Saturday, 23 August 2014

Ludum Dare 30 Part 3: Things I'm Wishing I Had...

I can't actually say morale is low at Chez Durbin, because, despite some things that are going to be annoying as hell to sort out, we're on track for a simple game, at the least. So let's talk about wishful thinking. Both in the sense of "If wishes were fishes, we'd never starve", and "Gee, Wouldn't it be nice if..."

First off, the cutting. Any Ludum Dare involves some cutting, and this was no exception. I started with a high-falutin' idea (which, on reflection, wasn't workable in the scope of the 48H, and hard to handle writing wise outside), which, in the first twelve hours, was cut down to a shootmans game. This, in turn, was cut down, because I am no quick spriter (nor, when I don't sketch beforehand, am I very good at it), and so shootmans, in turn, got cut.

Right now, though, I have something I can show, although it won't be pretty, and will be kludgy as hell. The game is simple: Duder McMann has entered the Winchester Mystery House in search of food, but the trapped and vengeful ghosts of ex-Winchester customers want him to stay awhile... stay forever. So, here's the current state of things.

I Have

  1. Duder McMann and Ghost(s). Neither can handle wall-sliding very well currently.
  2. A set of wall tiles. I need at least 1 more to fit the theme even vaguely.
  3. A background that becomes slightly less eye-searing every time I look at it, and will also need to be added to.
I Don't Have
  1. The aforementioned wall tiles, spare backgrounds, and floors. Those aren't too bad.
  2. A set of rooms, and a script to teleport between them under certain circumstances.
  3. That wall-sliding script implemented yet.
  4. Any AI for the Ghosts (2 basic AI planned)
  5. A menu.
  6. A title splash.
  7. Rebindable keys.
  8. Food icons.
  9. A GUI.
  10. A thing that I want to add, hopefully tomorrow. It's an easter egg.
  11. Any audio.
Of these things, I can probably mostly skip the GUI. A life counter, a food counter, done. The Audio, similarly, I can mostly skip. A simple tune, a couple of noises, and that'll do. I knew, coming into it, that my game wasn't going to be great. A title splash is fairly simple, and the basic AI code and wall-sliding potentially aren't too bad. Rebindable keys is going to be a slight pain, the tiles aren't too problematic. Although placing them is proving to be a pain in the ass, I should have found something for that.


But, while GMS has saved me some time in terms of basic tiling (If I change the snap, it should, theoretically, make the tiling easier), there are certain quirks of the way it handles things that I've found I'm not overly fond of. The previously discussed lack of wall-sliding. The way it handles directional sprites (or rather... doesn't really... Seriously, YoYo, this is a thing that happens in nearly every game ever, even simple platformers and shooters.)

Basically, what I'm saying is, I definitely won't have time for polish, but it will at least sort of work. Not actually bad. Not great, slightly worse than I was expecting to do. But not. Actually. Bad.


Ludum Dare 30 Part 3: On The Quirks of Gamemaker Studio and Isometric Walls.

Gamemaker Studio is, I've found, pretty cool to work with. But like any program, it's going to have finicky moments, and being rusty at coding/scripting doesn't help. So let's talk a little about that. Right now, it's been almost 12 hours, I have a plan (which I've cut), I've had a sleep, and I'm on my way to coding the darn thing properly.

Which leads to the first obstacle, and something I've done that's bloody stupid, for me. I've gone for an Ultima style isometric movement. And it ain't steps. What problems does that create? Well, I'm still only moving in eight directions, that's fine, and that was easily coded round with just the basic event handling that GMS is good at (and I fondly remember from my Games Factory days back in school.) But collision, and how you handle butting your head into a wall, is another matter entirely. That requires some scripting, and I've got to write this stuff down to make sure I've got it right. Also, y'know, test it...

Duder McMann in... The Dimension of I'm Getting Used To That Pattern Now...

In any case, what I have right now is that if you hit a wall, you just stop. Dead stop. You can't move along the wall, you can't move into the wall, and only half of that is what I want. But there isn't a way to do that with basic event handling. You can bounce, or you can stop, those are your choices. So something has to be done, and it can only be done in script. I just checked that, to be certain.

