I’m LPing Grand Theft Auto III

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog or my Twitter, you know that I’m constantly flirting with making video content. I have the capture card, I have the microphone, and so now I’m committing myself to making a Let’s Play of Grand Theft Auto III.

I’ve made three episodes so far, and I’m super interested in what you think of them. I’m trying to balance out general chatter, some design talk, and actual commentary on what is happening in front of me. I’m always excited for feedback, and I’m genuinely interested in what you have to say.

I’m embedding the playlist for the first three videos below. You can find my channel here.

 

 

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On Carson Wells

A few days ago I watched No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers’ film based on the excellent Cormac McCarthy novel. I spent the runtime fixated, like always, on the strange game played between Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh: Moss is a man attempting to control his own destiny; Chigurh is an agent bend on revealing the pure contingent nature of existence. It’s a classic clash: chaos and order; meaning and nonmeaning; good and evil.

This time something else stuck out: Carson Wells.

Carson Wells is hired by the corporate drug cartel to kill Chigurh, who at this point has killed both Mexican and American cartel members. In the scene where he is hired, Carson sweats confidence. It helps that he’s played by Woody Harrelson, a man who manages to play “smug” with the best of them.

Wells is somewhere between Moss and Chigurh. He’s a Vietnam war veteran. He’s willing to kill; more than that, he’s willing to kill for money. On the other end, he has some kind of code of honor. Late in the film, he offers Moss a deal: if Moss gives Carson the money, then Carson will protect him. We don’t have any way of evaluating if he’s sincere or not, but we have to be open to it.

That openness is precisely how Wells functions in the film. He exists for such a short time (he is killed by Chigurh), but the possibility of his actions haunt the film. He appears, and we ask “what will he do?” He is killed and we think “what could he have done?” His past is alluded to (a military career; a sighting of Chigurh in years past), and we wonder “what did he do?”

Moss’ is unable to shape his destiny. We were told that he wouldn’t be able to, and it was true. Chigurh kills without punishment and reveals the purely contingent nature of existence. Carson comes into existence and leaves. His echo is not felt. He does not linger in the minds of other characters; there is no remnant of him.

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Epanalepsis Dev Log #1

As I get closer to releasing Epanalepsis, I am going to be making posts over at the official Epanalepsis blog about what I’m thinking about, how I’m designing the game, etc etc etc.

The first is called “Narrative Lessons from Anton Chigurh.”

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#clonejamCMRN starts soon!

clonejam

James Earl Cox has been running a series of game jams where the goal is to “clone” (in style, tone, etc) the games of independent developers. I feel super lucky and grateful that he has put me on that list with a group of people who are far more creative and clever than I ever hope to be (a lot of the time I feel less like a creator and more like a tinkerer. Everyone else on that list is a CREATIVE GIANT.)

In any case, #clonejamCMRN is going this weekend. You can sign up for it here. Apparently ludum dare is also going on, and there’s no reason that you can’t make a game that covers both bases (you should do that!)

In any case, I’m hyperinterested in anything that comes out of this jam. I will definitely make a post next week where I play and talk about the games that come out of this jam. Happy jamming!

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The Lord of the Rings: Thoughts on Book 1

I’m reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time since I was a child and I’m writing blog posts about the book when I feel like it.

Last night I finished the first book of The Lord of the Rings (meaning the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring), and I think this is a good moment for me to write down a couple thoughts that I’ve had about the book-as-a-book so far.

fell5

1.
Tolkien has strange instincts when it comes to writing dialogue for characters. His prose outside of speaking is generally good, and almost always interesting. Tolkien understood how myths functioned to make the world around a culture seem both vitally alive and historically dense, and so the moments when no one is speaking (or when we’re not being primed to listen to someone speaking) are the best.

What’s the problem with his dialogue? Tolkien is always writing to deliver information. He was clearly preoccupied with fleshing out his universe (or worldbuilding, as we’ve come to call it). The way he goes about this is to make every single conversation deliver some kind of information about the plot as well as the world at large. That’s successful if you’re concerned with building a world, but it isn’t successful if you want to avoid being incredibly boring. I’m reading the book each night before bed, and I’ve quite literally nodded off during longer sections of conversation about the history of a place, or Weathertop, or these fields, or the men of the Westernesse, or some song about history, or whatever.

A part of me wonders if Tolkien had been rendered immune to recognizing these problems through his work in the British academy. Gandalf holding court about the world feels a lot like someone talking about their research.

Another part of this, as I’ve spoken about on Twitter, is that The Lord of the Rings is a 19th century novel. There’s clearly a mythological bent–he’s creating a world that still contains wonder in a reaction to modernity–but it doesn’t ever hit a medieval-or-before tone. It thoroughly lands in the realm of Dickens–the huge cast of interrelated characters, their willingness to express their inner feelings in leaden monologues, and the inherent traits of the different peoples and locations. If Frodo rolled up on Old Hell Shaft, I wouldn’t be surprised.

