Our kids will have childhood memories of their own. Memories that they will think are super awesome. We will scoff at them as somehow not as great or authentic as our memories. We will be wrong of course, just like our parents were wrong, and just like they will be wrong when they think the same of their kids.
A lot of Minecraft and Terraria gets played here. Not much of it gets played by me. I enjoy these games, of course, because they are enjoyable. They are created to be enjoyed. They are not really made for me. Not specifically at least.
I am an adult, and I have a certain amount of agency in the world. I have aquired tools, physical, mental, and emotional, that I can use to subtly tune my environment. I can make things. I can change the things that other people have made. Don't like that shade of teal, paint it orange. Don't like the wall, knock it down and rebuild it. Don't like your wireless performance, upgrade your network. The world is plastic. It takes effort, or money, or both, but it can be changed. I learned this by playing.
Sure I've had jobs that furnished me a whole host of skills, but I learned none of them through the dutiful application of labour. I learned by playing, tinkering, messing around. I take things apart and reassemble them because it is fun. It's play. Nothing I've had to remember to function competently at a job, the bureaucracy of the tasks, has stayed with me. I could tell you all about applying vinyl wraps to vehicles, because sticking vinyl to things is fun. Changing your environment is fun.
When you are a kid, your agency in the world is muted. Filtered through an insulating layer, often for your own protection. But you are able to play, and the play most kids gravitate toward will provide them with that agency. Minecraft and terraria have player agency in spades. They are building blocks. They are Lego.
It would be very easy to say that in some way playing with blocks and Lego is more authentic. A better way to play. That, of course, would be wrong. Different skills can be learned by playing with physical toys, and I don't think that any good can come from not providing them to your kids, but digital toys will be as super awesome a memory for most kids as anything else they obsess over. If minecraft can instill in a kid, the inherent plasticity of the world I think it's a net positive.
Sometimes you should go kick a ball around too. That makes for good memories.
In a flurry of de-clutering, I went and boxed up a metric ton of magazines, some as much as 20 years old.
This collection is composed of a solid PCGamer core with layers of Next generation, Play, and Game Developer forming the outer strata. Orbiting that are large flat rings of Computer Graphics World, Digital Video, and Computer Gaming World. Several smaller satellites contain issues of British game magazines and PC hardware magazines.
The realization that I would never again crack the cover of any of these periodicals probably hit me two residences ago. Still, I Jacob Marley'd these magazines from place to place, confounding anyone good hearted enough to help me move them. I figured that the last move they would make would be into the recycle bin.
After attending last year's Global Game Jam, I had it in my head that maybe there might be another place to give all of these magazines. Since I so rarely look at, or even think of, these magazines it took me until very recently to ask the University of Calgary library if they would want them.
The Taylor family digital library hosted last year's ggj and there they had the largest library collection of video games and consoles for academic research, at least in Canada. I'm not aware of more extensive collections, but they probably don't want to upset some librarian in Italy who is very proud of the pile they had amassed.
Video games are a very modern invention, and like most modern inventions, not lacking in documentation. No one has been able to pinpoint the invention of chess, but Al Alcorn, the creator of pong is 65 years old and very much available for interview and comment. As is Ralph Baer, the man who invented the Magnavox Odyssey, the console where Alcorn cribbed the concept for pong. The ensuing legal battle is also well documented. Stored in boxes in my basement is 20 years worth of documentation.
Maybe no one will ever open these magazines and they will sit quietly moldering on a shelf, or the University will simply scan them all into digital documents and recycle the paper. Either way, I would like to think that some day someone will be doing some research on the Atari Jaguar and will manage to find the infamous Next Generation interview where Sam Tramiel spouts all forms of nonsense. If nothing else, they will be entertained for a few minutes.
If you have any interest in these old magazines, they will be available at the UofC library sometime early next year.
I've had cause, recently to do some video editing. Even though any editing ability I may have built up through the years has atrophied to a crippling degree, I'm still enjoying it. You can click here to see what I’ve been editing, or you can read on to find out the what, why, and how of the project.
Like most people who grew up in the 80s, I first experimented with editing by starting and stopping two vcrs tethered together with coaxial cables. I was pretty terrible at it. Later on, we would use a friends video camera and "edit" by simply checking the tape after every take and rewinding and recording over anything that didn't measure up to our extremely low standards.
When I was in University, my uncle handed me a box of software that no one in his company had any interest in. I'm not sure if it had been sent as demo software or somebody had bought it and never used it, but any knowledge about where it came from is likely lost to time. That box of software is the reason I do half the stuff I do today.
