Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Near Death and Restoration of an Acer Aspire One

While I was packing to return home for Christmas Break, I was assailed by a sour sensation (I love alliteration too, but that's another story). In Hong Kong I have a power gaming Desktop PC I built from scratch, an ancient 7-year-old Dell Latitude which I'd converted into a Mac using tech magic so that I had a development machine for iPad games (long story), and an iPad2. This was a good setup. I had the gaming, Mac, and portable/mobile note-taking-and-such angles all taken care of.

But I was going home for Christmas. I couldn't bring my PC. My PC, which not only has all of my games, but also is home to all my windows-only versions of creative software. There was nothing for me to use back in America. We hadn't updated our 'family computer' for the last decade. It ran as slow as chocolate pudding. Ugh. How was I going to game? The old 1990s games that ran on my Dell laptop in the past were Windows only, and couldn't run on it now. And how was I going to do anything neat, creative, or productive? Bleck. I'd just have to hope that Dad had one of the other kids' old laptops lying around, or that he'd let me use his own desktop.

It's kind of a sin to touch another person's computer- or to ask to share in it- but what choice did I have?

When I came home I eventually set about looking for my external HDD so I could make a backup of things on the American end of things (also a long story, the HDD is dead /sadface). When I went to pick it up out of my drawer, I realized there was a white tech object in the drawer, maybe ten inches long, five inches wide? What was it?

Oh my god! It was my tiny Acer Aspire One! I remember you, little guy! Oh my goodness, I loved you in college! You were such a relief after hauling around a massive laptop across a huge campus! And- holy crap! Last I remember, I installed all my old Adobe Creative Suite CS3 stuff on you!!! Is it still all there!?

I asked for my Aspire One probably halfway through Junior year, for Christmas, and it was a godsend. Some people have no problem hauling around a book full of laptop gear and textbooks. Not me. I was dying with nothing else in my super-duper-padded-comfy laptop backpack but a single Latitude D630. My Aspire One was like a featherweight, and far more convenient and friendly. I took it everywhere. I took notes on it for everything. I left it behind when I went to Hong Kong because of space issues and apartment hunting.

But there it was, all beautiful and pearly and shiny. I turned it on and it had a bunch of 1990's games all ready for me, and all my CS3 programs. Now an Acer Aspire One is a tiny little cutie pie, so if I wanted to game and draw without straining myself, I would have to hook it up to a monitor and an external keyboard and mouse. But still! It was more powerful than anything else my dad had lying around, and had more hard drive space. Best of all, it was all mine, so I didn't have to invade anyone else's personal computer space to have it.

There's something I should mention.

Both my Aspire One and my Dell-Mac have critically ill batteries. They can't be unplugged, or they power down.

So as I was trying to fix my external HDD (long story, still dead, making clicking noise, probably irrecoverable without making a monetary commitment) I got up to grab a can of cola and eat some dinner. In the process I tripped over my Acer power cord and jerked it right out of the machine, but fortunately the Acer stayed firmly on the table and didn't fall to the ground. Seemed good to me. I came back from eating and settled down to power on the computer.

Boot Normally. Yadayadayada-


...  Oh. Crap.

Boot with last settings. Bluescreen. Safe mode? Bluescreen. Safe mode with command prompt. Networking? Bluescreen Bluescreen Bluescreen.

Oh crap. It's a netbook. There's no CD drive. I can't boot from disk. No! Wait! I know you can boot from a pen drive/USB stick/etc... you just have to set it up, it's a bit of work if you don't buy one straight from Microsoft. Right? I'm sure of it! I start researching on my iPad.

My Mac can't access the internet and my dad has an old laptop whose CD drive doesn't work very well. I start off on the Mac and try to make an .iso and then an .img file from the original disks using the Terminal and burn it onto a pen drive. I try it all out, but the Acer won't even try to boot from it. Hmm. Poopy. Something's up.

I'm worried because I only have a 500 MB flash drive my mother lent me for this task (when you are constantly and rigorously cleaning out your drives, repositories  and clouds like I do, you might not need more space than that, so I don't even own a bigger Flash Drive back in HK). But then I research the problem on my iPad and realize the Bios may need to be flashed, and that the Acer may have trouble booting from anything other than the HDD without that flash.

Flash a Bios? Uhhh... Well... I've never done that. Ever. I mean I think I installed a Bios update once on a Dell, but it was safe and secure and part of some regular update... thing I mean... I mean...

I have no idea what I'm getting into, but I am determined to save my Acer. Because people like me don't just roll over and give up.

I find some extremely complicated sounding instructions on a web forum that say I need to download a bios update from the acer website, rename several of the files inside, pull them into a flash drive, put the flash drive in the left USB slot on the laptop, and then hold Fn+Esc while powering on my computer in order to flash the Bios.

See: (

Okay. I tried that. Now I try to boot from the USB and... DARN! IT doesn't work! What could be wrong? Maybe it has to do with that 500 MB limit. I ask my dad for a bigger Flash drive, which he supplies, and then I transfer over into Windows. Maybe the different 'ideology' behind Windows will help me overcome whatever wall I hit with the mac. I mean, of course it could just be that I was using too small a device when I created the .iso/.img. But on the other hand perhaps I really did need some 3rd party softward like Ubuntu, and the Mac is internet-less, so installing things is more of a hassle.

I pull out the laptop Dad had offered to let me use, which has about the same specs as my Acer despite being a whole bunch larger and heavier, and slower (It's running Windows 7 instead of my Acer's trimmed down XP). I start looking for some information online. A lot of guides want me to manually push around files for whom the download links have already expired. That's no good. At last I stumble upon a program called WinSetupFromUSB. It feels like the creators don't speak English as their first language, and their 'home page' is a forum posting, but on the other hand it should be able to take care of everything I need.

I test out a few XP disks at home, conscious each time that I am using a computer with an 'iffy' DVD drive now, and that if it goes, I will have no recourse other than to retreat to the Mac and send software to it via the 500 MB USB my mum had lent me. Either that or I could try torrenting, since I already have a XP license. I wonder if it matters what service pack I use, or if all of them will get me equal results. It turns out that a SP3 copy is the only kind that plays nice with WinSetupFromUSB. I get all ready to make the USB bootable with Windows XP. I set up my options following an online tutorial and press "GO!"

