Wednesday, November 8, 2017

It's getting to be that time of year, so just a reminder that my wishlist is and always will be located on my official online text profile at https://www.dropbox.com/s/gqpf0zag6cx96an/Profile.txt.  If you ever forget that link, you can find it at my Links page, or on my FB profile.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Teardrop, Game Worlds, Rain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L03SUWCHBE

One of those songs that I feel the need to repost every once in a while.  I hope you don't mind that it's one of my own works.

It is a really cool thing when video games are able to create a "space" of their own.  Not in the sense of a 3D space, but in the sense that they are able to hold a tiny little microcosm within them, with their own feelings, stories, and special moments.

Games of course are able to convey narrative in a unique way, but perhaps even more unique is their ability to create these "spaces" for us.  These elements of the game world that don't have any inherent meaning in themselves, but are so rich in atmosphere that you find yourself attaching your own stories to them.

Rain World, for example, really is its own little ecosystem, that you can learn so much about, and really seems to evolve and grow on you over time.  And Journey has all manner of nooks and crannies that people have created their own meaning out of.  My favorite room in Journey, for example, is located in the last level -- it's the last sort of safe haven in the snow before heading out into the storm again and to the so-called "death march".  If you activate the stones in that room, the lantern in the middle of the room starts to spin a bit and glows warmly while a gentle music cue starts playing.  I didn't think much of that space when I first played through the game, but it holds a special place in my heart now, simply because of its cozy atmosphere.  I will always linger for a while in that room, sitting and watching the cold winds outside while huddled next to that lantern, and by doing so I have also encouraged many of my journeying companions to do the same.

The bench in Rain holds the same sort of feeling for me and I always stop there for a while during my playthroughs (I still do every once in a long while; it's quite nice).  It doesn't have any "bearing" on the game, no explicit meaning, nothing like that.  But there is a story and a moment to be had there.  And that is really the essence of Rain, I think -- it is a short experience made of those moments, places, and objects.  We made it over 3 years ago and it is still really significant to me, and remains my proudest work.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Chilling warmth stings
my mind as I walk through the hours
A shadow of a doubt creeps up on me
as I exhale and look away

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Inktober + general update

Well, October has come and gone...I suppose it's time for a general update.

You probably already know, but this year for October I decided to get in on the Inktober challenge by committing myself to writing a (handwritten) letter every day for the month.  I followed through (did you expect any less?) and got through my 31 letters, which felt great!  I mostly wrote them on the train during the ride to work, which also meant that this month I didn't have that time available for other things -- most notably development on Rhythm Quest, which pretty much halted for the month.  Today is the first day where I was actually able to spend my train ride to work doing things other than writing, which was refreshing to be honest, haha.  I played some TGM and got through some more of Cuphead (which has been great fun so far!).  In the coming days I'm hoping to use this time for writing an email or two as well as picking up Rhythm Quest again, although I will also still continue do to some writing here and there.

Christmas is about two months away now and thanks to Inktober I've actually got most of my letters done already -- I already have 25 of them out of the way!  I still have around 5 more to do, but I've got plenty of time to do them, so that's great; now I can start thinking about gift shopping and all that...

Things in general have been ok recently...I've felt a little more drained than usual, probably just due to a combination of different things requiring my attention.  I didn't do anything for Halloween this year, unfortunately, but my Journey outfit may end up making an appearance at Fall Ball anyways.  Speaking of dance, I hosted Dancebreak this past week, which was actually quite fun -- always nice to work with people in a low-key environment and also to help newer dancers out a bit, too.  Giving people the right instruction is really hard, but at least I am getting practice at it.  I have not been particularly enthusiastic about social dance recently and have skipped on it for some weeks so it was nice to have a low-key thing with a good vibe.

Progress on music has been slow recently as I only managed to make a single song this past month, but earlier in the month I also did the album art for Potpourri Mix Volume 1 (which was pretty fun, albeit slightly stressful as I didn't know what to do for it at first).  I've started working on my Made in Heights-inspired album again now, which has been going well so far.  It's always fun to experiment with different styles and inspirations and push your boundaries as a musician and producer.

