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Monthly Archives: April 2014

big

Everything seems so huge when we’re small, and then shrinks to catch up with us. As our awareness gets bigger, everything we are familiar with begins to seem smaller, more self-contained, better understood. It’s not so much, really, that our world grows smaller, or that it grows simpler, but more than we begin to store our thoughts in shorthand, to ignore the details which seem irrelevant, the details which used to delight and overwhelm and terrify us. We make our world a set for the play we make every day, and once we have thus reduced our circumstances we wish we had something more – we wish we had something with the vividness of the dreams at night where we remember how things used to be, before the lacquers we layered on the surface of our lives rendered them slick, frictionless, small, and simple.

We want something that can be what the things we once craved were, back when we craved them. We want something bigger then what we have, too big to really be comprehended, and we often only want it because it is beyond comprehension. For every fear of the unknown there is an opposing lust: Some choose to follow their fear, seek safety and stability, and some follow their lust, seek excitement and incomprehensibility, and neither will ever be entirely satisfied.

Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. Familiarity, perhaps, is contempt – a blithe certainty that that which you know shall always remain just as you know it, constant, unchanging, preserved in amber or carbonite. What a terrible thing to believe of someone you call friend.

Maybe this is just a fancy way of saying that we are fascinated by novelty. Maybe I could have just said that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Maybe this is just a lot of words to say that we take a lot for granted. I don’t seek to moralize, though. I don’t want to say that one life is better than another, that you should satisfy yourself with what you have now or that what you seek is necessarily better or worse for your seeking it. I just want to express how when we stare at one thing for too long we cease to see it and start to see just our memory of it,  subject to the same degradations as all memory. I just want to tell the story of a prisoner who escapes his cell and revels in his freedom, despite that he has only managed to break into the adjoining cell.  I just want to know why sometimes it feels like the world around me isn’t real any more, is just a place that happened to me a long time ago, and that the future or imaginary worlds I wrap around myself seem so much realer, so much more detailed.

There is no frame of reference. The exotic will shift to the everyday will shift to the nostalgic, out of reach at all points, in an elliptical orbit around the center of yourself, perhaps implying by eccentricity where your heart actually lies.

best-picture-bonfire-dark-souls

Sometime within the past 15 years or so, game developers collectively came to the realization that death sucks. They reacted to this by making games easier, by reducing the consequence for failure, by allowing the player to quickly get back into the game as though death never happened. Sometime within the past 5 years or so, developers seem to have realized that it’s not death that sucks, it’s pretending that death doesn’t suck that sucks. It’s pretending that the failures of the past never occurred, constantly overwriting them with hollow hope, constantly saying “No, wait that’s not how it happened, let me start over”, that players have come to detest.

If a game is challenging, the player is going to spend a lot of time failing. Why would you tell them that only their successes matter? Why constrain the results of their endeavors along one axis? Why erase the struggle they went through to reach where they are now?

As always, there are reasons why things are the way they are. Coin-op games give the designers incentive to kill the players and force them to restart, ‘continues’ allow the player to pay to maintain their progress, this model gets transplanted to home consoles where bleeding players for quarters becomes logistically impractical and longer-form experiences become possible – and we end up with arbitrary vestigial ‘life’ systems in our games. I’m not just calling out games where you get a few lives and losing them reverts some minimal degree of progress, though – what’s wrong with those is just a slightly larger, grander version of what’s wrong with most trivial deaths in games, the pattern repeating itself outwards, concentrically.

We want to believe that there’s a reason not to fail, because without that there is no convincing reason to succeed.

So we see this realization assert itself in the recent surge of games with ‘roguelike elements’. In Binding of Isaac, FTL, or Spelunky, if you fail then the game is over. You can start again from the beginning if you like, but the game you were playing cannot be recovered. You have lost, not only in the sense of failure, but in the sense of real loss, loss of opportunity, loss of something that might have been just within your grasp. You feel it – and what is art for, if not to feel something?

