|First activity (Wed.):||Starting Uncharted: Drake's Fortune||4:07|
|First activity (Thu.):||Starting Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus||3:00|
|Let's start the month off on the right foot - with lots and lots of games. For my new Playstation 3, I have Uncharted 1 and 2, Heavy Rain, Sly Cooper 1 to 3 and Fallout 3.|
|Time allocation:||Uncharted: Drake's Fortune||9:56|
|Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus||3:00|
|The Playstation 3 is the first and last piece of Sony hardware I ever buy. Two days in, I am so sick of all the patches and the DRM and the long installations and the constant pop-ups of "trophy" notices (like "Congratulations, you've started playing this game!") or update demands and the slapdash design of... everything about it, really. Take the controller for instance: it's the Super Nintendo controller, but with random names for things and lots of extra features added on that don't fit the design. Each and every Nintendo console since the Super Nintendo had a greater clarity of function than the Super Nintendo controller, but Sony has gone in the opposite direction and made it progressively less elegant with each change. Please note that my gripe about the controller has absolutely nothing to do with my facility with it, which is considerable. This sort of thing does not take me a long time to get used to. It's just a bad controller. But that's the least of my frustrations. The entire design philosophy of the PS3 seems to be "like a gaming PC, but less flexible". So now I'm wondering, why didn't I just buy a gaming PC with my money? I tried playing a game today and it told me it wouldn't permit me to run that program until I installed a patch preventing me from ever installing Linux on my system in the future. My understanding now is that this "update" was the motivation for hackers' attack on the Playstation Network which had it offline for a month. And with that in mind, good for them. They should do that every time Sony pulls an evil move like that. (Is Nintendo better? No, not really. But they're incompetent enough at being evil that I can get around it.
Enough about the system. I got it for the games. The games are... enlightening. It seems I totally missed a seismic shift in the way games are made over the past decade, due to only buying Nintendo. Take the examples of Sucker Punch and Naughty Dog, two of the most prominent second-party developers for Sony. In the 90s, they both made charming little platformers: Sucker Punch made Rocket: Robot on Wheels for the Nintendo 64, and Naughty Dog made Crash Bandicoot for the original Sony Playstation. (I've played both via emulators, which is the only reason I knew about either group when I picked the games to buy for PS3.) Both were only concerned with being fun, and they were very good at that. During the Playstation 2 era, when Sony was positioning the Playstation as a DVD player as well as a game system, Sucker Punch made Sly Cooper and Naughty Dog made Jak and Daxter, both very popular series. In Sly Cooper I can feel the familiar floaty Sucker Punch style in the controls, which makes it a blast to play, but it's smothered in an irritating kids'-cartoon story with a pointless plot and insufferable voice acting that there's no way to shut off. (I've seen a few minutes of Jak and Daxter, and it seemed similarly interested in a cutesy story.) And then for Playstation 3 (which exists more for the Blu-Ray discs than for games) they made Infamous and Uncharted respectively. I have not played Infamous, a grim and gritty superhero story with a mean-looking human protagonist. But I have now played three quarters of Naughty Dog's Uncharted, and I miss Crash.
It's an action platformer, but it doesn't want you to think of it as an action platformer. The fighting and the jumping play second fiddle to the adventure story, which is comparable in quality to the Tomb Raider movie. To be perfectly clear: that's not a compliment. So far in the game the plot is, there's treasure and the hero wants it. It's slightly unfair to put it like that, but it does feel more like the premise of a story than an actual story. If the game were only three or four hours, that'd be enough. But I've been playing for ten hours and though the story has barely gone anywhere, the game's not close to over. There is a very fun chemistry between the two leads, which happens to be identical to the relationship in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, but that movie was consistently inventive: "Giant robots! Hidden dinosaurs! Noah's Ark! Amphibious airplanes!". Uncharted, while not grim, is trying to be gritty, so it can't have magic or science-fiction or extreme villainy or huge stakes or broad comedy or anything like that that would actually make the story fun.
It's a shame, because I feel like there's a good game here somewhere, hidden under way too much animation and not given enough opportunity to play to its strengths. The controls are way too pre-rendered to hold a candle to Crash Bandicoot, but it still puts to shame Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It's not like this team has forgotten what's fun, they just have higher priorities now, like making a mostly-adequate motion-capture animated movie. There are a bunch of really fun moments scattered throughout the game, like riding a motorboat upstream and a throwback to Crash Bandicoot's run-from-the-screen gameplay. And the rest is all perfectly pleasant. Truth be told, I'm rushing through the game to get to the sequel which is supposed to be much better. Lord knows there's room for improvement. They've got a hand-to-hand combat system which I don't understand despite spending hours trying to figure it out, because the game doesn't have time amidst all its cutscenes to set it up properly. I've found only one tactic which doesn't get me killed in battle. I always start the battle trying something new, but then I get killed and try ten more times and get killed more quickly each time, and finally I go back to the old standby. The working tactic is to find cover, then stand up for long enough to be shot. That's how I know where the enemies are, you see, because on a standard definition TV it's usually nearly impossible to distinguish the enemy snipers in the distance from the extremely detailed environment all around them. Once I know the location of my attackers, I hide behind cover and sit there until the game decides I've fully healed from my bullet wounds. (This takes around five seconds.) Then I stand up again and don't worry too much about cover, because I'm a faster shot than the enemies are. (I'm playing on "Normal" difficulty. If I'm about to die, I duck again for a few seconds, then resume. I hate this tactic. It makes no sense, it's not satisfying, and it makes the whole game extremely repetitive. But the game always throws ten guys at me at once, instead of one or two where I might experiment with more interesting approaches. And god forbid they should try to be inventive in the battles. Creativity is for cutscenes; gameplay is just what you do between them.
