Loads of new game news!

Okay, it just so happens that a bunch of stuff happened at once regarding games I’ve been working on.

First, the game that’s the longest in the making: CDS Mess. It’s finally available to purchase! Here’s this cool article about it (though they got my graduation year wrong)! Here’s the website for it! Buy a copy here! Here’s this cool video about it:

Also, fellow Digital Media PhD student Albith Delgado and I have made a game for PS Move controllers and Neurosky EEG headsets called Spooky Dodgeball at a Distance. Check out our project blog! Here’s a demo video:

Ramblings on Improvising, Outside Playing, and Robert Fripp

Last night, I had a pretty significant breakthrough on guitar and I want to share my thoughts about it for no particular reason other than it was… well, a pretty significant breakthrough for me. Maybe it’ll be somehow useful for another person.

Basically, I finally took to heart Robert Fripp’s aphorism “Abandon concern for hitting the right note; then, hit the right note” and gave myself license to just improvise over a looped chord with no regard for which scale to use.

You’d think that after more than ten years of playing guitar I’d have started trusting my ear and instincts by now, but my method of improvising has pretty much always been characterized by the thought “okay, which set of notes is correct here (and can I play that set across the fretboard with some degree of fluency)?”

But I realized that, particularly for lead playing (and especially given the harmony that emerges from side-stepping and generally playing outside like some of the guitarists I like the most, Holdsworth in particular), the risk of playing “incorrect” notes is basically zero.

Given diatonic harmony, there are more “correct” notes than “incorrect” notes, so any given fret on any given string is better than 58% likely to be “correct”. Even if one plays an “incorrect” note, it’s either adding an unexpected color to the harmony of the moment (for example, giving a Lydian feel when playing over a major chord) or it’s providing some tension to make a “correct” note sound all the more consonant. And, in terms of getting from an “incorrect” note to a “correct” note, you’re never more than a half-step away (again, given a diatonic scale).

But the whole idea of “correct” notes is bound up in music theory and a fairly conservative application of it. What I just explained is mostly a limited justification for an attitude I hope I can continue to have about improvising.

To return to Fripp’s aphorism: “Abandon concern for hitting the right note; then, hit the right note.”

Intellectually, I need to have the “security blanket” of a music-theoretical foundation for a less structured approach to improvising (which is a bit paradoxical), but—once I have the guitar in my hands—knowing that I’m only a half-step away from a “correct” note gives me confidence to abandon concern for playing a “right” note and instead just play the right note. More importantly, I finally trust my ear and instincts and I’m not afraid to play outside of a prescribed scale.

Part of what’s so exciting about this is that I ultimately have a very liberal view of music, but my guitar playing has been relatively conservative for a long time. To quote Robert Fripp again, “The musician has three instruments: the hands, the head and the heart.” To use his terms, I’ve finally unblocked the boundaries between these three, and I expect it will allow me to make more honest, raw, and interesting music.

@CheeseMTBot

I’ve been a fan of Twitter bots for a while now. Some other time, I’d love to go on and on about why they’re so amazing to me, but—in short—I love both the constraints and affordances of regularly automating 140-character (or shorter) expressions.

I hadn’t really looked into creating my own Twitter bot until this week, when I was learning more about programming for Twitter and using regular expressions (to prepare materials for a course I’m the teaching assistant for). Having a stronger grasp of both of those things made the barrier of entry feel much lower.

Probably as a result of studying these techniques, I recently woke up with some Twitter bot concepts that I was really passionate about. A few of these vegan-themed ideas remain in my notebook (perhaps to also be implemented at some point), but the one I was most excited about was a bot that focused on the word “cheese”.

Despite all tired stereotypes of those who subscribe to the lifestyle, I don’t talk about veganism that much. Sure, I’ll have my occasional moments on Twitter in which I spend 5-10 minutes putting a handful of tweets on the subject out there, but for how much I care about it I don’t think I surface that passion as often as I could.

Well now I don’t have to, in a way.

Every fifteen minutes, @CheeseMTBot takes the latest tweets that have the word “cheese” in them, and changes that string to one of four possible terms: “sexual violence”, “kidnapping”, “animal abuse”, or “forced impregnation”.

One of these replacements reflects my personal values regarding the status of nonhuman animals. The other three are simply facts of dairy production.

Twitter screenshot of @CheeseMTBot

Cows must give birth to produce milk, and the dairy industry doesn’t exactly wait around for cattle to get together and have sex. There is forced impregnation. This is sexual violence.

