scheme, it's pretty simple, I made only a handful of changes other than library importing from MIT Scheme to Chez to Chicken 4 to Chicken 5. When I tested it in Racket (which I won't be using) I had to make a handful of aliases. Probably even CLISP (which is the Swift of LISPs, except it fossilized in 1994) would be 20 or 30 aliases; their broken do iterator would be hard but the rest is just naming.

Javascript is a pernicious Herpes-virus-like infection of browsers and desktops, and nothing can ever kill it, so where it fits the problem, there's no reason not to use it. But there's a lot it doesn't do well.

I was leery of using FreePascal because it has a single implementation (technically Delphi still exists, but it's $X,000 per seat on Windows) and minimal libraries, and in fact when it broke on OS X Mojave, I was disappointed but I-told-you-so.

I'm not saying we should quit making new Brainfuck and LOLCODE things, I don't think it's possible for programmers to stop without radical brain surgery. But when you're evaluating a language for a real-world problem, try moving backwards until you find the oldest and most stable thing that works and will continue to work, not piling more crap into a rickety new framework.

The Biblical reference in the title amuses me, because we know now that it requires no malevolent genocidal war deity scared of us invading Heaven to magically confuse our languages and make us work at cross purposes; anyone who can write and think splinters their thought into a unique language and then argues about it.

Bookmarklets

I just fixed a bug and re-uploaded these. They're little scripts that sit in a bookmark, like on your favorites bar, and do something useful to the web page. Monochrome Dark & Light change the page style; View Source puts source and plain text in boxes you can easily view and copy-paste from.

Learn2JS Updates

Added to my Learn2JS project, and it's fairly usable now for rapid development, I can move over the application logic of little tools and they just show up in the catalog and work. Still no live editor, you have to drop a script in lib or a user dir, but it's getting closer to instant-on coding!

Try it out, then look at the scripts, alien is just block sprites but it's a decently hard shooter (there's some oddness about hit detection, and it needs upgrade drops to be a real game). maze is the usual maze generator; drawing text right now because I haven't hooked up the sprite graphics. Both are about as close to minimal code needed for the task as you can get.

The Mother of All Demos

December 9, 1968, Douglas Engelbart's presentation of NLS and teleconferencing:

  • Youtube: This is at 360p, most other uploads are at 240p fuzzy mud, I'd love to have a good HD one where I can read the text. Alas.
  • TheDemo@50

"If in your office, you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day, and was instantly responsible—responsive—to every action you had, how much value would you derive from that?"

Of course, in reality what we mostly do with that is look at social media, hardly any better than watching TV. But we could do more.

It's been years since I've watched this, and some things jump out at me as I rewatch:

The keyboard beep is infuriating, it's what I consider an error sound. And Doug's fumbling a few times, which suggests the keybindings aren't visible, well-organized, or practiced yet. We see later that they're just code mapped to keys in a resource list.

The NLS word demo is somewhat like a modern programmer's editor with code folding; but notably I don't ever use folding, it's slow (even on 1 million times faster machines!) and error-prone, sucking up far more text than expected. It's also a lot like outliners like OmniOutliner; but while I do sometimes use OO to organize thoughts, I would never keep permanent data in it, because I can't get it into anything else I use. Dumb text is still easier and more reliable; I put my lists in Markdown lists:

- Produce
    + Banana
        * Skinless

Maybe the answer is we should have better tools and APIs for managing outlines? Right now I can manage dumb text from the shell, or any scripting language, or with a variety of GUI tools. OmniOutliner's "file format" is a bundle folder with some preview images and a hideous XML file with lines like:

    <item id="kILRUkulXwk" expanded="yes">
      <values>
        <text>
          <p>
            <run>
              <lit>Stuff</lit>
            </run>
          </p>
        </text>
      </values>
      <children>

Nothing sane can read that; even if I use an xml-tree library, it's still item.values[0].text.p.run.lit to get a single value out!

If I export it to OPML, it loses all formatting and everything else nice, but I get a more acceptable:

    <outline text="Stuff">

Back to the demo.

The drawing/map editor's interesting. This is pretty much what Hypercard was about, and why it's so frustrating that nobody can make a good modern Hypercard.

Basically every document seems to be a single page, fixed on screen. If a list gets too long, what happens? It doesn't scroll, just fully page forward/back.

Changing the view parameters is basically CSS; CSS for the editor! Which is what makes Atom so powerful, but it's not easy to switch between them, probably have to make your own theme plugins, or just a script to alter the config file and then reload the editor view.

Inline links to other documents in your editor, is interesting. Obviously we can write HTML links, but they have to be rendered out and no editor can figure out where a reference goes and let you click on it. Actually, this does work in Vim's help system, but nowhere else.

