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Today I was buying groceries along with my mom – she has a working car and I do not. After leaving her for a bit to find something I missed in the last aisle, I started heading back to where I last saw her when a woman of about the same height, build, and coloration wearing similar clothes turned the corner, and before noticing the difference (I am a bit nearsighted) I said “I found it!”

The woman was confused. I was mildly embarrassed, but just kept on walking like I hadn’t done anything unusual. Maybe she eventually convinced herself I was talking into a bluetooth headset or something. That part’s not important. I started thinking, though, about how our narrative of a situation shapes our perceptions. This woman would ordinarily not have been noteworthy to me, and I don’t think I would usually make the mistake I did – the resemblance was really not that strong – except for it would have made all the sense in the world for it to have been my mom turning that corner. I had no reason to question it. It’s such an echo of childhood, of getting lost in a store and finding the Wrong Mom just because a woman nearby happened to be approximately the correct shape and color.

Preconceptions shape everything we see before we ever see it – not only how we interpret the things we see, but whether we actually notice certain things at all. Those things which fit our expectations we never question until the point where they no longer line up – that is, either our understanding changes or they change to no longer fit our expectations. The mystery woman is deputized mom until further notice, usually approximately the time she turns around to notice a strange child clinging to her.

This whole thing reminded me, as really far too many things do, of the experience of playing Spy in Team Fortress 2. As the spy, if the enemy team ever suspects what you are they can usually kill you quite easily. Much of success as the spy, then, is in never being suspected. It requires knowing what people expect to see at any given moment, and being that for just long enough to achieve whatever mischief you can. I like to say that if they even have the chance to wonder if you might be a spy, you’ve already failed. It’s not a matter of blending in to your surroundings, it’s a matter of blending into your opponent’s ongoing narrative about their surroundings. Or, anyway, that’s what it is ideally, under optimal circumstances. Pragmatically it’s just as often about waltzing in when there’s too much bullshit going on for anyone to pay attention.

We have two blind spots. One, we cannot see anything that fails to fit into our world-view. Two, we can never question anything that fits too perfectly into our world-view. Both of these are indescribable anomalies to us until we make adjustments in our understanding to accommodate them. There are things we don’t see because they’re not what we expect: There are things we never question because they’re exactly what we expect.

So you have to wonder: How much of the big picture am I not seeing? How much of the world around me is invisible because it exceeds my expectation, cannot be heard because it’s outside of the audible spectrum? How much of it is unquestioned just because we’re used to it, sunk into our lungs like oxygen? This question seems more and more relevant, as the injustices that founded our history accrue interest.

To us artists, it presents a conundrum. All of our art, to the audience, is seen in the context of all the art they’ve seen before. If we depart too much from the vocabulary of that art, our creation starts to seem like gibberish: No matter what clarity of thought we put into it, they simply do not have the tools to interpret it – no, not even the tools necessary to want to interpret it. At the same time, if we hew too closely to that vocabulary, we lose the words to say anything for ourselves, anything different than what has already been said. We doom ourselves to become propagandists.

It’s a tricky needle to thread. The better part of art is learning how to be seen – and, as someone so habitually drawn to invisibility, someone who always preferred to play Spy in Team Fortress 2, that doesn’t necessarily come easily to me.

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It can be difficult these days to create art. Art is an abstracted way of speaking to the world at large, over the boundaries of time and distance, and it’s very difficult to remain motivated to articulate ideas into concrete form when the future is so uncertain and everything nearby is so harsh and ugly, collapsing daily into cruelty and idiocy. Sending out these signals requires a certain degree of faith that somewhere, someday, out there in the world those signals will be received and valued. These days that faith feels harder to come by.

On the one hand, this feels like a sign that I should be doing Something to Fix It: I don’t know what that is, but something. I could probably be doing more than I am to effect positive change in the world, but any attempt to confront that idea inevitably just dunks me in hot anxiety sauce and ends up just leaving me less inclined to do anything whatsoever. So, rather than that, I’m inclined to just keep making things anyway, whether or not they’re good or desired, and thereby place a vote of confidence. There will be a future. There will be a world for my work to exist in.

Somewhere along the way, though, I’ve picked up the sense that it’s intrinsically less noble to create for an audience than it is to create to indulge some sort fundamental creative urge. It is kind of an absurd belief when examined – after all, what is art without an audience? Just a box of echoes. The underlying logic for this belief goes something like this: Creating art just for the money is what sellouts do, right? But money is a commodification of attention and appreciation, and therefore if you create art for attention and appreciation you’re still a sellout. Of course, you can’t communicate anything or influence anyone at all without their attention and appreciation, so by that logic all successful artists are sellouts. This is complete horseshit at basically every step along the way, but it sounds extremely reasonable if you have the sort of brain predisposed to accept such ideas (I do), and provides a handy outlet for sabotaging your own creative output. In case you were looking for such a thing.

