Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Game Update

A few tidbits. First, I'm going to borrow a laptop. So I might actually be able to get some work done on my game, at least on the plane rides, if my concentration holds.

Second, I wanted to talk a little about the visualization in the game.

I wanted to take advantage of everything I've learned about how the eye and mind perceive things. Primarily to enhance the ability of the player to track and react to patterns - I want players to be REALLY GOOD at my game, not in terms of beating it, but in terms of keeping up with an absurd number of bullets.

One of the problems I ran in to early on was pattern mishmash. For example, I found that when I had two types of enemies which pump out bullets, it's easy to lose track of all those bullets. Using the patterns I have, it's easy to keep track of - and, if possible, dodge - even DOZENS of bullets simultaneously... IF they belong to a single pattern. They move in a very natural-feeling way that can be predicted. No random sprays here.

But when two of these patterns overlap, even if each is much less complex, it interferes with my tracking ability and I die as the bullets suddenly become an unpredictable mishmash.

I solved this by color-coding the patterns. Homing patterns use red bullets and impersonal patterns use yellow bullets. I make sure to only have one type of homing threat at any given time, and I'll probably have to limit the number of impersonal threats as I gain more of them. At the moment it's just miners and spinners, who don't really interfere with each other's patterns. I'll probably change the mines to actually be some neat sprite instead of a yellow bullet, anyway.

This actually solved the problem! Now I can track two or three complex patterns, since they exist on different 'bandwidths'. I'm thinking about giving the bad guys a few other colors of bullets to allow advanced players to try to deal with four or five different patterns, but I want to keep most of the remaining colors for the good guys. Blue and green are 'good guy' colors. Yellow and red are 'bad guy' colors. And, you know, I don't think orange should count as a color. Maybe I can use PINK!

I could probably do something by using very unique bullet images - for example, flickering lights or spinning, alternating colors. Or lightning, or something. I'll have to look into it.

Corporations Rock!

Long ago, I decided that if I SAW an ad, I would know that the people who MADE the ad were LYING. For example: "4/5 doctors say..." Nyah - 4/5 doctors say WHATEVER YOU PAY THEM TO SAY, and I'm pretty sure your sample set was carefully chosen. From chemists and economists.

The best way to get my attention with an ad is to say NOTHING.

Which is really what Philips did, so I clicked to here.

Now, Philips is - like all corporations - full of shit. If this were a card game, I'd be raking in the cash, because their straight face is so blank it's clear they're holding garbage.

Looking through their 'simplicity' ads, I am struck by the overwhelming 'salad shooter' feel. "I don't know HOW I EVER lived without it!"

At least, that's what I WAS thinking, until I stumbled across their second to last advert. "Heart Start".

Now, personally, I'm all for the idea of putting DEFIBRILLATORS in every home. Except in the homes of anyone who is CLUELESS about the human body. Like 99.9% of the human population, including me. Or anyone smart enough to sue you because of your product, like the other 0.1%.

We're a society that sues over CURTAIN PULLSTRINGS and ACTION FIGURES. We've already got a huge archive of successful lawsuits against people who TRIED TO SAVE OTHER PEOPLE. We're not even allowed to DEFEND ourselves without being sued - or thrown in PRISON.

What is Philips THINKING? Even with a million safety precautions - which I'm sure it has - I don't see how they could dodge litigation by idiot users and smart lawyers.

What really confounds me is that Philips somehow thinks this product will make them money. What kind of market research are we talking about? Did somebody ask their cat?

No, strike that, what REALLY confounds me is that the FDA apparently CLEARED it for OVER-THE-COUNTER SALES!

I'm confused...

Zee Weekend Update!

Because I can hardly hear myself think over the din of hundreds of interested parties, I'll tell you my progress over the weekend.

First, a distraction! A birthday party. And I also studied Egyptian art. Although very limited, Egyptian art has a distinct appeal all its own. I can now do passable neo-Egyptian drawings. :)

But you're probably wondering about the game. I didn't get quite as much done as I wanted to, but it's still shaping up as a GAME. I've got to make a lot of changes - it's currently little better than spaghetti - but it's starting to be fun.

Here is what the game looks like now:

You can see two of the four kinds of ships I've implemented - bobbies and miners. Miners rush down the screen and leave a vertical trail of slow-moving bullets which partially block the play field. This chops the whole area up and creates an uneven playing field - it seems to work good.

The bobbies are my favorite, because they LOOK so good. They have these spinning 'sights' and fire barrages of bullets. Their combined spread of bullets is exactly what I want, although it's impossible to show the kinetic feel of them. Here, let me show you a version from before they were made somewhat prettier. First the spray of bullets (this is a HIGH difficulty level, and, yes, I died). Then, the look of their sighting mechanisms.

Here are the other two kinds of ships. The lightning, which is a standard chain of enemy ships that fire one shot each. The spinner, which is a stereotypical spinning gun-machine of death. Unlike the other ships, the spinner pauses and retreats off the top of the screen, as expected of its kind.

I've begun to come up with some really solid theories of gameplay. There are a lot of things left to do before this game is ready for release, though.

First and foremost, I need a feeling of progression. Although the game gets progressively harder, and you get points, there is only the one kind of weapon you can shoot. I need other weapons, bosses, and probably cute li'l cut scenes after each stage to tell some kind of story. Maybe I'll use that Egyptian style I learned. :) If I feel particularly aggressive, maybe I'll create a simple strategic game to hook into the battle sequences.

Second, I have to put the adaptive elements into the game. Right now, the only adaptation is the the difficulty is reduced when you die. Essentially, I need to put in a more full-featured PAC than the one I have now.

Third, I need more enemies. And bosses. In order to do that, I'll need to reprogram a good chunk of the game and make heavy use of 'eval'. Did I ever mention that 'Eval' is my bestest friend? I love code that writes code.

I even made a delivery calendar using code which writes code WHICH WRITES CODE. Admittedly, that last 'code' is HTML, but still, the thought is there.

Having Monday off let me get more done than I thought I was going to manage. Not as much as I WANTED to get done, though. And, unfortunately, I do NOT have this weekend available to continue working on it, so I'm going to have to put the project on pause while I deal with Massachusetts.

Damn, losing a week. :P

Friday, May 27, 2005

Leaving... on a jet plane.

Right, although I'll be back next Tuesday, this blog is essentially going ON HIATUS as soon as I go home tonight, because I'll be in Massachusetts from Thursday the Second to Monday the... fifth? Sixth? I didn't know that until an hour ago.

Good parents? Bad parents? Schools?

Okay, sorry, ANOTHER post about the last chapter of Freakonomics. The last, I think.

A major component of the last chapter is commentary on the power (or lack of power) of parenting. Thanks to a huge stockpile of data, the authors gleaned several very interesting facts relating verbal/mathematical test scores and parents.

It appears that what parents DO doesn't have a whole lot of affect. It's what parents ARE that seems to have the most effect. For example: reading to your children doesn't affect their test scores, but being the sort of person who has a lot of books in your house DOES.

Unfortunately, there are two HIDEOUS flaws in this study.

The first is a lack of shown data. SHOW ME THE DATA. Otherwise, I can't trust anything you say. I can SAY that my years of study have made it obvious that monkeys can fly out of my butt, but I'm LYING.

The second flaw - and, if anything, the more important of the two - is the measurement of 'parental success'. Verbal and math test scores are the measurement.

I understand you were constrained by the available data. But I don't care much about test scores. I've known a lot of TOTAL LOSERS who scored very well, and several top-flight geniuses and leaders who scored badly. I'll leave you guessing as to which category I fell into.

Okay, with the flaws made clear, let me address the results. I agree with the results. They match my experiences.

ENVIRONMENT MATTERS MORE THAN PARENTAL ACTIVITY. Your parents are, of course, part of your environment - but not as large a part as they like to think, at least not for people who attend public schools. I know a good chunk of homeschooled students, and I get the impression that their environments revolve significantly more around their parents.

WHO the parents are is important. For example, wealthier parents tend to have kids who tend to be wealthy, EVEN IF THEY DON'T GIVE THEIR KIDS THEIR FORTUNE. This is probably because wealthy kids tend to have the 'best toys' in comparison to other kids. They dress nicer, they have more stuff, they always buy their lunch. They are in a position of power throughout their interactions with other kids. They grow up being in a position of power, and they continue that habit for their whole life.

Similarly, a parent who is well-educated, even if they are not rich, tends to have children who are well-educated. Some people say this is because the parents educate the kids. I say it's because the kids 'inherit' a lust for education - whether this is genetic or resonant memetics. The difference is subtle: parents who don't have a strong backbone on education probably can't get their kids excited about education, EVEN IF THEY TRY. Again, it's a comparative thing, not an absolute.

I admit I have no data to support this. I wish I did, but SOMEBODY didn't POST any.

The Last Chapter

As I mentioned, I just managed to read the last chapter of Freakonomics. There's some good stuff in that book. Using a combination of thought experiment, theory, and snippets of evidence, they establish believable explanations for many interesting things - most of which apparently turn out to be true, given their further actions on a number of them.

The book is written for the armchair intellectual. It's pretty good!


I don't know exactly WHAT those two were thinking, but they decided to exclude thought experiments and snippets of evidence from the last chapter. They talk about how their data "shows this" or "shows that", but they don't give us any evidence of that data - no hard numbers. Unlike the earlier chapters. They also don't have the clean, crisp thought experiments I had come to expect.

So, yeah, their results are pretty interesting. In actuality, I am inclined to believe them, since they coincide closely with my own thoughts on the matter.

But without data it is SENSATIONALISM, pure and simple. Why did they suddenly starting writing DOWN to their audience? The rest of the book is so GOOD!

They use the phrase 'regression analysis' as a holy word to explain the fact that they aren't giving us any data. I've used regression analysis. Give us the cropped data set. I would have been happy with that.

