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Tuesday, April 25, 2006


The first day is frustrating, yes, but the seventh is satisfying.



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Outside the Comfort Zone

I like to say that the most underappreciated art form is food. The purpose of any food, as far as most people are concerned, is to taste good. But didn't we get past that stage around the advent of romanticism? Heck, go even beyond that- all the way back to the introduction of baroque cadences in music. (It probably goes back further, but hey, I'm not a historian.) You always need to have the height of tension right before resolving it into the "tonic" chord. You do that by slipping in a chord with some dissonant notes and an uncomfortable interval. It wasn't until centuries later that the obsession with dissonance as a fashion statement began, but even back then we've got composers recognizing that uncomfortable sounds can be used in the service of beauty rather than simply eliminated. The public gradually adjusted to the idea that music wasn't going to bend to make them feel more comfortable, but they'd have to bend to appreciate the music.

And where were the chefs through all these centuries of progress? Apparently, they slept through it. The public doesn't put any effort into appreciating food; the food exists only to make them happy. If a chef wants to flex his creative muscles a bit, the best he can do is improve the presentation of the food- If it looks fancy, maybe no one will notice that its taste is not. Any evolution in the primary content (taste) is prohibited, so most efforts at innovation go into supportive content instead. This is not healthy for any Form. Where are the meals with small unappetizing courses to prepare the taste in your mouth for the next main course? Where are the dishes which taste different on opposite sides? Where are the expressive foods?

So I say with righteous indignation whenever the topic of discussion gets near. On a theoretical level, I love this argument. It leads to all sorts of fun possibilities. On a practical level, I'll have nothing to do with it. By which I mean, if you were to hand me the culinary equivalent of Beethoven's ninth symphony, I would refuse to allow it anywhere near my mouth. To say that I am a picky eater is putting it rather mildly. If fruits, who I am certain do not like to be eaten, saw my eating habits, they would frown.* (If you would object to this statement, consider that fruits have no eyes.) My diet consists almost exclusively of lasagna, bagels, Pringles and ice cream. Why am I willing to overlook such hypocrisy? Because food is just food. I don't care about it enough to accept anything outside my tiny comfort area.

Last week my parents bought me two CDs: Variations by Steve Reich, and Alina by Arvo Pärt. They had promised to buy me CDs by those composers for Channukah. I'd requested their music specifically because I'd heard one piece written by each (Proverb and Tabula Rasa, respectively), and loved their harmonies. Nonetheless, I didn't really know what these CDs would be like; I sat down and started listening.

Variations' first piece, Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards, started with a bit of a shock- it took all of six seconds to get both dissonant and chaotic. It was frantic right from the very beginning, and added in more voices before I could figure out what was going on. And just as I was getting comfortable with the disorientation, and eager for more abrupt developments, I learned a thing or two about Steve Reich's style. I tell you, all that repetition is not enjoyable for a person who has just gotten used to the idea of breakneck pacing. The effect is instant boredom. Thankfully this didn't last long, as the melody (if there is such a thing in a Steve Reich piece) started taking on Chinese characteristics. I don't like Chinese music very much, but I kept listening.

By a minute in, I'd gotten the hang of it enough to enjoy some absolutely gorgeous harmonic twists in the bass. Each time he stuck in an interesting bass he'd linger on it, as though trying to get as much out of its sound as possible. After a while, though, it began to frustrate me that he wouldn't continue moving harmonically, when clearly (I saw as an amateur composer) there was some amazing potential there, if only he would have continued that sentence there, or added in this here.... It was not what I wanted, and that is frustrating. I quickly put myself back in my place, and started enjoying it again.

It occured to me that Steve Reich's minimalist style is perfectly suited to an interactive soundtrack. In fact, I've been wondering for a long time how soundtracks could react to a player's movement and actions. So it was very satisfying (on a theoretical level) to have the answer practically handed to me. The key is repetition with multiple voices. One voice repeats itself for as long as you stay in one small node, while the voices around it cycle endlessly. When you move to a new node, another voice (which one depends on where you're moving to) stays in place while the others, including the one which had been staying, cycle around it. This would need very complex scripting; I'm not sure if any composers are on the level to do something like this. Regardless, this is a very bright future.

