<![CDATA[Fluttermind - blog]]>Mon, 29 Feb 2016 23:40:35 -0800EditMySite<![CDATA[Women]]>Tue, 16 Jul 2013 16:04:18 GMThttp://www.fluttermind.com/blog/womenYes. That's the title. Women.

How are you reading the word? Are you visualising me 'tutting' and rolling my eyes? 
Are you imagining me saying it in a bitter, resentful tone of voice?
Perhaps you see me smirking as I write, with a hint of lasciviousness.
Or are  you visualising the female gender made manifest in flesh, marble, or wood?

The truth is, none of the above are accurate. I'm sure a good number of people would choose one, or suspect one was intended.

Last year, we saw the whole Anita Sarkeesian issue erupt, horribly, showing quite how bleak and bile-filled our industry - and society as a whole - can be to women. 

Whenever a woman says something or does something that others disagree with, the Ad Hominem attacks begin, usually starting with her looks: clothing, hair, face, weight, choice of shoes, choices to have a child/not have a child. All are fair game, relevant or not. 

I know I'm not the first to point out how weird it is that women - regardless of status, position or merit - are routinely judged for their appearance over all other considerations. But this was highlighted for me again by a recent event involving Amanda Palmer. 

For those who are not aware of who she is, she's a songwriter/performer who has famously found her audience alone can support her songwriting, with no publisher or record-label involvement. An Indie, one might say. Just to console the readers: this isn't fanboy-ism. I like some of Ms Palmer's music (I prefer her angrier, earlier work). I've been to one of her concerts, and found it an event I'd probably want to repeat. But there is no idealised worship here. I merely think she is intelligent, witty, and has written some good songs.

Ms Palmer recently appeared at Glastonbury (gently ignored by the BBC coverage) and was mocked in the Daily Mail for one of those oh-so-newsworthy 'wardrobe malfunction' moments. 

What followed on the Mail's website comments was the usual tirade of hateful, debasing, disgusting misogyny that we, as an enlightened species should have stripped from our culture by now. I know one is not supposed to read comments, but these seemed somehow worse than usual - or perhaps I've avoided reading them for long enough for it not to seem 'normal'.

A majority of the comments were about the fact that she doesn't act/dress like a shiny, shaved little girly-girl. If you do not find this to your taste, that's your business. It's not something that should inspire abuse. Nobody would say the same things about a man.

At a recent concert in Camden, Amanda chose to make a retort to the Daily Mail in a song she wrote over the course of a couple of hours. She performed half of it naked, as a giant nose-thumbing to the newspaper's salacious/moralising tone. In it, she points out that when male stars try to be shocking by dropping their pants on stage (which they do from time to time) it is treated with a shrug. If a woman does it, the epithets begin to fly, and the frothers begin to froth.

For those who fancy it, the video is below (and apparently NSFW):
At the publishing of this video by a random fan, the unpleasant comments spread and continued on other websites (the Independent, being one notable example). Some were to the effect that she is an 'attention seeker'. Well, so is anyone who stands on the stage whether you like what they say or not. The fact that many others first commented on her appearance and then dismissed her saying that they had never heard of her would indicate that she has clearly not sought nearly enough attention. 

Through being a woman, and daring to eschew certain conventions of femininity, she apparently produced such a storm of anger that it arced over into criticisms of every other area of her life, professional and personal. Much like Ms Sarkeesian. 

One final comment caught my eye:  'She's talentless. What is she good for? Certainly not for marrying.'

I'm hoping it was ironic. Really, really hoping.

This is what inspired me to write this little post. Ladies and gentlemen: if you have daughters, I urge you to look at the media you consume, in whatever form. Whenever you see something negative printed/posted about a woman, pause and think how you would feel if it were said about your child... and try to imagine if that would ever be said of a man. You'll frequently find the answer is 'no it would not'. If this happens, then throw out that trash, or delete the link.

