Monthly Archives: September 2013


What am I scared of? Here’s what I’m scared of. I’m scared that if I miss one post then I’ll miss more. I’m scared that if I let one deadline slip then the concept of the deadline will be invalidated, that they’ll fall from my arms one by one like dishes on a waiter’s last day on the job and that everything I’m working for will be undone. I’m scared I’ll lose my faith. I’m scared I won’t do anything ever again. I’m scared I’ll forget how to work. I’m scared I’ll forget how to care.

I’ve probably mentioned this before. I think about it a lot. I worry a lot about not writing. That fear of not writing makes it harder to write. The fear of not creating makes it harder to create. The fear of not being heard makes it harder to speak. And, though I’ve fought my way out of some of these prisons, others are arrayed about them in concentric rings – and, though I’ve fought my out of some of these prisons, the doors I left open behind me sometimes look like hungry mouths.

At times like these, though, when I don’t know what to write, it becomes hard to decide: Would taking a day off be a strike out against the prison of my anxiety? Or would it be taking a step back through the door of my overwhelming apathy?

My anxiety is sneaky, and I’ve learned to be suspicious of my emotional state. My fear will disguise itself as fatigue, as stress, as fun, as laziness – whatever it takes to keep me from confronting whatever it is I dread for just a bit longer.

I have learned to be patient with myself, because if I am not patient then the fear becomes bigger, becomes self-justifying, becomes imminent and insurmountable. But I have also learned to be firm with myself, to set boundaries, limits, deadlines, so that I know that I mean business. I’m basically parenting myself, trying to lead my own fearful child heart by example, trying to show myself that if I just keep moving forward, with cleverness and determination, there will be nothing to fear.

I have never trusted authority. Most authority comes about as happenstance, rather than being rooted in any logical justification. Those who find authority are frequently those who seek it, and I tend to have a hard time trusting anyone who seeks authority. These authorities, though, help us to keep our lives simple: They provide an instruction, even if an incorrect one, a direction, even if it makes us lost, and they keep us from having to ask ourselves at every given moment: What are we doing? Why?

I have denied external authority. Because of this, I must found my own internal authority, and foster it, and make it as wise as I can. I must create a leader of a nation of one.

I will raise him; he will raise me; and, together we may yet fly.

The world is a big place. And just when you think you’re starting to understand how big it is, you find that the world you’ve been living in is just the shadow of something greater, just a two-dimensional projection of something too grand to comprehend.

But we try. We bite off little bits and pieces, interpret, chart, ingest, until we begin to understand our place in this world, understand its new shape, feel our way around its vast expanse until we find – a door? We pass through this door, and another dimension is added.




There is always a world outside of our world which we can only dimly comprehend.

But there is also always a world underneath our world, a dark, warm, quiet, intimate space which will always be our home no matter where we go. It is this prison that makes us free, wherever we go.

FEZ is more game than it seems to be. It is a hierarchy of worlds in one, and intentionally blurs the line between itself and reality in many places. Like Anodyne, it makes use of stylized ‘glitch’ effects to communicate something about the world, but it also erodes the fourth wall from the other side, occasionally demanding the usage of tools outside of the game – starting with pen and paper, and progressing from there.

FEZ is a game that is bigger than the space which contains it, as all art must be. Who can say how many dimensions it contains?

FEZ is a game about beauty – the beauty which we find looking around us, seeing the play of light and color and the thrum of our world, the leaves and the music and the water, as well as the beauty we find by delving within, gaining understanding, and seeing our world in a new way. These two facets of beauty, together, are what let us progress,

I need to spend more time with FEZ to uncover its secrets, but it’s time to draw a new slip.

This week’s draw is… Klonoa!

Interesting! So I guess this is the month for awesome platformer games. What I know about this one is that it was a hugely critically acclaimed game on the Playstation that was terribly under-printed and ended up being very difficult to get a hold of. Apparently it’s been remade for the Wii, which I wasn’t aware of, but I’ll be playing the original version. I hope it is as excellent as I have heard!


