Some very slow progress over here, as I reorganize a bunch of story behind the scenes. I'm getting close to the end of the first episode. After that I will go back and edit and rewrite the first episode and move on the the second.
More story work going on here.
I have discovered a character that I complete forgot about, because their big scene didn't happen until now. I could go back through and write them in where they need to go, but I'm still working under the advice of so many writers to resist the urge to edit and revise until after I have the whole story written. I jump back all the time and add little notes for new scenes and changes to scenes in *chapter* 1,2 and 3, but so far I haven't significantly revised them. It makes sense now why that is the common wisdom among people who write longer fiction. The problem is, your brain just can't hold all the ideas that make up a good story at one time. I forgot a whole character. One that I have notes for and the bones of an arc for. As I was writing each scene, that character just didn't fire anything in my memory. I like to plan a bit and 'pants' a bit when writing because I like to know where the story is going, but i also like being surprised when characters do or say something I wasn't expecting. That also means that you run the risk of not remembering to write in a whole character. Nothing like learning by doing I guess.
Best Games - Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
The first video game, depending on who you ask, was probably a sports game. Either tennis or ping pong. Video games have been infatuated with simulations of real world sports since day one. Only one problem. That doesn’t work at all.
Video games depicting sports don’t really simulate playing them. Tennis you play with your whole body. Everything is taxed. Your muscles, your reflexes, your perception, your decision making skills. All of your various interconnected systems have to be firing for you to play tennis. When, like Pong, you reduce that down to twisting a knob, tilting a stick, or pressing some buttons, it isn’t tennis, but it is still fun.
The fun part of most sports isn’t the mechanics of movement. It isn’t the competition, or the camaraderie. It’s solving tiny problems over and over and over again. Hitting a ball mid flight, taking a step on uneven terrain, anticipating the next quarter second of play on the field. These are the moments that fun is made of. Our brains just can’t get enough of solving these tiny problems. Like a positive reinforcement loop that keeps us practicing potential survival skills until we get good at them. It’s a dopamine thing. Pong gets it.
Skateboarding at a high level is something that an infinitesimal amount of people have done or will ever do. It’s a set of skills that require intense practice and a deep time commitment. The positive feedback loop on skateboarding must be amazing. I don’t really know though, since I can barely ride a skateboard over a level surface for more than a few meters. The last time I legitimately gave it a go, I was probably 13. I would hazard a guess that the majority of the audience for the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games falls into this category.
So how does a sport that almost no one has any real world experience with become one of the most popular video games ever? The developers, Neversoft, took a page out of the Pong playbook. They didn’t try to simulate skateboarding. Not even close. They weren’t even in the same room as a simulation. Instead they focused on getting their players to solve tiny problems over and over and over. Every time you steer the character you are planning half a second into the future. Every time your character hits a ramp you have to predict how much time you will have in the air and choose tricks accordingly. Every time you land a trick you have to be setting up for the next one. The tiny problems never stop.
Solving these tiny problems can be fun, but skateboarding, real skateboarding, is a demanding challenge of balance and dexterity, momentum and reactions. If Neversoft had tried to simulate skateboarding it would have resulted in some horrifying set of finger contortions that might be fun to some people, but not to most. Instead, almost every interaction with a Tony Hawk game is biased toward success. Every time you direct your character up a quarter pipe, they will always come down in the perfect position to land the jump. Every time you leap over a rail or ledge and press the button to grind, your skater will magnetically snap to the right position. With very little practice you can land any jump or ride any rail. You only start to crash when you push a grind too long or pack too many tricks into your available airtime. The game wants you to win. It set you up to solve all of those small problems. You reaching for more is where it gets challenging.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater understands fun, and that is why it is one of the best games.
I wanted to take a short break from fiction to write about machines. Well one machine. No, not one machine, a lot of machines. More to the point, my relationship to machines. With machines? Whatever. I’ll start over.
I like machines. I like the way they work. I like ones that move in consistent and predictable ways. I like machines that use a few repeatable motions to accomplish a variety of tasks. I like to take them apart and put them back together. I like to diagnose problems with machines and fix them. I like knowing that when I take them apart, I can put them back together. I like it when I can put them back together and they still work. I like it when I diagnose a problem with a machine, take it apart then put it back together again, but with one small tweak that gets it humming along.
So here is what made me think of all this.
I was running the 3d printer again recently. It’s important at this point to know that 3d printers are very twitchy, uncooperative machines that are tough to dial in and tough to keep tuned. That goes triple for mine. Mine is a cheap build it yourself kit with a knockoff control board, and issues with some of the electrical connectors. Other than all that, it usually works. At least it works if I don’t want to use the usb port or try to update it. Like I said, knockoff control board.
I hadn’t had it running for a while, because I bought a new board to replace the one that came with it, but as with the rest of the printer, some assembly is required. Also, the new board is just that, a circuit board. Actually it’s a set of circuit boards, but either way it has no case, the mounting holes on the printer don’t fit it, and the display for it is completely different than the one I have. If I want to use this new board I will need something to put it in or attach it to.
Lucky for me I have just the tool for making a new control board case. A 3D printer. That means limping the old board along for a while until I can get one printed. This was a task that I wasn’t looking forward to. Mostly because I was scared of it. If the old board flamed out before I got the case done, or further along, if I installed the new board and it didn’t work, I would have gone from a potentially working printer, to a definitely not working printer. I had Schrodinger’s printer. Turning it on was just too frightening.
I had something else to print, so finally I just said screw it and fired the thing up. There was a lot of tuning and adjusting to do to get it running properly, but in less than two hours I had it printing. Of course that wasn’t going to last.
One failed print later, the heater block that melts the filament was leaking molten plastic, there was a short at the board that stopped one of the print axis from moving, and the extruder wasn’t extruding. I felt very disappointed.
On the other hand, I really like machines. Now that the printer wasn’t working at all, I had no fear of disassembling the thing to try to find out why. I fixed the extruder, since it turns out it was never assembled properly in the first place. That wasn’t my fault, the thing just came like that. I cleared the mess of half extruded plastic from the nozzle, and after a lot of fiddling tightened everything to stop the leak in the heater block. I should probably replace that too though, since this one is a bit of a mess.
The only thing left was the short at the control board. At first I thought that the board had finally given it all up and I would have to replace it. I left the printer and thought about how I would install the new board. Something about how it had failed didn’t seem right. If the board went I should lose more than one axis. I went back and had a look at all the connections running to and from the motors. Sure enough, the board had failed, but it wasn’t any of the chips, it was the contacts that the wires run into. I disconnected the motor in question and re connected it to route around the issue. After turning it back on, everything ran perfectly. Well not perfectly, but as well as it did before.
So now I have one more print to finish up and I can start making a new case for a new control board. I don’t know if it will ever print perfectly, but it should at least print properly.
This whole story might sound like a hassle, and it sort of was and still is. The thing about me is, I really like machines. I like it when they work correctly, but I like it even more when I get to take them apart, fix them, and then put them back together again. I know that isn’t everyone's thing. I know that isn’t even a lot of peoples thing. In a room full of people there might be two who really want to take the room apart. They want to see inside the walls and figure out how the whole thing works. Of those two people, there might be one who wants to put the room back together, exactly the same, like nothing ever happened, but with one screw hidden under the drywall tightened half a turn. I’m that guy.
I apologize to anyone who has to deal with me, because it must be infuriating. What can I say. I like machines.
I have a microwave here that is on the fritz. I don’t think I’m touching that one.