queenlua: (Greater Bird of Paradise)

a couple weekends ago i stayed up late and had a couple beers while trying to figure out why The Velvet Underground is a big deal.

uh, let me backtrack a bit.

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when i first played porpentine's "howling dogs", i rolled my eyes at the opening, which is just a long quote lifted from a kenzaburo oe's teach us to outgrow our madness. i had an unconscious, knee-jerk reaction: oh gee, look at this pretentious person, probably into lousy MFA fiction, majored in lit, putting on airs by name-dropping foreign nobel prize winners. (my unconscious it not very nice.)

i played the game and didn't much like it. it felt pretentious. its language was overwrought. there wasn't really a solid core.

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iii. )

iv. )

v. )


i've noticed lately that i've used the word "patient" to describe art i really admire.

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vi. )

fin. )
queenlua: (Magpie (Snow))
I spent my weekend in the Okanogon, a vast and rural county in eastern Washington, its largest city: population 4,000. The landscape was mostly variations on themes I'd seen before. Yawning stretches of shrub-steppe, low valleys hemmed in by mountains, and on our last day, to the south, a flat endless plateau.

But the highlands were new to me, and they were harrowing.

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queenlua: (Magpie)

My dad and I went birding in Colorado. Not for long, just for as long as we could sneak away from the family, one hour one evening, when we drove up to a nearby ski resort and tromped through the forest.

There was a path, but I abandoned it because I could hear a hermit thrush singing and I wanted to see it. Hermit thrushes are elusive little birds, prone to hiding in the underbrush. We went deep into the forest; I took a step and got soaked all the way to my calves in mud. Damn, wetland.

Dad and I struggled through the mud for a bit before my dad noticed—there were these slender white flowers that seemed to like water; the mud was deepest where they were, shallowest where they weren't. Sure enough, we wound a far-drier path forward by creeping between patches of white, and just a few minutes later, we came to a clearing and saw the thrush: singing, loud, triumphant, at the very top of a tree where no thrush ever sings from.


I started writing this because in my mind all my hobbies are the same: programming is music is writing is birding is everything. And I thought I'd come up with some brilliant connection between birding and programming, how they're exactly the same, but I wound up convincing myself it was also, well, everything.

The key to everything—it's so zen-sounding obvious-sounding stupid: awareness. Or rather, observantness. But hear me out; I promise there's not an iota of pseudo-zen in this post. (EDIT: rereading this by the light of not-3am-on-a-work-night, this is a blatant lie and this is all hippie shit but feel free to read anyway!)

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queenlua: (Robin)
i'm not a comedian or a comic writer or even particularly funny so here are some half-baked thoughts on comedy:
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queenlua: An adorable puffy little bird. (Broad-Billed Motmot)
A little parlor-question I've been turning over in my head the past few days: would you rather be known for creating the first notable piece of art in a particular genre (or particular form, or particular style, or whatever), or the best piece of art in a particular genre (form, style, etc)?

Like all questions of this sort, it's deliberately fuzzy/ill-defined, and how you answer depends on how you define it. But.

It came to mind because I've spent the past couple days playing through Yoshi's Island, which I believe is a truly exemplary platformer. I remember loving it more than about any other video game as a kid, and I wasn't even worried that I'd been seeing it with kid-goggles, as I am sometimes when revisiting beloved games/books/etc from my childhood—I was thoroughly confident it would be as good as I remembered. (And it is.) I've been playing with the boy, who'd never played the game before at all, and he's glowingly positive about it.

But you can't have Yoshi's Island without having a mature body of 2D platformers that came before it. You just can't. Comparing it against, say, the original Super Mario Brothers, you realize how much of Yoshi's Island consists of optimizing and improving the hell out of those core mechanics. Jumping in Mario was fine, but the flutter-jumping in Yoshi's Island feels bouncier, more forgiving, more exciting. Stomping on enemies in Mario is good, but Yoshi's Island gives you a variety of ways to attack enemies—not too many, not too few—that are fun to discover and exciting to execute, and so on. Yoshi's Island is genius, in how well it draws from what came before it, but it's not revolutionary in the way that the very first 2D platformers could be.

If the original Mario Brothers were to come out as some kickstarted indie platformer today, people would probably say it feels stale. Unnatural. Overly unforgiving, a little tedious, a little repetitive. Yoshi's Island, though, could probably garner some decent attention and praise.