After a while (ten minutes or so), the repetition really got to me. This technique was meant for background scores, not to be listened to on its own. I started regretting not asking for a specific CD by Steve Reich, which was closer to what I was familiar with. This just stayed in one place for two long; I wanted something that would remind me of the chaos of my own compositions, though more skilled. It was going on for too long to be a standalone piece, but I kept listening through the entire 21 minutes. It was worth sitting through; many more harmonic curiosities appeared briefly. And then it ended, as abruptly as it had begun, the false hopes it had inspired in me leaving behind a vague dissatisfaction.

The second piece, Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ, was just annoying. The changes from repetition to repetition were too small, too insubstantial. The frustration led to the aforementioned idea concerning interactive soundtracks to bounce around my head another five times or so. And then the music starting giving me a headache. This was not what I had expected.

It seemed good for background music, and good for theoretical purposes. But it didn't seem to be too good for just listening to. I more or less understood what it was doing; I saw why it didn't matter, shouldn't matter that I wasn't being more engaged. But it did matter to me.

Around four minutes in, it made a neat leap, but then it slowly went back to boredom. It was a lot like Electroplankton, really, but it needed that personal involvement. There was another leap nine minutes in. Around this time, my unfortunately nearby family members started complaining loudly, so I skipped to the third and final track.

Six Pianos, played on six of the tinniest pianos I'd ever heard, instantly reminded me of ragtime music. The liveliness, the repetitive rhythm, the way it grated on my ears. The incremental changes were barely perceptible, and it took all of two minutes for me to decide I didn't like it. It may have been fascinating to play, and it's probably fascinating to analyze. But I just didn't care. I stopped listening, very disappointed.

I would compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.
Arvo Pärt
Imagine you're in an empty room, and a white light is shining in. The white light is pretty. Now imagine staring at this light for fifty-one minutes and twenty-four seconds. You know what, just to be more fair, let's say you've also got a prism to play around with. Sound like fun?

I started getting worried when I read the track list:
Spiegel im Spiegel
Vladimir Spivakov, violin
Sergej Bezrodny, piano
Für Alina
Alexander Malter, piano
Spiegel im Spiegel
Dietmar Schwalke, violoncello
Alexande Malter, piano
Für Alina
Alexander Malter, piano
Spiegel im Spiegel
Vladimir Spivakov, violin
Sergej Bezrodny, piano

Arvo Pärt's Alina is music serving the purpose of a sleeping pill. Almost nothing happened over the course of the entire disc. No surprises, no sudden inspirations, no memorable melodies, no excitement. Just two of the simplest tunes you can imagine, repeated until you either have a philosophical revelation or start snoring. (More likely the latter.)

It was pretty, to be sure. Oh yes, it was pretty- I don't think I've heard more elegant music in my life. It has a purity to it I'm not familiar with. And the presentation was incredible. This is the sort of music which demands a silent reverence, demands that all distractions be eliminated, demands your full attention, demands that you make an effort to appreciate it. Well, I tried to show it the proper respect, and turned my monitor off, and sat straight and listened. And I didn't get much out of that.

I found the format of the CD very appealing on the higher levels of the brain - I love title="Tapestry Thread: Light Confusion">symmetry, I love thinking about symmetry. In practice... I don't care about symmetry as I'm listening. I don't care about the slight differences in nuance. I don't get so involved in music that I might notice the differeces. I didn't notice the differences. So what I had was two very lovely, if dragged out, pieces, and three exact repetitions. (I really couldn't tell the difference between the performances.) When each repetition is ten minutes long, that's a problem.

..for me, I mean. Right. [frowns thoughtfully]

I stopped listening, full of frustration. I let it out on a piano improvisation which represented what I had wanted to hear. That improvisation was one of the finest I have ever played. (It was lost to the great oblivion to which all good things go.) And I was content.

I have since listened to both CDs, in their entireties, more times. Variations has really grown on me. I mean, I still don't like Six Pianos -I'm not really into percussion- but I've really come to like the first two, now that I know what to expect. Maybe there is hope for me after all.

