Discovery Revisited

“I am not disappointed in Discovery, because it is exactly the show I predicted it would be. It’s a pretty generic, “gritty” tale of redemption and shady machinations that has the title “Star Trek” slapped on it to sell to the base. There is a tribble on the desk of the captain, there’s Harry Mudd, there’s talk of the Prime Directive, warp drives, and Klingons. There’s Sarek. It supposedly takes place in the Prime timeline. Symbols.”

That’s what I wrote when I stopped watching the show after three episodes. Now that I’ve seen all of it, I would like to add this:

It didn’t get better, in some ways it got much worse. It was pointless. Way too reliant on “oh so clever plot twists”. There was no “there” there. It was all just plot progression. But that’s what “good” TV and “great” movies are now: Endless streams of pointless plot progression, that give the illusion of substance. Throw in a a cute speech about “hard choices we have to make” and some simplistic moral dilemma delivered in hushed tones and you’ve got a winner! Sure, maybe 5 years ago, definitely 10 years ago, I would’ve been all over this shit. You can certainly see that someone pre-planned all of it and that’s a thing. It’s writing. I get it. It’s just not my cup of tea anymore. And that’s not to say that you can’t enjoy it, or that I’m right. It just means that I’m probably out of step with pop culture for now. That’s not the worst place to be (except for when you’re trying to make games or something. oops.)

It’s not about the dumb, pandering Star Trek things, either, even though they got dumber and more pandering as it went on. It’s something more fundamental. It’s the cowardice of it all. I’m so tired of it. Take Captain Lorca, for instance. They build him up as this different vision of a Starfleet Captain. One that is hardened by the war, but underneath it all, he’s still an explorer. I could see that. I don’t like it, but I could see it work. That could be interesting. So they did that and all was well.

I’m just kidding. There’s no moral quandary or reexamination of Starfleet ideals because he’s literally an evil dude from an evil parallel universe doing evil things. Case closed. Federation off the hook. That’s not telling us anything. It is empty storytelling. It’s nothing. But it’s shot with long shadows and tilted angles and in slow-motion, so it must be “important”.

Sigh. I’m gonna stop now. I’ve spend enough time on this shit. I will probably do Westworld next, so get your pitchforks ready.



Star Trek: Discovery

When Discovery was first announced, I was asked by friends, who knew that I liked Star Trek, if I was excited that a new show would soon grace our screens. I said no, I am not excited. They were confused. “It will be full of symbols that will link it to the past,” I said, “but most likely shirk away from the type of ideas Star Trek was based around.” Again, confusion.

I am not disappointed in Discovery, because it is exactly the show I predicted it would be. It’s a pretty generic, “gritty” tale of redemption and shady machinations that has the title “Star Trek” slapped on it to sell to the base. There is a tribble on the desk of the captain, there’s Harry Mudd, there’s talk of the Prime Directive, warp drives, and Klingons. There’s Sarek. It supposedly takes place in the Prime timeline. Symbols.

What made Star Trek special was the utopian vision of the future. It was a world were people came together to explore for explorations sake. No Star Trek was perfect: Sexism was a given until Gene Roddenberry, uh, died (Yes, that includes you, TNG!) and flared up again every once in a while after that. The messages were sometimes flawed, confused, or ham-fisted. But through it all, a vision of the future was presented in which we overcame our earthly problems to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go…

Discovery goes where hundreds of shows have gone before. It’s trite, slow, and, quite frankly, not very interesting. I don’t like or care for any of its characters. I don’t find the super warp drive interesting. I don’t want to see a rehash of the Klingon War. And I especially don’t care about the “operatives in the shadows that enable noble explorers like Kirk, Picard, et al”. It might be about Section 31, it might not be (I’ve seen the fan speculation). It sure feels like someone went “Optimism isn’t grown up enough. This is grown up!”

Granted, I’ve only seen the first three episodes, so it has room to improve. But I don’t think it will, because a) I don’t think the show runners or the people watching feel that anything is wrong with it and b) the type of show I enjoy is rarely in vogue (just look at the numbers for Twin Peaks: The Return). If you enjoy it, fine. More power to you! There’s an endless stream of this type of storytelling right now, so enjoy it while it lasts. I don’t, so I won’t be tuning in again.