You can do the same comparison for other mediums, I think. Film seems like the obvious comparison, but my understanding of film history is a little fuzzy beyond, I know it took a while for film to break away from the conventions of live theater, and I find older films a little hard to watch in the same way that I find older video games hard to play. The novel, too, as it's defined in Western canon, is a relatively young art form. (Though, as a possibly-related aside, when I read The Tale of Genji a few years ago, I found it amusing how very much the plot reminded me of any number of classical soap opera formulas, and thought how good Lady Murakami would've been as lead writer for some Gossip Girl-esque show if she'd been born in modern times.)

Anyway. It's also been an interesting memory-lane walk in terms of, wow, how old video games are getting—Yoshi's Island was over a decade ago, and it feels so much nicer than any number of critical-darling artsy platformers I've played in the past few years. It's so nice to discover that five-year-old you had such fine taste.
queenlua: (Default)
so the other day at work my team played this really cute programming game!

cute programming game yay )

anyway, it got me thinking. programming, visual art, writing, music: all are art forms or crafts of some sort. and i like my games to have a bit of craft in them. it lets you practice; it lets you delight the other players in unexpected ways; it's fun because art is fun.

unfortunately, most games are not particularly craft-driven in and of themselves—board games mostly lie on an axis between "randomness" and "skill/strategy," most video games are based on mastery of the game's particular combat system, and so on. and, to be fair, it's super-hard to design engaging experiences that are just based on "everyone does an artsy thing," since everyone's skill levels vary. (for instance, as a classically-trained pianist, i'm really weak on improv/freeform type stuff, and thus could only handle the basics of jazz sessions, which often consist of a lot of this sort of play. similarly, you have to be at least an okay programmer to do the programming game i described, and you'll have far more fun with it if you've done a bit of mischievous programming before.)

but. i want to collect a list of such craft/art-based games. because they are fun, and because maybe they will help me generate ideas for more and then i can badger all my friends into playing with me yaaaay.

i can name a few off the top of my head:

example games! )

i am actually quite curious if anyone else knows of such games! if so, please share them :)
queenlua: Sanaki from Fire Emblem 10. (Sanaki)
so i was reading a rather long and rather mediocre multichapter fanfic during my commute this week, right

and while reading this morning in particular, i noticed a funny thing

see, the final plot arc in this story had been going on for a while, and it very clearly could only end in one of two ways. either our dashing heroes would come up with a solution for the Perilous and Tragic End that awaited them, or it was going to end with one of them meeting a tragic end and the other one being sad and spilling large puddles of angst everywhere.*

and i had no idea which route this author was going to pick.

not because of any of the reasons you’d expect. i wasn’t clutching my kindle, desperate to see what shocking twist would bring us closer to one end or the other. i wasn’t super-invested in the conflict. i wasn’t suspicious of any of the characters.

it was just that, the tone and the plot turns and the direction of the piece had been so erratic and inconsistent that i straight-up had no idea. i couldn’t tell if the author was building up toward tragedy & heartbreak, or shock & awe, or sweetness & goodness, or what. there had been lovely patches of fluff throughout the fic but also angsty patches of angst. action and diversions and such seemed to happen on the basis of “whatever the author felt like writing when they sat down that day” rather than on something particularly coherent or driving. i mean, it made sense, inasmuch as, each scene led to the next in some logical way, but it just didn’t feel… whole.

so it occurred to me, if you ever want a case study in “suspense != your readers not knowing what’s going to happen next,” this would be it. i liked the characters well enough (the mighty upshot of fanfiction: “at least i know i’ll like the characters!”), and i had no clue what was going to happen, but turns out randomness and confusion doesn’t get a reader excited; only order and direction can. or something.

and also—it’s kind of interesting in an almost meta sense, right? here, i don’t think the author was intending to confuse their readers; i think the tone/direction made perfect sense in their head. but i’m curious, if you were a particularly skilled writer, and very cognizant of your tone/mood/whatever, what sorts of clever, effective misdirections could you do solely through that sort of thing, rather than the usual suspense-keypins of character and plot and such?

it strikes me as dicey. i can think of a couple examples of this sort of thing in like, modern/experimental art, but nothing that quite plays with it for suspense-y purposes. well, and i guess dark lord of derkholm comes to mind. that book was trying to get away with weird tone/mood shifts for comedy/parody reasons, though, which i think is a slightly different beast, and also, i didn’t find that book entirely effective—the constant, rapid shifts in mood from “lol d&d parody” to “viscerally upsetting violence / gang rape / etc” gave me emotional whiplash and made it hard to finish.

(for the record: finished reading the fic while busing home tonight, and it wound up going with the sad ending.)

