Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Is this
blog still here? Man.

This isn't going to be an announcement for some kind of hiatus. Every time I say I'm taking a break I end up doing a post about a week later, which makes me look like a liar.

But I do have finals coming up, which means 1) completing a game and documentation and 2) memorizing a bunch of scales, triads, and inversions.

I also dropped WoW because, just as it became a habit to play, it became a habit not to play.

Which doesn't mean I've gained any time, because I also got some new toys:

1. A DS Lite - Puzzle Quest combines the addictiveness of Bejeweled with the addictiveness of RPGs; you may as well just soak your brain in opiates.

2. A Casio Digital Piano - 88-key and weighted. I've always wanted to learn, and it makes learning theory easier.

3. A Wii - Just found it today. Best Buy had five in stock at the Customer Service desk. Did a few rounds of Tennis and Bowling and loved it. Picked up Zelda and hoping there won't be a Water Temple moment for me in it. Will also give the online service a shot - there should be some classic games that will interest the wife.

In addition I've set a goal to complete a second draft of the first novel this year - quite a timeline, but this thing has been 90 percent written for six years.

The greatest band in the world is also meeting for the first time on Saturday. Five people, two of which actually play instruments. They will tremble at our thunder.

Hope everyone else's schedule is as chockful as mine.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Round Table Pictures

Little One

little one rises
peeks beyond the horizon
searching for sunshine

Moving On
yellow moves onward
rolls forward with urgency
can the spring be far?

The Doorway
here is the doorway
but how can this room exist?
nothing is blooming

Friday, April 13, 2007


Something to keep an eye on . . .

The Toi world-making . . . thing. Production suite, I guess.

It's in a very rough state right now, but has a lot of promise.

I tried it out last night. The terrain engine is very streamlined. In a few short clicks I had a world created and was playing around with a large chunk of flat terrain. Basic controls - raising, lowering, smoothing, flattening. I wanted a way to generate noise, both over the whole terrain or specific areas (and maybe that functionality is in there, but I didn't find it).

Objects are the same way. Click to drop one in, then place, move, rotate.

Particle support and the PhysX engine, too. I haven't gotten to those yet.

My only complaint thus far is that the icons need to be larger and have floating tooltips.

No word on the licensing yet, which is always a bit worrisome. Gamemaker thrived on having a free version that lacked some more advanced features but had room for lots of clever workarounds.


I also tried out Torque Game Builder.

Not bad, but not as user-friendly as they would have you believe. If you're an experienced scripter, then it's definitely a useful product.

I think my biggest disappointment was going through the tutorial and finding out how to make my fish swim back and forth: first, navigate to your game directory, find your game.cs file, open it in notepad, create the fish class, give it an impulse, save and exit your script, exit your game and restart TGB.

That's just a ridiculous workflow. I expected an IDE that would show me available functions as I typed as well as their parameters. And I didn't expect to have to restart everything each time I wanted to see what would happen.

Since I'm just finally putting coding together in my mind, I iterate in very small increments and test every single time I make a change. The way TGB does it is probably the worst for my way of working.

Version 1.5 is supposed to add support for attaching Behaviors through the editor without mucking about with scripts. I'll keep watching that and go from there.

At the moment I've decided to stick with 2-d for many, many reasons. For one, it's easier for me to mock up a temp sprite in Paint than muck around in Blender. For another, it's simpler to visualize behavior and work out the math involved.

And for my long-term goal (tokenization of conversational data) it works just as well as 3-d.


Oh, and I looked at the Unity3d thing. Sounds perfect, but for one thing: Mac only. And no indication of a future PC port. That's too bad. I've considered getting a Mac Mini, so if I do it will go on my list of software, but right now I have no space in my work area for even a Mini.

Let's Not Be So Negative

"But Shimon Gibson, who was part of the team that excavated the tomb two and half decades ago and who appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying he doubted the site was the tomb of Jesus and his family."

I think the funniest thing about the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" is that it really is the tomb of Jesus.

Just not the Jesus they were looking for.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Vonnegut's Gone

A shame
, now, Kurt Vonnegut swallowed up, too.

I had the privilege of hearing him speak to a room of a few hundred students, faculty, and staff when I worked for the University of Georgia.

