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Monday, October 31, 2005

"Don't Miss" Tour interrupted

It was late in the evening when the stranger waded into town. At first he had no empathy for the sadness filling the air- it was merely curiosity which drove him here. A large sign stood by the entrance, as if to introduce this strange place, but all it said was “Don't Miss”. Gazing into the wide street in front of him, he perceived not a town but a lake. This was partly because the water reached his torso, but mostly because it simply didn't have the features any town ought to have- people, for instance. There were also no trees or vegetation, no animals, no vehicles, and not a sound but the water beneath him. The sky was perfectly clear, and the moon had only started to rise. To either side of him as he walked were tall walls with so many cracks it was a wonder they still stood. The windows were shut and the curtains drawn, but curiously enough there was some light shining out.

He passed many old walls of increasingly curious design. Some music was being played on some sort of string ensemble -slow, quietly emotional and faintly Jewish- but it faded away. Finally the traveller came across what might be considered a doorway, but the door was nothing more than an old and ratty cloth. He pulled it aside and entered. He wouldn't consider it a house, because the roof did not cover the entirety of the area, but it was certainly a home. A lady was sitting still in a rocking chair, and made no indication that she had noticed the intrusion, or if she did that she cared. Her husband kissed her on the forehead and walked out the door slowly. As he passed through, he faded away.

The floor must have been elevated, because the water only got to knee-level. There was a fireplace in the corner- a fire was burning in it without producing any smoke. Each room was separated by more drapes, and the explorer passed through a kitchen, then a bedroom, and then it seemed as if he had reached another house without realizing. Apparently the entire area was connected. He passed many families which sat or stood in place, and many people faded away as he watched them. Had he decided to return along the path he had come, he would have found that they all had vanished; but he wished to progress. The doors did not distinguish between house and the streets, and he soon understood that the distinction was irrelevant. Each area was distinct, as if there was once good reason to distinguish between them, as if there had been life here once. He moved on, all the while trying to imagine what life was like here back then, but soon reached a dead end. Several children were playing, and he understood that this was what he had come to see.

That's when he'll stop playing, satisfied with the experience, and go back to the menu. On the top of screen will be written: "An exploration collection by Mordechai Buckman”. The other works included will mostly be more straightforward. One will celebrate childlike exploration (as typified by my experiences in 7th grade), with nameless and faceless people running from place to place oblivious to the secret passageways, physical impossibilities and shortcuts surrounding them. Every rooftop will be accessible, though it may take some tricky climbing and jumping. Another world will experiment with abstractions-

What the hell is this?
Hey- who do you think you are, butting in like this?
The guy who's supposed to buy this stuff, that's who! You expect me to be impressed with this elitist crap?
I'm not interested in impressing you. There is nothing wrong with aiming for something with a little class. If you don't understand what I'm doing, that's fine with me, but I don't need to put up with this abuse. Get off my blog!
Wake up, kid. You gotta sell to someone, you know. Or do you want to be one of those nuts who have shitty lives, all in the name of not doing anything anyone will like?
No, I want to be an artist, who creates good art which is appreciated by the public.
This public of yours doesn't exist. You wanna sell this to some old geezer who's never picked up a controller in his life? I play games for fun, man. Where's the fun here? This “Don't Miss” level – it sounds like you don't do anything but wade in the water!
Personally, I have fun exploring, and I have fun viewing art. I think this collection would-
Personally? The game industry isn't just some toy you can play with by yourself! You need a big team of programmers and artists, and you need a big budget for this sort of thing! Where are you going to get that money back from – selling thousands of copies to yourself? You need to sell it to guys like me, who buy these games, and I'm sorry, but this really doesn't sound like the sort of thing anyone's going to buy! And where would you even find a publisher dumb enough to try this? You do realize you need a publisher, right? And even if you get the team, and get the millions of dollars you need, and assuming there is someone, somewhere in the world, who is weird enough to buy this, you still gotta advertise it to that guy somehow! This guy will obviously be completely against the idea of having fun, or else he wouldn't even consider getting this game, so he won't be the sort of person who would buy a videogame, will he? You see, you just don't think these things through, do you?

I could try to get fans of Myst and Metroid.
Man, what are you talking about? Myst is an adventure – you know, all those puzzles and stuff. Does your game have puzzles? No. And why Metroid? That's a first-person shooter, isn't it?
No! Definitely not! While it does technically have shooting in a first-person perspective, the essence of-
Then of course it's a first-person shooter. Does your game have action in it? No. And you know why Halo sold better than Metroid?
I don't care. What I care about is the quality of the game. Metroid Prime is excellent art, and Halo is third-rate entertainment. If all the world but ten people reject my art, it will be enough, for it will mean that I have reached those ten. The rest of the world may go on ignoring me, but I will know my triumph. You may call me a nut, and chances are I will call myself a nut, but I will always know that I made a good game. It does not need to make sense to the rest of the world, it only needs to make sense in itself.
And the sign saying “Don't Miss” makes sense how?
Okay, so maybe not that. Otherwise, this will be a great game which stands up to the world and says... something or other. Boy, this is tiring. I'm glad I don't have to face the world today.



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Monday, October 17, 2005

The Fundamental Interconnectedness Of All Things

Ah, solo improv. The art of going nowhere in particular. Ah, the great art of going wherever.

