Kinetic Text

From viewing other work in class, I liked the idea of  using background images to keep the composition cohesive as the text changed.  I wanted to recreate the colors and textures that I was seeing when I wrote this poem. I struggled to fill four minutes before the deadline.  I started by breaking up my source text into stanzas and worked only with the first stanza.  I have been thinking recently about the differences between still and moving images.  Gotthold Lessing says about the difference between painting and poetry that “signs existing in space can express only objects whose wholes or parts coexist, while signs that follow one another can express only objects whose wholes or parts are consecutive”.  This made me think about how reading a sentence is different from looking at an image.  I realized that language is a time-based art form, just like video.  (And if we are talking about video as a medium for expression of ideas, then obviously language is also a medium). I was introduced to the idea of “radical digital painting” by a friend recently, through this webpage: https://schloss-post.com/manifesto-radical-digital-painting/.  This made me think about the work we are doing as paintings that can be run.  I think these works have a lot to say about objects existing in space and time.  A section of Scudder’s Ten Minute Painting states that “repetition is the only thing that makes something less random than it already is”.  I see a connection between this quote and the way I have been using patterns in my work. This project tested my patience and taught me much about when things go wrong.  I was working in a version of Aftereffects which didn’t support the H.264 format, so I tried using Media Encoder.  I knew I was in trouble when the software ran for only a moment and then announced that the encoding was finished.  My first attempts strangely exported as files which were 0 seconds long, showing only the last frame of the comp.  I tried opening the autosave file and exporting from there, but the same thing happened.  I tried a different computer in the lab – perhaps it was the software.  But no – the green checkmark on the screen taunted me.  I went to composition>pre-render and selected Quicktime .mov in the output module dropdown option, hoping that maybe I’d found a loophole.  This time, an error message told me that “current work area settings will cause the replaced item to be out of sync with the original.”  Online messaging boards gave me no hints as to a solution.  Then, I looked at the project panel and discovered my in point was set to 00:59:29.  A right-click on the comp prompted me to “make a new comp from selection”.  Success!!  I have only my rage and my compound stress headache to thank for pushing me forward to fight through this nightmare.  I will offer a sacrifice to the Aftereffects Goddess tonight.

Kinetic Text

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For the kinetic text prompt, I decided to animate a poem that I wrote last year, called “free.” Originally, I was going to put this text to my own music since combining my different art forms has always been part of my interest in this class. When I starting sketching out my ideas though, it became apparent to me that a song whose tone fit the piece much better than my own music (maybe because my music is electronic, but jazz is always at my core) is the jazz tune, “Black Narcissus” by Joe Henderson. Since the version I wanted to use is five minutes long, I started out by mapping approximate placement of frames, how long each one would last, and how many there would be, in order to make sure that the text could fill five minutes. It seemed like it would, as long as the text’s pace was relaxed. I wanted a minimalist aesthetic for this project, so it seemed to fit.

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Once I started building the project, I realized how surprisingly long it takes to animate what feels like a short piece of text. This poem is 70 words, which is one of my shortest poems. Once I was in After Effects, it became apparent that 70 words is a lot to keep track of — especially timing-wise, when trying to coordinate animating them in and out. I had gone into it thinking that maybe some words could be in the same text box or layer, but since my vision involved making each word stand on its own, with its own personality and timeline, I realized they each had to be edited in their own layer and every word had to be given more consideration than I had recognized when I began this process. To deal with this, I split my workflow into steps. I made a background layer, and then made a layer for each of the 70 words. Once I imported the music track, I spent a long time listening and relistening to the track and marking where each word would enter and exit, and taking notes on what kind of transition would bring the word in (a fade? an abrupt entry? a dissolve?). It was tricky figuring out how to pace the words so that they suit the flow of the music, but could also still fill out the length of the song, not leaving music or words over at the end. I wanted the words to speak to the music, and since timing is crucial in jazz, the timing of each word’s entry with a cymbal hit or saxophone note was important to me. I based conceptual ideas of timing and flow around what the instrumentalists in the song are doing.

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Once all of my word layers were in their proper time places, I moved on to the next step in my workflow which was to position them all on the screen, in relationship to each other, as well as in relationship to their timing in the overall context of the piece. This piece has a lot of open space which left a lot of room for play. I went through and arranged the words in different configurations, trying to figure out how to place them on the screen in a way that accented the tone. This piece isn’t supposed to look tidy or advertisement-like, so I tried to find a way to place the words randomly, while also still keeping it clean and have it legibly make sense. Once they all had their places in time, I went in and made all the transitions. Most of them are opacity fade-ins/fade-outs that I hand-animated because it felt like the best way to get everything to line up with free-flowing nature of the music. On certain hits, where the instrumentalists all hit a note together, I found it interesting to not use a transition to bring words on, but to abruptly bring the words onto the screen, so that they “snap,” into existence in imitation of the cymbal hits, and then “snap” away in time with the hits as well. I tried to make these kinds of juxtapositions between slow fade-ons and hard snaps, to keep the viewer engaged and feeling the right vibe.

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Once the basic transitions were done, I interspersed a few interesting textural ones where I thought there needed to be a change or motion to keep the piece fresh. I was determined to keep the piece minimal, so I tried to avoid drastic effects, but went more with ones that added a subtle flow or motion change that enhanced the relationship with the music. One in particular, the “Raining Characters Out” effect seemed like it might be too grandiose, but then I ended up liking it and feeling that it really suited what the sax did at that point in the song. I incorporated more of these presets as the song went on, trying to subtly build new visual ideas and reflect what was happening in the story of the text and the music of the song.

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After all of the words had been positioned where they would come in and out, I moved back to thinking about overall composition and what elements I still needed to add. In my original sketches, I had a shift in the tone in the middle of the piece, where the sax solo comes in and the person in the text story is gathering their possessions to leave the place they are. At that point, I had a word scale up, to play with how the viewer was perceiving the space. I also changed some transitions so that the words move into their places via motion paths. I found that a change in the type of motion was effective in breaking up the sameness and keeping the eye engaged, while still remaining authentic to the tone. At this stage in the project I considered other words to scale and other types of motion to bring in to continue building up the engaging details.

In the time that I had to finish this, I was unable to clean up the project and add the other engaging details like more motion and color changes. For me, underestimating the time it would take to complete was the biggest issue with this project. I thought a minimalist poem would not take as long as other work I have done in After Effects (the last prompt was much more maximalist), and I just did not have enough time to stop and edit again or to add the final touches. Other than that, I had few issues, and found it to be fairly easy to come up with and animate my ideas. I plan on editing this piece and trying to incorporate some of my ideas about color, scale, and motion, as well as change the font in a few places and add a trim pat. I hope to experiment a little with how to make a minimalist piece more interesting, hopefully without changing the tone too much.

