Friday, July 27, 2012

Linearly Explaining a Non-Linear Creative Process

I've been thinking for a while that I should document my work at Pieces Interactive with the Magicka game and put it together to nice and tidy blogposts giving the reader a good view into the thoughts behind what I do. The challenge maps, the items, the campaign maps, and so on.

So, I started documenting some of the process by writing in various documents - one for each map, for example, and it went fairly well... in the beginning. I've realized that what I do when my brain goes into creative mode is that it works in a very non-linear fashion. It's like, in the beginning, it's straight forward and tries to get a grasp of the entire picture. To do that, it's usually about going from point A to point B, a start and an end. At some point I see the whole picture. I must do this - I can't form a solution to a problem to which I don't know all the facts.

At this point, I usually get to some sort of slow-down. Well, it might feel like it anyway for the linear part that had just made sure to absorb all the facts.

However, behind the scenes, there's another part of me that starts working that's not really very linear. It starts by understanding the entire whole as an entire whole. It still needs help by my more logic side to turn and twist things. It does this by throwing vaguely formed questions about the whole in the form of feelings, and "I" respond by trying to see whether this fits as a concrete and corporeal part of the whole. In other words, I get vaguely shaped pieces of a puzzle thrown at me. They mostly have a color or pattern, representing a feeling, but their shape isn't very well defined. It's up for the logic me to make sure these parts get a suitable shape so that they fit in the whole, or send it back and ask for a different hue or color altogether. Sometimes I send back a question myself. And, while doing that, more facts are formed and fed to the non-linear part of me and the whole keeps growing, changing, shifting, moving.

It sometimes feels like we're two very different beings, working diligently on one complex task together. I can't use my logic side to hurry up and work on a problem that I know my... emotional or creative part does best. But I seldom need to. I can, however, work on other things while that other part takes it time. I know the pieces will fall into place given enough time and solving other problems and not forcing things is usually the way to go.

At my current job I feel that both parts of me work beautifully. I design the feel of all the challenges, items and versus maps and I implement them as precise as I can by scripting them. Even the scripting takes a bit of creativity as many of the "new" features used in some of the challenges are simply cleverly braided together using functionality that was already present.

I digress. I think...

What I was supposed to say is that once I reach a certain point in the process of a map or similar, my brain starts working non-linearly. Instead of one "thread" of thought I get some sort of... tangle of thoughts, all intertwining. One thread keeps the feeling of the whole in mind, while another tries to braid together with it to form details in the feeling, while another logic thread tries to braid itself with the technical and artistic limitations and possibilities of the game and our team, while another lasso thread keeps everything new in spirit and balance with the rest of the game, while another thread jumps in from time to time to blow at and whisper seemingly random things at the threads and make them shift and flutter in the wind for a bit and easier find their grooves.

Sometimes threads snap off and they go to the bin in favour of other threads and ideas and feelings. Sometimes the major underlying threads change drastically, either by myself or by new facts or ideas from the team, and the other threads either adapt, change or get replaced completely.

I love it.

Upcoming map... part... tease.
What I love less is that I can't easily put it down in writing. The design, yes, but the road there, no. It foils my plans. I can mention some of the more simple choices I've made and write a while about those. Why did I put Trolls in this wave where there were once Beholders? I could probably explain that, more or less. Those are logical, linear decisions. I can even go into some depth of the feel I was aiming for here and there, but for the most part...

Well, to explain much of it I'd have to make some sort of hypertext document, where parts refer to other parts both before and after themselves in the same text. I realized as I was filling in the files for the various, and seemingly isolated, challenge and versus maps that I started referring to the other maps and other things. Some thought here depended on some thought there. Some addition or cut here depended on some addition or cut in a completely different place, map or item.

The blogpost would be linear - it has a beginning and an end - but its contents would refer to each other and seemingly loop. And they probably do sometimes. What started the loop that gave birth to some of the important conclusions? Well uh... the thing is, the creative and non-linear part of me can't really speak in linear terms. Duh. I'd have to put a lot of effort in trying to bring that process into an explainable and measurable form.

I'd confuse the fudge out of both the reader and myself, because... I would ironically be trying to solve a problem to which I don't know all the parts.