I, for one, hope your children turn out more like Amanda than the shaved, dancing sex-dolls trotted out in the name of entertainment. I hope they grow up to be confident, and independent, and strong in their beliefs, and unafraid to voice them, and happy with their bodies - whatever the shape, and can think for themselves, and through their determination and confidence change society into something that can see the word 'Women' as a just a word, and not an epithet.

Rant over.
<![CDATA[Goodnight, Sweet Prince. You Suck.]]>Sat, 16 Mar 2013 13:49:08 GMThttp://www.fluttermind.com/blog/goodnight-sweet-prince-you-suckIt's hard to write this after so many years as a game-player and developer, but I've had one too many Saturday mornings where I can't face playing anything on any of my consoles. I have to conclude that:

YMMV - I hope it does, but MMDNV. 

The last year has seen a glut of games that seem to be 'going through the motions', and that failed to engage me on even a superficial level. These were games where the gameplay was clearly considered 'thumb-candy' between FMV/Cutscene/Quicktime Events, where the world and its characters and their motivations were incredibly poor. While their teams had cinematic pretensions, they lacked the skill to execute them. 

But that's missing the point. I don't want games to be better movies. I want them to be better games.

Resident Evil 6... I am looking at you, squarely, right in your rotten, decaying face. I hate you. Once, you were the scariest of the scary genre. Since then, we've seen you move from Zombie Apocalypse horror into Bio-terror/The Thing parody and finally into sub-standard, yet standard Military Buddy Shooter. 

A point of note: if 'one guy wandering around a spooky house' is scary, you don't increase the scariness with each extra person you add. Thinking so indicates you have no right to work on a horror game. Hand in your notice.

I have waded through all the 'Gears of Medal of Honour of Duty of War' games. 'Waded' is particularly accurate because it is a word associated with slow passage, frustration, and an eagerness for the ordeal to end. 

Spectacular cinematic moments aside, the paired 'grunting buddy machismo' and 'run in, die, then run in slightly differently and get a tiny bit further' patterns have begun to chafe more than wicker underwear. It's not the difficulty - 'baby modes' are always available - it's the lack of 'fulfilling experience'.

I'm really bored. I'm bored by the explosions. I'm bored by shooting people in the head. 
I'm bored with 'killing people in their droves' being passed off as a general game-mechanic. It's not. It's a very, very specific game mechanic, in the same way that a 'Soya Chai Latte with 2 Sugars' is a very specific hot drink. Others are available.

During the '80s we faced a similar problem in mainstream cinema. Super-macho action movies were so ubiquitous that they occasionally began to parody themselves (both intentionally and unwittingly). Some of their stars even went on to openly state that they regretted playing a major part in so many brainless gun-fetishisation projects.

I am beginning to see why. It's not that violence in games is 'wrong'. It's that violence in games (particularly the mass-murder involved in most big-budget games) has started to feel silly, overused and tasteless. At some times it even feels a bit like this is our end-goal:
But, these games sell an incredible amount of units, which is enough for the guys making the decisions - the portfolio-deciding layer of major publishers - to repeat their previous games with minor tweaks. As long as people buy them, this kind of crass, banal crap will continue to dominate, which could end up being the death knell for big budget console games.

I know, I know. Vox Populi, Vox Dei. Democracy in action. But, people also watched Transformers movies in droves.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon made $1,123,746,996 in 2011. A lot of people who watched it knew is was going to be awful, but went anyway. 

Why? Well, there were enough flashing lights and explosions and blackhawk helicopters (does Mr Bay have a blackhawk-club-card or something?) to satisfy those who have never seen anything better. Literally.

Nobody tells potential audiences about the films that aren't this crap, so these are all they know about. It's like the marketing itself is a kind of pre-branding: "They spent 30 million promoting this... it must be entertaining, at the very least!" These same people moan that there was 'nothing good on at the cinema last year', having missed gems such as 'Cabin in the Woods'. 

Back to games: if I am buying my games from Tesco the shelf will hold maybe 20 different titles. You can bet that they'll mostly be 'Michael Bay' games for the same reason. But at least they won't contain horsemeat.*

(*this wry comment will not age well.)

