The Transfiguration

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Start of the Day #2598

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Start of the Day #2598

The photos I put here and the thoughts that go with them are important to me, but when I write for these posts I don’t think in the same way that I do when I write elsewhere. I’ve been making more of an effort to put pen to paper, and to do some other sort of creative work outside of this project, which has become more a way to document my life than anything else.

There is something about writing freely, in a book no one else may see, that allows words to flow much more easily. A few minutes each morning lets me stretch my language a little, and it’s a lovely way to start the day.

On top of that: November has come, and that means it’s National Novel Writing Month. I’ve wanted to participate before, but was either busy or lacked the willpower; Alina proved it was possible, and after proofreading her novel I think I might actually manage to create something this time. I’ve had story-bits steeping in my head for years now, so over the next month I’m going to try and stitch them together into something you can explore. I haven’t a cohesive enough story to make it a normal novel, so I’ll be writing some sort of interactive fiction, an arrangement of scenes and notions to wander through. I hope it turns into something you might like, but regardless it will be good for me to do this.

Sleep and love and work and life balanced with so many things. Maybe I can get the hang of it.

I love you, I do

Written by Umbrella Man

November 2, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Posted in pixels

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Movement of the Day #2472

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Movement of the Day #2472

More and more over the past few years I’ve come to view creative works – books, movies, music, video games, comics – as the product of a fellow human, something personally crafted, driven by inspiration and flawed like every person is, rather than as something materialized from the void by deep magic. Even if I am not as much of a creator, I’m seeing artists as peers, and the things they make as part of the lives they live, and that’s letting me appreciate creative pieces in a different way.

Through the creator of the PICO-8 I learned about this game, Strawberry Cubes, in which the world is constructed of cellular automata, growing and shifting in an aesthetic that straddles the line between mechanical and organic. You need to see it in motion to appreciate it; for a game working with such a simple palette it’s very eerie.

Loren Schmidt kept using the hashtag #altgames, which I’d never heard of, so I did some exploring. It turns out to be something of a subset of Indie game development; there seems to be a community growing around the concept, but it’s so young that most of the explanations online are made of clouds of Twitter messages.

@erichermit says: to me it’s like, making the game you want to play or tells the story you want tot ell w/o compromising for wide appeal?

@lectronice says: #indiedev is for people who want to make games to live, #altgames is for people who want to live to make games.

@inurashii says: To me, #altgames are works with alternative audience goals. They may be for a niche, or everybody, or the author themselves… …but the goal of #altgames is, in my belief, to evoke an emotion or set of emotions in the audience(s). To make them feel something.

(These tweets found here)

In short, these are games made by individuals driven by creative expression rather than by what’s profitable in the gaming industry. Altgames are tiny worlds to explore, or encapsulated emotions, or just an aesthetic to submerge yourself in for a moment, and I think that’s wonderful.

A lot of altgame talk discussed the economic difficulties of it: creators who want to create something that pretty much by definition is not marketable, that will appeal to only a few people (but hopefully resonate deeply with some of them). The quandary is how we go about supporting creators like this, who are working so hard in such a niche field.

There is also a strange sort of moral question to it – should these people even be spending so much time on work that few others will appreciate? It would have been an absurd use of time long ago, when every hand was needed for communities to survive, but we are reaching a point where very little human labor will be necessary to support everyone, and on that path to a post-scarcity economy, artist exploration will be so important.

I want to create, too; but I have decided thus far to be practical about things, to make a decent living instead of dedicating all of my time to creating. This does free my from a lot of economic stress, and in my remaining free time I can still make things – albeit slowly. What’s more, I afford to help support these other creators. Strawberry Cubes comes out on Thursday, and I’m looking forward to seeing what strange worlds Loren Schmidt has crafted.

circus

Written by Umbrella Man

June 30, 2015 at 12:23 am

Posted in games, pixels, ruminations

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Canvas of the Day #2466

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Canvas of the Day #2466

This is PICO-8, a tiny virtual computer designed for building tiny games. It’s meant to embrace the technological restrictions that game developers faced back in the early console days, when colors were limited and every last bit of memory had to be carefully rationed. Working within those restrictions lead to a lot of clever and creative ideas, so here is a space to be part of that industrious spirit.

The computer runs in a 128-square pixel screen, and everything needed for development is included in it: a text editor, a pixel-art canvas, a map designer, and even tools to compose some crunchy multi-channel chiptunes. The whole thing is so clever and so nicely designed; complete game files are even magically saved to a .png image format, so anyone looking at the file can see a cute little preview of the game.

