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Dazzling Dreams

I think I normally make blogs with some sort of useful utility, but this one is a little more personal.

In about mid November, on a cold day, I was drawn again to the use of ⬛⬛⬛⬛, which has always been sort of unexplainable decision for rare Sunday mornings – a need for realignment and introspection. On a sunlit window, laid looking up at the European Ash on a warm ottoman, I gently came up watching the branches twist and sharpen, reaching up at the sky in content stability, waiting out the winter.

After that, I guess I had a pretty normal start, listening to prog and contemplating aesthetic decisions, until a dull hollow welled up in me, and I found myself scrawling sad looking eyes on a notepad by a window in my loft. It was heavy, weighing me down, and eventually the pencil stopped and I laid almost dead with depression, trying to understand it.

⬛⬛⬛⬛have their way of bringing different parts of yourself to light. While I know that I’m generally dissatisfied with my living, I just, felt it, like standing before the ocean with it all plain to see. They said pay attention: I don’t want to work 4 days a week for someone else. I don’t spend my free time as well as I would like. And this I know, and can’t change for now. But I also want to do more game art, and I feel kinda stuck. I feel swamped by this project, working on stuff I just have to get out of the way, and I don’t know what I have show for it.

I don’t feel like I’m even making a video game.

I mean, Wait. I’m actually, not… making a video game?

Perspective

I’m not making a video game.

Let me first say that all experience is a matter of perspective. The fleeting sensations of animals to the world around them in their first-person perspective is *true*, but we (humans) often get distracted from our own perspectives, for the whirling gift of consciousness giving us a world in our heads. We hear about someone else’s experience and imagine for a second a bit of their perspective, and we cobble together details into a story that makes sense about the world. We may often mistake our stories about people and other countries for reality.

Obviously, art is about putting perspective to reality. You can do it with a fixed and rendered frame or via camera cuts in movies, showing different faces and objects in sequence to tell a story. And I realized a problem I had; I was making a game without the right perspective. Maybe without any perspective, save for the ones in my imagination.

I like having a large perspective on stuff, a holistic one, and I wanted to make a game that paid true attention to systemic workings, to emergent patterns and many autonomous agents. I guess I just spent three years trying to bring that world to life, but I did it from a bird’s-eye view. In my mind, I saw the world as it would be, and looking down from the sky in the editor, fashioned it to be so, creating a forest, little agents to cut down the trees, and their horrific behaviors of drilling pipelines and factories across newly-barren landscapes. It was gonna be stark, something worth killing, cathartic even, once It was duct-taped together enough, I could let a player loose in seeking out weak points and eventually snowball into tearing it all down.

The problem with this – it’s not that it’s a bad idea, or a bad way to go about it. I did have a perspective in mind, but I hadn’t built it yet. But that’s not quite it.

I don’t feel bad for having a dream, but there was stuff mixing around inside of me that I was ignoring. Under the winter sunlight, I looked at my hands, then got up and looked at my project. There was nothing to do (yet). Nothing was really working (yet). And most terribly, it had already been 3 years.

I guess it’s the 3 years.

Long-term pursuit is great. Berserk is great and I think frequently about the late Kentaro Miura putting his life into that work, how young he felt as an artist even at the chapter that he died on, reaching for something beyond a human lifespan.

But mangaka live chapter-by-chapter, panel-by-panel. When would I really start making the good stuff in this game, that I wasn’t sheepishly describing to colleagues as “foundation work”? When would I carve the meandering streams, give vitality to the sensations of ripping apart steel and flourishing it with metaphorical aesthetic touches? When would I be done with this game? Like, when I’m 28? 30?. And that scared me a lot.

I could really reduce this problem: I over-scoped. Haha. The game developer made more work than they could accomplish! Old story. But I guess the fulcrum of this trip was a bitter, epiphany-like dawning realization that I had really been fooling myself. I felt embarrassed. I told people I was making a video game and all I was really doing was… making, like, a big island with little guys moving across it? Making a big room with nothing to do. Something I actually wasn’t going to finish.

It was taking months of my very limited week-hours to produce ones sick-looking mech that could do stuff. Shouldn’t something that takes that long be the most important thing in the game?

I just can’t get it all straight in words. I like old forests. It’s a banger game idea. But I just, don’t want to make a game that big – and that’s the key. I want to make games about places that aren’t across the continent from me. I don’t want to put that much of my life into one thing, even if it’s great.

It’s a weird discovery to have about yourself, and it’s really specific. I don’t want to be the life’s work guy. Even if it’s just 6-10 years and not my life. But the summer I spent making tree assets and little plants and lighting on a test map was the most fun I had on the project in the entire 3 years. It made something tangible and beautiful, that literally brought me to tears looking at during the trip. Just walking around it and talking to a character would be a game I’d be so fucking proud of, and then I could make another place with another story.

