Saturday, June 25, 2016

I'm just happy it got called "Brexit" and not something terrible like "EU-Gate"

Friday, June 24, 2016

Facebook and the "Stream"

It feels like Facebook is just another social media platform, only special because it's the commonplace one that everyone seems to be relying on.

But I do think it's interesting to look at its form, and actually, how the design of Facebook has changed, together with our corresponding habits, because I think they are tightly correlated.  For example, the "poke" feature of Facebook used to be this big thing (though I never partook in it) and people would actually be incentivized to log back in so that they could be sure to "poke back" their friends.  Maybe that seems super silly to all of us now, but it was true and I heard people talk about it.  I wonder if that was a fad that just died out, whether it was something that people did just because it was "new and cool", or whether it died out because it no longer makes sense with our current culture and models of online interaction.

When your list of friends on Facebook is more like an address book than an actual group of "friends", direct interpersonal communication seems to not fit as well into the paradigm anymore.  When Facebook first started, the "wall" was a big thing.  People would always talk about posting on each other's "wall".  It was your own little collection of interactions -- and more than that, it was usually filled with personal messages that people left for you.  And when I went to my "wall" I could see all of these conversations, and it would make me happy thinking of all of those people.

But that doesn't exist anymore.  Even the term "wall" is deprecated, in favor of "timeline".  Because somewhere along the line, your profile stopped being a place where you and other people could share and leave messages for each other.  Instead, it became all about *you*.  Your photos, your activity updates, your shared articles.  And yes, people would still respond to your posts.  They would still comment on your activity.  That is, until the advent of the "Like" button.

What really matters nowadays is the concept of the "stream", or activity feed, which Twitter also brought along.  Somewhere along the line we stopped visiting each other's virtual online "houses" in order to interact with them, and instead we simply started shouting at each other, hoping to get a voice in the "stream".  And if you didn't shout anything interesting, no one would look at you.  You would not be *liked*.  And so the system encourages people to post positive updates about themselves, pretty photos, and funny videos, so that the crowd would look at them, and they would be *liked*.

I don't actually remember the last time I posted something to someone's page, and looking through other people's profiles it seems that it's just not a common practice anymore.  To be fair, it does seem a little weird that if I wanted to talk to you I would post it publicly for the rest of the world to see, so maybe that was a model of conversation that didn't really make sense in the first place.  But I think this is the part about online social interactions that bothers me most -- that the primary model we have adopted for our online social interactions is to have this stream of updates that is constantly in flux, being looked at by a crowd.

No longer do we *choose* who to interact with online -- we simply look at the ticker and see only those stories that were curated for us by computer algorithms.  And I think we are all lying to ourselves when we think that by interacting in this way we can still remain connected meaningfully.  Should I really consider someone my "friend" just because I allowed them to be one of two hundred people all shouting into the same microphone at everyone else?

This is also why I feel uncomfortable with birthdays on Facebook.  Because it made it too real to me, how the attention of all of my "friends" is so easily controlled by these algorithms and the platform.  And it makes me feel lonely sometimes, when I am in a space where no one bothers to reach out to me, or to each other, on their own accord.

I (and some of my other friends) like to write handwritten letters.  Have you ever received a handwritten letter from a friend before?  It's a wonderful feeling, especially in today's age.  But something I realized is that it doesn't just feel wonderful because it's tangible, physical, and took that person's time and effort.  Yes, all of those things are important, and make handwritten letters special.  But I would actually feel really happy receiving the same message online in a message or e-mail, too.  Because that person reached out to me.  They were thinking of me, and expressed it to me.  And that's something that doesn't happen in our online social spaces anymore.

That's what scares me.  That we are all too busy looking at the stream rolling by to reach out to each other, as we once did.  We no longer say "Hi!" to each other because we are too busy saying "Look at me!" to the entire world.  And this in turn encourages us to turn into marketers for our own personal self-image, in order to garner the attention of our friends.  Should I really have to shout in order to receive attention from the people I call "friends"?

It makes me wonder what would happen if we took away the activity feed altogether.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Similarly, though old fogeys like me have constantly been clamoring that pixel art and sprite-based artwork is =amazing= and that 3D games look like crap, that isn't actually due to the technology either.  It took me a long time to realize this actually -- and it wasn't until the second time that I read this article that I understood exactly what my stance on 2D vs 3D is or should be:

The 3rd strike vs SF4 example with Chun Li just perfectly illustrates why 3D can infuriate me so much, and once I actually sat down and PLAYED with SF4 and SF5 I was actually able to fully understand and "feel" why I love these sprite-based pixel artworks so much.  It's not that 3D sucks, or even that 3D games do weird things and give you motion sickness (though that is true).

