Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pixel tutorial

My ability to draw has always been hit or miss, I had fundamental classes in high school and would occasionally doodle, but always avoided the human figure because of its difficulty. And I still find it so, probably always will. But through doodling and what I retained from the classes I've taken so far in drawing I've picked up a few hints that helped.

1. Practice/mentality, it's a duh moment but it's true. Most important though is to practice the right way. When you're just drawing things off the top of your head and you're having trouble making them look photorealistic or "life like", then I suggest trying to draw something out of a photo. This isn't tracing, this is exercising the eyes' ability to notice and the hands' ability to translate that. Drawing is 99% in the head, and 1% in the hands and eyes. If you can see it, you can draw it as you see it. Where you start doesn't dictate where you end up. The trick is to exercise that link between the hands and eye. Seriously, anyone can do it. To quote Garfield from the animated series Garfield and Friends, "it's just lines on paper." And that is unarguably all it is, just like how paintings are just paint on canvas. And it's not in any explicit way of how that paint is put on, there isn't any technique or way to move that dictates how well the lines end up looking. It's in seeing what the lines do, and recognizing what that means in relation to the piece as being presented as you work, and keeping that in mind as you work. What this means is as simple as "that line on his ear comes in too far, makes his ear look too big".  And then making the line come in a little. That is literally all drawing is. A bunch of that one, line and alteration after the other until you feel happy with it. Reason experienced artists make it look so easy is they've exercised that hand/eye/brain coordination so much they can more quickly approximate what they see in their head on paper, where with the rest of us faces start off looking vaguely potato-ish, they know how to draw the right face shape from practice. Just like those pieces you see the tourists artists do in no time at all that come out looking good, they've practiced how to make what they see so often their hands just know what to do.

Now, I like pixel art for two reasons. First because regardless of how many mistakes I make the canvas doesn't show so I always feel in control of the finished product, and secondly because there is a total abandon within having definite color and space. I can pick this or that pixel to color, but no where in-between. I have a limited pallet and can only attempt to replicate a degree of what colors exist in real life. While, say, this image

has a massive number of shades of grey and very specific locations for the white flakes in his hair, I cannot hope to perfectly replicate that, but in pixel art I can approximate it. It will never be perfect, Wittgenstain is made of smooth edges and not squares, as is the tradition of pixel art I'm only using two colors to highlight the pixelness of it.  
2. The flatland. (I actually meant to have more photos showing my progress before this step --will do next time-- but I got distracted. )

This second aspect to art I want to use these early saves to illustrate. Make things flat. People often think they aren't arty enough to get the angles on a room just right and make 'depth' or just can't get the proportions right to make something look... not deformed. But the fact that your eye is able to pick up that you're work isn't 'right' just yet means you have the capability to notice what is off, with is all it takes with diligence and slight alterations to make something looks right. The easiest way to approach this is to flatten things. Drawing still life or things laying around the house is really hard because as you look back and forth you wind up moving your head slightly and because of your perspective the angles on the piece change. You end up constantly altering the proportions of the piece. With practice you can learn to avoid this. But for beginners or those trying to get a bottom up refresher of their abilities(which every artist should do occasionally, imho), start drawing things from photographs. Next is to break the image down into less complex shapes and distances. 'The eye is ovalish, half way down the head, a little squared over here..' ect. This is the same for the negative space. Instead of seeing where to put that tiny ear in relation to all this white, imagine figuring how to fit this large triangle thing between the shoulder and the ear. 'Okay it comes up to a little higher then half the image, bends right below the ear here and slightly closer towards the neck down here.' Start by building your basic outline and move in. Remember to strictly avoid detail work at this point, you're getting the layout of the image. Start sharpening the edges of that layout.

3. Details. Treat every detailed spot like you approached the general layout, start with the big stuff. 'this spot is all black' 'this corner is more rounded' 'this has little hairs sticking up' and then move onto more intricate stuff.
 (As a side note somewhere in the above I said there is no direct technique that leads to how a piece turns out. I kinda lied, the grey stuff is dithering, it's a technique of spacing squares in a checkered or 'cross' pattern to replicate shading. It's a way to keep the pallet color down while simulating shading, similar to crosshatching as seen in comics/print. )

The rest is the back and forth, glance at the reference picture, make a decision how to shade/represent what is there, look at the image see what could be wrong. When you are at this point getting a pair of outside eyes can be very beneficial, also looking at your piece from different angles i.e. turning the image and canvas upside down. Replicating something upside down is a common experiment in early drawing classes and I recommend it, by having a face upside down the brain doesn't so easily recognize it as a face and allows you to more easily see it for it's angles and edges. About here a talented artist friend of mine mentioned how not only was the chin far too thin, but the neckline doesn't go in so drastically, that the whole left shoulder (in relation to viewer) was in too far. Within the next three panels I work on correcting that along with other slight alterations with the eyes and brow. Then carry on to darken the dithering on the other side of the face, make slight alterations to the hair, and work more on the eyes. Click on the first image to be able to cycle through the images without seeing the text to see the changes better side by side.

A great way to break down the shading in a piece, especially a monochromatic, is to squint at it. Or in my case take off your glasses. The details get lost but suddenly the overall shape and shading becomes more clear (in a manner of speaking). A pixel art piece of an image is in a way already a blurred/distorted version of your image, so when you squint and compare the too your eye will better see the features that translate and more importantly where they don't. Try it out: comparing the bottom two, the original image and my piece you'll notice the bottom Wittgenstein's nose is much darker, that there's less shading on his left ear, and that his chin doesn't extend quite so long. With open eyes of course his left eye needs work, it's not clear where his eyeball and eyelid start and stop as it is with the right eye.

