Friday, December 9, 2016

Guest Post: Undertale, Emotion, Pain & Love

Nicole Johnson, my sister from another mister, was also a contributor to an Undertale fanzine I solicited for last year. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control, the project folded, but the comic and personal essay to be included were too good to miss out on. So I've been granted permission to reprint them here and share them with you all, gentle readers.



UNDERTALE SPOILERS FOLLOW AFTER THIS LINE

Long story short, I am glad I decided to do this. I am fairly certain that I would -not- have wanted to play out the rest of the game. For one thing, there are some really hard-looking battles. And there’s so much more of it than I expected. Seriously, we were there watching for like 5 hours.
My feelings on Undertale overall now… are that it’s a magnificent work of art. But an experience I can’t really enjoy because the depth of my investment… kind of makes being challenged by what is maybe the most meta, psychological (in an emotional rather than analytical sense) game I’ve ever seen into a harrowing event. I am certain that several spots in the game’s remainder would have elicited similar reactions in me as the fight with Undyne.
There are things I -adore- all throughout the game. There is so much I love. Characters, moments, dialog, sprites, backgrounds, music. Relationships. It is all rich and bountiful and brilliant.
But I still find it ultimately too sad to feel “good” about. It’s great art, but it leaves me in pain. Some great art does that. I don’t regret getting into this game. But it is very sad. It touches me deeply, I relate to so many elements of it so intimately, it cuts right to the bone. And it is rich in sadness.
I wish more people would have emphasized that to me. What people emphasized to me at first was the wonderment of “the game where you don’t have to hurt anyone”. That… sounded so healing, and wonderful. I was in a vulnerable place emotionally, and it sounded like the RPG I’d been waiting for my whole life. The Gentle RPG. Undertale is not gentle.
The other thing people emphasized to me was that the ending was magnificently redeeming and heartwarming. And they were partially right, and partially wrong, about how they thought I’d find it.
The Ending (the True Peaceful Ending, the Full Mega Deluxe Genuine Microsoft Advantage version) was …..it was very wonderful in some ways. 
I was given so much that I wanted. 
I got the ONE THING I wanted the most from the very beginning. I got to stay with Goat Mom. 
Sheesh, that is all I wanted. 
I seriously tried to see if I could, er, ‘end’ the game at the beginning. I never disobeyed Toriel. Which made the beginning….. kinda long. Well, I never disobeyed her without first trying to comply. As you all know, some of those times you have to do otherwise just to advance. My point is, I didn’t -want- to. The second she showed me my bedroom and touched my hair, I was SOLD. I wanted that life. I wanted the game to end right there. I wanted a mother who loved me.
Despite the wonderfulness of the ending… I am left aching by the tragic underpinnings of the story. The six dead souls. The suffering of the monsters and the war. Asriel. And Asriel once more, for good measure. I am left wounded by the emotional tumult one endures directing one’s fate through this world. So much emotional tumult. That’s practically one of the things the game’s “about”. The difficulty, ambiguity, and struggle that goes with trying to be a good person and fix things and help people/monsters. And care about things. How painful it is to care.
And I guess that…. circuit of mine is ‘hot’. Anything that touches my insecurities concerning those things shorts me out and I go haywire.
I think I am able to appreciate all the things I love about the game (Temmie), but I … do not have the relationship to it of an unambiguous fan. I mean, I am a fan in the sense that I generally promote it and think it’s a great game and should be played. But it was a rough experience. And it… left me with some freshly opened old wounds. And when I tell people about the game, I will tell them: It is magnificent, but if you get emotionally invested in character-driven stories, it is going to cut you. Maybe only a little bit, maybe a lot. But it is not Gentle. Shit, the pacifist route makes Mario RPG look like a playful romp with friends, a diversion by comparison.
It is a game rich with joyous playfulness, humor, redemption, and tender love. But it is also rich with tragedy, and struggle, and pain. I feel this needs to be said more than it was said to me beforehand.
As Dana put it, “Seeing you embark on this game with a full heart, opening yourself to it, and then just getting destroyed by it, was really hard to watch.”
So now I know how it all ends. (and ends. And ends. And then ends for Real. And then for REALLY real.) 
I am not the child who finishes the game out. I never finished the game. I dropped out, and watched the path of another hero for the benefit of knowledge. As an observer. My path was cut short. I know how it all goes down, but…. it feels like an adventure I set out on that ultimately bested me. A Game Over. I am not the child whose destiny unites the worlds, I’m someone who didn’t make it to the end. At least not in the shape I arrived there in.
So now I’m free. I can move on. Hopefully remain able to cherish the things about Undertale that I loved, hopefully, without… stewing and despairing over the things that hurt me emotionally. I feel freed from the responsibility I felt I had to myself, to know the full story. But the story doesn’t feel like ‘mine’. The other options were to try to grind through it myself and probably fuck myself up emotionally, or to not play OR watch and slowly find out all about it from the people around me. I thought this seemed preferable. And I’m really, really glad I got to do it with @cascadiarch right there, holding my hand.

