Spring

08/30/2011

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A spring is a sudden release of stored energy. It's the combined power saved from a thousand tiny efforts. In winter you coil up within yourself; muscles wound tightly, saving heat. You shiver in anticipation, waiting for the spring. 

It comes.

In the creek, the water flows frothy with frogspawn. Mr Duck loudly and tunelessly serenades Mrs Duck, who hides her head under her wing in embarrassment. Harsh black Ravens, highly private in treetops, coo quietly to each other in the voices they only use once a year. The Moorhen family wearing matching purple vests and long orange boots delightedly collect slimy weeds to build their nest, while Mr and Mrs White-faced Egret look down their long noses and ask whether the frogs are organic. Baby bunnies, prey of cold or poison, lie still in the grass. Magpies rule the world. There are other birds, but they're not doing anything interesting.

Antarctica doesn't have a spring. It doesn't have an autumn. It doesn't save your energy. It doesn't save your life. It just takes away everything you have. The only real difference between summer and winter is that in the summer you're not dead yet. It is a land of black and white and heartbreaking, soulcrushing blues.

I hope this project has a springtime.
 
 
Friends and companions get you gone,
'Tis my desire to be alone;
Ne'er well but when my thoughts and I
Do domineer in privacy.
No Gem, no treasure like to this,
'Tis my delight, my crown, my bliss.

All my joys to this are folly,
Naught so sweet as melancholy.


'Tis my sole plague to be alone,
I am a beast, a monster grown,
I will no light nor company,
I find it now my misery.
The scene is turn'd, my joys are gone,
Fear, discontent, and sorrows come.

All my griefs to this are jolly,
Naught so fierce as melancholy.

- From Robert Burton's The anatomy of melancholy, published 1624 or thereabouts.

I can imagine what Scott felt, and hopefully what the player will feel, at the midpoint of their journey. "There is no hope. I can only fail, and it will be no one's fault but mine. I have let down everyone who depended on me. I may as well quit now. But I have to keep going because I have a duty to see this to the end."

And as they become small hardened seeds of themselves, stripped of all personality except a desire for food and warmth, they become part of the thing they are fighting - the blank, unrelenting, unthinking force - and learn through crystallised minds that the real enemies were themselves.
 
 
I currently have the flu, so I know what it's like to die alone.

This week I've been thinking about themes. I like a theme in art, because I like to pretend other people have more of a clue than I have about life. 

I'm finding it hard to think of themes for this game, as it really has no story and the environment is a whole bunch of nothing. I guess the most basic theme of our game is the basic theme of all games, which is the basic theme of all art: to leave the player a tiny bit different than they were before.

There are three main topics I've been thinking about:

1. Companionship: the trials and tribulations of. Together you may be strong, but being dependant on others also makes you vulnerable. United in a group, you can be more than the sum of your parts, but you can also feel the loneliest you've ever been.

2. Snowflakes. Snowflakes are unique. We are all unique snowflakes. What does this mean in a world made of snow? What does this mean if they're all trying to kill you?

3. Resilience. You must keep striving forward, even though death is inevitable. I think this theme resonates with me the most. You know you're not going to succeed, it's certain you're going to let everyone down, you're mostway dead already, but you have to keep going. Because what's the alternative?

This week I'll be thinking of stories, starting on a polar bear and planning my funeral. Next time I'll write on things I've learnt from Mr Ferguson's comedy workshop.
 
 
Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. Here are some real-life events which are too gamey to be in the game:
  • One time they camped on sea ice. This wasn't a great idea, as when they awoke they were floating out to sea and their possessions were scattered on a bunch of floating ice sheets. To get back to land, they had to collect their supplies and ponies and jump from one sheet to another as hungry orca whales lunged at them.
  • Another time, as they were crossing a field of crevasses, the ground collapsed under the dog sled team. Half the dogs were one one side, half were on the other, and the ones in the middle were slowly strangled to death by their harnesses.
  • As the last support team left Scott and his team to complete the final trek to the South Pole, the weather turned and they couldn't keep up time. To avoid dying of cold and starvation, they took a radical decision to speed up their journey. On the top of Beardmore glacier, they all hopped on the sled and rode all the way down, reaching speeds of 100 kph. 100 kph!
  •  The same team (lead by Lieutenant Evans) also encountered massive crevasses on the way back to camp. One particularly large crevasse, 25 metres from edge to edge, could only be crossed by a tiny ice-bridge. They named this "the crossbar to the H of Hell".
 

