Thursday, 29 December 2011

Multiple recursive effects experiment



All this started when I had this crazy idea for this funny experiment at glsl.heroku.com. The first one was http://glsl.heroku.com/e#886.0 followed by http://glsl.heroku.com/e#888.0. Later I found a way to do the recursive version and the first version was a small test with 2x2 effects and later adapted to the massive version.

Of course it's harder to navigate on the GLSL sandbox version because I am just getting a mouse.xy as input for my shader. The youtube video shows my adaptation of the 4x4 recursive effects shader on a PC application where you can freely move, zoom and rotate so that I can explore the effects and stare them from closer and even closer range.

I have an idea on how to extend this in the future and maybe release it as a standalone application or screesaver.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Any paranormal computer science phenomena?

I'd love to read some paranormal claims that involve anything having to do with computer science. Why?

Because I'd love to be able to explain something strange in a field that I have some experience. I'd laugh to see something trivial that's easilly explained yet also being puzzled by something that is harder to make sense out of it. I'd love the feeling of something invading our world where we have the expertise to make sense of it. It would also be easier to recognize false claims without wondering which side is right. Because I would have a personal view that is not just sticking to either the believers or the skeptics opinion but understanding your own thing.

I want to let you understand what's the problem with all those conspiracy and paranormal claims for the layman but even for myself too. Unless I wanted to stick fanatically to either one of the sides, the reality is that I really don't know what to think about some claims because I am not an expert in some fields. Sometimes you need to be, sometimes you don't but the answer doesn't come unless you are biased. I mean, if you are a believer you will distort the facts to fit your own view, but the same happens if you are a skeptic in the wrong sense that dismisses all the claims which sound extraordinary.

One fact that I realized is that the conspiracy theorists present their claims in such a way that it's so fucking believable. Something inside you tells you it can't be true, it's too good to be true, there must be another explanation here. But there are the claims that seem hard to refute, some are claims that sound valid to the layman but you'd wish you were a specialist in a field to really know the reality (for example, oh the twin towers, steel cannot melt if the temperature doesn't go over this threshold, we even talk to some experts, blabla). Sometimes though they intentionally don't present all the data (oh,. the flag in the moon landing waves like there was an atmosphere. No,. they have just showed a part of the moon landing video where the astronaut tries to stabilize the flag into the ground and so moves it. In all the rest of the video the flag is stationary)

It makes it annoying to someone like me who would love to know the truth, the real reality behind all these stuff, but sometimes fall for it. For the temperature steel melt or for some photography stuff or for other things, where even so called experts(?) come out and say yes it's extraordinary, something strange is happening. I cannot say! That boggles me. The best thing I can do is read what the skeptics have to say but aren't they also trying to find the most ordinary explanation out there? How can I have an objective personal view that is not affect of either groups?

Bring the computer science related claims. Because then you easilly know. Little example that made me think about this. In one of the 40 claims about the moon landing hoax from a site I cannot find right now, it was only one that made me easilly smile and understand that if you know about these things, you can easilly refute false claims or maybe even find some validity for the most extreme stuff.

The claim was something like that "Oh,. the simulation programm of Apollo 8 was running in an old 8bit processor with 64k. It's hard to believe that. Today you need a Pentium 3 with 128MB Ram to run a space simulator application".

With that above I could easilly laugh. Most people underestimate what older computers can do if their modern PC goes like a snail when trying to save a document in Word or something. Furthurmore when people read "Simulation" the imagine something like the Fuckin MATRIX!!! The programm in the space shuttle most probably was calculating or correcting trajectories during the flight or in the landing and was specialized to do these things effeciently. It's not a full blown application doing heavy simulations or displaying 3d graphics of what is happening. Having also a good idea of what 8bits can do either by programming for them or watching all those demos fitting in so few kilobytes of memory and showing impressive things, the claim above doesn't sound extraordinary at all. The average layman has a different perspective over someone who knows his field, and you could trick the first to believe there is something extraordinary here. Btw, the Apolo 11 guidance code is here for anyone interested.

That's the problem. I didn't respond in the same way on the claims of shadows on the moon going wrong or the lack of stars or other photographic "evidence". I was like, OMG they are going the other way. Isn't it obvious I thought? But it's hard to believe. This is big! If I was more informed about the lens they used for the photographs, they light and ground conditions and other stuff, or if I had an idea about the relevant fields then I would have a great laugh at start. But now they manage to boggle your mind by presenting you claims in a way that it makes them believable especially if you don't have much idea about what's going on.

Thus I really want to read more paranormal stuff and conspiracies concerning computers or something related. Not that I am an expert in everything, I could still be boggled but it would be interesting. Because I feel I would have the proper knowledge and experience to not fall for it and make easilly sense.

Though most of the stuff would be some virus or some "hacker" who made someone believe his computer is the spawn of the devil or something :P :P :P

But I'd love to. Where is the ghost in the machine?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

State of the open handheld scene

Yesterday I received my second Caanoo (my first one is soooo dead there was no chance to resurrect). I am so happy about this one. It's a white one this time, came already with a 4GB SD filled with some games I have heard about at FunGP but never have bought, also seems to overclock at higher speeds (my old one was crashing over 750Mhz, this one runs nicely at 800Mhz and still doesn't seem to freeze at about +10-20 additionally).

Meanwhile, some new good stuff had been released since I last have broken my Caanoo, like for example a new Playstation emulator with ARM optimized CPU emulation, a better options menu and finally proper frame skipping. 800Mhz overclocking might have also helped a little, the fact is that some games run at normal gameplay speed with good sound even if they aren't always giving 60fps. Castlevania which is mostly 2d runs 60fps at times with little slow downs. A 3d game, for example Moto Racer runs at 30+fps with normal gameplay speed. I should try more stuff, maybe play the classics (resident evil, silent hill, ridge racer, tekken, etc) at a fairly good speed on the handheld instead of a PC emulator. Secondly, the Caanoo dongle has a reason of existance now since a web browser with virtual keyboard support has finally been released, also a browsing app that downloads and installs software automatically from the classic handheld console archive and an maps viewer using google maps and other services I didn't know too. I have also tried Caanoo IRSSI which is an irc client and it worked fine. It's nice to know my Caanoo can be connected to the outside world somehow.




Anyways, to go back to the main idea of this post, I'd like to just write my thoughts as brief as possible about the current state of the open handheld scene. What do I consider as an open handheld scene? I don't think that much about the famous commercial handhelds that can also serve as homebrew consoles when hacked, like the NDS, PSP, 3DS and others. I am mainly focusing to the open handhelds which you might not buy with the main focus to play commercial games but for your own hobby matters, programming the console, contributing to the community, playing classic ports and emulators, etc. Of course you can do all these with PSP or NDS if hacked but my main love are the open handhelds like gamepark series or dingoo or others, which are unknown to the mainstream. I can't say why but I feel more love and I am more motivated to contribute by writting coding for these consoles than the mainstream handhelds.

One more element that narrows down for me the handhelds I am interested into is the existance of a community. If I was to collect every open handheld and get involved into coding them, then it would be a hell considering the vastness of newly released crappy imitations of the original idea of an open console, as seen in this blog. I didn't even know most of these handhelds. The fact is that there is no community in most of them. They are alterations of the same concept, sometimes different models of a system on chip not being drastically better, made by chinese companies usually, trying to sell cheap and make some bucks as alternative solutions for emulation and media players. So, it gets a bit weird after that and thus my interpretation of the few handhelds belonging to this open handheld phenomenon is narrowed down a lot. There might even be a company which produces one console that I consider belonging in the defined set yet the company also produces a number of other similar consoles that are irrelevant to it. For example Dingoo where Dingoo A320 is a part of the scene and not the other numerous handhelds they have released (see obscure handhelds). However, if the community shows and interest to one of this handheld and as things start moving on, I will consider it as a part of my selection.

Maybe I should not speak at large and try to speak about the little consoles that are already part of the community and the future possibilities. I am very interested to what the future might bring because there are is a stall currently in the community which is quite interesting if not scary. Will there be a good open handheld community in the future and what are the future handhelds to move on?




When GP32 was released first at 2001, this was a real novelty from the folks at gamepark. It was a totally new idea and started the part of the scene I was trying to define above. It's only much later that everybody has seen you can take a SoC, install free software in it or let the community code their own games, emuls, etc and possibly get your own audience who might or might not form a community. Anyway, it was before hell brooke lose. Now, gamepark has never really overdid it like dingoo and mostly released a new console after some time has passed. So, we have GP32 of course, GP2X at 2005, and much later GP2X Wiz and Caanoo. Each of them is a unique machine (well Wiz might be similar to Caanoo and there was also GP2X F200 with a touch screen which I forget) and are parts of the real community. Now, the sad news are that we might probably not see another gamepark console in the future.