He was a hundred times funnier than his books and about a million times more profound, even when he was just reading excerpts.

My favorite of his books has to be Cat's Cradle. Some part of it just stuck to me. I remember having a new respect for the Grateful Dead when I learned they named their publishing company Ice-Nine.

Then there were those words. "No damn cat, and no damn cradle."

Some people might consider that sentiment fatalistic, much like the inevitable apocalyptic nature of the book.

I always considered it freedom. Once you stop trying to find the cat or the cradle you're free to see anything.

Or nothing.


I blame the man for telling me about Eugene V. Debs and, from there, hastening a slow decline into humanism and socialism.

So it goes.


Here is the cat's cradle conversation in full:

Little Newt stirred.
While still half-snoozing, he put his black, painty hands to his mouth and chin, leaving black smears there. He rubbed his eyes and made black smears around them, too.
"Hello," he said to me, sleepily.
"Hello," I said. "I like your painting."
"You see what it is?"
"I suppose it means something different to everyone who sees it."
"It's a cat's cradle."
"Aha," I said. "Very good. The scratches are string. Right?"
"One of the oldest games there is, cat's cradle. Even the Eskimos know it."
"You don't say."
"For maybe a hundred thousand years or more, grownups have been waving tangles of string in their children's faces."
Newt remained curled in the chair. He held out his painty hands as though a cat's cradle were strung between them. "No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's . . ."
"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."

No wonder kids grow up crazy. Not enough Vonneguts.

Prototype Problems

If anyone would care to play
around with my game prototype and clue me in as to why an object that is collided with from the top will sometimes pop through the floor? This can also occur when two or more objects are being pushed by the main character - as they bounce one will just 'foop' and be gone.

I've tried all sorts of tricks with gravity, vspeed, move_contact_solid, etc.

So try it out if you wish. I will provide a link to an .exe and, if you don't trust that, one to a .gmk. You should be able to execute the .gmk from an unregistered version of GM7, you just won't be able to access some of the functionality. If you do this, wherever you see a blank action is where I used custom libraries, either a kinetic bounce or a treat as solid.

The graphics are temped in from the original Gamemaker resource packs. It is my understanding that these are free to use.

The controls are the arrow keys (left moves left, right moves right, up jumps, down does nothing). If you press the spacebar you will shoot out a beam that, when the spacebar is released, will push the movable objects away. This is also an error - I've been trying to get it so that the pushing occurs until the object is free from the beam's collision, but I think it's having trouble - I probably have a set vspeed to 0 for all objects in one of my collision events.

Anyway, here it is, help is not expected but would be appreciated. I've thrown up questions twice on the Gamemaker forums and gotten some views but no replies.

Link to .exe file.

Link to .gmk file.

And once again I found myself saying, "Rigid body physics can't be too hard, dammit!" only to walk away frustrated hours later.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

This Will Not Work

I'm tagging myself
with a meme called "comment on the O'Reilly list of Proper Netiquette."

I'll let people know right now that a Code of Conduct for blogging is the second-to-worst type of wankery.

Commenting on a proposed Code of Conduct is the worst type of wankery.

Go here for A Good Citizen's Guide to Not Making Death Threats on the Web.

On Rule the First:

I'll take responsibility for my own words. Comments, though, no fucking way. That doesn't mean I won't enforce my own standards on comments. It just means that if I fail to catch something libelous and it sits on my blog for a few days, then a statement saying I take responsibility for all comments means I'm now the world's biggest idiot. A farfetched scenario, maybe, but this is a farfetched world.

I don't care about the "Civility Enforced" standard. Civility is too often a code word for a load of placating bullshit that masks an inability to stand for anything. Civility is letting Vice President Cheney spin more lies about an al-Qaeda/Saddam connection without calling that mutherfucker on his treacle.

Which obviously means I won't ever disavow ad hominem attacks. It's a weak logical fallacy, I know, but really good ones become pearls of wit.

"He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin."

That's Hunter S. Thompson right there. When I make ad hominem attacks I don't come anywhere near that level, but you can't get better without lots of practice.

If I delete a comment, I don't owe anybody an explanation. Thankfully, I don't have enough readers to worry about it.