On stuff.

07/10/2011

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Forgive me for another huge long blog post, but I've been stuck in a house with cats for a week and I'm enjoying the opportunity to use words with consonants in. I want to write about the future, because it's just like the present except you don't have to do it yet. It's also made entirely out of platonic forms and hope. The future is the best place to hide vulnerable emotions like hope, because no one will ever be able to find them to crush them.

I originally wanted to get into games design to get rid of all the silly plots and characters that had been free-loading off my synapses for years. The bludgers just kept breeding and producing new ideas, and I figured the sugary pill of paid employment would eradicate them all. I thought about being a writer, but decided against it because I enjoy having money and self-respect. (So obviously, I became a student.) 

We're all in our final year at RMIT, and it's been really fun. We do arty-farty stuff, and writing exercises, and make mods, and sculpt 3d models. The only downside is that we have to trade in this cozy patchwork world for the real one. There's only limited space under this doona, and you have to get out of bed sometime, even if you do have cold feet.

"What chance do I have" I wonder, often now. But it's not useful to be negative, except in certain medical or electrical circumstances. I can't remember who said "We have seen the enemy, and he is us", but I'm sure he was lots of fun to be around. Sometimes I think I'm the only optimist left in the world. 

So this project is pretty important, as it will be the last of its kind. All our other projects have been consumed, sent away to zoos or otherwise tamed for the domestic market. This will be the last wild game we make. Maybe one of our group will try eke out a living in the indie jungle. Perhaps we will all live in the city and tour the countryside on the weekends. Maybe we'll breed little baby games in our backyards as a hobby, or spend our lives splicing genes to determine the toenail colour of huge honking beasties. Maybe we'll stack supermarket shelves.

I'm quite sure the future will include play, because play is everything. As you get older, I think playfulness gets directed into certain areas. Flirting, cooking, decorating, pets and children. These are adult ways to play. The rest of it all seems very serious. And it seems to me when a person is serious for a long time, they get used to it. And it becomes comfortable and familiar, and eventually it happens that you can't remember feeling any other way. But there's always more future, and you can keep fun in there too.
 
 
At temperatures below 30 degrees, anything exposed to the air dies. Flesh freezes solid. Capillaries in the skin writhe and burst. Nerves shut down, then wake up screaming hours later. Fingers blacken and split. Hope evaporates. Dreams of homecoming perish. Memories fade. Thoughts other than food and warmth shrivel and die. Your only change of survival is to cut yourself off from the world. 

Fortunately, there's a Wikihow to tell you how to do it. I wouldn't want to be a polar explorer before the internet.
 
 
So far I've talked a lot of guff about possibilities, ideas, and vague desires. But ideas are worthless. They aren't real. 

Here's a list of things we've actually decided. I've divided them into nouns and verbs; things and actions. 
Games are made out of nouns and verbs (and sometimes adjectives and adverbs too, if they're complex games!)
Being an interactive medium, games are all about the verbs. If the action is fun, then you've got a pretty good game.
So far we have a lot of nouns, and not so many verbs. That's ok! We have weeks, and nouns are easier to think about first.

Nouns
  • There are 8 people.
  • They all have predefined roles.
  • Scott is the leader.
  • There is an inventory of stuff.
  • The inventory contains food, a stove, fuel, animal food, sleeping bags, science equipment and a tent.
  • The inventory may also contain fears, hopes, and memories.
  • They carry all the stuff on sleds.
  • They have individual items, which is aligned to their predefined role.
  • Scott has a diary.
  • There are x dogs and n horses.

