Noita

October 8th, 2019 by harold

Noita is chemistry. Noita is Life.

It’s a dungeon crawler game and it’s pretty unique. The more I play the more I see the work they put in and man, it’s something.

It’s a game designed from a bottom up perspective and Nolla Games did an amazing job. It doesn’t feel like early access.

Runs on 2012 laptop and “old” Surface Pro 3, check.

Sound and music are on point and once again, quite unique: when you start being in trouble, there’s this open ended mid 70s psychedelic prog rock soundtrack fading in and out (never quite the same), with distorted guitars, flutes and tambourine, phaser and chorus effects etc. It just works with the little wizard world, check. (not only it just works, but it’s REFRESHING OH MY GOD THANK YOU)

Controls are perfect, both on keyboard and mouse and gamepad, check.

The randomization is extremely good. I haven’t gotten stuck somewhere because of procedurally generated levels. It feels fair most of the time but sometimes it isn’t. When it isn’t, it’s hilarious. Like you land somewhere with 3 enemies shooting at you at the same time but one falls in a fire pit and starts burning the entire room by himself while you’re trying to escape, jumping in the water and shooting arrows at acidic flying thingy from under the surface.

I got stuck under my own pile of dirt once, created from a spell and I didn’t have enough air and almost died and then I couldn’t move at all so I had to use a bomb and it, of course, killed me. Chaos as a Service, check.

It’s a really hard game though. I can’t get past the Snowy Depths (level 4) because enemies become more aggressive than the US government on migrants. It does say a lot. The loot is too rare and it’s difficult to deal with electricity without getting murdered in one second (water and electricity, you know). I did angered the Gods –I don’t know how and it didn’t go well.

Noita has this incredible feel of being alive, thanks to its technical achievements. Playing other 2D games feels like some fake theater things after playing this one. They feel so very static.

Tiny pieces of glass on my bike commute looked like pixels today. Pixels. Chemistry. NOITA

Length matters

September 28th, 2019 by harold

Overland is a strategy, turn-based game in which you take care of a bunch of travelers on a road trip in a post-apocalyptic world.

The core loop doesn’t allow for much. You’re immediately overrun by monsters, whatever your plan is. So you die a lot, constantly anxious. Reaching the next level is less a victory and more of a “fuck it” moment, knowing that the next level will be next to impossible.

Overland has been hard and getting harder ever since its inception. I think that is a tragic mistake.

Overland, from its aesthetic to its theme SCREAMS that this is a “doable” game and not a hardcore fest. I know, Cuphead does it but that’s the thing, it goes all the way: ultra-ultra cute and ultra-ultra hardcore. The dissonance works because it’s unapologetic. It’s part of the game’s identity. Overland with its road trip theme suggests a way more laid back vibe. That it has. And that it doesn’t want to follow.

This game should be able to be completed in 2 hours by a not so good player. And then, because it’s procedurally generated in many ways, it would offer very good replayability. You should be able to make a run in one evening session, go to sleep, dream about your little crew, especially the dog you named yourself, and want the next day to have another run.

Instead Overland, like far too many games, owes its development to fans, people who want the most hardcore shit all the time because they are –and it’s a little bit unhealthy- obsessed with said game.

I understand that that fanbase is very important when selling games. But if it’s basically closing the door to the rest of the audience, that’s a failure to me. Games take too long to be made and can’t be dependent on a small subset of an audience. That’s an incredibly fragile position to be in.

Game developers need to craft their experiences around time spent, respecting players. I’m sorry but the reality is that there’s tons of entertainment out there. You want to attract people, not deter them from having a good time.

Hit Men

September 26th, 2019 by harold

Hit Men by Fredric Dannen is a wonderful and sobering read on the music industry from WWII to 1991.

It left me looking up at the sky. There are some nuggets about race relationships. Music is all about that, after all. After WWII, Black American music takes over the world: it’s selling like crazy in the country and it’s influencing absolutely everyone (wealthy white UK folks would import those black records –blues, R&B- and create bands like the Beatles, if you didn’t know).

“The separate designation of pop and R&B bears explaining. Pop in the record industry is an euphemism for white; R&B means black. Until 1949, Billboard listed music by black artists as “race” records, but then a staffer named Jerry Wexler coined the term rhythm and blues. This is about all that has changed (though the industry has found other euphemisms, including “soul” and “urban”). A rock record by a black act is automatically R&B –regardless of its sound–unless white radio plays it and white people buy it, at which point it is said to “cross over” to the pop charts. Since white record buyers outnumber blacks by a large margin, a crossover hit means a bigger payoff.”

The built-in discrimination! Wonderful. Because meanwhile in white culture R&B is considered the worst shit when at first, it was pinned just to stop using the term “race” records because that’s a bit offensive and not very marketable.

R&B was simply a marketing term and became the symbol of “bad” black music, for no reason at all. It is messed up.

