J O U R N A L / B L O G


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Game Development Update

 It has been three years since I finished a traditional painting-- what have I been doing then?

Many times I do have a strong desire to throw everything out and get back to oil and pigment and gesso and canvas. It would be celebrating a thing I built for myself and out of myself with the most consequential years of my life (by which I mean the investment of full-time focus for 3 years which would be extremely expensive to re-create). But other days I am actually quite happy with where my practices have taken me.

My first figurative sculpture, the "Alizarin Man", or rather, its face. The face of one of the playable characters in the game project (this is an in-game screenshot from Unity).

Of course, I have been working on a game development project for several years now. But really it has been a series of ideas, newly learned disciplines, re-thinking and refinements. What is encouraging is that the fundamental part of it-- digital sculpting-- is a practice that has not shifted or degraded over time. The sculptures I made in the first couple years of digital sculpting may well find their way into my current work eventually. Many of the things I've worked on will not, and that is the natural result of learning an entirely different medium and artistic context. Just describing game development as a medium comparable to painting is not really accurate at all. It is a whole different kind of circumstance in which and for which art is made.

This is a stitched screenshot of all my commits to my project in Github. Swear words warning. Game development is hard.

A few years ago, I discovered a method of coloring digital sculptures that suits my practice as a digital sculptor perfectly. Since then, I have been learning and discovering through countless trials how to solve other problems related to game development in ways that suit my practice as well: specifically, things like how to create landscapes of large scale in relationship to a character. There are so many technical challenges with the attempted translation of abstract expressionist painting into three dimensions and player agency with free movement being the mode of the final experience. Composition is completely different, and what you need to focus on and not focus on is extremely consequential to having any chance of completing something ambitious.

This is "Blue Voice", my second figurative sculpture for the project that will be a fully rigged humanoid character.

And unfortunately my project is ambitious. I have consoled myself in recent weeks by quickly setting up a roughed out version of what a more reasonable take on my current project would be. And by doing this, I confirmed that I could indeed do that instead, and get it done much sooner than I will finish my project the other way. But doing that would mean throwing out (or at least throwing out the intentionality behind the sculptures in terms of how the player is supposed to relate to them) a good deal of work. And I like building more than anything-- for me it is critical that my process be one of organically building something deeper and higher and with more intrigue as I go. 

I color my sculptures in Substance Painter with countless layers of 'cast light' that catch the details in the high detail version of the sculpture from different angles, and of course a little bit of direct digital painting of areas. Like all of my sculptures, my figures are completely asymmetrical.

So instead of flattening out a tumultuous landscape, I have instead committed to building a suitable barrier within it to create a reasonable final limit to my project. 

In my mind, a 'suitable barrier' is a string of sculptures that are interesting enough to be a destination-- so that the fact that they block you will not be (as) disappointing. 

A new sculpture with no color that is the beginning of the boundary wall I am sculpting. Another such un-colored sculpture can be seen in the model preview window.

I want to finish this current project either on my own, or in collaboration with my partner in order to feature her writing and music. Given that, a huge consideration has always been audio. That is another thing I have been doing-- I started off 2021 by learning how to create my own music via an intensive month long class. Specifically, Andrew Huang's music production course on Monthly. It went well for me, and the first thing I've spent money on in a long time is some audio gear and software.

Making my own music has been immensely satisfying and exciting. For the game project, of course I will aim to make some music, but more important perhaps for that is making ambient soundscapes and the sounds of various objects and interactions. Learning to make sounds like this has been a lot of fun. I bought a H5 Zoom and the shotgun mic capsule and have recorded Canadian geese, an elephant seal at Point Reyes National Seashore, and countless other sounds that present atmospheric possibilities for my game project.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Canyonlands National Park... and Roads

 'Ad Infinitum' jokes abounded between my partner and I on our (my first, her second) excursion to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. 

From Island in the Sky, you get a good sense of the repetitions of erosion that have incised the uplifted terrain stretching as far as you can see. It turns out that wandering through this difficult to parse landscape is just as you might imagine from above: confusing, and overwhelming. 

