Hello everyone from Tumblr

You’ve probably come here looking for more pictures to share.  I don’t really have any – sorry!  But I do have this:

It’s an animated short I did to encourage people not to give up.  You’ll tell yourself you’re worthless a thousand times over, but in the end it doesn’t matter as long as you keep at it.

So keep at it.

Actually, I do have these gifs I made.  You guys like gifs, right?

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New projects and old anxieties

I haven’t been updating as often as I’d like. This is because I’ve been losing faith in my ability to write. I’m not a writer; never have been, and I make no claims to be. Since any website/blog I’ve run in the past 15 or so years has been an entirely personal affair, that’s never bothered me before. But it’s starting to bother me now. I’ve written over 50,000 words since I started updating regularly in July last year, and being able to evaluate such a quantity of work all at once has allowed me to compare the good with the bad.

In other words, I’ve developed some standards. And for someone who has little faith in their ability to write well, that’s poison to productivity.

Sometimes I’d spend as little as 30 minutes writing something, anything to maintain the schedule. The Idiocracy rumination, which caused a minor furor on the Internet and garnered 350,000 hits last August, is one of these. Sometimes I’d simply copy and paste something suitably lengthy that I’d written elsewhere, like my defense of pretentious artists. Occasionally, though, I’d spend a couple of hours attempting to write something decent, and those are the ones I look back on most fondly. Like the one about old colour photographs, which for all of its rambling, stands as the piece of writing I’m most satisfied with. It had my favourite title, at least.  Or the one about popular internet criticism. Or the story about the time I got my photo taken in the street. I especially liked describing myself as a “furious C3PO”.

I’m running into similar problems with my next ‘big project’, which is a home-recorded album of mostly-acoustic music that, if a personal success, should function as a summary of everything I’ve been trying to say and do over the past year or so – a focus on honesty, personal expression, attention to detail and a truthful attempt at creating something very real and genuine. A natural progression from How the Whole-Hearted Live. I certainly hope people like it, and that someone finds some value in listening to it, but that’s not really the point. I just want to be able to listen to it and think “yeah, that’s me, warts and all.”

The trouble is that those standards are tricky buggers. I’ve been working on this thing since November 2011, and I have one completed instrumental track to show for it. That instrumental track took 50 hours. It’s the best thing I’ve ever recorded by a long shot, but to my ears it still doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as it should. Every time I hear something by a friend or colleague, I want to bin the whole thing, because they sound effortlessly good and I sound like one more try-hard twat with a shitty acoustic guitar. But it means everything to me. I know I sound a little crazy when I say that, and I know I’d probably be a lot more successful if I wasn’t so devoted to my ideals and I treated my work as, well, work. That would probably be healthier… but I’m afraid it wouldn’t mean the same.

But what’s to be done? It’s not like I’m ever going to ditch the album, or the blog. This stuff’s too important to me. I just need to whine about it once in a while. So here’s some details about this album that means everything to me and precisely zilch to you. It means precisely zilch to you right now, but if you ever find yourself feeling lonely at night, and you feel like you stand out in a crowd, and you feel like you live far too much in your own head… it might mean a little more to you when you hear it. I’ve never been able to say that about my music before, and it’s exciting to be able to say it now.

  • It’s an 8 track album called “The Secret of the Way Things Are”.
  • This is a provisional track listing, subject to change:

    1. House of the Gathering
    2. Hiding in Plain Sight
    3. Duma and the Elephant
    4. Courtly Matters
    5. A Wastrel Errant
    6. Drawing Moths
    7. The Secret of the Way Things Are
    8. Little

  • It’s mostly acoustic, ie songs I can perform by myself with nothing more than a guitar.
  • It’s quiet and sparse, because I’m sick of hearing badly-arranged loud loud loud music that doesn’t really need to be so loud. It’s a headphone album.
  • I’ll be performing it live once I get some experience of getting up on stage again.
  • It is indebted to the work of Carl Jung, Bill Callahan and Mike Nisbet, who I’m certain is one gushing compliment away from filing a restraining order against me for excessive fanboyism.
  • It will be a digital release, for free, but it will have cover art. Really good cover art, too. I can say this because it won’t be me who produces it.
  • I really hope to be able to get it to you around March time, and then maybe I can play it for people live and hopefully they’ll dig it.

