As usual, here's a link to the ∞ Android version of Taming Dreams ∞
! Though recently my attention has been on making (or I suppose remaking) a game currently codenamed 'Yden', which I'll talk more about here!
How I'm doing...
Firstly, sorry about the lack of updates recently, and the lack of replies to comments. Honestly, I haven't read a lot of the recent ones yet... While I appreciate the fact that there are people who write long things in response to my blog posts, and that mostly those things are very supportive and encouraging, there's always the threat that there'll be one or more that'll tell me something I don't want to hear, and recently, well...
I've been struggling to cope emotionally with the stresses of life. Loneliness, primarily, which plagues me still. I'm not as lonely as I was a few months ago, but it's somehow harder to endure every weekend alone when I know that there are people I'd like
to spend my time with, but I can't because they're with other people who they'd rather be spending their time with instead. So it's just me and my not-exactly-pleasant thoughts, which are usually about the bleak-seeming future. I spend far more time worrying about it than I do attempting things to improve it.
For years I've written about my struggles with these kinds of feelings in my games development blog, with mixed results. I do it because I feel my games are born from my mind, and so explaining the workings of that mind might be interesting or useful to people... Plus it helps explain any delays, and there's a certain catharsis in writing out such things. However, in the past, some people have complained at me for doing this, so I tried to make or use other sites to vent or seek peace of some sort... again, with mixed results.
As part of my Psychology university course, I have to do a module called 'Learning to be Happy', which I find more fascinating than anything else we've covered so far. As a broken person, I'm intrigued by what's apparently called 'positive psychology'- that is, the facet of the field that deals with improving one's overall psychological well-being, even in mentally 'normal' people - and would love to deepen my understanding of it. As part of this module, we have to do an assignment where we introduce a new thing into our life in order to improve our overall happiness; drinking more water, exercising more, something small and seemingly doable like that. I thought that perhaps what I should do is start a blog specifically about taming the mind... That is, I'd write about my own feelings and struggles, but in a hopefully positive way. Rather than just venting negatively, I'd write posts where I draw on my understanding of positive psychology and coping techniques to see how I might overcome my current difficult mental state. It'd be a way of improving my own happiness, of course, but others might be able to benefit from it too, and of course it'd neatly separate the 'feelings stuff' I like to talk about from the games development stuff that people probably prefer to read about here.
I'll start it as soon as I've finished setting it up, and - unlike the previous times I tried similar ideas - I won't keep it secret or 'invite only' or anything like that. I'll link to posts there from here so that those who are interested can see them, and those who aren't don't have to. It won't be a community, though I'll use a comment system called 'disqus' which I think lets you post using various social media accounts or something.
So yes. That. Sadly the depression hasn't allowed me to work on Taming Dreams recently, though I hope writing that blog will help to make me at least slightly more reliable. While I felt I couldn't work on that project, though, I directed my attention to another game currently code-named Yden, as per the intentions I wrote about recently...
Yden is basically a 'social sim', where you play as a god who maintains a sort of 'Garden of Eden' populated by humans who grow, form relationships, breed, live and die.
As I wrote about in ∞ this sillily-named post a billion years ago ∞
, it started off as an experiment to see if I could write code to generate faces - and then bodies - using formulae (of the form 'draw a line from point A,B to point C,D...') rather than any kind of pre-drawn art. I was really proud of it because it felt like quite a technical achievement, and it turned out much better than I expected it to!
Basically, it works by generating a bunch of random 'gene' values, and drawing shapes based on fixed values altered by those genes. So for example the nose might be between a width of, say, 10 and 20 pixels, based on the gene. People could breed with each other, and the offspring would combine the genes of both parents, and as such would look a bit like them. As in life!
However, the people looked... interesting. Yes, that's one way of putting it.
Or rather, they look like weird, ugly troll monsters or something! I'd call it 'stylised', and I suppose it is, but mostly I feel it just looks 'off' now, in an unappealing way. This image shows the 'average base' (when all genes are set to a value exactly in the middle) as well as five randomly-generated people for each sex.
One of the most interesting things I found about the tool was the idea of attractiveness; what made some faces more attractive than others? Could I make an attractive face? How? We naturally find some faces more attractive than others, of course, but actually having to design a face I found attractive using these gene values led to a greater understanding of what exactly it is that I personally like.
However, though deliberate design with the intention of producing attractiveness led to things like this:
...I actually found that the people I felt were more attractive were the ones I bred over the course of several generations, such as these:
I wondered though whether I preferred those because I'd selected for attractive genes based on subjective perception - that is, I'd bred the ones I found the prettiest and, after several generations, these were the results - or whether I liked them because they were, in a sense, my own children; I'd seen them be born, seen them grow up... I'd been there throughout their whole life, and it led to a strong feeling of emotional attachment that I'd hope this game would produce in others too. I suppose I'd never truly understood (on a more than distant, cerebral level) why parents loved their deeply flawed children until I played around with this for a while.
