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Monthly Archives: December 2012

EveHeader

Okay. Very minimal update this week, between holiday stuff and recovering from a cold I’ve had very little opportunity to work on Eve. Basically, all I’ve managed to accomplish is putting in an hour or so to get the sliders I made last update hooked up and working. They’re pretty fun to play with, but yeah not really interesting enough for a new screenshot.

However, what I have been doing is thinking a lot about how I’m going to be tackling this project from now on. I put 2013 on the wallpaper I made as a way to inspire myself towards that goal, but I’ve been extrapolating my current progress and, yeah, insufficient. So here’s what I’m going to be doing:

A) Daily updates. I haven’t figured out what the optimal medium is for these daily updates: I don’t want to clog up Problem Machine with daily trivial posts, so I may make a separate wordpress or start a tumblr or something. These would keep anyone who’s interested updated on the daily progress of Eve in a hundred words or so, but more importantly keep me on task with trying to get significant work done every day of the week. I should have this up sometime in January.

B) Demo by 30. My birthday is in six months. By that time I want to have a section of the game complete: Enemies, story, environments, all that.  It don’t have to be perfect, but it has to be something that I can hand to someone and say “here is the thing I am working on.” Presuming a weekly DevBlog schedule, this should happen somewhere around DevBlog 45.

There’s some other stuff I need to do as well, but that has more to do with my personal living situation and less to do with stuff that will be visible to you guys.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Hope the holidays are swell for you guys. Next update in 2013!

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I keep on starting new entries only to remember something I’d written before on a very similar subject.

I keep being stopped short when I find I’ve written something that sounds very familiar.

As the Problem Machine updates progress, more and more I find myself repeating myself, and I find as the library of Things I Have Said expands it seems to shelve a lot of duplicates.

Well. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. If something is worth saying once, it’s probably worth saying lots of times, isn’t it? Maybe I’m just too persuasive, such that my persuasion has lodged into my own mind and I can’t help parroting my own words.

That must be it.

While intentionally avoiding convention is often the first step to creating something really special, there is no inherent value to novelty. If I must repeat myself sometimes, then I must repeat myself sometimes. Repetitiveness is my job! My job! Repetitiveness is my job!

Thus resolved: I will stop giving a shit if I am repeating myself or, for that matter, anyone else. Art is regurgitation, the questions is merely how much we digest and how broadly we sample before we spit it back up for our audience.

You’re welcome for that mental image, by the way.

Here’s a picture of some delicious looking beef stew to take your mind off that metaphor

The things we create are product of not only the person who created them, but the time and place they were created. A man writing a story about loss of a loved one will write it very differently at 18 than he will at 40… or even very differently at 18 than at 19, provided an eventful enough year. And though, admittedly, we’re not talking about vast lifetime span differences covering this writing space, I think there’s still some value in revisiting a subject.

Certainly there is comfort in the well known.

I just find it difficult to not feel like I’m wasting time. Do let me know if I regress from exploring fertile territory more deeply into merely abusing horse carcasses, would you?

If all of this sounds like a lot of shallow self-justification, well, yeah. Walt Whitman said “do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself” and you people lapped that shit up.

Pissed me off when I was in my teens. But I’m basically over it now. Fuckin’ Walt Whitman. Anyway.

This issue, struggling against novelty and trying to figure out the appropriate balance between tried and true vs wild and new is something all creators have to butt up against sooner or later. Well, those who value novelty in the first place. Once we get our first few awesome ideas out there that inspired us to create in the first place, the question is raised:

What now?

“The day I run out of ideas is the day before the towering inferno”
“But what if I told you there was a better way?”
“I would ask if you were flammable”
“I’ll just let myself out then.”

Well, many people end up basically making those same few things over and over again, it’s true. Some people simply leave it at that and go on to do something else with their lives, explore some new ideas, and maybe one day they come back and bring those new ideas back with them. Some decide to dig deeper, put in the hours necessary to unearth ideas new, undiscovered, strange, and potent.

It’s not extraordinarily difficult here to find parallels to the game industry– which is fortunate because that’s my job and I don’t feel like working hard right now. We see big-name companies retreading the same ground over and over again, slight variations on a theme; we sometimes see developers like Jordan Mechner branch out and explore other media; and we see primarily indie developers digging deep into unexplored territory in search of novelty.

