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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Trip: "So what are you doing next year?"

Adults are boring.

Any time I saw one, they'd ask me the same question. Couldn't anyone think of anything more interesting to ask? All they wanted to hear were plans for the future. They see people like stocks- if they're not making money now, their value depends on whether they'll make money in the future.

I'd always say that I planned to do "not much". I like that reply because it's the truth. Also, it doesn't put me in a situation where I'll have promised to do something. I can almost never get myself to follow through on those promises.

(All answers are replies, but not all replies are answers.)

That didn't satisfy them. They wanted to get me to go to a college, so I could get a job later on. They wanted me to stop fooling around and jumping up and down and start something.

So they'd wait around, hoping to see how they could someday get a return (in small quantities of pride) on their blood connection to me. (Family isn't as fair as the stock market, because you don't get to choose who to invest in.)

They'd find me later by the piano, and saw what they wanted to see. An adult would come over and say to me: "Do you know what your music reminds me of?" And I'd smile, because this was roughly the thirtieth person to go through this script since the beginning of the trip. And then, as expected, they'd name some famous contemporary pianist/composer I'd never heard of. (I know roughly zero about contemporary pianists.) I think it's supposed to be a compliment: If he got to be big and famous and make lots of money, then I could too!

The more people made comments like this, the funnier the whole routine got. Because no two people referred to the same composer! Apparently my music sounds like everyone else out there. And it's no compliment to think that I have nothing original to offer. But I'd laugh, because I just didn't care. I was playing for two reasons, and two reasons only:
  1. To show off, thereby getting attention.
  2. To entertain myself.
That was all.

"Nonsense", thought the adults. "This could be marketed and sold! I'd buy his CD, wouldn't you buy his CD?"

Some were even more direct. My Uncle Johnny, after hearing me do my best with a primitive keyboard in my aunt's basement, said I should send him an audio file with music and he'd bring it to a professional to make into a CD.

Don't get me wrong- I couldn't relate to these people, but I was not opposed to their interest. I like getting attention.

Still, I explained to my uncle that this was not a career choice for me. I was only playing because it was fun to play, not because I had anything to offer with my music. This was not something I'd ever seriously consider doing with my life.

"So what would you want to do with your life?"

Should I actually answer that question?, I asked myself. That would expose my lack of progress. How long has it been since I started that design? And still I have nothing to show for it. It would expose my lack of self-motivation. How rare is it that I actually finish something big that I start, rather than just ignoring it and hoping it'll go away?

But what the heck.

I told him I wanted to make videogames. And yes, I had something to offer there: a more progressive perspective. I explained that when I look around at the big videogame developers of today, I see that they don't have any idea what they're doing. They don't even understand what a videogame is, so how can they be expected to understand that they need to look at a platformer differently than they look at an action game, and more along the lines of dance?

I decided the platformer was a good example for everything that was wrong with modern gamists. Platformers lost their appeal as an independent art form when they focused too much on the story, or the worlds to explore, or the mini-games. The primary content of a platformer is its controls, and gamists don't even understand that most basic point. Wait right there, I said, and I got out my Game Boy and copy of Super Mario Bros. to illustrate. I gave it to him to play for ten seconds, to show him that these controls had personality, and would be fun to play even if there were nothing to do with them. And then I told him my idea, Through the Wind. (Or at least a small bit of it, since I've planned out quite a lot of it.)

The point being, I do have something to offer for videogames.

In Boston, we happened to be riding the "T" with our grandparents (on my mother's side), and my grandfather posed a challenge. He said that my little cousin is having trouble reading. He wondered if there could be a game which served the practical goal of teaching a young child to read. I instantly thought of all the ways that kind of game has been done wrong: each failed attempt grafting practical learning onto unrelated types of games. The game would need to embrace the concept of teaching letters. I asked for a minute to consider the problem.

And then I gave my solution. The game comes with a special controller, with only five (fairly large) buttons arranged in a circle. Each button has on its face one of the five vowels, in a different bright color. The goal (on the developer's side) of the game is less ambitious than teaching to read anything, but just to teach about the vowel sounds. On the screen is an abstract but constantly moving and changing animation. (The picture in my mind was along the lines of Electric Sheep, but it could certainly be a more relatable animation involving anthropomorphic characters.) That animation is in grayscale to begin with. Then a vowel appears on screen, accompanied by its sound. If the player presses the right button, the moving picture on the screen gets a little bit more colorful, by adding a little bit of that vowel's color from the controller. (That is a reward even a very young kid could appreciate.) Then, once the player has gotten the hang of it, the letters stop appearing though the sounds continue. If the player presses the right button, the screen gets more colorful. If he presses the wrong button, the screen gets grayer. Once the player gets the hang of that, the sounds are complete one-syllable words, and the button must be pressed which corresponds with the vowel in that word. Then (on a harder level) the other sounds that a vowel can make are added in, and then words for those sounds. With each level, the animation is more interesting than the previous level. Eventually, the player will know intuitively what sounds each vowel makes. That seems like a pretty huge first step.

The point being, I actually could apply my views to Real-World situations. They're not just abstract musings.

But will I ever apply myself, or will I just ignore the future as usual? Will I ever get the self-motivation to complete a big project?

I've promised too much on this blog already, promises I didn't keep. I've even promised on this blog that I'd keep the promises I make on this blog, and I didn't keep that either.

So I'm not going to make any promises. But I'll try.



Hey, here's a neat idea I just had for that vowel game. Say eventually the screen gets so colorful that it's oversaturated. If the player makes it any more colorful, the animation explodes! That's how he gets to the next level. So what keeps the kid going isn't just the color, it's the promise of seeing a big flashy explosion! (By the way, I don't think it's grammatically correct to say "explode" without an exclamation mark.)


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