EveHeader

Two weeks. We’ll just call it a two week vacation, though the first week was mostly just days I was too sick to think properly. Aside from a couple of quick, desultory pecks at my code base, essentially zero progress has been made.

Oh well. Back to work.

I’m still recovering from travel today, which is leaving me awfully sleepy. That i came back to a town wreathed in the smoke of a panoply of forest fires and about 10 degrees warmer than the one I just spent a week in may also be a contributing factor. I’m adjusting. These are my excuses for writing this post so late in the day.

Okay: What next?

Over the next week I need to finish getting the entity combat interaction stuff working. First, I’ll need to make some sort of generalized solution for handling stun: This is where I stalled out last time, since player entities and npc entities are controlled in completely different ways it’s actually rather non-intuitive to try to apply any sort of generalized solution for taking control away. In fact, the line between controlled movement (ie running around and jumping) and non-controlled movement (sliding to a stop, falling) is often handled by the same blocks of code with very little distinction, so removing the controlled inputs while leaving the uncontrolled movement functional is actually rather tricky. I may just make ‘stun’ a timer that all the other movement code has access to and leave the onus on that movement code to interpret it properly, which is an easy but ugly solution.

After that, I get ranged attacks working. I’ve started roughing this in a bit, and I might be able to get a simple version up and running pretty quickly, but since the ranged attack entities need to be visible to the player, rather than just active behind the scenes to make the collision system work, I’m going to need to be able to add a bunch of visual effects which I don’t have to worry about for the melee attack template. That’s something I can add in piecemeal, though, once I get the basic functionality working.

Once I get those fundamental aspects of the combat system working, then it’s time to get into the enemy entity I’ve been testing with and make all of the alternate versions. This will be something of an undertaking, since it will require me to make alternate animations for all the different movement and attack types, create melee and ranged attack specifications to make those attacks work, and test everything extensively to make sure it still works.

My goal for this week is to get to all of the items mentioned above and get a good start on them, even if i don’t quite manage to finish them all up. This is weird: the last two weeks have been the longest I’ve gone without working on the game for, like, years. But, then again, progress has also been kind of slow over that time, so maybe a break will help me work better too. Dunno! Let’s find out.

lighthouse

I took a vacation.

This vacation ended up being artificially extended by a nasty cold and some other medical issues at the start, so now as I sit here it’s been two weeks of more or less complete non-productivity at varying degrees of enthusiasm.

What do I want a vacation from? From sameness, from knowing exactly who I am and what I do, though frequently forgetting why and how.

What do I want from a vacation? I want it to change the way I think. I want it to knock me out of alignment, force me to re-calibrate, to re-evaluate. I want the silence, so I can hear the quieter parts of myself for a little bit.

I don’t know.

Yesterday, I looked at the ocean. I stood above it on a wharf full of tourists, and looked to the left and to the right at the coast as it crawled, the cliffs, the lighthouse, the boardwalk, the homes. I love the ocean, but I noticed that it was the shores and the cliffs that drew my attention. It was that dividing line, between humanity and wilderness, artifice and nature, constancy and shiftlessness — lines like these sketch our silhouettes. Lines like these are everywhere, but the boundary between land and ocean is the starkest — at least for those of us who haven’t gone to outer space.

I wanted to come to some grand realization. To think of a way to improve myself or my life. What I realized is that, for the most part, things are kind of okay.

This is an incredibly dissatisfying realization to come to.

The devil’s in the details, though. The difference between the right course and almost the right course is a watery grave.I keep noticing my autopilot is on, that I’m working out of habit, or out of duty, instead of because I want to — and I’m not sure what I can do about that as I am now, since the kind of wanting that it would take for me to want to do anything consistently enough to make significant progress seems to be lacking in me. For whatever reason I respond to obligation and inertia more than I respond to heartfelt desire. Because of this, I keep building channels to keep myself moving in one direction, then later I wonder why I feel trapped.

This is what I mean. It’s not satisfying, but it’s the best solution I’ve found to the problem of being me.