On Rule the Second:

"We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person." Gibberish. Say to whom? My boss? My mother-in-law? My friends in the Marine Corps? My old roommate? This doesn't make sense for a reason I will get to later.

On Rule the Third:

Eh. Since most of the blogosphere is about publicly commenting on things, this is impossible. So what if you do decide to talk to a person privately and they don't respond? Are you then suddenly, magically, justified in writing a post?

There is a thin line between "misrepresenting" and "lying through your fucking teeth." People who do the second aren't usually interested in a dialogue toward conflict resolution.

On Rule the Fourth:

If you're offended by something you see on the Internet, ask for all the amends you want; just don't expect them.

Threats, though - that's a matter for law enforcement. No argument there.

On Rule the Fifth:

Anonymity or even pseudoanonymity is a necessary element to the free exchange of ideas.

I understand that some people will use anonymity to be absolutely horrible to other people.

There's always a price.

Easy for me to say, I know. But I don't think I'll ever be surprised by the extent to which human beings can act like absolute shits toward other human beings.

But anonymity also ties into the second rule. Sometimes there are things a person might need to express that they wouldn't say "in person." Maybe it's a personal experience and they're using the Internet as a kind of catharsis (Livejournal is filled with examples). Or maybe they're living under a repressive regime and wish to make political statements that they wouldn't dare say publicly, not even to their friends or family.

Point is, anonymity is not the problem; people are the problem.

Getting rid of the former won't fix the latter.

On Rule the Sixth:

I don't have very good troll radar, because I don't ever get trolls. I'm blessed with a small readership. But yeah, ignore trolls.


That's a wrap.

And, unlike Corvus, I obviously use lots of blue language.

But that's only because vulgarity so often proves my point.

F--. Yeah.

Monday, April 09, 2007


I may have
this thing cracked. I finally got at least a very rough prototype worked out.

The trick was something very simple (naturally). I was trying to just work with the hspeed of my player object and pass that to the movable objects. It didn't seem to pass hspeed as a negative, though (for "left" direction). I could move it to the right, fine - no matter how I collided with the object.

The key was, in a collision event, to pass the direction of my player object to the movables. And this is done by calling other.direction (simple, I know).

I also use two .libs, Ultima Actions v3 and Platform Basic 2.0 - one of them has a decent solids code and the other a rough kinetic collision event (probably just a bounce event with some kind of damping, but saves me a headache).

There are two major errors, and I may end up going to the community for help:

1. If you push a movable object against a wall, when it bounces off the wall it will penetrate the main character's collision. They're both solids, so this shouldn't happen, but I think it has to do with using the jump to position command - I may have to try and find another way to move the objects.

2. If one movable object falls on top of another (or sometimes while pushing several of them together) one of them will pop through the floor. Again, probably something to do with jumping to position. I can fix some of that by playing with the vspeed, but this won't work if the object is in the air (setting the vspeed to 0 in those cases makes the object hang, of course).

I'm also not happy with the way my wall collisions function right now (a simple bounce, but then the character shakes if you keep pressing into it), but that's not rightly a bug.

Hopefully people aren't getting bored with my worklogs. This is a good way to keep track of my progress and the various things I've tried. I hope it might also help other people using gamemaker.

Get used to it, though. I haven't even begun to incorporate the graphics or sound or menu functionality.


And while I'm on the subject, I wanted to talk directly about Gamemaker itself.

Go to Yoyogames' site.

Look around a bit.

It sucks. They barely tell you about the software. It looks like a generic spam or placeholder site.

The original Gamemaker site is still up, but isn't being updated. The tutorials absolutely suck. There is a message about v7 and a whole bunch of new developments for March. Version 7 came out at the end of February.

And here we are in April and the Yoyogames site hasn't changed. They haven't migrated the forums or released new extensions or done much of anything. They don't even have a news feed to tell people what's coming or if they're doing any work.

The creator explained his decision to sell as a way to keep development going since he no longer had the time. That's reasonable. But now there's not even a peep from the new guys.

Not the way to build a community.


64digits is a good way to organize a community, if you can wade through the endless Naruto references and adolescent depression.


