Blender: go figure

In between revisions of my book, I’ve been learning Blender. It’s hard, partly because there’s just so damn much to learn, and partly because they’ve made little attempt to make it intuitive. There’s a quirky hidden method for everything, including problems that are solved in a standard way in every other field of programming. So there’s not that much you can discover just by noodling around; you have to go Google solutions or watch videos.

As I had a pretty good head going, I tried to make a whole body. On my sixth try, I’ve got something usable:


Rather than relying on sculpt mode, I found that the secret here is to start with good 2-D drawing, front and back. Then you make a simple structure made out of a few cubes, and move the vertices to match the drawings in both dimensions. Subdivide the mesh and do it again. This keeps the proportions right and minimizes the work you have to do with each subdivision.

Here’s a gallery of earlier failures:


The failure is mostly due to attempting to use sculpt mode. Plus, hands are hard. On the middle figure I had a symmetry problem… you can mirror the figure so you’re working on both sides at once, but something was wrong here that really messed up the hands.

The orange skeleton-like lines in the first picture comprise the rigging, which is used for animation. The posing is relatively straightforward, though doing even a simple animation is quite complex and tedious.

And yes, I’ll get clothes on her eventually. There’s no use working on that till the figure is working and animating correctly; plus I’m not even sure how to make the clothes go with the mesh as it’s animated. No wonder indie games love 2-D.

She has four toes in case she becomes a character in an Almean video game.  Also because toes are hard.

Really done this time

Finished Remember Me, this time by completing it. The Two Greenteeths fight turns out to be way harder than the final boss fight, where I didn”t even die.  But that’s OK; final boss fights are rarely satisfying.

Neo-Paris looks pretty good since I saved it
Neo-Paris looks pretty good since I saved it

I do think they have the usual game mismatch between gameplay and story. Not during the memory remixes, where they are perfectly matched. But the story is about memories and big corporations and family ties, and the gameplay is about punching people, plus highly railroaded climbing and clambering.

You may think this is inherent to the medium, but I don’t think so.  The pattern of hitting bad guys works perfectly well as a symbol of getting rid of Bad Guy Inc.– thus Arkham City, Half-Life 2, Borderland 2, Left 4 Dead, Dead Space.

Or you have a mechanic that at least rhymes with the story:

Mirror’s Edge: story = fight oppressive regime; gameplay = evade controls by taking disallowed pathways

Portal: story = exit from being trapped by an insane AI; gameplay = play with exits

Beyond Good & Evil: story = nice place is tightly held by bad guys pretending to be saviors; gameplay = (in part) exposing the oppressors through news photography

Deus Ex: story = a debate on whether human augmentation is a good idea; gameplay = (mostly) messing with augments

Open-world RPGs mostly work, since adventures conventionally have a lot of fighting, so we expect to solve most of our problems that way.  The pretext can wear thin at times, though… Joe NPC has this problem, and whaddya know, it involves delving down into one more Draugr-infested ruin.  Or, a huge invasion force is threatening galactic civilization, and the only way to stop it is something involving three commandos.

Singularity, whose theme was messing with time, thought of combat options that involve time, such as suddenly aging/renewing objects, and slowing things down.

So basically Remember Me should have found some way to make memory the theme of its gameplay, too.  Yahtzee suggested that we could remix enemies to make them think they hadn’t seen you; that’s on the right track.

The Remembranes are an attempt to use the idea, and they work to some extent, but they don’t touch the combat.

Maybe combat wasn’t the right metaphor at all.  RM might have worked better as a stealth game: avoid some enemies; alter others so they work for you or don’t see you or forget they have a gun and go back to the armory to get one; get into the heads of receptionists or lab workers to find secrets and open doors.  Maybe some puzzle sequences involving multiple people: e.g. to get two people out of your hair, you make them fall in love and escape to find a quiet room together.  Or maybe instead of ‘remembering’ new skills, Nilin could steal new skills from people she meets… perhaps from enemies who can then no longer use them against her.

Kudos to RM, though, for actually being based on a sf idea: the possiblility of downloading, changing, and selling memories.  The one thing I don’t understand is how Nilin can change memories that are going to contradict the rest of people’s experience.

This mostly comes up with the first and last ones.  (Spoiler coming.)  An assassin traps Nilin, but she remixes her to think that the memory people– her employers– killed her husband.  This changes her motivation, and OK, I accept that until she checks her e-mail, she believes her new memories and helps Nilin instead.  But she also helps Nilin several days later, and it seems unlikely that nothing would come up to tell her that her husband did not in fact die.  Plus, it’s like Charm spells in Skyrim or augments in Deus Ex: doesn’t anyone realize that these things are a part of their world?  Wouldn’t she at least wonder why she had her hands around Nilin’s throat until a moment ago, and think that maybe a notorious memory-fixer had done a number on her, even if she didn’t know the specifics?

