The Heart of Cherry’s Sky

I’ve developed some strange habit of writing a blog entry to completion, finding myself content with organizing my thoughts, and then never pushing Publish… So, let this be the post to break this odd streak:

Three years in and on the tail end of Cherry in the Sky’s creation, it’s only occurred to me how even more amazing certain games I look back fondly on are.


Almost 3 years to reach a playable World 5, but I made it!

With the greater majority of the levels built, I’ve had to think in a few circles to get down what exactly would constitute higher-level play in Cherry’s game, a 100% run, and it’s brought me to an even greater appreciation of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which I think I’ll consider my favorite platforming game of all time.

Yoshi's Island Neutral Pic
The older I get, the more I love this crayon aesthetic.

When attempting a perfect run of anything demanding, there tends to be a natural process: x seconds into challenge > minor perfection ending error > pause > restart. I can’t find any specific praise for how Yoshi’s Island avoids this. The game approaches it a lot like hitting a wrong note while playing a song on guitar: you improvise based off the error and continue jaunting to the end of your solo without anyone noticing, or you’re so talented that what constitutes a mistake to the trained ear, can’t be heard by most. Is that still “perfection”? Perhaps “excellence” would be a better phrase here: “What constitutes player excellence”.

Yoshi's Island Scoreboard
Making the grade in Yoshi’s Island.

When Yoshi takes a hit, Mario is lost, and your stars function as your timer to return him to your possession before a game over–basically, stars are effectively subtracted when you’re hit. So while the coins and flowers prompt full exploration of the nooks, crannies, and nuances of each world, stars kind of do, but double as your lifebar, which prompts perfect play, a no hit run–however, after being hit and recovering Baby Mario, you could potentially find more stars; obtain a second chance by scavenging to find a “?” cloud filled with them, pound a stake into the ground and find stars underneath, peel and poke at the level in hopes of finding more stars–assuming you can catch the stars once they’re released–assuming you haven’t exhausted all available in the level–assuming you’ll be able to find them if any are still present–assuming you don’t get hit again in the process–this anxious thought process can go on for awhile…

Yoshi's Island Baby Mario Lost and Stars
Baby Mario lost, timer counting down, and loose stars at the same time. A wonderful chaos you can only blame on yourself.

There’s this wonderful, massive gray area over the idea of an ideal run which softens the proposition of perfect play while still retaining the tension. There’s a greater uncertainty than what a standard lifebar can provide, as the difficulty of the situation you lose the baby in can determine how much recovery is necessary, if not resulting in an outright game over, and the further you are into your exploration, the more minimal the errors need to be; playing a song on guitar, you hit a wrong note, but were still in the proper scale, so you swing back into the main melody to work yourself back in line. As long as you put out an excellent performance, you’re golden.


There’s a substantial exhaustive drama to that, a natural excitement. Quick restarts work well in games of frustration (Super Meat Boy being a standout example), but in something slow-paced with lengthier, exploratory sessions like Yoshi’s Island, this is a far more accommodating way of handling “perfection”, one that I’m using as a guide while implementing judgement for player excellence in Cherry in the Sky. I want to take a different approach overall–the verb I’ve been using to describe perfect playthroughs of a Cherry level is “graceful”, while Yoshi’s Island is more “thorough and careful”, like a good parent to Baby Mario, but I do want to gear perfect playthroughs towards “excellence” rather than “perfection”.

A Perfect score in Cherry is currently considered “Breathtaking” instead of “Perfect”.

While I feel close to my final system, I realize the way all this is implemented in Yoshi’s Island really reflects the childcare theme, the anxiety caring for a yougin’. So, perhaps the last bits I need to figure out involve diving in deeply into the emotional themes of Cherry in the Sky, honing in on what makes sense for Cherry Sundae as a character–what exactly should constitute excellence for a graceful, hardworking, sky-fruit picking, umbrella-flying farm girl? What sort of judgement would align the player with her goals, opposed to causing dissonance. That’ll probably clear the clouds in front of the answer.

We’ll figure it out, Cherry Sundae. We got this.



Gaspar’s Ghost Panic


There’s no two ways about it, making your own game requires your entire soul, and every ghost that has ever haunted you gets included.

When I started making Gaspar’s Ghost Panic, the thought was: “Cherry in the Sky’s gotten kinda big, and I know a whole lot now. I’m a little burnt out, so maybe I should take a breather and make something small, finished. A one month side project.”