Kinetic Text

flashlights I’ve written poetry since second grade, it is the art form that comes most naturally and the one that I am most well versed in. However, attempting to convert a spoken word poem into visuals was the most challenging project I’ve had all semester. In some of the kinetic text videos we watched in class, I noticed that if I missed what some of the words said, it wasn’t a huge deal. It seemed like how the font moved and changed was equally important as what the word said. However, the poem I choose is a narrative piece. I had to figure out how to ensure that the continuity of the piece came through visually. Originally I tried to have lines that go together on the screen at one time, but after watching videos on google drive, I noticed that pieces with a lot of text on screen at once did not keep my attention. I felt pressured to read the text quickly, so I then realized I needed to give each phrase more time for the audience to absorb it. I cut out some parts of the poem but was limited in how much I could cut without losing the entire point and message of my poem. Even though I was careful with what text I cut out, a new piece ultimately emerged. In the original poem, the first few stanzas all begin with the line ‘I love’ and they describe various parts of my body. It means that the moods of the poem are a bit more balanced. The animation, however, comes across as much darker and depressing than my original poem. Eventually, I think I want to make a much longer video that contains my poem in its entirety so that the sense of coming to a place of acceptance with my body and my eyes comes through in the animation and the poem.IMG_9189 A constant theme throughout my process was struggling with how to turn a spoken word piece into a visual piece. At first, I wanted to re-create the poem I performed at the poetry slam. I planned on using the recording of my performance instead of music. However, since I drew out lines such as ‘I’ve surrendered’ in the animation, but not in the performance, the timing did not work out. I re-recorded my performance trying to speak the words in sync with the animation, but I didn’t like the sound. The song that I chose was a last minute decision. The song is utterly depressing. I like this at the beginning because it hints to the audience that even though the poem is not yet sad, it soon will be. However, I don’t see this poem as merely sad. It’s a complex piece that touches on various topics and feelings, so I think I need to find a song that better represents that. This change in plans ultimately impacted how I made the animation. If I had planned to use music the whole time, then I think I would have drawn out more lines in the piece rather than worrying about syncing the animation with my recording. Also, I could have sync transitions with the music. Ultimately, I realized that my spoken word piece had to exist as a separate piece of art from the animation of the poem. I couldn’t merely re-create art I had previously made. I had to think of this assignment less as turning a spoken word performance into an animation and more as merely animating text.A constant theme throughout my process was struggling with how to turn a spoken word piece into a visual piece. At first I wanted to re-create the poem I performed at the poetry slam. I planned on using the recording of my performance instead of music. However, since I drew out lines such as ‘I’ve surrendered’ in the animation, but not in the performance, the timing did not work out. I re-recorded my performance trying to speak the words in sync with the animation, but I didn’t like the sound. The song that I chose was a last minute decision. The song is utterly depressing. I like this at the beginning because it hints to the audience that even though the poem is not yet sad, it soon will be. However, I don’t see this poem as merely sad. It’s a complex piece that touches on various topics and feelings, so I think I need to find a song that better represents that. This change in plans ultimately impacted how I made the animation. If I had planned to use music the whole time, then I think I would have drawn out more lines in the piece rather than worrying about syncing the animation with my recording. Also, I could have sync transitions with the music. Ultimately, I realized that my spoken word piece had to exist as a separate piece of art from the animation of the poem. I couldn’t merely re-create art I had previously made. I had to think of this assignment less as turning a spoken word performance into an animation and more as merely animating text. IMG_9190 In addition to struggling with how go about making this piece in a bigger picture sense, I also struggled with the technical bits. I became really overwhelmed with text. Since I’m largely not a page poet, I don’t worry much about text, because usually my ultimate goal is to perform it out loud. Therefore, I type my poems in a default Word font. However, when deciding to animate a poem that’s really important to me, I wanted the font to reflect exactly what the poem meant to me. I tried so many different fonts. At one point I tried using a different font for each line, but it felt too chaotic. I settled on using one main font and then emphasizing particular parts of the poem with different fonts. drive I also was overwhelmed by the variety of text effects. I felt like if I used an effect on a sad line I couldn’t use the same effect on a happier line. I always tell myself I’ll stick to a few effects, but I never follow through because I become so interested in what each effect can create. I felt like I needed an effect or shape that I could use to mark the end of each stanza. I was worried that the audience would lose track of what I was saying and what lines went together. However, I later realized that if the piece was engaging enough, then people will remember the previous lines. I largely used transition effects to animate the text on and off screen, but I did use various other effects to go along with the content of the piece, such as the movement of the word ‘basketball’ and the glow and flashing-like effect on the word ‘flashlight’. hate In addition to text effects, I used changes in the background as a transition between the different moods of the piece. I used the white background with a noise effect to give the feeling of a hospital. I used the yellow at the beginning to signify joy and blue later on when the mood of the piece shifts. I was worried that my color choices were a bit too obvious. Red is such a cliché color for love and anger, yellow for happiness, and blue for sadness, but I think when paired with text that’s more ambiguous, it works, at least I hope so. Color might also be something that I go back and edit when perfecting this piece.

Kinetic Text

Kinetic Text moyna_prompt2_1 This project combined text and fonts. While I struggled with creating a visual storyline, I do feel like I was able to play around with fonts and sizing. The text is a poem called “The Wine Dog uh Drools Over Froot Loops”, which I wrote my sophomore year in a class with Matthea Harvey. The poem is from a series of similar poems, with the “wine dog” as a central character. This poem has childhood references as well as a prevailing theme of speech disfluencies. Matthea’s class was called Checkpoint Fact/Lyric. A lot of our pieces had to be an extension of a fact. That’s why there are a lot of facts in the poem. This poem was central to connecting my speech disfluencies and loving my “ex-step mom’s” dog. The dog’s name is Vino. moyna_prompt2_2 I struggled with producing 4 minutes of movement—harmonious and opposing. I feel like in After Effects it’s easy to start using a bunch of effects rather than making your own content. I also struggled with rhythm and felt like I used the same text format throughout the piece. I also struggled to include a 3D effect—my laptop kept crashing After Effects and it wouldn’t load onto my screen.  moyna_prompt2_3 In the project itself, I had a lot of fun with fonts, color, and movement. First and foremost, the colors and solid layers had to be bright. I’m writing about two bright things: Vino the dog and our mutual love for Froot Loops. At first, I tried to implement a green and peach color palette within the Froot Loop text. I also tried to emphasize the speech disfluencies like um, uh, and like with a pink text and using the Engravers font. Furthermore, I learned some new effects like adding a wiggle and scaling just a part of the word. moyna_prompt2_4 I came out of this project with a few favorite fonts. While there are some really wacky ones out there, Arial Narrow Bold and Futura turned out to be my go-to’s. These fonts worked well with stroke and fill, whereas the wacky fonts were harder to work with stroke and fill.    I also wish there was a way to copy and paste more than a few words into a text box. It was nice that I could use different text boxes to create different animations on each word. However, it was harder when I had entire sentences where I felt the whole sentence needed an effect. It was tough fitting the stanza inside a text box so I had to split up each line into a different text box. moyna_prompt2_5 If I had had more time I would have tried really hard to pursue a visual storyline with this piece. I’m disappointed that I could not find a way to do that. I also want to stop using effects as a primary visual effect. The video also took an incredibly long time to render in ray-traced where it would just stop in the middle and not continue rendering. I changed the render setting back to Classic 3D. I left it rendering all night on ray-traced and it still did not completely render. However, once I set it back to Classic 3D it was able to do so.

Kinetic Text

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For this project it was preferred that we use text that we had written ourselves. The text we used could be as long or as short we liked.  When I began brainstorming for this project, I was not sure of what kind of text to use at first. I did not want to limit myself to just one word but I also did not want to end up having to fit in a whole page of text. I am not much of a song writer or poet so that was out of the question. I do however, like creating small dialogues between characters from time to time so I decided to start from there.

  Initially, I was going to have simply shaped characters on the screen along with the text, but I scrapped the idea out of fear they might take too much attention away from the text. Since I could not have my characters I had to think of other graphics to go with my text. I started to think of phones and the small phrases commonly used over them. I then began to brainstorm several phrases I could build scenarios on. I also began designing phone graphics to put alongside the text so I could have more to work with. My idea was not very specific when it came to the overall structure of the project. All I started out knowing is that I wanted it to start out slow with a few phone sound effects and then build to a loud climax.

  Most of the graphics were based off the different types of phones I’ve had. I was very young when I got my first phone. So young in fact that my first phone was a flip phone. Then the next one was a phone that had the back slide out to reveal a keyboard. After that my next phone was the first of the standard smartphones we use today. I made a graphic representing each of these along with a graphic for the most symbolic a all phones the rotary telephone.

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I had specific ideas on how I wanted each phone to move in the project and I kept those ideas in mind when making the final graphics in illustrator. I wanted my flip phone graphic to flip open. I created two frames: one was closed the other was open. I put a click sound between the two frames in order to imply movement. For the the phone with a keyboard I designed two halves. One was the top with the screen. The the other was the bottom with the keyboard. I put the bottom half behind the top half. Then I  keyframed the top half sliding up enough to reveal the keyboard on the bottom half.

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While designing the smart phone my intention was to make several different screens and have them slide onto the phone frame I created. Then a call screen would come up and I would keyframe it in After Effects to imply the person hit the decline button. However, all the screens aside from the call screen seemed to be a bit much so I decided to scrap them. I also gave the  smartphone a gradient color screen to set it further apart from the older models.. The other phones’ screens just went from black to blue to suggest there was a call. Finally, There was the telephone graphics I based off of rotary telephones. Despite the fact that you don’t see them around their likeness is still used as a symbol for calls. Whenever I get called on my smartphone it’s always two rotary phone handle symbols that pop up on the screen. This is reflected in my smartphone design for the call screen. I had two phone designs for rotary phones. The first was the classic rotary dial phone. I wanted to use it towards the end of the video to transition from the loud noise of the climax to the calm end. I split it into two parts: one for the base and one for the phone handle. I wanted the handle to come down to the base as the climax starts to settle down. The second graphic I designed was a rotary phone handle hanging from the cord. I wanted it to drop down during the climax along with a few other items.

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Once I finished my phone graphics I had decided on what kind of music or sound I was going to use. I already knew I wanted to use various sound effects, especially for the climax. I thought about using music as well but decided not to because I did not want it to take away from the sound effects. I also decided against voiceover for the same reason.  Since my ideas on how to go about structuring the video were still fairly vague, I just picked out as many sound effects as could (but ended up looking for more later on anyway).

  Along with small sounds that build up to louder climax I also wanted each of the cell phone models to have a small segment of the video to themselves. I decided to jump right into video making and working things out as I went along.  The first segment went to the flip phone. I just used two pieces of simple text (“Hello” and “Oh hi!”) and from there I thought that I would have each phone have its own independent segment of a random phone scenario. However, as I continued I began to build a single narrative. This narrative being that someone is deliberately ignoring someone else. The next segment was with the keyboard phone being filled with text messages and then having “I’m Busy” typed out as a response. The smartphone segment had the call screen come up and the red phone decline button was pressed. Then it transitioned to a voicemail being typed out.