WinSetupFromUSB fails from the get go. It tells me can't copy some file from the MBR, which I understand to mean Master Boot Record, and either means that I should be using a different format, or else that the solution I'm looking for is a Fat32 based solution. Eh. I start searching for the error message online, and I come across a forum post. In it, someone is trying to make a USB stick bootable for Windows 7. The replier answers that it doesn't matter what software the user is trying to put on the USB, the problem is with the USB itself. He recommends downloading RMPrepUSB and using it to A) Format the USB stick and B) copy the missing MBR related file over to the USB stick using a button on the RMPrepUSB interface.

Now that I think about it, this is familiar from when I turned my Dell into a Mac. Back then I had needed a boot loader called Chameleon, and it looked like this 'file' for the MBR was also a boot loader (But it went by some crazy name that I couldn't pronounce, much less remember. I download RMPrepUSB, format the USB stick to be XP/Bart bootable (hey I recognize BartPE, I've used it before! But I digress...) and Fat32, and then I press the button to copy over the MBR special ingredient.

Now I head back over to WinSetupFromUSB (Even though it looks like RMPrepUSB MIGHT be able to do something similar to WinSetupFromUSB, I'm using a tutorial, and I don't want to wander off the beaten path for no good reason). I put all my settings back in- location, destination, Fixed, GO! This time there's no error. Everything begins to load into my USB stick.

MUAHAHAHAH, I feel invincible!

I nab my USB stick when finished, plug it into my Acer, and successfully manage to boot from it.

Oh god, it's a disaster in there. First of all it looks like the computer can't even tell Windows was ever installed on it. Tutorials say to highlight my partition with my installation and push R to repair. Snort. Snicker. I don't even get that option. When I try to find it, It let's me know why it won't repair the installation, and it won't try and do a clean install over the space without reformatting and wiping out all my data. It tells me everything is so corrupted and broken inside that it can't make heads nor tails of the situation, and it demands a reformat. No! I'd just found files on that Acer that I hadn't seen in years! I need to back them up! And those programs- I don't have the disks for those programs, they're all in Hong Kong!

I backtrack and go through the recovery console. A few times. In between fiddling with other things. Because I hate command prompts and the recovery console immediately disagrees with me. It doesn't use the commands I learned for Mac and when I type in "DIR"...


I type in "DIR" so that the recovery console will list the contents of whatever folder I'm in. I should start out at C:\ But when I type in DIR, the recovery console tells me there's an error with device enumeration. It displays no information. From top to bottom, my entire drive is inaccessible, broken- in fact it's difficult to even detect the format that data SHOULD be in.

All this... because I tripped over a power cord?

I fiddle around with things like FixBoot and FixMBR, but nothing works. The computer claims to be able to fix the boot record with FixBoot, but the C:\ directory still shows nothing, and of course the computer does not successfully boot to windows without a blue screen. How do I navigate to drive D:\, my usb stick? Ugh I'm so un used to the windows command line, and chdir D, D:, and D:\ are all not working!

I'm told I should use CHKDISK but I tried that out in the very beginning of my list of endeavors  and the computer yelled at me to say AUTOCHK.EXE could not be found on the drive or CD ROM and I needed to supply a path to it. What? I try the default path that Google tells me it should be at: C:\Windows\System32 but ah... well if I couldn't find C, why do you think I can find C\Windows or C\Windows\System32? Remember when I tried that DIR command? Nothin'.  The internet tries to be helpful and tells me there's a backup copy in a dllcache file, which would be useful, if, ya know, my C drive were accessible. But it's not.

Dad comes in and tells me to just type in D: into the console, not chdir D:\ and suddenly I can access my pen drive. Only I can't see any folders into which AUTOCHK.EXE might be. There are two directories that start with a $ character, which I understand usually to be temporary, and which yell "ACCESS DENIED" at me anyway for some reason. There aren't any more sensible directories. This is strange, but a combination of the internet and past experience tells me there should be a directory called I368 or some permutation of those numbers on the original disks somewhere that has files and utilities like AUTOCHK.EXE.

I take the USB stick and plug it back into the windows computer and examine it. Sure enough there's no I### folder on there. I navigate through the installation disks Aha! An I386 folder (I had two numbers swapped, but that's pretty good don't you think?)  I drag it over onto my pen drive to sit with all the other bootable goodies. It takes awhile to copy, but at last I bring it over and plug it back into my Acer.

I turn on the Acer. I boot from the USB stick. I run the recovery console. I run CHKDSK or whatever its called. I try to let it know- from memory, since it keeps all my directories Access Denied from me- where the AUTOCHK.EXE file is. Not that hard, it's just in the I386 folder right? I cross my fingers.


It runs.

I let it run.

I type in DIR when it is finished.

The contents of my C drive display correctly.

I let loose a whoop of excitement, exit form the recovery console, and try to start windows normally.

It works. The Acer is functional. Everything is alive. My programs are fine. My Google Chrome is patiently awaiting my orders. And would you look at that! Flashing the Bios appears to have fixed the Acer's battery! Oh isn't today the most wonderful of days? I need a nap. And a beer. And a cat. Why didn't I bring home my Bamboo tablet to fix that too? I wonder if that hard drive is really dead, or if it's only mostly dead. I need some billows. Goodnight, and thanks be to the Omnipotent: For the Acer was dead, and by the power invested in me it has risen again!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Game Design Auteurism

What on earth is Game Design Auteurism? Auteurism doesn't even show up as a 'real word' in my spell-check program. It's certainly not a common word- not outside of film, that is- but it could likely be applied to any creative discipline, and could certainly be applied to film's next door neighbor: video game design.

Auteur theory holds that a film reflects its director's personal creative vision. The film exists as a manifestation of the director's design philosophy. For us to study game design auteurism is for us to look at video games and to try and extract from them the personal design philosophy of the 'directors' who orchestrated them.

One of my first questions when entering this class was to wonder whether or not this class really ought to be, 'The History of Game Design.' Then I considered that perhaps it ought to be, 'The History of Thinking About Game Design.' It was only after I cared to look up the definition of 'auteur' that I suddenly comprehended why my college so valued this class.

Auteur theory stresses that a film will reflect it's director's vision despite the fact that films are the end result of a highly industrialized creative process, involving hundreds if not thousands of additional minds, opinions, and design philosophies. Although games and film different in many key ways, the overall form of their production process is very similar. This 'industrialization,' this collection of massive numbers of warring ideologies, is what makes Auteur theory just as applicable to game design as it ever could be to film.