You'll notice the comparison is far from 1-1 but it is an approximation. There are light spots I couldn't figure out how to represent near the right side of his temple that I excluded altogether. The dithering more lends itself to suggesting the details and shapes of the face then replicate them. Now the point of this exercise specifically, to attempt to approximate another image (instead of simply creating an image from imagination) is that this teaches the eye how to see in terms of simple things like lines instead of difficult things like faces, and it teaches the mind how to use your medium in approximating certain effects. When your mind and eyes think in terms of the medium you use and you will be better able to clearly imagine a creature in a way to translate it to the paper... or screen.
Until next time, thanks for your time, good luck on your art and goodnight everyone. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Epoche Development Talk 2, Procedurally Generated and Narrative

Epoche Talk 2, Procedurally Generated and Narrative 

First read, 
Game Focalization and Narrative

First I'm going to give a quick update of my progress. The pixel art program I'll be using for this project is freeware, which can be found here I'm reading into verbcoin now because I need to have a full grasp of how to code my algorithm. With this art program I'm going to sketch up some placeholder art and start the framework of the game. Which means the simplest version of the algorithm. Breaking a many scenario system down to the simplest wheels in a way that it will be instantly playable, but code in a way where the next iterations will fall into place easily (or as easily as possible), is proving to more difficult than said. Particularly with the dialogue section.

(image and a good read found here)

So, what do we always do when we hit a rut? We go around, but we keep digging. Everything in a generated game is connected, but it all stems from a simple set of mechanics. So those mechanics are what I will be working on. The gameplay in each match will be broken down into five stages.

1st, the characters, the game will have to randomly generate characters fleshed out with distinguishing features, stats, and personalized inventories. Setting up a test room and test figures will be my first, and most important, challenge. The quality of the game's mysteries (as currently designed) are dependent on this stage of generation working.

2nd  The basic AI movement of characters through the train cars will be directly linked to their stats. I don't have the luxury of making their movements a scripted pattern as the murders both need to have clue states and as must occur out of opportunity. When hungry the characters will go to the bar cart for a sandwich, which will be added to their inventory, which could leave crumbs on their hands, or the hands of a thief going through their pockets. The stats are a basic excuse for variables within the timeframe of each match, this effectively diversifying the instances of each match. Also by making npc's movements less predictable in later builds the player becomes more reliable on the testimony of the passengers(passive targeting and dialogue farther down). This adds suspense and strategy as the player must diplomat with --potentially-- the killer and put themselves in greater risk.

3rd, the first murder state. The combination of the stat effected movement simulation and targeting's system this is the second make or break point. Making the characters' passive/active targeting will be very very difficult.. for me. As the title implies the targeting code is how the murder selects their victim, this section will work off an expanded build of the first mechanics, expanding the stat and other variables so the game simulates the nature of the murder and the state of the crime scene. This section will eventually decide things like opportunity, weapons available, if there was a struggle, the number of clues left behind, and most importantly the imprint those instances left on the other characters. Which brings us to...

4h, claim dialogue, or better named, claim and counter claim instances. Here is where things get tricky and where my abilities with verbcoin make or break the game, each of the characters will have to have a storage system, exposure to fact states(clues) will allot them with a build of claims. Which with their passive/active targeting will organize how the AI responds to player input. This is the real meat and potatoes of the game. As the player picks up clues dialogue options are opened and they are able to 'build a case' against the npcs to decide which one they think is the murder. But dependent on the clues the npcs will be exposed to a different set of possible 'cases' and possibly against different characters, even yourself. I'm going to have to figure it so that the AI knows to respond, shifting blame(active targeting) to the claim that npc has unlocked and discrediting the claims of those it hasn't come to trust (passive targeting). This is going to be all very complicated, and in this early stage very imbalanced, broken. Which is why I'm going to need more effecting how the npc's make their decisions, how they notice features and build their clue/claim database.

5th, narrative dialogue or essentially randomized characterization/narration, is what I'm calling the extra dialogue I'll need to create. Where claim dialogue is tied to the active targeting, leading to the claims and win or fail states: the narrative dialogue is tied to the passive targeting and will result in the majority of the game's characterization. The passive targeting is essentially how a npc feels about another npc or the player, like a relationship meter, the modification here is that it is modified by the rest of the passengers. What happens is that because of the social situation the npc will assign each character a value from least to greatest (liked) and, dependent on the frequency of positive to negative responses from each character to the npc, assign biases towards those characters. This both effects how the npc will respond to the player's requests but if the npc will 'believe' the player. Certain npcs with a higher rating of the player will need less proof to be convinced of the player's claim dialogue, if that claim dialogue is proven wrong that rated will go down though. The importance of the narrative dialogue is... well the narrative. This passive targeting as an underlying feature that effects the active targeting simulates most of the mystery elements in the game. Not only through what amounts to diplomacy and cunning wit in questioning and organizing the group, but on the side of the murder it'll simulate motive and manipulation. The murders active and passive targeting act the same but as to manipulate the groups understanding of the crimes away from himself, and when the opportunity arises it simulates a murder of opportunity. This, of course, is in much later builds. And currently beyond me, but if the character creations work, and the AI movements work then half the work is done.

Tha'rrs the game plan. The five stages as currently designed, each building on previous iterations, slowly building to the more complete project. I don't have a timeline for the entire thing, I have no way of knowing how quickly I'll learn and be able to implement the code into each build, much less work out the bugs, with all of school and work. But it's definitely possible so I'm going to do it

Next time more news on code and art, maybe even some screenshots. Till then, have a good day everyone, and good luck on your projects.

Friday, September 26, 2014

And here we go. Epoche talk 1

Here's the teaser for that project I was talking about... Alright I lied. This, as what happens with most of my projects on the drawing board. This is the cut down, hybrid, mutated, then twisted version of the inspiration of what the last project was. Simply because this one had less assets, less artwork, but more coding... Because I'm okay at the art but bad at coding... So.. for the first project I'm going to finish, I've given myself less room to work on the stuff I 'm good at, but challenged myself much more on the stuff I should start easy on... This first beta can only end poorly. But that's okay, that's what game development is.  So without further adieu, I'm going to talk about Epoche.

Epoche is a procedurally generated murder mystery set on a train. Picture the novel And Then There Were None meets the board game Clue, but set in a verb coin point and click.