Inktober itself felt quite nice, especially because it was something simple yet productive to look forward to each day and I think that helped me feel better about myself, especially during those times when I felt like I couldn't quite muster the motivation to do more involved things.  Strangely enough, this year I feel like there are less people that I want to write to for Christmas than usual.  Hah!  But I just checked my past records and apparently that's completely wrong...last year I only did 25 (!) letters, and even in 2014 I only did 30.  So I guess I'm actually doing about average.  But for the last few letters, I really was thinking to myself, "hm, I have already written to everybody that I really need to".  Of course I didn't do some of the really important ones yet because those will take more than one day each, so I will be finishing those off this coming month, but still...it was I think interesting to have that realization that I feel like I have less of those friendships that are either established or "budding".  Not that that is a bad thing, really -- I actually feel relatively happy with my current set of relationships, all things considered.

But overall it was nice and I'm definitely thinking that I'll do this every year so I can make sure that I'm on time with all my xmas deliveries and shipments and everything.  One other thing that it made painfully obvious that my new standard of letter length is half of what it used to be...I am writing all of these single-spaced letters now and it makes me feel a little bit pathetic to be honest, haha.  I mean, a large part of that is just due to the fact that for Inktober I needed to do one of them each day so I couldn't spend a long time on any of them, but I think just in general my letter length has gone down.  I think that is OK though, as long as I am still taking the time to write some longer ones between those too.

Hopefully everyone else was successful with their Inktober challenges too!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wow...that may have been the very first time that I have been =relieved= to hear my alarm go off and wake me up in the morning.  My dream had turned into a nightmare where I was in class with one of those horrible teachers (substitute?) from hell.  You know, the ones who force you to do really pointless things and don't let you get away with anything.  Omg...in my dream I was already thinking about how I would be calling in sick tomorrow or maybe on Friday...or both.

So yeah, my alarm rang and I came back to reality and I was like THANK GOD.

I think we have all had our fair share (maybe more than our fair share) of those sorts of people in our lives.  I think the exact type of person might vary a lot depending on what types of things rub you the wrong way.  It's important to remember that most of the time, these people aren't bad people...they are probably just trying their best to do what they think is right.  But that doesn't change the fact that they are a royal pain in the ass.

I was writing to a friend earlier in the month about how "freedom" in the abstract sense always seemed like a really nebulous thing to value for me as I was growing up, because it's not like my actions wouldn't still have the same consequences.  I'd still have the same responsibilities -- more, even.  But I think it helps to frame it in terms of being able to choose your environment and choose your life -- to avoid all of those toxic environments that i'm sure all of us have been forced to be in at one point or another, and to have the choice to decide what is best for ourselves rather than having that be decided for us.  Of course, there are many who end up still deciding to put themselves into toxic environments anyways, but that my friend is a story for another day...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Your burden was the weight of a feather
I was certain if I waited you’d remember
When the comet took me out into space
When you held your breath, looking at my face
Now I comprehend that death is not the end
And the world that we destroyed wasn't real enough to live in
But I’m alive, yes I'm alive
I can feel it running up and down my spine

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

This whole Inktober thing is paying off...my average letters per day stat finally went up from 0.277 to 0.278.  Woo!!!  This stat is across 10.3 years so it is incredibly hard to make a dent in it, lol.  This number actually used to be at ~0.33 once upon a time!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Super Mario Kart

So a few days ago I played through all of Super Mario Kart's 4 cups on both 100cc and 150cc modes, courtesy of our new SNES Classic! (<3)  It was absolutely glorious.  I don't know if I've had that much intense fun playing video games in quite a while.


Like many others, I was first introduced to Super Mario Kart back in my childhood.  It was one of the very few Super Nintendo games that featured a 2-player mode that wasn't just a head-to-head competitive battle -- you could both enter GP mode together and race against the CPUs.  I was in elementary school at the time, maybe 5-8 years old?  It was before my brother went off to college, at any rate.  So there I was, playing with my brother, who is 9 years older than me, with of course a proportionally better ability at playing games -- but I could certainly hold my own too.  I was very lucky to have grown up around video games in a way that probably few others did at the time (or at least I could tell judging from the way that I trounced everyone else in my age group at them, lol).

