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I always come here to relax, too. The music is so peaceful, but there’s also this sense of loneliness that’s hard to put into words. Surrounded by people but still alone, beloved by all but still abandoned…

Do you know the story? Of the Chime Tree? I’ve seen you come here with your family to hang an offering from the branches, but it seems like no one remembers why we do it any more. We just do it because we’ve done it. And because the music sounds nice.

So: A long time ago, before this was a city, when it was just a port and a village, there was a monster. There used to be a lot more monsters back then. It walked on two legs and was as tall as three men and it was covered in long matted tufts of black hair. Some said it was a man that was left to die in the woods but instead grew there like mold, got bigger and more rotten, more in pain and more in anger. Wherever it came from, every week or two it would wander into town, moving with complete silence, and kill someone and drag them away into the forest. Maybe it ate them, but no bones were ever found. If anyone tried to stop it, with spears or fire, it would kill them too. Hunting parties went out to kill it and came back empty-handed and with fewer hunters with fewer limbs.

It’s remarkable what you can live with. Some towns have rivers where children drown and some have dangerous cliffs and some just have bad luck: We had a monster. Eventually, you just come to accept that you might get snatched by a hellish beast the same way you accept you might get stabbed in a bar fight. No one ever saw it coming, it just appeared from the darkness and grabbed you and took you away. Maybe it was a peaceful way to go. I hope so.

One day, though, one of the village lads got a clever idea into his head, and was stupid enough to be unable to forget this clever idea. He made a little bell, and he set out into the forest. It took him a few days, but eventually he found the monster standing in a clearing, staring off into the distance. It didn’t react, but stood there, making a quiet sound in between a moan and a howl. He was terrified, but as stealthily as he could he came up behind it and tied the bell into its hair. It stayed motionless, and didn’t move an inch even as he ran away as fast as his legs could take him.

Now, at least, there was some warning before the monster could claim someone. It didn’t really matter much, because it could still outrun anyone in the village, but it at least meant the fleet of foot had a chance to divert its attention to easier prey. And, after the young man returned, it became a sort of dare or rite of passage for other youths to tie a bell or chime to the monster. It turned out he needn’t have been stealthy at all: Clumsy youths fell and dropped handfuls of chimes around the monster, people yelled around it, all sorts of youthful chaos and enthusiasm happened around it, and it never reacted, except to keep making its quiet howling moan. A couple of idiots, forgetting what had happened to the hunters, tried to attack it, and they were killed, but the rest knew to let well enough alone – and tied more bells and chimes to it.

Overnight, it seemed, the monster had become a monument. The wind blew the chimes in its hair and made the forest around it seem so peaceful. We laughed and played and made love around it, and over time the attacks slowed down, to every month, to every two months, to once or twice a year… and then they stopped. It stood in the forest, listening to its chimes, and didn’t move an inch. Eventually it took root, and grew into a tree: This tree, the Chime Tree.

Over time, though, people forget. This tree became just another tree in a forest. Few people remembered it was ever there, or that it once stood and walked. There was a sense, particularly in the man who had tied the first bell, who was no longer young, who was older than I am now, of something forgotten, something important, but none could say what. Until, one day, the storm came, suddenly, moaning and howling, the wind ripping people up and away and off the streets. It lasted three days, dozens perished. After the first day, we were certain it would never end, that it was the end of the world. But it did. The old man, who man who tied the first chime, asked us to follow him, and we did, out to the forest, where most of the trees were flattened or stripped of branches except one, a weird twisted black tree, covered in the rusted remnants of bells and chimes, strings and clappers waving in the breeze. He hung his bell once more, and it rang in the wind.

We hang the chimes once a year. Maybe we’re scared of the monster still, somehow, but I think it’s more of a penance. How could we care for something and then abandon it? How could we adopt a monster, dress it in music, and then leave it to be alone again?

Even though the music is beautiful, the wind still moans and howls through the branches. This place is still a little bit sad and a little bit scary. But, like most things, if we care for it properly it will not hurt us.

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“How am I so confident?” She rubbed her lips, I think imagining another version of herself taking a cool film noir drag on a cigarette. “Am I? No, no I’m just good at not acting, uh, unconfident? Nervous. Whatever. I’m good at looking like, like I belong wherever I am. Looking like you belong is usually what decides whether or not you belong. I can feel lost and stupid and confused as long as I don’t act like it, as long as I pretend to be cool.”

