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Monthly Archives: June 2013

EveHeader

TIGJam went fantastically and I got a ton of work done, but now I’m back home and trying to find a new rhythm to settle into after the jam. It’s not made any easier by the sun abruptly noticing it’s Summertime and heatblasting me into groggy nocturnality. Oh well: If work was easy we wouldn’t call it work. We’d call it… actually we’d probably call it easy work, I guess. Whatever.

Most of the stuff here is stuff I got done at the jam, though I’ve put some finishing touches on it since I got back. Let’s have us a look-see:

Now, as of the last update I’d begun implementing the run animations I’d previously created into the game. I’ve finished that, and the run animations are completely functional: Not only does this look neat and give me a better idea of where I’m going aesthetically, it also shows me certain things about what’s happening to the state of the character that I didn’t know before, which has shown me a couple of bugs which I’ve added to the list of things to fix.

After doing that, I went ahead and implemented the rough crouch animations I had done previously: Then, annoyed by the roughness of said rough animations, I went ahead and developed some nice animations based on the framework I’d created for them.

EveCrouch03

There’s a few things remaining to be fixed, but this certainly captures the motion I want very well. I should actually be sure to finish polishing these up since I don’t want this task to slip through the cracks. Maybe I can get that done this weekend.

After this, I was a little bit burned out on animation tasks, but I wanted to see how they’d look in a semi-finished game environment. So, I loaded in the Titan Seed area sketch I did way back in February (jeeeeez), and edited the level mesh to match it. The results are… pretty decent.

EveAnimationTestTitanSeed01

I think I need to put some serious thought at some point into the aesthetics of this game though. For one thing, I have some concerns about the difficulty of visually distinguishing between interactive elements and foreground/background elements here. And, for another instance, I think that no matter how nice my drawing is, if I just load it in with no animations it’s going to look static and dull. If I can add some animated effects, even if they don’t look great, I think it will add a lot more life to the world. This is something Braid did very well, using particle effects aggressively to give the terrain a feeling of life and malleability that is unusual and compelling.

Finally, with the last couple of days (and a couple of hours of extra work once I got home), I composed a new piece for the third area of the first chapter, the Orphan Gardens. This area starts with Eve traveling up a staircase into the sky through a great and confusing storm, which eventually clears away to show the calm and beautiful, but still very dangerous, gardens. The piece is in two main sections, one for the storm and one for the calm, and loops each of these once.

So that’s this week! Hopefully by the time next week’s update rolls around I will have recovered from my trip and adjusted to the heat and will have some new progress to report. I honestly couldn’t be happier with the way TIGJam went, but with every piece of progress comes new problems and concerns that need to be addressed, and the size and scope of the project becomes ever clearer: It’s a good thing, but also a scary thing– but still so exciting!

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Back Scratcher

Here’s something that sucks: The people who are closest to me, the people who I’d most like to impress and astound with my work, they’ll probably never be able to see it the way that other people do. Because I rely on my friends and family so much for feedback, and I run ideas by them, brainstorm, explore alternatives, because they see the world I’m making come together in my head, I’ll never be able to have them as audience members. It may sound petty, but it’s been something that has genuinely upset me and that I’ve had to work to get past– I used to avoid sharing any of my ideas because I wanted people to see only the polished final product. I still have that tendency, really, I’ve just been forced to learn to mute it over the past few years by hard necessity as, if I didn’t, I just probably wouldn’t get anything done ever.

To be honest, this is particularly a difficulty in the field I’ve chosen (video games) and the path I’ve chosen through that field (independent developer). If I was developing something smaller and more self-contained, like a novel or a musical album, I’d be able to create at very least discrete chunks of it at a time and share it with select test-audiences of friends and family which they could enjoy in much the same way as a normal audience would. Or, conversely, if I worked in a team I would have a robust environment for feedback every day and wouldn’t need to rely nearly as much on the people close to me for critique and validation. The more I think about it, this is a peculiar sort of situation I’ve found myself in, with my intended audience stuck backstage, unable to see the show except by side view, the sound muffled by curtains, the props unpainted and grotesque from behind.