Take that, Greenteeths

Eager to get my $30 worth, I decided to replay Remember Me, this time in French. (The developers are French, so it seemed like the right choice. Sadly and stupidly, they didn’t lip-synch the characters to their own language.)

Anyway, it was a lot easier this time. One thing, of course, is knowing the moves required for each boss. Also, I spent the early fights trying to master the second combo. Basically the problem was that I was fighting as in Arkham City, where you can’t get a punch in too early. RM wants you to hit at a slow steady pace– as one of the hints says, hit the next key just as the animation for the previous hit plays. Also, the jumps are the opposite of Mirror’s Edge: you have to jump well short of the edge.

As for this fight, which halted me last time–


–I beat it. For reference, here’s what I did:

  • Use only the 3-hit combo.  With ten leapers in play, you’re not going to get 5 or more hits in.
  • I added a health and cooldown pressen to the combo.  This restores the health they keep whittling down, and crucially, cuts down the 3-minute cooldown on the one attack (Sensen DOS) that affects the Mourner Leapers.  You don’t really care about doing damage, since dead leapers will be replaced.
  • I did not want to replay this fight, so if I was getting low on health, I switched to a health + blue (intensifier) pressen until my health bar was back up.
  • I would move to a Leaper, try to get my 3 hits in, and S-space back.  Also, don’t get so fixated on the combos that you fail to avoid the enemy attacks.  Better to avoid (= space) and try again.
  • The moment you have Sensen DOS, use it and attack a Mourner. Use Fury if you have the focus for it.  You will have to do this about three times per Leaper in easy mode.
  • Eventually one Mourner will go down.  Now, with just five ordinary leapers, it’s just a matter of staying alive and waiting out the cooldowns. It still took forever, but it was tedious rather than impossible.
  • Finally, fagawdsake remember the button press order to get past the final QTE: right mouse, left mouse, right mouse.
  • Don’t forget to wipe out any remaining Leapers.

It’s still a highly annoying fight; the mechanic of “you can only use one attack and you can’t use it now” is just not fun.  I feel skilled when Batman takes down a boss; this is just wearying.  Also, with all those Leapers, it’s really easy to get surrounded by Leapers, and then it’s hard to get out.  Try to stay outside the pack.

But I can progress in the story now.

The memory remixes are still the best part of the game.  This idea of changing people’s memories is fascinating and rather disturbing, and they should have used it way more.  As it is, it’s like a Portal game where there are only four places in the game where you can use portals.

Also, a linguistic side-note: Edge, the voice in Nilin’s ear, calls her frangine.  This is sis in the English version, which is a perfectly good translation, and yet sounds way weirder in English.  There’s a joshing familiarity about it in French, with a tincture of solidarity. I can’t think of a good equivalent in English.

Lexipedia needs readers

About ten minutes ago, I finished revising the second part of The Conlanger’s Lexipedia. (There are two parts because Word, bless its malfunctioning heart, cannot handle the entire text.)

So, I need victims readers! If you think you could read the whole thing in a relatively short period (the next 2-4 weeks) and offer some feedback, drop me a line at markrose at zompist dot com.

There’s a fair amount of physics and biology and an ungodly amount of Greek, Latin, and Chinese, so if you have expertise in those areas, please mention it.

(I’ll revise it and then need some more reactions, so if I get enough responses you may be in the next batch of readers.)

Blender heads. Blendeads.

To do anything useful in Unity you need a 3-D modeling program.  And XSI Softimage, which I had kinda learned, is defunct.  So I downloaded Blender, and tried out some stuff, and was all WUT.  For some reason 3-D modellling is really complex and non-intuitive.

But I read a bunch of manual pages and decided to play with the Sculpt feature.  Here are my first two horrible attempts at a head.


I wasn’t sure how to subdivide the meshes right… the one on the right has over 32,000 polygons, and yet the mesh is all screwed up, because I figured I’d add detail in the areas where I needed it, and it turns out that’s a bad idea.

Anyway, I found a tutorial video on making heads, and it was awesome.  I don’t normally like tutorial vids because they take lots of time and the maker doesn’t edit out the useless bits, but this one is really well done… it turns out that for learning a really complicated program like Blender, videos are the way to go.  So here’s my next head:


At this point it turns out that to make it better I would have to learn more anatomy.  I’ve drawn a lot of faces, but in drawing you can omit an awful lot of fine details that turn out to be important in sculpting… details of the brow structure, for instance, or what the neck muscles look like from the back.