I have this weird shame over wanting to be seen, over wanting my work to be appreciated, which is intensely at odds with everything I actually value in the world. I value art because of the impact it’s had on me, the way it’s affected my outlook and expanded my sense of what’s possible, the sense of unattainable and ethereal beauty it’s led me to seek and which the crass outer world seems so hostile towards. It is absolutely absurd to feel ashamed for wanting to have that same impact, to participate in the same tradition – and, even if I may disagree with the tenets of capitalism, that means accepting money for art and paying money for art, because that’s how we’re able to show that we care about things now. (Yes, that means that in this model rich people have about a million times the capacity for caring as poor people do. It’s a terrible model, but it’s the one we’re operating in). In the end, it’s not necessarily so important that my voice in particular be heard, but it is vital to me that my voice join with others, that my creation joins this tradition, and connect the past to the present to the future – a future which will definitely, definitely, probably still be waiting when I get there.

I’m uncomfortable with the passage of time. I dislike it, and because time flies when you’re having fun I retain a slight antipathy for having fun as well. I usually try to have fun anyway, but a bit begrudgingly, acutely aware of the cost. I suspect that this awareness makes my fun less fun.

At the end of the day I feel caught between two unpleasant sensations: One, the sensation of having not done enough, of having lived another day without achieving enough of a change in the state of the world to justify losing that day; two, the sensation of having not had any time, of the day ending prematurely before I had any chance to note its passing. The more I fight the first the more I feel the second: Time, of course, does not only fly when you’re having fun, but when you’re fully engrossed in any task. The inverse is also true: If I try to relax a little, take things slowly and enjoy them, I get to the end of the day and wonder how I got so little done.

This, probably, is part of the reason I persist in what I generously refer to as ‘self-employment’, which means that I don’t have a job but I still pay rent. A job would make things a lot easier, but the last time I had one time passed so quickly, and at the end of the year I felt like I could remember very little of it – and, as well, that everything I had achieved within it was for someone else’s benefit. Thus, I decided to pursue my own projects and work to my own schedule, and now I maybe don’t get as much done but all of what I get done belongs to me. I keep trying to push myself to be more productive and effective, but whenever I make strides forward I feel like time starts passing faster and I pull back. I frequently remind myself of the character Dunbar in Catch-22, who is constantly doing things he hates because it makes time go slower, since the more time passes the more missions he has to fly, since the more missions he has to fly the more likely he is to die.

There’s no real resolution to this conflict. The conflict is simply that a limited amount of things can happen in a given amount of time: I can try to do more of those things, but that doesn’t make more time, it just makes me busier, and the busier I get the less I’ll be able to perceive time that passes, the less I’ll feel like I can keep up. It’s perverse, the parts of my brain which keep me from working point to the longer days made by less work and say “see, isn’t this nicer? So much more time to work on important things”, and hide from me the fact that I only created that time by not doing those things.

What can I do? Do I go slow and enjoy the illusion of creating time? Do I push myself to work more and feel like the world is passing me by while I’m not paying attention? Am I capable of even making a decision here and sticking to it, or am I incapable of seeing past my subjective sense of more or less time, more or less productivity, to actually negotiate a path through the day that doesn’t make me feel like I’m living half of a life?

This might not be the best time to write a DevBlog, but it’s also way overdue and having not done it is stressing me out, so I may as well get it out there. After a short vacation followed by a short cold, I finally managed to get the scripting system more or less up and running. However, whether it’s left over from the cold or because of my mood, finishing the scripting system didn’t leave me with a sense of relief or of completion, but just a sense of having reached a dead end. Now I have a potentially powerful and interesting tool at my disposal, but in order to actually use it I need to restructure my project to accommodate it, and I still don’t really know what that project is or is going to be.

In and of itself, that’s not a problem. I didn’t know what the project was before, and I have one more tool for tackling the project than I did before, so no problem, right? At worst I have a month or so of wasted time, which isn’t great but it’s hardly worse than some of the other setbacks I’ve dealt with – and, as wasted time goes, creating a parser for a scripting language is far more educational than most time wastes. The issue is more that, at the moment, I have no real drive to pursue the project, or really to pursue any project.