As for Alina, the two sides of my brain are in disagreement over what to make of it. I am inclined to believe that it is a masterpiece, but I am not capable of appreciating it. I cannot blame Pärt for my own inadequacies, and this is a very good decision for my own sake since I would have to throw out V.O.V. if I had concluded otherwise. Nonetheless, future pieces should try to appeal... Well, not to the lowest common denominator, but at least to anyone who puts in the effort it deserves.



Now I'm really curious to hear it, after you've pulled it all apart, and try to see it from my perspective. I know our tastes are a different; I'm much more into traditional chords, you know, the classical and romantic periods. Give me a Beethoven to resolve an augmented chord any day. And needless to say our dear David Lanz uses very simple chords and chord progressions, usually with a very similar accompaniment, too. But I like to say that the most beautiful things in life are sometimes the most simple.

Most New Age music bores me to death, though. There are a few artists who manage to keep my attention--David Arkenstone sometimes, Tim Janis sometimes, Ken Elkinson sometimes. Maybe I look for a certain pattern of chords to twist my feelings in a certain (new?) way.

Anyway. I wonder how well you'd do at writing and performing scores for movies--analyzing the changing emotions within through music. Have you ever tried putting a story into music? Or writing a tune to lyrics? Sometimes the translation from a different medium is nearly impossible, since it's so well expressed in one particular kind. Of all media, I find music easiest to understand and convey a message.

And I'm just blabbering now.


If you like simplicity you would certainly like Alina- it doesn't get any simpler. I can virtually guarantee that none of this analysis will apply to you, since it's not really the music I'm analyzing so much as myself when I first listened to it.

I've tried to write music with less abstract meanings - and failed. I'm no good with that literal stuff. My compositions progress by train of thought, which doesn't exactly lend itself to that sort of music. I would be interested in videogame scores, however, since they don't require quite as much precision.

I've written a pieces to lyrics, but in those cases, the music was just a way to enhance the expression of the words, not an expression in itself. Sometimes it did really click and I found myself understanding the song at a different depth once it had a tune, but mostly the tunes simply reflect the lyrics in the simplest possible way.

So I am a writer at heart, and words are my best way to express myself. Sometimes I feel at a disadvantage, because I understand music better than I understand words. Also, words are so limiting. When you put them together into an idea they can soar off on their own, but they still need to follow a basic structure even in the vaguest poetry or prose.

I wonder how my life would be different if I had your gift. Perhaps I wouldn't really speak at all, never really learn to use words to my advantage, because I'd have a highly superior way of expressing what I feel--the piano.

Maybe I should be grateful, then. Words seem to be the more socially accepted manner of communicating.

Interesting how God chooses to invest His gifts.


Yes, it is- I've actually dealt with that issue somewhat. However, I think God has given you more than you realize. I don't see why you see piano as "superior" to text- it's really not. If you doubt the potency of the written word, I refer you to my two greatest achievements on this blog: the mundane and The Imaginary! and I'm not.. They are at least as beautiful as, and certainly more sophisticated than any music I have ever composed. If you feel prose is limiting, then just break the rules a little. Isn't that what rules are for?

The reason I don't put music to lyrics is that in general I don't like the combination of music and lyrics. I like the purity you get from either one on its own, but when you throw them together each one cheapens the other. The one time I did find music for lyrics was when I was writing the poem in the "About Me" tab. I'm not much of a poet, and I found that by translating it into very dynamic music I could get a better feel for the rhythm. It sounds vaguely repulsive that way, though, so I do not plan to ever share the tune.

I understand what you mean about the purity of each, but sometimes I feel that words are almost musical, having a rhythm of their own. And sometimes the music will give the words meaning they didn't have before. This is, of course, provided that the words had meaning in the first place, which is not true of a large majority of popular music out there.

And I'm certainly grateful for everything God has given me. He has given me a taste of many worlds. I don't wish for anything more than that. I just wonder, though, how I would be different... which would help me understand why He chose to give me what He gave me.

