Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Jallery: June

So much for London.

I'm back with another Jallery! Now I'm on holiday I have 10 weeks to waste doing something 'productive' as no one replied to my work experience emails. But hey, life goes on, and it gives me more time to achieve personal projects such as MUME - which I've had a huge idea for - and Suspension. But until such massive projects as those are finished, I've still been busy doing various little things...


Client work Believe it or not, I've been doing a bit of client work recently. Two pieces - firstly, this A5 flier for the Abbeyfield fête. Abbeyfield is a charity, so I didn't get paid for doing this, but it's still a great feeling to see my design used and being sent out. The flier was only distributed to about 100 households but I feel so proud of my design, pinned to noticeboards in houses all around the area. Or chucked straight in the bin. Regardless, my design's done its job. And the client wasn't that picky, either, so it was enjoyable work!
I've also been doing some video editing for my school - finished it on monday - which isn't quite 'client work' but still requires considerable effort.


Suspension Achievements I've been working on it slowly, and though I haven't built anything yet I've been working towards a full idea of the game, adding in little challenges and puzzles and sections and whatnots. I've also been creating an achievements system - because I will include little extra rooms and puzzles, but because they require more time and effort to create than in a normal point-and-click game, I need a way to encourage players to discover and appreciate them. That's where achievements come in. There are different types: liner achievements are achievements that everyone will 'complete' when they play the game normally. It is only when they explore or try something different that they will complete non-liner achievements. For example, here you can see 'No Mackerel Go' (a play on 'No cars go', a song by Arcade Fire - what else?), which is when you can pick up a mackerel in Act 2 and don't use it for what it's meant for and keep it in your inventory until the start of Act 3, when all your items are confiscated by border guards (to clear them out for the many different ones you'll get in Act 3). Others you get for completing non-essential puzzles, such as the 'café' logo there which is for the achievement 'Paradisa Lost'. I'll leave you to imagine what that could entail.

Overall there will be about 200 achievements, liner and non-linear. I love the idea of being able to come back to the game and trying to complete all the achievements, it means players won't just leave the game after they've completed it. And it means my little extras aren't put in for no one to find, haha. Also, my uncle suggested making it an iPhone/iPod Touch app, which is a damn good idea, anyone up for that? And it would be free, of course.


WD Sans This isn't particularly new, but I've had a renewed interest in it recently because I've been teaching my Gran the ways of typography (and preaching the word of Helvetica). It's an old font of mine that I hurriedly finalised for my portfolio, badly named 'WD sans' but I prefer to call it by 'unnamed humanist sans serif' because it's of no standard to name it after my initials. I don't know where I'm going with it - it's simply evolving as I create the letters the best I can. I'm adapting the glyphs you can see in my portfolio project to be properly designed with fixing colour and optical problems. And damn, it's difficult. Getting the curve on the D is near impossible - I'm still not happy with the version you see above. It's just something I come back to every now and then and have a go at improving.


More photography I recently got back my 20th roll of film from the developer's, and it's alright. It was from the last shoot I did for my GCSE project 'One', with the brilliant models Zoë and Suyin. The photos from it will show up on John Too slowly, so be sure to check them out and fave them and gimme some damn attention. I'm pleased with some of them but even those select shots aren't up to the standard I was searching for at the end of this blog post - the shoot was before I wrote that. Yet I'm still looking...


JOHN Collection rejects Finally, a photo from my main Flickr account showing some of the furniture that didn't make it into the final pages of the JOHN Collection catalogue this year - either because I didn't like the final design, or they were too similar to other designs, or (in the case of the table in the bottom-left) they were just too annoying to photograph. Find more info on the notes of the photo.


Two posts in two days... lucky you (sarcasm). I might start blogging on... what's it called again? Oh yeah, a regular basis. Woah.