Don't forget about April's Round Table.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Half-A-Yard Stare

Something I do not recommend:

Becoming so obsessed with your imagined game that you spend all your time trying to find some way to make the core functionality of the game actually work.

Especially after the original solution seemed so promising but turned out to be incompatible.

Then downloading some kind of Tokamak .dll and fiddling with that until you realize that you can't just call the Scripts, you have to call functions and pass the correct parameters, which you will only figure out through excessive trial and error. And for some reason every time you change the slightest thing the simulation stops working.

So you look for another solution and come upon ODE.

For god's sake, do not spend hours coding in movement and gravity and pondering how to properly use external_calls and even more nebulous parameters. It just isn't worth it. You will never figure out how to stop your player from bouncing and spinning (maybe something to do with torque or angular velocity but there's no way your code will be correct).

And why is it so damn hard to include a simple way to make static bodies?

What you should do is basically lament that 1)The new version of GMPhysics isn't ready, 2)Gamemaker doesn't have a built-in physics simulation, 3)You have to use Gamemaker, 4)There don't seem to be any other physics add-ins that do not require the same amount of knowledge to use as creating one from scratch, and 5)You ever thought that getting a little ghost to push a bunch of blocks around would be an easy thing.


I'm not yet ready to scrap my game idea.

But I'm getting there.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The First Brick Wall

I've apparently reached
the first major obstacle for my project.

Turns out that GMPhysics isn't fully compatible with Gamemaker 7. There is a limit on the number of physics object you can have - too many and the game won't load. So I can get an 800x600 map working with about 30 static objects and 6 physics objects, but more than that and . . . error.

They no longer allow you to buy version 6.1.

No word on a newer version of GMPhysics anytime soon.

So I'm going to look for some other solution to getting the physics in my game.

Here's hoping.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Trouble Sleeping 2

Patrick, were
you referring to Unity 3d?

Thanks for the tip, but I'm kind of stuck using Gamemaker as part of my class.

More fiddling last night.

After many fruitless hours I finally discovered how to get GMPhysics working. I'm convinced at this point that part of the reason programming isn't as accessible as it could be is because programmers take so much basic knowledge for granted.

The .dll thing, for example. Gamemaker's help file says almost nothing, only some cryptic stuff about making one and that you have to initialize it . . . somehow. Good luck.

There were three things I managed to crack last night:

1. Installing GMPhysics.

The easiest thing to do would be to open up one of the included example files (Platform, Polygons, or Water). Delete all the sprites. Delete all the objects EXCEPT for the one labeled "control."

Now save the file as BlankGMPhysics or something similar. There you go.

The other thing you can do takes more work but lets you import it into a work in progress without having to start over.

The good thing about Gamemaker is you can open up multiple versions of the program. So open up one of the GMPhysics examples (I'll refer to it as Platform) and simultaneously open up your project.

Look at the Platform project. Under the Scripts tab you should see a Group labeled "GMPhysics." If you open that Group you will see seven more Groups such as "Polygon" and "World." Those are the Scripts you need to import into your project.

Select the Polygon Group. On the top of the project you will see File, Edit, Resources, Scripts, etc. Click on Scripts. The second item in the list is Export Group of Scripts. Click on that now. Name it the same as its Group name and Save.

Do the same for all of the Groups.

Now, in your own project, click on the Scripts menu. Choose Import Scripts. You should see all the Scripts you saved with the extension ".gml." Import all of them. Then, just to clean everything up, Right-click on Scripts and Create Group. Call this new Group GMPhysics. Drag-and-Drop all your imported Scripts into the GMPhysics Group.

Easy enough, right?

Now comes the real annoying part.

In the Platform project, look to the left and find the Global Game Settings. Double-click to open them. Choose the tab that says "Constants."

Now open the Global Game Settings in your own project and navigate to the Constants page. It should be blank. Press "Append." Now type in the first item from the Platform project.

Press Append again. Type in the next item down the list. And so on. And so on. Make sure to put these values in exactly as you see them.

There. That's all it takes to get GMPhysics into a project.

But that won't get it to work.

2. Getting GMPhysics to actually work.

So I was happy when I figured out how to set up a project with GMPhysics. I was ready to start tinkering.

I put in my temp graphics and hacked together some objects.

Run the game.

Nothing but errors. Error in code line 1.

