Thursday, November 01, 2012

Back To It

I had put away game making for few months. Not on purpose, my IDE (code editor) was always ready to boot up, taunting me with its colour coded goodness, hilarious refactoring (refactoring is when you rewrite bits of your code to be easier to read, and simpler) bugs, and hipsterish colour themes. 

But I would find any manner of excuses to not boot it up, rewatching all of Breaking Bad, because nothing gets one more chipper and motivated than the morale dissolution of a father as the rank and turgid hand of the amphetamine drug trade destroys him utterly; re-reading books I've read far too many times already; surfing the web on a dopamine treadmill of mild-amusement and semi-wonder.

But the reasons for stopping for so long are multiple and kinda interesting, as are the reasons for starting up again.

I go through ebbs and flows of creative flow, lately less rather than more. It's more often because the enemy of good is perfect, or fear of failure, or just because, well, it's difficult. Which would be fine, except that when I'm not creating something there is a feeling that I should be doing something, like there's a heap of homework teetering on my desk that needs attending and which I'll ignore until it falls on me, possibly crushing me to death if not by gravity then by embarassment.

So it's a battle between creating stuff, and releasing a undefinable pressure, and the fear of putting something out there that is so far from my expectations of what is 'good' that I implode in a localized blackhole of disappointment. Balancing right between two nearly equal nagging sources of discomfort is a hell of a way to spend one's free time.

This has been on the desktop for months and months. Actually reading it again helped me to get going:

This is the general rule of thumb I use. (This is also a fantastic piece on finishing games, by the guy behind Spelunky). The problem is I get into a thing, and then start following all the movers and shakers of that thing, then start looking at their work,and the chasm between the great stuff they are doing and the, frankly, shit I'm creating kinda pulls me down and drags me dry. It's the fighting through bit that I'm having trouble with, I guess. 

With game dev, there really isn't any distinction between amateur (me) and indie (people who are making their living doing it and were likely doing it years before as amateurs before they went indie). And frankly, we are in the middle of an explosion of indie game devs as devs who've been in the industry forever are making their own way of it, funding themselves through Kickstarter, or boot strapping it, and selling it online through Steam or GOG or whatever, bypassing publishers. So there's no limit at the number of indie devs I can find on twitter or tumblr or wherever who are doing amazing work, and seemingly nowhere are their rank amateurs like me just trying to get the simplest things out.

I get myself going again by breaking down the very problems into smaller problems, then smaller, then still problems until it's the simplest thing in the world to figure out. And I can sort of get my workflow going again. The problem is always when I look at the bigger piece.

The game I'm working on, as a whole, is crap. There is nothing compelling or interesting that will keep a player playing for longer than, say, 10 minutes. Or 5 minutes, now that I think about it. And there are still problems and slog I gotta churn through until I can release it. But it's slog and churn for a project I'm not longer terribly interested in.

The trick is there are games I want to work on, that are not too complicated and that I might be able to actually do. But some part of the thorough OCD person in me can't start another before this one is finished. So we are back at square one with slog to get through, and an unappetizing game as a reward.

So anyways I'm stuck in a constant loop of being frustrated with the game and having some sort of Puritan work ethic that's keeping me from more interesting stuff until I finish this one. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Suck At Geography

Somewhere in the domestic male brain, crammed between 'How to Change the Oil in a '74 Chevy' and 'Best Southpaw Pitcher From Idaho' is 'Ability to Speak Coherently about Local Geography'.

That entire part is missing from my brain. I'm not sure what replaces it. Maybe 'Consistently Typos Teh' or 'Uncontrollable Desire to Own A Laser Blaster'. This is the predominant preoccupation with me, and, I think, anyone of my age group, that we're not quite adult yet. I might be resolved to never be an adult. Not that this was ever a goal, more like an eventuality, like  calling kids "champ" or developing an unfeigned admiration of Patton.

But on occasion I'd like to fake it.

I divide the world  into Places I Drive To and THAR  BE DRAGONS. It doesn't help that my memory has never been that great. I've been known to forget my own birthday. Or forget the names of neighbours I've had for years. It's quite possible I've avoided a dementia diagnosis soley by not having an overlong conversation with a clinical psychologist. So it seems likely that I'm not going to remember what highway I need to get to that little out of the way municipality east of Kelowna known for its blueberry jam.

The distressing thing is that this is a fallback conversational item, not far off The Weather. And seeing as my ability to make believable, comfortable small-talk lies somewhere between that of a domesticated pygmy ant and a ulcerated hernia, my inability to contribute socially acceptable mouth noises does sometimes induce panic.

The names wash over me into recognizable but ultimately meaningless sounds, Castlegar, Salmon Arm, Oshawa, 100 Mile House, Oklahoma.  Each one hiding a knowledge trap ready to reveal my inexcusable ignorance.

On the rare occasion I've attempted to keep up with a Geography Conversation, it's always ended in embarasment, puzzlement on both sides, and me biting back the conversational rejoiner I would have liked to add in, like "Remember that time when Apollo went up against that lone Cylon called Redeye, damn his laser blaster was so coool."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Making Games

My current hobby is making video games. Ugly horrible 2D abominations that look like really drunken Atari remakes in MS Paint, they play worse.

But its fun making them. OK, mostly infuriating and frustrating and an elaborate experiment to make me feel stupider than usual, but when everything ends up working and you have something that you'd still be too embarrassed to show anyone while sober, there is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, like baking a cake when all you've done before is make a rather tepid mug of Horlitz.

