[slight spoilers for Transistor and Bastion]

Transistor

Change is the status quo.

Some people fight against that change, and some people embrace it. One side calls themselves a revolution and the other calls themselves tradition, but when we have a tradition of revolution traced back through millenia the difference becomes less clear. We each have our frame of reference, and it’s a matter of opinion as to whether I am staying still while you move around me or whether I move while you stand like statues.

The world is spinning so fast, but we call it solid ground.

Cloudbank, the city which Transistor takes place in, takes this current of change and literalizes it, makes it tangible. In Cloudbank, the buildings change shape every day, the sky changes color and the weather rains or shines based on the whims of the population. It’s permanently impermanent, and though this makes most of the population happy, some are discontent.

“What if we got everything right, one day, and then had to change it afterwards?”

“What if our best days are behind us, discarded for grass that seemed greener?”

“Why must I work so hard to create something, only for it to be forgotten?”

A quest for a world where things stay the same is a quest for immortality. And, like all such Faustian bargains, Something Goes Wrong. Any process that can create can also destroy. Bereft of a shape of things to create, a mad process will create things with no shape. Just like life, destruction is merely the rearrangement of components – whether a personality gets disintegrated into a sea of random data or a body gets disintegrated into a pile of charred bones, everything is still there – just in a format useless to us, beyond our understanding.

This is why change is terrifying. Each rearrangement is the death of the world we thought we understood. Even new information about that world, with no new change associated with it, is threatening in the same way, since it invalidates our understanding and causes the death of our worldview.

It’s not clear what the nature of Cloudbank is. Is it all just a simulated world, populated by artificial intelligences? Do the personalities within the Transistor live inside a simulated world within a simulated world? Does this story, like Bastion’s, hint at an endlessly recursive chain of causality?

Right now, sitting in a chair in our ‘real’ world, it feels like everything is changing, because everything is. It feels like the world’s ending, because it is, one way or another, the world of today each day giving way to the world of tomorrow, replaced by an imposter, an unfamiliar and weird world that doesn’t fit quite as well as the one we remembered. And we remember so many worlds! Our nostalgia crafts for us so many impossible utopias, instants from our past polished perfect by time’s waters. So many of us get trapped into searching for these past perfect utopias without ever realizing they’re mirages. So many people seek to recreate a memory, without realizing that those memories are flat, 2d images unable to accommodate a 3d person, or 3d models unable to capture the element of time, leaving the heart frozen, the next beat eternally delayed.

It feels like the end times. It’s always the end times.

We are pulled into the future; we are pulled into the past. No matter which current you fight against, you will achieve little. The world will change, and we cannot keep that from happening, but only do our best to steer it towards a change we can live with. Or past will constrain and haunt us, and we will never escape that, but we might yet be able to learn from it.

The one constant, the thing that doesn’t change, whether in Cloudbank or in our world or in other worlds to come, is that the world is shaped by the people who live in it. Whether they do it intentionally or not, humans create an environment for humans, and we live as much inside each others’ personalities, manifested into buildings and words and tv shows and music, as we do in our own bodies. That’s why everything will always change. It needs to. Maybe we could make a utopia, but I don’t think such worlds are made one-size-fits all, and sooner or later we’d outgrow it, or come to realize, as we have so many times, that our utopia was built on the distopian nightmares of others.

All we can do is live in the change, and change ourselves as needed to fit into it: Receptors, transmitters, resistors and transistors, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

 

[next week: Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons]

I completely forgot to write a devblog yesterday. Changing up my schedule a bit is completely throwing off my sense of what to do when.

So what have I been up to?

I got all of the game’s menus except for a possible main menu roughed in, at which point I realized that it would be kind of tricky to get everything in place unless I started adding some graphics. So I went ahead and I spent a few days rendering out all of the chess pieces for the game:

PiecesDisplay

I roughed in some (bad) shadows there and I’d really like to get something similar in the game itself — I don’t know if there’s a way to achieve that without just brute-forcing them in by making them separate graphical assets. Reflections would be easier, since all I’d have to do is flip the piece over and render it underneath, so I’ll play around with that and see if it works at some point.