* i’m being deliberately vague since i have no desire to embarrass the author personally or anything. i highly doubt anyone here’s read this fic and the details aren’t too exciting anyway :P
queenlua: (Default)
omg, fuck people of new york

craigslist housing ads are where it's at

in the past two hours i've gone from like

loathing the vast majority of "roommate wanted" ads to like

i mean

so many of them are weirdly intimate and personal, and they have all these adorable uncanny little tics to their writing, and some are really desperate, or really excited, or just really strange in a "i don't really understand how this internet thing works" way, and i kind of just want to hold and protect all these precious people

yes i know this probably just means i've been awake too long but shut up i'm having a moment
queenlua: (Default)
Some dude put together a "digital exhibition" of Twine games, and since I didn't feel like doing anything productive today, I decided to play every single one of them. Here are my semi-snarky 1-2 sentence reviews:

Reviews )

Of all of them, "The Matter of the Great Red Dragon" is the only one I'd generally recommend. "Coyotaje" and "Abstract State-warp Machines" are good if you're in the mood for an interactive fiction-ish thing already.

In general, I keep wanting Twine games to be better than they are. They seem to attract a pretty interesting community, but I'm starting to suspect the problem I have with a lot of them is the same problem I have with flash fiction.

That is—a few years ago I remember digging through a bunch of "best of flash fiction" lists, books, etc, to try and find cool stuff being done in the medium, and found myself walking away from most of the pieces with an "eh" feeling. See, poetry can be short and effective—because a huge portion of the power of poetry rests in the rhythm and the music of words, and thus can turn a trite or cheesy observation into something magical within two dozen lines.

Prose doesn't do that. I mean, the rhythm and music in prose do matter, of course, but the real power is somewhere deeper—in the character or the plot or the story you're trying to tell—and the scant few hundred words most flash fiction pieces have to work with is certainly not enough to establish any fully-fleshed-out character or more than a single scene.*

So flash fiction—and Twine games as well, I think—end up either going one of two routes—either (1) something that tries to tug at your emotions in a sort of mawkish, Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-ish way ("Debt" felt this way to me, even though it was a really well-constructed obvious mawkish thing so I feel kind of bad saying it), or (2) something immediately, eye-grabbingly "different" and experimental ("Drosophilia", "When Acting as a Wave"). And then I guess there's the awkward category of (3), in which the story tries to ditch character and plot in favor of conveying something solely through mood/atmosphere—something like "The Work," which I found interesting but ultimately didn't feel like an actual story, so I walked away dissatisfied.

But the Dragon one is pretty fun, so it wasn't a total waste :P

* Note that fanfiction authors often can pull off flash-fiction-ish drabble-ish things quite well—but I think that's because canon's already done half the work. Five hundred words on characters we already know, invoking an atmosphere we're already intimately familiar with, can be quite powerful. It's in original stuff where this becomes a problem.
queenlua: An adorable puffy little bird. (Broad-Billed Motmot)
So in the Viz translation of the Wolf's Rain manga, they did an odd thing with chapter titles—instead of labeling things "chapter 1," chapter 2," etc, each section was titled "grope 1," grope 2," etc.

There was a translator's note that explained this odd naming convention. Evidently, the original Japanese also used a non-standard word to label the chapters; it used a word that meant something to the effect of "to reach a point at the end of a long struggle." The translator chose to render this as "grope," I imagine, as a closest approximation to the original Japanese while remaining concise. One problem, though: your first thought upon seeing the word "grope" all by its lonesome was probably "ew is there some molester person in this manga." Alas, connotations.

It's unfortunate that "grope" has such ugly connotations, because I adore the lovely and shadowy connotations of "grope" when put in a context like "groping through the darkness for the key"—it implies blindness, struggle, indeterminateness, a question and a quiet fear. It implies grasping with hands, implies physicality, moreso than say, "struggle," which is just generalized striving. I liked how it fit with the travel/quest plotline of Wolf's Rain—with the translator's context in mind, seeing it after every chapter gave me this small sense of relief, a small outbreath. It went a long way toward implying that some big, exhausting struggle had just happened, and a big exhausting journey was still ahead.

Read more... )

But the other takeaway, which is really the point of this whole ramble, is: I want to fast-forward fifty years so I can use "grep" in standard prose without sounding like a fucking blockhead, because I'm totally writing a story right now where grep would be a rather interesting and lovely word in this one sentence if it were actually in common colloquial use and had the connotations I imagine it to have, and clearly fifty years from now everyone will be using Unix and contributing to Viva La Revolution Open Source so it will totally be a colloquial term by then, am I right or what.


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