Saturday, October 19, 2019

Back to Art

A first quiet day for art in weeks. Things to do are to prepare some music for the Fall in Green performance on Monday, so I've composed and played some piano music with a great fanfarish quality, and created some background sounds. I feel I'm slightly doing this to distract myself from working on the god album, but that will come, that work is fermenting. This piano music begins with great chords at first, which is good practice. For any of these live and relatively free pieces, I want to push some technique so that I can practice as I play.

Tonight I've played another, very loose, piano tune for the next ArtSwarm, with a Frankenstein theme. Perhaps, in piano terms, I need to focus up my accuracy and timing. Timing, timing, yes, but this Frankenstein piece is a coarse stab at the keys, an aim at something grand and Gothic. It fades into gentleness in the middle too. Everything needs drama and contrast, and unity.

In the sequencer I overlaid a few clank sounds, made by irregular loops of recordings of me hitting a metal can. I thought it needed something from an old film, so used a Bela Lugosi speech from an Ed Wood film. Suddenly, the feeling of the piece seemed to reflect my frustration at not achieving what I want, the eternal struggle of failing to achieve a potential. There are elements of night battles and frustration, the clanking monsters, then a peace or rest, that leads into the defiant speech.

The mood might be influenced by a documentary about the actress Hedy Lamarr which I saw yesterday, an intelligent woman who didn't, it appeared, want to be an actress and seemed somewhat unable to fulfil her dreams of being a scientist, despite many opportunities. She appeared like a melody trapped in the groove of a record.

I must push on with the god music or the images, or some, or all of it! I want to get it out of the way by the end of October. The problems all come from a lack of clear direction. Problems must be coldly identified, quantified, qualified and worked out. The solution is always hammering away at the problem. Evasion will not help.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Rainbow Arts and Game Updates

A good evening at the Rainbow Arts Evening last night, nice to see a relatively large crowd of 20 or 30 people. The evening was divided into three sections. Alice Smith opened the performances, followed by poetry by Carol Finch, Ian Parr and Steve, actor and magician, also known as Jax Dramagic. In part two, we saw some close-up magic from Jax, a poetry reading from a newcomer, Nicholas Ferenczy, and finally Alice Smith with an engaging personal poetic monologue and dance. Deborah Edgeley read two poems and a short story in the third part, all linked to war-time experiences by her mother in Germany. I ended the night with the only music of the night, a 15-minute performance of The Spiral Staircase as planned. This performance had more freedom than the previous three performances of my electronic music, as I now had some live control over the pre-recorded sections, so I could improvise live sections of the music and trigger those as needed. I included a few lights which dramatically improved the overall look.

Have spent today making changes to Future Snooker and Future Pool. I've added the aiming guide to Future Pool, which is more useful int the snooker game, yet I suspect people would want the same thing in both and it's not difficult to add. I've also fixed a couple of minor bugs in the menu system; pressing Esc from the Main menu will not quite the program now (it was a bit too easy to exit completely by accident), and an old bug in Future Snooker where pressing Esc during the tutorial windows would instantly escape to the Main Menu.

I've also tweaked the aiming angle control, accelerating this rather than moving it big steps, which gives a much finer and accurate control. The game needs, at least, this professional option, allowing the best precision possible during aiming. These games could truly be tournament sports.

More game testing, then to move on to music.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Spiral Staircase

A sleepless night of stomach pain. Awoke late to rehearse a 15-minute segment of The Spiral Staircase which I've decided to perform at the Rainbow Arts Evening tonight. This is the 4th time I've played a segment of The Spiral Staircase live. The first was a full 45-minute performance with three synthesizers, backing track, full 45-minute video projection film by Sue Mascarenhas, smoke and two spinning lasers. This took place at The Electric Picture House in Congleton.

I, like everyone, there was freezing cold in a room that was below freezing, but the performance went well for something so big and complex. Tonight's will be a lot simpler, but still include two synths and lights, and in many way more expression as the backing parts will be triggered when needed, rather than being a fixed line to follow.

Perhaps one day I could stage this as a full event itself, adding another 45-minute set for a second half. I've often thought of composing a sequel, and actually ended the music of the album with a sequel in mind. I'm unhappy with my past work and want to move on. The 'god' album is causing me anxiety. I've changed too much artistically since starting it, and now feel that I have a mess of different ideas, words, and music that need to be pulled into something. It would be easiest to throw it away, it's not like anyone cares, except curators of the distant future, but I don't want to become like Sibelius and hide or destroy things that might be perfectly fine. Nothing is perfect. The solution is normally to work fast. I can't believe the year is nearly over. I feel I've done nothing in 2019.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

More Games, and Korg Modifications

More Future Snooker and Future Pool work today. The stores pages have gone live, lots of admin updating links. Newsletter sent. More testing of the game and changes to the manual. Nice to meet up with Dr. Nicholas Mee to talk about books, software etc.

Also added a power port to my Korg Monotron, allowing it to be used in performances for a change. Normally it's battery only powered, which is ridiculous for a professional instrument.

Every professional instrument needs mains power and an AUX out. I'm surprised that there aren't many good cheap synthesizers when they should be easy to build. It seems that the designers haven't a clue what musicians need. The key element is a useful, that is responsive, control system. Ideally I'd want a big octave range with sensitive control over the output; an instrument is about emotional expression so as much movement as possible needs to be detected by the machine. It also needs the basic elements like shielding and reliability, ease of use, mains power, and an AUX out. It's odd that most toy synths don't have an AUX out, although many have a headphone socket. The Casio VL-1 was one of the few with an AUX, and it became a hit. Casio haven't made any popular or remotely professional level instrument since despite being quite capable of doing so. I'd love to design a synth.

