Monday, October 20, 2014

Art - On Death

Art - On Death

I spend a lot of time as an artist thinking about death.  It’s morbid I know, but bear with me for a moment.  It’s a fixation point in most of the artwork I create.  I’m fascinated by grief, and more keenly than death itself, by the loss of possibility.  I obsess over chance and possibility, what people could or do or choose to amount to.  I find it fascinating to observe the decision-making process.  And there is something keen about the onset of death and how it presses on all the people around who observe it.  Whether they are personally connected to the death itself, or are a more casual observer.

I’ve done a tremendous amount of writing about death, and grief, loss and loneliness.  Truthfully I don’t really know why.  Stories about loss and death are my favourite, I write them, draw them, paint them, and make games around those moments.  I know it’s weird.

But for a long time I have struggled to really capture the myriad whirlwind of how humans deal with death.  I was really touched today when I read an article today by William Hughes.  It’s available here.  http://www.avclub.com/article/fake-deaths-cheap-resurrections-and-dealing-real-g-210402.  The article is beautiful, and sad, and raw.  It's raw because it means something, it's not covered in flowers and pretty words, it's harsh and hard, savage and ripping, and angry.  Really angry.  Angry at the possibilities of what might have been.  Angry at the trivialities that creators are taking with death.

It’s hard for us as creators to think about death and grief.  When we are in mindsets of creation, we want to capture pure emotions and reactions. Unfortunately we live in a society that is not obsessed with death like I am, but rather with killing.  I find myself at a strange crossroads where people push me to put the action of killing into my games.  Combat, warfare, weapons and guns. We are intrigued by the possibility of shooting, of pulling the trigger, of ending life.  Killing has become the causality of this strange fantasy we have of power.  We have actually lost sight of the possibility of death.

We rack up tremendous kill scores, ever increasing strange numbers of heads bashed in, limbs chopped off and bullets to the brain.

I’m walking this strange balance these days between designer and artist.  As a designer I understand the fundamentals of a repetitious cycle that reinforces engagement and entertainment.  I want to provide satisfaction, enjoyment and sloped ever-increasing challenges to my audience of players.  As an artist, my heart writhes in boredom.  I want to make games with stories, where there are no guns and no killing.  I want to think about absorbing people in the ideas of what grief really is, where there is only one death, and never another replay.  I’m in love with the game That Dragon Cancer, while my designer brain analyzes every challenge they will eventually face and wonders about how effectively they will overcome it.

These two sides juxtapose themselves against me, and I have no answers.


Well not no answers.  I’m making a game, quietly.  And I don’t know what it means.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rant - Steps

Rant - Steps

In 1999, a terrible thing happened.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 people, including one teacher, and injured another 21 people.  They brought almost 99 explosive devices, firebombs, automatic weapons and shotguns with the express purpose of killing hundreds of students.

In the aftermath that happened, gamers everywhere stood up and decried that their pastime incited the pair to violence.  Numerous studies were commissioned, lawyers stepped up on both sides, psychologists analyzed children, we collectively took steps backwards and forwards in this strange dance around the ideas of interactivity and violence.

Yesterday, someone sent a message that said in opposition a person who wanted to give a talk about feminism in games, that they would actively oppose it with guns and bombs.  That they would make it worse than the "Montreal Massacre".  15 years later, and we are exactly what we fought so hard against, because there is a lunatic out there using games, and gaming as a shield.  15 years later, and a 'gamer' is actively engaged in terrorism.

We are now at the same place we were at that miserable day that 13 people died.  Our pasttime is under attack because there are unhinged people out there.  I wish it was common sense, but apparently that died a long time ago alongside common decency.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Writing - A Lighthouse Interlude

Writing - A Lighthouse Interlude

Darkness stole around the coast and the fog rolled low. Out amongst the crashing of waves, silence had fallen in the abandoned lighthouse, with embers glimmering in the pit. The stewpot was cooling, and sleep which had been a long time coming to the weary adventuring party had finally seemed to fall.

In the darkness, there was a flicking motion, as though a match had been struck, but no accompanying scent of sulfur. The mage, Flip rose to his feet, finger held out while what could’ve been a wickless candle cast soft glows around the room. Around his bedroll lay belts and pouches filled with various magical components, haphazardly bundled or strewn. His vellum spellbook sat clasped shut still, while the halfling stretched. Reaching for his black leather robes, he donned them in silence and pulled the hood up. Stepping lightly around the other adventurers, he ascended the stairs long and creaking, his flickering magic held before him like a lantern.

He sat among the ruined balcony of the lighthouse for a long while, staring out at the restless tides. Other halflings might have pulled out a pipe and had a pinch of greyweed then, but Flip was not like other halflings. Instead he reached into a pouch in his cloak and pulled free the strange stone mask that the slave had worn.

