Attempting to craft an emotional experience like Mass Effect

Hi duders! It's been some time, but I'm back with another video game related blog thanks to a burst of inspiration - this time, from Mass Effect (No spoilers, don't worry)

There was a piece of music floating around in my head, but I couldn’t identify it right away. A few seconds later it hit me: it was music from Mass Effect. I immediately opened Youtube and started up my favorite ME soundtrack suite.

The first few seconds of the video, the first three notes, manage to break my heart every time (and I've written about that before too)

While listening to this, I asked myself: Why was the experience of playing Mass Effect so valuable? Why was it worth my time, and why am I here, half a decade after the end of the trilogy, still listening to music from the game and still feeling moved by it?

The answer that came to me at that moment holds true for all forms of art: It makes you reflect and draw parallels with the greatest adventure we can all experience – our own lives. At the end of the game, you sit back on your chair, (hopefully) satisfied. You’ve learned. You’ve grown, along with your character. You’ve been on a journey. And now, maybe, you wish to live your life a little differently – a little better, or fuller, and with more love. Also true for other art forms, it allows you to deal with neglected or suppressed emotions through the game and its story and characters.

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There are other reasons too – compared to other forms of art, it’s only through playing a video game that you can create a memory. A memory you can look back at years later and have stories to share about. You can’t do that with a movie, it’s too short. A TV show, maybe – but it hasn’t happened to me yet. But visit the comment section of a game’s soundtrack such as the one I shared above, and you’ll see tons of discussions with people getting nostalgic about the time when they’d played the game - talking both about their favorite moments from the game and about the events that had taken place in their actual lives during that time.

That’s the lasting, emotional impact a video game can have, and I’d be honored if I was able to be a part of this as a creator too.

To create such an experience, I've been working on a game of my own called Rainswept. It's a murder mystery adventure which can probably be summarized as a bit of Twin Peaks + a little NiTW. ( Watching GB's Deadly Premonition ER almost a decade ago set this in motion, it would be fair to say) A couple is found dead in their kitchen - the local cops and townsfolk think it was murder suicide, their assumptions rising from rumors of the couple's toxic relationship. Detective Anderson comes in to help the local cops with the case, while trying to deal with the uncooperative cops, gossipy townsfolk, and a past that haunts him.

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Listening to the music I linked above, I started wondering about the elements that would be most influential in creating an "emotional" experience similar to the one that was created by Mass Effect. It'snot an easy to answer that question, and there’s probably no right answer – these things can’t always be broken down technically – but I’ll give it a shot by looking at the steps I’ve taken in creating Rainswept so far, and draw parallels with Mass Effect as that's what inspired this whole train of thought. My thoughts here are focused more towards story driven games similar to Mass Effect, so keep that in mind.

Story

First then, would be story. Story is the meat of creating an emotional experience, at least in the context that we’re talking about here. It’s designed to take you on a journey of highs and lows, possibly in a way that resembles life. For a story to be specifically emotional, it needs parts of both ends of the spectrum – the good times, and the sad. The sadness of a situation really hits hard if there’s happiness to compare it to within the story. Either emotion by itself would fail to have as big of an impact.

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Mass Effect is such a huge game, such a long story, that this doesn't prove to be a problem at all. There are moments that cover a vast array of opposite emotions. Though it's mostly about a threat that may end the universe, there are small and intimate moments to balance it out, which make the threat seem even bigger. There really is something worth saving.

In Rainswept, without giving too much away, this is done by occasionally introducing happier times completely cut off from the present situation. Through flashbacks that reveal the victims’ lives, we get to watch them fall in love. For a moment, we’re happy for them. We’re excited – the guy is going to get the girl. But immediately we’re returned to the present day and reminded of the morbid situation. The happiness we felt suddenly feels… meaningless. It brings up mixed emotions, and a number of conflicting thoughts.

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Characters

But I feel, for an aim of crafting an emotional experience, characters might be even more important. This is true in story focused games, but also in life. Characters are what really bring that emotional punch to a story, and bad characters can rob you of that deep emotional experience in a story just because you don’t care about what happens to them.