A Rebuttal Against Rebuttals
Now, a lot of you will be rolling your eyes and preparing internal platitudes that fall foul of a number of logical fallacies:

  1. Dene has obviously not played the 'right' games.
  2. Dene has produced big video games. It is hypocrisy. 
  3. Dene now produces games for tablets. He has 'fallen' and wants to take down those who have not.
  4. Dene's message is unoriginal. He is just saying it to be part of an in-crowd.
  5. The future is mobile, and mobile games suck more, and are all evil with their F2P nastiness...

Let's look at these one by one.

Dene has obviously not played the 'right' games.
I think I've played 75% of major console releases in the last couple of years. Borderlands 2 and Far Cry 3 are yet to arrive, but at this point I'm getting through major releases slower and slower as my will to live drains away. I'll get around to them eventually, but it's not fun anymore, and that's wrong.

have enjoyed a couple of major console games over the last few years (the new XCom and Dishonoured being the standouts). I am, however, increasingly feeling this is a rarity, and that anger has replaced enjoyment.

Dene has produced big video games. It is hypocrisy. 
That's a logical fallacy right there. Murderers can disapprove of murder. I loved what we did with the Fable series, and genuinely felt like there was nothing else like it out there in the world. In a world of massive cinematic-wannabes, Fable still stands up as a (flawed) silly, fun game with a vast potential for self-expression. People still talk about the sheer tastelessness of the Darkwood Bordello, and the choices they made while playing. That's lovely.

The perceived consumer demand for greater graphical fidelity, and publisher desire for fast, regular turnaround now make that kind of game a rarity. We wasted a lot of time making Fable, fumbling around trying to make things work in a cool, unique way. Our result was not perfect, but I hope players could feel the love everyone put into it. It was a massive risk. We felt it paid off.

Nowadays, I rarely feel that I'm in a lovingly-crafted play-space (not just well-rendered terrain) when I play big modern games (Dishonoured being a rare exception). Instead, I usually feel I'm taking a studio tour at Warner Brothers; an actor dressed as a Dementor is going to leap out and try to scare me, and we'll all laugh and take another drag at our butterbeers (and be sent back to the beginning of the tour because he touched us). 

Game designers have a unique relationship with their audience. 
  • Films are about getting the viewer into another character's head, and watching his experiences. 
  • Games are about getting the player into another person's world and creating exeriences (even if that world is just a set of rules). 

These things are different, but somewhere along the line, we've shifted from the latter to the former, and it is ruining console games for me.

Dene now produces games for tablets. He has 'fallen' and wants to take down those who have not.
This is the 'motive fallacy'. The messenger's business goals do not automatically invalidate the message. As a consumer I will be delighted if big console games start living up to their expectations again. At the moment they are not, and I do not believe the ecosystem exists for them to do so.

This is not sour grapes. I do not covet a publisher relationship, or a big budget team. I would turn down any deal offered by a major studio now without hesitation.

I enjoyed The Room much more than 90% of the console games I played last year - mostly with vastly larger budgets. (Oh, they should be congratulated on their BAFTA, by the way. Really, really well deserved). Fireproof shows one potentially bright future for mobile/tablet. I do not see such a glint on the consoles.

Dene's message is unoriginal. He is just saying it to be part of an in-crowd.
I realise I'm late to the party. I know that the indie scene has been saying similar things for years, and that many like to make disparaging comments about people like  Phil Fish for his outspoken commentary.  I'll be honest; while on Fable 2 I heard a lot of similarly dismissive comments from indies and dismissed it as sub-punk-movement posturing. It seemed like some people had confused bravura with bravado. 

But they were right. The game I enjoyed most last year was Fez. Bar none. No contest.

I loved it. Not for some half-assed nostalgic reasons. Not for the nods, winks and nudges to old-school gamers such as myself. I loved it because the author made a vast world he loved and invited me to explore it, and to discover its secrets. That was it. For me, this is what gaming is all about; an invitation to learn about someone else's world... as myself.

