This week, at the expense of working on my next novel*, I’ve been getting back to studying Unity, the game development platform. My new computer handles it beautifully, nice and fast. And I found some great introductory tutorials to start with from a “gamesplusjames” from Ireland, land of me forefathers:
It’s still a lot to take in; I don’t know if it’s just my aging brain or that I haven’t been programming regularly for a long time now, but I’m definitely slower at learning this sort of stuff than I used to be. Anyway, Unity makes a lot of stuff pretty easy; wish something like this was out when I was in high school.
(* On a side note, my writing blog is down for the moment. It was getting inundated with bots, and just pointing the domain back to the registrar was my lazy way to try to get them to go away. It’ll be back at some point.)
With my powerful new computer, I’ve been able to record some “Let’s Plays” on my new YouTube gaming channel, SirDragonWizardMasterLord, the dorkiest name I could come up with.
Probably won’t make them regularly, but it was fun to try, and I was very impressed with how well my computer could handle them; capturing video didn’t slow the games down at all, even with the games’ graphics settings at their highest. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970 is just awesome.
Inside Out’s blatant plagiarism!
I saw Pixar’s latest, Inside Out, earlier this week. It was a great film, but as I mentioned on Twitter:
Still waiting. You know, for 2016. Because you know what happens in 2016? Presidential election! But, more interestingly, the Oculus Rift will be released! (If everything goes as planned, I guess.)
(Sorry in advance for the materialistic nature of this post. Thinking too much about money and materialistic crap may be harmful to some readers’ souls. Reader discretion is advised.)
I spent some time researching the computer I’ll need to power the Rift, and honestly I’d like to have it ASAP so I can start fooling around with game programming with Unity 5. (As I said before, my current computer runs Unity 4 too slowly, and my OS (Vista) is not even officially supported, so trying to learn Unity on here is a bit torturous.) I’ve used this site as a sort of guide for what I’ll need, so I’m basically looking into building the computer myself, which, for all my interest in computers, will be my first time actually building one from individually purchased parts. Fingers crossed that it’ll go well. Anyway, my plans currently don’t deviate much from the parts listed on the aforementioned site. I’ll probably look into different cases as I’d prefer one with a bit more personality (such as a window), but that’s only if I can find one at a good price with some good space for future upgrades should I want them. Hard drive wise, I’d like to look into perhaps getting both a solid state drive to store the operating system and an old-fashioned mechanical hard drive with 1 or 2 TB’s for some good storage. (Composing music can take up a good amount of space when you’re storing some big audio files, plus games in general can take up some significant chunks themselves.) I’ll have to research how to set that up.
Altogether, my current estimate is that the computer will cost $1,200. Of course, when the time comes, I’ll search around for deals and save every bit I can. I’ll probably also search some nearby stores and see if I can pick up anything in person; having to wait for parts in the mail will be torture for my weak impatient soul (though that will probably be the cheaper option). Anyway, I won’t have to worry about it yet; still gotta save the actual money. (It’s tempting to just use my credit card and buy it all now, but I guess I’ll resist.) With the debts I’m still paying off, my phone bill, and my Netflix addiction, it’ll probably take around three months, give or take. I’m currently about 1/6th of the way there, $200 saved of $1,200. So only $1,000 short.
It’s aggravating having to wait; my mind’s been obsessed with dreaming about VR and a new rig all week. Everything I do feels like something to fill the time while waiting. And while that hasn’t really helped me be more productive in any way, it has actually been a bit cathartic; it’s helped relieve some of my overly-self-conscious “is this a good use of my time?” anxiety that just makes me angry when I feel like I wasted some time, which just makes me waste more time.
I’ve also been looking forward to YouTube’s upcoming game-streaming platform, their answer to Twitch. Maybe I’ll even try streaming some gameplay of my own, though that’ll have to wait until I build that new rig, because I doubt my current Vista-powered computer would stream very well.