I didn’t build these particular sprites; they came bundled with the PICO-8 as part of a demo game. I liked the pink-haired girl, though, a tiny version of Laurel who runs around in a colorful pixel land.

There are many things I want to build, in many different mediums, but this is something that I could collaborate in with Laurel and perhaps Pearce; maybe we can make some time for it.

stompy

Written by Umbrella Man

June 24, 2015 at 12:45 am

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Collaboration of the Day #2402

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Collaboration of the Day #2402

Laurel and her parents used to play a game when she was small: with a finger they would draw a picture on her back, and she would have to guess what it was. We tried this tonight, taking turns as artist and canvas. Some things were instantly recognized – Laurel caught my jellyfish, I caught her cat. Other images completely eluded me, so I drew what I had imagined to show her the lapse in communication. She went ahead and embellished them, making creatures out of our abstract shapes, and so we have our artistic collaboration for the evening.

It’s been a lovely night.

all of you

Written by Umbrella Man

April 21, 2015 at 1:24 am

Posted in pixels, scrawls

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Machine of the Day #2384

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Machine of the Day #2384

Pearce is going busy building again, piecing together musical machines in Max/MSP. It’s not quite coding, but more like linking together a series of components; look closely at one component and you can see that it’s made of several more, a system of worlds within worlds. Pearce did some crafting with this a few years ago, and in his new musical renaissance he’s returned to it.

We ran into a recurring character at Bridges tonight, and after some conversation in front of the cave the three of us went to get burritos. It’s one of those moments where an acquaintance can pivot and slowly become a friend, and though I didn’t catch any photo opportunities, it is something to remember as well.

little wanderer

Written by Umbrella Man

April 3, 2015 at 12:36 am

Posted in pixels

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Transfer of the Day #2341

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Transfer of the Day #2341

It was fortunate that today was a work-from-home day, since it happened to be the same day a new game system arrived at my door. It’s a rare special edition sort of thing, and I spent an inordinate amount of effort trying to get ahold of one – half because it’s themed after one of my very favorite games, and half because I wanted to play the weird capitalist race-for-the-shiny-collectible-thing game that certain people get so ravenous about. Having succeeded in this particular event, I think I’ll retire with an unbroken record; it’s better not to get too worked up over the things I can and can’t buy.

So while I untangled a few knots of code, some tiny pikmin transferred my games from my old 3DS to the new one. This is the progress screen: it actually shows the little plant creatures picking up bundles of data and carrying it across the border between systems, chanting and cheering and occasionally falling down. Little details like this are what make Nintendo so charming; while just about every other loading screen would give you a simple progress bar, someone actually took the time to build out these procedural animations. Not many people will see this, and the few who do will only see it once, but it’s nice to see bits of Nintendo’s fantastical worlds permeate even the more dreary aspects of their software.

I only had time to play for an hour or so tonight, but it’s nice to be saving the world again.

moon’s tear

Written by Umbrella Man

February 19, 2015 at 12:45 am

Posted in games, pixels

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Soviet Mind Game of the Day #2290

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Soviet Mind Game of the Day #2290

Some time ago Laurel and Jamie inherited a collection of ancient video games – NES, Super NES, Genesis, Atari, even TurboGrafx 16. They had the cartridges, but no hardware (aside from a slightly worn Robotic Operating Buddy, so for a long time the games have lived purely as display items, resting in bookshelves or the closet or, at best, mounted on the wall.

Several years ago some of the NES patents expired, so a few companies have taken it upon themselves to build new game consoles that play the old games. Laurel and I picked one up today, finally letting some of these ancient cartridges live again.

I’d never seen this particular game of Tetris before. It has an entirely different set of music – still Russian chiptune folk songs, I think – as well as a two-player cooperative mode, in which both players are helping to build the same stack of tetrominos. Jamie suggested it was a measure of the players’ compatibility as soulmates; I think Laurel and I did pretty well until I went and goofed everything up.

The new console played NES games nicely, but completely sputtered on SNES games, so we probably won’t keep it. Just trying out a few strange games tonight was rather fun, though – worth the experience in itself.

Flying away tomorrow – one more breakfast, then we’ll wave goodbye to San Diego.

troika

Written by Umbrella Man

December 30, 2014 at 12:02 am

Posted in games, pixels

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