~John

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

I'm moving past the feeling again

Recently I've wanted to make a short film, specifically a music video. Not a music video with the singers belting it out on a stage with half-naked women left, right and centre - but a video that tells a story that is true to the song, or one that fits the song. Something like the video CANADA made for Battles' 'Ice Cream', but with more of a plotline and less innuendo. Then I struck upon the idea of making a video for one of the songs from Arcade Fire's third album 'The Suburbs'.

I wanted something dark, wistful and tastefully sepia - something to represent 'The Suburbs' in film... but that's a tricky task with songs so deep and specific as those in 'The Suburbs'. The obvious choice would be 'We used to wait', but there's already a music video for that. Other songs are too restrictive in their lyrics, such as 'City with no children' which is told from an adult's perspective (the whole album is, really) or 'Rococo'. Either the songs are too specific for videos, or I just can't think of a fitting video - for example, what would you do for 'Sprawl II'?

© Scenes from the Suburbs
Luckily, I need not wonder such things any more because along with the release of the deluxe version of 'The Suburbs', Arcade Fire have made a film with director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things are) called Scenes from the Suburbs. For a few days, the film is available to watch on MUBI, and I've watched it several times today and yesterday - I just can't get it out of my head. The film is written by Spike Jonze and two members of Arcade Fire, Win and Will Butler. It was shot in Austin, Texas, where the Butler brothers grew up (and what the album is presumably based on), and all the actors are schoolchildren from thereabouts.

At first I thought the film was going to be an indulgent affair, with Arcade Fire songs playing non-stop in the background. I was also put off by the short music video for 'The suburbs' song from the album that someone put together with clips from the film - this was all modern kids with modern toys and modern bikes, not what 'The Suburbs' is about at all. All lanky and long-haired and dirty-talking americanised youngster set to ruin any sort of sensitivity the music has.

© Scenes from the Suburbs
But from the very start of the movie, it was different to my expectations. We fade into a long shot of the kids staring through a fence, only the wind for sound, then slowly and wistfully, the album's first track 'The suburbs' lilts in and I'm filled with the sense of nostalgia for a childhood I haven't completed yet, but one Arcade Fire know so well. Then we're thrown into the opening narrative - the main character talking about how he only remembers bits of his past, a parallel of course to the lyrics 'some times I can't believe it / I'm moving past the feeling again' at the start of the album.

Though the album was what the film was based on, it isn't that prominent. Which is a good thing - I didn't want the film to be rolling around in the music, rather the music fades in and out for different parts of the film. There are also slowed down tracks, instrumental versions, which are haunting and beautiful, so right for the film. We get to hear some tracks normally, such as 'Modern man' and 'Month of May' (which I'd usually hate but am warming to), and at other times we hear whispers, melodies, sounds of the songs, such as 'The suburbs' and 'Suburban war'. They really add to the feel of the film, but they aren't integral.

Win Butler and Régine Chassagne have a cameo, © Scenes from the Suburbs
What are integral to the film are the themes it covers, very similar to those of the album. Other than the start and end narratives of selected memories relating to 'The suburbs' and 'The suburbs (continued)' from the album, and various lyrical aspects (such as 'I can remember when you cut your hair / I never saw you again' from 'Suburban War'), there is not other direct parallel. The film, like the album, is a series of related scenes, sharply edited and covering various different themes of growing up and teenage life, like memories coming back to you from a previous life. Some are important, some not, but they all work to show you the dynamics of the three main characters.

Another link to the album is the 'suburban war'. In the film, the towns in the suburbs are fighting like countries would, with border patrols and armed guards rounding up residents. It's probably the only fault of the film for me, the scenes with soldiers and people being shot seem boyish and immature, silly and having no place next to the gravity of the main storyline and teens' acting. I always thought the song 'Suburban war' was about kids picking sides based on their interests, and how when your young a slight difference in hobbies or favourite bands can create a war-like rift between friends ('the music divides us into tribes / you choose your side, I'll choose my side'). Clearly Spike Jonze doesn't think so, and he's taken the 'war' literally in the film. In a way, the soldiers are like adults, the oppressive overlords that adults and parents seem like when you're young. They are the only adults in the film - other than a fleeting glance of Kyle's mother, and Winter's brother, who is in no way a trustworthy, world-wise adult. It's a very interesting twist but one that degrades the movie in my mind.

