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Monthly Archives: August 2015

EveHeader

At this point I’m ready to admit that my approach of trying to work harder for fewer days isn’t quite working out. That’s not to say it’s inherently unworkable, but if I’m going to do it I need a little bit more of a framework. The huge advantage to my previous approach of working a little bit every day was that it was simple to remember and simple to stick to. More complicated schedules cause issues because once I deviate from them then I need to think about how I’m going to go back and readjust and whether I can dedicate extra time to make up for it or whatever. I’m sure that style of work comes naturally to some people, but I’m also pretty sure those people ain’t me.

Whatever system I come up with, then, needs to be dead simple. I’m currently thinking of maybe working Saturday-Monday-Wednesday on the game, Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday on commissions and other odd jobs, and reserving Friday entirely for writing the Problem Machine essay for Saturday. This puts me about three hours of work a day, which I guess doesn’t sound like much if you’re used to 9-5 work but is usually enough to tire me out, at least along with the other stuff I need to do to keep my life running. It’s also very very simple. So maybe I’ll do that, or maybe I’ll go back to daily work. Dunno. I’m thinking about it.

Anyway, as all this talk of finding new approaches and whatnot may have already suggested, this was not a super productive week. I mostly did a bunch of debugging to get collision stuff working properly, which was very spotty before, and roughly implemented stunning for melee attacks. The effect of stun on enemies is currently minimal, mostly making them stand there for a moment since the reaction and animation code isn’t quite there yet, but it’s a start. Polishing that stuff up is probably next up on the agenda, and then getting ranged attacks working, and then – well I pretty much said all this stuff already last week, so yeah.

 

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bojack

Children will believe basically anything. That’s their job. At some point later in life, there’s usually some form of disillusionment, and we learn to distrust the motives of others, to believe that we are being manipulated. Afterwards we find that our distrust has cost us something, a friendship, an opportunity, an understanding, and we try to become more trusting in response, and we swing like pendulums back and forth until we find a balance between cynicism and trust that feels right to us.

Our culture, too, swings like a pendulum. I grew up in the late 80’s and 90’s, a very cynical time, when everyone’s motives were suspect – not necessarily in a malicious way, but believing that what motivates people to take action is not sincere belief but a self-serving drive fueled by ignorance, stupidity, and greed. As time has passed, and the need for cooperation has become apparent, as the systemic toxic behaviors of our established culture are laid bare and the apocalyptic implications of our careless production are made clear, the general outlook has shifted towards one of trust, belief, and earnestness. We must hang together or we shall hang separately and all that.

I’ve been watching lots of cartoons because, you know, fuck it I don’t have a day job. It’s hard not to be struck by the difference between recent shows, targeted at a younger audience, and older shows or shows targeted at adults. Shows like Rocko’s Modern Life, Ren and Stimpy, The Tick – as kids we were told everyone was either an idiot and incompetent or disingenuous and greedy. There’s an ironic distance implicit there: We were never told that we were incompetent, just that almost everyone seemed to be, and we the audience were in a position to laugh about it. This tradition is carried on by shows targeted at the adults who watched those shows as kids, shows like Rick and Morty and The Venture Bros. Even though the characters in these shows have more nuance, are more flawed and human, even in their darkest and saddest moments their suffering is frequently played for laughs, and again there’s that distance, telling us, the audience, that we are not them, that we are separate and superior.

There’s no bottom to that well. That kind of deep cynicism makes a direct emotional connection with the characters impossible.

That distance isn’t there in something like Adventure Time or Steven Universe. When these characters suffer or triumph, we are right there with them. In Adventure time we get little glimpses of cynicism, mostly through older characters like Martin or Princess Bubblegum: However, even from their perspective there’s a counterbalance to the deep and ceaseless distance we feel in those  series typified by cynicism, a sense that these characters are hurting, damaged, and their inability to connect and be genuine is as much pathology as antipathy. Cynicism is regarded as an affliction of those who have seen too much, rather than the only reasonable way to regard our arbitrary universe.

Of course, these are broad categories. Almost no one is completely trusting or completely cynical, though strong tendencies towards one or the other of these are typical of those of us who haven’t quite grown up yet. There are different ways to balance these outlooks, though: Sometimes, if we’re patient and diligent, we use cynicism and trust as analytical tools, carefully evaluating who and what we can trust and what requires extra scrutiny of us. Many of us, however, find a different kind of balance, trusting those who tell us things that align with our pre-existing beliefs and regarding with cynicism anyone who offers contradicting information. This lazy application of tools is an easy and appealing trap to fall into, one which leads to stagnant thinking.