I’m not sure how invested I am in my game at the moment, but it’s as good a thing to work on as any, as long as I can finish it: If I can’t, it’s a waste of time. So that’s a good reason to finish it. In the meanwhile, I write here, and sometimes I make music, and I draw things. It’s a life. I don’t make money, and I’m not really famous, and I haven’t created much that I’m truly truly proud of, but still — still I can be the waves, and slowly erode that line between who I am now and who I will be, even if it just makes another line a few inches further out into the sand.

But as fascinating as the shoreline is, I need to lift my head from the sand sometimes. More often than I do now, I need to be able to look left at the boardwalk, right at the lighthouse, and know that I chose to be here, and that I choose what happens next.

In my head, there’s an Elementary School teacher nagging at me to just participate: And I’ve ignored her for so long, and I don’t know why, because it feels more and more like she’s right, that I’ve cut myself off, that I’m on the wrong side of the line, drifting at sea.

So maybe, just a bit more, I can exist in my body, and pay attention, and acknowledge that the life I live belongs to me, and live in it like an owner rather than a tenant.

I got zero works done this week due to being sick. Sorry no words today. Here is the now-traditional consolation music:

I’m going to be traveling next week so I might not be able to write then either, but I’ll see what I can do. I’m also running out of new music to post. I dunno whatever I’ll figure it out.

EveHeader

Well I seem to be sick, so that’s not helping any with getting stuff done. Nevertheless, I have all of the player attacks working properly and the test enemy attack working. Both need a bit of polish: Some collisions seem to not be getting detected when they should, and neither knockback nor stun are implemented yet so it doesn’t feel very good, but the basic interaction is there.

I’m finding that this whole idea of trying to work on programming all at once isn’t working out very well, but in the process I’ve learned that things tend to go a lot smoother if I start writing with one small task I want to get accomplished. By small, I mean something where I clearly know where to start and what to do to finish it, rather than having to go between different files and try to figure out a strategy for solving the problem. Obviously this isn’t always a manageable requirement, but I think if I take care to spend a little while in my down time every day thinking about what I’ll be doing the next day and how I can make more progress without investing a huge amount of time. Still, I’d like to figure out a way to make a bigger segment of dedicated work time work — but it’s not going to if I’m struggling to work at all (as with this dang cold), so I think I’m just gonna have to feel this out and figure out what works for me.

So, next I get stun and knockback and associated animations for player and enemy melee attack interactions working. After that I should probably address what happens when player and/or enemy are defeated, which will require a fair bit of programming and new animation work and might take most of the week.

Oh, right. I’m going to be leaving town before the next update. I’m still not sure how this will affect my productivity: A 13-hour train ride is sometimes a great place to get things done, sometimes not so much. Will just have to wait and see how that works out.

ct4

In 1995 when Chrono Trigger came out, I would have just turned 12. I stayed up through the Summer nights of Sacramento, playing until 5 in the morning on the cracked naugahyde couch in my dad’s living room. 20 years ago I became unstuck in time, and I’ve never really fit into place again since. I left some piece of myself in that game; it left some piece of itself in me. Same thing.

A week ago I watched someone play through Chrono Trigger as part of the Summer Games Done Quick charity speedrunning marathon, and it brought that little piece of myself back to me, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s still the most beautiful game I’ve played in so many ways, but so much time has passed since those Summer nights. I don’t really replay the game because I get bogged down in the details, the specifics of battles and equipment, and lose interest long before I get to the end – which is sad, because near the end is where it becomes strongest.

I’ll never be able to describe what it is about Chrono Trigger. It’s the wistfulness, something not quite sad but that can never be happy. It’s the distance, the story told like a legend or memory, slightly unshaped, always uncertain, unreliably narrated by a memory unstuck in time. It’s the beauty, the sunrise, the floating palace, the red star, the dead world, the egg containing possibilities. It’s the dying flashback of regrets of an unknown entity.

Because it was a charity marathon, the characters were named via donation bid wars: The main character ended up being named Iwata, in honor of the recently passed Satoru Iwata, much beloved president of Nintendo. It probably didn’t occur to the people donating to name the character, but this took on a rather strange dimension when the main character, as part of the story, would inevitably die. If this were a run designed solely to beat the game as quickly as possible, that would have been the end of it, but because a donation incentive had been met this was a 100% completion run – so, the runners dutifully collected the titular Chrono Trigger, which looks like an egg, went to Death Peak, a snowy mountain in the husk of a post-apocalyptic world, and they went back in time and saved Iwata from death.

It was a strange and quiet moment.

ct1

I’ve been thinking about regrets and forgiveness. Time travel always brings to mind the unshakeable chains of causality that bind me to my history.

I’ve been thinking about what we want as creators and what we want as audiences. We want conflicts, battles that never really end. We want loss and agony and bitterness and forgiveness. We want everything to go wrong, we want to see the world broken so that we can see it rebuilt. We want to see everything ruined so we can see it fixed. We want to believe that fixing a broken world is possible, and so we sow the seeds of destruction in our art. We are creator and audience, villain and hero. We are Lavos, the disaster, falling from the sky to catalyze a world of conflict and suffering that gives rise to the art we want to see. We consume the emotions, the conflict and energy and sadness that we foment in our apocalypse, the heroism that requires our tragedy to flourish.

And then we feel remorse. And we want to set things right. We want to burn our effigies and then we want to unburn them and pretend not to smell smoke. So we travel through time. We sow the seeds of the happy ending, the threads that knit together to destroy us, to free the world of our malign influence.

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The same day I watched the Chrono Trigger run I read this article,  originally addressed to the Aspen Institute’s Action Forum, discussing the ways in which focusing on reparative action distracts from the causal role the wealthy have in creating the iniquities they propose to address. While SGDQ is an admirable event, I can’t help but wonder to what degree it is a bandaid on gaming’s battered self-image. How much of the impetus driving the donations is, rather than a belief in the cause, a desire to show that games are admirable, are worthwhile, can be a force for positive change? It’s hard not to notice how many donations are none-too-subtly self-congratulatory, talking about how inclusive and helpful gamers are, talking about how they’re changing the world, and I wonder who they’re trying to convince.

This is not to criticize the Games Done Quick events. They’re great entertainment for a good cause. I’m just wondering if part of the engine of their growth is games culture’s unwillingness to look at its own issues, its history of self-esteem problems and of exclusionary practices.

ct5

When we’re young, we break so much without noticing. And, as we get older, we want to fix things. But repaired objects are seldom good as new: Most show their cracks, their frayed wiring, their chipped paint, their missing screws. We want to go back and time, and make them never broken. We want to unpollute our sky and sea, to have never been cruel to our friends, to have not started the war, to have apologized in time. We want to repent our transgressions rather than refrain from transgressing. We want to beg for forgiveness instead of asking permission.

Maybe it’s growing too late. Maybe the sadness I feel from Chrono Trigger is knowing that we’ll never be able to make things right, never go back and save Iwata, never stop the red star from falling.

Maybe, maybe. We’ll see.

 

EveHeader

This was not my most productive week. Between a heatwave and a charity game speedrunning marathon, I found it very easy to become distracted and very difficult to maintain focus – wait, those mean the same thing. So you see my point.

Still I achieved the main thing I wanted to get done and a fair bit besides. The entity system now supports anonymous entities (or, more accurately, anonymous templates), I have a system for quickly creating attacks with different general parameters in place, and everything seems to mostly work. I’m completely unsure whether this style of trying to work in a more focused way is working out for me: The truth is, working on art and working on programming are very different tasks. In programming, as with writing, I often need to take a break to let an idea gestate, to decide what the exact bounds of the problem are and how best to approach them. This doesn’t necessarily align well with trying to work in a focused block of time. At the same time, maybe that’s all the more reason to focus on the problem, if not over the course of a few hours at once, then over the course of a few hours spread across the duration of the day: If I must work on these problems in the back of my head, then I should be ready to enact them when they emerge from my brain, if not fully baked, then at least slightly better than half.

So the results of this first week’s experiment with different work styles are, I guess, inconclusive. Too many outside influences, too much adjustment. I’ll stick with it a while and see where it takes me.

There is the issue, however, of accountability. My previous methods of trying to get a little bit done every day had a big advantage in that my daily devblog very clearly made me accountable for any progress made or not made. When things went poorly or I was lazy, I had to maintain an idea of exactly how much I was working each day and overall. I’m worried that I don’t have that any more, and I’m not yet sure how to maintain a system of accountability like that without binding myself to a schedule that might end up being more destructive than helpful. Well, I still have these weekly devblogs at least, so that will keep me at least moderately honest for the time being. Perhaps, rather than updating every day or on a schedule, I can set myself a required certain number of daily logs each week? That might be reasonable. Something to think about, at any rate.