51Orehehtton

If I was a filmmaker, I would now officially be in my "making experimental short films right before the big break" period. Alas, I'm not a filmmaker and so it is just Wednesday. This game was for yet another game jam (The GameDev Networks Gooseberry Jam) and I'm very happy that I found the time to do it at all, what with having to care for two babies and all that.

You can check it out over on the itch.io page and if you dislike it, please tell me. In many words. Also if you happen to like it. I do appreciate feedback.



Turning Thirty

I’m nine years old today. Why is everyone screaming? It’s the booze. It gotta be. They only ever come together to drink and to air dirty laundry. I don’t enjoy my birthdays. My friends have parties where they invite everyone over. We only ever have family gatherings that end in boozy screaming.

I’m fourteen years old today. I could choose my guest list. I didn’t invite anyone, except for an aunt I really like. She’s not really my aunt, a cousin on my father’s side, and she doesn’t drink as much. Her husband works with computers. I spend my first few minutes on the internet at their place. They haven’t arrived yet, but my grandparents have. Invitation be damned; family comes first. They don’t listen to me when I tell them that they should wait with the cake. They just eat. My aunt hasn’t arrived yet.

I’m eighteen years old today. I’ve been living in this shack for the entire summer. I was kicked out of the house just after New Years. My family isn’t talking to me, my friends are busy with school. I haven’t been to school in two years. I’m celebrating with a dude I met over the summer. He won’t stick. The shack is a Laube, a sort of allotment garden between train tracks. Germany is weird. I guess people need space away from the city, but with easy access to transportation. Life is weird. Where am I going next?

I’m twenty-one years old today. I have a few friends. Well, my then-girlfriend has friends. And I have people I met at the comic book store. They won’t stick. I made this big invitation and handed it to the people. I think they laugh behind my back. It seems silly, but it is what I do. We hang out at a bar, and everything’s seems good. We drink cheap drinks and I get a bunch of comics. On the way home I misread a cue on the bus and almost start a fight. The dude spit in my face. It’s not all good. I’m ashamed.

I’m twenty-four years old today. I’m hanging out with my friends. This is third set of people in five years. They will stick. We’re drinking beer, we hang out at a shitty bar. I start to feel like my life is moving in a direction that is not altogether bad.

I’m twenty-seven years old today. I’m bombing at Lagari. I started doing stand-up comedy a few months ago, and it’s taking over my life. I let everything slide and manically pursue the laughter. It’s like a drug for me. I can’t control it. I know that I need more balance. I don’t want to face that fact, though, so I drink. I drank last night and arrogantly assume I could kill tonight. This isn’t the worst bombing of my short-lived career, but I’ll always remember it as a Moment. The host remains gracious throughout, but I know he must be pissed. I would be pissed. I am pissed.

I’m thirty years old today. I have a steady job, I work on video games on the side. I’ve got ideas for scripts. I’m firing on all cylinders. Our two baby boys were born two weeks ago. They are in the hospital, because they were born ten weeks too soon. They are the coolest dudes I’ve ever met. Going to the hospital every day is exhausting, but soon we won’t have to anymore. They’ll be home. I have balance now. I do my creative stuff, I take care of my mental health, and I spend time with family. My chosen family. My girlfriend, our sons, my friends. Life is good. Bring on the next decade.



1251 Noon

I had so much fun creating the world of 1251 - Tuesday that I decided to play a bit more with it. 1251 - Noon was originally supposed to be my submission for the Unofficial Gameboy Jam, but I apparently don’t understand how calendars work. So it’s just another game I made. I mostly play by the rules laid out in the jam (160 x 144 resolution, only four colors), but I added some sound effects that are decidedly non-8 bit, because I quite liked them and they fit with the overall aesthetic of the game.

1251 - Tuesday was born out of the So Bad It’s Good Jam, so it’s a “broken” game by design. 1251 - Noon is the same. It might not even be possible to finish it; I, for one, haven’t managed to reach the end organically. I hope you enjoy it anyway.