Without the data, I can only assume you're TALKING OUT YOUR BUTTOCKS. Because 90% of scientists are liars, and 10% of scientists are wrong. So give me the data, so I can see for myself.

Here's an example of the further sloppiness of the last chapter.

One of the things they study is the effect of names on people's success. There is a definite correlation between the two but, as I always shout whenever 'correlation' is spoken, "correlation does not prove causation!" In this case, according to their invisible data, there is no causation at ALL. They determined that ghetto names (such as "Shanique" or "Shithead") are, in fact, usually given IN THE GHETTO. Hence most people with such a name are from lower socioeconomic brackets and, therefore, more likely to live less-educated, less successful lives.

HOWEVER, their regression analysis determined (at least, so we are told) that people who grow up in the ghetto but have LESS ghetto names, such as "Sara" or "Dick", do just as poorly as people from the ghetto with ghetto names. Obviously, this means the correlation is entirely an artefact, and the cause of both is, in fact, the low socio-economic bracket.

Okay, fine. Cool. Wish I had some DATA.

EARLIER in the chapter, they talked about how they ran a test using two identical resumes and applying for identical jobs... but giving one of them a ghetto name and the other a more upper-crust name. The resume with a 'rich' name got a LOT more callbacks and interview opportunities.

I don't know the exact parameters or extents here, but it is unlikely that this is merely correlation. Given all other factors are equal, it's clear that they get fewer callbacks BECAUSE THEY HAVE A GHETTO NAME. That's CAUSATION. In fact, this experiment is a good example of HOW TO PROVE CAUSATION.

Logically, less callbacks means less job offers, less job offers means less chances to do well socioeconomically, meaning that, LOGICALLY, a ghetto name DOES cause a negative socioeconomic stigma.

Now, of course, there's a major factor here missing, and the difference can be explained. I will, in fact, go on to give one probable explanation. But the sloppiness is that the authors DON'T cover this. They let the dichotomy STAND. No attempt to explain.

They do, in fact, give the explanation in a different study - a study of schools. It turns out that (again, NO FREAKING DATA) going to a better school doesn't actually make you a better student (although, like a freaking KLUTZ, he contradicts THIS, too, in this chapter, no explanation given). It's just correlation, again.

When students are allowed to TRY to enter a better school (chance to be chosen is by lottery), those who opt to try but don't get in have the same performance as those who opt to try and DO get in. This implies that it's the TRYING that matters, not the SCHOOL.

This is, in my mind, the obvious solution to the naming conflict. A ghetto name will reduce the DENSITY of opportunities. If two indentical people, Shithead and Molly, both try to get a job, Molly will probably get a job first. Shithead will get fewer callbacks, even though it's pronounce "sha-THEED". But that doesn't mean Shithead WON'T get a job. It'll just take him/her longer.

The fact that they are SEEKING opportunities is, in the end, dramatically more important than the actual number of opportunities per unit of time they get. This definitely gives creedence to "you make your own luck".

Or, it WOULD, if I could rely on the studies. Grr.

AAARRRGH! Read me.

It appears that HaloScan and I are still having disagreements.

I was WONDERING why I had suddenly started getting no comments - admittedly, I hadn't ever gotten many before.

Right: EVERYONE WHO I HAVEN'T RESPONDED TO: You are using HaloScan commentary, which I didn't see until TODAY. Sorry! Mea culpa.

Please EMAIL ME and tell me what process you are following to leave comments - for example, if you're clicking on a link from projectperko.blogspot, or if you're coming in from an RSS feed, or what.

Here's some responses:

ToxicTom: Yep, that's essentially the way I'd count difficulty.

Darius: Do you own T2D? I don't have a compiled version yet.

Bill: Good god, now I'm interested. Please keep me posted, and if you need any help, let me know.


So, yesterday I got to finish reading Freakonomics, thanks to a malfunctioning DVD drive. I had read everything but the last chapter.

I'm going to be posting today... as much as I can. It's a long weekend. You'll have to go without me for THREE WHOLE DAYS, so I'll give you as much "wisdom" as possible to tide you over.

First, just to establish a bit of a dessert (since most people apparently read blogs 'backwards'), here's a BAD article:


Putting aside all my preferences, this article studies how well babies test. TWO YEAR OLDS. How well they 'test'.

First, yeah, at the age of two, the parents would be the primary factor - the kid spends ALL his time with the parents. That's not exactly a surprise but, unfortunately, it can't last. Okay, I'm not putting aside all my preferences.

Second, these tests? They're SHITE. TESTS ARE SHITE. Especially on TWO YEAR OLDS. They MAY have use - if we're lucky - but since they don't TELL us what the tests were, we can't know, can we?

Third, they showed CORRELATION, not CAUSATION. They say "babies who have mothers who can read their moods test better". They go on to say that, although there is a correlation between social status and testing, it is less prevalent than an empathic mommy. In their minds, this 'proves' the empathy is the cause.

Okay, look, these babies are FUCKING TWO YEARS OLD. Of COURSE how much cash their parents have doesn't much matter - the kids aren't AFFECTED by cash yet. Unless we're talking the EXPENSIVE baby foods and SILK bonnets. At this point in time, the kids primary interaction is with their PARENTS, and there's no socio-economic difference between the kid and his parents. That doesn't change the effect of that cash later in the child's life.

I can see not going that route, though. It's hardly scientific - it's just me bitching.

But that doesn't change the fact that this 'empathy' stuff is STILL JUST CORRELATION. There's NO CAUSATION PROVEN.

Maybe some other force is causing BOTH. Like the fact that these babies did well on LANGUAGE AND PLAY tests. Gee, do you think LANGUAGE AND PLAY are critical to being empathic with your child? Maybe it's simply GENETIC? I'm not saying it IS, but it COULD BE.


I posted an irritated comment, but they won't let it get through.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

My Love is Like a Rose...

So, with the advent of the new Fire Emblem game, there has been a new simmer of gamers talking about how much they like it. One of the major reasons they like it, usually, is the way that the characters can get to like each other and you get these little scenes of interaction as you go along.

I haven't played it. I don't own a portable game device of any kind. But I definitely know what they're talking about. One of the big draws of Star Ocean II was the character interactions.

I have been saying, recently, that the QUALITY of a story doesn't matter very much in a game. Obviously, people would prefer a better story, but the story's primary purpose is to give the game an ENDING. Essentially, to turn the game into a PUZZLE rather than a GAME.

So I thought I'd point this out. The actual STORY in Star Ocean II is STUPID. I don't know the story in Fire Emblem, but I would bet it was a pretty shallow story, too. But the actual NARRATIVE CONTENT was quite good.

Just remember: small, interesting character stories are quite as good as big, long arcs of plot. Not all narratives need to be big, or even important.

What's better, in my opinion, is that these narratives don't DRIVE the game, they're just along for the ride. They're optional, fun little bits - almost a game in themselves.

In short, they don't necessarily give a game an "end". They break the classical "narrative" rules.

I like 'em.

Take No Quarters!

Woo! I'm geekin' out today. Because the sun is shining, no doubt.

One thing that seems to be happening in games these days - and by "these days", I'm talking "the past couple of decades" - is that game designers "suddenly" started thinking "if players play longer, it's better".

Which is, of course, FLAT OUT WRONG.

It's a relic from the days of coin-operated games, but even then it wasn't correct. Sure, playing longer meant that they plunked in more quarters. But how often they had to plop in quarters was the critical multiplier. A game where you have to plunk another quarter in every minute will make considerably more money than one which only eats a quarter every five minutes. Where's the boundary? Can you make the game eat more money, or will people ditch it as too expensive? That depends on how much fun you can make the game, and whether you can get people addicted to that all-important high-scores list.

These days, every AAA game sports "40+ hours of gameplay!" and, worse, MMORPGs are "Play for 20 hours a week and PAY us REPEATEDLY for no purpose at all!"

What's with these guys? The 'mass market' will never get weaned onto games if they take 40+ hours of play, and I certainly don't have 40+ hours. Here's a hint: if your game sports more than, at absolute most, 20 hours of play... I won't be playing it. I'll be replaying FFIII or Valkyrie Profile. A short game, on the other hand, I'll play. Moreover, if it's good, I'll play your next one. And the one after that. And the one after that. Even if they look like they're going to be shitty. I'm talking about you, Team Ninja.

What makes this even worse are the MMORPGs, which I don't understand at ALL. What part of their brain were they using when the designers decided that the more their players cost the provider, the more powerful their characters should be? It's like ASKING to make LESS MONEY.

I think, in their minds, the designers are thinking, "the more people play, the more the game will lodge in their minds". Which is largely true. But FUN is more important than sheer volume of play. Which makes more of an impression on your memory: roller coaster rides or reading books? I wouldn't be surprised if you answered "mmm, about the same", but a roller coaster ride is less than a MINUTE LONG. It's more than a hundred times as intense as reading.

THAT is what we should be going for. Adding in crap to buffer your "hours of play" is only going to DECREASE the average 'fun' the user is having. Did I ever mention that I haven't liked a single Final Fantasy since IIIE, because they were filled with incredibly boring, uneventful events? Even when I HAD the time to play them, they were BORING.

Once you've made your good impression, GET OUT. End the game. You want your games to be a roller coaster. The player should be thinking, "oh shit, here it comes... aaaaaaaah! Wooooo! Whoa! Yaaaaaaaa! Pant... pant... pant... That was AWESOME." Right now, he's thinking, "hmmm.... la... la la... hmm, interesting... ... ... time to stop for the night. Maybe I'll play some more tomorrow, although I certainly won't still be entrained."

If your game is fast and sharp, they'll remember it when it comes time to buy your NEXT game which is ALSO fast and sharp (and, by sheer coincidence, cheap to develop).

