Diecast #241: Open Source Games, Rimworld, Universe Sandbox

By Shamus Posted Monday Jan 21, 2019

Filed under: Diecast 53 comments

As always, if you’ve got questions for the show, the email is in the header image of this post. If you’ve got multiple questions, don’t be afraid to send multiple emails. One short email with a clear question has a better chance of being used than a long email of several unrelated questions.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:
00:00 The terrible imagined obligation of Steam trading cards.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who suffers from this.

15:01 Quake II Raytraced

I wrote about this yesterday.

Link (YouTube)

22:47 Releasing the source for commercial games.

The point of the exercise is to come up with an argument to persuade the typical suit to release the source code for games once they’re done selling. I did my best, but I’m curious what other people can come up with.

I acknowledge that the exercise is essentially impossible. It’s also probably pointless. Modern games are often linked to complex middleware and tool chains that the bedroom programmers won’t have access to. Essentially, even if you did devise a magical argument to convince an executive to give something away for free, the result would be the release of an enormous code base that nobody can compile.

Still, those old source releases yielded useful and educational things. I understand why the practice ended, but I’m sorry it’s over.

34:10 Rimworld

Paul beat the game. Sort of. It was a mechanical victory, not a moral one.

47:18 Universe Sandbox 2

Here is the video that convinced me to buy the game:

Link (YouTube)

Fly safe!


From The Archives:

53 thoughts on “Diecast #241: Open Source Games, Rimworld, Universe Sandbox

  1. Joe says:

    At least some modern games are still moddable. It’s a bit of a step backwards, but it’s better than nothing.

    As for Universe Sandbox, I played something that may have been either a prototype or early attempt at the same idea. IIRC from over 20 years ago, it was a program that let you create stellar objects of certain sizes and masses, and give some of them an orbit. I could only just get one object into a stable orbit around another. Adding another object would mess the whole thing up, either slingshot one orbiter away or pull everything into the more massive object. Still, it was fun.

    Between that and Sim Earth, I really appreciate the complexity of the universe. I have no great revelation as to how it came to be or what it’s all for, but it’s deeply impressive on its own merits.

    1. default_ex says:

      I believe you are referring to Celestia. It could simulate a mind boggling amount of celestial objects. I once waste an entire month tuning a system with 7 planets, 60 moons and 3 suns to get it to the point where it would remain stable for billions of years. I remember using an approach of adding asteroids in both small and large orbits just to give tiny, seemingly insignificant gravitational nudges to allow the system to remain stable for maybe a few days longer and occasionally planning for decaying orbits of moons and asteroids to give larger nudges to buy a couple hundred more years for a given object. It was a brain twisting puzzle that was like chipping away at mount everest with a 1/4″ chisel.

      1. Joe says:

        Yes, possibly. That or something similar. But an early and crude version, on a Mac. Given that Celestia is free, I may try it again.

  2. Lino says:

    The way I keep myself from the hassle Shamus described with Steam Cards is I always say to myself “Maybe they’ll go up in price.” I know they usually don’t, but it’s better than hassling with new apps and accounts for $1-2 (which as far as I remember is how much my cards are worth).

    By the way, I love the outro track, but I can’t find it on Shamus’ SoundCloud. Does anyone know how it’s called?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I interact so infrequently with Steam’s trading cards and other nonsense, that I had to spend 5 minutes figuring out where my trading cards were. I don’t even know what they do. You use groups of three, to unlock wallpapers and Steam-skins, right? Something like that?

      1. Narkis says:

        Something like that, yeah, though they are groups of 5-6 depending on the game, and they also give you XP for your Steam level.

        Don’t ask me what this does other than being a number that goes up.

        And I definitely suffer like Shamus with these stupid cards. Last year I stopped only when I hit Steam’s yearly selling cap, and it asked me for my tax information so I could be listed as a professional seller. And I’m pretty sure I made less than 10 bucks all year. Thank God hitting the cap allowed me to watch my worthless collection grow without anxiety, but now it’s the new year and the urge to sell is slowly rising.

    2. Chad Miller says:

      I don’t know the name, but it’s in the Good Robot soundtrack

    3. John says:

      I deal with trading cards by converting duplicate cards into gems which Steam tells me I can use to purchase booster packs containing more cards. I have no interest in more cards or the virtual quasi-currencies used to purchase them, but at least there are no more duplicates in my collection. Not that I look at my collection much. If it weren’t for Steam notifications about new trading cards I’d never do it at all.

