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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Strike one!

title="Tapestry Thread: WHAM!">Not so unexpectedly, my velocity is back to zero. Once again, I am reminded that life as a chair ornament isn't bad, all things considered. Fantastic, as a matter of fact. Here I am, with no responsibilities in the world. No one's in the room right now but me; No one would mind if I played through those last few levels of Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. What a great game. Or I could continue watching Babylon 5- even greater.

But I've done all this. I've been here before. I don't want any portion of my life to be redundant. Then again, only the format's redundant, not the content. Oh, why must these thoughts torment me so? If they'd only go away, I could enjoy myself, as I've been enjoying this past month or so. Good times.

But... um, there must be a reason to bother myself. Hmmm... Oh yes, I can't do this forever. But I'm not asking for forever (though it would be nice), just an hour or two. Yes, well, hmmm... That's right, the world wants me to be..Oh right.That's right, the world wants me to be..Oh right. Scratch that thought. Oooh, maybe fear will do the trick: [ahem] Your father knows you don't deserve this life, and he'll kick you out of the house! Nah, doesn't work.

Why don't I just stop dodging the issue?- In fact, I think I will. Right. I have no motivation to do anything even remotely resembling productivity. Well, if you bring it up I guess the blog sort of- Oh right, I'm dodging the issue. Er,...

What was I talking about again? Right, right, the lack of motivation. Despicable, simply despicable. Though, if you really stop and think about it, it's not specifically a problem so much as- Despicable! And the problem must be dealt with. Am I not in control of my own actions? Of course I am, though I like to act indirectly. The blog was a good tool for my further self-corruption [Heh, heh.] but my plans were thwarted by the wall of games. Though you have to admit they were really good. Beside the point, beside the point! The point is, there is a problem, and it will be dealt with.

The problem is that I am so unwilling to incorporate productive activities into my daily routine. Every day, I follow the same basic schedule, designed to provide instant gratification at all times. I wake up, and head straight for the computer. I open Firefox, whose home page is twenty tabs: The blog, GameCritics and Adventure Gamers, game sites and movie sites, comic strips and an extra blank tab. Then I check my RSS feeds. Then I check my e-mail, if I wish. Then I have lunch: a Lender's bagel and Philadelphia cream cheese. And then I do whatever I please until long past midnight, at which point I reluctantly go to sleep. It's all so maddeningly satisfying. What I need, what I need is some time in my schedule in which I will do some productive work. Content is irrelevant; it's the format I need to get used to.

This is all just academic; I have no reason to want any of that. The blog was motivation enough, for a time, but I won't use it again- It's been done. So here's a second solution: a letter from my grandfather.
Write and let us know what you are doing (in more that one word, if you can).
So simple that I can't not answer- I've told him on numerous occasions that if he should ever write, I'd respond. And this all underscores the fact that I said I'd have made progress by the time they came here. I'd better stand by my word.

It's settled, then. For the rest of the day, I will do only boring, productive work. Tomorrow, I will do more. There's no lack of material to play and watch, so this trial recreates its predecessor. Progress will be made.

Update (7:03 PM): I've changed my mind. I can't work like this, with all this noise around. Instead, from this day forth I shall impose upon myself new rules:
  • In the morning, I may not browse the web until I have proven myself deserving.
  • I may not start any new activity past midnight. I may only finish up what I have already been doing.
Good enough, I think. Now, back to Babylon 5.



I didn't enforce the rules, and quickly forgot I had ever set them.


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Monday, February 27, 2006

Creative Redundancy

If a piece of music isn't original, is it worth anything?

I hope the answer is "yes", because I don't see almost any of what I compose as original. I always intend for it to be original when I'm starting out, but soon after (This can take anywhere between a half minute and a week.) I realize that it's exactly like three things I've heard many times before. Most often what's being ripped off is The Lord of the Rings, Babylon 5, Disney musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and/or trashy pop. After the inevitable realization, I'm still just as much in love with the theme as I was before, but I play it less. It becomes a guilty pleasure. I start wishing I hadn't come up with it in the first place, so that it couldn't have broken my heart.