Subscription games are a slightly different deal, but here's a hint: every moment your players are playing and not creating, they are EATING GAME and COSTING MONEY. The ideal subscription game would be one in which a player spent at least half their time creating content for you while NOT eating bandwidth.

These are my opinions, of course. But, being a man with a very large head, it would be wise of you to listen to me as if I were omnipresent.

Mmmm, Brains...

When it comes to brains, I am probably one of the most well-educated armchair neurobiologists and psychologists on this floor of this building. Me, I love brains. Which makes sense, given that I've got this huge HEAD, and I'd like to think it's full of BRAIN. Unfortunately, experiences such as 'roller-skid-down-the-street-on-your-face-ing' have, in fact, given direct evidence AGAINST my gray-matter content and FOR most of that volume being SKULL.

That said, I still study brains. One thing that's been fairly clear to me since I was... oh, one-digit old, is that my BRAIN really hogs my whole life. With it comes a distinct set of preferences and tendencies which are... unusual, but easily taken advantage of in most cases.

For example, my mood is almost entirely solar powered. If it's sunny out (especially if I'm out in the sun), I'm in a great mood. If it's not, I'm not. This totally supercedes any kind of thing which SHOULD affect my mood, such as severe pain or, as with today and tomorrow, totally worthless days at work.

I've tried some alternative light therapies, because this really kills me in these northern winters. None of them have really done jack, though.

The remaining solution is obvious: I have to move to Hawaii. Or Bermuda.

Anyhow, the long and short of this story is that knowing what kind of affect MY brain has on ME, I assume that other people are affected by their brains in their own ways. Wouldn't it be best for you to know what your brain likes and dislikes? wouldn't it be best to try to keep your brain at peak operation?

If you've never looked into keeping your brain fit, you've never looked into keeping your MIND and MOOD fit. The two are intensely related, and they are your WHOLE LIFE, aside from visits to the bathroom.

Speaking as someone who would like to think he benefits from paying attention to his brain, PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BRAIN. If you never have, here's a fairly okay article:


I especially like the way that they continually say, "Well, who knows, it MIGHT help, and it couldn't hoit!"

Me, I love neurobiology. It's neat. Neurobiologists are HOT! I want one! I'll pet him and play with him and call him George.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


As you may remember, I like tracking the Freakonomics blog. Them's smart folks, after my own heart.

I'm just catching up on them. Two things strike me.

The first is how many of their statements in their blog I considered before even finding out these people existed. For example, they posit that legal abortion makes crime rates drop. I came up with this same idea in high school. I think it's OBVIOUS. What's the big deal? Evidently, the rest of the world is pretty dim.

The other thing is that his blog clearly reflects the absolute TERROR the normal world has of advanced social theories. Now, obviously, social engineering is a very risky and slightly dehumanizing field. I can understand the caution - but people actively refuse to even LISTEN - which is terrible!


Every big faction, from the government to the church to big corporations, uses social engineering. Every time we pass a law, or an advertising campaign, or a pope's decree, we're using social engineering.

These people are saying that they'd rather be BLIND to the effects of social engineering - in fact, INSIST on NOT KNOWING the effects - rather than being able to tell what effects these things that happen every day will have.

That's like saying that you don't WANT to know what your girlfriend(s) mood is, because it 'takes the romance out of relationships'. That's a quick way to lose your girl, that's what it is!

For example, I've studied a lot of cultures, and one thing I've noticed is that to what extremes and how fast a ruler can drive their people depends highly on how quickly and effectively they can communicate to their people. For example, smaller nations such as Japan tend to have very fast and extreme adaptations to changing situations. On the other hand, large nations such as China and Russia tend to have more phlegmatic changes and their rulers tend to exert less influence, save in extremely emotional times. Of course, in times of extreme emotion, communication on related matters is extremely potent, which effectively 'shrinks' the country, if you want to think of it like that.

When you perform thought excersizes on the matter, it becomes relatively obvious - although I won't go so far as to say necessarily true. Smaller nations fluctuate faster and harder than bigger nations because an event can be smaller or affect a smaller number of people but still affect a higher PERCENTAGE of people than in a bigger nation. That means a larger percent of the populace cares. Expanding your ability to communicate - by building roads or controlled internets - means that your government can affect more people easier. Meaning a higher percentage of the population comes in direct contact with government media, meaning the government has more power.

I'm not going to say that it's TRUE, but it COULD be true, and it's certainly worth considering, especially when dealing with very disorganized or very small countries at the extremes of the 'response curve'. Would you rather something explode in your face because you couldn't predict how a country would react?

I don't understand people who say "social engineering is bad and evil". Social engineering is a FACT OF LIFE. Even if scientists aren't doing it, SOMEONE is always doing it. Those SOMEONEs are doing it without knowing - or caring - what the long-term results are going to be.

So, jeeze, everyone, THINK. Think AS HARD AS YOU CAN. About EVERYTHING.

Turning Mobility into Foresight

It's hard to program on workdays - it takes me about two hours to really start chugging along, and I don't have all that much more than that per evening once I get home from work. So I really just get to do little spats of playing around with the code.

Yesterday, I tested some of my theories on turning MOBILITY into FORESIGHT, which you might remember me talking about, if you bothered reading my essay on relative view in shmups.

The basic idea is that you can use predictable patterns to set up salvos in predictable ways. Essentially, this 'extends' the view of the player so that he can predict the salvos - as if they were coming in from far off-screen.

I played around with this over the past few days and found some interesting tidbits. First, it can work. It can work SPLENDIDLY. However, it is EXTREMELY FRAGILE.

So long as the player is a fair distance away from the enemies when they open fire, you get this beautiful, predictable, almost HYPNOTIC spray of bullets which you then proceed to dodge with grace, elan, and frantic cursing. However, if the player is too close to the enemies when they fire, it's excessively hard to dodge and usually very ugly.

I found that it's quite a thin line, but definitely doable. If the player is SHOOTING BAD GUYS, he's not usually very CLOSE to bad guys - he's busy shooting them down on one part of the screen, and the enemies on the other part of the screen are far enough away that their salvos are good.

But when the player is frantically dodging, he isn't shooting enemies, and they begin to stack up. The areas which the players can go to which are 'far' from the enemies that are about to fire shrink and grow more difficult to grok, and certainly don't line him up for an offensive.

So, the question becomes, is it possible to teach the computer to send the CORRECT waves of enemies in the CORRECT places?

PAC says: Yes!

In particular, there are really two 'modes' to any shmup: the "I am king of the world!" mode, where you are blowing enemies away and dodging shots easily; and the "I'm gonna die!" mode, where you are desperately dodging bullets, not able to really get a firing solution on anyone.

Unfortunately, BOTH of these modes are positive feedback loops. When you're dominating the field, it's easy to dominate the field because there's nothing ON the field to distract or challenge you. When you're busy scampering for your life, it's hard to recover, because you can't shoot any of the enemies which are forcing you to scamper, so they continue shooting at you.

But a computer should be able to determine fairly easily how 'pressured' the player is by counting the number of bullets on the screen and correlating with the firing - or lack thereof - of the player. Knowing this, it should be easy to pull back a bit or punch it up a notch, and controlling which mode the player is in will be a central capability of the PAC algorithm to keep the player interested.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Six Strings?

Only one man can kill this many Russians. Bring his guitar to me.

God, I love cult classics.

A Taste of PAC!

Okay, I'm going to talk a little bit about Pattern Adaptation Control (PAC). I'm not going to talk about the nitty-gritties in this post, just the general idea. Nitty-gritties will come to those who wait.

When someone plays a game, they are toying around with a rigid rule set. The exact nature of the rule set doesn't matter to this post - it could be Tetris, it could be Final Fantasy 47. But it is important to remember that both the AUDIOVISUAL components and the PLOT/LEVEL PROGRESSION count as definite rules - an action causes a reaction. That is, of course, in addition to what you would normally consider game rules, such as 'four connected puyos vanish' and 'you get money for killing slimes'.

The thing about a rigid rule set is that it is predictable (even if it doesn't make any kind of sense), once you've been exposed to it. It forms a pattern, and the player is in there, learning the rules, mastering the pattern.

Obviously, there's some very definite twists on this. For example, the pattern you get from playing Tetris is a wholly different kind of emergent pattern than the one you get from advancing a narrative - a pattern that is only marginally interactive.

But the core idea is the same. Your job is to manage the player's understanding of the pattern. You want him to enjoy the pattern, revel in its permutations. And he wants to. Everyone who sits down to play a game is thinking, "golly-gee, I hope this is fun". All of them. "Golly-gee".

So why do we produce shitty games? We know what they want. Why don't we give it to them? Because we (and by "we", I mean "they") don't know how.

The art of Pattern Adaptation Control (PAC) is precisely that. It controls HOW, WHEN, and WHERE the player adapts to a pattern by controlling the methods with which the pattern is revealed and played. It also makes clear what elements the 'best' patterns for this purpose have. In theory, it works for highly emergent patterns - such as Tetris - and also for rigidly progressive patterns - such as a narrative.

In my game-du-jour I'll be using early PAC theories to attempt to lure the player into the pattern of the game. I'll tell you some of THOSE details later.

I like PAC. I am, as far as I know, the only person who knows anything about the subject. I'm the PAC-man. Goo-goo-ga-joob.

Yesterday's News, Today!

I'm surprised I kept the three-post limit yesterday. In fact, I actually wrote SIX posts, but three of them didn't make the final cut. I wasn't impressed with the quality, probably due to the pound of icy ball bearings covered in rancid snot in my stomach. Or maybe because my head felt like an ad for pancakes: Light, fluffy, and covered in syrup.

Actually, looking back at yesterday's commentary, I'm surprised it isn't terrible. I certainly felt worse than that. I guess my brain is more reliable than the rest of my body.

Someday, people will love me for my brain! At least, I hope so, because it's really my only shot.

If you're wondering, I really do have a scarred eyebrow, as depicted in the picture above.

It runs in the family. My father has an eyebrow scar, and his father before him. When I have a son, you can be sure I'll SLAM his face into the pavement and DRAG him down the street, insuring that he will continue in the grand tradition.

I got my scar "roller-blading". More accurately, "roller-skid-down-the-street-on-your-face-ing".

I think my father got his during a motorcycle accident. I can't be sure. My memories of the event are hazy because there was a head injury involved and I hadn't been born yet.

I don't know how my grandfather got his scar. I like to think it was at the same time as he lost the tip of his index finger. I don't know how that happened either, but I'm sure it involved Nazi. Or ninja. Or a Nazi ninja! With a sword!

I know the story well. Deep in the jungles of Africa, the last of his platoon, Private Perko is ambushed by a man in black. With a sweep of the villain's sword, my grandfather's pistol - and some of his trigger finger - goes flying into the murk! The sword seeks his head, but by hurling himself back into the water, he escapes harm save for a bone-deep, eye-threatening gaping MAW of a wound across his brow.

In his mind, he could hear his wife calling his name: "...

Wait, what the hell IS his first name? It certainly isn't "grandpa". It must be John. Three-quarters of the men and a third of the women in the family are named John.

Come to think of it, was he even IN World War II?

Anyhow, thinking quickly, Corporal Perko aimed his decapitated finger and fired a spurting shot of blood into the small, piggy eyes of his attacker. "Ach, du hast mein minkey!" shouted the ninja, clutching his face. Then grandpa stabbed him with HIS OWN SWORD.

Yeah. That's almost as cool as the time I was rollerblading down mount Everest to escape those international drug smugglers. I fell (I was shot in the leg!) and skidded across twenty feet of rock on my FACE, but did that phase me? Not a bit. As I spun off the cliff, my mind was clear despite the blood in my eyes. Catching hold of the helicopter skiis, I managed to pull the pilot out and take control of the chopper, using the missiles and machine guns to turn it against its owners.

Yeah. That was pretty cool. Kind of hard to work the pedals with roller blades, though.

Remind me to tell you about the twenty-one cumulative stitches I've had under my chin.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Terra Nova Commentary

Okay, I'm very definitely breaking my self-imposed three-posts-per-day limit. I'm just catching up with Terra Nova, and they had a recent article on economics.

For people who can dance with the jargon, it's actually quite a good little post. A few things struck me. Most notable is the comment "But what if a game was too easy? Then people would actually buy things that make the game harder. Or, at least, that's how the potential market would work. That market never appears, though. People quit easy games. Only in hard games do they stay and use markets to adjust game conditions. Not sure why."

I can tell you why. Because you never CATCH THE PLAYER'S INTEREST. Easy games flunk the pattern adaptation control test. They never make the player work, so there's no reward for playing. The only easy games that work are ones which offer OTHER rewards, such as a detailed storyline or PORN.

Hard games, on the other hand, give out rewards with every hard-earned success.

Think about it like this: every game is an economy. If all the players have unlimited resources (no challenge), then those resources hyperinflate until they're not worth having. Only when the resources are (A) limited and (B) of value are they worth having.

Edit: Hrm, decided not to trackback-ping Terra Nova. There is as much in this post which damns me as there is which is of use. :P

Relative View in Shmups.

I think I may have done in my poor little immune system with my ill-considered Saturday marathon of coding and candy. But nothing takes the mind off a gestating stomach bug like climbing the old ivory tower!

So here's a short little blurb on relative vision (player vision) in shmups - such as Gradius.

There are two kinds of shmups. Those that are top-down and racing towards the top of the screen, and those that are side-view and racing towards the right. One wonders why some people prefer the one and some people prefer the other. I am here to tell you one of the primary differences. Maybe two, if attention span permits.

The difference is in relative vision. NOT player vision, as you might expect. The difference is that player vision is, quite simply, what the player sees. Relative vision takes into account how fast and wide the player's response options are.

In a side-scrolling shmup, the ratio of responses to vision is pretty low. You see things pretty far in advance, but you are in a cramped 'tunnel'. This dramatically limits your maneuverability. Dodging along the wide axis is not very useful, as that is the axis which the bullets are travelling along. When you're running from a train, you don't run along the tracks, you run OFF the tracks. Same theory here: you dodge on the vertical axis, because the horizontal axis is usually the 'track'. This is reflected in the fact that your side-view ship is almost always needle-shaped, increasing the 'grain' of the vertical axis in comparison to the horizontal one. Effectively giving you 'more space to dodge'.

Making this whole dodging thing worse is the fact that such games have BOTH axes 'weighted' - things tend to travel towards the 'back', as mentioned, but most games also have weapons which use pseudo-gravity and 'fall' along the vertical axis. This makes your dodging even tighter, especially since your ship is not shaped politely to be able to dodge vertical shots.

Now, let's compare to games where you proceed along the Y axis instead. You have a lot more places you can move, but you can't see as far in comparison. You'll notice that most horizontal games have shots which are almost all either vertical, horizontal, or gravity-arcing... and usually come in single shots or short bursts due to the difficulty of dodging. Vertical games, on the other hand, tend to have long, spiraling sprays of bullets. Why? Because you have a lot more freedom of movement. You can DODGE easier.

You'll notice most vertical games take a peculiar tactic: ships come on screen... but remain 'dormant' for a second before firing. Some ships fire after having cruised along most of the screen. Some ships actually STOP and STAND STILL for a precious half-second before firing. This makes up for the bad player vision, similarly to the needle-shaped ship in a horizontal shooter making up for the bad maneuverability.

Lastly, vertical shmups don't have the 'gravity' problem. Gravity in a vertical shmup, if it exists at all, is along the vertical axis. This still leaves the horizontal axis uncompromized for dodging purposes. This also allows for Symmetry, which I'll talk about later.

Interesting how it all pans out, isn't it? Hindsight is 20/20, but it's pretty clear that the difference in relative vision is the biggest difference between the two subgenres of shmup. Knowing how to take advantage of the differences is the key.

I prefer vertical shmups. Some people think that the extra room is 'wasted' - too much empty space off to each side that the player won't "use". I don't think that's true. That empty space can be used to stage ships that haven't fired yet, as listed above. You can't get that kind of population with a horizontal shooter, because the space is just too cramped.

And now you know. I'd love to hear your opinions, but if you have any, you're probably WAYYYY to into shmups. :)

Weekend... of Doom!

So, I spent the majority of my weekend programming. To be specific, I spent nearly 20 straight hours programming, aside from hygeine and food. On Saturday.

Just to play around, I made a game. It used the innate physics engine to create a mess of various debris bouncing around, and you got to navigate through it. Your gun fired a weight which, of course, was also a piece of debris. I also used a rudimentary stress tester to give rewards, encouragements, and mockery. If you were in the thick of it, barely dodging things, the game would encourage you and even give you a power-up for dying (although you still lost a life).

It was, ultimately, a futile game. It was also not really very much fun. After all, I was just trying to figure out how to do all the things I needed to do. That said, it was still a bit depressing when I saved over my "20th hour" program with my "15th hour" program and erased so much hard work.

But probably for the best. If I hadn't accidentally destroyed it, I would have wasted all of Sunday on that evolutionary dead-end instead of, uh... sleeping and reading comics.

Still, I have a REAL game planned out. Simple, eminently playable, and using my very own Pattern Adaptation Control system, which I have alluded to but not yet posted. Hopefully, it will be very fun. We'll see. I expect to have a marginally useful version by next Monday.

One of the most exciting weekend adventures was into the realm of SOUND. The most fun part of the game I made - both in playing and in programming - was probably the sound. The game had two heartbeats, several cute sound effects for various situations, and an utterly nonexistent backbone of special effects.

To commemorate my sounds, I have made this comic:

Here are some samples of my awe-inspiring sound, created with my mouth and a one-dollar microphone. Warning: by "awe-inspiring", I mean "static-ridden and nearly silent".

The 'you suck' death
One of the heartbeat sounds


Friday, May 20, 2005

More power, arh arh arh!

Yeah, okay, my roots are showing.

I allocated the whole weekend to learning to use the Torque 2D physics engine.

It took me twenty minutes.

Torque 2D is EXQUISITE. It's like they took all my favorite bits from all my favorite languages and development kits and stitched them together into a giant Frankenstein's Monster of Joy. Except, instead of Abby's, this one has a good, kind, genius brain in it.

The whole thing feels like it was built for ME. THANK YOU, Garage Games. You guys ROCK.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Oh yeah! I forgot the NARRATIVE!

I figured something neat out last week. I forgot to translate it into a blog entry.

The NATURE of NARRATIVES (in games).

This is really just part of a MUCH longer essay I mumbled to my keyboard at 1AM Saturday. I've rewritten it, hopefully to make it more coherent.

Many of my friends - and me, of course - are all up in arms about narratives. We like to think narratives are wikkid kewl and quite important. We talk about how we can beef up our narratives, how we can use narratives to hook players on new kinds of games, etc, etc, etc.

The truth of the matter is that most games that HAVE narratives have SHITTY narratives. But the vast majority of the gaming community doesn't (or didn't, until recently) care. I have looked out over the morass of unwashed gamer geeks from high atop my ivory tower and discerned the reason.

A game can pit a player against one of THREE opponents.

A game can pit the player against the player. This is the style of game where you play the game and get better and better. Your scores go up, you live longer, etc. Old-style games like Pac-Man and Tempest are like this. There are some new games like this, too, but they are either small puzzle games or take the slightly different approach of allowing great creative freedom.

A game can pit the player against other players. This is the multiplayer game. In some ways, you can consider a high score list this kind of competition, and many games offer both this and player-against-himself competition. These games, like the player-on-himself games, usually consist of a number of autonomous levels which can be played in any order.