The question is. Should the community be moving? Towards which next handheld? And if there is no new gamepark handheld then will people probably write and port more software for the latest gamepark handhelds? The Caanoo (and similarly the Wiz) have not shown their full capabilities yet. I have seen very very few software utilizing the actual GPU residing in these last two and personally I haven't even touched even if I'd like to test the performance of this one. If we were living with the thought that Caanoo is old enough and that the next generation of a gamepark handheld will be released then some people might wait for the next beast and would not be motivated to start writting a big game project (for example) for Caanoo.

What is the state of the gamepark handhelds? GP32 is my beloved and I might buy a used one someday because my old is broken. GP2X is old too, though I know there are a lot of sceners (in the demoscene I mean) who bought one with the thought of creating demos for it and never moved on to the later Wiz or Caanoo (as it wasn't a novelty anymore and the market was filled with imitations of open handheld consoles (one calls these a PMP (portable media player) trying to say it's not interesting anymore as in the times of GP32 or GP2X)). So, I know for a fact that I would still be interested to code a new classic software demo for the GP2X since some people from the demoscene might be able to appreciate, but in the open handheld community most people have moved to the Wiz or Caanoo. So, more demoscene for GP2X and more interest for other projects for Caanoo for me. Now Wiz/Caanoo seems to have a future of a steady platform that stays as it is because of the reasons I said (no new gamepark). And the scene is nice there even if the software much less than in times of GP2X (just see the total sizes and number of files in the openhandhelds archive.

But how about other alternatives? Dingoo A320, while a cheap chinese handheld nobody knew, somehow achieved creating a big community. Marketing? Contacts? Thing is, the company behind dingoo started releasing a lot of different variations of new handhelds, for example there is a Dingo A330 and a Gemei A330 (from the same people behind Dingoo, now one could confuse on A330 with the other A330) among others. See confusion and further confusion. So, there is no clear plan and the scene doesn't seem to move on from Dingoo A320. I have heard that the scene things mostly about the Gemei A330 which also seems my most favorite from all of the random junk out there, the people behind Dingux tried to port it to the new Gemei A330 but right now there doesn't seem to be sure the community moves there. We'd have to see Dingux and more stuff from it, a new archive, forum,. I mean how can the community decide with such a mess? Or maybe they will stay loyal to the old Dingoo A320? So, Gemei A330 is my personal guess for the future, concerning real open handheld community from the Dingoo side but time will tell.

Yet people might scream "Oh, but now my Iphone or my Android is much more powerful than these consoles". It's true and maybe there is a thing that could be a bit scary for the open handheld side of the scene. Though, I consider the touchpad/phone market something entirely different than my narrowed set of open handheld community. People though ask for more powerful open handheld devices and what is there?

The Pandora could be another alternative for the future of the hobby. It's 4 times as powerful than my Caanoo and it's maintain by geeks for geeks. It was an interesting project that went through various problems and maybe the release time was too late after two years of the first preorders when the touchpads and phones, recent 3DS or even possible new playstation portable will come. Though I don't personally care since as I said an open handheld is a different thing for me emotionally than big commercial handhelds that might become open if hacked. And maybe I don't want any power anymore. The Caanoo is enough powered and is still underutilized in terms of homebrew and demos (exception is most emulators which are really optimized to the bone). Maybe oneday we would see some real homebrew and demos of the class of good commercial games or some real demos. Maybe not.

Anyway, what's the state of Pandora? There was this massive drawback when people where expecting Pandora and it was late for two years and I think a lot of people haven't got their unit yet. Some kind of delays in the production proccess with Chinese manufacturers I have heard. Recent news say that a new German company has been selected for the circuit production, probably more reliable than the Chinese solution. The first new batch might arrive this January. Let's see how things will go, because with the demise of GPH (the hardware division I think) and the confusion from Dingoo, the road might have opened for Pandora to be revived. One major drawback though is that Pandora is quite expensive (around 330Euro I think?), so the community might not prefer it. People are also already pissed with the two years delay of Pandora. I still hold my believe in the project and maybe when I find a new job with a good pay, I might order one myself too.

What are other alternatives community-wise? Even if it sounds like a joke, I want to believe: The nD. A very cheap handheld for the community that you can buy more of them for just 10-20$ if your last one broke, with what I believe are still very good specs (ARM 400Mhz, 32MB ram, 320*240*16bpp) for my own love of the open handheld hobby with hopefully a big community. I see things a bit different than some people who wish a dual core 1GHZ, GPU accelerated, 256MB Ram and as much as more powered handheld, that will run PSX, N64, Dreamcast and other emuls and Far Cry and Crysis combined :P. I really don't care. GP2X was powerfull enough for me, especially for my software rendering ventures and if it's not perfect it's a challenge to optimize. Tons of good games both technically and gamewise do exist in emulators but this went mostly underutilized in every handheld released till now. Such specs are perfect for my hobby and all I need is the sense of a community too. It's gonna be very interesting if this handheld gets released and catches too.

So, in a nutshell for me the scene is no new gamepark, still personal interest in GP2X (demoscene mostly) for me, Wiz/Caanoo (these goes together almost, though I'll be working on my Caanoo mainly) will stay for the future, Dingoo A320 too (community is still strong), hoping for a pass to the next step being Gemei A330 possibly (I'd also prefer it from all the other junk), possible rise or fall of the Pandora (the prize, ah the prize) for people needing a more powerful open handheld and an alternative community concept with Nd that might be extremely interesting. Honorable mention (even though not a handheld but still an open mini computer in the similar spirit) is The Raspberry Pi. And what else the future might bring. This is in a nutshell the whole subset of where the open handheld community will move around and my interests too.

This tells me I should buy a new Dingoo A320 because my last one broke, stay loyal to the Caanoo (my Wiz has also a defunct screen, maybe I'll buy a new one in the future just for the completion and porting stuff from Caanoo), wait in hope for Gemei A330 creating a new community or not, see how Pandora goes and hope in vain for Nd. A retro comeback from my side to the GP32 if I buy one, even though you hear nothing about it in the scene anymore. So it's hardly community relevant anymore even if it was a part once.

Tons of text to put things in perspective about my love of the hobby.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Super noooooooo... nooo. nooo.. there is nooo... NOVA

That's similar to the quote on that Amiga demo :)

My relation to astronomy is minimal even though I'd always like to get more into it. Obscured by my everyday activities, real life (if that even exists :P), hobbies (I realize I spend most of my time in front of my PC nowadays :) never let me get into a second hobby. And that would be buying a telescope and watching the sky for me. Maybe also follow what other comes with it, like going to astroparties, moving to far away locations to watch the sky (not just from my balcony) and even studying the physics of it. But sometimes it's hard to have a second hobby after the first grand one. Or not?

I have heard about the supernova possible being visible with binoculars and I was fascinated about it because supernova always fascinated me since I was a child. I must have been watching Cosmos by Carl Sagan in the greek TV then, a series that I'd like to watch again today (I was a child back then and maybe I don't remember much, also nostalgy).

So, I tried this time to locate where this thing happens, at which times during the night it's visible and where I can locate it in my balcony. Yes, normally I should have gone somewhere far away where there are no city lights, though I don't have a car and I couldn't ask anyone then (they would probably want to sleep :P). But anyway, there was a nice window of time between 22:00 - 24:00 and visible from the side of a balcony in my home with a nice stand where I could sit there steady and aim my horrible binoculars I got from the middle ages to the sky. I could see just darkness. I had to take some mushrooms and imagine stuff. Who knows, they say drugs enhance your perception :)

No, no, no,.. there was no NO VA. But this thing motivated me to get new binoculars or even a telescope and start getting more into it (well, when I have the time and the money :P). At least I had tried for three days. Friday, Saturday, Sunday every night. Then the phenomenon fades away slowly. 21 million light years is boggling even if considered small for astronomical scales. This thing was fairly visible with a good set of binoculars they say.

News on the net also speak about some older supernovas that have occurred throughout history, one in 1576 that was visible with the naked eye and another one in 1006 which according to the Arabian and Chinese files was so bright that you could read at night. Wow! I am wondering how far away those supernovas were (there is nowhere stated in the news) and my greatest curiosity is, has a supernova inside our galaxy happened? With so many billion stars, wouldn't it be too common for one to happen inside our galaxy? And if a 21 million light years supernova is barely visible with binoculars, how bright would it be if it happened in our galaxy? Would a close enough supernova affect life here in disastrous ways? Maybe I should start studying these stuff instead of just asking, but you know these questions boggle my mind :)

When I started this blog, I had a post entitled the hermit and the stars. I think the stars are similar to our hobbies. People spend time in social casual talk while wondering what are we geeks doing with our lives. It's not about our life or a geekness trend though, it's not about belonging, it's not a bridge to the social, it's only because we find a meaning in these stuff. And as one cannot understand why are you so enthusiastic about programming and demos and retro and stuff, one can also not imagine what is there in the stars, more than just some bright dots. Ok,. he understands there is something that is not just bright twinkling dots but this is a thing for scientists not someone who likes to stare either with his naked eyes or with a telescope. Or he might just not care while we are fixated to this. Anyway, so my passion for the stars (which has not evolved because of my computer hobby :) is also relevant to my hermit personality. I like stuff, I like ideas, I like the human mind, I don't enjoy casual talk. I want the real thing!