All of these are valuable services. Refining old ideas, bringing in outside ideas, and digging for new ideas are all part of keeping the overall design space healthy. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy for these to take over the design of a game. Design retreads, cinematic semi-games, avant-garde experimental games, all of these tend to be much more valuable as examples than they are as games themselves. The problem with all three of these, as driving elements of a game design at least, is that they will never be robust enough to build a memorable experience on top of. Puzzles, excitement, simple tensions with simple solutions, these are all easily forgotten the next day. Perhaps it can be good for making money, having an audience which always seeks more from you because everything you offer is quickly digested and without substance, but if you’re interested in creating anything aside from the disposable it’s valuable to look past novelty and tradition as the foundations of a game.

What’s important to making something truly compelling isn’t how new or how old the ideas involved are, but how big and how meaningful they are, and how well the game expresses those ideas. Well-honed ideas and newly discovered ideas can both be extremely powerful tools in expressing these big and meaningful concepts, but they can’t drive the design of a game in the same way.

It’s peculiar to conceive of a zombie abomination which is not soulless, but merely animated by an insufficiency of soul. However, that’s exactly what most of the so-called ‘triple-A’ game-space is: There are ideas there, good and worthy and interesting ideas, but ideas nowhere near robust enough to act as the nucleus for these hundred-million dollar budgets to be built upon.

Pictured: 80% of modern games.
(Take that how you will)

So it falls to me to repeat myself once more: What’s important is that you know where you’re going with your game. What’s important is that you can sieve out the design concepts which are useful for expressing the particular idea that is the ‘soul’, or foundation, of your game, which of course means that you must first be able to zero in on what that foundation is. What’s important is to play games, and to understand them, because understanding the design tropes used by others and how they have expressed (or failed to express) the idea driving those games helps give you tools to tackle your own design problems.

Basically: Don’t be afraid to retread the old. Don’t be afraid to embrace the new, either. Just be sure you’re doing it for a reason, and are not merely enamored with tradition or novelty. Traditions are useful because they’re known, and novelties are interesting because they’re unknown, but except in situations where you’re specifically trying to express the known or the unknown (which do exist: see Spec Ops: The Line) there’s no intrinsic usefulness to either of these properties.

I guess, again, repeating incessantly: Evaluate each idea you use, individually and on its own merits, and how well it serves your purpose.

Always.

Important ideas are worth repeating.

EveHeader

Yup. Holidays, finals, etcetera. It’s been a little bit difficult to find time to work on this project, and, as I keep on mentioning I’m getting frustrated with how slowly things are progressing but yeah.

It can wait until next year, probably.

So here’s what I have managed to do:

EveDetailEditor02

Sliders! And lots of them! Those are all unlabeled and not really hooked up right now, but in time (hopefully not a lot of time) they will control the distance, size, rotation, color (RGB), and transparency of Detail elements. In addition to those, I’ll be adding some checkboxes to enable or disable properties, and a list of available details to load in and use. Sliders are a nice start, though.

Very tactile.

Since this is a pretty short update, there’s a couple of other things I’d like to talk about.

First, the new schedule: As you may have noticed, I’m going to be posting DevBlog updates on Sunday from now on. I had originally intended to post them at 10AM, but it took me a while to get this one done and it is Sunday so I think I’m going to make this a tradition and put the DevBlog updates up at noon. It seems like a nice time of day for it. Other blog updates will go up at 10am Tuesday (500-1000 words) and Friday (1000-2000 words).

Second: Ludum Dare. Those of you who were paying attention may have noticed me talk a bit about doing the last Ludum Dare and then quietly drop the subject without mentioning what happened. The theme this year was You Are The Villain, and I had an idea for the theme which I thought was pretty interesting: Basically, making a game in Twine or another similar interactive fiction tool told from the perspective of someone suicidally depressed who kept reliving pieces of their lives and thinking about what a terrible person they were. I wanted to play around with the idea of someone who perceives themselves as villainous, since the people who we tend to think of as villains rarely perceive themselves that way.

So why didn’t I make it?

Well, I started to. However, at the same time I was doing this I was playing through The Walking Dead, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, everyone around me was in a shitty mood, and I was loaded down pretty heavily with obligations. Basically, my life was already bleak enough, and I didn’t feel up to writing a depressing-ass game on top of that.

I was planning on posting some of the bits of work that I’d done on it here, but now that I look they seem actually kind of pretty shitty, so I won’t be doing that. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t feel up to finishing it then. Still think it’s kind of an interesting idea, if there’s any way to keep it from turning into a total self-indulgent angst-fest.

