At the Bottom of a Well

You sit at the bottom of a well in the midst of an arid desert.
The depth holds a darkness the sun reaches only at its zenith.
The wet pulls at your clothes with a weight beyond your strength.
The stone bricks bruise your bones, leaving skin untouched.
What water remains is undrinkable.
What sunlight arrives carries no heat.
What sounds you manage go unheard.
Your clothes melt in the brine.
Your nails break on the rock.
You’re really quite lucky.
There are those in the desert who’d kill for your water.
There are those in the desert who’d kill for your cold.
There are those in the desert, but you’ve never met them.
You’re well and truly alone.
If you could stand, there’s nowhere to go.
If you could climb, there’s nothing beyond.
If you could escape, there’s only another problem.
There was a time when you stretched.
There was a time when you screamed.
There was a time, once.
You can’t really remember it, Time.
You could summon a second wind, but where would it blow?
You could remember a loved one, but where are they now?
You could keep living, but where would you be?
Sitting at the bottom of a well in the midst of an arid desert.

I’m told there are many types and degrees of depression. When I feel it, this is mine.

Wood-Burned Baramba Board

When planning Baramba, the first image in my mind was  a scene deep in the midst of a pine forest. Two orange-clad monks sat opposite one another with an old stump between, each with a small cup of river stones and burned-bone dice. Carefully burned into the stump was an ornate board of circles, diamonds, and dots — sanded to a smooth, splinter-free surface, but untouched by polish or stain.

Before this project, I’d never seen a wood-burning kit, much less practiced with or owned one. However, I’d seen the results live, and they were beautiful. I wanted a Baramba board that matched my original idea, I wanted a new creative experience, and I wanted a usable piece of wall art that meant something to me. Here are my efforts.

Yu-Gi-Oh: Inexplicable Attraction

While there exists a cacophony of cliches in television, there are three elements I hate more than any: repetitive rehash, brotherhood beats all, and duplicate deus ex machina. Each one receives a loving callout from yours truly at every entrance, and each one is a negative point during TV season grading. Excessive use of a single one can permanently break a show, and break out into spontaneous and intense ranting.

Yu-Gi-Oh’s first television season follows Yugi and his friends as they participate in a card game tournament hosted by a manipulative mogul to win back the soul of Yugi’s grandfather from the Shadow Realm. In season one, 60% of all episodes began with “Previously on Yu-Gi-Oh”, and were followed by endless exposition worked into 40% of all dialogue. I was never allowed to forget that: Yugi fought for his grandfather’s soul, Joey fought for his sister’s surgery, Tea believed in Yugi, Pegasus wanted Yugi’s Millenium Puzzle, Kaiba wanted revenge, and friendship trumps all obstacles. I was especially unable to forget the last, as every match — without fail — was written to the tune of “We’re here for you, <X Person>! Don’t give up! We believe in you!” The only times this god-like friendship power failed was when the plot required, and the plot held all the power. Every time a card was needed, it was the only card that would do, and it was the next card drawn. Every time a strategy threatened, a counter-strategy was pulled from fate-polluted air. The gods in the machine were so numerous that I considered Pegasus’s mind-reading abilities to be near worthless next to Yugi’s impenetrable luck. It violates other rules as well: it’s a kid’s show and written as one, the cheesiness deserves a dish, nearly all twists are obvious as car-wrecks, and the only saving grace is a mysterious Egyptian mythology concept that has yet to be even remotely explored.

And yet, I watched. I refuse to believe my childhood nostalgia is strong enough to counter such atrocities. I feel bad, noticeably ashamed at my viewing and encouragement of such obvious drivel. I should be lashed with the thousand-tailed whip of Bad-Writing Appreciation. But, after my lashing, I’ll turn on season two while I go about my day.

Odd Book: Genius by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen

As a wearer of optics, I can say the font was a poor choice:

indistinguishable r’s and t’s, three-humped m’s, cobbler-elf sizing.

As an infrequent art-critic, I can say the visuals were unsettling:

context-varied detail, near non-existant environments, possibly-intended character-inconsistency.

As a participant in a creative field, I can say mental blocks feel just like this:

increasing urgency, inevitable breakdowns, just-beyond-reach solutions.

As an oft-depressed individual, I can say melancholy is depicted perfectly:

spousal conversation-block, small-thing obsession, inescapable apathy.

As a Mensa-declared genius, I can say this is the dark side of intelligence:

ever-growing self-expectation, insatiable curiosity, begrudging life-mundanity.

As a reader, I’m entirely unsure how to feel about this graphic novel:

its story, its ending, its message.

As a rule, I avoid things like this, but I find it odd enough to recommend:

get it, experience it, let me know how you feel.