Cows are forced to go through pregnancy after pregnancy, only to have their calves taken away from them so the cows’ milk can be used for human consumption. This is kidnapping. (Also, the calves are thrown back into the animal-exploitation-for-profit system.) Cows miss their calves terribly. You don’t need to think especially highly of animals’ emotions or intelligence to recognize that plenty of nonhuman animals care deeply about their offspring. Cows are not an exception.

With so many animal-unfriendly foods to choose from, I focused on cheese for a few reasons.

First, dairy is arguably worse than meat. Dairy all but requires maternal suffering. Meat basically only requires death. Even a veal calf’s short and uncomfortable life is somewhat tolerable compared to what a dairy cow must often endure.

There’s another reason, though. I don’t know that you can convince otherwise apathetic individuals to care about animal suffering, but I do think that there are a lot of people who would claim to be interested in animals’ well-being yet maintain habits that are unquestionably hostile to animals’ well-being. I think there are a lot of vegetarians (or at least potentially veg*n-curious folks) who either don’t think cheese is especially harmful or have a hard time giving it up.

For these people, I’m trying to show what is necessary to bring cheese to their plates. My worldview isn’t such that I think people are literally eating kidnapping or the other things, but when I see cheese in the world (on pizza, sandwiches, supermarket coolers, etc or even just on menus) I can basically only think of the suffering required for its production.

In other words, @CheeseMTBot can constantly broadcast many of the things I think on a regular basis. It illustrates how I conceive of dairy products when I encounter them in my everyday life. If I order a sandwich at Subway and am asked if I would like cheese on it, I politely say “no, thank you.” But part of me (the part of me that’s now represented on Twitter 24/7 by my bot) kind of wants to scream, “God, no! I’m not some kind of animal-enslaving monster!”

Speaking of enslavement, I’m very aware of the pitfalls of using severe language to describe what happens to farmed animals. I’m not trying to shock people by exaggerating, but if I shock anybody due to the facts I’m referencing, the problem isn’t my sadly accurate choice of words. The issue is the nature of an industry that’s widely supported by people of all sorts of beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Most of the Twitter bots I’ve seen are just supposed to be funny or clever (and I adore them), but hopefully we can see more #bots4change in the future. (Maybe by then we can come up with a better hashtag for them.)

A Guide to Ending “Gamers”, etc

Usually I post this stuff more quickly on here.

I wrote a blog over at Gamasutra called A Guide to Ending “Gamers” (where it’s become a Featured Post, always a nice pat-on-the-back). I was pretty floored by how much attention it got (mostly positive, I think… so that’s cool). Kris Ligman was kind enough to include it in This Week in Videogame Blogging, too.

Ultimately, August 2014 was really ugly.

First, I was horrified at what was going on in Ferguson. Not being there and not being anywhere close to an expert on the types of things that were happening (or what to say about them), I mostly just looked on in shock as new abuses came to light on Twitter. I tried to signal-boost folks here and there. I didn’t comment much.

Then some different things came up that are more within my realm of knowledge, if I have any knowledge whatsoever: videogames are experiencing some really intense controversy right now. You can find some of the details in TWiVB above.

Plenty of self-identifying “gamers” have strongly disagreed with my “guide”. Often, they twist my words to fit what they wish I’d said (so I’m easier for them to roll their eyes at). Sometimes, they deliberately ignore the context of my post, despite my first sentence providing sources that contextualize what I mean by “ending ‘gamers'”.

Those people were easy enough to deal with, not that it didn’t become kind of a time sink. When people aren’t actually criticizing what you *did* say in a situation, it’s not too difficult to calmly point that out and move on. And even when people weren’t misconstruing my words, I could often understand that their objections were either rooted in values I don’t share, or that they were actually proving me right.

What I had a really hard time dealing with, however, was a Facebook friend becoming part of this new, offensively misguided, selectively critical typhoon of misogyny done in the name of “journalistic ethics/standards/integrity” in games.

I don’t want to encourage people to seek out this truther nonsense and its accompanying violations of someone’s privacy (someone who I care about), but I’ve now lost an acquaintance over it.

This woman was one of the first people I met at UB as an undergrad, and we’d been Facebook friends since around the first week of classes. However, for me, Facebook is mostly just used a way to text my wife and some friends for free… I have probably dozens of friend requests piled up waiting for my response, and I kind of just ignore them because I don’t do much with Facebook. My Facebook friends are mostly people who I met when I cared about paying attention to Facebook. Ultimately, folks who want to “internet” with me can find me on Twitter (and my FB posts are 99.9% automatic posts from my Twitter feed).

So, even though this woman and I have never been especially close and my investment in Facebook is pretty low, I was awake from 1 AM to 4 AM arguing in a regrettably bitter comment thread.

