The Incredible Machine

July 21st, 2018 by harold

The experience of working through the stages of a solution, getting a little closer each time, is almost indescribably satisfying for anyone with the slightest hint of a tinkering spirit. The Incredible Machine wasn’t explicitly pitched as an educational product, but, like a lot of Sierra’s releases during this period, it nevertheless had something of an educational — or at least edutational — aura, what with its bright, friendly visual style and nonviolent premise (the occasional devoured mouse excepted!).

Man. Not only this game was fantastic and refreshing, it was very well executed. I enjoyed playing it in the evening after an afternoon fighting bad guys on consoles at my friends’ house. I would go back home and launch this puzzle feast where instead of following rules, there was none, outside the physic-based world emulated in The Incredible Machine (TIM).

I have a strong memory of feeling that TIM (and Lemmings, and Shufflepuck Café) was showing me that computer games could be absolutely anything. TIM was one of those games that made me want to be part of a development team. So much excitement from the game and the prospect of making games, firing up people’s synapses.

It thus manages to succeed as both a goal-oriented game in the mode of Lemmings and as a software toy in the mode of its 1980s inspirations.

Exactly!! Do I miss this from games. That agency. That scalability. People talk about markets, and how TIM was casual. It really doesn’t mean anything to me: you could have been playing hardcore TIM, building absurdly complex machines for hours on end. You could just try to finish a level before dinner. I’m in love with the idea of games being scalable to different lives and different people.

I feel like this is the right (and really hard) thing to do.

9818

July 19th, 2018 by harold

It’s 1998. A French multi-racial team is in the final. We’re about to face Brazil and we’re just happy to be there. 3-0 later, for the first time ever, we’re world champions. We. Oui?

I still remember jumping in the car with my girlfriend, beating traffic to meet up with my best friend on the outskirt of Paris. It’s hot. It’s dark. Street lights are still orange. We’re all together. In France people don’t hug, ever. During that night it’s the opposite. We’re hugging en masse. I can’t forget that old, small white man hugging me and another brown person right after because that would have never happened in any other occasion, unless plastered to oblivion. I can’t forget the Louvre’s security guards waving their torchlights. My eyes were misty. 9/11 hadn’t happened yet. I still get emotional about that beautiful night. I know the dream.

It’s 2018. A French multi-racial team is in the final. We’re about to face Croatia and we know we can beat them. 4-2 later, for the second time, France is at the top of the football world. We. Oui? Nah.

I am watching the stream from my home in south LA. After the first half I am on my playground, shooting 3s. Knowing what the news are going to spit. How beautiful and diverse France looks like etc. I’m mad at the state of the world. A man died in Chicago the night before, shot by police. He was black. A man died in France a couple weeks ago shot by police. He was black. Both run away. Just in case.

But people will tell you that no, really, things are fine or getting better. Things don’t change, they barely mutate. That part where we’re black and brown and only appreciated and giving opportunities on sports fields. I live this shit. I see it with my own eyes, feel it with my own heart. I still fall short on my job applications. Despite everything. Qualified, over-qualified, recommendations, it don’t matter.

I believed things were improving during that first world cup triumph even though I could already smell the bitterness. The French corporate world has an absurd lack of diversity compared to life in Paris or around stadiums. It’s frightening. It’s as if France was as segregated as the US!

And then I became a migrant. I know I have no other choice but be legally perfect here because otherwise ICE will show up, put me in jail for weeks or months before sending me back to France. That’s real. But I can enjoy some black things with black people and then everything is peaceful as fuck. Clarity is succulent.

“but they’re French so YOU are racist if you say the team is African.”

French citizenship and blackness are not mutually exclusive. But we also know how it works out: you win a world cup, you’re French. You’re unemployed, you’re some African booty virus. I lived that too once I had trouble speaking French after a few years speaking English, the vibe wildly changed towards me in Paris. I wasn’t a French customer anymore, I was a nuisance.

France has the fantastic power of becoming collectively blind at will. France constantly denies, minimizes its colonial past and how it impacts its present. It’s very uncomfortable.

Yes, I talk about all that in my book.

There are tools. Use them

July 16th, 2018 by harold

I love Ron Gilbert. I still have to play Thimbleweed Park but the development blog has been a delight for anyone wondering how games are made.

Ron Gilbert is more than just a veteran game developer. He is a designer and a programmer with over FORTY years of experience making games. There are not a lot of people alive right now that match that vast amount of game development knowledge.

And yet, he underestimated the audio/sound aspect of his last game. I’m not bashing him, I’m glad he talked about it in this blog post. But my #gameaudio mind is like “this “we care about sound” but we do the exact opposite of caring about sound bullshit again”.