The bloated crumbling differently eroded surfaces all wash over you in a haze that makes it difficult to pick out particular places to remember. Being surrounded by boundaries that block the sky means you have little to orient yourself. On our second day, we hiked from Elephant Hill to the Joint, passing through Chesler Park on the way and heading a different way on the way back.

Chesler Park and the Joint stand clear in my memory, but the rest of the rises and falls through gaps and onto more views of an endless grid twisted into cacophony blend together differently than I had yet experienced on a hike. The layers of rock themselves were distinctive in shape and color but the endless parade of their manifestations are impossible to keep track of, as you clamber up and down the slickrock, through gaps, onto flats, into slots, over and under and through. It's a sandstone overload, and at any given moment you are more secluded, or perhaps simply more occluded from the rest of the world than on most kinds of walks.

Just as systems full of similar repetitions knit the fabric of our skin and teeth, so our lives fit neatly in the grooves carved by erosion, between deposited mounds that resisted it, and into a chain of cycles...

The Canyonlands are a strange place because there is no clear way to survive there other than by bringing in water with your car-- we saw no large mammals, no petroglyphs, and yet it is a landscape created largely by water. In that way it is like a ghost landscape, one that makes sense only with an awareness of vast and distant change. I believe there are a few springs in the area somewhere, but only a few if any.

Newspaper Rock is a site situated many miles from there which lies in a landscape more alive, where the water continues today, and clearly is not new-- where the rock was marked in passing and celebration with images of the forms that pass through, or that live nearby, in countless repetitions.

It is a strange privilege to explore a place like the Needles District on foot, having driven there across huge distances in a short time-- and a stranger privilege still to know that deeper access to places like this across America are the purview of only those who own a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle. I don't think any of those roads should be paved, but I also don't know that they should exist in the first place. 

This infrastructure is inherently inequitable. It is impossible not to notice when you are on foot and have hiked all day in 100 degrees: the disposition and casual entitlement of people driving in with jeeps and marking their names on the rocks, declaring both that they were in this place and are proud of it. Names are written for others to see. Those with access are proud of it. Most people who come here do not write their names, and often I am sure they do respect the place they are in as something greater than them. And of course, what they do when they write their names we have categorized as illegal graffiti in this kind of place, a national park.

Regardless of a name etched pathetically onto the rocks, we cannot be at home in this land. It is a shallow cross-section of the deep time on which we float, and it will consume all of our marks with complete indifference. That is not vindictiveness, that is grace. It is worth treating some surfaces as sacred. Do you feel you are your best person behind the wheel?

Roads are marks like names, declaring our sense of ownership of the land. Did the people here before us think they owned the land in the same way? The petroglyphs imply to my layman white eye that they thought the forms around them that allowed them to survive were more important than their names to record on the rocks. You can see a bit of this same spirit twisted in the marks left by white settlers: they marked their own technology as what was important in allowing them to survive: the wagon wheel. It makes perfect sense then, that the perpetuation of respect for technology and not food or life would result in our culture of roads and vehicles. Our culture and laws of ownership over animals, water, and the land that makes our life possible. You have to be able to at least get around and look at something in order to feel like you own it.

America wants to say: "Build yourself a wagon and you can do anything, and go anywhere, and own anything". But the lands are already divided up and controlled by the hundreds of millions of us that have spread across them. There is no more vast sense of freedom to steal from the people that were there before us. That was already taken. What is left is lots, acres, units, and parcels. Our consolation prize is the vast network of public roads available to us if we participate in the culture. At least there are more options. I think access in a national park being tied to the ownership of something wholly unnecessary for life is against the supposed purpose and spirit of the national parks. What am I going to suggest next, public transportation to the parks from the cities, as well? Anyways, the way it is done in Denali feels much better-- at least there, there is a bus that takes you down that dirt road and lets you get off at any point.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Colorado National Monument and Devil's Canyon

Here are photos from the first few weeks of being in Colorado National Monument, and from a hike nearby in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area to 'Devil's Canyon'.

The lizard is a Collared Lizard, which we had never seen before! The sunset shows the Book Cliffs, which always can be seen across the Grand Valley from Colorado National Monument, and when you are down in the valley.