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Monthly Archives: August 2013

EveHeader

Weird week. Lots of stress coming from lots of different places in my life, lots of missteps, lots of doubt. Sometimes that’s just how it goes I guess.

Well, first thing’s first. I finished the running attack animation. Here’s what it looks like now:

EveRunAttack01

This looks really nice in-game, and segues very naturally into the secondary strike animation I showed last week, so there’s an overall really satisfying flow of attacks for the ground animations. So far, so good, right?

Well, here’s where things started going wrong. I spent 4 days working on the jumping attack animation before realizing that my entire approach was flawed. The attack’s impact was entirely wimpy and unsatisfying. I noticed there was something wrong after a couple of days, but it took me a while longer to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t just a bad animation (though, to be honest, it wasn’t great), it was a poorly conceived attack altogether.

The thing is, being able to attack relatively quickly on the ground works well because you can really feel the weight of the swings. In the air, however, its hard to sell that weight, since any real momentum would cause her to spin. This is probably why you see a lot of twisty uppercuts and spin attacks in games – well, that and they look awesome as shit. Anyway, I decided a bunch of rapid attacks were no good.

I started thinking about air attacks a bit differently: What if they didn’t behave the same as normal attacks? I had been operating on the assumption that an air attack would behave in exactly the same as a ground attack (with the obvious exception that it happens in the air), but that wasn’t working well. So, here’s my current thinking: instead of there just being a strike which quickly ends, as with ground attacks, each jump has two attack phases, rising and falling, if you perform an attack during these phases it is maintained until either you reach the top of your jump arc or you land. Thus, the sense of weight and impact is maintained, and I don’t have to do any weird ninja moves like spinning in the air: All of the force is directed straight up and straight down.

It’s going well! I started work on the animation today, and I’ve already got the rising attack more or less done. Check it out:

EveJumpAttack02

It’s just a few frames here but, as I mentioned, in practice it will be maintained until the peak of her jump. It might take a little bit of extra animation to make that happen, but eh you get the idea. It will also take some extra programming, relative to the other attacks, to make everything function properly, but that shouldn’t be too big a deal.

So yeah. I’m going to be doing the descending attack animation next, then the crouch attack animation, and then… then I’m basically done doing all of the animations for the player character!

Well… the wireframe animations that is. Obviously I still need to do the hand-drawn versions. And color them. And then I need to do the animations for all of the other chapters as well. But still, it’s definitely an important milestone in the visual development of this project!

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Fireworks

Every time something new enters our lives, we rewrite our story to accommodate it. We project it into our future, and sometimes into our pasts, in order to construct a story for ourselves that makes sense and tells us who we are and who we want to be.

This story… It’s never quite right, but sometimes it’s close enough, sometimes it lives a long time. modified bit by bit until its unrecognizable, just like a person ages, day by day. Sometimes it lives long enough to die with us. Just as often, though, it dies suddenly, brutally, and unceremoniously.

It’s not a tragedy, but it’s not easy.

Wishes are fireworks that float away or explode. Plans are grains of sugar that melt in the rain. Even when they collapse, lose stability, and disappoint the high hopes entrusted to them, they are still so beautiful, still so sweet, it’s impossible to regret them. In the end, the dissolution of a story about ourselves becomes a component of a grander, sadder, stranger, truer and more complex story about ourselves.

These stories intersect when we meet each other, and they seldom agree. All of these people who surround me, strange and complex and human, are the main character of their own stories, but mostly they’re just extras in mine. Mostly they are nuisances or conveniences, cardboard cutouts: AI bots. I know that’s not the extent of who they are, I am not caught in some self-indulgent solipsism, but that is the extent to which they exist in my story about me.

If it were otherwise, it wouldn’t be a story, it would be a phone book.

I’ve expressed concern before about the implications of the ways that games show less-important characters as being less than human, but really all that is is a terribly blunt look at the way the human mind works. These are the roles that we cast our fellows as. The terrorist, the obstacle, the sheeple, the civilian, the statistic. Some are uglier than others, but they are all the same kind of shallow non-person.

