Explicit Stupidity
This post is the cause of most outbreaks of holy dandruff in pontiffs

I keep writing things that I intend to post but get sidetracked, so I’m making a conscious decision to write something quickly, post it immediately, and only begin to regret it later. It might get me back into the habit of blogging again. I miss regular blogging.

Blogging is about the immediate response, so this is my immediate response to today’s news but I suppose I also find myself writing because I feel confused in my thoughts and writing is a good way to see myself clear of that confusion. I’m confused about these naked photographs of some pretty famous (though, I admit, to me, insignificant) people that have been released onto the web by a hacker. The first thing I’m meant to say is that I think it’s a terrible invasion of their privacy and that the hacker(s) need to be made to suffer. That is shorthand for all the hand wringing I’m meant to do before I can discuss anything more significant such as the fact that I can’t help but feel bemused that people in such famous positions would put themselves in such positions, usually on their back, naked, and lit seductively from one side while not wearing their knickers.

It is, however, a perennial problem with technology that rich people buy (or are often given) expensive toys without fully understanding (or learning) what they really do. This, after all, was the reason why the phone hacking scandal started, as the rich and famous used expensive phones without learning to do something as simple and important as change their pin number. The current scandal is little more than an extension of that. Many gadgets are automatically connected to ‘The Cloud’ yet too few people actually bother to learn what that means: that their private data (including data of the knickerless variety) is being stored on a server somewhere where somebody with mastery of the technology can access it. Note to the rich and famous: if you do want to photograph your vulva(the reason isn’t important though remains a mystery to me), go into the your phone’s settings and deselect ‘Backup photos to Cloud’. It seems self-evidently obvious once you put it into those terms.

The second thing to note about these photographs is how society has devolved (or evolved, depending on your point of view) into a culture where nothing seems to exist until it’s photographed. I hate (and actively refuse) to have my photograph taken, even when I’m fully dressed and in a dark room. Not that I have a Victorian sensibility about anything, though I do begin to wonder if Victoria and Albert (notoriously active and open about their sexual life) would have posed in front of a bathroom mirror playing with each other’s genitals. Probably they would. People say, of course, that these photographs (like so many sex tapes before them) were meant to be private between a couple, but it appears to be an extension of the ‘selfie’ syndrome, a psychological extension of the endless need for fame and celebrity in which the self doesn’t really exist in any form (intellectually, sexually, or spiritually) unless it exists inside the memory of a mobile phone.

Do these stars really feel violated that their most intimate parts of their bodies are now visible to the world? Perhaps they do and I feel sorry for them, though perhaps they can rest easy knowing that one nipple looks pretty much the same as the next. There really are few parts of the body that the internet haven’t made everyday and mundane. From hardcore pornography to beheadings, the body has lost so much of its mystery that really, in the grand scheme of things, we aren’t seeing something that we haven’t already seen before and usually larger and well oiled. These photographs will be forgotten tomorrow except by a few sad people who will always be excited by these things. The next evolutionary stage of our collective sexuality will be the internal organs and I suspect in the next ten years, some actor will be complaining that intimate photographs of his newly tattooed spleen have been leaked onto the internet. We have come a long way from the tantalising shots of Bo Derek running down a beach in ’10′ or a brief glimpse of Barbara Winsor’s breasts circa 1965. There is a difference between explicit and erotic and we definitely live in an explicit age and I fear there’s just no going back.

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Stunning
This post is unlikely to leave you feeling satisfied, though no refund will be given

Wow. This came out of nowhere. A new Leonard Cohen album and he sounds better than ever.

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Unity Procedural City: Week 4 – Trees
WARNING: this post contains one instance of the phrase 'grrrrrr! Get him big boy!'

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A Procedural City in Unity: Week 3
This post passed nearly all the safety tests before being uploaded to this blog

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Procedural City in Unity: Week 2
This post is about learning to live with blunt instrument trauma

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Beginning A Procedural City in Unity
This post will introduce you to obscure rhymes like 'vang' and 'kiang'

The title pretty much sums up the point of this post, though it doesn’t really explain why I’m posting it. I suppose I retain a sense of wanting to be a good guy in a world that is increasingly choked by the smoke of the pillaging hordes and rampant whores. My blog – this blog – is daily swamped by a deluge of spam and unwanted emails from web marketers who would destroy it and everything I create in the search for the last grimy penny. I now rarely check my emails, not that many people email. All accounts bar the one I keep private for friends and family have become inundated with the electronic effluent of a thousand installations of MailChimp, which must surely rank alongside the Channel 5 and landmines as one of the world’s most terrible inventions.