As a principle, my brother always picked Toad and I would always pick Koopa Troopa, simply because those were the characters that we liked best.  They had the best handling (ability to take turns well), which I think appealed to both of us (there was also Bowser and Donkey Kong, who had the highest top speed, Yoshi and Princess, who accelerated the quickest, and Mario and Luigi, who were basically balanced).


Koopa Troopa will always have a special place in my heart because of this, and Toad too, although to a lesser extent because Toad's later incarnations tended to be...less pleasant.  It's worth noting that each character had their own musical theme that played when you took 1st place with them, and that Toad's theme in particular became oh-so-familiar to me due to my brother taking 1st place so often, though of course I would also hear Koopa's theme a lot too.  I actually still use Toad's theme as a custom ringtone when my best friend calls me, so it's still present in my day even now. (I'm actually also fond of Princess's theme as well, though I didn't hear it too much at the time)

A core mechanic of the entire Mario Kart series is the ability to "drift" or "power slide", usually by pressing the shoulder buttons of the controller, which initiates a drift turn, which (depending on the exact game) usually allows you to conserve speed through a turn, corner more effectively, and sometimes get a speed boost when exiting a turn.  Super Mario Kart's drifts are triggered by pressing L or R (which causes you to do a hop) while turning, which initiates the slide.

Something that's really interesting is that when I first played SMK way back when, I actually didn't use drifting!  I took corners without doing power slides at all and just used normal turning, which looks something like this:



This actually works reasonably well in terms of just being able to navigate the course (particularly because Koopa and Toad have the best normal turning!), but ends up costing you speed.  I believe (?) there may also be some turns that are just too tight to get around with normal non-drift turning, and I think in those cases I would just bump into the walls (!).  So obviously I wasn't playing optimally at all, but somehow it actually worked out pretty well for me.  I was still holding the accelerate button the whole time and never touched the brake button.  It's great, of course, that you can still be pretty decent at the game with just the basics.  But maybe this is part of the reason that my brother was just better at the game than I was.  It's worth noting that in Donut Plains there are several turns where your kart will actually spin out if you try to take them with normal cornering, so I actually DID use the power slides for that level specifically.

Of course, the ideal way to play the game is with the power slides, which is what I started doing once I was older (and again now too).  You end up starting the turn way earlier and =sliding= around the corners, which looks something like this:


Notice how the approach to the turn is completely different.  Without the drift, the best strategy is to start on the =outside= of the turn so that you don't have to take such a sharp angle.  But with the drift, since you start turning way earlier but slide sideways around the corner, you can actually hug the inside of the corner, which results in a shorter distance traveled (in addition to you preserving your speed better).  Taken to its extreme, it looks like this:


...except you are probably not taking the corners THAT aggressively unless you are a speedrunner (the above gif is pushing the game to its limits).

In SMK, once you start a drift, your kart continues to slide around a bit, even after you've let go of the turn direction.  To counteract this, you actually have to =countersteer= for a brief moment at the end of a drift, which straightens your kart out and sets you up to go straight again.  The timing and execution of this countersteer is actually really important and a slight screwup can mean you exit out of the turn pointed totally wrong instead of being lined up with the track.

One really important thing I'd like to get across in this post is just how different this implementation of the power slide physics is compared to the way that it is in later mario kart games, including Mario Kart 64 all the way up to Mario Kart 8.  Here's what the newer version of drifting looks like:


I am of course glossing over a whole world of significant differences in the way that drifting works in these different newer games, but let's just use these gifs as an example.  In the newer Mario Kart games, drifts are usually =controllable=.  Once you initiate a power slide turning to the right, you are "locked in" turning to the right until you let go of the L or R button and during this time, you can actually press right to make your turn sharper, or alternatively press left to slow down your rate of turning.  You can see Yoshi in the first GIF start the turn relatively aggressively, then ease off for a bit before turning more sharply again.  Back in Super Mario Kart this wasn't possible -- you could let go of the direction of the turn for bits at a time, but pressing in the opposite direction (counter-steer!) would just result in the slide ending altogether.