And then there's Heavy Rain. Oh lord, Heavy Rain. David Cage is a very talented designer, and he wastes his time (and the player's) trying to recreate movie clichés instead of trying to recreate emotions he's felt in life. The story is 100% crap, which is a shame because the technique is really interesting. There are many points where I cringed because the technical aspect of the writing hasn't been done properly, but there are also moments where everything clicks and I'm given an unforgettable experience. There was one sequence in particular which had me using my fingers on the controller in a way I've never been asked to use them before, and which suited the context perfectly. In some ways David Cage's thinking is so progressive, and in other ways it's so old-fashioned and clumsy compared to what Kyler and I are doing in Gamer Mom. Almost every scene starts with me not knowing where to go, and not because the character doesn't know where to go but just because David Cage thinks he can't get away with restricting movement. There are so few choices at any given point, and the choices I have are so poorly explained to me. I find myself repeating actions over and over because the interface is so unclear. And the story keeps repeating itself, both between scenes, and within each scene. It's like there aren't enough ideas to sustain a full game. Which makes sense, since very little of the characters' behaviors can be controlled.
The sense I get from these games is that in the current generation, developers are getting so invested in their high-definition graphics and motion-capture studios that they're losing the basics: teach the player to play, keep the player engaged, don't waste the player's time. Gameplay is getting more repetitive and simplistic than it used to be (in any Form), even as the complexity of controls gets to the point where most people can't even start to play. Having played these games, it seems to me that gamism is headed the route of the comic book: just as there are few western comics apart from the superhero, there will be few games which aren't action games. They will be split into three genres: battle action, sports action and casual action. There will be clear rules on what a game is, and what a game is not. This is the future we're headed toward, for as long as gamists try to be filmmakers rather than gamists. If you make all the interesting bits noninteractive, what's left for the game to do?
|Performance review:||The month is started with purpose.|
|First activity (Fri.):||Calculating the money I owed my mother||0:07|
|First activity (Sat.):||Dungeon Master||2:56|
|First activity (Sun.):||Getting the money from the bank||0:25|
|4:20 - Chores|
4:30 - Cox and Box
(6:46 - Shabbat)
Saturday, 7:50 - Dungeon Master
9:50 - Cox and Box
11:00 - Start downloading Doctor Who, and read comics
2:00 sharp - Watch Doctor Who
3:00 sharp - be asleep
Sunday, 11:30 - Wake up, start the day right
12:00 - Get the money to pay my mother back
12:30 - Buy Flower on the Playstation store.
1:00 - Score.
I'm not good enough, but today is going to be perfect.
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||3:00|
|Cox and Box||2:59|
|Buying Flower for PS3||1:44|
|Showing Mordy my music||0:36|
|Dealing with the PS3 money||0:32|
|I repaid my mother for the Playstation 3.
I practiced Cox & Box.
Coren and I wrote half of the seventh episode of Dungeon Master.
Dena's boyfriend Mordy stayed with us for Shabbat. I like him - his favorite game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time! (He offered that preference unprompted.) Since I won't see him much before he moves back to New York in two weeks, I pushed off my schedule a bit to interact with him. Dungeon Master took longer than anticipated, and we only got through half the episode in that time. I shortened the time allocated to Cox and Box and comics. When I was ready to score today, I got mixed up because I'd accidentally marked the time for Cox and Box in two separate places, and thought I still needed more practice to overtake the comics. I was mistaken, but now I'm closer to being off-book.
|Performance review:||This is roughly the level of competence I expect from you.|
|First activity:||Hanging out with people in the neighborhood||2:43|
|Time allocation:||Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus||3:23|
|Hanging out with people in the neighborhood||2:43|
|The Flower debacle||0:34|
|A pleasant conversation with my father||0:25|
|Notes:||This day was started by the Person, but then I couldn't find anyone to socialize with, so the Gamer took over. After the 12 hours it took to download Flower, it wouldn't run.|
|I passed a few chapters of Heavy Rain, and an entire section of Sly Cooper complete with all the unlockable abilities.|
|Performance review:||Not a tremendous amount of progress, and the day wasn't run properly.|
|I need to see Moshe. It's been too long, and now I've got so much to tell him about.|
|Time allocation:||Hanging out with Moshe||6:12|
|That was nice, though maybe there wasn't quite as much to talk about as I'd thought.|
|Notes:||This day only started officially at 8:08 PM. There was a lot before that, none of it notable and none of it timed.|
|Performance review:||What is this? With all the things we have to do, you choose to waste the majority of the day outside of the game?|
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||1:46|
|Learning about web design scaling||0:58|
|A thoughful walk||0:56|
|Gamer Mom may be a bit trickier to program than I'd anticipated. Scaling is not so simple on the web, and we'd like to make the game scale for whatever screen you're using. All measurements will need to be done in percentages, not pixels. The fonts will be more complicated, though. It seems like measuring screen space works differently for different browsers, and then when you deal with mobile browsers (which I'd like to support) it's even more complicated. But it's good that I have to figure this out, because I'm getting the sense that every time I've used scaling on this blog I've done something or other wrong. It may be that there is no good way to do scaling, but we'll see. I've come up with a nice little visual style for the buttons in the game, but I'm going back and forth on whether there should be shadows on them. I think without shadows it would feel more organic, but the shadow establishes it more clearly as a button to press. Maybe a fuzzy light shadow will do what I'm looking for. More playing around is required.
