$NEWTON64 :: {blog|games}
KO-OP Blog: Concerning zero-g

For my followers on this site: I dropped a truth bomb over at the KO-OP Mode dev blog. That is to say, I talked about how weightlessness is weird.

A good portion of Red Rover takes place on the first human ship to Mars, christened NOMAD-V (pictures posted previously). Since she doesn’t provide any form of artificial gravity, that means her occupant(s) will necessarily be bouncing around in zero-g; a mechanic that seems oddly under-represented in games.

Check it out.

Moonlight, Jonas Kyratzes

Jonas Kyratzes has this thing where he writes pretty good: he and his games first won me over with The Fabulous Screech, and he pretty much picked up a lifelong fan with The Sea Will Claim Everything. The games are confidently-written, incredibly original, and possessed of this crazy, carefree, despairing, empowering life-force that mixes whimsy, nostalgia, surrealism, wonder, and really, they are very, very good.

His latest — Moonlight — brings the sweetness yet again. It’s been receiving some rather nice words elsewhere, so I’ll try not to be too redundant: it’s a dreamy game to be sure (it is literally a dream), but the feeling that struck me most was that of a new, enchanted, interactive improv theatre. It’s not some wild experience over which you have no control; instead, you point the way, and the game winks and says “Why yes, why wouldn’t we?” and away you go. It’s intentional, it’s effortless, it’s joyous. That this sort of improvisation can be felt in a browser-based, text-only game is remarkable.

Play Moonlight. Go on.

Until Tomorrow

Today was my last day of gainful employment at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

SPOILER: I’m going to receive money to make video games.

Now, the middle bits, as efficiently as possible.

RVH building

I’ve been interested in game design for at least two years, and in fact that’s what’s driven me (with some meandering, I’ll admit) through Computer Science degrees at Concordia and then McGill. When I started on the latter, I began looking for a means to withstand the notoriously exorbitant Quebec tuition fees; as luck would have it, a friend suggested a contact of his at the on-campus Genome Centre who might be hiring; that contact (who’d actually been more interested in full-time bioinformatics graduates) then referred me to the Cardiovascular Research Laboratories at the RVH. Given that it was across the street from school, and that the work was straightforward (grokking & awk’ing data, adminning some sys), I took the job.

The work was good, and offered plenty of spare time for other activities, but I’ve come to realise that, ultimately, multitasking may not be my thing. I can’t work and listen to a podcast; I can’t read two books at the same time; I can’t sneeze and keep my eyes open; and I…found it difficult to work one full-time job, and then come home to another. My gig at the RVH was temporary — I knew it, my boss knew it, though the janitor may have been unaware — and it was becoming more and more obvious that the time had come. I resigned last month.

I am survived by many excellent and genuine people, doing genuinely excellent work on the genetics of cardiovascular disease. They have been, in a word, fantastic. Or wonderful, or amazing. One of those will do. My thanks and a raised glass to them:

Here’s to five and a half years. It…does not feel like five and a half years, here.

Of course, that much time under one (occasionally water- or asbestos-shedding) roof comes with its share of nav beacons: I started this website only a month or two before getting the job; I traveled from Edinburgh to Istanbul; I became both a Master and a hipster; I…well, the heartbreak or two; I got together with friends who make games; I attended my first GDC; and I can happily say that I am, for the moment, the one and only Rudzicz with an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

not-bad.jpg, as the kids say and the crow flies.

Up next is video games. A friend found himself an angel, and with a little bit of bootstrap funding, we’re hoping to start something worthwhile: a number of ideas suggest themselves, including a little pet project of mine. I’ll write more about that when we have something a bit more tangible to show — though anyone who knows me will, I imagine, know exactly what I’m talking about. Mars awaits.

To my (now ex-)coworkers: live long and prosper. To all: I shall attempt to make this new endeavour a worthy one indeed. As my friend Lando would say: here goes nothing.

Please rise for the Canadian hymn to the Patron Saint of Lonely Wanderers.

Cheers. &c.

Aperture (Bad) Science

I got up at 4:30 this morning because Portal 2 got astronomy wrong.

More accurately, I was woken at around 3:00 by torrential rains and more than one thunderclap; then, as the storm passed and I was wide awake, I took to reading more of Green Mars (which, incidentally, is still bloody fantastic); then I put my head down and tried to force myself back to sleep, but succeeded only in thinking about video games. And then, at 4:30 this morning, I got out of bed because Portal 2 got astronomy wrong.