It’s the way of the world, I suppose. This is a world run by men and women who would shoot down airliners full of people to make some baseless political point or lob missiles across borders simply to further their warped ideology.

My last week was somehow symbolised by a woman I saw walking across our local down square. She had a large tattoo of Audrey Hepburn on the back of her calf. Had Audrey Hepburn been alive today, she might have approved. I don’t know. It’s not that I dislike tattoos because I like rebellion and I identify strongly with outsider culture. But their ubiquity has ruined that. It just sometimes feels like I possess the last untattooed flesh in town, which makes me the outsider and that’s sometimes a lonely place to be. I find myself living for the next PJ Harvey album, news of Spark’s next tour, or an utterance from Stewart Lee.

I ramble but I’ve not written prose in so long. They’re ideas I’d like to address in the game I’m currently building but I don’t suppose I will. I’m aiming to cast current ‘big idea’ at the heart of the mainstream. I’m about a month or so into the project and I have the basics of the game in place. This video details just the last two days of hard work, learning to create a procedural city in Unity. It probably won’t entertain or seem remotely interesting to anybody but this is the stuff that excites me as I walk around my town, inhaling the ‘vape’ of electronic and real cigarettes, amid the boorish bald circus strongmen, with their tribal tattoos vining their way up their veining necks. Yes, my thinking is reductive and I reach easily for the stereotype. But from killers to politicians, this is a time of stereotypes and very little originality. It’s a world that makes shiteaters of us all.

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The Dog Faced Boy
This post reminds me of those long summers of childhood spent in a Paris bordello

Somebody kindly noticed that I haven’t blogged in a while and it’s hard in less than 1000 words to explain why. For weeks now I’ve been feeling a sense of spiritual exhaustion with the internet. I still use it daily, reading about the things that interest me, but even when I’m being selective about the places I visit, there’s something about the web that still makes me despair.

It would be difficult to give one example but to give one example: I hate the ubiquity of Outbrain’s promotions on nearly every website I visit. I get tired of seeing those tempting headlines at the bottom of articles which you know will take you straight to a website overburdened with advertising wrapped around content nothing like originally advertised. The web is like being trapped in a carnival freaktent with every exit sealed and some guy constantly barking the same instructions in your ear to come look at the dog-faced boy. Come look at the dog faced boy. This way for the dog faced boy. Come and see him. Dog faced boy…

Things get even worse in social media, which I now avoid like it’s some kind of West African blood plague. Yesterday I noticed that Colin Brazier, from Sky News, was being attacked on Twitter because he’d examined some luggage found amid the debris of flight MH17. He was wrong to do what he did but the level of hatred is depressingly familiar. People want his job, want to bring Sky News down, when the reality is that a good journalist made a bad mistake in a context that few of us can barely imagine and for which he immediately apologised.

And I think that’s what this comes down to. There is a notable lack of generosity in the world. Not just financial generosity (though there is that too) but a generosity of spirit that in better times gives rise to acts of kindness, forgiveness, and solidarity against our true oppressors.

My mood hasn’t been helped by recently discovering the amazing but depressing story of the great Vivian Maier, whose photography has been obsessing me a little. For background, I’d recommend last year’s excellent Alen Yentob documentary about her work but the gist of the story is this: an American nanny spends her entire life photographing life on the streets of New York and Chicago and keeps this vast achieve in storage, never sharing it with anybody. In her old age, she falls, goes into hospital, can’t afford to pay for her storage lockers, so their contents go up for sale. They are sold for next to nothing. She dies from her injuries leaving others to profit from the work of a woman who if now being recognised as one of truly great photographers.

I’m no Vivian Maier and I’m not mentioning her story because my own work gets ‘overlooked’.* What I am, however, is somebody who tries to produce ‘things’ in a world where the ‘producers of things’ are at the mercy of a new class of news aggregators and ebook merchants who would destroy centuries of culture for the sake of a quick dollar. Amazon sent me an email the other day announcing a new offer where I can make ebooks available for free to Amazon subscribers. If any of my books reach a certain threshold, I’d be eligible for a fraction of a few hundred thousand dollars. Sounds a great idea until you realise that it’s the ‘long tail’ scam in new clothes. It’s the death of quality publishing when a million authors make a ten dollars each, rather than earn just enough to carry on writing. I fear that we live in the age of Arianna Huffington and that the  age of Hunter S Thompson is long since past.