It's also nice to be working on problems that are unlike the problems I deal with at work, which is roughly, getting information from point A to point B.Where A and B can be a user, another machine, some server run by some other company, etc, etc. It's not uninteresting, but I've beendoing it for... a very long time, and isn't as interesting as something you can, at the end of the day, load up and play.

There's also lots of other types of thinking that goes into it, more than 'how do I get the spaceship to go across the screen if I press up', more along the lines of game design. How do you make a game interesting, what elements to put in or leave out. It can be dizzingly complex and often I'm left with a mess at the end that's not altogether fun.

Future posts will be me blundering through game design theory, possibly some horrifying screenshots of my games, and, likely, some posts about the family.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Recent Activities

"What could he have been doing?" I hear you asking. The unaccountably diverse group of likley email spammers , SEO handpuppets, and, perhaps, two or three friends who continue to forget to remove this blog from their RSS reader.

What could I have been doing indeed!

Work has been more worky as of late. The whole 'going to the gym 3 times a week' is still going, and takes a fair bit of time. Or as I call it, 'watching the rather distressingly budget straight to DVD knockoffs that are available on Netflix Instant while ellipticalling my life away'.

I also started a different project, which I'm still on the fence about continuing. It was an homage, of sorts, to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, called, imaginatively enough, Dictionary of Obscure Joys. Optimism is always harder to pull off than pessimism, maybe it has to do with the fact that that we, as a species, commiscerate over the horrible cards life has dealt us: the smart phone that doesn't quite do everything we want; the inaccurate fuel economy on our recent hybrid; the unreasonableness of the latest paperback blockbuster.

Pessimism is the mortar that holds us small people together against the kings and queens and czars, through coup d'etats and bloody and bloodless (which are sometimes worse) revolutions and religious wars and that one district supervisor who sticks religiously to the 57 Rules of Power.

It's also easy. The default position is you will. Optimisim is an affliction we ascribe to older gentlemen on horseback having a go at pre-industrial agricultural machines and red headed children known better for their choice in leg wear.  But optimism is also the domain of fighters, scrappers, entrepeneurs, inventors and, granted, the driving force behind most peace-time dismemberments.

The main thing to remember is that makers and creators are not, on the whole, pessimists. It'd be nearly impossible to be, most of the work involves failing horribly. You need that buoyancy to get back  up, and the willful shortsightedness to go at it again.

Which is why I started that tumblr. It was good, on the whole. But lately I've been putting my time into a different hobby, which I'll write about later.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Similarities, By Owlet

  • "This flower smells so good, it smells like NAIL POLISH"
  • "Oh yeah, I'm scared of sharks too. But the one I hate the most are lions, when they tap on your window."
  • "I wouldn't want to live near a volcano, it's so hot, it can melt ice. Or your head. Or this HOUSE. Or those bananas."
  • *seeing some guy in a gym pumping iron* "Wow, he's so strong, I bet you he can lift a SWORD!"

Monday, May 07, 2012

Film Reactions

There have been little tidbits of life that hardly warrant an entire post, so I've jammed two of them together to make one relatively anemic one!

Both Owlet and Owl Jr. have had pretty newish reactions to films in the past few months. From Owl Jr. it was honest surprise/anguish/fear, from watching (of all things) That Unintentionaly Horrifying Motion Capture Christmas Abomination known as 'The Polar Express'. There was a spider, or something. I wasn't really paying attention to the movie, I was off in the corner, reading my book, trying to avoid any and all small talk. But suddenly there comes a high pitched scream juust below the pitch of a smoke alarm.

I run over, and there is Owl Jr. hands to the face, emitting a tone and sound I have never heard. I haven't heard it since, which is probably a good thing. I pick him up, and he calms down, but it was astonishing, to hear an brand new emotion from that little 2 year old.

Actually, now that I think of it, it was a spider, but it from Home Alone. I'm not sure why it seems like all children's classics have at least one nightmare inducing scene and/or character. Which segues nicely into "A Land Before Time", which has repeated scenes with a Tyrannosaurus which will surely put my children off  time travel for their entire working adult lives.

During that movie the mother dies (uh, spoiler, alert, I guess). And the first time we watched it (and second time, to be honest), I look over and see Owlet with genuine tears coming from her eyes. Just quietly crying, maybe thinking about how horrible it was for the baby dinosaur, or how horrible it'd be for her. Either way, it was a sharp realization of how much she's grown, how much more her brain is processing and thinking and empathizing.

I'm sure in no time at all she'll have opinions about recycling, the environment, the ozone layer. I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Cool Hand Owl Jr.

Owl Jr. is a thoughtful little three year old. The sort who will stare at his train or his Lightning McQueen while making engines sounds of questionable veracity. Or stand by the sink,pushing his Thomas Train through the slowly trickling water for what seems like hours.

A rich inner life.

He's also his own little boy. Pugnacity, iron will, steely determination are not whimsical descriptions when he has his mind set.

"Owl Jr, finish your mac and cheese,and then you can have this caramel popcorn"
"Come on Owl Jr. All this popcorn, you know you like it."
"I don't want it."
"I'm going to eat it. It looks soo delicious" (this is a standard tactic at which Owlet would break Kenmore on day 366 of it's 1 year warranty)
"Ok. Eat it."
"Ok.. What?"
"Eat it. Eat popcorn."
I look with not a small amount of uncertainty at the pile of multi-coloured .. bits.. of.. what I'm assured use to be organic matter.
"Eat the blue one."
I eat it. Looking at him carefully. He nods in approval.
"Now the red one..."
It goes on like this until I've finished it. At which point he says, "Can I play now?"

I think he spends all that quiet time scheming, to be honest.