This blogpost is probably the best I can do in that regard. I'll do my best, though, because it's fun to give the players an insight into the thought-processes that are behind the Magicka DLCs coming from us at Pieces Interactive.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Not Listening To Myself

I really should start listening to myself more often. I don't know how many times I've said that to myself after I've bought a game that someone told me was awesome but I knew from everything I had seen that I thought it looked like a horrible game for me. I have more or less always been right and can't think of a time that I thought "hey, this game WAS fun after all and worth the money!".

Call of Duty... many of them. I admit I've spent about 300 hours on the PC version of MW2 because I could play with my friends without exception and it was easy to just join a game. Yes, it was a wonky server system that didn't work all of the time, but it worked most of the time for us. Then came the other games. And I bought two of them, knowing I shouldn't have, but I listened to others. A bit like the "slow" idiot in this video.

And blah, blah and blah. No, I haven't fallen for all of the hyped games, but of course I've bought some of the huge AAA titles, such as Battlefield 3 - but that's because I felt from the start that I would like it and hey, I did.

The other day I bought RAGE.

I didn't like anything of what I saw from it, from the game play to the graphics and aesthetics. People and a couple of friends talked warmly of the game play however, and I thought hey, it's cheap during the Steam Summer Sale, so why not. Naturally, the day after I bought it someone pointed out to me that the game cost 1/3rd as much in a local store. Anyway, I installed the 21 GB of game and gave it a shot.

Blam. Unexplained settings. Unskippable intro. Okay, some important recording plays, but I interrupt it by opening the very first door upon which I step out of something. I can't get back in. I want to hear the message though... so I restart from last checkpoint. I need to watch the intro again. Still unskippable. I step out of the first thing, gets greeted by cutscene. A man asks me to come to him, sure, I'll do that, I'll just look over here fi- BLAM. Gets shot by invisible sniper because I passed invisible border. Dead. Reload last save, which luckily was outside of first room, but I have to watch encounter cutscene again.

Okay, passed that thing. I'm apparently in danger, especially since I'm clearly visibly someone that the bandits want and we have to bail. I get to a camp, gets a "quest" that I have to accept, and the quest is... to go to the bandit camp. The bandits that were awfully dangerous just a second ago. With a simple pistol. My reward? An armor to put outside my suit. Why not give me the armor before I go in? Why not give me the gun at the beginning, so we could just kill the bandits there instead?

Okay. Mission... Drive there. Oh, but not further, invisible car wall, for reasons. Why? No reason. Into the mission area, invisible walls everywhere. Can't go there. Can't jump over this, but you can jump over that. Health bar? Nope. But I have health. Why can't I see this important resource? Oh well. OK, so I'll have to defibrillate using some sort of mini-game. A timer tells me to get ready, alright! the end of the timer, it asks me if I'm ready. Yes... Now it's charging. Zaap... I completely miss the timing. I live again. Apparently, my timing here determines how much health I get when I live again. Wait, what health? Where can I see it?

Then, the driving back and forth. The people standing in your way to slowly tell you things that they'll then show to you, in writing, in a quest contract paper window that appears where you have to either accept or decline. But... if I decline, you'll just stand in my way and not allow me to pass you. The game will halt until I accept, so why do I have to accept? It's not a role-playing game. You're a shooter. You do that relatively good, I guess, so why are you wasting my time with nonsense?

I uninstalled it. 20 GB of "unique textures" that all look the same. Grey textures in uneven resolution loaded "as needed" meaning when I look around I can actually see them load, unimaginative areas, invisible walls everywhere, a metaphoric wading through mud between the actual game play just to slow me down, and the story is more uninteresting than the level 20 quests of the original World of Warcraft. I don't have time for this. Why don't you just give me a solid shooter experience when that's what you do best? It doesn't have to be Quake or Doom, but you're not an RPG in any stretch of the imagination so why do you want me to think you are?

Ugh. No.

I bought a lot of other titles during the Steam Summer Sale, following mostly my gut (and wallet).