* A cynic might suggest I feel like this because of people’s reaction to my game but, on reflection, I realise that more people actually seemed to like it than didn’t reply. However, that minor victory is fairly meaningless given that the game was a poorly-timed attempt to satirise Michael Gove. Now he’s no longer Education Secretary, I’d need to de-Gove the game and I really haven’t the time nor the energy. I’ve been working on a second project, which I’m aiming directly towards the mainstream. However, I don’t intend to talk about. I’m becoming a master of blowing smoke, of taking about projects that never get released. My new project will probably go the same way as the last but I’m constantly learning to do new tricks.

 

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The Great World Cup Meh…
This post is a rehash of a joke we ran last week but this time we use a different pen

Gratified to see England lose last night, though I take little pleasure in saying that. I love watching England matches but Hodgeson is the wrong man. Since he’s been in charge, my indifference to international football has become total. He’s doing with England what he managed to do with Liverpool: turn a talented team into plodders. This morning he claims he won’t resign even if England fail to leave the group stages for the first time since, I believe, 1958. That’s the corporate mentality that the FA wanted and I’m sure they’re delighted to see it. Stick in their for your gold clock, Roy…

My lack of World Cup fever means I have more energy to devote to the game. Everything feels like it’s become more imminent. I’ve had a surprising number of responses to my request for Beta testers and I now realise that I’ll be having strangers look at my work. It makes me desperate to get it looking better than it is. I spent yesteray building a tutorial system which I hope will help people understand the basics of the thing I’ve created. I also recorded better music (I’ve sorted out the problem with my microphone).

Yet the harder I work, the more things need fixing. Introducing the tutorial system yesterday caused yet more problems I have to fix before the beta version can go out. I’ve taken an approach that overlays instructions on the screen whilst pausing the action in the background. However, touching the tutorial screen also interacts with the background controls, so I’ve got to go through and place conditional checks on every control to ensure they’re disabled when a tutorial screen is showing. It’s the kind of thing you don’t notice when playing a game and you might imagine takes little time. The truth is that most of my time is spent spotting and fixing this kind of problem.

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Beta Testers Wanted
This post is all about those long bucolic evenings spent whistling at nuns

Other than saying I’m still here, I’m blogging to see if anybody out there has an Android phone or tablet…

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

In the end, I had no choice. It was either buy a new drive or give up any serious hopes of ever again using this PC. I’ve also taken a deep breath and started to draw new cartoons, with the determination that I’ll now store them in more than once place, even if it means doing as Leg-Iron wisely suggests, backing things up to DVD.

And after a day of struggling to get my new WD drive into my machine (and, for the first time, I’ve stuck fans on it in the hope to prolong the drive’s life) I’ve now reestablished the basics of my work environment. After my email and browser (how many people must use Internet Explorer just to type the word ‘Chrome’ and then never us it again?), I also managed to get Unity up and running. Getting back to Unity has been the thing I’ve been eager to do since the crash on Sunday.

Late last week, I’d reached the stage where I’ve started to canvass thoughts aboutt game. I was delighted when the usual cynics I’ve shown it to were surprisingly positive and offered a few good (and the odd not so good) suggestions. This week is about putting these final touches to what will become Version 1.0 of the game which I aim to get onto the Play store before the end of the month, though that’s a big ambition when I still need to implement a tutorial system.

Which brings me to my offer, which I doubt will be taken up by anybody out there but I’ll make it anyway… If anybody fancies acting as a Beta tester of my game, then please drop me a line (via the Contact page or my email). You only need an Android tablet or phone and a willingness to lie and say that you’ve been reading my blog for a long time and would love nothing more than test a ridiculous game. At this stage, I just want to know if the game actually runs on a variety of hardware other than the Samsung phones and tablets I’ve had access to so far.

I wish I could afford to pay you but this is the internet and none of us get paid for anything we do but I will promise to include a juicy credit in my game’s acknowledgements screen.

You’ll also get a chance to be the first people to get to play the game, hear my bad guitar fingerpicking, voice acting, and (possibly — yet undecided — singing). At the very least, it should be a mildly amusing distraction from all the horrors of the world and, really, isn’t that all we can hope for?

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Never Turn Off Your PC
This post is actually a subtle homage to Polish cinema of the Soviet era

Never ever turn off your PC.

I’ve learned that the hard way over the last 12 hours. It’s why I’m writing this in Wordpad and why my spelling will undoubedly stretch the limits of what a man can claim to be a mere slip of the finger.