5 months later:

The ghosts that throw magic at our titular Gaspar couldn’t better reflect the game’s development journey: Horrifically enjoyable, and wonderfully grueling, independent design is stimulating, character building, and soul revealing.

You make every line of code, you construct every 3D model, and you make every design decision that requires every ounce of psychological reasoning in your body–and all that leaves you so drained that your insecurities can easily saunter in and haunt you to increasing extremes–sure you can always do something to make them go away, but break time’s only temporarily–you’re not free until you see that great, green End Game Button.

GGP Action Shot
Have no doubt, your ghosts will throw everything they possibly can at you.

But then it’s wonderful when your impossible suddenly seems easy.

There’s this kind of release. From incubation to freedom–you can’t turn back, you’re a bit more than calling yourself a game designer on Twitter, you’ve now got something to live up to–not something to try to be. Something you want people to notice.

It felt like years, and probably would have been if I didn’t have my Game Design Sensei bumping me in the right direction with a little advice here and there:

Coffee With Cross GGP Episode 2:

After that, it all comes down to hard, hard work. And lots, and lots, and lots of teleporting.

But talk is just talk–gameplay is its own language, one that’s easiest to understand when you play.

We’ve all got ghosts that haunt us, but with a clear head, endeavoring passion (and maybe a rocking theme song), we can all get past our ghosts, and teleport into the future.

I really do believe we can all be teleport masters. So go check it out: Go become a Teleport Master!

INFJ Creativity and I

I’m a big fan of the MBTI, as self-understanding has always felt hard-fought for a weirdo like me.

Most Recent Test -

After a lot of mistyping and thorough research, I finally realized that I was INFJ (a both harrowing and wonderful revelation). Arguably the rarest male type:

So abstract that most children on the playground used to just stare at my mouth when I was trying to make sense; horrendous and wonderful empathy so absorbent of other people’s emotions that I have trouble finding my own; still quite capable of abstract logic, but my own logic; and still in daft need to do something with this big head/heart-lifeworld my personality creates, thus the endless, endless creations.

Digging deeper into the theories, I liked when I saw the personalities broken even further down into introverted and extraverted versions of the different preferences (i.e., Introverted Feeling vs. Extraverted Feeling), and once I used the MBTI to help heal myself up from horrible times, I came to realize its potential for aiding my creativity.

INFJ Intution

So INFJs have:

-Introverted Intuition-

-Extraverted Feeling-

-Introverted Thinking-

-Extraverted Sensing-

I don’t see a lot of literature on how creativity manifests through function order, though. The general explanation of these more precise functions isn’t hard to find (here’s a nice general one and this one hits on them for INFJ), but I’ve never seen them in specific context of how I view creativity:


INFJ Functions and My Creativity

(least, you know, as I understand it)

Introverted Intution

I’m a reader, and I mean in the sense of life, and not even in the conscious sense. I don’t have to read between the lines, I just fall right through them with every step I take. Everything I absorb is weighted with meaning. It’s dense and symbolic, and creates a strong mind’s-eye. There isn’t a point in my day where there aren’t images floating around in my head that are symbolic composites of just stuff I’ve absorbed. I used to feel tortured by it at times, but this floating galaxy of stuff in my head is who I am. Taken ideally for art, I’m basically a reserve of potential creativity.

Extraverted Feeling

Wipe me across the floor of human emotion and I’ll just suck up everything. Sure, feeling the feelings of the person you’re talking to is great for relating, compassion, and understanding, but it can also be viewed as an info bank in a way, how the world of emotion works. Coupled with my intuition, I’ve naturally been picking up on emotional patterns my whole life, similarities–I’ll know when I’m seeing an emotion in someone that I’ve seen in another before. Over time this has given me the ability to have a strong idea of how people will react to something even if it doesn’t “exist yet” (the point where your umbrella is stolen in Cherry in the Sky, the death of a character in Ali So Far). It lets me create evocative prose and experiences that can pull on universal emotional heartstrings (least I hope I’m doing that), and as exhausting as it is sometimes, it’s imperative that I continue to collect the emotions of the world to ever improve my abilities.

Cherry in the Sky is a really feely, feely game.