It’s a constant with most programmers: they adore tackling tasks from the ground and do them on their own. “A sound engine? That’s NOTHING. It’s just streaming audio data, volume curves up and down, fades. LOL. It’s NO-THING.”

And then, most of the times, it’s not nothing. It’s big, complex and viscious. Programmers then sweat and ruminate like bovines.

His designer mind should have taken over to tell him “think long term, you idiot ego. Delegate.” It’s true that FMOD and Wwise are a bit overkill feature-wise for a lot of games. The price can also be an issue. But for instance FMOD brings you a game audio engine that’s been tested and approved by thousands of games over twenty years, that has become a standard for game audio designers around the world in the past two decades. It shouldn’t be discarded that fast. It’s a bit maddening that it’s not sort of common sense for experienced people like Ron. Let’s be blunt: it’s totally maddening. I know the parallel is not perfect but imagine a movie director being like “yeah you make the sound using that? It’s an industry standard? Well we won’t use that. We don’t know yet what we will use, but not that”. That’s plain weird.

What are we doing?

If you care about your game, think and work with sound as early as possible. Hire game audio designers. Trust them. Let them iterate like you are, early on. Spend some bucks on the audio stack, even if you don’t see why. You’ll hear it soon, and that will make an entire difference (think about Zelda:BOTW).

3 Twenties

July 14th, 2018 by harold

I got attacked by a dog while strolling to get some food in DTLA the other day. I didn’t flinch. I let him come to me, barking and running. I stopped. He jumped. I screamed. It hurt. I thought he had taken a bigger chunk of my stomach but he only printed his mouth next to my belly button. I’m okay. 6 teeth up, 6 teeth down, 12 scars. For years to come.

The building management slapped the dog owners with a $100 fine. The owners gave me $60 for uh, I guess not suing them or calling the cops on them. This dog owes me a lot. Fuck this dog.

In the end, the owners estimated that my wounds and trauma were worth less than trespassing rules. Twenty bucks times 3. Basically nothing.

I’m tired.

It will be concrete

July 8th, 2018 by harold

I have to find a new place to live and I’ve been reading a lot about architecture so I’ve been thinking a lot about my house project.

It will be made of concrete, 3D printed.

It’s too convenient and efficient to not be the first choice.

Concrete pool house
Prefab concrete pool house with nature and shit, my kind of aesthetic

At first I really wanted to go for hempcrete because it’s the best material in the world but there’s one big problem: you can’t use it for structural work, meaning you need a frame (likely wood) to build around with your bricks of hemp. It’s not an issue per se but if I build somewhere in southern California and some idiot drops a cigarette and my hard work burns down… I will indeed, lose it.

Concrete doesn’t burn. But also, if it’s destroyed by a meteor or an earthquake, I just need to pull out the 3D file and BAM. Harold’s house II is up again. I feel lucky to live our times, sometimes.

Another great thing about printed concrete: you can, like the picture shows, do whatever shape you want. I would still use hemp inside for insulation, walls and room separation but definitely not for the outside.

Now I’m dreaming of a green roof. Because those fuckers reduce cooling loads by fifty to ninety percent. The only problem is that they’re heavy. Not for my strong ass concrete house!

Stay woke.

Horizontals are back

July 8th, 2018 by harold

I love horizontal lines. At the movies, in front of my 16:9 monitor ratio, outside in cities and nature… More width, more view, the better. Our field of vision is wider than it is taller.

Reading about the horizontal development in the US  and understanding how technology (cars, factory assembly lines, highways, malls) and society through federal financing and fear of crime pushed the landscape to follow a horizontal plane.

Now the car culture is down (though of course, most people have one and if it’s a new one, it’s mostly silent and economic), technology is up (mobile computers, bitch!) so people want more verticality so that they move less and with their feet (or electric scooters, obviously not the best to transport you for a few miles). Also, greed and maximizing profits from a piece of land (every floor is basically a 100% increase of revenue).

BUT

I think it’s reversing again. Driverless cars, 3D printed houses (or prefab), telecommuting are pushing for sprawl for the next couple decades, which is a pretty natural thing to happen contrary to what we think.

The convenience is too staggering to be passed on: the amount of peace of mind generated will be unavoidable. Want to go somewhere? Order a car and pick up some friends on the way. Ready to build a house? Not now? Your file can be printed anytime at any scale. Your future home can be rescaled to your need with a shift+drag or pinch to resize gesture. No need for BS builders or contractors. Want to work outside by the tree? You got it. You need to be dropped off at the office, one hour away? Hop in the Level 5 car and listen to that new album while closing your eyes.