Verbs
  • The objective is to get to the pole and back.
  • The three main activities are walking, camping and rationing.
  • Being the leader, Scott tells others what to do, chooses what equipment to take, allocates resources and decides the route.
  • Over time, the landscape becomes more complex.


 
 
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to log in, update and tune out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on adam and skip,
Skip out for beer during load screens,
Because the revolution will not be gamified.

The revolution will not be gamified.
The revolution will not be brought to you by EA
In 4 sequels 6 months apart.
The revolution will not show you pictures of ladies
hoisting large guns and leading a charge in underwear,
high boots, ammo belts and smeared makeup to eat
turducken liberated from a Nazi stronghold.
The revolution will not be gamified.

The revolution will not be brought to you by indie
developers and will not star pirates, ninjas, zombies,
robots, monsters, vampires, werewolves, cyborgs or soldiers.
The revolution will not give you character customisation.
The revolution will not give you a high score.
The revolution will not give you any extra lives
to use, because the revolution will not be gamified, brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Alyx Vance
shooting down that antlion from the back of a broken jepp,
or having one-sided conversations while learning to use the gravity gun.
You will not be told when your armour has critical damage
or when your friends have died.
The revolution will not be gamified.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Gay Tony being
run out of town as you launch a tank into the air with the cheat code.
There will be no slow motion or still life of a large-shouldered
man strolling through an explosion in a pair of tight leather
chaps and aviator sunglasses that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Networking, marketing and Facebook games
will no longer be so damned relevant, and
homophobes will not care if Shepard gets down with
blue aliens on Mass Effect because game designers
will be in the street playtesting a brighter day.
The revolution will not be gamified.

There will be no screenshots on the official moderated
forum and no congratulatory GUI text telling
you your position on the international leaderboard.
The theme song will not be written by Jonathon Coulton,
Yū Miyake, nor sung by hundreds of fans ironically
after the key phrases become widely-circulated memes.
The revolution will not be gamified.

The revolution will not be right back after a cut-scene
about a white wizard, white lions, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the red under your bed.
The revolution will not be better in widescreen.
The revolution will not bombard your position with waves of AI army troops.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be gamified, will not be gamified,
will not be gamified, will not be gamified.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

With sincere apologies to Mr Scott-Heron. RIP.
 
 
  • Sometimes wind get get so fast and cold that it can cut like a knife.
  • Halva is delicious and I never want to eat anything else ever.
  • Camping on sea ice in summer isn't a great idea.
  • Scott thought white ponies worked harder than other ponies. He was a horse-racist.
  • Corsets are a) tricky to put on by one's self; b) the natural enemy of the stocking; c) painful if you've ever had badly-healed broken ribs.
  • Penguins are so broody that an eggless penguin father will shape ice into a ball and care for that instead. 
  • Entry level jobs have the most elaborate application processes. Why is that?
  • Frostbite causes huge blisters, which then freeze and solidify. Eww.
  • The sound of 200 homing pigeons swooping just a few metres above your head is pretty special.
  • Bowers once confused curry powder with cocoa powder. They drank the spicy milk anyway.
 
 
Antarctica is a horrible lady. Mainly because she's so easy to anthropomorphise. You cannot know her without meeting her. People will try and tell you what she's like, but it won't help. "She's cold," they say, "and windy". But she's not. She's cold and windy in the same way as my chicken sandwich is a t-rex. On a good day she'll bury you in soft snow, evaporate your fuel from its tins and blind you with her beauty. She will never like you. The best you can ever hope for is grudging tolerance. Even in a good mood she's twice as cold as my freezer. Yet she carefully preserves every remnant of your visit, like a capricious grandmother. She'll convince your friends to kill themselves so she can have you to herself. On a bad day she'll just kill you. She'll freeze your food, freeze your clothes solid, yell at you until you're deaf, bite your fingers off, steal the vitamins from your body and then double the weight of all your possessions. On a blustery whim she can pick men up and scatter them like unwanted toys. For fun she makes compasses unusable and digs crevasses under thin ice. What a nasty lady.