Four Months with Kratzen
Oh heck, here we go again, with but a twinkle in my eye and all the hope and optimism of the past five months — yes, five, for only real fans know of the Hiatus — gone! Well, not gone, more like having run away like all those blokes in Houston are doing. Just a tad bit of water there, and you’re all crying? I ran out of ice cream sandwiches, what about my problems? But seriously, it’s really tragic Steve Harvey did all that. Somebody needs to lock that man up for laundering his Mafia money through Family Feud.
If you’ve read the last article I’ve done like a good little boy — barring all the ladies who do not exist because of the statute saying girls can’t be on the Internet unless they bare breasts — you would know I’m making a book! I’m sorry to say it has been cancelled. There were numerous technical and logistical errors related to the development of a book based entirely around a game that was never intended to be modded or even documented all that well, and I’m tired of making workarounds and using third – party tools in a vain attempt to write about it. Granted, I could simply make a text – based book and abandon all my desires of creating a hand – crafted ode to video games as I originally intended, but I think if I’m going to make something that demonstrates all my knowledge of games proper, it would be best to put my best food forward.
Now look, being a misogynist and making fun of disasters which killed dozens of people is all well and good, but I have to be serious and consider how to implement my ideas for a wider audience. I don’t want to spend months on something for it to not even sell… even a “The Thief and the Cobbler” deal where I make a masterpiece but nobody sees it wouldn’t be good enough for me. That means I’d have to put down a significant monetary and moral investment into promoting the book and making it palatable. So that means no swears, no edgy humour, and nothing silly that distracts from the main points I’m trying to make. And even though these aren’t horrible conditions to work with, I know it would neuter my prose to the point where it just wouldn’t be fun to read. And if I can’t reference a stupid meme once in a while, then I honestly think it’s time to cancel –
PSYCHE!!! 😲😲😲 WHOA BRO 🙈🙀 its JUST A PRANK!!! 👉👊😂 YOUVE JUST BEEN 💢💢💢PRANK’D💢💢💢OMG 😱😱😱 BRO👬 CALM 😴😴 DOWN BRO ⬇️⬇️ SIMMER ☕️☕️ DOWN⬇️⬇️ U WANNA KNOW Y⁉️ BC 💁💁 IT WAS JUST A PRANK 😂😂😂 😛😜 HAHAHA GOT U 👌👌 U FUKIN RETARD 😂😁😁THERE’S A CAMERA 📹📷 RIGHT OVER 👈👇👆☝️ THERE SEND THIS TO 10 🔗🔗OTHER JOKESTERS⚠⚠to PRANK THEM TOO🏃 HURRY UP OR ELSE🏃YOULL NEVER LAUGH AGAIN 😱😱😲😲
HAHAHA, seriously now. The book demo is coming out before 2017 – 09 – 30: September 30, for short. To recap, I’m designing and writing about custom Super Mario Brothers levels in a way that calls back to the games manuals of old, showcasing ideas on what makes great levels so damn great, and talking about all the psychological and æsthetic tricks developers use in order to make games play well. The demo will feature at least 50 pages, 25,000 words, and dozens of full – coloured captioned images. In addition, every level I produce will be free to download, regardless of whether or not you purchase the book. All of this will be released in the public domain, of course.
There is no better period of time to release such a project than at the tail – end of the Millennial generation growing up and finding new jobs in so many different industries. My greatest hope is that they take the knowledge I give them, and spread it onward to create better and better games than would have never existed otherwise. As one of the only people qualified to make such a book, I can say with certainty it’s gonna be a damn right banger.
What else beyond that?
Alright, that’s enough blatant and or shitty marketing. It’s that time of the month again, and I’m not talking about periods! Get it? You see, it’s funny because women are defined by their menstrual cycles and are only good for breeding.
Also, just want to make clear, I’m a man, and this is all just a very tasteful and subtle breed of satire I’ve developed exclusively for this website, known as Kratzen Komedy, and it’s all really quite clever you see. It’s clever because I just bring out that old KK and you can’t call me racist. Now, one more K, sure. But I’m not racist. Also not gay. Just throwing that out there. NOT RACIST. I can see these monthly sabbaticals are doing wonders for my writing.
Hey, let’s talk about anime! So I watched the Cowboy Bebop movie, of course I did, and let me tell you: the added time and money spent on the film really did wonders for its pacing and tone. Instead of getting this washed – out look like you got in the TV series, you have colours that look like colours, animation with a fluidity that justifies going to the movies for, and action scenes that are even better directed and staged than you got in the show. The widescreen aspect ratio, too, did wonders to enhance the impact of the world, which is a bonus thanks to the great characters we get — on par with the anime’s. The plot is stock, and the very end feels a tad rushed, but it’s a good movie, and a great gateway into the anime at large.