I am not done with the 1251 idea. I have projects for Sunday and Thursday on my computer that will hopefully see the light of day some time this year.



Tracing The Late Ray

Work has been crazy the past few weeks, so I apologize for not writing this earlier. I've had a version of this text ready to go almost two weeks ago, but life conspired against me posting it. So here I am, on a Thursday almost two weeks late, writing about my "Weekend Project".

I started reading the book, and everything went fine until I hit Chapter 2 (yes, that two). He throws a bunch of math at you and my mind just sort of tunes out if there's too many formulas. There's probably some math-related school trauma I haven't dealt with. I got through it eventually, making notes and adding post-its along the way. That was Saturday.

Sunday was when where the real fun began as I read Chapter 3. I found the code snippets easy to follow (even if I don't quite get why there's only snippets and not the full code in a book with "from the ground up" in the title). I read the whole chapter, and then wanted to get back and implement the thing myself. I downloaded the complete code from the website to have pointers for everything and then hit my first snag: He uses wxWidgets as the frontend, which only sort of works on macOS. Oh boy. Three chapters in and I was already in trouble. I had three choices:

  1. Develop on Linux (Or Windows, but seriously. No.)
  2. Make the code run on macOS.
  3. Write a new frontend.

I didn't want to set up a Linux environment, because I was busy enough following all the math. The second option, rewriting code from a book, is a dangerous endeavor in my experience; you create way more trouble for yourself, because the two codebases look too similar to distinguish them at a glance, which leads to unnecessary errors. So I picked the third option: Write a new frontend. I've done a few games in SFML over the last few months, so that seemed like the natural place to go. It offers similar capabilities and I know how to work it. The code is up on github. I didn't get to do the exercises, though. I'm aiming to get them done by Sunday.

But I'm not telling you which Sunday...



Ray Tracer Graphics Investigator

The thing about not having a formal education is that you learn things in a different order than most people in your field. Or sometimes you don't learn some theoretical thing at all, because it's really not relevant to the work you do, and then you feel like a fraud when it comes up and you have no clue.

I understand that ray tracing is pretty fundamental to graphics programming, and that it's something comp-sci people learn in university. Well, I never went to university. I have a high-level understanding of the concepts behind it, but I never felt the need to learn more than that. Now that I've switched my game development efforts to Unity, I have even less reason to dig into the details. And yet, I find myself compelled to do just that.

I picked up "Ray Tracing From The Ground Up" by Kevin Suffern. For the next few weeks, I will work through one or two chapters every weekend, post my progress on github, and write a little something on here. That way, I'll have an audience while I stumble through all the hard mathy stuff. I love struggling in public. Just ask the people in the Berlin comedy scene.



1251 Tuesday

I had a ton of fun creating '1251 - Tuesday', my first real Unity project. I spend most of my time learning to model in Blender, which meant there was very little time for texture work. That's not necessarily bad, though, because it was supposed to be a submission for the 'So bad, it's good' jam. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux (Unity is pretty awesome) and you can download it here.



Engine Waffles

Well, I've moved on from creating my own engine. Things being as they are, I just didn't feel like it's time well invested. I did learn a bunch, and it was fun, but I do have a "project" coming towards the end of the year that will consume most of my time, and I wanted to put out a few things before then. Wild Sam! is still high up on my list, but I decided to do a couple more small things before then. It's hard to work on something alone without anything to show for it, and quite frankly, I was wrong about being ready. The game itself is still to ill-defined, something I hope to remedy in the coming weeks. (Starting over so soon is usually a sign that something isn't right.)

After testing out both Unreal and Unity (plus a slew of smaller, lesser-known engines) I settled on Unity. It gels very well with the way I want to make games, and there are a ton of resources. I've picked up Unity Games By Tutorials and followed the tutorials to create my first few projects. Now I'm building a small thing that came to me in a dream and I'm doing the 'So bad it's good' Jam on itch.io. It starts next Monday and runs for a week. I have an idea for the genre I want to work in. It's a silly thing and I'm super excited about it.

That's it for the general update. Expect some words about the jam project once I'm allowed to write stuff down about it early next week.