Here at the Savannah College of Art and Design, there is a strong focus both on anchoring ourselves in our artistic values, but also on one day obtaining a job. Nowhere is this dichotomy more present than in the disciplines of game design. The idea that  a single man/woman's vision can rise above all this chaos and be heard in the final product is of immense value to us as art and design students. We are not training to become cogs. We are training to become visionaries  as vital to our own production pipeline as directors are to theirs.

Actually, that's exactly what Game Design Auteurism implies in its very name: that game designers can be, should be, are, directors. That a game developer to his/her industry is as a director would be to their industry. And that we are responsible for the creative vision that steers the game as a whole.

Of course this levies upon us games students a heavy responsibility. No longer can we be content to be programmers, technicians, engineers, or managers. We are not even craftsmen or artisans. We are directors. Our voice, our leadership, our vision is going to be heard. And should we avoid this role, or should we neglect to cultivate a powerful design philosophy, the result will be felt in our games.

Before this quarter, I had never considered what my own personal design philosophy might be. I had started looking at how I designed games differently, to be sure. I had moved away from boring tasks like trying to 'fix' the games industry, and headed off to find blue oceans of untapped gamers, and was investigating new forms of game play that had not yet been thoroughly explored. In my studies on women in video games, I realized that one of the reasons I played games was because my father had originally shared them with me as a small child.

I had never considered what it is about games that actually gives me pleasure. I knew what genres I liked, and I could tell a game I cared about from a game I hated. But when it came down to it, I lacked the vocabulary to talk about my choices. I could title a game good or bad and explore its strengths and weaknesses, but I had not analyzed my own sense of taste. The closest I had come to doing anything of the sort was to say that I liked strategy games because I was a highly logical person. But that didn't explain why micro managing alien armies made me comfortable, happy, and relaxed.

This 'taste' was important not just because it reflected what I chose to consume, but also because I have long been a producer of game and game-like products, and in that too, I had a sense of taste. In fact, I was incredibly picky. There were certain areas in which I refused to consume anything at all, because only the ideas I produced were 'good enough' to me.

Okay, but then what was my 'taste' like?

I honestly had no clue.

At first I considered the video games I liked to play. Then, as I kept going with the readings in the class, I began to realize that the true driving force behind each individual didn't necessarily have to do with the products they liked to consume, or the media they cared about. Each individual had been sculpted by childhood experiences. Will Wright had gone to a highly creative school where learning was built around playful exploration of toys and spaces. Carmack had been denied access to computers. Jobs had been something of a social outcast, totally removed from the office-type white-collar worker that usually consumed computer products in his day.

The more designers we studied, the more it became clearer: there was a vision deep inside me, and it didn't come from games. It was a lot deeper than that. And I had to find it. Because if I couldn't identify it, I couldn't cultivate it. As an Auteur/Author I could not permit this to happen.

I sat down and thought about it for awhile. I stopped thinking about video games and I went further back. What forces had driven me out into the forests as a young child to build stick forts and dig up bugs? What had my favorite movies been? What kinds of impossible Christmas presents had I asked for on my Christmas list?

I was very surprised to find out that Agon and Alea, my current project, is all about bringing a digital companion to life. And judging by my childhood Christmas Lists, I was constantly asking for a real-life miniature dinosaur/dragon/unicorn/Power Ranger to play with.

I kept thinking. I pulled out gardening books, and started looking for images that struck a chord in my soul. I searched the internet for some of my favorite kinds of images in the world: images of mountain-top temples, in places so far removed from modern civilization that nothing can be seen in any direction but the temple, stone, water, and trees.

A movie I loved lately was "How to Train Your Dragon". I'd once asked my father as a child, "If you really love something that's not real, how do you make it more real?" and was totally devastated by his answer, "You can't."

It that moment of recollection, I hit soundly upon my design philosophy: To undermine that, 'You can't.'

I design games because I want to make the unreal, real. Just for awhile, just for the duration of an escapist journey, just a little. I want to give everyone their, 'Where the Wild Things Are,' their own fairies, their own dragon, their own unicorn, their own Power Ranger, their own hero. I wanted to send them to worlds they would never otherwise experience, and meet people they could never otherwise meet. I wanted to put more poetry in their lives, and to chip away at the mundane. At the end of these stories, the children/protagonists always return to the real world to live out their lives. But they are better for it. Happier for it. More joyful for it.

Game Design Auteurism started out- to me- as The History of Game Design. But what I left with was a surprisingly deep insight into myself, into what I believe in, into what I value, into what I love. I have finally thought to wonder what the force is that powers me, and I have started to piece together what that force is. This is the design philosophy- the heart of my beliefs- that will have to anchor me through any rainstorm, that will need to persevere through the chaos of the production process, and emerge unscathed and handsomely clothed on the other side, shining for the world to see.

And as a result?

I am ready to put on my director's hat. Cut!

On Design Methodology

We were reading in class about the architect Frank Gehry. All designers share some aspects in common with one another, and architectures are most certainly designers. Frank Ghery has an interesting design methodology. You can read about one of his latest buildings, the Opus, here:

So what does Franky Gehry do that's so interesting? Well he builds funky buildings, but that crucial point for this discussion is that he doesn't just dream them up in Maya or sketch them from scratch. He has a design methodology. That isn't just a funny flavoring word added in to talk about his modeling pipeline in AutoCAD. Design Methodology is the topic of this paper. The idea behind it is that there are certain things an artist has to do: rituals they must perform, angles they must look at, breaks they must take, and slightly-related problems they must solve, in the course of creating a new work.

Basically, Frank Gehry's first step (after obtaining all the survey data and so forth) is to build very childish looking towers out of brightly painted wood blocks.

And if he didn't, he couldn't design buildings. Pay attention, because this is crucial. He couldn't design buildings without his wood blocks. It is part of his process. Without it, the creativity will refuse to come. It cannot be skipped, or the resulting building will not be a Frank Gehry building.

For any building, Gehry makes about twenty of these towers, glues them together, and then sets them all out for his examination. He pushes them about and deforms them. Perhaps they let him visualize and block out shapes and space. He goes through each of these and begins to articulate why it is he is attracted to each form. The process of articulating these things brings the design to the forefront. It is only after building his block towers that Frank Gehry can sit down and start to put together the amorphous wriggles of glass and oddly positioned corners that have become his trademark look.

Now how does the discipline of design methodology apply to me? Obviously I'm not going to build block towers like Frank Gehry, but it's clear to see that I could and should have my own process for building games.