      When I first got a Steam account, I didn’t understand the trading card system. (I guess I still don’t. Not really.) I had to go to the Twentysided forums to get someone to explain it to me. The only part of the explanation that I recall is that trading cards don’t matter and that, given just how few games on Steam I buy, it wasn’t worth my time to worry about it.

  3. krellen says:

    Steam’s been telling me that they’re going to hold my Trading Card listings for 15 days, but they’ve been selling in less than a day so clearly they aren’t actually holding them.

    1. Rosa says:

      IIRC, this is a change that was pushed together with Artifact’s release. Any marketable item worth under $5 now no longer trigger market hold so you can sell them immediately without resorting to mobile authenticator.

      Valve also pushed a feature to sell/buy multiple items at the same time, But as far as I can tell, this interface can only be triggered via Artifact or Badge page (which means you can sell all card which belongs to said game). So it’s still faster to sell them via browser extensions.

  4. GoStu says:

    I dislike those trading cards. They’re apparently so gosh-darn important that I’m notified every time I get one, but I have no use for the damn things; I’m not even 100% clear what they do.

    So then I try and sell them, and it’s a headache-inducing process involving 2-factor authentication to offload a five-cent card. Way too much work for so little value. So ultimately they just sit, ignored, in my “inventory” (the fuck is an inventory for a storefront? Huh?) and I keep ignoring them, but there’s still this niggling feeling that Steam has a bunch of bloated code for:

    – an “inventory” of cards
    – a system for awarding cards to players
    – a system for selling these cards from player to player
    – some other systems revolving around full “sets” of cards?

    and apparently there’s some controversies over games that exist to do nothing but create these cards; games that sell for less than the expected prices of a full set of cards or some such…

    All in all it’s a stupid feature. If I was launching a Steam competitor and someone suggested that we add that feature, that person might have to find a new job.

    1. evilmrhenry says:

      How things used to work with cards:
      You, a “developer” living in a low cost of living country, would create a game, using a pre-built engine and the asset store, budgeting a single day for development. This is not a good game; it’s not even a bad game. It is simply the minimum amount of work to create something that Steam will allow as a game. You then get it on Steam, either through Greenlight vote buying, or once things switched to Steam Direct, through just paying money.

      You now have a terrible game on Steam that nobody will buy. That’s fine, we’re not going to sell it. Instead, you generate and give away 10,000 keys to your steam account farm, which runs the game. You now have 30,000 Steam trading cards to sell. (You can also sell the game for very cheap to people who want trading cards, as well as give it away. You’ll still get a cut whenever other people sell their cards, it’s just not as big.)

      Steam mostly stopped this a while back by putting some sort of system in place where games that people don’t actually buy can’t have trading cards.

      1. GoStu says:

        The funny thing is, Valve/Steam could avoid this whole thing by not having the damn cards anyway. Ditto the “Steam Forums” – save yourself the dev time and moderation effort by simply not having the damn things.

        I feel like the card giveaways are analogous to someone taking a bunch of nickels and gluing them to the floor somewhere. Okay, sure, it’s some money – but the effort required to actually retrieve it is such a nuisance that I’m not bothering.

        1. evilmrhenry says:

          I’m actually ok with the Steam forums. For a lot of games, that’s basically the only forum available, especially for smaller or older games, and it’s in a consistent location. You can’t always count on an official forum or a subreddit existing.

          Now that I think about it, I wonder if Valve wanted an inventory/trading/market system for TF2 style in-game items, and then added the card system because it wasn’t that much more work.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            It’s also not very much work to smear feces onto one’s kitchen cupboards. Not many people do that, however…

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Nah, it’s more like you’re smearing something like chocolate onto someone else’s cupboard. Or rather, it is your cupboard, but you’ve rented it out to people so they can store stuff in it. But the tiny amount of chocolate is still there.

              Anyway, you have an auto-smearing robot that constantly applies the chocolate to all the cupboards regularly. Now most people won’t care about the chocolate – it’s not much, and it’s not their cupboard after all – but some people will pay a company to remove it and/or collect it.
              Naturally, you’ve got shares in the chocolate-removal-collection company, so every time they get hired, you earn a tiny bit of money.