It's just that the actual animation is worse.

The move animations in SF4 feel all "wrong" and again, it wasn't until I actually sat down and played these games side by side that I realized that it wasn't the 2D vs 3D thing that made it feel wrong.  It was just that the animations in 3rd strike have this sort of =crispness=, this "snap", this almost tactile "feel".

I noticed it most with Makoto's crouching medium kick:

When you use this move in 3rd strike there's a "snap" to it.  Where you can see Makoto crouching down, prepping her foot, then when it hits the opponent the animation freezes in place a little and your sprites jiggle a little bit, and that combined with the impact noise makes you FEEL the force of her kick and how it was blocked.  Also take a look at how she leans back into the kick because of her center of gravity, and the way that her headband flicks because of the movement.

Now look at the same move in SF4:

Here, instead of having a foot that shoots out and forcefully impacts the other guy, it almost looks like Makoto just sort of...lifts her leg up and assumes this weird pose.  Watching it over and over again, it really does look like she just lifts her leg up.  And that makes no sense!  I don't know what it is about the animation -- maybe the timing, or the way that her leg bends, or =something=, but all I know is that in 3rd strike I see a forceful kick, and in SF4 I see this weird leg lift thing.

And that's why 3rd strike looks and feels so awesome.  Because the animation is just GOOD.  It's well-animated, it's crisp, it's consistent, the foreground and background is clearly delineated, and the ranges of all of the attacks make sense.

I'm sure the same good design could have been done with a 3D engine -- I have no idea how, but I think it could have.  But it sure as heck wasn't.  Yet when the masses see SF4 they get really hyped because it's in 3D and it looks "new", "fancy", "hi-def", and all that jazz.  They don't get bothered by the fact that what was previously a great-looking kick has turned to a wimpy leg lift.

As the cost of living soars and the standards our parents enjoyed disappear in the rearview, we are working harder and longer – whatever the promises of technology and efficiency. Our spare time, our emotional energy, seems whittled to a finer point than ever. Whether or not we suffer from anxiety, we all have less time than we once did; we are all offloading our emotional and intellectual labor onto devices, and Facebook has become a priceless tool to make sure we do not lose anyone in the transition.

As Leigh points out, "There’s this idea that technology has made us distractible, and that it’s ruining our relationships with other people."  But it's not about the technology, really -- it never has been.  It's a lifestyle thing.

I approach this issue from a rather odd vantage point, being someone who has always been good at being "connected", maintaining a constant online presence, and in general buying into online interaction.  Yet, also as someone who routinely makes the time to write handwritten letters to friends and is super interested in calligraphy (though I suck at it still).

Yes, technology has changed things, and it has served as a sort of "enabler" for some behaviors that I'd say I don't really appreciate.  But the capability has always been there, even in the past.  Years ago Facebook was already a big thing, and that was =after= everyone had just gotten over the wave of blogging on Xanga, LiveJournal, and whathaveyou, and THAT itself was after everyone had gotten accustomed to IM as a medium of communication.  When we were all just kids in high school who went home and did homework everyday, with no cars and no real "freedom" to just go out and meet with each other, instant messaging became the de-facto way of "hanging out" after we went home from school.

And you know what?  It was AWESOME.  I'd give a lot to be back in that era, with those AIM windows that contained so, so much human connection.  It seems silly, but I was genuinely connected with my friends through those chat windows -- each with its own little quirky incongruities, like how I used a monospaced font with a black background that ended up looking something like this.  Yes...those were the days.  And to be perfectly honest, it wasn't just us high school kids either -- after my first year at college I got an internship where I met a wonderful coworker who was so kind as to indulge me in late-night conversations over IM, and we fostered a meaningful relationship that I haven't forgotten to this day.  I can only hope that kids nowadays are using SMS or Line or whatever-the-heck-kids-use-nowadays to have the same sort of meaningful connections.  Because our generation sure as heck isn't anymore.

I can't say for sure what exactly changed.  Maybe we all grew up, and in the mundane throes of "adult life" we lost our excitement for talking about all of those silly things -- about stupid video game in-jokes, about crushes and infatuations, about slogging through homework, about marching band rehearsals.  Maybe we learned to be more self-conscious, and no longer desired to share each others' thoughts so openly.  Maybe instant messaging just wasn't "hip" anymore, and the herd moved on, like it always does.  Like it moved on from blogging, like it moved on from MySpace.  Maybe nothing really changed at all except I'm doing a terrible job of being a friend and making conversation (haha, I hope not, but I won't rule it out).

