Tag Archives: catharsis

The Great Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part III–Rebirth

It’s been quite a while since I went on my sojourn of soul-searching, and I’m happy to say I have finally come to a few conclusions. I’m also happy to say that while I’ve been soul searching, I haven’t been idle. I’ll put that information out in a forthcoming blog post, but for now, let’s finish this odyssey.

First thing’s first. How’s that boxing game coming along?

It is, and it isn’t.

I’m going to finish the boxing game; in fact, I’m still working on it, but it’s going to have very little to do with Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Instead, it will make use of a new, revolutionary style of interaction that’s going to make the game actually worth playing. Instead of standing in one place, dodging back and forth, and throwing random punches, you’ll actually be able to circle the opponent, run around the ring, knock the opponent against the ropes, etc. What’s more, the framework for the boxing game won’t be just for boxing, but instead will have myriad possibilities including fighters and adventure games. And–oh yeah–I’m building it from the start to be multi-player.

Also, when I say “I’m building,” I mean that I’m actually working on the project right now–well not at this exact moment in time, but you get the picture. Currently, it’s possible to navigate the arena in true, 3D-style, approach the enemy, and pick up loose items (that last part isn’t for boxing). The project is making progress, and it has been fun to watch it grow. The boxing game/whatever it becomes isn’t the only thing I’m working on, however, and thus we come to my second conclusion.

I have wanted to design games for as long as I can remember, and once I realized I had the power to do so through coding, I turned game design into a part-time hobby. Just as I was picking up the hobby, however, my wife and I fell on hard times financially as a result of the cost of moving from Texas to Minnesota. As a way of helping to make ends meet, I attempted to approach Grey Matter Productions as a money-making venture. There were two problems with this approach, though. First, I knew squat about programming when I first started, thus making the likelihood of turning out a playable game right away infinitesimally small. Second, I was already working a more-than-full-time job, and the prospect of coming home and putting in another few hours of work at the end of the day was extremely daunting. You can imagine how much I got accomplished.

Thankfully, our finances have stabilized, and I have been able to treat Grey Matter Productions and game development in general as the hobbies they were intended to be. Interestingly enough, this has actually sped up development quite a bit, as I’m able to enjoy coding for the sheer sake of coding rather than working on it out of obligation.

Since what I’m doing is a hobby first and foremost, I’ve decided to treat it as such. This means that, from time to time, I may work on other projects as the interest strikes me or to avoid burn-out on a particular game. In fact, this has already come in handy when trying to break through a particularly tough road block in boxing; by taking my mind off of the current difficulty, I was able to stumble on a solution in a round-about way. I’m happier about coding than I have been in a long time, and I’ve made more progress in the past month than at any other time since I began this venture.

For those of you wanting a boxing game, you’ll get it, and when you do, it will be better-designed, more intense, and more feature-rich than its original incarnation. There’s also the upshot that I’ll like it more and thus will be more inclined to work on it. At the same time, however, you may have to wait a bit longer for it. That doesn’t mean I won’t be working, but it does mean that I’ll likely be working on more than one project at once.

It will all be worth it, though. Just you wait and see …

Pouring

                I guess I always knew somewhere deep down that there were going to be down sides to programming, but of late they’ve been cropping up in some very unexpected places. I expected to have to face some of the legendary heckling and complaining that almost all developers have encountered, but the community has been blessedly understanding and kind about the whole thing.

                Perhaps I’d better back up a bit here. A few weeks ago I received an email on the Audyssey list from a user who told me that Block Party wouldn’t run on his system and that he was getting error X. Having no idea what error X involved, I put out feelers, and I was told to put a specific line of code into the main module that would fix everything. I placed the line of code where I was told and uploaded the new executable to the site.

                I then went back to work on the boxing game, building in support for multiple punch types and perfecting existing sounds, only to discover that my current keyboard code didn’t support things like holding down keys. If I wanted to press up and A at the same time to throw a left hook, I could, but I couldn’t hold up and tap A at some future point and achieve the same result. Some people might argue that it makes no difference, but for some reason, the lack of being able to hold keys feels awkward to me, and I’d like to be able to fix it.