Though, that was an irrelevant thought, not having to do with the supernova specific and since I have said everything I would like to say today about my epic failure at seeing it and my wish to get better equipment then I should stop. See you in a next post!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Procrastination and Demos

As I was procrastinating by reading random blogs instead of finishing work, I stumpled upon an interesting article at Coding Horror with even more interesting links. In a nutshell it is a criticism on most self-help books/websites, also focusing on the few exceptions having to do with the scientific literature studying these things, which is the most interesting part to me for further study.

As for the self-help crap I generally agree as I don't like self-help gurus or new-age philosophies which tell you they have found the secret leading in a succesfull life. I admit though that in the process of searching for answers concerning the issues that have bothered me in life, I have stumbled upon a lot of these sites of self-proclaimed self-help gurus. Well, most of the times I didn't found "the secret" because if it was so simple then everybody's life would be much better than it is. All I found was some very general ideas that are too familiar and sound "oh-so-nice" to us and stories about how "this worked and changed my life", "my friend is a very different person now" and so on. Apparently most of the people who didn't gained anything from these ideas and those who think it's pure bull didn't bothered to comment on these sites.

But this is not the main focus of this post. I might write (or not) some more thoughts on the above in my Optimus Monologue blog. It's just that another link from the comments on the Coding Horror article lead me to a nice little tool which is an equation of motivation and makes quite a sense when used to describe various situations in my life where procrastination took over me. You might ask, do I need another equation to understand the obvious things? Does it have to be so logical? Isn't it about emotions? Well, I discovered that it helps taking a situation where for some reasons I am not motivated enough to work and speculate on each variable of the equation. Of course, I could just try to feel which parts of this work demotivate me. But it's much easier to reach some useful conclusion about what goes wrong or what could I change in my work process when going backwards. I could maybe see the key elements with my feelings but using this logic tool backwards helps me focus more accurately on the critical points and see what to change. I'd really want to explain my thoughts by writting about demomaking after posting and explaining the equation.



There are four variables in this. I'd say that Expectancy is mainly static concerning my demomaking hobby and the same happens with Impulsiveness which depends on the person and I'd say I have a fairly high one but not extreme. The most important parts for this study are Value and Delay. Let's explaing what those terms are in a nutshell (although the link I gave you above will help).

Expectancy has to do with negative or possitive expectation concerning the job you have to do. Do you have a low self-esteem concerning girls or job interviews? Then a low expectation concerning your success will kill your motivation or make you avoid taking action. Impulsiveness as I said depends on the person. High impulsiveness means that you want results/rewards NOW. If a specific task doesn't give you direct results but you have to finish the whole project or wait a lot to get some reward then as you understand this is a pretty unmotivating piece of work for a highly impulsive person. Value is simply what the word says. A very boring task or a job we don't want to do has a very low value. Delay is the period of time before we finish the task and get our reward. It's very much related with impulsiveness.

Let's give some examples relevant to my hobby. First about computers. Programming is a tough work for highly impulsive people. I know a lot of people who will read a programming book and expect to be able to do full blown apps in a month, yet be dissapointed and quit working because it really needs a lot of patience and years to learn. Maybe programming isn't about highly impulsive people or is it? Delay is big enough. It needs enough patience and work to move from a simple "Hello World" to something more impressive. For some Expectancy might be high enough too because it might feel impossible to them that oneday they might learn to write serious code. It won't be a case later (also a static variable that I will be able to remove) for me when I discuss later about my democoding motivation based on this scheme because I know I can code and I don't have doubts about it. Value. I said before that I consider myself to have somewhat high impulsivity. Maybe not extreme but something above the average. I might be wrong, but if I am right then how the heck did I learn to programm so well? Through lot's of pressure and insistence. I somehow REALLY wanted to be something in my life. I have chosen programm and I HAD to. Somehow this could be the Value parameter that made me insist on working on learning programming and doing my first demos regardless my Impulsivity to play games or surf the internet instead. I am not entirely sure about this but it's a nice first guess compared to the motivation equation.

Games. Internet. What do they have in common? Almost zero response to reward time. Delay is close to zero. The fun is NOW! That's why they are so popular among procrastinators. Value is high too in a way. I already said it. FUN.

Let's go on with this. Time of reward. A very important factor. Remember the old saying: Focus on the journey, not the destination. Let's put it aside the equation. It made sense even though I had a little trouble here determining whether I have assigned this to the right variables. I can't say since sometimes these variables might be interconnected (for example Delay and Impulsiveness). But let's see this. I wrote about games/internet above and how we prefer them from hard work. Delay is NOW aka the Journey. Reward is instant. In a programming job you usually long to get something working. It can be either finding a little bug, writting a piece of code, completing an important algorithm or even the whole project. The last one was my usual mistake. This is the destination. Delay would equal the whole time of the project completion. This also makes sense with the saying about splitting your work into smaller parts. You focus on completing the smaller tasks and thus the Delay factor is much smaller thus increasing your motivation. Not if you always long for completing the whole project though.

This is where it seems to me that Value and Delay are interconnected. Say that you have a very boring project to finish. You are longing to finish it so that you can finally get rid of it. The Value factor of getting rid of the damn thing is quite high because you will be relieved from this nuisance, yet you get your reward (which is only completing it, the destination) after a long time, thus the Delay factor is also big. What can you do? You could reduce the Delay factor a lot by splitting the whole project into much smaller tasks. But what about the value of each of these tasks. Considering that it's just a boring project that you want to get rid of, it's quite possible that these parts and generally the whole process (aka the journey) don't give enough Value points to get the thing moving on. This is the part where they say you should FIND motivations but I never manage to do. But it's quite logical considering it's a project that you have to finish but don't want to actually work on. I quote Tales of Mere Existence

I have a project I have to do. I have a project I need to do. I don't know if it's a project I really want to do, but I do know that I want my project to be done.

So, what happens with demos? Luckily I think it's not the same case as in a boring university/professional work you might be in the miserable position to HAVE to do but NOT WANT to. Because it's a kind of hobby where it's possible to enjoy the journey too. My mistake was that I was focusing on the far side of the road, the destination. I was too obsessed with seeing my demo released and it's a thing that worked positive as a motivation at the beginning but faded away by the time. In the interconnected equation, when I value the destination (So we can say, the Value is the number assigned to how much I'd like to see my demo released) the Delay gets big. It needs too much patience to work hard for months while longing for the single day when my work is done and it's definitelly not the right way to motivate yourself. But this time you can do something better to keep working while moving your mind away from the thought of releasing your work. Ask yourself, which smaller parts of demomaking do you enjoy more? Can you focus on just doing these parts and forget demomaking for a while? You will end up still doing effects or small parts that can be later connected to do a bigger demo while still feeling active and being all happy about it. Congratulations! Big Value and very short Delay (aka fast rewards). Can you get away from the demoscene releasing to the crowd virus and just concentrate on what you love for a while?

It took me so long to start learning doing this because this equation is missing some other factors. Emotional habits. Psychology. Being in the scene. I recal wondering: But how can I just focus on effects and little algorithms? I need to show my work to people. They want it in some complete "demo-format". What if I end up only doing effects that I keep in my HD and never complete any demo? I tell you now that this is bullshit! With this psychology you can't be motivated to work at all. It's better just doing effects and little experimentations just for you than longing for showing something to the crowd and maybe your effort being acknowledged. Even if there is the fear of never contributing with a full blown demo, at least my final plan works! You have to understand it and slowly slowly integrate this new philosophy of creativity in your life. The equation explains afterwards why this works better but doesn't give you the tools to change direction in your life/hobby so that to not make the same mistakes. It's just nice how it reflects the more correct direction I recently took with my hobby.

About Value, there are different qualities in it. Finishing a demo has a big value even if it takes time (big Delay). The second approach has both a fairly good Value of enjoying every moment coding stuff that you like and a much shorter reward time (small Delay). But even if both Values have big numbers, what is of more quality? Doing stuff only for the final reward however big or enjoying the whole essence of coding every single time? Apart from that, the first choice had not always positive value. A lot of things where happening with this approach, for example first came happiness of releasing stuff within the community but then sorrow was second with some people dissing your work or not getting enough of the response you longed for, forcing you again to get into the same cycle of HAVING to work hard so that maybe they appreciate your next work. It was full of shit (apart from strawberries :).