The danger is that in games, that is literally all they are. If you poke under the surface, it turns out that terrorists really are just robots trying to murder you, and the girl really does exist solely to be rescued. You cannot ask them why they are who they are, ask the terrorist why he’s so angry, ask the girl why she’s so helpless. That is the extent of them.

We get used to that path being closed to us.

We get used to the only part of a person we see being the surface that they willfully project outwards.

It becomes easy to believe that the cover is the book, that the clothes make the man.

And the possibility space of what our story about ourselves can be becomes smaller, becomes more constrained, and begins to shut out the possibility of ever knowing another human being.

Maybe its best to have these little firework daydreams explode now and then; to throw us off course; to show us that not all things can be predicted; to show us that there are, indeed, more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. To show us that we are not alone.

We were never alone.

Shutter Island is difficult to talk about. I find it difficult to even draw vague comparisons without worrying about giving away too much. I guess the main thing to say is that, going in, nothing is as it seems, and the story we think we are being told somehow turns, somehow slithers in our grasp, and turns itself into something else.

It’s a story about stories, and the roles they play in our lives, and how easily we can blind ourselves to the realities of our lives by wrapping them in a pleasant lie. The criminals of Shutter Island craft intricate narratives where they were the victims, or that everything is still fine, or tales so deeply personally byzantine that they cannot be told. It’s easy to see their flimsy fabrications for what they are from the outside, but to them they are utterly convincing, which raises the question:

On what grounds do we believe our own narrative? Why is our own history sacrosanct?

The only reason, seemingly, that this never bothers us, is because we are never told by nice men in white coats that it really really should.

Now: Coming up on ProMaRaRo this week:

Gravity’s Rainbow

Well, that’s what I drew. But, to be perfectly honest, I’m having a rough week, and this seems like the worst possible time to tackle an infamously dense, long, and difficult novel. I’m going to have to put it back in the jar, for now, regretfully. I was planning on going for at least three draws before exercising my privilege to swap things out, but… well, as I said, it’s been a rough week.

Thus: In place of this week’s draw, I’m substituting Anodyne. What do I know about this? I know it’s a top-down puzzle/adventure game with a retro style. It’s been compared to A Link to the Past, and to my senses the overall aesthetic seems similar to Chrono Trigger. I’ll be starting it today.

memento

We are connected, each day to the last, by the path of our history. Your memories are the map, and every so often you compare the landmarks of your life against what you see on that map and, invariably, if only ever so slightly, you find the two do not align.

Did something move the landmarks? A silent earthquake, someone constructing their own path, or the mischievous whim of a wanderer or deity?

Or: Is there something wrong with your map? Was it damaged, or censored, or sabotaged without your knowledge or your consent? Did you just draw it wrong in the first place?

These maps, our memories, are never perfect, and that is inherently discomforting. We cannot see the path behind us, nor in front of us, and if our map is wrong we can predict neither where we’ve been nor where we’re going.

Some of us see a path so terrible that we redact or modify our maps so that we may pretend they were never there.

404-image

Is it weird to have nostalgia for an error code?

In games, our memories start when the experience does – however, in the narrative of that game, your history frequently extends back through the years. Games hand us fragments of memory piecemeal to allow us to construct a map, or they show us our characters’ past effects upon the world, landmarks, by which to trace their steps: Neither of these can, necessarily, be trusted, but they never seem to lie.

This is somewhat ironic, because in our own lives our memories so rarely tell us the truth. The truth is, we can’t handle the truth. Our memories aren’t just a record of events, they’re a part of the story that you tell yourself about yourself. And, just like the stories that we’re raised on, certain roles need to be filled: Friends become Companions, enemies become Villains. Everything becomes bigger and simpler and more important in the Story of Who We Are.

Most of us achieve a degree of emotional maturity and are able to recognize that these personal narratives aren’t always reliable, but in games they are simply seldom questioned. Oh, there are twists and turns, enemies turn out to be friends, friends enemies, someone is not who they seemed to be, you’re working for the wrong side, etcetera. None of these affect your character’s history before the game starts. That map of the past may be vague, but it is set in stone.

twdpast

No matter what you say, you still killed that dude. You monster.