More than anyone else, though, this is true of myself: I’m the one who I’m making games for, I’m the one trying to create worlds that I find interesting and exciting, worlds that I long to be a part of in some way– and yet, I’ll never be able to experience these worlds in the way I want to. I’ll never be able to be in them without seeing the missed opportunities and flaws– and, make no mistake, there will be flaws: There always are.

Yeah, it’s easy to say that creation is rewarding in a wholly different way, and that I am getting a unique experience from this that no one else who plays it will find, and that without me the thing wouldn’t exist in the first place. That’s all true: It doesn’t matter. It still makes me sad that I’ll never come to myself as a stranger, meet these worlds that I’ve constructed for the first time. It is a fictional nostalgia of a nostalgic fiction.

Is that nonsensical? No matter: It’s my job to long for things that are nonsensical. The grass is always greener, right up until the point where it becomes way, way too green and you just have to claw your eyes out to shield yourself from the majesty of all that goddamn green.

Oh well. Fuck it. I don’t even like grass. I’m allergic to that shit. It was probably sour anyway.

EveHeader

Had a couple of off days this week, but made up for it with a run of programming days that ranged from okay to great and some solid writing progress. I’ve been working on figuring out animation issues, which also ended up pulling me into rewriting my character behavior code. Before, I had everything hard coded into the player character, but I’ve pulled all of that stuff out into a set of customizable behaviors for each different trait of movement. These can be modified separately to the character, and also triggered through code as well as being directly hooked up to player input.

Now: That was pretty good as a start. But today is, in fact, the first day of TIGJam, a gathering of independent game developers, and for the first time in a loooooong while was the only opportunity I’ve had to really focus on working on this game, free of any and all distractions. And work I did! I got all of the animation implementation code added into the movement behavior, which has the most complicated set of animation interactions, and even added a class to support transitions between different animations such that, once all of the starting and stopping animations are developed, it should be extremely easy to add them into the game. Since I’d been working for 8 or 9 solid hours I took a break after I got all of that working, but this is huge progress to make in a single day. I would have, under other circumstances, expected to spend a week or two getting all of this together. There’s still 2 and a half days of TIGJam left, and I hope to get as much or more achieved on these subsequent days!

Aside from programming, I have written out the story for the final area, a story which, aside from the beginning and the end, can be told in any order. I’ve also begun work on the compiled design document, a job which involves collating all of my notes for each area and then editing them together into a consistent style and tone– since I’ve discarded many of the ideas I had when I begun and have gotten a much clearer idea of what I want this game to be as I go this is particularly difficult for the earlier levels. I’m also in the process of taking the stories I wrote before, editing them to make them more succinct and consistent in tone, re-ordering them to an order I think is most interesting and, finally, chopping them up into segments and adding directions on where each segment is going to play. I haven’t gotten too far into that whole task, yet, but I’ve gotten far enough in now to know what the task is and that it’s going to be a fair bit more difficult than I’d anticipated. Still, with each step I get closer to something concrete, and my vision of Eve becomes that much clearer.

I’m excited to see what tomorrow will bring, as I continue to refocus on my work and really bring this game to life. Hopefully next week’s devblog will be even more packed with exciting progress and news!

EveLogo1

Seven young sisters lived alone in the woods. Their father left long ago on business and never returned.

One day the youngest grew ill. Her sisters tried all they knew to cure her to no avail. They prayed for their father to return and cure her with his power but he never came. They buried her in the yard.

From her grave grew a strange tree, flat along the ground, white as bone. It grew in the shape of a door, and though they knew from death it grew and to death it lead it called to them each night.

One by one, they left their beds to enter the door down into the dirt. They were not ever seen again above the ground.

 

One sister ventured beneath and saw the Birdcage Row, the bars she spun about herself to keep herself safe and to hide her beasts from the world. She walked down it, seeing the bars that tore when the beast had grown too great to contain, or when some greed too great had torn them through to devour what was inside.