I have come to the conclusion that the best strategy for me is to just focus on the things that I love (code experimentation, optimization, retro platforms, etc) without planning to necessary (or early) release any of these in a demo. Yet, if this happens that I put my work in a full blown demo then the audience response should be considered as an additional bonus and not thought as the actual goal.

So, it's just a bonus. Just do what you love and people might appreciate it or not but you won't care about this enough if you have followed the second route and had a great time during the journey. The motivation equation just describes (and puts in order) some of my feelings in a more compact way. It might be a great tool to see what slows me down in other parts of my life too..

p.s. Some parts I left out. 4k or smaller intros are nicer because Delay is smaller than regular demo and Value is still good (fun and appreciation by the community). My Otinanum crapmos was my failed attempt to receive the reward of releasing something fast, aka Value is big enough but with very very small Delay. But that's a lie. I didn't enjoyed these project. First of all, where is the fun of coding good stuff that you like? Secondly they were mostly dissed by the community of course. Finally, I didn't felt for these reasons and other that the Value was big. So, by decreasing the reward time with a stupid way of releasing demos with the use of a shovel (as in shovelware?) I unintentionally decreased the value too. I know some groups (ISO, Jumalauta) did such tons of small releases and I don't know if they liked it but I definitelly didn't. Who knows, maybe I will release a bigger Otinanum demo oneday (I secretly have some sources :) where I actually enjoy the process of coding abstract, noisy or BITS stuff and get the kicks out of it. Still without worrying about the scene.

p.p.s. Now, will the motivation equation help me to get laid? Duh :P

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Doing archeology on my digital memories

This will be a little post concerning what I am doing these days and the thoughts it emitted. When I left for London to start my MSc, that being September 2009, I also left all my retro junk at home. Since I started a new life there, I didn't bothered much, and my parents transfered a lot of these stuff at our village. Few days ago I have visited my village (which is situated near Chalkidiki, a place in northern greek where you can easily travel to the sea) after such a long time with some friends so that we stay there and go for a bath to the near sea. The first thing I did was searching for my old stuff and deciding what to salvage at the moment. As I didn't want to take too much stuff with me, I decided I would only take one hardware (and that is CPC :) and then the smaller stuff (GBA cartidges, cables I was missing, CDs with important old stuff, etc).

These days, apart from running demos and games on my CPC (The last time it was August 2009 I think, last demo I had tried on the real thing was From Scratch by Vanity iirc) I spent a lot of time searching through my old CDs. Except from some original stuff (Mindcandy DVDs) and other unimportant CDs (warez I can also find on the internet) I have salvaged a big stack of CDs and DVDs with regular backups of my old stuff, from 2003 to 2009. Random downloads, backups of old code and other works of mine, several stuff I might not have kept on my current PC right now. It's a tedious work, searching from all the tons of random downloads and triple copies of the same backed up source codes, trying to save the essentials in your HD but it emmited memories finding a lot of old rare stuff.

First of all, my very old emails. In the past, I managed to save all the thousands emails I had ever received from my obsolete hotmail account with outlook express. Then I did this again in my more recent yahoo account. Till 2002-3 I think. Nowadays I don't do that. I stopped. I think that whatever email I get just stays in my mind or maybe I forget it but it doesn't matter. It's the same with backups. I stopped hoarding every random thing I download in tons of DVDs. Though, it brought tears into my eyes reading parts of my endless ruminations, huge emails, old friends I miss, my old enthousiasm when I first met the demoscene community, my stupid obsessions, huge website with tons of text I build, silly irc logs from the old scene, my past. Even if I sometimes wanted to forget it, it was more powerful than now. Currently, I feel a little strange or laugh hilarious reading some of my old stuff. Was that me? Have I changed? Do I wish to go back?

Sometimes I do. Looking at the things I was building back then, with all the presure, the lack of freedom (I was growing up, studying for my university and arguing with my parents about the extensive use of the computer, even though I was mostly coding or writting, not playing much games) how did I manage to do all these? Even if they look ridiculous now, ugly websites with tons of boring text, mediocre demos, being too obsessive, to desperate with that hobby, also obsessive with geek girls, do not forget that (I think I really scared them back then :P) and the scene, the same and the same disapointments, arguing with the scene, with pouet, becoming a wreck yet I continued doing stuff with great force. I was dead since 2003 yet I really decided to cut the crap after 2008. I know it by reading my private old texts reminscing my situation. I was emotionally shattered since 2003. Yet I still pressed myself till 2008.

What do I want to say? I don't feel like my past self. I still did some things for the scene (Chunky Chan was a small comeback on CPC, followed by my little Spectrum/CPC/C64 tiny intro releases) and wish I can do more. I still code, I will never leave code, especially the one where motivation flows and you don't do it because you have to release something, but out of own curiosity and experimentation (For example I am trying OpenWatcom C on my 386 again without planning a demo or something). As long as I do it in the healthy way it's good for me. I think I have put those rules on me, for example if I feel like I am pressing myself I avoid doing it. (For example, last dbfinteractive competition, image processing. I was planning something but I didn't do anything for this reason. Thinking only about releasing something under pressure, not having fun). It's good for me to follow that road. Yet this is not my old self which is good but then I miss something. I miss the times when I was active. I look at my old stuff and see that even if it was obsessive, there was that stuborness there, the one that fueled the whole thing. I feel like I lost my energy now, I can't do this again anymore.

I even had several websites I updated frequently. I want to start my new website on my new place but I can't even think about doing the work that it needs. How could I spent half of the time updating so many sites (optimus site, cpc scene site, greek demoscene site) and even doing lists of demos in pure html style and not with some automated script back then? Doing it the stupid bruteforce way. Insisting stuborness. I see the works of the past and I am scared. It scares me because I remember the pressure under which I did this. It's not bad now, when you see your works it's like you see your soul. I just realized I can hardly do this anymore. Maybe I will be coding at rare times, or possibly a good team might motivate me. I will be doing it for fun, not because I should. But that was the force of the past. Without it, I would possibly just do nothing and only play online games. Sometimes this is one of the forces that makes geeks do the hard work they do without getting anything in return.

Nowadays things that I need to resolve in my real life makes me avoid getting too obsessed to start a new project. There are a lot of things I still want to do, either things I have started recently or things I want to start, but I am afraid to touch. It's kinda logical, I am 31, hopefully got well with my master exams recently, next step being to find a job and try to settle down my life. I hope that after this I might feel more free to work on some new stuff inbetween. I miss it. Yet, I love that I am free of the obsession, thus if I feel like, I can decide to not work on my next scene project today. It's a dileema.

Still nice to revive some old memories back by looking at the contents of those backup CDs. Also, I fixed my CPC drive cable yesterday so that it's registered as drive A and not B (It was easier than I thought. So many years I was afraid to touch it because I am not the hardware guy but there is a way where you don't need to solder). This is essential for running Batman Forever among few other software that don't like drive B (Symbos too). Last thing I did at night was finishing again Orion Prime in a big three hours longplay. It was a great experience and I had two years to touch a real CPC.

I still have a bunch of old CDs to go through this night..

Monday, 18 July 2011

People forget it's just a hobby

As I grow up and gradually evolve my view concerning my involvement in the demoscene and other communities, I encounter amusing arguments from people inside the community concerning my activities. It's not a regular phenomenon and maybe I misunderstand what people meaned to say, yet it becomes more obviously weird to see these conflicting arguments since I have matured enough concerning my hobby and all these ideas sound like senseless arguing to me. Nowadays I am more detached from my hobby, or let's better say less obsessed with it, being there for the good things that it still gives me but not emotionally hard involved.

It was diferrent the very first time we've started. When I initially met the demoscene it was a whole new world for me and I have tried to make sense to it. Somehow it was connected to my personality too, so anyone dissing this hobby or giving it another touch would make me angry. Since this thing was connected deeply with my personality, I had imagined a static form describing it, preferably the one it felt more "right" to me. Thus, excessive argumentations concerning the nature of my hobby took part, like "dos demos VS windows demos" and such stuff. "My demoscene" couldn't fit this or that platform, demos shouldn't be this, demos should be that, etc. This is one instance of the absurdity even though you stop caring as you grow up.

Do you remember those people who are outside of your hobby and yet they insist arguing whether you should do what you do? Oh, why do you code demos? It's totally useless! This is the first case of people who don't understand the senselesness of arguing about this, because they forget it's just a hobby and it doesn't have to be "useful". The most possible reason for the inability to understand is that these people never had a real hobby. Though I have discussed about this case already in a very old blog post, I am just using it as a bridge to move on to a second type of very amusing cases.