I should identify and pay attention to this 'design process' that I must somehow possess and then study it. That's pretty simple. Essentially, if I know what it is I do that helps me be creative, I should document it, so that at points in the future when I need to be creative, I know what to do to get the creativity juices flowing. Okay, I get that. Ah, and then I can also study my own design methodology. I can tweak it, make changes to it. My methodology becomes something I'm designing and reiterating constantly, with every new project. It becomes a project in itself.

This is kinda neat stuff. As soon as I identify the existence of a design methodology, I can start applying my own creative talents to it. I can intelligently alter how I think about and pursue projects. I can conduct experiments on my own creative process. I can design my life to yield more creativity. I can formulate a process- specific to me- that helps me come up with the best ideas. I can try new things within a framework. I can form a basis for evaluating my own actions based on whether they are helpful to my creativity, or detrimental. Cool.

So is there an example of a person who has a design methodology in games? Does it involve blocks? To answer that question, we researched  KeitaTakahashi, the creator of an extremely innovative and ground breaking gamed called Katamari Damany. This is they keynote 'speech' he gave at an annual game jam. The subject is, "How to Come Up With an Idea," but it shows off a very different, less structured, and more emotional design methodology.

Hmm. You know, I'm starting to think that Frank Gehry's methodology isn't specific to architecture. It's just how he visualizes problems. And likewise, Takahashi's design methodology isn't specific to anything at all. It's more a creative exploration of his environment while letting an idea bake away in the back of his skull. These design methodologies look to be the ways by which we creative humans solve problems, and each one is specific to each of us.

I have done a great deal of exploration as to my own design methodologies this quarter, and I have come up with some observations that I need to document, so that I can understand them for later. To study my own creative process, I looked at how I solved a number of problems, from designing my video games, to planning out a demo module for this semester, to the actual research I conduct while developing a game, to the way I pick out computer parts at the store, to puzzling out how to bring my cat to the USA for a month and a half over Christmas, and then get him safely back to Hong Kong without quarantine.

Based on my studies, I've managed to isolate a few elements that were present in every problem-solving scenario, and which seem to be common across my entire decision making process. At the moment, I am currently focused on identifying largely beneficial aspects of my design methodology, but in the future I expect I will have to isolate faulty aspects as well, so that I can eschew them.

When confronted with a large problem (and often even a small one), the first thing I want to obtain is a bird's eye view of the situation. I want to know the full extent of the problem. I try to surround the problem with my arms, as if putting it in a big hug. At this point, I really just want to know what it's circumference is. How big is this problem? Where does it extend to? I will start off by researching the problem indirectly, trying to find things like reviews, opinions, forums, help sites, etc. instead of going straight to the source.

Often times I will enumerate potential options for solving the problem, as well as potential pitfalls that I may have to solve in the future. I bookmark answers to problems I may encounter, reference materials, Wiki sites, etc. I keep a very organized set of bookmarks in Google Chrome. This is one of my brainstorming phases. I will labor through big problems and read books. I need an understanding of what it is I'm doing, a set of ideas in which I can base my upcoming activities. I need to feel informed and competent  I need to feel a bit like an expert in the field.

This stage of the process is not usually very long, and remaining in it for too long can leave me feeling emotionally drained and exhausted. Never the less, it is an established part of my design methodology, and is vital for me to take my first steps along the road to solving a problem.

The next step is to release my bear hug on the problem and to freeze it's size. At this point I am tired of skirting around the edge of the issue, and instead dive straight into it. The next thing I want to know about is not the breadth of the problem, but rather its depth. At this point I will basically make an 'asset list,' of each and every tiny last minute detail of the problem I am trying to solve.

I cannot make this list from start to finish. I have tried doing so many times, and it is never beneficial to my creative process. For awhile I was writing out ideas on index cards. Index cards let me constrain the problem to bite sized pieces. Working this way,  I felt like a DNA Synthase, chewing on one tiny part of the problem at a time and eventually getting around to chewing on the whole issue. However, I was never satisfied with this method. The fact that certain cards could go missing or simply not be displayed at the moment was both a mixed boon and a distressing curse. I also disliked the fact that it was hard and time-consuming to visualize the entire problem at once.

The latest addition to my design process has been mind maps. Because I am working at the speed of consciousness,  I cannot afford to use programs like Illustrator to create these maps. Often I work by hand on very large pieces of paper.  This is pleasurable. It keeps my hands busy. It keeps my artistic side busy while my logical side is working. In fact, I frequently use architecture stencils to make rapid circles, squares, and other shapes. I always work with multiple colors, to render groups visually distinct. The neatness and simplicity of the stencils keeps the overall image looking well-planned and organized. I feel good while creating the diagram, which prompts me to keep working on it. When I back up, I get a very clear and instantaneous visualization of my problem- as well as any elements I've failed to wrap my arms around in the previous stage.

For ideas that require a lot of online research, I will usually use a mind mapping software called Mindomo. Mindomo is very useful for referencing files and images and linking websites. The map can be closed up or expanded as I need it. I can visualize the problem as a whole or drill down to view only a few branches at a time. I use it not necessarily because it is the best, but because for what I need it for, it is good looking, professional in appearance, and easy to use. Remember that I am working at the speed of thought, and that I need my ideas to be visually distinct from one another and also to pleasurable to look at.

Once I have passed this stage, I am ready to start working on solving the problem. This does not mean my researching is over, only that now I will be researching answers to very specific problems that I encounter while problem solving. My previous bookmarks serve as useful anchors, and my asset list is something of a 'minimap' (gamer terminology) for keeping my goals in sight.

This is important. I am capable both of very broad lateral thinking and very deep vertical thinking. In order to keep one type of thought from upsetting and muddling up the other, I have to keep documentation on hand that soothes each of them while the other is working. This is why I had to bookmark answers to possible problems while doing my preliminary bear-hug research; and it's why I now have to keep my mind map on hand to refocus my on-the-ground development efforts.

The rest of my design methodology is not 100% clear to me, and seems to contain a lot of tips and tricks for how to get my brain to focus. For example, I must keep a clean living space, eat well, communicate frequently with friends and family, and both wake and sleep early on in the day in order to be productive. It will be my habit to try and eschew some of these things in order to focus, but the result will be intense frustration and lack of productivity.

I must also solve multiple kinds of problem at once. These problems may come from many difference sources. While solving a technical problem, I will also need to solve an artistic one. On the side I may be working on design issues. To let my inner creativity out, I may need to write something. When two problems of the same type show up, waiting to be solved at once, I enter a creative block. For example, two time-sensitive problems that operate in the same time frame will cause a lock up. So will two programming tasks of equal importance. Or two intellectual problems from different aspects of my life that are both important for different reasons.