Also, I’ve had this bone to pick with Kill la Kill. You know, I’ve been wanting to watch that anime for years. It all started in the high school anime club, and no I wasn’t a weeb I just liked reading Shounen Jump when I was thirteen, where I saw this guy watching it on his cell phone. “Bloody brilliant stuff”, I thought, helped along by all the buzz on Tumblr. There was, at the time, a great pissing contest over whether it was an actual feminist show or it was just espousing feminist ideals to justify all the FFF – Fanservice with as many Fs as you can plaster, but practically it’s just a magical girl show where everybody gets their tits and asses out, especially bad when everybody strips naked as part of the Nudist Beach military club. I’m not making that up.
Look, I’ll be honest: great premise, just a fucking awful execution. It’s a show where your power and status is determined by the clothes you wear in a totalitarian high school dictatorship, and our protagonist Strong Angry wants to kill Stoic Bitch to avenge Dead Dad. This very simple and interesting premise, however, is bogged down by having no subtlety whatsoever in the themes, characterisation, fight scenes, or dialogue, falling into the stock anime tropes of explaining every fight mechanic as they occur (because the audience is a dum – dum who could not figure out Big Daddy’s power was invincibility) and adding in a scientific explanation for what should remain batshit insane magic clothes powers. Of course all this talking means that villains who should have been executed in three seconds instead have their fights extended to a whole twenty minutes arbitrarily… add in an insulting twist where it turns out Angry and Bitch are sisters in an event that was only foreshadowed the episode previously, and I gave up watching. It’s an exhausting mess to get through, with its minor good parts outweighed by all its bad, and is only good for the type of hyperactive scrub who enjoys seeing teenage girls beat the shit out of each other in overanimated ways.
Coming in at the polar opposite in both presentation and quality is Kino no Tabi, which I have fallen in love with. It is so rare, so rare, to see a show that doesn’t waste its time with words. This is possibly the first minimalist cartoon I’ve seen that actually turned out good — and don’t come at me with that Don Hertzfeldt garbage, where my interest peaked at “I AM A BANANA” and dropped off faster than mercury in water. Now bear in mind this isn’t shitty minimalism like his cartoons: this is a fully – coloured, staged, and directed anime like what you’re so used to. The difference is that while most anime is all ACTION YEAH, TITS AND GUNS YEAH, this anime respects its audience enough to shut up one in a while and let the setting sink in. Related to tits, Kino’s androgynous nature is one of the themes in the anime, though it doesn’t go much into it besides being a part of her character. Yes, her! A reasonable female action protagonist, holy hell!
So basically Kino’s Journey is about Kino and a motorrad named Hermes, who can inexplicably talk (along with some other creatures like an annoying dog) but honestly I’m glad there’s no explanation because it would take away from the friendship pact the two made, and they go to a hell of a lot of countries, explore around, and get out after three days. There is so much character and thematic brilliance in every setting, but it’s not brilliant because of what they say, but rather how little they say. The anime doesn’t go into depth in regards to ideas like the viability of democracy, the meaning of labour, pragmatic morality, or the dangers of tradition and spirituality. Indeed, Kino’s the type of character to murder a guard who insults her identity, and the anime is the type to show another guard’s kids living in the lowest – class sewage town. But it never, ever dwells on these topics. It lets them exist, lets them breath, let’s you think about them for yourself, and it really is special because of that.
Kino herself is a special type of character. One of the only gunslingers who is actually seen practising slinging guns, the rest of her combat prowess notwithstanding, her personality is that of moral necessity, questioning actions such as killing a hare to feed humans, but not feeling any remorse to killing those who cross her; murder if needed and no more, it seems. Her utilitarian attitude is demonstrated in her stripped – down design, no frills in any of her outfits, and subverting the goggle – headed anime boy trope by being a motorcycling chick. Her attitude, too, shows maturity greater than you find in the vast majority of people — remarkably so, given how she can’t be older than sixteen.
When you have Hermes posit the question if a country built a tower over the centuries to replace God, Kino replies it would be boring to believe in such an ordinary theory. When somebody calls a statement like that ordinary, you know you’re dealing with a level of writing quality that you just never see, and will probably spend months before seeing again. Even with Hermes’ cute voice and Kino having that particular type of cuteness that doesn’t dive into Cute Girls Hell, it’s cheerful to see when she does act like a typical girl’s girl. In essence, she is a character written by people who know how to write characters, and not just archetypes who things happen to. Same for the rest of the characters, too, who all display this same level of writing even though they only appear in one episode each… the Samurai Jack of anime.
