I guess I was busy with other stuff this week, because looking back I don’t think I got a heck of a lot done here.

Well, I finished the changes to the knockback model I started in on last week, and fixed some associated bugs which I found in the process. I started in on creating the first alternate version of the enemy entity I’ve been working on, one that throws rocks, and lost about a day to trying to puzzle out the ballistics equations myself before giving up and looking them up on wikipedia. It’s easy to find resources for calculating where an arced shot will land on flat terrain, but for some reason I couldn’t find much outside of wikipedia about angling a projectile to hit a specific x/y point.

So I roughed in the behavioral code and used that formula for the trajectory calculation, but I haven’t had a chance to test it yet since I’m still getting some other stuff lined up. Probably soon, though. In the meanwhile, the other thing I did was make an attack animation for stone throwing.


Looking at it now, I think the recovery needs to be a bit slower since the quick snap back makes the arm and stone seem weightless. I also don’t like how still the right leg is, so I may need to tweak that motion some — maybe so that it rests on the right heel at the end of the wind back. The other leg could use a bit more motion as well. Oh well, I’ll address those issues tomorrow I suppose. I’ll need to also make alternate versions of a couple of the other animations both for holding nothing (instead of the knife) and for holding a stone (so it can pick them up before throwing). All in all not a very exciting update but, you know, it’s progress.


So I’ve come to a decision to not write about The Beginner’s Guide, and I think this decision requires some explanation. Obviously, yes, by stating that I’m not writing about it, and then by explaining that statement, I am writing about it, albeit from one degree of remove.



In order to understand what I’m not writing about, I should tell you some things about it. I will preface by saying: You should play The Beginner’s Guide. I would prefer you to do so before reading much further. The Beginner’s Guide is a game by Davey Wreden, creator of The Stanley Parable: It is framed as a collection of games by an enigmatic creator, ‘Coda’, which are narrated by Davey as you play through them. While you explore the spaces that Coda has created, Davey explains why he finds them so special, and we learn by playing about Davey’s connection to these games, and to Coda, and furthermore the connections that were never made.

I had so much to say about this game: About how what is an accident for a creator can take on an unexpected meaning for the audience, about how trying to push that back on the creator can become a deeply personal violation. About the little moments, the little inconsistencies that hint at deeper lies, like how comfortable Davey is at making little modifications to the games he’s supposed to be showcasing for us, and how uncomfortable that made me even before it was revealed. But saying all that I want to say is, what? Self-serving? A work of art is open to so many interpretations, and trying to give one primacy, to bake it onto the surface, is greedy. Saying, definitively, what a work of art is, reduces it to no more than propaganda: It prizes one writer’s interpretation over the work itself. Even stating one’s own interpretation is, when it seeks to shape the interpretation of others, a kind of theft from the artist – or, perhaps, from the audience.

Any work of art is a multitude of experiences overlaid within each other, only collapsed into a specific experience by each audience, at each time, with each viewing. Sometimes it can be helpful or enlightening to read someone’s thoughts on their experience, to build those thoughts onto your own and expand outward from there, embracing that multifaceted and impossible to unify experience, enjoying the contradiction of manifold interpretation. If that’s why it’s rewarding to read someone else’s interpretation, though, why is it rewarding to write one’s own? What is it that I would hope to glean by writing my emotional experience and interpretation of a game like this? Adulation? Education?

My work is satirized before I even write a word.

– but that’s making it about me, and this was never about me, or anyone else in the audience.

So I write this work which isn’t about The Beginner’s Guide, because if I wrote it about that it would just be about me anyway, and be a tyranny of interpretation. Instead I’ll just write about myself directly. About why, if I’m writing this piece about The Beginner’s Guide that isn’t about The Beginner’s Guide, I am bothering to write anything at all.

Listen: Playing that game last night filled me with anxiety, kept me from focusing, made it difficult to sleep. That experience instilled something in me, a fear or an excitement, either of which felt undermining, either of which made carrying on as if nothing had changed impossible. I’m writing this to create. I’m just putting words on paper, and thereby exorcising them from my mind. I’m making worlds, making prisons, making doors, making beams of light that lead to heaven or to freedom, I’m just making shit up as I go.

And maybe that will make me feel better, eventually.