This happens sometimes, and maybe I just need to wait it out. Or maybe I need to do something different, or maybe I just need to figure out a new approach. I don’t know. I’ve just been very tired, and not knowing where I’m going or how I’m getting there is making me more so. The world seems exceedingly broken at the moment, and putting long-term work into a project when I can’t feel confident that anything about the world I’d be making it for is will still be the same when it is complete just feels like a waste of time. Games are generally what I’ve been passionate about, but at the moment games feel like a bit of a dead end.

In all likelihood, I’ll feel better soon enough. I’ll feel more alert, some aspect of the project will catch my interest again, and I’ll build an idea and purpose around that. In the meanwhile, I think I need to take a moment and look around. Maybe something else will catch my interest, maybe something a bit more solid. Maybe I’ll get back to work on EverEnding. I don’t know. I’m just waiting right now, and trying to rest, and trying to figure out a direction to go in. I don’t think that we really need any sort of grand calling in life, but we do need something to pursue, and right now I’m not sure what that is for me.

Oh well, this one was kind of a downer. Hopefully I’ll figure something out and next month’s DevBlog, if that’s even an appropriate title any more, will be less bleak.

Well, I keep on getting distracted, but the distractions are all part of the project itself. There’s a distinction between the process of making a game and the process of making the game engine, the game editor, the game tools, even though these are a prerequisite – and, clearly, I’m more willing and able to focus on those right now than I am on making the game itself. I think this is okay for the time being: Part of what I wanted to do with project is to let myself go where my enthusiasm guided me to go, and clearly right now that’s in working on the tools. Now, whether that’s just because I’m more intimidated by the idea of working on content stuff, well that’s an open question. Eventually I’m going to run out of tools to work on, so I’m not stressing out about it. Yet.

Anyway. What are these tools he keeps talking about?

Well, first, I’ve got a somewhat working version of the room creator I was talking about last time. I got the solution to the point where it did maybe 80% of what it was supposed to and then tabled it, since I didn’t want to get sidetracked for too long with nothing to show for it.

You can see that some of the logic is there, with it placing the walls and some of the tiles connecting the angles correctly, but there’s a couple of tiles that are incorrect and some that just aren’t getting placed. Part of this is just the order tiles are getting placed in right now: Since each tile has to fit with each other tile, the tiles that get placed first don’t have to meet as many constraints as the ones that get placed last, and often end up being incorrect. Obviously I have to iterate through the placement more than once, but how do I know when I’m done? How do I know which tiles I still need to match with and which are now outdated by the new placements on the second loop? This is probably a problem that’s been solved, so maybe I can look it up. That may be another reason why I set the problem aside – it didn’t seem urgent to solve any more, now that the remaining issues were relatively small and easy to describe. Most of the time, at least when it comes to programming, a sufficiently detailed description of the problem contains a solution.

After getting that sort of working-ish, I focused on creating the entity editor. Once I can build levels and place entities, I basically have everything I need to create a game. However, there’s a huge range in what constitutes a level and what constitutes an entity, and some big decisions need to be made in order to meet those simple requirements. Up front, though, I had a pretty good idea what an entity was supposed to be: I want an entity to be an object with, most of the time, a position, dimensions, and behaviors in the game world. With a bit of shuffling UI around, I came up with this entity editor:

The top bar is a toolbar where I can drop any entity I want to use more than once and save it for later. The top-right is an editing window where I can rewrite any of the entity’s scripts, and the bottom right a selection window that I can use to look at and edit any of the entity’s properties. What is going to be interesting as this progresses, I think, is that any one of the entity’s properties could be a script, could be a script that rewrites another property to be a script, could be a script that copies another entity into a variable which gets used by another script to spawn versions of that entity, and so forth. What I want here is a system that eradicates as many barriers as possible between creating, editing, and scripting entities. To begin with, I used an XML-based scripting language since that saved me a lot of the trouble of parsing the scripts, since I could just use Haxe’s built-in XML parser. However, I’ve decided instead to roll my own scripting language – after some misadventures in using a very full-featured Haxe parser, which I guess we’ll just consider research now, I decided that my needs were simple and specific enough that I should really just make my own.

While I initially considered making a new simple animation system, I decided that too much good work had gone into the EverEnding animation system to discard it completely. However, the rendering paradigm I used for that project was completely incompatible with the standards used in OpenFL – one of the big reasons I wanted to step away from that project for a while, since bringing it up to those standards was a huge logistical pain in the ass. This was, therefore, an excellent opportunity to work on something that could benefit both projects. The necessary approach was so different that, in the end, I had to fork the class, but when it comes time to work on EverEnding again I can work on integrating both versions together in a way that captures the strengths of both. For now, I have a fast and efficient way to render every entity I want to the screen.

