4 Good Songs of 2016

This is a pretty incomplete list… I will keep better track in 2017. Anyways. Here are four songs I really liked. These songs all do great jobs of evoking interesting digital spaces.

Bryant Canelo – all this water you cannot drink

BUY BRYANT’S MUSIC

The song develops in the way you might peel back the world surrounding us to uncover, slowly, more about it. I would call it ‘realistic’ in the sense it sort of jumps out at you and asks you to recontextualize your surroundings.

The skittering trill throughout the whole song always has an unsteady feeling, both from the mechanical nature of trills in general, as well as its pitch changing (or a filter envelope moving around, not sure). Further contributing to this are occasional one-off percussion giving the impression of ‘did I hear that or not?, ‘dissonant’ midi-guitar-like plucks, and further percussive and choral layers.

 

 

ella guro / Liz Ryerson – (untitled sitting in the rain track)

BUY LIZ’S MUSIC

I heard this song without knowing it also was in Robert Yang’s game, No Stars, Only Constellations. I’m particularly fond of the gently delayed, overlapping guitar sounds, especially around 1:19 when a single sequence of notes is played in different rhythms. I enjoy the layering of vinyl-ish static sounds in the song as well to give an impression of ‘recollecting’ a memory.

Liz’s music is important, especially in the context of games, where it is actively contributing and help push existing boundaries on what music for games (and music in general) can be.

emamouse – STP

BUY EMAMOUSE’S MUSIC

See this song in a different context, with emamouse’s visual work: (6:20) http://psalm.us/mousewasher.html

emamouse puts out a lot of music, I was glad to be able to meet her at a show in Tokyo last August. A lot of emamouse’s songs have a lot of motion going on a lot – I think everywhere in this song, some synth, somewhere, maybe more subdued at times, is always doing some sort of scale-like run up and down. It’s something I’d like to do more of but is pretty hard to pull off! It’s interesting to zoom in on parts of the song and uncover new layers. Passively listening sort of gives you this kind of murky and dark flavor for the song, but like exploring an area in a game, you understand more of it and see new things over time.

That, and the hook at the start is really catchy, using a vocal sample which is characteristic to some of her other work.

Gazelle Twin – Outer Body

Buy gazelle twin’s music here

I heard this some point last year – and it’s really catchy. It’s has this repeating percussive bit reminiscient of times in AAA games where you’re approaching or waiting for action to happen. To that end it would be neat to see Gazelle’s music within the context of a game!

The vocal samples partway through the song add another interesting layer to the mix. The “ambient” aspects of music are fun when the artist drops in different parts, creating a panorama of sorts of a musical space. In this song, bass clips pop in, reversed percussion samples, processed vocals, etc. Looking forward to more music by Gazelle Twin.

 


SAIC’s Experimental Game Lab, Fall 2016

This past fall,  I taught undergrads and a grad student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) as the lecturer for the Experimental Game Lab class. There was a lot of luck in being able to get this opportunity (thanks William Chyr). I am teaching there for the near future and am in talks for developing a game music composition and critique class for the fall.

The Class

It was a studio-style class, meeting at nights twice a week for three hours. I could see this being nice during the summer, but teaching 6-9 PM is kind of drab once day light savings time kicks in.

I decided to make the first half a discussion/lecture, then the second half ‘studio’ time, or time for students to work on their projects/troubleshoot.

The class structure and content were up to me to design.  I decided it would be a mix of introductory game design with Twine/Unity and critique and critical play of games (to try and increase the variety of games students were exposed to.)

One issue with the class was that it took place on Tuesdays and Thursdays – so I had to figure out what games I wanted to assign by Thursday to have them ready for the next week. In practice I was really busy with releasing Even the Ocean (please buy it) till November so I ended up having to assign 3-4 games over the weekend and a few games on Monday/Tuesday. As you might expect most students had trouble playing the games assigned on Monday/Tuesday for the Thursday class.

Part of why this was the case was that students seemed overworked – most taking 4-5 classes a semester, requiring many hours per week in-class and with projects to work on. I wasn’t really able to assign as much work as I’d like to, but perhaps this was also to blame on assigning too many game projects (more on that later.)