This is a kind of boring week to talk about. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot done, but the stuff I’ve been working on is all architectural foundational stuff leading up to developing a robust and flexible entity system. I started the work, some time back, of breaking down the player character into a series of discrete behaviors, and I’ve been continuing in that vein and have completely separated each behavior into its own module. I’ve set up a system where modules can have prerequisites which they verify, and where they can pass all necessary information back and forth between a shared object.

I’ve also begun implementing a new animation system. This system will make it easy to arbitrarily assign animations to play based on flags the behaviors set on the status object, such as whether the character is facing right or is on the ground. In this way, I’ll be able to use the same behavior on different entities and just assign different animations as appropriate.

In the meanwhile, though, the short-term goal of all of these modifications is to get it running exactly the same way it ran before – part of the reason this is kind of a dull update. If I can upgrade it to the new system without breaking anything, that is a victory. Eventually the systems I’m implementing here will allow me to make improvements, but in the short term it’s just building infrastructure.

For this week I would like to: A) finish the new animation system and port all of the existing animations over to it. B) Improve collision detection and animation queuing so that the character appears to move smoothly at all times (there are still some hiccups), C) Create a simple entity manager, D) Test out the manager with a sample entity, and E) Try to create a short video of the gameplay as it is now that I can put up on youtube for the next devblog update.

It’s a pretty full platter, but I think it’s feasible. I guess we’ll find out!


Sometimes, as a creative-type person, you are going to realize that you have no ideas.

Absolutely none.

And, when you’re starting out, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve run out. You’ve tapped your well. You’ve emptied yourself, and now you’ve got nothing, and now you’re doomed to be a creative zombie, either shuffling forward for eternity making the same content over and over or sitting in place staring at the empty barrel you used to scrape for ideas.

This is not generally, in my experience, how it works. I think it’s important to point this out because it seems like maybe a lot of people think that’s how it works, and it seems to become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. So: Stop it.

You’re not out of ideas forever. Ideas are the poop of the engaged mind. You’re just digesting things. The poop will happen later. And, when it does, it will be glorious. The low-flow toilets of your audience’s minds will be clogged, and you will – uh, single-handedly drum up tons of business demand for mental plumbers and Drano (DVD box sets and single malt scotch, respectively).

Continuing this metaphor, films and television series about creative people are essentially scat porn: The audience can enjoy the process without having to smell it. The portrayal of creative work is usually one where the artist just looking for one good idea and, having found that idea through some contrived series of events, the proceed to make their thing. Apparently art is really easy if you have an idea, which certainly raises the question of why most people are kind of bad at it but okay let’s not worry about that.

So: Basically everything I just said is ridiculous bullshit, but that’s how it goes when you don’t have any ideas. You write one thing, and some obscure connection suggests itself. You follow it, you pull the thread, until you get somewhere else. And so on, and so forth, until you find somewhere new and interesting. The reason why writer’s block happens is because we’ve been told that ideas are where creativity starts. Ideas are not a prerequisite for creation. Ideas are the skeleton of a piece, and though sometimes making a skeleton, layering organs and muscles on top, and then coating it with skin is a good way to make a man, sometimes you just gotta start with a finger and work your way out; to the palm; to the wrist; to the arm; to the chest; to the heart.

Don’t wait for ideas. Don’t play the lottery. Don’t hold out for a hero, don’t stall until your ship comes in. Grab hold of whatever you can and make it manifest however you can, and navigate your way by the lay of the land you’ve made so far.

Did you think an idea was something so small you could contain it?

Would any such idea, small and simple and succinct and easy to say, be worth the energy that art demands?

I don’t think so.

I think I’m going to shift the ProMaRaRo updates over to Saturdays, since I think that schedule makes a bit more sense. Also this gives me a little more time to explore FEZ, which is a really interesting experience: I may make a habit of giving myself extra time to look at particularly interesting or heavy content. I’ll put my thoughts up and draw a new item on Saturday. Thanks!


I can’t think too good right now.


When life starts getting difficult to face, it’s a natural tendency to try to section off a bite-sized chunk of self-destruction, to burn a piece of ourselves in effigy. Destroy a piece of your life instead of sacrificing it all to the void. It’s not good for you, really, but pressure needs to find its own way out, We drill the holes in our skulls so that our brains don’t squeeze themselves to death, like barber surgeons of antiquity.