It's not always a rip-off. There are one or two pieces of mine which, to this day, I haven't noticed to be completely derivative. I don't like them as much as the others. They're pretty dry, without any emotion. I suppose when it comes to writing emotion, I'm just a leech. It makes sense. I'm reminded of when Stasia tried getting me to play a romantic piece. I was just hopeless. I tried, I really did. But I had no clue what I was meant to be doing.

Anyhow, when I come up with a theme, I want to be moved by it. So it always turns out to be taken from somewhere else. Does this make me redundant as a composer? I think it does. I'm reminded of when Eliezer tried getting me to write something original. I came up with some interesting original material, because I do have some talent. But I wasn't interested in it so much; I preferred to go off in more derivative directions for the variations. I'm capable of playing piano decently enough, because I do have some talent, but I'm not interested much; I'd prefer to spend my life making videogames. At least there's plenty of room for structural advances in gamism.

You know the funniest part of all this? A few hours ago, I "came up" with a new theme which blew me away. I worked on it for around an hour, trying to get it just right. I felt very proud of myself when it starting sounding nice. It's so catchy it's still stubbornly refusing to leave my mind. Well, I realized after that hour that it was derivative. That was no surprise. What was a surprise was where it came from- You see, this theme was not just a rip-off, it was a rip-off of my own piece! It sounded exactly like something else I'd just composed (itself heavily derivative), and I'd gone an hour without noticing it!

In this case, the solution is simple: I'll just append this new variation to the original piece. I hadn't worked out an ending yet, so that should be no problem. But the question remains: If my compositions are so redundant, then what's the point?



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Monday, February 20, 2006

Mistake, Lesson, Repeat

It started when I noticed that my 18th birthday was coming up. 18 has a lot of symbolical significance. It's the age at which a person is legally an adult. With that comes the ability to vote, of course, which in theory gives me partial ownership of this country, along with all the other morons above age 18. Wow, that's a scary thought. In G'matriya, 18 is "Chai" which means living. Or "Chet" (sin), now that I think about it.

Anyhow, I panicked. I should have said that I did not choose to attribute any significance to the number eighteen, and left it at that. Instead, I wrote the following post on the Adventure Gamers forum:
I haven't been very open here in the past, but I need to get this out of my system, and I don't exactly have any friends in the real world. Maybe if I write it up I'll feel better. My 18th birthday is coming up soon, and it's really getting to me. This is the legal age of adulthood, and what I really want is to push that off, oh, say five more years. It's not that there's any specific problem than this; it's just the general concept that now I will be expected by society to be an adult.

Oy, listen to me, I sound like a condescending kid's cartoon written by adults. This is awkward. I'm out of high school, and have no job (well, I have one very small job once a month, just so I have enough money to buy a game once in a blue moon). Studying any more is out of the question. The question I'm facing is obviously, "What do I want to do with my life?", but I really don't want to answer that question. It's so much easier to ignore it, like I've ignored everything I didn't like in my life. The fact is, I know exactly what I want to do with my life- I'd like to do as little as possible.

But this answer isn't good enough. I want to make games, I really do. Or maybe I don't. Maybe I just want to be at the top, to be in a position where I can make games. Ugh, I don't know what I want. I certainly don't want anything enough to work for it. Yeah, that's a good excuse. Maybe now I can play my games in peace. Okay.

So I've said it. Hm, I don't feel any better. :(

In all my apocalyptic ramblings, I didn't notice that I had no cause whatsoever for alarm. The worrying about eighteen was just in my head; if I wanted to continue along the path I'd set for myself, a number certainly couldn't stop me.

It was because of the mistake of putting it on the forums that my real problem started. It was inevitable that it would, though it took a while. My friendly forumites tried to set me up on some insane trip to redefine myself as they thought best, and it ended up with me completely depressed, making a complete fool of myself and not caring too much.

At any point, I could have told the other posters to stop giving suggestions. I should have said:
I don't want any of your help, and no good will come of offering it. Just trust me on this: you don't want to try to change me.
That would have been it, no? I would never have had any problem at all. Instead, I humored them and came up with rational arguments for not going.