In these cases, it is usually vital that I take care of the problem that's most personal, more urgent, smaller, or which strikes closer to home, first. If I can get past the initial block, the experience of solving a problem fills me with self-gratification and pleasure, and I am given a boost with which to complete my other problems.

For example. Say that I need to obtain a Visa for foreign travel and complete a final project at the same time. The Visa is very time sensitive, but quick to do. However, the fact that I have both things on my mind suddenly generates a sense of paralysis. The only way to break this paralysis is to bolt out the door and get to the Visa office. As soon as I commit to getting the Visa now instead of trying to weather through the anxiety of working on my long term final project awhile longer, I am liberated. When I return from the Visa office, I will be filled with energy to work on my project. If I recognize the source of my paralysis quickly, I can actually become more productive than usual as a result of having more problems to solve. If I deny the source of my paralysis, I remain paralyzed.

I frequently have to change my working environment. A current environment may suddenly stop eliciting creativity. This may be at home, which feels like a place of sleep and relaxation while I am exhausted pushing forward with a final project. Or this may be at school, where I feel overworked and stressed without the comforts of my home. Frequently, I work best in tea shops and parks, where I settle down with an iPad in order to plot out my course of actions for the day and solve difficult problems that had been plaguing me the night before.

I am still working out all the details of my design process. There are smaller details which I am not certain are significant just yet. For instance, I believe that tending to my cat may prove to be an instrumental part of my design process, at least for my current thesis. Right now I am working on games that permit escapism, bonding with digital characters, and encouraging relaxation and playfulness while alleviating loneliness. It is clear to see my cat is related to this problem, and that by interacting with him, I can better understand the product I am making and the audience I am trying to reach. However, I am not sure which is the cause and which is the effect. I do know that interacting with other living things is a vital part of my design process.

The crucial thing at this point is that I have acknowledged the existence of my own design methodology, and have taken steps to define it, modify it, research it, and nurture it. If I had to be completely honest, however, I would probably rather have a process like Gehry's instead of Takahashi's! Perhaps that is my logic talking.

On the Influence of Masters

Melissa Kronenberger
Game Design Auteurism
Fall 2012 SCAD Hong Kong
On The Influence of Masters

Take any great artist and you should be able to find the previous Masters she or he drew inspiration from. Whether this 'artist' is a painter like Pablo Picasso, a philosopher like Aristotle, or a game designer as myself, all of them are inspired by other Artists. Nothing comes from nothing. Ideas are like plants. They may root themselves in untilled soil, but something must drop the seed they spring from. And something must water them as they grow.

For me, the Masters we admire are the rain that helps direct our growing curiosity- the growth of our branches. As we stumble out to explore the world, we come across signs of the Masters' passing; Marks and instructions they've left to tell us about the path ahead. They point out exotic sights and scenery. We follow some of these signs and visit the same scenes; in other places, we strike out on our lonesome.

Those Masters are not the ones who plant the original seeds in us. Those seeds are far deeper, their roots cradled in the substance of who we are. Those seeds bring us to the Masters in the first place, and later mandate that we seek out many different Masters to follow.

Let me clarify these metaphors by using myself as an example. If I look deep within me, there is no Bach or Dali who scripted my core. The seed at the heart of my design philosophy was not placed there by any master. What drives me is a sense of wonder. A curiosity, a thrill for adventure, a spirit of competition and accomplishment.  I want to discover, explore, outwit, and overcome! I still imagine fairies when walking alone in a beautiful garden. I want to know whether there's another world in the back of an old wardrobe. I'm even afraid the boogeyman will jump out from beneath a bed to grab at me.

None of that has anything to do with Masters. Yet all of it shapes my games. As a result of my 'seed,' I want to great games that bring you into a totally different world, that serve as a perfect escape into an alternate reality, and that encourage your sense of wonder and adventure until your safe return to earth. I want to model and simulate and bring to life worlds, characters, choices, and possibilities that could never exist in our world. My ideal game is a person's own, individualized, Where the Wild Things Are.

If you take a broad sampling of my work, you'll find that I'm interested in topics like women and-games,  simulation, strategy, god games, digital life game, storytelling, procedural generation, and education. Now that you know where my seed came from, you can see how these different topics relate to my core self. I'm interested in education and women-in-games because I'm an adventurer, and I'm always off on quests to make the world a better place.  God and digital life games aren't just creative outlets for me; they unleash a player into a world of their own, customized making. Storytelling and procedural storytelling are a way to bring those worlds to life. Simulation is a mechanism through which I can create an emergent, fantastic world for players to explore. Strategy is likely related to my boundless curiosity.

The Masters I admire do not always come from the same seeds as me. I look up to game designers like Danielle Berry, Will Wright, Sid Meier, and Roberta Williams. The first two are pioneers in simulation, Sid Meier is a strategy game designer, and Roberta Williams is known for creating story  games. I'll go over how each designer has impacted one at a time. I will also discuss each designer in  terms of the 4% and 16%, percentages which represent two groups of innovators.  The 4%, or 'Scouts,' represent individuals who are constantly on the move to explore new territory. The 16%, or 'Generals' represent individuals who piece together new ideas from the Scouts and plot solid, long term expeditions into these new territories. The Generals are less groundbreaking in their products, but are usually more successful (they don't discover the gold deposits, but they mine them thoroughly and well). The Scouts are always breaking new ground, but often don't remain with the idea long enough to become successful. I will look Danielle Berry was interested in games for their social component. She liked the way players could compete and collaborate together, and saw games as an inherently social activity. Her belief system manifested in a series of surprisingly advanced simulations and complex strategy games, which allowed players incredible freedom of choice. Danielle underwent gender reassignment to become a woman, and suffered socially as a result of her choice. It is clear that freedom of choice- and the ability of the system to recognize and use that individualized choice- were very important to her. The result of this passion was that she founded a new genre of games, and is still cited as a source of inspiration for simulation titles launched years after her death.

In many ways, Danielle should probably be considered  a Scout. She never earned the notoriety of other designers like Will Wright or Sid Meier (although the latter was arguably a narrow miss, as she had wanted to work on Civilization). She had strong ideals and couldn't always compromise to push a   game through to completion, such as when she refused to work on M.U.L.E. 2 because the publishers  were talking about putting guns and bombs in the game.