But it was never about the technology.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

ABZU releases August 2nd!  (and It's on Steam so you have no excuse for not picking it up like all of you people who never got to experience Journey for lack of a PS3/PS4)  It's going to be amazing I'm sure. :)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Things have been looking up!

I've feeling slightly unwell since Friday, which is not the most fun, but I don't feel terribly sick or anything, which is a relief.  I'm hoping to sleep early tonight if I can.

This weekend I started and finished reading the Orange manga (which was recommended to me a while ago by littlecloudflower)!  It was really touching, inspiring, and actually just really great overall, and I would definitely recommend it.  It's been a long time since something I read actually made me start crying!  Anyways, that was really great :)

I've also been working =quite= a lot on my custom MtG set, which currently has the (placeholder?) title of "Conspiracy 1.5: Grenzo's Revenge".  I actually have a full file of commons, uncommons, and "draft matters" cards (as well as a small sampling of rares, but much too few to playtest with), and I'm gearing the set up for its first real playtest!

Since much of the design and development of the set is based around draft specifically, and around multiplayer games, it's hard to do any sort of testing with sealed decks or the like, so the first playtest will actually be a full-blown draft, meaning I'll have to print out, cut, and sleeve up 360 cards for people to draft with (my packs have 15 cards each, not 14, since the basic land is replaced with a "draft matters" card).  A lot of work, but I'm quite excited!

As I've been getting things ready I actually finally attempted to do my own personal playtesting -- generating some "sealed pools" (in so far as you can generate sealed pools for a Conspiracy format) and trying to build decks out of them, then starting up a local game in Cockatrice where I play as all 4 players.  It's a very crude way of trying to test the cards and there's no way that I can correctly evaluate everything, but I was actually able to identify some important issues and fix them up, which was good.  I had a bunch of card-specific issues, like some cards just being way too good, and some cards which ended up just not playing well.  I think the main thing that I want to iron down is how to get the games to progress in a good way in terms of board presence and all that -- I think it's going to be very tricky to fit Assist, Monstrosity, Inspired, Substitute, and Dethrone into the same equation and have them all function well, and avoid situations where people are just running over each other with efficient and aggressively-costed creatures, or situations where people are just creating big armies of flyers and smashing others who are defenseless against it, or situations where there are huge board stalls that can't really be broken through.  I think that's probably the point that I'm most worried about in terms of the playtest -- what is going to be the speed of the game and is it going to progress in a good way?  Am I giving players enough tools in terms of win conditions, interaction, early defense, and removal?  I've certainly =tried= to include all of these, but it's really difficult to judge how it will all play out in the wild.

I'm excited!

In other news, work went through a kind of rough transitionary period which I wasn't feeling too great about, but I think I'm doing better about that now, so yay.  Hopefully this week will be alright too.

Dance has been...very less than exciting recently; it's just not the same anymore and it's quite rare nowadays to have those exhilarating dances like back in the days of yore.  Just a different crowd, different environment, different experience.  You know how it is.  What can you do?

Got my "emotional massage" on Friday, it was great!  Should do that more often, for sure!

Overall a pretty good a lot of work done on the MtG custom set, and wrote one or two letters, just not quite as much work done on some other things as I would have liked -- mostly music.  Excellent, but -- let's go better next time.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Take me away...take me back to the days of the SNES, to the days of simplicity, to the days of "Timm[ie]".  Heck, take me back to the days of Marching Band.  I often say nowadays that an experience like that isn't even worth it anymore for me -- that I lean more towards living comfortably rather than stressing out for the sake of a great experience (somewhat...I think I'm still a bit of a masochist though), but heck, I'll take Marching Band too.  Just take me away from this present.

I guess it's not "=bad=", but it ain't great either.  Can I just run away to the past?  I really miss everyone.  Really miss a lot of things.  I really can't deal with this sometimes.  It gets harder and harder as life teaches me time and time again that some things may never come back to you.

I'd like my life back.

Friday, June 3, 2016


Things are good! :D

Continuing my "staycation" -- I've gotten a lot of things done and had a great time so far!