Outsiders cannot understand why we are doing what we are doing and that's understandable. From the other side, I would expect that people who are inside this hobby would understand the glorious senselessness of what we are doing and not seek for a reason or question one. Yet one discovers some funny cases, maybe those people didn't mean it but it is truly hilarious that even your own kind doesn't get it. Say you meet an Amiga scener to whom you show your CPC demos. Ok, maybe Amstrad CPC is uninteresting to him and this is understandable but this is not related to the answer you get. The guy says, "Hmmm CPC. That's too primitive, why do you spend your time coding for such an obsolete machine?". Yeah right! While your Amiga is modern :P

That's not much different than saying "it makes sense as long as it's my platform". Yeah, Amiga doesn't sound so much primitive than CPC, but we forget that both sceners are doing demos which are "senseless" in itself. In my opinion even if the person arguing was only doing modern PC demos it wouldn't make a difference. Even if he would argue that at least he is also learning something modern that could be used in a job. But are we spending so much time just to fill our CV with experience? If that was the case then why not try to find a job instead of spending so much time doing demos? People forget that what we do doesn't necessary have to be "useful" in a real world sense. I didn't started being involved in the demoscene because I thought it would be a good career move. I didn't choose CPC instead of Amiga because I thought it would give me more relevant job experience. Hell, all I had in my mind was an endless love for retro and hobby programming, something that doesn't need to be explained in a "logical" way.

This is what happens when we have these hobbies (which we initially started out of passion) and at a later stage we try to rationalize our involvement. You were there. I was there too. Wondering why I spend so much time in the demoscene. Why such an effort for something that is just a hobby. When you worry about it, you try to make sense of it in comparison to the real world. You say, maybe it's just a hobby, but at least I have learned programming which might help me get a job. You say, hmm.. Amiga is not that primitive, I have learned some concepts I can still use. But is this the real reason or is it just a way to rationalize your hobby?

Funny thing, I have a "rational" explanation for this question. Programming takes a lot of time and effort. Why do it as a pure hobby? You could use your time different in the same time and gain some money. But then it's not about money. Then what is it for? Big effort needs huge motivation. You can't just sit and spend so many workhours for nothing! A friend told me this revealing idea: Fame is the money of the internet. Yes! While it's controversial to say that you are doing this for "fame" (also, it sounds too egoistic, so we could just switch this word with another, for example "expose") there is nothing else left. Every person, in every hobby that doesn't pay real money, there needs some kind of motivational force to be able to spend so much effort and time into the whole thing. Becoming popular to the community is a very good motive to push yourself to produce big things for no monetal gain. Why do you think that such big hard working communities of geeks thrive today? Everyone wants to hear good words about his work. People enjoy getting a good name in a community that matters. Thus, I don't doubt it anymore, fame is a primary motive in all these hobby communities and I could also use different words like glory or honor to make it not sound bad. But it's good and it's natural, since you are doing the hard work for a reason at the end. It was only bad when I was obsessing about it but now it's just a nice little bonus.

My brother once told me, these sceners are crazy! They are supposed to be an underground community who value limitless creativity just for the sake of it. Yet some people argue continuously whether demoscene should be this or that, whether a demo running on windows, dos, flash, assembly, c, etc should be a demo or not. Well, some of the times these flames are just for fun maybe. I know they don't mean it. It's only that everyone wants to be there and have an opinion to what his hobby should be about, sometimes being a bit too opinionated. If you have seen your hobby from an outer perspective, you stop being too obsessive about it and all these things are funny. Who cares if a demo is made in Flash. Do you like it? If you find it uninteresting because of lack of low level code then you can just move along. It's ok to say that it's not your cup of tea but denying this piece of work because it doesn't fit your little universe? Everything is fine regardless the platform / language / tools used as long as it tries to be creative or do something impressive.

In a nutshell, once I was curious about people outside my hobby who not only understand why I am doing what I am doing but arguing about how useless it is. Today, as I keep a distance from the demoscene, being there but not be too obsessed with it, being only active when I feel like, I see things with a more clear view. Thus, I discover that even people inside these communities who are supposed to understand free creativity without a reason, sometimes doesn't seem to get it. When I think about someone who argues about my retro platform being too old and useless while spending free time on a platform that is still retro by todays standard it makes me cringe. Not mentioning the fanatics (we all used to be once) who can't seem to understand that free creativity is the key to happiness. Even if one cannot understand the motivation behind some obscure demo releases, one should respect the free cretivity behind making the most "absurd" wild demos or coding for obsolete platforms that nobody ever uses. Well, seing people arguing about these stuff while you know the nature of the demoscene or other creative communities that do it for nothing, is amusing in the most strange way.

Thus, I end up with this strange random piece of thoughts from my side, making people wondering why do I waste so much time writting these senseless blog posts. Who cares..

Saturday, 28 May 2011

I should still learn how to play adventure games

Each time I decide to give it a try at playing an adventure game, I realize that there is some kind of sophistication behind this type of gaming that you don't usually find in your regular gaming moments. Adventure games need a unique kind of mindset that one might manage to get into slowly after a long period of being involved in this kind of gaming. This is important not only for getting smarter on this by the years but primarily for learning to enjoy the genre at it's fullest.

What am I trying to say really? I almost got caught by the common pitfall again. Using the walkthrough impatiently, in every chance I got. This is the reason I am writing this post today. It has been proven to me for another time that being tempted to use the solution for an adventure game spoils the fun of discover it all by yourself.

Usually, when I get stuck three things might be the reason. The most common being that something has to "happen" in the game for new stuff to be revealed. Either you have to visit a place again after you have finished another action or talk again to a character, gather all essential items you will need in the next part to survive and so on. It's not dumb if you stuck there but maybe it's not a fair enough reason to look at the solution. Another reason for stucking might be that you are simply stupid. Or you are so impatient to finish the game that you stop caring about the story and the details that might help you understand what to do next. In this case if I read the solution, I realize that I have unnecessarily (ab)used the walkthrough for something that I could easily think myself. That's the worst case where I feel that I genuinely slaughtered the whole gaming experience for nothing. The third way to stuck is of course when a riddle is ridiculous or very hard to figure out, something you would hardly ever imagine and it feels fair opening the solution in this case. Though, even in such a case, figuring it all out by yourself would give you the ultimate feeling of accomplishment.

And it's not only that impatience makes you eager to look at the solution and spoil the fun. This kind of mentality makes it also harder to play an adventure properly. Sometimes in order to solve some riddles one has to observe the environment very well or follow the story carefully for clues. If one doesn't have the patience to actually play the game but only being too harsh with himself to finish it for the cutscenes or the finale, one is bound to not think clearly, missing obvious clues while feeling stupid again by opening the solution for no good reasons. The brain doesn't work well under pressure or when you are too fixated with the goal (to finish the damn thing) and not with actually being there. So, the rule of not using the walkthrough so impatiently, might also have to do a lot to do with how you play the game.

But why do we succumb into temptation and spoil the fun? How is this thing connected with what I am saying about a different mindset or sophistication behind playing adventure games? It's not much about the fact that in adventure games you have to think. Someone would say that even in strategy games or even fps you have to think. The major difference is that with adventure games you need to have patience. You should try to find a free evening, a peaceful moment, that period of time when you don't have other things in mind and decide to dive into the world of some random adventure title. You must not hurry up to finish the game, you should not worry about the two hours spent on a single riddle, you should be in a relaxed state where you can accept spending your time in the same environments searching for the next damn thing to do to move on.

Maybe our way of life is rapid or so do they say (was it ever different?) that we can't accept spending our time playing a computer game in a more relaxed manner. The fact is that most computer games nowadays, even those where you have to think for a while, are made for people who wish to play something fast in their limited free time that gives them a lot of action or content in very short periods. Guy comes back from work very tired, needs to relax with his friends on the internet, joins his favorite multiplayer RTS / FPS / MMORPG / whatever for a fast 1-2 hour play. Give him his fix now, now, now and fast!!!

Think that real time strategy games are the most popular of the strategy genre. People used to play many turn based strategy games in the past where you could have a break to make a coffee during your turn :). Nowadays, RTS are far more popular because a lot of funky stuff are happening in the screen, keeping the player always occupied. This is ideal for a person who wants to play a game for say half an hour and still experience enormous amounts of fun for the short time being. Even modern puzzle games, as seen for example by casual games company Popcap and others, have been following the rule of "big reward per click" ratio. You've got to just click "randomly" (see bejewelled :) somewhere in the screen and lot's of funky stuff will happen. It also explains (among other reasons) why people prefer multiplayer games instead of classic single player games with a story. They just want to experience some short period of fun without being much involved in a longer story-driven gameplay.