Both of these kinds of games are programs which serve up a number of independent levels heavily focused on emergent play. The levels are usually fairly short, although some games of this sort (such as Scrabble) can last hours. Sometimes, it is one independent level over and over, relying on emergent play to distinguish it from other instances. For example, word games. Other times, there are a large number of unique levels, each of which has specific characteristics. For example, Starcraft.

People play these games to beat themselves or their enemy. The game ITSELF cannot be 'beaten'. You can become absurdly GOOD at the game, but it will gamely continue offering up 'new' levels for you to play until your thumbs fall off and space aliens steal your cattle. Whether you make it to level five or level six doesn't matter, save that you have done better than you did before.

Now, what happens when you add a NARRATIVE?

Suddenly, there is a goal INSIDE THE GAME. Getting to level six is a NEW PIECE OF THE STORY. You are no longer competing against yourself or another player. You are competing against the GAME. You want to defeat the GAME, so that you can hear the whole story.

Suddenly, the whole dynamic is VERY different. The individual levels serve a greater arc. Suddenly, reaching level six instaed of level five has a tangible, mathematically discrete reward instead of a subjective "I'm doing better!" And you know that if you get to level ten, you'll finally know how the boss is defeated and the game will be BEATEN.

Okay, now the game's primary draw is the INEVITABLE ENDING. The game needs to be defeated. Your players need to be able to reach that ending. So what happens to the gameplay?

It becomes wussed out. You need your players to be able to win, or they'll hate the game. So you make the game winnable. Winnable by who? Your whole audience. Meaning? Even the one-armed boy with palsy and severe frontal-lobe damage.

Okay, fine, that's too easy. We'll put in DIFFICULTY LEVELS. People who want a challenge can play on 'hard'.

Fine. What does this MEAN?


That means that the narrative serves the purpose of making the game itself the enemy, rather than the player. It doesn't need to be good or bad. It is enough that it provides an ending. The player knows the game has an end, and therefore will try to beat it.

That said, if you have a wide selection of narrative-based games (like we do today) and some of them have shitty narratives, you won't bother to play them. And gameplay is still important... just not AS important.


This seems to imply that emergent gameplay will NOT pair well with storytelling, but I can see a new kind of game emerging, one which uses a narrative but is player-vs-himself.


The Sound of Seattle

If you were to ask people what sound they would say represents Seattle, most people would probably reference indie rock and garage bands. Some of the less musically-inclined humans might mention rain or the phrase "vente mocha frappachino, heavy foam, extra sprinkles".

These people have obviously never lived in Seattle. The sound which represents Seattle, especially on rainy days, is:


What is that sound? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My brake pads made that sound when the stress slaughtered them. Your brake pads make it now.

I have never heard another sound that causes me such PHYSICAL PAIN. Please, Seattle, your breaks are DYING! Have you never heard of automobile maintenance?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Everybody's talking about the next generation consoles. Consoleconsoleconsole. There's fifty posts a day about them in my blogroll, meaning it's the majority of the posts I get.

Some people are beginning to understand. Some people still do not.

This next generation console thing - it isn't a war between Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo as we know them. It's not a war of better graphics, or new games.

It's a war between the past and the future.

We have reached a crux. There are now enough games out there that we have ENOUGH GAMES. Even the most dedicated gamer would have a hard (perhaps impossible) time playing ALL the games that have come out. The weight of the past is notable, unlike ten years ago.

Microsoft has no part of that past. The XBox was their first project, and it has a very limited number of good games. I own an XBox, so don't tell me I'm wrong. This new XBox has no access to a real history. It has to rely on the future, with sharp graphics and solid new games.

The new Nintendo Revolution is BACKWARDS COMPATABLE. All caps. They're talking about compatability all the way back to their FIRST CONSOLE. They have no need of a future, although they will continue to build one. Their content is their history. Their release titles are potentially the THOUSANDS of games released for the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, N64, GameCube, and their various GameBoys. They do not need to stress about the future: time is quite literally on their side.

Sony straddles the line. They have a solid history, and they are leaping into the future. I can't help but think they'll come out ahead in the end.

This isn't a contest of who has graphics. Every nuance is about embracing either the past or the future. You will be able to see this in the marketing, as they strive to shore up or hide their weaknesses while embracing their advantages.

The XBox 360 isn't about the past. It isn't about US, with our decades of geek culture and games and anti-Microsoft sentiment. It's about THEM - the non-gamers who cannot see our increasingly rich history. Blind to the main advantage of the other consoles, they can be convinced to buy into Microsoft's vision of the bright future. Thus, MTV.

The Revolution is quite the opposite. It is for us, and it plays to our geekhood. We will buy it, even if it goes unadvertised, because it is ten thousand games, a million moments, eager to be re-lived. Favorites: Zelda, Mario, Sonic. All live on in Nintendo and Nintendo ALONE.

The Playstation 3... I wonder how they will approach this conflict. With strength on both sides, they would seem to have their pick of approaches.


Torque 2D and the Future!

So, I meandered about, asked lots of opinions, and finally decided to go with Torque 2D. I bought it with some trepidation.

At 5:30 last night, I finally booted it up.

At 6:00 I had completed their introductory demo - a (really shitty) game.

At 7:00 I had dissected their more advanced space game - it's pretty straight forward, and relatively fun.

By 8:30 I had made a game of my own, using my own (5-minute) graphics, acceleration, and mounting difficulty levels.

I called it 'asteroid dodge', and it featured the adventures of a plucky, if inept, red and blue ship with dodgy controls (relatively slow acceleration and deceleration). The ship was, as you might have guessed, trying to dodge steadily increasing numbers of asteroids travelling every which way.

The game is a classic excersize in nihilistic gaming, seeing as that even if you manage to survive the mounting odds, you are eventually faced with a WALL OF ASTEROIDS:

(I, alas, did not survive to the end on this particular run. So, no plucky red and blue ship can be seen.)

From zero to game in THREE HOURS. I haven't been able to do that since using PAPER and CARDS. Sure, it was simple. But it didn't have to be.

Torque 2D, and engines like it, are the future.

But what I'd like to note is that games are relatively EASY TO MAKE. I'll be producing at least one over the course of the next month.

And I see no reason why I can't test all my theories on gameplay and spatial reasoning in the process.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Thought, Play, and 3D

Bill over at Everkvetch posted an interesting bit of commentary talking about how mathematicians and scientists tend to think graphically - via imaginary 3D spatial relationships - as they work on their theories.

I know I do this. I didn't realize how prevalent it was. All my theories - even the ones about social interactions and play preferences - rely heavily on two or three dimensional graphics playing out in my head. So, I guess they're really three-four dimensions, since time is invariably part of it.

What Bill is interested in, because of his teaching bent, is how PLAY relates to this. He appears to have the kernel of a thought which says "people have been getting steadily smarter and smarter, IQ-wise, in countries with video games. Are these two things related? Can I take it to the next level?"

My favorite kind of game has always vacillated (ooh, big word. Wonder if I spelled it right.) between RPGs and 'shmups' - Gradius-like shooters. As I posted earlier, my preference in play is specifically vector games. The reason I like RPGs is because of the evolving story - the play itself is often (usually) painfully dull. I have no interest in maximizing efficiency.

But I don't just like ANY vector games. I don't much care for pure racing games, for example, because they aren't about vector calculation. They're about maximizing efficiency and memorization. After all, the view is one which is not nearly as conducive to vector calculations.

The calculations on a shmup are more my cup of tea - multiple vectors, all visible, all needing to be calculated. I'm quite good at this, and it is the most fun kind of play to me.

I would think - I would HOPE - that this is related to the vector graphs and images I construct in my head for my various theories. The question is: would becoming better at the GAME make one better at the THEORIZING?

I'm sure that other play types might be more closely related. For example, a game like The Incredible Machine (another of my favorites) more closely resembles my thought process. Perhaps that is the sort of game that needs to be considered, rather than a shmup?

Either way, I don't know how you could test this 'think 3D for SCIENCE!' stuff. After all, just by repeatedly testing your scientific theorizing skills, you'll get better at them.

But, hey, if it's an excuse to play my favorite kind of games...

Edit: I just thought of a way to get corroboration. If spatial thought and video games are inextricably linked, then countries which have had video games for less time should prefer LESS COMPLEX GAMES (as regards these kinds of calculations).
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Lights, Camera, ACTION!

Lots of high-brow, ivory-tower, blue-sky theorists (very much like myself, but deluded) like saying that violence in games is just 'the easy route'. They dislike the fact that games contain violence - or, at least, wish there were more games that don't. They lament the fact that millions of other things could be substituted in as a primary game mechanic, but the designers are just to LAZY and ILL-MANNERED to do so.

I call bullshit.

Games are about POWER. As I noted earlier, in gameplay every action the player takes is about having and excersizing power over the game universe. Power to make things go your way. Power to make obstacles disappear.

Look, violence isn't any 'easier' than any other kind of game mechanic. Out of all the game mechanics, RACING is probably the easiest. Even in relatively straight-forward Street-Fighter Beat-Em-Ups, the combat has a delicious and delicate depth to it. Because players like a little complexity. In a MMORPG, the dance of violence and pre-violence puts the complexities of international politics to shame.

Games are about GETTING power and USING power. Power is not power if it can't be used. And using power is about eradicating obstacles. What is your definition of violence? The dictionary says:

n 1: an act of aggression (as one against a person who resists); 2: the property of being wild or turbulent; 3: a turbulent state resulting in injuries and destruction etc.

So, now, let's review. "Nonviolent" games. Tetris: It's about DESTROYING BLOCKS. Making the obstructions vanish. Scrabble: It's about getting somewhere first, BEATING your enemy, and BLOCKING him. Racing games: Again, DEFEATING your enemy. Avoiding the obstacles which will HARM you.