(if you haven't you should really watch this film adaptation)
The player starts out taking a trip, after walking around and chatting with a few of the other patrons the characters in the last three train cars realize the lock on the door has been broken and they are trapped to these last three cars. Soon after this the train goes through a tunnel and in the darkness one of the passengers on the train is murdered. From there it is a game of deduction and diplomacy to figure out who the killer is and have a solid enough argument to convince the rest of the passengers on the train. The catch is that each passenger will claim innocence, and you have to disprove their alibi to the majority of the passengers otherwise they might think you are the guilty party trying to shift blame. If you're just not convincing enough than the passengers will ignore you, the killer though, will probably take you out next. After that it doesn't matter if the passengers believe you. You have to figure out the crime within a certain time. You have roughly three murders to find enough clues at the crime scenes and from questioning the passengers before.. say he kills you. 
So the hard part of an Algorithm.. is the algorithm. I've got a list of features and what I have to do now is decide what I absolutely need to make this a functioning game. With a generated murder mystery it comes down to a balance of having clues that lead with necessity to the murder but not obviously, and leaving enough room for the player to doubt what they've found as happenstance, or even as a red haring planted by the murder to confuse him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Frustration with Journalism

There are times when people are upset about things, and then comes along someone that puts their anger into words. The anger doesn't always match the words, I think it's called over reaction, or extremism, at that point. But either way I have a natural aversion to it. 

This isn't claiming I haven't grown up with, or exist with bias. That's far from the case for everyone. But the way my parents raised me and the experiences and the responses I witnessed from my peers instilled in me a kind of ethic about confrontation. The idea is basically to not, if at all possible, unless absolutely necessary. Because often people get into things that do not concern them, and even when they stay out of it they'll often pass judgment, which is also none of their business, they have no right to do so. Because of their position they don't have the ability to accurately do so if there were able to in first place much less the right. And when something comes up, that is personal in nature, personal in the way that it isn't your business and you feel embarrassed for them. Something scandalous. With that I have an immediate response of treating it as if I haven't heard. If someone whispers something not knowing I'm in earshot. If someone comes to me with some rumor about a person I'm acquainted with. You get the feeling of embarrassment for that person to have a rumor about them spread. And as I would not want that rumor spread about myself I do my best to treat it as a rumor. Just a general rule to deal with people's business with as much discretion as possible.

So you understand as much as I have an aversion to the Zoe Quinn and Gamergate discussion, with a column that deals with deconstructing popular or interesting topics with the gaming sphere.. it's basically not a choice. It's a topic that had to be written about. Not just because it's about journalism and the site and column is a journalist/media site, or because the arguments fall under the philosophy topics of logic and ethics. But because I do not want to write about it, because it makes me uncomfortable and I would rather prefer to completely ignore it and shut myself off from any reference too it. For the reason that I would prefer to pretend to not give a damn, I assume it would be better for myself to follow through with it. I'm a volunteer writer, and I could even ask if the second column writer could step in and have his say about it, but as a writer I feel responsible.

My first piece on the #Gamergate movement will go up this week Wednesday. The following week will be on something different. (edit)

As much as it is a personal matter, there are things that should be discussed. For one this,

And secondly of course there must be discussion of both how the Gamergate and Journalist community is handling the debate. There is already plenty of material on either end of the spectrum that handles their side of the argument well, but there are others and when you're just entering the discussion or you've only seen one side it's hard to differentiate the two, and when you don't  understand the argument you oppose, you make a faulty argument against it which only leads to misunderstandings and more arguing. In my experience this kind of arguing only comes from ignorance. Either people acting in or by ignorance.

Monday, August 18, 2014

End of summer and prepping for my first project

It's Beginning
As anyone whose stumbled upon my writing, either at a glance or gave it an honest read, might have picked up I write alot; unfortunately I don't do this alot. Whenever I can get myself to put things on the internet it's only because I've convinced myself it will be of some use to someone else; my goal this semester is to finish drawing and coding a proof of concept segment for a game, sort of a playable tease trailer that as far as I can foresee might end up being an opening level. I plan on recording every step of my journey, from my continued stumbling ignorance to basic grasp, and highlight every flash of clarity I've come across as it might help another.

What to expect
Because of my lack of experience in actual coding or art, a bulk of these early posts are going to be on writing, both my history and the exercises and resources that have lead me to the familiarity with story and writing I've come to appreciate.

Why didn't this happen before?
Mostly because of my misunderstandings with self motivation and timing. Example, loading yourself up with work with the hope that the pressure of responsibility will keep the gears turning isn't clear thinking. Also full school and work load do not lend themselves to freetime, and a lack of familiarity with genre do not lend itself to good first project designs.

Why Now?
My schedule has more time in it, but also I've figured out what I want to make. I'm taking one of my ideas out of the sketchbook and going to lay it out on the workbench, Ags is a strong versatile tool and it's time we become seriously acquainted. I'm dusting off an old story I realized would translate well. My next post will be a breakdown of how I believe story and plot translate to the genre elements we find inherent in the point and click game. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning AGS and Narrative (discussion of play, prose, and focalization)

Oh dear god this is hard.

The first thing I learned of design.. was that something simple is complex. Just because something plays really simply and is a simple design, doesn't mean it didn't take much to create. Trying to recreate a really simple game in a manner that's better, is like trying to reinvent the wheel. Try remaking something like tick-tack-toe, ya know, something that will fit the same market and could replace tick-tack-toe in the mind of it's loyal audience... you can't.

That's because every beautifully simple design, is ingeniously complex. It's complex in the manner that it is simple but still works so strongly. It is precisely the right amount of everything to convey what it needed to, not too much where it became confusing, and not too little where it became forgettable. Think of rock-paper-scissors, as much as people try they can't really add something to the game and have the game work smoothly. They might reskin it, have three other things besides the classics; but that's just aesthetics, that's not changing the design of the game. There are three options to each player, each option lead can only lead to one of 2 outcomes.
1. fail-state, which would automatically result in the opponent's win-state (and vice-versa)
2. stalemate, which leads to a replay.

These outcomes lead to split second strategic decisions with instant reward, the timed element builds tension, the player aspect makes every game feel new despite the fact that every outcome has already been experienced. The nature of it leaves the players on an even level. Regardless of what age you are you can still loose or win with the same likelihood as you always could.

