Welcome

My name is Julien Delavennat, or Meteotrix, you can check the About page for extra information, the link can be found below the banner at the top.

I write on #AltDevBlogADay, and I also make things during my free time, or as school projects, you can check them through my portfolio.

You can find me on twitter – @Meteotrix – or contact me via email – meteotrix-at-gmail.com or julien.dilivinnit-at-gmail.com.

Please have a nice day :).

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Metal is a diverse genre

Apparently some people think metal always sounds the same.

I partly agree that 99% of metal will be quite similar, however there are more than a few exceptions to that rule.

A relatively random sampling of my music library revealed a few of them:

Soilwork – Let This River Flow

Rise To Fall – Fall To Drama

Celldweller – I Can’t Wait

Avenged Sevenfold – Blinded In Chains

Sonic Syndicate – Aftermath

I had a hard time choosing a good song for Soilwork, everything they do is awesome – but only if you learn how to appreciate the stuff.

I also almost linked some music by Machinae Supremacy, but because they also make incredible stuff, I had a hard time deciding which song to link and I ended up replacing that with some Celldweller :3

Also, check out Lia-Sae’s post on the same topic, the songs referenced there are also good examples.

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Games are Art: an elephant in the room

Yup, that topic again n_n

I’m guessing posts with the same point as this one have been written at least a million times, but who knows, maybe you’ll find something interesting in this one, so here we go.

This article says there is a particular bond between video games and music, unlike cinema. Something about playing and interpreting or something.

*cough*

The equivalent of games and music isn’t cinema, it’s theater. Actors play/interpret plays in theater, like musicians play music, and players play games. And then I realized, people seem to be getting something terribly wrong. They seem to think that the default thing to do with music is to listen to it, and that the default thing to do with games is to play them.

I don’t think so. You know, three hundred years ago, we didn’t have technology able to record stuff, only live performance. People didn’t just listen to the music, they sung and played it themselves much more often than nowadays.

Take a look at this table :

See what I mean ?

So, if playing a game isn’t the “default” thing to do the same way playing music isn’t the “default” thing to do for music, then video games become as much art as cinema or music. As much as special effects aren’t the core of a movie, special effects aren’t the core of Machinima or Frag videos. As much as theater is unedited, speed runs are “unedited”,
since we don’t really add effects, we just show raw game footage.

The core is the concept, the story, the idea, the identity of the game / movie / song. Not the interpretation of it. The core is what you can do within the artwork, the play space, not what you actually do.

In that sense, the possibilities of games are equivalent to the possibilities of movies and songs.

Two examples of this are song remixes and director’s cut versions of movies. You’ll say “it’s the same song/movie, just re-mixed/re-edited”.

You just change the lighting and move the furniture around, and the room feels different, even though it’s the same. The only difference between live and recorded versions, is that a recorded version is a photograph of that room, whereas live has the players changing the lighting and moving the furniture around themselves continuously. Games are the same: if recorded, the furniture is in the same place every time, if played, the player moves the furniture and changes the lighting herself continuously.

Is Tetris art ? Is the set of what you can do within Tetris art ? Well, I think so yes, even though a player will have a hard time putting words on what happened in her last playthrough, she still got a kick out of it: all the actions, reactions, results and ramifications of what happened, however small and dirt-low the details go.
To consider Tetris art, you have to consider its possibility space which enables players to experience all that stuff.

Arguably, there aren’t any video game master pieces, no academic recognition even for the best games, whereas theater, cinema and music have transcending and universal classics. It’s funny because arguably, some people get more of a kick out of playing some games than watching movies.

Do regular art critics compare game playthroughs to Shakespeare scripts ?
What should be compared to a play script is the possibility/meaning space of a game, what they can be, and not just a playthrough experience. To make sense, your own game playthroughs should be compared to how pleasing it is to play a piece of music or act a role.

Maybe to make “better” games, we should make them pleasing to watch when played ? I know frag videos can be fairly intense, because the rules of physics and stuff aren’t made up by a narrator, so you know if a player manages to do something impressive, it’s impressive for real. The same way it’s impressive to hear a complex musical piece being played, or a breath-taking action scene being acted: did you know that for Mission Impossible 3: Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise really DID climb the tallest building in the world in Dubai himself ? No kidding.