Onwards!



Social Media Hiatus Update

Turning off social media for a while is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. There are so many news that I don't see on a day-to-day basis, and my experience has definitely changed. Before you go all "Aha! I told you so": It's neither better or worse. Just different.

I instinctively picked up my phone when I had to wait for something to load at work those first few days. I hadn't noticed that I was doing it, but there it was. Physical proof of my social media habit. It took me about a week to stop and I am more productive without it. I do miss the constant stream of tiny social interactions, however. I have a bit of social anxiety and the way twitter and facebook are structured did help me stay in the loop. People who've met me before will probably be confused at this point; I am very good at hiding it. But rest assured, most of the time I'm hanging out with you fine people I get nervous and sweat. A lot. I arrive early and walk around the block before I ring the doorbell. It takes me 20 minutes of deliberation before I pick up the phone to call someone. It's something I need to manage and interacting online has helped me tremendously. Facebook's wall and Twitter's timeline are semipublic spaces, and I do pretty well in semipublic spaces. I can move in and out of conversations without pressure. They're not one-to-one conversations, which I struggle the most with. Semipublic spaces are wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I sometimes overdo it and forget to do my work.

I will have to find some sort of middleground eventually. I enjoy these productive stretches, but I miss dipping into conversations during the day. Once again the biggest thing I need to work on is moderation.



The Evolution Of The Arm

Twin Peaks is back. It's strange. It's wonderful. Lynch and Frost are putting the "Golden Age Of Television" in its place and I can't wait to see the rest. This is going to be a great summer.



Something Strange And Wonderful

I have a few unstructured thoughts for the return of my all-time favorite TV show. I want to get them out before It's Happening Again; I might turn this into something more structured eventually.

What I'm trying to get at is this:

There is no way the new Twin Peaks will be anything like the old one.

From what we can tell from the outside, neither David Lynch nor Mark Frost are interested in doing a cheap rehash. They are not interested in cashing in; if they were, they could've just executive produced a reboot or something. They have a story to tell, a story about a lot of the same people, but twenty-five years later. They have grown as artists and gone into different directions. I think people who think about Lynch solely in terms of Blue Velvet and the original run of the show will be in for a rude awakening. Don't expect to see a lot of knowing nods to the the old show. I think it will be bigger, both thematically and logistically. There have been reports that portions of it will take place outside of Twin Peaks, and it wouldn't surprise me if Cooper had been absent from the town for the past twenty-five years. It also wouldn't surprise me if they actually contradicted things that happened on the original run.

Explainers are a big thing on the web now. Hundreds of websites churn out articles that explain, or just retell everything that happens on modern shows in the so-called "Golden Age Of Television". I don't think that industry will have a lot of fun with Twin Peaks. You can't explain to someone why the Man From Another World is frightening. You can't even do it justice with a clip or a gif. You only understand it in the context of the show. The mood Lynch sets in his films/shows isn't easily translatable to other media, which makes his filmmaking so appealing. I predict a fiery debate about what good television is, which is why I decided to turn off social media for the duration of the run (there's other stuff, too). I'm not interested in that debate in that form. I just want to drink coffee, eat pie, and enjoy my stories.



Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 Review

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is a film set in the "Marvel Cinematic Franchise" (MCF). It takes place after the events of "Guardians of the Galaxy" (retroactively retitled

"Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 1 Collectors Edition") and stars Chris Pratt as Starperson. All your favorites are back as well: Uhura from the new, glossy Star Trek, that blue machine lady from Doctor Who (Seriously, dudes. You couldn't come up with a more subtle reference to the Tardis?), Yandu, Stars Hollow's own Kirk, that wrestler dude, Baby Tree, and trash panda are all back to give you the warm and fuzzies. Newly part of the gang are Kurt Russell as [redacted], and Sylvester Stallone [redacted] a Ravager.

At its core it's a film about shitty dads in space; thanks Marvel Studios for saving me a couple of bucks on a real therapist. It's loud and colorful and with lots of heart and if you enjoyed the first one, you will enjoy this one. More dick jokes, too. Like, a lot of dick jokes. If that's not your cup of tea, you've probably only seen one James Gunn film.