This was a fairly productive week. I finished all of the outstanding prototype animations for the enemy entity I’ve been working on and implemented them into the game, where they mostly look pretty good. The new idle animations definitely have a lot more character than the previous still frames.


I just started overhauling the way attack knockback works to make the results more consistent: Previously, the angle it pushed the target in would be based on the relative position of the two entities, which is occasionally the desired behavior but mostly just makes things weird and inconsistent when it comes to player melee attacks. If I left it that way, you’d be able to knock an enemy directly up into the sky by attacking from a low angle — kind of neat in the abstract, but in practice it looks goofy. Now, knockback is tied directly to the attack type, so a standard melee attack will always push opponents in the same direction by the same amount. Of course, I can still choose to intentionally do interesting things with the knockback angles, and currently the rising attacks have strong push in the upwards direction, with a corresponding downwards push for the falling attack. I don’t know if these will be interesting and useful in practice, but finding out will have to await playtesting.

Next up is to spend a bit of time testing and polishing this entity’s movement to make sure I’m satisfied with where it’s at, and once that’s done I can start in on the alternate versions. The first couple are pretty straightforward, and will only require minimal new animation and programming work: A throwing animation will be required for both, and all of the other animations will have to be tweaked to account for a different weapon for the other, but compared to some of the extra work that will be required by other variants this is very minimal. I think I can have at least one done by end of week, and the other well underway.

Feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed at the moment. Trying to put solid hours in on this at the same time as I’m trying to get stuff done by end of month and making rent is taking a bit of a toll. Oh well, it’ll be fine in a week or two. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get a piece done for yesterday and ended up with a pretty solid 1000 words, so I think I’ll be fine.


I’ve recently seen people complaining about the (admittedly trite) fiction writer statement about how a character’s behavior can come seemingly out of nowhere, like they’re coming to life and acting out a will of their own, completely taking the writer by surprise. It’s absurd, so the argument goes, to act like this is some magical process external to the writer themself, to act like what ends up on the page is anything other than the result of practice, craftsmanship, and work. While I actually agree with that, I see nothing there which contradicts the idea of being surprised by one’s own creation. That kind of surprise needn’t be the result of any mystical instillment of life, some kind of creation myth, but is completely understandable within the normal patterns of human thought.

First, even though a character is, by necessity, a part of the author’s own mind, that doesn’t mean that the author has full awareness of which parts of their mind went into that character. Our brains are a massive and complicated web of associations, so whenever we pull an idea into a character we pull other ideas in as well, making connections that we don’t consciously notice but lie latent in our brain. Second, though we lay all the groundwork of a story and its cast of characters, we often miss obvious and elegant places to make connections on our first pass, and these gaps, obvious and arcing electricity, very quickly jump out at us in the process of building out and improving upon a work. These surprises are no different than the other surprises of the creative process, and most creative processes are full of surprises: The way an accidental pencil mark becomes a scar becomes a war wound becomes a tragic past; the way a lie becomes a secret becomes a conspiracy.

To assume we can’t be surprised by our creations is to assume we can’t be surprised by ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am frequently surprised by my own mind, the strange connections it makes, the stupid mistakes it overlooks, the illusion of understanding and completeness it represents to my consciousness while failing to capture huge amounts of relevant information. It’s far more mystical and egotistical, in this light, to suggest a writer could never be surprised by their own character than to suggest that it regularly happens.

Surprises like these emerge in all forms of art. ‘Happy accidents’ are a huge part of the creative process, and the ability to recognize them and use them to bolster the act of creation is one of the primary skills one learns as an artist. The texture of the paper becomes part of the picture, the noise in the recording becomes part of the song. With games, developers are frequently surprised by the weird and unexpected results that are generated by the systems they have created: This potential for the unexpected, for ’emergent gameplay’, is one of the most lauded aspects of the medium. Why, then, is it at all strange to see the creative processes of other media generate results that were unanticipated by the creator?


No the skull is good! It signifies change!

It’s different though, isn’t it? A novel may surprise the writer with the direction it takes, but once it takes that direction it is static, crystallized – published. A game, however, can be fed different inputs to create new surprises, to continually become the same engine of excitement and inspiration and discovery that the writer experiences as they create. Thus, we see a huge and fundamental difference between the art of the video game and that of traditional forms: Traditional art is created by simulating an imagined reality within the mind and crystallizing the result into a finished work, while game art is created by creating a simulation of reality external to the mind and giving it to the audience to produce their own results.