Characters – and people – motivate you to be better. To grow, and change. Once players are invested in a game’s characters, every up or down in their story is a potential spot for creating emotion.

Mass Effect has an excellent cast, and is one of the things that people love most about the game. Check the comments on the video above, there are people raising to toasts to their favorite characters - Garrus, Wrex, Liara, Tali, Mordin - the list goes on. It's the moments with them that hammer in the fact that so much good is at stake.

A great moment with a great character
A great moment with a great character

In Rainswept, I’ve tried to create every character with a detailed backstory leading up to the present-day events. The way they behave, their motivations, their dialogues all spring from this deep well of their history. I really feel that backstories are like magic - You just need to write their history and in return the characters tell you everything that you need to write for them from that point on. The characters then feel real, with their own varied quirks and flaws, leading you to identify with and care for them, or some of them.

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Music

Thirdly, and it should be obvious from the way I started this post, it’s the music. Music by itself is probably the most influential art form in our lives – everyone listens to music, and we consume a lot more of it than we consume other forms of art. Also, as I mentioned above, music can move you emotionally within seconds. I think that counts for a lot, and that’s what gives it so much power in this context – when creating an emotional experience, music is one of the strongest weapons in your arsenal.

In a game like Mass Effect, it is used in a very cinematic manner – underscoring important moments of the game and its story during cutscenes. Certain characters have their own themes. In a game that has SO MUCH going on, especially with its story and characters, the soundtrack really gets a chance to take center stage and shine.

It’s also probably the easiest way to get nostalgic about a game. All you need to do is put on the soundtrack for your favorite game, and the memories come flooding back.

Music in Rainswept works similarly to elevate the emotion of each scene. The main menu track, titled The Old Church, immediately tells you everything about the mood of the game. It conveys everything that I want to convey through the game. It’s somber, but there’s hope too. There’s darkness, but there’s light.

Just like Mass Effect, there are a few melodramatic tracks in Rainswept that help to amplify the emotional value of important scenes. There are specific tracks that play for specific emotions, or situations, sometimes being used in unexpected ways. A love theme, for example, could be used during the autopsy of the same characters.

Lastly, here's a trailer for Rainswept:

So that’s story, characters and music. This isn’t everything, or the only things that are required when creating an emotional experience for video games, but they’re ones that immediately came to me as I asked myself the question. And they’re definitely a very good starting point if you’re planning to create something as impactful as the Mass Effect trilogy - possibly the ultimate aim for me.

There may be plenty of other things that I might have missed, and I might even write another post if I recall more. Can you think of any? Anything here that you disagree with? What do you think about my approach with creating it for my own game? Do let me know in the comments!

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I felt nostalgic for a game that I didn't even like - Years later I fell in love with it.

Usually, you play a game, and if you love it, years later you may look back fondly on the time that you'd spent with it.

But what if love arrived late? What if it grew and fully formed by the time you were supposed to be feeling nostalgic about the game? What you have then is a weird experience and a special chance to love something for the first time while satisfying the yearning that is caused by nostalgia, all at the same time.

That happened to me with Dragon Age: Inquisition - specifically the Trespasser DLC. I'd often heard how the DLC was "actually good" and that it focused on story and lore (my favorite things about the series) and that it gave a proper end to the story. I made a mental note of that, thinking I might give it a shot in the future. At the time, I wasn't into Inquisition to care much.

But before that, what was my experience with Inquisition? I played it on launch. I didn't love it. I was kinda meh about it. I was still sour about them completely abandoning the trajectory set in Dragon Age: Origins, including the Grey Wardens - I absolutely loved that game. Inquisition wasn't bad, but that was almost because I expected it to be worse - my ideas and fears of "new Bioware" hanging around my head as I played it. Yes, they were realized in the unnecessary open world, MMO style fetch quests based gameplay, but I was satisfied by the effort put into the story. Not the story itself (meh) but the way it was told - the many characters, deep backstories, epic moments, cutscenes, music, choices... the Bioware stuff. At least they hadn't abandoned that.