I never turn off my PC but, yesterday, since I was going to be away from it for a few hours, I actually shut it down. I remember thinking to myself: David, you’re taking a gamle. All that soldering has been running hot for so long. Don’t you know that failures often occur because of the cooling and heating process on circuitboards? There’s a chance this won’t start up again.

And so it proved. Late last night, I returned home and discovered that my machine wouldn’t boot. After about an hours struggle, I came to the horrified realisation that a hard drive had died.

I have (or had) four drives in this machine. A small drive for my operating system, two older drives that have come from previous machines, and a new Seagate 3Terrabye beast where I’ve done all my recent work.

Naturally, that is the drive that has died. Only now do I read the terrible reviews of the drive.

Not that bad reviews help me.

I had backed a few things up but not enough. My game, for one, is in a (hopefully) safe place but all the high resoltution files I’d created along the way to build the game are now gone. I’ve lost too many cartoons that I’m actually not trying to think about it. Possibly books too but, again, I’m not going to think too hard about what’s missing.

Instead, I’m sitting here hoping that Disc Partition software might actually recover some of the data. The drive was split into two partitions and three successive trial verions of data recovery software have identied the first of the partitions. Naturally, the first partition didn’t have anything that was actually worth recovering. All my important stuff was on the second partition and nothing seems able to see it.

Of course, I know the old mantra about always keeping a backup but I just couldn’t afford a second drive to back up so much work. And now I can’t afford to buy a drive to replace the one I’ve just lost. Today I’m just walking around feeling like this is all a bad dream. In the middle of realising I’d lost the data, my favourite chair broke. It had broke a month or two ago when a bolt snapped. Last night, a second bolt snapped around 1AM. However, as the Disc Parition software searched my 3 terrabytes for my work (4% and counting), I’ve mananged to fix the chair. It’s a small victory but I feel like it was a pointless one. Even if I have my chair back and I still have a place to work, it feels pretty pointless.

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Billy Bragg: The Video Game Hero
This post was the cause of funny though violent protests in Tewkesbury

It feels like I’ve been building this game for months but I discovered today that tomorrow will mark eleven weeks. As far as development times go, that’s nothing. For me, it’s been eleven hard weeks of learning something entirely new and working long long nights. And it does, finally, feel like I’m nearing the end.

The past few days has been about adding a few aesthetic effects and balancing levels so challenges are neither too easy nor impossibly hard. Last night, I had one of my most important breakthroughs: I managed to integrate interstitial advertising into the game. It’s a horrible business, inserting these ugly ads into something you work so hard to get looking good but it’s the ugly reality of this business. Nobody is willing to pay for anything and advertising is the only way I’ll ever make any money from this terribly doomed project.

I’m also tidying up some of my animations, which look okay, though sometimes just plain rough. A better example of my animations (and, yes, this is the ‘good’ stuff!) is my Billy Bragg character (above), who features as one of the game’s heroes or antagonists, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall. The game, as I think I’ve mentioned, is broadly satirical and Bragg acts as a nemesis to the game’s chief protagonist along with other celebs and politicos ranging from Stewart Lee to the Mayor of London.

I’m posting this Bragg video today because I like to prove that I’m not idle and because it links conveniently into a brief ramble about the most depressing thing I’ve heard in a long time.

Billy Bragg has confessed (perhaps tongue in angora bearded cheek) that ‘the internet has changed my songwriting by taking up all the time I used to spend writing songs’. He was talking on the today’s excellent Guardian feature, ‘Seven Digital Deadly Sins’, where he proceed to suggest that he spends most of his days watching a variety of people falling down holes.

I’m sure Bragg was playing up to the camera. At least, I hope to hell he was playing up to the camera. If not, then I’ll take my ticket now and catch the next bus off this lousy planet.

If the dimternet has tamed Bragg then what hope the rest of us? Had George Orwell been around today, would he be spending his time watching ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ (a video, I’m happy to say, that I’ve never seen) rather than writing ‘1984’? Or would he, as I’d hope, be among the few of us who are genuinely trying to cut ourselves off from the online world or, at least, merely use the medium without it robbing us of our lives and souls. I’ve written before that social media is the soma of this generation and nothing has changed to make me question that. I don’t think I’m simply being reactionary to say that we are losing strength in our mental limbs and we must do everything in our power to retain focus on the things that matter. Social media boasts about ‘ease’ and ‘speed’ and its integration into our lives but I fail to see how that’s a good thing. It’s why I find Bragg’s confession so depressing. He’s spent his life talking about activism yet it’s left to Bill Bailey’s contribution to the debate to point out how political engagement has changed with social media. Politics has become a trivial and, frankly, no so interesting meme in a greater world of hamster videos and fat people falling over.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the power of a good one liner, wit squeezed into 140 characters, but there is also a place for length, pace, argument, and complexity. In a separate piece yesterday, Will Self (who also, incidentally appears as one of the ‘good guys’ in my game), recommended books for teenagers based on their length. He’s right, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing. Explore the places of difficulty in your life. It’s where you always discover the most fascinating revelations.