Anyhow, I'm perfectly fine now. I have had a very nice day, and I'm not worried in the slightest about tomorrow. I have written off the entire thread as a mistake, and have resolved (once again) to never do anything like it in the future.

So why am I even bringing it up again? Why am I putting this out in the open on my blog? Well, to approach this rationally, I have four very good arguments:
  1. I created this blog to show a truthful portrayal of myself. If I gloss over such unflattering events, I'm not being true to that vision.
  2. This is a lesson I have needed to learn for a very long time. Maybe by putting it here, I can remind my future self to not repeat this mistake.
  3. It is a testament to the great qualities of my fellow Adventure Gamers posters that even after I bothered them so much (as I must imagine I did), they were still kind to me.
  4. I still feel bad about starting the thread. Maybe if I write it up, I'll feel better....



The URL has changed. Now it's


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Friday, February 17, 2006

Game flow control

I've got to tell you this, Bob. I didn't want to, but I can't keep it to myself any longer.

God, this scene's boring. Wake me when it's over.

You see, I actually ... and that's why!

What did she say? I didn't catch that line! I think it was important!

Be quiet, will you? We're trying to watch the movie!

Yeah, but I've got to know- hey, that scenery was gorgeous! Why was it so short?; I wanted to-


Wait, that line there- that's the same thing he said to John back at the beginning, isn't it? Is there some larger issue here?

Shut up, shut up!

...and so, we see that any time art is viewed publicly, whether in a movie, or a play, or a concert, or a dance, the viewer has absolutely no control over the "flow" of the experience, for obvious reasons. For that matter, even the player ideally has little control over the flow- everything is rehearsed or prepared beforehand, and the experience is already in its completed form before a single person from the audience enters the room! If the person operating the movie projector would like to skip a particularly bad scene, for instance, he has no authority with which to do so. Or if the player at a concert doesn't feel he's done the best performance he could possibly do in those last few measures, he is not allowed to return and play it over.

On the other hand, this rigid and constant lack of control over the flow of a work of art or entertainment is alien to the field of home entertainment (and art), in which the player may view the work in any fashion he sees fit. Indeed, many great creators have used this fact to their advantage: A great novelist may intentionally try to remind the reader of a previous event, in the hopes that he will flip back through the pages to that point and look at it again with the added perspective he has gained since then. If a section of music on a CD is particularly moving, the listener can rewind it to hear it again. If the artwork on a page of a comicbook is beautiful, the reader may take as much time as he likes admiring it, and can even return later. On a DVD, a particularly bad scene can be...

You already know where I'm going with this; you've known since the title. So why don't you just skip the rest of this paragraph, okay? Don't worry, you won't miss anything. Anyhow, there's one medium intended for private viewing which is often as rigid as a movie experience. It's sort of ironic, considering that this medium is seen by so many people as the most interactive medium of them all. Why are games not given equal treatment? Anyone who's ever played an RPG knows of the dreaded final scene, a ten-minute-long cutscene which can never be skipped, no matter how many times you're forced to replay that final boss. Everyone knows that you can only stop playing when the game tells you you may. Everyone knows that if you've missed a line of dialogue, you'll never hear it again.

This functionality must be added to the gameplaying experience. It must be an integral part of the controller's design, and supported by the console's basic functions.

In-game work-arounds have been found, of course. It is a fairly common practice to store all full-motion video cutscenes in a menu for later viewing. When I was playing Knights of the Old Republic and my monitor started acting up mid-cutscene, this was very helpful. Still, it only works for FMV; what if I want to replay one of the levels of a completely linear game? Fahrenheit went even farther, and in addition to including all minigames in a side menu, it allowed the player to go back to any scene he's been in and play from there. It was most appreciated.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, which I've just played recently, has a nice solution to the problem of missing a line of dialogue- all speech is in text, which can be rolled back by pressing the Z button. And Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time gives flow control for even gaming challenges, by allowing the player to rewind time when he messes up.

