1 Step Foward, 2 Steps Back

1st thing – no reading post this week because what I was going to read is no longer available. That’s fun.

2nd thing – I had made a lot of progress, but then RPGMaker went and crashed taking a fair amount of stuff with it. It took a lot of self control to not throw my computer out the window in a rage.

So far we have most of the intro sequence where you meet Satan done. The characters are facing the wrong way, but I’ll get that sorted. (His talk avatar is also in the process of being recolored. My tablet pen has gone missing because when it rains it pours.)

Playtest1So you open get your peanut butter opened and you find yourself chatting with Satan, which is always fun. The eventing for all of this was a lot easier than I expected.

Looks hard?

eventing1Actually just selecting what you want to do.

eventing2And it’s simple coding stuff like looping until conditions are met and if/then statements. I’m sure my AP Programming teacher is proud that I still retained something about code 5 years later.

And if I was a lesser person, this is where I’d post a picture of a toppled lawn chair with the caption “we will rebuild” but I’m better than that, so I’ll leave you with sincerest apologies that things have not been going as planned.

Let’s See How Far We’ve Come – A Brief History of Storytelling in Games

Whenever I look back and see how things have progressed, whether it be a person, a thing, or in this case video games as a story telling medium, Matchbox Twenty’s How Far We’ve Come (despite how relevant is may or may not be) pops into my head. So, I’m going to start this off with a link to that so we can all be in the same mindset.

In early games, rarely was there and explicit story. There’s no story to Pong. You’re told to kill the aliens in Space Invaders and that’s about it. Compare that to the games of today where you have to read its Wikipedia page to make sure you understood the plot correctly (looking at you Metal Gear Solid series).

Between early games and today’s games, Lebowitz takes a pitstop at Interactive Fiction, specifically Colossal Cave Adventure. I have respect for what Interactive Fiction has done as a genre and the place it holds in video games/storytelling but I lack the patience required for them. While trying and failing can immerse the player and make them care about their choices, I can’t get into it. I can’t find it in me to sit down and type every command combination and hope the next one will work. I think it would have been interesting to mention the evolution of text adventures instead of leaving them behind in favor of solely discussing the evolution of more traditional video games.

Today there are multiple platforms that are easy to use and distrubute interactive fiction – Twine being the first that comes to mind. Along with solely text games, I think the visual novel genre can be seen as an evolution of text adventures. Visual novels are similar to text adventures in the facts that they are largely text-based and immersion is mostly done via reading. Visual novels have some imagery to accompany the text, but it’s often the same image for large chunks of text. Like text-adventures, visual novels allow for player interaction through choices and allowing players to choose what path their story will take.

Back to ‘typical’ video games. Lebowitz is clearly a fan of Square Enix (which endears me to this book more), using Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VII, and The World Ends With You all as examples of the progression and utilization of technology to aid story. He uses FFIV as an example of early branching, multi-level stories. There are twelve playable characters in FFIV, each with their own unique story to be explored. The idea of multiple plotlines and multiple endings is now commonplace in video games. Six years later, Final Fantasy VII was released and players were able to experience full motion videos – prerendered cutscenes that allowed for better graphic capability compared to normal game play. We all like to say that we aren’t graphics snobs, but let’s be honest here – there’s something more compelling about watching our heroes defeat Sephiroth and save the planet as well-defined polygons instead of pixel sprites.

FFVII had great graphics for its day and its cutscenes are still beautiful. Today cutscenes can look stunningly real. Games don’t have to look real to have good stories and to be compelling, but it can be easier to become invested in people that look like us instead of Lego blocks. AGAIN I am not saying you cannot be invested in games with ‘less real’ graphics because that is 100% not true.

So, from Pong to Final Fantasy XXXIV, let’s just think about how far we’ve come. No story to ‘Jesus Christ let me double check to make sure I know what’s going on.’

