Books, Portals, Doorways in the Mind

Continuing the discussion from my art museum notes, on books.

The cover of a book, a portal, is treated as a symbol by the brain. It stands for that which it contains.

And if there is some anxiety or aversion to the content beyond this gateway, the brain will find it easy to project its fears and assumptions onto this cover without ever opening it again to see what is really there. Symbols are whatever one projects through them - they will never talk back to refute one's ill-founded assumptions.

So if you want something to be seen or read that someone holds some reluctance towards, don't leave it out, closed, a symbol easy to dismiss. Instead, leave it open.

There are activities that are good, but are seen with apprehension or distaste by the mind, reducing the entire activity to a symbol, replacing the book with the cover. There are also cases in the reverse.

A better analogy might be doors - hints or suggestions thrown up by the mind, that seem appealing but lead to unfulfilling courses of action.

For example, I might think of a positive memory or feeling associated with deviantART. This is like a door - it then stands for all of deviantART in my mind. I am compelled to pass through the door and go onto the website.

But the experience I get there is not what I had hoped for, not what compelled me to go on in the first place. But of course by the time I am past the door enough to discover this, I can hardly find my way back.

I am very glad that I have been able to identify this behavior pattern, because now I can consciously choose not to open whatever doors look nicest, but to predict what will actually be a fulfilling course of action.

All those fairy tales and stories about the path that looks easiest, the path that's actually most treacherous - maybe they were actually about this.


Art Museum Notes

The following is a fairly faithful transcription of the notes I made in my sketchbook at three art exhibits, several years ago. I hope you find them as interesting as I did.

The links were added after the fact, of course.

An-My LĂȘ: Small Wars


these military tents, vehicles, etc.
just staked out in a featureless desert
  • really gives a feeling of makeshift,
    arbitrary imposed structure
    • culture, human actions and thoughts

  • would be a good setting for a game
    • reminds me of IvoryDrive's Black
one of those soldiers there lying in the shade of the camouflage
reminds me of my dad when he was younger

setting up facades, models, in the desert
for simulated training environments
  • physical, not digital
    • in the desert
The camouflage really does make them blend in.
It would be hard to see while driving through
the desert, eyes getting bored, skipping over things
  • hiding in the gaps of attention

I like those bamboo and forest photos

Snipers - a lot of pictures of those
It's an interestingly different role
and way of approaching gun combat
  • hidden, but not really that much
    • gaps of attention?
    • desert vs. jungle
the Distant Flare photo is interesting

Kim Jones: A Retrospective

books and covers - paths, portals, symbols in the mind
  • living, organic, growing, moving book covers?
    how does that change things?

    • showing an instance of dynamics of the system
      that is described within
playing wargames on maps - Tufte
"work on it, get tired of it, work on it more"
  • long-term devotion to a creative construction,
    a miniature garden - viki

    • similar to Civ2 micromanagement and slow pace
      keeping higher levels of organization in mind,
      but individually controlling the smallest parts
I like those weird stick/clutter/adhesive costumes
  • good for ragdoll?
  • MMO customization?
"indeterminate form" "biomorphic forms" "hybrid creatures"
  • one must map out Jones' particular symbolic language,
    his "personal idiom of figures, animals, and forms"
    to understand possible or intended meanings

    • connection to "homeless, camouflaged soldiers, peasants,
      or any number of mystic figures found in religions worldwide"

    • Raven?
Installation art is a good source for miniature garden,
anthropomorphic, symbolically rich, minimal constructions

stick interweavings similar to jungle/forest
war games become abstract, mathematical structures
when you zoom out, like cellular automata

particle trails connecting the elements of this installation,
depicting dynamics of their relationships,
and also in their individual operation
putting books, meaning-rich pictures
into crevices and hidden surfaces
in ordinary physical objects and landscapes
  • the objects without secret books all point to the special one
    somehow, in their arrangement or orientation
Having to lie down, or crouch, or whatever
to engage with whatever material is hidden there,
can bring or force a particular physical context to the situation,
which is usually seen as uncontrollable
in the design of digital content

Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art

Gutters - in comics, in books - rooms in architecture

Books used to have a lot more different forms, before perhaps
economic processes pushed it to a local maximum?
  • When a new medium is invented, many forms emerge,
    each as guesses of what might work

  • scroll (continuous) - no gutters?
  • pleated (accordion) - gutters partly there
  • pages (normal book) - gutters permanent between pages
Ink can make letters visible, or cover them up and distort them

distortion of discrete signals vs. continuous?
  • what happens when the interpreting rules, the context, changes?
What feelings are contained in the flow
and halting and reversing of line in written characters?
  • alternative to interpreting visually, it's kinesthetic.
Sketch books are another sort of book

Paper cutting (like with an X-acto blade)
could be a way to do Northwest Coast art

using the stacked pages of books as a blank substrate
on which the results of a process could be recorded
  • like burning patterns
letting ink build up beyond its use within the context of books,
and let it take on a life of its own
putting the reading of an image in an explicitly sequential form
by putting parts of it on each page

Where does ink get its power?
Partly in the materials and processes used to manufacture it.
  • similarly with paper

Different languages, different writing systems,
different cultural approaches to books, text

Silk worms, living letters

The book, "transmits knowledge but does not
guarantee its authenticity."
  • what would a book be like that does
    guarantee its authenticity?
Tools, instruments, for writing and printing
  • specialness, valuableness, preciousness of objects
  • containing stories within? worlds? hints of them?
a chunk of stone forming interesting spaces and patterns,
held by a stand
  • stands, frames = important
Early Chinese characters were very rounded, lacking tension.
The modern characters are angular and hold much more discretely
understandable tension and flow, like traditional formline art

Sleeping books
  • as architectural ruins
  • active cultural objects, carriers of social messages,
    eventually become dead relics
  • "vulnerability of memory and history"
How would this look anthropomorphized,
like in Discworld's Unseen University library?

What does it describe?
  • pathways in the universal possibility space,
    ant trails formed but fading away


Where to Start with AS3, FlashDevelop and Flixel

the free tools of the trade...

I've been working with Flash for a few years now. But I didn't switch over to programming with ActionScript 3.0 until earlier this summer. And I have to say, I've found AS3 to be so much easier to work with than AS2. I'm glad I switched.

Here's where to start if you want to make Flash games with AS3. If you do it this way, it's all free, and you don't need any prior experience with programming, or Flash.

If you forget everything else I'm about to tell you, just remember these two words:
  1. FlashDevelop

    (it turns code into programs)

  2. Flixel

    (it helps you make game code)

These two things, together, make up the path of least resistance for free Flash game development. You are not going to find an easier way to do it anywhere else. Believe me. I've tried.

So, where do you start?

Step 1: FlashDevelop

so shiny...

Start with the Making Games in ActionScript 3 using FlashDevelop tutorials! They'll tell you everything you need to download, how to install it and get it all set up, and walk you through all the basics of a typical Flash game.

Here they are:
They are very gentle, but I can imagine that someone who has never done any programming before may get confused somewhere along the way.

This tutorial will assume some basic familiarity with object oriented programming, a graphical tool of your choice and general computer literacy.

If you have any questions, you are welcome to post them here - I'll do my best to help. :)

But first, I'd recommend having a look through the Understanding Classes in AS3 tutorials!

If you’re stuck in an ActionScript 2 rut, or you’re new to ActionScript 3 and it’s blowing your mind, this should help ease you in a bit better.

Here they are:
If you already feel comfortable with classes and objects, you can skip these. They're optional. But they're worth reading if you haven't done much object-oriented programming before.

All right.

Have you gone through the Making Games in AS3 tutorials? Have you gotten FlashDevelop all set up, and maybe made a simple program or two?

