EveHeader

I’ve noticed something. Whenever I end up being busier than I thought, or more tired than I thought, or time otherwise gets away from me and I don’t get as much done as I wanted to, it’s generally whatever daily task I’m having the least fun with that I end up leaving undone. And, for the past few weeks, that’s most consistently been EverEnding.

Well, I don’t think it’s the game itself that’s the problem, but the specific tasks I find myself doing. Don’t get me wrong, animation can be interesting, but it feels like I’ve already done the funnest part, finding the weight and motion, and what’s left is mostly just filling in the pixels, just paint-by-numbers. But what can I do about that? Those numbers need painting.

Oh well, that’s why it’s a good time to have side projects. I’m certainly getting a kick out of the kind of problem-solving programming I’m getting to do on this new thing – though EverEnding still certainly has some big programming problems left to solve, the process of building a new prototype is notably different from trying to slot some new specialist class into a functioning game engine, and generally a bit more rewarding – or, at least, less finicky.

So anyway here’s the upshot. EverEnding work will continue, but I’m resigned to that being slow for at least a month or two while I power through these animations as quickly as I’m able and willing. Meanwhile I keep working on this side project which I’ll talk more about when I have a working prototype, which I probably will by the next update – not least because, as I mentioned in my last post, these devblog updates are going from weekly to monthly, so the next DevBlog will be June 30th. Of course, because it’s covering more time I’ll try to make it commensurately longer and more detailed, and hopefully this means that each individual update will be more interesting to read, more full of neat things like finished animations and working programs rather than just vague summaries of time spent working on x and y and z. That’s the idea, anyway. This is desirable because, among other things, as I get closer and closer to the actual completion of the game, the dev blog will begin to become one of the prime promotional tools at my disposal, chock full of screenshots and animations and concept art and who knows what else. Well, again, that’s the idea at least.

I guess numbering-wise I’ll just start over. It’s kind of weird, but I suppose I’ll just call it EverEnding Monthly DevBlog 1, 2, 3, etc. I guess if you like you can just add the appropriate number of months, which for 181 weeks would be… like 43 months? Jeez. Okay.

More regular updates go to the Titan Seed work log. I’m going to make a sincere effort to write an update for this blog every day, and even days when I get no work done on the games, or even no work done at all, I will have updates noting that lack of work. More than anything else, the Titan Seed work log will be for me, a tool to keep me honest and productive: If anyone else happens to find it interesting or helpful, that’s purely icing as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway here’s the left-facing run animation.

EveRunLeft

 

 

Ash Lake

 

Perhaps the greatest enemy of learning is knowledge. Once we learn something, our ability to learn new – and perhaps contradictory – information is compromised. This is usually a worthwhile trade-off: It may be harder to learn new and contradicting information, but that’s fine if the information we already have is useful. When we learn misinformation, though, it makes it that much harder to approach the truth.

This is the key to deception, to illusion, to sleight-of-hand: Give them something to believe, and often as not they’ll never even get as far as asking the question that you don’t want them to find the answer to. In fact, the more outlandish the thing you’ve already made them believe, the less likely they are to make the concessions that would be necessary for them to shift their beliefs.

This process doesn’t require an intentional deception, though: We do a fine job of making mistakes on our own, of sticking to our guns long after the battle has proven Pyrrhic. Thus it is said that science advances one funeral at a time, as the old guard of the old theories die out and new unencumbered minds replace them. How can we overcome this boundary to learning? How can we hear new ideas without them being internally shouted down by the old, without being predisposed to favor the understood solution? This, too, is a skill, a rare and precious one. The ability to look past the known in order to find new ideas is one that is extremely difficult to train, since all of the normal reward mechanisms of the human mind turn in on themselves, all of the pleasurable rewards of learning become suspect. Passing those impulses requires maintaining a form of humility, of knowing only that you know nothing, alongside the ability to function on the premise that what you believe is, if not true, at least useful enough to be getting on with. This idea is the core of scientific inquiry, and is an incredibly difficult ideal to live up to.

The conflict between knowledge and learning manifests differently when it comes to art, though, where it’s more often presented as an injunction against cliché. When creating, obvious solutions will occur to us because we have seen them used before – and, once this phenomenon has repeated itself enough for a given idea, that idea becomes cliché, its use expected, its impact on the audience negligible. Easy enough, at first, to avoid ideas like this. However, as we grow in experience, both as consumers and creators of art, it becomes more difficult. It starts to seem like we’ve seen everything before, like everything is a cliché. Even ideas we originated become trite to us and, even if our audience wants more of the same, to produce those same ideas would be creatively empty.