I love that music is always with me, and that through the tapping of a rhythm, the clanging of bells, or the rustling of leaves I can hear music. I love that I can sometimes find words to describe an action or a feeling hard to define. I love that I can reproduce a sound in my own throat, harmonize naturally, and make music without requiring a single instrument. I love that I can see others' emotions, take them into my own soul, churn them around and express them through my own face, my own motions, or my own words. He has given me so much, a unique perception and ability of execution... sometimes I wonder what I will have to do in my life that will require all of these skills.

I tried to read your links, but for some reason they're not working. Maybe I'll try again on a different computer.


Forget the links- all the posts are on the main page! I see you're using IE; I think you get the "find" feature in IE with Ctrl-F, no? So just use that to find the titles. Oh, and if you're confused by "I'm not.", it might make more sense if you read the first post (at the bottom of the page) too. But you don't have to.

I actually did read your first post most dutifully when I first viewed your blog, and began reading from bottom up but didn't make it too far.

My blog involves a lot more aimless blabber about my life, but in between I do post bits and pieces of writing. You seem like the sort of person who would either really hate modern poetry or really like it. Here's some of mine:,, and (you'll have to log in to LJ to see then, as they're friends-locked). I have a particular fondess of brushing and bouncing off rules, like flowing in and out of rhyme (like in the first one).



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Monday, April 17, 2006

Stories from the Seder Table

We went to the Zigelmans for the seder. They were also having the Pollevoy family and Ilana Zigelman's parents. It was a crowded noisy room. Ari Zigelman read most of the hagaddah himself. This is different from our approach. We didn't comment much. It was a boring crowded noisy room.
I sat and waited for it to end for much time. You might say that it was an uneventful seder. But every event is unique in some way. What made this seder night different from all the others?

Why is it that there are no simple, plain, nice hardcover haggadahs sold? Without commentary (which won't be read as the Seder moves along) taking up three quarters of the page, or an English translation taking up half the page, or irrelevant photos taking up a quarter of the page. Not some free little "Maxwell House" haggadah which looks like it may fall apart any moment, but a good, sturdy, nicely produced haggadah. I asked this question many times before we left. We have no such copy. I used the Temple Haggadah, whose commentary was written by my old Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel. It looked like the closest thing to what I was looking for.

The Temple Haggadah is a big, sturdy, hardcover book. It is also fairly heavy. The two tables were stuffed with dishes, so I had to hold it in my lap. Being uncomfortable is a Pesach tradition, including the time-honored sub-tradition of reclining on the left side. I think discomfort is supposed to be a symbol of freedom. Another symbol of freedom is having someone pour you four glasses of wine. Now, picture a guy like me, who hates both the flavor of alcohol and the flavor of grapes. Does having someone else force this stuff down my throat sound like freedom?
Pondering this question, I stood with everyone else to bless the wine. (I could have used some blessing myself- something like "Please, God, in your great mercy could you possibly make my taste buds stop working for a minute?".) Anyway, while blessing the wine (or grape juice in my case, which isn't quite as dreadful), you're supposed to raise the cup. And so I did with my right hand, while also trying to hold up my hagaddah in my left hand. When my hand starting hurting, I tried shifting the book onto the plate, and spilled half the grape juice on the book and the floor. I cleaned it all up; my father looked at the book and said: "I'm very disappointed in you." I drank the juice in one gulp, to get it over with. It was vile. I tell you, I know what freedom tastes like, and that ain't it.