Game Progress 3

So, between snow days and the start of spring break I’ve actually been able to sit down and work on the game properly. This being said, I’ve also been getting into the zone and/or working late at night so I’ve forgotten to screenshot things. So I must sadly leave you with a bland list of things that I’ve gotten done. Also, I’ve been working on actual story things and I can only talk but so much because, y’know

spoilersThings Bekka Has Actually Gotten Done

  • All sprites/tilesets needed imported
  • Background music selected and imported (royalty free!) shout out to incompetech
  • Rayne’s house map finished
  • City map started, nearly finished
  • Fiveish minutes of beginning dialogue completed
  • All dialogue trees for initial encounter with the devil and then some mapped out
  • Didn’t stress-cry

Things Bekka Plans to Get Done Over Spring Break

  • Do most of the work towards meeting ’30 minutes of gameplay’ goal
  • Finish city map
  • Continue “Didn’t stress-cry” combo despite having to work on this and 100 different documents for psychology research

Progress Report 2

This time around I tinkered with eventing and doing encounters.

I also decided to scrap trying to draw things on my own because I didn’t want to end up snapping my tablet in half so I started recoloring spirtes.

So, pictures! And talking about things more in detail!

I worked on doing map events such as transfering from one screen to another (which i sadly forgot to do a screencap of) as well as learning how to change the passability of tiles. An X means you cannot walk through/on something while an O means it’s walkable. So I truly wanted, I could set everything to O and make the character a ghost, just floating through walls and such.

TilePassability The bulk of what I worked on this week, aside from character recolorings, was battles and developing characters as fighers (setting stats, etc)

Here’s two screencaps of the battle process:

FightThings

Developing in the sets of enemies you’ll encounter.

Time to murder some random animals

Time to murder some random animals

I need to look into how to change the battle background or if it’ll be different in game instead of just in the tester. I wish I had more pictures of the process but I did a lot of work this time around late at night and it slipped my tired mind to capture more of the process. I’m off to do more work and hopefully get some much needed sleep!

“Interactive Storytelling for Video Games” & I wax nostalgic

During the course of my independent study, I’m going to be reading a few chapters out of Josiah Lebowitz and Chris Klug’s book Interactive Storytelling for Video Games.

This week I read chapter one, which is really just an introduction to the rest of the book. In it, the authors talks about how they became interested in writing for games. For one, it was the wonderful balance of gameplay and storytelling found in Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII. For the other, they were a Dungeon Master for some tabletop games and were asked to write adventures for the game DragonQuest. Both of these sounded familiar to me as both are reminiscent of my history with games and stories.

When I was younger, the first ‘big kid’ game I played was SquareEnix’s Kingdom Hearts. Its story was engaging and complex and I found myself wanting to spend every waking hour playing. I’d watched my aunt’s boyfriend play Final Fantasy X and I wanted to play similar games. I’m currently playing through Final Fantasy X myself after getting the HD remaster for Christmas and there is no way 9 year old me would have been able to adequately process the story. Kingdom Hearts was a nice way to ease younger gamers into grander storylines. (Aside: Programmers at Square must have learned how to do really nice water animations because there are SO MANY dramatic water scenes in FFX and KH which were released around the same time.)

Kingdom Hearts got me into RPGs and I remember writing a totally-not-a-rip-off story after playing. I wanted to write stories like the ones I was starting to find in video games and I wanted to be able to let people engage with them like I had been able to engage with Kingdom Hearts’ story.

As a kid I also played HeroQuest with the boy who lived next door to my grandmother – his name is Justin. It was a board game, similar to what I gathered DragonQuest to be off a skimming of wikipedia, that originally belonged to my dad and his brothers. Justin and I played through all of the stories written in the gamebook and soon found ourselves taking on the role of Zargon, who was essentially the DM. Since we could only play together when I was visiting my grandma, I would thinkĀ  of stories in the times in between visits. We made up elaborate adventures, sometimes needing an entire weekend to complete one game. I often found myself annoyed at his stories inconsistencies, always thinking my games were clearly superior from a narrative standpoint (modesty was never one of my strong points).