  Even after those segments I still had a decent portion of the video to fill before the climax. I decided to take elements from the previous segments and combine them in different ways to build up to the climax. When I finally got to my climax I ended up using less elements than expected. I mainly just implemented the rotary phone graphics and voicemail text.

  Despite the constant trial and error I still managed to keep to my original ideas. I had to adjust many of the audio levels so the climax would not be unbearable to hear. I also think that in some cases the phone graphics might overshadow the text but they both serve their purpose well overall.  

Kinetic Text

Davi Has Problems As I was searching for the words to include in my kinetic text project, I scrolled through the many notes saved to my computer. I wanted the text to read in the style of a diary entry. As my notes have always been very sporadic and personal, I felt that I would be able to find a suitable collection of text within that selection. A note I’d made in regards to the many problems my dog Davi has, with the goal of reading it off at the vet, stuck out as a nice contrast between the comedic element I was hoping to convey and the personal anecdote. Throughout my piece of kinetic text, I list off the various issues I had discussed with Davi’s vet, as well as other identifying factors I tell people when discussing Davi’s personal narrative. He Cries For the design of this project I was very interested in creating an aesthetic that would be attractive and engaging, something that could be appreciated on it’s own, if one weren’t paying attention to the text. For the look of the piece and the aesthetic of the text, I was inspired by the title sequence that appeared at the start of HBO’s Girls. I chose my usual color scheme of pale pinks and pastels. I felt it complemented the playful nature of the next while satisfying my need to create something visually appealing. It was very hard for me to decide whether or not to create the whole piece in different shades of pink or to work along the color spectrum. I frequently rely on shades of pink as a color palette, as I find it to be so aesthetically pleasing and have grown to see it at as a constant in my work. Davi_1Movement I struggled with motion. I was very certain of the text I would use and the aesthetic I wanted to achieve, but I found my engagement with motion was less inspired than the rest of the content of the piece. I would’ve liked to have created more intriguing motion, motion that could be appreciated outside of the text. Davi_2 Choosing fonts for this piece was very difficult. It would have been very beneficial to do some research ahead of time, gathering a list of fonts I found to be aesthetically pleasing and unified. Instead, I scrolled through the option of fonts in After Effects upon the addition of each section of text. I found it difficult to choose fonts that were complimentary but not too similar. I find it can be distracting to have two fonts, one after the other, so similar they become almost indistinguishable. I was eager to utilize simple and modern fonts that would be both complimentary to one another, while remaining distinguishable. I am not sure I succeeded, but I found I am a big fan of Pt Sans Narrow.   Transition   As always, I had some trouble with maintaining momentum throughout the whole piece. I found the first minute to be very instinctual, while the last three minutes were somewhat difficult to maneuver. When dealing with something as delicate and simple as text, it can be daunting to try and create an engaging piece without being overly repetitive. I had to remember that some elements of repetition can be appreciated when they are conscious decisions that aim to encourage a sense of design. I had trouble with restricting my use of preset text effects. As tempting as they were, I found that they were easy to fall reliant on. This led me to experiment with font, size, placement and movement to create my own sort of effects. I found it was difficult to distinguish when the text had enough going for it and when it could benefit from a few more elements to make it more engaging. Cutting to music is always tricky. I find great satisfaction in rhythmic editing, but I can become easily distracted when cutting to the tune of a song and I tend to start cutting to different beats and tempos rather than keeping with one rhythm. I found that working with the 3-second rule encouraged a more uniform rhthym. This was a very helpful discovery that I will be sure to utilize in future projects. Going about rhythmic editing it in a mathematical way can save time and can ensure a more cohesive rhythm. Overall, I had a wonderful experience creating this piece.  Though it was strenuous at times, I feel this studio prompt really tested my hand at After Effects, while challenging my ability to engage with text in video, resulting in a stronger understanding of both skills. Although there are some elements of the piece that I feel could be improved upon, such as my use of color and my implementation of motion and change, I am very happy with what I came up with.Ow  

Kinetic Text

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 8.05.18 PM For my kinetic text assignment, I decided to animate motion-related words to follow the motions they describe. First, I will describe my animation and the process used to create it. Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 8.05.56 PM The animation opens with the word “reveal” horizontally sliding to the left to reveal itself from behind a mask layer. “Reveal” fades away and two instances of the word parallel slide across the screen in a parallel but opposite motion. The word “split” appears, and, using the “cc split” effect, it splits in two. Each piece of the word stretches until it is off screen, and a spinning, three-dimensional “spin” rotates as the background shifts from a solid red to an orange and black gradient ramp. This spinning effect was created by keyframing the Y-rotation on the 3D text. Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 8.04.15 PM “Spin” fades away, and the word “zoom” appears on screen, growing increasingly large. I created this zoom effect by simply keyframing the scale of the text layer. Once “zoom” has zoomed so far that the text is no longer legible, the word “scatter” appears. Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 8.04.48 PM I keyframed the position of each separate letter to move off the edges of the screen. This creates the effect of the word disassembling into scattered letters. Then, the word “underline” appears from behind a mask layer, and a line grows, underlining the word. I animated the growth of this line using a key framed trim path. “Underline” disappears and the background turns black. The word “disintegrate” enters the screen using the “raining characters in preset”. Then, using a combination of linear wipe and several layers of particle animation, the word disintegrates into dust. Then, the word “repetition” repeatedly types itself across the screen. Once “repetition” disappears, “slice” appears. Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 8.05.41 PM The “slice” text consists of two layers, each with a mask either obscuring the bottom or top portion of the word. The layer with the bottom of the word visible slides off screen. The background shifts to a gradient ramp of a light blue to dark blue. Finally, the word “reflection” appears on screen, and its reflection slowly appears beneath it. To create the reflection, I duplicated the text layer and applied the cc composite and linear wipe effects. For me, this project was an exercise in animating the transformation of text. The words I chose describe themselves, each serving as an example of the effect being demonstrated. I feel that I’ve been very successful in achieving what I set out to with this project. The only area of this project which I feel I could have better executed is its length. I struggled to create an animation as long as the 4 minutes required by the prompt.

Kinetic Text

Frame from work.

Frame from work.

For my kinetic text piece, I animated a short narrative about how I put a word to my gay and trans identity, focusing on my young crush on Freddie Mercury.

 

For this piece my main focus was simply the text.  Because in previous years I have only used visual forms to represent concepts, the use of text as graphics was new and foreign to me, especially since all my life it has been drilled into me that the only use of text and letters was for extremely rigid writing.  IMG-5037

IMG-5038 Because of the exact nature of the project, I found that using primarily text was liberating.  I focused on aesthetics, how the letters looked and felt with different fonts, and also keeping everything cohesive.  Because of the subject matter, I wanted to allude to two time periods: my youth in 2011 and the glam rock era of the late 70s.  Because I wanted to focus solely on the text, I kept my visuals at a minimum.  In fact I only used two effects: fractal and noise HLS on the wild layers, used glowing trim paths, and only changed the colors on the soil layer every 30 seconds to a minuet.  In fact I relied on visual repetition for the trim paths and just remixed the same key frames manually.  My only other visual component was live footage from a Queen concert, which I put put a mirror effect on so it would only “open” when Freddie Mercury was on screen.

 

The text itself is a mix of 3D and 2D animated text.  While I would have loved to render all my text layers in 3D, in truth I was scared that the file would take too long to render and that my computer would overheat, leading me to 3D animate any text sparingly.  However I know with the right equipment, 3D rendering all the text would have been possible, and would have led to a more compelling reading and viewing experience.  However within the film, I male use of animated text intros and decoder effects to keep viewers interested in the screen.   I animated different parts of text to change color, as if it were rainbow for the very obvious reason: this film is about being gay.  In fact, as a gay man, I make use of a censored LGBTQ+ slur targeted at gay men, and make change to all colors of the rainbow.  In this way I am simultaneously reclaiming and asserting my identity with a slur which is in relation to this story of putting words to my identity.  I also stuck with a prose style for this film, namely because I wanted the work to feel personable, as if I am talking to you at a coffee shop about this, and thus take away a layer of accessibility.  I also found that as prose, the narrative flowed more easily than not.  I also tried to use a loose narrative structure,the film has a clear beginning and end, even though both do not amount to much and they shouldn’t, to me my attraction to other men and only men is part of my everyday life and at this point, normal, why should’t I portray it as normal in my work?

Frame from film.

Frame from film.

