This is a picture. I made this picture. This picture gives me anxiety.
There is a state that all drawings and paintings go through that can be best classified as “unfortunate”. It’s the state that makes an artist want to cover the paper so people looking over your shoulder can’t see your mess. People who are not the artist might, rightly, think that this is as good as it will get and walk away disappointed. I have worked very long and very hard on myself to break the impulse to cover my paper.
I’ve been here before. Every time I draw, paint, write, model, texture, light, or animate anything, there is a point where the honest impulse would be to cover the paper. Hide the shame of a picture that is in that halfway and unfortunate state. Every time I hit that point, I feel it too. I think this picture, or story, or whatever, is always going to look like this and it will be terrible, and I am terrible, and why did I even try doing this thing in the first place.
Like I said though, I’ve been here before. I know what this feels like. I recognize what the unfortunate state looks like. Foggy as it might be, I can see the road ahead because it’s the one I walk every time I make anything. This unfortunate, halfway state is exactly that, halfway. Maybe a little more or less than halfway, but still, not the start or the end.
I will do some more work on this painting, and the story that goes with it. Both are in a similar state. They will get better. At some point they will be ‘done’. That point isn’t now, but that’s okay.
Artists should get used to showing off their process and their half-done work. The more you do it, the less scary it is. Being unafraid of the process of making things is probably the biggest hurdle an artist will ever have to leap.
Show off your bad work. Your stuff that is half done and mushy. Your thoughts half formed and half finished. Get used to working through that and improving them. This is what your creations look like today, just imagine how good they could look tomorrow.
I played a game that reinforced an opinion I have. I know, super scientific. I have, and will, substitute this opinion for actual research.
It’s a simple thing, but since this is more or less a notebook to my future self (who won’t go back and read it) I’ll jot it down here.
The most important thing to get right in a video game is control. It’s not graphics, it’s not sound, it’s not even ‘gameplay’. The single most important element of any video game is control.
If you watch a movie, the most important element is editing. If the editing is bad you won’t be able to follow the narrative. Second is sound. The visual quality can be trash, but if the movie sounds good. Mess up on editing and sound!?!? Forget about it. That movie won’t work.
Video games share a lot with movies and TV. They are all primarily visual mediums. They all have to deal with pacing, rising and falling tension, timing with soundtracks. The primary difference, you swap editing with control.
Ever since pong, the feeling of ‘I do this thing with a button or a switch or a knob and something happens on the screen’ has been the primary differentiator between video games and all other media. I do this, the game does that. That feedback loop has to be nearly instant for it to feel good.
Pong is a 2D game where input typically occupies a single plane. You turn the knob one way and the paddle goes up, you turn it the other way and it goes down. Simple.
Modern games have controls that operate on multiple planes with separate fine scale inputs on triggers and paddles and buttons and touch pads and touch screens and capacitive sensors and accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors and motion tracking and computer vision and outside in or inside out position tracking systems.
Exactly the same rules apply. When you do this, the game does that. And it must do that thing reliably and quickly and without disorienting the player. That is the end to end extent of the task. Do the thing, do it quickly, don’t do some other thing the player isn’t expecting.
When a game is bad, it’s almost always because they messed up on control.
Now that games are mostly 3D control often includes two in game entities. The thing the player is controlling and the camera that is showing it to you. It can be easy to imagine that these are separate problems. Like driving a car is the first problem and building a good chase camera is the second. It’s not. Those are the same problem. When the player presses a stick or trigger button the car has to react properly, quickly, and without doing anything unexpected, but so does the camera.
There is often a delay on the camera that lets it float a long lazily behind the action, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t reacting quickly. It needs to respond instantly to player input, and sometimes that means that the camera doesn’t stay right behind the car. Sometimes that means that the camera follows the motion vector of the car or refuses to float back behind the car because, at that exact moment, the car is in a drift and it feels more natural to see the car from the side or front. It is about responding quickly to the player's expectation of where the camera should be going and giving them the best view of the game they are playing.
With great controls, a pretty basic game can still feel fun to run around in. With poor controls, it won’t matter how good the game is. There will always be a certain amount of people that will be turned off and put the game down.
Controls are the editing of video games. Get them wrong, and the moment to moment just won’t make sense.
Best Games - SSX 3
The first SSX game was a banger right out of the gate. It could easily be in the running for a ‘best games’ write up. It had a solid but sort of complicated trick system. It felt fast and smooth. It looked and sounded great. It was fun to play. All good. I think though, the third entry in the series is really something special.