I’m also looking forward to the upcoming game for PS4, The Last Guardian, showcased not long ago at E3. I’ve been waiting at least 6 years for this game; it was originally intended as a PS3 game, but it’s been in development for so long that PS4 is now their target console. Check it out:
I don’t have a PS4, but I guess I’ll need to buy one just for this game. Unless I get trapped in my Oculus Rift.
Some of my earliest games made in good old GW-BASIC were text-based interactive stories; choose-your-own adventures, but a little more complex than the in-print books; not that much more complex, I was only ten years old or so, but being able to use the magic of “variables!!” the story could remember player names and past choices. Unfortunately the games are now lost… so you’ll just have to trust that I was smart enough to do that when I was ten.
The point is, I enjoyed the art of interactive fiction.
So I recently read about an online program called Inklewriter which allows storytellers to quickly and easily write and test interactive fiction. I used it to quickly write a simple dialog story called The Movie Deal.
I’d like to try to write something more serious with it at some point. It looks like they’ve recently announced a contest that I think would be fun to try.
So, go have fun with it. And let me know about your work if you’d like me to check it out!
Animation Mentor starts in about a week! I was going to put the student "badge" on the side there, but the student login is closed for the week for a break before the summer term starts. I’m almost ready, just need to review my basic Maya skills and find a camera to record reference with (I’m also practicing becoming double-jointed so that my reference shots will be more fluid and cartoony). I’m nervously looking forward to it.
Hmmm, what else? I’ve been reading this really interesting book on complexity called Complexity: A Guided Tour. It’s got some fascinating chapters on emergent properties and genetic algorithms. Really makes me want to start doing some programming again. And if you like the classic book Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, this book should please you as the author was heavily influenced by the book, seeking out Hofstadter to study under after reading it. (It’s been about 10 years since I read GEB; I need to reread it.) The book is just a wee boring at certain parts, especially in the beginning, but I suppose such chapters can be skipped, as some of them just give an overview of stuff you might already know. The book can also be a bit confusing at times, but overall, since it’s not very mathematically in-depth and only 300 pages, it’s great for more casual (yet fascinating) reading. I’ve still got a few more chapters to go, but it’s a great book.
Oh, I got Mass Effect 2 the other day from Amazon.com. I played through the prologue and it looks like it will be a really fun sequel. Too bad I won’t really have any time to play it.
Mostly because I haven’t been up to much. I spent New Year’s day sleeping in as long as I could, and then I spent the day after at work, and I plan on spending Sunday asleep or at work (hopefully not at the same time, of course). And same for Monday.
Actually, I did spend some time playing Super Mario Galaxy on Wii a few hours ago. It’s fun.
I also applied for a couple jobs last night, raising the number of jobs I have applied for this year to 2. Let’s see how high the count gets.
Oh, I’ve also been writing a ton of melodies in my head. But I haven’t been writing them down, so they are getting lost. Nothing to fear, though, since my melodic creativity is infinite. Well, maybe not infinite, but close enough that I don’t notice the difference.
I also finished playing the game Portal the other day. It’s a short game; only takes about 6-8 hours (though I’m sure one could get good at getting through the thing in less than an hour with some practice). It’s a puzzle/action game, and is very addicting. You basically use a “portal gun” (or whatever it’s called) and create portals in the walls that then connect to each other. For examples, you could create a portal right in front of you and one right behind you to create an infinite hallway. Or create one right above you and right below you to create a bottomless pit. To win the game, however, you must create portals to solve puzzles, getting yourself and boxes and weird energy balls from one place to another, over and around obstacles. And, at the end, it plays this really catchy song. I haven’t played the bonus levels yet.
I still haven’t done any more programming for my Android game, but I did compose another short 2-minute piece of music called “Clockwork.” It’s not really as bombastic as my other pieces; it’s kind of light-hearted background music.
