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State of the Machine

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This is happening exactly the way I worried it might.

I’m coming to think I have some sort of attention disorder. I have a very difficult time focusing on almost any tasks for more than an hour at a time, and even that much becomes extremely difficult if it’s a tricky task or one I’m unenthusiastic about. And now, before me, I have weeks and weeks of animation work that need doing.

Don’t get me wrong. I think animation is interesting. However, in trying to sketch all these animations out as prototypes, I’ve robbed myself of much of the fun of animating and left myself a big serving of tedious pie. All the interesting stuff, figuring out the motion, expressing it, giving it weight;  I did all that in the prototype phase. All that’s left is drawing it in pixels, making sure the frames are consistent with each other, making sure each individual strand and strap lines up properly, that things don’t float into place but move naturally, that each distinguishing mark stays consistent; I’ve separated much of the artistry out, done it months ago, and left myself only a very dry kind of craftsmanship.

And my enthusiasm suffers.

And my productivity suffers with it.

And I wonder, what am I doing? Where am I going? Maybe these are good questions to ask, but the dissatisfaction that is pushing me to ask them is indicative of a more immediate problem. At this rate, the game will not be finished. At this rate, I’ll drift away and find something else.

I prefer to make decisions like that rather than have them made for me by circumstance.

Well: What’s the good news? The good news is that I have the running animations done and the turning animations done and the stopping animations mostly done except I need to polish them up a bit to maintain consistency. What’s the bad news? The bad news is that I keep noticing that at the end of the day when I’ve done as many of the tasks I’ve set out for myself as I could manage, right before I go to sleep, this game is almost always the one that is left over. I listen to podcasts while I work and I don’t often manage to get to the end of the podcast before I get tired of the work and decide to stop. If I don’t feel like listening to a podcast, I don’t work.

What happens now? I need to take a step back. The animations are of vital importance, yes, but they’re one part of a project that still has many many parts that need doing. If my productivity suffers when I try to do too much animation work, I need to do less animation work, simple as that. Perhaps one day or two days a week will be satisfactory, allow continuous forwards progress, while the other days I’m working on EverEnding can be dedicated to other parts of the project. Parts such as:

Special effects work: The game still needs some water effects and other level-specific effects that need to be programmed. Each of these could be a confounding programming problem; satisfying if I can solve or study my way through it, but potentially just as much of a dragging point as the animations, so I’m wary of over-committing just yet. Still, I should be keeping these on the table so I can research/ponder them as opportunity permits.

Enemy design: I’ve concepted most enemies in terms of behavior and appearance, but only in the sense of creating descriptions; most of the work of visually designing and programming these creatures remains to be done. This would probably be a good thing to work on concurrently with animations, since the two fields are somewhat dependent on each other.

Bosses: These are a combination of the above two, each boss requiring special level effects and animations and behaviors all wrapped up together. These are still pretty intimidating, but I should at least be planning out how to try handling them in the future.

Levels/Tilesets: I was doing this before animation work and felt like I was achieving a lot more satisfaction and success then. Along with enemies, this would be a really good thing for me to be working on

Attention management is so difficult, and I’m only now realizing how carefully I’ve curated my fields of view to make it easier and how hamstrung I’ve been by the necessity of doing so. I’m going to be pushing at this from a few angles: First, seeing what I can do to treat my attention issues. Second, expanding the section of the project I’m working on to avoid exhausting myself on tedious work like I’ve been doing. Third, trying to get a bit more going on in my life, non-work stuff, so that I don’t feel so down and out when the project isn’t going well. I don’t expect any of these to be easy – in fact, I expect them all to be quite challenging in their own ways – but I think they’re all vital to the continued help of myself and the project.

I’m having a bit of mixed feelings about this shift to monthly updating. Though it is nice not to have to write these each week, and I felt like they became rote and obnoxious to the people reading for more analytical content, they were also a useful mechanism for me to assess where I was at in the project and how I felt about it, a functionality I failed to appreciate until now that it’s missing. I don’t really want to go back to weekly updates, but it may be worth considering another process for capturing the internal insights that found their way into the devblogs previously.