I loved other games, too. Kairo - again, a world and an ambiance that tells me that it wants me to explore and have an interesting time doing so. Home - left me questioning the role of authorial intent, and how games' interactivity allows the audience to twist this. Amazing.

Ultimately, when I play these games, I don't feel I'm walking in the same footsteps I made ten years ago. Those footsteps are pretty deep now, and I've begun to stagger as I retread them.

The future is mobile, and mobile games suck more, and are all evil with their F2P nastiness...
A vast majority of mobile games also suck, regardless of their pay methods. The issues caused by a touch-screen versus a joystick often mean that traditional gameplay/control pairings have to be neutered in order to eliminate frustration. But this also opens up new opportunities, too, in the same way mice did when introduced a couple of decades ago.

 A touch-screen is 'just a controller' like any other, and needs to be treated as such.

When I provided the touch-screen 'slide to jump' in Incoboto, I found it made play much, much easier: you didn't have to move your hand from one corner of the screen in order to pick up, throw or otherwise interact with things. Some people misinterpreted the amount you had to wiggle your finger and declared that it was unresponsive. In truth, the travel needed to jump was less than that needed to lift and drop your thumb on a jump button. I know. I measured it. Likewise, in Year Walk, I've seen people move forward and backward by pinching the screen rather than swiping, making life much harder. 

The reason for this kind of difficulty is that touch-screens offer no feedback. this means it is much harder to know when you're doing something 'wrong'. This is a problem in need of solutions. We're still in the early days of figuring out our standards. We're currently seeing a lot of super-simplified skill-free games while developers figure out what works and what doesn't. The Room is a great example of how we can use this platform in a cool, interesting way that doesn't feel like a neutered half-arsed version of controls long-past.

As for F2P: it's just one funding model, and the games built around it tend to have a similar feel and flow. I think gamers are getting bored/annoyed with it, and we're beginning to see F2P as another genre, like FPS (even though it isn't, really). Its ubiquity will not necessarily last forever.

As the 'big boys' and their wholly bottom-line focused bosses get more involved with mobile and tablet games, we're going to see an increasing number of games produced with the same kind of attitude as the big console games: all bluff and bluster, and little emotional resonance or... game-play. 

Thankfully, all the while big publishers do not control the purchasing portals, I can't see tablet audiences exclusively playing 'realistic' cinematic blockbusters involving shooting people in the face ad-infinitum. Perhaps the next generation of gamers will see a more varied, vibrant and fresh world of games.

Bring it on. I can't face my console at the moment.
<![CDATA[BeMuse Teaser #3]]>Mon, 11 Feb 2013 18:42:22 GMThttp://www.fluttermind.com/blog/bemuse-teaser-3Picture
I've been working pretty hard over the last week to get the 'beMuse' art and tech requirements locked down. Last Friday, I managed to get my head around how all the different elements would come together: the Demons, exploration, magic, the interface, movement, lighting, the overall aesthetic and the palette-styles.

By the end of the day I had created something I was really pleased with. It both retained Incoboto's mood, but also pushed the aesthetic forward. 

I want to share this with the world, but I also don't want to give away too much at this stage, so I have - as before - purposefully 'fuzzed out' the image. There's a huge amount of detail in the image which has now been nicely obscured. Yay.

If I get enough tweets, I might do something reckless, like post a high-res image to the forum or something. We'll see.

Thanks to my brother, Simon, for suggesting that focusing on visuals for a bit would help my brain unfreeze. It has. I'm really delighted with the result, and utterly excited to bring a new, weird little world and its sweet/terrifying denizens to life.

Of course, if anyone wants to speculate about any aspect of what they can/can't see here, they are entirely welcome. There are a lot of clues here, even in this fuzzy state... if you look for them.