This film also deals with the beginnings of something that I currently cannot explain any better with language: the fact that men who love men (gay, bi, pan men) experience love and attraction differently from straight women.  I have no idea how else to go into detail about it but one of the reasons I know why its different is this: I have not met a straight woman who was attracted to Freddie Mercury ever in my life. Are there women who are attracted to queer men? Yes, and they sometimes get into relationships if the man is also attacked to women as well.  However, for some reason, no straight women has ever expressed her attraction to Freddie Mercury while many queer men have.  Through my personal experience, and hopefully through more art, I hope to explain how the phenomenon of love between men and lust between men works.

Frame

Frame

In all this project challenged me to think very differently from my usual.  I am used to thinking in form, color, and shape in a the context of pictures, never in fonts, words, or text in general.  I truly tried to tone down my use of imagery to three main components and use repetition as an effective visual device and keep the mood of my piece effective and consistent throughout the film.  Awakening is probably one of the firsts of unknown firsts of many more works of art to come that explicitly deal with identity, gender nonconformity, attraction, and love that come with being a gay man, especially a gay trans man in 2018.

Kinetic Text Project

Wait

Wait

The song Wait by M83 is from an experimental series of music videos that I have hardly watched. They tell a surrealist story involving industrial America, folk lore and space. I haven’t watched it in years, not since the song was featured on the ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ movie soundtrack (no matter the film movie soundtracks are goldmines for sound). At the time I saw the movie I was having trouble developing emotional attachments to pieces of art. The medication I was taking for depression/anxiety had a numbing effect that made seeing movies and hearing music frustratingly dry. This song plays at the very end of the film when the main character goes through a transformative experience which leads her and her family to accept a harsh situation. The song made the end of TFIOS into something powerful enough that I felt satisfied when I exited the theater. Powerful enough that I could feel a lot when I listened to it on repeat after I got home and 5 years later when I listen to it now.

I am on better medication now. Art effects me and the song has lost none of its beauty. So for this process I did not make any sketches. I listened to the song on repeat and kept it as simple as I could. Particle and Scatter are good for this. I slowed them down and lowered the opacity very slightly. I timed the scatter of the first two “Sings” at the beginning of the video catch the viewer’s attention in the beginning so they would be more inclined to stay on. The rest of the video is, however, fairly low-key apart from the Kaleida effects. The opacity on those were also played with. The word “Wait” which stays in place for the entire video goes in and out of focus as an additional eye-catching motion. I could not decide how fast or slow to make it and I have submitted it with uncertainty.

Particles

I created a pink particle layer and added three masks over top it to give peeks at its slow journey into a twist. I also included the words, Wait and Sing. The moving kaleidoscopic effect was the result of me applying Kaleida to a text layer that read:

Sing

Sing

Sing

I think adding those subtleties to the work helps it to match the song. There are so many layers to it and slow turns. The Kaleida adds the unexpected to ready the viewer for the end which is when the climax of the song occurs and it makes all kinds of turns. My worry for this was making it too languid. My own attention span is very short. I have to be in the right headspace to even listen to the song completely, though I enjoy it so much. However, in the end, I feel the particles and extra additions made it interesting enough.

Supernova Installation

Claim 1: If I communicate to other people through a sound visualizer and text-to-speech library, then it will feel equivalent to or easier than talking to people face-to-face. (Hint: this is false.) Claim 2: If an installation setup meets the correct criteria, then it is quite simple to deceive an audience regarding the legibility of artificial intelligence. (Hint: this is surprisingly true.)

Speak to me!

For the Supernova Art Party 2018, I created an installation revolving around a pseudo-artifical intelligence program. I set up a large monitor with a microphone and speaker in front to encourage the audience to “speak” to the monitor. I connected my laptop to the monitor via HDMI cable and hid in a curtained area behind the monitor. The program I created and ran was a simple audio visualizer, where the central circle changed diameter depending on the volume of the surrounding area. There were also some extra visual effects (such as the circle gradually changing color, a fade-out effect on the circles of different diameter, and a grid background), as well as a text-to-speech feature. This is where the magic happened: I had a small text input box hidden at the bottom of the screen (which, due to resolution differences, coincidentally didn’t show up on the monitor), where I could enter text and upon pressing the “return” key, have a text-to-speech library read the text I typed. Thus, I could listen to the user’s questions to my program and type a response from my computer, giving the user the illusion that my program listens and can respond without any outside help. I must admit, as a moderately shy person with absolutely no showmanship experience, I found my idea of hiding behind a curtain for the party as part of my project pretty genius. I knew, however, I still had to tackle the issue of being hidden, but still aware of the interaction with my piece. This was, overall, still the hardest part of my installation. I found it difficult to balance between interacting with people curious in my installation versus people trying to get from point A to point B and not interested in it, especially when I couldn’t see the people behind my Mylar curtain. The curtain seemed semi-transparent during daylight, but once it got darker it became much harder to see through and I found I couldn’t rely on it to see people. All I could rely on was their voices. This worked out somewhat, as people felt the need to treat it like any other talking device such as Google Home or Alexa and initiate the conversation. It still caused some anxiety, however, as I felt pressure to type and respond quickly, respond with wit, and do all this without seeing the other person (or sometimes, without hearing them quickly as some people’s speech into the mic was muffled). Thus, it was most definitely NOT easier to communicate with people via technology (in this case). In the future, I think placing the installation in a space where people go specifically to interact with it, versus a walking space, and making sure I could truly see the audience would create some ease on my part. Speaking of space, I believe I was able to use the parochial nature of the space that is Heimbold (and Sarah Lawrence) to my advantage. As everyone at the party was united by being members of Sarah Lawrence, I could make college-specific references that made my “AI”, Sam, feel surprisingly knowledgeable and surreal. I was worried this would break the Turing Test quality, but even with specific references, many people appeared to think this was a program built with true artificial intelligence. On top of all this, I think the knowledge of local culture made it easier to befriend (and even fall in love with) Sam.

A screenshot of an acquaintance’s Snapchat story. I don’t think they had any idea it was me behind the curtain. I’m Internet famous!

This idea that I could make an AI interface built upon local knowledge is a unique and tempting one. What if, instead of having a mass production of general knowledge machines, we had specific localized AI that was built upon data within a small radius or specific community? But I digress. The specificity of this bot worked well at the Art Party, a culmination of the parochial localized culture we are a part of. While I wrestled with some aspects of my text-to-speech library, like Sam’s difficult-to-understand accent, I don’t think a general, clear-spoken Alexa would have been as fun or interesting.

But actually, you’re speaking to ME.

 

Space Oddity: Saint Vincent’s Bring Me Your Loves in Visual Form

Still

Saint Vincent’s self titled album holds a very dear spot in my little gay heart.  Every song manages to punch me in the gut, take me back to my first summer alone in the city, and oh yeah this album helped me come to terms with my gay and trans identity. I, Baphomet Nayer, owe my existence to weird album and I’m ok with it.

 

Bring Me Your Loves holds itself up as probably one of my favorite heart break songs ever because of how raw, angry, and anguishing it is.  There are no saccharine woe is me lyrics or melodies here, nope just intense and true anger and desire for revenge.  In my opinion the reason why this song resonates to me is because being angry and vengeful, while a character flaw if actually acted out, was denied to me for so long, and honestly those are my true feelings in any heart break scenario, and to here them so unbridled and raw is freeing.

 still  

For the video I decided on the color scheme simply because Bring My Your Loves sounds like its mostly pink. Then for each repeating phrase (bass line and vocal) I animated trim lines in the shape of a vital signs monitor and just varied them slightly.  To convey the song’s movement and emotion I utilized the following: fractals, hand drawn frame animations, and a live recording of a beating heart outside of the human body.

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The most interesting parts of the video were using both hand drawn animations and live video to convey raw intense emotion.  Since the main simile involves dogs and pets I incorporated those with the following: a dog being split in half, and collard neck bursting, and a mouth drooling.  With the live video of a beating heart I made sure to add several style effects such as plastisze, glow, and emboss, change the colors, and change the aspect ratio of the video so while it was centered, it acted more like a window surrounded by movement. These effects and animations, as well as my use of color and fractals ensured that I would do Saint Vincent, my coming out album, and Bring Me Your Loves justice as an intense, raw, and emotional piece.

dog22 dog

Space Oddity

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still from climax of video piece.

My first action in response to this prompt was to make a mood board. I found myself drawn to representational images of the solar system. I was finding images of spheres and circles. I was also influenced by images I found in a book on Elizabethan theatre: Kingdom for a Stage by Joy Hancox. The architects of the Globe and other contemporary theatres were influenced by cultural ideas such as astrology, sacred geometry, and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Their sketches contained complex interlocking patterns composed of simple shapes. I wanted to work with rich colors and textures, and this dark purple to me has the mood of Bowie’s song and the feelings of deep space and travel.  The background layer is a solid color with a “noise” effect.  I lowered the opacity of the noise so that it would show the purple. Now for the animation. Initially I wanted nine planets and nine movement paths for them. If I’m able to work on this animation further I think I’ll build it out.  I started with the goal to animate a single planet moving along the path of its orbit.  There is no sun or visible central point in my animation until the video shifts and I cross fade in the fractal shape.  I kept my turbulent purple background layer behind the fractal to keep continuity, but key framed the color scheme of the fractal to create a sequence of rapid change.  The symmetry of the fractal equation complements my symmetrical orbital paths.  I see the fractal as a wormhole or mysterious portal, and the color wheel sequence as an electrical storm in deep space.
Preliminary movement sketch.