So the key to any program thing is what, precisely and logically, do you want to happen? In this particular case, I want the following to get checked, in order:

  1. Is there a collision between my dude and the wall?
  2. If so, am I holding a diagonal (IE - up-left, up-right in the case of a wall I bumped into from the bottom.)?
  3. If I'm holding a diagonal, keep me moving horizontally, but not vertically (or vice versa, in the case of a side collision)
But how in blue blazes do we do that, eh? Well, here's where it gets fun. See, to check whether I'm holding a diagonal, I could either make eight separate checks for a combination of two keypresses (UP AND LEFT, for example), or... I could check which side the collision is, and if it's with a wall, I could say "am I holding up? good. Am I not holding left or right?"

...Bet that didn't make sense, did it? But in a programming sense, yes, it does. Because if we were to check for up, and then left or right at the same time, if we pressed either, it would act as if we pressed all three at the same time. If you check for left, then right, you're adding unnecessary steps. Come to think of it, I haven't tested what happens when you hold up and down, or left and right, both at the same time.

...Cool, it did exactly what I expected it to do (the relative position changes cancelled each other out, as they should.) Don't expect a program to do what you expect it to do if you wrote it. Always check. Anyways... If you check things a little differently, you can cut between eight and sixteen direction checks down to four.

  1. Okay, I'm hitting something. Am I still moving in the direction of the wall? (1)
  2. Yes, I am. Is the keyboard telling the PC that left and right aren't being held down? (2)
  3. Ah, okay, it isn't. Is it moving left or right? (3, 4)
  4. If it's moving left, move me left while not letting me move up. If it's moving right, move me right without letting me move up. Simple!
It's still kludgy, because collision checks are a thing GMS is always looking for, and it checks every wall each time (afaik), but for now, it'll serve my purposes.

This, ladies and gentlefolks, is just one of the many mini dilemmas you face when your scripting is somewhat rusty (I'm not going to call it programming), and you need more than what simple tools will provide. Speaking of, I still haven't checked out how to rebind keys... :D

POST SCRIPTUM: For some reason, Duder McMann (my generic name for a protagonist) is having a little trouble standing facing down-right. The moment I hit right, he faces away... I suspect cutting even more might be an idea if I want to make this by sunday evening... Time to change the concept some more.

Duder McMann, in the pose you'll never see unless you move diagonally down-right.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Ludum Dare 30 Part 2.5: On Atmosphere, and Hatred of Eyeballs.

It's actually kind of important to talk about the atmosphere of Ludum Dare, because a lot of folks have entirely the wrong idea about developing, and indeed, about the LD itself. 48 hours. 48 gruelling, rage-against-the-machine hours, in which -

Yeah, about that. I just made two new potential buddies, with probably more to follow. I'm happier than I have been all damn week, and the #LD48 Hashtag has been filled with messages of support and carmaraderie, people joking, laughing. I can almost guarantee it won't stay silent for the entire weekend.

Men, women, black, white... Nobody gives a hoot, because if you're up for making a game with Ludum Dare, people will welcome you with open arms, and, believe you me, that's a factor that holds everyone's spirits up.

...Okay, make that three new potential mates. And at the time of this sentence (time is fluid here in blogland), we haven't even started yet.

It's also made me really chatty... Hehe.

PROGRESS REPORT: I have incredibly shitty placeholders for a set of walls and the movable character, basic movement, collision, and interaction (little of which is shown in the screenshot below.) I also have the rough outline of how it's going to go (it's going to have a short narrative, and doors will be involved.)

Unless you are a god at assets, your first game will involve a screen much like this one, where you might feel discouraged by the sheer amount of hate you have given your own eyeballs. But keep in mind, this is just a first step. A lot of what you do at this stage will be in writing, and basic rules coding.

Tomorrow night, I should hopefully have something decent to show folks.

Ludum Dare 30 Part 2: On the Start, Ideas, Flaws, and OMG NOTCH

Idea generation, reduction, and iteration. These are three important steps for Ludum Dare, because they're how every project ideally works: You have an idea, and then you build on it, step by step. So let's actually talk about what may have gone wrong or right with this beginning process, and whether I've done these things or not. Iteration, we'll save for another time, because it's something you do over the whole damn process.

The Idea Step

Basically, you want to maximise the time you're actually spending coding, creating assets (placeholder or no), and generally actually working on your game. So this step, by necessity, is kind of a short one. I'm not gonna give a number for how long you should be at this (because this is my first LD, and I am, as noted, no expert), but my personal ballpark figure is "If you're at this step for more than 4 hours, something's gone awry."

So let's examine the process a bit...