Another challenge to fighting against cliché in art is that many people want cliché. They crave the familiar, and read any attempt to break out of what they understand as the ‘right’ way for a game to play, or for a book to tell a story, as incompetence on the part of its creator. It’s not really the audience’s fault for wanting this: The tensions between familiarity and unfamiliarity, comfort and discovery, challenge and encouragement, is a core part of what makes art appealing. The artist has to straddle those lines, and it becomes easy to lose track of how familiar or unfamiliar what you’re creating really is, whether it’s a revolutionary idea, something so out there that it’s just gibberish to most people, or actually just so hackneyed and obvious no one else would bother with it.

In order to be able to appreciate art that breaks from convention, audiences, too, need to look past their first and most immediate reactions. Some audiences are more willing to do that, and more interested in following artists who pursue work that works against the expectations of cliché, that strives to find new ways to solve old problems. But having an open mind, as we’ve explored, isn’t merely a matter of attitude, but a matter of aptitude: Learning how to approach a kind of art that you already consider yourself an expert in in a new way is beyond the boundaries of many people. And, as the gulf between these new experiences and their understanding of what comprises their beloved form widens, they get angry and resentful.

But, even though I know we don’t generally acknowledge these forces of openness vs convention in discussing the art we love, I wonder if we haven’t made subtle tacit concessions to the idea. Given how compulsively the cultures of media consumption respects and enforces rules like spoiler warnings, it’s hard not to see the shadow of the destructive effects of knowledge. Perhaps part of the reason we’re afraid to know too much too soon is, not because we will enjoy the work less, but because we will be waylaid into enjoying it the way someone else has – that the work will become part of their story rather than part of ours, circumscribed forever by the bounds of their enjoyment, unable to be discovered for oneself.

 

EveHeader

It’s been a few weeks since the last update. I went on vacation, and also I had to figure some things out. When not on vacation, I’ve been working verry slowly on animating the main character of the game.

To be honest, the amount of time this is taking me is scary. When it comes to the running animation, Its represents 18 of of 399 frames that I’ve prototyped out for the player animations, and it’s taken me more than a week to get those frames done. I’m probably going to have to add another 50 frames or so of miscellaneous animations for the main character, and then I’ll probably need to create several hundred more for all of the enemies in the game – Fortunately, since many of them don’t run around like a person, just float or roll or whatever, the enemy animations altogether probably won’t add up to many more frames than the player character animations, but still: 1000 frames is a reasonable ballpark estimate.

So, if it takes me a week to make 10 frames, can I expect to spend three years on just the animations?

Well, probably not, but we’ll see. It’s obvious this is another case where I took on a task without understanding its full scope or ramifications. In fact, I may have made this harder on myself by going for a pixelated art style, since it severely hampers my ability to use shortcuts like rotating the limbs in software. Maybe I’d be better off taking a more straightforward approach to creating the frames and then crunch them down into the resolution and palette I want after the fact. It’s an idea worth exploring, so perhaps I’ll do the next animation that way and see how it looks.

I must admit, though, I love the kind of detail you get with pixels. That sounds like nonsense, since lower res images should logically be less detailed, but in practice each pixel becomes incredibly suggestive, and minor changes take on a life of their own. Perhaps detail is the wrong word, but I can’t think of a better one. So, yeah, I really like the way the running animation turned out, but I’m scared of the idea of having to make a hundred more animations like it.

EveRunRight

Meanwhile, I’m in the early stages of working on another project. I’m still going to be pretty stingy with details, but I’m looking into expanding a game I developed some time back for Ludum Dare into a finished product. This version of the game will be far more robust and, as I’ve envisioned it, will take some tricky programming – thus, in these early stages, I’m mostly just focused on getting a prototype up and running. I probably won’t bother talking about it here again until I do.

I’m also reconsidering how I want to do these DevBlogs. Having a daily work-blog plus this weekly devblog seems like overkill – or it would be, anyway, if I was in the habit of using both of them as regularly as I’m supposed to. I’m strongly considering doing this DevBlog on a monthly basis and being far more stringent about the daily work blogs on Titan Seed, to the point where I’ll log all the work I do in a day there so I can use it more effectively as a diagnostic tool for myself. I’ll also probably use it as a sounding board to think through ideas, while this blog can be dedicated more solely on my progress on EverEnding. That’s a change that will most likely kick in next update: So, in all probability, next update will be the last weekly update, and new updates will come at end of month from then on.

 

My problem is that I can’t schedule. When I try to plan my actions at any sort of regular interval, it works out all right at first, but after a week or two passes I drift further and further away from the state that allowed me to follow that schedule. It stops fitting. And, now, I’m beginning to see how this is the shape of my life in miniature, how I always shift just out of place, how nothing ever fits me because I keep changing.