My point here is that early designers incorrectly correlate the number of inputs and quantity of interactions onscreen to the quality of the game's play. This is a fallacy that's typically learned after the first or second project. While tangentially related as far as design goes; input, interaction, and play are completely different aspects of game. Input is strictly analog. Interaction is strictly digital response to input. And play is the neurological response (within the player) to the perceived association of analog input and interaction. I distinguish it as a perceived association because of the play we frequently witness with young players, or even just children in play. We constantly see players lean controllers one way or the other even though that has nothing to do with the interaction onscreen. You can place a unplugged controller in your nephew's hand and they'll watch you play, clicking buttons, thinking they're involved. (I'm not the best babysitter)

Of course during early development the nuances of analog controls (just like the nuances of analog motor skills) are lost on youngsters, along with the nuances of small game interactions onscreen. With this we assume the input->interaction->play is lost on youngsters, and they perceive it to be a solely passive (McLuhan Hot) medium like film, but this isn't necessarily true. The nuances of it are lost but the cognitive response is still there, the interactions we see simply highlight the importance of agency in the input->interaction relation. In a small experiment (I'm a terrible uncle) while babysitting I brought up my Atari simulator, turned on Combat2, and handed my nephew (1 1/2 year old) the second controller. Not expecting much and knowing the little one's love of pressing buttons, changing the channels, and seeing the change onscreen I placed everything within his reach (small television/console/both controllers) on a short coffee table, to see what would happen. I instantly regretted the game choice because the foliage covers a good part of the interactions onscreen, new players might not even notice what's happening for the first few shots.

Not to diminish the whippersnapper incidentally beating his distracted uncle a few times, the game did not last long as the small nuanced interactions onscreen were not enough to hold the youngster's attention. After exploring all the controller seemed to offer him, my nephew quickly began to experiment with the console. Which had the desired effects of turning on and off, then cycling through the games installed within it's memory. This illustrates a rudimentary rule of design; agency is established through clear control. The response of play is only as strong as the perceived association between the input and interaction. The interaction must be noticeable and a clear and direct response from the input. Imagine watching a game being played where you have no grasp of the rules, until you can make the link between what players are doing and the repercussions of their actions, then all you're seeing in-front of you is gibberish actions that have no correlation. To you it can't be played, you can't voyeuristically play that game because you have no understanding of that system (input->interaction). This is at root the inherent difference between games and film, games are constructed to convey the input->interaction system to a player (design is comparable to prose) where film doesn't have this interactive(cool, McLuhan) prose. This is why Let's Plays or Walk Throughs on youtube are popular with the gaming culture as interactive material related, instead of the film culture as cinematic material related despite sharing similar a visual language. While a mostly invisible aspect that's "under the hood" the prose of games and cinema are internally different, and draw the participant into a different neurological experience.

And just like if you don't recognize the system of input->interaction, if the interaction is inconsistent the game ceases to be. When kids run around the playground and point fingers going "BAM, you're Dead!", they have simultaneously designated input and interaction. If the second child laughs falling down, pretending to be dead, they have designated the output, the system is established. Even if they dodge, or run shouting "No you didn't!" they have established a system. Then it's a game, they've created play. If the second child doesn't react, then the first child is privy to either give up on his game, or to adapt it. Imagine the child that sneaks around in a public place pretending they're James Bond and imagines shooting down robots in the supermarket, or the kid in the back seat that pretends they're launching rockets out of their window, blowing up other cars. They have designated the game to be private and within their imagination, if a stranger sees them and pretends to fall down dead in the supermarket, smiling.. well typically at that point they just ruined it. That wasn't the game child was playing first, second they didn't invite this weirdo to play. It might have similarities and be a game, but it wasn't the game being played. It's not that the player doesn't understand the system of the slightly different game of "shoot, and shoot down bad guys" but that interaction and output had a fundamentally different prose then "shoot, and imagine shooting down bad guys". The prose of the first was controlled internally and allowed a deep exploration of player imagination and narrative, where the prose of the second became a cooperative effort and drew more attention to the game itself and out of the narrative being experienced, this is why some kids suddenly get embarrassed when you jump in on their game.

-Jump next to sandcastle-
"So what-cha doing?"
-shyly sticks plastic figure in sand-
"Just.. playing.."

You're sudden attention draws their own attention to the nature and prose of their game, drawing them out of their play experience. At this point we've all learned the best thing is to draw the child back into their narrative, be a participant and not draw attention to their system by learning the rules, and responding as they decree is appropriate to the system. Let them DM. 

"I wanna play, what do I do?"
"OK, and you can be the dragon! You're over here, and you're like -"RAHH"- when the knights go inside the cave. Alright! But I'm the Green knight, you can burn my head, but I just don't die."

I'm Getting There! Jeez!

As I've mentioned games have an inherent prose of their own through the design and nature of the game. The elements of the games design, the input, the interactions, and the subsequent play are the prose of games. Game prose is the form of interactive language and game flow/feel, and same as linguistic prose is the form of grammar and flow. In a manner of speaking prose is the cellular structure of narrative. There is a rudimentary prose in narrative(storytelling) that is not directly specific to any medium (movie,comic,tv series, novel, painting, ext.)

This rudimentary aspect of prose, this universal aspect of story stems from the existence of the story itself. I am of the personal belief that every creative medium has the potential to convey a story, and might so inherently through the participation of humanity (but that's for another time)

What I'm referring to is what French Narrative theorist Gerard Genette, refers to as Focalization. The eye and voice with which the story is being told. Narrative is the recounting of a story, the fact that the story cannot be recounted without a manner of voice, or eye, or ear, or some other sense mandates that there must be -in a sense- a narrator as an individual that recounts the story. We borrow their eyes, ears, thoughts and actions; but not always directly, often a storyteller will distance themselves from the protagonist so they can establish elements like foreshadowing by allowing the viewer information the character isn't privy too. Or build drama by allowing the viewer more then one character's perspective so the viewer can be engaged on a larger scale. A young writers first struggle is commonly changing tenses when trying to change perspectives, which is understandable as timespace in any form of storytelling is a pretty weird,weird thing.

(I'd encourage anyone interested in storytelling mediums (especially visual) to look into Scott McCloud's, Understanding Comics, which has a brilliant section on this.)

I've always found it helpful when organizing, character events, time, locations, pacing, basically everything to think of the focalization (the eyes and mouth of the story) to be a character on their own. Even if the character is just a spirit that floats around the other individuals I've found it to be extremely helpful understanding and writing for the reader when I have a established character that's sort of a in-between for the reader to the fiction. Think of the narrator of the window into the story, now think of that window having some degree of character.