The Idea Sprang Fully Formed From My Brow

Unlikely, but if something like that genuinely happens? Count yourself lucky, write it down, and use the time you wanted to allocate to ideas either generating other ideas that might be better, or as extra time for step 2, reduction. Either way, yayyyyyy!

Ideas, How Do They F*&!ing Work?

Well, ideas can come from a lot of places. From other sources, from thoughts you have... There are processes that you can use to generate ideas, including keeping fragments of older ideas to bounce off of, doodling randomly/mentally idling until something sticks, or the one I'm quite fond of, the Idea Cloud. I'll explain how it works now.

Yes, my handwriting is godawful. My all-caps ain't much better either.

Okay, here's my Idea Cloud, as written on a £1 sketchpad I've never actually used for sketching. You can see here my thoughts are mainly along the lines of other dimensions, but I'd like to draw your attention to the mention of The Winchester Mystery House (aka The Winchester Mansion). I'm going for a subversion of that basic idea with the game. We'll see if it's too ambitious soon enough.

But it's the stream of thought that matters here, and an idea cloud represents that. All those smaller words around the big theme? Those are ideas. I didn't try to organise too many of them, but it led me to my theme in under ten minutes (I had time, before the Jam, to write a template of this post beforehand, saving me further time.)

The trick, basically, is to channel the consciousness toward something that you think will work. Now for the next bit.

Reducing the Problems

Your idea is great. My idea is at least theoretically workable. But the ancient Engineer's maxim applies in Ludum Dare like no other: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Let's say your idea involves a guy, who lives in this living breathing city, and he can't be seen or heard by people one day, and he can change their emotions to make them do things, and-

STOP. This example is the very idea I proposed to a friend a while back, and he quite rightly told me, as a first project, even as a project for a single experienced dev, this is going to be trouble. It involves a city, for christ's sake. Even a few blocks of a city involves at least a thousand individuals, and you're meant to affect even a hundredth of those folks in contextual, unique ways? Geddoudahere!

Now that you have an idea, it's time to put limitations on it. And not limitations in the sense that you're taking away things you can do, but adding rules, but in the sense that you are literally slicing bits of the concept so it'll fit. It'll feel like butchery, it won't be a grand vision... But dear god, it'll be something you can actually make in 48 hours. While we're on the subject...


Hah. It's do-able, believe you me, it's do-able. I made 72 hours more than once, but believe you me, I was pretty squirrely by the end of it. 48 hours is actually much less of a proposition. But if you don't at least nap, your work is going to suffer. You'll make dumb mistakes, which introduce bugs, which you then have to spend time fixing. Take breaks, this isn't about "Who's the best at karoshi" (remember that series? Boy, that was a riot!), it's about managing your time efficiently, and improving your practice by introducing limits. Unless, y'know, you enjoy that sort of thing, then go hog wild. Another environmental factor?


Doesn't matter. Seriously, while this has stopped me before, two years of reviewing has led me to quite confidently say "It doesn't actually matter." Why? Because they're people, and, like any people, they're going to have hassles, mistakes, bugs, setbacks, and, if they're doing the no-sleep thing too, the occasional period where they'll zonk out and suddenly say "ARG FUCK, TEN HOURS? AAAAAHHHHHHH!"

I've said it just a few short paragraphs ago, I'll say it again. It isn't about prizes (are there any? I forget, and don't actually care that much...), it isn't about who's who (although friendships made at Jams and during the dev process are a nice addition), it's about improving your practices, your game. I just saw Michael Hitchens, a name I'm sure I've seen in the SA GameDev thread at some point, and my reaction?

"Oh, cool, look forward to seeing what they make!"

Before I get back to creating placeholders and scripting (I touched this post up in my first ten minute break), let's talk about my own personal flaws with practices. Well, the ones I'm aware of right now.

Accepting I'm No Angel

Procrastination. There's a good one. I procrastinate, mainly because there are many cool and shiny things for me to do and play with, it's easy to distract myself. This blog, for example. If I'd written two thirds of this entry in the middle of LD30, I'd have wasted half a damn hour, at least. Sounds bad, but assuming I write more than 6 of these (same length) during the compo, that's 3 hours for sure, and that's 3 hours I could have spent polishing my game till it spangles like a figure skater's leotard.

Frustration. Like any human being, I get pissed off when things don't go my way. This can happen with what I later see as perfectly serviceable ideas, because fuckdammit, they're not coming out of my brain onto the computer magically like I want them to!!! This is where iteration comes in, by the way. Start real small, work up. That way, you won't get so pissy when it isn't automatically working, because you expect it to. Let's see how well I hold up with that in the next twelve hours or so.

