Pandemic: Week 8

We have a tentative back-to-the office date now: June 8th. That’s the best case scenario.

It’s finally official-we’ve got an alternate date for the wedding in October.

This has been an exhausting week, so I’ll just leave you with a smattering of links.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/underlying-conditions/610261/

https://www.npr.org/2020/05/07/851712311/u-s-field-hospitals-stand-down-most-without-treating-any-covid-19-patients

https://www.newyorker.com/news/us-journal/how-the-coronavirus-pandemic-has-shattered-the-myth-of-college-in-america?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://local.theonion.com/man-not-sure-why-he-thought-most-psychologically-taxing-1843004933

Pandemic: Week 7

Lucky number 7. We successfully flattened the curve in Mass, avoiding hospital overcrowding. The fight is far from over, but it seems like the horror of Lombardy will not be visited on us. As long as we stay inside. Meanwhile New York was devastated and some places are already opening up. The uncertainty isn’t over, and there is no new normal yet.

Making exciting amounts of progress on flythrough.space. In order to get fleets into the game I’ve needed to do a bit of refactoring, but it’s actually been very nice because everything player-related goes through the PlayerSave object so as I hack it up I’m also adding unit tests. I probably should have written them a long time ago, but the second best time to write tests is right now!

We’ve had a couple of mercifully sunny weekends to bookend the dreadful rain so we’ve been making great progress on our project to clear the vines and pricker bushes out of our yard. The vines are Bittersweet (we think Orbicalatus) and have already brought one tree down. We’d like to prevent it from taking the next one down too. Be somewhat cautious when fighting with bittersweet vines-many of the scratches got alarming (though temporary) reactions. Speaking of trees, the town took down a tree in our front yard that had enveloped some power lines and that might be the most exciting thing that happened all week.

Pandemic: Week 6

Are we nearing the end? It’s a bit of a time of suspense – will the quarantine end soon, or are we in for another month or two? Uncharted territory.

Had a really fun DnD session via Zoom. I guess it’s finally time to make the jump to 5th edition. They really streamlined the Wizard class. We’ve also been taking long drives to nowhere.

I’ve been making really rapid progress on http://flythrough.space. I expect to do something resembling a release soon. I’m not sure when I should call it done. There’s certainly more space to fill out, more balancing, and, like, sound. But Plunder, shot impacts, and other real game features are in. And I seem to be nearly done with ship models, leaving only some tidying up and shot models to go.

Digital Native: workflows

Made in Renoise with a Monologue sample, the same Cheetah drumkit I used for BattleMETAL, and an Ob-Xd. Mastered in Reason.

I wrote the melody in Reason (sequenced on some ABL-3s, played on Manis Iteritas), exported each measure as a separate file, then imported them all into Renoise and painstakingly sequenced them back in order so I could write drums on top. Then I exported the tracks, put the drums back into Reason, and finished the track. This took quite a bit of time but the results speak for themselves.

Sequenced entirely in reason, with mouse-edited drums and mostly ABL-3’d synths (starring the TAL-Bassline 101).

ABL-3s driving Manis Iteritas again, except this time the sequences where random! I let the machines go and automated the whole thing in one epic train ride into Boston.

Pandemic: week 5

The Culprit

This week got interesting. 60mph winds took down power lines and left our street (along with hundreds of other people in New England) without power. I remember how safe we’d felt when we stocked up. Having to throw away so much meat that had spoiled was painful, as was having to go out again, as was having the illusion of security shattered.

This week we, bizzarely, saw protests demanding an end to the lockdown. They appear to be AstroTurfed.

Pandemic: Week 4

We’re in the shit now. People I know and family of friends are starting to test positive. I imagine that this will be a difficult spring. Horror stories are coming out about what it’s like to be on a ventilator. Send a letter to your grandparents.

I can only speak for myself, but any attempt to suppress my vote this November by disrupting the USPS will be unsuccessful.

Pandemic: Week 3

This is where we started the week, giant tent hospital in the middle of central park. Vigilantes locking people in their homes. Some are still flagrantly violating the quarantine order but as evidenced by video of empty streets, it seems that most are complying. More people in the US have died of Covid then died on 9/11.

(u/Mholz)

Scott Aaronson wrote a very strong Mean Culpa regarding his initial reaction to the outbreak. I’d like to see more of these. Here’s mine: I totally bought into the propaganda that masks don’t help. They obviously do and I’m a contrarian idiot for arguing even the most watered down version of the anti-mask position.

In the context of private industry being praised for it’s response to the pandemic, this article is very interesting, showing how the medical device industry utterly failed to produce the ventilator stockpile that we now so desperately need. We needed a Manhattan project, we got a OICW program. Speaking of utter failures, this opinion piece by the Boston Globe clearly lays out the case against the trump administration.

We’ve run out of Bananas, beginning our slow crawl towards needing to go out and get food again. My worry is that we’ll be unable to stock up for longer then a week again and be forced to return to the grocery store too frequently. I’m hoping that the panic will have turned to a grim march by that time. We shouldn’t need to go out and get food until next week.