Why?

Games have to work so hard to build a convincing world in the first place.  Every facet of the world is crafted to be convincing, feel real. Their sense of verisimilitude created is dependent upon the player believing what they are told about their character. The salient difference between games and other media is that, in those other media, the audience isn’t expected to directly inhabit the character, to treat them as an avatar: Under those circumstances, forcing them to question that character’s perception of the world in no way makes that world itself less believable. However, in games, if they are told to question the false history they are given, they are working directly at cross-purpose to the game’s attempt to establish a believable world. Attacking the false history, calling the character profile into question, calls into question the very basis of the player’s engagement with the game. It is shaking the experience at its core.

The player’s response to being told their memories are lies could go in one of two obvious directions:: First, “Well, why did you lie to me then?” or, second, “Of course they are, I’m just a dude in a chair playing a video game, duh”. Neither are especially conducive to a compelling gameplay experience.

Is it good enough to say that this is just something games aren’t good at? Is it satisfying to declare that this is territory that our medium cannot explore due to its nature?

There has to be a way to frame the narrative of a game such that a player can be fed unreliable information about their character’s history without calling into question their entire basis of interaction.

Well, in point of fact, I can think of a single good example of a game that does it well: Final Fantasy 7, of all things. In FF7, the main character, Cloud, tells his story relatively early on in the game, in the form of a playable flashback. Much later in the game, he realizes that he, oh, shall we say, ‘misremembered’ the specifics of the events, and we watch as the changes ripple through the flashback we played earlier.

Cg_cloud

Haha, look at that guy! Funny hair! Big sword! Silly! Gaming humor, am I right?

I believe that there are two reasons why this works: First, the back-story is couched in a gameplay section instead of being passed directly to the player. This presents it as part of the work itself, to be actively parsed and digested, instead of just being offered as an assumption to the player. Second, the information is being offered up by the character instead of by the game itself. Because the player relates to the character as a person, to one degree or another, he or she understands that that character may end up injecting bits of their personality into the narrative, and doesn’t feel betrayed when, ah, misrememberings occur.

It’s curious, though, that despite Final Fantasy 7 being a massive hit, very few games have seemingly sought to emulate that particular bold narrative stroke. Though games have their own intriguing narrative experiments, they tend to erect a wall between the present and the past, and to treat their pasts as we wish we could treat our own: Immutable. Untouchable. Sacrosanct. Eternal.

EveHeader

This attack animation turned out to be the most challenging since I did the run cycle, but I think I’ve gotten it, if not necessarily perfect yet, pretty dang good. Good enough that I’ve decided to move on to the rest of the attack animations, which will hopefully be a bit less tricky, especially with the practice I’ve gotten from these attack animations. So, here’s what they look like now:

EveAttackR EveAttackLI got the attack behavior roughed in in-game to test these animations and so far it’s looking really good. Though the animations may look a bit jerky and shakey here, since the player sprite in-game is about half-size the motion actually looks completely natural when I test it.

This is also kind of an interesting experiment in frame timing for me. When I first completed this animation, the motion seemed a little bit too fast: I think I mentioned before that I want each attack to be a discrete and important decision when playing the game. I slowed each of the recovery frames down a little bit, but, more importantly, I slowed the strike frame itself down a lot: The difference was immediately noticeable. This way, the attack snaps, and feels much more powerful. It feels like an attack that matters now. It feels good.

Timing is important.

I’ve currently started work on the running attack too. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

EveRunAttack01R

It’s from a standing start here, but it’s normally to be used when the character is moving forward before the attack starts. Actually, the strike frame may possibly be usable for the crouch-strike as well, something I intend to test once I finish this animation. It would look really smooth to be able to use that attack as a transition between standing and crouching depending on the character’s current state at the time.