Good Book: Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics by Tom Rogers

Though Full Sail University has had its share of bad classes with worse course material, Fundamentals of Physical Science is surprisingly not among them. In the continually brilliant move of associating course material to careers we actually care about, the textbook for this course is Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics by Tom Rogers — essentially a high-level, book-written Cinema Sins. Here are my top five thoughts:

  1. The highlighted movie flaws are a good mix of the obvious and the surprising. Everyone feels like scenes from The Matrix or The Incredible Hulk are nonsense, and it’s satisfying to have those suspicions confirmed with science. Everyone also falls for plot holes, lackluster forethought, and scientific mumbo jumbo from time to time, and it’s fun to berate yourself for not having noticed before.
  2. The fundamentals of physical science are explained very well, with numerous examples of right and wrong application, meaning this book works well as the text for an introductory course. I earnestly wish more “textbooks” were this amusing to read.
  3. The author has all of the snarkiness one would expect from genre savviness of this level. I’m obviously biased in this area, but the thinly-veiled jabs at Hollywood and its stories were easily the best parts of the book. I wish there were more, but I understand parody and sarcasm weren’t Rogers’ primary goals.
  4. This book contains numerous complex equations and intricate examples based on the films it mentions. These are very neat, and I’m glad someone took the time to work them out. I’m equally glad Rogers chose to set them aside with obvious grey boxes, so that skimming is easier and my delicate, insecure impression of self-intelligence isn’t harmed.
  5. The chapter on Star Trek and Star Wars began as well as one would hope, but quickly devolved into bashing on the plot, characters, and overall impressions he (and admittedly most everyone) gleaned from the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Thoughts on those films aside, it broke the character and system of the book, and was the weakest, least-interesting chapter.

Overall, I would have little problem recommending this to any free-time critics and movie-debaters. However, unless you enjoy the hobby, it’s a bit dense for a casual read.

Cuoieria Fiorintina's Leather Briefcase (Wallet)

Dillon: Let’s say you’re in the market for a really good wallet — one that lasts for 5 years, minimum. How much would you pay for a simple, slim, stylish, non-folding wallet that holds everything you need inside hand-stitched Italian leather made in and imported from Italy?

Dad the Father: Nothing, not when I can get one for free. <offers a thick, black leather, tri-fold biker wallet complete with buttons and chain clip from a dusty drawer>

Morgan the Spouse: Five bucks. Anything more than that isn’t worth it. This one was five bucks it works! <holds a worn, grey plaid cloth, tri-fold wallet whose thickness is doubled by a literally useless, fake clasp>

Greg the Friend: Fifteen. I have a wallet I bought brand new for that and it’s lasted for five years or more. Holds everything I need, and it’s still in good condition. <suggests thick, tri-fold, buttock-curved wallet with five times the needed space>

Mom the Mother: Hmm, for all that? If I were buying it for you for Christmas and it was really nice, probably forty-five or fifty dollars. <looks at suggested wallet online, and nods>

Mothers know best.

IMG_0170.jpg

This is a Brown Leather Briefcase from Cuoieria Fiorentina. It is simple, slim, stylish, without folds, and holds everything I need inside hand-stitched Italian leather made in and imported from Italy.

The wallet itself costs 24 euros, and the shipping to Somerset, Kentucky, USA was 16 euros. Normally, I would balk at the idea of two-thirds-price shipping, but the package made the 5,000 mile journey in less than two days and arrived in perfect condition, so the shipping cost was well-used.

I’m not accustomed to premium products, so to me, the quality is superb: the outside is smooth, the stitching is perfect, and the logo isn’t an unnecessary bulge. The inside is a silky, khaki cloth that allows for stick-free card insertion and removal.

… But I’m not a wallet critic or connoiseur, so it could be absolutely terrible to a refined taste. I know nothing of what’s in or out, tolerable or abhorrent, long-lasting or fleeting. What I do know is this: whether it comes from the specific tanning practices or the type of cow or the perfume of the lady who packages the product, this thing smells great, which is just the best kind of unexpected conversational bonus.

PC Building Pinnacle

This is the best computer I have ever built:

The components are excellent:

  • Processor: Intel i5-4690K
  • Processor Cooler: Zalman CNPS8900
  • Motherboard: ASUS H97i-PLUS
  • Memory: Kingston HyperX Fury 2x4GB
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970
  • Solid State Drive: Samsung 840 Evo 250GB
  • Hard Disk Drive: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB
  • Power Supply: Silverstone SFX 450W Gold
  • Case: Silverstone MLO7 Gaming HTPC
  • Case Fans: 3x Corsair SP120

I spent far more time on the physical build than any other, using professional tools and boundless patience to achieve a component density greater than the Alienware X51.

It is the most mechanically beautiful, technically powerful, and aesthetically simple of my builds. It is not the best, but it is the best I have ever done, and it is a beautiful note on which to end.

I have sold this computer, left the world of PC Building, and returned to boring, Apple-infused mainstream mobility. Why?

  • I obsessed. I coveted the most beautiful, most powerful, and most expensive of components, and I lack the financial funding for constant upgrades, spec racing, and the hobby in general.
  • I neglected. I built a powerful machine of which I never took advantage. I spend most of my time writing, not pushing the limits of computing technology.
  • I simplified. In my Pursuit of Simplicity, I vowed to rid myself of needless extras and this was one of them. It hurt, but I feel better with it gone.

Someday, when I have the money, the time, and the spousal approval, I may return to the PC Building realm, but for now, I’m happy without it.


Real Life: Spectator

Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans. Tears run slow streams as She runs from the store.
Car door rips open, slams shut, waves Spectator’s hair nearby.
She screams, Spectator looks, She wails, Spectator looks away.
She bludgeons the dash with vicious swipes.
Her knuckles crack, the dash cracks, Her face cracks and floods.
Spectator watches—a helpless stranger watching helpless strange.
She clutches her phone, Her lifeline and torment, Her fingers flash over numbered keys.
The car and She sputter to life, screaming as they careen away.

Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans.
Eyes dry, cheeks puffed, She speaks to the man behind the counter.
Her voice shakes, her timbre shivers, and her words pierce Spectator’s ear.
She speaks, Spectator listens, She walks, Spectator walks behind.
Black Hair Lollipop and Long Hair Trucker Cap stand by.
Lollipop sucks, Trucker Cap speaks, She waits.
Spectator watches—a harmless watcher watching.
She clutches her television, Her gift and joy, Her smile splits shuddering sighs.
Her crew and She chatter and laugh as Spectator drifts away.

Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans.
Her presence lingers where She does not.
Trucker Cap and Wife Beater dodge Spectator in the aisle.
Wife Beater points, She receives, He rages, She recoils.
He bludgeons the air with vicious swipes.
His knuckles crack, Spectator turns, Trucker Cap tries to still the waters.
Spectator watches—a puzzled stranger watching puzzle pieces fall.
Security trots past, toward Her screech and His voice, their eyes peeled wide.
Spectator disappears down the aisle, He and Them and They and She mixing in his mind.

SCAD Essays: Kim Swift & Portal

Originally written for Savannah College of Art and Design on November 13th, 2013.


When discussing rising stars in the video game industry or the women who have attained game development hall of fame status, it is impossible to overlook Kim Swift. Born in 1983 and a game designer since 2005, Kim’s game designs have made considerable impacts in the industry. During her attendance at DigiPen Institute of Technology, she and her peers designed and created a game called Narbacular Drop, which was promptly discovered by Gabe Newell -- the co-founder and managing director of Valve. Newell was so impressed with the game concept that he hired Kim and her entire team to re-create Narbacular Drop using Valve’s Source engine. As employees of Valve, Kim and her team designed the critically acclaimed Portal.

“[Portal] primarily comprises a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player’s character and simple objects using ‘the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device’, a device that can create inter-spatial portals between two flat planes.” These portals can be navigated as if they were connected doorways. Entering through one, the player emerges from the other. Portal’s originality of concept and design was universally praised. It has received multiple game of the year awards, several awards for innovation and originality, and in 2012, Time Magazine named it as one of the 100 greatest video games of all time. So what is it about the game that makes it so great?

What makes Kim Swift’s design some of the best in video game history?

“The basic formulas of level design go... When you start out, you want to teach the player how to play. You need to make sure they understand every mechanic of the game. Every level... needs to have some example forcing the player to do something -- in order to beat the level -- that they will need further in the game. Just in case somebody didn’t play that level, a couple levels later... reiterate. [Teach] the player that ‘You can do this.’ Everybody in the world will see a problem and want to solve it. Once you try it yourself, you’ve taught yourself, and not only do you feel smart -- like you’ve figured out something yourself -- You also now, for sure, know how to do that from then on in the game.”

This process -- as illustrated by game designer Edmund McMillan -- is an accurate description of Kim Swift’s level design in Portal. One of the best examples from the game is the “fling” mechanic. In Portal, the portals preserve the player’s momentum as the player passes through them, which -- for a fast moving player -- causes them to be “flung” out of the exiting portal. The level in which this concept is introduced -- Chamber 10 -- is almost insulting simple. As Rock, Paper, Shotgun describes it, “It’s an antepiece, a brief task that exists not to provide challenge in itself but to introduce an idea that will help the player deal with a setpiece that will come soon after it.” In Chamber 12, the player is given control of both the entrance and exit Portal (compared to Chamber 10, when the player only controlled the entrance.) “Chamber 12, then, exists mostly to make you handle both ends of a fling.” Beginning with Chamber 15, the player is introduced to a slightly modified version of the fling. The process is based upon the same idea, but takes it a step further, showing the player, once again, “You can do this.” “Here, if you plop out of the portal on the thrusted panel with zero momentum, you’ll just fall onto the black unportalable floor. That’s why you use the petite fall in the room on the right to get a minor fling – not enough for you to clear the glass barrier, but enough to get you to the white, portalable floor. It is when you’re falling towards that surface that you slap down a portal in front of you, allowing you to chain directly into a second, more powerful forward fling that completes the puzzle.” Throughout the game, mechanics such as the “fling” are introduced through simple puzzles, and then modified further and further into larger and more expansive mechanics, with multiple applications based on the situation. In this way, players are not bombarded with all of the possibilities from the beginning, but learn them along the way as they develop as a player. “Portal forced me to use its own mechanics to see myself and learn who I was playing.”

On top of the sequencing and education of game mechanics, designers must also be wary of the components that make up the mechanic. Too few elements can leave the puzzle wanting, making it easily solvable by the players. Too many elements can confuse the players beyond solvability. It is a delicate balance between what the player has to interact with, and how much activity takes place in their mind. Portal rides this line well, having only a few select environmental objects -- moveable cubes, lasers, enemy robots, etc. -- but varies both their combination and situational layouts to make each interaction with them both familiar and unique.

Another crucial element in the construction of a puzzle game is the dexterity required by the player. Typically, puzzle games require little physical dexterity, as the game is based around mental obstacles rather than physical ones. Portal is non-traditional in that it requires both. Again, this is a question of balance, but one of potential player-base: too little dexterity limits the game to traditional puzzle-gamers and too much dexterity ostracizes them. Kim Swift specifically addressed this in Portal. “Ideally, you want a player to come into a room, take a look, and within 30 seconds to a minute, know what they have to do, and then it’s a matter of executing on it.”