<![CDATA[Demon]]>Tue, 05 Feb 2013 17:53:32 GMThttp://www.fluttermind.com/blog/demonPicture
Here you are, folks. The first Demon concept for Bemuse. There is no name or gender attached. It is a Demon. Its name is unpronounceable .. and you probably wouldn't want to mess with that anyway.  

I want to create a weird, juxtaposed sense of awe and 'awwww!' with these beings. They each  have their own personalities, and different people will have different opinions about them dependent on their experience, past dealings, socio-political viewpoints and so on.

The main influences here are, believe it or not, moths and Glenn Marshall's generative art:

The video isn't directly linked to gameplay or even specific design elements.  However, its use of light, colour and motion make me think about how to make my Demons pretty even when they're just being enigmatic.

Bemuse's Demons are neither 'good' nor 'evil' in a traditional sense. They are utterly alien entities that should provoke a sense of... caution and mistrust. They are Demons and serve their own ends. Any good they do you is entirely co-incidental...

...and the costs may well be unpleasant. 
If I can, I'd like to do something very different, and force players to tweet to the deities during the day in return for their rewards... or otherwise have the game follow them into real life.

I'd be doing it to creep players out, and have them think about the game even when they're not playing it. 

Imagine being told: "Between dusk and dawn thou must tell me Dr Dee's most esteemed patron. Do this, and I shall grant thy boon." Could be cool. We shall see.

2D or not 2D, That is the Question

With Incoboto, the decision on 2D or 3D was extremely easy. I didn't have a 3D engine! In this case, since I'm using Unity, I have the option to alter my skill set and move toward making the game 3D, and more like the kind of cute stop-motion animation I grew up with (Moomins etc). This is a considerable challenge, and not to be taken lightly.

As such, I'm stuggling with the choice of full 3D or 3D plus some sprites. If I go for the full 3D, I don't know how well things like my Demons will translate. If I go for 'sprites in 3D' then it looks a little strange when rotating... and doesn't play to the strengths of mobiles, as overdraw/alpha is expensive.

If you have any opinions, or comments, please let me know. Would 3D be a disaster in your eyes?
<![CDATA[Influences for Bemuse]]>Mon, 28 Jan 2013 15:23:05 GMThttp://www.fluttermind.com/blog/influences-for-bemuseFor those of you wondering what's going on over here (bar waiting for Flaboo! to be updated in the App Store!), I'm busy at work trying to sort out the base technology for Bemuse. It's not my favourite aspect of work, and - in this case - is particularly tricky. Where Incoboto's chief technologies were physics, planets and orbits, Bemuse's are splines, horizontal rotation and navigation. They're areas where I have little experience, so it's taking quite a lot of effort to get them in any kind of working order.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few bits and pieces that are currently influencing my thoughts on the new game. Let's start with something kind of cute but cripplingly bleak at the same time:
See? Not so scary, was he? And didn't you feel sad? In case you aren't aware of it, the sentiment matches some of mine on the nature of human existence. 
That's why absinthe was invented. 

For Bemuse, my main takeaways from this were that it only takes a few odd bits and pieces to make something that might be cute into something alien and nightmarish. Oh, and that existential angst is powerful even once you're over 16, maybe moreso.
Let's follow up with something a bit cheerier.
I didn't lie! I said a bit cheerier. 

Here, my takeaways are the multiple layers of movement and form, and the use of fog to add colour and depth to the scene. While Bemuse won't be a silhouette game (and nor was Incoboto, really), there are some nice uses of 3D models in a 2D silhouette field that lend some real 3D-solidity to the piece.
Now for some music:
This is a major musical influence during this period. During Incoboto it was 'The Advisory Circle' which suggested 'The Corporation' to me. 

Julien's work has more shape and form than my ambient atmospheres, a bit more silence, and sounds more 'organic' to my ears. Where Inco's theme was friendship in a mechanical, lifeless universe, Bemuse's is a bit more 'pagan' than that: relationships between humans and deities in a wild, threatening world.
Childhood nighttime imagery will be incredibly important, and there's a certain melancholic simplicity to Julien's arrangements that evoke this... for me, at least. 