Since tomorrow’s the day I put together the schedule for the week, it will be an excellent opportunity to assess what I should be working on when. Here’s hoping next month’s update is more substantial and encouraging.

 

So I just got back from a vacation, and due to the timing of that vacation I’m taking two weeks off from the blog despite it being a week-long vacation. It feels fine. I’m glad to have the opportunity to step back and think a bit more about what I’m doing.

What am I doing?

The blog will continue chugging away at its leisurely one-short-piece-a-week schedule for the foreseeable future. However, I’m starting to feel that I really need to develop this pursuit – essentially, because of pressures both financial and creative, I’m getting less and less comfortable just doing the same thing week after week. I’d like to, perhaps, start creating video pieces along the same lines as what I’m writing here, but I haven’t quite yet figured out how that all will fit together. Or, maybe, I could expand what I’ve already written, augment it with more examples and connective material, and try to turn it into a book. Or maybe it would be better to choose one piece, really flesh it out, and try to turn it into an hour long talk that I could give at any conference that would host me. Maybe, maybe, maybe: I haven’t quite figured out what to do, yet, but the upshot is that I want to take the work I’ve done here, that I continue to do, and expand it, make it bigger and realer and louder – and, perhaps, if I’m lucky, more profitable.

The ‘Lets Plays’ I’ve been doing on my youtube channel will probably stop, at least for now. There’s not much of an audience for the game I’ve been playing and it’s been really difficult to maintain productivity on EverEnding and other stuff while recording an hour a day (and spending another hour watching what I recorded). However, I’ll be building a new PC soon, and that should allow me to stream play/stream some other stuff I’ve been wanting to – without naming names, let’s just say it rhymes with “bark poles spree”. While I work on that, I may stream some other stuff: I’ll post about it on twitter before I do, though, so if you’re interested just follow me there.

I’m also planning on developing a side-game concurrent with EverEnding. Even though attempts to do similar things in the past have been low-key disasters, I’m fairly confident in being able to do this if I approach it properly. My first step will be, over the next few days, coming up with a plan to tackle this project – in essence a design document delineating the full scope of the project, but with most of the focus on how everything will fit together technically. From there I make a prototype, and from the prototype I develop the game. I’ll talk more about the specifics of that project once I get further in on it – in the meanwhile I’ll continue chugging away at EverEnding animation and tileset work.

So, sorry about taking a couple of weeks off with no real warning. I held out hope for writing an update while I was on the train, which of course turned out to be completely infeasible because I was mostly just really sleepy on the train. I’ll try to be more realistic in my expectations of myself in the future.

If you’d like to read some interesting things in this time when I am temporarily waylaid from writing interesting things, you might consider checking out my friend’s blog at http://strangenewwords.wordpress.com/ . There’s not as much of a theme going, but he’s far more scrupulous about frequent updates than I am, so check it out if you’re interested in spy thriller re-interpretations of erotic visual novels, critical analyses of tv adaptations of Agatha Christie mysteries, or meditations on who and what The Devil really is. Also: Cat pictures when his time or energy prove insufficient to produce a piece of cogent writing.

I got the piece I wanted to post today up to around 1300 words, with 2/3rds of the outline left to fill, and realized I wouldn’t be able to finish it in time.That’s okay, though, because I just finished a piece of music; so now I can take the good ol’ musical coward’s way out once more.

While I’d wanted to do vocal tracks this year, I’m finding that more challenging than anticipated. I wrote the lyrics, I wrote the melody, and then when it came time to actually record some singing I hit a wall. I have a very hard time speaking into microphones, to the point where it’s kind of a phobia, and while I was hoping that this would be something I could just kind of power through in the moment it’s clear that I’ll have to go for a more circumspect approach. Towards that end, and for other reasons, I’m going to try to get into game streaming, particularly my playthrough of Dark Souls 3. I’ll be doing test streams this week: I’ve already tested my video and it’s working decently as long my internet connection holds (it gets a bit finicky), but I’ll need to get my audio set up, something I’ve been kind of dragging my heels on (for some reason). Once I get things set up in a way I’m comfortable with, I’ll start announcing streams on twitter. In the meanwhile I suppose I’ll be doing more instrumental tracks.