Luckily for next semester it’s a once-a-week 6 hour class, so it’ll be easier to structure – just assign once a week and discuss all of them for half of the next class.

Overall I managed to assign around 50 games, which was about my goal. Including student critiques that brought the total number of games discussed to around 100.

Assignments

For each game I assigned, I gave some readings (often reviews or other criticisms), and then I wrote up some questions, which were usually short essay questions but I only required a few sentences. I tried to focus on questions requiring students to deconstruct how a game worked, or how effective a design decision was, or occasionally asking to think about the game’s presence (or lack of) sociopolitical themes.

Some students consistently gave good responses, others half-assed them. If anything I need to be clearer on the expectation and then enforce that in grading.

Question examples…

Yume Nikki: Did the presence of the ‘effects’ change how you perceived and made your way through the game’s world? How would the game have changed if there were no effects to find?

Lacuna III (An visually ‘spooky’ game): The NPC dialogue in Lacuna III is an interesting choice – although some NPCs may speak cryptically, a few speak in friendly, almost cute ways. What’s the effect of this on the player’s experience and perception of the game?

LSD Dream Emulator: In the dream-like games we’ve played so far, you transition from one place to another through doors, waking up, dying, or portals. LSD Dream Emulator adds a new way to the mix. What is the overall effect of colliding with any object functioning as a trigger to the next dream-world?

Now that I’ve generated around 50 games and written questions for them, that should buy me some extra time this semester to polish up questions, readings, and find new games to replace my weaker choices. I would like to include more short writings of my own on the games – I managed to do this for a few games, but for most I only had time to write summaries. I think it’s important to introduce why I’m picking a particular work. The past few weeks I’ve played ~80 or so games so I’ve found a handful I think are worth assigning.

I’d like to more strongly theme the games together. E.g. “newsgames”, “political”, “architecture”, “dreamscape 2d”, etc. I did attempt to do this for some weeks, but other weeks I had to do some ‘easy’ weeks like assigning some 3D games that weren’t Great but that I thought would be easy for students to emulate in their work, or even assigning my own games (which I’m still feeling okay about doing – though it does feel a little weird at times.)

Projects

We had four crits over the semester. I think this was too many. The first three required entire classes (of which I only had 28 classes in total), the last final crit took the last two days of class.

The idea was: Twine game, 2D Unity game, 3D unity game, Final project. It was an easy way for me to get a decent syllabus done, but it’s clear in retrospect that expecting four finished projects with the expectation of a crit was too much.

Instead what I’m shifting to for the spring semester will be a few shorter assignments focused on literacy with tools and design exercises, and then just a midterm and final project critique.

In the future I’d like to incorporate more interesting design exercises – perhaps when I get more confident with teaching. Robert Yang, Jake Elliott and Paolo Pedercini’s teaching work have been good reference points in this regard.

Critiques

I was initially nervous about these at first, but then I realized it was basically a feedback session and it got a lot easier. It helped I had taken a few art classes in undergrad. One problem is that it got a little awkward when it was unstatedly obvious the student wasn’t satisfied with their work or, maybe, knew they turned in something of poor quality. But I never really brought this up and insisted on investigating the work anyways, and that seemed to have been fine and perhaps contribute to class goodwill.

I made sure to take notes for each student… which helped the discussion get going when the student had trouble talking about their work.

Because we are dealing with games and not traditional artworks, students must play the games ahead of time. Which is fine but this ends up having to shave a few days off of each student’s development time for a given project. This should be less of an issue since next semester will only have two crits.

General lessons on teaching

I didn’t anticipate how much of a distraction electronics would be. It feels a bit absurd to do this, but I’m planning on banning all electronics during class discussions, unless a student specifically requests to use something for note taking. Which I would then grant permission for (under the threat of a grade reduction if they take advantage of the policy). I’m not really the most confident when it comes to punishments but it seems like a necessary thing for discussions to be productive. Some students were producing music, chatting, etc.

Additionally, I’m implementing a no late work policy. I had a few students who couldn’t keep up with the work and ended up missing many assignments. I think this will help to prevent work from piling up for those students. In terms of projects the no late work thing sure sounds stricter – but I think it is also necessary. I had students turning in things a few days late or even on crit day and it really fucked up the crits sometimes since only I and a few others would have anything to say about the work.

