The other day I was reading Sicart’s “Play Matters” blog and he footnoted a book called Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (1990) by Stephen Nachmanovcitch. Was it Sicart’s blog that I found it in? Hmmm… anyhow, its great! I bought it!
Honestly, the cover looks a little cheesy, but any book that first quotes Henry Miller on painting, is a good one in my… umm
The book is all about getting that inspirado back! Whenever I pick it up I am immediately inspired into a more creative state of mind. Actually it’s more than that. What I’ve been looking for is a bit of inspiration to make a game, or so I thought. Inspiration is that motivation to create, but sometimes there is also something stopping us, and this book got me thinking about that aspect as well. We might have all the motivation in the world, but if there is a creative block somewhere somehow, creativity and ideas don’t get very far.
What is my block? I’ve been thinking about it…
So this is my issue: the pressures of life.
No biggie, right?
I have ideas and creativity, but I don’t have the technical skills to be able to do what I want in game design. I don’t know shit. And how to get those skills? Well you gotta learn and practice, day in and day out. What is the primary force for practicing? Its C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dolla dolla bills yall! No, well not only that, its the spirit of play and nothing kills the spirit of play like a large looming tidal wave of debt casting a shadow over every moment of every day of your miersable life.
Poseidon, the God of Graduate Student Debt, coming to collect
I have a job. I make an extremely modest amount of money for my profession and the lack of money and financial stability is totally ruining my ability to play. Whenever I think about starting up some game engine practice or rekindling some how to programming course I get impatient and end up giving up because I’m too focused on the goal of making something that will be commercially successful and hoist me out of the tar pit of debt.
Since I was a kid, I always loved to draw. I was that kid that was way better at drawing than you. I got better not because I was thinking about the moneyz, or to be cool, but because it was just a joy in itself to play around and see what I could do. Actually though, tellingly really, I stopped making art in high school because my teachers didn’t like us to do whatever we wanted to do, they wanted to teach us certain rules of art and make us do projects that I thought were rather boring and dull. They also started talking about how hard it would be to be an artist in the real world. All art had to have some commercial value suddenly. In the end I became all jaded about art, and then life happens and fucking bills happen. Now, I do not draw very often at all. The well is almost all dried up. How sad! :*(
What’s left of my artistic skills… in action
There is hope though! I actually hadn’t thought about how the letting the pressures of life get to me was sabotaging any progress towards learning more about game design. I wasn’t thinking about play, I was thinking about product. Now I know the err of my ways and “knowing is half the battle”, like G.I. fucking Joe said! Now I just gotta lay all my worries aside and forget for a time about the big goddamned tidal wave of debt, family crises, thoughts of death, the pressures of my career, etc. If I can manage that, then I can actually learn something. Easy-peesy, right?
So today I did a little playing around with Twine 2. I put that shit out of my head, …sorta. I followed a lady’s wonderful blog about creating an RPG in Twine 2 until the mid point of part III. After she gets to arrays, I got lost, but I did it. It was actually quite the learning experience and I highly suggest it to those who have a hard time grasping computer logic. The reason I say this is because most tutorials about game design try to avoid code or if they don’t, they just assume you get all this computer logic bullcrap. Arrays? Dude, that’s my middle name…s!
One of the nice things about using Twine is that you don’t need to create art assets and stuff, and then create code to manipulate them as first steps. I like 2d games, but this is as far as they teach me: how to move a player around some 2d space and that’s where it usually ends. Now go off and make games! Wait, my player is stuck on the corner of a block. Jumping doesn’t feel right. This game looks like a piece of trash. On the other hand this RPG experiment from the blog, in many ways, gets to the mathematical heart of games
the evil robotic emptiness that Appolonians worship and that’s the real lesson that I needed.
One of my favorite games from my childhood is Final Fantasy 4. If I were to make that game before my recent Twine 2 experience, I would have started with creating a character, some background that it moves around in and some other crap, but now, I understand that I would make a maths system. The money system, the experience system, the hit point, damage, weapons, armor, stats etc. systems. The fun of FF4 (aside from progressing through the story) are (1) exploring the maps and (2) the solving of the puzzles that each battle encounter presents you with. Underlying the puzzles is this big ass mathematical system, and apparently even underlying the exploration and story aspects as well. If I understand this correctly, the assets (including the text of the story) are just little puppets moved around by the system or by the player, via the system.
Pictured: Final Fantasy
two 4 preparing kids in the 90’s for the grim realities of adulthood
So yeah, two pretty awesome moments of clarity: Get back to playing you poor bastard, and basic RPG’s should be the first game design to be taught to non-mathematical minded artsy fartsy, jaded, poverty struck game designer wannabes.