I’m finding it difficult to briefly and tastefully summarize the matter this morning, and I’ve spent too much of my time engaging with this issue already.

My view is that conservative “gamers” are suddenly getting very concerned with abstract notions of journalistic integrity in games, now that videogames are starting to become different from what they’ve been for much of their history.

Where were these people when Giant Bomb was drinking with Capcom employees (some of whom are now even more influential in the industry) on (Giant Bomb-published) video, in connection to a commercial game back in 2008? This may be one of the more ill-advised and extreme cases of Giant Bomb being inappropriate with developers/publishers, but it’s a trend that exists throughout the entirety of what Giant Bomb has done. I can’t say I approve of it, but I’m personally not even out to demonize this and Giant Bomb has a special place in my heart (even if their recent editorial hire has disappointed me for more than one reason). I have vanishingly little interest in defending “games journalism”, but people conveniently kept quiet about this obvious, continued fraternization. That is, until women dared to make free games about mental health.

People taking laughably unprofessional YouTube videos or annotated images as proof of anything while being offensively skeptical of other people’s (primarily women’s) claims of harassment and mistrustful of game outlets’ integrity… that’s all very confusing, frustrating, and deeply saddening to me. While I mostly get where people are coming from when they disagree with my “guide”, this fundamentally flawed campaign being advanced by misogynistic psuedo-gumshoes baffles me and leaves me less able to believe in humanity’s basic goodness (which I do firmly believe in… it’s just more difficult when people reject their inherent capacity for kindness so passionately).

So I’m taking a break from Twitter for a week to try to regain my composure. I just can’t keep looking at this unabashed ignorance. More importantly, I really need to stay prepared for my classes.

I do care about games, a lot. That’s why I’m working towards a PhD in what could easily be the best game studies program in the world (I certainly think it is).

But I don’t want to be a “gamer” and I want the tribalistic nonsense to go away.

Thanks, Buffalo (or Maybe Amherst)

This is my last night in Buffalo/Western New York for the foreseeable future. It’s entirely possible that I’ll never come back here after tomorrow, when I drive away in the moving truck.

It’s been strange for me to process this. I’m moving to Atlanta to start a PhD in Digital Media at Georgia Tech, a school that has essentially been my dream school since I thought that studying towards a PhD was a real possibility for me. Being so excited to go there makes leaving here easier, but it hasn’t been a total cakewalk preparing for the transition. I don’t think any part of me is regretting the decision to move, but I’ve been here long enough that I’m definitely feeling something. But what am I feeling, exactly?

I’ve now done my BA and MFA here, at the University at Buffalo. That’s seven years of studying in the same place (that place largely being UB North Campus in Amherst, New York).

Oddly, I leave behind few friends. Mostly just acquaintances. The nature of my (now former) department and the university it’s a part of is such that the community isn’t necessarily a strong one. At UB, it was very easy to just come and go quietly, happily taking care of business and rarely engaging with people extracurricularly… especially if you weren’t very interested in drinking, and especially if you spent a lot of your college life as a bit of a shut-in.

Also—to speak to graduate school in particular, an enduring case of imposter syndrome kept me from being comfortable around the people who I was supposed to communicate with as peers. My classmates tended to be a good bit older than me, as well (which can be intimidating).

So I didn’t get especially close to many people and I can’t help but feel like I part ways with most of them as warm acquaintances at best, rather than as good friends or former colleagues. (A non-trivial part of this situation is, of course, my fault.)

No matter what the total number of my relationships from here may be, I’ve spent most of the past seven years in the Buffalo area… and that’s virtually my entire adult life up to this point. This place is unquestionably important to me.

For example: this past spring, after I taught my final class for the semester, I realized something: nobody was expecting me to report to UB, for the first time in a very long time.

I was accepted to UB via early decision in 2006. Later, just before finishing my BA, I was accepted into my department’s MFA program. I even spent a semester abroad in undergrad, but for all this time—ever since my acceptance—I always knew I was expected to report to UB at some point in the near future. It’s been a constant since before I could legally vote.

Suddenly, that wasn’t true anymore. It may seem like a small thing, but once it was gone I felt slightly adrift because of it. Once my final class was done, I decided to spend my last day on campus walking around and seeing little corners of it that were so important to me over the past seven years. It was a pretty emotional tour. It’s easy to take your environment for granted, and once it starts to become less of a given… that’s jarring, to say the least.

After my aforementioned semester abroad, I found an apartment in the city proper, ending a string of semesters in dorm rooms to spend my senior year living in the city. That apartment is the one I’m moving out of tomorrow, after four years of living in it.