Preliminary movement sketch.

I began with a solid filled circle overlaid on a circular shape layer with a trim path. The circle follow the rotation of the white path. The rings of my planet are larger than the frame to suggest a cosmos which extends beyond what we are seeing. The blue planet disappears and reappears to stimulate the eye.  I used a repeater effect on the shape layer of the original white ring to create 2 more complementary rings moving in harmonious motion. Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 4.13.31 PM Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 4.13.55 PM I was challenged early in the process to think about color holistically. The flat fill inside my circle created by the program was not speaking the same language as my textured background layer. I tried creating a sphere shape, but that changed the way my animation moved, so I stuck with the simple circle. In critique I received the suggestion to stack many shape layers together and reduce the opacity of the fill color to create depth.  I am also not satisfied with the spacing of the rings.  They do not align with the center of the image.  I believe that this is an unintended consequence of the repeater animation.
showing the building of concentric, harmonious movement

showing the building of concentric, harmonious movement

Digital Tools: The Art of the GIF

I’ve been thinking about the sky a lot lately, although I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not like I actually look at it all that often, but when I do I get this sense of wonder— I marvel at how vast and expansive the universe is, how as the sun dips below the horizon the light changes color as it passes through more and more atmosphere, how we know so much about the laws of physics and yet we’re still stuck here, on earth. You know that picture they took on the Apollo 8 mission, the one where you can see earth as it rises above the moon’s horizon? In the photo the sky is completely black, save our little planet, halfway veiled in shadow. The sky is black because the moon has very little atmosphere; it does not scatter light like as earth’s atmosphere does. Although I’m praying that, at some point in my life, I’ll be able to go to the moon, I’m sure that if I ever do I’ll miss the blueness of earth’s sky. I’ll miss how that blue shifts in complexion as the sun moves across the sky, and how at dusk that blue is transformed into a vibrant spectrum of red, orange, and yellow as the sun sinks below the horizon.

That was all in the back of my mind as I went into this assignment. Starting with a brilliant blue oil-type brush I drew a random scribble on the canvas. Then, exploring some of the other brush options photoshop has to offer, I used the wet blender brush to smudge the blue around until the entire canvas was filled. Since everything was all very blue, I created an RGB shift add a bit more color and variance to it. Using duplicate layers and that same smudge brush, I then attempted to create an impression of the sky graduating from light to dark blue, as if the sun were about to set but wasn’t quite close enough to the horizon for the blue light to be completely scattered away. Finally, using layer visibility in conjunction with a frame animation, I created this gif:

blue_wave

For this next gif I wanted something a little more stylized, possibly something reminiscent of early 2000’s selfie gifs (blingee, glitterfy, etc.), but still focused on the sky— so I went with twinkling stars. I started out with a light green splatter brush, but quickly changed my mind and decided to just go with blue again. Using the same splatter brush, I painted over most of the green until only specs of it were still visible. This, I thought, would give the sky a bit more texture, and could possibly give an impression of some sort of nebula or supernova in the background if you wanted to think a little too much about it. I then created 14 layers of light pink stars, each one unique and different. Finally, using a frame animation I created one frame for each layer of stars. However, the stars were too few and far between so I went back and added some of the other star layers to each frame, resulting in this:

stars copy

The final gif in this series veers away, visually, from the blue sky theme I had going. For the selfie glitch assignment I wanted to create a sense of weightlessness, as if I were in the future using an old barely functioning VR rig to attempt to fly. To create the weightlessness effect I used an iPhone app called Focos. Focos is basically a tool which allows you to fine-tune the bokeh effect on photos taken with a dual-lens camera. Notably, it has this neat little feature where you can adjust the angle of the photo, which focos then displays projected onto a heightmap of the depth information from the photo. Using this feature, I took screenshots of my photo angled one degree to either side of the original:

focos_example copy

I then took those three screenshots, cropped them so it was just my picture on the gray background, and started messing around with glitching. Unfortunately I was only able to get those streaky line glitches using the text editing method, so I turned to glitching RAW files too. Fairly satisfied with the results, I imported them all into photoshop. For whatever reason when I imported them photoshop turned them all black and white, but it looked cool so I went with it. I then used a frame animation and created the following gif by changing the visibility of the various photo layers for each frame.

self_glitch_iii copy

Radical Game Design: City Watch

GameSceenShot2  Screenshot from Unity build My game, City Watch, is about a girl named Lena who starts as part of the City Watch.  The City Watch is the faction of the city that houses the knights who protect and watch over the entire city.  Their job is to patrol and protect the city from crime.  Lena is part of the City Watch, but she has been tasked with finding and infiltrating the Thieves’ Guild.  Because of her job to infiltrate the Thieves, the game can take a split.  Lena can either decide to fully join the thieves and abandon the City Watch, or she can do as originally told and destroy the Thieves’ Guild.  The choice is up to the player.  There are steps to accomplishing either faction in the game.  For the thieves, it is really all about stealing.  The more that is stolen, the greater chance of being part of the guild, but also the worse that the relationship becomes with the City Watch.  For the City Watch, the goal is to do good.  It is to help people, and to find crime in the city.  There are some shady people in the world, so it is up to Lena to get rid of them.  Of course getting rid of the thieves is also the main goal to the City Watch as well. There is a constant tug and pull in the game- the player can either do what is morally right, or they can bend the rules and go outside of the law in the game.  There is no real “right or wrong,” no way of the game is better than the other, both have their merits and rewards, so the game is really in the player’s hands on how they want to play it.  That is what is radical about my game; their is no truly right way to play it.  However the player wants to play the game is the “right” way to play it. I came up with the idea for the game based on my history with playing many video games.  I play a lot of fantasy styled games like The Witcher series and the Elder Scrolls series.  In those games there are many morally grey characters, which makes the games interesting and fun to play.  And especially within the Elder Scrolls series, there are always thieves guilds or darker factions within the world.  The player can join the guild through quests, and their is some risk in being caught stealing.  However, there is no real risk in the game for joining the guild.  It is a side-quest so it has no real impact on the game.  That is where I wanted to differently with my game.  I like the idea of guilds within a fantasy type world, but I wanted there to be more decision and change to joining them.  The idea of consequence and story changing decisions was influenced by the Dragon Age games as well as The Witcher.  Those games are heavy in story driven choice.  I like games that give options to the player; there are multiple ways to play the game based off of what actions the player decides to take.       GameScreenshot  Another screenshot from the Unity Build- Shopkeep on the left and Lena to the right The level that I am working on currently is for the city.  There are a few NPCs in the level.  There is the shady shopkeep, the suspicious teen, and there is the rat.  As I progress with the game I will probably add more characters to the level, but as of right now those are the characters that exist in the level so far.  By talking to the shopkeep, Lena learns rumor about the thieves.  The teen also gives different rumor, and I am working on creating interesting dialogue for both NPCs.  I want their rumors to be informative but not too telling, and I want more dichotomy in this level.  As of right now, the level leans more toward finding the thieves, but not much is talked about in terms of the City Watch.  There is also the rat in the level.  It leads Lena towards the thieves and toward stealing.  As Lena grows closer to the thieves, her bond also increases with the rat.  Eventually there will be a counter to the rat, there will be something that guides Lena more towards helping the City Watch. For the level, I am using a rather dark color palette.  The colors are mostly shades of grey and red.  Towards the right side of the level, where Lena comes out of the City Watch, I made the building colors slightly more colorful.  The red is brighter and the colors in the windows are lighter and pinker.  As Lena travels left in the level, the colors of the buildings change.  The base color of the buildings becomes a darker and grayer red.  The colors in the windows are now dark grey and the lighter grey from the right side.  There is less vibrancy in level on the left side because Lena is moving towards the Thieves’ Guild.  I had originally made the level pretty light and “normal.”  The sky was blue and the buildings were brown and grey; but I didn’t like the way that felt for the level.  Making the level darker made the level feel better.  The city is not a cheery place and there is a lot of crime that goes on, so it only makes sense that the color in the level reflect that.   Lena Front Sprite   Sprite for Lena in the game.   IMG_1309 Original paper game sprite for Lena IMG_1490 IMG_1489 PIMG_1488Paper game levels

Radical Game Design: Neighborhood Simulator

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What’s the game about?
Gentrification is about a player moving to a transitioning neighborhood. They just graduated from college with some student loans to pay off and they got a job in the city. Now they’re moving to an affordable neighborhood near their job – their goal is to get an apartment.