Oh, I’m ready.

Azealia

July 7th, 2018 by harold

I think she’s amazing and I’d totally love to produce some tracks for her.

There’s something rare about miss Banks: she’s pure intersection. At times bad bitch, at times cute naïve girl. She innovates and next second she’s timeless and classic. The mix of house, hip-hop R&B and garage punk is hers. She masters that shit. She has her own way of eating words, changing her accent, inventing meaning and breaking lyrics convention while empowering and dissing over dance music. It’s overwhelming, dense and I love it.

I feel her when they compare other acts to her energy and skills: please don’t? She’s artistically way better.

Her social media stuff? Whatever. Social media is about getting engagement and lights on you too. And there’s the circus of media engaging people over what the “crazy” Harlem artist said, profiting. Read about Marvin Gaye’s late personal life and see if you can still hum his stuff.

What’s a bit annoying to me is her output is scattered. Some producers don’t get her and the track will be OK but not bang. The all remix/EP then album re-using some tracks from those, that’s annoying. It’s hard to make consistent albums though. And, it’s probably hard to keep a direction with a multi-faceted talent like Azealia. But also, labels and contracts. That shit is crazy and will delay and water down your output.

Treasure Island, her last single, is dope af.

On that fatal self-driving car accident

July 6th, 2018 by harold

So, the car saw the pedestrian. The car didn’t stop.

The pedestrian didn’t see anything.

We blame the car and engineers but when looking at the video there’s something insane to me as a cyclist: you don’t cross a road where people go fast (43 mph, about 70 km/h), at night in an extremely dark area outside crosswalks, with your bike on the side, without looking, while walking slowly. That’s really asking for death, which happened. On the human side of this accident, the person made a terrible and wrong decision.

On the car side, people are wondering why the car didn’t stop. Well, what does happen when a vehicle at high velocity abruptly tries to avoid an obstacle? What if instead of happening in the middle of nowhere like in that case, it was happening in a more crowded area, with pedestrians on the sidewalk? Would it be better to hit a front yard to avoid the careless pedestrian, potentially hurting an entire family cooking out?

The car identified the person 1.3 seconds before impact, which means that an emergency breaking maneuver would have probably gone wrong, killing the person anyway. Then the crash might have killed or injured more people.

So, the car made the “I’m right to be here” decision while the human being made the “I don’t give a fuck” decision.

Driverless cars are still totally viable to me.

First time ever for both

July 5th, 2018 by harold

Last weekend:

I got bit by a dog in the stomach.

I got my 60-day notice to move out from my place.

Those are not related but somehow go well together.

Deaf Urban Planning

June 27th, 2018 by harold

I’m fascinated by the lack of listening happening in this world sometimes. Take trains.

Everywhere on earth where public transit is part of everyday life, in very dense cities, it’s a disaster. MTA in NYC, RER in Paris, Underground in London it doesn’t matter: it’s a mess and we’re lucky no big dramatic things have happened. Yet. People deal with it thanks to our digital devices. Without them? I don’t want to imagine.

Meanwhile in LA, many people still believe that underground trains are the future. In one of the most active seismic zone in the world? With big earthquakes a bit overdue? Son. A kid can detect the problem.

So we have examples around the planet showing that trains work up to a point and then don’t. Those examples don’t have the threat of earthquakes. And the city of Los Angeles is like “let’s pour billions into this!”. As if the rest of the world didn’t exist. As if there was only one, quick way to modernize a town.

It’s so weird.

And then, you have cities completely designed to be car-free and which are not because cars are pretty super useful. Independence, y’all. People love that shit. Being able to move some big stuff without thinking logistics is nice. Thinking that American Korean folks used to the US west coast all their lives will move back to high rises in apartments in Korea is cute, if not disconnected from reality. And if they move when they’ll retire, congratulations your city is now a big retirement home. Not that vibrant now, is it?

The conclusion is that cities are not Ikea furniture that fit everywhere the same on this planet. Cities vary wildly. People are complex. Some constants will happen: people love personal space. The convenience of walking to stores is not necessarily a convenience, if at all with delivery being so pervasive. People love choices. Sometimes people even enjoy to drive! There are some heritage to deal with: you can’t build LA-like boulevards in Paris because there’s no room, and you can’t really walk that much in LA because it’s hot as fuck 365 days a year.

I think it’s one of the bias from technology or at least tech sales pitch: we can solve things in a clean and “perfect”, one-shot way. We can’t. We’re humans, we’re all different, it’s messy. So are our cities.