Anyway, now that I can quickly and easily create basic variations of melee attack, I’ll work on getting all of the player’s attacks fully implemented (currently only the standing attacks work and they’re a bit slipshod), then see about getting enemy attacks working. Once I get that stuff, I’ll see about getting the alternate versions of the test enemy entity up and running.

Giant_Jack

Television has changed a lot over the last couple of decades. No longer bound to the yoke of short run times and advertisements, TV shows have started becoming more like movies: Longer, more intricate, with a consistent story told between episodes. This was something that had been happening here and there before, but quickened once subscription-based networks started producing their own original content, most notably with the advent of the HBO drama The Sopranos. As Jon Blow argued convincingly, this shift was a natural consequence of changes in the medium. Nevertheless, while it’s interesting to note what made these changes possible, it’s also interesting to explore what made them desirable – or, alternately, what makes them undesirable, and why light sitcoms with no real substance are still very much alive.

What are the benefits of having a continuity that connects disparate episodes? Continuity implies a promise to the audience that the events portrayed are significant, are important. They reward the audience who wants to pay attention, who wants to understand in depth, by telling them that the things they notice now will turn out to be important later. This kind of memory has applications in games as well: The Walking Dead and other adventure games made by Telltale explicitly promise that the characters in the game will remember the choices you’ve made, which has the same significance as a show making a callback to a past event.

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This style of importance through memory and continuity is interesting to contrast against gaming’s traditional way of signaling significance, providing a noteworthy challenge. Older games, the games that were played with quarters, relied almost exclusively on challenge to present themselves as worthwhile to the player — they were tests of skills that were worth mastering primarily because they were difficult to master. This also incidentally allowed them to harvest an awful lot of quarters — but as they say, “no quarter asked none given”.

In both cases there’s an implicit promise: If there’s an item or an event, it exists for a purpose. All guns are Chekhov’s guns – either, in games like The Walking Dead’s case, to go off at a moment of dramatic heightened tension, or, in most cases, to be a sweet gun you can use to shoot, well, probably Russians. There are no details which are irrelevant – though this shouldn’t be interpreted as a statement that games tend to be necessarily in any way restrained with their use of detail, just that that detail has some kind of relevance to the experience of the game.

However: Importance, significance, meaning, they don’t necessarily make art better, they just make it more complex, communicative, evocative. Sometimes that isn’t what we want. Sometimes we just want a sitcom, sometimes we just want to go where everyone knows our name. Triviality has its own value: Art without greater significance, without greater meaning, promises us that we can enjoy it without working, without being changed – and, though that might sound like a waste of time, sometimes time needs to be wasted. Sometimes we need to be able to enjoy art that makes room for us, rather than making room in ourselves for art.

Thus neither approach to creation is inherently better, but each comprise their own kind of promise: In one case, a promise of importance, a promise that everything in the story matters in one way or another, a promise that if you’re paying attention it will be worth your while; and, in the other, a promise of triviality, of frivolousness, a promise that even if you’re not paying close attention you can still have a good time, a promise to be there for you.

Problems tend to arise when these approaches mix. Arrested Development was a flop because it had high continuity and narrative importance while still being presented as a sitcom, a genre largely devoid of continuity and permanence. Farmville presents itself as full of continuity, importance, and permanence by triggering our gathering and hoarding instincts, while offering absolutely nothing of substance within the context of that continuity. Farmville asks you to take it seriously, but never gives anything back for your investment, while something like Arrested Development has lots to offer but seems to be asking too much on a casual glance.

There’s no shame in wanting to make something light and fluffy that will just make people happier and make their lives a bit more enjoyable, but if you’re doing that then you are seeking balance, a status quo: Bringing in grand narrative ideals of continuity and relevance will weigh down your lightness, no matter the actual content or message. There’s no shame in wanting to make something substantial, either! But if you want to tell a story that has weight and significance, it must change, and the changes from one moment must be reflected to the next.

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