Introverted Thinking

This is where my internal logic lies, where I categorize the symbols and emotions, and organize the world to my understanding. I’m not so much a system builder like a thinking type, more of a world builder. My intuition just brings the symbols into my head haphazardly, but this function allows me to take active command of where abstract is placed and organized. It is where my sense of artistry lies. “This will go here and this will go here to reflect the meaning and produce the emotion my first two functions informed me of”. This is my eternal student function, and it is what will leave me an artist for life. Lately, I’m realizing my mathematical ability lies here as well, but I haven’t come into full understanding of it yet. Continuing to write code should bring that to light. There’s some link there that eludes me.

Extraverted Sensing

We’re getting down to point where I feel baffled and unclear on functions due to them being less developed, but I do have a child’s aesthetic sensibilities. To me, it’s just a feeling at the front of my head. I put down some colors in one of my games (colors symbolically selected of course), but then I have to play around with the appearance until this feeling in my head moves from “ew” to “ahhh”. This is also where my drive to move these head worlds into reality lies, often in an out of control manner–I overdo, exhaust, and sometimes hurt myself by just making too much and doing too much. I’ve got to grow to temper this blade like all my others. It will make me an even better creator in the end.

3rd Grade Flowers
I made this in Elementary School. My sensibilities actually haven’t changed all that much.

I’m sure all INFJ don’t experience this the exact same way, but I’m sure it’s closer to my experience than that of the other types. Hopefully this aids some other creative–my two cents in the MBTI pool. Maybe I’ll get into my enneagram someday (4w5), but it’s pretty basic at the end: at my greatest I make art, and at my worse, I seriously just want off this planet. But I’ve got too much to accomplish to do anything but make neat stuff until I can’t anymore, and I’m rather looking forward to seeing this intense INFJ art-guy thing out to the end, whatever may come.

Baddie Parade in the Sky

I’m really just sharing this because I’m proud:

Pi Composite

A very large part of me (my brain, my heart?) was convinced that I would never be able to 3D model a dragon, but here he is after less than a year of learning, tie, monocle and everything. Feels great.

I’m pretty proud of my other dragon too, but there’s still some work left to do on him:sports-composite1


3D modeling is just playing with shapes. Sure, it can get quite sophisticated, but I’ve managed to stay well within my abilities.

My botanical knowledge of flying flowers, and the giant angry lava flowers from the same family, has assisted me greatly with Flo and Mega Flo:

Flo ConceptsFlo Concepts - 3D

And that natural love for similar/palette swap enemies (from older, more memory limited games) has been great for reducing the workload for a lone developer:

Gorbos Composite 2

Plus it just helps that I like silly things. Silly things are easy to draw and easy to model:

Gupper & Guppi 2

…and easy for me to come up with. Left un-managed, my brain makes cuddly angel/devil ghosts anyway:

Halo Grimmy & Grim Grimmy

Hopefully I’ll have your heart by next year. Progress is sailing along quite well. The heroine of Cherry in the Sky, Cherry Sundae, and her little sister Chime are definitely eager:

Chime and Cherry Look - Final

Ali So Far

Ali So Far Cover

I stumbled across an old query letter from the one time I tried to submit a novel to agents, and it really made me chuckle. I was truly one exceedingly frustrated creative; the undertone of anger in the letter… basically, I was upset that nobody was writing the books I wanted to read, and I wasn’t coy about expressing that. It kind of overshadowed the idea that I liked what I created and really just wanted to share.

I quickly exhausted myself with sending out letters anyway. I barely tried, generally under some belief that my stories were too outlandish, absurd, and never perfect enough. Here’s conjured loglines from the last three books I’ve finished over the last decade (2 novels and a novella):


An old fisherman believes a Great Mammoth Invisible Whale is going to attack the floating islands of the Imperial Territory of Ageanhaven. He also believes he is the only man alive that can see it and stop it.


Giant chickens, artists painting the sky, and airplanes crash landing on Main Street: strange happenings have been racking The City of Clear Blue Skies like clockwork, and a disgruntled book reviewer known as Clanny the Terrible will be the next in line to find out why.

-Clanny the Terrible

An assassin is hunted by his guild, the woman he loved, and decreed to die by the will of the Great Goddess. With all hope lost, he intends to leap from a waterfall to end his suffering escape, but a chance meeting with a treasure hunter in search of the secrets of the world sends him down a path he could have never predicted.

-Ali So Far


But now this Wattpad deal, this Facebook for writers actually feels like the right time to open up. I’m starting to share the oldest story of these three, Ali So Far, chapter by chapter, giving myself the opportunity to revise the epic journey as I post, since it’s over six years old. More like ten really.

