Silly Costume website?
Bar Harbor
I have a vague memory of some friends linking to a site that mocked Hollywood's idea of "historical costuming" in significant detail. Can anyone give me a pointer? Because I just saw something I really have to share with them. The first segment of "Spirits of the Dead" (1968), based on a Poe short story, featured a lot of amazing costume work, much of which I can only describe as "Renaissance stripper". This site has some images, but they're missing several of my favorite outfits...

Bar Harbor
So yesterday, I finally finished playing the last bit of Bioshock Infinite DLC. The first time I've been able to play a Bioshock game with mostly fresh eyes in some years.

Not to get too spoil-y about it, but the story brought the "Bioshock saga" full circle in a way that I found quite unsatisfying. All the thematic development that was done in the full game was effectively UNdone by this DLC. IMAO, of course.

When someone leaves a game project before it completes, the standard industry practice is merely to list those people in the credits under "thanks". Irrational was at least a bit better. They put all such people (of whom there were *many* for this project) in a section at the end, with "Additional" next to their titles. So I'm credited as "Additional Design". That's the credit I had on System Shock 2, in 1998. Looks like I, too, have come full circle.

After the credits ended, and it brought me back to the main menu, I selected exit. "Are you sure you want to exit game?" Yes, I am. I've never been more sure. There are so many levels on which I am not playing that game ever again. That chapter of my life is OVER. There were lots of good times, but also way too many bad ones. Time to move on, and build something new.

Covert Design Diary 1
Bar Harbor
So, this game that I’m working on. Like all game projects, it's evolving rapidly, but the basic shape seems to have stabilized enough to be worth sharing. And if what we ship turns out completely different, then this will make an interesting historical document :-)

Current working title is COVERT. It is inspired by an old Sid Meier game called Covert Action ( Covert Action was a James Bond fantasy with a structure similar to another classic Sid Meier title, Pirates!; lots of minigames which all tie together into a world map and a core fantasy You travel the world, hunting down international criminals and thwarting their evil plots. I *loved* Covert Action, but it tanked in the market. Sid Meier (a clever guy) believes that the reason it tanked was because the different modes of play fought against each other (more details may be found in that Wikipedia article). That seemed plausible to me, but it also seemed like something that would be relatively simple to fix, by simply paring down one of the game's halves. Add a modern (non-RSI-inducing) interface, and you've got the core of a great design.

Of course, once I *start* making improvements, I can't stop, and we've already moved significantly away from that original idea. Instead of "paring down" the "action" aspect, we're removing it entirely. There will still be modular bits of interaction, but they'll all be (essentially) turn-based.

Perhaps more significantly, we're moving strongly away from the "James Bond" aspect. While we are still, at base, a story about exaggeratedly romantic international crime fighting, we're taking on some of the more problematic aspects of the "thriller" fantasy and making them part of the gameplay. You don't have to outgun the baddies, you have to gather enough legally admissible evidence to prosecute them. Well, you *can* have (turn-based) shootouts, or even use torture -- but there will be consequences both short and long-term. The more violent you are, the more violent the world you inhabit becomes. Enemies are more likely to use deadly force against you. And in between missions, your family life will eventually be stained by the darkness in your soul.

Paying off that last sentence is going to be *extremely* challenging, but I have some ideas I think will work. But before we can test them out, we have to finish building the core gameplay, which will take a while yet...

Depression update
Bar Harbor
So, my chronic depression is in remission. I'd like to claim to be cured, but I think it's a lot like alcoholism – I get through *today* without misery and self-loathing, and that's a victory. That's a big part of why I haven't posted much in the last while, and I feel like filling y'all in on what’s been going on.

I've been having increasing troubles for roughly the last two years. It peaked in January, as my father's death sunk in. And the ongoing physical health issues certainly aren't helping. But in hindsight, neither of those factors was at the root of my problem.

I have lots of people in my life who regularly reinforce the notion that, socially, I am a Cool Person. This is necessary to keep out of depression, but not sufficient. What I *didn't* have for most of the last two years, but have recently regained, is having people in my life who assure me that I am a Worthy Professional. (It turns out that friends who are not in the games industry are no good for this purpose, even if they are gamers, because I just don't trust their opinions in this matter.)

[Digression: It seems that depression (especially Imposter Syndrome) is endemic in the games industry. People at mainstream companies don't talk about it in public, for career reasons, but a lot of them suffer. And tons of indie game creators have "come out" about their issues. Hell, there are at least three games out there *about* the experience of depression.]

Irrational Games (my old company, who laid me off last September) was not the most sanely-run company. I don't want to dwell on the details too much, but for my last few years there, I was feeling increasingly unappreciated and unvalued. This led to what I now acknowledge to be depression, though I was largely in denial at the time. And, unsurprisingly, being depressed negatively impacted my productivity, which made me valued less, which made me more depressed...

This was made even worse in the final year, when there simply wasn't enough work to go around. I'd sit at my desk web-browsing for hours on end. I tried to start writing my own game project a few times, but I found that just don't have all the necessary mojo to do that on my own. When the layoffs came in September 2013, it wasn't much of a surprise.

In mid-February of 2014, Irrational Games shut down entirely, which had a number of interesting effects. For one, it made the stigma of having been laid off earlier sting a lot less. For another, it meant that suddenly there were tons of HR recruiters pinging me on LinkedIn, which lifted my mood a bit. But *most* importantly, it started a number of people deciding to start up new indie gaming companies in the Boston area.

One such 'group' contacted me. It turned out eventually that it was mostly one slightly crazy guy who was trying to put something together based on charisma and business contacts, rather than a concrete plan. But he *did* have at least that much going for him, I liked him personally, and I didn't have anything better to do, so what the hell. He asked me if I knew anyone else who might be interested, so I sent out a few feelers. Most didn't nibble, but...