With this it's easier to focus the story, like an engineer removing useless or redundant parts, if it's imagined within the span of a single beings mind. Especially as the entire story has to fit into one person's mind. The narrator doesn't need to refer to themselves as a character in the story to have relevance in the story. Imagine the narrator as the person whose siting by your bedside telling a story to you. Someone who knows the story so well they could read it too you without any reference, and they chose to do it a certain way because of that. When the narrative isn't delivered in chronological order, it's sort of like someone telling you pieces that somehow fit together into a larger story, part of reading it and the experience is in figuring out why the narrator does that. Everything the narrator tells you matters, or sometimes with postmodernist-lit it matters that it doesn't matter. The same way in a novel the author won't write what happens to the character every moment of every waking day the narrator wouldn't turn around and tell you that, because it's irrelevant to the story the narrator is trying to tell you. A story with a strong voice is when the narrator has cut the fat and will only tell the reader what really matters about what happened, (or what the author decides what matters).

I am of the opinion that everyone is to some degree a natural storyteller, maybe not a concise or very good storyteller, but one non-the-less. I think it's something we learn through years of communication and through a kind of osmosis, or at least we gain the ability to subconsciously appreciate it. When we're educated to recognize storytelling, it's mechanics, and specific language we better understand why we appreciate the pieces we did. Hopefully we might even be inspired to make our own.

So I believe that to a sense people have a natural sense of thematic devices, plot, pacing, and the like. Stephen King did a interview on writing where he talked about one of his current projects based on a news story he heard years ago about some lady driving threw a store window to drive over someone. To paraphrase, King said that he always felt time was kind of like a sieve, you can't really get ride of the big important stuff. The "chaff" just falls aside leaving the "rocks" the things that just stick in your head and you have trouble forgetting. People have a sense of what is big and important, in hindsight it's always a little clearer what was actually the "big stuff" but it isn't like it goes away, but the point is people still have that kind of thing with them. I think everyone has a great sense of the moments that are big and important, and that as you gain experience storytelling and work on your craft you're learning the reason those things are big, and you learn to position those things in the light and shape the edges to get the best effect you can out of them.

At this point we've dug into a number of topics.
1. Simple systems aren't easy projects
2. The input->interaction system that produces play hinges itself strongly on a sense of agency in the player, without a sense of agency the essence of play is diminished and the interactive aspect of the medium takes a more passive tense.
3. Agency is established through clear control. The response of play is only as strong as the perceived association between the input and interaction.
4. This play dynamic is the prose of video games and ludonarrative. Similar to prose in literature being the narrative flow, the play dynamic in games are the ludonarrative flow/ the game feel.  (Pieces expanding on Ludonarrative A. B.
5. A story's Focalizatin is the aspect in which the narrative is being delivered. In a story the manipulation and treatment of the elements in that story's medium becomes an element of story itself. In film the angle and position of the camera are just as important to conveying the story as the dialog delivered. In comics the specific layout of panels and manner moments are conveyed mean just as much as the moments themselves. In literature the use of transitions, the inclusions or exclusions of segments, all focus the material presented. In games the use of camera angle, the interfaces, the analog input, audio or text segments, the general gameplay all create the aspects of narrative delivery. With any great story its specific focalization is necessary for the story to maintain its individual nature.
6. Humans are natural storytellers, in our understanding and mastery of elements of storytelling is where we learn to understand the natural strengths in a story and the best manner in which to convey that.

This was all about Ags  
The main reason I am always so emphatic that people who want to get into game design start small is not just so they feel the accomplishment of finishing a game and don't loose there passion to a overbearing project, but so that they hone their abilities to create good games and convey experience to the player. Games that use simple systems like basic platformers, basic rpgs, shoot'm ups, brawlers, point and click adventure, are all time proven systems with very limited focalization. The camera is set, the player can only do so much, the designer is presented with limitations. One of the first impulses of a new game designer is to take a game system and expand it's focalization; take a top down shooter and give it rts elements, make it rouge-like, multiple endings, character relations. This ends in a game that is jack of all, master of none, which results in a mehh product. Some indie game that tried to do too much without focusing on doing any one thing well. But when you have someone tackle something small for a while; whether it be your platformer, rpg, top down shoot'm up, card game, board game, Doom clone shooter, or your point and click adventure game.. well then you see someone produce clever and well crafted pieces. The reason for this is that a practiced veteran of a genre has the experience not just to reproduce the focalization (gameplay) of that genre, but has the experience to perfect(or better) their prose within the genre. They've come to understand the inner workings that make the nuanced decisions when designing interactions that result in a better end product.

I'm at a point where I've only been tangentially aware of the Adventure Game genre and it's elements, I've begun working through the Sam an Max series(one I've always wanted to tryout) and reading up as much as I can on design theory, puzzles, and story that I've found. As before the ags forum community has been very helpful and directed me to a number of resource blogs/aritcles/podcasts to check out.(listed below) My first attempt at a project had me realizing the cinematic sequential nature of ags games with their backgrounds and transitions so I invested in some books about comics... I don't know how much it was just an excuse, but so far the books have benefited me tremendously. 

I have a better understanding of angles and positioning with my backgrounds, my character design, and animations are stronger. I had heard it mentioned before but this work definitely is a must have for game designers. Even it most of it just reiterates something you've learned with experience, if you're into storytelling, there is a wealth of knowledge in here you do not want to miss. 

Of course I'll continue referring you guys to blogs that have been helpful, and better reading then mine (look to the right side of this blog). I'm going to continue writing, dusting off and resharpening my art skills, and start working out puzzles. With time, with experimentation and study, I'll start to figure out the specific strengths of the Adventure Game narrative. I'll discover the elements of pacing and storytelling within this specific genre. When I learn or find something that's helpful while I go along I'll be sure to put something up here for it. Until next time, thanks for reading, and good luck everyone :)

Welcome to the Program
-here is a great introductory series of videos to the program and all the basic coding you'll need to make your first game -

-here is more information on the Ags program scripting -

Focus on Design/Prose
-here is a backlog of the Blue Cup Tools podcast where Ags developers Grundislav and ThreeOhFour discuss game design and production with a heavy focus on Adventure games (shock) with a tasteful amount of divergence to other genres -

-while at the time of writing this I haven't had the opportunity to read these, I've heard numerous reference to these articles on adventure game by genre enthusiast Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw. 

-more by Yahtzee

Friday, March 21, 2014

On the subject of Experience. Better titled; Work Ethic for students

I apologize, this isn't about Experience as in video games, or any kind of talk about design and leveling up. 