© Scenes from the Suburbs
Scenes from the Suburbs will be off MUBI before long, but don't fret - it's coming out with 'The Suburbs' deluxe version along with two new songs to make the album even longer than it already is (that would be 18 songs!). To be honest, I wouldn't have bought the deluxe version before watching the film - and if I do buy it for the film, I still don't like adding two more songs on. The album's perfect as it is, guys! Why pile in more songs when you've already got me mistaking songs for one another with 16 songs?

Ah well. Extras will be extras. 'Scenes from the suburbs' is well worth a watch if you're a fan of the album, or Spike Jonze, or hopefully both. It's enticing yet wistful and sensitive - much like the album. So, though I'd have done some things differently, a script written by the people who wrote the album cannot better my interpretation of it. An excellent piece of short filmmaking.

~John

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Suspension: get your floor panels out

Two weeks after my last post, I'm back! And with something to show you! At first I thought 'I've got to blog, I may as well do a Wossup post', but I managed to finish this Suspension project quicker than expected and I have it here to show you.

In the words of You, Me and Everyone we Know (who sadly split up recently boo hoo): 'things are really weird right now'. I'm in a period of sort of strange between-exams-study-leave uneasiness. And I feel like crap. But I got this done.

Game making has been something I've been quite interested in over the years - though I don't have much to show for it other than a shitty game called 'The moving box' in which - you guessed it - you move a box round the screen. Circles come past and if one hits you you're pushed aside and you lose points. Or you're meant to, I could never get the points to work.

Anywho, the long and short of it is that I have a history of making little games and I used to be pretty competent at Flash, using it for the Brickspace header (remember that kerfuffle?), a mobile phone screensaver and various other things. I recently had an idea for a game based on an old Lego webstory I wrote the start of. There would be three parts and you'd click your way through and pick up items and use them, like a proper immersive puzzle game, but in Lego. Because I can't draw and don't want to bother with 3D software.

It was a mammoth idea - especially since the third part was going to be a city exploration stage, much like Half-Life 2. It was simply a pipe dream until last thursday (yes, exactly a week ago) I decided to give it a go - but only make a demo. For my demo I'd take the opening sequence of the game, where you wake up in a windowless cell, and scale it down a bit. Make it simple, so there are only two items you need. Click, click, click, click, done. Just to test the format. And now, a week later, it's done - Suspension: Demo. And I'm quite proud of it.


As you can see above, a fair amount of work went into it. I'm off on study leave and only had an exam on Friday so I had a lot of time to make it. I planned out the area with its viewpoints and what they link to (as you can see on the paper) first, then built and photographed the cell and extra pics at the weekend. Since then I've been hard at work coding and compiling and not compressing. Bloody Flash thinks I want 7kB/s mono audio for Bowie... I told it otherwise. Though it does mean the game takes a little while to load.

OK, to properly explain to you my inspiration and thoughts and intentions with this game, I'll take you through it. Please try it for yourself if you don't want me to spoil it.


Extras
You're meant to click on 'Play game' first, but after you finish the demo be sure to come back to the menu and have a gander at the 'extras' page. It's got a bunch of photos and graphics from the game for you to see clearer, including the 80s-styled fitness video advert on the TV (for which I created all the graphics, based on the 80s Miami Vice logo, took photos of the Patsy Upanova minifig and took photos of a video case to Photoshop the minifig onto). There are also unedited versions of the photos from the earthquakes leaflet. I've been busy.


Intro movie
Start the game and you'll be greeted with the sound of waves crashing onto a beach, and for a second a snapshot of a previous life, a memory - then the mechanical sounds and hums of the cell take over and your first view of your surroundings fades in. All the sounds were edited by yours truly, taken from the iLife sound library and the site SoundSnap. The first view you get of the cell is as is you're on the floor, so you can see the ceiling. This gives the player the full view of their surroundings - the ceiling isn't visible in other shots so this introductory view shows them the boundaries of their confinement. Which you'll need to know if you're going to escape.


