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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I bet you thought I wasn't going to take that deadline seriously. Well, I did- I spent six hours working today. It's the last day of the Gregorian year and I have a version of The Perfect Color which is playable from start to finish. (The first time I played the complete game through, it took me eight minutes.)

It's not ready for release yet. There are some huge, game-stopping bugs which I need to find and exterminate. And then I need to wait for a few animations from my partner Kyler, without which some events don't make sense. But that's it. I'm pretty much done. And it's fantastic.



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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No work done.



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Monday, December 22, 2008

The Garden: Metaludes

There are at least two distinct Forms arranged as equals, connected with exploration. When these three (or more) Forms are present and dominant, you've got a metalude. It's complex, obviously, which means the primary content is story.

If we're treating a Form as a discipline with which to make games, then the metalude is the discipline of connecting other disciplines together in a way that is cohesive and sustainable. I'll get to the "cohesive" bit in a minute, but what I mean by "sustainable" is that you can use this formula to connect any two Forms together, no matter how bizarre the combination seems, and it'll probably work. So this isn't a one-off structure, like Metal Gear Solid's stealth action/audio drama/film combo. You can use it over and over again to get lots of different kinds of games.

The exploration is a constant among all metaludes because it makes the work feel like a cohesive whole, rather than individual parts strung together. Rather than feeling like "Here's a puzzle game, now here's an action game.", it feels like "Here's a world, where this room has a puzzle and this room has a battle.". It's not a series of events, it's a landscape which has all these different kinds of gameplay on top of it. Rather than getting totally separated emotions from different sections, the player gets a combined emotion from the game world which is defined by the contrast between the two (or more) kinds of gameplay.

There are two main genres of metalude, in popularity and commonness: fantasy and urban. Fantasy metaludes (The Legend of Zelda being the model) take inspiration from fantasy role-playing games, and urban metaludes (Grand Theft Auto) take inspiration from crime movies, if I'm not mistaken. (I've never actually played GTA, so I don't know for sure.)

In fantasy metaludes, it's generally expected that there will be puzzles and action. I guess that fits with the Tolkien model of fantasy stories- fighting armies of monsters, solving ancient riddles. It's a curious combination, though, in that the pacing is totally different. Action games are intense and rely on quick reactions, puzzle games are slow and rely on careful analysis. But maybe that's the appeal- action will tire you out leaving you in the mood for something more relaxing, and a puzzle will tax the brain leaving you in the mood for something more mindless. So in a sense they balance each other out. The plots of Zelda tend to concern divine balance- proving to the gods that your skills are balanced enough, fighting against an enemy who is too focused on accumulating power. While I don't approve of the cinematic way those stories are told, they aren't really grafted on. They're an extension of what the game is already about.

In urban metaludes, it's expected that there will be driving movement and action. I haven't actually played such a game, so I don't know for certain how the combination works. But if I may guess, it seems like it would evoke aggression and a certain single-mindedness. You drive to wherever you need to get to, you shoot whoever you need to shoot, and you drive on. Both driving games and action games strive for intensity, and movement games aren't so far removed from action games, so it's a straightforward combination. If I were to make such a game I'd try to distinguish the two from each other more to heighten the contrast, to contrast the rules and tedium of driving with the chaos and frenzy of fighting, but my understanding is that that's not what they're going for. From what I've gathered, it's a low-contrast world where everything is chaos and frenzy. I haven't heard anything specific at all about the stories, but they ought to focus on the endless loop of violence in the world, because that would fit the never-ending intensity of gameplay.

There can be much weirder combinations. I think the strangest I've encountered was Chibi Robo, which combined platforming with (of all things) cleaning. (Cleaning is a weak Form, about which there's not much to say.) The cleaning never pretends to be anything other than tedious, which makes the contrast with the platforming -a Form which typically evokes joy and a sense of liberation- more pronounced. The story was about a tiny cleaning robot in a massive (for him) house encountering all sorts of strange characters. I think this is actually a really good example of what I was saying about how the feeling you get from the world is defined by the contrast between the two Forms. On the floor the gameplay is cleaning, and when you go higher up the gameplay's climbing and jumping and floating around. So the house feels like chores are its surface, and the farther you go the more fun it gets. On reflection, there may have been an intentional educational message there.