I am not unique, though I am perhaps unusual in the high frequency and low scope of these fluctuations. Maybe this is what they call an attention deficit. I don’t know. Whatever shape I make for myself yesterday stops fitting me the next. And now I look back and I see the repetition of this flow, the history of making shells and growing out of them, like a line of metal rings set up to allow just a pinpoint of light through from the other end.

I think maybe we’re all shifting in tiny ways that make a shape difficult to hold, but that we set up barriers to stick ourselves in place, build dams to let us control the flow. The job that requires you to show up at the same place at the same time every day also serves to tell you who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing within the scope of its hours. The degree you earned at college tells you what you’re acknowledged to be good at and what work you’re expected to strive for. And friends and family, too, have an understanding of you that is more nuanced and implicit but shapes you no less. These things are shell and cage, exoskeletal, and we both struggle against their uncomfortable stricture and rely desperately on them to define who we are, what we do, what we want.

Art tells us new ways to be, stranger or more ambitious. Art lets us break down and re-form the structures that bind us and bound us, together and apart. Well, it doesn’t have to be art of course: Anything can show us the way. But, the more I think about it, the more I believe this is the primary function art takes in our society: Showing us new ways to be who we are, new things to want, to fear, to care about. It’s not necessarily a good thing. Good samaritans and other kindnesses thrive on their own stories, on showing us all how to be better, but copycat criminals and other cruelties spread in much the same way.

You can’t stop the flow though, can’t allow just the good things to go through, can’t tell only good happy stories with morals of kindness, because sometimes a cure is just a smaller amount of toxin. Sometimes the pill is bitter and hard to swallow, but what seems cruel may be necessary, cutting away the gangrene, creating an escape or a revolution. A restrictive view of what art can be or should be leads to a kind of soul-death, a kind of ossification. A world of stagnant art is worse than one with no art at all, because it constrains even our imaginations to mediocrity. The shell hardens and traps us inside, forever.

So I just got back from a vacation, and due to the timing of that vacation I’m taking two weeks off from the blog despite it being a week-long vacation. It feels fine. I’m glad to have the opportunity to step back and think a bit more about what I’m doing.

What am I doing?

The blog will continue chugging away at its leisurely one-short-piece-a-week schedule for the foreseeable future. However, I’m starting to feel that I really need to develop this pursuit – essentially, because of pressures both financial and creative, I’m getting less and less comfortable just doing the same thing week after week. I’d like to, perhaps, start creating video pieces along the same lines as what I’m writing here, but I haven’t quite yet figured out how that all will fit together. Or, maybe, I could expand what I’ve already written, augment it with more examples and connective material, and try to turn it into a book. Or maybe it would be better to choose one piece, really flesh it out, and try to turn it into an hour long talk that I could give at any conference that would host me. Maybe, maybe, maybe: I haven’t quite figured out what to do, yet, but the upshot is that I want to take the work I’ve done here, that I continue to do, and expand it, make it bigger and realer and louder – and, perhaps, if I’m lucky, more profitable.

The ‘Lets Plays’ I’ve been doing on my youtube channel will probably stop, at least for now. There’s not much of an audience for the game I’ve been playing and it’s been really difficult to maintain productivity on EverEnding and other stuff while recording an hour a day (and spending another hour watching what I recorded). However, I’ll be building a new PC soon, and that should allow me to stream play/stream some other stuff I’ve been wanting to – without naming names, let’s just say it rhymes with “bark poles spree”. While I work on that, I may stream some other stuff: I’ll post about it on twitter before I do, though, so if you’re interested just follow me there.

I’m also planning on developing a side-game concurrent with EverEnding. Even though attempts to do similar things in the past have been low-key disasters, I’m fairly confident in being able to do this if I approach it properly. My first step will be, over the next few days, coming up with a plan to tackle this project – in essence a design document delineating the full scope of the project, but with most of the focus on how everything will fit together technically. From there I make a prototype, and from the prototype I develop the game. I’ll talk more about the specifics of that project once I get further in on it – in the meanwhile I’ll continue chugging away at EverEnding animation and tileset work.

So, sorry about taking a couple of weeks off with no real warning. I held out hope for writing an update while I was on the train, which of course turned out to be completely infeasible because I was mostly just really sleepy on the train. I’ll try to be more realistic in my expectations of myself in the future.

If you’d like to read some interesting things in this time when I am temporarily waylaid from writing interesting things, you might consider checking out my friend’s blog at http://strangenewwords.wordpress.com/ . There’s not as much of a theme going, but he’s far more scrupulous about frequent updates than I am, so check it out if you’re interested in spy thriller re-interpretations of erotic visual novels, critical analyses of tv adaptations of Agatha Christie mysteries, or meditations on who and what The Devil really is. Also: Cat pictures when his time or energy prove insufficient to produce a piece of cogent writing.

