Prattle for Wesnoth
A little ramble on a old favourite topic
I felt a little trepidation about talking about Wesnoth on the blog again, because I feel like I’m always going on about it. But it turns out that this might be an example of me losing my marbles, because a scoot through my archives seems to suggest that I haven’t even mentioned it in passing since 2016, which is well past the statute of limitations for blog topics, so here we go.
I’ve been playing Battle for Wesnoth, the free open-source high fantasy battle strategy game, on and off since I first encountered it in around 2008 and it was up to version 1.4. By that time, I was a kid just out of high-school and it was already five years old and the original creators were beginning to step away to work on other things. But thanks to the joy of FOSS software, others stepped into the gap and almost 15 years later we’re up to version 1.16 and development is still continuing, albeit at a dramatically slower rate than back in those halcyon days.
It seems like everyone who was on the internet back in those days had played Wesnoth, and while most of them didn’t enjoy the extreme amounts of chance management and fiddly nonsense that playing it entails, for me it’s always sat just about in the sweet spot just between a perfect strategy game where only skill matters, and a random roll of the dice where everything is up to chance. It’s basically the mahjong of strategy games, so it’s no surprise that it’s right up my alley. I enjoy the theme, I enjoy the mechanics, and I particularly enjoy how customisable it is, it always felt like there was a new user content (UMC) faction to play as or campaign to try out to keep the whole thing fresh.
So in 2011 , when I returned from a hiatus to a new version of the game and found that one of my favourite pieces of UMC hadn’t been ported yet because its original creators had stepped away, I learned to muddle my way through coding in the very simple Wesnoth Markup Language, updated the Imperial Era and its constituent campaigns, and have been trying to keep my head above water to keep them maintained and functional ever since.
There are creators out there doing wonderful things with the Wesnoth engine, pushing it further than it was ever intended to go in all sorts of directions, there are creators pumping out campaign after campaign of brain bending, novel stuff. I am decidedly not those guys. I work on it in fits and spurts for a few weeks every year when the mood takes me, and though I’ve written thousands of lines of code and dialogue, it takes quite a lot of effort just to keep things ticking over, and as such my campaigns still look an awful lot like they did a decade ago. They’ve improved here and there, of course, and they crash a lot less often than they once did, but I’ve been careful only to patch and to iterate, never to build something new that I thought was contrary to the original design, so I hope that if the original creators ever re-download the campaigns they’d be pleased to find a more complete version of something that they recognise as still fundamentally the same thing.
Just at the moment, though, we’re a little way away from the point where I can honestly say that I’m doing a good job at that self-appointed task. The multiplayer era is functional, yes, but some of the factions are still much stronger than others and my long-planned balancing project has been stalled out for ages. Two of the campaigns are up and working for the current version, but that still leaves three unplayable at this point, one because I’ve been theoretically working on an improved version for more than eight years (don’t ask), one because the balance changes to the Wesnoth AI have made it much harder and I’ve been unable to compensate without a wholesale redesign, and one that is just really long and that I’ve never liked very much, so I haven’t been able to summon the willpower to sift through it to fix it up.
Now I know that all sounds pretty dire, but it’s not all bad news. I’ve moved the project to a github repository so that it’s not just sitting on my computer and so that other contributors can help with the work, and one even has! We’ve had people translate the campaigns into Japanese and Chinese, and another express an interest in doing the same into Russian. And every now and then someone pops up on the forums (remember forums? I miss forums) submitting a bug report, or with a new piece of art of me to include. People are still playing, and people are still enjoying it enough to care. Things might be glacial, but they are moving, and when you’ve been staring at something for so long you absolutely notice (and cherish) the small changes.
And I feel this little tickle at the back of my brain that says that maybe the mood is creeping up on me once again…