“It’s mostly just a sense of… is there a word for like contempt but nice? Familiarity? There’s that saying, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, but maybe familiarity is just a nice friendly toothless form of contempt. You know that self-help thing where uh, where you, when you’re talking, like, giving a speech or a presentation – and you imagine everyone there is naked? If you live for 20, 30, 40 years, and you pay any attention, everyone’s naked all the time. What I mean is everyone’s an idiot, I know I am and sorry but you are not an exception either, and knowing that it’s like: What have I got to prove to these idiots? It’s – the emperor has no clothes. And when I look out there everyone looks like a shitty little naked emperor. So I guess the trick is to act like an emperor even when you know you’re naked.”

She rubs her lips again. Steam puffs away with each breath and it doesn’t take much imagine for either of us to see it as a cool puff of smoke. Balancing good health and being cool is a rough gig.

“It’s like being a baby, like no object permanence. You know how, when you’re a baby, and something leaves your view – like peek-a-boo, like your mom just hid a toy or like your dad just walked out of the room for a moment – when you’re a baby, to you it’s like it just disappeared. Because you haven’t learned that when something leaves your sight, that doesn’t mean it’s gone. And then you grow up a little bit and you learn that the hidden toy is under the blanket and your dad’s just in the next room watching the game. And it’s fine, everything’s fine. And recently, what with one thing and another, I think I’ve been having to unlearn that.” She rubs her face. I don’t think she’s imagining looking cool now.

“It’s a curve – a pair of curves. One is how much we believe in object permanence, and one is how permanent objects are. The first curve, it goes up over the first few years of our lives, as we get used to being a baby, get used to being alive. The second curve – well that one goes all over the place, up and down like a roller coaster or a seismograph, and if we’re lucky we’re born with it pretty high, but as time passes it tends to trend… downwards. And as that happens the first curve also crawls down.”

“I don’t think we’re talking about what you asked about any more. But. I’ve gotten kind of used to the idea that whenever I look away from something it might not be there the next time I look, and I’ve gotten kind of used to the idea that when someone walks out of the room they might not ever walk back in.”

“I guess what I’m trying to say that what I have is a kind of relative confidence. It’s not that I’ve gained such faith in myself, but that I’ve – well I don’t want to say lost faith in everything else, but more like, uh, gained faith in everyone and everything being as shitty and unreliable and stupid and nonsensical as I am. So it’s fine – it’s fine as long as I act like it’s fine. And, I mean, other things are beautiful sometimes, right? Sunsets, art, love, truth, I dunno, you know the stuff. So maybe I’ve got that too, some of that raw elemental core of beauty, even if I can’t see it. I have to assume so. What are the odds I wouldn’t, if all of these stupid naked baby emperors around still manage to have moments of beauty and grace? So I just try to act like that version of me, the coolest baby, the greatest common denominator.”

“Anyway,” she says, fingers dangling over the railing, twitching slightly, “what else can I do?” as an unseen flake of ash falls down to the invisible street below.

[INSERT FOOTAGE OF MAN IN BUSINESS ATTIRE TURNING AROUND IN LEATHER OFFICE CHAIR]

Oh, hello, I didn’t see you there. My name is P. Rob LeMachin, CEO and sole proprietor of Problem Machine. Now, you might wonder what we do here? I know I do. Well, follow me.

[FOOTAGE FOLLOWING MAN IN BUSINESS ATTIRE AS HE WALKS DOWN HALLWAY. WINDOWS IN HALLWAY SHOW MANY SCENES OF EVENTS TOO WONDROUS TO BE CONVENIENTLY DESCRIBED IN THIS PARAGRAPH]

You see, what we do here is we create and distribute problems. Sometimes we just find them lying around, sometimes we make them out of raw materials, most of which are readily available in any public gathering place. Now, you might be thinking, “but that’s terrible! Everyone hates problems!” Well, your pathetic ignorance is understandable. Problems have gotten a bad reputation for being problematic! But let’s take just a moment now to think about what exactly a problem is.

[MAN IN BUSINESS ATTIRE TURNS TO FACE US AND HANDS US A SNIFTER OF COGNAC]

Think back to that famous phrase, “Houston, we have a problem”: Uttered by astronaut and American hero Tom Hanks over the intercom to his wife, Whitney Houston, while aboard his flying saucer, just after he discovered William Shatner outside tearing a hole in the spaceship exterior. Hanks rushed to explain the situation to Houston, and in so doing he created a ‘problem’. What would have happened if he’d never told Houston about his problem? Houston would have never been able to tell him a solution and Shatner would have murdered them all.

