Freeplay 2012 – Chaos and Grace

Do I know enough of the people there to attend an independent games festival? Have I done enough myself to prove that I belong? Am I just an imposter? My life has been full of chaos, never knowing where things will lead. These were the thoughts that ran through my head prior to attending this year’s Freeplay.

The theme for this year Freeplay independent games festival was Chaos and Grace.

It was aptly titled theme for how I felt. In spite of all the chaos in things that have gone wrong or turned out differently to how I planned, there has been grace as well. You never know how it will turn out, and this is not necessarily negative. You can’t predict what will be the outcome of the chaotic bits and pieces that you throw together.

Mare Sheppard (co-creator of N) was the international keynote speaker. N is an indie game success story, but as she said in her talk, it wasn’t always that way. When N was entered in the 2004 FlashintheCan Festival, it was beaten by Starsky and Hutch Pinball.

Wait, seriously?

And yet now N is a hit, with the console version N+ having been commercially released on Xbox Live, and Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PSP.

However, in the chaos of the early days of the game, she couldn’t foresee the grace that would appear later. You never know how it’ll turn out.

I arrived in Melbourne on the Wednesday afternoon. There was a game in Federation Square as part of the Freeplay program that night called Spies by Night.

We gathered around unsure of what to expect. The game was adapted from The Potato Game by Pippa Johnson. We divided into random teams and spent the rest of the evening stalking around Federation Square, attempting to move our secrets and steal secrets from the other teams. It was a good ice breaker.

The remaining days of the festival were full of interesting talks and panels on a variety of topics pertaining to games. As I listened on the final day about the need to not just be merely optimistic, but instead resilient, I smiled and something clicked in my head. Mere optimism can lead to wishful thinking, but resilience is the knowledge that in spite of chaos that surrounds us, there can be grace when you stay focused no matter how dark and uncertain it becomes. There have been times when I have stopped and broken down when faced with one dead end after another. But I was still here. I was still going.

At some point during Sunday, I wandered around the room of the Melbourne library where all the games that had been submitted for this year were being demonstrated. The many developers eagerly showed their games to me and I was fascinated by the variety of ideas. The creativity in the room was abundant.

That night was the awards presentation.

I was excited for everyone nominated and by the winners. It makes me want to finish a game of my own before next year’s Freeplay and submit it.

I started the week unsure if I would know enough people there, but by the end of the week, I didn’t want it to be over and I’d met a whole bunch of kindred spirits. I left Freeplay feeling encouraged and inspired. I wasn’t an imposter. I was in exactly the right place at the right time. Through the chaos, there was grace.

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Now and Tomorrow

I’ve been enrolled in a Screen course at TAFE this semester. Initially I thought it would a breezy lazy course, but no, but it’s been quite a busy semester thus far. One assessment was to make a short seven minute mockumentary film to be submitted to Tropfest next year. Everyone in the class pitched an idea and mine was selected.

Mine is called “Dudebro” and it’s about a typical misogynistic dudebro gamer. I wanted to make the film when I thought about all the sexist shit that’s gone down in gaming culture in recent times. There was the online harassment of Anita Sarkeesian who was attacked for the mere notion of wanting to explore tropes about women in videogames, or the sexual harassment of Miranda Pakozdi, a competitor in the Capcom Cross Assault tournament which was justified by fellow competitor Aris Bakhtanians who said that, “sexual harassment is part of the culture”. I wish these were just two isolated incidents, but alas they’re not, and I or anyone who’s been even vaguely following videogame news in the last year could list plenty more I’m sure.

I play videogames, and I don’t want the culture to continue to be infused with this. I want it to be an inclusive culture that welcomes anyone. So I made a mockumentary to do what I could to address this and hopefully make people think.

It won’t be available to see online I think until Tropfest next year, but I also made a vlog in character – as the titular dudebro “Moz” – that I used when I pitched the idea for the film. I should probably give a language warning as Moz doesn’t know many adjectives that aren’t four letter words.

On a different note, tomorrow I’m off to Melbourne to go to Freeplay, the annual independent games festival held there. Looking forward to catching up with friends and meeting new people.

I’m on holidays now for three weeks and spare time for gamedev and has been hard to find this term, but that’s okay as it’s been a useful term and with a little bit of time management magic next term, hopefully I can find time to work on developing games and studying and working.

I’m planning in the new semester next year to do a teaching certificate at TAFE so that I’m able to teach there. I could teach whatever I’m qualified to teach within digital media, and I could teach English too. As I said in the last post, I still plan to independently study gamedev (and hopefully make money from doing so in the future) but for the short term I have to balance that with the need to make money for a living so I can eat and buy clothes and live under a roof and all those important necessities of life.

There was a time when teaching would’ve seemed unappealing to me. True story: I actually started a teaching degree when I was 20 years old and had just finished my undergrad arts degree, but I dropped out after a semester when I realized that I didn’t want to make a living teaching 14 year olds French.

These days though, my attitude to teaching has changed. When I think back to the various formal studies I’m done, I can see how a teacher can make such a difference. A bad teacher can leave you disillusioned and depressed, but a good teacher can encourage you and give you hope. And education is of such vital importance in life. Education is how people achieve social mobility, how they find work, and how they improve their self-confidence. So what a valuable and beautiful thing to be able to teach someone. It may not seem like much helping someone conjugate verbs or mask an image in Photoshop, but for all you know, that could be the very start to someone changing his or her life for the better. How awesome is it to be able to help someone do that!

So that’s the plan. I should pack now. I have a plane to catch tomorrow.