There's a silly little tune which I've been playing over and over, a throwback to the good old days when all my tunes were silly and simple and sounded like everything and weren't ashamed of it. It doesn't go anywhere, which is also much like my old tunes. But it gets stuck in my head and plays on an endless loop. I like it.
Right outside of Beit Shemesh, there's a little forest-y area. The trees aren't too impressive and I can't take a few steps around there without getting a burr on each and every leg-hair (and a lot more inside my sandals). In the middle of the trees, someone put two couches. Honest to god, two old couches, one facing the other, with a flat little plank of wood in between them as if it were a coffee table. It's adorable, and also a little gross because these couches are really old and dirty.
|Performance review:||Not quite crazy enough, I think. It would have helped to write an opening statment.|
|First activity (Tue.):||Watching bits of movies||0:53|
|First activity (Wed.):||Going to Jerusalem for Cox and Box||5:30|
|I'm going to watch five minutes taken at random from the middle of each of the many movies on my hard drive, one after the other.|
|Time allocation:||An afternoon in Jerusalem||5:30|
|There's a new train line inside Jerusalem, covering one main road from end to end. To get to know the new Jerusalem, I got off the bus early and switched to the train. I'm of two minds about the light rail. I love what it does for the atmosphere of Jerusalem. The main road used to feel cramped and noisy; now it's open and peaceful. Taking away the cars has made me wish they took private transportation away everywhere in the city. It's like Jerusalem makes sense now, where before it always seemed too small for how it was being used. But on the other hand, this train is useless. It's slow, it's infrequent, and it only takes you along one road. There are exactly two spots along that road which I'd ever want to be at, so I can imagine myself traveling from one to the other and back. But I used to be able to take buses that way, and even with the traffic I think that was quicker. There are a lot of buses, and they go everywhere. Even with the novelty and the limited-time offer to ride for free, this feels redundant. It's really cool to see the big bridge from the angle it was designed for, though. Marvelous piece of architecture.
Watching just little bits of all 19 movies on my hard drive which I haven't seen yet was an interesting experience. I multiplied the length of each video file by a randomly-generated number to decide where to start watching, and I had the program close automatically after five minutes. One thing I was curious about was whether this would spoil anything about the movie as it's meant to be viewed: for instance, giving away the ending of some character arc or other. I suppose the experiment won't be over until I watch each of these movies from start to finish, and see how the first reaction affects the experience. But I don't think I've learned anything too crucial. What was fascinating to me was how (much as Colin Smith's been hammering into my head about comics) some of these movies were trying to tell stories, and some weren't. Some movies (like Black Swan, Let Me In, Copie Conforme and The Adjustment Bureau) had me so engaged by these tiny random snippets that I wanted to see the rest of the movie immediately. Even though the larger context eluded me, the scenes I saw made sense in themselves and went through a lot of emotions and ideas. But other movies -McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I Am Love, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Daredevil- had me wondering why I ever bothered to download them. They may be decent or even good movies, but in the moment to moment they're not trying to make an impact.
The full list of movies I caught glimpses of is as follows: The Adjustment Bureau, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Black Swan, Copie Conforme, Daredevil, Dogtooth, Eraserhead, I Am Love, Let Me In, L'illusioniste, Magnolia, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Metropolis, Seven Samurai, True Grit, Tuesday After Christmas, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, White Materials and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which is only there because Dena asked me to download it for her, and she told me it was good. I don't believe that anymore.). These obviously cover a wide range of both genre and quality. I will not be relying too heavily on the results of this experiment to decide which ones to watch or not, since I don't know how effectively one can judge a movie from a random minute in it. Dogtooth in particular I know absolutely nothing about, because the random number generator had me watching the credits.
|Notes:||Between this day and the previous one there was a games night. I aimed to find a way to be more adventurous in my gaming (so that I could use it as the start of a day), but utterly failed. There really is a right way and a wrong way to play most games, and you have to try to win to have any fun.|
|Performance review:||I understand the time limitations, so I will charitably call the trip to Jerusalem a "creative activity" so as to avoid having to penalize you for watching movies for so long. I'm sure that given another few hours, you would have balanced that out with something more individualistic. With that said, I do feel that the spirit of the Explorer is on full display today, and I'm going to add a point for that. But then I need to take off a point for the lack of exercise. I see you only have four hours left for your third day, so I'll give you a very small extension: you have until 3:00 PM on Thursday to score. I can't fault you for not being the sort who rushes through things, it's really not in your character.|
|First activity (Wed.):||Heavy Rain||5:32|
|First activity (Thu.):||Planning a future game, "Next Door"||1:26|
|There was one particularly awesome scene of Heavy Rain that I'd like to understand better. I want to see all the ways it can play out.|
|Time allocation:||Finishing Heavy Rain||5:32|
|Planning a future game, "Next Door"||1:26|
|Heavy Rain is less impressive than I thought. I played that scene out many times, and it always managed to end in the same way. Well, maybe that is impressive, in its way, but it explains why David Cage said he doesn't want anyone to replay the game. The first time you play it, it's really tense and engaging. But if you go back to any scene knowing what happened the first time, you see the blatant artificiality behind everything. That will not be the case with Gamer Mom, but perhaps it's inevitable with such a long game. There certainly are a lot of endings to Heavy Rain (as I see from YouTube), and that must have been a lot of work to design cleanly. (Myself, I got the happiest ending possible, which I guess is a sign that I should have played on a harder difficulty setting than the default.) The game is involving, but it's frustrating how few choices there are to make. The choices boil down to things like "Do you kill this person?", rather than moment-to-moment choices which are all done noninteractively. The end result is that the big choices don't matter so much, because I don't feel like I understand any one of the characters. I especially feel like the storytelling didn't do its job because I was playing the game as these four characters, not knowing that one of them was the killer. If I can play all those hours with that character without getting an insight into the most basic aspects of his personality, and I only start to see who he really is in the noninteractive cutscenes at the end, then what was the point of all that interactivity?! You could swap him out with any of the other characters in his scenes, and the experience on my end wouldn't be different. That's a fundamental failure of design. Cage has all the tools he needs to make a good adventure game, but he is clueless about how to use them. He prefers to always defer to the language of cinema, rather than figuring out how it ought to be done.|
