Sunday, February 26, 2017

Viennese Ball 2017

Apparently I'm not quite so great at doing a post on VBall every year (unlike with, say, Fanime).  The last time I wrote about a VBall was from 2015 -- you can find that post here.  I tried looking for a post from 2016 and I found one that referenced VBall, but afterwards there were a bunch of very angsty and depressed entries so apparently I wasn't in a very great place.  Thinking back to it, I actually sort of =do= remember last year's vball and it was a strange mix of emotions, mostly due to certain circumstances.  But that is neither here nor there, as they say...

Viennese Ball, for me, is different than Fanime in the sense that VBall isn't quite wholly different from year to year.  With Fanime so much can happen and I feel like the range of experience is sort of all over the place depending on what ends up happening to me, but with VBall there's only so much that can change from year to year; we usually have more or less the same things happening over the course of the night, after all.

Probably the most notable thing about VBall this year was that it was up in the Palace Hotel in SF again, instead of the Santa Clara Marriot (as it was last year) or the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame (as it was the year before, and a bunch of years besides that).  The Burlingame location is by far the most "familiar" by now, with the Santa Clara one being the most low-stress (so close by!).  I work up in the city now, so it was semi (?) convenient for me being able to drive to work in the morning, then repark my car (paying for parking twice in a day, booo) near the hotel.  That being said I was still (to my dismay) pretty stressed out before the event, though I didn't want to be.  Part of that was just being in an unfamiliar place and situation (always the bane of us ISFJs), trying to make sure that I was able to set aside time to do makeup, fix up my Journey dress, park my car, etc.  In the end it wasn't that big of a deal, but I DID end up having to find a corner of the hotel with a power outlet and pulling out my clothing iron because one of the triangular pieces of my dress was peeling off (didn't get attached securely when I first ironed it on, apparently).  So while everybody was milling around waiting for the ball to start I was off in this random corner near an elevator ironing my dress...

On the plus side everything went AOK in the end and I actually didn't end up having any issues with my costume, though there were a few moments when my scarf was trailing behind me and I was super worried that it would get in someone's way and get destroyed or something.  Sigh.  But enough about all that.

The ball itself was pretty wonderful!  I always say that VBall is really great just by virtue of being an event where you get to see so many people from the community, even those who don't come out much and are essentially in hiding.  The dancing itself at Vball interesting mixed bag, as there's usually no space on the floor and a bunch of beginners that you really have to watch out for not to run into, but everyone looks really amazing in their fancy clothes and everything.  But just walking around and saying hi to everyone is always great times.

I didn't actually end up being able to catch all of the performances and such that went on during the evening, unfortunately, including some that I would have really liked to, but somehow I was just caught up between dancing, catching up with people, etc.  Whoops.  I was also unreasonably stressed about the waltz competitions (much to my dismay).  I didn't want to admit it but I actually REALLY wanted to do well, not just because I had taken a year off and withheld from joining last year, but because I really do care a LOT about social waltz and have been dedicating quite a lot of effort to improving through the last several months.

In the end I couldn't really have asked for much better.  Me and Talia were tapped out in the cross-step waltz preliminary rounds but only after dancing really hard and putting everything I knew out there.  This is something that I really like about performances and competitions that makes me wish there was more of this in our waltz scene -- the fact that something about performing in front of people really makes you give it your all.  I know from first-hand experience that an atmosphere of constant competition and attention-seeking can be unhealthy, grating even, but I think there is really something to be said about having an opportunity to come together with a partner and really try to put your best foot forward.  As those of us who dance a lot may know, being given that opportunity that doesn't necessarily mean that things end up working out -- sometimes you fall completely flat of your own expectations, but it's difficult to really reach a pinnacle of expression if you don't have a reason to push yourself.

The rotary waltz preliminaries started and I decided that I wouldn't really hold anything back, as who could really say what would happen?  I could try and put odds on whether we would make the finals but would that really help me, or should I just put 100% into it regardless?  So we danced our hearts out and MAN.  The thing is, I've been focusing quite a lot of cross-step waltz lately, but rotary has this super driving energy and when you are really in the zone, good rotary waltz songs just somehow propel you forward and around in this certain unique way.  It's that reason that made me fall in love with rotary waltz in the first place.  So there I was getting super into the first song of the preliminary round and then that song ends and......on comes another good song.  And I'm like, ok, here we I start putting what felt like 120% of my energy into this new song and wow, we are zooming across the floor and around each other and I feel like I'm flying...  I don't really remember for sure, but I think it was at that point that I was actually able to just let go of my own expectations and pressure and just live purely in the moment.  It is the magic of music and motion that lets this special thing happen to us, where nothing else really matters, just you and your partner and the dance and the music, and flying along, and as that song ended I realize that I don't think I've ever really put this much into a dance before.

...and like that, the preliminary round was over and I was.....not just happy, but more importantly, NEEDED WATER.  Holy crap do you have any idea how tiring it is to dance two rotary waltzes one after another while pulling out all the stops, while wearing a big fancy dress and petticoat?  So just as I did two years ago, the first thing I did was go off to get some water.........sheesh!