The basic idea in ALL games is that some things hurt you and that some things help you - and you want to minimize the first and maximize the second. It's not a difficult concept: competition. In our minds, power - whether for us or against us - is based in the ability to make obstacles go away.

That's violence, at its core. It is COMPETITION and ATTACK and DEFENSE and HARM and FEAR and VICTORY DANCES. I can't think of any game which doesn't have this kind of mechanic at its core. Sometimes, it is you who are violent. Always, the enemy is violent. In the Sims, the enemy wasn't a person: it was time itself, destroying your resource bars.

It's simple. Games are violent. If they are not bloody and brutal, they are still violent. THAT IS WHAT FEEDBACK LOOPS DO. They get BETTER or they get WORSE. Are you whining about GORE? That's a totally different subject! VIOLENCE is ACTS OF AGGRESSION, especially against those who resist. Sound familiar? As in, EVERY GAME EVER MADE?

Now, on the other hand, a TOY doesn't have to be violent. Telling the story of your family in the Sims isn't a violent act. I think.

But do games have to be violent? What about alternate reality games, which feature hundreds or thousands of players working to uncover a mystery?

If there's no feedback loop, it's a puzzle, not a game, because there's no power involved anywhere. They'll work on it, uncover interesting mysteries, undoubtedly reach the end - but it's all a puzzle, not a game. If there's a feedback loop, and the actions the players take have consequences, then suddenly the players are struggling against forces within the game. Even if all the players are cooperating, they are still suppressing their enemies and trying to make obstacles vanish. That's what power is.

Power which can't be used isn't power. Power which is used is violence. That's just all there is to it.

I think.

No Sleep for the Wicked

Obviously, five years of sleeping soundly has build up quite a lot of karma which needs to be righted. I've got a good start, as I haven't slept much at all this past week. I'm just too excited!

I have all the components I need - FINALLY, everything I need - to start making games. Obviously, I'll start with small ones - got to get my feet under me. But the options keep me awake until the wee hours. Which is kind of unfortunate, because I get up not to far after those wee hours.

Now all I need to do is figure out which LANGUAGE to use. I really don't know ANYTHING about web programming. Except PHP, which is largely useless for GUI-driven games. What are my options?

I don't even really know what 'Flash' is, and my Java is five years out of date.

If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Jedi, Damn it!

Edit: Exchanged comics for large versions.

I've got three things to say today, and this is the first. Over the weekend, I was playing a Star Wars game. More precisely, TRYING to play a Star Wars game. What were they thinking?

I have commemorated the destruction of the Star Wars universe in these two comics. Why must you kill my dreams, Mr. Lucas?

Hmm, these looked bigger at home. I'll bring in the large versions tomorrow.

Gameplay Notes.
Writing Notes.

The real rant:

All the gameplay points to being evil. There's no reward for being good. But being evil is efficient AND cool. There's certainly no quest-related rewards for being good. I LIKE being good.

I want to be good, but the good quests are so mind-numbingly awful that I just can't. I pity the person who actually lives in that universe.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Defining Words

I vacillate when it comes to defining words. Not on the word's definition, but on the need to define them.

For example, there is a big and continuing debate as to the meaning of several words I use regularly, such as 'game', 'meme', 'play', 'think', and 'stupid'. Sometimes, I look at the word and say, "The exact definition doesn't MATTER. Communication is all that matters!"

Other days, like today, I think "the word doesn't help us to communicate unless we define it. Furthermore, DEFINING the word is, in itself, valuable communication."

My favorite definition of 'game' used to be Crawford's definition, which talks about the difference between a toy, a puzzle, and a game. But it never sat quite right with me. So I made my own, but I'll get to that.

Today, Darius and Bill were chatting about a group of fairly uninteresting academic "games" which are, in truth, just puzzles. Darius is of the opinion that they are games because his definition of game is extremely broad. Bill seems to agree with him now that it's been said. I don't.

Why is it important? Who CARES what a game is, after all? Whether you're making games, toys, puzzles, or 'interactive entertainment', who cares?

Well, that's just it. There's a big difference between a puzzle, a toy, and a game. The types of enjoyment you'll have are distinctly different in each. To be blunt, each is a different kind of 'fun' and sells to dramatically different audiences.

I won't say that any one is superior - I love all three - but they are TOTALLY DIFFERENT PHENOMINA. Think about it. A puzzle is something you mull over, plan out, try a few things, start over because they don't work, and eventually 'solve'. A toy is something you play around with, manipulate, and push into interesting new configurations. One is goal-oriented, sure, and the other isn't... but it goes deeper than that.

A puzzle is a 'one-shot'. It's a single encounter with no ramifications or meaningful results. You either solve it or you don't. A toy is a continuing affair. Most of the actions you take have results, which you can then deal with. Moreover, 'toy' does not imply 'challenge'. Barbies are toys, but there is no challenge there. You just play.

The key difference is: the first has no feedback loop. The second does.

Once you've 'solved' a puzzle, it's probably done. Unless it's extremely complex (complex enough to be very difficult to memorize), you solve it once and it's dead for you. On the other hand, something with a feedback loop can be played in many different ways. You can return to it again and again. Barbie went out with Ken last time, but this time she's going out with Brittany. Or the Predator. Endless permutations are available.

I say that a feedback loop is a CRITICAL part of games. Look around. Everything you consider a game has a feedback loop. You do something, and it feeds back into the game such that your next action is influenced by it. THAT is what makes a game fun. To say that 'puzzles should be considered games' is to lump apples and tequila in the same group. Yes, they're both comestable. No, they're not the same, and they have wholly different audiences. And the audiences know it.

I would define a game as a series of feedback loops which allow player input and follow rigid rules. A toy has no rules. Although Barbie herself has rules - she can only move in specific ways, she weighs a specific amount, she has no nipples - PLAYING with Barbie has no rules. A game is the same, except that it has very definite rules. For example: throw Barbie through the flaming ring across the lawn, best out of five.

(BTW, the feedback loop there is simply that you can take into account your earlier throws with each throw - 'learn' to throw better.)

So, that's my definition of 'game': player-affected, rule-based feedback loop(s). Your game may also have toy components, such as telling a story in the Sims, but at the core, there is a rule-driven feedback loop which you have to deal with.

And it's important, because you're selling to an audience. The audience knows the difference between games, puzzles, and toys.

I'll give you a hint: puzzles don't sell very well in comparison to games, but toys do. That implies that the feedback loop - the freedom and power of experimentation - is the important part.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Well, I completely broke my record for lack of insomnia. Last night I sat in bed for FOUR HOURS. Damn! But it's okay - I got a lot done, and I'm excited about the weekend.

As I've said, I've been getting used to the new tablet. It's only about TEN TIMES BETTER than the old tablet. However, the new programs BLOW.

Well, okay, that's a bit strong. But, for the life of me, I could NOT figure out how to do anything useful. I won't even show you the putzing around I did. I don't know WHY they insist on 'realism'. I don't WANT my brush to 'run out of ink', thankyouverymuch. I don't WANT it to distort earlier lines, and I DEFINITELY don't want it to put down big blobs of PAINT instead of sharp, thin lines.

I miss Open Canvas 1.1. If anyone knows where to get a copy, please tell me!

The redeeming feature is the sketching. The virtual pencils are SO responsive. They are a JOY to work with. Here's some of the sketching I did.

Shy Girl
Shitty Dragon
Irritated Princess
Fat Man
Bizarre Beast

I'm slowly getting the hang of the sketching - it works best when I have the pressure sensitivity set to 'average'. But, unfortunately, the COLORING and INKING only works at ALL when I have the sensitivity set to 'soft'. I miss Open Canvas - it let you set the pressure curve on EVERY NIB, individually.

To show you how badly I suck at inking and coloring with these programs, here's a color piece.

When I get this far, I think to myself, "wait, do I actually suck? I can't produce anything good!" Then I look back over my papers and say, "oh, no, I don't suck. Whew. I just suck at the program."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tabula Rosa

So, I'm slowly adjusting to the new tablet, but adjusting to the new software is MUCH harder. I think I'm going to try to find the old stuff again.

I intended to bring some sketches in for show and tell, but I forgot to take my thumb drive home. Tomorrow, then.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On Being Famous

(Random ivory tower, over-the-top musing follows)


A) Social interactions are based on "equal" trade, given basic laws of psychological supply and demand. Failed trades end the interaction - time wasted on both sides.

B) The human mind defines and persues 'prosperity', while avoiding things which decrease prosperity more than they increase it.

C) The human mind generalizes events which tend to end up a certain way such that all events of that type are expected to end that way.

Example: High school friends hang out together. They 'trade' social support, each making the other socially stronger by simple dint of numbers and pooled resources. They also often trade lunch components, games, and entertainment. If one member is perceived as providing less social strength than average (such as 'the ugly friend' in a small group of attractive girls or the 'outcast' in a small group of jocks), that member is often expected to provide more in some form of physical or emotional trade.

Example: Taken to an extreme (which it often is), this becomes 'hazing'. A powerful group accepts a new member. The new member is perceived as not having much to give in return for the large group's powerful support. So the new member is forced to give entertainment and ego bolstering. The humiliation has several side effects, but those are not within the scope of this wee blog entry.

Excersize: In Seattle, we have a LOT of beggars. Please define, in 200 words or less, why Seattleites give so much money to vagrants. If I can define it, so can you.

Now, about BEING FAMOUS.

Famous people are much like the hazing example. They are a powerful faction on their own, socially speaking. They have quite a lot of potent social strength to trade. On the other hand, the people who routinely approach them do NOT. Unfortunately, famous people do not follow group dynamics - they have no need of new 'members' past a certain point. The tiny ego boost random strangers provide is a drop in an ocean of adulation they regularly receive, so is totally unimportant. In addition, the more famous they get, the more prosperous they get... and the more people who approach them, the more famous they get. It's a spiral.