If anything I want to emphasize that it’s okay to turn in unfinished work/WIPs. But it’s hard, and I assume it’s something students don’t feel as proud of doing.

As for discussions in class, I only did this a few times but taking notes during the discussion is really helpful over a 90-180 minute discussion, in order to reference back things people said. Should have done this more often. Might have been anecdotal, but I felt like discussions were livelier when I sat at the same big table as students, rather than project the game onto the screen during discussion. I’m still for live play, but it seems better to have another student play the game – I think students may see it as easier/more ok to be distracted if I’m up at the front of the class.

Unity (3D)

For 3D, Vanilla Unity is a hard thing to teach to non-coding students. It’s an extremely powerful tool and as  you might expect if you’re not used to coding it can be hard to track down problems.

From the students, I mostly ended up with little/no-interaction first-person games. I tried to teach coding for a few days but this was pretty much a failure. I think teaching coding would be too difficult alongside the other goals of the course – I’d probably have to axe game assignments – so I’m focusing on looking into scripting tools this semester.

This semester, I’m requiring (non-programming background) students to use Playmaker if they want to use Unity 3D, hopefully that will result in better games as it (I hope) helps abstract away some of the coding and get them more into design, rather than worrying about randomly downloaded libraries not having namespace collisions or figuring out C# syntax.

2D Unity

Unity 2D wasn’t much better. For getting student to just make a simple game, there are so many caveats that make this a nightmare… objects disappearing because their Z coordinates change for whatever reason, it’s hard to get pixel-perfect set-up, the sprite animation system in Unity can quickly become tedious.

So I’m using Stencyl instead. Game Maker feels a lot more ideal and documented, but I’ve managed to figure out enough with Stencyl that I feel comfortable teaching it. It also has drag and drop coding, which, while tedious, is less error prone.

And, it works natively on Macs, which is necessary  because my students are only guaranteed to have Macs.

Reception

Despite shortcomings with the course the students seemed to all be satisfied. On a few accounts I heard that it was one of their more well-organized classes. Evaluations will come out soon so I can see some more feedback, hopefully. Using different tools should help – I would rather leave the students in a place where they can go further with the tools rather than being stuck at a coding roadblock.

In general…

Teaching is pretty fun, especially when getting a good discussion going or when a student produces interesting work. It’s nice to stay up to date on aspects of youth culture.

I was pretty lenient with grading this time around – not sure how much I should change that.  I think for the most part, students did put in good effort and their projects will be improved by structuring the class slightly differently, and changing up what tools we use.


Moved to Tumblr/Medium

I’ve started to post longer-form stuff on Medium: (this is a recent discussion of the game Morning Coffee)
View story at Medium.com

and shorter updates on my tumblr
http://seagaia.tumblr.com/

This wordpress won’t be updated anymore, so go to those places!


blah blah even the ocean ramble

some of my goals with even the ocean are

1. make a pleasant experience.

at least for me, from a level design standpoint i want to make areas that are fun to go through but not impossibly difficult with a little bit of practice . this can be condemned as not that interesting design – but – i am not too interested at the moment in creating well thought out puzzles of my own that progress in say a the witness way (though i like those games a lot). actually it may be that i am too unskilled or lazy to attempt a thing in context of all the other work the game has…i don’t know. i really want every person with basic game literacy to be able to see the game as a whole. i think the level design will be better than anodyne, but if i want to do a super good job with it i would stick to a much smaller proejct.

play the levels, understand the atmosphere, passively understand how it comes together, make it through everything and think about it. the base mechanic/gimmick is still very simple and we keep it simple so that you are repeating this the entire game, in different contexts……and yeah. i suppose the balance mechanic of it is very important in this thematic sense, otherwise we would basically just be making a nature explor-y game. which is totally fine! just not want i want to do totally at the moment

2. give a contemplative experience. this is sort of done by having these themes or ideas in the back of your head as you make music or art or design a level and decide how it fits in to the game (which you give just as much thought to in terms of those themes and strucutre….) . you can sort of flavor an area with themes or ideas about being human and when you do this in magical ways, people get this sort of…’feeling’ about an area, or a place, or an experience.