My last example is Beyond Good & Evil, which fits into the fantasy genre but is worth considering on its own. On top of its world it puts not only puzzles and action, but also stealth action and driving and flying and platforming and photography. The two Forms which stand out most are stealth action and photography, stealth because it's used most and photography because it has a different interface to everything else. The story is about a photojournalist who sneaks around government facilities to uncover the truth about conspiracies. The huge number of Forms makes the world seem complicated and messy.

In each of these examples, the story isn't something tacked on top. It's the result of how the different Forms fit together.

The interface doesn't absolutely need to be consistent from Form to Form, but gamists usually try to cover up the seams for the sake of cohesion. (If it's going to be disjointed, why connect it with exploration at all?) There won't be five buttons controlling fighting, there'll be one. And that button will stay there even as you're solving a puzzle, but just won't do much. The trouble is, each type of gameplay requires a different set of buttons. And there are only so many buttons to work with. So the gamist needs to be clever, reusing buttons in ways which are efficient but not unintuitive. For instance, in BG&E the button for jumping in platforming sections is also the button for rolling on the ground in stealth, and the button for running is also the button for speeding up a vehicle. This makes the jumps from Form to Form smoother, so it's laudable. Still, trying to fit everything together can limit a gamist's visions for each individual section. When Forms are especially distinct from each other, a dynamic interface (like I suggested in the adventure game post) is a good idea. The 3D Zelda games actually do something similar, though on a smaller scale: There's one button that does whatever the game says it does at the moment. Text at the top of the screen has a phrase like "throw" or "put away" or "defend" depending on the situation, and that's what that button will do at that time. It's clever, really- it fills in all the functionality the gamists weren't able to fit in normally.

Being a complex Form, the techniques used in making a metalude are naturally similar to those you'd need for an RPG or any other complex game. You need to understand how several Forms can fit together, how to tell a story, you need to understand the needs of the contained Forms. But the principles of metaludes -contrast and cohesion- are not shared by other Forms. In a role-playing game, even one with exploration, strategy and action, it is counterproductive to make the strategy and action feel similar or give them equal placement in the whole or keep the interface constant. What you do with the strategy is almost irrelevant to what you do with the action, and vice versa. Also, what makes for a good metalude story doesn't make for a good RPG story. The metalude's story emerges from the gameplay, the RPG's story is mostly separate from gameplay. Just because both Forms are complex doesn't mean their language is the same.

A game with exploration, and two Forms which are combined together as though they were one element, is not a metalude. That's a hybrid serving the purpose of an exploration game. Metroid, for instance. Action and platformer, with exploration. That'd be a metalude if the action and platformer weren't woven together so closely. You don't get contrast between two Forms if they're interpreted by the player as being one Form.

I will point out that the adventure game by its "present" definition, which I consider to be a poorly conceived Form, is extremely close to the metalude. If an adventure has exploration with puzzles and character interaction, that's already a metalude. I am not familiar with an adventure game whose story fits the contrast between puzzles and character interaction, and the interface is almost never consistent between puzzles and dialogue, so clearly the traditional adventure gamists were not approaching the material from the same angle as the metalude gamists. If they had, the stories would have all been about the conflict between intellect and compassion, or something to that effect. In trying to achieve a broader range of stories without radically changing the make-up of Forms, adventures set themselves down a different path, which I maintain is better achieved through the "future" definition of adventures which I proposed. Still, the comparison is interesting in that it points to a different (more limiting) way adventures could progress.

As gamism progresses, the general public will not clamor for metaludes. The public doesn't realize that metaludes even exist. But gamists themselves are guaranteed to work within the Form, just because there's so much artistic potential there. I don't know if the metalude will ever be formally recognized as a kind of game. But I do know that, even when gamism interfaces directly with our brains, the metalude will still be on the cutting-edge of art. The more sophisticated other Forms become, the more the metalude has to work with. I'm certain the first gamistic equivalent of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony will be a metalude. It is the Form which contains all possibilities, and makes sense of them.

Droplets: Metaludes

Adventure and interactive music, in a world containing semi-abstract musicians and realistic ordinary people in equal numbers. The frustrations of ordinary life are resolved by playing music in branching paths. The story involves a musician going through hard times with his banal work and uncaring family.