Bullshit. Impossible. What the hell was going on?

I tried it again. And again. And again.

I took one of the physics examples and put my stuff in and tried it out. Errors. So many errors!

Fuck it. I tried to go to bed. It's 4 AM by now. I toss and turn. 4:30. 5:00. I feel terrible, dizzy and tired and the arthritis in my back is radiating tremblors of pain.

And all this time I'm turning over and over in my head my complete failure to get the goddamn program working. It should work, dammit!

Then it hits me. I'm House, that faraway look, the moment of inspiration, the puzzle solved.

I got up. Turned on the monitor. With all the lights out the monitor's brightness caused sharp pain in my eyes. It took a few minutes of blinking to adjust.

Here's the trick, then, for those who have lasted this long:

Remember the object labeled "control" that just seemed to sit there? It's in all the GMPhysics examples. There's a good reason it's there. It's where the whole thing is initialized.

Which means you need one of those objects in your project. If you created a blank project from one of the examples then you should already have it. If not, here's what you do.

Create a new Object. Name it objControl or something similar. Don't give it a sprite. Set its Depth to a very high number. Make sure it isn't checked Solid. It can stay Visible, however.

-Add a Create Event. Drop in a code block (under the Control tab on the far right) that says "init_physics( );" This is also where you would initialize a ground plane depending on your game type.
-Add a Step Event. Drop in a code block that says "update_bodies( );"
-Add a Game End Event. Drop in a code block that says "release_physics( );"

Now that you have your Control object comes the part that I missed. The part that frustrated me for hours.

Make sure you place your Control object into every Room in your game. That's it.

So Create a new Room. In the Objects tab choose objControl and drop it somewhere in the room.

3. Working with GMPhysics.

The nice thing about this add-in is that you can put nearly all your object's properties in its Create Event and then just call object_update( ); in the Step Event.

Now, for a beginner it's best to stick with the Body Scripts. Double-click on a Script and you should see a pretty good description of what it does and what arguments it needs. Try to ignore the external_call information at the bottom.

Let's say you have an object. A cube 16 x 16.

Do the usual Gamemaker steps - create your sprite and then your object.

Now, in your object make a Create Event. You want this to be a floor, so it doesn't need to move and won't react to any physics. There is a specific argument for this in the create_body Script called "STATIC."

In your Create Event drop a code block and put "create_body(x, y, STATIC, SHAPE_BOX, 16, 16);" That's it. You could also assign that code to a variable using the equals sign.

Just be sure you update your objects in the Step Event and destroy them in the Destroy Event.

Have fun. Get frustrated.


The Problem:

For some reason my physics objects are encountering an invisible collision plane. I have a STATIC ground block. All objects are SHAPE_BOX types. The boxes start in the air and fall, but won't touch the STATIC block.

On the other hand, I created an ACTOR type, so I can move around a little. The ACTOR sits fine on the STATIC block.

Which makes me think the problem is with the physics boxes.

Still, it's a lot easier than trying to fake the physics using Drag & Drop items. Which means more time I can spend tweaking my gameplay.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Trouble Sleeping

I've been having
trouble sleeping lately.

So Sunday night through early Monday morning I sat down and started fiddling with Gamemaker.

I had already come up with my main idea.

My method was simple: I wrote down some themes in which I was interested. Then I wrote down a list of all the verbs that I thought I might be able to do in Gamemaker. Which meant simple stuff - nothing like "God of War-style attack system". Things like "move," "jump," "push."

So I had the big idea. I had a list of interactions.

I managed to prototype my idea by fiddling. Which means that so far I approve of the software. It took maybe four hours using temp graphics.

It wasn't perfect, of course.

Actually, let me explain. The collision system is pretty terrible. I have read suggestions to use masks but no in-depth tutorial on getting them to work properly.

Which means the objects that I can push around sometimes collide with my main character and get him stuck. Or sometimes they clip right into the supposedly solid brick floor.

I also can't make it so that if the main character pushes objects in a line that all of them will move.

I was thinking that maybe a decent physics system could solve this much faster. But there's no help whatsoever for the Gmphysics lib. I have no idea where to even begin.

Ah, the joy of making games.

[beats head against wall]