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Yden V3 Development

Posted by A Tobias 2 years ago
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.
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on 10 Roots


17 Romania
Jordan Hale
Can somebody tell me why he Abandoned MARDEK for this?
23 United States MelancholicPhlegmatic
Mainly because his interests and ideals changed. He's changed as a person, both physically and mentally, since the last MARDEK in 2010.

And he didn't completely abandon MARDEK... maybe making them, yes, but it still has a place in his heart. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't have based Taming Dreams off of it to an extent.
32 Argentina INFJ EIE SoSp RLUAN IAS PhlegmaticMelancholic
I'll be your friend!
30 United States
I like this a lot! I'm hoping this does pull through, because as I said before, this game feels like its own flavor, and the fact you're successfully making randomly generated features is an exciting game in and of itself! I don't like the format, as mentioned on my post in the other blog (hate Androids at this point...), but I'll probably force some techie to get me up to speed if this comes out. Best of luck!
23 United Kingdom INTJ 694 RLUEI MelancholicPhlegmatic
Y'know I'm now wondering, what is your normal reaction to when your depression/anxiety/loneliness/other sundry mental maladies strike?
Is there anything that helps you?
Do you fight it head-on?
Or do you just end up feeling miserable and throw up your hands and say "there is nothing I can do"?
Because from you post it seems your reaction is the last, the one you know to be the least healthy, then beat yourself up over it, then beat yourself up about how trivial the previous beating up was... and the cycle continues.
I also see what appears to be a pattern in when you are most afflicted, have you tried to find patterns or just accept it as "just how things are"; because I have a feeling, if there is a pattern (like every four weeks)you may have found something that may help you, both when fighting the demons betwixt your lug-holes and when working on your games.
We all want to help you, we worry very much.
19 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
He's right, you know.
I certainly want the best for you.

Sometimes, even just recognizing a pattern to 'down periods' can help to diminish their impact. Maybe not for everyone, but it rarely hurts to try.
36 Spain
Only two short comments:

1. I really like Yden. I think that it could be a great success as a mobile game.

2. I want to recommend you an author for all the emotional/consciousness/happiness/depression/wholeness/etc. stuff. You can read him or watch some videos on youtube (or you can do nothing with this information and it will be perfect, as always). His name: Jeff Foster.
21 Czech Republic INFJ EII 451 SoSx RLuAi SAI MelancholicPhlegmatic
A face, full, deep and vivid, constructed entirely via the code seems very interesting to me! It might not have been so, when you introduced the idea, but since those times, I've engaged in the programming a bit, out of curiosity, and I believe I understand what can be so fascinating about the lines executing one's wishes.

I don't remember being particularly uneasy about the possible characters' visages in the original game. I would define the starting ones in the way so that they look well enough to me (or so that they express the personality I'd given them, in my eyes.) Nevertheless, the new models look like a great step forward. And the expressions make them fairly distinctive from one another. It took me long time to realise the characters of same sex have the same pose in the first screenshot, due to their individualities.

Should this new Yden's development be less time-consuming or more straightforward than another Taming Dreams episode (I would like to remind I am a person with absolutely knowledge on game creation!!), I understand you might prefer stick to it. I am convinced that finishing smaller pieces of work is the most effective motivation boost ever.

Finding another person attractive is such a complicated and curious process! It caught my attention while doing the Socionics test, that one of its part was based on choosing of two portraits the better looking one, according to intuition and personal tastes. I tend to be quite aware, while creating my characters in various games or just idly staring at people's faces on the street, what specific features of somebody's appearance make them physically likeable to me. For instance, when inspecting the first screenshot you've posted, I feel to be the most keen on the third woman from right, in bottom row.

Anyway, I like the feeling of getting closer to somebody I have created and looked after for a significant part of their life (a perfect sentence to use in everyday life!!), so I am sincerely looking forward to the potential release.

I am sorry to hear about the setbacks preventing you from what you would like to do. I hope the site you consider to set up helps you to cope with your emotions in the way that you need. I would be interested to read about them, definitely, as the positive attitude towards painful moments is something I try to apply within my life, with variable success.

This idea reminds me of a ∞ book I have read some time ago ∞. The author mentions that she found the depression she had to face a guide, a radical response of her organism she had loaded with unbearable lifestyle, and the slow, painful recovery was actually an opportunity to think about proper changes she should make. I found this attitude quite inspirational and I've tried to apply it when I found myself being set down.

The module you mention sounds fairly interesting. (Also, now I know what kind of school you study at!!) I haven't made any new friends yet, either, which doesn't really surprise me. After all, it took just a bit less than eight years to form bonds with my former classmates.

I suppose that getting closer with my new Yden tribe first will do no harm to me!
17 Romania
Jordan Hale
Im Just going to say this: I Don't like where this project is going,you will see this project abandoned after a while like the others
19 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
It's fine not to like it, but to say it will fail and be abandoned is... honestly, that's just mean.

Tobias hasn't given any indication of this. And honestly, with the level of refinement he's putting into it, I imagine it's going to do pretty well!
19 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
(Damn double posts, deleting to shorten the page.)
23 Netherlands rloax SanguineMelancholic
A Tobias has already made a perfectly playable version of Yden in the past so I think saying the project will be abandoned is really uncalled for.

It's alright not to like Yden, it isn't meant to appeal to everyone, but that's no basis for assuming nobody will like it or it won't be released.
32 Argentina INFJ EIE SoSp RLUAN IAS PhlegmaticMelancholic
<sarcasm>That will surely encourage him!</sarcasm>
17 Romania
Jordan Hale
I Dont appreciate Sarcasm
36 Bulgaria
And what (besides Mardek) do you appreciate?