The same way a live performance relies on a skilled actor/musician playing a piece written by a skilled writer, a game playthrough can need a skilled player playing a game made by skilled developers :D.

With this post, I don’t mean to address the whole issue in one go. I just want to point out the inconsistency in people’s reasoning that I showed in the table, and offer my perspective.

I’m satisfied with this answer to the “Games are Art” debate: it’s the reason I’ve always supported the idea that video games are art. You know this because you’ve developed games for some time now, your work brings joy and happiness to people in a similar way that music or film does, so who cares ?

Feedback very welcome :]

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Players don’t want their games to smell of money

I almost didn’t write a post today, but I found something interesting at the last minute before going to bed. So random post today. About what ?

This

So, I’ve been discussing this with someone earlier and ended up summing up the situation in a way that we found was pretty neat and clear:

Players just don’t want their games to smell of money.

Think about it in the following way: let’s ask players for practical and rational arguments  about why the principle of “cash-grabbing” methods would be wrong (day-one-DLC for instance).

Why are we talking about rational stuff here ? It actually doesn’t make sense.

Players play for entertainment. Games are supposed to make them feel good. Rationality and common sense have got nothing to do here.

This reminds me of another article.

The point of this article is simple: you can do shady stuff to get customers to buy more stuff (targeted advertising here), if they don’t know about it they don’t complain.

Does that sound immoral ? You decide, but I think there’s got to be a way to avoid the question entirely.

This basically means two things.

For developers: if your players interpret what you do as some lowly cash-grabbing, you might be doing something wrong. Making sure your players feel good about buying your stuff is important. As far as I know Steam is usually recognized for doing just that: buying a game doesn’t feel like getting ripped-off because it’s overpriced and hard to unpack. It feels like the sales are nice for you because the games are just so affordable and convenient to acquire and play.

For players: nobody is going to get out of this, you either take the the red pill, forget you’re being marketed at and stop complaining, or you take the blue pill, keep complaining, and the marketing will get sneakier. I don’t mean to offense the marketing departments anywhere, marketing is also about getting the right stuff in the right customers hands, don’t mind me, making money is a job and everybody needs to eat n_n

Red Pill vs Blue Pill

To conclude, there doesn’t seem to be any simple solution. I guess the best we can do is listen to players, note what they don’t like and take it into account.

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The Novelty vs Familiarity Paradox

Hi everyone n_n

This post is the continuation of my last one: A functional definition of Beauty

Today on the menu:

  • Beauty is identified in novel things which resemble familiar things, and not in familiar things: we know the things we know aren’t perfect. We don’t know how perfect this new awesome thing might be. Beauty is the unrealistic size of this possibility space, which is only reduced after we have taken the time to analyze this new thing and find its limits.
  • Beauty is fantasizing and imagining how awesome this new thing is going to be.
  • Beauty is fantasizing about how much more fun we’re going to have with this new thing that has been really awesome up to now.
  • You have to promise a lot, keep your promises, KEEP promising stuff, KEEP delivering, up to the end.
  • Since beauty is mostly identified in new stuff that resembles familiar stuff, you can’t just fork out the same stuff over and over, you have to make up something sufficiently familiar but sufficiently new. As far as I know, this has been confirmed by psychologists and other relevant people.

In my last post, I described how beauty is strongly linked to familiarity and the comfort  zone of the audience, and concluded by saying that people only identify stuff to be possibly awesome if it fits their existing knowledge of what awesomeness is, which is based on the things they already know, i.e. what they’re familiar with.

Now readers pointed out something I had missed. I had in fact wrongly assumed that it meant that we considered familiar things to be beautiful. I basically confused the comfort zone and the set of things that are familiar to us, when in fact things probably look more like this :

So what about things that are familiar to us which we don’t like then ?

This is where it gets interesting.

You see, one other thing I didn’t take into account, was things getting expelled from the
comfort zone. You know, sometimes you like a thing, and a couple days later… meh.

I think we can safely identify two phases: identifying potential, and analyzing value.

Simply put, you see a thing X which looks promising, and you’re really excited about it.
Then when you actually spend some time with it, you realize it’s not as great as you thought it was going to be.