Then there are the stories of artists getting screwed over:

“The seventies provided some classic horror stories from this scenario. When Teena Marie was signed to Motown in 1976 by founder Berry Gordy, she had no attorney at all. When she asked to take her contract home before signing it, she later testified, a Motown official admonished her: “Don’t you trust us?” Motown assigned as her manager the common-law wife of Berry Gordy’s brother. Result: two of her albums made an estimated $2 million for Motown, while the label paid her about $100 a week for six and a half years.”

Ruthless. George McCrae was owed $100K in royalties by the label and was ready to hurt the boss. The boss gave him a few thousand dollars cash and the keys to the Cadillac outside. The car was rented.

The entire industry has been based on screwing over people. Whatever it takes (many executives were war vets, basically soulless mfs). Payola is rampant and the labels basically control the top 40 radios by the mid 70s. And then, a very important thing happens: disco.

“The Network [people bribing radios] took root in 1978, the peak year of disco. It was no coincidence. Disco created the climate that made the Network possible. The dance music breathed new life into the Top 40 format, after a decade of strength in album-oriented radio. More important, the disco phenomenon was fueled by hype, by the mistaken belief that hits are bought, not born. Of course, you can buy a hit, but not profitably. It was going to take the record industry a long time to figure this out.”

Hype. This is all there is in music from then on. It’s all about artists that can create hype. Hype is dangerous: yes, when it works bam, 30 million copies of Saturday Night Fever sold. But that’s impossible to reproduce the next year and the year after. It’s unpredictable. And then video games happened:

“In 1980 the Atari unit grossed $513 million, almost twice as much as the year before, while sales for the records group increased to $806 million. And the Atari’s unit hadn’t even existed five years previous. Overnight success breeds shortsightedness, and Warner Communications began to believe that video games were a better business than records.”

They reverted back real quick after 1983 and the video game crash. Hype is dangerous.

Oh did I mention the strong links between the music industry and the mafia? Man there are some details in this book and now I understand that it’s not so weird that they found some narcotics ring going on at a famous music label back in 2011. In the book no one was ever convicted. The government tried, with the help of the FBI, but it never went anywhere. The music industry is very powerful.

So, if you think there’s actual demand for an artist, there’s none. It’s all marketing money. Is the artist bankable? Then yes, you’ll see that artist a lot.

If you think charts are a pretty accurate picture of the market, they are not. They are completely fabricated to fuel hype and advance marketing plots. And if they were that much gamed in the mid 70s, I can’t even imagine the mental gymnastics they’re doing to produce today’s charts. It’s all bogus.

If you think only good artists survive, well, it depends.

Sometimes it feels like the entire entertainment business only exists to funnel money for some future real estate firms which will steamroll the earth.

Music is dope though.

Word, Prince

September 2nd, 2019 by harold

A few days with Prince’s ghostwriter and his client before the artist passed away.

Prince, you’re right. We have to own our things. And create.

You’d be surprised that I wrote my own memoir lacing music, technology and my intersectional life all in one, in my second language, English. An Englishman (white) and an English professor (black) told me it was good writing, if not really great.

I also wrote and produced 100+ songs and tracks. Videos. Thousands of sound effects. Thousands of blog posts. I coded a couple games.

I also play bass like Sonny T (that is, play bass guitar like a guitar, too).

I did it all 99% by myself. I own all that stuff.

It ain’t over brother P. Thanks again for the inspiration.

Alec Holowka

September 2nd, 2019 by harold

Man.

I started following Infinite Ammo way back in 2004-2005 or something? Two guys making a “console” game straight for Windows and PCs? And the game is called Aquaria and allows you to play a mermaid in a Ecco the Dolphin type of game? I was interested and excited.

At that time RSS and bookmarks were the only way to connect with someone. Alec seemed amazing. Coder, designer and composer. I didn’t have issues to understand that he was constantly working. You have to when you do those three things well. Which he did.

I think he –or the folks around him- launched the pajama jam where you jam on your favorite instrument after waking up. I participated.

I wanted to connect with Alec and those awesome independent game developers because they looked like they were “getting it”. That is, doing things I would love to do and polish and polish more.

Making good games. Selling them well. Staying independent. This looked like was I exactly wanted to do.

Alec never left success, basically. From Aquaria to now –12 years– he seemed destined to always be in the light. Always working on not necessarily the hottest games, but always *good* games or prototypes. It’s pretty hard AF to do.

We started to follow each other somewhere in 2007 on Twitter. This is where Twitter was amazing and an actual social network. Everyday for the next decade and more, I would read his tweets and he might have read some of mine.

I could tell sometimes that he had a dark side. But most people do AND he lived in Canada, the country with at least 6 months of winter. So I didn’t see anything wrong. I remember being in the room during an indie game conference –Horizon Conference back in 2014– where he was showing up Night in the Woods. He was funny. A classic, chill nerd. I briefly exchanged a few words with him in a semi star-struck vibe.

I was super happy for Alec and his team when Night in the Woods, finally came out to a torrent of accolades and commercial success. It looked like that game could have destroyed everything. 5 hard years of work, Kickstarter and everything, I wasn’t sure this would pan out well. But it did and I guess he did some pretty great work on it.