Having done that, I set it up so the pieces should render properly, and also made it so the paths pieces take in movement should also be rendered on the board. There’s a few bits of code that aren’t fully functional yet so I haven’t been able to test any of this, but that’s where it’s at.

Next: Finishing up the menus and adding any special menu graphics that are needed

variety

I’ve been having a hard time thinking of things to write about. This is probably largely because my heart just isn’t in it as much any more. For a couple of years this blog was the anchor of my week, and now it’s a thing I do on Wednesdays. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

So it’s time to try some different things. Maybe my lazy hesitations are just a funk, one I’ll get past as certain chaotic elements come resolved and as the weather changes and as I find new ways to cope with the stupidities of existence. Maybe I’ve just used up the ideas I had ready to go on writing about games, and then used up my enthusiasm for coming up with new ideas, and now I’m just staring at a monitor.

Hey, it’s just part of the creative process, okay?

For a few weeks, I experimented with an idea where I pulled a piece of paper at random out of a jar with the name of a game or book or tv show to try out from a jar, then wrote about it at the end of the week. I think that was actually a pretty good idea – even if I ended up getting too busy and stressed to stick with it. While the jar was a fun accessory, though, I think it was actually quite extraneous. I’ve decided to revive the idea, sans jar: Instead, I’m just going to pick a thing at the beginning of each week to play through, or read through, or watch through, and then next week I’ll try to write some interesting words about it.

Here’s the thing: I need to care. No matter what the content of this blog is going to be, I need to be able to get to a place where I care about what I’m writing, which is sometimes a non-trivial challenge. Once I care enough to do it, the writing frequently takes care of itself – I mean, I still have to write it and it’s still difficult and it still hurts, but it’s a lot easier to not mind that it hurts when you are actually invested in the result. I don’t know exactly why I’ve been having so much trouble caring, but it’s been happening for a while. Hopefully, this little bit of structure will help me move past the apathy, and begin to occupy my writing again. There’s still so many interesting things to discuss, to understand, to explore, if I can only get to a place where I find them interesting again.

Yeah, it’s an excuse to spend all my time playing video games. I actually kind of need the excuse, because otherwise I’ll spend all my time doing even less productive things, watching silly internet videos and playing the same couple well-worn multiplayer games day after day.. Experiencing new art, collecting inspirations, is an investment in my creative future. I guess a lot of people would recommend actual experiences instead of just second-hand regurgitations, but it’s hot and expensive out there so eh, fuck it. Life will have to fit in around the cracks.

This should be fun. Then again, I think I said that last time, and it got real stressful real fast. Hopefully this time it will be just stressful enough.

First up: Transistor.

I’ve been spending a lot of the last week trying to figure out if I really want to be working on this game and, if so, how I want to go about working on it. I’m trying to sort out whether my yearning to go back to EverEnding is because of a deep-rooted passion for that project or because I needed something distant to strive for. What if EverEnding is taking so long because I’m scared of having to confront it being done sooner? What if my perfectionism is just a way to suspend a work in progress indefinitely, keep it forever young and unrealized, so that I have a shape of future to look forward to?

Fortunately, these aren’t questions that demand immediate answers, though it’s important that I be thinking about them. Also fortunately, working on this project has been a great opportunity to quickly go through the EverEnding code base and pull out anything that might be useful in the way of general purpose code, all of which I put in a shared classpath directory for use in these and any future projects I may need them in. I’m not sure if anyone might find this code useful, since there are a number of very nice frameworks for a lot of this stuff out there, but I may try to tidy some of these up and release them sometime. Regardless, I feel like any time I’m working on code shared between the projects I’m getting twice the bang for my buck. There’s certainly something to be said for that.

