ventriduct
home-dreamworks-2015

Spring 2015 Cartoon Preview

No Comments

This article first appeared as a “Chick on the Draw” column in Luna Station Quarterly, March 6, 2015.

This year’s animated lineup is out of control. There is no controlling it. Don’t try. You will hurt yourself. There are two Disney/Pixar movies coming out this year: INSIDE OUT (June 19) and THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Nov 25). TWO PIXAR MOVIES IN ONE YEAR.

But there’s still time to find a paper bag to breathe into. Let’s talk about spring.

HOME (March 27)

Official Trailer

home-dreamworks-2015

Based on Adam Rex’s extremely silly 2007 children’s book, The True Meaning of Smekday, the film follows a girl and a friendly, outcast alien on the journey to find her mother and save the earth. In the book, the friendly alien was named J. Lo; those missing the old name may be relieved by the movie’s actual Jennifer Lopez.

And can we talk about a brown girl main character? IS THIS REAL LIFE?

Expect silliness, flying cars, heartfelt moments, Minions-esque marketability, and Jim Parsons at 100% Parson.

Known for
Director Tim Johnson OVER THE HEDGE (2006)
SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS (2003)
Based on The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
Screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember GET SMART (2008), EPIC (2013)
Studio DreamWorks Animation HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (perpetual)
KUNG FU PANDA (perpetual)

Cast: Rihanna, Jim Parsons, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez

UNDERDOGS (April 10)

Official Trailer

underdogs-catmandu-2015

A 2013 hit in its original Argentina, METEGOL lands in the US as UNDERDOGS. In it, Foosball players come to life to help a young man combat a childhood enemy returned to destroy their hometown. Expect adventure, pandemonium, and gags of all kinds.

In the lead role of Jake (née Amadeo) appears Nicholas Hoult, who is off to a hell of a busy year.

Known for
Director Juan José Campanella AVELLANEDA’S MOON (2004)
SON OF THE BRIDE (2001)
A huuuge amount of TV
Studio 100 Bares, Plural-Jempsa and Catmandu Branded Entertainment The first feature from Catmandu, who proclaims METEGOL “the largest Ibero-American CG production to date”

Cast: Ariana Grande, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Morrison, Katie Holmes

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (April 24)

Official Trailer

Shaun the Sheep the Movie

Fixture of the BBC that reached US audiences through NETFLIX streaming, Shaun the Sheep arrives in his first feature to hit the city and rescue a lost Farmer. Expect rampant adventure, puns, visual gags, and startling emotional moments.

Shaun the Sheep listener advisory: extremely catchy theme song.

Known for
Directors Richard Goleszowski, Mark Burton First time at the helm
Story Richard Goleszowski, Mark Burton GNOMEO & JULIET (2011)
MADAGASCAR (2005)
THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (2005)
CHICKEN RUN (2000)
Studio Aardman Animations WALLACE & GROMIT (perpetual)
CHICKEN RUN (2000)

Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes

Other Items

Originally slated for May, new Paramount feature from director Chris Wedge (ICE AGE, EPIC) MONSTER TRUCKS, has been pushed to a Christmas release. No poster. No trailer. No worries?

The release date for the RATCHET & CLANK movie remains unannounced. So if you need a throwback Sony fix, you need to dust off the PlayStation.

sneakyvfxButton

The Secret to Life is Programming

No Comments

(This post created for and first appeared on Samantha Gay’s blog, February 21, 2015.)

source code sneaky vfx

Twenty years ago I was depressed, confused, and out of ideas. Then I discovered programming.

I’m not sure how it started. It helped that the family had a Tandy TRS-80 at one point, and I ran into BASIC and Oregon Trail at school, so a flashing green cursor was never something to fear. But it wasn’t until my second try at college–after flunking out of a fine art program, getting treatment for depression, and realizing my total lack of real-world problem solving skills–that I was desperate enough to pursue the one degree guaranteed to get me employed and out of the house: computer science.

I can’t recommend this strongly enough.

No, I don’t remember the Internet protocol diagram. No, I haven’t written an Access database since 1998. But the thing that stuck was realizing anything you can do on a computer, you can automate.

Need fifty images exported as thumbnails? Automate that.

Want to port a website’s old forum to a new format? Automate that.