This leads to one kind of behavior, after the famous person has adapted to the high level of ego bolstering. Constantly approached by people who cannot offer anything in trade, the famous person begins to take the most efficient route to end these interactions. The famous person begins to try to limit the interactions, often by disguising themselves and/or remaining as seperated from the world as possible.

Therefore, the more famous you get, the more you literally live in a different world from the normal people. You live in a world of high-level social prosperity, where people hound you and serve you gleefully.

Can you see what result this has? Think about how your goals would shift if you had accomplished everything and had to take into account being continuously hounded by fans and media. What do you consider 'prosperity' when you have acheived all the basic needs and more? Do you acheive strange new forms of prosperity? Do you twist the old forms such that you can acheive more severe versions of them?

I'll give you a hint: if you pick some new form of prosperity, you'll probably only follow it until you get bored - there's no actual NEED involved. This means that the forms of prosperity prosperous people tend to focus on are the kind which involve RISK and/or continuous change.

Now, think about being president.

Last excersize: if everyone very prosperous suffers from this kind of situation, then what are their goals... and why the FUCK are you letting them lead?


Side notes:

Please note that the people who follow a social prosperity spiral will tend to value social prosperity - IE 'fame'. At some point, individual interactions stop being important (when you have 1000 rabid fans, number 1001 doesn't merit your effort), but you will likely still persue methods of making fans. This further cuts you off from generic social interactions. Therefore, this kind of spiral is likely the one which seperates a person MOST into their own little world.

Politicians are an example of this. So are movie stars, but movie stars are less so. They're usually are about fame INSIDE the industry, so general fans are once removed from their idea of prosperity. I doubt you'll find very many really famous movie stars who are still striving to be MORE famous... whereas I doubt you'll find any dedicated politician who DOESN'T strive to become more famous.

Other kinds of highly prosperous people - such as the very wealthy or the scientific genius - are famous only within certain circles. This means that social interactions are not nearly so stilted, and do not have to be carefully limited. In turn, this means that their forms of prosperity are probably LESS badly stilted. In theory, fame corrupts more than money.

What we have done is create a system led by people to which the only thing which matters is popularity. It sounds good to say 'popular vote', but 'popular' is the inescapable part of that equation. And when the only thing that matters is popularity, then you get the situations enumerated above.

Monday, May 09, 2005


I'm going to be busy with art stuff this week, so posts will be spotty. I'll talk about player adjustment management during pattern recognition challenges at some point, though.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Omega 3... Fatty Acids!

In case you haven't been keeping up to date with recent health studies, evidence is REALLY MOUNTING that Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and leafy greenies) are REALLY, REALLY important.

Evidently, a lack of them causes such problems as certain forms of dyslexia, blood pressure problems, and poor impulse control (along with about fifty other, closely related issues). On the plus side, eating MORE of them evidently FIXES the problem, so it's never too late to learn to control your impulses.

You know, I think I'm going to up my fish intake. The evidence is really getting overwhelming. Since it's so hard to get fish in Seattle (I have no idea WHY, but it IS), I may actually get some suppliments once my current vitamins run dry. Or rather, run out, because they're already just about as dry as you can get.

Here's an article suited for light reading. It is slanted and totally disregards the effects of Omega-3s on the circulatory system, but the brain-related data is there. I don't think it's gonna be free for long, so browse it quick!

If, like me, you prefer it thick with scientific aphorisms, here's the link for you.

Normally, I don't jump on this kind of bandwagon, but that's a pretty heavy pile of evidence.


When I grow up, I want my inkwork to look something like this.

I do good line work, but my inking has always been poor.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

May 5

Today is Cinco de Mayo! For those of you who keep up with such things, it's also Space Day and Webcomics Day (I think). That means that I'm hopped up like someone slipped a no-doze into my decaf.

I mean, hell, talk about a TARGETTED DAY! It's like MY DAY. The only way it could be better is if I declared it officially MEME DAY. The MEMES OF MAY.

So, a few exciting things have happened on May 5 over the centuries. Perhaps the most exciting is that today is the day that the FIRST TRAIN ROBBERY IN THE US happened. It happened in North Bend, Ohio.

But the most important, from MY point of view, was that Alan Shepard became the first American in space today, if only for 15 minutes.

In addition to Mexico's celebration, Ethiopia, the Netherlands, AND Denmark celebrate today as their independence day!

It's May Day in Australia and Children's/Boy's day in Japan. Apparently, it's also "Europe Day".

It's Roman Catholic Feast Day for St Angelus, Pius V, St. Judith of Prussia, Aventinus, St. Gerontius, Nicetius, and Hilary of Arles.

A few other events: During the war of 1812, today is when Fort Ontario was assaulted! Sitting Bull also led the Lakota into Canada to escape the US Army! Although, I think, not at the same time.

Carnegie Hall opened, with a performance conducted by Tchaikovsky!

Today also marks the day when Scopes was arrested for teaching Darwinism (and/or evolution) in 1925. My hero.

Ghandi escaped from prison, using only his razor-sharp wits, a length of rope made from bedsheets, high-grade explosives, and the permission of the British government.

In a comedic, if grisly, execution, Jesse Tafero had FLAMES SHOOT OUT OF HIS HEAD after three electric chair malfunctions.

WOLFENSTEIN 3D IS RELEASED! Come on, guys, this is, like, A BIG DAY!

Karl Marx was born, and John Rhys-Davies. Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor died today (I wonder if that's on the adjusted calendar...) Joining him in the afterlife is Napoleon Bonaparte and P.D.Q. Bach.


You Brade Runnah!

I have a decaf iced coffee every once in a while. It tastes good and contains enough caffeine and coffee-taste to convince me that I'm more awake than I was a few minutes before.

This being downtown Seattle, there's a few coffee shops within easy walking distance. As in, fifty. Seriously. There are at least five on these four blocks alone.

I've gone to several of them. Most of the wait staff are somewhat cheerful but obviously long-suffering people who take your order with a weary smile.

Then you reach Starbucks.

I don't know what it is about Starbucks. They don't pay real well, they give poor hours, and their job requirement is 'experience in providing stellar customer service!' With the word 'stellar' replaced liberally with other words like 'world class', 'unparalleled', or 'blowjobs'.

The Starbucks staff here in downtown Seattle, the dark heart of the industry, are almost PAINFULLY cheerful and helpful. I get a drink, and the girl says something like, "oh, hey, taste it and if you don't like it, I can change the flavoring around for you" and "thanks!"

Now, I know that I'm a man of god-like stature and chisled good looks, but even the guys are like this. Putting aside anything that might mean, I also noticed that we get a fresh wave of staff every 2-3 months.

I was talking with the security guard in my building when it hit us: Replicants.

Starbucks employees are Replicants. They're designed with superhuman capabilities and a very short life span.

I'm going to watch carefully. If I see a Starbucks' employee wandering around outside a Starbucks, I'm going to have to go all Harrison Ford on their ass. Free-roaming replicants are a threat to society.

But this is good news for those who own Starbucks stock. I'm sure they'll begin selling models on the open market soon, since testing is obviously going so well.

I'll take one of the cute ones with glasses.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Play the Players: Part II of Big Carrots and Long Sticks

As mentioned, the important part in Pattern Recognition Challenges is to always consider what the pattern is IN THE PLAYER'S HEAD. What the pattern ACTUALLY is doesn't matter and never did. Every movie ends in exactly the way we think it will, and often develops exactly like we suspect, yet we continue to watch and enjoy them. Games are the same way. It's a given that the player will get through the level or solve the puzzle. There's no mystery there.

What everyone needs to understand is that the player is doing something most designers don't really understand. They're mastering the pattern. Essentially, they're "getting good at" the game. (I'll cover this CRITICAL element whenever I get around to it.)

Most designers seem to think the player is playing the game to 'enjoy' it, or 'win' it. Neither of those is entirely true. It's enjoyable to interact with a familiar but unique pattern, and there's a definite feeling of accomplishment when you 'master' a pattern... but the key is that I don't talk about it in terms of emotions, I talk about it in terms of patterns.

I can hear people clicking on the next blog as I speak. I'm not saying emotions aren't important, and I've got nothing at ALL against narratives. I'm saying that you shouldn't think of them strictly as emotions. You should think of them as pieces of the pattern that players will be cruising through. The pattern IN THEIR HEAD, not the pattern OF THE GAME.

When you think about the pattern of a game, chances are that the first thing that pops into your head is play loops. "Kill bad guys, get money, buy equipment, kill bad guys." Sure, that's part of the pattern.

But the pattern is really the set of ALL the emotional attachments in any part of the game. The gameplay pattern might be as above, but the pattern the player perceives is more likely to be 'make my favorite character more powerful' or 'get the bikini costume' or 'find out what happens at the end of the chapter'.

The problem with MOVIES is that emotional attachments vary from person to person. Many guys love action flicks. The combat and explosions and car chases are a slick manifestation of the kinds of power guys tend to think about. Geeks may have a more notable preference for science fiction and 'smart' films: they lie in our particular perception of power. Every genre of movie is really just a term to define WHAT TYPE OF POWER PREFERENCE it appeals to.

All that stuff can (and should) be used in games. Methods of making characters appealing, plots interesting, symbology, etc, etc. But that's FILM stuff, and I'm here to talk about, for the moment, GAME stuff. And games have an ADDED CAPABILITY.

You see, most of our emotional attachments come from our perception of what we WANT and NEED, which is almost always related to POWER WE CAN USE. Whether that's power in combat, power in love, power in thought, power economically - it's power. It appeals to us because it is power.