Why were you excited about X in the first place then ? Because you only identified potential from the surface.
Why did you stop liking it if it was supposed to be nice ? Because you learned more about X
by spending time with it, and you discovered it had flaws and limits. You basically came back down to earth.

Example: ephemeral art. It works because we just won’t know how much more awesome it could have been, and because we didn’t have time to analyze how much less awesome it  would actually have been, which is the point really, to wonder about possibilities.

Why is that, then ? Well, it only seems logical to me that we would always want to find better things for ourselves: we compare new stuff to old stuff, and try to identify possible benefits of replacing the old by the new. Well, the “replacing” part isn’t really important, the “finding awesome new stuff” however is where the magic happens.

I’ll go ahead and claim that beauty, is perceived at the moment we start analyzing something on a surface level, and it looks reaaaaally awesome and promising: the positive possibility space of X is immense and full of awesome possibilities if all we have seen from X up to now is perfection. It takes time to discover the flaws and limits of things.

The most important part is how unrealistically large the potential of X is perceived to be,
based on how much of X has matched our criteria of what perfection is up to now.

People only identify stuff to be possibly awesome if it fits their existing knowledge of what
awesomeness is. Now like I said last time, the important part is familiarizing people with
things iteratively.

Hopefully coming up with incrementally new stuff isn’t necessarily too hard. Creating 100%
new things is practically impossible, and not technically a good idea anyway. Like atoms and molecules for new chemicals/materials, good pre-existing ideas is what makes up new good ideas.

Want to make your game not boring ? You have to use this psychological property to your advantage. Unless I’m mistaken, I think Mike Birkhead named that Asymmetry in a recent post. You can think of this as diversity vs variation. Well, pacing isn’t really what I want to talk about right now, I’ll come back to this in a later post. Still, as far as I know,
this “new is bigger” effect is what good diversity is based on – note: I’ll talk about a diversity vs consistency paradox in a later post too.

If you can promise stuff and deliver, that’s not enough, you have to keep promising stuff,
and keep delivering. One example I know of this is the Death Note anime. It’s just  massively solid for a really long time. I honestly had trouble watching it a second time without pausing every five minutes because my brain was melting from how awesome it is. More precisely, it’s a police investigation story with a twist. The main characters all have their motives, and the story is almost plothole-free. What drives the story is the  investigation, the leads, hints and opportunities followed by both sides. They plan  everything several moves ahead so the story is consistently surprising: expectations, promises, and the situation are re-evaluated all the time.

I’m getting a bit off-track aren’t I ? What does writing an intricate and solid storyline have
to do with beauty you may ask. As a matter of fact, I am getting off-track with beauty. I’m more talking about awesomeness in a more general fashion here. But what it does tell us, is that beauty really kinda stops at the “This new object matches my criteria for  awesomeness” thing. But in an iterative way. And this iterative way is the useful part.

So, What problems are left ?

What people actually want: what the criteria are.

Apart from that, most of what awesome works do, is promise things, and give them to the
audience. I’ve talked about that in my first two posts about Interweaving and Exploitation of Perimeter.

I know I don’t have much credibility compared to professionals, but I do what I can, I’ll get
there eventually.

Anyway, thanks for reading, have a nice week-end n_n

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A functional definition of Beauty

I’ve been holding off posting for about two months because I either didn’t have time to post, or I didn’t feel my posts were solid enough.

Now that both those problems have been fixed, here’s my new post about beauty.

In my last post about open-mindedness I hinted at the importance of the comfort zone, and I’m going to talk about it in this post, amongst other things.

I’ve also promised a post on education, and a post on game design. Both are coming, and will be pretty nice as far as I know, but they’ll come later.

So, a functional definition of beauty, and how it relates to the audience’s comfort zone.

But let’s start with ugliness. Ugliness is a subjective characteristic attributed to some things by an observer, based on whether these things match or don’t match certain criteria: a thing is judged ugly by a certain standard or set of standards. What the criteria are isn’t important since they can change over time. What’s important is that we judge things by association. The fundamental idea of ugliness vs beauty exists for a reason, i.e. it is a heuristic used to assess whether something is good for us or not, based on what we already know. The things that look like good stuff we already know probably are things that are good for us. The same goes for ugliness: what looks like bothersome stuff probably is bothersome stuff. We treat ugliness like a problem that needs to be solved. A few solutions include keeping away from ugliness, keeping ugliness away, destroying ugliness or changing it into something else.

