Man, this year is going to rock out in terms of computer games. Let’s have a look: Read more…
Art is the surface of water between stillness and chaos. It is what exists between the sudden splash and the soft stillness.
When chaos subsides, we find art in the after-pause. No great art is created in the midst of a war. No fine lines are drawn in an earthquake. But when the dust has settled and we have time to look, we can see great beauty, tragedy, comedy or humanity. This is where art can flourish.
When stillness pervades, we find art in the splash. When apathy or tradition dam up humanity into a stagnant pond, great art can punch through the stones and create sweeping waves of inspiration. More subtly, it can be casting an object into a still lake, a quick splash here but the ripples spread all over. The object might be a porcelain urinal, a babbling Irishman, a deformed monstrosity, or a goddamned mess, whose sudden entrance to the stillness may be seen as absurd, or as the discarding of trash. But the casting of today’s trash can be history’s treasure.
Art through the ages, I think, has – to a degree – understood the relationship between stillness and chaos. You can see it in the stone sculpture that looks like it’s alive, dried painted eyes that follow you around the room, fixed words on a page whisking drawing you through old London town, coils of celluloid recreating the movement of life in the same way forever. For the most part, however, we have leaned on a tradition that the Thing of Art (the artifact) is still. A sculpture is made of stone. Paint is dry. Type is set. Film is cut into its final edit. Even in the performing arts, there is the idea of the script, the choreography, the notes. Where these artifacts escape their stillness, there you find art. As the postmodernists rightly point out, the audience see movement and the chaos in this stillness, and thus the art. The artifact is not the art. Nevertheless we say that the person who created the artifact, created the art. They are the artist.
Buddhists have recognized this sort of thing throughout the universe. As the philosopher Alan Watts put it, stillness and chaos “go-with” each other. They rely on each other for existence. You can’t have one without the other, and to focus on one to the exclusion of the other is detrimental. Too much stillness is stagnation. Too much chaos is noise. The Middle Way balances both stillness and chaos, and understanding this relationship is where Art is.
In a play, there is a script and direction. Actors may faithfully but methodically reproduce this and it might be entertaining or insightful, but it won’t be art. They may forget all their lines and ad-lib like crazy, which again may be delightful and moving, but it won’t be art. The best play is one faithful to the script, but each actor brings something of their own.
So in a circuitous way, we come to today. The dominant creative industry (in terms of cash flow) is video games. It’s new money as the industry is still young. Even the “Old Money” people like EA have to fight for their income. We can draw parallels to writing, illustration, cinema and song. We wonder if perhaps games too can be art. Roger Ebert (and Brian Moriarty) say no. Others say yes.
I think we are in great chaos. The computer industry is one of the most disruptive and disrupted industries the world has ever seen. People can buy hardware and software that can provide any artistic outlet you’d want, for ever dropping prices. The Internet age means that anyone can show their art to anyone, anywhere, any time, on any device, to numbers that we can hardly fathom. Computer games can replicate experiences seen in other medias, and are slowly shaking off the artifice of their own nascent forms. As an art form, we haven’t yet had the chance for the chaos to die down for us to experience the art that is the new computer life. We don’t really understand what we’re working with.
Moreover, the key component of interactivity in computer games means that our tradition of the fixed artifact of Art is broken. We’ve been cognizant of this issue, but we’re still coming to grips with it in a practical sense. We still say a movie is art. It isn’t. Watching a movie is art. If no-one watches it, it cannot be art. In the same way, a video game isn’t art. Playing a video game can be. It might be a long time before we get over this – we still have troubles calling food art because the experience is so individual.
And because there is an entertainment industry, we get confused by the converse – if everyone watches a movie, it doesn’t make it great art. It makes it great business, but the chance of it being art is exactly the same as if it made no money.
Nevertheless, the prominence of the entertainment industry means that there will continue to be great improvements in technology and the uptake of technology. When people are comfortable with the tech, we will have an opportunity to turn it into new kinds of art. Dynamic forms of art that give us a better appreciation of the interplay of stillness and chaos, artist and audience, subject and object. Games that are not just exploring within limited rulesets but providing new experiences for each player. Arguably we have this now, but we should strive for more. We should embrace the opportunities that computer-based art can provide. We can still always have our shoot-em ups and fantasy RPGs. You can still have rom-coms after you have Citizen Kane. We just need to go hand-in-hand with our computers to that place in the middle of stillness and chaos. That place called art.
Dev work on Kung Fu Legends has been chugging along. I’ve got the engine into a state where it’s not finished, but the important components are there. Sound, input, the user interface system and basic graphics are all implemented. You can work on the engine for the rest of your life, adding more bells and whistles, and polishing it all to a lustrous shine. But I need a game. I’ve put the game engine on hold until I get more done on the game itself.
A few years ago I was in Brisbane doing research for my novel Breathe whilst ostensibly on holidays. What better thing to do whilst on holidays but browse a bookstore? During my familiar circuit of favourite sections, I came across this gigantic blue sign for An Important New Book. The new book was Tim Winton’s Breath. The blood drained from my face. In my fanciful moments I dreamed of being published and my books being found in the W part of Australian Fiction, right next to Tim Winton. But now he had a book out with a name dangerously close to mine. And he had a last name close to mine. The most salient difference was that he was published and famous, and I was just some guy standing in front of a sign in a bookstore, feeling outraged.
The tension at my end of the table was incredible. Here I was, for once the only party member who had an inside scoop on what was going on, but I faced that one make-or-break question from the DM: “Well, dude, you made a decision how you’re gonna play this?”