i don’t want to give a didactic, personal story, or make a political or social statement, or cause empathy with some party of people, though i think games like that are really important in the progress of games as a whole. i want to make something to reflect on or that you passively take with you but that doesn’t shove the player down one path of thought too specifically. i think we sort of accomplished this with anodyne, players had some feeling about things being ‘different’ about an area. and that’s good, at least for me. cause people to introspect a bit.

and that’s why i think the aesthetics are so important. they’re not just to make a pretty area, they are needed to go along with the ideas we have in mind for the game world and that specific area, and i think if we put enough though into that,t hen people can subconsciously (or consciously) make these connections and interpretations for themselves, especially if they kind of relate to the mechanics they are going through with jumping around and the energy balancing. i think there will be enough info that the interpretations will lie within some rough themed space of interpretations. at least that is my intention, i don’t want it to be far too vague…basically whatever walk of life you are in, something specific or personal to you i want to have created and taken away from playing the game.

because if you don’t give a shit about your music or your art and you don’t think about it with every pixel you draw or note you make…then you run the chance of just confusing someone or having a bunch of meaningless noise. yes a game is about the interaction but there are things you can also do in conjunction with that when you are careful with the music and art design.

there is a ‘universe theme’ or themes the universe of the game is based in. often steeped in the base mechanics and interactions (jumping, energy bar)….and sort of thought about intensely at first then forgotten – makes its way in sort of passively to everything else…Then the sort of game-world themes which is how the big macro parts of the game fit together as you progress through it, and the symbols/entities we put in each and how you play through it on that high level. then the level themes which are the most granular, ideas put into levels that sort of have this connection between sets of levels. well that was vague…hmm.

obviously we will fail at accomplishing this, but i think we can do a pretty good job if we try hard enough.

well yes okay.


11/4/2013

development has been as usual – a combination of

– figuring out what later areas should be in specific (we have an outline of each place, or at least I do – but as you implement some areas on the level design level you somehow get some better vision of what a later level should be – this is also in part to finding coincidentally useful inspiration from outside of my room-office).
– actually making levels (level design)
– programming new entities (traps, ‘enemies’ ,etc), implementing features, fixing bugs, tweaking previous entities
– writing a variety of music for the game

and it will likely be like this for quite a while since there’s still a fair number of areas to finish. and that’s only for The Ocean part of EtO, but they are basically two games so we’ll finish the ocean first, then move on to Even (then release, I guess! so far away…)

i’ll post music later …maybe, or screenshots, but http://seancom.nfshost.com/songaday.html has some stuff though most of it is like WIPs or scrapepd things

—-

anyways

happy halloween (well, belated…), if you celebrate it. i ended up streaming anodyne while using the bitmap cache scrambling thing.

room insulation is an annoying thing. i was hoping to save a little on heating by insulating the windows with film, but I did that and I’m not sure if it helped, but then I had to put stuff on the bottom of my door because there was a draft there. maybe insulating the other apartment doors and windows will help?


2013-10-27

Hm, so what’s been happening recently

Well, there are some new things I am working on. As always that’s up at https://soundcloud.com/seagaia/

A new-ish one is https://soundcloud.com/seagaia/northworld-even-the-ocean-ost . I’m working on one of the overworld musics for even the ocean. I think it too me so long to arrive at this because you really need to understand your game and its structure before you can even start to work on something as unifying and thematically important as a world map theme! So it’s good that I think I am making headway on it.

Even the ocean is fine otherwise. It’s just grinding out some work on something each day, and eventually the game will be done. Though I feel like I should be able to do more !

I also had the idea to install Anodyne in some art galleries around Chicago. I want to make an installation that gives the public an eye into the creative process around a game, rather than viewing it as an entertainment commodity. I’ve been discussing with a few friends the best way to do this an dI have what seems like a decent idea (and it is cheap to do). Now to find someone that will let me display it!

—–

It’s getting colder!

Sean


2013-10-20. humble bundle etc, other things

oops, look, i have forgotten to write anything recently..

still working on even the ocean most of the time, and then a small SECRET side project, hm, i can’t say much about it, but it is releasing in japan first in a very uh, different way, which should be interesting. that release won’t be for a few months though.

another side project is on the backburner, but that’s okay, since i’ve hardly done anything for it (it’s a small adventure game i want to make).