We also see it assert itself in games that wrap failure into their narrative: I believe that one reason that Dark Souls and its companion games are so popular is because they acknowledge the player in their failures every bit as much as in their triumphs. When the player dies, even though they are functionally immortal, there’s still that setback, still the knowledge that, though they may eventually succeed, it was not without loss, not without struggle. When the hero’s story is written, if the hero’s story is written, it won’t be written, glory on glory, shining words on white paper, unreadable for lack of contrast, but full of gains and losses, delicate operations and desperate battles that sometimes lead to victory and sometimes… don’t.

The Souls games are built around this idea, from the ground up. Does that mean that games can either be conflicted and shallow in failure, be punishingly consequential, or be themed around undeath and purgatory? Not necessarily. There are more paths than those to integrating player death into a narrative. Super Meat Boy does so, rather cheekily pushing against the fourth wall, by making your zombified corpses into enemies later on in the game. Starbound handles death minimalistically but effectively by playing a little animation of your character being reconstructed by your ship’s cloning facilities. Rogue Legacy straddles approaches by intimating both the end of the game and a continuous narrative of life and death without fully embracing either.

If defeat has no teeth, the victory snatched from its jaws is without significance. Death may or may not be the end, but we tend to remember it when it happens. Failure may or may not destroy us, but even when it doesn’t it becomes a part of who we are. Paint the entire picture, or what you create will represent nothing at all.

EveHeader

Phew, this has been a busy week – but, at the end of it, a ton of progress has been made!

First, the image browser is now perfectly functional. Here’s what it looks like:

EntityEditor11

By typing into the filter box at the top I can quickly find the particular image I’m looking for: For example, if I want the standing frames for Eve I can search for ‘eve standing’ and only images with both of those terms somewhere in their local file path show up on the list. The little previews load in and unload as necessary to avoid taking up too much memory, and all-in-all I think it’s a pretty nice little bit of engineering. You can also see up in the upper left that I’ve set the image to the entity, which will make that image show up in the overview when editing entities or, if a flag is set, have the entity display using that image in-game.

… which, come to think of it, neither of those are currently implemented, so I guess I’ll do those next.

After completing the image browser, I went back and fixed all of the little interface glitches in the entity editor, and then I went in and added a prerequisite system to all of the behaviors. This is something I’d had in kind of a rough form before, but I made this a much more firmly established part of the system so that I could, for example, check before swapping behaviors around to ensure they wouldn’t be placed in an erroneous order, or check before deleting a behavior that it wasn’t a prerequisite for another existing behavior. Finally, I added a couple of buttons to the control panels for deleting a behavior and closing the control panel, and made it possible to edit prototypes as well as entities. You can see the final result here:

EntityEditor12

The entity editor is, at this point, basically done. There are the couple of little fixes I noted above, and also I’d like to revise the animation and sound control panels to be less ugly and easier to use (possibly using the image browser… and maybe a new sound browser based off of it?) I think it’ll take a day or two to completely wrap this segment up and go back to the detail editor, which remains semi-finished… but which should be finished much more quickly now that I have all of the tools I developed to create the entity editor.

I wrote a bunch of words about items and inventory systems but I suspect those words might be shitty so I’m discarding them. I’ll write something good later, sometime. Yeah.

Feels like I’m cancelling/preempting a lot of these Wednesday posts. I think I need to rethink my approach a little bit.

WaterPour

Each job carries its own kind of stress. Some jobs are physically taxing, exhausting to bone and muscle, while leaving the mind relatively free. Some jobs are intellectually demanding, forcing a state of deep thought, deep focus, which carries its own physical toll. Some are emotionally overwhelming, demanding empathy, demanding an open heart and mind, even when the heart is bruised and the mind is bleeding.

Creativity, as much as it is thought of as a desirable trait in a job, carries its own burdens – primarily emotional, but depending upon your medium and process it can be physically and intellectually taxing as well. Creativity means putting yourself into your work – not just in the sense of pursuing it wholeheartedly and with all of your skill enthusiasm, but additionally investing it with aspects of who you are as a person. What I’m trying to say is, creativity makes you vulnerable, because any judgment on what you produce becomes, very directly, a judgment on you, on who you are as a person.