[MAN IN BUSINESS ATTIRE SIPS MARTINI AND GESTURES TO BLACK PANEL WITH THREE GLOWING WORDS…]

[FINE -> PROBLEM -> FIX ->]

The natural cycle of things goes: Fine, Problem, Fix, and back to Fine. Everything starts Fine, then there’s a Problem, and then you Fix it. That’s the role that problems play in the circle of life! Though every day people wish they had fewer problems, look what happens to the cycle if we remove the problem.

[MAN IN BUSINESS ATTIRE GESTURES AT SECOND BLACK PANEL…]

[FINE -> DISASTER <-]

With no problem, instead of cycling from fine to problem to fix and back to fine, it cycles directly from fine to disaster and it stays there because everything is dead and bad. So, you see, you were wrong to be mad at me: You need my problems so that you can have something to fix. Think back to the words of [PEERS AT HAND] Notorious P.I.G: more money equals more problems – And therefore by the commutative property of problems, more problems equals more money!

That’s why we say here at Problem Machine industries: It’s Not A Disaster.

AloneInTheDark

This is a horror story.

I missed my chance. It was Halloween a couple of weeks ago. But, you know, this isn’t the right kind of horror story for Halloween. Halloween is a time for the not-quite-scary, the weird and surreal and unimaginable, the watered down horror that is the fear of the unknown. That stuff is great, but it’s not scary. Monsters are physical by nature, creatures with beating hearts and blood, and can be fought the same way as anything else. Ghosts can’t be fought, but are inherently reassuring: Is it so bad getting murdered by a ghost, really, given that the existence of the ghost is evidence of an afterlife? It’s kind of flattering, really, a ghost trying to kill you. Kind of an invitation on a ghost-date.

This is the story of the last lie you ever tell yourself.

“This is safe. Someone would have done something about it if it weren’t.”

The truth is, the structures we live in are rotting away, moment by moment, in real time. The difference between a home and a ruin can be subtle. Sometimes people live for years in a house before they find out it wasn’t safe, before the banister breaks or the floorboards give way, before the picket white fence splinters into wooden stakes and tetanus nails. We don’t notice. Our homes stay familiar to us, platonically unchanging, even as their hearts rot.

It probably won’t be your home, but it could be anything. Anything could be unsafe, so everything is unsafe. Do you really want to lean on that railing? Are you confident in those stairs? How about that bridge?

Yeah. We like to talk about fear of the unknown a lot, but it’s the fear of the everyday, the tedious, the prosaically awful deaths that lie around every corner that we don’t talk about. This fear is too much to think about. When a mine fire starts under a town, we take every opportunity to ignore the problem, pretending it will fix itself, until the town dies. We let our bridges and freeways decay, fall apart, borrowing the convenience of today against the disaster of tomorrow. We let corporations ignore safety regulations and call it ‘disruption’, call it good for the economy. We bury our fear, ignore our fear: The fear that literally any object in the world, with a slight shift in circumstances, could be fate’s murder weapon. The perfect crime: Gravity, with the loose brick, on the way to the bus stop.

This is so horrifying we create a kind of taboo around speaking about it, particularly the young: We deem it ‘uncool’. It’s uncool to be concerned about whether you know how to get out: The cool kids burn alive, screams exhale smoke, hands pushing against solid wall trying to find a way through. It’s uncool to use a seat-belt, the cool kids are ejected from their vehicle and have their bones scraped away to bloody fragmentary paste against the intersection asphalt. It’s uncool to–

Yes I know, I sound like a caricature of a grouchy safety instructor. The thing is, I can envision each of these tiny tragedies in detail, feel the breeze of them as I pass them by, premonitions of a fate that lies in potentiality. I am cautious by nature – not least because I am a large person, and therefore the chances of something collapsing under my weight are higher, and the force of my fall will be more damaging. At thirty-two-feet-per-second-squared, every pound of force becomes that much greater an impact.

The scariest thing to me about an old haunted house isn’t the haunt, it’s the house.

There’s actually a horror movie about this, sort of. Final Destination frames the horror of accidental death as the act of the malicious spirit of Death personified. The trick is, Death always gives a warning, some little clue that something is about to go bad – a premonition, a creak of aging wood, a breath of cold air. Whether by sportsmanship or by supernatural contract, Death provides advance notice of his arrival. And, in this, Final Destination pulls its punches. It codifies into law our reassurances, our guarantees against our fear that we will be safe: “It won’t happen to me.” we say, “I’m careful. I’ll notice there’s something wrong. I’ll notice the cracks, the dust, I’ll hear the creaks, the pops, I’ll be ready to move, I won’t panic.”

