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Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Yesterday I was experimenting in the kitchen again, starting with a simple request for white fudge.  I made one batch, then decided I had enough materials for another one.  I figured I’d try a variant, a French vanilla fudge.

What happened was a glorious failure.  I wound up with something more like French Toast fudge than French vanilla.  It’s my favorite non-chocolate fudge… so far.  I’ll do more experiments later, though, no rest for the mad scientists around here.

The recipe, for anyone interested:

1 egg

1 tbsp vanilla

2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp butterscotch flavoring

1/8 tsp toffee flavoring

1 1/2 sticks butter

6 oz. Evaporated milk

2 cups white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

4 large marshmallows

1 jar (7 oz.) of marshmallow cream

12 oz. of white chocolate (chips, chunks, whatever)

*****

Beat egg, vanilla, cinnamon, butterscotch flavoring and toffee flavoring until well mixed. Set aside.

Mix butter, evaporated milk, and the sugars, bring to boil over medium heat, stir frequently.

Stir in egg/spice/flavor mix, boil for 5 minutes, stir constantly. (Keep that egg from clumping and keep everything from burning.)

Add marshmallows, marshmallow cream, stir to smooth a bit, then add white chocolate. Stir until smooth, pour into 9x13ish pan, let cool.

(…next time, I’m going to add some syrup in the marshmallow phase. Just to see how that turns out.)

There’s room to fudge the measurements, a little more sugar, a little less marshmallow, less butter, whatever, and the butterscotch and toffee are really just a garnish.  They could be emphasized or ignored, depending on your tastes.  The key is making sure the egg mixes in nicely and doesn’t clump up.

So… what?  What does it matter that I made some weird fudge?

Well, I’m a creative type.  I like to make new things.  That’s why I make my own games, like Zomblobs! and Alpha Hex.  This weekend I was brainstorming a game for hexagonal or circular cards, because I played Spot It! with my kids, which sparked some ideas.  I wanted to see what I could come up with.  I also found that TheGameCrafter.com and ArtsCow.com make such cards as print-on-demand projects, so I want to leverage that to maybe make a game I can sell.  I love to make game systems and art and photographs, and then throw them to the wild and see what happens.  The act of creation is fulfilling on its own, but seeing others have fun with them, and maybe making some money as well, that’s icing on the cake.  (This is also why I have a Zazzle storefront and a Shapeways shop.  They won’t replace my day job, but I like to offer some of the oddball things that I’ve concocted over the years.)

This is also relevant when taking look at “artsy” games, like the PS3 gem Journey.  Y’see, it effectively bankrupted the company that made it, thatgamecompany.  It’s an “experience” game, all about the journey, if you can imagine.  It’s short, beautiful and atypical.  It won a handful of awards at DICE, well deserved.  Austin Wintory, the composer, won an award for the soundtrack, and it was the first game soundtrack that earned a Grammy nomination.  That’s srsbzns, or whatever the kids call it these days.  Journey is kind of a big deal, artistically.

Commercially, however, it wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.  It eventually paid for itself “and then some”, but we’re not talking blockbuster Halo, Call of War numbers.  There’s a bigger discussion there about commercial viability, gamer tendencies and the intersection between art and commerce, and maybe I’ll dig into that more at some point (there are plenty of articles out there on it already), but at the moment, I just wanted to underscore the creative impulse.

Sometimes, creators just want to create.  Sometimes we want to share.  Whole communities are built on that philosophy.  I think it’s a healthy part of this human condition, and that’s why I keep coming back to this blog and what I do in my “off hours”.  I do make games for a living.  I also make them on my own because it’s great fun to do so.  I write about them and share them because, well… sharing somehow makes it more real, that I’ve contributed something to the world.  I kinda like this place, and I want to do my part to make it a little nicer.

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Rowan’s post today of some cool word art done by Lilpeanut reminded me of Wordle, a curious Java-based word art toy.  It strikes me that Wordle is not just a fun little toy, but also a potentially useful diagnostic tool for analyzing your blogging.

Specifically, I looked at this, a Wordle cloud of my then-current RSS feed before this post.  Noting that word size is determined by how often that word is used, it looks like I use the word “something” perhaps overmuch, and “just” just a few more times than might be necessary.

