Saturday, September 29, 2007

Round 2 extension

Our BVW professor just emailed us that he has to go out of town on Tuesday, so we have a 2 day extension on our round 2 worlds.

Part of me is like "WOO! Extra time!" Especially since our group basically reworked our entire concept since interim and could use it.

Part of me is like "Crap, now he's going to expect them to be ten times as polished." Because, well, he will!

But that's okay, I'm feeling really good about how our round 2 world is going.


If ANYONE is going to be in the Pittsburgh area between now and Wednesday night, please volunteer to come and playtest for us! Email me or leave a comment here! Thanks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Graduate Research at the ETC

Research is very important here at the ETC, as my TAs advised me today, and especially on the Round 2 world (the naive user world). Fortunately, graduate research at the ETC means playing video games. Lots of them.

At the end of every hallway is an arcade setup with ROMS of (probably) every arcade game known to man. Our current virtual world is steadily becoming some manner of 4 player pacman (with amoebas, and on the Beyond Questions remote control) so my TAs recommended that I do research on top-down view chaser/collecting games to see what I could learn and apply to my own world.

I sauntered down the hall, loaded up Ms. Pacman, and quickly remembered that Ms. Pacman stresses me out TERRIBLY. All the while, I was remembering a game they had at a restaurant we went to when I was little. It was a Pacman-esque game, only you controlled a paintbrush. The goal was to paint every surface of the maze. There were thingies that chased you and occasionally kittens would walk through your wet paint and leave little kitten prints that you'd have to paint over (you could paint over the kitten, too, stalling it and gaining points). Ah, what a fun game from my youth, if only I could remember it's name! Ah, no matter, it's so obscure they probably don't even have it, right?

WRONG! I typed in "paint" in the ROM computer's search box, and of the billions of trillions of games on there, one called "Paint Roller" comes up. And yes! It's the game I was thinking of! Thank heavens for obvious titles! Nonetheless, since it is essentially a pacman game, it caused me great stress.

I think the slow pace of our amoeba game will keep it from being stressful....or maybe even make it MORESO! (there is a 1 second delay on the input of the remotes, since they were never really intended to be used as a game platform, but rather a means of voting and submitting feedback in large lecture halls).

People are starting to post screencap videos of their round 1 worlds, so I'll have to get mine up soon!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Friendship is like a garden...or maybe like a petri dish

The hardest thing so far about the ETC is not its rigorous work schedule or high expectations (though I will admit, those are pretty freakin hard), but rather how the potential of emotional bonds are dangled in front of us like tantalizing carrots, just out of reach.

What I mean is, there are a lot of cool people here. A LOT. And we are bonding in such a way that we're all in the same room, working through the same experience, stressing the same stresses, and the like. But I'm finding that there is not much time to nurture friendships outside of the building.

Certainly I have made friends and I of course broke everyone in to my huggable nature early on. However, when I work at a friendship I tend to be a digger, and pick at a person and poke them and learn about them and burrow down into their soul to figure out who exactly they are. It is a delicate process, and takes time and diligence, and sometimes I even have to do it one person at a time. I cannot help that I am slow at this.

So, what I am left with at the moment is a deep emotional strain. I want to know my new ETC friends better and cultivate my budding relationships, but there is little time to do so, and I'm feeling terribly empty because of it. And yes, there are large parties from time to time, but as a card carrying introvert, those don't do much more than wear me out. I am unsure of how to handle this dilemma.

I'll have faith, though, as I see how close the second years are with each other, and the strong friendships that they've established among themselves. So, perhaps I just need to give it time, who can say!

I miss the ballers, and I miss Brenna.

Sleepy woes

Yesterday I made a major purchase.

I've been having trouble sleeping ever since I moved here. Even when I fall asleep, I feel like it's very light. I'm not sure what the deal is.

Also, there are some studies pointing to sleep disorders and fibromyalgia being linked, so perhaps this is the cause of my mysterious symptom increases in spite of my taking medicine every day? Who can say?