|Performance review:||The Gamer would have gotten ten points for this day. But for the Explorer, this is a waste of time. It's too much like a movie, too linear and restrictive. The idea is to break free, not to accept limitations. Immediately after replaying the chapter of Heavy Rain you liked, and finding that you didn't like it as much anymore, you should have switched to a different activity. Preferably Angles & Circles - I'm sorry to see that the personality you're building for yourself in these three days does not involve making worlds. That's a problem. Always remember that you love nothing in the world more than making new experiences!|
|First activity:||The blog||1:07|
|This blog is a great way to organize my thoughts. Hmm. I'm not sure if the thoughts in my current post are organized at all. Very messy, really. This blog is a great way to come to terms with how disorganized my thoughts are.|
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||4:52|
|Performance review:||Deeply disappointing.|
|First activity (Fri.):||Lunch||0:18|
|First activity (Sat.):||Corresponding with Kyler||0:10|
|2:50 - Gamer Mom: finish up the first draft of the CSS, making a separate file from the test page.|
4:15 - chores
4:27 - Cox & Box
6:37 - Shabbat
Saturday, 7:50 - Finish the recording
9:20 - Comics
10:00 - Dungeon Master
1:00 - Doctor Who
1:50 - Score.
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||4:25|
|The music post||2:57|
|Cox and Box||0:37|
|I not only finished the first draft of the Gamer Mom CSS, I programmed the code that makes it scalable. I'm ready to start on the nodes.
I've memorized Cox & Box.
I recorded the piece, decided it wasn't good enough, made a more complicated arrangement, decided it still wasn't good enough, changed it, and posted it. It's not great, but then it's not a great piece so it doesn't really matter.
Coren and I wrote the second half of Dungeon Master episode 7. This is a double-length episode, which will be as hard to make (in every way) as the first six episodes put together. This script we've written is utterly demented.
Gamer Mom was a bit trickier than I expected, so that ate into the Cox & Box time. Thankfully I didn't have much more to memorize. I also put more effort into the music than I'd planned, which meant I had no time for comics and had to extend the day a bit past the planned end-time. The Doctor Who file I downloaded was faulty, so I needed to wait for it to download.
|Notes:||I'm sick of all the standalone Doctor Who episodes. What happened to the brilliant plotting of last season, where each standalone episode was actually part of the larger story? I'm not seeing that here, other than the repeating theme of multiple timelines one-on-top-of-the-other. Also, these stories aren't complex enough to comfortably fill the 45 minutes. It seems like no one's trying to mimic Stephen Moffat's style, which is a shame because his style is objectively better than what the other writers do.|
|Performance review:||This is not exacting enough to be the worker. Lots of wasted time, lots of changes to the plan, lots of thought. You don't want thought, or evaluations, or excessive rescheduling - you just want to follow the plan rigidly. We've managed to get everything done by the deadline, but only by ignoring the rule that says we stop playing at 3:00.|
|First activity:||Browsing the web aimlessly||2:28|
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||3:51|
|Uncharted 2: Among Thieves||2:09|
|Uncharted: Drake's Fortune||2:02|
|Thinking about Dungeon Master||1:59|
|Notes:||I finished Uncharted. I was starting to get addicted to Uncharted 2, but then the Playstation started overheating so I stopped playing. I watched some 1960's Doctor Who, and a bunch of Phineas and Ferb episodes.|
|This wasn't in character. From now on, every Thinker day needs to start with a complete re-reading of The Rules.|
|Performance review:||Well, I guess we see the areas we need to work on. The Thinker's tricky, isn't he. I need to treat the role with all due reverence. Not like this. The day's coherent, in that this mess of a time allocation table did lead naturally to a new thought. But of course we're judging originality, so this routine won't work again tomorrow.|
|First activity:||Reading The Rules||0:38|
|The first of my three exercise days didn't go well, to the point where I debated considering it not a Thinker at all. In the end I chose to accept the failure because the alternative I had in mind (a closing statement saying "I know, I suck. Sorry.") was too pathetic. But it was a bad day. The trouble is, I don't really have an engaging enough life right now to have much worth thinking about. My parents are out of the country, so it's just me and the pets. The pets just rest all day. What I did yesterday was the human equivalent.|
|Time allocation:||Hanging out with Moshe||3:31|
|Watching videos concerned with the TV news||1:27|
|Learning about videogame controllers||0:57|
|Reading a book||0:03|
|Notes:||I got just a few sentences into the book, then -inspired by something totally random- browsed YouTube. That was interrupted by Moshe asking if he could come over, to which I agreed. He played almost as far in Uncharted 2 as I had, then we talked for a while and I had him leave. Over dinner I thought, "Why is the 'select' button called that?", which -together with the internet- led me to some new understanding of how videogame controllers developed.|
|I've occasionally worried whether adventure games could possibly make for engaging experiences if they were about people not like me -or to be more precise, if they were about people who don't overthink things. One's sense of identification with an adventure character comes from seeing what buttons are available, each one representing a specific action and the whole of the actions hopefully collectively representing a personality. If this is an intelligent, quiet person who thinks a hundred things without lifting a finger, you get a lot of personality in a short scene. (That's what Gamer Mom will be like.) But what of a character who really doesn't think about things all that much, but acts more on instinct? Following my approach to interactive characterization, there should only be one button or no buttons most of the time. That's not engaging, it's not interesting, it makes you despise the character you're playing (or more realistically, the gamist who wrote him) without understanding him at all.