There are other flaws, I'm sure, but those two are probably the biggest blocks, and ones I'm determined to get past. One thing's for sure, I've been hype since I woke up, and since depression is a problem for me, that's ultra cool!

So... Ludum Dare 30...

In approximately 9 and a half hours at the time of writing this sentence, I am going to be taking part in Ludum Dare #30 , a 48 hour game developement competition. I only know vaguely what themes are going to be presented (as the final vote is tallied pretty darn close to the start time), and for those who don't know, the only assets you're able to create beforehand are code snippets, which have to be approved beforehand. Everything else is done in the 48 hours, code, assets... everything.

So let's talk about prepping. Even though it's a really good idea to have some code snippets handy to save you time, I'm not doing this, because, beyond the fact that it will involve pixels, I don't want to prejudice myself with code snippets specifically for a platformer, or a tile-based RPG thing, or... You get the picture. I also know one of my biggest problems here is going to be organisation, so I didn't want to suffer for that early by having to waste time hunting through code snippets.

No, most of my prepping right now is psychological. I've tidied up the flat a bit, and am listening to various tunes (including the modern Lost In Space theme by Apollo 440... That's a really peppy piece.)

As far as tools, right now, I'm pretty determined to use Gamemaker Studio. No piece of kit is without flaw, but this'll hopefully save me some time. Apart from that, I have Paint.NET (for blog stuff, as opposed to dev stuff, but it's workable for asset stuff), GraphicsGale Free (for pretty pixels), LMMS (for music, if I end up having time for that), Audacity (for voice work, should the game warrant it), and Notepad++ (because I like writing shit down.)

Finally, there's me. I know a little bit of coding, am okay at assets, am okay at music, and do voice things for shits and giggles. I am a jack-of-all-trades. Hence why I'm not in it to win it, but to see what needs working on with my practices under pressure.

One other piece of psychological buffing I've done, silly as it sounds...

...That's right. Monitor JuJu.

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Realisation, And A Bridge Burned: Horizon

It's been a year since I last officially reviewed (there's your realisation), and only now do I feel okay with venting my spleen about one of the three games that burned me from reviewing for such a long time (the other two were Record of Agarest War and the Inner World.) Let's talk about Horizon. Another realisation: This is probably burning bridges with some folks. I'll have to live with that, even if they already know what I say.

Horizon is, in the words of LEO Interactive, "inspired by" the Master of Orion games.

No. "Inspired by" is a phrase that belongs to things like GalCiv, Endless Space, and many other 4Xs that followed in their great-grandpappy's footsteps in some fashion or other. "Inspired by" belongs to games that innovate, that change things up in a useful fashion.

Now, before we continue, let's play a game. I'm going to post a few screenshots, and you get to play "How similar is that?"

That one's Horizon. Now for MoO 2.

Now for Horizon again.

Back to MoO 2


MoO 2...

Keep in mind, I could keep this shit up for nearly every UI element in the game. The research screen: Almost identical. The planet screen? Same idea, same problems. The diplomacy screens? Nigh identical. So what, in the end, was actually different?

Well, remember how Master of Orion was slowish? Horizon is slow-er. It'll be a good while before you colonise, and as for a full game? I never finished, because I didn't want to spend three days on a single game. I especially didn't want to do it in "Story mode", which, yes, would have added some nice backstory on the many races and the universe, but would have involved me in a disadvantaged start (less tech, less resources, less systems), where the AI players inevitably found me before I could communicate with them, which led to another quirk of this game.

The AI defaults to a neutral state, and, while they modelled racial diplomacy alright (some races respond better to an aggressive approach, others passive, some like bribes, others won't touch them, etc), I often didn't have a chance in story mode. You see, the longer you know an alien species, without being able to communicate, the more they come to hate you. Oh, you have to be in communication range to communicate, obviously, and your signal strength depends on your tech level. Everyone you meet will eventually declare war on you. The missions, while a potentially interesting addition, are mostly bland and forgettable... Go kill these guys here, conquer this here, research this, loot this... It all adds up to a big, frustrating mess. The techs don't really differentiate much, and the key to winning the game, even now, is building up tourism and trade, and rush-buying. Oh, let's not forget surviving long enough to make these strategies work. Even in the non-story mode of the game, you're going to find people hate you before they even get to know you.