This is the situation with most modern games, yet I don't imply that this is necessary bad. I would only like to stretch that for the case of adventure games, one has to adopt an entirely different mentality that might be opposite to what one is used to in the majority of games.

I am a "victim" of the common mentality, as I sometimes tend to worry about the hours I spend playing a game when I could be doing something else. So, in the case of adventure games, when I am courageous enough to start one, it's so easy to fall prey to the walkthrough. I make another common mistake, wanting to play some classic games, just to finish those games, just to say to myself that I have finished that classic game forever, as if they were movies or books that you "have" to see/read so that you feel more complete culturally. We make this mistake a lot, even in non adventure games. We play a game just to finish it.

It's really that hard. Adventure games ask exactly the opposite behaviour. I think that the next time I will give it a try, I will try to have some discipline concerning the use of a walkthrough. If I get bored, being at the same place for an hour, then I will just close the damn thing and start it the next day. Sometimes it's nice to get off your computer and wonder in your sleep, how the hell are you supposed to solve that riddle? Now that would be fun, living this adventure with it's riddles bothering you in your everyday life, even when you are not in front of the computer. Isn't that an interesting feeling? As in the case of turn-based rts. Going to the kitchen to make some coffee while wondering about your next move. Or any other game that could possibly be played in a more relaxed manner. That's an interesting thought even for an fps.

p.s. The last adventure game I've finished is Orion Prime and this is a recent adventure on CPC made by sceners. One reason I truly enjoyed it is because there is no solution for it yet. The adventure was very well thought in terms of riddles (quite logical but some were hard), interesting non-linear gameplay, lot's of fun stuff and little puzzle games inside, enough care to make this not ridiculous (for example no insane pixel hunting or being unable to finish without knowing it) so that one can finish it without the solution yet have a hard enough time with it so that you feel accomplished. The author even has something different in his site instead of a full solution, which is hints that work quite well even if you get stuck and rely on them. The thing is, even if you get tempted to see a hint, you don't feel the same stupid or dissapointed as you would be reading the solution. You get some help to be unstuck but it doesn't seem to spoil the fun. So, hints could be a much better alternative if you really are impatient.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A demogroup that motivates

I have been a member of many demogroups in the past. Though, I can rarely remember working together as a real group in most of them. Sometimes we were planning a new demo but when the deadline came and I met my teammates at a demoparty I was the only one having brought some pieces of code that could make it into a demo. Of course, the opposite would happen too, my teammates being more active than me. I am saying this also to not discredit other teammates who came with some nice stuff from time to time when I was inactive.

I was wondering recently, what is the thing that motivates us? Some sceners might have noticed that visiting demoparties can be very motivating but motivation fades away fast in later days. Just before leaving the partyplace to go home, you are making plans of start working on a new kick ass demo or anything, but then what happens? The passion fades away.

What is the thing that motivates you to be active in the scene after visiting demoparties? It is that you suddenly find several people like you, who love to talk about demos, coding techniques, old hardware, the community, etc. You realize again that you are not alone, you see other people working on stuff, everyone is "wasting" his time on making demos, you feel that you are a part of this big community. What happens when you go back home? You are alone again. Real life steals some time from you. You are resistant to give some of your time to demomaking all alone when nobody can understand what you are doing. You might not even have a single person around you with whom you can discuss demos and not bore them. That's so demotivating.

That's my situation. While I have some programmer friends with whom we can discuss about coding in general and then watch some recently released demos, they are not much involved in the demoscene and definitelly not as obsessed as I am. Needless to say, even if my demo passion has deteriorated a bit from my side too, I am still feeling more into it than any of my close friends. Sometimes it's hard to even find a single person with whom I can talk democoding specific things, especially when it has to do with retro machines. This is only possible with email contacts from around the globe and yet they are counted in the fingers of my left hand.

I had been reading some stories (or maybe interviews) concerning some classic demogroups, how they were working together and the regular meetings they had. Well, it's always better if your groupmates are living close together, preferably in the same city. So, these people were like a family and they held regular meetings ((bi)weekly maybe) where they would work together or just go for a beer and watch some classic or recent demos. It didn't matter if many meetings didn't result into planning or working on stuff. Even a meeting resulting in jerking around would still be enough to spark motivation.

You wouldn't have to push things, just gather together people enthousiastic about demos so that you don't forget there are other people like you who love these stuff. Remember demoparties? Motivation is inversely proportional to the time passed since the last day of the event. Let's boost motivation another time by visiting another event after two or three weeks. But who has the ability to visit demoparties so frequently? (maybe people more obsessed with the scene than me :) So what was the alternative for the successful groups of the past. Private group meetings.

Another thing that is missing is the key members. I think there have to be at least two very enthousiastic people inside the group. It's understandable that people have real lives too and some might not be hooked enough to the demoscene or the group they belong and just be around for company. People also change, one might loose interest for what he used to love. It's quite important that there is at least one person who can keep the spark and preferably being accompanied by a second person who is also enthousiastic so that he doesn't feel alone in this. Imagine that all members of the group are lost into real-life matters or they lost interest in demoscene afairs. They would even forget setting up these private group meetings!

This has happened a lot of times. The alternative to group meetings when the distances are vast is usually to set up a private demogroup mailinglist, irc channel or similar. It's not nearly as good as meeting these people in real life but it's better than nothing. Guess what happened? When I finished a demo we were planning together with a group from a set up mailinglist, I focused on another project and forgot to even post something in the list. A month has past and the mailinglist service had closed our group. In an older list we have created for a PC demo we never finished, the same had happened after two weeks of speaking about our great plans. Suddenly a silence. There is a missing link here, it's normal of course, when people have other real life work and they are not as obsessed, imagine that even myself as the most passionate scener then, forgot to keep the spirit up. Initiative was missing.

For me, a great group does not need to be an elite group, but it has to be a fun group of a bunch of people where there are many people who love demos and would be willing to meet with each other or love demomaking. It's understandable that people have real lives too or have their minds in other things too, but there has to be a way of frequent communication just to keep the spirit up. It's not even necessary to push things, just give people a meeting place of inspiration. I think that would be enough to keep some creative flow in the group without making things hard for the individuals.

From all the groups I was into, only Dirty Minds was close (but still not enough) to the optimal. The reasons being that there was at least another one really enthusiastic scener, Voxfreax. There was a period when we had set up a mailing list (or maybe it was just sending group mails), it was me, Voxfreax and Rex. We have been working slowly on the sequel to ASB then. I was working in a real life job too, yet I would come back late in the evening to continue coding and communicate at night about my progress. Our work suddenly paused when I lost my job, strange as it is. Meeting Voxfreax at Amstrad Expo recently sparked the motivation and we were planning working on our demos when going back at home but of course real life took this away. We talk about this from day to day but communication is rare. I am thinking about setting up a new mailing list. I don't know if it will work.

You see, it's even hard to do it correctly even if I get the concept of frequent communication. Things fail. I was speaking about the problem of not being at the same place with your groupmates, but in at least one of the groups I belong there is another coder in the same town. Do we need an organizer? One that can bring the group together? Or one doesn't have to push things? Sometimes I wait for graphics or music from some team members and I am planning to finish some code so that I can send motivating previews but it doesn't happen. There are times where I helped a group member to finish his first demo and another time where we were in neighbour PCs and each of them coded his own demo separately. Am I bad at cooperating with people? Why all of my demos are entirely my own creation with just an additional track from a musician?

So, my first question is how to find a good motivating group with enthousiastic freaks just like the old times. My second question is whether I am making something wrong or I don't take the initiative to connect with people and motivate them in the proper way. I think though that most groups and most people are lacking the same spirit. Being part of a great group in the demoscene with enthousiastic people that spark motivation is the exception. I think..

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Batman Forever



I decided to express my feelings for this demo. I know I have to. Because this is going to have impact. The scene will remember this. This demo owns in many different ways. It doesn't just own the CPC. It totally owns!



Amazing feats this demo has achieved. First of all this demo teases both the CPC and the C64 scene at the same time! I don't remember any demo doing such clever and hilarious teasing of two scenes simultaneously! This is a first.



Secondly, the presentation reminds me of Amiga. It's such a fast paced and impressive presentation that I can hardly think of any better in other 8bits. Maybe I exagerate with this because what is a succesful presentation is subjective and people might mention Edge of Disgrace but I think Batman Forever shows more energy.