It is (morally) necessary and (literally) sufficient to say that this post contains some moderate (read: extreme) narrative spoilers, and so I provide the following video free of charge as a convenient internet boundary. All you cats who haven’t finished the game, make like Indiana Jones and do not cross the seal with the Holy Grail/your web browser:

Dr. Elsa Schneider

Nooo, Dr. Schneider! There are Portal 2 spoilers down there!

You’ve been warned (and delighted by another’s slapstick misfortune!).

So, by now you’ve all read my Bad Astronomer-inspired deconstructions of Modern Warfare 2, Mass Effect, and Moonbase Alpha. You’ve laughed, you’ve cried a little, you’ve cried while laughing over brandy and a roaring fireplace screensaver. Well, fire up the brandy and brandy up the fire again! We’ve got another visitor.

Good-natured Preface

I liked Portal 2.

Knives out

There are a fair number of criticisms to level at the game: that the original Portal was too perfect to require/deserve a sequel; that the new game broke down into a series of “Find-the-portalable-surface” puzzles; that the {repulsion|propulsion|conversion} gels felt mechanically tacked-on; that the writing was entirely too self-aware. It’s all been said elsewhere on angrily-harried keyboards, and I’m certain a quick Lycos will find you a bundle.

My own complaints are (seemingly) unique, however. I’d had a feeling—as soon as I saw the “Lunacy” achievement title and description—that something wild and astronomical was going to happen in-game (maybe another trip to Xen! No, no not that thing.) and that I might have a chance to get scientifically chuffed once again.



Now, Portal 2 has rather a memorable ending sequence:

As well as a somewhat more subdued and touching epilogue:

At first, I only took (cold and objective) offense at the latter video, but a brainstorm during the rainstorm this morning unlocked a few more points about the former video as well, as we shall soon see.

In space, no one can hear you sigh dejectedly

Sound in space. My white whale.

In that second video, I suppose I’d be willing to believe we’re eavesdropping on some form of digital communication channel direct from Wheatley. But then, that wouldn’t explain why we hear the clanking of his mechanical pupil. Or why the Space Core’s voice attenuates as a function of distance-to-camera. And seems to echo? Against a physical object? In space?

Sigh. Well, at this point it’s not even worth mentioning anymore; in fact, it’s more noteworthy when games or movies or television actually portray the physical reality of space.

“Hey, did you see that new movie? The sky was blue in the outdoor scenes! I love it when movies have that kind of scientific realism!”


And now in a circular motion, rub it

The Epilogue furthermore shows a humbled Wheatley dreaming of forgiveness, whilst the Space Core orbits happily around him. There is a word I do not like in there. It is not “whilst”—I frigging love that word. The word in question is “orbits.” Look at this drawing:

Wheatley gravitation

No, REALLY look at it. I literally spent hours.

Both cores are ejected vertically “out” of the Moon with roughly the same velocity. Somehow, the Epilogue implies, Wheatley has captured the Space Core and made it a satellite (or “his bitch” as astronomers call it). This necessarily means that Wheatley is exerting a force fw on the Space Core—be it a passive gravitational force, or an active and as-yet-undisclosed Physical Attractor Beam in Space-Time (or PABST Blue-Ribbon). If the latter, well, one might assume he could use these gravitationally-manipulative powers of his to eventually propel or pull himself to Earth; but then it would beg the question as to why he wouldn’t have used them in any number of situations during the game itself, and heck, I’m going for consistency here.

On the other hand, Wheatley might exert a passive gravitational pull on the Space Core—in which case, it should be child’s play to calculate his mass! Indeed, various formulae exist for calculating orbital speed in a two-body system:

Equations for orbital speed (Vo) of one mass (m1 — the Space Core) around another (m2 — Wheatley) at a radius of r. G represents the gravitational constant; in Equation (2), the central mass being orbited (M — again, Wheatley) dominates the system, making m1 negligible and simplifying Equation (1).

Now bear with me, I’m about to make a lot of asses out of u and me: first and foremost, that we have the situation in Equation (2), where Wheatley’s mass is much, much larger than the Space Core’s. In the Epilogue video, the Space Core takes approximately 9 seconds to complete one orbit of Wheatley. If we also assume a perfectly circular orbit (ha!) with a radius of…what looks like an average of two metres, we can calculate that the Space Core is moving at around
Vo = 2PI * 2 / 9 = 1.396m/s.
With the values for Vo, r, and G known (the latter is a quick web lookup), we can plug the numbers into Equation (2) and solve for M.

As depicted, Wheatley therefore has a mass of 58,408,991,458.115kg. Assuming his volume is approximately that of an average basketball (0.00710421831 cubic meters), then his density is a significant fraction of that inside a neutron star. Which makes him rather light on his feet (rail?), all things considered.

Phase Change

The question outlined above of orbiting bodies was the first and most glaring astronomical error I noticed in Portal 2‘s endgame, and I was prepared in fact to just let it go and move on. But lo! it was just this morning that a final and damning thought occurred, and was soon confirmed with Internet Research (read: the timeslip between Twitter and Facebook refreshes). How remiss I would have been not to trouble you with it all.

In the climactic moment of the Battle with Wheatley, a hole is torn in the roof of the Aperture facility, revealing our dearly beloved Luna:


I won’t calculate the size of impactor that would be required to make a flash of light on the Moon as large as that in the game, but, well, you know: exercises for the reader.

And once on the other side of the Lunar portal, the player has a moment to reflect on the Earth, down below:


Exercise 2: What should be the apparent radius of the Earth as seen from Luna?

A beautiful moment, admittedly, and it took me about a month before I noticed a rather serious and basic problem of geometric configuration: both the Earth and the Moon are in their respective gibbous phases.

For accuracy’s sake, I’ll make a little digression. Aperture Science (at least the Enrichment Center) is said to be located somewhere in Upper Michigan. As this is in the Earth’s Northern hemisphere, that makes the Moon we see in the game a waxing gibbous moon—getting larger and larger, almost Full and at the point of opposition with the Sun (as viewed from Earth). On the other hand, if the game had taken place in the Southern hemisphere, this would have been a waning gibbous Moon—shrinking on its way to a New Moon.

In either case, an important and rather obvious fact must be true: the gibbous Moon must be somewhat “behind” the Earth as seen from the Sun. If that is the case, then another fact must necessarily also be true: from every position on the Moon, the Earth would be seen only as a very thin crescent [Ed.-- omg so so so so so gorgeous!] Of course, the reverse is also true: if Earth appears gibbous from Luna, then the latter would appear only as a crescent to an observer on the former.

If we consider it from another perspective (was that a pun? I can’t even tell anymore): the only configuration in which two bodies can appear gibbous to each other is when they are on opposite sides of the Sun (though not in opposition). This is, naturally, quite possible when we compare Earth and any other planet in our lovely little system; on the other hand, it will never happen to Luna until they pry her from my cold, dead gravitational well.

As I mentioned, it was an error subtle enough to go a month without my noticing it. But while Mass Effect easily takes home the prize for most embarrassingly-flawed depiction of Earth from Luna, I’d say Valve comes in at a tight second place here.

Related: Michigan seems to be right around the Earth’s (overly linear) terminator, though not yet in complete darkness. Why, then, does the Moon appear, from the Enrichment Center, to be set against the backdrop of full night? It’s a subjective call, I suppose, but worth investigating.

Lunar Litter

Bon, we’re almost done here.

Looking back at that picture of Luna, the visible flash of light places the portal’s terminal point somewhere near Menelaus crater, between Mare Serenitatis and Mare Tranquilitatis. The Half-Life wiki beat me to the punch here, pointing out that none of the Apollo missions landed nearby, much less any of the three that carried a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRVs, present on Apollos 15 through 17) as seen in the full panorama of that scene.

We could nevertheless, for the sake of argument, claim that the flash of light came instead from the portal’s transient interaction with Earth’s atmosphere, and assume that Chell does emerge at one of the three given Apollo landing sites. The Half-Life wiki discounts the possibility of Apollo 15, given that the American flag was knocked over during the return-trip launch of the Lunar Module (LM) ascent stage. What other clues can we gather from the enlarged screenshot?

Well, visible very close by and to the right of the LM descent stage is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiements Package (ALSEP). From left-to-right we see three components: the Radioisotope Thermal Generator (RTG), (most likely) the Active Seismic Experiment (ASE), and the Central (computing) Station. Interesting attention to detail!

Unfortunately, if Wikipedia can be trusted (and I cannae ken a SINGLE REASON why it should not), the ALSEP was approximately 110m from the Apollo 15 LM, and 95m and 185m from Apollos 16 and 17, respectively. That’s a good distance away, where the game makes it look like only a small step and a sizeable leap.

Finally, I haven’t found any traverse maps of the Apollo landing sites, and so can’t verify the final resting places of the three LRVs relative to their Apollo LMs. But I’d reckon they’re much, much further from the descent stage than depicted in-game (where it’s shown as…roughly 20-30 metres). There is the famous video of Apollo 17′s launch from the Moon…

…but even then, it seems as though the camera is tightly zoomed in to begin with, with the LRV parked a generous distance away. It makes sense to me: I’d want my launch zone to be as clear of heavy/sensitive machinery as possible. But it brings us no closer to identifying the in-game Apollo landing site.

Reductio ad absurdum

I’ll say it again: I thoroughly enjoyed Portal 2, and appreciate the unique twist they threw into the finale. I mean, you have to respect a company that takes the time to model and place the ALSEP just because they are gangstar like that.

So if they’re willing to forgive my pedantic pick-nittering, I’ll gladly forgive them their flagrant disregard for basic science fact.

We’re cool, Valve. We’re cool.


TOJam Dev Journal

I have returned from TOJam VI. Later today I’ll actually post the game that resulted, but first: as promised, I kept a semi-active dev journal during the proceedings. I didn’t stick to it that rigourously though, so there isn’t much in the way of actual gameplay/design decisions, but it serves as a general indicator of mood, productivity, and Special Arcade Events over the weekend.

More on TOJam in the next post, but to put it succinctly: powerful awesome, 2 the max.


Friday 13
Renaud and Aliceffekt are here. Nathan Vella is here. I am here. Holy hamburgers, why don’t I have a game concept yet?

Ok whatever, I’ll stick to this line drawing thing. Fuck it. WE’LL DO IT LIVE.

Aliceffekt is probably right: I’m thinking too much. just bloody code.

MuchMusic’s Big Shiny Dubstep Game Jam Jams 2005

Mac & Cheese & Bacon & Happy

Pac-Man shaped cookies. Yes, I’m in it for the free food.

Progress is slow but steady, I guess. I’m pretty sure that’s how the tortoise and the birds and the bees had sex with the hare or something like that.

PRETTY COLOURS. Want more cookie. Morale: disingenuous.

Yeeeeeah, this game still looks pretty much not impressive. OH WELL ONWARDS I GUESS.

Depression due to graphical and mechanical simplicity of game: activate!

My Dubstep playlist has run out. EVERYBODY PANCAKE!!!

Jim McGinley gave us all the TOJam welcome speech in a parking lot. An active parking lot. Like we’d started a valet convention or something. Anyway, leave it to Jim to make me think my game might not be the worthless piece of go-se I’d feared.

Must stop comparing myself to others. Must stop comparing myself to others. Must stop comparing myself to others. Must stop comparing myself to others.

Refactor’d. Levels are their own thing now. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m going to deafen myself here with music to drown out the ambient chatter.

Red Bull, Rice Krispies squares, chips. Eating like a pro here.

Hey, I’ve *almost* got a single mechanic implemented. #winning

Yeah that’s stress eating, alright.

It strikes me that drawing these growing/shrinking lines should be a lot easier than I’ve got it now.

Saturday 14
So, for my own sake: a game design document/paragraph. I’ve been describing this as a puzzle game crossover of Bit Trip: Beat and Cursor10. There is a single track with many time “threads”; the player has a “cursor” active on a single thread at a time. Time increases from left to right; as the cursor moves along, it leaves a trail on the current thread. That trail comes to a stop whenever it meets a barrier. However, the player can move backwards in time on other threads, and on these other threads there may be triggers to disable these barriers. The puzzle of a level, then, is in activating the triggers in the right order, moving “back in time” (on the thread), then moving forwards again to pass through the now-open barrier.
And you know what? Come to think of it, this sounds like zero challenge. Past-midnight despairing game design do-over? Maybe.

Do over. Trying something extremely different. Probably should get some sleep.

Can’t sleep. Clown’ll eat me.