Stay until the end to see the 18 after-credit scenes and get a tiny glimpse of [Redacted] Goldblum dancing. He will also star in the upcoming Thor: Rock'n'Roll.



The Journey Continues

Oh boy.

It's been quiet on the Wild Sam! front. I had a plan all set up, ready for execution, and then work threw me a curveball. I had to change gears completely and learn how to do a web thing. (The reasons for this are pretty boring and not relevant here.) I've never done a web thing, so I had a lot of learning to do and there was very little time left for my personal projects. Fortunately this is all resolved now. I know what I'm doing, I made sure that the things I was learning for work were also relevant to my game making (Hello, Python), and I'm ready to resume work on the game.

Now, if I had only documented the code I was writing five months ago...



Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0 switches, in an instant, between hyper-serious man posturing and helping a little girl winning a doll; without either feeling out of place. It let's you spend hours perfecting your darts game, after you spend hours beating up crooks in the street. Everything is equally important and given room to breathe; whether it be the substories, mini games, or the main storyline. One minute you watch a long cutscene of your character being tortured in a basement, the next you are singing karaoke in a bar. It's a masterclass in shifting tones.

There is a care in the design that is sorely missing from most big bugdet titles, where quantity is king. Producing a big budget game is enormously expensive, which means that studios have to maximize the number of people willing to buy the game which leads to more and more content being added on. And this is what it feels like in most games: added content. Not so in Yakuza 0. It's an "open world" game, but the world is very small. It's a district in a city (well, two districts in two cities). You become intimately familiar with the terrain in a way you don't in other games. As open world maps have become standard, and the perceived need for content has increased, side stories have become little symbols on a map. You enter a new area of a map, and a bunch of little dots appear, denoting the place where you can pick up a side story. They are color coded, too, so you know exactly what kind of feedback loop awaits. Want to beat up a bunch of dudes? Pick the green ones. Want to drive a fast car? Pick the blue ones. Those games are designed to present a wide variety of challenges, so that a huge number of people can find something to do when they don't follow the main stories. Yakuza 0 handles side quests in a different way: There is no markers on the map. You actually have to walk around to find side quests. And you don't get to pick what kind of story you want to do next, either. You see a person, or you find a weird place, and a side quest starts. It reinforces the notion that this is a living, breathing world in which you are just one of the participants. It gives you a deeper appreciation of the people giving you those side quests as well; they are not a blue blip on a map, but a person in need of help you found standing next to a ramen noodle stand.

Most open world games strive for a consistent tone. Take the GTA series, one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, for instance. GTA V is a long, draw-out joke. You can do Yoga, or play Tennis, or ride a bike, fly a plane, rob a bank, or... But it's all treated as a joke. "Look how stupid this all is." The game wants you to be in on this joke. Badly. It gives the audience a blanket to hide under, lest someone might think that you actually care about doing Yoga, or playing Tennis. It treats these things as punchlines, rather than genuine activities people might enjoy. In Yakuza, everything is treated with respect. The silly parts are silly, and the serious parts are serious. Nothing feels like it is an afterthought, or tacked on to reach more people. To some, this might sound like it couldn't work. But it does. Our current media landscape doesn't allow for different tones in the same work, even though some of the most interesting work can be done when radically changing tone mid-sentence. You just have to have trust in the audience to follow you on that journey. In that sense, Yakuza feels like a very mature game. Not because it is violent, although it is very violent, but because it treats the player with respect. It lets you discover things on your own, and doesn't give you a lot of hints for your next mission. (There is some really fun stuff with real world interaction in there as well.)

I don't know if it's getting older, or just seeing the world fall apart these last few months, but I have lost my appetite for cynism. I don't want play games, or read stories, or watch TV shows, where emotions are treated as a cheap joke, and I don't want to be presented with a list of things to do, either. I want to discover a world full of wonders, a world in which, despite all the over-the-top violence and the seriousness, there is still hope for us. Yakuza 0 is a game that delivers that. It is, in turns, violent, melodramatic, serious, goofy, funny, sad, and sweet. It is, in a word, human.