I admire Danielle because she used her emotional and social values as tools to sculpt her games. She was always working on projects she truly believed in, not toys that had happened to catch her interest. Games had a lot of meaning to Danielle. On the other hand, I can look to her story as a cautionary tale. Danielle's talent isn't up for debate, but very few outside the industry ever knew her name. Her impact was only in how she influenced other designers. I can appreciate that- but it's not a route I'm interested in pursuing right now.

Will Wright is the General to Danielle’s Scout. Sort of. In fact, Will Wright would probably rather spend his days scouting, and spends long stretches of time off in the wilderness, researching new things. Danielle is credited on his latest game, Spore. Yet Will Wright can do something Danielle could not. For one reason or another, he is capable of 'flipping his hat' so to speak and taking on the mantle of General. He has established a legacy. People still know his name, and companies are still making his games. He had an enormous impact not just on the industry, but on everything outside the industry. The Sims was one of the founders of casual gaming, and brought countless women to video games for the first time in history.

Will Wright is an interesting fellow. He went to a Montessori elementary school, and in light of that his design choices make a surprising amount of sense. In one respect, Will Wright chose a single area of experimentation- simulators- and using his Mantle of General-hood he expertly explored every last corner of the simulator genre, creating countless games and having a massive effect on gaming. In another sense, Will Wright was constantly breaking new ground. He made games about subjects no one had ever considered making games about before. He invented game mechanics that had never been seen before. He caused the dawn of casual gaming. In this sense, Will Wright did not make a single kind of game. He was simply a digital toymaker, and his works were each more innovative than the last.

Out of all the designers I could want to be like, I think Will Wright is the choice that I admire most. His Scout instincts are apparent in that he was unable to remain with any series indefinitely. The latest Sims 3 and Sim City iterations have been left to a new generation of designers. I know that I have both Scouting and General tendencies, and that- like a Scout- I couldn't remain with any one idea forever. At the same time, Will Wright was able to remain with each of his creations long enough to turn it into a self-sustaining success. I can look to him to understand what's required of me as a General, so that I can also make games that last.

Of course, my seeds are different from Will Wright's. He has a phenomenal curiosity for the system in itself. He loves systems, loves watching their interrelated parts, to the point that even social systems between his fans are of great interest to him. For Will Wright, the focus is on the system- the toy- itself, and then on the creativity expressed through the system. For me, games are about briefly hopping over to Narnia. This is the reason I say that we must follow more than one Master, and that Masters are merely rain to help us grow, not foundations on which to stake our futures.

Sid Meier's has his name on the cover of his games. He's one of the few designers to have this honor. Officially it was for marketing purposes, but to me it has an aire of arrogance about it. An aire I admire. I should look at him more closely! Movie directors and producers have their names on movie
covers, and I fail to see why game designers shouldn't stamp themselves on game boxes. When I want to escape reality for a little bit, my game of choice is actually a strategy game.

Strategy games are neat because I get to keep using my brain, but for a totally unproductive purpose. It is sort of like exercising the body. On one hand, physical exercise involves a lot of manual labor for no manual product. On the other hand, physical exercise keeps our bodies strong and flexible after confining them to positions and tasks that forbid freedom of movement. My passion for strategy games comes from a totally different place than my passion for other games. In fact, we could probably diagnose a completely independent seed that my strategy-love springs from. But the two are often related in the real world- after all, aren't strategy games a simulation of war?

Meier is another, different case study in how to make simulation games work. For instance, Civilization is fun while other simulation games are  frequently boring or frustrating. Simulation games can be very limited by accuracy, intuitiveness, and pacing. In any other game, elements like pacing and balance can be directly built into the game rules. In a simulation, these elements have to emerge indirectly through the system. Problems can arise when the system doesn't correct itself to pace the game appropriately, or when the underlying logic of the system is too unintuitive or concealed for learners to develop a working understanding of how to use it. Meier's games are neat because they succeed both as fully developed games (not just toys) and as simulators. I learn a lot by observing his work.

I study Sid Meier also as a lesson on how to 'switch hats' even better than Will Wright. When Meier finished his last flight simulator, he stated that he had put everything fun he could think of into a flight simulator, and when he was done there was nothing more to do. So he moved on to something else. This is a perfect example for me to study how to be both a Scout and a General. Meier found an area of interest and then explored it to its fullest potential. At a certain point he determined that any further focus in that area would be work instead of play; he had already made the game as fun as he knew how. So he moved on.

This sheds some light on why Will Wright was also so successful. Each individual founded a core game system, a new collection of IP, that could stand on its own. When each IP was firmly entrenched, they moved on to tackle other problems. But they focused on each of these projects to the exclusion of all else until they had exhausted the possibilities, so to speak. And they used 'fun' as their meter of when these possibilities had been exhausted. Both men remained enamored with their projects by having fun with them, and I can use that as a technique for anchoring myself to one project or another as a General. By seeking out what is fun about my game and continuing to develop it. Meier, like Wright, was also interested in the system itself. In fact, most early game designers were. From John Carmack to David Perry, game designers were fascinated by systems and moving parts- that's what made them early adopters of computers, after all. Now this is troublesome for me, because the machine itself doesn't really interest me. I can find a lot of 'General' or 'Scout' game designers who are passionate about story and new worlds, such as Tim Shaffer or Chris Crawford, but finding hybrids is more difficult.

The last designer I shall mention is special to me, not only because she is she one such 'hybrid' game designer, with no particular interest in the system and a passion for storytelling, but also because there is no clear divide between when she is being a Scout or a General. In all of the other hybrid designers I mentioned, there was a clear divide between when they were acting exploitative and when they were thoroughly mining out an idea. For Roberta Williams, this whole classification scheme might as well not apply. She just designed games.

Roberta Williams is, more or less, the mother of graphical adventure games. She was once named by GameSpot as one of the top ten most influential people in computer gaming of all time. Her games changed the relationship between game play and story, and led to the modern RPG and adventure game genres. Though she retired before video games became too mainstream, her works had the impact and success of any Will Wright or Sid Meier. And she took players to another world! Coming from a background of mythology and novels, Roberta Williams didn't have the adoration of the system that my other Masters held. She treated games more as if they were a medium, and less as pieces of technology. Despite this, her games always pushed the envelop of graphics and sound. How is it that one person managed to break new ground, mine that new ground, constantly push the envelope, continue some successful titles, and constantly release new works as well? How did one person wear two different hats simultaneously, all without breaking a sweat, all without growing bored?