She fell asleep in a cage, there, and when she awoke it was all she knew. The silver lattice was so beautiful to her that she was blinded to the prison it comprised, and lived the rest of her days there, deep in the land of oblivion, believing herself to be free.

 

One sister ventured beneath and found the Sleeping Chamber. She awoke, then, in her own bed, certain that it had been a dream. And awoke again, and again. She went mad, trapped between a dream of the future, pressed underground, and a vast past that always ended in fuzzy failed memory.

She never awakes, now, for fear of the weight of responsibility that thought brings. Easier to commit oneself to the dream, to be secure in one’s own irrelevance, than to always be trying to be in two places at once.

 

One sister ventured beneath and fell into the sink of the Red Kitchen: A sea of churning blood, the massacred swaths of those she had killed or caused to never be born by existing and by surviving in this cruel world.

She struggled in the bloody mess and made a ship of bones, with a sail of skin. She became queen of that rancid sea, for it was either to embrace it or to drown in it. She sails it, hunting those who do not have the will to kill, or to accept that they must, and wears their teeth, and laughs, and dances.

 

One sister ventured beneath, into The Deep End and sank deep into wet dirt. The fingers of mud crawled through her hair and into her mouth and crushed her into the black depths of the earth. She sought nothing, and nothing is what she found, a nothing too great to be regarded without being consumed.

She is still there, her pure white bones looking up through the dirt, listening to the many footsteps of those waiting to join her. She is happy there, in the deep cold mud, and the dimly remembered light of a candle keeps her warmer and safer than our sun could ever keep us.

 

One sister ventured beneath with her friends, and found herself alone together with them in a tiny red room. They spent so long there that they began to breath in sync with one another, to have the same thoughts at the same time, until eventually each forgot that they were not the other and became one person.

And yet, every night, she dreams that her shadow speaks to her in different voices, the voices of people long ago consumed by a hungering mind. She wakes to find the pictures, drawn against the faded white walls of the red room, left there by an unknown but familiar-seeming hand.


One sister ventured beneath and found a Forgotten Study. She found a book, there, which told her of another book, which she also found. Each book led to the next, until the stacks piled up into the night sky.

She climbed the stack until the air grew thin and weightless, until one day she slipped and fell upwards. Now, she has only the last book she found, and reads it over and over, and somehow, for her, that’s enough.

The first and youngest sister ventured beneath before any of the others and planted the tree that would lead them on their way. She found for herself a paradise that only existed in her heart and, because it could never be, she came to know that she could never be.

The disease that took her was a poison she drank. The light of the sun could not have cured her: Her sisters prayed in vain. Her poison was her paradise, and she left a door in the earth to lead her sisters on the way. They never found her, but she will never know, for all is the same, one way or the other, where she is now.

EveLogo2

unbreakable elijah priceI no longer expend the effort to believe that I belong anywhere. Perhaps this is maturity, or perhaps it’s maturity that I am basically okay with this fact and am secure in my loneliness– for now. It has become easier since I began to perceive this with clarity and accept it as a fact of my life: The same way the nature of an ache changes when you remember how you injured yourself to cause it, the nature of this discomfort changes once I acknowledge it, and becomes bearable

I don’t really expect ever again to feel like I really belong in any space I do not create for myself. This is most obviously true in the realm of fiction and art, since it’s obvious to anyone that working to create this space is one of the things that drives me, but it also is true of my life itself. I am trying to shape my life, to carve away at it day by day and shape it into someplace where I am comfortable, someplace where I can live. Thus, I am not just working to construct one world, but two: A real world and a world of imagination, a dual space, one I can straddle, within which I can spread my wings.