I can’t believe we’re three weeks in. It feels like just yesterday that I was back at the office. I keep telling myself that I’ve adjusted well, but I’m not so sure.

But hey, I released Digital Native, a collection of tracks I’m extremely proud of. I also published (on this blog) my essay laying out the case against fan remakes.

Don’t remake an old game

I’ve seen this way too often. A flashy trailer, some assets, a community project, a feverish dream at reclaiming the glory of games when they seemed new to you. I have made this tragic mistake, but you don’t have to. No matter how much you want to, do not pick up a 20+ year old video game and start trying to make a remake (in Unity! In Unreal! In Godot!) I’m not saying that you will fail, but I’m saying that you probably won’t get what you want.

You won’t get the IP

In order to use the name “Your Favorite Game” you will need to purchase it from the existing owners. If nobody is producing sequels it’s probably because the IP holder has chosen not to. You will not be able to contact the IP holder and if you manage to, they will not sell it to you. If they do offer to sell it, it will be at a price way outside of your price range. If you wanted to purchase it at that price, you’d need to take out a loan, you’d need a business plan, and the project would very quickly not be fun anymore. You could also just sort of not quite use it and hope that the IP holder does not decide to shut you down. But getting the name is extremely important, because the path is littered with other semi-remakes that didn’t use the name, and you didn’t like any of them. Somehow, none of them had “it” because you’re still looking at remaking the old one, not playing someone else’s remake. Will you fare better?

The myth of fans

But I have a ready-made audience! You cry. Except you don’t. Videogames are massively more popular now than they were when Your Favorite came out. The audience for games has increased in size but the number of fans of Your Favorite has remained constant. It might be because genres have moved on. It might be because other franchises took up the banner. But the number of people who potentially enjoy The Remake is actually much smaller than the original fanbase was. Some people will have drifted away and don’t care anymore, some have probably moved on from gaming. Some may never have existed, because you don’t know what the sales figures are for Your Favorite and it was released before social media and steam statistics so you can’t really be sure what the size of your audience is. What about the number of active posters on the discord/reddit/forum where people desperately wish someone would finally come out with The Remake? That seems like a reasonable proxy. Go find this number (I bet it’s less than 100, but you may have better luck.) This is likely to be the maximum number of people who will care about The Remake. If you still want to embark knowing that you’re working for that audience exclusively, read on.

The myth of memory

So your intended audience is the people who are still online right now clamoring for The Remake as they have been since Your Favorite didn’t get the sequel it so richly deserved. But these will also be your harshest critics. Like you, each individual who played Your Favorite had an idea of what the game was, but they’ve each had twenty plus years to elaborate on that idea, and these imagined games have diverged. There will be a multitude of conflicting expectations which will mean that you cannot possibly satisfy them all, or even most of them. Indeed, because they (and you) have had years to embellish this imagined sequel and for their expectations to diverge, it’s possible that no game will satisfy them-no game will ever live up to what they want. The Remake may not have a ready-made audience, but it does have its first and harshest critics. But surely new technology will allow you to wow them, right?

The myth of progress

Making games is so much easier now! Surely if I take modern tools such as Unity, Unreal, Godot, Source, Lumberyard, etc, I will be able to rebuild this old obsolete game with minimal fuss. This may be true for arcade games like Space Invaders or Asteroids, but Your Favorite is only about 20 years old, so this is a misguided attitude. The tools of game creation are very good at making modern games. If you are building a sophisticated but off-the-beaten-path project, you are as much on your own as the original creators of Your Favorite where. Which is not to say that you can’t create original titles with modern tools-just that by constraining yourself to an archaic design, you may not be winning yourself any saved effort. You’re not a wizard from the future, coming back to build a castle with magic spells… you’re pounding in nails with a cordless drill. Modern game engines have primitives for things like “guy walking around” and “wheeled vehicle.” Trying to mimic the behavior of weird bespoke setups from the time before physics engines will result in very little off-the-shelf stuff to use. Same goes for a million other quirky modes of interaction with games that have ultimately been replaced with stuff like “reasonable defaults” and “realistic physics.” You’ll be reinventing the wheel constantly. You might be able to make it look nice, but many (most?) such projects stop there.

The Right Move

What should I do? If you really want to share the joy that Your Favorite brought you, you need to figure out what it is about the game that you found enjoyable. Consider the cargo cult; to recapture the bounty of cargo drops, people (so the story goes) built elaborate fake airstrips, thinking that if they created the right conditions, cargo would appear. I see the same in remakes – “if we take the art assets (or clone them, or redo them but off-brand-enough that we don’t get sued” and keep the gameplay exactly the same, it’ll be awesome!” Don’t do this. What you need to do is break down the design of Your Favorite, and figure out what it was that made the game compelling. “Everything” is not an acceptable answer, you need to be critical. You need to think about what you can reproduce in $CURRENT YEAR and what’s an artifact of its time, like compromises due to affordances of the platform, or time constraints. You must translate those compelling aspects into your future projects, and discard the anachronisms and sacred cows and genre conventions that belong to the past. Make your own game.