If you say something off the top of your head, we know which ideas bubble to the top most readily. Your most spontaneous moments, those which were meant to be superficial, are so revealing.


And when you’re not listening too closely, music sounds like the rhythms of speech, and we can pretend by listening to it that the mp3s we play are the murmuring of our friends who never were and our family who are far away talking in the next room over, or the next, or the next…


“And over there you’ll see Neighborly Park…”

“Oh, how nice!”

“Named after Mayor Bill Neighborly…”

“Oh, I see, I thought it was just –”

“Who, as I’m sure you’ve heard, turned out to be that serial killer they were looking for…”

“Um –”

“They’re trying to get it renamed, but you know how it is. Politics.”

“Haha, yeah, well –”

“Well, that and, you know, there’s still a couple of bodies they’re searching for, so….”


“It’s a lovely park though, isn’t it?”

“Well, I have a lot of other places to look at today, so thanks for showing me around.”


By placing elements next to each other, the artist implies a relationship of some sort between them. This is juxtaposition. There may be no known relationship between the components, they may be random, but the artist chose them and placed them next to each other.


The thing is, I did it to myself. I really have no one else to blame. I’ve cultivated my isolation over many years: With intent at first, and habitually afterwards. I am not approachable. I am friendly when spoken to, but offer very little conversational momentum, so people find it difficult to maintain contact with me and eventually move on.


It’s a controlled burn. We start the fires now so that they will be manageable, so that they won’t build into towering infernos later, during dry seasons. We’re too polite to notice out loud the conflagration of our peers, but silently we worry who actually set their fires.


As time erodes the friendships by which I have customarily anchored myself, I need to find other points of contact lest I drift away. I just don’t know where to start.


I hate writing about myself. I feel like I should be able to put together something interesting without getting all confessional. It feels like cheating. It feels egotistical, to believe that I’m so interesting that people are interested in my my petty personal insights.


How am I supposed to talk to a person I don’t know? How am I supposed to get to know a person without talking to them?


Nothing is random in art. Someone always chooses. And we, the audience, perceive that choice, and we feel intimacy, we feel as though we know something about the artist.


It feels unprofessional to experiment. It feels like I’m sabotaging my final product so that I can try something self-indulgent and new.

How destructive the concept of ‘professionalism’ is!


I enjoyed Louis CK’s bit about smart phones, socialization, and loneliness, but I worried even as I watched it that it would be misappropriated and misinterpreted. This was not a rant about how our lives are derailed by social media, another Luddite diatribe against the information age or against entitled youth, though that seems to be the way many frame it.

There were two points: First, that giving children a device which allows them to communicate facelessly at an age when they’re still learning how to communicate and learning what it means to do so is probably unwise. Second, that we frequently use these devices to distract ourselves from our emotional state when we don’t actually need to, when we would perhaps be better served by facing what we’re made of.


Social prosthetics, placed where real friends are supposed to go in the mind. Some people use television, some people read, some people play games. The personalities are the key component, someone to get to know even when there’s no one around, someone to get to understand even if they’re a construct. Fiction didn’t begin as a social prosthetic, as a vaccination against loneliness, but that may be the role it plays in our lives now.


Some of us need modern communications to find our friends and to stay in contact. That is fine. Some of us lead difficult lives and desperately need the relief that communications can bring. That is fine. I do believe that, more often than not, these devices improve people’s lives. But there comes a point, and this point is different for everyone, where what you do becomes more important than who you are – when maintaining constant contact with others, to maintain a constant flow of communication, just to stave off fear of boredom, of loneliness, of mortality, begins to become nothing but another set of chains.


I also know, for writers, in the end, our selves are all we have to give. All we can do is vomit bits of our essence onto the page, and nudge those bits around into the most pleasing shapes we can manage, and hope that’s good enough.

It may never be good enough for me.


There are no endings. The story stops, but everything beneath it, everything that made it, goes on. The ship is destroyed, but the ocean keeps moving, and as it does it claims the timbers and the sailors that once believed they were above it.