Games give us a pattern which we have some power over. They give us an arena for making POWER JUDGEMENTS. In a movie about guns, many more noncombatant sorts tend to get bored. It's not the type of power that applies to them. In a game, ALL THE POWER APPLIES. In a game, the power you give out is literally POWER, and the player's emotional preferences know it.

And therefore, the players will rate the various things you give out as to how USEFUL they are in the pattern you've presented. Sure, there'll be lots of aesthetic ratings based on characters and plot and stuff, but there will ALWAYS be a CORE POWER RATING. And that rating WON'T VARY MUCH from player to player.

Of course, there's a point of diminishing returns for most players. Getting a bigger and badder weapon than the one you had before only matters if it actually changes the pattern. If you're already hosing down enemies easily, a power upgrade isn't going to mean much. Remember: you can't have a pattern recognition challenge without challenge.

So, when you're designing your game, keep in mind that players will forge emotional attachments to your various power-ups, whether they are glowing balls, new weapons, or a team member. USE these emotional bonds to DRIVE the character. PROMISE him power, THREATEN his power. He WILL REACT.

And as for ENEMIES, they have emotional ratings in the EXACT SAME WAY, FOR THE SAME REASONS. This can be used, too. If the enemy is THREATENING something the player values, the enemy will be HATED. This is VERY POWERFUL, and NOBODY EVER USES IT.

Just make sure you don't overdo it. There's nothing worse than treading water.

Now, depending on the person, a cute girl or a fuzzy animal may be rated the same as a powerful new weapon or somesuch. Aesthetics DO matter. A lot. But for every male player who rates Boob Lady very highly due to her aerial bust maneuvers, there's a girl or guy gamer who reacts negatively to that. Aesthetics will give you highly varied ratings from player to player. Play modifications are more reliable.

Think of an aesthetic appeal - such as the miraculous Silicon Wench - as a blaster. Then think of play modification - such as a power-up - as a light saber.

There's a place for both, but one is clumsy and random.

Of course, it's dangerously easy to cut yourself in half with your own lightsaber... and I'll discuss how to avoid THAT in the future as well. :)


I understand the overwhelming greed and opportunism which drives people to make ever more intrusive and idiotic ads. If you've been surfing the web recently, you've probably noticed the 'fold down' traffic-light ads which have been literally popping up, obscuring large portions of the screen. At least, I presume that they're ads and not malware my protections just aren't picking up.

But what I find amusing is that you can CRASH these ads. Literally - these ads are COMPLEX enough that they CRASH under certain circumstances - pop up a script error box and everything.

That, I think, means you've officially GONE TOO FAR in advertizing.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Driving Your Players, Part One: Pattern Challenges Are Challenges

If only one thing can be learned from the idea of pattern recognition challenges, it should be how to drive a player through one. The biggest problem in games these days is a kind of bored ennui - the player moves forward simply because there is no other place more interesting to go. Most of the most lauded games of all time - including System Shock II, which I rarely denegrate - suffer from this problem. Long periods of boredom, where the only thing keeping you going is the inertia of having already played it for five or six or fifteen hours.

The critical thing to remember when designing a game is that the game is IN THE PLAYER'S HEAD. It doesn't matter what algorithms you use. It doesn't matter how good or bad the programming is. The only things that matter are the things that the player perceives - and HOW he PUTS THEM TOGETHER.

Approach EVERY piece of your game like this. Don't think, 'oh, this is interesting because you get a new weapon and see a new bad guy'. Think in terms of the pattern - and the various driving forces that the player is guided by. A new gun is only useful if it actually changes the dynamic of the pattern. Don't think of it as a gun. Think of it as a part of the pattern. How does it change the pattern IN THE MIND OF THE PLAYER? A new gun is a vat of potential in the mind of the player - until it's been fired a few times. That ADAPTATION TO PATTERN CHANGES is the core of pattern challenges, and I'll talk about it later. For right now, just think in terms of what is going through the player's mind in terms of gameplay.

That should ground you solidly in holistic game design - no more fumble-fingered creeping featurism. But I said this was about driving your players, not about manipulating the pattern of the game.

Well, it is. I'll explain in Part II about how to convince your players that they are having a grand old time and want to move forward in the game. I'll cover such topics as: "I want to explore, not move forward" and "god, this is boring!"

Random Crap

This is funny, although chances are that if you're reading my blog, you've already seen it.

On the other hand, you may NOT have heard of the DREAD, which is a marvellous new theoretical weapon. They say they're not at liberty to discuss the mechanisms of the gun in any detail, but shortly thereafter they talk about it being 'frictionless', which means it has to be magnetic. It has two modes, apparently: "Lethal" and "less lethal" - my kind of weapon.

For those of you unaware of the Defense Review site, it's always a great source of inspiration to the testosterone-filled side of us. It's particularly sweet to a geek, because it's like watching science fiction come alive. I mean, they talk about microfiber 'smart carpets', semi-autonomous camera drones, and hundreds of other awesomely Shadowrunny things.

In fact, you could easily make a VERY entertaining scifi world just by using all the posts on Defense Review.


Monday, May 02, 2005


I know it's a bit of a tangent from the pattern recognition challenges I've been talking about, but I'd like to take a moment to talk about CHARACTER DESIGN. Because it's a dying art, and very badly misunderstood by beginners and many 'professionals'.

I love character design. You can read ten different books and get ten different 'most important' factors to consider. Some approach from a story standpoint and talk of character arcs and so on. Others take a more character-driven approach and talk about personalities, pressure, and so on. There are literally dozens of approaches.

Following any one will give you a decent clue, but when it comes to characters, the PRIMARY PURPOSE of a character is to KEEP THE AUDIENCE. All the stuff about making an involving plot, or having a character arc - it's bunk. Or, rather, it's too advanced for the first lesson, and usually doesn't work in quite the way beginners expect. The FIRST THING you should adhere to when making characters is to make them KEEP THE AUDIENCE INTERESTED. In fact, as Soap Operas and Sitcoms have proven, you don't need a plot or character arcs - just solid characters.

Now, the basic social impulse of humans is to pick out people to be your close friends/teammates and/or lovers. This means that whenever we see a character, whether in a book or on a screen or in a game, we essentially automatically and mostly-subconsciously think about what it would be like to be their friend/teammate/lover (whichever is appropriate). The emotion we get from that simulation becomes what we think of the character. This probably isn't EXACTLY what happens, but it's plenty close.

People thought Darth Vader was cool. He was badass and fairly reliable. Han Solo wasn't nearly as powerful and was less reliable. The emotion we feel about Vader's potential is a kind of worshipful one - being his 'friend' would consist of working our ass off for him, but he would be smokin' cool and we would definitely be part of something awesome. The emotion we feel relating to Han Solo is a much more relaxed 'buddy' feeling - we could actually be FRIENDS with Han, as opposed to servants. The emotion we feel towards Luke is like the inverse of Darth - we feel that being friends with him would mean having a whiny, erratic KID tagging along. Which appeals to many people.

Few of us would much like being friends with Jabba the Hutt. It would be impossible to work as a close friend or teammate with Jabba - he'll gladly destroy you for a pittance. This is why Jabba is NOT considered 'cool'. He's unreliable and unappreciative. It would be folly to try to be his friend. At least Darth would rely on you to some extent if you keep proving yourself.

"Good guy" or "bad guy" is irrelevant. When you make a character, the thing that really matters is how we'll feel about being (or trying to be) their friend/teammate/lover. That emotion sets the whole of our interactions with the character. We don't like Jabba and we don't respect Jabba - we feel nothing as he is thwarted and killed save for a fierce joy. We like and respect Darth, although in a certain way, so if he had died in that manner, we would have felt totally jypped. He needs to die in a manner suited to nobility.

Think what part your character plays in your story. What do you want your audience to feel towards your character? Awe? Buddy-buddy? Sexual attraction? The way you get the audience to feel these things is by showing how your character treats those close to them. If your character treats his friends with quiet respect, the audience will feel a certain way. If your character treats her friends with boisterous comraderie, they'll feel a different way. If your character treats her friends as posessions, that beings a certain emotion. It's all about how they act with their friends - because that's how, in the audience's mind, they act towards the audience.

Just remember to stay true to that and you'll have a believable character that the audience will enjoy buying into, whatever else you may do with them. How they treat their friends under stressful and varied conditions is also an excellent way to up the ante, as it shows the audience how much they could be relied on.

Exotic Dancing!

I had a remarkably relaxing Sunday. For the first time I can remember, I saw exotic dancing! And by that I mean foreign cultural dancers, not pole-grinders. I'm not sure why that kind of thing is considered 'exotic' dancing, since the only kind of dancing more mundane to Americans is freaking LINE dancing. But I digress.

It was beautiful weather, and I went and saw the Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration. I'm not sure when China, Vietnam, and India became ISLANDS, but, hey, I'm not complaining. There were some neat classical and not-so-classical dances regularly interrupted by Asian people doing very American things - they even imported a Vietnam break dancer. And an exceptionally preachy, boring jazz sax.

The best DANCE was definitely the classical Indian dances. They were very impressive - really hypnotic. The break dancers were actually astonishingly entertaining as well, teaching audience members (liberally seeded with trained dancers) how to do some basic moves.

But, of course, I was totally blown away by one particular event.

The schedule carefully lists what troup is performing and what they are performing, such as 'Classical Dance of India (Odissi) Ratna Roy', or 'Massive Monkees, Breakdancers'. But the entry at 3:45 said simply 'Tsunami Taiko'. I knew it was Japanese, but what was it? Was it a J-pop band? Noh dancers? Who could tell?

No, it was Japanese Drummers, without flute.

There are only two kinds of music which will move me powerfully. One of those, for reasons unknown to me, is Japanese drums. Just the drums. I can't stand the flute.

Even recorded, I LOVE these drummers, but the real strength is in the live performance. It was AWESOME.

I am very happy. And a little sunburned.