Pandemic: Week 2

This article does a very good job of pointing out what we should have seen coming, but I disagree with the conclusion. I don’t think it takes any sort of specialized ‘complex systems’ thinking to observe the actions China was taking and realize that soon everyone would be in the same situation. I think the problem was simpler – people have a hard time imagining that the world is going to change very quickly, or that something will affect them. You see the same thing with a lot of risk taking.

https://weather.com/coronavirus/l/41.8934,-70.9117

This tweet chain: is a good summary of what it was like to experience the evolving situation at Slack, a company we and many others use for chat and videoconferencing. There is competition at Hopjump between Slack and Zoom. There are a few macbooks that won’t run Slack calls with a mic, and Zoom offers hilarious backgrounds. But we all already use slack and it removes the overhead of notifying people that the call is starting, distributing the link, etc. I suppose this is the sort of problem an IT department would solve by A) mandating it’s favorite be used and B) fixing everyone’s computer, but we where caught at an especially inopportune time when we’d just engaged an IT services provider. Let’s keep this theme of articles going. This hefty think piece puts the whole situation in an interesting perspective.

is there any benefit to reading all of this, at this point? We’re already doing what we can by avoiding all human contact. We don’t need further convincing. At some point there have to be diminishing returns. I can’t believe this week is already over.

Let’s instead talk entertainment. Nine Inch nails released new Ghosts this week, can’t wait to listen to it. Tiger King (Netflix) is absolutely bonkers, like /r/unsolvedmysteries meets /r/hobbydrama. It’s got a cast of zany, homicidal characters who are all accusing each other of larger than life crimes. I finished the cover for an EP-type thing and I’ll probably drop it next week. I finished painting another 40k miniature.

Playing a 90s web game in the 20s

The first videogames I recall playing where applets on the early web. I’ve decided to explore what I can find of these games on the Internet Archive. I’ll leave notes on how to run them yourself and where to find them so you can follow along.

The Pantheon of game sites was, more or less Alfy.com, Ezone.com, and MoFunZone.com. When the flash era hit, we got Newgrounds, Addictinggames, and ArcadeTown.

This is the earliest capture of alfy.com, from 1999. It’s not the screen I’m most familiar with, but I’m curious to see which games are present already. It appears to be constructed entirely of image maps, so we need to inspect it to find any of the links.

Tail Gunner, Javanoid, Missile Commando, Urbanoids and Asteroids I definitely remember, and we’ll certainly get to them later. This landing page from May 2000 is closer to what I remember:

I’m sure the layout is somehow janked up by my up-to-date browser, but that is the gist of it. Some websites used to be like this. The different clickable sections are sharply rasterized images. There are probably a bunch of things on here which I’ll explore later, but most of my time was spent in the arcade tab.

At just the right resolution, the utterly noisy but correct layout is evident (this is the space games section. I recommend checking these pages out; static screenshots don’t do it justice. Everything is animated. I already recognize a ton of classics just from the little portal views.

Let’s try some games. You’ll need to install the JDK so that you have appletviewer available as a command. To do that in Ubuntu, use

sudo apt install openjdk-8-jdk

In order to make these games run in appletviewer, you need an HTML file that calls them. When I run appletviewer, I get

java.security.AccessControlException: access denied ("java.lang.RuntimePermission" "accessClassInPackage.sun.audio")

Good to know that this was discussed on Usenet in 2001.

Ok, so let’s install virtualbox, download windows 98, and give it a shot!

I needed to enable virtualization in my BIOS to make virtualbox work. Also I set up the good display driver because when I tried it initially the colors weren’t right.

That old familiar sting

But the display driver wouldn’t work! The radio button sets it to the driver, but it still thinks it’s disabled. Bummer. I also tried installing ie6 with winetricks, but it was too unstable to use

I triple dog dare you

Let’s try windows XP! We’ll apparently need the JVM. In order to get that on there, I burned a virtual cd which seems to be the easiest way to get files into your virtualbox PC. And it works! At least for some of the games. Check out this one on the author’s site: http://www.javaonthebrain.com/java/warp15/

Level 1: Mean Green Virtual Machine

This had the best graphics and probably made the strongest impression on me. The green/purple stuck with me enough that it’s the base color scheme for my 40k army now.

I probably haven’t played this game in twenty odd years. Does it hold up?

Well, the graphics are amazing. The author used POV Ray to make vibrant raytraced sprites that look great even in 2020. But the gameplay… Well, it’s impossibly hard. The controls don’t work quite right, you can only have two shots on screen at a time, collisions are wonky, and it’s very easy to accidentally slam into a wall and die.

Maybe I’ll return to get some other games working, maybe I won’t. I suspect that the problem with other games is that the assets aren’t in the archive, and if a more current source could be found they’d work just fine. Also some may require newer versions of Java. I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader. May I recommend SuperKid.