Rewind a little. Our adventuring party had struck out to explore the kingdom neighbouring ours. A travelling merchant had disappeared and there was no word of what had happened. We hit a tower and there was no-one there. Everyone had decided simultaneously to up and go. We figured the capital would have some answers so I as the party’s Ranger led them down the mountains towards the city. On our trip we saw nothing. My wolf was uneasy.
We decided not to risk travelling at night so we hung out in an abandoned farmhouse. Being on the lookout for zombies (because there were lots of human tracks and a weird smell in the air), we mostly ignored the DM’s talk of a poster in a child’s room and went to sleep. And then, just when night hit, the raven familiar of our Witch Morgana spluttered out, “Look! Look!” In the distance were hundreds of people, distorted people. No, not hundreds, but thousands. And they were sprinting towards our shelter. We were screwed. With no time to prepare, we got ready to make a bolt for it. In no time zombies swarmed the house. Our illustrious warrior leader Jope and the Arcane Trickster (mage-thief) Switch barged through the crowd. I hung back. Something wasn’t right. Only when a huge, bulbous zombie vomited bile over my two companions did it become clear – our game had taken an unexpected left turn into Left 4 Dead 2. And though it came a little later, I had to make the decision: “Do I clue the other guys in, or do we have fun?”
Ever since I started this blog I’ve been concerned about the intended audience. I’ve got posts on hardcore maths, and lots of posts on games and hardcore game design. While there is some overlap, I got to the point where I thought it’d work best if I split the blog in two. This blog remains the lion’s share of the posts – all my news, thoughts and descriptions of my creative projects, primarily Kung Fu Legends.
If you’d like to follow the mathematical stuff, shimmy on over to mathblog.brettwitty.net. I’ve ported the old articles (comments and all) over there.
And because I want to test out this funky new poll plugin:
What do you think of the blog refactoring?
- Don't mind. I'll just add the other blog to my RSS feed. (67%, 2 Votes)
- Good. I prefer the creative stuff and not so much the maths. (33%, 1 Votes)
- Good. I prefer the maths and not so much the other stuff. (0%, 0 Votes)
- I don't care about either blog! *nyah* (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 3
Currently my old stomping grounds – Brisbane – is being massively flooded. When I say massive, imagine the entirety of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma were flooded. Or for those in Europe, close to all of France and Spain. About 50,000 homes across the state are without power and about 20,000 homes will be destroyed by the floods.
Brisbane is a place close to my heart. I spent many years there for university and made great, lifelong friends there. It’s the location of my novel, Breathe. Such a shame to see it being swept out into the Pacific Ocean.
So please, if you can, donate some cash to the flood relief appeal. It’d be greatly appreciated.
I recently acquired a shiny new Android phone. Over the Christmas holidays I spent a lot of time in airport lounges, so I decided to dive into a few little games from the Android Marketplace. One of them was Game Dev Story, a game available for Android and Apple phones. I had heard a fair bit of buzz about this game through the gaming blogs I read, but hadn’t had a chance to try it out. Not long after I started, I declared the game “clocked“. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about game design, especially with regards to mobile devices. As a very late Christmas present, I’ve wrapped those thoughts up for you and presented them here
Welcome to the new year! Hope you all had a great Christmas and New Years’ period. I did, and got a bunch of new gadgets (including a Kinect – woo!)
2010 was the first calendar year for this blog and I think I’ve done okay. There’s been a reasonable amount of traffic (and not just my friends/family/those I can bully into reading). I started up at the very end of March and get about 160 views a month. My server isn’t melting from the traffic, but it’s better than tumbleweeds The busiest month was August with 224 views. Strangely enough, April was busier (on average per day) but I think the stats program is screwy. Google Analytics provided some neat stats including:
- There were (allegedly) 333 unique visitors 1.
- About two-thirds read a single page and bounce out (not surprisingly for a blog)
- About two-thirds of visits are repeat visits.
- Most popular browsers (in order) are: Firefox (39%), Opera (19%), Safari (18%), Chrome (12%), IE (7%). Though I think these are skewed by Google Analytics being retarded and not recognizing my views (such as checking to see that a page renders correctly or just viewing the admin interface), and thus promoting my browser (Opera) unnecessarily.
- Most popular mobile devices (in order) are: iPhone (48%), iPod (19%), Sony (13%), Android (10%), SymbianOS (4%), iPad (4%) and Blackberry (2%). Mobile browser views are a tiny percentage of total views, but I have support for them now, which I like.
- Most referrals are from Facebook, my own site, some weird Chinese SEO site, and Creations of AmstradHero.
I’ve managed to get back into coding this year, as well as tabletop RPGs, which is neat. I’ve also played waaaaaay too much Team Fortress 2.
Anyway, here’s to an interesting, productive and creative 2011! Thanks for all the comments and eyeballs!
- The Number of Half The Beast? ↩
Structure is a funny thing. In my mind’s eye, when I think of “structure” I think of buildings whether I mean structure in an architectural way, an algebraic/mathematical way, or a game mechanics way. A sprawling structure is something like The Winchester House – rooms and corridors going in all directions, linking to each other in innumerable ways. Those with a mathematical background might want to think of the tree of elements of the free group on a few elements.
Structures collapse when bits of the structure coincide with other bits (quite literally when a building collapses!) In algebra we collapse structures by saying a bunch of things that we previously considered separate are the same thing. Recently I’ve experienced a bit of game mechanic structures collapsing and thought it might be interesting to explore. Don’t worry, I won’t bring up any more architecture or algebra.