In the box was a copy of Truespace, the program that got me started in 3D. There were also copies of Coreldraw, and Photopaint, Corel's answer to Adobe's illustrator and photoshop, a few other assorted applications. Slightly more obscure, there was a copy of insync:razor.
Razor was a revelation. You could load in video clips, cut them up, move them around, and add simple effects like chroma key. Never once during all this video rearranging did you have to worry that you would ruin the original footage. You could make as many copies as would fit on your tiny hard drive with no generation loss. Sure my computer only had the memory and raw power to deal with about a second and a half of postage stamp sized video, but it was still pretty amazing.
During one of my film classes, we shot and constructed a movie on SVHS and beta tapes. We had access to a fairly high end editing station,at least at night when no one else wanted to use it. For all it's button pushing and T-bar pulling whizbangery, I knew I was using yesterday's tech. It would mark edit in and out points in a timeline and wind the tape back and forth to match, and then copy the contents of one tape, arranged according to your edit timeline, to another blank tape. If you were very lucky, the audio would still be in sync with the video 15 minutes later. At home, I animated, rendered, cut together, and dumped out to tape, opening titles and credits for the movie. By myself. With a 486. I’m sure digital editing was a big deal already by that point, but it probably cost a fortune and required dedicated hardware. This was one outdated desktop pc. Things were obviously changing.
Almost 20 years later, I’ve been using Lightworks. This is an open source (depending on who you ask) program that can be had for free, or very cheap if you want some extra features. With it you can edit, in realtime, full HD or better video and audio. I’m not 100% clear on the companies business model, but it seems like they are aiming to be the ubiquitous youtube edit platform, while still offering extremely expensive editing hardware and software to professionals. Lightworks is a niche product in a niche market, but Adobe should probably keep their eye on it. A free, or very cheap photoshop would very quickly squelch any open source upstarts like Krita and Gimp.
And here is what I’ve been making with Lightworks. A friend and I have been attempting to record a weekly chat and draw session, with increasingly successful results. In time I hope to turn it into a regular show, with other creative types presenting something they are working on. Illustration, programming, animation, video editing, fx work, sculpture, photography, whatever they do presented realtime on screen while we chat about pretty much anything. From time to time, the conversation will turn to something that one of the presenters is working on, and information about a person's particular process will be revealed in a much more natural way than any tutorial series. Hopefully we can continue to make it more interesting and entertaining as weeks go by.
Best Games - Wing Commander
Don’t bother going back. You can’t. Time has eroded this game.
Wing Commander a cultural relic that pushed technology, and craftsmanship forward. It plowed, and then paved new roads for future creators. This game created new verbs.
The first time I played Wing Commander was on a 286. It sported vga graphics and an adlib sound card, but it was still barely able to run this game. The front of the machine housed two floppy drives, a 3 ½ and a 5 ¼. Through some trial and error and delicate file shuffling, I was able to make the game think that several floppies were, in fact, a single drive. This let me play without ever seeing an “insert disc” screen, just so long as I could deftly swap disks when I heard a particular “cachunk” noise. It’s worth noting that I could only do this because the the game was a pirated copy that everyone passed around school. I would feel bad about that, but I went on to buy every game in the series. I still have cd, dvd, and/or digital versions of all of the Wing Commander games.
The digital version of Wing Commander sits now, installed on my thoroughly modern computer. It is almost unplayable. Maybe it was just too far ahead of it’s time. Maybe it always suffered from rough edges and 23 years have cast them into sharp relief. But after 23 years, the music, presentation, sense of sweeping adventure, that hasn’t aged a day. After 23 years, Wing Commander still stands as high water mark. One of the best games.
I rode my bike this morning, yellow trailer rattling along behind me. The boys were stuffed snuggly within its canvas walls. The clear vinyl window fogged up from their breath only feet from the driveway. They may not be able to see very well, but they are warm and safe back there.
Moments after we arrive at school, they are quickly hustled into the glow of the hallways. Doors briefly pop open and teachers poke their heads out into the icy wind just long enough to usher another kid indoors.
Picking them up, I opt to drive. The bike cart sits too low to the ground and the drifts are already knee deep in places. It would be like pulling a hundred pound snow plow. Blowing snow cuts at our exposed noses and cheeks. If we turn into the wind, our eyes are all pin pricked and blink blinded.
I regale them with stories of frozen toes and frostbit cheeks. They respond with suitable awe, which is uncharacteristic, but I’ll take it.