Tish Tosh Tesh Wordle

This isn’t to say that a perfect even distribution of words is ideal or necessary, but I look at it like I look at my “artist’s crutch”.  When I’m in a drawing rut, I tend to just grab the same old familiar tools (in my case a ballpoint pen and a sketchbook) and start doodling the same old things (the old standbys; familiar monster faces, figure drawing poses, whatever).  It’s an artistic crutch that I fall back on instead of pushing myself into new territory that might expand my skillset and mental palette.

Most creative types do this.  We don’t usually write, draw, paint or whatever at full creativity all the time.  We find stuff we’re good at and fall back on it when we’re at a low ebb in our creativity.  You can see this in fine art (Frank Frazetta), literature (Isaac Asimov), movies (Tim Burton), TV (Joss Whedon) or any artist’s body of work, to some degree or another.  It’s nice to be consistently good at something, but it’s also important to keep learning.

Blogging is a creative endeavor (some more creative than others), so it’s good to shake up the formula or habits once in a while (like this silly post of mine answering a challenge from Big Bear Butt).  It keeps you sharp, and keeps readers from being bored.

At least, that’s the hope.  Sometimes there’s a fine line between “creative” and “dumb parlor trick” or “incoherent”.

Anyway, food for thought.  I like to provide that, at least.

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My daughter loves movies.  I’m still hoping I can parlay that interest into teaching her about animation and how to create it, since Couch Potato still isn’t a real career, unemployment reform attempts notwithstanding.  Still, she loves animated movies, as most children are wont to do.  My own childhood fascination with animation turned me early to the part of art and creativity, and despite my lifelong fascination and competence with math and the sciences, I simply find it more personally satisfying to do something artistic with my time.

I’ve had more than one occasion to wonder about the nature of work and welfare, and to wonder just what it is that I should be doing with my peculiar and particular talents.  As I watched a bit of Disney’s Beauty and Beast with my little ones, I found my love for books framed in a new light.

As the Beast and Belle build their friendship/romance, Beast shows Belle to the castle library and tells her reverently that it’s now all hers.  There are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of books there.  It’s a great scene, as Belle adores books, and Beast clearly wants to do something nice for her.  Beast is starting to understand the joy of giving, even as Belle takes in the sights.

I had to wonder… what if I had a library like that?  What if I were a monarch, with a castle full of retainers, trained to cater to my every whim?  What if I had no real purpose in life but to consume and be coddled?  Would I spend all my time in that library?  I think I would spend a lot of my time there, though I’d want a nice science lab next door and perhaps an orrery and observatory in the highest level of the library, maybe a foundry for some nice steampunk experimentation a little ways off, next to the wood shop.

I love books.  I devour data, and am almost always reading a few books at a time.  I love learning and thinking, finding new interconnections between bits of data.

And yet… I don’t think I’d be content with a life of pure consumption.  At some point, the itch to create would grow unbearable, and I’d have to go paint, draw, build, sculpt or write.  I just can’t life a life only comprised of taking, I have to give; I am driven to create, to contribute, to turn my energies to constructive ends.

Like Gordon’s “word monkeys”, the thoughts and ideas that are prompted by the education represented by consuming those books just have to go somewhere other than the recesses of my grey matter.  This is why I blather at length about game design (and other tish tosh) rather than just letting myself get sucked into WoW or the latest Civilization game.  Sure, I like consuming well-crafted pieces of gaming almost as much as I love reading… but I have a deeper itch to give, rather than take.

And sometimes, I have to wonder if perhaps games, of all forms of entertainment, might not be the best suited to scratch both itches at the same time.  Ours is an interactive medium, after all, and we really can let the player do extraordinary things in fantastic settings that just couldn’t happen elsewhere.  To me, that’s the strength of games; the ability to facilitate exploratory and investigative thought in situations that might not otherwise be available.  Perhaps we might not harness gamer impulses to cure cancer or Save the Universe… but I do think it is very possible to let games foster creativity and constructive impulses rather than be mere passive entertainment.

This is why I write here on the blog, it’s why I pontificate about making new games and explore new ramifications for fictional constructs like magic, it’s why I’m not working on movies like I was trained to.  I see something here in the medium of games… and I want to explore that potential.  I want to contribute something positive to the world and my posterity, even though I’m a mere artist with delusions of adequacy.