And that’s the last lie you ever tell yourself.

EveHeader

Phew. Okay I’m actually like super tired right now so I’ll try to make this brief.

First thing’s first, sound and music are tested and seem to work! So far at least. There’s obviously a lot of tests I’m going to need to do in the long run in terms of making sure cross-fading from track to track works as the player goes from level to level, making sure all of the sound-effects playing queues I’m going to need are there, making sure continuous looping sound-effects work correctly, and etcetera, but I’ll get to all that as I go. It’s enough for me, for now, that all of the basic framework is in place. The rest will get fixed and polished up as I test it out and notice things that need improvement, probably in a few months.

I’ve also finally gotten started on the entity editor… sort of. It’s an extremely minimal start so far, simply an interface which allows me to click on entities to select them and click and drag to move them around, but it’s a start. I’ll probably be putting a lot more effort into that a bit later this week and in weeks to come.

In point of fact, I actually got totally sidetracked off of the entity editor immediately after starting it. This time I wasn’t sidetracked by a programming task, but by a writing task. In the back story of the game, and I’ve alluded to this in earlier dev blogs, there are a group of, ah, for lack of a better term, let’s call them ‘creator angels’. These entities were made by a deity to essentially handle all of the nitty-gritty detail work of creating functional species. These characters, though many of them won’t actually appear in the game, are extremely important to the story. For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about these creatures: What were their names? What were they like? How many of them were there? I’ve been exploring these ideas, and as I go new aspects of the story are starting to reveal themselves to me as well…

EveLogo2

He wandered the Night Lands alone, and called himself Sol. It’s not known how long he wandered, for time has little meaning in the Night Lands, but it felt like an eternity for him. We call this The First Eternity, the Before Time.

This time came to an end when he found Gaea, and fell in love. He lay down next to her and warmed her, slowly, with his light. They stayed like that for a long time. Gaea began to awaken, she grew green and lush and beautiful, as he knew she would. This was The Second Eternity, the Peace Time. But eventually he grew restless: Gaea was beautiful, but she seemed, somehow, to be incomplete to him. To be not as entirely alive, as restless, as vibrant, as violent, as a world should be.

Sol didn’t know what it was that was missing, but the dreams of what might be haunted him. He dove into those dreams, and took hold of them, and shaped them. He fashioned this piece of The Dream Lands after the most beautiful gardens of Gaea, and he called it Eden. Time didn’t pass here, but for him and for us it was The Third Eternity, The Dream Time.

From the clay of the river of Eden, Sol began to create his children, The Assembly. He liked the number 12, and had decided to create that number, but on the first day, he created Ouroburous. Ouroburous was too great, too smart, and too endlessly hungry to be controlled. She took something from him and flew away into the Night Lands. None know what she took, but we fear the day she might return and we find out. She was not spoken of again, and to this day is not included in numbers of The Assembly.

First of The Assembly, he created Mote. Learning from his mistake, he made her humble, wise, and selfless.

Second of The Assembly, he created Light, flickering and inconsistent and full of joy, though she wandered she would always come back.

Third of The Assembly, he created Halfway, who never made a decision, who always wanted to make both choices, but who understood something about the world none of the others could ever comprehend, no matter how many times they asked her to explain

Fourth of The Assembly, he created Chitter, who made the others uncomfortable with her cold and alien brilliance.

Fifth of The Assembly, he created Slab, who slept all day in the heat, and whose dreams no one could guess at.

Sixth of The Assembly, he created Dominion, haughty, angry, and hungry for power. Too much like Ouroburous, but petty and greedy, she was always jealous of her sisters.

Seventh of The Assembly, he created Aerie. Clever, mischievous, and ambitious, she infuriated her sisters almost as much as she amused them. All heeded her counsel, and she became a leader of sorts among them, though Dominion resented her for it.

Eighth of The Assembly, he created Meekling. Small and afraid but eternally resourceful, few of the others understood how formidable she truly was.

Ninth of The Assembly, he created Tsunami. Vast and absentminded, she felt the pull of The Night Lands, and wished she could abandon her heavy form to go wandering amongst them. It was not to be.

Tenth of The Assembly, he created Pride. Pride wanted nothing more than recognition from her peers, wanted to be the best and brightest, and sought leadership for that reason. Aerie ceded leadership easily, but still advised Pride, and still made all of the decisions.

Eleventh of The Assembly, he created Behemoth. Though she was one of the youngest of The Assembly, she took on a role of protector. Strong and compassionate, she wanted nothing more than to protect her sisters.