The answer is pacing. If there are no choices in a given amount of time, maybe time needs to move faster. In Gamer Mom (for a typical player) time is pretty much 1:1. The scene would be a few minutes long in real life, and it's a few minutes long in the game. That includes a lot of interactivity because this is a character who at the moment is obsessing over every little detail of what's happening, so there's a lot to think about and a lot of nuance to what's being done. But if you took a few minutes from her life that weren't so tricky, there would probably be a lot more coasting on habit and a lot less agency. So one solution would be to skip all those moments, and just deal with the big choices. But that's not painting a very complete version of the character, is it. The story may require many moments in which the character is running on auto-pilot, and the language of adventures -as I've developed it so far- can't deal with that.
I think the amount of interactivity in Gamer Mom -probably an average of around three buttons per node- is a good target for any story. If the scene doesn't involve that much interactivity, the scene needs to be sped up. Each time you press a button it might advance the plot minutes, or hours, or even days. And maybe one activity isn't in itself engaging, but what if you were dealing with five at once? That's not to say that the character is actually multi-tasking so drastically, but that we're playing out an entire day's events all at once. Then you're seeing the big picture of this character's existence, rather than the moment-to-moment which depending on the character might not be so involving.
Suddenly an entire different kind of storytelling opens up. Let's say we're dealing with a father who never spends enough time with his kids. If we're just showing one scene, with work and the potential to stop working for the sake of the family, the majority of players will aim for a healthy balance: you give work all the time and effort it deserves, but then you make sure you've got time for everything else. I can imagine some writers making the decision ridiculously difficult, like urgent things popping up in both parts of life simultaneously and whichever one you neglect is going to suffer. But that's cheap, the player damned well knows it's cheap, and it's not reflective of how actual people behave. But now let's say we speed up time, so that a day goes by each second and lots of buttons are popping up relating to all aspects of life, opportunities that disappear almost as soon as you notice them. Suddenly the balance is a lot harder, and yet the game can hold you accountable if you're messing that balance up.
Once you're dealing with such complex interactions with the game (on par with what other Forms have developed into, really), it starts actually difficult to play. And then we start treating personality like any other kind of gameplay which needs to be taught and has a difficulty curve and can repeat with variations. I imagine characters whose routines are so ingrained and complex that there are out-of-story tutorials beforehand to train the player to deal with all the choices that are being thrown at him at once. Well, to be honest, I'm having a hard time imagining what that would look like. But I can imagine that such a thing might be possible, with a much more developed language of characterization. Certainly the gamist could put in a lot of white noise into the interactivity, expecting the player to remember which parts are actually important. (The player could be discouraged from "wasting time" by not getting much feedback when making an irrelevant choice.) It can be subtly taught to the player that certain activities are important, and others are not, and then the player will get into the routines and attitudes of the character for himself!
Imagine if the player built up small routines of button-clicking which represented individual days, and then played day after day after day in a matter of minutes with tiny variations, until eventually the player has experienced a whole lifetime in microcosm! And then specific moments can be highlighted, to get the little details in there as well.
|Performance review:||I'll admit, I didn't think I could pull this together. But the sense of having too much information to process from news feeds, combined with the awkwardness of the Playstation 3 controller, Uncharted 2's careful difficulty curve and Moshe's comments together provided a solution to a problem I've had for a long time. This is why the Thinker is needed: you don't know what new ideas will be useful until you go looking for them.
As with the Explorer, I find myself unable to keep up with the three-days-in-two pace. It is now 12:40 AM on September 13th, which gives me maybe two hours more of the 12th as I count the dates. But the Thinker requires five hours as a minimum, and there's a lot of work to do tomorrow so I don't like the idea of extending the time again. Staying up until past 6:00 (including the time to write a good closing statement) isn't an option either - the rules require that I stop at 3:00, and with good reason. I don't want the Worker to be exhausted and ineffective tomorrow, and bad sleep patterns might take several days to correct. I am left with just one alternative, and that is to end the exercise here. The one thing I know for certain that I'd do with another day is go through Ocarina of Time and write down all the uses of Deku Nuts. But I can have the Worker do that. Worker, please go through a list of every enemy in the game and check which ones are susceptible to Deku Nuts. Thanks.
|Today I've got to do all the chores which normally my parents would do, because they're in Prague for the week.|
12:20 - Go shopping
1:20 - Clean dishes
2:00 - Laundry
2:20 - Make arrangements for Shabbat
2:35 - Angles and Circles
5:20 - Comics
7:45 - Game night
Whenever I get back - TV
1:45 - The Thinker's little Zelda project
2:30 - Score.