Kim Swift not only creates and evolves these elegant mechanics, but uses them to manipulate the players throughout the game. She says, “Level design is a meta-game for us as designers, to take a look at a space, and we as a designer have a particular mentality of how it’s supposed to be solved, what we want the players to look at, what do we want, where do we want them to go. It is a game for us to see if we have manipulated you the way we wanted to."

While being manipulated by the designer may sound negative, it is this manipulation that leads to excellent gameplay. “It’s leading the player without making them feel like they’re led, because you don’t want to just hit them over the head with the solution – because that’s just like talking down to somebody... But at the same time, you want to be able to steer them in the correct path, so that way, they’re not just sitting there thrashing, trying to figure out where to go or what to do. And so it’s a balance, for sure. You want to add as many environment hints as possible while at the same time not making it stupidly obvious.” These environmental hints were so cleverly designed in Portal that many users weren’t aware they were being led until their second or third playthroughs.

However, designing an excellent game isn’t all about mechanics and leading people through them. You must respect the player and realize that they are people -- in search of an adventure or story or engaging experience. The designer can do their best to craft an excellent game, but in the end, the player is the key to an excellent experience. “You can create the sandbox, and put tools inside of it, but you can’t control how the children play.” “I think it's about, yeah, you're playing into the world the designer made for you, but at the same time you're also creating your own story within this world, as well, just by your actions. I think players should impress themselves onto the game world, and I think it makes it more immersive, and makes it more fun, and I know I do that. At the end of the day, I want to make products that people have a good time with.”

It’s easy to list the qualities of excellent game design. On paper, they seem like variables to be accounted for, a list of steps to be taken whilst creating a game. But those that are not designers often fail to recognize the difficulty of these achievements: the years of study, practice, and execution required to produce a game of excellent quality. Jacque Schrag of Root Beer Float Studio says, “This is something I said at the very beginning of our first sprint - ‘Game Design is Hard’... I’m realizing just how far off the mark I was initially with my assessment of game design... I had never sat down and thought about the basic mechanics of a game... These were elements of a game that a designer actually had to think about, even though, to the player, they might seem completely trivial... I have quickly realized that it does not matter what your theme is or how developed it is, it will not make a successful game if it does not have a corresponding set of successful mechanics behind it.” Many developers, especially at Kim’s age, have had no commercially successful projects at all.

For Kim Swift, the culmination of her years at DigiPen, her original idea with Narbacular Drop, and her brilliance in terms of gameplay mechanics, level design, and player psychology was Portal -- undeniably and near-universally agreed upon as one of the best designed games in video game history.

SCAD Essays: Outside Context -- When Graphics Aren't Enough

Current generation video games boast some of the most impressive graphical achievements in history. Games like Crysis 3, Witcher 2, or Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have pushed the visual aspects of video games so far that they are sometimes indistinguishable from real life. It should be obvious then, that these games have no difficulty in creating recognizable graphics. A gun in Crysis 3 is clearly a gun. Characters in the Witcher 2 are easily distinguishable from one another on facial features alone. Skyrim displays multiple types of recognizable plant life. With these collections of graphical wonders, it is jarring to view games from the dawn of the video game era – when the technology was significantly less impressive.

The first video game console to become a pop phenomenon was the Atari Video Computer System. This was not the only home console on the market at the time, but what competition it had was little threat. It's massive popularity is strange in a way, as its graphical capabilities were severely limited and somewhat unusual: especially when compared to current generation consoles.

The most common resolution used for the Atari VCS was 160 pixels by 192 pixels. The VCS could only utilize those pixels in groups of four, meaning the developers had access to 40 x 48 “dots” – as the 4 pixel groupings were referred to – or 1920 dots total. The most common resolution used for the Playstation 3 is 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels. The PS3 can utilize all of those pixels, meaning today's developers have access to 2,073,600 dots. The Atari VCS had a maximum color palette of 128 colors and could display 4 of them at a time (one color per object). It could also only display two 8-bit sprites – 8 dots by 8 dots – and three 1 dot sprites. Current generation consoles have none of these limitations, and are measured by terms and speeds that weren't conceived of when the Atari VCS was released.

SCAD: Tennis Graphics

So, in the face of these extreme limitations, how did the early video game developers create games whose stories, environments, and images continue to impact the world today?

To begin, we should start with the first game to be released on the Atari VCS. According to its manual, Combat was comprised of 27 games – variants of tank, tank-pong, invisible tank, invisible tank-pong, bi-plane and jet. That is not far from the kind of description found on modern franchises like Battlefield. However, you will find that the graphical prowess of Combat does not quite match up with its elaborate description.

SCAD: Combat Graphics

Because the graphics were significantly lacking, developers utilized methods of outside context to strengthen the visual information provided by the blocky, near-illegible images.

The most immediate channel of outside context is the packaging of the game. The packaging contains three crucial sources of context: the title, the manual, and the box art.

Titles have always been important for any kind of media. The title is the first contact the player has with the game, and it directs the player's mind toward the correct path of inference. While the title “Combat” could summon any number of scenarios for the modern gamer, the Atari generation would most likely have associated it with contemporary war. However, it was also important for the title to not be too specific. For example, had the game been titled Tanks, players might have associated the images on screen with different models of tank, rather than imagining the full vehicular arsenal promised.

The game's manual could be as descriptive as the developers wanted. Even though its main purpose was to instruct the player, it could suggest useful context through keywords – in this case: tank, plane, and jet. However, the manual had two major flaws in terms of context delivery. Many players never had it and some who did never read it. This is why it is the lesser of the three initial sources.