If not, then go back and do it!

If yes, then you're ready to move on to the next step! :D

Step 2: Flixel

so pixelicious...

Don't bother making games from scratch. Make them with Flixel.

flixel is a completely free collection of ActionScript 3 files that helps organize, automate, and optimize Flash games; an object-oriented framework that lets anyone create original and complex games with thousands of objects on screen in just a few hours.

Oh yes.

It's the same game engine that was used to make Canabalt.

Start by downloading the latest version of Flixel, then follow these instructions to get a something showing up on the screen. If it works, download this example game and follow these quick instructions to run it:
If you can get the example game to work, you can move on to these two step-by-step tutorials on how to build a game from scratch using Flixel:
Then you can try this more in-depth tutorial on how to make a spaceship shooting game from scratch using Flixel:
Follow along, and by the end of it you should have three little action games and the knowledge to start building your own games with Flixel!

To help you in your journey, there is the Flixel documentation, the Flixel wiki, and the help forum where you can ask questions and find answers. Also, the Flash Game Dojo. And of course, Google is always helpful.

If you get tired of using Flixel, for some strange reason, and you want to build your own game engine, you can give this tutorial a try. For experts only!

Flixel has changed a lot since I first wrote this post, so I recommend you check out this more recent guide on How to Learn Flixel if you're just getting started now.

Lastly, here are a few tools that may come in handy.

Unless you're making games for blind people (which is awesome) you'll probably need some way to make graphics and animations for your games. I'd highly recommend using the free image editor Paint.NET for this purpose. It's great for pixel art, and easy to use despite having a lot of nice features in it.

Similarly, you'll probably want to have sounds in your game. For general sound recording and editing, try the free sound editor Audacity. Again, it's easy to use and is capable enough for recording and modifying sounds. I use it mostly to clean up recordings or save sounds into different formats and file sizes.

If you're not interested in recording your own sound effects, you can generate them, with the amazing free tool called sfxr. Just click a button to get a randomized game sound, or change the settings manually to get the sound you want. It's perfect for games.

The creator of sfxr has also released a free tool for making game music, called musagi. I haven't tried it yet but I hear it's pretty good.

There are quite a lot of nice, free tools out there if you know where to look. Here's one list that you might find useful.

That's all I have for you! Now go make some awesome games with FlashDevelop and Flixel. And let me know how it goes. I'm here if you have any questions. :)

Good luck!


Active Sketch 03 - Words

Reviewed by Gregory Weir, the author of Silent Conversation! :D

A new prototype.

It's an attempt to turn a text into an interesting environment for a game, along the lines of some of my earlier thoughts. I was never really satisfied by Silent Conversation's take on the whole "text as environment" thing, and I've been trying to extract some meaningful gameplay out of the words themselves.

So this is where I'm at so far.

The goal is to match similar words. Use the arrow keys to move around. You can pick up a word by pressing x or c.

On the right is your score, and on the left is your score multiplier and the current word you are holding. If you match two words exactly, your multiplier goes up. If you pick up two words that have no letters in common, your multiplier is halved. Otherwise, you get points for each letter the two words have in common, multiplied by your score multiplier. I stole the multiplier system from Music Catch.

There is no time limit, and words reappear after they go off the screen, so you can get as many points as you have patience for. It's not a game. It's just a test.

The story is something I wrote over a year ago, a retelling of Where the Wild Things Are with the themes of Ishmael, in the style of a Haida myth. It still has a sappy Western ending, though.

The lines that end in "they say" are the canonical elements of the story - actually two stories, Where the Wild Things Are, and Genesis. That's based on a Haida mythtelling convention, more or less. The symbolism and structural harmony and such is woefully inadequate compared to the stories of the master mythtellers, but hey, it's my first try.

Anyway, the story doesn't matter. It's just filler text to test out the matching mechanics. :p

Try it out and let me know what you think.

they will eat you up...