The mouse changed three ways since then: The tail moved to the top, the wheels became a ball which drives two roller-potentiometers inside, and then was replaced with a laser watching movement under a window. Don't look into the butthole of your mouse with remaining eye. But the basic principle of relative movement of a device moving the pointer, rather than a direct touch like Don Sutherland's Sketch light pen, or modern touch screens, or a Bluetooth stylus, remains unchanged and still the fastest way to point at a thing on a screen. Oh, and the pointer was called a "bug" and pointed straight up, Xerox copied this directly in their Star project, while everyone since Apple has used an angled arrow pointer.

The chording keyboard never took off, and I've used a few, and see why: It's incredibly hand-cramping. While a two-handed keyboard is awkward with a mouse, you have room to spread your fingers out, and only half the load of typing is borne by each hand. On a chord, each finger is doing heavy work every character.

The remote screen/teleconferencing setup is hilarious: a CRT being watched by a TV camera, which runs to a microwave transmitter; they couldn't send it over phone lines, acoustic coupler modems were only 300 baud (bits per second, roughly) at the time.

As with Skype today, every chat starts with "I can't hear you, can you hear me? Fucking (voice chat system)." Later, audio drops out, and all Doug can do is wave his mouse at the other presenter. I've joked before that the most implausible thing in Star Trek isn't FTL, even though that's physically impossible; it's not aliens indistinguishable from humans with pointy ears, half black/white makeup, or bumpy foreheads; it's that you meet an alien starship and can instantly set up two-way video conferencing.

They seem to have a mess of languages; MOL (Machine Oriented Language) is a macro assembler in modern terms. All the languages have to be adapted to NLS, they couldn't just use LISP or FORTRAN. Since changes are recorded by userid, they had git blame!

Split screen! That's a thing I love, and few editors do. You can drag a bar down from the top in BBEdit, and Atom has "Split up/down/left/right" for panes, but then you have to re-open the document in each and it's a pain.

Messaging is a public board (or rather, an outline with each statement as a message), with for addressing, like @USERNAME in the Twitters and such. Like those, there's too much data to process for live updating, everything runs as a batch job that can crash the database. War Computing never changes.

Cold & hot retrieval are just file search; on the Mac we have Spotlight, and can search by keywords or filename. Though I have some problems with the cmd-space search these days, and mostly open Finder and search from there to get a list of files matching various requirements, or sometimes use mdfind whatever|less from shell, then winnow down "whatever" until I have only a few results. On Windows or Linux, you're fucked; get used to very long slow full-text searches.


What NLS Did, and How We Can Do That

  1. Mouse, Keyboard, bitmapped displays: We have that.
  2. Teleconferencing: Still sucks.
  3. System-Wide Search: Mac users have that, everyone else is boned.
    • It's faster on Linux or Windows to search Google for another copy of existing data than to search the local machine.
  4. Outlining to enter hierarchical data: Nope.
    • All data goes into outlines contained in files.
    • Code as data: Some data is program instructions, in a variety of languages, which can operate on outlines.
    • To enter this outline, I had to keep adjusting my numbers, because I'm writing it in markdown text.

As mentioned above, OmniOutliner is logically very similar, but it's a silo, a trap for your data. The pro version (WHY not every version?!) lets you use Omni Automation, which is basically AppleScript using JavaScript syntax; the problem is waiting for an app to launch, then figuring out where your data is hidden inside some giant structure like app.documents[0].canvases[0].graphics[2] (example from omni docs ), just so you can extract it for your script.

Brent Simmons is working on Rainier/Ballard, which is a reimagining of Dave Winer's Frontier. I think building a new siloed language and system doesn't solve the real problem, but maybe it'll get taken up by others.

I have for some time been toying with enhancing my Learn2JS shell into an Electron application that would let you write, load, save, and run scripts in a common framework, without any of the boilerplate it needs now. A pure JS shell is just too limited around file and network access, and node by itself is too low-level to get any useful work done. I'm not sure how that works with everything else in your system. While browser localStorage of 2MB or so is sufficient for many purposes, you really want to save local files. While this doesn't force data into outlines, it makes code-as-data easy, and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) encourages storing everything as big trees of simple objects, which your functions operate on.

(I'm having fun with Scheme as a logic puzzle; but it's not anything I'd inflict on a "normal" person trying to work on data that matters).

If you want to talk about doing more with this, reach me @mdhughes@appdot.net on Fediverse.

ESLint Security Incident

Happily, the version my installed eslint contains is later:

% npm info eslint|grep scope
eslint-scope: ^4.0.0

Interesting attack: Collect one bad password, use that to get someone's npm credentials, push a virus that uploads more peoples' npm credentials. Soon they could have had every package infected. Only being watchful prevented catastrophe.

Repeating my Password lesson: Use strong passwords. Do not ever reuse passwords.