              Seriously, once you’ve got the chocolate-smearing robot working properly and the agreement with the chocolate-collectors sorted out, you’re just making money for doing pretty much nothing!

        2. John says:

          The Steam forums have been useful to me when I’ve had a question about game mechanics or experienced technical issues. There’s a lot of garbage, to be sure, but that’s unfortunately typical of the internet as a whole. I don’t engage with the forums on a regular basis, but every so often I go check the Crusader Kings II forum because I like answering questions for new players. I guess what I’m saying is that while I don’t use the Steam forums very much I’d sort of miss them if they disappeared one day.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        This was very close my thoughts while listening to Shamus’s talk.

        ‘The only people who are going to bother with this nonsensical system are very boring accountants/criminals – there’s technically money to be made, but the amount of effort needed means you’d have to team up and really game the system to make it worthwhile.’

        Who/what is this system FOR?
        Is it just that Valve gets a percentage of every sale so it technically makes them hassle-free money (i.e a literal ‘tax on OCD’)?
        Is it like Greenlight, which is technically a good idea but harmed by the fact that valve can’t be bothered to really run it?

        1. Thomas says:

          It’s definitely the former. Valve’s speciality isn’t game design anymore, its creating artificial economies and then getting them to bubble whilst taking a cut of every sale.

          I used to joke about this and then Artifact was doing the media rounds, and all Gabe Newell would talk about is how Valve designed the economy. Genuinely.

          1. Thomas says:

            I dug the interview out because I find it so funny:

            “The speech wasn’t just a how-to of gameplay mechanics, nor was it focused on the day’s major surprise reveal—that Valve had hired Magic: The Gathering (MtG) creator Richard Garfield four years ago to start working on this game.

            Instead, Newell gave a high-level overview of the game, with unexpected comments about the company’s history, corporate structure, and economics. ”

            ” ‘Card packs [will let] users inject value into a shared economy that everyone has,’ Newell said. ‘The process of doing that is supposed to benefit above and beyond the fact that you end up with a bunch of cards.’ ”

            “He went on to describe the money-spending habits of MtG card players (roughly $400 a year for high-level players) and asked about how things like digital cards can have their “value” preserved. He dropped the economist term of “liquidity premia” and put it into bad-gameplay terms: the issue of a digital TCG player being stuck with “deprecated” cards.”

            “I’m surprised that paper games had much better liquidity characteristics than digital ones,” Newell said. “It’s easy to make digital exchanges, but in a lot of games, it’s easier in the paper world to buy and sell cards and to maintain value of assets you’d acquired.”

            “In a game where my assets are depreciating or I can’t exchange them, I build stuff and am stuck with my strategy,” Newell said.

            “If anything has a value of zero, any connection to other assets, it drives down all other assets to zero as well,” Newell added. “If time is free, an action is free, or cards are free, then anything with a mathematical relationship to those things becomes devalued over time. You don’t want to create a flood of free stuff.”


            With a pitch as exciting as that, I don’t understand how Artifact could have sold poorly!

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Fantastic. Sadly, I don’t have much more to say than that, as…well, I didn’t really expect anything else.

            2. Lino says:

              Huh. So, in the effort to create the perfect game economy, they actually forgot to…. you know… make an engaging game to go with it. I heard that helps when you want to make money from a game.

              And as a side note, I don’t know what they were thinking when they put a barrier of $20 to buy the game. In a market where the undisputed leader (Hearthstone) is free to play, and most of its competitors are also free to play, I just don’t know what they were hoping for.

            3. shoeboxjeddy says:

              Pro economy tip for Valve: You know what also will depreciate the value of the Artifact cards? An extinct playerbase for the game…

  5. Ninety-three says:

    I’m curious Shamus, when you don’t do any mailbags in an episode, is that because you didn’t get around to it, or because the mailbag is empty?

  6. default_ex says:

    Honestly I don’t understand how giving away the source to an old game would at all impact sales, even if you are still selling the game. The only exception to that statement would be a case of an iterative engine like Unreal. The game is not the engine, it’s the way the engine is used. Quake and Half Life were based upon the same engine. Other than a handful of similarities which they share with other games of the genre based on entirely different engines, it’s hard to argue they play the same. Quake focused on building small isolated levels that used very simple scripts to bring combat to the forefront. Half Life focused on building huge interconnected levels that used complex scripts to bring puzzle solving and story to the forefront. My first time playing Half Life I didn’t even make the connection that it was based on a modified variant of Quake’s engine, the thought never crossed my mind even though that was around the time I was getting into game engine design.