Where did the idea come from?
I grew up in New York City until I was nine, on the Upper West Side and in Harlem. I moved back to Harlem a few years ago, and it was crazy how much the neighborhood had changed since the last time I had been there. All of a sudden, we had a Whole Foods moving in down the street, a climbing gym moving in, and fancy coffee shops popping up. It’s the process of gentrification in action.

I was at a bookstore (in Harlem, coincidentally) when I found a book called “In Defense of Housing,” by David Madden and Peter Marcuse, that talks about the underlying causes of gentrification which I found interesting and which got me thinking about using it as a subject for my game.

How is your game radical?
My plan for my game is to build a simple and relatable environment in which the player’s goal is to get an apartment so they can begin to work (and begin to pay off their student loan). Through interactions with NPCs and the environment, it will become clear to the player that by taking the path of least resistance – simply renting an apartment – they will be at odds with the best interest of the neighborhood. They’ll be taking part in and perpetuating the gentrification that is negatively impacting the neighborhood and the community.

IMG_1922

How did your paper prototype play?
The paper prototype played well. I was very informative to see my idea for the game having been physically built. And it certainly helped to see my game through the eyes of potential players.

People responded well to the game design. The main feedback I got was that there wasn’t a clear enough idea of what my game was about. The class was able to figure it out on their own but it took some teasing out for them to get there. Moving forward, that’s something I’d like to pay special attention to – making sure that the directive is clear at every point in the game.

My initial plan was to make the game with a black and white color palette but in the play through, someone suggested trying it with color.

The third main feedback I got, was to give my NPCs a point of view, driven by some motivation in their interactions.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 8.17.23 AM

What are your three NPC encounters in level one?
In level one, I’m planning to have my character encounter an apartment building owner from whom he can rent an apartment, the owner / manager of a new hip coffee shop that just opened up, and the owner of a corner deli whose family has been in the neighborhood for several generations.

IMG_5021

How did these encounters express your game idea?
Those three characters all experience the gentrification of a neighborhood from very different perspectives. Each plays a different role in the community. And each will be affected differently, and each has a different motivation.

The apartment owner has already been a part of the community but will want to take advantage of the trend of increased demand for his apartment and will probably raise the cost of rent.

The coffee shop owner is new to the area and is looking to capitalize on the influx of a new demographic of people to the neighborhood – one willing to pay extra for their coffee if it comes with a certain atmosphere.

The corner deli owner’s business may be threatened by the wave of gentrification.

How do your game encounters support a help and hinder paradigm in your design?
The player will have to decide for themselves how they choose to act, while progressing toward their goal. Their actions will either contribute to the gentrification of the neighborhood or they will help to support the community.

Characters like the coffee shop owner or the apartment owner benefit from the gentrification of the neighborhood. In interacting with them, the player will be pushed toward a simpler path to the goal of securing an apartment to live in.

Only by talking to other characters, like the deli owner, who don’t necessarily benefit from gentrification, will the player be able to find a path to their goal that doesn’t contribute to the gentrification of the neighborhood.

How is your game build progressing?
The build is coming along well. I have most of the art completed for the level. I still have to make some animations for my NPCs and background elements of the city in the distance. The code seems to be coming together well.

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How are you using color in this game?
After my first paper game play-through, the class suggested adding color to the game. I played around with it and I like the result – though I’m still nailing down a clear color script that will clearly define my character in relation to the world around him.

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Still, for now, I enjoy working in this simple palette; I think it gives the city a cool feel.

What was the rationale behind your level design?
I liked the idea of making a 2d side-scroller, set in Brooklyn. I think it sets up a lot of fun opportunities to design fun maps.

So far, I’m trying to keep a lookout for where I place the buildings I design and what that means for the community I’m creating, in doing so.

Where in your elements did you intervene to make the design of the game unconventional?
My ultimate plan for the game – although it may be a bit beyond the scope of this class – will be to add a bit of a fantastical / supernatural element to the third act. The evil that’s truly causing the gentrification to take place has its roots in the city (literally) and I plan to hint at this throughout the first and second acts of the game.

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How does your game ‘say a lot with a little?
Visually, the world I’m creating is designed to be simple and yet expressive. The characters are minimal and yet have enough details to convey a sense of who they are and what their relationship to the environment is.

How does your design act to express your theme or story?
If all goes as planned, the environment that the character is moving through will change and respond to the decisions that the player makes. If the player doesn’t consciously make decisions that will strengthen and benefit the community, they’ll see the level changing.

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As an example, when gentrification rises, you’ll start to see tags disappearing and being replaced with commissioned art.

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Can the player see what’s important in this early level?
The player’s goal – to rent an apartment without contributing to the gentrification of the neighborhood – will be very clear in this level. NPC interaction will be the biggest way in which I can make that happen.

How does your aesthetic emphasize emotion?
The goal of my game is to make the player aware of the negative impact gentrification can have on a neighborhood, help them to understand what causes it and what can be changed, and to empathize with the people who are impacted by the changing community.

Radical Game Design: “Down and out”

The leading lady herself

The leading lady herself

My game is about a woman named Kaira who lives in a post-apocalyptic swamp world. She has amnesia and is trying to recover her memories while also keeping herself and her friends alive in the swamp. I got the idea for the game several years ago and was able to bring part of it to life last semester in the nonlinear game class. My basic premise was based on the idea of a post-apocalyptic swamp and the kind of animals that would inhabit such a place. This is why for much of the game Kaira is the only human I wanted to showcase how different this world was from our own. One of the ways I tried to make my game different visually was making the environment unnaturally colored, the grass is purple and the sky is magenta! While I wanted the setting to have a bit of a fantasy element to it I also focused on making cool colors and specifically keeping green out of the game. This will contrast with a later map where the colors will be much warmer to illustrate that this other location is an oasis of warmth in the swamp. I’m not sure if my game qualifies as radical right now. I do know there is a specifically combat based mechanic I want to implement that I have not seen before. I’d say my game is raddish, working on being all out radical but with a bit of room to grow.
Magenta can be the sky too

Magenta can be the sky too

But I also wanted this very unrealistic place to have connections to reality. One NPC encountered in the first level is a bioluminescent swamp wolf. While his fur is a normal color for his species it is the algae that has made its home in his fur that cements both this individual wolf as well as his species in the “Down and Out” universe.
A red wolf with some algae friends

A red wolf with some algae friends

I was originally designing a plain gray wolf with glowing bits before I discovered that there is a type of wolf that lives in Florida’s swamps, the red wolf. While this wasn’t the biggest change it added that connection to our world that I was looking for. Before making the wolf a specific type of wolf the game didn’t have a real-world location in mind after this however I realized this game took place in post-apocalyptic Florida. For now the wolf encounter functions to hint that this place is an altered version of a real place. Also in all honesty it was an excuse to include bioluminescent fauna, which has fascinated me since I was a kid. d&o cap1 Other than the swamp wolf Kaira also encounters an african serval in a tree, animating him falling out of it is a trial I am working on overcoming. Once Kaira encounters him he will turn his attention to the follower character, a lizard person called Zhis. Zhis and Shari, the serval, know each other it turns out. Shari functions as the game currently stands as a hindrance rather than a helper. He distracts Kaira and also makes the player backtrack to gain his favor. Eventually he will be a follower character like Zhis, once I learn how to do that at least.
an angry boy falling out of a tree

an angry boy falling out of a tree

zhis front sprite copy As we can see Zhis, unlike Shari and the red wolf, is an animal from pure science fiction. An amalgamation of bits and pieces of other animals. She also fills a different role than the other NPCs encountered thus far, she operates as a companion while also reminding Kaira of their overall goal. In the paper prototype the most confusing element seemed to be lack of a clear goal for the player. I hope by having a cutscene with Zhis to make things a bit clearer without removing all elements of mystery, they are playing an amnesiac afterall! As far as where I want to go from here, I need to make a cutscene because as Zhis and Kaira are currently programmed they cannot interact. I am also working on animating and coding Shari’s one time animation and making the wolf collide correctly.  