                So I started working on a solution. I went out and started researching Pygame, a Python library specifically designed for game development. (Some of you may recognize Pygame as the library used to code Sound RTS.) I figured if I imported the Pygame keyboard module, I could build in support for a lot of the keyboard-based stuff I really wanted. There’s also the added bonus that Pygame supports mice and joysticks as well. But just as I started my research, life started happening.

                First came the emails from the Audyssey list telling me that the new version of Block Party wouldn’t run on 64-bit Windows 7. I have to pause here to point out that the emails I have received thus far have been extremely cordial, and I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate that. After the emails, though, came a mountain of work at my job, and after that came some previously-made engagements which have taken up a significant chunk of my time.

                Today I finally had time to sit down and research the problem, and I came to the conclusion that I needed to roll back to the previous version and find another solution to the problem, only to receive more kind emails from people telling me that They—the emails’ authors—could now happily run Block Party’s latest version on their computers. Argh! Now I have to trouble-shoot Windows 7 64-bit!

                The most interesting and awesome thing about this whole ordeal is the response I have received from the blind gaming community. As I wrote earlier, I have received no negative emails about Block Party’s refusal to play nice with everyone’s computers. Especially given some of the epic flare-ups which have previously occurred on the Audyssey list, I was expecting to have to dawn my ceramic suit and dive for cover to escape the flaming. Instead, everyone has been very understanding and patient with me as I research and learn in an attempt to solve the problem.

                Which is probably why I feel so bad.

                You all have been waiting for months for the boxing game—almost as long as I have. I have been giving out teasers and snippets from time to time and writing about my progress in various forums, but real, tangible results of this project have not been forthcoming. I know deep down that there will be setbacks; I’ve written about them in a previous post or two, but I hate that they’re occurring at all. More than anything I want to finish this game and release it to the general public, but for some reason things just keep coming up. Maybe this is all a bit melodramatic, and maybe I’m just on edge after the whole Qwitter thing, but I keep feeling like there’s a clock hanging over my head, and when it strikes, there goes my credibility. The funny thing is: it’s not you; it’s me.

                Holy crap. I have to stop writing now before something even more cheesy comes out of my keyboard: “maybe we should just be friends.”

                Anyhow, thanks for letting me get that off my chest, and thanks for being so awesome about the whole thing. I promise I’ll make the end result worth it, and we’ll all have a lot of fun.

Catharsis

                When I was 14 my school loaned me a brand new, state-of-the-art laptop that possessed the ability to dial into the internet. It was a monster of a machine with all of 4 gigabytes of hard drive space, a detachable 3.5 inch floppy drive, and JAWS 3.2, and I loved it. For those of you who remember those early versions of JAWS, you’ll remember that the internet was a trying place to navigate full of inaccessible links and hard to read content. Still, the text games worked perfectly, and I suddenly had a new hobby.

                It started out with Telearena, a simple text-based BBS game with little to offer players beyond stock fights and repeated descriptions. Take any standard Merc mud, divide the fun quotient by 10, stomp on the result, set it on fire, then put the fire out with bleach, and you might come close to the enjoyment one could gain from playing it. Of course, it was the first game of its kind I ever played, and I was hopelessly entranced.

                From there it became Majormud, and then there was The Rose, Council of Guardians, by far my favorite of the BBS titles. But there were dozens more games out there, and I played them all.

                It wasn’t long, though, before I discovered the true potential for text-based gaming that actual Multi-user Domains (muds) could bring to the table—muds like Dreams, Discworld, and The Inquisition. There were others: Aardwolf, God Wars 2, BatMud, Achaea, 3 kingdoms, MUME—Multi Users in Middle Earth, and at least a score more. I even started spending money to play muds, shelling out both monthly fees and promotional charges to muds like Modus Operandi, Dragon Realms, and Lusternia. And because I know some of you mud enthusiasts out there are wondering, I did have a run at all of the Squidsoft games: Star Conquest, Galaxy Web, and Fortharlin. I even spent far too much time on Miriani—and no, I won’t link to that horrible twink of a game.