Now what about beauty. I think beauty can be achieved through three axes: clarity, positive evocation, and familiarity. Which all revolve around the same thing, i.e. the comfort zone. We accept beautiful things into our comfort zone, or more probably, we consider the things in our comfort zone to be beautiful. What isn’t in our comfort zone but looks like things in our comfort zone will be accepted in it more easily, and will therefore also be considered beautiful. Put more simply, “good for us”<=>”beautiful” and “unknown”<=>”cannot be accepted into the comfort zone” (One does not simply walk into the comfort zone).

Clarity or simplicity is an important aspect of beauty: if something isn’t familiar to us, but is a good thing and needs to be seen as such, the faster the people realize that thing is good for them, the smaller the chance they will run away from it. If something is excessively complicated and obscure, it will take longer to see beauty through all the irrelevant stuff. If something can be instantly recognized as good for us, we won’t run away. If it takes too long to identify something as “good”, the greater the chance of us mistaking it for either something “bad” or “background noise”. Basically, Clarity is the speed at which we can familiarize ourselves with something.

Positive Evocation is basically how things that aren’t in our comfort zone get accepted inside it by looking like stuff that is already in it. If a new thing reminds us of something good we already know, we’ll associate this new thing with the one we already know and accept it in our comfort zone. Basically, remind people of things they like (positive evocation) in a non-ambiguous way, and people will love what you do (note: I said we should do that. I didn’t say that there isn’t anything else to do. Because there is).

We learn how to appreciate things iteratively. We like A. We don’t know B but it looks like A. So we’ll accept B. Then there’s C, which looks like B. Since we have accepted B, we’ll also accept C. Do notice that we wouldn’t have accepted C if we had come across it without having come across B previously.

Example: why do heavily-stereotyped movies sell more than intricate works of art ? Well, because people are simple-minded (I said simple-minded, not stupid: kids are simple-minded, and whoever doesn’t get educated, stays a kid), and prefer watching things they already know they will like after watching the trailer. Note: There’s something else going on here, I’ll talk about rationalization and why critics find stereotyped things terrible in a later post.

Still: we gravitate towards beauty. We also gravitate towards familiar things. Well, because they are both the same for us: we can only like things that match our criteria of what beauty consists of. Except, we could ask ourselves, can “Beauty” change our current standards, maybe in a “love at first sight” way ? I wouldn’t say “change” as much as “rearranging our existing criteria regarding one another”. For example, we might not have considered combining trait A and trait B, but the result is really nice.

Example: why we should introduce art to people progressively. People have to be able to relate to the artworks. They have to understand what is beautiful about the artworks. If your audience isn’t used to certain things, they won’t be able to accept them as easily. The thing here is, there isn’t really a clear difference between “familiar” and “unfamiliar”. Everything is more or less familiar, has different traits, some of which resemble things we know, while others are new to us. Take music genres for example. Most people have at least listened to Rock at least a few times, and probably like it. Well, Metal is somewhat related to Rock, since the same instruments are used. But someone who listens to Rock doesn’t necessarily listen to or even like Metal, because, well, obviously it isn’t Rock. But if you listen to Punk Rock or Melodic Metalcore, you might have a hard time differentiating them in certain cases. That’s because they have common traits. As far as I know, to appreciate something new, you just need to see it as a further variation of something you already know and understand.

Example: why are people xenophobic ? Because we do not know what foreigners might do differently from us. “Foreign people -> maybe there are some unknown differences -> we can’t accept them for sure -> we need to keep away from them”. That’s the xenophobic line of thinking at least. The problem here is unfamiliarity and suspicion: we don’t want to take risks. We need to study the risks from far away (but not too far, we need to still be able to observe what they do). Keeping away but keeping an eye on something is called familiarization. Even in the first second of coming across something familiar but unexpected, our brain will freeze during the time it is analyzing this thing, before finally determining there’s nothing to worry about. We just want to keep away from ugliness :].