The process of saying goodbye to this apartment has been frustrating. I’ve been confused at how my home for the past four years demands such little emotional attachment from me, and I get more emotional about my lack of emotion than I do about my impending lack of a key for this unit.

And I’ve liked this apartment! It’s why I’ve stayed here for four years. It’s been pretty perfect for me: comfortable, convenient, safe… all that.

But it’s mostly just feeling like a few rooms to me, and that’s weird to confront. I mean, this has been my *home*. Doesn’t that mean something?

Of course it does.

Over the past week, there have been little things here and there that have felt heavy to do for the last time as a resident of this city. Walking from the Lexington Co-Op to my apartment the other night was a big one. This and others are such familiar experiences in my life, and soon they’ll be gone from my routines.

But I realized something tonight. There’s a very specific reason that these experiences are affecting me like they are. I’m realizing that it doesn’t have all that much to do with Wegmans being a great grocery store (and it is), or anything like that.

These are all things I’ve gotten used to doing with my wife. Buffalo has been home for seven years because this is ultimately where I always came to be with her. The campus tour I gave myself was emotional because I was walking places that I would walk with her.

She and I met extremely early in our first semester at UB, in the dining hall of the Governor’s Complex in Amherst.

We’ve been together since September 2007. That’s longer than the time I spent as a UB student (now that I’ve finished my MFA) and it’s certainly longer than we’ve lived in this apartment we’re leaving. As formative as it’s been to live here, I owe so much more of my happiness to her than I could to a geographical location. She’s not only encouraged me like nobody else could and been a constant source of support, comfort, and joy… but she showed me what a more kind and compassionate life could look like. She allowed me to become a much better person than I would have been otherwise, providing an amazing example that I still try to honor every day.

The reason I’m not going to miss Buffalo more is because I get to take my favorite part of it with me: she’s coming with me to Atlanta, and we’ll build some new routines in a new city, living in a new apartment. And it’ll be great. And it’s all possible because we met as University at Buffalo students.

So thanks, Buffalo (or maybe Amherst).

First Dereification song available for streaming and download

Today I published my first song on Bandcamp, under a name I’m going to use for most, if not all, of the instrumental music I see fit to sell: Dereification.

The project/band/artist name describes my philosophy towards instrumental music (and other things) pretty well.

Also, the name “Dereification” just sort of has a metal vibe to it, right? I mean, it’s not hard to imagine that hunk of jargon written illegibly in white across the front of a black t-shirt. Not that I have any (sincere) plans to design such a thing.

I was originally going to write and release a whole EP this summer, but I decided I prefer the idea of releasing singles, for a few reasons. First, recording was taking longer than expected and I was just getting anxious to get some music out there. Also, it’s not as though I’m working on a concept album. These are just arrangements of sounds over time, and—so far—I don’t have any grand concept linking them other than “I have this guitar here and these notes written down”.

So I plan on just releasing music as I finish it (or, more accurately, when I decide that it’s ridiculous to keep fiddling with the mix).

It’s been a while since I’ve tried to sell any of my work on the internet. However, you can stream this song for free, which I prefer to holding the song hostage behind a paywall. I really like the way Bandcamp works, especially with their pay-what-you-want pricing.

You can listen to the song for free and download the song for $1 or more. Any purchase at any price is hugely appreciated. I’ve invested a non-trivial amount of money into recording this (and future) music, and it would be nice if playing/writing/recording music wasn’t a total money sink.

I don’t like to pirate software. All of the software instruments used on the recording are properly licensed, and—while I didn’t spend a fortune on these things (I’m using EZDrummer and not Superior Drummer, for instance)—I did spend some money on this. And hey: changing strings on an Ibanez RG8 ain’t cheap.

Basically, if I can sell enough to at least subsidize my string replacements for future recordings, I’ll be happy. I mean, sure, those Strandberg guitars sure are fancy and expensive, but this isn’t how I make a living and I’m very happy with the guitar I have.

I’m very grateful for any and all support, which includes listening to the song for free. I appreciate your time and attention, and I’m looking forward to releasing more music for you to hear. I’ve got a few things at various stages of completion that should come out fairly soon. One track has the drums completely sequenced and rhythm guitar recorded, so all that needs to be added is a bass track and some lead guitar.

Today’s song, however, doesn’t have lead guitar. I toyed with the idea of putting a solo somewhere or perhaps even some different textures, but I just love this song as a groovy, riff-oriented track with a simple arrangement.

So here it is: “17 7 14”, available at Bandcamp now!