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After The Fall

May I shrink to dust
In your cold, wild Wastes,
And may my tongue speak
Its last hymn to your winds.

I wanted to do what Shigeru Miyamoto did ever since I read an interview with him in Nintendo Magazine System when I was about twelve or so and I realized that he was the one who invented all the videogame characters that I adored. As a teen I took inspiration from other luminaries such as Richard Garriott who created the Ultima series which captivated me so. But Richard Garriott was a child prodigy who wrote his own high school curriculum. Probably not the best person with whom to compare myself if I wanted to retain any semblance of self-esteem. It’s difficult not to feel small when you compare yourself with the gods of the pantheon of game development. So I hesitated, and wavered back and forth and flirted with the idea of pursuing a career in games, until a few years ago I decided that the time was now and I’d hesitated for far too long.

I pray for the herder
That whistles to his guar at play.
I pray for the hunter
That stalks the white walkers.

This is the post that I’ve been reluctant to write. When I was accepted into studying this year at a prestigious college in my field I was elated. This would be the method in which I would make those childhood dreams a reality, I thought. But then I found myself unable to keep up with the content. In a class of roughly thirty students, all with a vast array of skill sets, I found it impossible to keep up. With the strict timetable for subjects, there simply wasn’t the time. I found myself learning more at home as I’d consult online tutorials to desperately keep up. As I stayed awake for three consecutive days trying to finish for class something that I only vaguely understood, and my body cried for sleep, I felt the feeling that made me reluctant to write this post – shame. The shame of failure. And while I knew that failure is an essential part of education – you learn from failure – I still wondered if people would talk behind my back. “He just didn’t try hard enough” or “he wasn’t passionate enough” were the utterances that I feared would be murmured when I wasn’t there.

And in truth I had lost some of my initial passion. I felt burnt out from falling behind. I despaired that this is how it would always be. Constantly feeling like a fraud. I didn’t want that.

So I quit and I told as few people as possible. I didn’t want to be “the drop out” or the one who couldn’t cut it. But there it was, and I had quit. I was one of the chosen ones accepted into an elite school and I had renounced my fortune. The thread of prophesy had been cut.

I slumped into a hole. I never wanted to be one of those people who talked about their ambitions but did nothing to achieve them – the dreamers who remained paralysed. I didn’t want to be all talk. Yet here I was, unemployed and unmotivated.

I fell into myself and took vicarious comfort in living virtually in Morrowind, the third game in the Elder Scrolls series, as the prophesied Nerevarine who would return to Vvardenfell to save the people from the corrupt god Dagoth Ur. Here was a battle I could win.

But I couldn’t live in Morrowind forever. Spend too long in the virtual world and it brings on what I call a gamer ennui – a tedious existential angst as the real world reminds you that it’s still there. And I still felt the sting in the back of my head reminding me that “following your dreams” was more complicated than it was in fairy tales and videogames.

Everyone has different learning styles. I learn best from doing something repeatedly until it makes sense. Others learn from seeing and others learn from hearing and committing it to memory. It’s probably difficult in a creative and highly technical course to accommodate so many various learning styles with a rushed timetable in a classroom of so many students. That style of learning just didn’t work for me. It does work for some no doubt, but not me. I suppose I’ve always known that it doesn’t. I learn best by myself with personal mentoring by more experienced people. I freeze up in large groups, especially with people I don’t know well looking over my shoulder or people with conflicting personalities. Instead, by myself in private, I feel free to ask dumb questions repeatedly without fear, and that’s how I learn by making mistakes and learning from them.

I suppose my time with the prestigious college is an experience I can view like that – an educational experience that taught me how not to achieve my goals.

We perhaps expect the paths to our goals to be clear cut, but life is rarely so simple. There’ll be more complications to come. Life’s like that.

I still desire to do what Shigeru Miyamoto did. I still desire to make worlds like Richard Garriott did with his Ultima series. I haven’t given up on that and I don’t want to be one of those people who are all talk, even though during my time in Morrowind I felt like one as I became the prophesied Nerevarine there, but a false prophet of dreams in reality.

It’s easy to build in your head an idea of how your life should flow, but as time goes on and the actuality is different, a crisis of confidence can form. Echoing Obi-Wan to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, “you were meant to be the chosen one”, I thought of the college. You were meant to the way I would fulfil those childhood dreams. Or were you?

Who decided that that was my fate? Why was I despairing that my prophecy was broken? There was no words written in an ancient book specifying that I was destined to study at this college in order to achieve those goals. It was I who had decided this instead when I was accepted into it. No thread of fate had predetermined this to be my one true path.

As I confronted the evil Dagoth Ur at the Red Mountain, he asked me if I had been chosen by fate. Was I really the Nerevar reborn? I wasn’t sure, so I told him that I was a self-willed hero and that I made my own fate. He was impressed by this. After all, it didn’t matter if I really was the chosen Nerevarine or not. What mattered was that I willed myself to face the wicked god and overthrow him, chosen one or not.

Was I the chosen one in Morrowind? Did it matter in the end? I saved the world from Dagoth Ur regardless. Morrowind deconstructs the trope of the Chosen One thus so. It never mattered if I was the fated chosen one, as by doing what the chosen one was meant to do, and stopping Dagoth Ur’s machinations, I became the chosen one myself. As is said in the text of the Nu-Hatta of the Spinxmoth Inquiry Tree, “Walk like them until they walk like you”. By walking like the Nerevarine and defeating Dagoth Ur, I became the Nerevarine.