Want to find your insurance company’s best-rated primary care provider across four different ratings websites? Automate that.

Some people encounter programming and think, “Oh, no, I’m no good at math.” First, math takes practice, but anyone who practices can be as secure in math as I am in high heels: embarrassing but functional. Second, programming is not math. It’s logic. It’s sudoku. It’s a series of trivia questions you’re allowed to Google.

brain stimulation sneaky vfx

And anyone with interest and Internet can learn. Long-term success comes from research and habits. To do what I do you don’t even need a degree; it’s been handy for me to have one on my resume, but the older I get the less meaningful it is.

Through all my life’s subsequent mistakes, panics, stupidities, and do-overs, programming has been my saving employable grace. When I ended up in Los Angeles in 2008 (a move Sam Gay assisted) with a scheme to be an art director or storyboard artist or anything else that would get me paid, it was my failure to find any of that work that sent me back to the technology listings. Because of programming, I ended up with the best-paying, most flexible, least stressful, least physically demanding, least goes-home-with-you job I’ve ever had.

Working in technology gives me time to create.

I have a healthy freelance career in speculative fiction and illustration. I’m working on the second edition of my Meddling Auntie advice comics for kids, and working on the launch of a web platform for interactive fiction. I hit the gym, see the doctor, and clean the house. I have emergency savings and a retirement fund. I can go to an out-of-town wedding without getting heartburn over the cost.

(I also created Sneaky VFX, a webcomic about converting to the church of code.)

It’s been a really long time since I’ve eaten a potato old enough to take a handprint.

old wrinkled potato

There are other factors, of course, but that’s a subject for another day.

If that sounds like what you want, start searching; I could give you links, but 1) that would look like I was promoting a particular place and 2) Internet searches are 20% of a programming so you might as well practice. If you ever touched HTML, brush up on that. Look into Python. Dip your toe in JavaScript.

There’s never been a better time.

getting started with twine 2

Twine in 10 Minutes: Write Interactive Fiction Today

No Comments

(This article originally appeared as a Luna Station Quarterly’s Chick on the Draw column, February 6, 2015)

Think IF might be fun, but don’t know where to start? Here’s how to get hooked in ten minutes.

1) Watch an introduction by Chris Klimas, the founder of Twine.

It’s about two minutes and will prime your brain. Anything that can be done in a web browser, you can do with Twine. ANYTHING. But we’ll begin at the beginning.

2) Take a look at your Twine 2.0 home page.

While Twine 1 was an app to download and install (for Windows or OSX), Twine 2 is a web app that runs right in your browser. Open it in a new tab.

If it’s your first time there, it’ll look like this:

Intro to Twine 2.0 - splash page

Hit the big green “+Story” button and create a new story.

twine_2_home_new_story

3) Take a look at the big blue Twine 2 workspace.

It should look about like this.

twine_2_workspace

Buttons do what you might guess. Hover over any of them, and a tooltip will explain.

twine_2_workspace_tooltip

For extra credit, click on the story title and take a look at the options.

twine_2_workspace_story_menu

We won’t use any of these right now, but it’s good to know they’re there.

4) Edit the “Untitled Passage.”

The little soft blue square is our first passage. In Twine, a passage is a unit of the story–kind of like a page is a unit of a book. To edit a passage, you can either double-click it OR hover over it and select the pencil icon.

twine_2_workspace_passage_options

The passage editor looks like this:

twine_2_edit_passage

There are instructions in the passage! They are true instructions. Write some text in your passage, and include a link to another passage. Links belong in double square brackets, so Twine knows they’re links.

For what it’s worth, you can the link after a word in your story:

Go to the [[cellar]]

Or name the link something else.

[[I went to the cellar.->Spooky Place]]

You can also rename the passage, though this isn’t required.

Here is our gripping tale so far:

twine_2_passage_editor_start

5) Close the passage, and see that Twine made new passages automatically.

twine_2_workspace_new_passages

Neat! You can also add a new passage by clicking the green “+Passage” button. You can delete a passage by hovering over it and clicking the “Trash” icon (or by hitting the good old “Delete” key.)

For fun, I’m going to edit the “prince” and “heel” passages, too.

twine_2_workspace_passages_updated

6) “Play” what you’ve got so far.