If a gamer actually owned the box the game came in, it was one of the best tools a developer could use to influence them. Looking at the box art for Combat, you'll notice that the art depicted is incredibly more detailed than what is seen in-game.

SCAD: Combat Box

Box art was one of the few mediums where the only developer limit was the box's size, and because of this, they typically tried to fit as much detail as they could in the small space.

Unfortunately, while Combat did an excellent job of explaining the player controlled images, it did not explain its environment. One of the criticisms of Combat at the time was that the arbitrarily created environments lacked any kind of background or story. Nick Montfort from Game Studies says:

“Combat might somehow be tortured into confessing a story, but what it mainly does is facilitate a particular type of competition, providing an apparatus and context for play, a computer-mediated way of interacting with another player rather than a digital vehicle for an expressive message. It is difficult to see the game program as related to a war movie.”

It might seem impossible to create stories and environments with such a small graphical window, but there was at least one Atari VCS game that did.

When Pitfall! was released in 1982, its box art showed a far smaller improvement over its actual graphics.

SCAD: Pitfall Box

Based on the trends of the time, this was a useful resource that David Crane – the creator of Pitfall! – had not taken full advantage of. However, he made use of a different channel that the creators of Combat would have done well to consider.

Crane did not design Pitfall! in a traditional sense. His original goal was to create an animated human character – an unaccomplished feat as of then. After creating his human character, he realized that he did not have a setting for the character to exist in. Instead of creating an entirely new setting, he borrowed from the common themes of the time.

It’s no surprise that the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was released in 1981, influenced the design of Pitfall!, and there was another apparent nod to Tarzan with the presence of the swinging vines. But not so obvious were the introductions of the alligators. “I remembered from deep in my childhood a pair of cartoon characters (Magpies) called Heckle and Jekyll. They had a sequence during which they would run across the heads of alligators, barely escaping the jaws. I thought that would make for an interesting sequence in the game.”

The jungle exploits of famous adventurers were pop culture staples at the time, meaning that if the player was in anyway familiar with those popular environments, almost every image in Pitfall! became immediately recognizable – including the most iconic enemy of Pitfall!: the Alligators. By using a pop culture theme, his images could build on pre-existing expectations of the players to deliver a fully realized environment.

While titles, manuals, box art, and pop culture were available to any Atari developer, there were some channels that required a more devoted following. One game in particular used its advantages to their fullest extent, furthering its popularity and bringing far more context to the game than would have been possible otherwise.

In 1978, Taito released an arcade game titled Space Invaders. The premise of the game was to defend Earth from alien invaders by shooting them down as they marched toward you. You could hide behind walls, but their bullets would slowly chip away at the walls until there was nothing left to hide behind.

SCAD: Space Invaders Graphcis

In a market where the vast majority of games were pong clones in one way or another, this top-down shooter revolutionized and rejuvenated the video game world. The cabinet made its way to the United States in 1979, and by 1980, it had found its way to the Atari VCS.

“The 1980 Atari 2600 release quadrupled the sales of the system, and the game, not content with being the first home console game to sell one million copies, would go on to sell over two million.”

“In fact, Space Invaders was so popular in Japan that it caused a shortage of the 100-Yen coin, the coin needed to play the game. This shortage affected several other aspects of Japanese life including the heavy disruption of the primary form of transportation, the Subway. Space Invaders had brought Japan to its knees and the government was literally forced to quadruple the production of the Yen coin to meet the new demand.”

Because of its monumental success, Space Invaders could take advantage of a rare source of outside context: a full gaming culture. Not the gaming culture – the overall community of gamers – but its very own, tailor made to the Space Invaders universe.

Due to its intensifying popularity, entire arcades were opened in Japan specifically for Space Invaders, many of which held dozens of Space Invader coin-ops and no others! As hysteria concerning the game mounted, shop owners of all trades abandoned their goods and converted their stores to video arcades, some complete with booming audio systems broadcasting the "thumping march" of the invaders into the streets. With the ever-growing demand, other venues starting hosting coin-operated machines, and Space Invaders had found a habitat everywhere from pizza parlors, restaurants, and bars, to drug stores, laundry mats, roller rinks, grocery stores and even such unlikely locales as funeral homes.

By literally having its own environment, the context of Space Invaders could be passed on through any number of channels: word of mouth, music, posters, etc. Creating a real world environment is not something every game could manage, but in this case, it turned a simple game into a world wide phenomenon.

Outside context was a necessity for the dawn of gaming. It harnessed the creativity and imagination of its players to strengthen the graphics of its games. Many of today's developers rely solely on their graphical strength to carry the message through to the players. They do not have to contend with the “hardware wall” as the early developers did. However, the developers who actively use outside context have been, are, and always will be the more effective.

SCAD Essays: Definition of Design

Originally written on March 31st, 2012 for Savannah College of Art and Design.


Present in all forms of media, the word design is attached to a broad spectrum of categories. While areas like graphic design, automotive design, or fashion design are clearly labeled, the word design is a complex idea to define.