Anyway, as to the specific status of the project, I have pretty much all the gameplay stuff complete, and I just need to handle transitions between levels and stuff like that now. Though I’d originally planned on designing the levels immediately after getting the gameplay working (and had planned on getting started on that a week earlier as well, heh), I think I’m actually going to get the visuals in place next, because honestly playing the game with placeholder graphics for the pieces would either be confusing, if they’re really basic, or a lot of redundant work if they’re not. It shouldn’t be too hard to get a decent looking set of pieces and some alright menu graphics, so I should just get that done so I know what I’m dealing with.

It feels right now like there’s a lot of change in the air. I may end up changing the way I approach, well, a lot of things… but I still think this game is worth making, so I’ll keep pressing forward on it, even if not quite at the pace I’d originally intended. I think, though, that I’m probably going to also pick EverEnding back up before this is finishes, instead of trying to do this one all at once and then get back to it – maybe I’ll work on them alternating days or something, dunno. As I said, still figuring things out.

It’s starting to feel like an adventure again.

Cage

In this stupid house, the only place I can afford to live at the moment, with inconsiderates who leave messes and fail to maintain the property – in a web of decisions going back decades, schools and friends and identities which start to misfit the life I gravitate towards – in a world made inhospitable by greed and inhumanity and simplistic ideals of what a person is, what an animal is, what a dollar is, what a religion is. I feel trapped, sometimes. Right now.

It comes in waves. Sometimes I can focus entirely on my life, on constructing my own wings of wax or a tunnel through a wall, and sometimes the entire crass world weighs heavily and makes my arms feel like they are made of stone, giant paperweights cluttering my desk, physical obstacles to making progress.

The ideal is that emotions are the fuel of art, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Emotions are fuel the way that plankton is oil. There are millennia of grinding and fermenting in that process. Until then, they’re just creepy-crawleys, a film of maliciously greedy sub-selfs that you have to brush off of your teeth every night lest be chewed hollow. Until the eon has passed within you, through you, they will consume the eggs of your art as sustenance until you go extinct.

Then why am I writing this? By this theory, I should either be mentally calm at the moment or so emotionally overwrought that writing becomes impossible. I am neither. What this is is pumping as quickly as possible, trying to keep the ship even. The emotions are barely processed, still only somewhat-unraw sewage, but I’m getting it out as quickly as I can, because the pressure and the poison are starting to build, upon each other and within my mind, and I don’t appreciate the pressure. I don’t like being pushed around.

It’s not a disaster, but it still sucks.

I used to write a blog about video games. I can’t tell if I still do any more. What’s relevant about game design, what’s artistic and meaningful about the medium, is shifting. This is part of the process of making a game, or it is if I ever finish a game which I don’t know if I can because things keep happening and my focus can never stay in one place because of the aforementioned creepy-crawleys.

Okay. I’m angry. I’m sad and I’m frustrated. I’m scared and worried and tired and irritable. Those are most of the things I have been feeling. Occasionally I’m elated or excited about a possibility or proud of an accomplishment, but the positive reinforcement has been scarce on the ground.

I’m just vomiting this onto the page. Sometimes it’s not art, it’s just therapy, and if you get anything artistic from it it’s yours, it’s a found object, it’s R. Mutt’s Fountain, special because you found it among the muck, not special because of any intent that I, the creator, imbued upon it. Sometimes that’s what it’s going to be. Sometimes I’m just going to be the ink that blots, and you can see whatever pornography or murder or flowers you wish within the noise I generate. Maybe that’s all art ever is, all art is found art, orphaned of intent, the author is dead, long live the curator.

Maybe I can stop worrying about making something amazing. Maybe I can just start worrying about making something, and hope that there are people who exist in the position to find it amazing, because nothing I can do will ever be up to the standards I set for myself. Even if I could convince myself I was the best ever, at anything, I would be utterly unsatisfied with that in the face of the possibility of being better.

