Endeavors of Best Intent

As I’m sure many of you are aware, I have a love-hate relationship with programming. Namely, I love the idea of being able to put together custom solutions to my problems, or (dare I say it) write my own games, but I find that actual process of learning to program simply drives me bonkers, and falls through my brain like water through a sieve. Every few months or so, I go through my increasingly large collection of technical and programming books, and take another stab at learning a programming language. “This time, it’ll be different. This time, it’ll stick!”

Only it doesn’t. I took Logo in 4th and 5th grade (even went to a summer camp for it), TrueBASIC my freshman year of high school, Introduction to Object Oriented Programming using C++ my sophomore year, PASCAL my junior year, and then a course in Visual BASIC at a community college after graduating high school. And that’s just formal courses. I’ve got piles of books on learning C, Objective C, Java, even PHP that I’ve either slogged through or started to, and virtually none of the practicum has stuck.

There is a rhyme to this rant, however. It comes down to learning styles. Different people learn in different ways, and some ways are simply more effective than others. Now, in my experience, the most effective method I’ve found for retaining new information is through synthesis and participation, and that’s simply not happening in rote situations like books and most of the programming classes I’ve taken. So, my idea is this:

I’m going to blog the whole damn thing. As I go through the books and exercises and programming attempts, I’m going to write about it and post it here, in a new “Code” category on the blog. It will help me think about and restate the things I’m trying to learn, as well as hopefully serving as a helpful resource for others trying to learn. I’m hoping to start this task on Monday, as that will give me a few days to get things set up on the site and otherwise (I’m installing Xcode 2.3 as we speak). My focus (unless one of you convince me otherwise) is on learning Objective-C, so if anyone has any suggestions on books, sites, articles, et cetera, please post them here or IM me. Also, those of you out there who are gurus on the subject, if you’re willing to help me through pitfalls I might run into, it would definitely be appreciated.

For reference, the books I plan to use/reference:
Programming in Objective-C by Stephen Kochan
Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X by Aaron Hillegass
Core Mac OS X and Unix Programming by Mark Dalrymple and Aaron Hillegass
The Mac Xcode 2 Book by Michael Cohen and Dennis Cohen

The Moment

I’ve been trying to write this post all morning, to no avail. I tend to get two or three paragraphs in, and then scrap the lot in the hopes of making something at least slightly more approachable. While there is certainly merit in grandiose, elaborate posts under the right circumstances, it would really defeat the point of this post, which is largely to try and describe something about me that I really want people to understand (and, hopefully, appreciate). Some people live for their kids, or their work, or the sports game, or partying, or books, or any of these things. It’s their passion, what they geek out about, it’s an essential part of who they are.

My passion is the moments. Let me explain: while I geek out about a great many things, like anime, science fiction, games, and various dribs and drabs of technology, the oft-unspoken core principle behind all of it, is the usually brief periods of harmony and deeper connection between myself, the object, and the larger world. I don’t really follow cars all that much, but I can sit and connect with a driving afficionado when talking about that perfect road, where the car handles exactly as you intend, and you get that moment of exhiliration as the world scrolls by outside the vehicle. It’s the moment that I’m geeking out about. I believe that it’s not the experience that causes us to feel a connection, but the act of experiencing it, the process of being in and sharing a particular moment of time, and being aware of that allows us to find ways of connecting to anyone we wish to.

My favorite movies and games and books and music are filled with moments, whether captured intentionally or unintentionally, moments that epitomize a raw emotional response that you are then encouraged to share. Which I think is kind of the point: the sharing of the moment is more important than the moment itself. It is being able to glance over and know that someone you care about is sharing that moment and at least in some incomplete sense, understands. Maybe it’s imagined and they see that beautiful moment and instead notice the buzzing traffic and are annoyed by a mosquito bite, and feel not one whit of harmony. But the perception of understanding is there, and in a lot of ways, that’s just as important.

I’ve come to really value the friends I’ve made through Erica; her friends have welcomed me into their circle in a real and genuine way, and it really means a lot to me. More, perhaps, than I think they probably realize. To have that feeling of connection and kindred spirits is incredibly important, and so hard to pin down and distill into something that can be understood or explicitly encouraged. Suffice it to say that in a period of my life where I have felt overwhelmingly disconnected from my past, it has been heartening to find a connection in my present and potentially my future.

On Games

I don’t usually talk much about games on my blog, but this just needed to be said: Sony dropped the ball. Let’s look at the facts:

  • their “new, innovative” controller is a ripoff of the Nintendo Wii that from reports coming in from the press conference indicate doesn’t work as well (namely that the demonstrator was flailing about in order to use it, and looked incredibly uncomfortable holding it)
  • The price is $499 and $599 respectively for the two versions of the system, which is fully $200 more than the core and full versions of the Xbox 360, and up to three times as much as the Wii is speculated to cost (we’ll find out how much soon, their press conference is… tomorrow I think).
  • their “core” version lacks memory card support, HDMI, wifi, and the hard drive is 20gb (a third the size of the full version). Considering their vaunted 1080p claims, it’s pretty absurd that some of their systems will be physically incapable of supporting it.

I’ve seen live PS3 footage, and it really does look spectacular. I really wish I could get excited about it. There are even some exclusive games for it that I’d really LIKE to play. It’s just not going to happen. Maybe in a year or two when the price has gone down a few times.