It’s a transient anime, one which brings up a lot of points, and yet outsources the discussion of them to the audience rather than placing a particular point of view in their head. It is an anime for somebody who appreciates art as a means to think, rather than something to stare at and waste time with. It is not a beautiful anime because of the way it’s drawn, for its art style is functional without being awe – inspiring, but because of all the settings the art allows for, being muted enough to display whatever it needs to and able to represent anything it wants without visual clutter or distraction. Anybody who calls this lazy production are those who are unaware the purpose of minimalism is to represent everything it needs to at a minimal, however much detail that may be. I do not consider more detail to make better art, unless that detail is meaningful, which it most often isn’t. Efficiency, you see, is the highest form of beauty.
Watch it, if you please, and if you are somebody like me. It is the type of anime I would have liked to make and the type of dignified art that we need most in a landscape that prides itself, first and foremost, on blatant pandering, and secondly on making every character marketable instead of making them appreciable. Money lasts a lifetime. Reputation, and art especially, lasts forever, and more work like this will enhance the reputations of all involved. Try to view it in its original Japanese. The English dub isn’t terrible (especially for Kino’s voice), but it’s obvious the script had to hurdle over translations and lip – syncing. What is terrible is Hermes’ voice being this childlike bit of boyish wonder into a demonic monster girl thing. Come on, men. Save the edge for Statesian Kirby!
Games, we got games!
So I’ve been a real dope this month when it comes to games. I had this dream, I kid you not, about getting banned from a Space Station 13 server for calling everybody twats, which made me question why I couldn’t have more dreams about petting dogs. So I ended up spending two days straight setting up Wine to work with the BYOND client I need to play the game — you see, despite being “FREE FOREVER” this godawful engine from the 90s is not free software — and then trying to fix all the graphical issues I’ve experienced in SS13, which still never went away. So a technically awful experience, but you probably already knew that, as well as the GUI being bad, bad, bad, and the networking running at a crisp 20FPS with your movement speed directly tied to how good your connection is. Hope you don’t have more than 50 ping!
Let me tell you about SS13: it’s a fucking casino. You play every round with the hope you’ll be an antagonist, and when that does happen, you’ll often end up killed by a different antagonist who got a hold of you while you were still trying to choose which weapons to get. If you end up not being an antagonist, you’ll stockpile makeshift weapons like rum bottles (unless there’s no bartender), chemicals (only if the chemist is feeling nice), spears (if security doesn’t taser you and detain you), and even real firearms (if you can steal one without getting shot or permabrigged). This all may sound simple, but your position at the start of the round determines how much access you get to these things; if you spawn as a lawyer, you’ll have a hell of a time finding anything useful. Success, in games as in real life, determines how you were born.
Users with advanced knowledge of the game, by which I mean they spend hours on the Wiki as all good games should require you to read ten of thousands of words of mechanics before having fun, may be able to concoct things like flamethrowers, chemical bombs, makeshift shotguns, and poisonous fake medicine. However, this will not stop some random assistant from slipping you with a banana peel or wet floor, handcuffing you, and taking away your rightful advantage before throwing you into space. If they don’t have that capability, they can just spam “Disarm Intent” to take away your weapon and push you down to stun you. So we have a game where skill and experience is irrelevant to your success. As all good games should be.
If all this sounds appealing, run. Run away now, because you will spend days on end trying to do something majorly fun only to have it all be taken away from you by somebody who decided you don’t get to have any fun that round. Whether it be a shitcurity officer who arrests you for fighting in self – defence, an admin who doesn’t want you building a strip club in the bar, or just some random asshole who disarms you and steals your stuff for no reason, you are going to spend hours trying to accomplish something in this game for just one round, and by that time it will feel hollow for having done so. As with all multiplayer games, your victories end when the round does, and you will never earn any recognition for your work.
Other games include Plants vs. Zombies, which is still good if one of the easiest games I’ve ever played, making me come up with arbitrary restrictions to make it somewhat interesting. You know, you’re allowed to crank up the difficulty. It teaches the kids to value their accomplishments instead of having them handed to them by the Magic Fun Box. A bad one would be Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, which had a pretty interesting concept (think SAW on a larger scale), but like Kill la Kill buggers it all up with TOO. MUCH. BLOODY. DIALOGUE. Listen, writers: we know you’re an egotistic sort who thinks their words stitch together a golden road of… well, gold. But the quickest way to make the audience hate you is to explain things over and over again that really don’t need any explanation whatsoever. This is a visual novel: we can see there are weird watches on their wrists! We don’t need to have the meaning of the watches debated for five minutes before being explained five minutes later! Top that off with characters who really have no personality, and I couldn’t stand reading for more than two hours.
And I suppose that’s it, really. Didn’t read anything particularly revolutionary in the vein of actual books, or rather I didn’t read many books at all due to the Web being so damn interesting, though looking back on Seth Godin’s Linchpin makes me think more and more his books are well – disguised communist propaganda. The “gift economy”? I don’t know, sounds pretty Stalinist to me. If any of you would like to suggest anything else for me to take a look at after I wind up this book, go ahead, so long as it’s not something stupid like “Dream Daddy”.