Aside from this stuff has been some minor progress in other areas, like making decisions on what the tileset should look like, fixing bugs in the collision code, and making a rough character sprite for use in testing. However, if you’ve been following the project, you might have noticed streams abruptly ceased a couple of weeks ago, which is rather contrary to my original concept of the project as something which I worked on entirely on-stream. Unfortunately, I came to a point where a few aspects of my life and this project came into conflict with one another: As I alluded to in my Problem Machine blog post a couple of weeks ago, I tend to have sleep patterns which could be generously described as ‘erratic’. I’ve been trying out ways to restructure the way I live and work in order to help address this issue, and one of the biggest changes I’ve made is to try to get a few hours of work done immediately after waking up, before taking a shower or eating breakfast or anything. So far I find this approach tremendously beneficial, starting my day off on a good precedent and ensuring that even if later on I do end up feeling fatigued or depressed I still have a few good hours of work done, relieving much of the pressure to do work that was keeping me up later and later at night. Unfortunately, while it’s a bit stressful to stream myself work, and it’s a bit difficult to get used to waking up and working right away, the idea of waking up and streaming working right away is just too much to countenance at the moment. With time, this may be something I can approach – it may be helpful to get away from my conception of streaming as something where I need to have a constant running commentary, for instance. Or maybe I can just eventually get to the point where I’m more comfortable vocalizing my thoughts immediately after waking up. At the moment, though, trying to do two things which aren’t readily in my nature at the same time just felt like too much. Hopefully, in time, the dev streams will return. In the meanwhile I’ll probably continue streaming gameplay a few nights a week, though this past week I have been remiss due to fatigue.

That just about does it for this month’s update. Next, I plan to finish this scripting system, fix the remaining issues in the room generation code, and probably start building out the first few rooms and entities and some more finished looking art. I think by next update we may be able to start getting into actual content, rather than tools – but who knows what rabbit holes I have left to fall down?

The term role-playing is applied very loosely to games. Not only has it come to mean something completely different when used to describe video games than the pen-and-paper games that originated it, but it has drifted away from its obvious meaning in those games as well. Every game is about playing some sort of role – even when there’s no explicit narrative role (which there usually is), we still take on a role defined by the rules of the game – the role of the intelligence who places the pieces in a jigsaw or who builds the Tetris to eliminate four lines of blocks, the role of pitcher or quarterback or referee. This sort of role-playing is in many ways closer to the sort of play that which early RPGs were meant to capture, tactical miniature play inspired by the battles in the Lord of the Rings books, than what modern enthusiasts of the genre mean by the term, which is more akin to playing a part in a play – and, crucially, a part that one writes for oneself.

This is a topic we could dig deeper into, what role-playing has come to mean in different contexts, but at the moment I’m more interested in the way that playing a role, or choosing not to play a role, appeals to us. One of the core conflicts of my life is my simultaneous desires to have a place in the world and to not be constrained to do any single thing: These desires are flagrantly contradictory, and yet I feel them both frequently. At one moment I wish people would just tell me what they want from me, at one moment I wish I could pursue interests with no regard for what anyone’s expectations of me are. I can even feel both of these at the same time. It’s a sort of talent, I suppose.

Both of these, finding a niche in which we excel or choosing any path for ourselves and having it work out, are sorts of power fantasies, and different sorts of games like to cater to both of them. Whether these games are called “Role-Playing Games” or not has very little bearing on this. Most MMORPGs favor casting the player fairly narrowly, where they pick a class and have to play to the strengths of this class in a very specific way, while games like Skyrim are built to allow the player to do basically anything they want to with no negative consequence of any sort.

If you don’t like the role the game casts you in, you probably won’t like the game. If you don’t feel like the game gives you enough room to perform your role in your own way, you probably won’t like the game – in much the same reason people don’t like jobs that don’t give them any freedom to tackle tasks with their own methods. For a few days I went back to playing Team Fortress 2, and somehow there I have the best of both worlds – probably one reason I played so much of it. I have a list of 9 roles (or perhaps more, with all the ways equipment can change a class’s role) which I can pick at a whim. Maybe today I feel like getting into the thick of things and causing a lot of trouble, so I play Soldier, or I feel like moving around and harrying, so I take Scout, or I feel like being an asshole, in which case I roll Spy.

I usually play Spy.