Some Heroes of Might and Magic VI which will be the first in that series that I've ever played, Puzzle Quest I which I've bought and played on Xbox 360 before (I didn't like the story of the sequel). Bulletstorm, because I loved it and wanted it on Steam instead of Origin. Risen. Bastion. Deadspace I and II. Unreal Gold, because Unreal meant a lot to me years back. Mirror's Edge, because I loved it for the Xbox 360 and want to try it on PC. Cave Story+ because I played it once and loved the crap out of it. Fable I because I don't want to use my clunky old Xbox for it and it won't run on the Xbox 360. Dear Esther because the idea is fascinating. Recettear because it was crap cheap and looks charming. Galactic Civilizations II because I know I love that type of game ever since one of the first I played, Deadlock, back in the day. Darksiders, I liked it kind of, even though it has more tiresome testosterone than Gears of War and God of War combined. Everything roars.

Anyway, I should just go with my gut. It's usually right.

I should play old games more, too. I should try to get Fallen Haven to work again. I wonder if I think that's a good game still.

And I'm looking forward to Torchlight II and Path of Exile, both of which are made by open people that really know - or at least try - to make fun gaming experiences. They know their strengths and keep to them.

EDIT: Oh, and I probably should start playing the games that I buy. Like, sit with one of them and play it until I either finish it or grow tired of it. Or simply give up because I know I'll just get pissed if I continue, like in the case of RAGE.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's not a paradox

So, our publisher Paradox really likes what we're doing for them and the game Magicka. Seeing one of their representatives play some of the new stuff we're making, grinning, going "aaah" and "oooh" and ending it all with several big thumbs up really made my day. And it was already a pretty good day.

While I obviously can't say much about what I'm currently working on due to reasons, we're really thinking outside the box with our upcoming things, both in terms of game mechanics and difficulty. I can't personally beat our stuff alone but I've made sure it's balanced and possible. Every time I fail I know it's because I wasn't good enough. I have all the tools at my disposal to beat it but I get tripped up. Tripped up by the very things I added to the game to cause the player to trip up, even. How's that for irony?

In other news... I tend to get chosen as administrator or moderator for forums, because I know how to stick to rules and not abuse them, and I'm fairly good at being fair. Sometimes you need to actually act, which some moderators fear, but you can't just start banning and deleting just because you and other users don't share the same opinions or do things that others are not allowed to - unless this is stated in the forum rules and guidelines.

For example, on the Paradox Plaza's forums, they don't usually allow for links to external sites. Being given administrator rights, I asked them for scenarios where I would like to link to external sites anyway for either good solutions for potential problems with Magicka and the like, as I felt I might need it. I didn't but asked anyway because that's what I do. I try to keep things professional.

Then it comes as a surprise when one user of a community sub-forum that I've become moderator for goes on a righteous rampage over how horribly unfair and tyrannic I am when I decide to delete some posts of his (and mine) where he starts being sarcastic and makes me defend myself. I did so and responded that "wait, I should have just deleted this trolling and drama, my bad". I was appointed moderator status to prevent and stop drama and not feed into it myself. But this was incredible terrible and on top of that, I've apparently (according to this one user) been horribly sarcastic and horrible to everybody else for a long time and deleted their posts like a mad man. Ironically, I've never heard any of this from anyone (nor deleted anything but clear verbal punch-fests just as I'm supposed to).

And oh my god, the time and energy he put into proving how I abused my power (though I'm hardly ever online, for one), but all the examples he could come up with was times that I had nagged and complained about things and how people act. Yep, I do that sometimes, but when I say "this is really annoying" he have systematically interpreted this as "you should and may not do this", or something. I don't know, the whole thing is illogical and blown up into cosmic proportions... because he can't take the fact that he have done something wrong and just go on.

Well, letting things like these just go is one of the tools in a moderators tool belt. Yes, you should naturally try to handle problems with professional dialogues and, when needed, admit fault if you do something you feel is unfair. Yet, the most important thing is to move on. Some users will dislike you, your ways or the products you're working with or supporting, regardless of what you do.

Moving on is important for two reasons:

  1. The problem is noted and left behind, because most of the time the problem just isn't worth putting time and energy into compared to other things. Also, some users just won't give up. Is one user that important to you that you'll drop everything you're doing and everyone else just to make that one user happy? Probably not. You'll of course try to solve the problem, but once you've done what you can then that's it.
  2. The problem itself is oftentimes the mere existence of itself, as it's often just a brawl, trolled up drama or a heated argument. As a moderator, you're there to prevent and quell those things, not feed them or let them be fed by others, regardless of what you emotionally feel that you want yourself. That's why it can be hard, but you're a moderator and it must be done. After all, if you can't be expected to, nobody can.