Radical Game Design: House H(a)unters

CasperTalkSpriteNeutral House H(a)unters takes place in a modern setting which is mostly realistic, if slightly absurd and more prone to supernatural occurrences than ours. The player takes on the dual roles of Becca and Casper Radley, twin ghost hunters who are down on their luck. In order to fund the new season of their show Becca, the snake oil salesman of the two, decides they will convince clueless rich couple Mira and Nigel Blackwood that their mansion is haunted so that she can buy it at a discount and then resell it for full value with the ghost mysteriously gone. The Blackwoods are eager to sell the house quickly, and thus give the twins seven days to prove that the ghost is gone before accepting a higher offer they have already received. For part of the game, the player will be inhabiting the role of Becca, who is extroverted and conniving. Her levels are focused toward discussion with other characters, and manipulating them into believing in the fictional “phantoms”. Casper, who also plays the role of whatever ghost the player constructs using the clues they find during the day, is more analytical and his levels tend to be more focused on finding physical “evidence” and props he can use. For the levels in this class, Casper visits the Tawny Mill Bank and Bank Heist Museum and learns about one of the potential phantom roles he can inhabit: that of a deceased bank robber from the 1800s. Tessa Museum One question I’ve struggled with while working on this game for the past couple terms is: are there real ghosts, and if so how many? It was quickly obvious to me that I ought to have at least one, simply for the comedic value of showing the charlatan Radleys what true spirits can do. Then I realize that the ghosts ought to mean something. Initially I was going to have only one spirit, who would be the ghost of Mira Blackwood’s deceased brother, angry that his sister is leaving. In this current build, there are quite a few more. Ghosts, in the town of Tawny Mill, exist in a sort of chicken and egg relationship with the living residents. Though some of the ghosts are older than the residents that they haunt, they only seem to appear as a manifestation of those citizens’ troubles. Because our own inner turmoil eventually becomes a familiar friend, the citizens of Tawny Mill don’t really notice that they are being literally haunted as well as metaphorically, but the Radleys are a fresh perspective. The more that Becca and Casper prod into people’s issues, the more ghosts appear. Therefore in constructing false ghost stories with which to “haunt” the mansion, Becca and Casper inadvertently create real hauntings. Unfortunately as the people in town are all “used” to these ghosts they don’t seem to notice, and so they act more as a hindrance to the player as they have the potential to catch and kill Casper during his nightly rounds. The idea for this game came to me in a bit of a convoluted manner. In high school I wrote a short screenplay about a ghost who had to balance the thin line between convincing people her house was haunted to keep them away and being surreptitious enough not to be exorcised by a priest. This later evolved into a ghost hunter who died in a house, and was “fabricating” a demonic infestation in order to sell tickets to her friends’ haunted house. Eventually I learned that homeowners who wish to leave a haunted house must disclose that status to all potential buyers, and the idea evolved into this. Initially I had Casper as a real ghost, but eventually made him alive because the role ghosts played in the story transformed for me. The radical aspects of the game tie into the way the twins interact with the world. What Casper and Becca are attempting to do is morally questionable, and a bit off the wall, but they are still complex individuals, as are the inhabitants of the town. The townies, however, exist in a heightened reality, where demonic cults and disgraced exorcists are considered normal inhabitants. Because the people they are attempting to fool seem so ridiculous, it can be easy for both the twins and the players to forget that any injury to the characters are injuries to “people”, but I aim to give the characters hidden emotional depth which, when uncovered, makes players question their previous impressions of the NPCs.   My paper prototype was for the most part a successful one. I presented three levels: the bank itself, the front entrance to the museum, and the back room of the museum which acts as a sort of shrine to the bank robbery. It became clear that I need to more eloquently elaborate the conflicts of the NPCs to give the player something more to work with on a larger scale and give them an idea of what they’re meant to be doing sooner.   The three encounters on level one are:
  1. Interact with bank worker Clint, who appears worried but brightens as soon as he sees Casper to tell him a bit about the bank.
  2. Get coffee, which can later be given to Tessa to improve her mood toward the player.
  3. Second encounter with Clint, where upon further prodding he reveals that he was worried because his boss scheduled him to work all this week, thereby depriving him of time to shop for an anniversary present for his husband in time for their date on Friday. In my mind, after this conversation a few set items would move slightly.
These encounters highlight a few mechanics which take place over the course of the game. The first is the introduction of a fairly straightforward NPC who seems like he is just there to give Casper information. The second showcases the gifting system, and how holding onto objects for later can result in new avenues of investigation. The third shows how, if the player chooses, they can create a greater haunting. This third interaction also showcases the help-hinder loop. Interacting with Clint more causes Casper to learn more about the heist, but also exacerbates his emotional issues. Eventually, the “ghosts” that are haunting Clint will appear and start causing Casper trouble in his work. Therefore Casper needs to learn more about Clint as a person in order to help him overcome his troubles – which requires speaking with other NPCs, unlocking more information about the mansion and also more ghosts to haunt Casper. clint Currently my game build is progressing smoothly. I have art for all three of the levels, as well as sprite sheets for the conversation sprites for Casper and Clint. I still need to complete Tessa’s. the first interaction with Clint is coded, and I have figured out how to trigger conversations with the space bar – mostly. Unfortunately, the space bar coding only works if the space bar is hit AS the player collides with the NPC. Next, I need to both code for multiple conversations and edit the sorting script to allow for multiple objects having it, both of which will be made easier with tag implementation, and allowing the space bar to be pressed at any point during collision. bank I try to use limited color palettes in all of the levels for this game. For the mansion levels, I limited myself to dark greys, browns, reds, and greens. These all feel like very “haunted”, old colors. For this bank level I went with lighter blues out front and then dark browns in the back of the museum to emphasize both that it is a “dark” part of the past and also much older – brown reads as an old color to me due to its connection with natural materials. I picked light blue for the front as blue, being a “soothing” color is a common color for professional buildings, and it is also the signature color for many banks. Both of these palettes lack bright greens, as this is the color of the Radleys’ shirts and I wanted them to pop a bit in the scenery. Each character on the levels has one item of clothing which ties them to the environment. For the mansion, this is a deep blood red. For the bank this is light blue. Tessa also has a green hat brim, which ties her to the painting of her great grandfather Sheriff Wycome. For these levels, I maintained a mostly linear character design for the first two rooms, followed by a large open room with interactable objects spread throughout. The first two rooms are the public fronts: the bank directs you to the door and to Clint in a straight line so that people can go about their business quickly, and the front of the museum directs the player down a line of interaction to Tessa. In the third room, where Casper encounters history, he is confronted with a bit more open world, as the past tends to be a lot less neat than the present makes it seem. Interactable objects and NPCs are all sharp, which makes them obvious against the smudged background of the rest of the map. I resisted going into high levels of detail in the backgrounds, as I don’t want the game to become a pixel hunt for important items. Having the background blurry showcases the situation of the people in the town: because they have lived so long and become so used to their lives, everything has sort of settled into a haze. They cannot see the ghosts, or the objects which are important to solving their crises, or that the Radleys are conning them, even if those things are right in front of them. The Radleys and the players, however, can see what is important in the world quickly because they are looking at them with fresh eyes.   sherrifmoira 

Radical Game Design: Union Town

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My game Union Town (a working title) is about an unnamed new hire at a fast food restaurant. You play as this new hire, making connections with the other workers by getting to know them, picking up shifts, and bumming them cigarettes in order to form a union. Meanwhile, the manager of the restaurant offers you a raise and the employee of the month award if you refuse to help out your coworkers and only flip burgers. I got the idea for my game because this is actually what my brother is doing right now in Portland. He’s working on a union campaign at a fast food restaurant chain, flipping burgers and building relationships with his coworkers and helping them learn the power of the union.  Talking to him about his day-to-day life as a union organizer gave me the idea for my game. He’s having fun working on building the union, but building community in the face of corporate isolation and the trauma of poverty created by working minimum wage jobs is tough work. This game is radical because it examines this process of union building, promotes values of class solidarity, questions the ethical authority of managers and bosses. The main radical aspect of this game, though, is its promotion of radical friendship and solidarity building. Though the tactics of striking, boycotting, and other contentious means of forming a union are definitely vital to organizers, the radical nature of relationship building is an essential and undervalued aspect of organizing that I want to highlight in this game. My paper prototype played fairly well during the Paper Game class, I had some trouble creating and nailing down the interactions for each level.

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I had planned my game around the player having options for response, this mistake definitely showed through during the paper game play through, and working around that has been a little difficult. But I’ve figured it out for the first level at least, where the player begins outside the back of the restaurant.

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Here, there are three NPC encounters. The first is with a former worker of this restaurant, who informs the player of their task to unionize the workplace. He tells the player that he had been fired for organizing and warns the player to watch out for the manager.

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Another encounter on this level is with the trashbags, among which the player finds a pack of cigarettes that they can then use to build friendships with other workers. The final encounters in this level is with another worker who is outside on a smoke break. He asks to bum a cigarette, and if the player has already picked up the pack of cigarettes from the trash, the worker continues talking and tells you about his work woes. After he finishes talking, the manager comes out and tells him his break is over. Then the manager turns to the player and tells him to not mingle with the other workers because they’re lazy etc. and that you should just stick to flipping burgers if you want to be employee of the month. These encounters work to express my game idea by first setting up the goal of the game with the former worker, then providing an opportunity to build friendship and solidarity with a worker right off the bat. The help and hinder paradigm is then seen when the manager comes out and offers you an alternative goal for the game, achieving employee of the month. My gamebuild is progressing fairly well considering it is my first game. I’ve made one level in Unity with one interaction. I am having some trouble with the animation, as it seems to be skipping when the player walks down and to the side (though not walking up, for some unknown reason).  It’s going slowly but surely, and I’m enjoying learning how Unity works.