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So far I’m having an incredibly difficult time setting aside the requisite time and focus to make real progress on this animation, much less on the remaining 380 or so frames of character animation that I’ll have to tackle afterwards. Just detailing each individual frame takes at least 30 minutes of work, and also requires a degree of focus and concentration I’ve been having a difficult time achieving.

The hard truth of the matter is that I may be trying to do too many things at once.

Right now I am: Working on EverEnding animations, writing music, writing the weekly Problem Machine post, drawing art commissions, trying to get the problemmachine.com website up to speed, and recording Let’s Play videos of Super House of Dead Ninjas. It’s a lot to keep track of, especially when you add in the necessities of personal maintenance along the lines of cooking, eating, hygiene, and exercise, as well as planning for an upcoming trip. So, work keeps on falling through the cracks, and because it’s such a huge long-term project EverEnding probably suffers the most from that.

It’s probably not a great situation. It’s probably not a sustainable situation. I’ll probably have to make some difficult choices soon. Probably.

In the meanwhile, work crawls along. I detailed four more frames of animation, figured out a couple of tricks to make the work go faster, and did a small bit of programming to make the player animations sync up a bit better with the current movement speed.

EveRunRight

On the plus side, you can already see the finished animation taking shape here, and I personally think it’s turning out pretty fuckin sweet? Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily justify the months it will take to create these animations… So I’ll probably have to focus on them a bit harder soon, try to spend several hours a day drilling down and making solid progress. Well, that’s what I wanted to happen today, but life interfered. This is where the hard decisions come into play.

But… hard decisions can wait a bit longer, anyway. Vacations are a good time to do some thinking, and I’ve got one coming up. In the meanwhile, I just gotta try to get my work done.

 

Terminator

As we approach true artificial sapience at unknown but increasing speed from an unknown but decreasing distance, our fears and assumptions about what will happen to us become repetitious. It is generally assumed, for various reasons, that the existence of an intelligence superior to our own will mean the end of us.

Why? Well, look what we’ve done to the species we share the planet with. If we imagine a species that is as gentle and attentive a caretaker of humanity as humanity has been of the world, it’s not hard to see why we find the idea dismaying. Regardless, our fiction repeats a kind of weird certainty that to be supplanted as the greatest, the smartest, is to be destroyed or made irrelevant, to cede our place in the universe to our creations. It seems tremendously short-sighted to believe that our, frankly, extremely stupid appraisal of the necessity and utility of violence would be passed on to our creation, at least if it were a superior intelligence. If it were, that would speak more to flaws in that intelligence than it would to the priorities of a superior being.

Sometimes, in our stories, the destruction of humanity is violent, a massacre, and there’s two forms these take: One is where the artificial intelligence isn’t really intelligent at all, just smart enough to find targets and eradicate them without the aid of a human operator. This is basically the wild beast, or Big Dog, hypothesis: A world of dragons, that hunt humans because they don’t know better, that breathe fire and lead and don’t get tired. It’s a frightening image, but hardly a threat of extinction. We’ve survived worse as a species. Moreover, since these robotic-beasts aren’t truly intelligent, they’d eventually fall apart or be destroyed, especially since the facilities to create them would inevitably be high priority targets.

The other form is where the artificial intelligence is truly, boundlessly intelligent, and willfully engages in the destruction of humanity – and this is the one I find most interesting, that this image keeps repeating in our art, because what it suggests is that we generally believe that humanity should be destroyed. We apparently believe that a being of comparable or greater intelligence to that of humanity would inevitably come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t exist.

Why?

Mostly, I think, we believe this because the assumption that eliminating a dangerous person is justified is something deeply ingrained in our culture. The same belief system that makes it okay to put our criminals in a prison that we know to be unsafe and abusive is what lets us assume that an implacable machine enemy would put us in The Matrix. The same belief system that lets us believe that torture and indiscriminate bombings are justified in a new era of war lets us believe that, if it were the machines who were advanced and we were the ‘savages’, their divine right would allow them to eradicate us.

We believe in the approaching supremacy of machine gods who care nothing for human life because it justifies the existing supremacy that lets us care nothing for human life. We believe it is, given the power and intelligence, the only correct way to be. Machine supremacy becomes the new colonialism, and we believe that they, those advanced and logical machines, will believe it is correct – justifying, in retrospect, centuries of human atrocity.

In case it was ever not obvious: Machines aren’t what we need to fear. Even if they get smarter than us, faster than us, stronger than us, those capabilities are in themselves utterly unimpressive compared to what we have already done to each other with everything ranging from exotic chemical agents to the controlled application of disease to buckets of water and an overactive imagination.

Whether they remain our tools or become our successors, what we fear in machines is mostly the reflection we see in the metal.

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