Nicole Johnson is a cartoonist, musician, and costumer whose fondest wish is to publish stories that help weird little kids like she was once. She is definitely not a child masquerading as a voting-age citizen. She lives in California with her bossy big sister, a very helpful seabird, and two stupid cats.

Disclosure: I am a supporter of Johnson's Patreon.

Retro Video: Classic DOS-era Art Step By Step

For your morning retro-game pleasure, I humbly present to you the following: A video from the wonderful channel "DOS Nostalgia"containing time-lapses of all of the background art from a Sierra On-Line classic "The Colonel's Bequest". Until the widespread adoption of VGA color modes in computer monitors, the designers at Sierra stored background art for their games in a special vector format.

One especially neat thing about this format (at least if you're a behind the scenes graphic design nerd like I am) is that the background screen art can be displayed and drawn in a sort of step by step fashion-- essentially letting you see just how it was imagined, laid out and created by the game's artists. All in all, it's a fascinating peek at the artistic process in an otherwise long-lost game format.

Please enjoy this gorgeous, dark, and detailed art set to the beautiful MT-32 music from the game below.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Helluva Composer: Behind The Music of DOOM and more

PC Gamer has a great interview (and over-view) of the work of Mick Gordon, who most recently won praise for the bone-crunchingly, demon-slayingly hard rocking soundtrack to the recent DOOM reboot. As they introduce him:
“Back when Bethesda and id Software were making announcements about the recently rebooted Doom... [it was announced that] Mick Gordon was onboard to compose the soundtrack  His work on Wolfenstein: The New Order and Killer Instinct is cherished among those games’ playerbases, and the intensity of both owe a lot to his anarchic (but still impressively subtle, when it needs to be) approach to getting visuals and music swinging to the same beat. Based in Australia, Gordon’s been around for a while. He’s worked on two Need For Speed games, as well as Shift 2 Unleashed and ShootMania Storm, to name a few examples. Currently he’s working with Arkane Studios on its Prey reboot, which—as he relates below—will mark a departure from his recent, foot-to-the-floor audio rampages.” 
I'm not kidding about the DOOM soundtrack being awesome. One of the few complaints about the handling of the game's release was "why wasn't the soundtrack released on day one with the game?"-- though that was eventually rectified with the release of an official soundtrack. Gordon himself released an in-depth look at his process behind the music in a two part video series on his official youtube channel, available below:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

[VIDEO] Holy Crap! Atari 2600 Emulator Runs In Minecraft

Description: Screenshot of aerial view of  a grass field in Minecraft
with grooves carved out to spell "Holy Crap!!!"
We interrupt your whatever you are doing to bring you this amazing video from user SethBling showing all of the work that went into getting the popular sandbox-construction Minecraft to run an Atari 2600 emulator INSIDE the game using nothing but the existing tools and blocks available in Minecraft itself. Seriously, like, he has a memory cache built out of blocks of dirt and stone.

Anyhow, the video below shows the emulator in action as well as goes into the fascinating technical explanations of how he worked to pull it off. It also doubles as a clear technical explanation of how early cartridge based systems and consoles worked.