The video has a lot of info on how to use the Sculpt tools, but the best advice turned out to be to start with a fairly lo-res mesh and get it as close as possible before adding detail.  Also, the grease pencil is really good for drawing in a profile, eye locations etc., so you get the proportions right.

Anyway, I’d like to learn how to do texturing now.  And hair.

(Not neglecting my book… I’m reading and revising, got about 250 pages done.  Should be in pretty good shape by the end of the week.)

388 pages, baby

Finally got all my Lexipedia text in one file. I wrote most of the text in the 20-year-old Word 5.1, which is blindingly fast, but did the etymologies in New Word, which handles Unicode. Plus the etymologies were alphabetical, and they had to be divided up by section. Anyway, it’s all in one place now, and reformatted for 6×9, and I can finally see how many pages I have: 388. That’s longer than the PCK, and I haven’t done the diagrams yet.

As a break, and to balance all this book stuff, I decided to put up a new Almean story. It’s a bit of a trifle called “The Multipliers”.

Remember Me: screw it

I think that about wraps it up for Remember Me. I’d really like to finish this game, but I can’t, because the designers don’t know what “easy mode” means.

In 2085 you will wear thigh-high boots on top of jeans and LIKE IT
In 2085 you will wear thigh-high boots on top of jeans and LIKE IT

On the plus side, it looks like I got through over 80% of the game. But it just pisses me off when a game just doesn’t want to let you get through it.

There’s a fight in episode 6, with Johnny Greenteeth, that’s almost impossible.  Here’s the thing:

  • You have two superpowers you need to use in combination: Sensen DOS to stun him, and Sensen Fury to whale a bunch of blows on him.
  • It takes three Furies to finish him off.
  • The cooldown on DOS is three fucking minutes.  Seriously: once you’ve used it there is nothing you can do against him.
  • To even use the superpowers you have to build up focus by hitting the Leapers he summons.  I used a combo to regen health, but it’s not easy– you’re swarmed by the Leapers, and Johnny keeps teleporting in to hit you.  Just staying alive is a challenge.
  • You can create combos that reduce the cooldown.  Great, except most of the time the only combo that works is the first, weakest one.  I am a whiz at Arkham City combat, so I understand the concept and I know my mouse is working, but most of the time I cannot get the other combos to register.  Plus, as I said, you’re swarmed by the Leapers, so getting five hits on one dude without getting hit is not easy.

I managed to get through it, and have no desire to do it again.  The game is full of fights like that– just nasty hard, so I’m glad they’re over and hope I never have to do them again.  (It’s little consolation that the Zorn fight I mentioned here is repeated later, and I did defeat it pretty fast that time.)

Anyway, in chapter 7, guess what, you face two Greenteeths.  I tried, I just can’t do it.  As each takes three Furies to take down, the fight would be 18 minutes long, and I can’t stay alive even for half that time while also fighting ten Leapers.  (Plus of course if you fail at any point, it’s back to the beginning.)

Surprisingly, Yahtzee is fairly positive about the game.  He thinks they were trying too many things at once– the build-yer-own-combo mechanic and the memory fixing– and didn’t quite do either well.  I agree that that memory interference is the best part of the game, and they should have made it a central thing rather than a strange little add-on.

The combat isn’t undeveloped, though, it’s just totally unforgiving.  Too many enemy types who are designed to be lengthy and punishing to defeat.  The mechanism of “you need to use your superpower to defeat the boss, only we won’t let you” is intensely annoying.  It’d be nice if they had implemented Easy Mode like in every other game– e.g., your damage should be higher, your HP higher, your cooldowns faster.  Failing that, a set of combat maps like Arkham City would help a lot.  I didn’t master AC combat without them; once I did, the main game was much more enjoyable.

The boss fights aren’t the only aspects of the game that seem user-hostile.  A minor but real annoyance: there are collectibles scattered throughout, and you want them, because they give you things like extra HP.  Often you have to leave the railroad slightly to find them… that’s great!  Only if you explore into the next section of the map, the game locks the door behind you and never lets you go back.  I hope someone didn’t think that was a great mechanism.  More likely they just weren’t thinking like a player.  The designers knew where all the goodies were, so it just never occurred to them that the one-way doors were a problem.

Also… in the first bit of the game I though “Hey, parkour, cool.”  Only it’s not– it’s just a very elaborate railroad.  If the game wants you to, you can cross a gap or climb a wall; if it doesn’t, you can’t.  Tomb Raider had lots of railroaded bits, but there were at least a few open-exploration areas, and Lara’s powers seemed much more consistent– if she can climb up a wall of a certain size here, she can do it anywhere.  I know it’s more work to make alternate paths, but the thing is, they already put in that work in Remember Me.  It has enormous levels, often with rooms you can see but can’t get into.  It’d be nice to be able to do more exploration and sometimes have a choice of path.