But none of these additions are perfect. Prince of Persia's rewind feature is a central part of its gameplay, and is widely seen as a gimmick, not to be repeated in any other games. So too with Fahrenheit's scene selection, seen as a gimmick increasing the game's connection to film. Paper Mario's rewind only works for text (not NPC actions), and even then not perfectly: It only goes back as far as the beginning of the current "block" of text, so if the character is responding to something, you can't go back to the other person's statement to see what he is responding to. Also, it is not immediately apparent that this ability is given, because to introduce it at the beginning of the game would pull you out of the experience. Instead, the feature is explained to the player through one of the game's fourth-wall-breaking tips. The storing of cut-scenes is commendable, but still there is no accounting for anything else in the game, and there is usually not even a fast-forward and rewind.

To make matters worse, not one of these solutions solves the whole problem. When the problem is handed to the gamists to solve, how could it be? They are much more concerned with making their game than they are with the technical specifics of the experience, as they should be. So they introduce only one or two features (as much as they think will not be intrusive) and call it a day. But there are so many features that players need! Thankfully, we do have one useful flow control feature- the pause button. Now, for reasons beyond my comprehension, it's never actually called the pause button, it's never actually marked with the pause symbol familiar to us all. Instead, it's called "Start" or "Select" or some other silly name. Even this button is not perfect: many games use a timer to count game time, but do not pause the timer when the game is paused. But that's just nitpicking, really- I suppose I should be thankful that this feature is in gamism at all.

Let's talk about the buttons that should be there but aren't. The first button I propose is a "next scene" button. It would of course be up to the game designer how to utilize this button, but I suspect the mere presence of such a button would give players the expectation (which must then be acted on by the gamists) that it could be used. There are several ways this could work. The most conservative approach is to allow its use only in replaying either the game in whole or a particular scene (if the player has lost), at which point it will be used to skip cutscenes. The most radical approach would be giving the player the ability to use it at any point, to skip not only cutscenes but gameplay challenges as well. Most games would be somewhere in the middle.

The second button needed is the rewind button. Now, the ability to rewind gameplay would be very controversial, so such an implementation would be up to the programmer to pull off if he likes. Instead, most games would use a specialized chip (built into the console itself) to record everything that happens in the game, up to around, say, five minutes. After that, it starts writing over the old recording. So if you rewind, what the game's actually doing is switching display to a video, which shows what the player has just been through. This chip would not discriminate between cutscenes, text, speech, and gameplay; it would just record (except when the game is paused). I'm sure you see the usefulness of this simple addition, whether to see something you missed for whatever reason, or to admire your own skill, etc.

To go along with the rewind button would obviously be the fast-forward button. In the replay video, it would act the way you'd expect from a video fast-forward button up to the point it reaches the game itself again. At that point, it's up to the programmer to decide what it does, and I can think of a few very good uses. Very often in a game, I find myself pressing "B" mindlessly through a block of dialogue, because I've heard it before and would like to get to the point. So I think it would work very well for speeding up dialogue, though it would then have to record the video in double-time so that it doesn't look strange going back to read it again (if necessary). It could also work in FMV cutscenes, if the gamist doesn't want to simply use a "next scene" feature or if the player wants to go forward only a little bit.

To conclude, we gamers desparately need the ability to control the flow of our games on occasion, and it's not too difficult to pull off. So I can only conclude that either console creators are lazy, or just stupid. Well, here's a new generation of consoles coming up, with brand new controllers and internal architecture- here's their chance!



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Wednesday, February 08, 2006





Hey -

I really enjoyed reading your blog. you have a very unique outlook on things.

and i LOVE the navigation system [the one with the colored circles]

Upon finding nothing new in the blog, I grew curious and checked the page source code, where I found a commented out partial post about Shavuot. So I gotta ask, what's that doing there?

Nice catch. That's "For Now", which is what I use to write things that I don't want to be permanent. When I'm not using it, I hide it rather than erasing it, because it makes it quicker to put up a new one. So whatever the last thing I wrote there is, that's still going to be in the source code.

Hi, i'm a spie artist for flash games... So if you need any sprites finished get in contact with me... (it's all free) Thanks :)


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Sunday, February 05, 2006


If it's not a bad idea, and it's never been done before, then it is a great idea- do it.