I'm not good enough, but today is going to be perfect.
|Notes:||I'm not going to bother writing this up properly. It would take more time to do that than the Worker spent on anything that involves the tiniest bit of effort. So let's just say that this is a zero-point day from every possible angle, and leave it at that.|
|First activity (Wed.):||Reading comics||0:40|
|First activity (Thu.):||Trying to draw||0:10|
|Ever since I did the "five minutes from each movie" experiment, I've really wanted to watch through The Adjustment Bureau.|
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||5:47|
|Uncharted 2: Among Thieves||5:32|
|Watching the movie The Adjustment Bureau||1:50|
|Trying to draw||1:34|
|The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time||1:20|
|Listening to a podcast||0:48|
|Playing with chatterbots||0:37|
|I went through Ocarina of Time looking for uses of Deku Nuts. It's unbelievable how plentiful they are. These items, which are entirely optional and are never actively encouraged by the game, stay extremely useful (on the verge of feeling like cheating, at times) all the way through the game. I can't decide whether that's unfortunate, because no new player is ever going to notice it, or inspired, because the one player in a thousand who chooses to mess around with it will have an awesome surprise.
Uncharted 2 also has a lot of gameplay that it seems like no one but the programmers is ever going to notice. It seems like every time I press the "attack" button, something different happens. Each kind of attack has its own little quirks, and I'm sure there's a clear logic behind when each one is activated but I don't see it. The gamists seem to have been hoping that the player would activate all sorts of things by accident, and never try to master any of it. This puts the player in the role of spectator even while pressing buttons, which does fit its consistent design philosophy. There are parts where you can decide how you want to play, and however you approach it the game isn't broken. (This makes it much better than the first game.) The most significant such segment is a long action scene set inside, on top of and on the sides of a moving train.
The Adjustment Bureau is awesome. It's a science-fiction romance about messengers of "The Chairman" (God), making sure that the world moves forward according to the divine plan. It's brilliantly written and directed by George Nolfi. It's sentimental and based on popular theological ideas, but it's all got enough intelligence and wit to make it work.
I've been trying to come up with a bunch of simple shapes that together look like my face, the idea being to make a version of my face that can be easily drawn and manipulated via programming. So far I haven't found anything that even vaguely reminds me of myself. But I'll keep at it.
I need to sing more. I realized I have very poor control over my voice, relative to how I imagine I ought to sound.
I think in order to get Angles & Circles done, we should have the Addict go through the game and write down feelings on a piece of paper as he goes.
|Performance review:||I think a little bit more wide-eyed enthusiasm was called for. There are also a few missteps: comics weren't allowed, and mundane activities are too long.|
|First activity (Fri.):||Shopping||0:20|
|First activity (Sat.):||Eating supper||0:22|
|First activity (Sun.):||0:13|
|First activity (Mon.):||Undeclared, but probably TV||?|
|First activity (Tue.):||Undeclared, but probably TV||?|
|3:00 - Angles and Circles, top right|
4:30 - Write an e-mail
5:15 - Set up the next Living in Hyrule post
5:30 - chores around the house.
Shabbat is 6:28; if there's time before that, read a comic.
I'll continue at 7:50 with more Angles and Circles.
9:45 - Start downloading Doctor Who, then write Living in Hyrule.
12:00 - Try to program text function in Gamer Mom
1:30 - TV
2:20 - Score.
I'm good enough for today to be perfect.
|Time allocation:||Watching TV (mostly Phineas and Ferb)||31:05|
|Hanging out with Moshe||4:11|
|Watching the movie Thor||1:51|
|Angles and Circles||1:19|
|Being given instructions for looking after some dogs||0:19|
|Living in Hyrule||0:10|
|Phineas and Ferb is such a brilliant cartoon. It's like the animators are just writing for themselves, and don't care who's going to be watching. Each character has one running gag that defines them, and they fit into a repeating formula. But the more these elements repeat, the less the creators are interested in just repeating them, so a shorthand develops. There are episodes that begin at the end of the formula, or the middle, and expect the viewer to already know the basics and be able to keep up. This is an approach with diminishing returns: with each season the episodes become more inaccessible to newcomers, who will be thrown off by the show's (by now unremarked) juxtaposition of quiet kid's sitcom with James Bond pastiche, each side with its own set of characters. But for someone who's seen every single episode (which describes me now), it's a joy to watch a show that keeps evolving. The stories keep getting longer, more ambitious and more clever. And it was starting from a premise that was genius already!|
|Notes:||This day was started by the Worker. At the end of Friday the score was estimated at 8/10 (by the Worker's rules), and so an extension was authorized. On Friday night I didn't get enough sleep, and though there were few people to talk to on Shabbat I didn't take a nap. So when the game resumed I was too tired to do anything. I considered going to sleep early, but with a very stressful deadline looming that didn't seem like an option. Lacking the energy to work, but lacking the discipline to sleep, I watched another episode of Phineas and Ferb. I kept watching (with the occasional relatively short interruption) until Tuesday, by which point I had seen every single episode. (There are 133 of them to date, which range in length from 0:10 to 1:16.)|
|Performance review:||There is a huge loophole in the new extension rule. I am immediately changing the wording of the rule to indicate that extensions only last 24 hours, rather than being indefinite. If the day had stopped on Saturday night, it would have been a zero-point day but it would have been recognizably the Worker and there would be three more days after that in which we could try to catch up to the plan. Instead, this is clearly the Addict, even though TV is not allowed to be a subject of addiction. As either the Worker or the Addict, this is very clearly a zero-point day. But since we're saying that the Addict took over, we're obligated to ban the Addict for two weeks. This is a problem, since the Addict would be my first choice to get us back on schedule as quickly as possible. What a mess.|
|First activity:||Rendering my face as a simple SVG||1:39|
|My head is flooded with thoughts of Phineas and Ferb, who always make the most of every day. I know what we're going to do today.|
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||3:23|
|I finally have Flower, and it makes all the hassle and expense worthwhile. It is the most affecting movement game I've ever played, by a mile. It's also the first time I've actually been impressed by the PS3's graphics capabilities, because this is more than just technically accomplished - it's gorgeous in the way that I want all landscape paintings to be. It starts out with just the pure gameplay of moving these flower petals through the wind and bringing the area to life. And it feels so magnificent that you wish you could just go out in any direction and keep going forever. But in each subsequent level, more and more technology starts being incorporated, and those signs of civilization are both ugly and (later) a little bit scary. I thought it was going for a simple environmentalist message, but in the end it's a lot more nuanced, pushing for a kind of civilization that's good enough to exist side by side with nature. All the evil I've seen from Sony over the past few weeks is almost balanced out by the fact that they published this game. (Almost.)