We got The Sims 3 a few days ago, and it’s quite fun and addicting. I’ll probably waste lots of time playing it. My sister kept encouraging me to cheat and give my Sims millions of dollars, but I don’t want to cheat! I want to slowly build my Sims into millionaires through lots of hard work. I haven’t explored nearly all the possibilities of the game yet; my family is a small poor family in a little house with not much furniture. But someday, generations later perhaps, they’ll be filthy rich!
Also, I’m steadily MP3-izing my Mozart box set, Mozart Edition: Complete Works (170 CD Box Set). It takes a while, obviously, but it’s fun; it allows me to explore the CDs and go through them one by one, though I’m certainly not trying to listen to all of them quite yet. Right now I’m just listening to random tracks, and the works I know I enjoy. Unlike a huge collection of MP3s, having a tangible set of CDs is nice in that it allows you to really flip through the options, and perhaps get a sense of just how much music there is. Eh… hard to explain I guess. But I like the tangibility of it. Which is why I still like buying CDs in general, instead of just MP3s. Physical CDs are a lot more fun to collect and explore.
Oh well, who cares, that’s all for now… maybe I’ll go play The Sims 3 a little more before bed, eh?
Two of my favorite video games are Ico and Shadow of the Colossus . . . actually, I think they are the only console games I’ve ever been able to pass (not that I play very many). They’re like puzzle adventure games. The team that makes them is working on a new title for the PS3 (which I guess I’ll have to get) which for now is being called Project Trico. The video on YouTube looks . . . interesting. Some kid going around with some strange cat-bird with arrows in it. The cat-bird’s movements look very realistic if it wasn’t so humongous.
Anyway, what I really loved about the video was the music. Very epic and inspiring. I learned from Wikipedia that music was from a 1990’s film called Miller’s Crossing, a Coen brothers movie, and the music was by Carter Burwell, who recently scored Twilight. So I put the movie Miller’s Crossing on hold at the library; I’m interested in seeing how the music fits with the dark gangs-and-guns story. I’m also probably going to end up buying the soundtrack (because they still sell on CD *cough* stupid Disney Records *cough*).
The other exciting thing I saw earlier this week was this video on Google Wave (or this article which sums up the main points). Ooooh, doesn’t that look awesome? Hard to say exactly what sort of impact it will have on online communication, but it could be very big. I’m especially interested in the real-time multiple-user collaboration; I would’ve loved to have that available while still in school working on group projects. I’m also excited by the gaming possibilities this could provide, and would be very interested in trying to program some gadget-games for it. I requested a sandbox developer account, but they never got back to me . . . of course, I’m sure tens of thousands have requested one, and when this Google Wave goes live to everyone, it will already be oversaturated with games . . . which is good! I look forward to playing them! But I will still want to try designing my own.
Benjamin Button (with spoilers!)
I finished watching the film The Boring Stupid Case of Benjamin Button the other day. Visually, it was great. The recreation of older time periods, the make-up, the cinematography . . . brilliant work. But the story . . . what story? There really wasn’t much of one. There was hardly any conflict, only a couple of very shallow romantic conflicts. The main character, Benjamin Button, had no important goals, and therefore there was really nothing he had to overcome. This is a huge disappointment because the premise, a boy being born old and becoming younger, would seem to spark many conflicts. How would others react if they knew the truth? (They didn’t seem to be very bothered.) How would he find love when he was young but looked old? (Easily, it seems.) When he was young, shouldn’t he be jealous of normal people? And when he got old, shouldn’t others be jealous of him? (Nah!) When he grew down into a child’s body, wouldn’t it have been more dramatic if he had been a wise 70 year old, trying to convince adults that he was older and more experienced than them? Nah . . . they just have him start forgetting everything when that point comes.
And, since Benjamin really had no goals, he had no personality. He never really wanted anything, besides to be with a woman every now and then. He didn’t struggle with envy for normal people, he didn’t worry very much about his awkward future, he didn’t deal with anger issues toward his father who abandoned him, he didn’t struggle with very much loneliness. Lots of missed potential.
