Iaido and Tea

I just heard a great quote from one of my Aikido teachers; I hope he doesn't mind if I reproduce it here. He said that "Iaido is the tea ceremony for boys." Funny, because it's true. But let me explain.

Iaido is a Japanese martial art where you draw your sword, slice up your imaginary opponent, shake the blood off and then sheathe the sword again in one fluid motion. Well, maybe several fluid motions. But fluidly, either way. The name "iaido" literally breaks down into 'i' - being, 'ai' - harmony, and of course 'do' - way. Kind of like "the way of harmonious awareness" or something like that. It's a good name.

Anyway, so similarly to the tea ceremony, it's all about everything being precise and in its place. I just realized that the reason you train, or at least work up to training with, a live blade is that it really makes you extremely aware of how exactly you're moving with the sword! Otherwise you're just waving a stick around. But if you are holding an extremely sharp piece of metal, you have to be precise, unless you are tired of having fingers that are still attached to your body. It's a tangible mental change.

The tea ceremony basically does the same thing, but let's face it: tea is girly. What kind of boy would want to spend his time perfecting his tea-serving abilities? Swords are obviously much cooler. Thus, "Iaido is the tea ceremony for boys."


I just posted a new deviantID for my deviantART profile. It has a pretty interesting story behind it, so you might want to check it out. Here's the description:

I just looked it up, and "metastability" is an actual word. So I'm using it. :) According to Wikipedia, it is "the ability of a non-equilibrium state to persist for some period of time." Wow, that's perfect for this picture! You'll see why later.

See, this is a picture I took of this tower of rocks I built by a river bed. I made it to draw attention to the cool sculpted rock that serves as the base. That's one rock, smoothed and shaped by the river. So people would see the tower, and think "hey, that's a cool rock there."

The nifty thing about the tower is that for every rock I placed, I attempted to enhance the stability of the tower, instead of making it more tippy. So each rock has its own unique shape and balance, and there's kind of one spot where if you press down on it, it locks into place as the force gets distributed down. It's a lot like Aikido. So I tried to build the tower up so that each rock's weight pushes down on just the right spot on the one below, so it becomes more stable. If you press on the top rock the tower just settles into place better. Of course that big base rock helped a lot, since it acted kind of as an anchor for the other rocks to lean against. The rocks above were not so stable, of course. But the idea is still there.

So that's where the "stability" part comes in.

Then I thought it would make a good portrait or ID, since yes, that's my shadow there, and it's all kind of self-referential and "meta" and all that. I mean, I never really see myself except from the inside, so why should you? Here you see me by my influence, by my little piece of order on the entropy of the stream bed, and by my shadow. You can tell a lot about my personality from this situation.

And this really is a metastable situation, this tower. The equilibrium state would be for all the rocks to be in an even layer on the ground. It's the state of greater entropy. But the way I've set this up, the system will not just fall into that state right away. To move any one rock would take more energy, because you would be moving it up and off its center. But once you knock it over, that gravitational potential energy, that tension is reduced, and the system is in equilibrium. Metastability.

Deep, huh? :p

Origami Hydralisk Instructions

I've just finished a narrated tutorial video in eight parts, for your folding pleasure. Step 11 is finally yours to master:

I've since created a better set of instructions, with photos of every step - and even in between. It's all compiled into a nice Flash package: How to make an origami hydralisk

new and improved...

I finally went ahead and posted the instructions for an origami Hydralisk I designed years ago. Here's a good picture of what a Hydralisk is supposed to look like. My origami model looks quite similar, if I may so myself.

The diagrams are all drawn in pencil, without a ruler or anything, so they are somewhat messy. You kind of have to be familiar with reading origami diagrams in order to understand them. At the least you should know the universal origami symbols and be able to make some simple models from memory, like the crane for example.

Anyway, it's pretty cool, and I finally finished! Yay! :D



I'm reading a book called Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is kind of required reading for game designers. It's about the experience of being perfectly immersed in an activity, where your abilities are just enough to match the challenges coming at you - not too easy or too hard. This is one of those books that every page or so I just want to jump around with excitement because it's so good. True Names was another one of those. So was Emotional Design, which I plan to write about here eventually.

The most interesting part about the book I think is the connection to society. From page 76:
"In fact, flow and religion have been intimately connected from earliest times. Many of the optimal experiences of mankind have taken place in the context of religious rituals. Not only art but drama, music, and dance had their origins in what we now would call 'religious' settings; that is, activities aimed at connecting people with supernatural powers and entities. The same is true of games. One of the earliest ball games, a form of basketball played by the Maya, was part of their religious celebrations, and so were the original Olympic games. This connection is not surprising, because what we call religion is actually the oldest and most ambitious attempt to create order in consciousness. It therefore makes sense that religious rituals would be a profound source of enjoyment."

It continues on the next page:
"In modern times art, play, and life in general have lost their supernatural moorings. The cosmic order that in the past helped interpret and give meaning to human history has broken down into disconnected fragments."

After describing a few ideologies, such as sociobiology, it goes on:
"These are some of the modern 'religions' rooted in the social sciences. None of them - with the partial exception of historical materialism, itself a dwindling creed - commands great popular support, and none has inspired the aesthetic visions or enjoyable rituals that previous models of cosmic order had spawned."

Modern 'religions' just aren't as fun as they used to be! How about that?