Regardless, yesterday I bought a memory foam mattress pad and a super official tempurpedic pillow. I figure that, even if they don't actually work, perhaps they'll at least have a placebo effect. We shall see!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Goodbye Purple Rocket, Hello Purple Rocket II

So, our BVW round 1 presentations were today (they went really well, and several ETC alums were there as guests to give feedback. They all work on Spore, neat!) so this is one of the few moments where I have a small break. Like, literally moments, round 2 has already started.

Anyway, I spent my celebratory time on WoW finishing the most important part of the game ever. That's right kids, getting my Netherdrake!

"So, um, you wanna be my new mount?"

In celebration of this happy occasion, I took an Outland tour and took a bunch of screenshots of me and Purple Rocket enjoying the scenery. Those of you WoWers are probably sick of looking at netherdrakes, but I DON'T CARE! This was a happy occasion for me!

So yes, I am going to make you look at 14 screenshots. Go!

Ah, Nagrand, the prettiest place in the game!

Purple Rocket says, "What's up with all these mushrooms?"

Netherdrakes are too clever to get themselves impaled.


Too bad I can't take it to Azeroth. It's probably for the best, though, think how many screenshots THAT would be!

Wertle says, "Hey, let's go in there." Purple Rocket says, "Noooooo."

I always loved Terrokar Forest

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The 48 of us first year ETC students are becoming quite close (spending most of our waking hours together in a room of 48 computers), and we've started to reinforce those bonds in the most primal of human ways: sharing food!

It took me several years to refine my ability to cook for one person, and now I'm finding the desire to cook in bulk. It started when I brought in a pot of ratatouille to share (which was swiftly devoured by first years, second years, and faculty members alike).

My roommate, Kelsey, also cooks, and proposed that we have a food party. On Saturday, seven ETCers came over to our house to cook large meals in bulk. We then split the dishes out amongst ourselves, packing them away in tupperware so that we'd all have food for the week (and would be able to eat something different every day!) It was a fantastic success! We all had good fun cooking together, and we even made cookies and cake to bring back to the ETC for those who did not join us in the food frenzy (again, these items were swiftly devoured).

I'm hoping this is something we'll do every couple of weeks. It's a great opportunity to share food and recipes, and of course keep one's meals stocked for the week.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Of Storytelling and Message Board RPGs

A huge focus at the ETC is properly educating us young'ens, as potential game developers of the future, about the intricacies of storytelling. Today's ETC Fundamentals class was focused on "The New Poetics," which takes Aristotle's Poetics and applying it to digital media, as done by Janet Murray. What this means is in addition to the Plot/Character/Theme/Diction/Music/Spectacle elements, adding the new element of "Interactivity," which is further explored in Murray's text.

This all reminded me of message board roleplaying, which I used to do quite a bit in high school and early college.

Yes, I'm a geek, I embrace it. Let's move past that...

Anyway, message board RP was only enjoyable up to a point, even if you were participating with fantastic writers and storytellers. It seemed doomed to fail for several reasons. One was that, inevitably, the back-and-forth turn taking would be disrupted by one party getting busy with other things, leaving the other waiting anxiously and unable to take his or her turn. The other big obstacle was that often, when engaging in a good story with one or two other people, other characters would post (and why not, if they saw how well the story was going and how much fun people were having), usually disrupting the flow of the current story to take it in the direction they wanted.

I remember the Tribes message board as being a fantastically set up forum. The creators had outlined a detailed and thoroughly fleshed out world in which the stories were set, and had constructed an engaging ruleset about the character "classes" one could play. They even made you have the character you created screened before you could start a thread with it (which some people found restrictive, but I found quite successful in adding to a believable world).

However, even though the set up was really good, and even though several engaging and interesting (for both participant and casual reader) storylines started up, they often suffered the same "doomed to fail" symptoms that I listed above.