Today and yesterday I spent a lot of time in my back room putting up wall scrolls and posters.  It took a lot of planning to get everything to work out, but it was all worth it and I've got a layout that is very nice!  I'm starting to really get the hang of doing this now, I feel like, haha.  This is already the 4th time that I've done this (once in Munger, then in the Mountain View townhouse, then at The Meadows, and now at the current place).  Of course, each time I have a slightly different set of stuff (I get more things to put up over the years), but the rate at which I accumulate new decorations has virtually slowed down to a crawl now.  Part of this is an interest thing (they don't often sell wall scrolls and posters for the stuff that I'm currently into, plus I'm a little more out of touch with anime and such in general nowadays), and part of it is also just that I =know= I already have a whole crapload of stuff and don't need any more.

Anyways this time I was very systematic about it -- The key is to start off with the biggest things and then take it from there...usually I figure out the placement of all of the wall scrolls first because those are the largest and because ideally they all go on the same wall (usually taking up a majority of the wall if not the whole thing).  It definitely helps that I have photos of the previous layout at The Meadows so that I can compare -- this helps especially with the posters, to know which posters fit nicely with each other, for example.

Anyways, I've got 2 walls basically covered (minus the windows, of course, which are essentially off-limits), and I've successfully laid out all of the wall scrolls, plus all of the posters.  So I'm about halfway done...I still need to put up all of the small stuff, including pencil boards, some random art prints, stationery covers, red envelopes, etc etc etc.  I'll probably start out with the pencil boards since there are a lot of them and I'd like to put all of them together in their own dedicated space somewhere.

Last night I made it out to Mission City Swing!  I still don't think I'm going to go anymore, but I figured that I should try to go this week since I'm on vacation and because some of my friends were going to be there.  It took over an hour to get there...there was some stupid traffic along the way and I was actually worried because I was starting to zone out a bit =(  Definitely not a pleasant drive, but I managed to make it in time for the intermediate lesson, which was on musicality.  Overall it was fun to do some WCS again, and also seeing my friends, but still not really enough to justify the drive up and down -- it just sucks up way too much time out of my day that I really can't afford.  On the other hand, I certainly didn't regret going there this week, since not only did I get to dance with Marie a bunch but I also got to see Emily Cheng, who randomly had decided to stop by!  Wahh!  Hadn't seen her in ages, so that was really nice.

I put in some more work to my MtG set (the "Conspiracy 1.5" set), and I managed to fill out the entire set of commons.  I'm guessing it still needs a lot of tweaking, but that's a landmark that I'm happy to have hit.  I'm going to try designing a handful of uncommons and maybe tweak some of the numbers of the commons here and there and then hopefully do some playtesting on my own to see how everything actually ends up playing out.

Been working some on music as well -- finished some tweaks on the Super Pipe House remix (for the SMRPG OCR project), which is a great song -- all that's left now is to double-check the mixing and mastering and then that'll be done!  I also attempted to get started on making a remix for Willrock's album but it proved to be pretty difficult...I ended up with the start of a song that was....meh, ok, but I wasn't really feeling it, so I think I'll probably just scrap it and start over again with a different direction to see if it works out any better.  Wish me luck!

I played through Mysterious Space randomly last night (managed to reach a good end!), and unfortunately discovered that the in-game seamless version of the credits theme, "Journey's End", had a rendering error related to FL Studio's "Wrap" render mode combined with dBlue glitch (something I should be careful about in the future).  I hate render errors =(  Anyways, I re-rendered using Cut instead of Wrap (easiest way to fix it, unfortunately), and reuploaded it.  Not going to make an announcement about this one since it doesn't really matter as much...but yeah, sadtimes.  Ben is actually running a Kickstarter for Mysterious Space so that he can quit his day job and work on it full-time, which is kind of neat, so check that out if it sounds interesting to you.

I have another TWO albums complete and on schedule to be released, by the way! (one is just a compilation album, but the other is a brand new OST!)  Still need to put together album art for both of them -- here's hoping that I can at least get started on that this weekend.

Did some more miscellaneous cleanup around the house today too -- we re-organized the refrigerator to be much more efficient with space, which felt pretty awesome. :)

Feels nice to be settling into my new life and new place...I also stopped by Lucky's for groceries tonight, since that's now going to be the grocery store of choice because it's super close.  I'll probably still stop by Whole Foods for stuff like fish and good meat though -- it's on the way to work anyways, and you can't really beat the quality (though it is pricier).  I don't really like the way Lucky's looks, but groceries are groceries, and it's not like the quality is terrible.  Plus, it's super close!  I'll have to see how the deli counter and meat/fish counters are though -- if they suck then I'll have to just get those sorts of items from somewhere else...