Time will tell if I manage to do so, but in the meantime, please forgive my protracted blathering here and there; I’m muddling my way through like any good muggle with only a foggy view of the more expansive reality around me.  Here’s hoping I can poke through to the light here and there, and show others some of the sights.

In the meantime, thank you for all of your comments and conversation.  As much fun as it is sending these blog posts out into the digital ocean in little WordPress bottles, it’s gratifying and humbling to see when someone lobs a message back, and all of us learn a little more.

Best wishes for Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it!  If you don’t, well, here’s hoping you have a good weekend anyway!

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As Mr. Mark Rosewater notes on occasion, “restrictions breed creativity“.  Minecraft has a somewhat restricted visual design thanks to a lower global resolution (almost everything is built from 1 meter cubes), but it’s precisely that restriction that has led to a minor renaissance among gamers with an itch to create rather than consume.  (Also seen here with Azeroth in CivV, tangentially.)

Doom was a significant First Person Shooter game some years ago, but for all its impact on the genre and gaming industry, it had some constraints due to then-modern technology and game design.  As this interesting article notes, those constraints made for a very different game from modern FPS games.  Doom effectively played in two dimensions; there were bits of the level that had different elevations, but weapons autoaimed to compensate, and you couldn’t ever have a level where you could traverse the same X/Y Cartesian space at two different Z elevations.  (So no bridges you could both go over and under, no spiral staircases, no multilevel buildings.)  That’s a huge limitation for a game that gives an impression of 3D, but the Doom guys managed to work wonders within that canvas.

Also importantly, the lower “resolution” of the game tools helped the modding community take off, and there were a TON of player-generated additions to the game.  Modders didn’t need to work in true 3D and have hugely expensive tools like Maya or 3DSMax that took years to master.  They could get by with some simpler tricks and more streamlined level design, leading to faster development with quicker iteration that could lead to better design in shorter order.

Minecraft is a modern iteration of this pared-down design ethos.  The game world is actually 3D this time, but the lower resolution, both geometric (the world of cubes) and textural (16×16 textures for said cubes) means that potential modders can focus more on the bigger picture rather than burning their time on normal mapping and pixel shaders.  They might make a few relatively simple changes (to the textures or peaceful/monster mode) that affect the whole game world.

Of course, players don’t have the ability to tweak values as easily as Notch might, as the programmer of the game.  Even thinking of his tools, though, depending on how he has the simulation code set up, he could theoretically tweak a few variables and quickly have some very different worlds.  We see a little of this with his biome design, where segments of the world take on different climate properties and block generation ratios (a desert area with dunes and cacti neighboring an alpine mountainous snowy area, for example).  Imagine if players could tweak those variables and make their own biomes.  (This isn’t to say that said biomes were just a few lines of code, but rather that they could be controlled by a few variables that could provide significant changes with little input, one of the beauties of procedural content generation.)

Perhaps more importantly, though, players can do a ton within the game itself.  You can tear apart the world with your bare hands and rebuild it almost any way you want to.  Maybe you prefer big buildings or maybe you’re a Star Trek devotee or Lord of the Rings fan.  Maybe you love BioShock, its sequelsimple computers or just want to go see the sights that the terrain generator churns out, always providing “just another mountain” to see.  In the highly malleable Minecraft world, you can scratch a lot of different itches.  Play it multiplayer, and you can even show off.  (It scratches an itch that MMOs haven’t bothered with, despite having firm footholds on the tactical terrain.)

In a way, it’s like a piano.  The instrument only has 88 keys, but the music that has been made over the centuries with it is incredibly varied.  Or better, a guitar or violin; six or four strings can do miracles in the right hands.

Of course Minecraft won’t appeal to everyone, and it won’t win a beauty competition with Source and better out there in the wild.  Still, coloring with crayons sometimes can bring out a lot more creativity than working in Painter, simply because it’s easier to work with the tools.  Like building with LEGOs, there’s a fairly simple learning curve that allows for more time creating, less time gearing up to be creative.  Even though I work all day with high high end art tools, I still love just whipping out my sketchbook and a ballpoint pen to do my own work and see what crazy ideas pique my interest.

When all you have is an ore pick, the whole world looks like a mine to be dug.  When you can build with the stuff you dig up and put your own stamp on the world, crazy, wonderful things can happen.