Every year, my father hides the Afikoman matza. And we try to find it. He finds all the best places in our house. I can never find it, so I give up early on and one of the girls gets it. Then they're given some reward for finding it, like money or a CD or something like that. There's a counter-tradition in our family, where all of us try to watch my father at every moment of the seder, to make sure he's not sneaking off with the Afikoman. But every year, he finds some moment where we're not alert enough, and before we know it it's hidden. Well, this time, I watched. As we got up to watch in the middle of the seder, I sat behind, looking innocently at my father. And he remained seated, the Afikoman on the table next to him. And I remained seated. "Well, go wash.", he said with a smile. "After you.", I replied. He got up. But I was afraid he'd wash before me, and get back with time to hide it while I was busy washing, so I tried to outsmart him. I rushed ahead to wash first, all the while looking backwards to make sure he wasn't getting too close to the Afikoman. I had him this time. I washed, came back to the table, and the Afikoman had disappeared. Apparently, he'd told my mother to hide it for him (in a specific place he'd picked out), since no one was watching her. The cheat. "Next year," I told myself, "I'll just have to change the rules. I'll make sure that someone, be it myself or one of the girls, is watching the Afikoman at all times. We'd cover for each other. Then he'd lose. Ha!"
But this year, I'd lost. But maybe... Well, if my mother had hidden it it couldn't be too hard a hiding place. And they don't know this house too well - that'll certainly work against them. Hmmm.... I noticed a little slit in the top of a box of soda bottles next to the door to the kitchen... Nah, too easy. And that was that. I had to wait before looking for it, of course. So I waited. Right before the meal, after my father had gone back home to get something-or-other, it looked like my cue. I reached into the box, and sure enough there it was! I was so excited that I (foolishly) announced that I'd found it. The girls started shrieking: "Too soon! You weren't supposed to look yet! This doesn't count!". And so the argument started. The little Zigelman girl saw an opportunity for mischief and tried to grab it. "No, it's mine! Mine!", I cried. And I jumped out of the way 'til she gave up. I sat down on the couch, considering that I should have hidden it again as soon as I found it- that way, they'd look in the place my parents had put it and be so surprised! Heh, that would be cool. But whatever- I'd won. I knew I wouldn't get any presents -why would I, when my parents wouldn't even give me a present for my birthday?- but it was the principle of the thing. For once, I'd won.
Everyone else soon lost interest. "You should hide it.", Mickey Pollevoy said quietly. And why not?, I thought. They weren't paying attention anymore. "Just put it under the couch!", he advised. It was an obvious hiding place, sure. But it seemed like a good enough idea. And so I did. I went back to my seat, and told the girls I'd hidden it. Our parents should have to find it, yes, that seems best. And I told them, "It's under that chair.", because they wouldn't be the ones looking for it. "Hey!- Now we can't look for it!" True. It did seem like a good idea a few moments before.
My father came back, and agreed that I had cheated by finding it earlier than they'd expected. Nonetheless, I said, he and my mother would have to find it. My mother wasn't interested, but my father started looking. He looked in all the drawers. He looked under the tablecloth. He took apart the couch to look under the cushions. Everywhere but on the floor under the couch seat I'd been sitting at.
During this time, I'd gotten bored of the whole thing, and started wondering whether there was any point to it to begin with. So I started playing Egyptian War with some young girls. Meanwhile, the hunt continued, and by this point my sisters joined in. This made no sense to me, since I had told them exactly where it was, but there they were searching anyway. And they couldn't find it. I was sick of all of the commotion, so when Ari Zigelman asked, "Where is it?", I said, "It's under that chair!". And so my father and sisters started looking under every chair in the house except for the one I had sat on. I didn't get it. I don't remember how it ended. I don't think it matters too much.

Then there was the meal. There were salads, and other salads, and vegetables. Being a strong antivegitarian, I had nothing to eat there. Then there was turkey. I hate turkey, but what else was there to eat?- I ate some turkey. Instantly I recalled why I'd made a mental note before to never eat turkey- it tasted awful. As I looked distastefully at what was still on my plate, some guest said to my mother, "Wow, this turkey is delicious!". Which only goes to show that some people have no sense of taste. One such person, as I discovered, is Mickey Pollevoy. He started talking about rock music. I said I liked classical musics, and he laughed. He asked if I liked Mozart. "No, the truth is I've never liked Mozart's music much." He laughed. "I don't get it- If I had said I liked Mozart's music you would have laughed. When I say I don't like Mozart, you laugh. Why am I even talking to you?" But what else was there to do?- I kept talking. And it got to the point where Miriam burst in, insisting that no one should ever remember the name of any type of artist, because all art exists only to entertain and who cares who wrote it as long as it entertains? Except she didn't sound as intelligent as that sentence makes her seem. And the two of them laughed at the fact that I don't like rock, and laughed at my opinion that I think there might be something worth listening to in modern music which doesn't make the bestseller lists, and they laughed at my mention of Howard Shore's music as an example of popular modern classical music: "You actually care about the name of the guy who wrote the music for Lord of the Rings?" "Yeah, was there even any music in Lord of the Rings? If there was, it must not have been very good!" By the end of the meal, I was quite certain I was in the wrong place.