Hard work and determination are nice things to have, but you can only work so damn hard until your brain gives up and everything else you write is as forced as propaganda and just as multifaceted. Putting yourself in a haze of hard work is like putting yourself in a haze of junk television: you fry your thoughts and they just stop working for a while. It’s not like I’m spending every waking hour I have writing for a book, you know. It would be nice to have that privilege, and to be one of those rare superhumans who don’t mind they’re slowly killing themselves whenever they push their will harder than the will would like to be pushed.
It’s true that hard work doesn’t kill a man, at least in the sense of voluntary work, and in fact makes you into somebody stronger and more disciplined than the majority of individuals you’ll meet. It makes you see blogs whose updates consist of apologising for not updating, and you wonder just what in the world those flesh and blood human beings were up to all the time they didn’t update. And I’m not just saying that because I saw a blog dedicated to gay Yordles just up and disappear — as talented an artist as she was. It can be for Yordles who aren’t gay, as well. What I am saying is that, whatever you do, you must not let it become a chore to do.
I like to say it’s not about the effort put into something, but the result. Pragmatically I must compromise this position, because we cannot have the result without the effort. If one focuses so much on quality that their work ends up feeling mechanical and hollow, fitting ill – defined traditionalist ideas of what “good art” is, then they have missed out on all the opportunities that art allows one to express themselves in, digital or otherwise. Quality is a nice thing to have, sure, and it’s important as all get out if you’re manufacturing physical materials and pieces of software that require a consistent, pragmatic functionality at all times. But the arts aren’t the most pragmatic thing in the world, and fearing imperfections because you know you’re capable of reaching perfection — or rather, the illusion of perfection — is just silly. It is indeed shameful, in that you would have too much shame to consider shying away from the brilliance of art.
A piece of paper costs less than a penny, and you have sheets by the hundreds lying around. It would seem the only thing stopping you from becoming a great artist or a great writer is the time necessary to keep drawing garbage on paper until, one day, you realise it isn’t quite garbage. Children, they do this all the time. They have no shame. They don’t care one bit their drawings are crap. Why would they? They have no shame! And we realise, even if we cannot place those feelings into words, they will get better, if not just quit at a later age. I believe we were all that child once, doing whatever for no real reason. I have it on good authority that the reasoning is as simple as the child inside us never really dying, and we still have those interests somewhere. We have just suppressed them, and in suppressing them, allowed a shameful adult to be born.
So when I’m writing this book, this humble little meditation on games design, I force myself to write like every page is inconsequential, with the understanding I will have so many pages down the line to further my thoughts and understandings of this great and silly discipline I’ve adopted as my hobby. I’ve disclaimed in the very first pages I don’t suffer any illusions of perfection. In a rhetorical sense, anybody who didn’t like the way I write wouldn’t be liking the rest of the book! And this particular style I’ve adopted, being one I enjoy so much for its own rhetoric, fits the silliness and twinge of arrogance that befalls any talk of games design.
Why do designers and developers, as with all artists, carry so much self – importance? I have never seen a video game that wasn’t trash in one area or another, and a program that was not broken in some respect. Is it because they, by virtue of having created a thing, is entitled to never be criticised for it? As if we didn’t have hundreds of different games to choose from, and even better, the hundreds of artists who make them. Arrogance, you see, is a sign of insecurity. An arrogant man doesn’t just need his own approval in order to know that they have done good, and can allow people to be done good by. No, they need the approval of everyone else in their vicinity! If you ever get blocked by an angry bloke, just know it’s not you, it’s them. Unless you’re a fascist fuck, of course.
I hope I do not ever become what I criticise, because then I will have done wrong by me, and all my teachings will be overshadowed by the curse of knowledge: this curse being the knowledge I have betrayed my word, and the rest of my words may very well be false. But I do not claim any sense of importance. I outsource that to the audience, for if I am important, they will know that. And if my writing seems pretentious, know that I did not make it so because I believed it to be perfect. I made it so because I believed it to be good enough. When we are creators looking to, well, create, then we always strive to kill the perfectionist and settle for good enough, instead.
So, once again, I will be releasing that games design book before the end of September. You can expect it to have prose as lucid as what I have given to you today, and with the charge of inspiration at its side ready to give its all to you. Also that, and a great bunch of anti – corporate and socialist tracts that relate to the hellhole that is the games industry, but if one is going to change the world, one must change a smaller part of it. I cannot talk about it any more because I already feel my wrists popping and jiving like ice cubes and salt, and I would rather them skeletonise after I’ve shipped the demo. When you do all your work on pieces of plastic with a bunch of buttons on them, it becomes apparent the flesh is weaker than the plastic.
A lifetime of fifty million keypresses? Per key? I don’t think I’ve seen fifty million characters in my life! Forty – nine million, maybe, but even then they’re all Sonic OCs.