Walk like those whose status you seek to emulate, and in time, you will become them. Or in simpler terms: fake it till you make it. Don’t wait for a thread of prophecy to light the way then despair if you fail to follow that path – light the way yourself and carve your own destiny.

That can be a bewildering prospect though. Life seems simpler when you’ve put all your eggs into a single basket that you’ve convinced yourself will be your destiny. So when you realize that instead now it’s up to you alone for it to happen or not happen, and it always has been, it’s a startling thought. The onus is to teach myself, and it always was. Whenever I’d excelled at something in the past it had been via autodidactism. I don’t say those words ‘teach yourself’ lightly though. One thing I neglected to emphasize in my post on Teaching Yourself is that it requires a colossal amount of self-discipline. This is no small feat. Do I have that level of self-discipline? How I wish there was a fortify willpower potion in reality as there is in Morrowind. Anything worth doing though doesn’t come easy, right?

After the fall, you try to pick yourself up. God knows how difficult that can be and how easy it can be instead to wallow in self-pity. I have no choice though. When you’re knocked into the pit, you must climb out or you will die.

I pray for the wise one
That seeks under the hill,
And the wife who wishes
For one last touch of her dead child’s hand.

You can be despondent that things didn’t go the way you had anticipated and convince yourself that now you are fated to disappointment forever, or you leave yesterday behind and be energized by the new possibilities that tomorrow brings.

After the Fall comes Winter and all seems lost and cold, but then the Spring brings forth new life into the world, and hope is possible again. A setback only lasts for a moment and is nothing to be ashamed of, for as sure as the sun will rise and bring about a new day, you can always make a choice to make a change. Then you will be chosen by your own accord.

I will not pray for that which I’ve lost
When my heart springs forth
From your soil, like a seed,
And blossoms anew beneath tomorrow’s sun.*

 * This is a volume of verse collected from Ashlander wise women. ‘May I shrink to dust’ is from the Ahemmusa Ashlanders of the Grazelands.
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On Teaching Yourself

Doom 2 was a light bulb moment in education for me as a teenager. I’d picked up a copy for twelve dollars in a videogames bargain bin at Harvey Norman. There was a time when you could find quality games in store bargain bins instead of multiple copies of uDraw tablets (or whatever the store can’t sell at full price).

As a teenager I would regularly purchase PC magazines, as commercial games were often too expensive for me, but on PC magazine cover disks there could be found a vast array of freeware, shareware, demos, and all sorts of software. Some months after cheaply purchasing Doom 2, I bought a PC magazine that had on its cover disk a level editor for Doom 2.

I was excited at the prospect of building my own levels for Doom 2 but the instructions on the disk and in the magazine were vague, and this was the 90’s so resources online to help me learn how to do this were few and far between. I would have to take the brief instructions I had and teach myself the rest.

So that’s exactly what I did, and eventually I had a map that I built myself of which I could be proud.

Screenshot from Doom 2 .wad file The Fluid Pit

The word autodidactism comes from Ancient Greek and literally means self-teaching. It’s also an educational philosophy, the belief that you have the ability to learn whatever you want to learn by teaching yourself and that you don’t have to be held back by anything such as your history, your age, your socio-economic status, or your schooling. As Captain Planet said, “The Power Is Yours”. He was talking about saving the environment specifically, but the point stands.

There’s obviously some exceptions to that. For example, if you desire to work in law or medicine, then you’re going to need some formal qualifications in the relevant discipline in order to find work, but for other areas, especially the creative fields, what you need to know can be self-taught.

I think a lot of people are plagued by self-doubt though to begin attempting autodidactism. They convince themselves that they’re not smart enough, that it’s too late to start, or that they’ll never be able to achieve what they want by teaching themselves. It’s unfortunate, because none of that is true. If others before you have been able to learn how to do something, then so can you.

I’ve certainly been wracked with that self-doubt, even after I had success teaching myself to make my own Doom 2 levels. I listened to those negative voices that preach failure, and it’s crippling.

So here’s a few points about autodidactism to help you not be crippled by negativity:

Start small. You need to be able to see the forest through the trees, or to use another cliché, you need to start your journey at the first step before advancing on. It seems obvious, but I think people sometimes jump ahead too far too early by attempting something that’s beyond their current ability and then they become frustrated and confused. When I taught myself to use the Doom 2 level editor, I started with the very basics. I started by familiarizing and playing around the level editor interface, and then I taught myself how to make a basic square room. Only once I understood that, did I move on to something more complex. It was a slow process, and sometimes boring and tedious, but it worked in the long run.

As a former guitar teacher once said to me, even Paul McCartney and Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix and (insert any other famous and successful musician here) had to learn the scales. They may not have enjoyed learning the scales either, but it was necessary to understand them before they could go on and compose their own complex pieces of music.

You will suck, at first. Expect that. TV Tropes calls it Old Shame, and as you can see from the examples in all the subpages at that link, it happens to everyone and in every field. As a noob in any field, by the very fact of your lack of experience and knowledge, you will of course not be as talented or skilled as others who have been doing it for longer than you. So don’t have unrealistic initial expectations by comparing yourself to those who are more skilled than you at the present time. Comparison is a killer of self-confidence. Compete with yourself instead.

Allow yourself to fail. Expect to fail. Embrace failure. It means you’re learning. Autodidactic Jeri Ellsworth talks about this in her video Secret to Learning Electronics – Fail and Fail Often. Her advice about learning electronics applies to the learning of any discipline. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s good. I’ve been in formal classes where teachers have scolded novice students for making mistakes which is awful. Instead, celebrate making mistakes because that’s how you learn.