Puzzle and luck, in a totally abstract (and convoluted) world where it's not immediately apparent which Form is which. Sometimes careful deduction will get you the answer, sometimes you just need to bumble around long enough. Sometimes you're relieved that you don't have to put in effort, sometimes you're relieved to be given that opportunity. Which means, of course, that you're also often frustrated before you get to that point. The world design is hard to fathom, with no sense behind anything. The story is, as you'd expect, abstract but emotional.

Flight, platformer, driving, strategy, puzzle and luck, in a world where each Form is given a dedicated section where the farther you go the harder it gets. They overlap with each other at rare points, so that if you get far in one you can jump to a far part in another. The game doesn't save progress, but keeps a timer of how long you play. After 24 hours of play, the game suddenly deletes itself and can't be played again without buying the game over again. The story concerns a sick person with one more day to live.

Platformer and sports action, in a more-or-less real-world setting. There are kids in the street to kick balls around with, and houses which you can jump over. If any of the kids see you jumping, you can't play with them anymore. But it's fun to jump. You get to jump over all the landmarks of the city, watching games down below from rooftops.

Perception and action, again in a 3D real-world-meets-science-fiction setting. You look for optical illusions - all sorts of everyday objects which look perfectly normal from one angle but from a different angle are clearly impossible. That's a gateway to another dimension, where you have to fight weird alien creatures. The story is about an attempted alien invasion which only you know about (or can stop).

Film and role-playing game, with a dynamic interface which in the film sections becomes a remote control, in a generic fantasy world where one corner is totally noninteractive and the other corner is totally interactive. You need to hunt for ways to defeat the generic fantasy villain, which gives the gamist many opportunities to contrast the old-fashioned way of telling stories with this newfangled way of telling stories. The story can be resolved many ways, some more interactive and some less interactive.



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Thursday, December 18, 2008

No work done.



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Thursday, December 11, 2008

No work done.



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Sunday, December 07, 2008

I Am a Rug, I Am an Onion

title="27/11/2008">Aw, to heck with it.•
When Moshe told me he was auditioning for the musical 1776, I congratulated him but didn't really think to try out for myself. … But then, yesterday, my mother e-mailed me the notice for auditions. And I thought about it. And I'm going to go there today.

I didn't know what song to bring to audition with. … So last night and today, I made up a new one.
title="27/11/2008">How The Audition Went•
Did I make a fool of myself? Why, yes. Yes, I did.
title="30/11/2008">I got in.•
I'm going to be playing John Witherspoon in 1776.
title="10/8/2006">Imagined Opportunities•
Everyone needs opportunities to offer something to others, be that a joke or a service or an experience. We understand this, you and I. And when you never get an opening, you get pretty desparate. When no one wanted to listen to your music in the Academy, you went and played in recesses anyway, pretending you would have whether or not your classmates were there. But really you'd reached the point where you thought you'd make openings for yourself where none existed. And what did that desparation get you? Did anyone in your class listen to what you were playing? No.
title="07/6/2008">In Darkness•
What sort of reward could you possibly be expecting? It's not just about reward. You don't do things only to get somewhere, you also do things just because they're there to be done.
It turns out, I'm not in a single song. I'm in a musical where I don't get to be involved with the music in any way. (So what's the point, right?) There are two parts for the chorus- the first is before my character makes his entrance, the second is just for those against independence. (My character is on the wrong side, being for it.) All other songs are for specific characters. So I'm left saying lines like "New Jersey votes yea." and "I'm sorry, John." and an impassioned speech about God which is actually just one bullet point in a long list.

I asked the assistant director: "Was my singing voice that bad?" "No", she said, "We didn't think of that at all. We just thought you were right for the part." Which could be the whole truth. Or it could be how she says "Yes, you stink." while trying not to offend me.