I don’t think I can stop worrying about that. But maybe, once in a while, I can at least remind myself that that’s a way I could hypothetically think.

Maybe that will be enough.

I don’t have a header for this project. I should probably come up with one sometime here, but that’s a low priority in the greater scheme of things.

I’m not feeling too great today, so here’s where the project’s at:

  • Basic board rendering all works
  • Piece logic and player movement is all in place and, as far as I can tell testing so far, works properly
  • Highlighting tiles based on whether the player can move there or not and other factors
  • Click-based player movement
  • Undoing of moves and resetting the board to initial state

Doing the programming here is a bit more time consuming than I had originally thought. There’s still a few tasks left before I can move on entirely to content creation:

  • Menu system (might be able to use EverEnding code here)
  • Movement confirmation (Probably not necessary on PC, but may be so on tablets and should easy enough to implement)
  • Text/Dialogue display (for tutorials and incidental messages) and supporting data system
  • Level flow (making one level load into the next)

Also, a nice-to-have would be a level editor. I think I have a pretty good idea of how to make a quick and dirty low-impact one, so this shouldn’t be too big an impact.

So, as things stand — I’m a bit behind schedule, but not too bad. It feels really weird to be working on something besides EverEnding, and I keep having crises of confidence, being uncertain if this will live up to my standards of quality. I have to remember, day by day, that nothing is ever really perfect, and sometimes those imperfects are what make something special. Just keep moving forward, and see what this thing I am making ends up becoming.

EveHeader

This is a weird one.

Well, first let’s talk about where I’m at with the detail editor. The behavior editor is getting close to finished now: It’s kind of ugly, but it doesn’t have to look nice, and all of the components are in place and mostly working. Here’s what it looks like right now:

EveDetailEditor07

Having said that, I now have to make a kind of weird announcement: I’ll be putting development on hiatus for a month.

Here’s the situation: I decided to participate in Ludum Dare again, partially because I wanted a distraction from all of the insane shit that’s been going on. However, when the date rolled around, though I came up with an idea I liked, an idea I was pretty sure I could execute adequately within the deadline, I just didn’t care that much. I didn’t feel like trying to make something in 48 hours, I didn’t feel like I needed or wanted to prove I could work fast or anything like that.

I wanted to either make a good game, ideally a great game – or to just keep on working on Everending.

So here’s the question I’ve been wrestling with today: Would I rather take some time off, build this simpler game and get it out there, possibly raise a little bit of money? Or would I prefer to keep hammering my head against Everending, pushing it by fractions of inches closer to completion each day?

It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, and the only reason I was able to reconcile myself to it was by deciding that I would stick fairly closely to a production schedule. I do believe that it will be good for me, emotionally, professionally, and financially, to have a finished and fun game project of my own design out and about. So here’s the plan:

Week 1: Programming. I’ve got a lot of the basic functional programming done already for LD, but I want to spend some extra time on graphics programming making sure everything looks nice before I move forward. I also need to use this time to create some decent menus, a save/load system, and some simple audio code. I honestly don’t think this will take a week, since I intend to get most of the hard stuff done tomorrow, but that’s how I’m blocking things out. Any spare time left over from this phase will be used on…

Week 2 & 3: Content. This is going to be a puzzle game, and puzzle games aren’t much fun without puzzles to solve, so this will be the production period for the puzzles. I’ll start off aiming for 10 or so a day while I do the simple tutorial puzzles, and slow down to 2 or so at the end when the puzzles have to be tight and intricate and challenging. I also will need to write story and tutorial text during this phase.

Week 4: Polish and Testing. I’ll send the game out to friends and family for testing while I create music and final art to replace whatever programmer art I use.

So all-told it will take a little bit less than a month, if I can hit these milestones.

Wish me luck. I’ll be replacing the EverEnding weekly devblog for the duration of this project with a similar devblog for the project itself. Title and details will follow next week, since it will obviously  be difficult to talk about what I’m doing without them.

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