This long-running childhood imagery thing is also wrapped up in my main influence in Bemuse. Yes, it's 'The Moomins':
I love this setting. The world is beautiful and mysterious. Its denizens are all utterly unknown entities. The world has its own powerful and lethal forces. The protagonist is fairly helpless. Yet there is solace in hot-drinks, lamps and camp-stoves. 

I can't think of anything cosier on a winter's night...

...apart from Bemuse, if I do it right.
<![CDATA[Kawaiiiieeeeek!]]>Mon, 17 Dec 2012 11:49:45 GMThttp://www.fluttermind.com/blog/kawaiiiieeeeekPicture
Every so often a friend looks at my work, and then at my music collection and says: 

"I can't help but notice you have quite a few albums with skulls on. And sooo many 'Swans' albums..."

[for they are the embodiment of godhead, and here is the proof]

"...yet you paint pictures of bunnies."

It's true. This weird bipolar element slips into my work. Even Flaboo!, the Fat Chick's debut game features numerous messages in the background shown inciting people to do things like use air-horns in restaurants when other peoples' children scream. As for Incoboto... well, it's a whole game about dealing with the heat-death of the universe while a cute smiley face follows you around.

I've seen this kind of seeming disparity before: there's definitely a Genki-er end of gothic subculture, for example. 

On the face of it, I love darkness. I find great sources of inspiration in Poe, Gaiman, Bierce, as well as the music I listen to. But to my mind, it is all 'Romantic'. None of the material I love is ever really about death and darkness. It's all really about the totems and iconography we hide behind while observing difficult issues from a safe, thrilling distance. If it were really about death, nobody would buy it. There's nothing fun about death. Nothing.

As for why so much super-cute stuff comes into my own work... well... 

The truth is, I love cute. I love Hello Kitty. I love Miffy. I love the Moomins. I think the imagery and design in work like this has a kind of Jungian mythic reality to it; a fundamentally appealing 'truth' that children pick up on instinctively, and that some adults respond to as well. Or maybe it's the bright, friendly colours.


I'm not alone in my appreciation for imagery seemingly aimed at 10-year-old Japanese girls. Look at the 'Bronie' phenomenon of recent years. Masses of otherwise sane, macho young men openly appreciating some candy-coloured equines, dedicating time to express themselves via fan-pages, fan-music and a profound lack of irony. See the picture? That's Seth Green. He was in Buffy... and Austin Powers... and makes Robot Chicken... and voices Chris in Family Guy. And he's fondling a pony-leg. And he's a man. See the beard? It's a hint.

Like every pub bore, I have a theory. 

We are the blessed generation. Unlike our parents, we westerners have no Great Wars, no great epidemics, no great hardships to endure. We live in a uniquely peaceful time that stops us having to grow into sullen, bitter individuals utterly at the mercy of a whimsically cruel universe. Dogs and cats - growing up in their unnaturally sheltered environments - exhibit the same puppy/kitten tendencies.

In conclusion: I like the very, very dark, and the very, very light. I do not like the middle road. I don't like banal, the flavourless, the grey. I live in a time where I can largely pick and choose my reality. As such, I will choose the sweetest and the spiciest, the tangiest and the most effervescent of the things on offer.  

To paraphrase Ayn Rand (which I'm sure will get me a few hate mails/tweets):
Once you have identified black and white, why would you ever choose grey?

<![CDATA[Separation of news and Blog]]>Sat, 24 Nov 2012 12:53:56 GMThttp://www.fluttermind.com/blog/separation-of-news-and-blogI've realised that this site's main page should really be where people can come to find out what's going on in the real world rather than just inside my head. 

As such, I have decided to separate out the main page's 'News' blog, and this - my 'Blog' blog which will be filled with more personal witterings on all kinds of stuff, and not just news on Incoboto and Bemuse. Hopefully, you'll easily be able to see the difference and make a decision on whether it interests you a bit faster.]]>