I walked home in a bitter mood. But there was one thing I was grateful for: I wouldn't have to drink grape juice for another year! Hooray!



At least its over, no?

And The Lord of the Rings soundtracks are amazing for anyone who is curious...

I fail to understand how someone could have watched the Lord of the Rings movies and not have enjoyed, or at least noticed, the music. I suppose I should feel bad for them - they're missing out.

I'm sorry you didn't have a good Seder. Better luck next year!

In his defense, he did seem to be completely tone-deaf.


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Friday, April 14, 2006

Player Requirements

...and that's how I got $5 million dollars!
Wow. Man, that's cool. I wish I-
Could I interrupt?


I was just thinking, why is it that every videogame-
Well, why didn't you say so? I happen to be a very successful game developer; I'd be happy to share some of my wisdom, which I picked up working for one of the most successful videogame development companies in America. Why, I was-
There are successful American videogame companies? :)

Videogames are a multibillion dollar industry. Of course there are successful development companies.
Yeah, do you know, like, nothing at all about games, kid?
Never mind.Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I was just wondering why it is that there are practically no videogames that expect anything at all from the player from the start.
You're not making any sense. Games usually expect the player to be able to use the controller, and they can be pretty challenging even at the beginning.
No, the fact that you need to know how to use a controller is just by necessity. I mean, how else could the game be controlled? And what was the second thing you said?-
That it's a challenge from the beginning.
That's not what I'm talking about. What I mean is, the player's never expected to already have any real skill, or experience, or knowledge, or even to have read the manual.
Heh, manuals are for losers.
Really?Is it really? Give me an example of a game that's challenging at the beginning.
Okay, so not exactly a challenge challenge, but- you get what I mean. The player's occupied, the player's happy. You can't just skip ahead to the complicated part; you've got to take the difficulty curve into account. You need to remember that we're a mass-market business. What kind of a moron would make a game that alienates half its players?
An artist would. I mean, there's probably a lot of ways to use a less conventional approach for artistic expression. But how would anyone know?- No one's even tried!
Why not? Most pieces of music can't be played by the average person.
What the hell are you talking about?- I listen to lots of music. Have you seen my iPod? I always-
Look, if you can't see the difference between music and a videogame, I can't help you.
But it's not just music- it's anything which can be performed. And even putting that aside, having a challenge right from the beginning is good for replay value. I mean, a difficulty level that changes along with the story is more fun for a good player than a simple difficulty curve.
Okay, I'll explain this in a way simple enough for you to understand. If you want the players to be good before they start, then you can't sell the game to anyone who isn't good. Which means a big part of the market is cut off. Which means less sales. Which means less money. You get it.
I guess that makes some sense from a business perspective.
And who cares about "replay value", anyway? I never finish games.
Of course.
But you're missing the bigger picture. There could be a game with a story which is moving at full speed right from the very beginning. Or you could have a performance platformer which starts with a big-
Wait a minute, back up. Why can't you sell it to bad players? In fact, I'd think it would be easier- New players will see the good players playing, and it's much more impressive watching someone play something which demands professionalism than it is watching-
Cute. And what happens when that new player actually starts to play, huh? I'll tell you what'll happen: he'll get frustrated and he won't buy the sequel.
So what? It'll be a good game, won't it?
I agree that on the lowest levels of the brain it won't be quite as satisfying, but that's more than made up for by the higher levels. Does that make any sense? What I mean is, the actual content of the game, whether it is the story or the player's performance or whatever, could be much better if you don't have a difficulty curve getting in the way.
Listen to me, you can't just ignore the difficulty curve.
Why not? Do composers have to worry about the difficulty curve of playing their compositions? Do dance choreographers need to worry about the difficulty curve of dancing? Do novelists need to worry about the difficulty curve of reading?!
"Why not? Carpenters use wood!" I'll tell you why not. These are videogames we're talking about. And this is the way videogames work. It's as simple as that.
Oh, yeah. Well, that's just not true. Have you ever heard of a game starting with a bang? And I don't mean just a lot of flash, I mean giving a challenge that even decent players who've played before will have fun with.
Yeah, and who'd play it? I sure wouldn't. I mean, I'm just starting to play, I have no idea what I'm doing, and already I get killed? Whoa, that's stupid. Action games are hard enough as it is. I just want easy kills, and then some cool animation when their heads fly off, like, with the blood spurting everywhere, and big explosions, and cool sh** like that.
And all that stuff is in my last bestselling game.
Yeah, man, that was awesome! With those gas tanks all over the place, and I was all like, "WHAM!", and they all went, "KaPSSSHHHH!!" and those zombies all ran around moaning, like, "Oh no, I'm on fire!"! Dude, that was priceless.
Thanks. You know, animating that was really expensive. But it was worth it.