How about the effects? I don't think I exagerate here and actually some of the records and effects would impress even if they were running in an Amiga demo. Maybe to this add the beautiful graphics and vivid colours of the CPC. Honestly, that texture twister with it's big size, smoothness and neat CPC graphics would be praised even if it was running on a 16bit machine. Or the dot records! This doesn't look like 8bit. The last good C64 record I remember must be 512 dots tunnel in Soiled Legacy except if this was beaten but surely it hasn't reached the record of this CPC demo. The dot tunnels even in Desert Dreams on Amiga (oh, or the amazing C64 conversion) or other demos on this machine aren't so much populated in dots. The vector city (compared to the one in Soiled Legacy again) is more high res and with much more buildings (even if it must be animation) than similar I have seen on C64 or even AtariST. I think I have seen a record of 6000 sine dots in an AtariSt demo.



Do you understand what that means? Some of the effects surely beat any 8bit records out there by far and maybe even 16bit records!!! I haven't seen such a feat in any demo before. Oh, maybe except in a single effect in Numen, the bump mapping somewhere in the middle which is smoother and has higher resolution and size than anything I have seen for example in AtariST and I don't remember a really good big bump mapper in a 16bit Amiga either.



Another thing I enjoy in this demo is the great use of zooming, probably by X-stretching with a fast software rendering routine and using the CRTC for Y-stretching the X-stretched bitmap. This is my guess and what else could it be when the size is enormous and the speed 50hz! I did a fast enough X-stretcher used in my demo X-kore and for a long time I wanted to learn the CRTC so that I can combine it with this routine and make the similar zoomers as seen on C64. But guess what, I never bothered to learn the CRTC. I know it was possible though and finally I have seen it now! The only thing where C64 is still better in this domain now is that their zoomers show much bigger bitmaps. One reason for this is they store their bitmap in char mode with different chars of preshifted graphics of the bitmap, that they combine for the X-stretch (in some manner I have to figure), so the time it takes for CPC to stretch one line they would probably stretch 8 lines, well not precisely because of different CPU but you get the point.



Last but not least, what rules in a demo is the initiative. It is the will to make impact, to push things, to motivate, to be a milestone for others to follow. This is what this demo has managed to achieve. This has created serious noise in our minds. This was a mental bomb that totally shuttered our vision of what is possible and how things could be improved. I tell you what. After this demo, two things have changed in my way I see CPC demos. When I remember all the past CPC demos released, when I try to watch them, I know I will be laughing now. When I think of my released and unreleased pieces of code, I cry.

I was scared for a while that the effect of this would be to not want to code anything anymore because it will take time to top this but no. What the effect of this has to me is to be willing to take more time to improve what I already have (there are many ugly elements in the ASB2 demo we are working on that makes me laugh now :). And another change is that I am willing to learn the CRTC. It must not be that hard really! I just have to focus. My X-stretcher (even if Rhino's might be even faster judging by some code I have stared at with the Winape debugger) and your average CRTC line splitting code would be enough to do the zoomer effects Rhino did and even more cool stuff!

All the pun in this demo is truly well said. Amstrad Begins. Now!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Whyyyyyyyy???

I spent an hour of debugging and trying to understand what the hell is happening and why on this strange thing:

// hit->distance = calcFirstIntersection(player, angle, intersection_type);\
hit->distance = 512;

printf("%d\n", hit->distance);


It was supposed to print 512 but it was printing 32765 and 34. I realized that something was going completely wrong because I have mistakenly typed the character '\' after the commented line (probably because those stupid keyboards have this character over half the 'Enter' key).

After trying to understand why that character even when it's commented have such result and what is actually happening, I found out that it cancelled my next line. Not exactly. It actually cancels CR+LF or something like that.

Simply, if I type:

printf("foo\
bar");


It is like I am typing:

printf("foobar");

So, the accidentally typed '\', even after a comment, brought my next line in the same commented line, thus I wasn't loading hit->distance with anything and my printf got what was on the init of this value or something random anyway.


I know I have seen this '\' symbol used somewhere before. When people write inline assembly in some C compilers. Oh, also in some code that passed a GLSL shader as a string. The whole thing was probably needed to be given in the same line but \ would make it possible to have it line after line I guess.

I know this is old story for some of you but the only reason I am writting this post is because I was sooooo frustrated and actually perplexed by this very very strange thing (it is strange when you didn't know it's use before and it even worked after the comment) that I wanted to write anything.

FUUUUUUUUUUUU

p.s. Ok,. back to code. Lot's of work was done in the wolfenstein CPC engine the last few days. I have something that works on PC, almost doesn't work on CPC and it's slow like hell. If I manage to make it work there, I will need another pair of effort to optimize it. It's gonna be a hell of a hard work.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Borderlands

I wasn't playing modern PC games for a long time. It's too much of a hassle, installing some GBs in your hard drive, getting into the game, calibrating tons of controls and then not playing it. So, I used to play old stuff and emulators because it's easier to set up and the controls are simple and you might finish a game in half an hour. So, if I review a modern PC game I have been playing it means something. Because I rarely have the motivation to install and play one. The last good FPS I loved on the PC is Return To Castle Wolfenstein to give you an idea how away I am from hardcore (not casual or indie or emu) PC gaming. Also, there were two recent PC games I played too much the year that passed (and I still play). One is Test Drive Unlimited and the other is Borderlands. Nuff said!



I see that Borderlands has created a fan base on the internet. And I see lot's of people hating it. This happens a lot with succesful games that miss that something and you think they are overrated. Many people find Borderlands boring. It's exactly the opposite with my case, cause I find it extremely addictive. Needless to say that I play the single player mode only, while most people say the game is worth for it's multiplayer. I can't imagine how that will be!

Ok, I will start for the bad points and I agree with some of the haters that something is missing. And then I will go on with what makes Borderlands so unique. They say there is no scenario, just pointless missions. There is some kind of scenario unravelled here even though it's not very strong. This is not important though to enjoy such kind of game. You are a treasure hunter on planet pandora, being lured by some kind of guardian angel to go into the search of a legendary vault that is supposed to hide some alien technology. There is some progression on the story, you find a young scientist called Patricia Tanis, there is Atlas corporation who wants the alien technology for itself, etc. And some side missions that sometimes have some relation to the story, like collecting audio tapes that people left that tell the story (like the Patricia Tanis audio tapes) and some other stupid missions like collecting bottles of beer and such stuff. The ending is not that good, maybe leaves you with expectations for another sequel, maybe not. But the scenario is there to fill the gap and it's not supposed to be important, there are also humorous elements in it and funny character presentations. But it's there, it doesn't suck entirely as people say.

Ok, the annoying stuff that I agree with. Lot's of side missions where you have to go somewhere and find some stuff scattered around, like "Oh, those bandits have stolen my cigarretes, go find them" and such. But if you just love moving around and mowing people done and getting loot then the punny missions are just the motive to go at some place and do that and then finish and go back to collect your reward. Such side stories existed in Fallout 3 and Oblivion too. Then, having to run around from one far side of the map to the other far side to collect something for a mission can be boring, although you have some vehicle you can use for faster travel too. Oh, and those signposts where you can teleport at different location. One sidenote, in the DLCs (aka expansions) that were released for this game, there are no teleport posts to move around, I don't know why they did that and it's very annoying for example in General Knoxx's Secret Armory DLC where the distances are vast (but you always move with the vehicles) - a very good DLC anyway.



What makes Borderlands good is how it combines the FPS and RPG elements together. It's more focused on the hilarious FPS action (with some sense of humour and funny cartoonish style graphics) rather than RPG itself, but borrows some of the most addictive elements of RPG games. You won't find any serious role playing in here, all you will find is what made the Diablo series addictive. Constant leveling up and ability increasing and (drumroll :) LOOTING!!! This is the single thing that makes it addicting for me. You can either kill enemies and they randomly drop loot, which can be money, ammo or weapons, shields and special items. Or you can find these stuff by opening chests. We are interested of course in chests that contain special weapons and stuff, not those ammo chests because you always have plenty of them.

There are any random combination of weapons (some say 1000000... number I don't remember) in the sense of being a pistol/revolver/SMG/Rifle/Sniper/Bazooka/Alien but each with random characteristics sharing, like different percent of accuracy, recoil, damage, reload speed, etc. So, you might find something totally funny, like a rifle with very strong damage but firing so slow like a fucking pistol or a powerful shotgun that spreads the shots so widely that you can't hit anything over one meter of distance or an SMG that fires X2 or X4 shots at once and there are also elemental powers attached to some of the weapons like fire, shock, acid or explosion damage and way much more funny stuff. What might come into your posession is so vast that it's such the excitement when you find new weapon chests scattered around. And there are also many different 3d models/styles of weapons and different weapon manufacturers that affect differently some of these elements. Well, most of the times there is some balance in what you find, so you end up with 95% of the weapons being already worse than what you have which you go and sell in vending machines (another place to find and buy weapons) till you reach higher levels and find more interesting gear around.