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One curious component of my alt puzzle is the naming game.  I like to find names that are totally unique, with bonuses if they have meaning like “Sendoku“, a portmanteau of Sendo (death/crisis in battle) and Doku (poison) that I used for a Death Knight.  It was unique at the time, but has since been adopted by a pair of Trolls.  Still, for a while, it was mine and mine alone, at least as far as the WoW Armory reported.  (I wish there were such a tool for other MMOs, if only a repository of names, so I could see what has been used without firing up the client and getting a lot of “this is taken” messages.)

I’m not a heavy role player, but I like to at least have my handle in-game be something unique and interesting.  Bonus points if there’s a literary or artistic allusion or race/class connection.  Portmanteaus are especially fun, as a lot of high fantasy already dabbles in that arena with names like “Darkshore” and “Mindblight”.  Smoosh two words together and you might just come up with something good, especially if there is overlap like there is in “Sendoku”, with the “do” as part of both words.  It might be silly like “Toothchipper” or descriptive like “Shellspike”, but it’s still likely to be better than “Pwnzyu”.  “Khopeshi” hints at Egyptian warfare, and “Gruntle” just has a great feel to it, as if the character is never disgruntled.

Tools like this online translation dictionary can be helpful in deriving meaning from words used in names.  I worked backward for Sendoku that way; I dropped “death” and “disease” then “poison” into the Japanese/English translator, and looked for words that could interweave.  I lean to Japanese because I’ve loved Origami and other Japanese art for a long time, but you could almost certainly get some great stuff out of other languages.  Of course, I want to avoid  naming violations and offensive names, too, so scanning ahead can be nice there as well, as well as understanding the random-looking string of characters that actually mean something.  Accidentally including a curse word or crude term from another language can be troublesome.  (To be fair, that wasn’t Larisa’s guildie’s only problem, but it was a trigger for trouble.)

“Ouroborough” has literary allusions in Ouroboros and “borough”, with a curious mixed meaning of a town eating itself.  Death Knight, Shadow Priest or Warlock?  “Eurydiced” is part Eurydice, part “diced”… Greek tragedies could get pretty bleak and messy.  Rogue, maybe?  “Portlying” suggests a fat, sedate sort of character (or maybe a fat untrustworthy one) … Dwarven Protection Paladin, maybe (or Dwarven Rogue)?  Flicktwist and Knicktwist would make a great pair of Gnomes… a Mage and Rogue, maybe?  Bilgork and Bolgork sound like a pair of Orcish Warriors to me.  Gurubashed fits nicely with a stoner Troll Shaman.  Malinvest might be a fantastic Goblin name.

I was surprised to see three “Ashriver” characters… I thought that one would be unique.  It’s an intriguing portmanteau of “ash” and “river” with a curious effect of also having “shriver” in it.  It’s almost begging for some sort of fantasy treatment in a larger story, a bleak river, always filled with ash, that a local village throws its dead into as they clean up after a local volcanic disaster, perhaps.  “Charwater” is unique.  So is “Orcrunt” oddly enough.  “Dystope” is unique, and so is “Pointybit” (though we’re apparently not supposed to use phrases, for better or worse).

Not all of these will fit for roleplayers, to be sure, and some border on silly, but I’ll take them any day over “Cowzrool” or “Urmom”.

My current favorite though?

Aichiichisan

It’s a mouthful, but it’s effectively A113, and I can’t help but smile at that.  That it seems almost like a Japanese familiar diminutive nickname makes me smile.

So… is it just me that does this, prowling the Armory for unique and interesting names?  Do names mean anything, or are they just utility handles like “Il” for a Gnome Rogue to hide in the bushes with?  They are one of the few things in these games that we have a high degree of control over.  How do we exercise that control and why?

It’s noted in some fiction (and historical tradition) that naming something gives you power over it, or knowing the True name of something gives you power.  It seems to me that names can be powerful things… and I want to get them right and have some fun with them.

*I wrote this almost a month ago, and since then Larisa, Rohan and Faeldray wrote about naming too.  I’m sure there are other good articles out there as well.  I know Mama Druid had several, but sadly, her blog was deleted.  Names are important to a lot of people, rightly so, I think.  It’s your “best foot forward” as it were in the digital space.*

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