Walk Geometry and Perfect

Even the Ocean took a Long Time to make. Preliminary development was from March to July 2013, really kicking in around August of that year, not ending until November 2016. A lot happened in between, and I wanted to talk about a few art projects that popped up for me.

Walk Geometry / 散歩幾何学 (February 2015 to August 2015, roughly)

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Walk Geometry was a project inspired by how much I enjoyed walking and progressing through Dark Souls 1. It consisted of a series of vlog-style videos recorded with my phone from a first-person perspective, narrated by me and sometimes other people I was with. It is structurally similar to the one-take vlog – the videos record my entire progression and activities within a space, sometimes pausing for inappropriate social contexts to record in. However, the narration of the video focuses on how the spaces made me feel, sort of like as if I was ‘playing’ these spaces like the popular  walk-and-look-primacy games (also known as ‘walking simulators’). This style of walking is a little different from just being observant, as you feel a pressure to think of ‘interesting things’ to say about what you are experiencing, sort of like creating a Let’s Play (a video where you record playing a video game and talk about it.)

Though I still enjoy recording live video in this format from time to time, the bulk of it happened from feb to aug of 2015. For example, shopping at a trader joes, walking down an apartment staircase, going to my apartment’s roof, driving to and shopping at a super target(!), etc. There have been other videos, like “standing on a street corner” and so on.

It’s not a particularly ‘brave’ sort of video making (though it might have looked weird at certain moments…), but looking back at this playlist (and the other videos on my YouTube which fall under the category), it’s interesting how easily we can categorize these pretty menial things – walking to a store, walking to the train station, taking a bus, and how we usually consider them as being under the general umbrella of ‘mediocre experiences’, yet really are something unique each time, evidenced by the title.

Back to the Dark Souls reference, what I really liked Dark Souls is how the levels were just small enough, and you moved just slow enough and with repetition (due to difficulty being killed by enemies) that you intimately learned the ‘geometry’, or shape and layout, of the levels, such as castles, woods, swamps, caves. The combat required you to be extra-aware of the ground and obstacles, too.

Anyways, I encourage anyone interested to try out this style of video-making, if possible! Clearly there are dimensions of one’s appearance and language and context that come into play, possibly eliminating one’s ability to safely video-make. If you can’t do it in real life, doing it in the context of your favorite game may reveal aspects about the game’s design you hadn’t seen before, as I did with the short-lived Walk Souls series.

Walk Souls (Feb-Apr 2015)

Around the same time as the above project I did a project called “Walk Souls”, which as you might imagine, was a Let’s Play series of Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne (Both unfinished) which focused more on observing how the experience of being in the game’s spaces changes over time.

So a normal video would consist of : first clearing away all the enemies beforehand, then recording walking around and discussing the area. In retrospect, enemies are an important part of the Dark Souls landscape, so it’s debatable whether or not I should have eliminated them before recording. Observations usually consisted of how environmental objects or shapes changed how tense or open or familiar a place felt, how an area’s location in juxtaposition to other areas can change one’s perception of the place.

These two projects had some value in helping with the 2nd half of Marina Kittaka and I’s Nov-2016 game Even the Ocean‘s development – at that point, mostly thinking about how to lay out levels and construct Power Plants. However, I didn’t really get the chance to synthesize these ideas into new games until 2016.

Aside: Photography

These things about Dark Souls and Walking did get me interested in photography, and I wrote a few essays about photography and games at the end of 2015/start of 2016, as well as reading about photographers and making a bigger effort on phone-photography. It’s a latent interest that has made playing games and walking and generally observing feel more valuable. Anyways, these ideas led into Perfect.

Perfect (Feb-July 2016)

Inspired by a short story of the same name (and similar themes), Perfect was a HaxeFlixel “Software/Game” I worked on in between Even the Ocean and other stuff in the first half of 2016. It’s an adventure game about the reaction of a community to the aftermath of a disaster in an future Taiwanese immigrant community in the US, set in a sci-fi setting (a gigantic supermarket where people now inhabit). Some of the themes were about the future of labor automation (such as how it may not lead us to leisure, but lots of people basically feeding machine learning algorithms – or manually filtering bad content from Youtube/Facebook.)

The intention was to use a lot of these ideas about spaces and games, photography – and create a “Music Album Game” which consisted of a bunch of screens with wireframe art, connected by ‘links’ (underlined in blue). More details. The method of exploration was inspired by early point and click adventures and how they always give a single fixed camera angle of a space, with no camera panning. By using this and lots of abstract shapes to construct the spaces, I could try and conjure a ‘decaying remembrance’ aesthetic for the game, as Perfect was a story of someone in 2100 or so, ‘experiencing’ the recorded memory of a journalist from ~2070, as the journalist went around interviewing people.

The graphics were very simple, done by rendering wireframe meshes using scaled 1×1 pixel sprites. You could easily do something similar in Unity! The “mountain” effects were done by using hidden shapes to determine ‘forces’ on the sprites.

Of interest to me was the website-like interface. Rather than moving in real time, you only get ‘photographs’ of an area, and move from shot to shot. At times you were supposed to find ‘interviews’ of people, and listen to the game’s music while reading the interviews. Music-wise, it was an experimental way to try to foreground a game’s music and writing rather than its ‘gameplay’, and I thought of this project as a ‘software’ more than a game. But it looks like a game to me, now!

Instead of a game driving the music… I was trying to get the music to define spaces within a game world, and help define what narratives would appear. Example, a song called ‘club’ would take place in a ‘club’ and you would interview a club-goer about what he thought about the disaster. But that sort of just feels like an (interesting) game to me. Either way I was interested in different was to approach music-making for games, in terms of the planning stages influencing what the music would be.

I had split the game into three sets of themes (kind of like how we divided Even the Ocean) – Physical, Digital and Algorithm. As you progressed through the game you would reach more Digital and then Algorithm areas. Physical were things like: Balcony, Exterior, Desert, Club, Lake. Digital, like Shopping Carts, Desktop. Algorithm – Random, Vector, ACK, Governance, etc.

In practice, the themes and structure of the game were too nebulous for me to really grasp in a consistent way, and I found it hard to find time to work in between Even the Ocean and travel, so I abandoned the project around July last year. Moreover I was iffy about structuring a game around a terrorist event for a country (Taiwan) which historically has been very well off in the USA due to immigration policies for its country.

In retrospect, I should have laid off the race themes and focused on the labor automation ideas, rather than trying to difficultly address race ideas in a future setting, which is prone to Many Problems. However there is much sci-fi and research being done on automation already, so I’m not sure how much I could have contributed.

However, I did get a lot of neat music out of working on the project! And the wireframe style is still a neat idea I now have as a ‘tool’ in creating game spaces.

Either way, a lot of teaching happened (I teach at SAIC now), and releasing Even the Ocean happened. I’m quite excited to have found enough free time in the past months to really start working on a game project I (naively?) believe I will be able to finish.

Next time(s)…

  • A discussion of my current (codename) game ‘Project Shiho’ and its relation to the projects mentioned in this essay
  • A discussion of “over the clover” by Hiroshi Yoshimura and my remix of it
  • Something about SMT Nocturne?
  • Thinking about live music, or game music..
  • Something else?