—–

anodyne stuff

so, maybe the most recent bit of news is that anodyne android finally released! well, it released through the HUMBLE BUNDLE. This is great exposure wise for anodyne and also financially for jon and I! I had to make a few fixes though and push another build (barf). thus ends the anodyne saga forever, which makes me happy because i’m fucking sick of working on it (I was sick of working on it since like i started fixing the mobile version and bugs). it’ll be out on google play when the bundle sale’s over, anyways.

Hooray!!!

more to the anodyne postmortem is coming (never) whenever i decide to (never) write it(.)…

ANODYNES DONE FOREVER!!!

anodynedone

—-

even the ocean

development’s fine. it has just been programming features and then staring blankfaced at the level editor (when you stare into the empty level, the empty level…)

didn’t decide to enter the igf, there was really no point because we’d have to spend all this time doing ‘glue’ stuff making the game playable in a coherent way (right now it is just transferring the coherent world design in our heads into levels. so we are building levels now, for the most part, which is time consuming! i stare at an editor quite often, – the level editor or code editor)

we decided to spend most of our time working on THE OCEAN and once we finish that, do EVEN. so that will be a long time i guess, but i’ll keep myself entertained with development on even the ocean , side projects, and musical projects. i have this thing of needing to release stuff every now and then so the long development cycle of ETO might drive me insane otherwise (but when it’s done it’s gonna be so so good!).

with THE OCEAN, we’re in a “early/mid july” anodyne state…i.e., we are building out dungeons and levels and tilesets and sprites and music and have all of the main dungeons/levels planned, with some interstitial stuff that will be thought of as we go. so realistically…there is like 5-6 mos of work left on The Ocean. I will try to work harder though to get it done faster…

—–

this post gets more miscellany/boring/personal after this point, so you could probably skip it.

music stuff

in a secluded northern place

I wrote this for the indiestatik kickstarter and also even the ocean. it’s in an even-the-ocean melodic style (even the ocean music is tending to fall into a melodic or ambient style, both being sort of supported by use of sound effects as instruments at times).

i’ve been using the free Carbon2 NI synth for some of my sound effect instruments and leads/pads/etc. It’s nice, i guess, but I like to balance it out with snes/genesis instruments to not give the music too much of a ‘modern’ feel, because i feel that would overly clash with the art style.

luckily, my production is quite bad so i would probably have trouble giving a modern feel to the music, whatever that means

Little Neurotic Space Station Vignette #1

http://tindeck.com/listen/hhau

This is a non-game music project I’ve been working on.  you can listen to the first song here (i need to fix it, it clips in this.) The title is mostly meaningless but seems to describe what it ended up sounding like. I’m trying to work on a series of sort of upbeat, melody-driven/traditional structured electronic stuff that kind of focuses on describing an abstract scene or short series of events. i’d like to add lyrics in some way but i don’t know how to do that / setting up recording is a huge pain / mixing is hard / i should practice more at writing something that is electronically interesting without the difficulty of lyrics anyways

So, yeah. I’d like to nail down a personal style for my non-game music, but it may take some time. Ideally a style I would be able to do a live show with. It may be cool to sing or whatever, but I don’t know what to sing about…I don’t really have any emotional crisis or thing worth singing about – my outlet for that is often talking with friends – what would i sing about? hm. maybe i’ll just not sing. I think I have an okay style for my game stuff – it will get better as i get better production skills, I think – i would like to experiment more with incorporating sound effects into the music)

i’ve also been listening to a lot of perfume’s LEVEL3 and capsule’s CAPS LOCK. the first is nice dance/techno/jpop fare from yasutaka nakata, the latter is also by him but more of an avant-garde/electronic self expression album, which is more interesting i think.

———–

outside of that,

…it is starting to get colder. chicago weather can be like that, fall ends so quickly and then you get this sort of mediocre muggy wet/freezing period that goes on until half-ending in april/may and then summer. i am also trying to get contact lenses. i got some last fall as a test (they charged me like $200-$300 without telling me to ‘get them fitted’, what a load of shit), and i can’t get them in. my eye hurts after trying, but whatever, i will figure it out eventually/