So in that hour, Disharmony died.

Just the day before, I had been working on it like I was going to until I was 30, and the day after it was over. And it didn’t die like the code broke, it’s that Disharmony was an idea and not a thing and it died in me.

I mourned for it – I’m still mourning for it – and even though I did and still have an idea of what I want to make in its ashes, I’m still processing this, circular logic. This bitter pill that I could have done it but didn’t want to, that I didn’t know I didn’t want to.

What died was me. A function of me. The part that becomes blind to dazzling dreams and pursues them to unknowable ends. I don’t even think that’s a good thing, per se – and it’s beautiful and productive when I see other people do it. Social media is filled with people calling grey boxes and Quixel assets much grander things than they are, and some of those will turn into great stuff. But I can’t do it anymore.

It was making me sad.

So I guess what I’m saying is this: I had a perspective shift. Following a grand vision is tiresome, and frustrating. I like AI programming, but actually doing it for a long time doesn’t feel fulfilling. It doesn’t feel fulfilling to me. I like making little plants and little flourishes, but not too many, and not overly-detailed like popular Artstation models. I like making *just enough* and putting it there, then adding another element.

I want to live on the tips of my fingertips like this. I want to follow vague hunches, render a stand of trees with more hidden color than anyone else and less detail than a perfectionist, and then move on too soon and add something else. I want to make characters where I’ve been too intimidated and busy to try before. I want to take all my written ideas and characters and facial expressions and lonely lines and get them out without grand an innovative structures (unless I can buy a plugin or convince someone else to do them).

I want the perspective of the drawing line, always moving one moment at a time – leaving a trail behind a single momentary trajectory. Always working with what I can see with my human eyes, not projecting something else on top of it while I’m working.

I think that’s how I can make games as a solo developer. That’s how I can tinker and make vital and colorful stuff.

The trees? Keeping those. Gonna have a character betwixt them. Self-dialogue and pensive mechanics. I’ll make them all one moment at a time and see where it leads me. I doubt I’ll use any of the AI work I’ve done in the past 3 years, but that’s just kinda how it goes.

After two months of idle mourning and another good vacation to the old forests, I’ve picked myself up a little bit.

I can see clearly now, with my own eyes, and I follow what my hands and heart want to do. It’s positive, and refreshing. I feel like I’m making more, and I’m happy.

This is something I could do forever.

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Ecology Review – Halo Infinite

After many years, a new installation of Halo has come upon the world, drawing in a high level of my curiosity for reasons I do not yet understand. As a game where the multiplayer and the shooter-ing are oft-examined, I and probably many other gamers have been waiting with bated breath for the answer to only one question, all this time, as it impended: how would 343 craft Halo’s classic boreal ecosystems using contemporary quality standards and rendering techniques?

There will not be spoilers of any kind in this review, but I have elected to undertake this assignment extremely seriously and with a fresh set of high standards, resulting in an exhaustive examination of the game’s entire map to ruin both mine and your own enjoyment of its painfully well-rendered environments. Let’s get at it.

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Growth and Regrowth (2-Year Dev Retro)

Two years ago I started making a videogame.

Before starting my 7th semester of college, I prepared to talk with my professor about a free-form project for CIS 690 – a tech elective where you pitch, perform, and reflect on whatever you want. It was about 1 hour before I walked out of my neighboring apartment onto the campus to talk with him that I deemed the moment salient to choose what the subject of my project would be. I had some ideas written down, picked one for a few good reasons, and continue to this day working on that project at a healthy and generous pace.

The game – now called Disharmony – has changed a lot since then, as I would imagine most do from inception to production. But through planning, prototyping, reading, painting, playing, thinking, and doing nothing at all, it has taken on a different meaning entirely while retaining the shape I thought of on that day. It’s these forces of change and holding onto the central shape that I want to talk about, even only partway through this journey, since the act of finding what’s worth keeping in an oddly-growing game is the never-ending challenge of the craft.

(featured painting is Premonition by Remedios Varo)

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The 2019 Year in Review

I feel that 2019 has been a big year for me.

There are other cliche ways to begin a year in review, but that one is the most appropriate. The last year has been an odyssey of self-discovery, new experiences, and time management; 2019 carried me from a skilled, broke college student finding his way to a skilled, young adult with finances and a partner. I’ll probably always be finding my way.

I found art in drawing, refined in painting – and through it, myself – displayed in dazzling color and through curious, thoughtful aesthetic works that challenge me to think and learn in whole new ways.

I found a love of nature I had previously only appreciated at a distance – a love for atavistic rituals and natural lifestyles, ecology and hidden natural systems, and for trees, plants, and the multitude of growing things that make up our world (particularly mushrooms – and our friends, the whales).

And, indeed, I found love in Bailey – my loving partner – and all the small moments, activities, nuances of human experience, and breath of emotions, cognition, and sensations, that come with committing to another person.

