July 27th, 2008


so let's think about this some

I'm a creator.

I say "creator", which has sort of weird religious implications, for lack of a better term. I'm not a writer. I'm not an artist. I'm not a director or an editor. I'm all of those things - I get plotlines, stories, beauty and rhyme slammed into my head by some unknown force outside of me, which then points and laughs when I don't have the skills or time to put them down on paper.

(I wrote a sequel to Nightmare Before Christmas once, in the shower. It's gone now. I got the whole deck plans to a Star Trek starship jammed into my brain once. These things happen to me with depressing regularity.)

I want to do games. Games have problems. Games, for example, are expensive like few other things in the world currently are. Games are also non-parallelizable to a painful extent. Games. Take. Years. And there's really no way to fix this - they're just plain slow to make.

I'm starting to think that, maybe, I should move out of games. I do love games, and I always will, but I'm thinking in many ways that a better approach for me might be to satiate my muse in other, easier fields, and use video game creation as recreation outside that. Art, perhaps. Comic books. Webcomics. There are options, and I have no doubt that I can wedge my way into them, given time.

On top of that, if I have a moderately steady income stream - and I have little doubt I could get a moderately steady income stream - I could hire other people with very little effort to do some of the side parts of these things. Artists for comics. Coders for games. I want to do the plot and design, and let's face it there's not room for a full-time designer on games - but there's sure as hell room for a part-time designer/financial backer. And honestly? I'd probably be happier that way. Most coding, at this point, is damn dull for me. Moderately enjoyable. But dull - I haven't had a serious challenge in years (okay that's not true, but the last challenge was hacking a feature into SCons that SCons was never meant to do. Nothing really, you know, serious.)

"Steady income stream" is another thing I've been pondering. I make enough off investments that I may be retired. But I also may not be. I'm sort of on the edge right now . . . and if anything goes seriously wrong, I may be off the edge. That is not ideal. So, one solution is to get a job - but, come on, this is me, I left Google partly because I was bored. I left Google partly because I was bored. I know what my strengths are, and "not being bored" ain't on the list. So I'll have to find something that's either consistently interesting, or something in small doses.

Contracting may work. The advantage to contracting is that the dollars per hour is high - ridiculously high, if you know your shit (I, of course, know my shit.) (I'm also unbelievably modest.) And while some people might hate maintaining old decrepit codebases, I actually find deciphering old code and figuring out how to make it do things it was never meant to do rather exciting. It's a challenge. By now, you know what I think about challenges.

And then I also keep getting people trying to recruit me for management/lead programmer positions in startups, so, I mean, maybe I should check into that. (Honestly why does this happen. I do not understand.)

I'm also thinking, rather seriously, about the best framework to do all this stuff in.

Driving - this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me - driving is something I find relaxing and meditative. And, perhaps, I should be doing more of it. There's a certain attractiveness . . . no, scratch that, there's a definite attractiveness . . . in driving cross-country, stopping at hotels to do a few hours of work at each one each day, then recharging the brain on the drive through yet more desolate countryside filled with scorpions and snow. Expensive, both in gas and hotels, but . . . perhaps, saner, and more productive.

This all will take thought, and practice, and serious, serious consideration.

Suggestions welcome.
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LocoRoco: Cocoreccho dissection

LocoRoco: Cocoreccho

Developer: Sony

Completion level: Not even close

Spoilers: I’m not sure how this would be possible.

I just got a PS3.

What this means is that you may be bombarded with short dissections of short downloadable games. I might eventually make a post about the PS3 in general (summary: it’s pretty dang awesome now and Microsoft’s lunch is about to be eaten by Sony) but I may not.

The thing about small short games is that some of them are really really weird. Cocoreccho is an exception to this, mostly because I’m not entirely sure it’s a game.

LocoRoco was originally a PSP game. You played the Earth, and tilted your surface to help a bunch of singing blobs defeat a small army of flying dreadlocked heads. I swear I am not making this up. If you think the gameplay sounds distinctive, the art style was even more so, consisting entirely of deformable solid-color 2d cutouts – on the PSP, no less, where most people were expecting gore and explosions. Add to that one of the most catchy and cheerful soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time (keep in mind your blobs sing along, with lipsynched animations, in chorus) and LocoRoco made Nintendo games look dull, stodgy, and moderately depressed.

It’s a great game, and I highly recommend it. It’s also a near-natural fit for the PS3’s tilt sensor. All they had to do was port it over, add a bunch more levels, bam! Game!

What they actually made was, in the words of the lead developer, an “interactive screensaver”.

You still have a large number of singing blobs (it wouldn’t be a LocoRoco game without singing blobs) but instead of getting from one side of the linear level to another, you are instead exploring what can be best described as a humongous Thing. Its behavior will be familiar to anyone who’s played the PSP game, as it includes spinny things, bouncy things, sloped things, things with holes, and every other joyous device that we’re used to from the PSP game. Your goal is to move a magical butterfly around which attracts singing blobs, use that explore the Thing, find more singing blobs, and wake them up.

That’s the game.

Unlike the PSP game, your little blobs have more autonomy than they did before. The Thing has several large “loops” of behavior in it, where the blobs will naturally wander down slops and jump into new areas with wind blowing them back up to the beginning, and your blobs will generally follow the loops on their own, meaning that even if you’re not really paying attention they’ll be wandering around the level without any help required. This is pretty dang neat – in many places you can just point the screen at a segment and let it sit while blobs fly through it. I’m pretty sure this is where the whole “interactive screensaver” part comes from.

Unfortunately, as a screensaver, it’s a bit of a failure. You see, the screen itself doesn’t move around. Wherever you leave it, that’s what you’re going to be looking at until you move it again. And while the blobs are largely self-motivating, the areas they travel through automatically aren’t really particularly interesting. In order to make them do anything of interest, you have to not only control the butterfly manually, but you have to know where the interesting things are – making it impossible to just sit down and poke at it for a few minutes. Getting anywhere really interesting can easily take fifteen minutes to half an hour of work.

Which is a pity, because I think the idea of an interesting interactive screensaver that could be left on is a really cool one.

I’m going to diverge into philosophy here for a second. Games started as a thing that was Not Business. If you were using a computer for it, it was either Business or Games. It took quite a while for computers to be used seriously for any other sort of recreation (like reading blogs) and even then, it pretty much came down to Business, Games, or Communication.

We’re finally moving into using computers for other things. Cocoreccho is something I would consider Art. It’s clearly meant to be art, on some level. Unfortunately, it’s art jammed into the mold of Game. The artistic things they could have done have been hampered by their desire to make something that should be both played and won. Which is, I have to say, sad. It could have been something More – but it isn’t, and it won’t be, because it’s a game and it’s proved unable to break out of the template of Game.

Cocoreccho is interesting. I’m not sure it’s good. But it’s interesting, and if what I’ve been talking about intrigues you, and you have a PS3, you might want to check it out.