Maybe the 19-year-old me is out there somewhere, wishing for this story, just like I wanted it a decade ago.

And it’s kind of good to perforate the endless nights working on Cherry in the Sky with something different.

Eventually I’ll work my way up to my newer stuff.

Anyhow, presenting:

Ali So Far

The Visual Question

I draw like a five-year-old with a decent grasp of color and composition. That grasp is led by unrefined feelings delight and disgust at whatever comes out on the paper. Though, that’s mostly because I haven’t picked up a pencil to do anything but write for last twenty years of my life.

Engagement? Conflict? Good Baddies?
And the magic of 3D modeling helps disguise my infantile hand…

Though, things are kind of nice in that way. I think that’s a large part of the appeal that has me so obsessed with working on Cherry in the Sky. Making your own game seems like the fullest expression I could possibly imagine, pooling all strengths and weakness into one place.

It’s brought me to think a lot about sensory appeal lately.

I exist in a very analytical, very symbolic, very meaning-rich head space that can be a task to put into words. Though, I’m beginning to realize that visual appeal can be difficult to verbalize as well. The “deep” can be shallow if you spend all your time at the bottom, never coming up for air; it’s a deprived position if you can’t rise up to appreciate simple beauty. Contrast is needed.


Above, a decent iPhone picture during my most recent day at the beach. Where, sure, I spent plenty of time in my head, plenty of time hashing out Cherry in the Sky on draft paper, plenty of time appreciating the yarn-like texture in the sullied water of the California coast, the confused off-white of the clouds escaping the smog out to sea, the sun that couldn’t quite burn an evening glow through the thick presence of Los Angeles–

The simple experience spurned a great deal of thought… but it also touched the senses very gently, leaving a sort of physical glow in my mind. A sensory massage that English doesn’t seem to have direct, sufficient nouns for, thus florid language. It feels so roundabout sometimes.

Games might be a better place to bridge that perceived gap between raw sensory appeal and deep, non-verbal experience.

Something visually stimulating but rich in feeling. The abstraction in the concrete; the concrete in the abstract.

That bridge might, very literally, be the gap where you can convert a non-player into a player.

The first page of your novel is supposed to be your hook, right? I mean, typically, you pick up a book and somebody dies on the first page, or the opening line of dialogue is a swear to try to imbue a sense of gravity into the initial experience–the masters are capable of opening up with something far more gentle and subtle than that–What’s the equivalent for a game?

The first level?

Maybe so for a player, but that’s once the controller is already in their hands.

Incredibly incomplete, flawed, but visually curious?
Cherry in the Sky, incomplete, flawed, but visually curious already?

At a glance, your game needs to spur curiosity, maybe–inviting curiosity that would bring someone to watch, that would intrigue them to discover more. To create questions that can only be answered by playing it. For a medium with such potential for raw sensory appeal, there’s plenty of room to “show” this without trying to “tell” people why your game’s awesome.

My art’s still rough, I’m still in a phase of heavy design, really neglecting the visuals, and I’ll probably get a little help with it later on, but when people do see it, I’m actually managing to get that curious response… it’s pretty fantastic.

The raw, sensory, second-hand experience, it brings out a question. Maybe that question is, “what does this feel like?” The only answer to that question, is to play–and hopefully, if everything is done just right, there’s a connection that’ll be made, and you can pull people into something deep.

Shoot for the senses to provoke curiosity? Is curiosity the way to the heart?

I have no idea.

The Glue Against Freedom

Gluten Free Flag


Praises to the glory of gluten-freedom for I have found salvation and release from the worldly desires that once bound me. Be they hamburger, pizza, or Bagel Bite, I’ve done cast all ye out for sake of a cleanliness a purity that brings a tranquility to my mind, a consistency to my rest, and balance to my creativity.

Least, going gluten-free feels like religion, I’m beginning to think. Something that you have, know to be the truth, and are eager to tell everyone about but… yeah, some listen, but unless it’s a very popular religion, or you evangelize when someone’s at an extreme health low, most aren’t too keen on your proselytizing.

Google has a bountiful wealth of gluten-free resources now. A simple search will really turn up everything you need to know, so it’s not difficult to get people to understand as long as I refer to it as an illness, a disability, a problem…

Which is where my problem with it has more or less come in.