Design Basics by David A. Lauer and Stephen Pentak states that design “means to plan, to organize.” (Design Basics, pg. 4) The dictionary states that design is “to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan.” While strict definitions such as these offer a simplistic, graspable interpretation, they hardly do the term justice. Design is better defined as a process, as a series of plans and organizations that evolve and adapt along with the subject matter. However, as with most creative processes, it is incredibly difficult to narrow the definition or outline the process, since it varies between individuals and projects. Design Basics agrees with this theory, saying “Guidelines exist that usually will assist in the creation of successful designs. These guidelines certainly do not mean the artist is limited to any specific solution.” (Design Basics, pg. 5)

Over the past four years, I have been heavily involved in website design, graphic design, musical composition, and more. However, the majority of my time has been invested in game design through all mediums (card games, board games, video games, etc.) I have previously tried to outline my game design process in an effort to improve my development time and project quality. Though these attempts were ultimately unsuccessful, they have shown me that my processes differ wildly -- even within the sub categories -- and that I will never truly assemble a definitive outline. However, there are a few similarities between experiences.

When designing a game, I always begin with the core idea. This idea can be a particular effect I want from my players, a specific game mechanic, or something as simple as an interesting feature. A solid core idea provides a much needed foundation for the rest of the process, and when constantly referenced, eliminates extraneous factors that would ultimately lessen the game. Once the core idea is established, I begin to develop the game mechanics that will realize and/or compliment that idea. If the core idea was a game mechanic, I thoroughly test that mechanic to ensure that it works flawlessly. Then, I begin adding additional content, constantly testing its compatibility with the core mechanic. If the core idea was an effect or feature, I develop one or more game mechanics that will combine to achieve the idea. Only once my core idea is in place, do I incorporate other embellishments.

Decidedly vague, my definition of design reflects the theory that design is an uncertain process, not a precise verb. While others may strive toward a perfect blueprint, I remain convinced that a definition is neither possible, nor needed.

Realm of the Mad God: Chaos

This post was posted elsewhere on November 29th, 2012.

Ah, I seem to be in some sort of building. What's that? Yes, the Nexus. Seems appropriate. There's quite a few people here. I have absolutely NO idea what they're babbling about, but I'm sure it's for higher level players. Let me see what is over here. There appear to be small little cave things. Let's try one out.

I appear to be on a beach. I see my peers scampering about, waving their magic wands, brandishing their swords. I don't see the point. I don't even s-

AUGHAUGHAUGJUHUGHUHUAH RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!! <FIREBALL FIREBALL FIREBALL FIREBALL DODGE FIREBALL> THEY'RE GOING TO KILL MEEEEE!!!!! I'M TOO YOUNG TO DIIIIIIIIIIIII-

Ah they're all dead. Fantastic, let's see what they've left. Health potions.... those are good. They might be of use. There's a staff that I can't use for some reason. Must be heavy or something. Ooooh, theres some robes. Let me just strip these off an-

RUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNN!!!!! THERES MILLIONS OF THEM!!!! UNDEAD HOBBITS ARE GOING TO KILL ME!!!!!! <FIREBALL FIREBALL FIREBALL FIREBALL FIREBALL RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN FIREBALL DODGE DODGE DODGE DODGEUNSUCCESSFULLY DODGE FIRBALL> BUAAAAAAAAAAA-

Thank goodness that's over with. Oh, look a ring.

<Time passes in a whirl of strange pauses and excitement, through which flows a constant strain...>

Level 12!!! I feel so accomplished. Although, I have noticed that many of my peers are low leveled. I wonder why. It's not terribly hard to make it here. I've only been playing for a few hours. Maybe I'm just really good? If so, it's about time I found a game I'm inherently good at. Let's go try another one of those Tree things. The last one was enjoyable. Deep breath...... and.....

BLARGHAAAAAAAAUGHUAGUHAUGJLHJLKSJADLASNCASLDHASJDKA:SDJLKASD DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE <FIREBALLS APLENTY> NO NO NO NO NO YOU CAN'T HAVE FRIENDS!!!! NO DWAARF KING I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR YOU RIGHT NOW, WAIT YOUR TURN!!!!! NOOOOOOOO CATS!!!! EVERYONE GO AWAY!!!!! BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-

Well the trees dead. That's good.

-AAAAAAAAAH!!!!

Okay, thank goodness that's taken care of.

BUAGH!!!

What? I'm dead? What killed me? I thought I had taken care of everything. All well. Where's the respawn button? For that matter, where's my character? <checks the internets>

NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

<face palm, desk, wall, lamp, dresser, etc.>

Full Sail: 1-3 Word Sentence Story

Assignment Instructions:

  • You can ONLY use nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. (No articles, conjunctions, or prepositions)
  • Your "sentences" can only be between 1 and 3 words long. (Really they're simple word combinations. Think of this as a narrative poem.)
  • The story should be 100-200 words.
  • Note: Choose your words carefully. Use specific nouns, action verbs and very descriptive adjectives and adverbs to help paint the picture in words. Consider words that have subtlety or dense, multilevel meanings.

Assignment Submission:

Pillows beckon softly. Body collapses rigid. Labored breathing quickens. Time slows. Vision with blur. Sound with static. Heat without sweat. Touch without memory. Shaven head, buried. Quivering arms, wrapped. Pacing legs, twisted. Calloused feet, twitching. Fetal rocks. Winterless shivers pause. Fetal rocks again.

Countless careers provide. Few careers enlighten. Seeming mutual exclusivity. Indecision reigns. Money whispers. Money screams. Money antagonizes fulfillment. Grasping for impossibilities. Hypothetic iteration reigns. Are dreams realized? Are nightmares considered? Doubt mutilates hope. Depression reigns. Cracked portholes creak. Murky depths rise. Decided questions resurface. Blackened skies rain.