Who would play such a thing?
Oh, it stayed on the bestseller lists for months.
Ah, good times...
Oh, come on. That's not a problem at all- yOh, come on. Y

Ecch. Anyway, you're wrong. There wouldn't really be a problem getting into a game without a difficulty curve- y
Anyway, I don't think it would really be a problem to have no difficulty curve. You could just put in a really long tutorial for new players. A tutorial could actually be really fun, with a good difficulty curve and broken into levels, even though it would be completely outside the game. Like, it would have to make it really clear that it's not part of the story and doesn't even take place in the same game world.
Why would I want to play a tutorial? I buy a game, I want to get right into it. I'm supposed to waste my time learning to play? That's just sick, man.
Uh huh. Look, I don't know how you'll take this, but you're not exactly the sort of person I'd target a game to.
This is why I'm a successful game developer and you're not. You seem to think developers get to make games for themselves. You're wrong. Get over yourself, and you might start to understand how games are supposed to be made. It's for the players. It's all for the players. That's why we always ask our players what they want to see. That's why-
Hey, that reminds me- I just had this brilliant idea a couple minutes ago. See, I was thinking that it would be really cool if you're, like, fighting monsters, and then suddenly these aliens drop down in a flying saucer with this big gun, but they're really slow so you come over and kill them with a grenade and take the gun and it turns out to be this wicked gun that, like shoots this unstoppable energy, and you use it and it goes FWACK!, and you pick off all the monsters. Isn't that an amazing idea?
Oh, it's not my place to say. If you like it, I'll put it in my next game.
You know I'd do anything for you. All I'd need to change is make it much easier- this sounds too hard.
[sob] I love you, man!
What if the tutorial were as much fun as the real game? Or, actually, it could be even more fun, since there's nothing to it but learning. It just wouldn't be satisfying at all artistically, since it is, after all, just a tutorial. I just think it's good to make it all clear. Pure, you know? You've got the game proper, which the gamist makes as good as possible by ignoring the difficulty curve, and the tutorial, which is old-school gameplay tutoring like Super Mario Bros. or something like that.

What are you talking about again?
It's too confusing. Gamers won't understand having two completely different styles of play. Yeah. And you're talking about two times the work in development, is that what you're saying? Because this is like two separate complete games bundled in one. What exactly is the player getting out of this? So let's cut it back a bit, right? Games are about learning, so let's throw out the whole part where you're not learning. And let's take that tutorial of yours, and make it more interesting, and unless I'm greatly mistaken what we've got is just like the games I make.
And your games are TEH AWESOME!
Who's talking about action games?Anyway, I'm not just talking about difficulty or knowing the game rules.Uh huh. Look, I'm not just talking about knowing the rules of the game. That was an example. There are others. Say you have an adventure game, or some other sort of story-oriented game, where as soon as you're given a character you're told what the parameters of the character are so you can act him/her out correctly. I'm talking about a more general idea: to trust your players to not mess up. And if they do mess up, well, that's their problem, isn't-
You're an idiot. You know why? Because I don't want to be given a hard time, or to be put in a place where I'll mess up, or any sh** like that. I want to have fun. I don't think I'd like any games you made!
..but you know I'm not like that, right? You know all I care about is giving you what you want.. and you know, I'll even make my game easier for you, if it'll make you feel better.
[sob] I love you, man!