And if you were to purchase this game? That would be £23 you've, essentially, wasted. For that, you could have played Endless Space, Master of Orion 1 and 2, and possibly with enough left over to get one of the older GalCiv games. And any one of those would, awkwardly, be a superior experience.

I'm only sad I waited a year to say that even once.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Game Things That Make Me Rage: Yes, It's "Shallow." So What?

I was co-commentating a stream of an early access game called Chroma Squad (still in Alpha) yesterday, and one comment made me a very thoughtful person indeed. "The gameplay is quite shallow".

The Game In Question.

Let's examine this with Chroma Squad as a specific example, shall we? The combat, as it stands, does indeed start off fairly simple, without a whole ton of apparent depth. You have five guys who are part of a Sentai studio, Sentai being a term for a specific genre of superhero shows from Japan. They each get two actions a turn, while enemies generally get one unless they can also attack or use a special ability. Those two actions generally consist of a move, followed by one of the following:

  • Move some more.
  • Hit someone.
  • Use a special ability (which often involves hitting someone, but with a weapon.) We'll discuss this more in a bit.
That last one is kind of important, because it adds a layer of complexity to the game. See, your normal attacks are pretty damn wimpy. Yes, you hit multiple times, but overall, your average starting dude does around 50 of 90 damage to a mook on an attack. Mileage, obviously, may vary. But with the power of TEAMWORK, you can either add some beef to someone else's attack, allow other people to share your special ability (so long as everyone who supports is touching each other), or give them a little movement boost.

Near the end of a fight from the original Demo.

So, by my count, we have basic mechanics, plus a mechanic that can then change other mechanics. But wait, there's more! See, because Sentai episodes often start with the heroes in their everyday garb, instead of being ULTRA-TEAM or whatever, our characters start that way too, nearly every "Episode". And once they hit a certain number of Fans, they can CHROMATISE (or whatever you've chosen to call it.) What does that do?

First off, it relocates all party members to a certain position (don't ask me how it's worked out, I haven't fully checked, and it's probably subject to change), and it fully heals the party as they're given a second wind by their magical powers. It also boosts their damage on hitting folks, and allows them to use their Special Abilities.

I think we've hit another level of tactical choice here. Because when you Chromatise is an important tactical consideration. On the one hand, you can thin out mooks just fine by using Teamwork, and you can, if you're canny, even damage bosses that way. But you can only get that sweet, sweet full heal once per Episode, and, to make the choice harder, you can't use some of your best attacks (including the Finishing Move) until you've done it. Some Episodes, for extra challenge, don't let you Chromatise at all.

This is already sounding above the depth level for your average Western RPG focused on combat, where, yes, you have more options to start with (Do I use Magic Missile, or Paralyzing Ray, or [goes on for half a minute]...?), but they amount to, in essence, much the same things (Do I do ranged damage? Do I do melee damage? Do I play Rock-Paper-Scissors with Elemental damage?). It even cuts down on options in the game that are objectively less useful than their counterparts with other party members (DnD Psionics, I'm looking at you!)

Remember folks, more choices doesn't necessarily mean extra depth. It's terribly easy to confuse the two, as games have shown in the past. But we then come to a very important question: Even if it were shallow, would it be badly designed?

For the answer to that, let's look at what it's aiming for. Firstly, it's aiming for being fun, as games often do. This is a largely subjective thing, and so we're going to largely skip it. I personally find it fun. Secondly, it's aiming to simulate (to a limited extent) the genre of TV it's based on. So I'll sum up what characterises Sentai, and we'll judge based on that whether it succeeds.

Various incarnations of Kamen Rider. Budget for each costume? Probably around £150, if that.

Sentai Shows Are Often Low Budget

Anyone who's seen Power Rangers has seen one of the higher budget Sentai Shows produced. Especially when they got into movie territory. But most Sentai Shows are not like that. Take a look at Ultraman, or early Kamen Rider. They're low budget as hell. Hell, go look up the Sentai version of Spider-Man, a thing that exists, and both amuses and horrifies me as a Spidey fan.

In Chroma Squad, you start with a budget of $1000. Your first season is mostly filmed on the street, or in warehouses, your costumes are made of buckets, cloth, and hope, and, no joke, one of the studio "upgrades" you can buy is... an SD camera. SD, as in "Standard Definition for the modern day."