Speaking of counter-steer, since you end a drift by letting go of L or R, the counter-steer element is gone entirely and instead when you end a drift by letting go of the shoulder button, your kart straightens out automatically, as you can see by toad's boost in the second GIF.

So to drift in SMK, you usually:
- Start on the =inside= of the track (ideally)
- =Commit= to when you start the drift
- At the right moment, =counter-steer= in the opposite direction, enough to straighten out, but not too much to throw you off alignment

Whereas to drift in MK8, you usually:
- Start on the =outside= of the track (ideally)
- Start the drift, then =adjust= your steering during the entirety of the turn 
- Let go of the drift button (and automatically straighten out)

So basically in SMK the drift is super committal and you really need to be precise about where and when you start the drift, whereas in MK8 you can just adjust your steering as soon as the drift starts, so it's no big deal.  In SMK too you have to manually countersteer and straighten yourself out.  It's way more difficult in general and I can see why they moved away from it.

...but MAN is it satisfying to do.  I think requiring such precision is exhilirating and really feels like a true test of your driving abilities.  There are a lot of turns in SMK that are really challenging to execute properly, with obstacles and boost pads and whatnot to make things even more interesting.  This time around I even used the technique of tapping the brakes sometimes when I needed to cut a corner really sharply or abort a drift that threatened to swing wide, as tapping the brakes seems to stop you from sliding and straighten you out much faster.

Don't get me wrong, the newer mario kart games are fun (especially MK8 I think.  And MKDS was...well, that was sort of its own thing).  But I think something about the physics of SMK really, truly shines out to me in a way that I love, and it's no wonder that MK64 doesn't garner nearly the same amount of respect from me as SMK does.

So anyways, we played through the 100cc races and then moved onto 150cc and that where things get real.  150cc is pretty unforgiving in that all of your slip-ups are really amplified because everyone is moving so much faster, so running into an obstacle or going off-course is so much worse.  Plus, you're just going at a much faster speed so you can't just leisurely approach each turn conservatively -- you really have to go for it and start the slides early, and even string them together.  It's =exhilarating=.  And then of course, there's the CPU players, who can be a royal pain in the butt sometimes.  I was playing as Koopa, which meant that the Luigi CPU was always the one I was fighting with for 1st place, and man, both Mario and Luigi are insanely annoying when you are trying to compete with them because their special ability is basically to flash invincible as if they have a Star, basically at will -- and touching them in that state makes you spin out.  So basically getting close to them is always super frightening at any moment, not to mention you're also going really fast through really challenging courses with turns and narrow straightaways, little room to maneuver, etc.  This time I actually had quite a few times where I just slammed on the brakes because it's better to just slow down and avoid trying to pass Luigi until you have a good chance rather than run into him and spin out, which is a disaster.

150cc Special Cup (like many other things in the game, to be honest) holds special significance for me since me and my brother spent so much time trying to clear it.  Some of the courses in that GP are really brutal and I have to say, even now it truly pushed my abilities as a gamer.  I had to try it quite a few times and on the last try, I reached the last course, the glorious Rainbow Road (with its epic music and all) with 3 lives remaining.  I failed my first attempt, and then also my second, and it was down to my last shot remaining.  I was off to a great start, but slipped up in the middle and fell behind, but somehow managed to super duper clutch it out and catch back up safely, taking some really crazy maneuvers as well as avoiding all of the CPUs to regain 1st place and finish the race.

All that is to say that Super Mario Kart is and probably always will be my favorite racing game of all time.  It's really all in the way that the karts handle and I'm really amazed they were able to create something so unique, skill-testing, and satisfying all at once.  I love SMK!!!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Smoke is everywhere and the trains have stopped running


What a week

Feel really bad for all the people who are just sitting at the train station breathing in a bunch of smoke right now...

Monday, October 9, 2017

There is a fallacy in trying to live by your own ideals and setting an example to "be the change you wish to see", in that other people have no obligation (or even incentive?) to share the same values that you do.  It is not simply that others "suck dirt" (as I so often believed), but also just that they simply value and prioritize different things that you do.

But how can one expect to hold ideals and standards if one does not follow them him/herself?