Hit the “Play” button. The story will build and open in a new tab.

twine_2_story_built

Click on a link and see where it goes!

7) Set a variable.

Let’s make a “trust” variable and change it depending on the reader’s choice.

In the “prince” passage, add this line of code:

(set: $trust to 10)

In the “heel” passage, add this line of code:

(set: $trust to 0)

It doesn’t matter where the line of code is within the passage. It will be run when the passage is displayed.

twine_2_passage_editor_variable

(It’s maybe good practice to set the variable to some default starting value at the beginning, and then update it as you go, but let’s not worry about that right now.)

8) Use that variable.

That “trust” variable should have an impact on our story. Let’s add a passage that uses it.

Add this link to both the “prince” and “heel” passages:

To think I wouldn't have met him if it weren't for Lord Coddish's [[funeral]].

Like so:

twine_2_passage_prince

And add this to a new “funeral” passage:

Reynaldo sat next to me during the service and I was sure
(if: $trust > 0)[I'd never met a man so dignified](else:)[he'd make off with my handbag].

Like so:

twine_2_passage_funeral

9) Hit “Play” again.

The story will rebuild in the same tab as before.

Now, if you choose “heel,” you arrive here:

twine_2_story_heel

You can also hit the “Bug” button to play the story in debug mode. This gives you more information if you run into trouble.

And that’s it! You’ve written a Twine story!

The official full documentation is here, and the forum is here. There are more story formats and controls and stylesheets and anything you could want to do. WELCOME TO THE RADDEST ADVENTURE.

EXTRA CREDIT

If you’re interested in interactive fiction and writing games in general, you might enjoy the Sorting Hat built by the Quinnspiracy. BE CAREFUL. You might find yourself writing a visual novel, or a platformer, or a puzzle game, or some other wonderful thing.

Cullen (discourage lyrium)

Dragon Age Inquisition: Missing Tarot Cards

No Comments

Thanks to inspiration from /u/YouLeaveMeNoChoice and /u/Shady_Intent, here are seven of the missing eight tarot cards from Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I’m still working on Josephine’s romance card. I made one, it just turned out goofy. Will fix soon. Stay tuned.

Twine icon

In 2015, You Will Read Interactive Fiction… and Maybe Write It

No Comments

This post first appeared as a Chick on the Draw Column at Luna Station Quarterly, January 9, 2015.

You may not know it when it happens, because it will sneak up on you in your browser or Kindle or mobile device. You were reading a thing, and then it gave you some kind of choice, and you clicked a link, and BAM: interactive fiction.

There may have been picture. There may have been sound. But mostly there was story that you, the reader, took a role in telling.

It may have already happened. You may have played some Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright… or both. You may have already read Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs or Lydia Neon’s Reset. You may have picked up Dragon Age: Inquisition because Solasmance was all over your Tumblr.

You may be way ahead of me. You may be signed up for Ludum Dare 32 and IndieCade East and taking code binge breaks to check for updates from Porpentine and anna anthropy.

Wherever you’re at or want to be, the party is ready for you.

What is interactive fiction? Is it a game? Is it a story? Is it the democratized, digital reincarnation of Edward Packard’s Choose Your Own Adventure novels?

Yes, yes, and yes, and it’s poised to explode this year.

 

The Demand is Massive

Want a main character with the gender, color, or other character traits that interest you? IF lets you choose.

Enjoy cities named Rha’athal? Can’t stand cities named Rha’athal? IF lets you name.

Prefer metric over US customary? Prefer US customary over metric? IF lets you decide.

Want to participate in the characters’ problem-solving? IF lets you solve the mysteries.

Want the The Princess Bride, but with the chance to romance Inigo? IF says “viva España.”

Romance will be a big part of the IF boom, and women will be the driving demographic. According to the International Business Times and The Daily Dot, 22 million women worldwide play otome apps–a dating sim for mobile devices–whose model offers the first chapter for free and the remainder for $5. BioWare’s been incorporating story, game and romance since 1998, with the combined sales of last year’s Dragon Age: Inquisition topping 2 million.
Obscurasoft‘s Kickstarter-funded sexy, funny gay dating sim “Coming Out On Top” raised over seven times its $5000 goal and was released to critical and consumer acclaim. Fiction, games, and dating sims on devices are expanding westward, and anyone can play.