Somehow, not everyone seems to feel this way. This is something I have been forced to accept on weight of evidence, though I still find it super unconvincing. Apparently, some people somehow manage to find lives which fit them out their first try or two– or, perhaps, it’s merely that beggars can’t be choosers, and a freezing man will gratefully accept a poorly-fitting coat. Maybe it’s just evidence of the luxurious life I’ve lived that I let something as petty as an ill-fitting and itchy existence bother me.

I suppose it’s up to each of us to find where we deviate, where we don’t fit, and craft a social prosthetic around that to take up the slack. For me, though, it’s beginning to seem that this social prosthetic is likely to end up resembling a full-body cast. It’s not that I have a hard time communicating with people, or that I feel awkward and uncomfortable, it’s just that I don’t care. I like people, I like their wants and quirks and their flaws and ambitions, I just have no interest in meeting them. I wish there was a shortcut to knowing people without meeting them. The internet helps somewhat in that regard, but really only softens the blow.

I’m happy, though, I’m grateful, though, that I never fit into this world. Being a loose rock in reality’s wall let me fall free, down into the rainswept valleys of the uncanny and impossible: Where there are more colors; where the light is too bright; where sorrow and joy touch down more acutely, more distantly, more frequently; where death is but a passing dream instead of the final and irrevocable awakening.

How many people get this opportunity?

allthedonuts

The tricky thing about procrastination is how satisfying it is. Say what you will, when your problem is that you’re stressing over a deadline, just doing nothing and letting the deadline slip is a definite solution to that problem, and feels satisfying in its own perverse way.

Not everything which feels like an accomplishment actually is. We like to feed the part of the brain that craves to get things done with false victories, the same way curare feeds false signals to our neural receptors until our muscles slacken and we asphyxiate, having forgotten to breathe. Games, in particular, like to feed into these tendencies: This is one of the ways they are powerful and compelling: This is one of the ways they are dangerous.

Is it okay to feed people false accomplishment? Even if these accomplishments are nothing more than illusions, the mind craves their satisfaction and finds it difficult to resist their allure. The satisfaction which achievement offers is, by its very nature, usually quite difficult to acquire, but games provide a method to circumvent this– to the extent where the term ‘achievement’ has been trivialized into a structure of meaningless rewards games offer players who submit themselves with sufficient aptitude and enthusiasm to the whims of the designers.

cheevos

I hope you like fetch quests

What is it that makes the accomplishments that games offer false, though? The obvious response is that they affect nothing outside of themselves, but the same could be said of reading literature, of doing calculus, of any form of deep thought: Certainly the things learned by the process of doing these things can be applied to affect the outside world, but completing these things in and of themselves is as false, is as totally housed in the mercurial processes of the mind and the medium it interfaces with, as completing a game. The distinction is only the common consensus on whether the things learned can then be applied to affect the world around us in some way.

Is the same not true of games?

Here… is where things fly off the rails. This next part is difficult because each question leads to another question, and the whole thing begins to consume itself.

ouroboros

First: Is it possible for a game to be unethical by offering ’empty calories’? By offering the sensations of achievement, learning,  and exploration without the external benefits? If so, how? Which games are unethical? How is it possible to know what games really offer us, that we aren’t secretly learning things which are beneficial to us, such as patience, research, or abstract social skills?

We spend our time doing so many different things and we never know which of these will benefit us in the long run. Sure, study is nice, but maybe that time spent hanging around with your buddies bullshitting will develop the sense of humor that charms the guy at the party who eventually hires you. Yeah, hard work is swell, but maybe taking a sick day to get that game you’ve been looking forward to will grant you the latitude to perceive your flawed approach to a problem that has been stymieing you. Of course reading the great work of literature is an enriching experience, but reading cheap pulp tells you more about the tastes of the people you have to deal with every day than Faulkner would. Though we can make smart guesses, it’s impossible to unwind causality this way and to know what’s truly the best thing to do: Who would be so arrogant as to suggest otherwise?

frank

Yeah, okay, well. Whatever.