Leaflet
Then the player is allowed to look around the cell freely. The main area has a bed, a chair, a TV in a corner and a little piece of paper folded and next to a plain wall. Click on this and you'll open up the leaflet to hold in your hand. You can click further to look at the middle pages and back page. The idea with this leaflet was to give some sort of backstory to the game, thus giving it mystery. What is this place I'm in? What does this leaflet mean? Was there an earthquake? Will this be important later in the game? etc.
I designed the leaflet to be 90s-styled - I wanted to keep with the 80s feel of the TV screen but I just couldn't find enough inspiration to accurately create an 80s leaflet - bear in mind I never lived in the 80s! So I decided to draw on one decade I can vaguely remember, the 90s. And what I can't remember I can piece together by watching reruns of Friends on E4.


Chair and panel
Next, move round to the side of the room with the bed and click on the chair. You'll be brought to a close-up of it. Simply click on it and lo, it's knocked over. What good has that done other than make a satisfying clunk? (I also found sound effects to put in) Well, look at the foot of the chair and you'll see a loose floor panel. One click and you've picked it up! A tasteful Akzidenz Grotesk box appears to tell you just that! Now you have your first item, so the game is evolving. Curiosity helps the player learn that the item can be 'equipped' by clicking on its icon, and you can even see it in your cute minifig hand on the right.

That took me a bloody long time to code.


Shower door
So, after a bit of experimenting and exploring you should come across the sub-room of the cell - with a glass door to a shower and also a little toilet. The toilet doesn't do much (slash anything), but the shower door makes a sound when you click it! And a dialogue box pops up! It's jammed! Oh my! What could we use to open it? How about that floor panel we found? Equip it and click the shower door again and with a nice smashing sound (thanks coding!) the door breaks. In the corner of the shower we find another item, a hammer! Now you have two items and can swap between them freely. Or fairly freely, as sometimes both can be selected at the same time. I was going to rewrite that section of code but I gave up because hopefully players will be clever enough to realise they have to use their newly acquired item, the hammer.


The wall
And use it they must! What can we smash down with our hammer? Well, after a little bit more exploring of your cell, you should realise that the wall with uneven tiles - opposite where you started in the game - is important in some way. If not, hopefully you'll come across it by just clicking everything while you have the hammer equipped. So click and the wall will break a little, click again and it'll break more. There's something through there... what could it be? Click once more and you go through.


Ending
Yeah, I told you it was a short game. It's only a demo! So you've clicked through to this weird dark antechamber, and there's a skeleton there (yet more mystery!). The radio he is holding crackles into life and starts playing a David Bowie song. This song (Life on Mars) was one of the main inspirations for making the demo - in the full game it would be much more appropriate and a more joyous way to end - both the song and the credits seem ill fitting to a demo but I'm just trying to give you the feel of the full game. And besides, I love me some credits.
The doors open dramatically, light floods in and obscures the macabre skeleton and his radio, and then the credits roll. I give thanks to Lego and Flash (ha yeah right), say once again that the game is a demo then plug this blog.

Play the demo here.

And that's it! Seems like a short demo but I put a lot of work into it. There are something like 30 viewpoints, 3 full audio tracks (including ambience), 4 sound effects, various animations and more coding that you think. I have no idea how I'm going to make the whole thing - the file would be huge and the coding huger(er). I have no idea if I'm going to make the whole thing. Let's see what feedback this demo gets first.

Apart from that, life's been dull. Oh yeah; I've been planning to make two movies, do something about MUME, finish Cronas 13, take more photos to sort out this dilemma, write something important and (sometime) enjoy summer.

~John

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Like fingering the third dimension

Good. I've got your attention with some double entendre. Now read this damn post.