Knit 1, Pwn 2: Learning Programming Via Knitting Games

Description: Illustration of a knitting work in progress of a heart
pattern using a knitting guide. Illustration courtesy Idea Studios.
Writing for Vice.com's Waypoint section, Nicole Carpenter muses on how knitting has connected her with two things very important to her: her grandmother, and computer programming. It's not as unlikely a connection as one might think, As she explains:

Knitting is an exercise of binary code: knit or purl. One or zero. Knitting patterns—and patterns for other yarn crafts—can be considered some of the first programming languages. 
"Computers ultimately started off partially inspired by weaving and the Jacquard loom," electrical engineering professor Karen Shoop of Queen Mary University in London told Mind/Shift in 2013. "Arguably, some of the earliest programmers were the people making paper punch hole patterns for weaving patterns."
While yarn and its aesthetics have been a part of video games over the years, present in titles like Yoshi's Woolly World or the more recent Unraveled, Carpenter explores designer April Grow's work  on two games that center on yarncrafting as actual game mechanics: Pattern and Threadsteading.

Both games use craft in its literal sense—the act of making something—as well as as a storytelling theme, in a more abstract way. They bridge the perceived gap between technology and craft, a perception that Shoop discusses, too: "I loved the fact that there is a perception—usually wrong—that there's a world of computer (soulless, technical, 'geeky') and a completely different domain such as knitting (traditional, 'female', craft)—yet there is a clear overlap." 
Pattern is knitting as binary made literal, using crochet as the craft of choice. Like knitting, crochet uses patterns. Grow's game intends to teach players to decipher a pattern's programming-like expressions; she wanted to highlight the math, systems, and equations she saw in crochet—the ones and the zeroes.
The entire article is an interesting exploration of the way knitting as a mechanic bridges the gap between technology, craft, code and personal memories. Read the whole article here.
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Monday, December 5, 2016

Bringing Arrival To The Big Screen: Screenwriter Speaks

Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life" stuck with screenwriter Eric Heiserer long after he put it down. Heiserer had written a number of successful horror screenplays, but said the the impact the story had on him made him want to pursue it as a movie. In a behind the scenes article for The Talkhouse, Heiserer talks about how he went from turning "The Story of Your Life" into the hit film Arrival. An excerpt:
I pleaded with the author to let me write the script on spec, which meant optioning the rights for an extended period of time. I pitched him my take, which felt akin to saying, “I’m borrowing your car. It may come back with some aftermarket stuff and a new paint job. Please, trust me.”
He did, and I spent the next year learning why science fiction is so difficult to get right. Here are some of the many lessons this script taught me.
 
1. Sometimes the plain truth is more interesting than the beautiful lie. 
At some point, you embrace what kind of story your movie is, and lean into it. If it’s a martial arts action bonanza, your character and story moments happen in the framework of fight sequences. If it’s a musical, your subtext plays in song. This movie was about process — the process of cracking a new language and teaching our own.
Heiserer goes into 4 more important writing lessons his work on Arrival taught him ,as well as the elaborate technical hacks he had to pull off with his screenwriting software to make the script happen and explain the films ideas.

Empowering Roles With Dice Rolls: D&D, Women & Feminism

Rat Queens fan art. Illustration courtesy of nebezial at nebezial.deviantart.com
The notion of women finding empowerment through media and entertainment isn’t new, but the way a new generation of women are finding it through D&D has been.

As Canadian author and movie critic Tina Hassannia started playing Dungeons & Dragons and was surprised to find it an extremely empowering experience. She wrote in a National Post article that “Nerd culture, of which I count myself a member, has long been dominated by men, but playing D&D left me feeling empowered in a way that watching BeyoncĂ© videos never has. Instead of looking up to a role model, the game prompted me to discover the badass warrior within.”

Jen Luneau, writing for The Mary Sue, talks about how being in an all-women D&D group has been fun and empowering for her because she gets to decide what it means for her: "Because we’re surrounded by other women, we’re OK. Because we’re taking a traditionally male-dominated thing and making it whatever the hell we want it to be, we’re OK. And because the six of us have created a safe environment where we can be ourselves, I can’t wait until our next meeting."

One great ongoing look at women exploring D&D and other tabletop systems is She's A Geek. The latest episode goes over The Witch Is Dead and regularly covers campaigns, post-mortems and all sorts of great gaming discussion. Check it out!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

December Patreon Thanks & How You Can Get Free Stuff!