Many player reqirements are taken for granted simply because there's no getting around them. With digital media, you're expected to know how to operate the equipment it will run on. A novel will not come with an instruction manual explaining that you are supposed to turn the pages and not eat them. (Of course, considering the direction the world seems to be moving in, it wouldn't surprise me to see this change someday.) You are expected to understand the language. And so on. I shouldn't need to point out that these are not hindrances but benefits, but I'll say it anyway: These are not hindrances but benefits.

Okay, technically it's a problem from a marketing perspective. Requiring the reader of a book to understand English does limit the ability of the publisher to sell to people living in non-English-speaking countries. Or to the illiterate. Or to penguins. If you think of just how many non-English-speaking and/or illiterate and/or non-human creatures live on this planet, it's a bit hard to believe that marketers have not yet realized that what they really need to do to sell more books is do away with the usage of language. I'm sure they'll figure it out eventually.

But I think we can and should ignore this hurdle to sales. Not just because sales research ought to be kept far away from the actual art creation, but mostly because what's a few billion customers lost, in the service of such a benefit to art?

But... but... but that's just anti-capitalism, you communist!

Out of your system now? Good.
Artistic potential is more important than sales lost. Case in point: Because I've already title="Simple Reactionary Dialogue Control">explained my dialogue system (or at least the first version of it), and because I tend to operate under the assumption that you've read every post I've written from the very title="Who Am I?">beginning, I could jump right to the good part- the usage of my system for creative purposes. If you haven't read my earlier post, then you could easily get frustrated by the very beginning of this new post. In this particular case, that doesn't bother me too much. But for works which are intended to be sold, it's good to keep in mind.

Whenever a long story is being broken into segments (and some people might only join in the middle) the writer needs to consider how to present the previous material. The easiest way to go is that taken by Peter Jackson: Just don't. The beginning of Return of the King doesn't tell you what you missed in the first two thirds- if you didn't see them, you're out of luck. Come to think of it, that's more or less the same thing I do here.

Or there's the method I see in the comicbooks published by DC Comics* (Here I'm talking about many of their regular issues, not their current crossover Infinite Crisis which requires the reader to be familiar with hundreds of characters' stories just to make heads or tails of it.): The first few pages have, either in monologue or dialogue, the entire backstory as it relates to the current situation. It feels completely forced, and cheapens the entire book.

A much more reasonable approach is that taken by Marvel Comics: The first page explains, in plain text, everything you need to know. It is clearly separated from the actual comic, so neither side harms the other. The same technique can be seen in most serialized TV shows, as the presentation opens with a montage of clips from previous episodes which together tell all the relevant backstory. But my favorite example of such separation is with early adventure games which told their backstories via short comicbooks bundled with the game.

Player requirements in gameplay can be dealt with in much the same ways. The traditional interactive Forms (music, dance, stage) do not come with instruction booklets. You don't know how to play piano? Too bad- fill in what you've missed and come back. Similar (though not nearly as harsh) is the adventure Form, particularly of the "point-and-click" variety. You're expected to have played such games in the past, so there's no in-game tutorial. Most you'll get is a manual which comes in the game box. The gamist takes advantage of the assumption that you know what you're doing by being focused on the story (the primary content) right from the beginning.

My least favorite option (as you might have guessed) is forcing a tutorial into the beginning of a game, or even having the tutorial run alongside the respectable, content-focused gameplay throughout the course of the game. Unfortunately, this is the most common approach. It cheapens the whole game, but what do they care?- it makes it more accessible to new players. Bl'bah!

Finally, my favorite option: the clearly separated tutorial. You might say that all games with manuals follow this approach to a certain extent, but I'll ignore that for the simple reason that no one reads manuals before playing. So let's just say that this is referring to games where the tutorial is focused on gameplay, but the "game proper" is focused on content. There is the chance that the player will get confused, but so what?- It'll be like an acquired language. Eventually, people will get used to it. Wouldn't you?



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