    If anything giving out the source after you have made back the cost of development or the majority of the cost bolsters the sales, especially if you restrict it as id has. It opens modding to a level that no mod API can hope to approach and having that specific restriction without restricting the usage of the assets leaves open the ability of players to distribute a modified version that loads in assets from the copy the player paid for. Giving players a reason to pay for it long after the game has lived it’s prime.

  7. GoStu says:

    Interesting perspective on releasing source code for older games. It’s kind of like Marvel having made How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way – seeding a generation of up-and-comers who all think and work the way you do. That book was published in 1978, presumably some (many?) of their current artists grew up having read that.

    Maybe it’s also analogous to selling hardware at a loss to try and get your formats out there.

  8. Steve C says:

    This question about Rimworld ships comes up a lot. The reason that trading ships don’t take people off Rimworld is because they don’t leave orbit. They aren’t interstellar traders. A ship capable of going to a different solar system (like the one you are building) takes hundreds of years to get there. It is a one way trip with no crew. That’s what the AI is for. Everyone on it is a colonist off to build civilization somewhere else. Nobody wants to bring a bunch of randos with them.

    Even if that bulk trader was willing to take passengers, would you really want to go with them? They sell slaves and human meat. I don’t think they are that trustworthy. Remember the time scale. If someone paid your ancestor 500yrs ago, would you feel obligated to honor that contract?

    BTW the interstellar ship you take/build cannot land. You can tell it does not look very sturdy. That’s why you couldn’t go back for your other colonists.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Even if the interstellar ship can’t land, we could use whatever pods the slaver ships are using, to ferry people to and from the surface. Just load some people into those, and then everyone gets away Scott free.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        While we’re at it, I would love to have a simple system map, with the ability to do planetary and inter-planetary trade with a sub-stellar vessel, or a stellar one but before leaving the system. Along with wheels, reusable vehicles don’t appear at all in Rimworld, which feels like it has to be a design choice. So, I guess I understand why this isn’t in the game, but I’d still like to see it. Maybe there’s a mod?

    2. Hector says:

      Not having played it, but how do you trade on ships that take centuries-long voyages?

      1. Echo Tango says:

        The centuries-long voyages aren’t traders; All the traders are in orbit, buying goods from one city, and selling them at another city.

        At least, that’s what Steve C says; I don’t remember actually coming across flavor-text that says that specifically. I’d assumed myself, that all the traders were making very long-term gambles, on what would be needed or valuable, at each planet they visit. Or that they’re in loops that come from factories on the edge of the stellar system, to planets in the interior, to moons at each planet, etc.

        1. Steve C says:

          It’s in the lore that the developer released. It is also why most pawns have ages like:
          Chronological age: 751
          Biological age: 37

          They’ve been in cryosleep for interstellar travel.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            Do you mean the fiction primer that’s linked in the game? That doesn’t actually say that there’s different ships used between traders (local) and inter-stellar voyagers. I know the ages are biological (chronological); That’s not in question. I just don’t have a source(s) backing up the assertion, that the traders are local ships, instead of interstellar, or unspecified ship types.

            1. Steve C says:

              Tynan Sylvester (the dev) has said it on twitter. The exact quote is “They’re interplanetary ships. Not interstellar. Interstellar is an entirely different thing from interplanetary” and can be found here.

              1. Echo Tango says:

                I feel like going to the author’s Twitter account shouldn’t be needed to enjoy the game. If he wanted it to be official, he should have updated the lore-primer that’s linked in-game, and/or moved that whole primer into the game itself instead of loading a web-page.

                1. Paul Spooner says:

                  I also take issue with the conciet that none of the ships are interstellar, considering that the glitterworld and architech stuff has to get here somehow.

                  1. Echo Tango says:

                    This is why you can never trust authorial intent – it’s just as broken as fan-fic anyways! :P

                2. Steve C says:

                  “needed to enjoy the game”? That is a bit much don’t you think? It is a minor minor point of lore.

                  I also take issue with the conciet that none of the ships are interstellar, considering that the glitterworld and architech stuff has to get here somehow.