It was probably the Tony Hawk games that made extreme sports prime video game fodder. There were skateboarding and snowboarding games before that, but none of them had the same feeling of flow. The accuracy of control and speed and great looking tricks that make the player feel like they are floating from one obstacle to the next.
There were a lot of imitators to the Tony Hawk formula. Like a lot, lot. Way too many. SSX sort of goes it’s own way. The action sport element is there but after that, they are very different games.
SSX captures the speed of snowboarding. It is trivial to go fast. It’s not all about tricks and spins. It’s about speed. And not just simple acceleration. The way you turn is fast. the way you recover from crashes is fast. The way you get in and out of events is fast. Everything in SSX happens fast.
By the second game in the series, SSX Tricky, the core of the game was rock solid. You ride a snowboard down mountain slopes doing tricks and catching air. Do a big enough trick and you pull the board right off your feet and spin it around your head or something wild like that. But both the first two entries in the series still feel a little broken up. Each event is it’s own track and you learn them, beat them, and move on.
SSX 3 lets you ride a mountain.
It is a proto open world type game that borrows a lot from some of the racing games of the time. You can start a run from a few different points along the mountain and do pretty much anything you want on the way down. Flips, spins, ride rails, pickup bonuses, do side missions, enter races, compete in trick contests. Or you could just glide down to the bottom of the mountain, ride back up and do it again.
If you want to go to a race you ride to it. If you want to go to the shop and change your gear you ride to it. If you want to go to a different part of the mountain you ride to it. You can do any sort of grind, trick, or jump you want along the way.
Some of the races can be difficult and frustrating, but fun is only a button press away. Whatever you find fun, you can do. You are never locked into anything.
SSX On Tour would expand on the idea by making a single mountain that is massive and seamless from top to bottom, but SSX 3 got so much right already that it just seemed like a rehash of the same ideas.
SSX 3 does the same stuff as the rest of the series, only more polished and geared toward fun above all else.
In the years following, almost every sports or racing game that leaned toward goofy, fun, action would include an open world element. It might be a coincidence, but probably not.
This is just one of those games that gets everything right.
SSX 3 is one of the best games.
I have been writing here for over ten years. Something like eight years of that has been once a week. Almost all of it I have done alone.
Like, of course all the typing was done by me. That shouldn’t be too surprising. It is, after all, very difficult for two or more people to use one keyboard. What I mean by writing alone is, I don’t run any of this by an editor or second set of eyes. I just type it out and post it up. Including most of the stories. This is sort of a problem.
Working with other people is always a bit of a challenge. Everyone will have competing ideas about how a thing should be done. If everyone is professional, cordial, and shares a mutual respect that doesn’t need to be a source of conflict. I have worked together with other people to create things that are, by far, better than anything we would have done individually lots of times. I would even say that it’s kind of fun. Bouncing ideas off each other. Building on ideas and making them better, funnier, deeper, richer. Working with other people can be a really good time.
When I’m writing I just haven’t found the opportunity. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I haven’t run into a willing collaborator.
I have recently started running a lot of my stories past what people call Beta readers. Really just some friends that are willing to be subjected to very early versions of my stories. I’m extremely grateful for that feedback but I also thought I could benefit from searching out a wider community. A group of people that don’t know me, have no reason to be nice to me, and could care less if I wrote or didn’t. You know, a writers group.
First I posted a few things on Reddit under the destructive readers group. I didn’t feel I was getting much actual feedback there. I still jump in and give some people notes on their work because I had hoped that was what they would do for me, but yeah, you can post stuff there and not get a lot back.
I tried joining a writing group here in the city, but that was right before Covid made in person meetups an impossibility. They only have a facebook and yahoo group and I use neither of those.
I have had a lot of luck using Discord with game development groups so I started looking there. I found one in Edmonton (only a few hours away and somewhere I regularly travel) but they chased me out because I didn’t live in Edmonton. Out of an online group. That can only meet online right now. Strange, but whatever.
I joined two other groups, but left one almost instantly when I discovered everyone else was high school age.
So now I am testing out this third one. The people seem okay, but they are definitely much younger than me. Not that surprising with an all online group. I have offered some feedback on writing posted, but I have yet to receive any for my own. Maybe it will turn out to be helpful, maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll hop out of here and head over to a different group. We’ll see.
What I do know is, I think I am done with doing this all alone. If I want my writing to get better, I need some other people to work with.