There's also a mechanic for recycling your old stuff to craft new stuff, with no guarantee you'll get anything useful out of your old costumes or weapons. And most of your "filler" episodes (which you're contractually obligated to record) won't make you more than around $50. At best.

Yeah, I think it nailed the feel of a low budget studio. And that's without going into the jokes on the subject, like Cardboard Boxer or the girl who doesn't get dialogue, because she wasn't paid for that. That's actually a really common thing in film extra work, as an aside: Talking roles pay more.

Sentai Shows Are Fuelled By Their Fandom

It sounds obvious, but when you factor in that Sentai Shows are often recorded on a stupidly low budget, every fan who might be able to pay you a favour counts, especially in the early days... Especially since those favours might be material for the show, such as access to filming venues. And, in Chroma Squad, your fans count in multiple ways. You can't Chromatise without pleasing fans. You can't earn diddly if you disappoint your fans, and there are emails you'll get from fans that may unlock better gear or certain episodes down the line.

Again, this nails it, as Sentai groups often do live performances, and, like wrestling, it's the Call to the audience that determines what happens.

Amazingly, I couldn't find some cool flips. But trust me, Sentai has them in SPADES.

Sentai Fights Are Flashy, And Often Formulaic

Game design wise, this one seems like a gimme: Strategic RPGs have fixed fights with scripted behaviour that you're meant to exploit to win. But let's look at the formula a little for a standard fight.

  • Mooks ambush our heroes.
  • Fight ensues, and there's a lot of flipping around, positioning, and double-teaming.
  • The heroes discover that there's Too Many, and decide to POWER UP!
  • Mooks (and even the Big Bad) stand back and let this happen (generally, there are exceptions)
It's important to note that a Big Bad rarely enters the fray while his mooks are still standing, and if they do, the heroes generally only defend themselves until it's time to power up.

This formula is heavily encouraged in the first Episode, with Fan Requirements. These are essentially little challenges that get you more Fans (and thus more money, gear, and little things you need to craft shit), and, in this case, we have certain challenges for the three Acts of the first Episode (I've been capitalising these, by the way, because they're essentially different names for, in game-design parlance, Levels.)

First act, you have to do three "Team Acrobatics" (use Teamwork to move people further), and all be above 50% health by the end of the fight. So there's your flipping, and the impression that the Mooks are just... Well, Mooks.

The Big Bad of the Season reveals himself (and he is suitably silly), and the Second Act begins. Here, we have to beat four Mooks in one turn, and beat the last with a Finishing Move. Suitably dramatic, but it's important to note two things here: Firstly, the first requirement isn't possible without taking some form of beating, and secondly, the optimal strategy here is to go for one of the corners, lure four guys in, get them down to half health or less, smack 'em down, and the last guy gets lured into the Finisher.

This is often what happens in a Sentai fight.

Finally, we have the Third Act. Cardboard Boxer has entered the scene, surrounded by mooks. But if we want the full Fan Appeal, we have to beat CB with a Finisher, and we mustn't attack him until all the Mooks are gone. Again, it works with the theme, and proves challenging, because Cardboard Boxer isn't restrained by your petty heroic rules, and he hits like a bag of lead bricks.

Cardboard Boxer. In all his, er... Glory. Yes, Glory.

From the get go, it's there.

So now we come to the points (for lo, there are multiple) of this post: Firstly, choices do not equal depth, and just because you don't see the depth, doesn't mean it isn't there. More importantly, though, people conflate depth or choices with Good Game Design, and that just isn't true, because choices can balloon out of control and make the game messy, and layers of depth, as we've noticed, don't matter a jot if people don't notice.

No, it's far more important that you do what you set out to do, and keep it fun. Clickr isn't a game with the depth of Age of Wonders 3, but I enjoy both equally, because they're designed around their main themes and mechanics. So far, Chroma Squad is doing what it set out to do. It's by no means fully balanced yet, or easy enough for the newbie to get it on their first try (Speaking of: PUT YOUR TUTORIAL BACK IN, BEHOLD STUDIOS, REGARDS, A. GAMER), but, at least so far, it looks to be tightly designed around its theme, and that puts it in my Good Books for now.

The Culture of Fear (Not Just American)

Now, way back in 1999, there was a guy called Barry Glassner, who wrote a book called The Culture of Fear. It was all about scaremongering in american media, and how it had a knock-on effect of drawing attention away from larger threats (online pedophilia coverage leading to ignoring domestic abuse, that sort of thing.) But, to me, the term "Culture of Fear" doesn't just cover the media. It covers a much greater cultural problem.