Second: Even if games offer us nothing but happiness, or satisfaction or what-have-you, is that a problem? The problem with pursuing virtual achievements in our current reality is primarily that we, most of us, cannot support ourselves by these worlds alone, but what about the future, and what about those of us who can afford do so now? Why shouldn’t they? Most of our pursuits in life seek to achieve happiness for ourselves and for others, why is it a bad thing if we are able to circumvent the challenges that obscure this happiness using a simulated reality?

There is a thought experiment that explores this very topic, called the Experience Machine (oh, I rather like that title). it suggests that even if a machine were possible of giving flawless and eternal pleasure to the populace of the world, many would not volunteer to submit to it. The reasoning behind this, though, suggests that the machine is not actually flawless: That those under its thrall would be able to tell the difference between false and real experience and be unsatisfied by the former, that there would be limits to the kind of world it could create. Given the option to build a world on top of this world, though, a boundless paradise without suffering that all could partake of, would we choose not to live in it? Isn’t a perfect world, safe and happy for all, precisely what we’re supposed to be working towards?

matrixsteak

Won’t anyone think of the virtual cows?

Third: What are the real benefits of achievement, of creation, of accomplishment? Are they, in the long run, any more tangible than the virtual achievements we cull from our games?

Throughout our history, we have constructed vast monuments to ourselves, lest we forget. We will forget. Eventually, there will be none of us left to remember, and eventually there will be no universe left to remember us. Everything is transitory, but it’s all a matter of degree, isn’t it? Our children’s children’s children are basically strangers: Fuck those guys. How many generations are we supposed to give a shit about? In the long run, constructing a pyramid is only a mildly less transitory accomplishment than getting 100% in Super Meat Boy.

Oh, I hope you didn’t come here for answers: Here, we specialize in questions.

bendermonument

Interestingly, according to Valve’s user metrics more people have constructed gargantuan monuments to themselves than have gotten all the achievements in Super Meat Boy.

EveHeader

Well, I’ve finally fixed the collision code to a point where it is, if not release quality, at least decent enough that I don’t mind leaving it like this for a while while I work on other more interesting challenges. It’s a much more approachable problem now, so when I come back to it in a month or two with fresh eyes and probably a clearer idea of what precisely I want to achieve I should find it easier to make improvements. Mostly, it’s just a problem I’m tired of working on for now, so I’m pleased to finally get it to a point where I feel okay with tabling it for a while.

So, having completed that to my satisfaction, I’ve set on to the next programming task. This was originally going to be a fairly simple implementation of an animation system for the player character, but there are a bunch of questions implied by that which I wasn’t certain how to answer: How to transition between animations in an elegant way, track different animation states, etcetera. I could have brute-forced the problem, but it would create incredibly un-reusable code which kind of sticks in my craw. Instead, I took it back a step further, and started thinking about some kind of highly flexible assignable behavior/ability system.

It’s still a bit hazy, since I haven’t gotten to the implementation stage yet, but the basic idea is that the player starts out as essentially an inanimate block and then you assign to it both behaviors, which update the player each tick, and actions, which update the player whenever a certain input is received. A couple of simple examples might be a behavior of regenerating health, where the player object recovers life every second up to a maximum value, and a jump action, which subtracts from the velocity on the y axis by a certain amount when the correct input is triggered and certain parameters are met (say, being on the ground). I’ve coded a bit of the framework behind these, but the concepts behind them have been a bit too much in flux to make any concrete progress. Hopefully I’ll get all that nailed down and complete this entire system over the course of this week, since it really shouldn’t be that difficult.

So that covers the coding side. On the design side, I’ve written all of the special gallery bits that I talked about last week, now, but there are a couple of special areas which are tricky. One, the Chaos Gallery, is a twist on the formula of the other galleries, but one which I’m still not 100% sure what I want to do with. I’ve written down quite a few notes for possible lines for that section, but I don’t know if I’m happy with them or not. The True Gallery became a different challenge, though: Because this is part of the Pandemonium segment of the game, it threatened to come into conflict with stories already assigned to that part. Instead, however, what it ended up doing was highlighting for me how sparse the narration in that segment is right now. So, instead, I started writing a story for the first half of Pandemonium, including the True Gallery, to be told before the story I had previously planned for that segment. There’s a bit of trickiness here, though, since this is an area where there are 7 challenges which can be solved in any order, so handling the continuity of the story is a bit tricky.