The only way we can avoid falling into this trap is to follow both trust and cynicism through to their logical conclusion. If your inclination is to distrust, distrust everything, even yourself: Question, and question, and never stop questioning. If your inclination is to believe, believe everything you hear, from everyone, even those you hold in contempt. Both of these paths eventually converge, leaving you with conflicting and unresolvable beliefs, and an understanding that there is no way to resolve the manifold viewpoints through which we view the world. At these end points, cynicism and earnestness both lead to a kind of enlightenment. This understanding, that the world is fundamentally not reducible to a single point of view is, at its extreme, a wisdom that makes action untenable: Both a viewpoint that rejects everything and a viewpoint that accepts all make individual judgment, and therefore individual action, impossible.

We can see examples of both of these extremes, and the limitations they imply, in the characters BoJack Horseman and Steven Universe, each in their respective self-titled series. BoJack is initially deeply cynical of everyone and everything, assuming that everyone who isn’t as unhappy as he is is either too stupid to know better or pretending: Over time and experience, he comes to examine himself with this same cynical eye, and find that even his cynicism is a ploy, a dodge to avoid facing his own deep dissatisfaction, and that the people who he’d initially dismissed were more complex in their history and motivations than he’d believed. Conversely, Steven believes in the best of everyone, and tries to resolve everything peacefully even with clearly hostile creatures, often with less than stellar results. In the long run, though, these characters who are defined by cynicism and earnestness must learn to relent: BoJack comes to recognize how his refusal to be sincere and present has hurt himself and others, and tries, in little ways, to be more open and trusting, while Steven comes to accept that in order to defend his hometown and everyone in it sometimes he has to take a stand and fight back against people whom he personally has nothing against.

Growing up is the process of finding balance, of learning how to trust and when to question, of finding ways to support and be supported by others while still reserving just enough of oneself that if a relationship sinks we don’t drown with it. This process is frequently painful. Sometimes it’s nice to let the people on-screen be our proxy, and suffer that pain for us, so we can learn through the paths they have taken.

Eventually, we all have to learn for ourselves.

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Two weeks. We’ll just call it a two week vacation, though the first week was mostly just days I was too sick to think properly. Aside from a couple of quick, desultory pecks at my code base, essentially zero progress has been made.

Oh well. Back to work.

I’m still recovering from travel today, which is leaving me awfully sleepy. That i came back to a town wreathed in the smoke of a panoply of forest fires and about 10 degrees warmer than the one I just spent a week in may also be a contributing factor. I’m adjusting. These are my excuses for writing this post so late in the day.

Okay: What next?

Over the next week I need to finish getting the entity combat interaction stuff working. First, I’ll need to make some sort of generalized solution for handling stun: This is where I stalled out last time, since player entities and npc entities are controlled in completely different ways it’s actually rather non-intuitive to try to apply any sort of generalized solution for taking control away. In fact, the line between controlled movement (ie running around and jumping) and non-controlled movement (sliding to a stop, falling) is often handled by the same blocks of code with very little distinction, so removing the controlled inputs while leaving the uncontrolled movement functional is actually rather tricky. I may just make ‘stun’ a timer that all the other movement code has access to and leave the onus on that movement code to interpret it properly, which is an easy but ugly solution.

After that, I get ranged attacks working. I’ve started roughing this in a bit, and I might be able to get a simple version up and running pretty quickly, but since the ranged attack entities need to be visible to the player, rather than just active behind the scenes to make the collision system work, I’m going to need to be able to add a bunch of visual effects which I don’t have to worry about for the melee attack template. That’s something I can add in piecemeal, though, once I get the basic functionality working.

Once I get those fundamental aspects of the combat system working, then it’s time to get into the enemy entity I’ve been testing with and make all of the alternate versions. This will be something of an undertaking, since it will require me to make alternate animations for all the different movement and attack types, create melee and ranged attack specifications to make those attacks work, and test everything extensively to make sure it still works.

My goal for this week is to get to all of the items mentioned above and get a good start on them, even if i don’t quite manage to finish them all up. This is weird: the last two weeks have been the longest I’ve gone without working on the game for, like, years. But, then again, progress has also been kind of slow over that time, so maybe a break will help me work better too. Dunno! Let’s find out.

lighthouse

I took a vacation.