The desire to be perfect as a learner is unrealistic. Instead, make multiple mistakes and you will improve.

The following anecdote in the book Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, illustrates the wisdom of making mistakes in education:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group has sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Do just that! Expect that you will suck, and allow yourself to fail, and with persistence you will improve.

It’s never too late. It used to be thought that when we reached adulthood, our brains were mechanically locked into the patterns and knowledge that we had developed during childhood. It was thought that it was difficult to make lasting changes to the makeup of our brains and develop new skills and abilities that we never gained during childhood. We now know from modern neurological science, as Doctor Norman Doidge explains in his book The Brain That Changes Itself that this is not the case. Our brains instead retain plasticity and can rewire themselves and change their makeup even into our old age. Want to learn a new language, learn to play a musical instrument, learn to program, learn to paint, or acquire any other previously undeveloped skill in your adulthood? It’s not too late.

This article The First Step Is To Start shows the following image from the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain:

Vincent Van Gogh Carpenter, 1880 and Woman Mourning, 1882

Vincent Van Gogh Carpenter, 1880 and Woman Mourning, 1882

What a difference in those two years! Van Gogh was 27 when he started painting and with persistence improved in his craft. You don’t have to be a child prodigy (and who would want to be one with the stress and pressure they must face!) to be skilled and successful at something you desire to learn. You just have to start, be persistent, and not quit.

Don’t believe the myth of the gifted. Speaking of child prodigies, there’s a pervasive myth that success is only available to those who are magically talented enough – that you are born smart, average, or stupid. Raw talent only takes you so far though. Beyond that, it’s the persistence to learn what needs to be learnt is what counts. It’s easy to deceive ourselves that famously successful people are only where they are because of luck or innate talent. They may indeed have had some luck or innate talent which helped them start their career, but that’s only a tiny fraction of the story. Beyond that, it was their persistence and them deciding never to quit that resulted in where they are now. Don’t listen to those who want to divide the world into a class system of ‘dumb’ and ‘smart’. They’re wrong. If you want to know how to do something, you can learn it.

You’re not a fraud. This is something I still struggle with, and from talking to other people I know I’m not alone in this. I think many of us set imaginary milestones for ourselves in which we tell ourselves that we are just pretenders in our chosen fields until we reach that point. Prior to reaching that goal though, we’re just imposters, we tell ourselves. This is nonsense. You are what you do. Do you like to write? Then you’re a writer. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t sold a dozen books or haven’t been published in high profile magazines. The fact that you write makes you a writer. Do you make games? Oh you haven’t had your games published on Steam and Xbox Live? You haven’t got a fancy degree in game design from a fancy college? Doesn’t matter. You make games, therefore you’re a game developer.

The point is, don’t convince yourself into believing that you’re a fraud in your industry (whatever particular industry that is) because you haven’t as yet reached a certain pinnacle of success and others you know have. You don’t have to apologize for what you do by euphemistically coating it with phrases such as, “I’m just a student”, or “I’m playing around with learning how to do it”. No. You are what you do. So do it.

I once read an interview with Steven Moffat, the current producer of the television show Doctor Who. He was asked to give some advice to novice writers in how could they become successful in a writing career. His advice was that they should, “write”. It may sound simplistic, but he’s right. If you want to be a writer then write! And write, and write, and write! Keep doing it and don’t quit. You will improve and the rest will flow from that.


As I played through my Doom 2 level this week I found myself heavily criticizing it. I’d comment aloud to myself all the things I would’ve done differently if I were making it now.

Screenshot from the Doom 2 .wad file The Fluid Pit

I don’t like how this supposedly brick wall that divides these two hallways tapers to such a narrow point.

Screenshot from the Doom 2 .wad file The Fluid Pit

This stairway was meant to have water rushing down it but there was no water texture that came with Doom 2 that worked on a vertical plane so I used a blue brick texture instead. Why didn’t I just make a new animated water texture to use instead?

I could be here all day pulling it apart but that would be futile. I did the best I could at the time as a beginner, and of course it wasn’t perfect. However, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I had something that I wanted to learn how to do that I taught myself how to do.

There’s no reason why I can’t do that now. We all can.

p.s. if you want to play the .wad file that I made back then for Doom 2, you can download it here.

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Nazis, demons, and autodidactism

I was about to commence this with the term “PC Gaming Master Race”, but that may be a poor choice of words considering this post starts with Wolfenstein 3D, a game about Nazis.

Wolfenstein 3D was the game that moved me in the direction of PC gaming. It was a world far removed from the ease of console gaming. It was a world in which you had to check your IRQs and DMAs and make you sure you had enough expanded memory allocated, and when you made it all work through some arcane magicks it was a thing of joy that you could actually play your game. Plug ‘n’ Play? What was that? Console exclusive gamers didn’t know how easy they had it.

It was Wolfenstein 3D that ushered in this new glorious PC gaming era for me.

Sure it wasn’t the original First Person Shooter game (that milestone perhaps belongs to Maze War or Spasim that were developed in the 70s), nor the first FPS game that had free movement for the player within a 3D space. It was however, the FPS game that defined the genre in the public consciousness and showed that fast arcade game experiences could work on the PC.

When I was a child, we would visit the Easter Show each year at which I would purchase showbags. About the time I was 11 or 12, there was a PC Gaming showbag on sale that came with some shareware games. I didn’t have a PC of my own yet but my father the teacher had just happened to bring one home from his school that he had borrowed for the holidays. Inside this showbag was a shareware software magazine with the new Wolfenstein 3D game on the cover:

The Ultimate Arcade Game Collection November 92 Volume 1 Number 2 - Wolfenstein 3D on the cover

Glorious VGA graphics!