Decisions claim immediacy. Worthless souls procrastinate. Control flees. Mind follows. Incoherence prevents discussion. Reason refutes ambition. Reason denies experience. Reason becomes tyranny. Body rocks. Eyes roll. Devastation begs relief.

Indecision breeds uselessness. Time remains precious. Depression equivocates weakness. Happiness demands faith. Enraptured community suggests. Ageless tradition demands. Search holy scripture. Words reveal truth. I Am is. Books remain paper. God remains silent. All remains lost.

Spouse demands action. Need dictates participation. Location determines destination. Sleep provides clarity. Pleasant greetings exchanged. Tragic stories told. Regulatory medicine prescribed.

Pressure. Doubt. Panic. Clout. Reason. Define Ultimatum. Try. Fail. Lose faith. Seek help. Depression ad infinitum.

Cobb-Vantress Scholarship Essay

Recall a "take-away" from this past year's college experience.


At New York University, writing was practiced, but integrated with other medias. At Savannah College of Art and Design, writing was useful, but not necessary. This year, at Full Sail University, writing was treated as a craft.

Every word is specifically chosen.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” — Mark Twain

Every sentence can be small…

“Eschew the monumental. Shun the epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.” — Ernest Hemingway

because often the right words aren’t big.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” — Jack Kerouac

Words create spaces, topple empires, and change worlds. No well-written book, lyric, or script needs pictures, music, or visuals. A good writer can single-handedly provide everything the imagination needs.

Such versatility and power is daunting, but the true take-away from this year’s experience is from where such craftsmanship comes. Every great story began as a blank page. Every great writer began as an incoherent child. Even I—an avid apprentice of an age-old art—can spawn a universe from nothing but words.

The Weight of Paper

On the top shelf in the corner of corner closet, or behind the printer on a corner table in the corner of the room, sits a briefcase carrying the combined paperwork of a married couple spanning eight years. Once a week, it eagerly swallows the few morsels given, and once every so often, vomits a piece into a beckoning empty hand. It's convenient storage for the juicy tidbits the couple won't trash. It's beneficial organization for the cacophony of tree pulp that gushes when given free reign. It's heavier than it looks.

English, Spanish, Math, Science, Reading, Writing, Tests, Results, Plaques, Pictures, Newspapers, Articles, Groups, Societies, Commendations, SCC, NYU, Parson's, Mensa, SCAD, FSU, Files, Forms, Scholarships, Grants, ACS, Chase, Perkins, Stafford, Subsidized, Unsubsidized, Statements, Agreements, Letters, Laptops, Phones, Printers, Chairs, Routers, Keyboards, Grocery Lists.

In the back of a brain in the corner of the mind, or behind the eyes in the fluid of a headache, sits a fat, little monster fed with these endless streams of paper. Light and white, fluttering in the wind, these papers bend the table on which they sit and the mind on which they hang. The beast and its papers are invincible; the couple needs these tasty morsels, these juicy tidbits, these papers and laminates and things. They cannot hold them, shuffle them, organize them, or access them without the help of an ink-labeled friend.

Sheet, Down, Buzz, Up, Sheet, Down, Buzz, Up. Little by little, the feast falls from depths of the maw. Click, Type, Click, Drag, Click, Type, Click, Drag. Piece by piece, the papers fly to be snatched by binary guards. Sheet, Click, Down, Type, Buzz, Click, Up, Drag. Slowly, but doggedly the couple sits watching heavy paper become weightless numbers. They would need those numbers, those binary bits, those PDFs and PNGs and things. They could not hold, them, shuffle them, organize them, or access them alone... but their whirring, spinning, beasts of burden could and would and could do better than the shuffling, sneaky, starving rodent hiding away in the corner.

Goodbye, tiny briefcase. May your burning be bright and brief.

Culling the Bookshelves

 

I love physical books--the look, the feel, the smell. I've never lived in a home absent two full shelves, and my sister maintains a thousands-strong collection. However, living simply, I've now passed on (to family, friends, and charity) the majority of my books: children's fiction kept since youth, teenage fantasy responsible for my personality, beautifully-written adult prose, life-changing academic texts, inspiring autobiographies, and miscellaneous novelties. A few favorites were digitally replaced, but all these were sent away.

Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward, describes itself as:

“The ultimate triumph of Good and Light has transformed the world into a place of sweetness and peace. This is bad news for the “bad guys,” who include a depressed [assassin] who dresses in black, his short, feisty sidekick, a black knight, a female Druid, a man-eating sorceress, and an innocent centaur who is a spy for Good.

Finding utopia boring, they set out on a quest to restore balance to the world.”

It’s described by me as:

My first approved book from my sister’s library; my first book appropriated from said library; my first self-aware, genre savvy book; my only book held together with tape; my favorite book which defined my favorite genre, favorite character archetypes, and favorite fantasy worlds...

And now my only physical book.

Good Book: The Player of Games by Iain Banks

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks was required for my current university course: Symbolic Communications and Cartography. The name intrigued, but the copy hooked:

The Culture—a human-machine symbiotic society—has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer, and strategy.

Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try its fabulous game… a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life—and very possible his death.

With a two week time frame, I started and finished today. Here are my top five comments on the book.