So I won’t be giving up on the album, and I won’t be giving up on the blog. It’s just that the realisation that I should’ve been doing better is the very thing that bums me out and keeps me from doing better.

I never even thought about it that way until I just wrote it out there. Funny business, this writing lark. Maybe I’ll record something tomorrow.


Better Than Cheap: DoomRL

I’ve spoken before about the super-geeky genre of games known as ‘roguelikes’.  I predicted they were about to go mainstream (at least on the internet) and it still seems to be going that way, though slower than I expected.  The recent release of FTL, an independent game inspired heavily by roguelike mechanics, introduced a huge number of people to the joy of turn-based, randomized action – and the frustration of difficulty spikes that the randomization inevitably entails.

So what’s a roguelike, and why am I recommending DoomRL as a free game you should totally try?

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The argument over which features a game must contain in order to be officially considered a roguelike is a matter of surprising controversy.  It’s a genre born in an indie scene long before most people knew what a computer is, and there have been very few roguelikes that were released as a commercial product.  Most are the work of hobbyists, computer whizzes who are fond of number generators, and as such the vast majority of these games are free.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll keep the definition somewhat simple while still trying to give you a flavour of this curious subgenre.  The term ‘roguelike’ generally describes “any game that resembles Rogue“, a game developed in 1980 to be played on primitive UNIX terminals.  The gameplay resembled an action board game of sorts, turn-based (each action counting as a single turn), with the dice rolls and calculations being handled by the computer.  You play a single character who ventures down increasingly difficult levels of a dungeon, encountering enemies and power-ups.  Your success is largely determined by how well you can plan ahead, and your knowledge of what works and what doesn’t – much like a board game.  Perhaps most importantly, once your character dies, that’s it: you must start again from the beginning, a mechanic known as ‘permadeath’.

Since they couldn’t render what we would now describe as graphics, the game world was represented using letters, numbers, punctuation and simple blocks of colour.  In short, Rogue looked like this:

rogue

Thankfully, even for this most perennial genre, things do move on.  Gameplay mechanics have been changed slightly over time, even as the core essence of the roguelike remains hard-to-define.  You can now play DoomRL, which looks like this:

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Not exactly Avatar, but it’ll do.

Based on the infamous and wildly popular 90s first-person shooter Doom, DoomRL puts you in the shoes of a nameless marine on the Mars moon Phobos who witnesses the opening of a portal to Hell and must survive the onslaught of demons.

The game contains all the hallmarks of the genre – loads of keyboard commands to learn, constantly increasing difficulty, permadeath – but has a very fast-paced, modern feel that allows it to be dipped in and out of at leisure.  It’s been described as a ‘coffee break roguelike’, and while it may seem intimidating to the newcomer, it’s still a good introduction to the genre.

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You’ll never play anything quite like a roguelike, and DoomRL is a solid choice for your first if you bear in mind that it’ll require a bit of effort on your part.  I recommend it not for its entertainment value (though it’s still a very fun and involving game), but because playing a roguelike is like playing a very strange, very niche part of gaming history.  Though it’s based on a somewhat-modern IP and is far more user-friendly than the games they played on those old terminals, the gameplay itself hasn’t changed a great deal.  Yet, somehow, it remains as compelling as it was 30 years ago.

DoomRL is available as a free download for PC, Mac and Linux.  Sadly, the Mac installation is a little fiddly, but hey, if you’re going to learn how to play a roguelike, you might as well go the whole hog and learn how to use the Mac Terminal.