This is not to say that games are either a lesser or greater form, or even that they use completely dissimilar skill sets to earlier forms. The skill of appraising the output of an internal, imaginary simulation for interest and aesthetic quality is used to calibrate the external simulations of games, to ensure that they produce something interesting and worthwhile. The skill to understand and portray what is imagined is used to provide presentation and meaning to the otherwise abstract systems of games – creating, through models and textures, music and voiceover and supplementary text, a visual, aural, and historical world for the simulator to act within . These skills all act in concert, whether through an individual or team of hundreds, to produce an externalized system for the audience to experience.

Once an external simulation is created, we have then essentially created an engine for producing the same kinds of stories that were previously produced by imaginary simulations. Of course someone’s Minecraft playthrough is no match for a well-written novel in narrative quality, since it’s systemically constrained to a much smaller set of more predictable outcomes, but the story created is their own and belongs to no one but them. And, if they’re a sufficiently talented maestro or their experiences are especially outlandish, is it any wonder that other people are interested in seeing their story and hearing it told? Thus we have Let’s Plays, the personal stories of players created through the engine of gameplay, their story of their adventures in this simulated realm, told in real time. This is not exactly new – externalized narrative simulations existed long before video games and have been used as a creative engine by artists: Entire successful novel franchises have been built from pen and paper RPG campaigns and war games. Improv games have been used to train actors to shape a personal reality and then portray it to the audience. So we have writers honing their craft through games, actors honing their craft through games, and youtube personalities honing their craft through games, and each are players on their own stage. Even memoir could be viewed this way, as a record of a particular experience within an external system, though in that case the system is the world we occupy itself.

Thus, through their portrayal of their constructed realities, through the product of both their imaginary and external simulations, they create an art of communication and convey it to their audience: There, it takes root, and becomes the seeds of a new imaginary simulation, one which itself may some day be used to produce a work of art, or be codified into rules to become its own externalized simulation. And so the circle of art goes on.


And, as with most such circles, it starts with musical numbers and tragic death scenes


Well it’s not quite what I wanted to have done but I made a good little chunk of progress this week. I mostly focused on the test enemy entity like I was planning, fixing little bugs in the pathfinding and implementing prototype animations: It’s not done, but it’s definitely coming along, and it’s kind of fun just running back and forth with the entity in testing so that’s a good sign. This next week is probably going to be mostly about improving the prototype animations: I’m very dissatisfied with one of the two turning animations I created for this entity, and I think all of the idle animations could do with a little more motion, so I’m going to add some breathing and twitching to bring the entity to life. Not only should this make the entity seem much more lifelike, it will provide a stronger contrast with the unnaturally still idle pose of the player character.

I mean, everything that’s outstanding about the main character is only so in contrast to other characters. She’s supposed to be tall, but that’s reflected as much or more by the scale of other characters and the background as it is by her animations. And, by the same token, she’s supposed to be stoic and patient, which will only be reflected if other characters are notably less so. If I wasn’t concerned about this contrast I think most of the animations for these guys would be fine, but if I’m going to communicate info about the player character non-verbally I really do need to utilize every available channel of information. So that’s what I’ll be working on this week.

Something that’s been occurring to me frequently recently is that these test enemies are actually absurdly sophisticated for a standard enemy in a 2d platformer. When I compare them against the early enemies in a game like Castlevania, the difference is really apparent. In a raw design sense, I don’t know if it’s a good use of my time to put this much effort into one of the first enemies you encounter in the game, even if you do encounter different versions of them pretty much throughout. Compared to skeletons that shuffle back and forth and occasionally toss a bone, it seems a bit overwhelming to have to cope with enemies that are aware of you and if they see you will try to hunt you down near the beginning of the game. Yet, in non-2d-platformers, in FPS games and the like, sophisticated enemy behavior like that is common even early on, so maybe it won’t be a problem.

I do feel a bit jealous, though, of games where the theming makes it easy to make the early enemies things like little crawling spiky aliens or shuffling skeletons, things with very simple movement patterns where it doesn’t seem stupid or absurd for them to be so simple. When something looks like a person, we have certain expectations for how it behaves. Or maybe those expectations are just my problem, my ambition, making things difficult for me.