Wittner_metronome

A little while back I wrote this:

“Lately it seems like all the games I play are rhythm games. The reason it seems this way is because all games have their own rhythm, and in tandem with the accompanying soundtracks there is always a meta-rhythm if only one is attuned to it.”

This is an idea I’d like to talk a little bit more about, because I think it might be easy to misunderstand what I’m saying here. In this piece, i’m talking about playing Super Hexagon. Now, while the beat of the music in Super Hexagon certainly helps drive the action, it’s generally not in your best interests as a player to pay too much attention to it because the action isn’t particularly synced up to the beat. Even if it were, you’d have to account for movement time, so there would be an offset of however long it would take you to perform a particular maneuver, which of course changes based on the distance you need to travel– there isn’t even a constant relationship between the required input and the beat.

But there is a relationship, and I think experiencing that relationship is one of the things that makes Super Hexagon so compelling. Once you become familiar enough with the relationship between the game’s rhythm and the music’s rhythm, you can use the music to calibrate your motions in-game. I wouldn’t recommend everyone try to play that way, since it can easily lead one astray, but it is one of the channels of information the game provides you with.

The thing is: There’s always a rhythm, because everything we encounter in life emerges from the behavior of systems. These are often systems far too complex for us to understand, so most rhythms of our lives go unnoticed like frequencies of noise or light beyond our perception, but the systems are there and they march to their own beat.

Any time you combine two rhythms, you create a new and more complex one: Two dreary evenly spaced tap-tap-tap-tap rhythms become quite interesting indeed when combined, provided they happen at different speeds. The mind starts anticipating when the taps will again sync up and when they will achieve peak desynchronization.

Water_drop_animation_enhanced_small

And we each have our own rhythms. It could be your heartbeat but it probably isn’t, though it is nice to think of that as that which drives the rhythm of your life since it appeals to our poetic sensibilities. No, it’s more just that we each have our own pace that we prefer things to happen at, a rhythm at which we understand the world. This beat speeds up and slows down with our moods.

When we can begin to perceive the combined rhythm of ourselves and the systems we interact with, that’s when things begin to get really exciting. It begins to be possible to really inhabit a system, become it, and control it.

Of course this is all just a metaphor.

Of course this is all just a nice-sounding way of describing the excitement of understanding a system.

But it’s useful to speak in metaphors because we think in metaphors, and often approach problems through them. Try to perceive your own rhythm, try to perceive the world’s, and try to measure the difference and relationship between them. Try to find the meta-rhythm.

If nothing else, there’s rarely anything to be lost by trying to listen just a little bit more closely.

These few days here are super intense, and I didn’t have time to update the game today. I will be back on the job starting Friday.

In fact, all things considered this seems like a good time to shift over to the new update schedule, wherein I target DevBlog updates for Sundays. Along with that will likely come a different update for the non-DevBlog posts as well. I think perhaps a 500-1000 word update on Monday and a 1000-2000 word update on Friday may be a good target.

I don’t like missing updates, but I think what’s most important is to stay on the case. I’ll make posts like this on DevBlog dates even if I am unable to get any work done during the week, because it’s important to face that. It’s gonna happen sometimes, and it IS the Holiday season.

Anyway. Enjoy your holidays, all. Next update on Saturday morning as usual, next DevBlog on Sunday.

The-Walking-Dead

I’m a bit late to the party on The Walking Dead, as I tend to be with games in general right now. I would have liked to get in on the series earlier, to enjoy each episode as it came out and wait in suspense for the next, but I simply couldn’t afford to. On the plus side, that means I get to go on an archive binge.

Hypothetically.

In point of fact, episode 3 left me too emotionally exhausted to continue playing right away, particularly since there are a number of other pressing demands on my time this week, and being able to focus on them without thinking about the… things I’ve seen… would be nice.

This is the only game I’ve ever played that’s threatened to give me a survivor’s guilt complex.

Extremely vaguely stated spoilers may or may not follow. If you are of an inquisitive mindset, you may be able to infer some plot points. If you’re a spoiler-phobic sort, you might prefer not to read the rest of this.

“A game is a series of interesting choices,” is how Sid Meier put it. This quotation usually tends to be processed in the context of the games he has made himself, elegant systems-driven strategy games, so it’s interesting to view The Walking Dead through this lens. In most games, the narrative is merely a backdrop for this systemic gameplay space. Games which wish to emphasize the narrative tend to do so by making it bigger and shrinking the gameplay space smaller which, of course, tends to devalue player input.

The branching narrative structure of the game helps avoid this issue. Obviously The Walking Dead didn’t invent the branching narrative, but it takes it as a design ethos further than most, going to extraordinary lengths to make the choices presented as difficult, relevant and, most importantly, numerous as possible. Every interaction with the game has some tiny element of choice, whether you choose to ask a difficult question or let sleeping dogs lie, press someone to commit or back off and let them come to you.

The path ahead is obscured by branches. At the tip of each branch is a tragedy of different weight, and you have to navigate them blindly.

There’s no guarantee that the consequences of your actions will be at all what you intended.

I tried to do everything for the best, I really did. I tried to help everyone, to trust everyone, and when it came down to it I tried to do what was best for the group.

Sometimes reasoning isn’t what people need.

The group buckled under pressure, in disastrous fashion, and some characters who I had come to care about died.

Somewhere, in my computer, is locked the reason why. Somewhere, in my computer, is locked the alternate reality where they survived. Or perhaps there was no way they could have. Perhaps they were doomed.

But the very possibility. Did I do something wrong? Should I have been more forceful, and picked a side and stuck to it and stomped on this conflict before it combusted? Is it because I didn’t that someone is dead? Is there some alternate reality where this didn’t happen?

it’s very strange to find myself asking myself the same questions that survivors have asked themselves since the beginning of time, and know the answer is actually out there, locked in binary.

Most relationships in games are transactional. You’re nice to people because you want them to like you because you want to see the PG-13 sex scene or get the good ending or get the ultimate weapon. You do side quests for them so that they’ll trust you so that they’ll give you the key to the temple. As Lee, in a world full of zombies, I want these characters to like me so that they’ll have my back, and so that they will trust me when I need them to in order to save their lives. I want them to be happy because it upsets me when they aren’t, even though I know everything will probably go to shit anyway.

We only write stories about zombie apocalypses because we believe it’s worth it to keep fighting after everything is lost anyway.

The greatest insight of The Walking Dead was to immediately, in the first few minutes of the game, let you know what you’re fighting for.

clementine

For Clementine.

And really, when you remember what you’re really fighting for, most choices are already made for you.

I’ve always been fascinated with being unknown. I tend to dress simply and I tend to speak quietly and I tend not to be noticed. I love the anonymity of the internet and am constantly dismayed by the abuse of it. Sometimes I like to squeeze into tight places like closets and gaps in a wall and feel like I’ve disappeared into the stone and wood of the building and become part of it.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of having a mutable identity, with being a different person from day to day. There is a constant tension in my mind between my resentment at having to be just one person, with just one identity, and my desire for safety and stability. Sometimes, for just a moment, when I’m around other people, I’m able to forget exactly which one I am.

I’ve always been fascinated by the sense of getting into someone’s thoughts, knowing what they’d do, and defeating them with the power of empathy. This emerges from my fascination with mutable identity, because once you’re able to slip out of your mind and into theirs it’s just a small step to use that against them.

________________________________

It’s a remarkable thing about multi-player FPSes in general how much you can tell what someone’s thinking merely by what they do in game, with just the slightest variations in facing… this is important in two ways when you play spy. First, from your perspective, you have to be careful about what you’re communicating to the people you’re trying to fool, and second, from theirs, you have to know the MOMENT that they’ve figured you out so that you can get out of there alive (or make a last ditch effort for a desperate kill).

And the most reliable indicator? Eye contact! Between goofy FPS characters! Players tend to look past their allies and ignore them in order to focus on their opponents. Thus, any time the enemy team is looking at you you want to avoid looking at other enemies and look at your allies as though they’re enemies, and whenever an enemy looks right at you it’s a good indicator that it’s time to make yourself scarce.

(Of course, the intriguing Catch-22 here is that if you’re not looking at your opponents you won’t be able to tell when they’re looking at you. This can get a bit nerve-wracking…)

I think the way human body language seeps into the mode of communication even in an entirely constructed game world is amazing, but relatively few games actually do anything to support that interaction. TF2’s spy mechanics are the only instance I know of of a game not only having this layer of communication as a central gameplay mechanic, but making lying through that channel of information a foundation of gameplay. Frankly, I don’t believe it was done altogether intentionally.

Regardless. I like being anonymous, I like being mutable, I like being able to trick people.

Let us dearly hope I never find my way into politics.