There are countless things I found in 2019 that transformed me, making this review more personal than the last one.

It happens to be also the only thing I’ve written since the last one – so I suppose I was out for catching up on a lot from the start.

I’ll start with the beginning of the year.

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Finally an Update: Semester Retrospective, Year in Review, and What’s Next

Hello everybody, it’s been a while since I last wrote. I have my reasons for not showing anything much, but I probably should have at least written a note saying that I’d be gone. I’ve just had a long semester, some burnout, and then a massive amount of re-prioritization as I think about what skills I want to improve and what kind of stuff I want to make in the future while I’m still in school.

In case you haven’t been following my sparse twitter activity or scrying into my apartment, this post should officially sort of summarize what’s been going on and where I think I’m going as we head into 2019. I’ve tried to write this several times over the last month, so it might be a little scattered. Let’s get right to it.

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Atavism Dev Log 22 – Takeoff, Head Positioning, Giant Plan

Update 22: August 16th – September 5

It’s been a while!

Three weeks, actually, instead of the usual two since the last update, and this is entirely due to trying to adapt to the new schedule I have from starting this semester at University (fall of my 3rd year). I had accomplished so little last Wednesday that I honestly just forgot this was supposed to be the day to write a blog. A few days later I realized what was up and just decided to aim for next week. It’s likely that this marks the end of my consistent, content-filled updates that made the summer

On the personal side of things, I’m a few sessions into running that D&D game for my friends and my other 2.5-year-old campaign with the same group is shaking back to life from another hiatus. I finished Slaughterhouse: Five and I have to say I was pretty stirred by it, particularly the frank first chapter as Vonnegut tries to collect his thoughts before writing and the part where Billy watches the war scene backwards on his TV. The book gave me some pretty raw vibes about how ridiculous and terrible humans can be sometimes and how silly it looks from such an outside perspective.

On another track, I also finished The Last Guardian a few weeks ago, and I was totally wrecked by the ending in a way that no game or movie ever has before. It was an absolute journey – beautiful to look at and engaging to play all the way through – and I can probably say it’s the best game I’ve played from this decade. I binged a lot of the developer diaries and interviews about the game a bit after and they were also super cool and inspiring. I’m fully onboard for whatever they have next, and I can’t wait for it!

On the development side of things, the scattered handful of hours from the last 3 weeks came together to roughly form almost a devblog’s worth of content, so let’s just get right into it.

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ATAVISM DEV LOG 18 – BIRD BRAIN

Update 18: June 14th – 26th

Two weeks, more progress. Also I’m sorry about the title, it’s a joke about making the bird AI. I think it’s funny.

On the personal side of things, I’m about halfway through Shadow of the Colossus (ps3 remaster) for the first time- something I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. It’s moody and engaging -certainly worth another playthrough before I give my thoughts- and I’ll be playing Ico and Nier (2006) soon after.

Development-wise, most of my progress has been on animations and AI for the bird (named AveApex in the editor), but we’ll see how much I relate about them in the future. I’ve also updated the website! I’m officially rebranding as Red Glacier Games, which has a sort of mystery to it that I’m fond of with other studios named similarly.

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Atavism Dev Log 15 – A Plague of bugs

Update 15: May 2nd – 15th

It feels like so long, yet so recent since the last time I typed one of these. Long because of all my semester finals, travelling, new living space, and new work schedule, but recent because I’ve accomplished barely anything since last time. In reality I’ve spent still nearly two-thirds of the usual time per week working on the game and I also can’t blame myself for not getting much done over finals, but the last two weeks have been extremely unfulfilling bugfix work that ended up generally much harder than they should have been.

Basically everything I set out to do was so hard that it took forever to fix (usually due to dumb mistakes, lack of familiarity, or obscure reasons) or so small that it’s not too notable anyways. Regardless, I shall list everything I did just to vent about it then formulate a plan for the next two weeks.

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Atavism Dev Log 14 – Parrying and a Demo Level

environment

Update 14: April 18th – May 1st

It’s been a busy fortnight between semester finals and Atavism, but everything is coming out pretty well. My work was generally split into two parts; the first week of which was spent on making a level to show off the Tribesmen for my Gamedev club and the latter week of which was spent implementing some new features. I’ll be talking about these things, a bunch of smaller stuff that got done, and then, as always, about what I’m going to be aiming at doing for next update. Without further ado, let’s get down to it.

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Atavism Dev Log 13 – Group AI, Health, and Feedback

Update 13: April 4th – April 17th

Hey I’m back again. Last week I announced that I decided to switch to a bi-weekly update schedule so that I’d have more to talk about, which is already paying off because I have a ton to talk about this update! I’ll first be talking about the changes to the AI that I made, then talk a bit about the health system and some of the feedback I’ve implemented before I talk about what I’m aiming for on the next update.