While I was waiting for that to download, I checked out Sony's "Playstation Home" free online game. Back in the 90s, when I imagined what the internet of the future would look like, Playstation Home is what I was picturing. It is both appealing and quaint. I'd like it more if I could hang out with friends in it.
Dungeon Master has turned very surreal. I'm aiming for an aesthetic of a modern art movie with this episode we're on, as a break from the frenetic zaniness of the last one. Coren keeps coming up with crazy ideas like we had in the previous episodes, and I keep pulling him back and pushing for more dryness. The story has gotten so strange, and now that we're trying to get it to the next plot point it feels too mundane by comparison. The next episode will be funny, but we need to get there in a way that doesn't make the whole plot seem as pointless as it is. I think we should just make it really short. It won't take much to set up the next episode, so we should just move to that in as few lines as possible. When we stopped writing, I mentioned to Coren that this episode is a totally different writing style to all the others, and he said that they're all different to each other. He has a point, I think. This series we're writing is bizarre.
The Thinker should write a post called "A Matter of Control". I have an outline for it, so get on that.
|Performance review:||Very engaging. And it helps that this isn't a character who cares about all the deadlines we're missing. Sigh.|
|First activity:||Data entry in Jerusalem||9:39|
|7:35 - Gamer Mom: program text function, start on the actual nodes|
10:35 - Living in Hyrule
12:00 - Comics
2:00 - Score.
I'm not good enough, but today is going to be perfect.
|Time allocation:||Data entry||9:39|
|Living in Hyrule||1:33|
|I did half of a new data entry project, leaving four and a half hours left to finish on Sunday.
I set up a whole system to output the dialogue in Gamer Mom via CSS, then dismantled the whole thing when I saw it wasn't good enough. The text needs to be part of the image output, and I need to do the lettering manually.
I wrote half of the Living in Hyrule chapter.
|Performance review:||Very nice. No complaints about being tired, or wanting to do other things more, you just sit down and do the work. And it's nice to see you doing things for the rest of us. It's good to have someone we can rely on.|
|2:15 - Gamer Mom|
4:15 - Living in Hyrule
5:30 - Comics
6:05 - Score.
I'm not good enough, but today is going to be perfect.
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||2:57|
|I'm sorry. I was tired, my judgment was impaired, and I decided to start the day anyway instead of going back to bed. The TV shows and comics weren't even good.|
|Performance review:||What is with you?! After yesterday, you have to pull this stunt?! If you weren't the only one who enjoys data entry, I wouldn't let you back for a while after this nonsense.|
|First activity:||Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box||1:41|
|Not much time to work before I have to go to bed, but there's a bit of a conundrum to solve. Namely: how do I display dialogue in Gamer Mom? If I just draw it onto the canvas tag as I'd planned, it doesn't wrap the text so only a small amount of the text stays within the canvas. So I tried a simple CSS solution, and it worked but I was frustrated by my lack of control over how it displayed. I would like for this game to be perfectly playable on any modern system, and I can't ensure that if it displays differently for each user. Clearly I will need to do manual lettering, which will add a bit of work to the process. I'd like to still keep it as simple as possible (since I'm going to be doing this over and over), so I'd like some sort of automation for the lettering. I'm going to start by trying a function I've found on the web which draws the letters pictorially, and if that doesn't work I'll stick to Arial. (I'm not sure that'll be consistent enough, though.) Then I'll program a function that keeps track of what line I'm writing to, so that I can easily start on a new line without needing to use lots of fiddly little numbers.|
|Time allocation:||Gamer Mom||3:23|
|Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box||1:41|
|Performance review:||You needed five hours on the project to make it a really good day. But certainly you're stretching your mind a lot, and I think you're very much exemplifying the character so I'll give you an extra point.|
|First activity (Sun.):||Data entry in Jerusalem||5:34|
|First activity (Mon.):||TV||1:14|
|6:00 - debug Gamer Mom, program some nodes|
10:00 - Living in Hyrule
12:00 - TV
12:50 - comics
2:00 - bed
10:45 - up, exercise
11:00 - TV
12:30 - Score.
I'm not good enough, but today is going to be perfect.
|Time allocation:||Mundane activities||6:55|
|A social protest||1:26|
|Living in Hyrule||1:11|
|I finished the data entry work.
I got the text functions working for Gamer Mom, and made the first three nodes.
I basically finished the Zelda chapter, though the explorer would like to make a picture for it before uploading.