I did mess up pretty badly. I keep running the song through my head, over and over, every single day. Messing up that song is going to be one of those things I regret for the rest of my life, like what happened at the Beauty and the Beast audition and that time in the Academy where I didn't know the religious stuff I was supposed to know and reading that haftarah in shul where I got up and couldn't remember the trup and the time I started crying to get sympathy in seventh grade and the times I was violent and the time in fifth grade I thought I was going to be performing in a concert but I wasn't and the time in second grade I sang a song out loud and the time in first grade I rejected a friend because of peer pressure. Mistakes don't go away. I keep thinking of all the ways that audition should have gone, what piano music I should have written up to accompany it. I know exactly why the rhythm seemed weird, and that it needed to switch the number of beats each measure: 4,4,5,3,3,4,2,4,4,…

Moshe got the main villain. (He doesn't like calling him a "villain", preferring "rival".) I'm so jealous. So I said to him: "I'm so jealous." And he said: "Don't be. It took me five plays to get here!" Which is a good point. I have no experience, Moshe has lots. They can trust him. They certainly can't trust me.

I recognized some of the faces at the first rehearsal from Beauty and the Beast. I was happy to see Jerry there, who I'd sat next to in those rehearsals. I was disappointed, when that show fell apart, that I'd never gotten a chance to say goodbye to him. Which is probably silly- I shouldn't get emotionally invested in people I just happened to be sitting next to. Still, he also got a pretty tiny role in this thing. It's doesn't have to be so lonely at the bottom.

With such a simple part, I need some opportunities to make myself feel better. So every time someone asks me "How are you?", I'm going to respond, "Very good! I'm working on my second computer game, having finished the first.". That's something I could never do before- present myself as a person who's actually moving somewhere. And any time that piano isn't in use, I'll jump at the chance to improvise while pretending I don't care if anyone listens. Er, I mean- while not caring if anyone listens. Silly me, did I say "pretending"? I'll just go hide in that corner now.

One opportunity which isn't just imagined is that I get to spend more time with Moshe. That'll be fun.

But I dunno, I'm disappointed. I know I can do more than this. I'm not just a random guy, I'm Mory the gamist and sometimes-composer. The idea I've gotta swallow is that that doesn't mean squat. I'm not entitled to anything at all. I've gotta build myself up from scratch, find opportunities and work at them until I have made something of myself.

Or at least gotten a new set of embarrassing memories.



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Thursday, December 04, 2008

This is going to work.

Fulfilling needs
This is when you ask "What should I do?".

It's the easiest kind of inspiration, probably because we're all so experienced in it from dreaming. You're missing something in your life, so you invent it.
30 minutes ago, I was just waking up. As I lay in bed, I remembered that this was the day the trial for the new version of BlitzMax ran out. (The old version I procured illegally, and it gave me many problems.) I'll have to buy it in a day or two, but for now I'd like to get some work in before time runs out.

Anyway, I was lying in bed thinking about this, and suddenly (I don't think there was even much conscious thought involved) bits of code started popping up in my head. I didn't know what the specific commands were, but I saw the BlitzMax IDE in my head, with all the code written on it, and I was jumping back and forth saying "This line here needs a slight tweak, there needs to be a big block of code down here eventually, there needs to be another function here, which I'll then call from here.". I saw what the game needed to work, I saw answers to questions I hadn't consciously considered, I saw bits of text which I'd need to include in the tutorial.

This is going to work.



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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

New goal:
Have a version of the game, good enough to play, by the end of the calendar year.
The only revisions in 2009 will be aesthetic or fine-tuning.



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My game, right now, is a mess. There are so many rules, each one adding a little bit to the metaphor, and I understand them all perfectly. There are some people who help, and some people who harm, and the only way to tell them apart is by watching what they do. They change their behavior if you take off their hats. This makes sense to me.

But when I think about how I'm going to explain this to the player, I come up short. These aren't obvious rules at all, and they only seem obvious because I've been thinking about them for so long.

So I've got to (temporarily) stop adding rules and start taking away rules. I could have the most sophisticated gameplay-as-metaphor ever, but if no one understands it but me, then what's the point?



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No work done.

Next goal: implementing the concept of personal ownership.



