I wrote a story a few years ago that I keep wanting to go back to. It was a short little thing. Maybe 1500 words or so. It felt like a lot at the time. Now, I can’t sum up a single thought in less than 500.
I liked that story, but there was a major problem with it. It wasn’t actually a story. It had a start and middle, maybe, but that was about it. There was no end. There was no conclusion, nor was there really any plot. It was like a scene from a larger story that I never wrote. A character study with nothing for the character to actually do, or feel, be about. Just a sort of story-stub. Something that could be a story, if I was a better writer.
I don’t know if I am a better writer now, but I am, at least, a slightly more confident one.
As these things usually go, I thought of a way to actually write the story I had been attempting back then while I was writing a different story. The end result of working on story ideas, is always coming up with story ideas. They just might not always be for the story you are working on right then.
I decided to have a look at the old story and see if I could just punch it up a little. You know, give it a bit of a rework without actually rewriting everything. I’m thinking you can guess how well that went.
This will be a better direction and I might have a usable, maybe even sellable, story at the end of it, but it needs some major work to rebuild. Or, if this is a story-stub, a blueprint, then maybe this isn’t so much of a rebuild, but an actual build.
I could keep writing this vague and meandering thought salad, never saying exactly what I am working on or what the story used to be, or I can just go and write it.
I think I will do the second one.
Over the last week I taught my kids some 3D modelling in Blender. The task was to go from zero, downloading and starting Blender for the first time, to making a model and then printing that model on the 3D printer. I thought we might be at it for a week or two. It took them about three days. Four if you count the day of downloading and setting up Blender.
I started learning 3D modelling over twenty years ago. Tools and processes have improved somewhat since then.
The idea that someone could come to something like Alias Power Animator (the first pro level 3D software I ever used, at least the one that wasn’t AutoCAD) and make an object that would be prototype manufacturing ready in three days is laughable. Those were not user friendly tools at all. There was an expectation at the time that if you were ready to pay the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to use 3D software, a little bit of a learning curve was to be expected.
Strange that Blender, a program that is available for free, is a positive breeze to use by comparison. There is an inverted ratio of usability to money spent.
Of course a lot of that ease of use is just due to time. User interfaces have gotten better, more intuitive, over the years. Computers have gotten more powerful and the software more capable. I will give myself a small amount of credit. If I hadn’t used a variety of 3D programs over that 20-25 year period, I wouldn’t be able to field the questions they had or present the material in an easy to understand way. And when I didn’t know something (which happens a lot) I know how to look it up, so I taught them that too. That’s probably the most important skill I could impart.
We now have a couple of new printed plastic dodads in the house. I’ve shown my kids enough that they should be able to make more. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.
I painted my house today. Anyway, here’s a haiku
Rainbow soil scooped clear
A maze to garden trap tilt
Scored to footstep song
Best Games - Dig Dug
Pac-Man and Rally X have a lot to answer for. They spawned a genre so pervasive that, at one point, nearly all new arcade games were maze games. Not until fighting games would we see one genre so heavily over-represented in the industry.
The video games industry, with all its diversity of ideas and themes, is very much not immune to chasing trends. In fact, if there is one thing you can be sure of, any time there is a hit game there will be some sort of riff on that concept coming down the pike in short order.
When maze games became popular, you could be pretty certain that any and all types of maze chase games would be available soon.
There is another thing about the video games industry. It’s extremely iterative. If there is a good game out there, not only will there be a copy or clone available soon, there will also be new and interesting twists on the concept.
Dig Dug is what happens when you make a maze chase game, but you take out the maze, and dramatically reframe the chase.
In Pac-Man, you spend most of your time running away from pursuing ghost monsters. The corridors are unyielding, and you need to plan a head to stay just out of reach of the ghosts. Occasionally you can turn the tables for a few moments, but only a few.
Dig Dug removes the maze. You can go anywhere you want. Dig any patch of dirt. You create the maze. While you do move slightly faster through air than dirt, you are not constrained in any real way. That’s genre flip number one.
Genre flip number two? You aren’t running from the monsters. The player character, Taizo Hori, is easily the most dangerous thing on the screen. The monsters are running from you.
While the monsters outnumber you, they will try to be aggressive and chase you down, but you can pretty easily dispatch one monster. Even two is not much of a problem. You simply pump them up with your bicycle pump until they pop. Comical, but not exactly non-violent.
It’s only when you are swarmed that the monsters have much of a chance against you. You need to play smart to out maneuver them. Force them into tunnels that lead them right to you, or drop carefully timed rocks on their heads. If you plan well, you can crush a whole group of cartoon monsters under the same rock.
This is a maze chase, but you are the one doing the chasing.
These simple changes to the genre lead to a game that is far more strategic and thoughtful. You aren’t reacting. You are setting traps. You aren’t prey, you are the hunter. You are corralling and managing space.
It doesn’t hurt that Dig Dug is a cute and borderline delightful affair. There is a jaunty tune that plays every time you take a step, but stops when you stop. This gives the player a subtle nudge. If you keep moving, the music keeps playing, so you should always be moving. Moving, planning, scheming.
Dig Dug is not just another maze game. It’s a jazz remix of maze games, a stylistic bit of genre bending. Dig Dug is what happens when a developer doesn’t slavishly follow the trends, but instead plays with them.
More than that, Dig Dug is one of the best games.