The point of these long, rambling stories is I found it cool that my interest in storytelling stemmed from very similar places that the authors’ interest did. Games aren’t just something you interact with; they interact with you, inspire you, and – lame as it sounds – change you. If I hadn’t played video games as a kid, would I have had such a strong urge to write like I do now? Who knows. I’m just glad that I have a desire to tell stories and share them with others and that I now have the means to do that through games.

Also I wrote way more than intended. I probably could have written more. I get stupid emotional and nostalgic when I talk about my childhood and video games.

‘What Videogame Making can Teach Us…’ & Using Solid Research Methodology

Originally I made this post a little over a week ago, but apparently wordpress ate it. So here it is, 2.0.

 

I read ‘What Videogame Making Can Teach us About Literacy and Learning‘, a study by Kylie Peppler and Yasmin Kafai. They studied the trends of youths, who were mostly African-American or Hispanic, at a community center equipped with various programs used in game design such as Scratch and RPGMaker. They found that Scratch was the most widely used program due to its ease of use. By making game development more accessible we can close the ‘participation gap’ in game making – a field usually dominated by white males.

They took particular interest in one boy, though that’s where most of my issues lie. They draw most of their conclusions from this single case study, which, as is drilled into psychology students in every class, is not a good basis for generalizable conclusions. They said they drew data from thirty participants, so why didn’t they use all thirty kids to draw conclusions from? Why would they limit themselves with just one kid?

The child in question, Jorge, made a game called Metal Slug Hell Zone X, based off the game Metal Slug. Despite the violence the name suggests, MSHZX is apparently relatively serene with soothing music and calm backgrounds. There are no loud sound effects often found in run and gun games. There also an noticeable lack of enemies to shoot.

Issue two: “While Jorge doesn’t articulate this, we interpret Jorge’s conscientious programming decisions to suggest the impact that violence can have on the environment.” Jorge doesn’t tell you this. You’re pulling this from thin air. Maybe he just didn’t finish the game and plans to add antagonists. Maybe he just wanted to make sure that he could get the main character to move smoothly before adding other elements. I can’t take this ‘conclusion’ seriously because it is such a stretch. There is no solid evidence to back up this claim.

Issue Three: “The game serves as a metaphor for Jorge’s everyday experiences and encapsulates the sense of relief that Jorge feels at the Clubhouse when he’s engaged in his work.” They go on to say that since he included a violence mechanic in an earlier game titled Mortal Kombat, that the lack of violence in this game must have a deep meaning. In my notes, all I wrote next to this statement was “You are reachinnnnnngggg.” Maybe it’s my field of study or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m a very logical and fact oriented person, but I have trouble believing these very loose claims and they make me begin to doubt the article as a whole. Similar to ‘Correlation does not equal Causation’, the simple lacking or presence of something doesn’t not necessitate meaning. Sure, there could be a relation, but there is no way to say for sure so you’re safer not saying it.

Overall, Peppler and Kafai make good points about how it’s important to teach children how to use technology and give them creative outlets via game making or other software such as art or video editing programs. They have valid points when they say that it’s important to make game development easier to access. But with a chunk of this article dedicated to a case study that lacks any hard facts, there was a bad taste left in my mouth by the end of it.

Game Progress Log 1

Stardate 41254.7

I’ve already found myself behind on my work and I’m only two weeks into this project. Wonderful.

Granted, I was busy during those two weeks. Between staffing MAGFest, staffing a grief camp, and scrambling to find another volunteer site in order to graduate on time and dealing with the soul-crushing doubt of talent and self worth, I hardly had time to do work. Enough with excuses.

The story is outlined completely, but I can’t share that here because spoilers.

So far I’ve done a lot with mapping in RPGMaker, using Tutorials 1, 2, and 5.