Back when I was more involved in the online Flash game scene (though I was never very involved), I remember stumbling upon a game (on Newgrounds, I think) which stuck in my mind long after I'd forgotten what it was called or who made it because it played with this feeling of emotional attachment in a surprisingly effective way. Essentially, it was a virtual pet where you looked after a convict in his prison cell. I don't remember what the aim was - if there was one - but I do remember that while the convict character was crude, aggressive and ugly - as you'd expect from such an archetype - the act of looking after his needs and becoming invested in his life made me care quite a bit about him despite his faults. I've always been fond of virtual pets in general - I had many Tamagotchi and Digimon virtual pets when I was young - and felt the same about them, so it's this feeling of genuine caring that I hope to encourage in players of Yden. I feel that can go so much further, so much deeper, than a diffcult puzzle or challenge or fancy 3D graphics or anything like that.
Being able to tweak looks to match some kind of ideal runs the risk, perhaps, of encouraging fantasising about the unattainable; perhaps people would make unrealistically attractive characters and feel upset when what they saw (or had) in the real world failed to match up to that. It seems like the tool encourages superficial judgements, or the objectification of people based on physical traits. But! I noticed that quite the opposite turned out to be true. There were characters whose appearance strayed far from my preferences who I loved anyway, and it felt as if something like that could help me overcome my perfectionistic tendencies. I imagine most people's life experiences have conditioned them to have this kind of natural tolerance of differences anyway, but I've always been so sheltered that my mind believed that perfection was realistic and to be pined for. Making this felt like a step towards overcoming that.
Anyway, I felt that if I was to make the game for mobile (the original was made as a browser game), I'd use the opportunity to rewrite the person-generating code, just to see if I could make it produce people who were more pleasing to the eye. It certainly did produce results that were different
, and in many ways I feel the people did look better, but there's still something 'off' about them:
Again, there are the 'average bases' on the left (which have teal eyes and hair because that colour is right in the middle of the hue spectrum... apparently) and several results of running the random person generator.
In both this and the original, the faces were fixed; their expressions were determined by their genes, and they stared blankly into space, inanimate, like corpses or creepy dolls or something. The big glassy eyes - meant as an attempt to give more personality to the characters this time around - only seemed to exacerbate this unsettling effect.
Again, I tried to use the tool to produce characters I found personally attractive:
But I never got as far as coding any of the actual gameplay mechanics this time, so I never got a chance to see them grow up, and the emotional connection wasn't formed.
That was a few months ago (I think??), so I thought I'd try to start again, to see if I could produce more appealing results the third time. I felt I'd learned more about faces since the last attempt - both from the failures during that attempt and from drawing and studying faces in more detail since then - and I hoped the results might reflect this skill development.
Here's what I've got so far, after less than a week of on-and-off effort:
The format's the same as the other images. Average bases and random people.
I'm quite happy with the results, but I wonder whether this is simply because they're novel; I loved and was deeply impressed by the first set immediately after writing the code that generated them. Still, I feel that these are probably objectively nicer-looking, though. I think.
Unlike in the other two versions, these characters are actually animated, both bodily and facially. They emote based on their actual state - as they should! - rather than having their face fixed into a rigor mortis grimace, and it's amazing how just seeing them blink or smile or look to the left or right adds so much more aliveness to them. Their body animations are subtle (though it was quite a technical challenge to figure out how to combine a bone-based animation method with the code-generated textures), though they make a lot of difference too.
While the other versions used the whole colour spectrum for eyes and hair, I felt that the frequent unnatural hues added to the unsettling effect, so this time I'm only using natural colours for both. You'd be able to get dye items during gameplay that could be used to change the colour of hair, though.
I don't know if anyone but me finds this sort of thing interesting, but here's a process of how the models were developed:
It's almost like sculpting, adding bits at a time, refining, tweaking. I like seeing how complexity emerges not just suddenly out of the blue, but through this process of small steps; it makes the creative process seem less intimidating and elusive (though I regret not taking more detailed screenshots of every step of the process).
Also, I hope this sexless 'nudity' isn't making anyone feel awkward! I see it as an artist, but I suppose people who link nudity strongly with sex might find it a bit weird that I'm posting (or indeed making) such things.
As I work on improving the tool, testing it constantly, I collect pictures of randomly-generated people that I particularly like the look of; it seems that the rate at which they appear with this third incarnation of the tool is higher than with the other two. For no good reason, here are a few from various stages during development (by which I mean before I added clothes and hands and the new, better poses):
I feel the desire to show these off simply because I'm so happy with how the tool has turned out so far, considering the whole "they're drawn using code" thing. I feel that's quite remarkable myself.
Now I need to get around to the actual gameplay! I'll describe that in more detail some other time, but it's basically the same this time around as it was in the original version, which I described in that old post. So check that if you want a better idea of what these people are actually for!
Anyway. My biggest problem at the moment - and the source of the debilitating depression that prevents me from doing what I must - is loneliness. I feel like I need to make new friends... and in some odd way, playing around with Yden feels almost like I am! It's no solution, of course, and I do know what opportunities await me in the real world to meet new people (it's just a matter of waiting at this point), but for now, I'm choosing to channel that deep desire into this particular project, and it's coming along quite quickly as a result.