Or did she? She did retire, after all, which is more than can be said about any of the other game designers I've mentioned. Perhaps the key to Roberta Williams success is that it wasn't forced, manufactured, or driven by complete exploration of a topic followed by border-fueled-flight to another topic.  She simply focused on doing something neat, that she enjoyed and that was passionate about. She sat down to tell a story, and she told it. She didn't constantly have to be seeking out new things, because her passion for storytelling was constantly filling her with new ideas. And twenty years later, when she was no longer passionate about pursuing games, she simply quit. As if quitting games was quite easy and natural once one was no longer entertained by them.

I think I have the greatest lesson to learn of all from Roberta Williams. It feels that all the other designers I mentioned were doing a lucky and precarious balancing act between passion and irritated boredom to be both 4 and 16 in one. Roberta seemed to lack that inner conflict. She did what she was passionate about.  And then she went off to write a historical novel. Perhaps the key to being both Scout and General is not to constantly weight each side so as to balance the two, but rather to ignore their existence all together. Maybe what I need to do is to follow wherever my seeds take me, and to accept any and all rainfall while on the way

Monday, November 12, 2012

Conclusion of Fall 2012

I gave my final presentation on Agon and Alea (AaA) today, just a few short days after submitting to the Indie Games Conference.

And How Does That Make You Feel?

It's difficult to describe the sensations going through me. I am at once joyful/hopeful/relieved/excited/satisfied and sad/self-critical/panicked/dissatisfied. I think the joyful is winning.

I wanted to do more. It was both expected and hoped that I would be able to do more. But I did a ton,  learned a lot, and grew immensely. Did I succeed?

Let's hit this from a side perspective. My limiting factor is neither talent nor time, but rather faith. Emotional faith in myself. In my own power. In my own awesomeness. When I have this faith, I am able to live my life with joy and inspiration; when I lack it, everything is a panic. Faith means I can do anything. Lack of faith means I'm paralyzed. And I've been having less and less and less "Working" faith as the years have gone by. Which means I've been plummeting into a pretty big, self-facilitating hole.

Right now I am playing a self-help game called SuperBetter in order to help me overcome my limiting factor. So my end goal for the semester wasn't to network, make friends, conduct a team, develop a game, launch a product, enter a competition, or further my eventual master's thesis. My end goal was to restore some of my faith in myself. To emerge from the fall semester, inspired and ready to go

Basically I need to start a positive feedback loop. If I can get to the point where I start feeling better about myself, the work will just start happening by virtue of my inspiration.

Starting that loop is hard. Especially if you look at the fact that certain things I'd wanted and expected to do, I didn't end up doing. Especially when you think that I'm already emotionally exhausted by my game, which I'd begun to feel I'd never actually make a dent in completing. I also kept feeling like I was performing a role (programming) that wasn't really my own, like I was being forced to 'waste my time' implementing something that I should have been able to hire someone else to do.

In light of that, we need some objective form of measurement. What is it that I feel like I'm failing at? What is it I could have succeeded at? Independent of my own mood, what tasks was I working at that could be used to gauge my success?

Well I'm a college student. And I'm trying to get the most out of my college experience so that I can one day end up working at the job that will make me happiest. Surprisingly, that definition of my actual goal doesn't say anything at all about teams, projects, modules, or what I did or did not get done. Logically, if I can demonstrate that I've grown towards this goal, I should be able to prove that I had a successful semester/quarter, and boost my own feelings on the matter.

So why don't I just make a long list of everything I learned this semester?