It was a curious thing, slightly heavy to the touch, emotionless in a slightly strange way, hewn from a single block of stone. The fixings on the side of the mask, where it had once attached to the face of the slave were messed and bloody still, but the past nights work had seen him clear any flesh from the thing. He sat there in the dark, with careful hands applying a steady bit of flame to clean the thing, burning what was left of gore from the fixings. It took an hour while he worked, absent-mindedly reciting spell cantrips and gesturing arcane symbology over and over in his mind while he focused.

Before the moon reached its zenith he was done, a small stream of water from a magically cupped hand erased any ash, sending it cascading into the ocean. For a long while, the mage stared into the mask, for a time he imagined he could see all the slaves whose faces it had adorned through the ages, men and women, faceless and nameless now. It was a kind of falsehood, he had little skill in necromancy or communing with the dead, the mask could have been brand new for all he knew. But it didn’t dilute the rage he felt when he held it.

There was no recourse for it at the moment though but he did hold out his hand and collect a handful of smoking sparks, magically conjured. With a solemn breath, he exhaled and sent them spiraling upwards into the night stars.

I will kill those who did this to you...

Then he padded silently back down the stairs, the mask once again safely concealed somewhere in his robes, lay down and went back to sleep.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Life - First Aid

Life - First Aid

This morning there was an accident right in front of me on Cambie and 41st.  Car ran through a red light (or a realllllly stale yellow) clipped another truck (one of those tiny little gardening-esque ones) and caused it to flip onto its side and skid down the road maybe 20 feet.  There's always that sort of instantaneous moment where everyone freezes, did that actually really happen?  We all watch in tableaux as everything comes to a stand still, a horn blares, people on the street look around to each other, and then...just slowly everything snaps into realtime.

I go rushing across the street to the flipped vehicle, another guy runs along the other intersection to it as well.  Out of the corner of my eye I see a girl walk to the car and see if that guy was alright, he's pulled to a stop though now on the far side.

We lean in to check on the driver, he's dazed but seems alright, a few cuts to his hands and face where the windows have shattered from hitting the pavement.  We tell him not to move, but he starts pulling at his seatbelt already anyway.  The other guy gets on his cell phone and starts to call 911.  I drop my bag and start rummaging for first aid supplies, a bandage, some alcohol wipes.  I am a stage manager still, I am always prepared.

Time slows, I see clearly traffic going east and west slowly begins to inch its way, people gawk from behind their steering wheels.  A young man walks past me, I catch his eyes, he deliberately puts on his headphones.  I see him then, and all around me, these two dozen souls going somewhere on a busy thursday morning.  Late for work, business, making money, open the shop up, places to be, business to do, class to attend.  A a young puts his headphones on.  He closes the world out, he ignores this thing which has impacted his day by minutes.  He puts his headphones on.  In his Reebok sneakers, slightly too tight jeans that aren't cuffed properly, his too-hipster toque and his Beats by Dre headphones.

His smirk.  As he ignores people in need.

He puts his headphones on, deliberately.  And walks on by.

The driver heaves himself out of his seat, time speeds up.  We get him to the grassy meridian and tell him to sit down.  He wants to help, to gather the stuff that has fallen off his truck, we tell him we'll get to it.  I bandage his hands, two cuts on his fingers, just behind the knuckles. One cut on his forehead, it's bleeding down into his eyes.  He tries to get up again, I tell him to wait until I'm done, that help is coming soon, that the three of us can't flip his truck back on its wheels anyway.

He tells me he's grateful, he thanks me, again, again, again.  He tells me that not many others would have stopped.  Not many others would have helped.

I tell him that isn't true.  I think of the young man, and his headphones.  I tell him that isn't true, but the words taste like a strange ash.  I tell him it isn't true, someone would've helped, lots of people saw, people would have helped.  People are helping, right? I think of the young man, and his headphones.

Five brisk minutes later, responders are already on the scene.  A fireman has taken my name and number, I'm walking down the stairs to the train.  I wait on the escalator, delicately brush a small piece of glass out of my jeans.  There's no blood on my fingers, I run a hand through my hair and exhale.

The young man is standing on the platform there.  In his hands is a Starbucks coffee, a small brown bag with some bakery pastry.  I look at him, he looks at me.  He has the good sense to look away almost immediately.  Scuffs his feet, looks down at his shoes. His Reebok sneakers.

Something rushes through me.  I want to scream at him, I want to yell and rage.  I want to ask him if that's what he was so pressed for.  His fucking Venti no-fat latte with fucking cinnamon and pumpkin spice?  His five minutes where he couldn't have even bothered to have asked if more assistance was needed.  His goddamn muffin or whatever is in his damn little bag?  A myriad whirlwind of thoughts goes by. I want him to feel bad, to feel small, to feel abashed and shamed and to question his humanity card. I want him to feel...something.  I close a fist, and then release it.