Well, whatever. I can always make their behavior simpler later if it turns out to be necessary: In the meanwhile, if these more complex behaviors do work, they’ll provide an experience quite a bit different than most other platformers. Seems worth a try to me – at least, it does now that I’ve already put in like 90% of the work.


I uninstalled Team Fortress 2 about two weeks ago now. Not for the first time, and it remains to be seen if it will be the last – though my past history with multiplayer games suggests it won’t be. At one point, many years ago when I was compulsively playing the absurdly action-packed shooter GunZ (yes that is an actual title of an actual video game), I was in the habit of deleting the game each day and reinstalling it the next: This is less pragmatic with Team Fortress 2, weighing in at 12+ gigs of data, but I suppose still quite possible with a decent connection.

I uninstalled it because I knew I’d keep playing it even though I wasn’t enjoying it any more. Past a certain point, playing the game stops being a decision you make and just becomes part of your day, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. The things we do have a habit of becoming the things we are, the activities we define ourselves by, that identity sometimes long outliving the actual activity. It got to the point where I kept playing, whether or not I enjoyed the experience or found it rewarding, just as a thing to do. I can still imagine myself playing, going through the intricate motions and outguessing and scoring the points and winning the rounds, and feel nothing. So maybe it’s time to move on. It’s time, at least, to take a break, so I can make a decision about what to do with my time rather than letting habit make the decision for me.

Quitting a game you’ve been playing more or less constantly, several hours a day, for the last few years, is difficult. I find myself not knowing what to do a lot of the time, and so I do very little. I try to find other games to play, but it’s difficult. I try to channel that time and energy into productive pursuits, only to find that this time and energy seems to be keyed exclusively towards idle and wasteful pursuits rather than something beneficial. It turns out that just removing a source of distraction and hoping that will be enough to create work is not an especially effective approach. Who knew?

It helps if I don’t think about this as some kind of self-improvement, though. It’s not about trying to be more effective, more streamlined, whatever. It’s not about optimizing. It’s not about perfecting myself, or putting away childish things, or making the most of every moment. It’s just about moving away from a piece of my life that I no longer feel connected to. You know, everywhere we go, we shed flakes of dead skin behind us. And, like that, we shed bits of who we used to be, the things we used to do, the people we used to know. Only weirdos get upset about it and try to keep jars of dead skin flakes around, so if the shoe doesn’t fit any more I guess I’m just going to stop wearing it.

But I guess I’m a weirdo. It’s hard for me to let go. Until that skin grows back it leaves a raw spot. So I get to wait and see what comes next, after I stop burning all my time playing the same game.

Or maybe I’ll just end up installing the damn thing again. We’ll see.


This week I mostly worked on getting the damn enemy entity navigation working properly, and a bit on creating a jump animation prototype for it as I went. Though it involved an awful lot of just staring at the same sections of code over and over again, I finally got it so the entity jump projection works, well, mostly properly. It looks kind of weird for some of the test scenarios, but I think will look nicer when all the animations are in place to cover some transitions and when the jump angles are a bit less weird and extreme.

There are a few prototype animations that need to be implemented, and several more that need to be created. Enemy entities being stunned and knocked back by player attacks is something that still needs some work, though they do at least properly take and deal damage now. Once I get that functionality in place I need to spend a while testing this entity out in different situations to make sure it behaves as expected, and once that’s done I can both expand it to make alternate versions and start slotting the final features of the player character into place — which will be neat, because then I can finally start making finalized animations and effects for the player.

So by the end of this week I want to have the basic version of this entity done: Proper navigation, proper combat interaction, and all prototype animations in place. This isn’t unmanageably ambitious, but will require me working a bit more consistently than I have been for a while. For a month or two I’ve been having a hard time maintaining motivation on this project: It often feels like what I’m trying to make won’t necessarily be of interest to anyone besides myself, or that I’ll bog down forever on some part of the project and never ever actually finish, that this will become one of those someday projects that one keeps looking dreamily toward and never quite reaches. And there’s no way to know for sure that it won’t be, or that anyone will care once I do finish it. But, you know, that’s true of everything. There’s no telling which roads lead somewhere worth being. So: Whatever. It’s a direction. It’s better than staying in place. I should just try to go faster, because it would suck to get there and find out the party has moved on without me.

Anyway, enough extended metaphor. Back to work.


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