Out in the world, though, we seldom are afforded the opportunity not to be defined by the roles we are cast in. Usually, in order to survive, we are forced to live the role we are given. Others of us, bereft of such a role, struggle to define ourselves in terms that are understandable to others, socially approachable, economically viable. In the end, we have to either accept a pre-made role, or learn to make our own – and, to make our own, first we have to have some idea of what sort of role could be both desirable and viable.

It’s easy to be led astray. I generally want to be an artist and thinking person, and what are the traits that we have used to define these sorts of people? Lonely. Mentally unstable. Self-destructive. We paint doom on our thinkers and artists, even though there’s no particular reason to believe in any real correlation outside of the feedback loop caused by this stereotype. How have these cues affected the way I live my life? How can I learn to define myself as a creator outside of this toxic worldview?

I can’t help but stand back and look at the motivations behind this toxicity. Who stands to profit from making artists believe they are worth more dead than alive? Who stands to profit when inventors are forced to sell their inventions for pocket change?

Those who have written the roles we are cast in may not have our best interests at heart.

I have been trying to fix the way I sleep. My general habit, over the last decade or so, has been to stay awake until I get tired, then go to sleep until I wake up. This is nice in that I sleep well and usually wake up feeling okay, but sucks in every other way – you know, employment, access to services, respect in the eyes of the world, that stuff. Left to my own devices, I tend to gravitate towards days that are a bit longer than 24 hours, and slowly cycle around the clock, bit by bit. It’s difficult to schedule this way, particularly more than a week away, so the first casualty of this approach is any sort of temporal work discipline. When I was younger, if anything I actually wanted to do was happening at the other end of the clock, I would just stay up later or wake up after a few hours of sleep and still be basically fine. Now, I’m tired for a few days afterwards when I try to do that. It’s become clear that, as long as I have to interface with the outside world in any way, drifting carefree across the clock won’t work out.

I’m trying to diagnose how this happens. It’s not insomnia the way people normally talk about insomnia, because I don’t usually have difficulty getting to sleep – I have difficulty wanting to go to sleep. Sleep is like physical exercise, in that I expect I’ll enjoy it know that it will be good for me but, still, when I think about actually doing it, I tend to reject that thought, to avoid and procrastinate as much as possible. Once I procrastinate on going to sleep once, though, it takes me longer to fully wake up the next day, which means it takes longer to get work done, which means I have to stay up later, and so on and on, a vicious cycle.

However, I’ve begun to suspect that, more than I am avoiding sleep, I am chasing the sensation of sleepiness. The sensation of being awake past tiredness, being just a bit frayed around the edges but still aware, gives everything a heightened sense of importance, of significance. Waking up sleepy, too, slowly coming up to speed while sipping at coffee, has its own appeal, such a time of gentle rest. Even aside from these pleasant states of tiredness, I also tend to have an adrenaline reaction to being tired, so at the same time as it can be fun and exciting to make myself tired, it can also be difficult to tell when and how I’m actually getting worn out. Tiredness has become a set of sensations I am hooked on, but also a set of situations and behaviors I identify with so strongly that it only recently occurred to me that this might be something I was doing to myself intentionally.

Even when it started to seem less than healthy, I still resisted the idea of fixing my schedule. It felt like a capitulation to a world not really set up to handle people being awake at night. The idea of day and night as times being specifically set out for work and not-work seems very old-fashioned to me, still, and I don’t really like playing into it. Realistically I know everyone has their own schedule, and we’re all just trying to work together and put together a system that mostly works, but I still resent being the one who has to change. This is one reason I like living in cities: They’re actually set up to handle people who are awake at 4am and want to get order a pizza or get some grocery shopping done.

I think the reason why I avoided sleep, though, is because I resent the idea of time where I can’t do anything – can’t work, can’t create or learn or play. It’s a hard mindset to get away from, but it’s also entirely backwards: If you want to work in a way that is effective and enjoyable, the way to do that isn’t to sacrifice as much time as possible at the altar of Getting Shit Done, it’s to shape yourself into the sort of person who that work flows out of with the minimum possible lost effort, establishing a mode of existence that is satisfying and sustainable with the work you do flowing out of that, as much byproduct as product. We like to position what we want and what the world wants of us as in opposition, as a relationship of give and take, but there’s no reason for that to be the case.

Still, it’s a work in progress. I try to get more done earlier so I don’t need to stay up late to do the same amount, I set deadlines past which I don’t allow myself to work more for the day, I take melatonin to try to help myself get to sleep and set up lots of bright lights in my room to try to help myself stay awake. It feels like it’s getting better.

And yet, sometimes, I want to stay up late, later, latest, early. It feels like time travel. It feels like magic.