There–especially back when I first found out about it–there wasn’t a lot of information on how to deal with going gluten-free in a world so culturally pro-gluten. I mean, I’m pretty comfortable with less traveled roads, but going gluten-free brought on some shockers.

I had awful asthma the majority of my life (perhaps contributing even further to my artistic-analytic introversion), and I mean awful on the level of emergency room visits, oxygen tubes hooked up to your nose, ambulance rides–the inhaler always in your pocket sort of asthma, the weekly allergy shots so the springtime doesn’t kill you asthma, the ‘am I going to live past 30?’ sort of asthma.

So, when my Mom (after six doctors failed to determine what was causing hairline fractures on her spine) was diagnosed with Celiac Disease (interfering with her calcium intake), on a gut-level I knew that I had something like it.

So I went to the hospital and took the test…

and it came back negative.

The doctor just told me that, aside from asthma, my iron levels were kind of low, and I should probably take iron pills to solve that.

Unconvinced, I went off gluten away.

Within three-weeks, I was completely absolved of my dependency on asthma steroids. I didn’t need any Qvar, I didn’t need any Proventil, even my allergies had lessened to the extent that my Flonase and Nasarel must have felt exceedingly nostril deprived, until the day I threw them into the trash.

It was unbelievable. I was so excited. I wanted to tell the whole world.

The responses were baffling:

“Are you sure?”

“You might want to talk to your Doctor about it first.”

“Oh, too bad for you.”

Even more surprising were the responses of outright fear-anger. The ‘My Great Great Great Grandmother’s Apple Pies Have Been Family Tradition for Generations. How Dare you Even Conceive the Notion that they can Be Anything but Holy.’

I couldn’t understand how people could be upset with me for curing my asthma, or how people could think I valued apple pie over oxygen, or how they would tell me to talk to my doctor after I told them my doctor provided me with an insufficient answer.

I mean, it’s all quite simple:

Eat Gluten = Has Asthma.

 Don’t Eat Gluten = Asthma Goes Away


Why do you need a M.D. to know when you can’t breath?

It really shifts your perspective on the world. I basically pushed my diet after that point, focusing on my own internal reactions to things, until I wound up nearly Paleo (which can be difficult to pull off sometimes, but is comparatively very much worth it).

And I feel great.

Oxygen and life is good.

And 30’s looking to be just a drop in the bucket, rather than Mount Everest.

So, I guess like everything else, these couple years of transition have just made me a stronger person, this time physically as well as mentally.

If anything, my asthma was an illness of perspective and thought, cured by information and low-risk experimentation.

Asthma be gone; nonsense be gone.

And I learned to take a clue from the Vegans and Vegetarians I’ve met: ‘Keep it on the dl until you really need to bring it up.’ Because ‘no one likes a Bible Thumper, except for those who’re already keeping rhythm with you.

Though, really, I’d still like to tell the world.

Novel Design

I’ve finally completed a novel that I don’t just feel proud of, but feel fairly confident in; “Anyone who wants to read the kind of book I want to read will want to read my book” (once it’s proofed and has final edits, of course). 

In order to reach this point of, I guess, confidence, I labeled a lot of other interests as hobbies for the past decade; I threw myself completely into novel writing as my sole goal. It’s been a rewarding and enriching journey so far, but I could never shake this strange feeling anytime I sat down at the keyboard, a strange mild depression.

Specialization is a terrifying thing.

We live in a world of a specialization, right? Well, at least to my American, Californian experience, and it’s a scary, scary world when you consider how quickly life changes as we surf through the Digital Age. “I do one thing very, very well, and I will do this for the rest of my life. I place all my pride and identity in this” and then nobody needs a typewriter repairman anymore.

Or maybe nobody needs a lady in a pink suit.

I’d somehow allowed this mindset to define me creatively. Latching to the idea of being a writer and attempting to funnel all else towards that… but taking up game design on the side… the multimedia nature of the craft has been very eye-opening in terms of what I’m capable of.

Mostly thanks to how much easier the shift in technology has made things, I’ve been able to use many free programs to teach myself a number of things; my practice project is becoming a game I can feel just as proud of as anything I write.

I’ve learned that coding is writing, essentially. It’s a language of communication. It’s used to convey direction, suggestion, and perspective to a machine. It’s far more rigid and logical than speaking English, perhaps closer to simply grammar itself, but computers can’t make inferences unless human beings program them to; they feel what you tell them to feel. Thanks to Unity and some excellent tutorials, I’m now comfortable saying I can script. It really just comes down to three things:

 1.) I want to do X.