What the Plate Looks Like

My plate is currently a large, colorful, plastic plate that is square with rounded corners and a raised edge. It’s the rim that gets me. I wouldn’t mind letting some of the things on my plate slough off, but that’s hard to do, since it’d involve tipping the plate and running the risk of losing the whole kit and kaboodle. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, though, since Life is always quite generous about refilling your plate, sometimes faster than you can eat it. Still, some of the things on my plate are quite delicious, and I’d hate to lose them. Honestly, I’d say what I really need to do is start diving in, rather than sitting here overwhelmed by the amount in front of me.

I’m of course talking about the metaphorical “plate” that describes the things we have going on or needing to do.

The job search has begun, though not with any marked or specific direction. I’m looking primarily for jobs in the New England area since I’d rather not end up further away from my girlfriend, since she has two more years of school. That said, I’m hardly in a position to be picky — while I’m not going to move to California for a job at McDonalds, if a job within the gaming industry presents itself, I’ll go where the work is. Still, with 50ish game companies in the greater Boston area, I don’t think I’m limiting my chances of getting a job in my industry of choice that much. (That’s to say nothing of other tech related companies, as well as colleges and universities.) The biggest hurdle, honestly, is writing cover letters for each position. While a resume can be fairly straightforward and identical/similar across jobs, cover letters are meant to show a bit more of the person, and why I’d be a good fit. I hate talking about myself (notice the lack of updates on here?), especially when I’m essentially trying to sell myself. Still, it must be done.

In the next month or so, I need to make arrangements to transport my storage unit from Seattle out here… which means I need to have some idea of where I’m going. This is going to cost money, more than I really have to spend right now (which is none to speak of), but there’s the simple reality, and frankly it’ll be nice to have all my stuff in one place again. Ideally, I’d like to get an apartment by myself (the idea of buying a condo or house is still very appealing, but there is no way in hell people are going to pay me back in a reasonable enough timeframe to do so), and again ideally, somewhere within walking distance for Erica (which means Providence, which means likely commuting to Boston for work… I’ve done that leg enough times at this point to not feel horrible about that, though). Now, the interesting thing is that due to how rent was paid earlier in the lease, my rent is paid through July, at which point I’d damn well better have a job (and realistically sooner, paying your own insurances is decidedly not cheap).

This all does, however, mean that Critical Games is going to have to wait a while longer to swap over to a design studio (which remains my goal). I still strongly feel that there is a need for nuanced, narrative based games that really delve into the storytelling capabilities of the medium, a style of game that is largely unmade currently. I simply don’t have the assets or industry clout to pull it off right now. Instead I will be pursuing other things, including game design for other companies, level design, writing (script and technical), customer relations (GMing), QA testing, web maintenance and moderation, and other positions I’m either qualified for or feel I could do (I’ll leave you to guess which are which… I will say I’ve done most of them in one capacity or another, just generally not for pay). I’m also looking into grants through the NSF and NEA (among others) to either do some game prototypes (much thanks to Chuck Kinzer for pointing me towards some of those), or write a book (either on the role of animation in the US in the 20th century, or one of several photo essays). I’m also going to see if I can put together some written articles to submit for publication. I’m not sure if I’m at the point where I could actually do that for a living (in fact I’m pretty sure I’m not, though the desire to eat can be a powerful motivator), but if even one or two get published, that could help stave off a negative bank balance and give me more time to find a good gig. If there was ever a time to be looking in these directions, it would be now, since my living situation is fairly stable and rent at least isn’t an issue.

An idea that my brother and I tossed around at lunch also has some merit, though it doesn’t solve short term concerns per se. The idea is to offer ourselves as freelance researchers and consultants to game companies (though the work could just as easily apply to television and movies). As we move more and more towards high definition, technically and historically accurate depictions within games, the need for cultural, geographic, architectural, and historic research is going to increase exponentially. I feel well equipped in my capabilities as a researcher, and I think now is an opportune time to start offering this talent as a service. I can take 4000 pages of text about a culture or historic period or esoteric topic, and synopsize it into a 10, 20, 30 page report covering relevant details to what might be needed in accurately depicting that idea in a game. Anyone who has spoken with me for more than half an hour knows I’m a sponge for random information — why not try and get paid for that? The issue is in convincing studios that they need such a service, and while I absolutely believe that they WILL come to this realization, I strongly suspect it may be slow going. The best thing I can do, I think, is put up a page offering this service and start contacting companies about what I’m offering. That, and pick the brains of folks in the industry about the idea. I may get lucky, and someone will throw me a bone, and give it a shot. The reality is that will be the real test of whether or not a freelance research role is viable and worthwhile.

There are several projects I’d like to get underway that I think would be beneficial for me (if for no other reason than I think they’re neat and would keep some sort of creative and intellectual momentum going). I’d still like to work on building some levels and mods of various types. I want to wade back into programming with both arms swinging, namely in Java and Objective-C. I want to write a MUD from scratch, hopefully with a scalar framework so it could be taken visual by someone with gumption. I want to get back into Latin (I’m rusty as heck), and put a concerted effort into Japanese. I want to finish some of my short stories (and start some more). I’ve been talking with my father and our friend Charlie for several months about restarting a photographic art group. All this, I want to do while I continue the job search, and try to have some semblance of life. Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me. Time to get started.