For today's glorious, confusing, slightly maths-themed post I have some further discussion on dimensions and how to understand them, specifically how it's possible for them to interact with each other (I suggest you start with this post). We'll go through things slowly so you can understand them (and making the diagrams has helped myself understand them), and soon enough I'll be able to show you what it would look like if a fourth-dimensional person stuck their finger into our 3D world.

You're looking a little plane
Before we think about fingering a 3D world (cough) we're going to see what it would be like if you stuck your appendage into a 2D world (cough). And yes, potential innuendo will be a core part of this post.


So here's our first diagram. Ignoring your cries of 'what's a 2D plane? How can it exist?' we'll just assume that it does. A 2D plane is a 2D space, it's not necessarily finite like the square you see here, but it does exist in a three-dimensional space, which is why we can make it interact with 3D objects. So we have our 2D 'world', K, and we have a regular tube, a cylinder, named L. Following that handy arrow, we're going to take L and stick it through the plane K. Think of a 2D plane as a piece of paper, but it's more of a space than an object. That's why we can stick things through it - it's super handy.

So we now move L along the arrow axis, perpendicular to the 2D plane (remember it has two dimensions - up/down and left/right - x and y), and thus it will intersect it.


There we go, it's intersecting it. The blue circle is the shape of L that is intersecting the 2D plane - because a cylinder is effectively a circular prism, if we record the shape of L on the plane we can see that it is a cross-section of the shape. Imagine it as a slice of the 3D object, like a cucumber.

So we can conclude that if you stuck your cylindrical finger through a 2D world, those inside the 2D world (ignore the details) would see it as a roughly circular shape, and - because it's a cross section - they would see all the insides of your finger, such as your bone in the middle. It's quite a handy X-ray technique, apart from the whole '2D world's can't exist' thang, which isn't wholly true.

Frustum in
Now we're going to try the 3D-into-2D interaction with a shape that does not have a consistent cross-section. Because the tube is a circular prism, no matter how far into the 2D plane you stick it, its 'image' on the plane will always be the same, circular. If you move it around in the x- and y- direction, you'll only move that image around the plane (ie. up/down and left/right).

Now we're going to taper our cylinder L slightly, so one circular face is smaller than the other. We have what's known mathematically as a frustum -  a cone with its top sliced off and fed to rapid deer. N.B. the deer bit might not be in all textbooks.


Here it is, out little frustum, endearingly named J. It's going in the same direction and into the same plane as L was, only it's a frustum. The face nearest plane K is smaller than the opposite face.


Now we've moved forwards a little and boy, are things getting crazy! Frustum J has moved parrallel to the arrow and has moved to intersect plane K, but close to the small circular face. We'll call this stage a.


Keep that frustum moving, son, and now we come to stage b. J is further into the plane and thus is intersecting it at a point where its cross-section (still a circle) is larger than it was at stage a.


Compare the two stages (a is before b, remember) and we can see that the circular cross section gets larger the further the frustum is into the 2D plane. That means if you were in that 2D world and someone stuck a frustum in like above, you'd see it as a circle getting bigger. Stick the frustum in with the larger face first and the 2D people would see it as a diminishing circle. Clever, eh?

Cube your enthusiasm
Now we're gonna get serious. Because it's time to stick your hyperobject in a 3D world and perhaps jiggle it about a bit (cough).

Let's explain. Instead of a 2D world, or 'plane', we're going to use a 3D world - which is really just a 3D space. I don't like saying 'world' because it makes it sound like it's a finite space with tiny trees and tinier dogs, like a little cube of '3D stuff' whereas it's actually just a space. That plane in the previous section could have gone on forever, objects J and L are seperate from the plane in the third dimension (outwards), regardless of how large the plane is in the x- and y- directions.


So, as I displayed the 2D space as a square in a greater 3D space (notice it was in perspective), and I'm going to show the 3D space as a cube in a greater 4D space that we can't really show. Into the 3D space M we're going to poke a four-dimensional hyperobject, N. N is the 4D equivalent of a cylinder - a hypercylinder, I suppose.