The solution, I decided, was to write a story that can be told in any order. I’ve started writing a story that follows a small cast of characters who each go on their own adventure: Since I know which area holds the beginning and which holds the end, I can start and end the story in the same place, and just write each in-between segment as appropriate.

That’s this week. By next week, I plan to have all of the writing mentioned above complete, and to have started collating all of this stuff into one master design document. However, I’m going to be leaving town to attend the TIGSource TIGJam in Mountainview for a while this week: While I think this will only be good for the progress of the project as a whole, and I hope to make a ton of good progress there, it means I may find it a bit more difficult to keep up with updates for a bit.

EveLogo2

His eyes were locked in place as the paralysis set in

And he could no longer distinguish near from far

far from near

the shards of glass and the stars became indistinct from one another

Some twinkled with the passing of stellar dust

Some twinkled with the passing of headlights

Sirens wailed

Though from here, lying on the pavement, maybe it was birds

Or weeping women or whalesong or yowling cats

With each ticking, numb, dripping moment

Things became more the same

And he thought, well, this is nothing new

I have always been tiny

Insignificant

I have always been ground bound

Ignorant

The only thing that is different is right now I see something amiss

Later, looking at the photos of his wife

Who was now among the stars

He wished he could fly

And finally have the height to see the difference

Between what is mundane and what is meaningful

And fly up to her

And let her know

EveLogo1

433We are so often so inundated with sound that being in a genuinely quiet environment is a strangely potent experience. Right now, the weight of the silence is sufficient enough that I feel obtrusive by tapping at the keyboard, and am muting my typing as best as I am able, but there’s still a quiet distant roar outside like a waterfall almost out of hearing, and faint dog barks, and the quiet hum of my laptop. This is what passes for silence for me. It’s not much but it’s a start.

Silence is an intimidating choice to make, artistically. In films, making part of the film completely silent means that you will hear your fellow audience members, each cough or wheeze or murmur or fart. It can ruin the kind of tense moment that filmmakers usually reserve such silence for. There, too, we often hear a degree of that abstract distant roar, wind or traffic or water in the pipes, that seems to frequently accompany us, just to cover up the obnoxious practicalities a human audience brings. Silence means that whatever you present needs to stand up on its own merits, with no recourse to the cheap poeticism of speech, to the hollow thunder of faked up explosions, to the tawdry manipulations of an orchestral score or to the undirected impulse of a beat.

Making the choice of silence in games is even rarer. Many games avoid forgoing even their musical backing for any length of time, constantly playing musical phrases until they become wrung out and bereft of meaning. Even those which are comfortable with a more sparse musical accompaniment rarely have situations of oppressive silence: Because sound is a fundamental feedback mechanism to let the player know what they’re doing, it’s problematic to have any situation where the player would be incapable of breaking the silence. It’s unusual to even present the player with a silence to be broken, to have a space in the game muted, virginal: To make it seem an uncomfortable violation when the player character actually makes a sound, a footstep or a grunt, and shatters that vast mute.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be unable to hear, to have these mountainous ranges of silence and cacophony constricted to a single band. People often think of the blind man forced to compensate by increased sensitivity to sound and touch, but I wonder if the deaf might sometimes, inured to the manipulations of the Foley artist and composer, see things a bit more clearly. So often, every single channel of information is used to tell and to amplify an emotionally manipulative lie– if one of those channels cuts out, does that lie become more feeble and begin to topple?

Well, perhaps, but there’s more than one way to cast a sin, and people do so love being manipulated that any ground made up would quickly be lost again. Given my druthers, I’d ruther risk the pitfalls of manipulation than be edified by disability.

It would be terrible to never know what silence sounds like.