Flashback to about five years ago. I'm working on a small sub-project with a single programmer, named Shane Mathews. We click really well together. We think similarly, but our skill sets only overlap a little, and we produce work we're really proud of when we work together. In reference to things that were going on a lot in the industry at the time, I said to Shane "If you ever decide to split off and form your own studio, I am *totally* in." But that never happened, though we worked together at Irrational on and off over the years.

Last September, just after I got laid off, I got a note from Shane expressing his regret, and mentioning that he had (unrelatedly) just served notice, as he was joining a small financial software company that had a lot of ex-Irrational people at it.

So in February, I contact Shane about this new group, and he apparently had been missing the creative life, *and* working with me specifically, so he came on board part-time, though keeping his day job.

By early March, it became clear that the 'group', as such, was disintegrating. But Shane, mirabile dictu, *really* wanted to work with me. I had tossed out a dozen or so game 'design sketches' as proposals for the group to discuss shortly before we fell apart, and Shane was excited about one of them, and thought that the two of us could probably pull it off by ourselves (with some contract Art down the line). So we're going for it! Shane's keeping his day job, putting in some time on nights and weekends (or while waiting for compiles at work :-) I'm living on credit, plus an annuity from my dad's estate, plus a small stipend from Shane, but I can do that for a year or two. With luck, within six to nine months we can get the project to a state where we can start getting some income via Kickstarter and Steam Early Access.

(I'll write more about the game itself in another post.)

As soon as I was fully committed to working on this project, and also believed that Shane was as well (which, given my depression, took a lot of repetition on his part), I started feeling *tons* better -- even though, from a financial, career-oriented perspective this is a pretty insanely risky move. But it's the only path I see that has a real (if, realistically, small) shot at giving me long-term sustainable Bliss. And that makes the risk seem totally worth it.

Silly Mythology
Bar Harbor
Anna Russel finally has some competition for "Best interpretation of The Ring Cycle". I'm not saying it's necessarily better, but it's at least in the same ballpark, if in a totally different style.

Better Myths is a wonderful web site (thanks to devoken for introducing it to me). The stuff I linked directly to was video, but the vast majority of the site is prose, and highly recommended.

I love working for myself
Bar Harbor
So, I read an article today about the ingrained sexism in the games industry. As I often do, I shared it on FB.

Then I realized that I didn't just have to stop there. I went into our game design wiki and added a page on Diversity. I didn't have to wait for Corporate or Marketing approval, I just *did* it.

*Wow*, that feels good!

Cutting back social media
Bar Harbor
Pursuant to the whole "all-in" thing, I'm cutting *way* back on Facebook and LJ. If you think I need to see something, tag me or contact me directly.

(re-)Crossing the Rubicon
Bar Harbor
After years of dissatisfaction in the corporate world, followed by months of depressed unemployment, I've decide to take the plunge. I'm going indie, all-in, succeed or bankrupt.

On the cusp of that decision, I went to my local comic-book store (Outer Limits) for the first time in several months. I saw there an omnibus collection of Stray Bullets prominently displayed. This was one of my favorite indie crime titles from the 90s, but no new material had seen print in the last 9 years. The creator, David Lapham, seemed to have been seduced by the corporate side of the force, and had produced no self-owned work in ages.

I start talking about it to Steve, and discover that this collection actually heralds *new* material. In fact, there's not one, but *two* brand-new issues on the shelves. And they're great; Lapham has slipped back into the form like he was never away at all.

It's an omen. Now is the time to do My Own Art.

Lovecraft is like Shakespeare
Bar Harbor
I said some of this in conversation recently, and thought the analogy worth expanding upon.

He produced a great deal of work in genres and formats that were widely considered to be lowbrow, disposable entertainment for the lower classes. Most of his work wasn't

collected during his lifetime. Shortly *after* his death, some of his literary disciples started getting his work collected and reprinted, marking the start of the genre and form being seen as (at least *capable* of being) "literature".

Some of his political attitudes are not in fashion today, which some readers can't get past. And he had stylistic quirks (including a fondness for long words) that are easily parodied (and arguably became self-parody in his own lesser works).

Of his prodigious output, about the top 5% consists of enduring classics, works that influenced *everything* that came after them in their "home" genres, and had considerable influence even outside those genres. The next, say, 10% of his output was also very good, though not quite *as* enduring as the first-rank material. After that, the work ranges from "good" down to "wretched".

Although only the cream of his work is widely influential, devout fanboys of his work (starting with his first reprinters) have been completists, including everything they could get their hands on, indiscriminately. This has inadvertently led to a dilution of his mass appeal. People often hear great things about his work, but are then exposed to (sometimes quite large) pieces of his work that is not at all impressive. This is, IMO, why so many people are willing to say, "I'm not a fan of his stuff", even if they generally like the genre he helped make respectable. I believe they *would* be fans of his if they read his best works, and avoided the vast sea of mediocrity around it.

[Of course, countless arguments could be made about *which*, exactly, the best works are. But if you compiled a list of many people's opinions, I don't think many people would put works in the top tier that anyone else thought weren't at least second-tier.]

I once had a conversation in which I drew a few comparisons between Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman. While there's still some validity there, when I look at the *whole* of the description above, the name Jack Kirby leaps out at me as the Shakespeare of superhero comics.

Russ and Harriet in the Peace Corps, Appendix: Slides
Bar Harbor
Appendix: Script for a slide show dad put together about Brazil. I have a few photos he took in Brazil (link), but the bulk of this slideshow is missing, as far as I know.

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