Fast forward to our turn -- we were the last couple to perform.  And as I walk forward I'm thinking of how I've prepared and waited for this moment, a chance to show everyone what waltz can be, what it can really be, and how many possibilities there are.  And as I'm thinking this, the opening notes "Time" come on and at that moment I sort of just melted a bit.  And I think my thoughts at that point were basically just "oh....oh we" and at that point I knew that everything was going to be amazing no matter what.  Not only is Time one of my all-time favorite waltzes, with a gosh-darn GREAT musical structure, but has this unique repeating motif throughout the song that I can't help but feel inspired by.  It's a song that I liked so much that I even wrote my own version of it!

I have often said about my composing process that it is not about me forming melodies on my own, but rather about finding the "flow" of a song and allowing it to write itself, allowing it to speak for itself, through my hand.  It's similar to the concept of the Greek Muses, in this way, in that I'm serving more as a conduit through which the song comes through, and I've found that being able to let my brain's creative half function naturally is key in writing good music, as whenever I try to stop and think or reason about what I'm doing it tends to lead to trouble.  Dance is much the same way for me, which I think is why I feed off of and depend so heavily on the music that is being played, as it compels me in a way that I would never be able to replicate otherwise.  I've been asked before how I am able to be so "musical" while dancing and it's an odd question for me to attempt to answer because I can't really imagine being any other way.  I of course have come up with more structured responses about aligning figures to phrases and all that, and logically that all makes sense, but really at the heart of it I feel such a strong connection to the music that it's very difficult for me to dance in a way that doesn't line up properly, especially as a leader.  It's funny if you think about it -- really the leader is playing "follow" to the music...

All that said, I knew exactly what I was going to start the dance off with because I really wanted to show leading from the follower's position.  It's my specialty and there is really so much you can do with it.  Role switching in dance has been a passion of mine for several years now and I really wish we could have more of it!  The rest of the dance went by in what seemed like a flash and somehow, guided by the music, we managed to fit in almost (almost =P) everything I wanted to show.  And then it was over.  I took a deep breath and felt this huge wave of catharsis (and exhaustion, lol!).

I've already said it before, but it meant so much to me hearing everyone's words of encouragement and congratulations for us, and even more to hear that people were inspired by our performance.  I actually had a conversation with a close friend just the day before the ball about why the heck I was so invested in this whole waltz competition thing, and why I even cared so much.  And it was at that time, after our performance, when people were giving us hugs and high-fives, that I found the answer that I was looking for.  I really did think for a second that I was going to start crying.

I can't thank everyone enough.

I've mentioned in the past wanting to start some sort of regular practicing or waltz-lab-like thing for people to come together and work on improving their waltz and learning new things from each other (and also just having fun dancing together!), and I'm finally putting my words to action!  I'll be at Dancebreak at 10PM tomorrow night and would love to work on stuff with other people there.  I don't know what will happen in the future but everything's gotta start from somewhere!

As the years go by, my photos seem to have less and less meaning, yet my letters seem to have more and more importance.  I'm eternally grateful to all of those people who write back to me.

I didn't make that blog post about the Journey cosplay, but did an album on FB, so I guess you could just look at it there instead for the time being.

It's been a while since I've had a night all to myself like this.  It's both super liberating and productive, yet at the same time slightly terrifying and lonely.  It's a weird feeling.  In the past I've always had many of my best periods and most "stable" times during these hours in the night (though mixed in with forlorn occasions, I'm sure).  Somehow these times are the only times when I get to really feel like I am "catching up" on life.  Times when I am sifting through new music and cataloging it, organizing files and photos, putting things in their place, even just cleaning and tidying up my room.

There's a feeling of relief in that I'm getting to do these things, but also a strange grip of what I can only describe as "fear" at the realization that I'm not doing nearly enough of it.  I think prioritization is important and it's fine that there are some projects that are just not important enough to warrant dedication to.  But there are others that worry me.  I've always talked about how it seems to be much harder for me to really get productive and get a lot of things done since leaving college and I've always chalked it up mainly just due to the fact that I had less work to do and attend in college, but I wonder also if part of it is just the fact that I was able to have these nights of undisturbed time, and those times were presumably when I was able to sit down and do the things that end up requiring more activation energy.  It's an interesting thought, but also a frightening one because even given nights like that at my present state, I don't know if I could make good use of them.  I'm not sure.  But I guess the only thing I can do about it now is try my best to adapt to how things are now.

VBall 2017 was last night and part of me is still reeling from the rotary waltz contest where I truly gave it my all.  I feel like it deserves its own post, so I'll say no more until then.  For now, I'll try and get some sleep...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

As I approach my 1000th written letter, I think back to some of the more unique writing that I've undertaken.

Letter writing is really an unexplored artform.

I'm done with the 3rd layer of my Journey cosplay!  I'd like to make a big post soon with all of my collected progress photos and some details on how it all came together two years ago.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just thought of two new waltz figures during the train ride, as well as some technique stuff...

