Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Hedera and brief notes on ivy aesthetics

This actually happened weeks ago, but I just realized I never posted anything here about it: I built a 3D ivy painting tool called Hedera. Each time you paint ivy, the Hedera "AI" will grow and simulate an approximation of real-life ivy behavior, clinging to surfaces and climbing towards the sun. It's pretty magical to watch in action.

Much of the core technique is based on Thomas Luft's C++ code from 2006 and a much more recent C# port from 2016 by Weng Xiao Yi, but I found both of their implementations to be very bare-bones proof of concepts intended more for engineers and less for artists, with little concern for workflow or usability. Most of my work focused on front-end user experience stuff -- making the simulation more predictable, conceptualizing a layer-like planting system, optimizing the procedural mesh generation, and getting it to play nice with the Unity Editor's arcane IMGUI and file serialization rules. I definitely learned a lot about tool-making.

ivy mesh wireframes / process from "Crysis 3 - Ivy" by Tom Deerberg
3D ivy meshes, like most video game foliage, were traditionally a very expensive photorealistic detail intended to evoke high production value and thus skilled craftsmanship. It is my hope that my tool lowers the barrier for covering 3D worlds in detailed ivy, thus decimating this value system in game art. Let ivy be worthless!

Perhaps when we stop oohing-and-aahing at the fidelity of game ivy and demystify its creation, then we can finally appreciate a more subtle and artistic use of ivy. As I've argued before, many indie game devs often have a (misguided) knee-jerk reaction against realism, but I think realist aesthetics have an important role to play in any visual culture.

Monday, July 8, 2019

On climate crisis games, for Rock Paper Shotgun

As part of previously announced shifts for this blog, I'm going to start pitching my longer design articles to various outlets instead of posting it here.

The first of these articles is now up -- it's a piece about various climate crisis games and how they play with the idea of environmental apocalypse. I also define a rough taxonomy of different climate crisis game subgenres, like flood games, ice age survival sims, and world sims.

As we all grapple with the ramifications of climate change, it's important for us to imagine stories and worlds about it, because this is how we process life as a society. If you look back at art and media in the 60s and 70s, you'll see a lot of "space age" art and aesthetic, obsessed with rocket ships and moon colonies, essentially giving birth to alien invasion stories and space opera. I think we're in the first half of a similar "green age" wave of environmentalism across art and culture, and there's already a lot of emerging genres and traditions here.

You can read it all over on Rock Paper Shotgun. Thanks to Brendan Caldwell for thoughtful edits.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Interview(s) with Mashable for Pride Month

Last month I ranted to Jess Joho (for Mashable) about sex games and the industry, and I also did a nice and awkward video interview (also for Mashable) filmed in the lovely Wonderville indie arcade bar in Brooklyn.

If you want to see me squirm, then maybe check out the video -- but whatever you do, definitely check out Wonderville if you're ever in New York City. It has one of those rare and coveted Killer Queen cabinets set to freeplay, it has an amazing Soviet flight sim cabinet where you destroy America (with real vector display), and it's also currently the home of the first queer community arcade cabinet The DreamboxXx for which I contributed my queer brawler defense game Dream Hard.

Happy pride, and have a good summer everyone!