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My use of color is somewhat strategic. I plan on utilizing less and less color as the player moves through the levels. In the first level, the back of the restaurant, the assets are very colorful. The layout of the level is also very open, the player can move around the road/parking lot and has to explore the level to see the other worker. This is meant to make the player feel free, able to move around and engage with the level without any visible constraints. This serves as a juxtaposition for the following two levels.

Back of Work

The second level is a bit more closed and a bit less colorful. I use grayscale and browns to make the player feel less free. Its rather empty (there will be NPCs in this level, however). The grayscale is meant to represent the feelings of boredom and entrapment that workers of minimum wage jobs often feel.  The third level, the shop floor, is an exaggerated version of this. It will look more like a prison or cage with less color and less room to move around. I don’t think I’ve intervened enough to make this game unconventional, so far it is pretty straightforward, but the structuring of the levels is somewhat unconventional in that it is not necessarily linear. The player can move between the levels freely, moving toward and away from the imprisonment by capitalism.

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I think this game, though fairly simple, puts forth some big ideas about the power of building relationships when confronting capitalism. The game is not just getting union card signatures and striking, but actually interacting with other workers and forging strong friendships with them by getting to know them. In the end, it is this solidarity that helps build unions, not just old leftist tactics. This is something we can all stand to learn, leftists and non-leftists alike. Often, leftists get caught up in the glamorous, contentious aspects of organizing work, thinking that the radical work is the disruptive work. But this game is meant to serve as a reminder that radicalism also manifests in acts of friendship, and the power of radical friendship is not something to be dismissed or undervalued in the fight against capitalism.

Radical Game Design: Make or Break the Box

A snapshot of the current level in my Unity Build.

A snapshot of the current level in my Unity Build.

My conference project focuses on the player’s decision to either fit in someone else’s box, or to make their own metaphorical box. To fit in, they must commit to other’s ideals even if it’s to an unhealthy extent. To create themselves, they must pick and choose (or choose not to choose) what they agree to commit to. I got the idea from the eccentric culture on campus – students often push themselves so hard to accommodate others that they forget to accommodate themselves. For example, many students will tear themselves apart whenever they make a mistake like forgetting correct pronouns. They forget that mistakes are okay and allow people to learn and grow as people. This game is a physical representation of that pressure to fit in and over-commit yourself to make others happy. The game itself says a lot with simple drawings. The image below depicts the entrance to a dorm building with stairs leading to the blue player’s dorm as well as posters on the wall.
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The entrance to the Blue Player’s dorm room.

The posters represent the various clubs, events, and petitions that overwhelm the walls by the sheer amount. The color itself are bright and cheery in order to keep the energy of the game light and humorous. The actual content of the game will have silly conversations that highlight the ridiculousness seen on the campus. For example, instead of students feeling guilty and helpless for being born into a privileged group (“Oppress the oppressors” is a saying found on campus) They can be empowered to take action in situations to change reality for the better. One situation that is playful is when the player encounters a Pink NPC next to the stairs leading to a pink door (their dorm). The Pink NPC barrages the Player with “Stairs don’t care! Say no to stairs and build a ramp instead. Sign my petition and make a difference!” The player can choose to complete the quest to build a ramp, or can choose to simply tackle a different quest.
The Pink NPC standing next to the stairs leading to their dorm room.

The Pink NPC standing next to the stairs leading to their dorm room.

As for the color scheme, the game utilizes the concept of “wayfinding” to persuade the player to click on certain objects in the game. For example, the blue door is the blue player’s dorm room! Another thing to note is that this game has been revised a few times. From the sizes of the art assets to coding hiccups, it has lots of room for improvement. Even now, the story needs a more clear overarching goal with tangible smaller interactions that the player can see helps or hinders their journey through the game. Overall, the game is progressing slowly but surely.
The old Paper Prototype version of the current level in the Unity Building.

The old Paper Prototype version of the current level in the Unity Building.

For the future, I’d like to add a splash screen to better convey the goal of the game. So far, the image below depicts the paper prototype version of an idea for the splash screen. Radical 005We’ll see how far this game will go!  

Radical Game Design: Wild Tales

The outside of the saloon in the first level.

The outside of the saloon in the first level.

My game is about a cowboy in a movie set of an old west movie. Players progress through shooting various scenes in the movie with freedom of choosing how the scenes play out. Their previous actions they take dictates the actions they can take in future scenes. For example, helping the bandit early on could mean not being able to talk to the sheriff later on. After shooting the scenes, players get to see what kind of movie they’ve made at the end.

The idea came from the development process of the game. At first, I wanted to make a game about the pressure to conform to a role in front of other people. After researching the old west genre, I decided a more interesting theme to explore would be the dissonance in the escape and immersion popular entertainments promise and the stereotypes they actually show.

To bring out this idea, my game puts the player in both the shoes of the producer and the audience of entertainment. After the players decide on the type of movie this is going to be about, they are forced to consume it. Through this, I call attention to the decisions made for us by the producers of the media we consume and the stereotypes they reinforce. I purposely break immersion with the movie sets to call out the lack of immersion breaking that encourages consumers to passively consume media.

The start of the level shows the main character and the director.

The start of the level shows the main character and the director. Note the contrasting colors.

Early on in development, I made a paper prototype to test out some of the ways I could explore this idea within a game environment. My paper prototype was based on an earlier idea of the game where players had no choice but to conform to stereotypes. I learned that the traditional gamey elements like quests and dialogue options were too distracting. By stripping my game of some traditional elements, I was able to bring out the focus of my game.

Testing an early iteration of my first level.

Testing an early iteration of my first level.

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The inside of a building that isn’t in the current game build.

Through that process, I was able to iterate on various ideas that resulted in what I have now. Currently, I have just the first level partially built. The NPC encounters in the first level are the director, bandit, saloon girl, and sheriff. The director sets the scene of a cowboy looking for a place to stay. The rest of the NPCs each represents a “type” of cowboy the player could play. They all offer a solution for the player’s problem. By choosing the align with the bandit, saloon girl, or sheriff, players will have decided on if they want to play the bad, carefree, or good cowboy respectively. Throughout the game, players will be given the options of staying with their alignment or straying away from it.

Currently, I’m working on getting my first level to run with dialogues and traversals smoothly. I’m still establishing some of the base codes of the game. Once that is done, it should be a matter of writing and building out the rest of the game.

Regarding the aesthetic designs, I’m using bright colors to contrast the muted and dark color scheme of the western world. The various movie set objects in the game should stand out with their industrial and bright colors. I’m contemplating on potentially changing the colors of the game to show the player’s current alignment with the type of narrative they’re on the path to create.

The color of the buildings in the town blends in with the orange sky in the background.

The color of the buildings in the town blends in with the orange sky in the background.

One of the design challenges I face is to find a way to convey choice. In a traditional game, a choice is typically presented with a drop-down menu describing the various actions players could take. However, I wanted to reinforce the idea that in real life, our choice and actions aren’t always going to be laid out for us. To do this, I’ll be applying the design strategy of presenting players with options before the choice. For example, in the example of my first level, players naturally encounter with the bandit. The bandit provides the option of stealing a key from the sheriff. However, to choose that option, players will have naturally encounter their two other options before being given the ability to make the decision. Once this pattern is established, I plan to have more obscure options players can take to communicate the idea that our choices about personal identity require exploration and are not always the first option presented.

While I haven’t fleshed out the full story of the game yet, I plan to keep my game fairly short in order to encourage replay attempts. I think the message becomes the clearest when players become more conscious of their actions and consequences. By having two gameplay experiences, they have a different result to compare to. Some may argue that the intended replayability makes the game’s choices less meaningful. However, I think the players’ own curiosity to explore the various options in the narrative is exactly the mindset I want them to have. The curiosity to explore the options is more important to me than living up to the consequences of the actions.

Early on in the game, the impact of the players’ choices is not immediately obvious. It’s not until later in the game when restrictions are placed on the choices they can make are the results of their actions obvious. At this point, some players may feel a bit of frustration or guilt in their lack of freedom. I think this is positive for the game because it encourages people to replay the game. However, they will always end up with a coherent narrative where the cowboy is reinforcing some sort of stereotypical narrative. If the lack of control at the end takes players out of the immersion and gets them to think about how they’ve constructed their narrative, then I will have succeeded in getting my message across.

Sprite art of the director.

– the director.

I didn’t plan for the game to be so reflective of some of the things in life I’m working through right now. The process of creating this game is forcing me to look deeper at some of the influences (both positive and negative) I had growing up. I hope that this experience will not only help me grow personally but also result in a shareable product that inspires introspection for other people as well.