Remember I showed the 'image' of the 3D object on the 2D plane in blue? Well now I'm showing the 'image' of 4D object N on 3D space M in blue. Just as the 2D plane showed its image as a cross section in the same amount of dimensions as itself (a circle is a 2D shape), we'd assume the 3D world would show its image in three dimensions. And since our hyperobject is a cylinder of sorts, the image would be a circle + one dimension. AKA a sphere!

From this we can discern that the cross-section of a hypercylinder is a sphere, which makes sense because the 3D cylinder has a 2D cross section, therefore an nth dimensional object has a (n-1)th dimensional cross-section when intersected with an (n-1)nth dimensional space.

The second diagram above shows what would happen if that hyperobject, N, had a varying cross-section. Just like the frustum having a small circle front face and a large circle back face, N could be a 'hyperfrustum' and thus have a small sphere front cell (4D cell ~ 3D face ~ 2D side ~ 1D point) and a large sphere back cell. That means if a 4D frustum is poked into a 3D world, you'd see it as an enlarging sphere.

And that's what if would be like if a four-dimensional person stuck their four-dimensional finger into a three-dimensional space. You would also be able to see the inside of their finger - though whether they'd have fingers or whether they'd exist at all is a totally different matter.

But there's more: Slice me some, Joe
Wait up. Before we leave this post I have two further things to show you re: dimensions intersecting. Let's go back to our original 2D plane and the 3D cylinder that's intersecting it. Remember I took the cylinder away and showed you, in blue, the 'image' it made on the 2D plane? Well here's a similar diagram, but there's three:


I've showed the 'image' on the 2D plane when the cylinder intersects it at different points. Stage a is when the cylinder's very edge is touching the 2D plane and, as before, a circle image (a slice, a cross section) is created on it. Move the cylinder through the plane and we get to stage b, then to stage c. The images are the same, but remember something vital: they are simply 2D images so only have 2 dimensions, x and y. To the person in the 2D world, they are not linked! They are separate shapes! The only thing linking them together to the 2D observer is the fact that they are in the same 2D place, and after each other in time. Mathematically, their only linking factor is that they are linked in the third dimension.



Now we shift it up a dimension and go back to our 4D hyperobject sliding through a 3D space. It creates a 3D 'image' (or projection) in the 3D space, a sphere. At points a, b and c the hyperobject is intersecting the 3D space at different points along its length, but because it is a 4D 'prism', these slices are the same - always the same size of sphere. These spheres have values in the x, y and z directions but apart from that are not linked, as the circles were before. That means that us, 3D observers, cannot see the axis along which they become part of the same object.

So, potentially, objects we see in everyday life could be projections of the same four-dimensional object intersecting our 3D world, and could actually be linked together in higher dimensions. For all we know, the entire Earth or galaxy could be projections of one 4D object, and thus we are all linked.


And finally, before we go, remember we can also show different dimensions in graph format, keeping with the Cartesian standard that I nattered on about in the last post. A cylinder is shown above - in the x and y axes it's simply a circle, but then add in another graph comparing the y axis to a third, the z (3D) axis and we can see that it is more than simply a 2D object. It's a 3D object!


Similarly, the above diagram shows a hypercylinder. In our three dimensions, it's simply a sphere - but show its fourth value, the w axis (4thD) and we can see it has 'depth' in that dimension also, making it a four-dimensional object. N.B. if the line was flat in the second graph, then it would have no 4D depth - it may have a place on the axes (w=2) but it does not have any 'length' along it.


And there you have it, folks. Now if anyone asks you what it would be like if a 4D being fingered a three-dimensional space, you can tell them! Or just direct them to this blog! Or if they don't ask, direct them to this blog anyway! Then go get dinner with them, because people like that need dinner.*

Look at it this way: at least you now know the effects of sticking your frustum into mysterious spaces. (That one's for all of you who were only interested in this post for its innuendo)

~John

*Also, people need love, people need loving, people need the trst of a frail old man. Just sayin'.