This is a note about Work Ethic and Learning

Spring Break is just around the corner, in truth I'm standing at the corner now, but until I complete and email some papers I won't be officially on break. And with how I've been working on these papers and my thoughts of my plan of working on these three game projects of mine over break and my history with finishing projects I had a thought.

Originally this came from a sentiment brought up in the young adult novel a friend lent me (The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson), in the book there's this alchemist-ish power that derived from certain individuals ordained as Rithmatists can conjurer from drawing chalk on a two dimensional surface. Drawing specific geometric patterns can create protective fields around the Rithmatists where drawing things like knights or dragons will bring to life the creatures who can break down another Rithmatists defenses. Set in a steampunk universe, there are specific schools that teach the privileged Rithmatists their science. Of course my first thought is how easily someone could fudge with the typical design of a turn based rpg and change it to time based, each of the different drawings and defenses taking a specific number of seconds to execute before effective. Missions could unlock learning new techniques. Experience points earned could be spent studying and improving your drawing speed, accuracy, or artistic ability (empowers drawn creatures). Then currency could be spent on chalk, quest items, game items, ect. (okay there was a little design.)

As expected in a young adult novel there is a protagonist who is gifted in some aspects but completely lost in others. While the protagonist is extremely intelligent with math, science, and able to draw Rithmatists patterns extremely well.. He is completely inept at art, history, or anything else that doesn't have to do with his beloved Rithmatist subject. Which of course leaves him at odds with a majority of his schoolmates and adult friends as he isn't actually a Rithmatist and doesn't have any power. His knowledge and passion of all things seems for not. Through the beginning of the novel he is barely applying himself in his studies outside of trying to sneak into Rithmatic lectures (non-Rithmatists aren't allowed in the special Rithmatists' classes). A character with a almost hopeless dream, pursuing his passion while ignoring what he is not passionate about... A character we all could have gotten behind at one or another point in our life. The entire "do what you love, forget the rest" way to live mentality seems to be a common aspect of our culture these days.

Jump back to the book. Our young protagonist finds himself in a unique possibility where if he applies himself in certain subjects he can learn from one of the Rithmatist professors, the big step in actualizing his dream. Personally, I had been on the route for the culinary profession until my Senior year of high school. ... maybe it was the end of my junior year.. idk. I had always enjoyed and played games, after finding critics and journalist that discussed design I developed an introductory level vocabulary to discuss and explore design/theory/storytelling, that is why I credit people like Yatzhee for the moment I became a "real" gamer. Not because before I didn't care about it, but because individuals like that were the catalysts for my realization that making games wasn't out of my reach. And after that I felt an investment and love for the medium like never before.. The difference between when someone feels towards language and storytelling was just a reader to when they became a writer. And like the young spirited protagonist of a ya novel I passionately threw myself into my dream subject as if it was my life's purpose, also like that protagonist I gave little consideration for the rest, until that moment an opportunity presents itself. There was a experimental game design class in the tech department. I had taken 3d modeling early on in my high school career, but other then that I hadn't spent much time in the computer labs. Senior year I lived in those labs. Basically any study hall, any lunch period, I was there. 

In my design class I realized suddenly that coding was a great deal of math, art I was okay at, but math didn't really capture me. It just made sense after a time. So I was doing as the protagonist did, throwing myself suddenly into the subjects relevant to my passion and giving enough consideration to the rest to pass will good grades(B or around there). Here's the issue with that mentality, something it took admittedly a few years in college and a book to completely learn. School work isn't about learning to get by so you can do what you want, it's about learning how to do work even when you don't want. That sounds like one of the "bs" answers you might have gotten from one of your grade school teachers one day after "forgetting" to do an assignment, but it's true. We try to convince ourselves that once we're in a class, or working in a specific field, that we're interested in that we'll be perfect students. But that really, really isn't true, and we know it. 

Remember that one class you loved, you paid attention in all the lectures and discussed the subject with your teacher and friends and felt pretty confident about it. But homework wasn't counted as late, or the grade percentage wasn't very high so you felt okay letting one or two assignments slide. Besides homework's about learning the material, and know the stuff right? Then you blink and suddenly you're late assignments are piling up, and while them being late doesn't phase you, not getting the grade at all for not having them turned in at the end of the semester and failing despite your strong grasp of the subject matter terrifies you. 

Think about that time in English where all you had to do was read outside of class, and talk about the material in class. You did a bunch of the readings, sometimes maybe you'd have to read it in the study hall before that class, or you'd only skim it though, sometimes you'd just rely on what you remember from past readings of the material, maybe you'd just talk with friends who had read it so you get an idea of the events and formulate from that some interesting points about the cultural meaning of the text, or the authors purpose, or foreshadowing. Say you have to write a paper on it or do a test, at first your feeling pretty confident so you put of reviewing the text or starting early on your draft.. Then when you get the test they're asking you about specific quotes from the start of the book that you don't remember or names of characters that were only mentioned in a brief segment, and suddenly you don't know the book nearly as well as you thought. Or you're writing the paper last minute and suddenly you realize the requirements are more demanding then you thought or after writing your thesis you realize you don't know the text well enough and have to go over it all again to find direct examples that support your thesis, or you realize you don't know how to start your paper and just sit there for too long panicking, or you stare at all the material and notes you've pulled together, all the interesting thoughts... and can't boil it down to a single strong thesis statement.

Think about the art classes where you mostly talked with friends and thought about what you planned to do, and spent the last night before presenting the final projects sleeplessly trying to polishing it.

Same with science projects.

Same with any presentation.

The realization to be drawn from here is that despite enjoying or even loving the material we don't specifically love the work, or at least we don't love the work aspects of the work. We might love the creation aspect. Like how most writers actually hate writing, if you don't believe me ask a writer if they have trouble with writer's block. Writers write to tell a story, not to write. They want to tell a story so much it overpowers their natural aversion to work and they start writing, once writing the story comes more easily, they fall into the story, and the writing (the work) seems effortless because they've been seduced by their love of creation. 

Homework, busy work, it teaches us to get past that natural aversion to work by regularly getting us to the benefits of the work. Most people who practice a craft or play an instrument will tell you that all you have to do to get into something, is to just do it. The artist feels the benefits of creating art through repeatedly creating, it's only through that repetition that we get good. I think this is the second point where people get caught up, especially myself. We see the people that are good at what they do, at what we want to do, and when we try we see the difference. We see our weaknesses, inexperience, and the hints of our ignorance in the light of their work and put it off. I've done this for years now. I see my mother draw something, try to duplicate and can see the issues in my proportion, "well I need to watch let's draws and hear some experienced artist's tips on shading, or how to judge if you're getting the angles right". I play a game and realize I can't wrap my mind around how code made that specific interaction possible, "going to have to subscribe to some coding channels and watch some tutorials". Man that guy's talking game design terms and theory I've never even heard about, guess I need to read those now before I do anything." 

Now don't misread this, I will always be emphatic about the value of research and study. But that valuable cultivation of thought and experiment in your mind only gains worth when the thought/experimentation is actualized. This is a key aspect of the "Fail Faster" first rule game making. Actually fail faster should be the first rule of anything. If you're not 100% sure about that lecture that just happened and you're hovering on a public student failure by going up to the teacher and asking a question or postponing that until it's a private failure by going home and reviewing the material until it makes sense, it's better to just talk to the teach. We think of it as a failure because it wasn't a success, we didn't grasp the material with a "this is self evident" absurdness that we do when we feel like smart good students. But as we know, smart good students are the ones that are always raising their hand, and asking questions, and taking notes, and leaving apples on the front desk. That's why I want to teach, free food.

We try to apply the "better to remain silent and be thought a wise man then to open one's mouth and remove all doubt" to the class room.. Maybe it's applicable to confrontation ,or a challenge to debate, something, but in a class room it doesn't work. The people that never say anything when the questions are asked might very well know the material, they might just be shy or giving other people a chance, but that doesn't make them look wise. At worst they look apathetic about the material, at best they look bored about the material, either way wise is the very last thing they look. And it's very possible they can go off and learn all the material and comfortably pass on their own without much interaction within the classroom. I'm not going to condemn anyone's student habits, if it's working for you, then good for you. But consider the potential, consider your own potential, with a highly qualified individual at your disposal. (typically) At school or in the university you are in a setting where you are encouraged not only to propose questions around the material, but inquire past the level before you. You can be completely bored with the surface reading of a specific text, crave something that's more interesting or challenging, and all it takes is a raised hand to get the discussion onto a more advanced level. Remember that your teacher is someone whose not only more familiar with the material, but has spent a number of years engrossed in the higher level (actually interesting) corner of that material's field. If you're talking about Distopian literature and it feels dry, all it takes is a few questions on what next-step aspect of this you're trying to wrap your head around and suddenly you're talking about philosophy and the nature of fears and the other, and dreams and the subconscious, and studies about human behavior, and sociology, and the Nazis. Most teachers are big fans of tangential learning. 2168 words until "Nazis" showed up.

It's true sometimes when the material will lead into your question and you're just thinking a lesson or two ahead and the teacher doesn't want to confuse the rest of the class sometimes you're asked to wait. But that's not stopping you from trying to ask the teacher after class, more so that's not stopping you from reading and doing the homework ahead of time. As long as you're able to continue getting help from the teacher when you run into trouble and you don't end up completely lost then why not? Sure you could respond (well I have a life and I don't want to spend my whole day doing homework.) If you're ahead of the class, you're going to have more time to relax when you're home. Think about it, imagine if you could go back in time every year and redo all of your classes as if it's your first try. You'd understand assignments the moment they're assigned and be able to get through them almost effortlessly, your work would undoubtedly be of better quality. Well reading ahead a little bit, giving yourself that much more exposure to the material, is how you begin to accomplish that. Einstein said, "I have no special talent. I am passionately curious." 

Here's some fun latin for you. nanos gigantum humeris insidentes 

You've probably heard the metaphor, "Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants." All this means is that discovery is always built on previous discovery. Einstein had some groundbreaking ideas, but his ideas were only groundbreaking because he asked a "what if" no one had asked before. He knew it was something unknown because he read a bunch in scientific journals, and then thought a bunch. Take a look at every discover in history, that's all it is. They question, they think, and they test. When they fail, they think deeper, question deeper, and retest. 

But really, when you come to a problem or challenge you feel ill prepared to deal with, your hesitation to tackle it isn't just because you don't like the work, or because you feel the information is beyond you and you don't want to admit that or need more time to research. Alot of this semester this is what I thought and this is what I've always tried to focus on: assuming that through learning more, forcing myself to complete the work, actively ask questions when confused, that somewhere along the line I'd start to break my bad old habits and take on a more proactive productive lifestyle. 

And to a degree I saw success doing this. I've greatly improved my writing, I've written and participated in a professional setting for film and game journalism. I'm actively part of the writing department for a small group of game developers. While available I've been actively writing on this blog about my theories with design, things I've learnt, my game development status. But that work experience and learning has only increased the quality of my work, not the quality of my work ethic. I still have the same unproductive habits, I still find myself over-stressed with writers block staying up late into the night and early morning trying to catch up on late work like I would in high school. So at first, I blamed the load of work. Then I accepted that I had plenty of hours in the day when utilized to complete any work. Then I blamed the difficulty of the work, but I'm able to grasp everything the teacher says, the classes provide materials, and the teachers are there to help for any confusion, so it's impossible to say that learning the material is above my capabilities. I refuse to believe any learning is above anyone's capabilities, all that's required is self application. And with that I came back around to the question, why can't I learn to be a better student? Why can't I learn to not let myself get in situations where I get so stressed out and worn down? And for a moment in that sad place I thought maybe it was just a way some people were, some disposition that the proactive people were constantly at war with behind their smiles. I'm certain in some situations that is the case, but that can't be the definitive way that it is. I can't imagine that all adults feel like this all the time, I don't remember feeling like this when I was young and I certainly don't believe that a bit of development in brain chemistry from age and a change in height and experiences lead with necessity to a less happy life. 

But then the other day I wrote a piece on luck, as luck would have it.... I'm sorry that was terrible, please keep reading. 

I wrote a piece on luck and I'll admit I wasn't ready to write it when I received the assignment, I had no idea what to write on luck, and I hadn't found anything that sparked up in my head by the time I sat down to write it. But I sat down to write it regardless because I had forgotten about needing to write it as I left school, then went to visit a friend before their break was over and came home and hoped onto the computer with twenty minutes to write the piece before it was due to be published. Please never do this to your team, it's really terrible thing to do. I had been thinking on the topic, I wasn't completely sure on a thesis though, I hadn't found any super interesting facts or ideas that would work into strengthening the piece. But as I wrote, I enjoyed the creation, I enjoyed explaining and narrowing my thought process on the label of luck down and working it out on paper. I knew my thought process, in writing I just needed to work out how to explain it well, that's the fun challenge of writing. I came to a thesis about the nature of the label, and what it implied about humanity. I felt very proud of my piece. Then after publishing it (just in the nick of time), and then realizing I hadn't formatted it with the code (edit that in real quick), putting up on the site's facebook page, having my great team send me small notifications of things to edit (more rushed editing). It was done and it felt right. Literally the very next day in my English theory class we were discussing and going over Derrida... learned the theory of stuff I had just a few short hours ago published on had a specific name. I was talking about luck as defined through a present absence. All I could think was "Dang, if I had finished my reading for this day (I had previously been introduced to Derrida so I convinced myself I could skim the reading and focus on other work)- If I had finished the reading I would have known and been able to incorporate that into my piece about luck." At first I looked back in-hindsight and thought "I wasn't ready to write that yet, I need to be more prepared." But in truth we cannot always be prepared for things, there will be times we are thrown a challenge and all we can do is our best. The quality of my work does is not diminished by what I know now. I'm still proud of my segment on luck because I feel it's well written, and I think it successfully explains the affect of present absence without using the linguistic term.

Next time it would be better to use the term, of course, now that I know it. But I can still appreciate the work, I can appreciate the challenge it posed and feel good about overcoming it. A while back in an earlier post on this blog I described a thought of mine. I hadn't spent any extra time looking into this theory of mine, just had an idea and started writing. Later I learned the kind of "game story" I was talking about had a name, "ludo narrative", to other's it's probably not much but to me I feel that's an accomplishment. With the information I had a think about games and mechanics and proposed something, it wasn't something completely original, but it was original to what I knew. And that, the act of creation, contains value. So often we try to place value on the voices of others, and possibly worse, ourselves and we think we should leave things for other people; for people more qualified, or talented, or educated. How is it we so easily fool ourselves into thinking that those esteemed others who are "better suited" then us are made from people exactly like us. They were curious, passionate, and ignorant. They let their passion guide their curiosity, their curiosity fuel their passion, their passion lead them to realize their ignorance, and their ignorance to fuel their curiosity. 

You can't wonder about things you already know. Realize you yourself could very well know nothing and the world is full of exciting wonder. Be a kid again.

Trust yourself that you have something to say and trust it to contain some worth. When I started this I thought that I might not have enough to say to fill a post, I thought I shouldn't bring up the present absence until I've read Derrida over again, I felt I had lost my point when I was talking about high-school, I questioned -still question- if this post flows and has enough to be engaging to someone(besides myself), and near the end I wondered if all of this built to any coherent thought. I am always filled with self-doubt whenever I start anything. But while at first it feels sporadic and poorly done, trust yourself to continue, be mindful of your actions, be okay with the possibility of mistakes, and in the end. In the moment you realize that work to its natural conclusion, look back at all that you accomplished in doing that. Instead of giving up, instead of giving into doubt and quitting or not starting at all, or convincing yourself to not care and doing it rushed so you try to feel impervious to judgments on your work, you did it. Good on you. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

DeconstructionCraft: Luck of the Dice?

Another fun colab piece with Kevin. Again, Mr. Rickman is first half, I am second. A fun piece on the nature of luck and games keeping in the holiday spirit.

Lucks one of those things some people have where others just don't... or is it?
Click Leon
I have two more of these I want to wrap up but it's just.. it's bananas with midterms right now, so I apologize for my tardiness. Hope you enjoy my piece on luck while you wait. :)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

[Ludonarrative] DeconstructionCraft.

These are exerts from the full article found here.

"Games do not necessarily need text, cut scenes, music, sound, or visuals at all to tell stories. They simply need a player's input and some unspecified means to show reaction to player input to articulate the game space and scenario. The process video games employ to tell stories, or describe what happens, is fundamentally in their mechanics. "
        "In the very act of playing we automatically assign narrative to actions. In board or card games traditionally not associated with story, the very rules are in fact bits of narrative that help players understand the theming, the pieces we assign narrative by naming them, and which functions as the story to their specific characteristics in play. Think of the game of chess in which the objective of the game is to capture as many of your opponent’s pieces and put them in a position to force surrender. A war game, a military theme, we've given meaning to moving small carved bits of wood around on a board by assigning a narrative. The rules dictate the manners in which the players can move their pieces. This piece is a Bishop and so it can move in this certain fashion. The narrative of the Bishop is in its name and its place on the board, these are used to explain its actions on the board.
            In video games, this is even simpler. There's a shape on the screen, and to explain its inter-activeness within its virtual space we assign it a name. The name explains to the viewer why it acts within the space as it does. This is a car, a soldier, a robot, a blob, a gun, a superhuman. Games help the player by contextualizing this narrative by other communicative forms of exposition through interaction; voices, pictures, text. It's important to note these are means of the process but are not the process itself. Similar to how literature uses letters, words, punctuation, thematic devices, and yet narrative cannot be found explicitly within any of those things. Narrative lacks an empirical component."
" It is through the action of the player through the avatar upon the world that allows the player to continue projecting a narrative upon the virtual space and the objects and characters within. "

Friday, February 21, 2014


Typically a 35 dollar value GameMaker Studio is free to download.. Like right now. I'm no pro at GameMaker, but I've downloaded it an it's on the list of program walkthroughs I'm going to do. Get Studio now if this one catches your eye, if you're ever interested in investing in something it's always better to do it when it's cheap, and if it's free you should just do it incase, seriously. For those of you who roll there eyes at these programs and just want to get into the ground up programming world of game making, I do getting into Java and JDK eventually. Soon as I'm proficient enough with coding, but for full disclosure that really means as soon as I'm not juggling upper level courses with work.

Update on the game stuff. I'd love to say the first engine is complete, but it's not. It's simple a matter of understanding the rolls of in script functions and how they function (which is kinda funny in itself). Quality tutorials for Construct 2 are a little more difficult to find, I'll be putting up the resources I've used and a in depth of the game development soon.