We are taught to fear the strange, the different. We are often conditioned to distrust a friendly gesture, because it might have strings attached to it. This, as you might expect, leads to other problems: Homophobia, Islamophobia, Russophobia, Gyno- and Androphobia... The list goes on... And on... And on. Because while we are taught to fear the stranger, our guidance on which strangers to fear doesn't just depend on our teachers, or our authority figures (each with their own flaws and possible prejudices), but on our experiences. Let's use yours truly as an example.

I'm not ashamed to say that I instinctively dislike loud people, people who are in physically demanding professions, and women who show no obvious intellectual leanings, and this is for two reasons. Firstly, knowing that instinct is there means being able to deal with it. I'm sure there are some swole friends and family members who are somewhat surprised to learn this. Secondly, I know where it comes from (bad experiences, at least some of which were at least partially my fault, in school, school, and college, respectively.) I could babble on for hours about all the little tics and prejudices I've built up as a relatively self aware man, but I won't, because it would be boring. But let's briefly go into another reason why I could be saying that, as another example.

"Man up", "Be strong", "Grow a pair." All of these things, or some variation thereof, will be quite familiar to people discussing the negative side of their feelings. But they'll also be mentioned when, say, you like a girl, and don't feel confident enough to ask her out. It's meant as a confidence booster, in many cases. But it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes, it's construed that feelings are a sign of weakness. I'll occasionally hear such things from my window (overlooking the main road) in both constructive and destructive contexts. But there is a general theme here: Feelings Bad, Face Good.

Actually, that's one of the more interesting things I've taken away from my English course: The concept of Face. Face (to any little green men reading this) is the concept that our social worth is presented by the image we present to the world. But the qualitative value we give to Face depends entirely on the subculture we're presenting to. For example, in Retail/Corporate culture, this visually means a very specific sort of image (Longer hair only on women, clean shaven, dressed in uniform, preferably smartly), and following the rules of the store and culture, sometimes to your own detriment (Always treat a customer with respect, Look happy/pleasant, even when you're not feeling it, that sort of thing). Obviously, measures are taken to minimise harm to your mental and physical well being (You have a certain amount of paid "Sick days", holiday, etc, counselling is sometimes available)

But certain values of Face hold across subcultures, and indeed subcultures: Do not confide in strangers, do not burden others with your woes (both because you will make them feel worse, and because you are giving someone a free pass to your weaknesses), do not sing in buses (for lo, it annoys others, especially if you can't actually sing in tune)... The list goes on. These are, as I'm sure will be appreciated, for people's protection, but, partly due to the media aspect of the Culture of Fear, and partly due to humankind's general lack of capability with "soft" rules like this (We humans don't do exceptions to rules well), people often err on the side of caution (a common human phrase) to their own detriment.

So now we come to what brought this whole ham-handed discussion of a very big (and very sensitive) subject: I'm a friendly guy, but I'm the first to admit I'm not good with this whole "socialising" thing... Mainly the communication end of things (Yes, I know, there are peeps who think I'm "witty", "a laugh", and "smart", but like the rest of you, I'm dumb as well as smart, and just as likely to put my foot in my mouth or depress folks as anyone else... Good examples being me turning my lunch into charcoal briquettes today, and this blog post). So it mystifies me when I make a gesture I see as friendly, and it's misinterpreted as "creepy" (this has happened quite a few times), or is ignored. Sometimes, after the fact, there is a perfectly logical explanation afterwards of why this was a dumb or creepy thing to do, and this always elicits a hefty apology from me, but many times, I make simple, friendly gestures, and they're either rebuffed harshly, ignored, or people look at me as if I've grown a second head.

I haven't, as an aside, but not for want of trying. A second head would rock. Anyways, in closing, I want to reassure people: Yes, there are bad people, but most folks are just trying to get through their lives, and some of us just wanna be helpful. These helpful people are, again, mostly not schmucks, or out for something (except maybe a new friend), and even the not-so-helpful people are mostly okay, with roughly the same amount of little neuroses, tics, and prejudices as the next person.

Here's a really good example of a good sentiment tainted by cultural prejudice: The world would be a cooler place if people understood each other. "Isn't that just corny, LOL?!?"

Doesn't make it any less true. Anyways, if you thought this was whiny, welcome to the Human Race. We kinda suck, but you're a part of it too, and you can make it better.