                But beyond the hundreds—possibly thousands—of dollars I spent mudding, the more detrimental cost came in the form of the literally thousands of hours I spent glued to my computer desperately trying to reach that next level, finish that elusive quest, or farm excessive amounts of gold and loot. I pretended to be sick from school and work so I could put in extra time on gaming. I stayed up playing until 3 or 4 in the morning, then honestly wondered why I could not stay awake in classes the next day. Instead of socializing with my peers—the people I worked and went to school with—I made virtual friends online. On New Year’s Eve, 2000, I rang in the new year with a handful of friends on a custom-built mud they had designed for just that purpose. Nobody invited me to post-high-school graduation parties; after the ceremony I went straight home and sat sadly in my basement, wishing I had made some real friends. But by that point I was well and truly hooked, and my addiction—for that’s what it was—persisted all the way through college. It followed me into my post-college work; it followed me to Hawaii, to Texas, and—finally—to Minnesota.

                I can only guess why mudding had such a profound draw on me, but any reason I give sounds more like a hollow excuse in retrospect. I suppose what it really comes down to is that I wanted to escape into a place where I could be powerful beyond what I could ever hope to accomplish in real life. In the real world I was a pudgy, socially awkward blind teen-ager who struggled with image and self-confidence, but online I was a swashbuckling warrior, a daring rogue, or a powerful mage, and no one ever needed to know that I was blind or a little heavy around the gut. Instead of facing my fears about blindness and getting involved in school and the community, I patrolled the streets of Lithmore as a reeve and defended the realm from murderers and thieves. People do this all the time with video games, and I can understand why. After a long, difficult day it’s sometimes fun to get lost in mindless entertainment. For some people it’s an episode of Jersey Shore; for others it’s a few games of Major League Baseball 2K11 on Xbox. But with muds, the game never ends. There is always that next goal waiting just around the corner for a dedicated player to come and attain it.

                I played my last text-based multi-user game on December 20, 2010, and I have no idea why. I had tried to quit before; I made it as far as a month during the Summer of 2009, and every day was a challenge. I would be reading a book or playing my guitar, and I would suddenly be overcome with an overwhelming desire to play something—anything—so long as it was a mud. In the end I rationalized my return to text-based gaming as a step toward moderation—a rationalization that lasted all of a week. It wasn’t long before I was back at it again, spending 12 to 16 hours in a single weekend in front of the computer. But this past Christmas vacation, a time I eagerly anticipated for the comparatively huge span it would afford me to mud, something weird happened. Before I knew it January 2 was upon me. I hadn’t mudded in 13 days, and I wasn’t bothered by it in the slightest. In fact, I was surprised, looking back on those two weeks, that so much time had passed.

                It hasn’t been as easy over the past few months as it was during those first two weeks. To tell the truth, the whole reason I’m writing this post today is because I’m fighting the persistent urge to log back onto Discworld or check the latest progress on God Wars. Even as I write, I am filled with nostalgia for those worlds of fantasy and imagination I no longer visit. But I know I can’t go back there. Just as in the past, it would start simply enough—an hour here or there—but before long I know I would spiral back down into my old habits.

                When I look at the above paragraph, I can’t help but think it comes across as a bit dramatic. I haven’t ever struggled with chemical addictions—drugs, alcohol, cigarettes—and I haven’t had to face down habits such as gambling that could destroy everything around me. Instead, I traded half my life—14 years—for gold and experience that amounted to nothing more than stats on a server, and I won’t ever get those 14 years back. I never hurt my body, but I did hurt myself, squandering my potential and talent on computer-generated orcs and meaningless collections of numbers rather than using it to better myself and the world around me.

                So why program games now? Why spend my free time creating virtual fantasies? I suppose it’s for that escape, that temporary journey to a place where each of us can forget about the world for a time and just dream. At the same time, though, I do it for the process. I love the thinking, the imagining, and the problem-solving that it takes to create something. I love knowing that I have the power to shape the world with the strength of my mind, and I love being the architect of my own imagination. I love that instead of following, I’m leading—even if I’m only leading myself.

                So I’ll keep struggling against my old habits. I’ll keep fighting the urges to slip back into the placid waters of inactivity. I’ll keep pushing against half a life’s worth of lost opportunities even though I know it won’t be easy. I’ve invested too much time and energy into this change, and I like the person I’ve since become. If spending time with this new me requires me to give up my lazy past, then I will happily pay that price.