So, that’s it for now. Not a huge update, but some good progress here, and I think it’s at least kind of fun to look like. I’m hoping to get all of the other attack animations finished for next update, have them imported into the game and feeling fairly smooth – and, once all that’s complete, it will be time to begin the task of making them actually affect the game world, so that it is truly an attack instead of just going through the motions.

birthofman

Sitting in front of my computer at night, I can perfectly envision the reaction – the overlap, the rejection, the vector of projection, the object of collision – but I can’t make it happen quite the way I want. It’s always just a little bit off. It always comes out just slightly wrong. Over and over I test it out, hoping these increasingly tiny and finicky changes I’ve implemented are enough to make it right, make it finally reach the perfect feel I can envision, but as I move towards it it always seems to be in half-measures, Zeno’s paradox, always an infinitesimal distance away.

After the stroke my dad came to suffer from the affliction ‘apraxia’. As distinct from the more well-known condition aphasia, which makes it difficult or impossible to recall the appropriate words, apraxia affects the muscle memory of the vocal apparatus, causing one to forget  how to form the correct words. He so often knows exactly what he wants to say, but can’t quite remember how the sound is shaped, and has to feel is way through it, step by step, tasting the outline of the word he wants to speak as he goes.

Negotiating the boundaries of an unknown relationship, something that could come to mean something big in my life, I try to verbally navigate the labyrinths of another human being, of what motives she reads from my words and silences, mysterious to me, plain to her. Bit by bit, we spotlight the miscommunications, the expectations unfulfilled, the connections missed, the worries that burrow, and we try to eradicate them with a deeper understanding, try to align our disparate languages to find a common tongue.

We’re lost. Admit it, we’re lost, so fucking lost, and desperately looking for landmarks. The signature of what we know is lost in the inky blank void of everything that is unknowable, and if you’re going anywhere at all and if you’re paying any attention at all you’ll notice there’s nothing outside of that window that looks familiar in the least. Everything that seems like it might be something familiar is actually something else underneath that surface, and is changing all the time anyway.

How dare you think that you have any idea what’s going on?

I’m grateful to actually feel lost once in a while, instead of merely knowing conceptually that I am. It’s all well and good to know enough to know that I know nothing, but it’s helpful to be slapped in the face once in a while with something that I definitely know nothing about to reinforce that point. I am feeling my way through the dark, I have no idea where I am or where I’m going, and I have to be okay with that.

I have to navigate by what I can imagine.

Bit by bit, piece by piece, try to articulate that which can never be completely conceived.

I have to accept that my world will never fit within the bounds of what I can imagine, and that to wish it would would be to wish the eradication of surprise, of happy accident and tragedy, of wonder and fear, infinity and the void. So I will feel my way through, shape the words in my mind’s diary, shape the reaction in my simulated reality, and shape my path through the irregular folds of two fingerprints, pressed against one another, that forms a labyrinth unique to the two people who have formed it.

Sigh. Okay. Well, first, a confession: I didn’t finish the game. I didn’t even reach the 10 hours I’d planned on as giving a game a good solid chance before moving on. I played for about 6 hours. And here’s the part where I’d say that it’s not that the game is bad, but I feel that would be untrue, because in all honestly I think…

Well, it’s not good.

All of which wouldn’t bother me much, had everyone on the internet not seemingly reached a consensus that it was good, really good, possibly even great. Maybe the problem is that I basically grew up playing some of the best games this genre has seen, or that I’ve become hypersensitive to poorly-tuned gameplay or that I just have little patience with games that I feel have nothing new to show me. I don’t know.

It makes me a little bit sad because I don’t really like being that dude who hates games. I addressed that a little bit last week, but it still gets me down. I don’t feel contempt for the people who got a lot out of this game: but I can’t help but feel a bit envious of and dismayed at the naivete that could lead them to believe that such a game was actually outstanding.

Anyway. Moving on. Let’s see what’s up for this week!

Shutter Island! (book)

What I know about this: Nothing! I know that there was a movie based off of it that wasn’t nearly as good. That is the only thing I know about this book. So this will be interesting!

Oh, also, a slight administrative note: I will be reserving the right to preempt any given week’s ProMaRaRo random draw with a specific game or whatever of my choosing. This is so that if I pick up something I really want to play, I don’t have to wait for it to come up randomly in order to play it. That being said, I’m planning on doing the first few draws with no interference just to do the basic idea justice before I start noodling with it.