I suppose I’m as much a victim of this change as anybody. Friends shake their heads slowly, clearly thinking I’m a fool because I don’t get involved in social media. I’ve certainly made decisions I’ve regretted. I always thought my book by Stan Madeley (the UK’s top Richard Madeley lookalike ) would have been more popular than it was. The fact I didn’t engage in social media and publicity was plain stupidity on my behalf. Yet I’m stubborn when it comes to my convictions. Bragg is probably right when he concludes by saying that ‘everybody wants to be famous, nobody wants to be scrutinised’. That’s the world where people are more interested in celebrities for their celebrity rather than anything they actually do.

I genuinely can’t see the attraction of fame. Scrutiny sounds far more interesting. I’d rather be disliked by a few than loved by millions. I’d rather be Will Self than Katie Perry, Billy Bragg rather than Stephen Fry. Social media is made for the latter, which makes it sad when I see it embraced by the former.

This is a ramble but I’m tired and I suppose it’s when I’m tired that I can see that my Android game is only going to be another expression of my stubborn unwillingness to join the throng. Only I could make a game that skips merrily past the mainstream and attempt to attract a very small minority. I only hope just a few people will smile and appreciate that I’ve tried something a little different. I’m hopeful, for example, that it will be the only video game featuring Billy Bragg.

Naturally, he won’t be singing but, so far, neither will I. The game looks pretty good but it still lacks music. I’m still attempting to finish recording my closing satirical song, though getting a quality track is killing me. I’ve fingerpicked a pretty good acoustic guitar pattern and even if my £12 USB microphone isn’t exactly studio quality, it’s not entirely bad. My singing remains the problem. I can’t decide if it’s a problem of my accent (I sound terribly northern) or simply a weak voice. I’ve been recording multiple versions in different registers so I can stack my vocals. Oddly, I think I probably sound less bad singing as a group than I do singing alone but I’m finding it difficult to mix them into anything reasonably listenable. Ideally, I’d like to just record myself singing over the guitar but one mike and a bad voice don’t make for a good combination.

But that’s another ramble for another day and I must go and make this blog post available on social media. [sarcasm=true; walks_off = “chuckling maliciously”;]

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Thinking Alpha
This post clearly explains the difference between 'gorse' and 'thicket'

My intention this week (yes, I know it won’t happen) is to have a build of the game ready to give friends and family to play and report back any bugs / ideas / impossible to complete levels. I also hope to get access to a Mac to see if I can build a version to test on iPads and iPhones, though that’s less important given that I can’t see myself spending the £100 to buy an Apple developer’s license anytime in the near future. However, I’ve discovered that there’s a way for developers to send apps over the web to Apple devices, which will at least allow me to see how the game works in that alien environment.

Today I have two jobs. The first is to throw myself into writing the game text. I’ve (somewhat foolishly) created a game with plenty of places to insert funny stuff. The only point of the game is to make the player laugh and so there are dozens of arrays to fill with as many witty one-liners as I can fashion. They’ll get served dynamically as you play the game, hopefully meaning that it shouldn’t get too stale too quickly.

The second job is to get the app’s size down. Last night it stood at a whopping 47mb, which was worryingly close to the Google’s stores 50mb limit. It’s a problem of textures. Many of graphics are still the size they came of my Samsung tablet, which is where I’ve drawn everything for the game. A megabyte for a pair of underpants definitely seems like overkill. I’ve started to tinker with the texture settings within Unity, brining many of the textures that were 2048×2048 to 1024×1024, those that were 1024 down to 512, and taking icons down much further. I can barely see a quality difference on the screen and the app is already down to about 33mb.

My biggest breakthrough of the weekend was to get my game objects flipping across the x-axis. I’d read last week’s Unity changelog and noticed they had claimed to have fixed the bug which broke the physics engine when scaling negatively. However, when I sat down and tested this claim, scaling the objects by -1 on x, any physics attached to the objects immediately failed. I either had characters looking one way but their bodies acting as though they were facing the other or I had characters falling in a heap of body parts on the floor. Clearly, the Unity bug hasn’t been fixed.