It was Wolfenstein 3D that also introduced me to the notion of modding PC videogames. After finishing the game multiple times and killing Mecha Adolf Hitler, I acquired a level editor and sprite editor for the game from a high school friend. He obtained it from a BBS in those dark days before the modern internet.

Map of level 1-1 from Wolfenstein 3D level editor

Perhaps my present day objectives to make games stem from this moment when I realized that I didn’t have to be just a passive user of videogames but could also be an active creator who could shape them to how I saw fit. I would play my self-made levels repeatedly to gauge what worked and what didn’t.

My next flash of game development autodidactism came from Wolfenstein 3D‘s successor Doom. I’ll continue this in the next post and describe how it was that in playing around with a level editor for Doom 2, it dawned on me that I had the ability to teach myself what I wanted to know to make what I wanted to make.

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How I killed Adolf Hitler and won the war

My name is William Joseph Blazkowicz, or “B.J.” to my friends, and this is how I killed Adolf Hitler and won the war.

B.J. Blazkowicz

I was born in 1911 on the 15th of August . My parents were from Poland and arrived in New York City a few years before my birth, looking to make a fresh start in the new world. A great war had spread like wildfire across Europe and they were anxious to leave and start a family here in the safety of the United States.

I grew up to be an athletic and active child, never one to sit still for too long a time, so upon finishing school, a career in the military seemed the right choice. I enlisted in the army and quickly rose up the ranks and in 1939 at the age of 28 I was invited to join the elite Office of Secret Actions (OSA). War had broken out again in Europe and Germany had invaded Poland, the birthplace of my parents. I was eager go there and right the wrongs that were being committed by our enemies.

Opportunity graced me, when I was sent on an espionage mission to Poland. Rumour had it that the Third Reich were conducting some strange experiments to help them win the war. It sounded crazy, but there was talk of the Nazis trying to create an army of mutant soldiers from people they’d experimented on. It was said that some Nazi scientist was grafting weapons into the bodies of these alleged mutant soldiers. I couldn’t believe it myself, but I had to go there to find out if there was a shred of truth to it.

Upon arriving in Poland though, we were discovered. I don’t know what happened to my fellow agents. Perhaps they were killed. I was captured though and taken to the nearby Castle Wolfenstein where I was thrown into a damp and dark prison cell to rot.

However, not all was lost. Each night, a guard would enter my cell and quickly throw some barely edible food into the room. Why they were keeping me alive, I couldn’t say. Perhaps they wanted to turn me into one of those supposed mutant soldiers they were apparently creating. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for that.

One night I took cover to the side of the prison cell door, waiting for the guard to drop off my evening meal. I waited and waited, and then just as I thought he wouldn’t come that night, I heard the slow click of the lock turning. The door squeaked open as he slowly entered the room. He didn’t see me in the shadows as I whacked him unconscious and he fell to the ground. I took his gun and made my way out. Many Nazis died that night by my hand.

B.J. Blazkowicz kills a guard and escapes his cell.

It was clear what I had to do. The only option was to take out the head of this all this insanity – the Fuhrer himself!

Inside Castle Wolfenstein I had discovered the location of where Hitler was based at this time, including a map of his headquarters. This could come in use, I thought. So I made contact with the OSA and informed them of my plans to assassinate him. It would have to be a one man job though, they told me. He was too well guarded for a large scale full frontal attack. I’d have to sneak into his headquarters and eliminate him before anyone could notice me.

I travelled to the small Polish town where his current headquarters were based. There were Nazis everywhere! I could access his headquarters via the nearby sewerage tunnel that fed into an unused maintenance room. It was a huge security flaw that you would think they would have noticed. They were overconfident though. I could do this.

I wadded through the sewerage tunnel. It smelt disgusting as I struggled through the filthy excrement and slime that clung to every surface. At the end of the tunnel was the shaft into the maintenance room. As I left the disused maintenance room I entered the hallway and noticed something shimmer in the distance. I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but there was something floating in the distance. No, there were multiple apparitions patrolling the hallway! They wore wavey black robes that resembled clergy garments. They hovered slightly above the ground and they all had the face of Adolf Hitler! What voodoo was this that the Nazis were playing at? Then from the chests of the ghostly Hitler beings, a stream of red hot fireballs emerged towards me. I strafed to the left to avoid being hit and then rotating myself in a circle, fired my gun at them. At once they collapsed to the ground and disappeared, leaving only their robes behind.

I had to be close now! I passed down the next hallway. This was where the real Adolf Hitler was. I opened the door with my machine gun at ready and there he was in the middle of the room. He wasn’t surprised. Perhaps he knew somehow that I was coming. It was what he was wearing though that took me by disbelief.

He was inside an armoured suit that was equipped with four large chain guns – two on each arm. He shouted the German words “Die Allied schweinehund!” at me. I was no pig dog. I was William Joseph Blazkowicz and I was here to kill Hitler.

He fired his chain guns at me and I ducked for cover. I returned with my machine gun and didn’t let up. He had no time to fire back at me as my bullets damaged his armoured suit. I could see the smoke rising from the suit. It must’ve had some mechanical components inside it.