This vacation ended up being artificially extended by a nasty cold and some other medical issues at the start, so now as I sit here it’s been two weeks of more or less complete non-productivity at varying degrees of enthusiasm.

What do I want a vacation from? From sameness, from knowing exactly who I am and what I do, though frequently forgetting why and how.

What do I want from a vacation? I want it to change the way I think. I want it to knock me out of alignment, force me to re-calibrate, to re-evaluate. I want the silence, so I can hear the quieter parts of myself for a little bit.

I don’t know.

Yesterday, I looked at the ocean. I stood above it on a wharf full of tourists, and looked to the left and to the right at the coast as it crawled, the cliffs, the lighthouse, the boardwalk, the homes. I love the ocean, but I noticed that it was the shores and the cliffs that drew my attention. It was that dividing line, between humanity and wilderness, artifice and nature, constancy and shiftlessness — lines like these sketch our silhouettes. Lines like these are everywhere, but the boundary between land and ocean is the starkest — at least for those of us who haven’t gone to outer space.

I wanted to come to some grand realization. To think of a way to improve myself or my life. What I realized is that, for the most part, things are kind of okay.

This is an incredibly dissatisfying realization to come to.

The devil’s in the details, though. The difference between the right course and almost the right course is a watery grave.I keep noticing my autopilot is on, that I’m working out of habit, or out of duty, instead of because I want to — and I’m not sure what I can do about that as I am now, since the kind of wanting that it would take for me to want to do anything consistently enough to make significant progress seems to be lacking in me. For whatever reason I respond to obligation and inertia more than I respond to heartfelt desire. Because of this, I keep building channels to keep myself moving in one direction, then later I wonder why I feel trapped.

This is what I mean. It’s not satisfying, but it’s the best solution I’ve found to the problem of being me.

I’m not sure how invested I am in my game at the moment, but it’s as good a thing to work on as any, as long as I can finish it: If I can’t, it’s a waste of time. So that’s a good reason to finish it. In the meanwhile, I write here, and sometimes I make music, and I draw things. It’s a life. I don’t make money, and I’m not really famous, and I haven’t created much that I’m truly truly proud of, but still — still I can be the waves, and slowly erode that line between who I am now and who I will be, even if it just makes another line a few inches further out into the sand.

But as fascinating as the shoreline is, I need to lift my head from the sand sometimes. More often than I do now, I need to be able to look left at the boardwalk, right at the lighthouse, and know that I chose to be here, and that I choose what happens next.

In my head, there’s an Elementary School teacher nagging at me to just participate: And I’ve ignored her for so long, and I don’t know why, because it feels more and more like she’s right, that I’ve cut myself off, that I’m on the wrong side of the line, drifting at sea.

So maybe, just a bit more, I can exist in my body, and pay attention, and acknowledge that the life I live belongs to me, and live in it like an owner rather than a tenant.

I got zero works done this week due to being sick. Sorry no words today. Here is the now-traditional consolation music:

I’m going to be traveling next week so I might not be able to write then either, but I’ll see what I can do. I’m also running out of new music to post. I dunno whatever I’ll figure it out.

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Well I seem to be sick, so that’s not helping any with getting stuff done. Nevertheless, I have all of the player attacks working properly and the test enemy attack working. Both need a bit of polish: Some collisions seem to not be getting detected when they should, and neither knockback nor stun are implemented yet so it doesn’t feel very good, but the basic interaction is there.

I’m finding that this whole idea of trying to work on programming all at once isn’t working out very well, but in the process I’ve learned that things tend to go a lot smoother if I start writing with one small task I want to get accomplished. By small, I mean something where I clearly know where to start and what to do to finish it, rather than having to go between different files and try to figure out a strategy for solving the problem. Obviously this isn’t always a manageable requirement, but I think if I take care to spend a little while in my down time every day thinking about what I’ll be doing the next day and how I can make more progress without investing a huge amount of time. Still, I’d like to figure out a way to make a bigger segment of dedicated work time work — but it’s not going to if I’m struggling to work at all (as with this dang cold), so I think I’m just gonna have to feel this out and figure out what works for me.

So, next I get stun and knockback and associated animations for player and enemy melee attack interactions working. After that I should probably address what happens when player and/or enemy are defeated, which will require a fair bit of programming and new animation work and might take most of the week.