2.) Can the program I’m working with do X?

 3.) If the program can do X, am I going to be able to figure out how? 

The possibilities can seem endless, but substantially easier to navigate when contrasted with a novel; it seems like easy mode in comparison. If someone had spelled it out to me in these three steps years ago, and didn’t just mark my papers with red ink any time I didn’t excel at mathematical thinking, I might have given my logical potential more credit.

Cherry Sundae here is the main character of my practice project turned earnest pursuit, “Cherry in the Sky”.

I gave up drawing when I decided to take writing seriously. I completely threw it out the window. I was, like, twelve or something.  All the little comics I made as a kid, my simple love for perspective, and all of that Sonic the Hedgehog fan art would never be touched again to place narrow focus on “the path”. It’s nice to know I can still throw together something appealing enough, at least in the sense of conveying an idea.

Even better than that, I found myself with Blender open, realizing that 3D modeling (and all art really), is just playing with shapes. It’s building. It’s like tangrams from my Elementary days, except you’re using seven thousand of them instead of just seven. It’s still just a program that helps you put together shapes though, and if you want to learn how to use it, a basic YouTube search will answer most of your questions.

Far from master class modeling, but not bad for a first try.
Far from master class modeling, but not bad for a first try.

Most importantly though, game design is an awful lot like making a convincing narrative.

It’s about having a strong concept, picking the right pieces, and setting them up correctly. A good story, properly contrasted characters that create natural conflict, an interesting setting–a good story will tell itself. The actual design of the game is really that part of novel writing. If your core concept is strong and fun, everything else is just building and extrapolating, as long as you don’t build too wide from your base, your construction should stand just fine. End of the day, both practices are really after the same thing:


Much like you want someone to pick up your novel and never put it down, you want some to play your game and never stop, I would think.

Writing might be my favorite way to convey an idea, but when I make a game, it feels like I don’t have to leave anything behind. I’m growing fairly confident that I have the strength to carry everything with me.

But the only way for me to tell if I’m right about any of this is to have my projects complete and public. In soon time. In soon time.

Sailcloths Made of Other Things


Beyond the very informative sociological commentary on the trials of the African-American soul on the journey to equality in “The Souls of Black Folk”, Mr. Du Bois really elucidates the complexity of attempting to end something like slavery and segregation. Complexity that ultimately doesn’t have as much to do with skin color as it does with the culture that forms as a result.

Culture is a complicated thing–one that’s neat and interests me yet baffles me all the same. It’s a definition of who you are before who you are? Or perhaps it only defines you if you accept it, lest you define yourself by your rejection of it? Maybe it’s just something that exists because we like patterns and certainty–baffling, still.

But, thinking about culture contrasted with the old negro soul at least lets me know why I can feel strangely concerned (cautious?) when talking to many substantially older black folk (and a few still young, occasionally)–the sort outside of the artistic/scientific frame of thought I like to inhabit. The sort naturally looking for belonging, togetherness, and group identity–the sort that are more loyal rather than inquisitive, exploring, and skeptical.

I was moved from the near-ghetto to near-rural suburbs in California, suburbs that were initially nearly devoid of black folk. I was weaned on honors classes and allotted a safe place to live that allowed me time to focus on literature and Sonic the Hedgehog.

I hardly know anything about oppression, not like the sort Du Bois informs me of, not like my grandmother knows it, not like all those old folks know it–just the bits I got in history class, “we shall overcome” really, the “it was bad but now it’s good” stuff.

I think that’s where this careful awareness comes from. I think that’s why I feel so cautious even when writing about it. I’ve occasionally stumbled in conversation with folks more personally linked to all of that, upset them when I glance over it, dance past it, don’t value opportunities only available due to conquering those days–I’m from a very different world (hopefully, one that will become too common to inspire a blog post), and I guess the situation is just as upsetting and confusing to them as it is to me–they wanted me to have a world where none of that stuff concerned me, but ironically, now that they’ve helped me obtain it, they occasionally appear frustrated, if not confused, with the result of it.

Mr. Du Bois connected these dots for me, somewhat touching on this in his book: Chapter XIII: “Of the Coming of John”, the only chapter of fiction in Souls. His “John” graduates from a well-to-do school and visits his people in the south, and finds they’d rather snarl at him and holler about oppression than listen to his education and experience that could provide grounds for the escape they sing of–his little sister the only exception.