He removed himself from his suit and came at me now with two chain guns he swiped from the broken armoured suit. I dodged his stream of bullets again and pulled out my pistol. I fired a single shot that went right through his neck. The blood trickled down his body and he collapsed to the floor barely breathing. “Who… are…you?” he gasped at me. “The name’s Blazkowicz”, I replied. “And I declare the Third Reich over”. Rage burned in his eyes as he started to froth at the mouth. I fired multiple bullets into his body and he fell to the ground in a bloody heap. Lastly, I stepped down hard on his head with my steal boots and felt his skull collapse under the weight of my foot. It shattered into shards of bone and a mixture of his brains and his blood oozed out onto the floor. The Fuhrer was dead.

I rushed back down the hallways and into the maintenance room and then down the sewer to the nearby forest where allied trooped were waiting for me to learn of my success.

Many people called me a hero after that day, but I’m no hero. I’m just someone who did what had to be done to stop a monster who had to be stopped.

“Very creative Mark (and disturbingly morbid) but it’s not very historically accurate” – my year 9 history teacher

Mecha Adolf Hitler

The above depiction of Adolf Hitler and his death at the hands of American solider B.J. Blazkowicz may not be entirely historically accurate according to my year 9 history teacher. However, I disagree. I’ve found proof that my history teacher was wrong.

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Thoughts on EA controversies

EA has had a rough relationship with segments of the internet in recent times. Let’s recap a few of the controversies.

First, there was the negative reception from the changes made to the series in Dragon Age 2. I liked the game, in spite of the repetitive game locations and the story focus being largely on the area Kirkwall instead of the grand narrative in Dragon Age: Origins that encompassed more places for the player to visit. I liken the game to the middle Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back that lacks the same blockbuster explosiveness of its predecessor but is instead a more personal, quiet, and darker film that ends on a cliff hanger and lays the groundwork for the following film that concludes the overall story.

Next, there was the matter of BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler who dared to have an opinion and suggest that games could have a fast-forward button to skip combat just as many games already have a skip option for dialogue and cutscenes. It’s not such a novel idea as it’s one that Nintendo for example incorporated in New Super Mario Bros Wii with the “super guide” that enables the player to skip a level after failing it eight times. Players who want to be challenged by the game can simply ignore the super guide. What would the harm be in incorporating this into a BioWare RPG? Yet for the crime of speaking her mind she was declared on Reddit to be, “the cancer that is killing BioWare”. Also, because this is the internet, and the internet has yet to grow out of its dudebro juvenile misogynistic mentality, she received hate filled sexist vitriolic attacks. The sad reality was that her opponents instead of engaging with what she had to say and trying to collaborate to improve videogames, attacked her personally and in the end, no-one won.

Then there was the controversy over the ending to Mass Effect 3. I haven’t as yet played Mass Effect 3 (or any games from the series yet) so I can’t for now comment on the specifics of the story. However, from an outsider’s perspective, the commotion seemed a little extreme. My understanding is that players were disappointed with the ending for not acknowledging the player’s choices that were made in the games leading up to that point? I’ll find out when I eventually play it. To be upset with the ending if that’s how it was is fair enough, but to then petition BioWare to change the ending seems over the top to me. Once again, I haven’t played it, so maybe I don’t know the full extent of the disappointment, but hey, while I loved the original Star Wars films, I didn’t greatly enjoy George Lucas’ prequels to them. Should I (and the other fans who were disappointed by the Star Wars prequels) expect him to rewrite and refilm them? Of course not! We get on with our lives and watch other films and consume other media.

Speaking of Star Wars, there was the matter of EA being criticised for planning to add same-sex relationships to their Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. Yet why is this even an issue? It may come as a shock to some people, but there are a lot of gay people in the world. There always have been and there always will be. Homosexual characters in EA’s game is just reflecting that reality of human sexuality. “There were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars films”, proclaimed the Florida Family Association on its website. To which I say, “pfft”. Have they really seen the Star Wars films? C3PO and R2D2 are the token gay robot couple.

Seriously though, there have been homosexual characters in videogames for a long time now. I recall the bisexual gypsy prostitutes way back in Ultima VI and Dupré scolding the Avatar for wasting time with sex instead of saving Britannia . So why all the fuss now with homosexuality in The Old Republic?

Scene from Ultima VI in which the Avatar has sex with prostitutes

Lastly, there’s an EA Indie Bundle on Steam now which has caused the internet to do a double take because “EA” and “Indie” in the same sentence appears to be oxymoron of the grandest proportions possible. At first glance, it seems obvious that EA are trying to cash-in on the public goodwill at the moment towards independently developed videogames. However, what is an “indie” game these days anyway? Is it really just a game that has been developed independently of the support of a commercial publisher? Or does “indie” refer more to the style and ascetics of the game? I’d argue that it’s more the latter. After all, Notch, our poster child for indie success with Minecraft now has his own company and employs people. By his own admission, he no longer considers himself to be, “indie”.

Take another example with Valve who made the videogame digital distribution system Steam and have given us many successful game series such as the Half-Life series, the Team Fortress series, the Portal series, the Left 4 Dead series, to name just a very few. They’re not a publically floated company and they self-publish all their games. If we define, “indie”, as independent, then that’s what they must be.

While none of the games in the EA Indie Bundle were made in somebody’s garage by a team of a few people on a budget of a couple of dollars, they’re hardly triple-A games made on a multibillion dollars budget either. So arguing about the semantics of indie-ness and criticising EA for trying to sell some games (when that’s its job – to sell games) is probably futile. They’re a publisher of videogames. They’re not the Third Reich. Nor are they “America’s worst company” as they were voted last month by readers of the Consumerist. That’s just hyperbole.