EveHeaderThis week was a music week. I had naively assumed that, because a lot of the music I’d worked on in the past had gone fairly fast and easy, that this track would be no different – oh, it’s real easy to forget that things go fast after you figure out the basic themes and motifs, after you figure out the instrumentation, after you figure out where the piece is going. Sometimes that part goes fast and sometimes that part goes slow, but generally it gets harder the more specific a feel you want from the piece you’re trying to compose…

And I wanted a very specific feel. Trying to hit a kind of adventurous tone, while not contradicting the more reflective and melancholy tone that describes most of the game’s soundtrack, is a pretty narrow path to walk. I actually ended up embracing something with a much darker sound than I had originally intended, but I think it all worked out pretty well. I’m happy with how the piece turned out.

This is the theme for area 1-2, The Ruins. This is what appears at first to be a land of adventure, inhabited by tribes of child-like creatures in masks – but, as they are defeated, the exotic ruins fade away, and leave behind images of abandoned suburbia. The two versions of the theme here correspond to these two states.

Well, in other news: It’s the 52nd weekly DevBlog, which suggests that I’ve been working on this for a year now.

I’m not sure how to feel about this.

I had originally (naively) hoped that I could complete this project with a year or less of work. Now, partially the scope of the project has expanded, partially I underestimated the requisite amount of work in the first place, but more than anything it just turns out that, left to my own devices, I simply don’t have the motivational wherewithal or the fiscal resources to work 8 hours a day every day on this project. Even if I did, a year would have been a pretty best-case type scenario. Coming to terms with this isn’t fun, but it’s bearable – as long as I make steady forward progress, as long as I can see the game come together, bit by bit, day by day, I can be okay with it.

So: What’s changed over the past year?


Programming: Estimated 65-75% completion

  • Graphical details can now be placed in levels, and the results are saved and loaded parallel with the level tile maps
  • Particle Effect infrastructure is in place, though they aren’t currently moveable, placeable, or saveable in the editor
  • All game graphical resources are now loaded, locked, and freed by a central graphics data memory manager
  • Custom Bitmap Animation class created – implemented for character animations
  • The map editor is mostly functional, though the buttons are unlabeled and a few important special functions are not yet supported
  • In-game menus are functional but have no button labels and look super goddamn ugly
  • Overhauled the collision system twice: Current version is still not perfect, but seems like a winner
  • Implemented component-style “behavior” system for characters and entities

Design: Estimated 40-60% completion

  • Planned out all areas of the game, with most special events and secrets
  • Wrote accompanying ‘stories’
  • Developed list of enemies with behaviors

Graphics: Estimated 2-4% completion

  • Created first area test background
  • Created most prototype animations for chapter 1 player character

Music: Estimated 30% completion

Well, overall not as good as I’d hoped, not as bad as I’d feared. I’m seeing lots of solid progress, but seeing it all spread over these disparate areas it becomes clear why it takes so long to get a one-man-project of this scope armed and operational. If I could work full-time on any aspect of this project, I could probably get everything that needed to be done on it done within a year, in many cases possibly just a few months – however, splitting my attention, both between different aspects of the project and between the project and other responsibilities, means that, overall, things are gonna take a while.

At this rate… even two years is probably a little optimistic. Hopefully I’ll be able to hit a rhythm, to figure out a way to work faster on the project with practice and with more concrete and visible tasks, such as level design, as the project moves forward. On the plus side, looking through my old weekly devblogs there were definitely some dead weeks clogging up my work flow: If I can just get better at avoiding those, I should be able to do a lot to assure the overall progress speed of the project.

So, what’s next?

This week, I’m going to be working on establishing a functioning system for entities (enemies, special objects, scripted events, etc). Once this is functional, and I can create test enemies, I’ll begin work on the attack system.

Here’s hoping this year of work will be better than the last!


I ran a fan every moment of every day, for three or four months, over the Summer. Now that the temperature has cooled down, I turned the fan off and immediately began to feel uncomfortable. I could hear too much, murmurs and traffic noises and doors closing, little sounds which had been muffled under the blanket sound of the fan. More than that, though, what unnerves me is the not infrequent total and complete silence – a little sound-bite-sample of the void, here to keep me company while I try to sleep.

I’ve rediscovered insomnia. How’s a guy to sleep with all this silence going on?