“It’ll get better for the next generation” is what he’s saying here, I think. This is a process. It takes time, and it’s probably not going to be high on companionship–wilderness vs. roads, I suppose.

It’s still quite difficult for me to fully understand, but at the very least, I feel absolved of the strange guilt that would haunt me–less heavy, easier to travel forward in my continued studies and art.

If I ever chance upon your grave, Mr. Du Bois, I’ll give you closest thing to a personal “thank you” I can. You’ve made things that much lighter… and you also write beautifully as well!

Lava on a Hot Stove

Sonic the Hedgehog_009

I can’t think of any medium that’s made me angrier than videogames. Board games come close, getting me quite excited, but even then, if a board game is too frustrating, I typically have no desire to play it again. It just sort of “falls off my palette”.

Controller throwing, friend punching, shedding tears as a last boss dances to celebrate his victory. The well-handled presence of upset seems to be an integral part of an affecting videogame–the sense that there is something I want to get, something I want to accomplish, something I need to do, but can’t, wasn’t able to, but still want to: I am frustrated.

Sure, it’s brushed off with silly little death jingles of dark humor as our character explodes or falls off-screen, or maybe the screen just turns red with a quick fade (to make sure it doesn’t so much “hurt” as it “unpleasantly stings”)–either way, this is negative emotion.

Unlike other mediums, the relationship these types of games form with a player is a little more push-and-pull, a little more volatile, a little more like those (manipulative?) how-to dating guides than other creative mediums. You’ve got to shape and play with a person’s desire.

When a novel takes too long to give you what you want, it either gets put down or you suffer through in hopes that something will pull through, right? Any song that frustrates our personal sensibilities just gets turned off. Movies don’t really seem to last long enough to toy with this–sans, perhaps, a frustrating ending, but such a turn is hardly prevalent enough for me call it an integral part of the medium.

But Probably This

A good game should upset you over, and over, and over again.

This is one of your main tools for generating empathy within the game space; it’s one of the ways you align the player with their protagonist, cursor, abilities, etc. You must ensure all good and bad emotions they experience are completely linked within the isolated game experience; no emotion should remain in reality. Your game can never be “real”, but it can evoke 100% percent real feelings.

Super Mario never starts you off dying immediately. It usually gives you a few coins, a mushroom, some sort of reward, and then a little easy progress as you advance towards your goal. “I’m getting stuff.” “I’m happy.” Then it starts to ramp up the difficulty, throwing obstacles in your way, more pits, more difficult enemies. It begins to challenge your desire to reach that goal with an opposing force. One that you’re meant to conquer, but one that’s not supposed to be easy. “I’ve done this before. I know I can do it. This is only slightly harder”; it basically wants you to grow to beat it. It is challenging you, and that upset that you are experiencing is you still caring for something you see as possible. (Like those dating guides, right? “Be a challenge”?) This is the distinct difference between something being “challenging” versus plain “too hard”. You’re supposed to win.

Dear Phoenix Cave, I still hate you.

Did anyone ever really like random battles in old-school RPGs? You like a battle system, you like exploring dungeons, but I recall groans of upset and discontent when faced with a random battle when my parties’ supplies were running low. This turned every step towards that treasure hidden through a cavern at the corner of screen something worthy of considerable thought. So despite the spoils of dungeon roving, and the necessity of passing through to advance the story, I often felt them something undesirable as a child–I was actually connecting with the narrative quite deeply. A feeling that aligned me with my character, their mortality, and their goal. They didn’t want to be in those caves either; I can’t remember a single game where the characters unanimously craved roving those dangerous caverns. At least, I didn’t play any.

Given all of this, I guess I would say that Super Mario Bros. is that friend you fought with in grade school, but then went right back to play with the next day, learning, growing, and understanding together. Since the reason for the fight was something stupid you could easily overcome anyway, or at least, when given time to think about it, you realized how capable you were of getting past it to begin with.

The face of gaming has changed substantially since the days of the games I grew up on. It’s not always about enabling or training a player to enjoy your own game anymore… customization options, getting lost in a subscription-based world, getting players into your in-game shop that requires real money, etc.–but the style of games from the period I love are really about only this: training you to succeed, and frustrating you so can enjoy yourself. And apparently, if you balance this just right, you’ll still have people thinking about and playing your game well over two decades later.

We were all put on this Earth for our 5000.