To conclude, EA is not without its faults. For example, the recent “goof” over Rock Band for iOS was bizarre. As is the way they have handled Tetris for the iPad. Also, it was back in 2004 when Erin Hoffman published her EA Spouse blog to highlight unethical work practices at EA. They’re not perfect, but in spite of the legitimate problems that EA have had, I can’t help but feel that sometimes the internet, or parts of the internet, can blow some matters out of proportion.

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Global Game Jam 2012

I participated last week for the first time in the Global Game Jam.

I hesitated at first to be involved, fearing that I was too much of a novice still. All I could think of upon arriving at Wollongong University, where it was being held, was that everyone else was going to be amazingly talented and that my greenness would stand out like a sore thumb. I kept thinking to myself how I should’ve been more prepared – that I should’ve been tinkering extensively with engines such as Game Maker, or that I should have studied Unity more, and so on.

Incidentally, I’d had a fever for some days and it wasn’t going away. I’m sure sleep deprivation and copious amounts of junk food wouldn’t hurt right? Riiight.

I hadn’t formed a team in advance and was planning to join up with other teamless randoms. Maybe I really was mad! And wait, I hate social situations. So why did I think creatively collaborating with strangers over a 48 hour period would be a good idea!!!? ARGGHGHGH!!!

Big Deep Breath!

It wasn’t so bad, except for where it was, but that’s okay.

The theme was an image of of the Ouroboros symbol. I found some people to team up with and we discussed the theme for many hours. By 2 am the first night we had vaguely decided the approach we wanted to take. We had taken longer than I had hoped in agreeing to what we would do, but at least we had something to work with now. You would be a snake that eats orbs made out of the four elements (earth, fire, water, and wind) which would make your tail grow longer. You fly around a torus shape and eventually your tail grows so long that you have to try to avoid eating yourself.

We slept for a few hours and then early morning we jumped into making the game using Unity but at some point later in the day our programmer decided that the idea wouldn’t be possible to make in Unity and instead we would have to switch engines and start again now in Flash.

tick tock… tick tock… tick tock

Time was running away from us.

There was a lack of unity. And a lack of Unity too.

Come late Saturday night (about 4 or 5 am) I finally decided to grab some sleep but found myself feeling incredibly unwell. I could tell that I wasn’t going to make the full 48 hours, and as the sun came up I made the decision to leave. I felt awful abandoning my team like that, but it couldn’t be helped, and we had most of the game finished. Hopefully they could finish the remaining bits without me.

Orboros screenshot

The end result is certainly not a finished game, and instead feels more like a tech demo. I’ve uploaded it here at this link on my deviantart account if you would like to try it. Use the arrow keys to move the snake and make it speed up and slow down.

I named it Orboros because you collect orbs and the theme was ouroboros and I like puns.

So do I regret participating when the results were less than stellar? Not at all! It was a worthwhile experience in spite of getting sick and in spite of the troubles. I learnt what to expect next time and I consider it an educational experience. You don’t learn from being perfect. You learn from failing and then picking yourself up, reflecting, and then trying again.

I’ll be there next year, but I think I’ll go next time with a prepared team. However, I’ll have twelve months to improve my skills, and I start my new course at AIE this Wednesday, so this is just the beginning.

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Katawa Shoujo

I was first intrigued by Katawa Shoujo when I read Leigh Alexander’s write up of it two years ago, but only recently got around to playing it. Katawa Shoujo is an eroge visual novel in which the protagonist Hisao has a heart condition called arrhythmia and is sent to Yamaku High School for disabled students in which he learns to live with his condition and find friends and maybe find love.

The game is incredibly sensitive and respectful to its subject matter, which is maybe surprising considering that the idea for it originated out of the 4chan imageboard website, a controversial place not generally known for its maturity or compassion.

The Eroge genre is not commonly known in the West with the nearest Western equivalent perhaps being the Choose Your Own Adventure story genre. Katawa Shoujo does contain explicit sexual material, as is consistent with other Eroge visual novels, but it never feels exploitative or gratuitously pornographic. Instead, the sexual aspects of the story are presented as a natural development of the relationship between Hisao and whichever of the girls at Yamaku High School he closely befriends and romances.

This is not a game about fetishizing people with disabilities, but rather it’s about depicting them as just other human beings who have the same wants and desires as all of us do. It’s not about representing them as freaks but as people with unique personalities who have their own sense of agency.

One may argue though if it is necessary to stress that people with disabilities deserve respect and to be treated as equal human beings. After all, shouldn’t this be obvious?

In a perfect world, it would be obvious, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Neither do the characters in Katawa Shoujo. At one point in the narrative, Hisao expresses his confusion to Lilly the blind girl that there exists prejudice among students at the high school designed for disabled students. He expects that kind of misunderstanding and narrow-mindedness in the outside world, but in a place meant exclusively for people with disabilities, he assumes there would be more tolerance and understanding. She kindly tells him that he’s naive. The kids in Yamuku have disabilities, but they’re also just as human as anyone else, and with that can come all the ugly preconceptions that any person can have.

Lilly in Katawa Shoujo

That prejudice includes me too, as Katawa Shoujo humbled me and forced me to reflect on my own disabilities and how I treat others with disabilities of their own. It’s to my shame that without any malicious intent, that there have been times in the past when I have met people with obvious disabilities and found myself uncomfortable and uncertain on how I speak to them. How do you ignore the elephant in the room?