 

The Devices are Ready

If you have a computer or a mobile device, you can read IF. According to the Pew Internet Project, as of this time last year:

  • 58% of American adults have a smartphone, skewing strongly toward young people (83% of those age 18-29 vs. 49% of those age 50-64, moderately toward people of color (61% of Hispanic Americans, 59% African-Americans, 53% white), and slightly toward men (61% of men vs. 57% of women)
  • 32% of American adults own an e-reader
  • 42% of American adults own a tablet computer

Downloading text-based IF takes little bandwidth, and content can easily be stored on the device for offline reading. Fiction can go everywhere the reader does.

 

Creators Wanted

Interactive fiction combines the efficiency of the written word with the showmanship of film. You can make a big impact on a smaller budget.

If you’re a writer, you may not think of yourself as a programmer. You may see a semicolon or curly braces and run for the hills. Fortunately we’re in a golden age of tools to turn writers into programmers. The lists below are by no means comprehensive.

For text-based games:

  • Twine: Flexible and powerful. Anything you can do in a browser, you can do with Twine. Open source, gratis and libre. No central publisher, but a robust community of creators and supporters.
  • ChoiceScript: Simple and streamlined. Central publisher Choice of Games has interesting royalty- or commission-based payment options. Good choice for writing Choose Your Own Adventure-type stories for pay.
  • Inform 7: Builds story environments via human-readable descriptions. I haven’t tangled with it too much, but Rock, Paper, Shotgun has.
  • Failbetter Games is a studio that occasionally seeks contributors

For picture-based games (e.g. visual novels, the Professor Layton series), there’s Ren’Py.

If you’re feeling energized, you may even enjoy PuzzleScript for making Sokoban-type transportation games–you know, stuff like Rodent’s Revenge (90s PC game alongside Ski Free.) I mention PuzzleScript only because scripting with it is very, very fun.

 

Find Out More

If you’d like to talk more about the future of IF, reach out on Twitter @toryhoke or through my blog. If you want to see what I’m doing, visit my games on itch.io.

8 Things Arguing on the Internet Taught Me About People

1 Comment

This article first appeared as a Chick on the Draw column Dec 5, 2014 at Luna Station Quarterly

For the past two years, between watching cartoons and doing other crazy crap, I’ve helped moderate an online support group forum for survivors of family trauma. In that time the community has grown from fewer than a hundred members to tens of thousands. I no longer do the heavy lifting of moderation duties, but I still pinch-hit.

It’s been a hell of an education.

1. On the Internet, humans are meeting artificial intelligence halfway.

As a species, we set the stage for AI when we started writing letters.

Considering that text-based communication strips away vocal inflection, facial expression, and body language–what had been for a million years our only communication mechanisms at all–it’s a miracle we can get across any idea. Considering any online forum throws together total strangers–who have complete access to their own hurt feelings and no access to anyone else’s until they exercise heroic imagination–it’s a miracle anyone can get along.

Those who can get along are in a much better position to make sense of our eventual digital overlords.

2. If you find yourself in disagreement with someone, and you sincerely want to figure out the solution, prove it by starting with a good-faith restatement of their case (Rogerian-style negotiation.)

I’ve seen nothing soothe bruised feelings like this approach, e.g. “I hear that you think X, and you want Y.” Restating the other person’s position before describing my own has transformed me from being a “power-tripping fascist” to a reasonable human being in no more than three exchanges.

In his 1951 paper, “Communication: Its Blocking and its Facilitation,” [therapist Carl Rogers] proposes that the empathy and feedback model could be used to facilitate communication in emotion-laden situations outside the therapeutic relationship, such as political or labor negotiations. His formula is simple: “Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.” In later articles he details Rogerian-style negotiation sessions that have produced astonishing results, including the Camp David negotiations conducted by Jimmy Carter, a conference involving health care providers and impoverished and embittered health care consumers, and even opposing sides in Northern Ireland (Rogers and Ryback 1984).

Rogerian Rhetoric: An Alternative to Traditional Rhetoric, Douglas Brent, University of Calgary

I heard about this approach being used at a Bay Area tech conference debate, I think, and boy howdy does it work.