2.
I’d never realized how pieced together Tolkien’s world is. After I read the section on Tom Bombadil, I went and did some research and realized that he existed far before Middle Earth did. His insertion into the plot as this hyperpowerful tree wrangler–a wyrd being inside of a plasticine doll body, for all intents and purposes–is such a strange move and doesn’t do much other than stall out Frodo and party for 80 pages (well, I guess that section makes sure that they are armed with knives).

An aside: I completely understand why the movie cut that section out completely.

I love the idea that Tolkien had thought so much about Tom Bombadil that he just had to insert him into The Lord of the Rings. My understanding of the worldbuilding of Tolkien from LotR fans and fandom itself over the years has been the Tolkien was a bit of a watchmaker–everything in the system he created can either be directly reckoned through charts, appendixes, and maps or it can be inferred from the substantial information that we do have about this world.

But right there, smack at the start of the story, Tolkien has a real “oh fuck it, I like this guy, he’s going in” bricolage moment. It’s wonderful.

 

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Sunaura Taylor on disability and animals

Disability is everywhere in animal agriculture, and especially factory farms. The animals people eat are largely manufactured to be disabled. Animals are bred to have too much muscle for their bodies to hold, cows and chickens develop broken bones and osteoporosis from the overproduction of milk and eggs. Very often the very thing animals are bred for is, or leads to, disability. They are also disabled through mutilation, through abuse, and through dangerous and toxic environments. Even my disability, Arthrogryposis, is found on farms. In cows it’s known as “Curly Calf.”

Of course the first thing these issues bring up are ethical concerns over the use of animals for food. But they also raise a lot of other sorts of questions for both animal ethics and disability studies. For instance, what happens if we try to view disability in this context through a social model lens of disability? The social model understands disability largely as a consequence of discrimination and inaccessible environments. Well, there is no doubt that the environments these animals exist in disable them, even more than their physical impairments do. But simultaneously it is challenging to understand disability in this context as anything other than suffering, which is another thing that disability studies has really tried to theorize. So thinking about disability in animals raises important questions about what disability is—questions about such things as vulnerability, normalcy and suffering.

- Sunaura Taylor in interview with Erica Grossman in JCAS 12:2, Spring 2014

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The Lord of the Rings: Racial Destiny

I’m reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time since I was a child and I’m writing blog posts about the book when I feel like it.

The prologue for The Lord of the Rings plays a little bit of catch-up. The world of the novel (and Tolkien’s universe more broadly) is so god damn complicated that the writer needs to perform a huge info dump before the book starts so you can actually figure out what the hell is going on.

The first section of the prologue is “Concerning Hobbits,” a completely unnecessary history of hobbits, where they came from, what they did one time, and the wars they did not fight in before taking over land that they did not win in a war.

What struck me when I was reading this section was the sense of “racial destiny” (I think this is a phrase that I first heard from Sparky Clarkson and thought about when I read Austin Walker’s piece on Shadow of Mordor). That is to say that the different races (or species, it is very unclear) in Middle Earth have some inherent differences between one another that are not cultural but rather ontological.

Tolkien writes of the hobbits:

They possessed from the first the art of disappearing swiftly and silently, when large folk whom they do not wish to meet come blundering by; and this art they have developed until to Men it may seem magical. But Hobbits have never, in fact, studied magic of any kind, and their elusiveness is due solely to a professional skill that heredity and practice, and a close friendship with the earth, have rendered inimitable by bigger and clumsier races. [10]

How do we reconcile “heredity” with “practice” in that selection? And what about the “friendship with the earth”? It’s worth remembering that Bilbo Baggins is chosen to go along with all those dwarves in The Hobbit because hobbits are a crafty, sneaky people; it’s also worth remembering that we’re told over and over again that hobbits hate doing anything that isn’t eating, sleeping, and generally chilling out with some pipe weed.

With that in mind, “practice” seems like an absurd addition to that section. There’s no practice involved. Rather, hobbits have a destiny co-constituted with “elusiveness;” the hobbits are racially destined to have certain skills that other, “clumsier races” cannot hope to have.

How could one change that destiny? Weirdly, in this prologue we are presented with some kind of strange Lamarckian evolution. There are subgroups of hobbits. One of the subgroups, the Fallohide hobbits, have spent a lot of time with elves, and so are fair-haired and good at singing. There are shorter, more brown-skinned hobbits called Harfoots, and they’ve been spending a lot of time with dwarves. For Tolkien, there’s a transitive property of species qualities–if you and I hang out long enough, my children might have hair like yours.

When I was reading this the other night I couldn’t get over it and I had to write something to get it out. More posts about The Lord of the Rings will probably follow in the future. It is going to take the next fifty years of my life to read this.

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