There are ways to do it safely, to constrain your creativity to specific tasks, certain areas where you can be confident of success and confident, moreover, that someone will appreciate you doing your job well. This is the kind of creativity that’s found in most office settings. It’s fulfilling, to a certain degree, and it’s safe, and whether you’re doing a good job or not, whether your creative product as a person is seen as valuable or not, depends on one or two people. It’s enough for some people, but…

There’s an ocean out there. Some people are happy working at the docks, if they can find work there – others, either because they can’t find the work they seek or because they can’t stand the work they get, set out to sea, on rafts if they have to. When you’re out there all alone, it becomes clear how insignificant you are. When you’re out there, doing the best work that you can, pouring yourself into your creative work, and no one seems to notice, it hurts at first. But the ocean is vast, and maybe you just haven’t found where the fish are yet.

The thing about being adrift is that, beyond somehow scraping up enough freshwater to survive, you don’t have to care. In the ocean, it is okay to be insignificant, because we all are. In the ocean, it’s okay to pour your heart into messages in bottles, because no one can break them, no one can say that you did it wrong. You can create without caring. At first it hurts that no one is there to care, but then it feels refreshing.

You may be adrift, alone, anonymous – but there’s freedom there as well. And, when it’s time to go back to land, no one will have seen the things you have seen. Maybe they’ll care or maybe they won’t, but you’ll always have the ocean in you, telling you that it’s okay to just flow where the tides will.

EveHeader

Lots of ups and downs this week. As I got closer and closer to finishing my album (AVAILABLE NOW!) the stress of having such a relatively substantial project mostly complete and yet not quite out there started to really eat at me. For a few days this week, the album was basically the onlything I could think about, and it started to affect my mood. Fortunately, I got it out there a couple of days later! Even though it’s not really doing well financially (at all), I’m still glad it’s out there, still glad I did it, and, in particular, am extremely glad it’s over with.

Anyway! Though I was feeling down for a bit, I tried to keep my hand in by making minor bug fixes, hooking up simple buttons, etcetera, so progress was still made. All of the buttons either work properly or work, uh, not-quite-properly: Which, as a measure of progress, is actually a lot further along than a button that just does nothing at all when clicked. There’s still some general usability stuff to be done, but because that stuff was boring and, frankly, difficult to suss out in its particulars, I decided instead to tackle the big remaining task, the image browser. Well, it’s still got quite a ways to go, but I’ve got something up on screen, and a lot of the architecture for what’s going to need to go there is set up. Here’s what it looks like now:

EntityEditor09

Basically the way this thing is gonna work is it’s going to display a list of all known resources: The filter box at the top lets you search by name, and the currently selected image will be displayed on the right. Once I get it working all of the boxes there will display little preview images, though that may take a bit of memory management to handle well. Basically that, a couple of buttons to confirm and cancel selection, and a few minor interface elements and I should have something pretty usable. It’s not fancy, but it doesn’t have to be.

So that’s where we stand for now. Over the next week I’ll hopefully be able to wrap up this image browser, then head back to make whatever improvements still need to be made to the entity/behavior editors. And, hopefully, now that the album is wrapped up, I’ll be less distracted and can get even more done. Hopefully!

SotUV-small

I have made an album. It is entirely instrumental electronic music, largely inspired by video games but not beholden to the formatting constraints I’d worry about if I were actually composing for a game soundtrack. Right now I’m still too close to it, still too confused and agitated and worried to say anything particularly clever or cogent about it, so I won’t. If you’d like to listen to it, click on this text.

I’ll be honest: I’m a little scared. This has been a substantial amount of my life for the last few months, and I’m scared to let go of it, scared to show it to anyone. But I have to. Art loses its value when it is hoarded. Hopefully this won’t be the last time I feel this fear: Hopefully, as I progress, I will be forced to part with greater and more ambitious projects, and I’ll come to value this mental distress as a sign that I am, in fact, doing something right. I will learn to descend through this worry and reveal the fruits of my labors.

I’m still learning. For now, it’s just really hard. But I’m doing it.