I can recall a friend of my grandmother who was born with small undeveloped arms caused by her mother taking the drug thalidomide during pregnancy. I remember meeting her about a decade ago and feeling uncomfortable around her. Her arms! I couldn’t get past them. I couldn’t look her in the eyes without thinking about her deformity. And why was this so? She was still a person just like me or anyone else. She couldn’t help what happened to her before she was born. So why was I so uncomfortable when speaking to her? I feel like a monster for recalling my awkwardness around her then, but as Katawa Shoujo reminds us, it’s not so unusual. I should know too as I can’t forget how people react to my “disabilities”. They’re not physical disabilities, unless you count asthma which never feels like it hinders me thanks to preventative medication that prevents asthma attacks, or short-sightedness which is pretty damned common and at least I can see with the aid of glasses. Instead, what I’m referring to are mental disabilities. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Social Phobia. I’m always hesitant to reveal this about myself because I know how people can react to physical disabilities (as I did!) let alone mental disabilities such as these. I have to admit that I’m nervous about admitting it here on the internet of all places because I’m aware of the misconceptions that people can have. I’ve had people grimace at me when I’ve told them before as if I’m some nutcase. So why was I so uneasy with my grandma’s friend’s disability when I should have been aware how people can be towards mine? How hypocritical of me. I suppose it shows that I was as human as anyone else with my prejudices. It doesn’t make it right, but I’m glad that I can reflect on it. We fear what’s different without taking into account that we too are different and that there is no perfect human.

Yuuko and Hanako in Katawa Shoujo

Sometimes people whom I tell are surprised especially about the Social Phobia. However, Anxiety Cat knows how I think on that. I’ve described it before as like a duck swimming on water. It looks calm on the surface, but meanwhile it’s frantically paddling underneath in order to stay afloat. I either let myself crawl into a cave and drown or I go on living regardless of my limitations.

It’s what I love about the characters of Katawa Shoujo – how they don’t let their disabilities stand in their way. They don’t let their disabilities define them. I love how Rin is a girl born with tiny stumps for arms (similar to my grandma’s friend) and yet she’s an artist! She paints with her feet. Emi is a girl with amputated legs below both her knees, and she is a runner. She describes herself as, “the fastest thing on no legs”. These are people not to be pitied and feared. They are people to be admired. They are people who know their limitations and succeed in what they want anyway.

Emi from Katawa Shoujo

Ultimately, that’s the strength of Katawa Shoujo – that it depicts characters who are people first and disabled second. It’s how we should view everyone we meet regardless, but as the game’s story points out and as my own experience had demonstrated with how I viewed people with disabilities or how people viewed mine, we don’t always act that way. It compels me to never think of people with disabilities as I did before and it encourages me (as the girls in the game do) to not let my own disabilities hinder me in succeeding in my goals.

That we should treat everyone equal is a truism that needs repeating (because how many times has the human race repeatedly screwed up in doing so?) and Katawa Shoujo with its honest and heartfelt storytelling is a game that needs to be experienced. It’s available for free from the developer’s website.

I have no patience for arguments questioning if it’s really a videogame or “just” a story. It gives an experience through the use of digital media and I’ll take its experience any day over another bland videogame about generic dudebros fighting aliens and zombies. It’s one of the best videogames that have appeared in recent times, and it needs to be experienced and enjoyed. The game has touched a lot of people, myself included, with its earnest storytelling. The graphics are beautiful with some gorgeously painted cutscenes and the original music is also amazing and appropriately accompanies each scene instead of being just background filler. Overall, I can’t recommend Katawa Shoujo enough and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

You are not alone, and you are not strange. You are you, and everyone has damage. Be the better person.

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Stumbled into the third dimension

Learning 3D modelling has been a new skill that I’ve stumbled into during my course at TAFE last year. I had always avoided 3D, putting it into the “too hard” basket and instead concentrated on 2D art. At first, 3D modelling frustrated me, but then I started to comprehend more and more of what I was doing and I started to enjoy it. I wanted to make this post to document my journey with 3D thus far.

We start with Boxy, this robot character that I made:

Boxy the robot

He was inspired by the robots of Puzzle Bots and Megaman‘s Servbot. Best to begin with something block shaped when starting out I figured. However, I must say that I prefered making this 2D flash animation for the same character:

Doing that made me realize that if it happens that I don’t end up working in videogames, then I could easily see myself happily working in animation, perhaps in children’s cartoons.

Next up I attempted a more organic character. I sketched out a generic looking elf that I named Xannry Treepath:

Xannry Treepath sketch

Except the execution didn’t go entirely to plan:

Xannry Treepath render

He looks rather deformed, and he has giant hands. Not exactly what I intended.

It’s all part of the learning process though. Expecting to be perfect straight away when learning something new is unrealistic. You have to fail to succeed.

And finally, I endeavoured to make another organic model, which I then animated. This time it’s of a young girl dancing in a forest. I used the famous Joan of Arc tutorial available online to learn how to model her so precisely. I’m mostly happy with how she turned out, although I didn’t put any weight maps into her hair so it looks as though she has a ton of hair spray in her hair when she jumps upside down. Also my final render (which took at least ten days!) is grainier than I had hoped. Perhaps it was my render settings or my lighting. I’m not sure. Nonetheless, I like the ethereal and whimsical atmosphere of it as she dances through the forest:

(best watched in HD if doesn’t play in that automatically–>)

I’d like to be now able to make such a detailed model again by myself without needing to reference a tutorial as I did for this, but that ability will come in time with more practice.

All of the above models were made with Lightwave. Next up, I need to start using Maya as AIE where I’ll be studying this year uses it.

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