This week was insane. I had no doubt he would seek to commit suicide after the news broke out.

So it’s a mix of Fuck This World, Fuck Him, Thank you for the Games, Why can’t we break abuse loops, Why Video Games Anyway?

It’s just hard. I’m sorry for everyone involved closely with his life. May y’all reach peace.

Blog dad

August 29th, 2019 by harold

I’ve been following a blog for fifteen years. The dude has a  kid. Had a kid. The kid is grown up and just moved out of the house to go to college.

I read so many stories, their relationship. In real time, basically. RSS is the best thing ever.

It’s a new chapter for them.

I love long term things. I had followed that blog for some computer game stuff in 2004 and ended up giggling at family stories, weather updates and whatnot for all those years. Some good people.

And like them, I’m a little sad. It’s beautiful though. I’m glad he’s sharing a part of his life.

To the next hundred years.

Bracing myself

August 28th, 2019 by harold

I’m reading books about music. James Brown is mentioned. I’m torned by this mf. He came from absolutely nothing, changed how popular music was thought, had a private jet in the 50s. But he raped, assaulted and fucked over so many people.

Just yesterday, some big names in game development fell to sexual abuses claims. People I had been following for most of my career. People both younger and older that I am. People that I didn’t expect to do that at all. But like, not at all.

Earlier this week Paul fucking Mooney fell. He apparently molested Richard Pryor’s son in the 70s. What the actual fuck. I cherished that man. Gave his autobiography to a young brother I love because it was a good book. I wanted to inspire him.

It’s like a vast amount of men I looked up to, from my childhood to now are/were twisted fucks.

I don’t know how to explain how it feels like.

Needs

August 22nd, 2019 by harold

"Well you don’t need a million dollars to do nothing, man.
Take a look at my cousin, he’s broke, don’t do shit."
– Lawrence

I think about Mark Zuckerberg. He’s a billionaire. Most people don’t like him. Most people who would say they do only think about what kind of checks he can write them.

He can’t trust no one. Absolutely no one.

He can’t be in public anymore, ever again. What he can do to relax is sit in his living room, fixing some furniture for his family.

Yes, he can travel anywhere in the world. To sit somewhere, not doing anything, maybe just read.

My favorite homeless couple just sits there reading books and listening to music too.

You don’t need to be that wealthy to feel fine. And it’s so bizarre and liberating to think about that.

Dan Nocera

August 22nd, 2019 by harold

I watched his talk years ago. I was so impressed by the elegance of his team’s solution to sustainable energy. He’s also hilarious.

Then he disappeared. Or I couldn’t remember his name and look at what he was doing. EITHER WAY.

I found his ass again. His motto, basically:

Solar energy has the potential to scale up to meet long-term energy demands. He emphasizes that scientists must consider the economics of the materials they propose to use for energy sources and for storage technologies, if they are to develop viable energy alternatives.

So I was thinking, “Dan’s got it. We will reach complete sustainable energy autonomy at some point!!”

And then, he showed up with something amazing, the Artificial Leaf:

Like conventional photovoltaics, the artificial leaf used common semiconducting materials (in this case, amorphous silicon) to absorb sunlight and emit electrons. But then it went one step further. When dipped into a beaker of water, instead of producing electricity, the leaf harnessed the electrons to break the chemical bonds of water and release hydrogen gas — a fuel that can store energy at a significantly higher density and lower cost than electricity.

In 2009, Nocera formed Sun Catalytix, a startup to develop a prototype design for a system to convert sunlight into storable hydrogen which could be used to produce electricity.

And I’m like “fuck yeah it’s on!” But then it is not on:

However, in May 2012, Sun Catalytix stated that it would not be scaling up the prototype.

Fffffffuuuuuuu but then:

In hopes of developing a product that could be more rapidly brought to market, Sun Catalytix refocused its business model on developing a low-cost rechargeable flow battery for use in grid-scale and commercial-scale storage.

Me: this is it! It’s happening! Nocera’s company:

In 2014, Sun Catalytix was acquired by Lockheed Martin, because it was interested in using the flow battery.

Daaaaaamn Dan, can we, citizen peasants have access to tech that changes the world? Not emojis or photo filters, actual, real shit that saves the earth and us with it? Lockheed Martin is 30mn away in Burbank, Imma go knock at the door. “hi, I’m here for the batteries and fuel cells?”

Jokes aside, this technology is one of the holy grail of a sustainable future and it just got bought by a private, defense-focused company… Mr. Nocera, I really hope you bring this to production and to the world. We need your stuff.

Self-hosted

August 20th, 2019 by harold

Has been the keyword again. I’ve been working on getting everything on my lil server. Photos, some of my music (bandcamp is still the shit). Pondering on re-starting the rss/feed/podcast of sound experiments.

It’s still a lot of tech bullshit to go through but I’m making progress.

What’s nice is the feeling that I won’t have to worry for a while. Peace of mind. No social media has enough of me to own me.

Freedom and control. Those are sweet.