I've been offered a 15 minute music performance slot tomorrow at the Queen's Park café event. I've decided to perform a substantial section from The Spiral Staircase using several synths and will develop this tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

More Game Work

Another busy day today, building the first Future Snooker and Future Pool games for Steam, and testing. All has worked well and have added lots more features to Future Pool including the Fast A.I. play option that was present in Future Snooker. I've also added French and German text to the stores, largely using Google Translate, darting the text to and from each language back and forth to check it. A check on the French Wikipedia revealed that 8 ball pool is called Blackball in France, and 8-Ball with a hyphen in Germany.

The most annoying aspect of programming nowadays, something that never happened 10 years ago when I used to develop games, is the eternal problem of my games being blocked by anti-virus software. Each new build is auto-deleted and locked away by my anti-virus software and I need to verify it and check it every time, which involves an hour wait. Apart from that, everything seems to have worked to plan and both games are very good to play.

I did think that perhaps my store graphics don't really do justice to the games. Is it apparent that these games are snooker or pool games at all, apart from the text? I recall the old Arkanoid box artwork and think that I should have done something like that instead. It's a bit late to change things now, as most of the work of the past week has been making these graphics, the 20-30 different images that are variations of them.

Testing underway. I'm keen to move on as, however proud I am of these games, they are ignored by the world like most of my creations and might be a waste of my time. The process also makes me sick and anxious. My stomach is locked like a vice, as though I've eaten concrete, and I've not felt hungry for days. I feel weak, have palpitations and prickly skin, dizzy spells, can barely sleep, and my skin is turning white and vampirish. This is the sickness of the programmer. I can only cope with a few days of this at once.

It is important that I do my best however, and make games of good quality, so on I must push at optimal speed.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Video Trailers

Working on the video trailers today for Future Snooker and Future Pool, and German translation, and the manuals. Here's an image from one of the video trailers:

If these games sell enough copies, only 20 or 30 should do, then it will be a signal to update my other games like Gunstorm 2, the first Flatspace game, or Taskforce.

Ah, Taskforce. I put 18 months work into that game and it sold less than 10 copies. It wasn't a bad game, although it could benefit from a few tweaks to the gameplay, which was slow and difficult for non-geniuses. What annoyed me most was the criticism of the graphics, which weren't that bad, but more importantly, irrelevant for a turn based strategy game. Do those people play chess and complain about the craftsmanship of the pieces? The relative failure of Taskforce compared to Flatspace confirmed with me that making money from games was a hopeless cause, perhaps because I made games more like I make art, for the joy of creation and puzzle solving, for personal expressive reasons, rather than thinking of what people might want from a commercial point of view. It's ironic that I would probably make far better games now that I'm an artist, compared to back then when I cared only about programming.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Pool and Anxiety

A frenetic day today. I decided that Future Pool could benefit from a lot of the gameplay updates that went into Future Snooker and have added a few new features.

First was to change the gameplay so that the bat starts in the place where the cue-ball ended up, as in Future Snooker. Players still take shots in turns, there is no break building, but this feature adds a lot more strategy to the game, as it's possible to limit your opponent's options. As in Future Snooker, not 'potting' any ball will make the bat free (able to move). Also, as in Future Snooker, all of these changes are optional, so you can play with movement all of the time, just as in the classic game.

One new option is a random bat option, so that each turn, the bat begins at a random location and can't be moved, adding a chance element to the game for the first time.

I've also added simple tutorials when playing. These are more useful in Future Snooker which has more complex rules, but do help explain why the bat can't or can move when needed. I've also removed some of the unused options, like visiting the game website, from both games, and updated the translations. Future Pool works in English, French and German. Future Snooker in English and French.

The game is much better now, on par with Future Snooker. These two games are among my best now. I've also prepared the Steam stores for each game and started work on the promotional videos. Future Snooker will be released first in mid-November.

I've also created the events and basic promotional work for the next Fall in Green performance at Congleton Library.

I've been working solidly with barely a break today for 10 hours, which is energising but at the limit of my regular sanity. A new Rode M2 mic arrived and I hurriedly defaced it with a scratch mark, eager to differentiate it from Deb's identical model. I hate this, the imperfection fills me with anguish. Why did I rush to mark it in this way?! I could have used any number of less permanent ways to mark it! I want to throw this £70 thing of beauty away and buy another with no scratch.

Also, a new gig bag for the Behringer Amp has arrived and it's even smaller than the already too small other one! Online size measurements never seem to be accurate. I feel I'm throwing money away on useless imperfect items. I now have two bags that don't fit, and must ultimately order a third, always in hope that it will be the right size.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

From Music to Games

We had a good 2-hour music performance yesterday night at Tom's Tap. I had time to watch and comment on the new ArtSwarm: Perfume premiere while we waited to go on stage. A few friends came to support us, notably the poet Carol Finch who is such a supportive friend to us and the local poets. Carol is working on her new poetry collection at the moment.

Music aside, it is back to coding for me today and working on the graphical assets for Future Snooker and Future Pool. I've decided to release both to Steam. Steam has grown to be a saturated platform, and most games seem to sell nothing, or at least not recoup even the submission fee, but as I've said, these games would be unplayable any other way. Also, these two, along with the Gunstorm series, represent the paragon of my 20 years of game development. Steam is soon to trial a feature that allows two players to play games like this over the internet. This feature is perfect for these games (and Radioactive), and it is this new feature (which will enter beta on October 21st) that has persuaded me to finally list these games.

The coding is largely complete, but the graphical and promotional challenges are large. I might launch both games at once, or one every few months. Future Snooker is the better game so I will probably launch that first. Here are the logos: