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I’ve been slowly, slowly winding my way back through Lost Garden‘s archives, and his thoughts on game design and the mechanics of creating joy are always a treasure to read. Today I picked up Road Not Taken, which is currently about $7 on Steam.

In my first playthrough, I spent six winters meticulously saving all the village children from the cold and dark of the woods. No child was to perish on my watch. I was pleased with myself. I grew cocky.

The seventh winter, I took the hard path, and I struggled. I wasted precious energy moving boulders around, fruitlessly. At last I pressed on, pushing with my last chilled breath to the final clearing, where the last child was shivering, huddled – surrounded by a pack of wolves.

“Something terrible has happened here,” the game told me. Unthinking, I leapt into the fray, hoping against hope that I could prevent a tragedy, but I was immediately torn apart. Game Over.

The art strikes a delicate balance between creepy, cute, and absurd – importantly, the exact balance struck by the mechanics, and the story, and the presentation. The game feels uncommonly cohesive. Rarely do I experience dissonance, even when I’m learning the recipe to create an axe out of three fire spirits. There’s such an aura of mystery that the inexplicable or weird aspects of the game feel like part of a ritual I have yet to learn, for some dark purpose I have yet to gather.

Someday, if our species can survive long enough to realize a hundred-thousandth of the potential of interactive art, it will be games like this that we will look back on and say, “This allowed us to become what we are now. We let it seep into our bones, and we let it change us, and now we are ourselves. And look – Look! At all we have accomplished.”

Until then.

In a sense – a felt sense, for me personally – there is no continuation. There is only a sharp, staccato blur of re-creation, existence mimicking itself near-perfectly, moment by moment, until what we have is but a copy of a copy of a copy of something we barely remember.

I’ll be around, for certain values of “I”, and I want to be around in a new way. Only the beginnings of the plan exist as of yet, but there is an intention to create a plan, and to create with forethought and purpose.

I am trying a way of being I call Slow Sprints. That is where I have a finish line – a goal – a purpose – something tangible I intend for myself – but I do not rush hastily toward it. I act with care. I choose deliberately. I allow the small voices of the moment to speak to me.

At the moment my goal is to assert my existence, in whatever twisty, wispy shape it takes now.

During the month of November, I wrote fifty thousand words of a thing I might hesitantly refer to as a “novel”. It caved in on itself, and I built it up from scratch, over and over again. I do not think the Fast Sprint is the way I want to approach creation, or indeed life.

During 2015, I intend to write something that does not fall down. I intend to write something that hangs together very beautifully, and intricately. That will be my way of assuring myself that I exist.

What is the Self, after all, but the most laborious construction project ever undertaken? And what is it built on but hopes and dreams and wishes? Pull one tiny thread in the web of relationships that holds your Self together, and the whole ridiculous edifice comes crumbling right apart.

In any case, here I am, Internet. Let’s be friends.

“The blood will rise.” She picked up her sword and hefted it thoughtfully. What had her father meant? Was there killing in the future? Ancestry? She had no context – he had come to her in a dream. A ghostly visitation of the sort she would usually ignore. But not tonight. The gods were awake tonight.

She opened the shutters and looked out onto the town square, full of  fireworks and festivities. Homemade paper dragons circled merrily around shrieking children, giggling in mock terror. They were celebrating death – a life-giving death, Moloch the Corruptor defeated once and for all. She smiled sadly. They would never know the true price, she thought. In wars, there are more who must die than demons.

It had looked impossible. From the left, apologists had refused to surrender their childish faith in the dignity of all creatures, and the wisdom of peace at any price. From the right, Moloch’s shock troops viciously suppressed any hint of a brighter future. She had fought long and hard, exhausting herself to squeeze a path out of unyielding society. And in the end it was only by the grace of Nione that she survived, let alone triumphed.

She bowed her head in prayer.

“I am sorry, Nione,” she prayed, “for my imperfections. I have been disloyal. Faithless. I have forgotten my oaths.”

She felt the warmth in her chest, as she always did when the goddess was listening. It was against Nione’s nature to forgive, but she accepted her servant’s apology in the spirit it was meant – as a gift of sacrifice.

“I thank you for the blessings you have bestowed on me, and I will double my efforts to proclaim your glory in the coming year. My people – my heart – belong to you, Nione. All my glory belongs to you. My shame will be burned in your cool flame. This I pray. Farewell.”

And the lights went out.

All of them, across the square. She could feel her own heartbeat, but that was all the indication that any time was passing. The world was stillness and silence.

“My pet,” said the woman on the throne,” Do you trust me?”

She prostrated herself. “You know I do, my lover. I will trust you as far as the end of the sky.”

“Will you kill for me, pet?” said the golden woman.

“My life is yours,” she whispered. “I will kill for you.”

“Will you bury your secrets for me?” said the cold-eyed goddess.

“I will bury my story so deep even the gods will never find it,” she said. “Is that what you ask of me?”

“I ask for Justice,” said Nione, goddess of storms. “My heart burns for a reckoning – for a bringer of righteousness. My so-called worshippers wallow in the muck and expect my shamelessness to absolve them. Make no mistake – I would rather burn my city to the ground than see it turned into a cesspool of idleness and corruption.”

She trembled. The earth shook beneath her. The skies were open.

“The blood will rise,” she whispered. “Then I am to be your butcher?”

The flame on the throne smiled. “No, pet. You are to be my knife.”

It took her an hour to stop shaking, and another to come back to herself.

She closed the shutters, lit a torch, and began to prepare.

I’ve got a bunch of draws and cartoons that I never posted here…

What to do, what to do…

If you think you see a face,

Then you know it’s just a mirror.

If you think it’s you you’re seeing,

Then you better know your place.

They can hide you, they can hunt you,

But they’ll never ever beat you

If you tell them not to eat you

With a firm and steady, at-the-ready, thoroughly constabulary billy club of greatness at your side.

(It also helps to look them in the eyes.)

I never posted the last bunch of draws I made.. I suppose I ought to remedy that at some point.

This is a poster of sorts, for a script I never finished. The basic notion, the thing that kept me working on it, was an idea of a crown that, in addition to bestowing upon its wearer the rulership of some faraway, magical country, also slowly turns the king into a living statue over a period of seven years. During those seven years, the king cannot be killed, nor can the crown be wrested from his head, but once the seven years are over he will become a mere statue and the crown will pass to the next king.

Thus, he who would hold power must be prepared to sacrifice himself.

So, naturally, there must be some character with the will and ingenuity to try to beat that system – I’m thinking, by putting the crown on his son’s head, and intending to use him as a catspaw. The film could be the story of that son, facing the choice of when / how much to stand up to his father and fight for himself and his country.

Also at some point he rides a dragon. Not sure where that works in, but somewhere. Oh, and there’s an Empire on the verge of invading or possibly just annexing the country, and they have an Immortal Empress who’s in charge of absolutely everything, thus a source of keening envy to our very mortal, very non-omnipotent protagonist.

 

When I come home from my customer service job it is 7:00 or later and I have not eaten in some time and I am nauseous and I want to never ever speak to another human being for the rest of my days.

Sometimes in the mornings I pray that my train will crash before I get to work so I won’t have to go in after all.

I’m hoping that I can leverage my extreme discomfort into profound life changes before my soul passes out from exhaustion.

My life is a work in progress.

Patterns are ley lines. Inspiration is goop. With me so far? Ley lines describe the flow of goop, which can be tapped into for material gain. It is therefore beneficial to prospect for these ley lines, which can be discerned through careful, logical extrapolation of the evidence given by your senses. The keenness of your senses is what the game is all about – prospectors must find / deduce the location of the ley lines, then priests must bless / engineer buildings to take advantage of them. Priests are good at clarifying, making things concrete, and skillful priests are able to build structures in harmony with their environments, thus more gradually depleting the Earth’s bounty of goop.

It’s all a giant metaphor for pattern recognition, see, you have the prophets, who glimpse dimly at a possible deeper truth, who squint hazily at the moral eclipse of the sun and try to sketch what they see, you know the ones, the ones who seem like strangers in the moment. Those are the guys getting glimmers of intelligence telling them cluefully where a pattern / ley line might be, where they could suck inspiration out of the ground, and they had best learn logic if they know what is good for them. In particular it will help them discern which are the true glimmers of something real and which are the illusions of a warlock / devil-memes from the bowels of capitalism.

See? It all fits. That’s why I have to risk everything to make a Dragon-themed Metroidvania strategy-prospecting MMO card game. I’m telling you, I have seen it.

Through a glass, darkly.

image

And everything else, for that matter.