Oh well. I’ll get used to it eventually. It does make me think about all the things we tune out, though. We’ll never taste a meal that doesn’t also taste like saliva. We’ll never hear a sound that doesn’t also sound like blood rushing through our ears. We’ll never see a sight that hasn’t been filtered by the inadequacies and tastes of our visual and cognitive apparatus. Our senses are rooted quite firmly in our meaty command module, and it’s fortunate that by habit we can filter out much of that noise or we’d never be able to enjoy anything.

We can never forget, though, that no one else sees things quite the same way we do. I mean, metaphorically speaking of course, but also quite literally: The eyes which perceive the image are different, the brain which processes the image is different, and the spirit which interprets the image is different.

Most people are familiar with the game of Telephone, wherein one person whispers a phrase to someone else, and she to the next person, and so forth in a chain of people until, at the end, the last person recites the message, hopelessly and hilariously garbled by a dozen repetitions. Here’s a secret: It doesn’t take a dozen repetitions.

A simple message, passed between two people, can be hopelessly garbled just in that single transition. Even between two people, you have several possible points where communication can go awry: The mind of the speaker, identifying and encapsulating a discrete idea, then putting it into words: The mouth of the speaker, enunciating those words clearly: The ears of the listener, hearing those words: The mind of the listener, breaking those words back down into an idea, then interpreting that idea.

This process is a slaughterhouse. Very few ideas survive intact. Usually, if they do, it’s only because the speaker and listener know each other exceptionally well, and can account for each others’ idiosyncrasies.

It’s not all bad. Misinterpreted ideas can, themselves, become new ideas. These shadow-ideas can be echoed back and forth, expand upon each other, grow outwards from a simple seed into a nuanced and complex organism. Evolution.

It does, however, call into question the validity of all forms of mass one-way communication for actually communicating an idea. Television, textbooks… Blogs like this one. None will communicate an idea completely or accurately – and, with no established relationship, there will be no way to adjust for idiosyncrasies – and, with no extended conversation, there’s no chance to expand and clarify an idea.

It’s not a disaster. If you hear an idea that seems interesting, by all means, get what you can from it. Just know that, unless the stars have aligned and you just won the jackpot, what you got from the idea is likely just a distant cousin of what the author ever intended.

Adventures are everywhere. Monsters are everywhere. Dangers that aren’t dangerous lurk around every corner, and exotic locations all across the world are apparently always a day’s drive away.

The legends are true. The legends are always true.

In The Mighty Boosh, causality is thinly enforced. Each episode is a flowing febrile free-association hallucination river, one idea flowing rapidly and loosely to the next, that has been paved over with the realities of production, of set design, of sarcasm and winking absurdity. The strangest ideas, when harnessed by production reality, become tied down and grounded – and, by a deft hand, can be made stranger yet, as the seams of the costumes and the flimsy props take on their own kind of sinister mystery, and make you wonder just how deep the dream goes.

There’s something unexpected hiding in every corner, something strange – just our good luck, then, that so many of them turn out to be harmless, ridiculous, and laughable.

Though for creatures supposedly so ultimately harmless, they do seem to kill an awful lot of people, don’t they?

Next up… no, no I’m not going to watch another tv show right away, drawing another one… RAGE!

Wait. Can this computer run RAGE? Let me check.

Holy crap it takes 25 gigs!

You know what fuck it. I’m gonna play Fez. Hopefully next time I draw this one I’ll have a better gaming rig set up.

jokerIt’s peculiar sometimes to think about how narrow and tenuous the line which divides horror from humor can be. Both genres have deep roots in the unexpected, both make liberal use of the grotesque – the main difference between them is, seemingly, that horror implies some kind of threat. Whether the audience feels threatened or not, though, depends very much on the audience: So often the clown that was meant to be funny leaves children sobbing, whereas the monster, possibly also a clown, causes fits of laughter rather than terror.  Admittedly, it’s basically impossible to produce a film that won’t give at least one child nightmares – children being, on average, a bunch of tiny little wusses – but that just demonstrates the power that the audience has in interpreting your work.

We can laugh at clowns as adults because we know they’re (probably) harmless and friendly entertainers, but is it strange that children are scared? Pale white faces, bloated blood-red lips – they look like they’re suffering from some terrible, possibly communicable, disease. I’d say the instinctive reaction of crying and running away is pretty spot-on. Natural selection at work.