Twelfth and last of The Assembly, he created Dawn. She was clever, but withdrawn, and always seemed to be holding onto some kind of secret. Though she never sought leadership, they all listened when she spoke, and when she grew angry, infrequently, they could seldom meet her eyes.

EveLogo1

EveHeaderIs this progress? I’m not sure.

I spent this week figuring out how to make this game’s graphics happen. In brief, I discovered that OpenFL has massively different graphics architecture depending on what platform you build it for, and spent days trying to figure out what rendered quickly, what rendered slowly, how to render with the feature I wanted in a timely fashion, which of my old rendering code to keep and what to lose, etcetera.

It was frustrating. I like to know what I’m working towards. Confusion kills motivation.

Anyway, I finally determined that I should probably stick with AIR/Flash as my target platform, since performance is, for the most part, quite satisfactory. However, I still would really like to get post-processing effects working. I think my best bet at doing those at a high framerate is to build external programs in C++ (or Haxe built to C++) which the AIR application calls and feeds the screen buffer data to create the processed image. This neatly encapsulates the problem, and will allow me to handle the solution of how to turn one or more bitmaps into another bitmap in whatever manner is fastest and most efficient.

It also lets me put it off until a more opportune time so that I can get some real goddamn work done. The project has been basically stalled out for the last few weeks while I figure these things out, and so far the end result is something extremely similar to what I had before I started.

Still, do I regret spending this time porting and experimenting? Not really. It doesn’t help anything to get my head so wrapped up in the project that I cease to see alternate pathways and options. It was a learning experience if nothing else, and I think many of the programming skills I picked up will help me down the road.

Anyway, for this week, there are still some bugs in the behavior system somewhere that need to be addressed. Once I get everything working again, I’ll either finish up the detail editor or start developing the entity editor. It’s high time I got this code base feature complete. I can worry about optimizations afterwards.

It will be good to move forwards again, finally.

EveLogo1

Wherever they went they killed the trees first. I don’t know why. I think because they wanted to make their changes, and change cannot happen where roots bind. And, one by one, and I think for the same reasons, they killed us too.

They created kings of their own to replace us. We made them all they could ask, yet they destroyed it all so they might ask for more and make it on their own.

She existed beyond their sight, though, she existed out of their reach. And, when they hunted her, they only ever found each others’ throats. Soon, they began to worship her as they did their own kings, admiring her cunning.

She didn’t care either way.

Rather than die or be enslaved, we ran to her, and she took us under her wings.

But we had forgotten that if you stop being yourself you start to become something else, and the more days, months, years, we spent in her shadow…

The more we became a part of it.

EveLogo2

FIRE

The first word they invented was for the fire that forged them. I suppose we would translate it as ‘mother’.

The second word they invented was for the water that submerged and cooled them, that allowed them to take a solid shape instead of constantly shifting this way and that as fluid. I suppose we might call it ‘sleep’.

They made more words. It became a game between them, to try to figure out new things that hadn’t been named yet. They started with things they encountered frequently – the crystals, the clots, the slow-dissolving carcasses of their siblings and cousins and parents – but they quickly ran out of objects to name.

One came up with the clever idea of naming himself, a trend which took off quickly and burned itself out soon after.

Before long, they were forced to invent new concepts in order to hang names on. These concepts were difficult to express to each other, and it was unclear whether the names they used referred to the same underlying concept. This was not a problem that went away, but it got better.

Their system of naming things expanded. It looped in on itself, named the act of naming, named the system of naming, named the time and place, the namer and the name-ee. This is how language was invented.

And then they did it again, because they had short memories.

In all this discussion, they forgot the name of the fire. The water which cooled them and gave them shape also became unnamed, since they didn’t remember ever existing without water, without shape. It became invisible to them. The language that filled their minds overwrote all memory that they were perhaps not always as they were then.

Other names started to disappear. Once they forgot the water, the crystals and clots became the medium within which they were suspended, until those became invisible as well and were forgotten. Names which referred to colors of crystal or consistencies of fluid unraveled next.

They remembered their names for themselves, but didn’t remember any of the reasons why they had given themselves a particular name. Choices which used to be significant to them became meaningless sounds.

The water was gone. It could not define them.

Their names were gibberish, and could not define them.

They saw right through each other, through their environment, saw through to eternity, and were thus blind.

They lost their shape, and fell back into the flames, and once more became the stuff of untamed and unnamed possibility.

It might be they died. It might be they were born. It might be that the only difference between the two, for them, is what name you decide to give to it.

This has happened many times.

This is happening right now.