I’ve also been working on getting a new site set up. This is kind of a tricky decision, though, since as much as I’d like to get a more proper and permanent set up through which to promote the game and my work, I already have a fair number of followers on here, and am concerned that they won’t make the jump to a new site. Alternately, I could double down on this version of the site, put together some proper front pages, tidy everything up and make it look nicer and more professional, and then pay to have wordpress remove their part of the domain name and remove all the ads. That might be a better solution, but probably wouldn’t result in as nice a site and might cost me some fine control. I haven’t decided, but probably by end of month I’ll get a proper domain set up, on one service or another.

Anyway, sorry there’s no piece this week, but next week’s will probably be a doozy. By my standards anyway, since I tend to usually keep things pretty short.

 

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I’ve been thinking. Not on purpose, it just happens. I’ve been thinking about where I’m going, with my work, with this blog, as a person, as an artist, as a symbol representing an artist or person in the mind of someone else. I’ve been thinking about self-promotion, and how it doesn’t come naturally to me but also I’ve been avoiding doing it because before I promote myself I have to understand what part of myself I want to promote and find worth promoting, about how maybe a lot of my “just do your own thing” beliefs stem from a fear of looking too closely at who I am and what I actually have to offer– or, perhaps, want to offer.

I have a tendency to follow the path of least resistance. Most people do, I think, it’s just that people encounter many kinds of resistance so even when water always flows downhill the direction of the hill changes for everyone. I’ve been confused in a bunch of slight ways about what this site is and what it’s about. First and foremost, I consider myself a game designer. Actually, I consider myself a wannabe game designer, and perhaps I always will no matter how much game designing I actually do, but as best as I can observe I have a relatively strong understanding of what works and doesn’t work in game design and why. Discussing these aspects of game creation, especially in the context of a specific game or set of games, is very similar to what critics and reviewers do, but I don’t consider myself a critic or reviewer. While I deeply admire the work that a lot of critics put into dissecting and understanding the medium, I think what they pursue with their writing and what I pursue with mine is slightly different: Understanding vs improvement, the generalities of mechanics and specifics of narrative vs the specifics of mechanics and generalities of narrative. I don’t mean to speak too broadly here, and depending on how each subject is approached they can become very similar explorations, but thinking about design of an experience is, in general, a bit different than critiquing that experience as a whole.

Though, it ought be noted, not as different as many people believe either. The design of the game encompasses the whole experience. Narrative vs design is a made-up conflict. But let’s table that for now.

Here’s what I’m getting at: I want to refocus my work here. I want to go back to having regular writing deadlines, even though that can be very difficult, and I want to stick primarily to thoughts on design and the experience associated with it, both as creator and as audience. I will probably still dip occasionally into other realms of systemic thinking or whatever else catches my fancy, but I will regard these as auxiliary to my writing’s intent. Assigning myself games to write about will probably continue, but I’ll just write about them when I’m done with them and write other pieces in between, rather than waiting weeks to complete them and posting when I’m finished. New posts should go up at noon on Saturday, new devblogs will go up noon Sunday. There. Simple.

Another thing I want to do is give this its own dedicated site. WordPress.com has been good to me, and made it incredibly easy to get started doing something which I felt a lot of initial resistance towards and has been a tremendous positive in my life, but I can’t keep doing things the easy way and the very url I pass around makes it look like I don’t take this seriously – and that’s made me feel like I’m not taking it seriously, and thereby end up, in fact, taking it less seriously. Over the next few weeks I’ll see about getting Problem Machine hosted somewhere, and then consider what to expand the site with. If nothing else, this will give me someplace to put a full webpage for EverEnding when it’s ready for it.