                  Correction. None of the trading ships are interstellar. Many interstellar ships have been arriving on one way journeys to multiple worlds on the Rim of space. Many interstellar ships will continue to arrive on your Rimworld. Those carry the glitterworld and architech stuff.

                  Personally I think the entire question of “Why can’t we trust our lives to slavers for 500 years?” to be a ludicrous question in the first place. It is like getting upset that your local FedEx driver (a known serial killer) won’t personally drive you to New Zealand.

  9. RFS-81 says:

    How dare you call me out like that, Shamus? *creates Patreon account*

    About open-source commercial games, at least for DOOM, Heretic and Hexen, you still need the original assets (unless you’re playing some total-conversion mod I guess). I probably wouldn’t have bought those games two decades after their release if nobody had ported them to modern systems, so open-sourcing the game can generate some more sales in the future. And pirating the assets isn’t easier than pirating the whole game, but good luck explaining that to a guy who thinks DRM is useful.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Even if someone needs the assets for the original game, opening up your engine means that you (could) now have extra competitors to your game, that don’t have to spend money building their own engine.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        Well, you don’t need to GPL your engine. It is perfectly acceptable to say “Here’s the source code. It’s free for non-commercial use. If you want to sell something with it, here’s our price list.”

  10. Exasperation says:

    A technical correction: ray tracing actually scales better with polygon count than rasterization; rasterization takes O(n) time (where n is the triangle count of the scene), while ray tracing is O(log(n)) time. This means that for triangle counts large enough (somewhere in the many millions of triangles – the example I’ve seen is a ~350 million triangle CAD model of a Boeing 777), you can expect ray tracing to naturally be faster than rasterization. Unfortunately, that crossover point has so far remained in the realm where both ray tracing and rasterization are too slow on current hardware for gaming purposes.

  11. methermeneus says:

    So, you’re saying that the one thing Rimworld lacks is rims?

  12. DangerNorm says:

    Well, you are your own suit with regards to Good Robot, right? So, the first test for any argument to release source would be to imagine someone making it to you, about Good Robot, and if the source of Good Robot remains unreleased, then it wasn’t a good enough argument.

  13. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Note to self : If I ever want to blackmail Shamus, I can just threaten him to find his steam account, gift him my hundreds of useless cards and ruin his life.

    1. Shamus says:

      Ha! Such a plan would cost you upwards of three dollars of trading cards. Nobody could afford such an exorbitant expense.

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        I once threatened to gift Bioshock to Shamus and then I did it. Now he has Bioshock in his game list forever.


        1. eldomtom2 says:

          I believe Steam does let you permamently remove games from your account if just hiding them isn’t enough to remove the taint.

  14. kikito says:

    Hi, I just wanted to say that the rss feed still seems broken.

    Any chance you can try installing this in your worpress? https://podlove.org/podlove-podcast-publisher/ It’s what the Iddle Thumbs guys are using and their podcasts always seem to work. Thanks!

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    The reason why htere’s escrow on Steam Trading Cards is because Steam Trading cards are part of the Steam Inventory system. It is pretty rare that anyone would bother trying to steal trading cards.

    However, stealing or gambling for hundred-dollar hats or gun skins happens all the time. These items are also part of the Inventory system, so the precautions put in place to prevent people from stealing your rare pre-order hats (in my case, because I used to play TF2 a lot) or gun skins (not in my case, because I don’t play CS:GO) also happen to prevent people from stealing your virtual card collection.

  16. Pinkhair says:

    I imagine that the escrow and other frictions are to combat scams based on generating millions of cards by creating cheap ‘games,’ generating codes for them, and then making your money off of bulk card selling rather than actually selling a product.

  17. Vinyl Frost says:

    I feel late to the party, but I recently got Universe Sandbox as well! The game is great for creating galaxies and black holes and sending objects whirling into each other.

    Honestly, I find it to be a madman’s Death Star project. Then again, I’m the madman blowing up Earth in every simulation.

  18. hoder says:

    Steam’s selling interface is terrible but if you want to clear out your inventory in a hurry, check out the chrome extension “steam inventory helper” for all the features that should have been in steam to start with. I’ve found it pretty useful to select and sell a whole bunch of cards at once.
    Sure it still has to list each one individually but just set it to auto, set a price and leave it running in the background for a while.
    Still have the authentication issue to deal with but I’m not sure what can be done about that.

    ps: I have no stake in this – I’ve just found it useful to help clear out the clutter

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