Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and The Archaeology of Self

December 2 Poem

Sometimes in moving forward with our lives, we forget about who we used to be. Do you know this feeling? Man, I thought I was past it. I was looking through the internet and found a poem I had written a long time ago, published in American Poetry Review.

A relic from a time where I was without money, suffering in the ways only a 29 year old can believe in suffering, full of the certainties that there was no future and no past capable of redeeming the life I was living.

And now I am here, wherever here is. How strange to look back on that person. How fucked up it all is, seeing the shadow of who you once were, burned into some virtual pavement.

I guess with Thanksgiving I have been thinking about what and who I have to be grateful for, a lot, for some reason. The person who wrote that poem. I am grateful he existed, that I can visit him in this way, remember that other things used to be important to him, and perhaps they still should be.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Maneuver Warfare and Design

So yeah, this is the 2nd blogpost I've ever written. Technically it was the first, but I forgot about it in the first few weeks of the new kid, and just now realized it was sitting here. Waiting to be posted, so why not.

Given the free time I have, it may well be the last, but I often have snatches of time between new child feedings and more often than not I find myself thinking about things I want to commit to writing and then don't.

So I've been reading several books about warfighting, which is kinda comical given my occupation as a guy with soft hands who types instead of pulling a trigger. But when you make games, you want to at least steep yourself in as much of the information as you can. It helps you. It inspires you. It can depress you. Mostly, it orients you.

Anyway I was struck by a lot of the parallels between "new" principles in warfighting and the "new" methods and processes we're using to make games. I think we could - and in many cases are- already doing things this way in game development.  But there's a lot to learn!

The old way of waging war was pretty straightforward. You had soldiers. You lined these dudes up and hopefully the weight of numbers and technology fell on your side. You would attrit the enemy down to what became an unsustainable loss position and he'd either retreat, surrender, or be wiped out. It's not to say that tactics and strategy had no place in this type of warfighting. They simply were aligned to a certain kind of leadership and a certain kind of expectation in battle. Symmetrical forces clashing.

Coupled with this old methodology was a very rigid chain of command, which led to operational inefficiencies and bottlenecks, where people often would wait on other, more senior officers words to act.

Why am I even talking about this? Why am I not talking about design?

Well.. we are talking about design. We're talking about some companies I used to work for, companies friends used to work for.. that were hierarchy driven, centralized, slowmoving. Where people would wait for their boss to give them the green light. Where shit could not move ahead unless the big guy gave the thumbs up. Where people had limited if any operational autonomy.

So this is where it gets interesting to me. Maneuver warfare is about decentralizing leadership in order to allow those closest to the battle to  operational autonomy to the troops so that they can make tactical decisions themselves instead of waiting on some General in his airconditioned hangar to pass them the word. In the modern day battleground of asymmetrical warfare and instant communication and urbanized regions, the ability to act quickly, decisively, and flexibly has become much more important.

The principles of maneuver warfare are fascinating to me. They sound like design principles. They also sound like agile development.

Speed. Concentration. Tempo. Surprise. Momentum. And the ubiquitous enemy of all these things is Friction, which can be loosely summarized as the collection of all things that conspire to fuck up an offensive: enemy fire, location, weather, sickness, supply, etc.

So what am I to do with all this? So what if game dev and maneuver warfare are similar? Is that going to make my games magically better?

To Be Continued

Sunday, February 27, 2011

First timer, first design memory

I was thinking this morning about my first game design memory. Kids make you think about these things. You think things like, how on earth did I get here from there, and you look at your child realizing one day she'll be taking a similarly unlikely journey to get wherever she is going, and that there is some heavy shit you will want to have a full glass of whiskey to even consider contemplating.

But I digress. The first game design memory I was maybe 7 or 8. Had a bunch of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, this is the late 70s now, so try to imagine a lot of firebirds and corvettes and actual metal construction here. If you chucked one of these at your friend, your friend's mom would be taking him to the ER. They were seriously fucking weighty, like small bricks with tiny cheap wheels.

One day I was playing with my cars- I had probably 30 or 40. I remember I was bored with them by now. I just couldn't think of much to do with them beyond collect them and even back then I wasn't the collecting type I guess.

Boredom made me mad. I start slamming two of my favorite cars together. One flips over. The other one flips the other car and stays upright.

Light bulb.

I start what must be some sort of OCD destruction derby. I ram every car I have into every other car.

The rules are simple. A car on its roof loses. A car that stays upright and on its wheels, wins. If both cars are on their roofs or both upright at the end of a collision, it's a draw.

It's immediately pretty awesome. I remember I kept notes on who won and who lost and that was the second big thing I realized. That the shape of the cars was dictating if they won or lost more often that not. I noticed that the Mongoose funny car which had a really sloped front end was by far the biggest winner because he always got under the noses of the other cars. I noticed that the square nosed cars often could knock over a rounded nosed car because they took the impact better. I noticed some cars had better balance, inexplicably, than other cars, like the grey jaguar I used to have, and that flimsy cars were naturally unpredictable physically compared to more well made cars. 

I wish I had my notes from back then. It's nice to see where you come from.

What's your first design memory?