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Monday, December 01, 2008


Shabbat isn't bad at all if I have someone to talk to. Sure, it's not like the rest of the week, when I can watch five episodes of Felicity (J.J. Abrams' first show) and read a bunch of comics and play piano and do an hour of database entry and work on my game (in roughly that order), but it's not bad at all. Every Friday I go to the Feldmans to talk to Tamir and Eli (and on rare occasions, Harel). This week we all sat around and thought about who would win in a fight- Saruman or Darth Vader (for instance). We also played Sticheln, which I won. And I talked a little bit about random nonsense I wanted to talk about like how amazing that episode of Fringe was two weeks ago and how the audition went. (Tamir had already read the blog post, but I like to talk and he likes being silent too much to tell me not to.) It's always the Feldmans on Friday night because no one else stays awake past 2:00 AM.

In the day, I've got to go to someone else. There's only so much you can say about the latest episode of Heroes, and my life isn't so dramatic that I'd have much to say about life in general. So it's either Avri, Nati, or Moshe.

Moshe's the farthest away, that being a twenty-minute walk or so. But out of everyone I know, he's the most like me. So spending time with him is important to me. He's who I went to this past Shabbat. As I walked, I sang my audition song to myself -------
I think I hear music in the distance-
There must be someone there who hears the notes.
and bemoaned that I hadn't composed it one day sooner, so that I'd be capable of performing it without notes. (I'm still bitter about that.) I wanted to talk to Moshe about his audition experience, maybe hear some nervousness that'd make me feel better about myself, find out whether he thought he'd be in, tell him about my song and that we might be in this musical together.

It's a bit of a luck game, going to Moshe's house. I never know if he'll be there, and if he is there I never know if they've had lunch yet. They tend to have lunch really late.

This was one of the cases where they were having lunch late. I got there, and saw that they were just starting. (We'd already finished a lengthy lunch at home.) I asked when I should come back (not that I'd have anywhere to go from there), but Moshe's mother said I didn't need to leave. So I sat down in one of their comfortable armchairs and waited. And waited. And waited. There wasn't any point of conversation at the table which I'd be inclined to join in on, so I waited. I kept hoping that Moshe would get up and come over, just for a minute, just so I could let him know I'd tried out for 1776 and see his reaction, but he just kept eating and eating and talking and talking and seemed to forget I was there. He even kept eating after everyone else had finished, in both the main meal and dessert (which wasn't short to begin with).

That's not something I'd do. If I had a guest, I'd keep watching him to make sure he wasn't terribly bored. And if I wasn't up to doing that, I wouldn't let him in in the first place. If I have a guest, I understand that they're my responsibility. (This is why I don't much like having guests.)

I waited for two hours on that chair, and Moshe didn't come over to me once. And then he went off to do errands, without so much as a reassurance that he'd be with me in a minute. I don't know, maybe he would have been. But I couldn't know that. I'd waited two hours to talk to him, and had no guarantee. So I told the family's guest (who was the only one in the room at the time): "You know what? I'm going. Tell Moshe I left."

And I did.

It's not really that I'm angry. Okay, maybe a little angry. But I knew that if I waited long enough, he'd get around to talking to me. It was more a dramatic gesture, you know? That's not the sort of thing I'd do, and I spend time with Moshe because he's like me. It was unacceptable, and I wanted him to understand that I felt that way.

I didn't know he'd come after me shortly afterward. If I did, I would have sat at home and waited some more. It's not like I didn't want to talk to him. But I thought he'd say "That's a shame, I guess I'll talk to him some other time.", so I went out again.

Avri wasn't home, so I went to see if Nati was home. If he wasn't, I guess I would have checked to see if Harel was awake next. And if not him then Tamir and Eli again. Not that any of that matters- Nati was home.

Nati isn't like me, not really. He's not an Asperger or hyperactive, he doesn't play games or read comics or play music. As I was there, his mother noted: "What Nati likes, he's really passionate about." And I realized that that's really what I like about him. What he's particularly passionate about is movies. So whenever I go over, I always ask what movies he's seen lately. It's bound to be an interesting answer. This week the first thing I said to him was that I'd seen In Bruges, because he'd recommended it to me. (Excellent movie, by the way. I pass along the recommendation.) And somehow eventually the conversation got to me talking about elements of Ultimate comics which I'm surprised made it into the Incredible Hulk movie. He listens even when it's not directly about one of his interests, I guess because he understands how people can care about things.

Not a bad group of friends, not bad at all.



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