Oh, right. I’m going to be leaving town before the next update. I’m still not sure how this will affect my productivity: A 13-hour train ride is sometimes a great place to get things done, sometimes not so much. Will just have to wait and see how that works out.

ct4

In 1995 when Chrono Trigger came out, I would have just turned 12. I stayed up through the Summer nights of Sacramento, playing until 5 in the morning on the cracked naugahyde couch in my dad’s living room. 20 years ago I became unstuck in time, and I’ve never really fit into place again since. I left some piece of myself in that game; it left some piece of itself in me. Same thing.

A week ago I watched someone play through Chrono Trigger as part of the Summer Games Done Quick charity speedrunning marathon, and it brought that little piece of myself back to me, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s still the most beautiful game I’ve played in so many ways, but so much time has passed since those Summer nights. I don’t really replay the game because I get bogged down in the details, the specifics of battles and equipment, and lose interest long before I get to the end – which is sad, because near the end is where it becomes strongest.

I’ll never be able to describe what it is about Chrono Trigger. It’s the wistfulness, something not quite sad but that can never be happy. It’s the distance, the story told like a legend or memory, slightly unshaped, always uncertain, unreliably narrated by a memory unstuck in time. It’s the beauty, the sunrise, the floating palace, the red star, the dead world, the egg containing possibilities. It’s the dying flashback of regrets of an unknown entity.

Because it was a charity marathon, the characters were named via donation bid wars: The main character ended up being named Iwata, in honor of the recently passed Satoru Iwata, much beloved president of Nintendo. It probably didn’t occur to the people donating to name the character, but this took on a rather strange dimension when the main character, as part of the story, would inevitably die. If this were a run designed solely to beat the game as quickly as possible, that would have been the end of it, but because a donation incentive had been met this was a 100% completion run – so, the runners dutifully collected the titular Chrono Trigger, which looks like an egg, went to Death Peak, a snowy mountain in the husk of a post-apocalyptic world, and they went back in time and saved Iwata from death.

It was a strange and quiet moment.

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I’ve been thinking about regrets and forgiveness. Time travel always brings to mind the unshakeable chains of causality that bind me to my history.

I’ve been thinking about what we want as creators and what we want as audiences. We want conflicts, battles that never really end. We want loss and agony and bitterness and forgiveness. We want everything to go wrong, we want to see the world broken so that we can see it rebuilt. We want to see everything ruined so we can see it fixed. We want to believe that fixing a broken world is possible, and so we sow the seeds of destruction in our art. We are creator and audience, villain and hero. We are Lavos, the disaster, falling from the sky to catalyze a world of conflict and suffering that gives rise to the art we want to see. We consume the emotions, the conflict and energy and sadness that we foment in our apocalypse, the heroism that requires our tragedy to flourish.

And then we feel remorse. And we want to set things right. We want to burn our effigies and then we want to unburn them and pretend not to smell smoke. So we travel through time. We sow the seeds of the happy ending, the threads that knit together to destroy us, to free the world of our malign influence.

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The same day I watched the Chrono Trigger run I read this article,  originally addressed to the Aspen Institute’s Action Forum, discussing the ways in which focusing on reparative action distracts from the causal role the wealthy have in creating the iniquities they propose to address. While SGDQ is an admirable event, I can’t help but wonder to what degree it is a bandaid on gaming’s battered self-image. How much of the impetus driving the donations is, rather than a belief in the cause, a desire to show that games are admirable, are worthwhile, can be a force for positive change? It’s hard not to notice how many donations are none-too-subtly self-congratulatory, talking about how inclusive and helpful gamers are, talking about how they’re changing the world, and I wonder who they’re trying to convince.

This is not to criticize the Games Done Quick events. They’re great entertainment for a good cause. I’m just wondering if part of the engine of their growth is games culture’s unwillingness to look at its own issues, its history of self-esteem problems and of exclusionary practices.

ct5

When we’re young, we break so much without noticing. And, as we get older, we want to fix things. But repaired objects are seldom good as new: Most show their cracks, their frayed wiring, their chipped paint, their missing screws. We want to go back and time, and make them never broken. We want to unpollute our sky and sea, to have never been cruel to our friends, to have not started the war, to have apologized in time. We want to repent our transgressions rather than refrain from transgressing. We want to beg for forgiveness instead of asking permission.

Maybe it’s growing too late. Maybe the sadness I feel from Chrono Trigger is knowing that we’ll never be able to make things right, never go back and save Iwata, never stop the red star from falling.

Maybe, maybe. We’ll see.