To conclude: Beauty is subjective, and people need keys to unlock the beauty in things they’re not familiar with yet. You could say that the comfort zone is like a key holder. And the different keys on it are the criteria from the standards used by people to assess the beauty of things.
The ability to look for beauty in everything is called open-mindedness. I’ve talked about that last time.
The speed at which the beauty of something can be unlocked is called clarity and simplicity. We find beauty faster in things that evoke things we already like.

So take away these three axes – Beauty is:
-Clarity
-Positive Evocation
-Familiarity

Well, everything went better than expected n___n
I wasn’t certain to manage to write this post without sounding too pedantic or vague.

Anyway, thanks for reading, have a nice day/evening :D.

See you next time n____n

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Open-mindedness 101

Hi everyone n_n

I initially wanted to post about education. But I have too much stuff to say on that topic for a short article. Another time maybe.

I’m on a pretty tight schedule at the moment, so this is yet another small off-topic article. Well, nothing is ever off-topic for designers.

Anyway, today I want to talk about Open-mindedness, because it is a basis for understanding beauty, and what we can present our audience with.

TL;DR:

  • Open-mindedness is a quality that makes you want to like the things that you don’t like.
  • Hating things is easy. Liking them is much harder, but much more rewarding. You have some life experience so you’re probably already aware of this n__n
  • It helps you evolve and expand your comfort zone, and enables you to enjoy everything you’re not familiar with.
  • Whatever the trolls say, the masses aren’t retarded. If you find that something other people like is bad , it’s not necessarily a problem with the quality, it’s probably more a question of open-mindedness and understanding what people enjoy and why it’s relevant to their needs.

Recently I realized most of the people I know have the same way of imposing their tastes as I had when I was 13. That is, if something wasn’t aesthetically nice for me, I would know why, and say how it could be improved to please me more. That’s what everybody does, right ? You like certain things, and if something isn’t within that range, you say you don’t really like it, don’t you ? Well, that’s one issue I want to address: Taste isn’t innate, it changes with time.

If you don’t like something, that doesn’t mean this thing can’t please you, it only means you’re not liking it. See the difference ? What happened to me is, a long time ago, I would listen to Soilwork’s first two albums (melodic death metal), hear the screaming vocals, and think “Why would anyone listen to that ?”, “Why would anyone even make that ?”.

I spent plenty of time listening to music on Youtube, and on every single song, one of the top comments would be “THIS IS AMAZING. IS THE BEST. THIS IS THE BEST SONG EVER.”. … Why ? I didn’t find the songs were that amazing, so why did these people find them so great ? One line of thinking that can be found a lot in trolling is: “I don’t like this. It’s terrible.  And everybody who likes this is obviously a moron”.

Long ago I thought the same: “The masses are retarded”. So one thing I could have thought would have been “These people find those songs amazing because they don’t have any taste. I have taste.” But the sheer amount of videos with these kind of comments made me think. “There’s got to be something to like in there, and I’m just not getting it.”

Paradigm shift indeed. Things stopped being ugly. Suddenly, it was me that just wasn’t able to like things. I wanted to understand what people found so amazing with all the things I found average. And finding out I did. Now I listen to Soilwork’s ChainHeart Machine album and think “This is some pretty awesome quality music”. Soilwork is even one of my favorite bands now (Sworn to a Great Divide is one of the best albums ever, trust me :D).

Taste evolves. The troll line of thinking of “I don’t like this therefore it’s terrible” is like the line of thinking saying that “skill is innate”. Heh, everybody here knows it isn’t. It’s not because you think something isn’t worth your time that it can’t be. It can be. If you try. The paradigm shift I was talking about earlier is the following: “It’s not the song that’s bad. It’s me, because I can’t appreciate it.”

Being able to like things is a quality. It’s called open-mindedness. Non-open-minded people are often convinced they are right, and think others don’t have anything to teach them. That’s why they troll the things they don’t like. They don’t want to recognize it’s them that are not making an effort. Open-mindedness is wanting to like things.

Like the people who know that skill is acquired, open-minded people know that you have to want to learn. You have to want to like the things you don’t. That is, expanding your comfort zone.

Next time I’ll try talking a bit about why the comfort zone is important to understand to be able to make art, and how it is linked to artistic risk.

And to anything subject to judgment really. Like video games.

Anyway, have a nice day/night and see you next time n_n

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