3. Contrapositively, deliberately mischaracterizing someone’s position is a great way to piss them off

e.g. “Oh, I get it. You’re just doing this because X.” More than name-calling, abusive language, or threats of violence, deliberately mischaracterizing someone’s position is the single most effective way to make someone fly into a rage. So 1) please don’t do this and 2) if someone does it to you, beware it is sanity Kryptonite.

4. The best way to tell a normie from a troll is to push on them a little.

I’ve seen malicious-looking posts from users who turned out to wish help. I’ve seen helpful-looking posts form users who turned out to wish harm. I’ve seen posts with absolutely undistinguishable intent. Fortunately all a mod has to do is say, “We don’t do that here,” and intent readily identifies itself: normies recant and trolls explode. About one in ten will be a normie who is outraged by being pushed on. That’s where lesson #2 applies.

5. Like a defense attorney, a mod most defend every poster.

      • A) The person who posts is more vulnerable than the person who comments. By standing up and speaking, a poster makes themself a target.Commenters can dogpile. Posters can’t. Thus as a mod I always side more with a poster than a commenter, occasionally to a commenter’s outrage. In these cases, lesson #2 works a treat.
      • B) It does more harm for an innocent individual to be falsely accused than for a guilty individual to walk free.It is vital that we take every poster seriously. If we let the community dismiss/belittle/shout down one person expressing–among other things–thoughts of suicide, then others with thoughts of suicide will be less likely to express them. That insecurity is exactly what keeps suffering people silent, and exactly what the community cannot abide.

 

Yes, this means you’ll see mods supporting and failing to remove content you despise. But the flip-side is that, when someone questions your post, the mods will defend it, too.

Yes, this means no matter how many people decide a poster is faking, exaggerating, or catfishing, we let the poster keep posting. There is a solution for catfish, and it has nothing to do with us mods:

6. Healthy boundaries work in all cases.

If you exercise loving detachment, it doesn’t matter whether you believe what a person is saying or not.

If a stranger says they need money, healthy boundaries will keep you from sending money–or permit you to send money only if you’re completely prepared to see no advantage from it.

Now’s a good time to reiterate how highly I recommend Codependent No More.

7. Giving orders is anti-social.

Even if you’re 100% sure what someone should do to solve all their problems, giving them an order (“leave him,” “get a job,” “you should stop calling her”) is not going to go over well.

I recommend giving life advice the same way one gives a fiction critique:

[N]o should; use “I” statements; phrase things in the context of what worked for you or not, without assuming the stance of every reader; talk about the story, not the author; don’t refer to other authors as any kind of example.

Denver Fiction Writers pretty damn good fiction critique how-to

8. I am pretty OK with being called a power-tripping fascist.

It helps to have other power-tripping fascists around to check in with.

Dead Week

Dead Week

No Comments

Dead Week

I promise this is the scariest interactive horror webtoon about final exams you’ll play today.

Beware of watching while alone at home.

PLAY Dead Week

(Tested on OSX in Chrome and Safari, and on Windows in Chrome and IE. Layered audio does not work on mobile. Sorry about that.)

If you like IF, you might be interested in sub-Q Magazine, launching Spring 2015.

Twine is a platform for making interactive fiction–stories integrated with choice, picture, and sound. Do you make Twine things, too? Enjoy these audio macros with volume controls and seamless loops:

Twine icon

A Barbarian at the Gate: Five Ways to Protect Twine’s Village from the Coming Invasion

No Comments

Twine icon

This article originally appeared at Storycade on October 7, 2014

I’m not the most curious pup in the litter. When Michael Lutz’s “My Father’s Long, Long Legs” hit MetaFilter last November and scorched my brain stem, I assumed it was the thousand-hour effort of a lone HTML5 gunman. I even glanced at the source, thought, “Huh. Never heard of ‘Twee’,” and didn’t even bother to Google it. This pup stayed in the crate.

Imagine my shock this month when a more astute acquaintance explained that, like MyFLLL, hundreds of enhanced fiction experiences are being created on the open-source, beloved, and blossoming platform of Twine. The possibilities of Twine are exhilarating. Its future is glorious. I’m convinced teeming hordes are going to want in, and they’re coming. If a late adopter like me is at your gate, the barbarians are on the march.

(more…)