Something that contributes to this in most message board RPs is the well intentioned rule: "Do NOT control other people's characters." Now, don't get me wrong, I see why that rule is in place. It's so people can't come in and take over and make people do things they weren't intending to do. However, it's the biggest contributer to the turn-taking failure when one party goes mysteriously absent. The story stops.

What of this exercise (and alert me if it's being done somewhere, because I want to go watch). Engage the RP as normal for several posts (because they always seem to be really good for the first 4 or 5 posts when the characters and inciting action are introduced). But then call a halt, let the participants grab what's been created, go off on their own, and write a story from what's been done so far. Then come back and share with each other their different stories.

I think this would be delightful! And it would get over the "don't control my character" touchiness in that you are not creating an avatar for yourself when you make a character, but rather simply a character, one that's fleshed out a bit and can be used. I think this would be fun for all parties involved, even if it did result in vastly different storylines.

Part of the reason that this appeals to me is that I am TERRIBLE at writing beginnings and endings. But oh, middles! I have tons of middles! All my secret writings that I hide away consist of middle upon middle upon middle. Oh to have a little help with the beginning and then to fly away with what I've been given. And the characters are already created and named, you just take them and make a story based off of what you know and what has been established so far.

I mean, is this not the same allure of fanfiction?

So, is this exercise being done anywhere on the net? And if so where, because I want to see how it turns out? And if not, someone should start it, because I want to play :)

Friday, September 7, 2007

My life as a texture artist

So, round 1 of Building Virtual Worlds began this week, and so far it's been awesome! The theme of our first world is "help character A who is afraid of character B." Our group is designing for the head mounted display, and we came up with a fun little game that involves pulling a man on an inner tube by a rope to help him avoid a hungry crocodile.

In a way, being tossed into these things without so much as a life jacket is stressful, but it's also fun and forces you to make decisions and cooperate and pry at your brain to be creative in a quick turnaround.

As for my role as painter, it is really fun! Unwrapping UV maps is something that is forcing my brain to think in ways I never thought possible. It's very non-intuitive to me, but I take delight in the challenge. I've already learned so much in just the one week, technical/software stuff, yes, but also things about teamwork that I'd never considered.

It is demanding, of course, and I tend to be at the ETC from 9 until 11 most days, with quick jaunts for food. However, it is exciting and fun and a challenge I do not mind. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

This is gonna be awesome...

The first week of classes went splendidly! Building Virtual Worlds is the class that's going to consume every waking hour, I can tell, but all 50 of us are in on it together, so it should be a bonding experience if anything. Everyone in the class is assigned a "role" based on their past experiences and the like (you aren't limited to only doing your role, you're just the person responsible for it. For example, someone assigned to modeling could still program, as long as they made sure the modeling got done).

I was very curious as to where they would put me, because I could have done any one of the roles (3D modeler, programmer, painter, or sound designer). I was assigned to painting, which basically means I'm a texture artist. It is exciting, because it's something I've never done before and I'm learning a lot of new things! I'm going to try and dip my hands in the other roles as much as possible, though. There is so much cool stuff to learn!

So for this class, every two weeks we are put into groups and we have to create a virtual world for one of five platforms. When it's finished, we get put in another group and another 2 week round starts. (Apparently when they first formed the class, they gave the students 6 weeks to build a virtual world, but inevitably students would just goof off for 4 weeks and then panic and churn out all the work in 2. So they just cut it down to 2 week rounds ^_^)

The first "round" was one week, where we basically just learned our tools for our roles. We'll get our first group and assignment on Tuesday, and I'm super excited!

Having gotten a good grasp on my role, I fled home to Louisville for the long labor day weekend. This is mainly because I know I'll be so busy that I won't be able to return until Thanksgiving at best. All the wayward ballers returned to Louisville for a reunion of sorts, so I got to see everyone and feel quite refreshed! I'll be anxious to get back to Pittsburgh on Monday and finish off my texturing assignments.