I've been mulling it over for quite some time now (as I do with anything before committing to it), but I've become convinced now that I really do want to start something for social waltz practice/training.  Let me know if you're interested :)

LttP remix is done, and I only have 4 more diamond shapes to draw for the Journey costume!  Will try and take some photos of the before and after.

Monday, February 13, 2017

20+ years in the making

Design notes, 2016

Design notes, ~2000 (?)

It's a bit surreal, looking back at it.  Not many of you know this, but when I was growing up as a child I would always have pads of graph paper and/or binder paper on me and I filled many, many of these pages up with doodles, Kirby drawings, random nerdy math stuff that I did to kill time, but most of all, game design.  Usually mimicing whatever game I happened to be a fan of at the time, whether it be L.O.R.D. MUD-style adventures, Xenogears' combat system, a yo-yo RPG set in the universe of Earthbound, D&D dungeon layouts, Master of Orion II-like ship technologies, or Breath of Fire III's Dragon Gene system.

The image on the top is game design notes from just a few months ago, including the initial design document for Rhythm Quest, the Rhythm Quest reword design notes, as well as some brainstorming for the most recent Ludum Dare.

And on the bottom are notes from ages ago.  I still have a huge collection of these documents.  (though to be completely honest I only recently retrieved them from my parents' house)  The upper two sheets were from a fighting-type rpg game that I designed to be played with my cousin, which I think featured "custom combos" as well as sfa2's super combos.  On the lower left is one of many, many, many "ball maze" designs that I did, with various obstacles and symbols that represented ice blocks, breakable blocks, cannons, boosts, and the like.  And off to the lower right (you can tell it's ancient because I even wrote in cursive!) is actual dungeon room contents for a D&D dungeon.

Unfortunately I seem to have misplaced some of my digital game design work; I'll have to see if I can still pull it off of a hard drive somewhere.

Anyhow, it's a bit surreal.  I mean, it's not as if I was actually "practicing" anything as I was writing down all of these things all the time.  I wasn't trying to get better at anything, not like when I was practicing the piano, or studying.  It's just what I did to kill time.  All of those long car rides and boring classes and all of that -- thinking about games is just what I liked to do.  And all of those dinky games I programmed back in the MS-DOS era too (damn if I can't get =those= off of an old HD somehow...), that wasn't for practice, or even because I thought it would do me any good in the future.  And those experiments with RPGMaker, all of the time I spent into trying to make maps for Descent, Descent 2, and Unreal Tournament...that's just how I had fun.  I like to create things.  It's the same with music.  I just take things that I like and want to make more of them.  I want to build my own worlds for myself, and others, to play in.  I played Unreal Tournament matches with 23 bots that I each hand-crafted with its own name, personality, and favorite weapons.  I hex edited Super Smash Bros. Melee to make lower-tier characters more fun, and to make moonwalking more swag.  I designed entire Magic: the Gathering sets.

And somehow, after over 20 years, I ended up making my own full video games.  I did the programming.  I drew the art.  I made the music.  I did the game design.  Programming, fueled by countless years of experiments, and dillying around, until technology advanced to the point where I could just crank out game code during the span of a weekend.  Music, trained over years of weekly One Hour Compo sessions.  Art, that was honed by pixel art icons that I drew as album covers for those OHC productions.  And game design, which apparently I've been doing ever since I was a little kid.

It's been one helluva journey, and it ain't over yet.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Everything is just better when you are comfortable with what you're doing.

It was a good week this week.  I'm settled into things at work and I really feel like I've hit my stride as far as that goes, which is magnificent.  Not only that, but it feels like I've gotten pretty used to the train commute as well!  I've been getting more work done on Rhythm Quest in the mornings -- made a progress bar, and figured out how to do proper text outlines as well.  The first level is coming along, but in order to make any more progress on it I have to sit down sometime at home and actually finish up the music.  On the plus side, the slopes are working as they should so nothing else should be too hard in terms of implementation.

I also poked around for games that I could play during the train ride (in addition to watching the 2nd season of Chihayafuru) and found out that Owlboy (which I recently bought on sale) runs on OSX (still haven't bothered to make a windows partition), so I've been playing through that.  It's a bit awkward with a trackpad, but once I figured out how to right-click and right-click-drag effectively (not obvious at first!) things have been much better.  I haven't played through Hatoful Boyfriend yet and own it so that will be next once I finish up Owlboy.  Been continuing to play through Earthbound at home, too!  (Just got to Threed)

Had another melee session yesterday, which went pretty well!  I figured out some stuff about upthrow platform followups with fox against spacies, which is useful to know (though needs a lot of practice to start really getting it).  I still need to edgeguard better with fox when they are close, by using fullhop nairs as well as shinespikes.

I've been requisitioned for another 11th-hour "we need your help to make a remix really fast" assignment, this time for a Link to the Past remix, so we'll see if I can pull that one off.  In related news, the Crypt of the Necrodancer Amplified OCR album is out, along with the SMRPG OCR remix project, and I'm featured on both -- yay!

Today I hope to try and get started on that remix and/or get started on the next layer of my Journey cosplay.  This one might be a little tricky to lay out but there's only a couple of weeks left until VBall so I need to go and get started!