After a little work, I realised that the problem seemed linked to having objects in a hierarchy. If, for example, I had a human figure with arms and legs and I created the usual hierarchy of hand attached to lower arm, lower arm to upper arm, upper arm to torso, etc, then the physics would fail when scaled by -1. However, removed from the hierarchy, they would work.

My solution was to recalculate the object’s physics settings and apply them on the fly as objects changed direction. Since the problem only occurs when objects moved out of the kinematic state (that is, went from being unaffected by the game’s physics engine to having all forced acting upon it) I would also only keep them in the hierarchy when the object is kinematic and then dynamically flatten the structure when I needed them to work under physics.

Christ, all of this must sound so very boring. Is there anything duller than tech talk to anybody other than a very smaller number of people who enjoying reading tech talk? Is it a sad confession to say that I actually visit the Unity forums just to read about this stuff?

Okay. I have writing to do including as many insulting put-downs as I can manage for my ‘failure’ screen.

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Rain! Beautiful Virtual Rain…
This post is pregnant with meaning though we're still looking for the father

Two dull programming-related blog updates within two days? What am I thinking? Does anybody read this stuff?

But I guess I’m excited because it’s raining. In my game, I mean.

I keep saying it’s all about the small details but I genuinely think it’s half the battle. Being able to add little touches without impacting too severely on the performance is one of the ways that Unity never fails to amaze me. When I set out programming this game, I assumed that my lazy techniques would soon punish the game’s performance. I’m not by training an Object Orientated programmer, so it’s taking time for me to come around to not writing things in a very linear fashion. I’m also writing this game for tablets and (I hope) mobile phones, which means I haven’t got huge resources to play with. Each time I add a feature, I think the frame rate will be impacted hugely.

Last night I added rain. Unity barely flinched.

[Sidenote: the way I added rain was to create a long sprite, fading towards the upper end, a slight tear on the other. I then display about 20 or 30 of them (random intervals and timings on each) inside the camera bounds (don’t waste precious CPU cycles drawing rain you can’t see), and then I move them down as I very quickly stretch them. I also apply a gradual fade by adjusting the alpha values. Add a random angle of slant and with the right timing, they look just like rain. I keep reusing the same GameObjects to save time, repositioning/re-angling/retiming the line of rain as soon as it has faded from view. I also animated a few drops of rain splashing on the ground which I also randomly display. ]

game1

The effect isn’t bad, as I hope you can see from this deliberately empty and uninspiring shot of my game. And, yes, it’s mainly in black and white but it does have splashes of colour. The lack of objects on the screen accounts for the framerate nearly hitting 70fps, as you can see in the top left corner. I added that frame rate display to show me the average performance and the numbers are surprising. On the PC, the framerate is effectively about 450 frames a second (though, of course, my screen doesn’t update that quickly). It means that the code could update the screen over four hundred times per second if called upon. In reality, 30 frames a second is what most games run at. Some of the newer games run at 60 frames a second, which is something of a gold standard for 3D games, and accounts for much of the current bickering between XBone and PS4 owners.

My game is 2D so it’s not quite so impressive to be hitting around 60fps on my tablet but that’s (apparently) it what it’s doing. It drops a little on my phone to somewhere in the 40-50fps but that hopefully means that I’m in a sweet spot given that my phone is neither the most recent nor the powerful. The more people can play this game, the more my efforts are worth it.

Today it’s about fixing more bugs, adding more content which I drew last night, playing and replaying each level to see if it feels right. I’m thinking about ripping out all the music since I also need to start to reduce the final size of the final app. It’s compiling into a 45mb package, which is just under the Play Store’s limit of 50mb (I believe you can go much higher but it involves breaking the app into different resource files, which is something I don’t want to do). 45mb seems far too big for this game, even if it is packed with hand draw graphics which don’t lend themselves to tight compression. The main problem seems to be five or six very large graphic files, which I’ll need to reduce in quality. Hopefully there’ll be no obvious visual impact on the game.

Hmm… I push on.

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On Vube Talent, Alan Gogoll, Google Ads and English Folk Music
This post is actually a subtle homage to Polish cinema of the Soviet era

Morning was creeping over the local church by the time I finally fell asleep last night. I’d been working late trying to get a website finished but also struggling with a problem with my soon-to-be-published Android game.

Taking a break from one kind of code or the other, I was browsing the web when I accidentally clicked on a link that took me a website called Vube. It seemed to consist of amateur (and not so amateur) musicians posting their work to be voted on by the public.