Tale of Tales

(continued from The Endless Forest)

I have to admit, I still have not yet tried playing The Endless Forest. I will eventually. But I'm writing now to talk about the authors, a team called Tale of Tales.

The Endless Forest is not their only project. They have started several other very interesting game art interactive things that are on hold at the moment. One, Drama Princess, is more of a research project into how to make AI characters that interact to create interesting stories, rather than realistic simulations.

When I found out about Drama Princess, I was really excited (and still am) because what they are doing is quite in line with my thoughts and interest in interactive stories. Probably because of my history in calculator games, I really like the idea of simplifying a complicated model so it's practical to make, by taking advantage of the brain's tendency to fill in detail. Like with graphics. Why render a whole scene pixel-by-pixel when your brain only sees a little bit of it each frame? Most of that detail is ignored anyway. Stuff like that.

So with Drama Princess, here's a quote from the About page:
"Don’t build an A.I. system when randomness is just as good.
People want to believe. They want to make sense of what they see. They automatically make up stories. We want to use this inclination in order to avoid building complex systems that will always only half-work anyway. Richness in behaviour will add more to credibility than consistency in logic."

I forget where, but somewhere on the site I seem to remember reading that they were influenced by Aristotle or someone. Because I was just reading part of Brenda Laurel's book Computers as Theatre, where she applies Aristotle's framework for understanding drama to computer applications. And in it I found this quote:
"Computer-based agents, like dramatic characters, do not have to think (in fact, there are many ways in which they cannot); they simply have to provide a representation from which thought may be inferred."

That's a great quote. And it describes exactly what Tale of Tales is trying to do with Drama Princess. Or something like it anyway. :p

I am also looking forward to participating in their forums, particularly the game design forums. It looks more promising than the GameDev boards. :D Smaller, but a lot of interesting ideas. Here's a nice thread on interactive storytelling I just read. Cool!

And if you need something to read, you could check out their Realtime Art Manifesto. I haven't finished reading it yet, but it looks good so far.


Game Collaboration Criteria

If you answer yes to a lot of these questions, that means I'd probably enjoy making a game with you! Or at least you might have some chance of understanding my ideas...
  • Do you find inspiration and ideas in almost everything?
  • Do you maintain a child-like sense of wonder at the world?
  • Do you like to appreciate the beauty of nature?
  • Are you interested in artificial life and intelligence?
  • Do you practice a martial art or other movement art like dance?
  • Do you like stick animations or another minimalist art form?
  • Have you created any kind of art by your own initiative?
  • Have you made any games?
  • Have you been touched emotionally by a game?
  • Do you like to read books and articles about game development?
  • Do you keep up with the state of independent game development?
And if you're wondering, all these questions are true for me.

Reaction to True Names

I recently read a short story by Vernor Vinge called True Names. Apparently this book was the first to introduce the concept of virtual reality! There are some better-known books inspired by this one, like Neuromancer and Snow Crash, but I have to say that I liked True Names much more.

I found the book to be very engaging and inspiring. My favorite part I think would be the description of what the book calls the "Other Plane" which is better known as the Metaverse or the Matrix, basically a big virtual world that people connect to. I love how it compares the sensation to that of reading a book - it made me reflect back on my own experience as I read it:

"A typical Portal link was around fifty thousand baud, far narrower than even a flat video channel. Mr. Slippery could feel the damp seeping through his leather boots, could feel the sweat starting on his skin even in the cold air, but this was the response of Mr. Slippery's imagination and subconscious to the cues that were actually being presented through the Portal's electrodes. The interpretation could not be arbitrary or he would be dumped back to reality and could never find the Coven; to the traveler on the Other Plane, the detail was there as long as the cues were there. And there is nothing new about this situation. Even a poor writer - if he has a sympathetic reader and an engaging plot - can evoke complete internal imagery with a few dozen words of description. The difference now is that the imagery has interactive significance, just as sensations in the real world do. Ultimately, the magic jargon was perhaps the closest fit in the vocabulary of millenium Man."

There were a few other little enjoyable descriptions:
"Pollack...could make it simply by staring out into the trees and listening to the wind-surf that swept through their upper branches. And just as a day dreamer forgets his actual surroundings and sees other realities, so Pollack drifted, detached..."

Isn't that a nice visualization?

I also liked how it was similar to my own idea of using music to represent an extrasensory perception of magical fields in a game. Now from reading True Names I can imagine it would be so cool to be able to stimulate such daydream-like experiences with only sound. Then my eyes wouldn't get tired by staring at a screen! And I just love this line, "The difference now is that the imagery has interactive significance, just as sensations in the real world do." Wow, trying to daydream as from a book, yet also interact with the world you are constructing? That would be an amazing experience.

And of course it was nice that this story used fantasy and magic as the environment for its "Other Plane" instead of the cyberpunk of Neuromancer and Snow Crash. I guess I just find it a little more inspiring. I'm not really into gritty, dark settings.

The story also felt so much more epic than the other books; I thought it was more like The Matrix in its feel. Maybe that's because of the god-like powers the protagonists experience in both, while at the same time you are aware of the frailty of their bodies in the physical world. Plus the "bad guys" were a little more direct and personified, once you find out who they are. :p (plus I'd bet that the Oracle scene in The Matrix was based on the end of True Names)

Another reason why it felt epic was how the ending kind of put the story onto a timescale of thousands of years, as a special moment in humanity's history. It reminded me of the ending of Ender's Game in its vague pointing towards the future.

So, basically, go and read it!