Here's this month's Thank Yous:
  • Cargo, who had nothing to link to, but is a great dude! Thanks, Cargo. 
  • Daphny Drucilla Delight David! Her Patreon is here and her blog is on the blogroll! 
  • Fluffy! Check out their stuff at beesbuzz.biz
  • Hillary Gross
  • Gabriel Gentile

The Code is helped by the patrons I just thanked. In addition to geek ephemera and the esoterically nerdy, I use this blog to focus on marginalized voices and perspectives and advocates for more inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures.

I also create experimental electronic music and art prints & apparel under the name lowercase t and perform improvisational readings with the Overly Dramatic Readers.

I also help people! 

  • I co-host several charity fundraisers with The Munchausen Society every year
  • Advocate for strong anti-harassment policies and safe spaces at conventions
  • Organize public relations, media outreach, recorded an audio book & designed the website for a disabled dad's panel on disability for Bronycon; it was so successful he was invited back 2 more times!
  • And More!

I want to keep doing this work, and working with & helping people and also be compensated for my time and effort. My ultimate dream is to be able to offer a bi-monthly podcast along with a blog updated every day of the week. I know times are rough for a lot of people, so I've set this campaign to pay monthly-- no matter how much I do or produce, you'll only be charged the amount you chose once per month.

I have rewards for every single support level I offer, too!


$1 a month:
TIP JAR 

You'll get: 

  • My thanks & gratitude
  • Your name listed in a special "Thank You" post on The Code every month
  • Access to Patron-only posts and updates
  • One free Patron only exclusive download each month


$3 a month
CUP OF COFFEE


You'll get:

  • Your name listed in a special Thank You post on The Code
  • Access to Patron-only updates
  • Free Patron only exclusive download every month
  • Monthly link/plug to whatever you want-- your website, aproject, your YouTube channel-- you name it!


$5 a month
LUNCH TIME


You'll get:

  • All rewards for previous tiers (thank you post, Patron-only update access, free monthly Patron only download, free plug on The Code)
  • a free music download of a track of your choice from lowercase t every month!




$10 a month
SURPRISE MYSTERY CARE PACKAGE


You'll get:

  • All rewards for previous tiers 
  • A special Mystery Surprise Care Package made just for you mailed to you EVERY MONTH. It'll be a CARE package stuffed to the brim with fun stuff like novelties, toys, magazines, surprises and a hand-made postcard from my pal at Blue Boi Studios.



$20 a month
PIZZA TIME


 You'll get:

  • All previous tier rewards (including the Monthly Mystery Surprise Package)
  • Every month you can request a post on The Code on a topic of your choosing or get a free music track made just for you based on a title you make up!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Anime Fandom Needs A Wake-Up Call

Anime fandom in the US has come a long way since the early 1980s when you'd be hard-pressed to find much available commercially outside of episode of Voltron or re-runs of Speed Racer and Astro Boy. From the anime boom of the 1990s to the mainstream success of the anime genre leading to over 2 billion dollars in US sales over the past decade, anime has sparked a cornucopia of fan activity along with it. Fan art, fan fiction, fan conventions.

 Many anime fans have been keen to point the rich tapestry of expression and artistry that goes into anime they like, which makes it really peculiar that anime fandom as a whole is so resistant to critique. Other forms of artistic media and media fandom have long had strenuous elements of critque, but when writers and critics attempt to look at anime with the same tool-set that has been successfully applied to books, music, and film for decades, the nerd rage is palpable. Anime Feminist which bills itself as a hub for "reviews, interviews and discussion on anime and manga through a feminist lens, run by a team of writers from academia, the industry and grassroots fandom" was online for five days before it received its first death threat.