The Learn'ed List

  1. I learned how to work with Flex, Flash Builder, and FlashDevelop (Open Source IDE) to create Actionscript-based projects using resource bundles from Flash and a programmer-oriented framework from Flex. 
    1. I worked with open source projects and found several libraries and 'engines' to download and tinker with that expanded what I knew about rapid Flash games development.
    2. I formulated some ideas for a number of small quick projects that I can do in my spare time, or as part of the portfolio class.
  2. I finally sat down and thought at length Fuzzy State system, did some research  started preliminary investigations, asked some important questions
    1. broke an otherwise opaque problem down into smaller parts. 
    2. Difference between Fuzzy Control, Fuzzy States, Fuzzy Models and Fuzzy Modeling of real-world data. 
    3. Read two papers
    4. Speant a day modeling what our Fuzzy State system will actually look like
  3. I taught myself how to work with two different social coding frameworks
    1. GIT/Mercurial and SVN
    2. I did research to find out the best places to host code online for free (Google Code, Git Hub, Bit Bucket, Personal Server[SVN]) and the tradeoffs between them, including having to make the code open source or to use it for non-commercial purposes.
    3. I made a PBWorks Wiki/webspace and updated it.
    4. I started using Issue Tracking
    5. I learned how to work with the command prompt and type in all sorts of crazy stuff to get the results I wanted.
    6. I downloaded like 30 different GUIs, hacks, work-arounds, and java apps in order to get my social coding framework running on my home computer, my development machine, and in-school machines (mac and PC)
    7. I learned the differences between GIT and SVN. '
    8. I learned about SSH keys, how to generate them, and how to setup the secure file transfer protocol for my social coding, vs. using HTTPS pushes (which was no longer working for big files)
  4. I worked in the Unity3D engine for the fourth time in my life. Previously I'd done a tutorial, made my own level with a character controller that never worked properly and had a buggy FBX export [Ed], and used Unity3D entirely as a platform for plugin development. Let's just say I learned a lot about Unity3D in its entirely
    1. Became a lot more advanced at Unity3D use in general.
    2. Created my own character controllers out of RigidBodies
      1. This is actually a very important point because it's hard, people very frequently want to do it, and people very frequently give up because of how hard it is. 
      2. This is vital for doing a game with a character like Ed, who can turn upside down. 
      3. It was really hard and really cool
      4. It probably actually resulted in something I can contribute back to the community. 
      5. It worked with a moving platform
    3. Learned about the existence of Co-routines and how to use them in conjunction with the 'yield' framework.
    4. Learned to work with local and global coordinates, and parenting, to do some very cool things. 
      1. Learned better ways of doing things than was at first obvious.
      2. Could write a better UML for a finalized engine now
    5. Worked with particle effects to give cool glowing halos!
    6. Imported a character successfully
  5. UV mapped, textured, rigged, skinned, and animated a model all in one night. After modeling it. 
    1. Modeled a complete human
      1. Had never done this before
      2. Had never successfully done a face before
      3. Managed to handle the eye, lips, and nose all extremely well at pretty high polygon
    2. Evaluated end model
      1. End result was reasonably faithful to the sketches, but needs work to look like exactly the character we want
      2. Learned the sheer importance of digital sculpting; it is impossible to create an even reasonably attractive looking model without the normal maps computed from digital sculpting
      3. Learned digital sculpting could help in the future to model faces; allows experimentation with mouth/jaw/cheeks/jowls region, which is difficult to sketch, model, etc. 
      4. Remarkably high quality of facial detail and fidelity achieved.
      5. Came to realize just how hard it is to get a distinctive 3D character with a complex (or simply realistic) facial structure. Ovoid can be hard, but its fixable with good normal control and polygon spread. Non ovoid is insane. 
    3. Discovered the Maya plugin, RoadKill for UV unwrapping and learned how to use.
      1. IT WAS SO EASY MUAHAHAHAHAHA (I'm remembering a week of unwrapping Ed)
    4. Used an Auto-Rigger
      1. Had to learn to export to fbx
      2. Wasn't able to import the rigged character back into Maya, and recalling that it's a common problem that I'll be able to research!
      3. Had a 1 day free trial and used it!
    5. Managed to use all free animations offered by Auto-Rigging site to animate character
    6. Character looks very nice in loincloth. 
  6. Math
    1. Refresher course on 3D geometry
    2. Matrices, Vectors, Quaternions. 
    3. World vs Local space
    4. Velocity, force, and physics
  7. Had to deal with my programmatic urges
    1. Worked with the stress of self-identity and the fear of personal incompetence or misdirection that these urges brought. 
      1. Had to come to accept that I am not a programmer, and that my goal is not to create a perfect end product, but rather to rough in a shape that a programmer would later fill out, by showing it's possible and doing a lot of the necessary preliminary research. 
      2. Dealt with the realization that my goal is to create something testable, not something perfect. The first iteration. The demo. The proof of concept. The equivalent of the Scratch Mockup, but higher level. 
    2. Worked with the frustration of an extremely picky target audience
      1. Struggled with the fact that my audience requires such a high level of polish that testing was difficult without a well-polished product. 
      2. Tried to figure out how to distill the game into its essential parts, so that they could be tested. Tried to figure out what to make so that it is testable with the audience, not just alone.
    3. Gained experience working in a new way
      1. Intended Agile Development
        1. Failed to think Agile-ly!
        2. Got experience in that respect, and will be able to set up later projects better. 
      2. Can now look at project and realize what parts are unnecessary and ended up causing a tremendous quantity of overhead and bugs. 
      3. Ready to try it it out again. 
    4. Created a game
      1. Programmed thousands of lines of code. 
      2. Created an engine that suited my needs.
      3. Could gut it and remake it better now, (a new 'slice') for optimization (unnecessary) or simply to reduce the 'bugs' overhead (streamlining) to make it easier to move forward (might help).
  8. Developed a design thesis
    1. Found Design Philosophy
    2. Realized what I'm genuinely passionate about at my core, what motivates me
    3. Storyboarded new introduction to gameplay. 
    4. Moved from the idea of creating a proof of concept (Which is when I was expected to include more features) to creating a module (An in-depth exploration of certain difficult-to-implement features)

Wow, okay. I think we can stop there for now. We've already got a ton. 

So What Does That Tell You?

Did I shoot myself in the foot a few times in development? Did that slow down development and prevent the integration of the story component? 


Did it matter?

Nope. Turns out my game is fun to fiddle with as a toy, even having no story at all. I could literally box up several augmented reality variants based on my little 'engine' as digital toys and sell them through iOS. Not a bad start.

How do I feel now? All wiggly. I still can't get my feelings to stabilize entirely. I can't still convince all of me that I did a phenomenal job. I still can't be sure I'm going to be excited and curious and filled with new ideas to implement when the morrow comes, I still can't be sure I've outsmarted the anxiety-exhaustion thing. 

But you know what? Maybe its all just a little more human than that. Maybe it's all just a little more nebulous around the edges than having a clear-cut certainty about where one stands. These are emotions we're talking about, after all. Perhaps most important of all is that this semester ends with me focusing on my own emotional state instead of ignoring it and simply trying to be more productive. I now understand my limiting factor, and how to increase my creativity through addressing the limiting factor. I've got lots of ideas, and I don't feel (mostly) like I've 'wasted my time' (which is a common feeling when you're an anxious perfectionist). 

I'm okay. I'm about where I want to be. I'm afloat. The battle isn't over. But you know, when I woke up today? I was filled with excitement. I wanted to program. Immediately. I wanted to implement this and that and the other. I was filled with vim! I was ready to go! 

I felt it and I know it's there, and I know that I can get it flowing again. It's like an oil well just beneath the surface; all I have to do is tap it juuuust right. It's not going anywhere and I won't lose it. 

I'm not excited right now. This very second. This instant. I'm sleepy and need to go to bed. The old me would have been bummed that I wasn't excited and asked "What's wrong with me!?" as if I could be excited 24/7 365 days a year. The new me knows that if I was excited 30 minutes ago, I could be excited again 30 minutes from now. The new me is adaptive instead of critical; and so the new me is figuring out how to get results. 

My limiting factor will always be my own lack of faith. And though at this precise second I'm down off a 'high' of excitement, I honestly now have faith in my ability to find it again. And I'm peeling back the other stuff on top of it, layer by layer, so now I've started to see the excitement more and more and more frequently. 

That is what I'm going to come out of this with. At the Conclusion of Fall 2012, I have emerged with an acknowledgement and understanding of my own emotional foundation: of how to evaluate it, how to love it, how to nurture it, how to tweak it, how to respect its natural fluctuations- up and down, high and low- and maximize the highs while minimizing the lows.

I left school in May 2012 completely emotionally exhausted and burnt out.

I left school in November 2012 afloat and with 30 minute spurts of excitement about all the things I'm going to tinker with over the break.

 Let's set the next milestone. 

So I proved I can float. Well, when you're learning to swim, that's definitely the first step. So now that I proved I can float, let's start treading water a little.By January 2012 I want a better and more intimate emotional understanding of my own 'bummed' and self-critical periods. Instead of focusing on floating or excitement or accomplishing tasks, I will instead focus on getting to know my self-critic. Bit by bit, we will restore my motive power, my self-faith, my sense of power. 

Gaming Imperatrix: Out!