I like to start by just pressing a note repeatedly, or maybe a fifth, or something along those lines, just to get a feel for it. If I'm in the right mood for a good improv, it gives me a sense of thick atmosphere. It all works out better when I've got a starting point, a setting in which my story will take place. Everything will flow naturally from these few notes, which I play repeatedly, generally while holding the pedal. But I don't think of it as a starting point. In fact, I don't think about it at all. I just start playing it, and let myself get pulled in. As far as I am concerned at that moment, that note is the entire world.

Somehow, that eternity of a setting passes in an instant, and I start playing. It doesn't matter what, just so long as I like the way it sounds. Which is not to say it necessarily should make any sense at all, because the nonsensical can be just as satisfying as the sensible, as long as it is controlled. Contradictions, confusion, despair, vagueness- these are my playthings. All of them are more interesting than some simple melody, although if that melody has been on my mind lately, that's what I'll go with. Those improvs are generally less interesting, since they mostly consist of too many variations on the same theme. But if I like it, I'll remember the theme. Maybe one day I'll even write it into a complete composition.

You know, this post sounded more meaningful in my head, with my original plan. Oh, well.

I've found that whenever I just start walking, I eventually get to where I should be, without actually trying to get there. What I'm actually trying to do is enjoy the hike, and the way I enjoy things is by trying to find the most meaningful path I can. Vague, I know, but generally I only have the vaguest idea of what I'm doing until the end, and it turns out I was right. (This only applies when I'm wandering around by myself, though.)
-from a letter I wrote a year ago
Now, there are a few things I've learned about improvisation. First, the more complex the structure the better, but if I make it too complex I mess it up. Improvising demands enough flexibility to radically alter the plans as soon as a new idea pops along. If worst comes to worst, you can always just hop right back to the
original plan
whenever it's convenient.
Is it just me, or is Myst more real than the real world? My deepest desire is to see the words "Game Over", and be allowed to move on with my life. My real life, as a gamer. To move on to games worth playing.

Believe it or not, I am not emotionally crippled by the thought that I will not be getting another Myst. My life is just so much fun right now anyway that it's hard to care too much.

The guiding principle behind all successful improvisations can be summed up with the sentence "I meant to do that."
The aftermath of the first season only wraps up in the seventh episode of this season, so maybe this should still (story-wise) be considered part of the first!
Believe it or not, the music always sorts itself out, thank God. The full meaning of the BSG connection only hit me just now, not only months after I had written it, but even after I had decided to point it out in this post- imagine that!

If other people don't understand what I'm playing, but it sounds great to me, then I know I'm on to something. What's my playing worth, if it's exactly like everything that's been done better before? On the other hand, if something I play sounds perfectly natural, yet it hasn't been done before, then it is clearly something which needs to be utilized. I am proud to have invented several techniques which I have not heard from anyone else. Naturally, I use them at every opportunity I get.

Anyone who has played [Michel Ancel's Beyond Good & Evil], understood why it can switch between so many different, well-developed types of gameplay without the player minding, internalized the new concepts it brought to the table, and recognized the significance and wider implications of these concepts is way ahead of his time. Essentially what Ancel is doing is using these various full-fledged Forms as if they are no more than colors on a palette he is painting with. This flies in the face of all conventional thinking about art!
-from a recent post on the "Adventure Gamers" forum

Taking a cue from Ancel, one such technique is to blend one style of music into another.
I compose music- don't ask what style, because it switches from classical to modernist to impressionist to pop sometimes all within one piece.

Another technique is to play, to a certain degree, completely randomly and chaotically, and still make it sound nice. It's not all that hard- my fingers have picked up which notes are wrong at any one point, so if I let them run free I can be fairly confident that they'll press the right keys. This technique can leave the listener (who happens to be me) feeling like he is in a light fog, which is a very nice effect-
Feh!- Couldn't this kid have written more sensibly? Like this whole post, for instance. I mean, at the beginning it sort of made sense, but look at it now!
What am I looking at again?
I wish I could say! First he starts talking about improv- I guess he means on the piano, and then this nutcase gets to this!
To what?
To this!
What was he thinking? I mean, did he think there could possibly be people bored enough to sit around and read this stuff?

If I come up with a good idea, it doesn't matter so much whether it is vital- as long as the improvisation is being conducted according to my guiding principle, it'll progress on the right track. The only problem is keeping the train of thought going, ensuring that the link between mind and keyboard is never severed. If it is, well, the quality suffers tremendously.

There are lots of loose threads in this blog which I never did tie up. And yet certain events in my life did the work for me! The reason "I Am Not..." is such a mess is because I didn't write down all the remarkable chain of events of my life, as God laid them out. I didn't mention the day in which both my "counselling sessions" and my upcoming drafting into the army were both cancelled. (That was a very good day.) I didn't mention the week in which three paths in different areas became clear to me, which clearly was meant to be written down. I didn't mention my decision to not follow any of these paths, either. As a result of these inexcusable ommisions, my work is flawed. There is a clear lesson to be learned for improv here.

Finally, one must reach the end of the session. Okay, so that's not entirely true. The improvisation never really ends. I've seen people improvising who just refuse to stop, because a new idea is always popping up.
Hey, I just had an idea.
Why don't we actually go out and do something?
Because we're lazy.
Oh, right.

But every work has to end somewhere, to make way for the next one. Ah, here's my station. I'll be getting off now.



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