Hell with it. Sleep. See you in a bit.

Rise and shine, Mr. Freeman. Rise and…shine.
I’m making a completely different game now. Or, I’m about to. The previous one was about navigating a bundle of one-dimensional “time streams.” It ended up being simply a ball of frustration, and not very well coded, which added more frustration, &c.
I’m starting a new design. Sensing my Twitter despair, a friend suggested I needed more penises in my game. This, I realised, was probably a drunk friend. But, who am I to turn down a challenge? The new game will be a retelling of the tale of the Garden of Eden, in which our intrepid Adam and Eve, bound to a comet heading for a splashdown on Earth, must collect all those animals and people and stuff that they want on their new planet. It…it makes sense in my head. I hope.
Here goes nothing.

Slower progress than I’d hoped, but I still very much like this idea better than the first. Amazing what that sort of motivation can do. Well, not really motivation, just damn common sense. Just wish I’d thought my designs through a little earlier and a little more thoroughly before arriving.
My body and digestive system are doing things that were not in the operating manual.

I’m a bit more in the zone than before. Don’t see the time flying. Which it is doing alarmingly quickly.

It continues. Just, well, onwards. It’s pretty boring, this job. Still, I’ve got a modest goal, I think I can reach it, and it will be a paragon of ridiculousness.

Oh hey, and they cleaned the bathrooms too! That…that needed to happen.

Minor delays. I’m at the point where it may just be a mountain of content to create, and some extra fanfares for polish. Something about the last 10% taking three quarters of the remaining twelve hours or something?

The game is absolutely ridiculous, by design. Hey, Manster Mash was received well enough, I suppose.
Also, Jim & Em are fantabulous. I should buy them a drink.

Things are…going well. Yeah, this is pretty much the polish stage, but again, being this close to finished is almost counter-productive. Just a lot of cosmetic touches to round ‘er off (a few more important ones, but the main gameplay is there). Anyway. With great power comes great merchandise at warehouse costs.

Chinese food! And a presentation by GetSetGames, which showed their own games from past TOJams. Kinda nice to see their humble beginnings, now that they’re doing their own thing and making their own games, in their own studio. More optimism about my own game. I’m sensing a theme here.

Jim has passed by and seems to have appreciated the game. And he gave helpful suggestions. Goodness me.

Looking back at my initial design/inspiration for the “time threads” game. Seems like such a long time ago. Seems like such a shit idea. Glad I switched.

Sunday 15
Eyes winding down, but tonight seems to be crunch night for everyone. It’s still pretty much a full ship and everyone’s plugging away. I’d be further along myself, but I’ve had some silly OpenAL issues that keep crashing my audio system. Too many simultaneous sounds? Am I not managing them properly? Perhaps I should try it in Release mode. Blech.

The final sequence is complete, the timing works out pretty well. Some minor bugs, nothing too irksome. Could stand to put in some more content (in the form of floating dudes), but I could also stand to not have my eyes open. We’ll see. Could probably also do with a shower. And a beer. May be near the saturation point, programming-wise. But who knows.

Well, Jill said it. Gotta beat the others with hustle. Don’t hate the player, hate the game designer.

I apparently slept. And dreamt, so it was enough sleep, though I never would have guessed.
It’s amazing how comfortable I am leaving my laptop, audio player, cell phone, and camera out in full view of everyone whilst I sleep. Trust building exercise: 3 hours of sleep in 48 hours.

Ugh. Repeated naps. I think everyone around here is crashing, or doesn’t know it yet.
The tables and floors of this place serve as a good proof of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Right, I’m calling it. Newton64′s Revised King James Bible is feature-complete. I could add a ton more falling things, but that would be an exercise in silliness. And repetition. All’s well that ends eventually.

That last one wasn’t quite right…I realised the last remaining issue was trivially completed. I mean, not coded beautifully, but I’m not being graded here and I can issue patches downstream through Steam. Or something.
It’s gone. It’s done.
Will keep the journal going for completeness’ sake.

Game’s done, I’m just aimless at the moment. Perhaps naptime, yes, yes. Also I gorged on cookies and croissants again, like a gangsta.

Unexpected last-minute scramble to fix some cosmetic issues. Not a big deal. I’ll probably tweak a few things after the Jam is over of course, but I’m still rather happy with this. Most of the work was done in one day. Huzzah.