It's not like the articles on that site rehash tired old debates like "subs vs dubs" either. The writing published is quality work from fans that know their stuff-- both media and academic-wise. For example, the site has a great interview with manga artist Minami Sakai as well as an essay by Peter Fobian that examines the difference in treatment of Black Lagoon's Revy and Gurren Lagann's Yoko:
Where Revy’s presentation sells a complex and volatile character, the choice of camera angles, exaggerated postures, and repeated compromising scenarios makes Yoko come off as a source of inappropriate humor at best or a pure source of visual titillation directed at the male audience at worst. Revy’s background and her relationship with Rock are able to be respectfully explored because she is presented as a serious character. Conversely, Yoko’s later development is undermined by her presentation as something less than a character, an ornament not to be taken seriously.
Anime Feminist's co-founder, Amanda Cook, gave an interview on Kotaku that touched on why she feels this matters, and how a stubborn refusal to examine anime can lead to shrinking of an art form AND its audience:
There are many, many women, queer people, non-binary people, people of color who can tell you quite clearly why it matters to them personally, and I think everyone should listen to their stories. If empathy isn’t enough to convince you, more objective reasons why sexualized or infantilized representation of women is a problem include the fact that it’s poor storytelling... [it's] common in anime and we accept it as the price of admission. Not everyone will care about storytelling quality in anime, or any media they consume, but high profile critics do, and most won’t waste their time reviewing—in other words, promoting—anything that they don’t expect to meet their basic standards for quality... I have a lot of friends who used to watch anime but don’t anymore, partly because, like me, it became too hard to seek out anime that treated women well. There are also lots of people who are enthusiastic about other geek properties but won’t touch anime because of its reputation of infantilizing women and sexualizing children. It makes it hard to recommend anime to people who aren’t already fans
This pervasive background radiation of out of place fan service and explosion of jacked-up sexualization has some collateral damage, too: other anime fans, especially cosplayers. In the article "How ‘Locker Room Talk’ And Casual Misogyny Are Making Conventions Intolerable For Cosplayers" Alyssa Fiske details how these attitudes can make conventions into an uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous experience. 
Done well, cosplay can be one of the most joyous expressions of fandom, and a huge part of fandom is feeling like something special belongs to you, that a specific part of pop culture spoke to you so deeply that you wanted to wrap yourself up in it, mentally and physically. It’s a harmless bit of escapism, one that can inspire creative, emotional, and physical expression that many can take part in and enjoy. But it’s not without that dark side that Krose experienced at Dragon-Con, one that prompts those in the vicinity of cosplayers to gain a boldness that can make those in costume uncomfortable or unsafe. Oftentimes people forget that there is a human being beneath the costume, leading to inappropriate situations that add an unfortunate, even frightening, element to the convention experience.
In 2014, Bitch Media did a study on the percentages of people in the industry who had experienced verbal and physical harassment, and the numbers were staggering: 59% said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in comics, and 25% said they had been sexually harassed in the industry. As far as convention attendees themselves, 13% reported verbal harassment, while 8% had been physically assaulted, groped, or raped. In a society that still blames women for their own assaults or denies that they even happen, there is no guarantee that your distress will even be acknowledged. While it is great that the community takes care of its own, there are still steps that could be taken to ensure harassment numbers go down.
The US industry of anime and manga does some amazing things; it's possible to get official same-day release of subtitled episodes, digital releases of manga alongside print counterparts, more use of the visual novel style of games. But anime fandom's general insistence that its direction or demands or troubling attitudes and culture are sacrosanct-- especially when so much of it can be troubling and anti-women makes me sad. It also makes it super difficult for anime to reach a wider audience, because uncritical attitudes mean that anyone who just wants to dip their toe into the anime pool doesn't have good enough guidance to help them wade through a river of crap.

Monday, November 21, 2016

New Multimedia Short Story: Afrofuturist 419

Award-winning Author Nnedi Okafor and science fiction magazine Clarkesworld have teamed up to bring you "Afrofuturist 419". It's a story told in email forwards, a news report and a wonderfully voice-acted series of audio logs.

Afrofuturist refers to the Afrofuture movement that combined Afrocentrism, science fiction, magical realism, surrealism, black history and more into an artistic movement across sculpture, fiction, photography and music. The number "419" comes from Nigerian criminal law and refers to the number of an anti-fraud statute dealing with the advance fee scam emails that everyone with an email account EVER has gotten, and it is a similar email that starts off the story:
I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crewmembers returned to Earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.
As it turns out, all of these themes are specifically addressed in the story by the main character in audio logs. As for how it develops, well... you should really experience the whole thing for yourself.

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