I'm asking seriously. Let's break away from repeating 'Go back to Mardek, please go back!' and see where we can get if we go forward .
25 United States INFP 936 SoSx RLUAI ISA PhlegmaticMelancholic
I would play this! :)

Also, yes. Positive thinking is extremely important! Don't get so down on yourself. I'm really guilty of this too :/. I'm a big fan of "like begets like", "attitude is everything."

For example, like speaking English compared to learning a new language. You're so confident and you know what to say. You do it almost without even thinking. You use very high level vocabulary too with complete ease and convinction, but once you start learning a new language you start to doubt yourself. You're not sure if you're saying the right thing, you feel like your accent is not good, etc. This kills your confidence and will to learn. There are similar analogies in sports, public speaking, and many other things. You are your own worst enemy. Your mood is arguably one of the things that affects your health and daily actions the most.

I'm really glad that you're taking this unit on positive thinking :). I hope you can try to think more positively and that it will actually help you!
29 United Kingdom INFJ EII 459 SxSo RLxaI AIS MelancholicPhlegmatic
Indeed, and I've been thinking (and probably writing) a lot about that kind of thing recently. I discovered a while ago that learning seems to be divided into four stages: unconscious incompetence, where you're bad at something but don't know enough about the skill or topic to be aware of what you're doing wrong; conscious incompetence, where you know what it 'should' be done like and compare yourself to that and struggle; conscious competence, where you're getting the hang of it but still have to think about it; and unconscious competence, which is confident fluency, like how you described speaking English.

I learned just today that we get to the unconscious competence stage when the information is handled by the cerebellum part of our brain - which is outside our control - rather than the conscious bit which deals with deliberate thoughts.

I'm having to go through the awkward conscious competence stage with a lot of things at the moment. I know what 'doing it right' looks like, but I know I need more practice until I get to that point. Once I do, though, the uncertainties will hopefully lessen, as they do for us all when we get experience!
24 Canada INTJ 513 SpSx PhlegmaticCholeric
Tama Yoshi
I think this is all quite interesting. I wonder what kind of algorithms are going on there. I think it has a certain "cultural diversity" that I don't see in the uh... humans I see in ordinary contexts.

I've been wondering what it would feel like if the characters had poses that matched some sort of personality parameters. I've been interested in synergology, and was fascinated when I had to think about what the character of a platformer should look like, and wondered why "full-profile" protagonists felt so horrible. It's interesting how most popular platformers have their characters half-profile, with their torso toward the player to facilitate empathy (energy towards the crowd, as in theaters).

But that's probably more or less on topic.
Reading the blog post reminded me of a theory of beauty I've seen before. The thought was that the most "normal" people (read, average in their visual caracteristics) were the ones that were most likely to be considered "beautiful" or "attractive". That was mostly just for the face, though.
Incidentally, I think that for some of your models, the average models are indeed slightly more attractive than the random ones.
29 United Kingdom INFJ EII 459 SxSo RLxaI AIS MelancholicPhlegmatic
I'm planning to add different poses based on personality; the only reason I haven't yet is because it's still so early in development. I feel it'd make each person actually feel like an individual much more!

I've always found side-on characters quite unsettling, but never really thought about it or noticed that it affected a game's popularity... so that really is quite interesting to me! I do consider poses whenever I make characters, though; it was a big thing in Taming Dreams, because I know that a lot of personality is expressed through body language.

I was thinking about the 'average = attractive' thing while developing both this and the original Yden; I'm familiar with those studies/experiments/whatever where programs were used to merge many photos of faces together to produce a (rather pleasing) average result; the sorts of things that come up if you do a Google image search for 'average face'.

I originally added some kind of 'attractiveness rating' value that was generated for each person based on this - basically, the closer their traits were to the average, the higher the value - though it didn't really work out since averaging out a bunch of randomised values produced a value in the middle anyway!
19 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
I honestly love reading your sort of psychological analysises (analasi?) and your writing about feelings. I'll be one of the first people to look at the Emotional/Mental State blogs. I've grown to really enjoy understanding people in how they think; I feel like I can connect better to them. That I can be a better support. They help me better understand how people are, so I can better understand how to deal with or befriend them...

... i-is that weird? Sorry!

And it's actually part of the reason I've been considering taking psychology.

So as I understand it, Yden is a virtual generational pet generator. I haven't found it appealing to me until I started playing pokemon again. I remembered why I liked games where you 'keep pets'. I impress my own sort of characters and ideas into them, like you said you did with Tamagochis and Digimon.
So I think I will end up liking it a lot.

(The sexless nudity of these images is actually kind of silly and funny to me; It's like a child learning and using a curse word like 'Stupid'.)

I think one of the best ways to bring them out of the uncanny valley of sorts would be pose, like you've been doing - but I can see how that could be hard! Expression is the other thing, but I think I saw you mention it too.
25 United States INFP 936 SoSx RLUAI ISA PhlegmaticMelancholic
analysis -> analyses!

like parenthesis -> parentheses
29 United Kingdom INFJ EII 459 SxSo RLxaI AIS MelancholicPhlegmatic
I'm glad that what I write can be in some way interesting or useful! That's certainly why I'm doing psychology myself, and I don't really understand what it's like to not want to understand people better in order to connect with or help them!

We as humans are basically programmed to develop at least vague emotional connections to people with whom we're familiar, and I find it interesting how quickly I can become attached to my little characters in what I've made of this game so far... It's not surprising though, considering how it's engaging the same parts of the mind that social interaction does, in a way.

I think they look less creepy when in motion, but obviously screenshots can't convey that!