It seems like the writers were in a bit of a hurry to create this film, because they did a horrible job. They expanded an idea into a screenplay without adding any story. *Sigh* It could’ve been good.
Remember . . . an idea is not a story! You might start with an idea, but the story still has to be about something. It might seem mundane or cliche, such as a simple love story, or a war story, or a life-struggles story (which is what Ben Button should’ve been about), but it needs that conflict built around the initial idea. You can’t just take the idea and run with it.
The only way Ben Button could’ve succeeded without a story is if it had been a comedy. Comedy can get away with there being little story because the point is in the little stories, the gags, the jokes. Forrest Gump had no big story, but it was funny. A Christmas Story had very little story, but it was funny. And I’m sure there are plenty more . . .
So I give Benjamin Button 2 out of 10 stars, which is pretty pathetic.
This is the new blog! Hope you like this new WordPress version! As you may be able to see, I was able to import all my old posts so I’m not starting over completely from scratch.
Perhaps the most significant change to this new blog is that I’m now trying to make a little podcast out of it. Hearing a voice may be somewhat more interesting, or at least more fun for me to produce. That said, I’m sure I won’t be able to record something for every single post, just as I know I can’t post every single day, but I’ll see how it goes.
I got my 2nd rejection slip of ’08 earlier this week for my short story Oberon’s Paradise. I have three or four more magazines I want to try selling it to, then I don’t think I’ll be able to resist the urge to just podcast it with some incidental music, as I think that would be fun to create. I have a few other short stories I’m working on, but nothing near completion yet. And I should really get back to writing my other two novels as well sometime.
Also earlier this week, I found a very interesting video on YouTube with game designer Will Wright and some musician that I’ve never heard of. They were talking about generative systems, which Wikipedia calls “systems that use a few basic rules to yield extremely varied and unpredictable patterns.” So, they are basically systems which are good at producing emergent properties. The video from YouTube is just a clip from a much longer talk they gave (available to see here) which I could not resist sitting through. In the longer video, you get to see Will Wright talk about the role of generative systems in games and, more specifically, in the upcoming game Spore. He also touched briefly on the subject of applying generative systems to narrative stories, which I also thought was pretty fascinating.
One other thing that caught my attention in the longer video. Take a look at what they say about music:
Will Wright: Can you imagine any sort of even this past computational filter that would pre-listen to the music, analyze the structure, look for a pattern, whatever, that would at least prune out the 90% that you obviously don’t want to listen to and let you focus your efforts on the 10% that has some promise?
Brian Eno: Would you like to work on that for me?
Will Wright: Sure, I would love to. You just have to give me the algorithms, I’ll cut it right up for you.
Brian Eno: No, it’s, funnily enough there’s been a lot of research into that, because you know there are always people trying to figure out how you write a hit.
Will Wright: Oh, I see. Formalizing the–
Brian Eno: Something I wouldn’t mind knowing about.
Will Wright: The hit generator.
Brian Eno: So there’s been all sorts of attempts to do that, but they’ve been astoundingly unsuccessful so far.
I would agree that for the most part, most people exploring that area have been unsuccessful (though I honestly believe it’s only a matter of time) but I wonder if Mr. Eno is at all familiar with David Cope’s awesome work? His computer program doesn’t write music in exactly the way Will Wright describes, but I’d still say Cope’s program is, in a way, a form of a generative system.
So, as I have started writing a book on the art of melody (or started planning it, really), I think I will definitely explore the subject of a generative system for melody. I’m not sure I’ll do anything really new, but it must be a fascinating area of study.
Oooh, I just visited Mr. Cope’s site, and it looks like he’s got two free rough-draft books up temporarily, one on musical suggestions for beginning music students and one on … of all things, board games! Games, music, generative systems, it’s all related! I love it!