It was apparent very quickly that these people are serious about their music. For ‘unknowns’, the quality of the videos was astonishingly high. The sound quality of most of the recordings sounded, to these ears at least, on par with something produced in a professional studio. Yet as I browsed through the performances, amazed by some, I was equally depressed by others. It’s not the level of talent that I found depressing – though, I suppose the internet has collectively taught us that the world has an abundance of talent which routinely gets ignored. What I found depressing was the real lack of creativity.

By a huge margin, the majority of these performances involved the word ‘Cover’  and I very quickly established how many versions of ‘I See Fire’ by Ed Sheeran a man needs in his life before he starts to root for dragons instead of hobbits. The answer, incidentally, is five.

The experience reminded me of walking past those artists you usually find working in shopping centres. They work in pencil and produce amazingly accurate reproductions of famous faces. Because they work from published photographs, their work is a copy of another, so despite their copious ability with the pencil, it’s all a mechanical effect. There’s no true ‘art’ to their work. Nothing of themselves on the paper, though, of course, they clearly draw the chipmunk member of One Direction because that’s what will sell.

Likewise, there’s very little of the people performing the covers on Vube, just lots of pitch perfect good looking young women singing songs that involve vocal gymnastics. Lots of seasoned instrumentalists proving they’ve mastered their instruments as well as their heroes but have no message of their own they feel willing or able to convey.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course, such as the amazing Alan Gogoll whose genuinely original guitar work just shone above anything else on the site. It’s strange how Gogoll’s talent has lodged itself in my mind. I saw a video of his posted on another website a few weeks ago and (not recognising the name then) I stumbled across more here where his name has now firmly lodged. His is the kind of talent it’s good to see emerging via the web.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just jaded. Everything about my work is rough and imperfect. I like that but also recognise it as a huge defect. I’ve mastered nothing, even if I put my heart and soul into every one of my projects. It also saddens me to see in linking to Gogoll’s site that he earns a crust by performing at weddings. Reminds me of those amazing street musicians you see begging for coins as rich bankers stroll past. Some might say that the latter make the world turn but it’s surely the former, people like Gogoll, who make it worth lingering around in that world.

I’m neither a banker nor an artist. It’s been over a week since I last blogged and I’m still slowly getting there with my game. Monday night, Unity updated to version 4.5 and immediately my game blew a fuse. As far as I can figure out by looking over their changelog, they’d fixed a problem registering touches on the screen which meant that my game had been calculating certain things based on the wrong values. With the correct values suddenly entering into my equations, things began flying all over the screen. That was a worrying few hours as I struggled to get my game back to where it had started. However, things began working again and they perhaps now work better than they did before. I’m now looking forward to trying a few of the other things the Unity gurus have fixed.

Yesterday was what’s commonly known as a ‘ball breaker’. This week I’ve been trying to add ads to the app, which hasn’t felt right. I’ve worked hard drawing every graphic in my game and I really didn’t welcome the intrusion of ads for some woeful Kim Kardashian flab busting workout DVD. However, this is the world we live in, I need the money, and I had to face the more pressing problem of actually getting the game to compile with a library of code for Google Ads. At the same time, I’ve been using all my valuable time building a website for a nursery school (just as depressing as it sounds), with breaks from that relatively easy work broken my throwing myself into the ugly world of Java libraries, Unity plugins, and worse. Yesterday was a fourteen hour stretch of work (minus a couple of quick stops for food) but the website now looks complete but more importantly, the following appeared on my game’s level select screen in the last hours of darkness.

Screenshots_2014-05-30-00-41-42

Damn, doesn’t it look beautiful?

The answer to my problem was to remove the old Unity plugin I’d been using to integrate my game with Google’s Play Services and use the official Google plugin, which didn’t  conflict with Google’s other plugin for AdMob, their ad delivery service.

Beyond all of this, the last week has been about bug catching (both real [damn this muggy weather] and virtual) as well as adding small details, such as a credit screen that isn’t a boring credit screen. I’ve also…

Well, I really hesitate to admit this given my criticism of Vube, or perhaps out of shame, embarrassment, or what Stewart Lee once described as the horrible thought of ‘a man trying to do something sincerely and well’… However, I’ve written a song for the game. The music has been bothering me since I began because I really like doing things myself and I didn’t want to use third party music, even if it’s in the public domain. I’ve been currently using a 1920s jazz recording as my soundtrack. I’ve yet to decide whether to keep it (it fits in with the theme of the game) or go without music. My song, however, is meant to accompany my credits. I can (but rarely) write songs but this, I think, isn’t one of my worst. The lyrics are nicely twisted and, in my few spare minutes, I’ve even worked out an arrangement of odd finger-patterns for the guitar. All was good until I sat down and tried to record myself singing it. The guitar part sounds surprisingly good but the recording sounded terrible. A bad voice, my battered old Gibson acoustic fitted with new strings, and a £12 USB microphone doesn’t make for a combination worthy of Vube. Yet amid the hissing and crackles, I could recognise something I’ve never realised about my singing before. I sound like a bloody English folk singer and that’s not something that fills me with particular enthusiasm to try again, let along post to Vube, here, or the Google Play store attached to my game.