Comedy is horror that has had its fangs pulled. Comedy is people laughing at their own fear. Humor seems a way to take something which could otherwise be frightening and demonstrate, to ourselves and to others, that it isn’t. Laughter is a social response, telling each other not to be afraid of this weird unexpected thing.


Even if maybe they actually should be

Embarrassment comedy shows us that even the worst social blunders will eventually, sooner or later, be forgotten: Absurd humor shows us that sometimes strange things just happen, and they don’t necessarily imply fevered delusions or nefarious plots: Offensive, edgy humor shows us that our taboos ultimately are only as untouchable as we believe them to be…

However, it would be so easy to, at a moment’s notice, flip things around: The embarrassment isn’t forgotten, but forces someone to look for a new home, a new job – or the absurd occurrences are the result of subtle self-sabotage – or the offensive proclamations cost friends and enrage neighbors. Though sometimes comedies will mention these consequences, they will never dwell upon them. If it becomes about the consequences, it ceases to be humorous.

“Someday we will look back on this and laugh” is a revealing phrase: We can laugh at those things which were uncomfortable for us in the past only if they turn out to ultimately be harmless. It is a phrase seldom used in reference to a severed limb, to brain damage, or to an exploded nephew.

Whatever the subject of the comedy, it will be shown to be ultimately harmless. Thus, if the comedy is targeting social or legal or ethical transgressions, it is premised as a comedy on the idea that these acts are ultimately without repercussions. This can be, as one might surmise, extremely irresponsible.

We begin to get into another tenuous division: Is the comedy poking at the idea of us transgressing these bounds, or of others transgressing them? That is to say, are we supposed to be empathizing with the characters transgressing, or the characters being transgressed against? This is the difference between a character like Peter Gibbons in Office Space, who acts out against his soul-crushing job, and a character like South Park’s Eric Cartman, who regularly torments his peers with aggressive white supremacist and homophobic rhetoric. One transgresses against social norms as a protagonist, and gets away unscathed and happy at the end of the film, demonstrating to the audience that the economic sharks won’t immediately drag them under if they stop being a model employee, whereas the other transgresses against social norms as antagonist, and is usually seen to suffer for his actions, thus humorously demonstrating to the audience that they are protected from dickbags by society’s safeguards.


All evidence to the contrary aside

This is why jokes poking at race, sexual orientation, or other social divides can be tricky: the same joke can be about laughing away the horrors of discrimination for some audiences, and about laughing away the fears of cultural invasion and social upheaval for others – with socially disadvantaged people as the butt of the joke. The comedian can find himself all too easily telling much of his audience a very different joke than he had intended – all because of that final interpretation which is left to them.

Isn’t lots of entertainment about experiencing situations which would otherwise be dangerous or uncomfortable, though? Not just horror and comedy, but all forms of action and suspense and adventure offer the opportunity to experience something exciting and exotic while still allowing the audience to feel safe. Well, yes, but that’s safety for the audience, as distinct from safety for the characters. In games, with their dissolution of the boundary between player and protagonist, there is by necessity some degree of safety implied by the mechanics of the game, that humor may occur within them, whether it be the no-deaths contract of the LucasArts adventures or the fast and easy reload/retry of Gunpoint or Super Meat Boy. In any case, within the context of the story the characters may be threatened by things which, in real life or in other genres – are genuinely dangerous – but in comedy they will be proven to ultimately be harmless.


And they would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids!

It starts to feed on itself. You know that the character will survive the perilous situation because it’s a comedy. The genre itself begins to constrain the possibility space of the story: Of course, you could always have the supposedly comedic accident turn out to be fatal, but it would be pulling the rug out from under your audience, it would be suddenly changing the genre of story you are creating. This could be one reason why comedy games are made infrequently, because the tension implied by the gameplay premise and the tension-release implied by the comedy genre work at direct odds with each other.

And yet, isn’t that all too often where the humor in games comes from? Seeing ‘yourself’, your avatar, killed, mangled by outlandish circumstances that only robust interactive systems can provide, is basically always funny. Because in the end, these relentless demises reinforce the point: It’s all just a game. Just a joke. Just make-believe.

Isn’t it?