I’ve mapped a general town area (and it took me way longer than it should have to figure out how to turn off the background music I selected)

Map1

Ignore the knight actor in the middle of the modern world

A test ‘house’ room which might end up being a bedroom for the main character Rayne and a very sloppy mockup of a Hell level

A very very sloppy mockup

A very very sloppy mockup

I also started on a draft of Rayne. I have the flat colors down but I’m not a fan of how she’s looking so far, so I sense a redraw coming on. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve actually used my tablet so it’s quite a learning curve. Her sprites are done too. When everything for her is finished they’ll get a post of their own. Same with Satan.

rayneflats

This is tragic and needs to be remedied ASAP

And now I leave you with what I’ve been working to recently: Electropop band Mystery Skulls

3 Best and Worst Things About the End of the Semester

So the semester is drawing to a close, and with that comes good and bad things alike

The Good:

1. The semester is almost over! You’re almost done with class and you get a month of doing nothing! You’re almost there! You can do it!

2. You’re allowed (expected even) to be a mess so you don’t have to feel sorry about surviving off caffeine and walking around in sweats all the time. Walk into class in your pajamas? We feel you. Come into the exam with an IV of coffee in your arm? I applaud your ingenuity.

3. End of the semester means end of classes and the interactions therein. Hopefully you’ll never have to see the creepy dude from your math class again! Or you won’t have to deal with that awful professor after this semester! Been stuck with group projects? You’ll never have to work with those idiots once this is over!

The Bad:

1. Exams. Exams suck; it’s proven fact. You’re not sleeping, you just want to go home, you’re trying to cram a semester’s worth of information into your head within a week or two because for some reason all of your exams are cumulative. There is nothing redeeming about exams.

Some of you are probably unfortunate enough to have to take tests at 8:30 in the morning. You have my condolences. That’s just not fair.

2. Your sleep schedule is royally screwed. If you get more than four hours of sleep, I envy you. But you might also be the same person who is already prepared for your exams and started your papers ahead of time. If so, you can leave because you’re making the rest of us look bad.

But yeah. You’re getting little sleep and when you’re asleep your brain is giving you dreams about math or linguistics or a foreign language. You cannot escape the subject matter. Accept it. Become it.

3. You’re close to going home. I know I listed this in the good part, but it’s also awful. You’re so close to break that you just lose all motivation to do anything. Sadly, these last two weeks are when it’s most important to do things. You don’t want to go to class, but you probably should. You don’t want to write that paper, but it’s worth 35% of your grade. You really don’t want to study for your exam, but deep down you know that you know nothing about the subject.

The Ugly:
(I’m sorry I couldn’t resist making this reference)

Students after four or less hours of sleep stumbling to class to take exams or turn projects in.

 

Stay strong fellow students. I believe in you.

Four Bands You Should Be Listening To & Why

Analog Affair
Listen here.

The Analog Affair is an indie/electronic/super awesome duo from Washington D.C. You can really find a bit of everything in their music. If you’re a hipster, they’re great because “no one’s heard of them” and they have a hipsterish sound to them. If you’re not a hipster, they’ll still great because, even if you’re not pretentious about your music, they have a great sound and you can probably find at least one song you like by them. The Analog Affair has summer hit sing-along tracks to play as you’re driving down the road or singing alone in your room, but they also have something for when you’re feeling down and just want to wallow in bed with some sad, thoughtful music.

The best part? You can download most of their stuff for free off of their Soundcloud!

I recommend: Ceiling Lights, Wild, Fast Hearts, We Were Lovers, The Leaves Change But You Don’t

Electric Six
Listen here.

Best known for their hits Danger! High Voltage and Gay Bar, Electric Six have recently released their ninth album, Mustang. Despite the fact that they haven’t produced widely recognized hits like Danger! or Gay Bar since their first album, they have only gotten better. They’re vastly underrated and more people should be listening to them. Electric Six is a criminally fun mix of rock, disco, and funk that will have you hooked and dancing along. They don’t take themselves to seriously – how could they with a lead singer named Dick Valentine – and they don’t expect you to either. Electric Six is all about being tongue-in-cheek, flippant, and making their music as entertaining as possible and they definitely succeed.

If you’re not convinced yet, just know that their first album got the name Fire because so many songs mentioned it. They’re along for the ride as much as you are.

I recommend (it was really hard to choose just 5): Pulling the Plug on the Party, Future is in the Future, I Don’t Like You, Nuclear War on the Dance Floor, Newark Airport Boogie

White Lies
Listen here.