I don’t know why I should find this odd. Perhaps it’s because I predominately listen to American musicians, with the notable exception being P.J. Harvey, so I my tastes are fairly attuned to American tones. My voice seemed naturally to drift to very different places which were purely English folk. Vocally I sounded a bit like John Renbourn or (now sadly late) Bert Jansch. My guitar work sounded like Bert Renbourn or John Jansch. Perhaps I need to hire a Vube star to record my song…

I’m not sure what makes me uneasy about English folk music. Perhaps it’s the image of middle-aged real ale-drinkers talking about church sculpture. I’m now trying to convince myself that it’s not all bad. There’s always Billy Bragg.

I was buying superglue in Wilko earlier in the week (trying to repair my favourite USB cable — yes, I have a favourite USB cables, mock as much as you like!) when they started playing Billy Bragg’s ‘Handyman Blues’. It’s a great track from an excellent album but never before had I thought about the Englishness of Bragg’s voice. Perhaps he doesn’t sound enough like me to make me aware of his sameness. I suppose it’s why, when I first started to read English poetry, I found Larkin unbearable. Eventually, I realised it was only because I was responding to a world he was describing which felt too much like the grim world around me whereas a poet like Ted Hughes felt elevated, distant, heroically what a poet should be. I found Larkin’s similarity  too unsettling and only after a very long time did I begin to enjoy his poetry without that sense of suffocating identification.

All of which is me rambling slightly because I can. I needed more sleep than I got last night. This is the dull reality of what should (and, in truth, usually is) a fun business. Today I really want to devote itself to rain, as I’m suddenly taken with make a late addition to my game in the form of an aesthetically pleasing rain effect. But perhaps I should just get the game finished and out the door. It’s taking far too long to get everything right.

 

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The Angel of High Satire
This post is a terrible indictment of inner city youth and polyester flared trousers

I seem to spend my life between identities.

What do I mean by that beyond trying to sound profound? I suppose I mean: I don’t know what I am. So many people seem to define themselves by their jobs or their religion or their marital status and number of children. I don’t really have any identity in those respects. I don’t think of myself as ‘a writer’ and even when I had a book in bookshops, to say ‘I’m a writer’ felt hollow and not entirely truthful. I never say ‘I’m a cartoonist’ because I haven’t had any cartoons published and I refuse to spend the rest of my life being Private Eye’s least successful would-be cartoonist. I’m not an illustrator, though I occasionally provide people with illustrations. I’m not a web designer though I sometimes build websites. Nor am I an animator, though I’ve made a few animated shorts. I can’t even say that I’m an academic because my PhD never led me into any academic post of significance. Now that I’m programming again, I am reluctant to call myself a programmer because the programming is only serving an end as far as another of my non-descriptors, that is, the cartoonist part of me.

cherubI’ve spent two months (or is it now three?), building a game which is little more than a very large satirical sketch or (more accurately) oafish cartoon. It’s taken as much efforts drawing the graphics as it has programming the code. I’m part proud of it as I am part ashamed of it. The whole thing is meant to be satire, which is why, over the weekend, I added the following character to the game. At the moment, he flies onto the screen at random moments to add a little difficulty (and some reward) to the challenges. Yet I suppose my ‘Angel of High Satire’ (is the minuscule penis too much?) is a way of my
acknowledging that everything I do is really directed towards satire. I suppose I might call myself ‘a devil of low satire’ because I think it’s always been the closest description I would recognise of myself had I actually achieved anything of note in that field.

I don’t think my game will change that, though I hope it will have a enough edge that people might share it and laugh for all of the few moments they play it before deleting it forever. The humour might not be up to quality demanded by the real High Angel of Satire, on whom I modeled my version, but it has amused me. And that’s the problem. My worry now is that the game contains too many of the things that amuse me such as the thought of a naked Ian Hislop providing the game’s hardest challenge. I wish I could have created something playable by somebody other than that person I see in the mirror. Next time, perhaps.

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