My mother was going to a protest-y thing about the violent people in Beit Shemesh, and I remembered that a blog post said we needed to be more active, so I went.
|Performance review:||Shameful. This is supposed to be a sprint, and you're treating it like a walk in the park.|
|First activity:||Rereading the Rules||0:13|
|Two steps forward, one step backwards. That's how it always is. Just when it looks like I'm having a perfect day, I do something to sabotage it, like I have no self-control whatsoever. I can't get the others to take their roles seriously.|
|Time allocation:||Choice of Romance/Intrigue (playing, thinking about, reading about)||2:02|
|Reading (mostly "I Am Not Myself Today")||1:11|
|Living in Hyrule||0:20|
|Rereading the Rules||0:13|
|Notes:||I programmed/laid out a few more nodes of Gamer Mom, and thought about it a lot. I edited the end of the upcoming Living in Hyrule post.|
|I really enjoy the game Choice of Romance. I like the constant onslaught of choices, and the peek into a fantasy world with different attitudes and lifestyles. But sometimes I feel like it's not quite working. It parades one love interest after another past you, and asks you to choose from these three equally-clichéd options. At no point did I feel like any of them were believable people, because the choices are too blatantly artificial. There's nothing you ever do that doesn't affect the course of the game. So it all remains a cute little simulation of a world, rather than actually seeming like reality.
Can Gamer Mom go farther? I don't know, maybe. I'm starting to get a sense of what it'll feel like to play it, and I am so proud to be making this game. The choices I make don't matter as much as the impression I get from having those choices. I can get lost in my own thoughts down on the interface, and then suddenly something will pop up on the top that snaps me out of it. Wow, I actually used the words "my own" thoughts! Yeah, the game works. These are very much the character's thoughts, but I'm not running a simulation from the outside. I feel like I'm inside this little world as I go through it. I feel like everything that happens to the character is happening to me. It's likely that people other than myself won't have such a strong reaction as I do. But if they even get a tiny hint of the feeling I get playing it, it'll really be something.
On the Choice Of Games blog, one of the writers said that you need to keep track of everything the player does and how that changes the character, because otherwise you get something that's too blatantly linear. But I think they only see that as a problem because they're treating the branching paths as though it's the only thing they have going for them. They've taken that as far as they can, but I think Gamer Mom is going to lead to big games where some scenes don't have much branching and no one cares because they're absorbed in that world. It's what David Cage aims for, but he's not good enough at characterization and his technique is too sloppy, so it doesn't work. After Gamer Mom, I'll need to make a longer and less-dense game that shows people how it's done. Gamer Mom only has nine nodes so far, and already I'm hooked as a player. Imagine what I could do with more time to build the character up! Forget clichés and parodies, I can make what seems to be a full-fledged human!
One step at a time, Mory. One step at a time.
|Performance review:||Nothing original, but what do I expect with just seven hours? By the way, I'm going to let the addict come back. I think we need him, and three of the others have agreed.|
|First activity (Tue.):||Gamer Mom||3:25|
|First activity (Wed.):||Gamer Mom||0:26|
|Time allocation:||The Tenth Man||6:37|
|Drawing a picture of a Deku Nut||0:19|
|Tuesday felt like a Friday, what with everyone home getting ready for Rosh Hashana. The Thinker's a bit of a moron for not taking the holiday into account. The poor Musician was supposed to have some time. Ah well.
The Tenth Man (the play I'm in) is pretty darn awesome. I get some great monologues, sure, but so does everyone else. The whole thing is fun. It's a portrait of American Jewry, which still seems as relevant today as it did in the 1960s. Much of the play is just a bunch of old Jewish guys bickering with each other about very little. The plot revolves around trying to get a minyan, which they can't because in a Jewish community in the middle of America you can't find ten Jewish men. The play is very silly and strange, in a casual way that's very comfortable for me. This is going to be a new experience for me as an actor. My character seems, at a glance, to be fairly "normal". He's not normal, in fact he's an extreme parody of the disillusioned Jew, but the character will fall apart if I don't treat him like a nice ordinary guy you might meet off the street. (Goodbye, hair!) There are little bits where I'm not under any circumstances to act like that, so I'll have to figure out how to play that. But for the most part I'm the straight man of the play.
Gamer Mom is so awesome I can't stop thinking about it. It was one thing when I was laying out my philosophy of adventure games and it was all very theoretical. But now I've got some nodes I can play through, and it works. Everything that I thought would work, is working! This is a big deal, because no one has ever done this sort of thing before. No one's made a game that puts you into the mindset of a character to this extent. I showed what I had to my mother, who was not overly impressed because she figured someone must have done this sort of thing already. But that's just the thing- no one has! And why not? Playing through this, I have no idea why not. It works so well, so easily! It's sort of like a comic book in that you're going back and forth between pictures and words. But here it's not just the words, it's the placement of the buttons and how that makes you feel about your options. Sometimes you can get really lost in your own thought processes deciding which button to press, and then suddenly something happens on the top and you're snapped out of it. This is exactly what would be happening in real life. And then the expressiveness of Kyler's drawings just pushes it over the top. I'm so blessed to have him as a collaborator on this.
|Notes:||Dena asked me if I'd like to color in some pages with crayons, which she'd then cut up as some sort of holiday arts-and-crafts project. I made some pretty patterns, and then she cut it up and ruined it. I had fun, anyway. I can't remember ever using crayons before.|
|Performance review:||It's nice to see you so enthusiastic. But you shouldn't forget to write opening statements, or to exercise. These things matter.|