I’ve also been wanting to create some sort of video content for a while. I’ve been very hesitant because I’m, frankly, uncomfortable with the sound of my own voice, and the thought of speaking into a microphone fills me with subtle but potent dread. This is something I’m just going to have to fucking get over, because if there’s one thing I can’t afford to be as a developer in a personality-driven subsection of the game industry it’s shy. I’m not quite ready to set a deadline on this (need to get the new site up and everything first), but I’ve said it here so at least now it’s out there as a thing I said I wanted to do.

Finally, expanding out from the previous point, I’d like to speak at some events. I don’t really know how to get started on this, though I’m sure there are resources out there to find out, but before I start applying to speak anywhere I need to figure out what to talk about. I’ll be looking through my old posts to try to find some of the more interesting ones and see if I can turn one or more of those into a 30-60 minute long lecture.

It’s strange the way that just saying words about what you intend to do shapes your future. Just by saying what I want, I chart a course. I may get lost along the way, but at least, no matter what comes next, I made that decision. I spoke a future.

I’ve barely touched Brothers, but I have a big ol’ followup to my Transistor piece in the works now. I will finish it SOMETIME. I think this might be a bit more in line with traditional criticism than my previous approach of “these are some feelings this game made me feel”, but I don’t actually know. I’m not paid to be a critic. I’m not paid.

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I’ve been having a hard time thinking of things to write about. This is probably largely because my heart just isn’t in it as much any more. For a couple of years this blog was the anchor of my week, and now it’s a thing I do on Wednesdays. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

So it’s time to try some different things. Maybe my lazy hesitations are just a funk, one I’ll get past as certain chaotic elements come resolved and as the weather changes and as I find new ways to cope with the stupidities of existence. Maybe I’ve just used up the ideas I had ready to go on writing about games, and then used up my enthusiasm for coming up with new ideas, and now I’m just staring at a monitor.

Hey, it’s just part of the creative process, okay?

For a few weeks, I experimented with an idea where I pulled a piece of paper at random out of a jar with the name of a game or book or tv show to try out from a jar, then wrote about it at the end of the week. I think that was actually a pretty good idea – even if I ended up getting too busy and stressed to stick with it. While the jar was a fun accessory, though, I think it was actually quite extraneous. I’ve decided to revive the idea, sans jar: Instead, I’m just going to pick a thing at the beginning of each week to play through, or read through, or watch through, and then next week I’ll try to write some interesting words about it.

Here’s the thing: I need to care. No matter what the content of this blog is going to be, I need to be able to get to a place where I care about what I’m writing, which is sometimes a non-trivial challenge. Once I care enough to do it, the writing frequently takes care of itself – I mean, I still have to write it and it’s still difficult and it still hurts, but it’s a lot easier to not mind that it hurts when you are actually invested in the result. I don’t know exactly why I’ve been having so much trouble caring, but it’s been happening for a while. Hopefully, this little bit of structure will help me move past the apathy, and begin to occupy my writing again. There’s still so many interesting things to discuss, to understand, to explore, if I can only get to a place where I find them interesting again.

Yeah, it’s an excuse to spend all my time playing video games. I actually kind of need the excuse, because otherwise I’ll spend all my time doing even less productive things, watching silly internet videos and playing the same couple well-worn multiplayer games day after day.. Experiencing new art, collecting inspirations, is an investment in my creative future. I guess a lot of people would recommend actual experiences instead of just second-hand regurgitations, but it’s hot and expensive out there so eh, fuck it. Life will have to fit in around the cracks.

This should be fun. Then again, I think I said that last time, and it got real stressful real fast. Hopefully this time it will be just stressful enough.

First up: Transistor.

I’m falling behind in a lot of work right now, don’t think I’ll be able to put together a post this week. I dunno, I feel like in general the amount of attention I’ve been able to put into this has been choked off, and the quality of my work suffering because of it. I’m not sure what to do about that yet. Hopefully a better post next week to make up for it, though.

Not really a fan of this new wordpress interface so far, either.