So yes, what makes it a good day is the realization that hey, I don't have to deal with this. It feels good to be able to stop and say "hey, it's actually not my responsibility to make that person understand that his logic is broken"Someone might not like me for it, but I do what I can and have no obligation to do anything more for this one person, and he can dislike me all he wants. I've done my best, and if you still don't like it, then that's not my problem. Move along. I do. And it feels so good.

A couple of years ago I wouldn't be able to let things like this go. I'd defend myself to the end. This person is still that kind of person, and believes that this issue is so important that and huge that he must see to it that I fall from my high horse (by riding one himself). Yet, I'm just trying to sit and relax on a bridge by the lake. I want to take it easy, to chill out, but then there are people like him that sees the smallest conflicts like a great battle against the evil dark and the ever-shining good, and he appoints himself courageous knight of the latter.

So, why this rant if I can let go, you ask? Wrong conclusion. I've let that argument go and done what I can. I should put a temp-ban on him for not stopping when told, but I think I'll just let it go. He won't learn from it anyway and it'll just feed his martyrdom. I'm writing this because I wanted to spill some of my day to my blog for once. I seldom do. And I felt this was the perfect example to just talk a bit about how work, hobbies and one's personal life can blend together and cause problems if you're not careful.

I love when my hard work pays off and people come to me and say "hey, you've done one hell of a job". That makes stupid things like these feel so minor, like drops of water running off of me in the rain and down into the water below me as I sit here on the bridge, dangling my feet over the lake's surface.

EDIT: Oh and apparently one of the main designers of the original Magicka, Emil Englund, saw the new content the other day and said that he was very impressed with it.

EDIT 2: Snapple crackle. This upcoming stuff might be some of the best consumer value stuff yet!

Monday, July 2, 2012

No More Facebook

A few days ago, I finally terminated my Facebook account permanently. Not because of being "addicted" or anything like that but because of this.

And because I don't want to be Facebook's product to sell, because that's what you are for them. You're not their customer. You're not Google's customer if you use Google+ or any other of their free services either, in fact. You're the product. You're plenty of information to sell and you're a pair of eyes that can look at advertisements. Yet, I still use some Google services. At least they're not trying to "share" everything I do in new ways every week and have me opt-out of that if I want to and if I can find the hidden setting for it like Facebook did. And well, Google still has services that are actually useful.

But mainly because of the first reason. I'll quote myself:
"Having to explain any of this really feels like explaining how to walk because it's such a basic thing. Trust and circles. Being you the worker and you the friend and you the parent. It's about filtering away parts of ourselves and sometimes adding a bit more depending on the people you interact with. Put all those groups in a single place... I mean, picture how you would need to shape yourself, what role to put yourself in, for that to work. Ask your friends, family, flirts, co-workers and your boss to come home for a party where you act as if everyone was the same kind of friend. It'd get totally fucked up, and if not, it'd get so extremely shallow and boring. That's what we get with people assuming we're in any shape or form resembling our real selves on Facebook. We're not. That would be absurd."
And yes, I'll remove the Facebook Like-buttons from my blog the day I can be assed to figure out how.

Another thing with services like that is that they're designed to suck you in and get stuck consuming a stream of unimportant information disguised as important, and make you feel that supplying similar information is important, because everyone else does it. It's really a nasty piece of psychological garbage that a lot of people get completely sucked into. People even lose jobs because of this.

It's meant to give you quick fixes. A few likes. More friends, more potential likes. A photo of a cat. A photo of a hamburger. Oh lucky you, you've got a kid, upload a photo and get an instant high score of likes. Disgustingly optimistic and naive? Tell it to everybody! Call it "being realistic"! Billions of likes! Keep it rolling, don't stop! Welcome to the world of... no substance at all.

Instead, you can be creative and productive with your time. Facebook doesn't want that, naturally, because that would mean less time reloading pages on their site which means seeing less advertisements and supplying less information to their database of what you are interested in.