And then it burns itself out. I realize I'm tired.

I walk past him, as I get in front of him, I hesitate, and look out of the corner of my eye at him.  He stiffens.  I continue on, another ten feet down the platform and lean against the stone wall.  I wait for the train.

There are no answers.  I close my eyes.  Darkness floods in, and the rush of wind heralds a train coming through the tunnel.  I vanish into the people.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Quotes - The Universe and Math

Quotes - The Universe and Math

MORPHEUS: For the longest time, I wouldn't believe it. But then I saw the fields with my own eyes, watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living -
NEO (politely): Excuse me, please.
MORPHEUS: Yes, Neo?
NEO: I've kept quiet for as long as I could, but I feel a certain need to speak up at this point. The human body is the most inefficient source of energy you could possibly imagine. The efficiency of a power plant at converting thermal energy into electricity decreases as you run the turbines at lower temperatures. If you had any sort of food humans could eat, it would be more efficient to burn it in a furnace than feed it to humans. And now you're telling me that their food is the bodies of the dead, fed to the living? Haven't you ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics?
MORPHEUS: Where did you hear about the laws of thermodynamics, Neo?
NEO: Anyone who's made it past one science class in high school ought to know about the laws of thermodynamics!
MORPHEUS: Where did you go to high school, Neo?
(Pause.)
NEO: ...in the Matrix.
MORPHEUS: The machines tell elegant lies.
(Pause.)
NEO (in a small voice): Could I please have a real physics textbook?
MORPHEUS: There is no such thing, Neo. The universe doesn't run on math.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Game Design - Inside Tip

Game Design - Inside Tip

Let me give you an inside tip.  Game designers, game developers, game programmers...none of us sit around and debate to each other about some kind of weird mythical set of guidelines that define whether what we make is a 'game' or not.  This whole stupid debate around needing a fail state, needing gameplay, needing player choice or player motivation in order to make something a game?

None of us are talking about that.  We are talking about metrics, UX design, UI design, narrative, story, character driven scenes.  We're talking about tuning numbers, watching playtests, coming up with concept.  We are staring at code, long sheets of xml data, inputting weird database numbers and looking at what comes back.

We're watching lines of graphs printed out for us in real time and trying to draw conjecture out of it.

But let me tell you, none of us are sitting around asking each other if what we're making is a game or not.  Nobody cares.  We're making it, if it has any kind of interaction at all, and isn't a piece of productivity software, it's a game.  We don't debate that part, we just make games.  Lists of assets come down, milestones get declared, we tune the controls, replace big grey boxes with interesting things, watch people play and take notes.  Not even the dumbest intern at the lowest level of EA ever asks some senior dev "Is this really a game though?"  It just doesn't happen.

Just because you didn't like Gone Home? Just because you thought To The Moon was too linear? Just because you thought there's no difference in the narrative to Journey?  That's your problem.  Those games, perhaps are not for you.

I have a secret, not all games are for everyone.  In fact, I would even posit that many games are not for many people.  There is A game out there for everyone, but not every game is for every one.  That's a sad truth of the matter.  Some people like more guns, less guns, more blood, fewer jump scares, more jump scares. Some people like more variety in the art, others don't care about pixel art, maybe some people like vector, or painted styles.  Some of us like voice over, others are perfectly content with blocks of text.  Sometimes you want hip hop music in your game, I would think you're crazy because I like orchestra or minimalism, but I get that you like hip hop in your game.

Does that make sense?  Just because someone else sees the value in a game doesn't mean their opinion isn't valid.  But having weird little internet arguments over what are subjectively 'good' or 'bad' or 'not even' a game, games?  That doesn't even make any damn sense.  And beyond that, you're actively treading on people's REAL LIFE agency.  You're telling them what they can or can't love.  And why.  And the reasons you are presenting are stupid.

Criticize tangible things, like disagreements about flow, or textures, or functionality.  Criticize community, or policing, or the company's EULA.  But you want to tell a developer that their game isn't a game?  Well my immediate response to you will be "Your face, isn't even a face."  I mean what?  Your statement doesn't even make any OBJECTIVE SENSE.

Get over it.

And stop being so offended that I muted you that you went to harass my friends.  We're not in grade school any more.

Get.
Over.
It.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Notch - Leaving

Notch - Leaving and Minecraft

Notch wrote this post this morning, in light of the recent news that his company Mojang, and Minecraft are being purchased by Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars.  I mean, superficially that's a lot of money, because it is.  But it's not just about the amount of money.  I've seen a tremendous number of posts this morning about the purchase and how Microsoft is never going to make that money back, that it's a poor business decision, that Minecraft only made 120 million dollars last year and it'll take more than ten years to see profitability after that...

But I think people are wrapped up in the fiscal numbers and have forgotten a few profound things about Minecraft, about Mojang and about Notch.