  1. Banks presents a legitimate utopia, not a subtle dystopia or bubble world with hidden puppeteers, but a real physical, mental, and emotional paradise worth preserving. This is such a departure from our current existence that despite the guise of humanity, the idea felt alien. The minimization, trivialization, and optional transience of biological gender; the disestablishment of money; the universal provision of needs and wants; the introduction, inclusion, and normalized interaction with artificial intelligence and machines; the artistic creation of celestial bodies; multi-dimensional space travel; and a host of other details formed a universe as unsettling as it was unique.
  2. The main character—Jernau Morat Gurgeh—is a genius, but not to the absurd degree of Sherlock Holmes, James Moriarti, or similar characters. He's believable, and though some may find him more relatable for it, I’d prefer an impossible intelligence. Though passable, he has no real defining characteristics apart from an aptitude for and brilliance toward games. I may have enjoyed his character more, except…
  3. The rules for the primary game—Azad—are never described. By the end, I had inferred that the game involved: the maneuvering, battling, and capturing of troops; the manipulation of primary elements to change terrain; and several boards, dice, cards, and auxiliary games. Though moves and scenarios were described, most could be simplified to: The opponent played well. Gurgeh played very well. Though I recognize the game is meant to be an infinitely complex microcosm of life, I need some way to understand the immensity and brilliance of Gurgeh's genius.
  4. The stark descriptions of the Azadian culture were dark and gruesome, but refreshingly realistic. Most writers understand the depths of depravity to which humans (or suitably related aliens) are willing to stoop, but many soften the acts for their readers or themselves. The Player of Games, on the other hand, made me wince at times, despite my higher-than-average tolerance for inventive torture. Many may see this as a negative, but I generally approve of oft-avoided, detailed descriptions of the darker sides of life.
  5. Though much of the story centers on a genius player's climb through a stacked tournament, the final “twist”  shifts the focus to political subterfuge. Perhaps I'm alone in this, but when reading The Player of Games, featuring the most talented “player of games” humanity has to offer and the most intricate, beautiful game in the galaxy—upon which the fate of a civilization rests—I was more concerned with the game than the surrounding politics.

Story? Compelling, but not particularly unique. The champion of a species fighting against the odds in an other-worldly tournament isn't exactly new.

Characters? Suitable, but generally bland or one-dimensional. They fill the roles they were written to play.

World? Any writer or reader interested in world-making should read this at least once. Two complete civilizations are presented, each a clinic in detail, depth, and presentation. The world is the sole reason I recommend this book.

 

Good Book: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards! was suggested by Holly as a supplement to my current Full Sail University Course: Symbolic Communications and Cartography – specifically for its use of setting as character. Though her advice was legitimate… she's been suggesting Guards! Guards! for years; this was likely subterfuge. Here are my top five comments on the book:

  1. Ankh-Morpork is a definitive character throughout the book, both geographically and through its people. Openly cliché, surprisingly self-aware, with modern ideas executed through a dirty steampunk / medieval combination, Ankh-Morpork is high on the list of Fantasy Vacation Locations from uniquity alone. Writers concerned with proper worlds—full of grit, grime, and a healthy sense of self—need to jump into Discworld.
  2. Guards! Guards! serves as an excellent introduction to Captain Vimes of the Night's Watch, but Vimes was too static for my tastes—particularly following the radical changes of Moist von Lipwig from Going Postal. I enjoyed him, but he's yet to rise to a favorite.
  3. The Patrician is a favorite—deliciously witty and openly evil, yet rational and reasonable. He's certainly cold, but I'd have him colder. I can feel his potential, and I know from Going Postal that he'll reach it. It's my villain, and I want him now!
  4. After Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, I am tired of drawn-out, inevitable love connections. I long for a book wherein the characters involved understand their destiny quickly, and forgo hundred-page teases. Vimes and Lady Ramkin eventually accepted their mutual feelings, but faster next time.
  5. I expected Carrot to take his place as Hero, King, or Child of Destiny… and he didn't. Obvious royal heritage and heroic staples were treated as questionable qualities over glorious gifts. Well played Pratchett. I was strung along for the length of the novel only to discover my reasonable expectations were to be ignored apart from the occasional quip to keep me believing. Well played indeed.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but much like Guardians of the Galaxy or Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this felt like a lengthy set-up for characters and a world of which I'm meant to want more—the first taste of a probable addiction.

Pursuit of Simplicity

I’m inexplicably depressive. Months of therapy and medication failed to divine: bipolarity or depression; hypomania or normality; chemical imbalance or high-intelligence tendency. Nothing of my circumstances warrants sadness, yet many days, I find it.

“We can alleviate physical pain, but mental pain--grief, despair, depression, dementia--is less accessible to treatment. It’s connected to who we are--our personality, our character, our soul, if you like.” -- Richard Eyre

I can’t sustain professional help absent insured assistance and can’t continue as I am. To calm, cope, and hopefully combat my instability, I’m simplifying everything.

“Get away from the place that makes you feel comfortable with your depression. The reality is it’s never as bad as the insanity you’ve created in your head.” -- Ben Huh

I will shed extra for less…

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” -- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

overindulgence for balance…

“Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter.” -- Harold Kushner

distraction for focus…

“Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.” -- George Sand

and negativity for comfort.

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” -- Socrates

Depression is dark and viscous, but not invincible. Simplicity may not heal or even help, but many greater minds with greater troubles found solace in these ideals. I am not the first, I am not alone, and I have hope.

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -- Lao Tzu