A three piece band from Ealing London, White Lies have been active since 2007 and released their third album, Big TV, August of this year. Described as Rock or Post-Punk, White Lies’ lead singer Harry McVeigh delivers mesmerizing vocals that some have compared to Joy Division or Tears for Fears. While White Lies often have a darker tone in their music, their lyrics tend to contrast this by being much more uplifting than the opening bars of the song. While they are prone to comparisons of 80s post-punk or rock bands, I find White Lies to have a sound entirely their own. Their music is beautiful, haunting and, once heard, cannot be forgotten.

I recommend: Mother Tongue, Bigger Than Us, E.S.T., The Power & The Glory, Be Your Man
(also From The Stars but I can’t find a decent link for that and I can’t upload it)

Kyle Andrews
Listen here.

Okay not exactly a band, but worth listening to nonetheless. You’ve probably heard the infectious “You Always Make Me Smile” that was a hit a few summers back and has been featured on commercials. Kyle Andrews is an indie electro-pop musician who has released two full-length albums to date, Brighter Than the Sun and Robot Learn Love. Both have been summer release albums, Brighter Than the Sun released this July, and they perfectly encapsulate the feeling of the season. They’re upbeat and feel like sun, warm nights, and fun. He’s one of my go to artists when I’m feeling down. Kyle Andrews can always put a smile on your face.

I recommend: Lion, Make Me Feel Human, Sushi, Lazer Tag with Imaginary Friends, Crystal Ball

Gif Making

Aight, we’re gonna learn how to make gifs. It’s super awesome.

You need 3 programs, but don’t worry. They’re free!

  1. VLC Media Player (best media player ever. If you’re using Windows Media Player or something over this, I’m sorry but you’re wrong.)
  2. FFMPEG
  3. GIMP (or Photoshop but I’m too poor for photoshop and too lazy to find a download link)

Okay, once you have those three things downloaded and installed, you need to find yourself a video. I’ll be using the a new teaser for Sherlock Series Three. I use DownloadHelper for firefox but i’m sure you resourceful people have other ways of ripping videos from youtube.

You have a video, now open it in VLC. Under ‘View’ select ‘Advanced Controls’ and you should see this pop up:

Record

Press the red button to start recording the clip you want to make a gif of, hit it again to stop. Only record about 5ish seconds of footage otherwise you’ll have a lot of frames later, making the rest of the process harder. Though, my VLC has been acting up lately so I recommend hitting record a second or two before you want your clip to start and about a second after you want it to end.

The clip should be stored in your videos folder, or whatever your default video folder is. It’ll have a long name that starts with VLC Record. Rename it to something easier to type. Move the video to the ‘bin’ folder of FFMPEG.

Open your command line by typing in CMD in the start menu search bar. Your prompts should look like this:

Cmd

cd (whatever directory your ffmpeg folder is in)cd ffmpeg
cd bin
ffmpeg.exe -i YourFileName.Extension -r 12 img%03d.png

in your bin folder you will now have the video split into frames. Personally, I always move these to a separate folder in case I want to use them again because ffmpeg will replace these the next time you run it.

Open Gimp then selected “open as layers” from the “file” menu. Select all your frames.

Under Filters –> Animation –> Playback you can see how your gif will look once animated.

Go to Image –> Scale Image to shrink your gif. I usually make my gifs 500-550 pixels wide.

Go to Image –> Mode –> Indexed –> Floyd-Steinberg (normal). You can also decrease the number of colors to decrease the size of your file.

Filters –> Animation –> Optimize For Gif

Now, to save your gif!

Click to Export

Make sure it says “Select File Type (By Extension)” at the bottom and select Gif image from the drop down. Name your file Name.gif.

GimpExport

Click “As Animation” and “Loop Forever.” I usually remove the GIF Comment because I see no use to it. I tend to keep the default 100 milliseconds between frames but you can mess around with it to see how it affects the speed of your gif.

Now you should have a working gif!

If you want them to work on tumblr, they must be under 1MB. And to get them to work on your wordpress blog you must insert them at full-size.

AndersonLook