This is the main thing that makes this game addictive to me. But of course it's not the only one. The FPS/RPG mix is better to my liking than say Fallout 3 where you had to play with the turn based fighting mode (R.A.T.S.) instead of the real time because it was simply more effective and also you felt sort on ammo (this game is more focused on true role playing than action but it' still a good game but not as addictive as Borderlands for me). There is a scenario that I like as a concept even if it's not deep and just there to fill the gap, but the characters, the humour, the stylish presentation raise this up to a good level imho. If you like moving around in vast areas, enjoying good action and the leveling up/looting elements of RPGs like Diablo then this is for you. Don't listen to people who say this game totally sucks, it's not that bad, it's quite good in my opinion but that depends whether you will be bored with such kind of games or not (if there is a playable demo, try it first).

One last thing I forgot, you choose between four characters, each one of them have different special abilities. One is better with snipers and pistols and carries a sword while he sends a hawk down to enemies, another is the soldier who can set up a turret with a shield to mow down enemies, then there is the girl who can phase in another dimension and come back and likes elemental weapons and then Brick the monster who can punch people to death. So, if you finish the game with one character, you can play another one for an entirely different experience (there is a tree list of different abilities you can choose too). Till now I am playing with Mordecai, the guy with the sword and the hawk, because he had great style on the intro presentation and I also enjoy snipping :)

For me it's one of my most favorite games ever now! I hope more FPS will follow these RPG elements with such success.



p.s. Words about the DLCs. Dr.Ned's Zombie Island, small nice, with Zombies and purple colours and gothic atmosphere. Mad Moxxi's Underdome riot, this is a sequence of arena matches, too many of them, I stopped playing it at some time because it took me 6 hours to finish 3x25 rounds and there were 3x100 later(!!!), might catch up with it later, also it doesn't give you XP by killing enemies so it makes less sense. Then we have General Knoxx's secret armory which is one of the best DLCs, relies a lot on driving vehicles (3 of them) and have some nice ideas and a good finale. Killing the boss (which looks like the general inside a robot suit like in Avatar the movie :) you are into his armory where you set up a bomb to explode in less than 3:00 minutes and you are in a room with maybe a hundred of special weapon boxes with tons of loot, being extatic while your acomplish tells you "Hurry up, you have xxx minutes left" but you ignore and collect loot, LOL!!! And then Tartarus Station where you find Tanis again and she asks for robot parts and more robot parts and she has you complete a boring mission for several times (whyyyy???) before you reach a nice town with a railroad and take some more interesting missions. I wonder why these DLCs don't have teleport signs for their various locations as the original. Though they are generally smaller in size so except from the General Knoxx DLC, the others are ok. I am also hoping for a new Borderlands 2 instead of more DLCs. Maybe improving some of the stuff I don't like (I almost forgot, the Bazooka's sometimes pass through an enemy so you have to shoot for the floor and they still don't do much damage, ugh :P)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Luck in games

I never understood Bejewled.

It's fun, you move jewels, jewels break and a lot of funny graphics, explosions, 3d tunnels, warps are happening in your screen per click.

But I don't get the concept. You can just click and make some random pairs and things break. What forces me to have a strategy to choose the right jewels to break? It seems random. Sometimes I loose because there are no jewel pairs to break. Are people thinking strategically which jewel to break in order to not be out of pairs after 20 plays? I don't get it! The only strategy I could think is to break the ones that are lower in order for more stuff to fall off and make compos. A puzzle game like tetris was based entirely on how you set up the 7 pieces that came randomly. You were building stuff, there was logic, there was skill. But what is there in bejeweled? Except if I am missing something..

There is an interesting article about luck in games that inspired me to write this post. It shows with pie charts how much skill, luck and other factors are there in different game genres. It also reviews the bejeweled case.

It also has as an example of luck, the funniest game video I have ever seen (if you exclude any video of big rigs of course :)



WTF?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Demo/Game remakes

Just some little thoughts I had about remakes. Things like downporting some random popular demo/game on a retro platform.

I can't deny it, it's funny even interesting to run some of them. It's astonishing when you watch one of the most classic demos ever on a C64. Even the wild parodies of this demo were funny. It was extremely impressive to see Desert Dream on the C64 which was a quite good remake, much better in terms of quality and resemblance to the original than the SR port.

We used to dream about Second Reality 128, a rewrite for the Amstrad CPC 6128. I had this thing in mind, I would like to do it then, I even thought it would be fun and challenging to try to keep as close to the original as possible without sacrificing much speed. It would be fun to fit so many different parts in the limited CPC memory. Someone also told me that it's an easy way for making your demo famous. Second Reality 64 was a top C64 at Pouet for a long while there were much better demos even then. But that wasn't the matter, I loved the idea and I still love watching funny conversions from other sceners. But there is something that is missing..

Somehow I feel like I wouldn't like to start such a project today. Why try to recreate a classic demo for yet another time when with that effort you could make a big CPC megademo which will also be at least more original. I thought in the past that it would be interesting, I feel like at some points it will be boring. At least it's still funny to see other people doing this. I am not against demo remakes.

Another aspect is games. Everyone in the retro scenes is writting a remake of a classic game. Why? Because they love the original and they would love to watch it running on their favorite machine. But also it's more appealing to announce that you are working on a retro conversion of that classic masterpiece than any other random game.

I remember several recent Spectrum games found on World of Spectrum which were supposed to be remakes of classics. Mortal Kombat (and various versions), Civilization, Castlevania, Doom, Wolfenstein and others. Some were unfinished, some were too slow and bad. Some were at least impressive even if I wouldn't bother playing them.

There are also some interesting remakes currently being developed on CPC. Gianna Sisters remake, Elvira or R-type remake. Some of them are interesting and looking good compared to the original commercial releases. Yes, some of them are remakes of a game that already existed on CPC several years ago, games that were ugly ports from Spectrum and not rewritten entirely focused on the CPC color and hardware capabilities. Some of these remakes are trying to achieve exactly that, to show how a good Gianna Sisters or properly programmed R-type would look on CPC today. That's another case, taking an old game concept and rewrite it in the way it should be if the programmers weren't lazy. That's interesting.

But not my thing. I also had these dreams, how would be a remake of Metal Slug, Castlevania, Eye of the Beholder or say Grand Theft Auto (someone thought about that actually :) on the CPC? Another funny side is to take a game from an older platform and rewrite it for a modern computer. How would ghost n'goblins or commando or gianna sisters look like if they were coded for a modern PC? Some of these remakes make more sense and I have spent time playing them, not just because of the better graphics/sound but mainly because the gameplay and controls have been improved from the original.

For example take a look at Zub for Windows. This is a remake of an old Speccy/Amstrad game I didn't even know in the past. After I finished the remake I thought it was a very nice game and decided to download the Spectrum or CPC versions. The control sucked, for example when you jumped you couldn't change the direction on the air, a feature that exists in many modern platform games and makes it easier to control where you want to fall. In the Windows PC version you had full control of this. Another nice remake I enjoyed both on PC and gamepark handhelds is Giana's Return which is not even a remake, but a new game with different levels and graphics and sounds. This is another funny thing for a remake, to try to make for example Fruity Frank 2, Kung Fu Master 2 or Eye of the Beholder 4 for example. An imaginary sequel of an original game or something like that. I would enjoy this.

But personally, I am not even thinking about this anymore (I was thinking about Kung Fu Master 2 personally, because I have played the first so much). I think if I start working on a game I will be focused at creating something entirely on my own, not a remake, or a game based on a popular franchise, because I feel like doing something more original. The only thing my game will have to the classics is inspiration. I might like to make a game that has some similarities to a classic but with additional ideas and things done differently as I feel they would make a better and more addictive game. I am also interested in using some impressive tech in my future game projects for CPC.

I have been playing with a wolfenstein engine on CPC (just vertical wall span rendering at the moment) recently and the first thought that might come on your mind or people might suggest is, go make a port of the original wolfenstein game. But as I said no, it would be boring to just recreate the original maps as perfect as possible (also, things wouldn't be the same, maybe many textures, objects, too much memory needed) and then wolfenstein is a bit too straight forward. I was thinking about mixing wolfenstein action, scenario and some adventure elements. Just a first thought. But the point is, why just make a port of wolfenstein and not your own game with some interesting or impressive elements not found on the original?

That's how I think about it. If one don't want to code a precise wolfenstein or second reality port in his retro machine, at least he can do something different, more original and maybe even more impressive than porting the already existing stuff.

p.s. Work on the wolfenstein engine has been seized for a while. I have been busy with real life crap and other stuff and I didn't even worked for one day. Although, I am about to port it from PhrozenC to SDCC compiler soon. There is a possibility something (not a full game) will be released in few months from now but I don't promise anything.