Syria: Let’s probably not do it

Obama has put the ball in Congress’s court, and I kind of hope that the proposition fails, and he abides by the result.  There’s always a big ballyhoo about how Congress doesn’t declare war any more, and the truth is that it doesn’t because it doesn’t want the responsibility.  If things go south in Syria– whether we intervene or not– let Congress share the blame.

The Arab Spring was a rare unexpected thing in the world– a popular multi-country uprising against dictatorship in a region which seemed, for various tawdry reasons, immune to the global democratizing trend.  It’s pretty amazing that Syrians were bold enough not just to demonstrate but to fight, and I have zero sympathy for Assad.  And there’s no question that he’s created immense misery waging war against his own people.

The question, though, is whether US intervention would do good.  It sure seems like we ought to be able to stop the bad guys, but  look at our experience in the region– Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia.  All pretty much just multiplied the suffering, failed to solve internal conflicts, and led Americans to wash their hands of the thing without making any permanent improvements.  Even if our intentions are good, we are just not good at this.

You can point to Kuwait, Serbia, and Libya as partial successes– kind of.  They were limited in scope, at least.  But I really hope that Obama isn’t looking at his own intervention in Libya as a model.  Syria has three times the population, it’s far more divided and complicated, the rebels already include some serious bad guys, and the goals are far from clear.  Plus it’s far different when we were more or less invited to help by the neighbors, vs. going it alone.  Anyway, Libya is actually still pretty out of control, and the post-Assad situation is likely to be even messier.

I read an interview with McCain today, showing he hasn’t lost his ability to expound contradictory policies.  He thinks Obama has been too weak– but he vows to impeach him if he sends troops to Syria.  Um, you can’t throw your weight around while also demanding not to get hurt.  McCain’s declarations are a formula for large-scale failure.

On a humanitarian level, it’s painful to watch Assad going to war on his people.  But there’s two things to keep in mind.  One, bombing a country is not exactly a humanitarian intervention– on the contrary, it’s going to kill thousands of people and invite retribution.  And two, the nice thing about not intervening is that it’s not us causing the problem.

I guess there is some chance that a bombing campaign will make Assad want to negotiate, or will impel some underlings to depose him.  But the chances seem low, and at this point it seems far too late to put the battle-genie back in the bottle.  There’s likely to be a low- or high-level civil war going on in Syria for several years, and very little interest in any sort of negotiated solution.

A good Catwoman book!

I love the character of Catwoman, and by that I mostly mean the one in Arkham City.  She kicks just as much ass as Batman while being way cooler.

Since playing it I’ve been reading Catwoman TPBs when the library has them in, and in general I’ve been unimpressed.  The low point, I think, was giving her a baby, and then having Wacky Superhero Things happen around the two of them.  The attempted mixture of realism and wackiness just didn’t work.

I read some of the latest Catwoman, and it’s not bad, but I think they made her a little too kee-razy.

But I think I’ve finally found a good Catwoman book: Trail of the Catwoman, which actually has three interrelated stories from 2002-3.  The first story is by Darwyn Cooke, and he has an appealing, very brushy line:


He write a heist story, which is precisely (I think) what you should do with Catwoman.  It’s what she does, what she’s good at, and it’s fun to see her at her most cool and competent.  And I think Cooke does a good job recognizing her sexiness while letting her rise above it.  It’s a tool she uses (though at the same time she can actually care for people, something that doesn’t come naturally to Bats).

The heist itself is ill-advised (stealing from the Mob) and has quite a few holes in it.  (Hint to plotters in movies and comics: you and your scheme are only as secure as the guy you’ve left alone.)  Still, stories only happen when things go wrong, and it’s told well.

The other two stories are more noir, which also fits Catwoman.  Noir started as an attempt to restore realism to detective fiction, but it’s mainly stayed in the ’30s and ’40s at heart, thus becoming a form of fantasy itself.  The stories deal with Mafiosi and rotten cops, and I think they have precisely zero to say about criminality and policing, but that’s OK– the Mafiosi and cops behave as they’re supposed to in noir, and again, an actual police procedural or Mob expose doesn’t really have a place for a femme fatale cat burglar, but noir does.

I made a game! (Ha)

I was curious about the Unity game engine, so I downloaded the free version, opened it up, and was all WUT.

But thanks to this awesome tutorial on making a game in half an hour, I made a game in half an hour. Well, probably more like an hour.

Watch out for that rock!  Sunday driver!
Watch out for that rock! Sunday driver!

It’s basically the “Hello world” of games, but the little car does move around.

Just a break from formatting my book. 🙂