The ending (post credits) left an impression on me though. The scene with Solas and Mythal. And the reason was very simple - it got into its lore and myths. I thought, wait this is cool - the freaking gods from their mythology are alive and planning stuff? What's going on? Suddenly the overarching story of Dragon Age had become interesting. It wasn't the trajectory that was abandoned in Origins, but it could still be something good.

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Then, as I do with most games I play, I got the soundtrack. Years passed, and I forgot about the game, but I'd listen to the soundtrack often. That kept the connection alive, dormant in a way. I grew to love some of the tracks (The western approach, The lost temple) for how mysterious they sounded. I even got the Dragon Age 2 soundtrack (hated that game, and didn't finish it) and loved the music (Destiny of love, Fenris theme, Hawke family theme, Mage pride - Freaking unbelievable) and disliked that game a bit less. (Interesting how retrospectively appreciating a game was just discussed on the Beastcast this week too.)

Over the years, the soundtrack did something to my brain. I began to think of Inquisition fondly - a game that I didn't even like very much. Soon the soundtrack made new memories - of me working, tucked away in my room on cozy afternoons. Maybe the time when I extensively listened to the soundtrack was a very good time in my life. Soon, listening to the music reminded me of these new memories, of these new good times, and it changed my feelings towards Dragon Age: Inquisition - it became something I loved. I knew I didn't like the game, but I could stand a bit further away, squint my eyes and appreciate it for other reasons. I had to admit that I really liked the lore, that there really was something solid in it. I appreciated it this way for a couple of years, but eventually, I wanted to experience it again. To actually dive back into that world.

As stated before, the Trespasser DLC had already made me curious. I prepped and hyped myself for it by watching a few lore videos, and watching the videos proved that I really did love something here. Something about the mystery, the lore satisfied me in a way I hadn't felt for a couple of years.

Diving into Trespasser was a very strange experience, as I mentioned before. I was creating the experience that I had already felt nostalgic for, before the experience had existed - When we feel nostalgic for something, we usually look back fondly on something in the past that continuously gets further away from us. We can never go back. But this time, the timelines intersected and smashed together. Playing the game and listening to the music reminded me of my times with the soundtrack, which reminded me of the game, which looped back around to the present day. Seeing the wall paintings and statues of the Dread Wolf reawakened the questions, theories and mysteries that had grown in my mind over the years - and I knew an answer was finally coming. It felt like I'd turned back time, and was heading backwards - and not continuously further away. For once, a nostalgic yearning was actually satisfied.

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As I always say, video games are freaking amazing. And as a dev myself, I dream of one day creating such experiences for others.

Oh, by the way, the ending to the DLC was freaking amazing. As epic, beautiful and in a way, tragic as I'd suspected it to be. Thankfully, the upcoming story seems to be entirely based around my favorite stuff - the dragon age lore and myths. I cannot wait for Dragon Age 4! Until then, I'll be listening to the soundtrack ;)

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Video games vs Films - Mediums for storytelling

Yesterday, I just got done with playing the second episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. I absolutely loved the story, atmosphere and the characters, and felt it was one of the most enjoyable video game experiences of the year. In a year packed with so many high quality releases, that's saying something.

Having finished the episode, I started thinking about a question I usually return to when it comes to games that focus on story, more than they do on gameplay: Would this have been better as a movie? Why does it need to be a game? This is a question I sometimes worry about, as I am currently making a game like that too.

In my opinion, a few years back, gamers and developers weren't very comfortable with this idea. You'd hear statements along the lines of - If I want a good story, I'll watch a movie or read a book. Games should focus on gameplay. Many games felt like they needed to justify being a game. You'd have story focused experiences with "gamey" sections forced in. I think that thinking is now beginning to change, and we as players and creators are becoming more comfortable with the idea of these kind of games. "Walking simulators" for instance, are being taken more seriously and have a growing audience.

So fresh off playing the second episode, feeling more than a bit blown away and emotionally moved, I asked myself - What if this was just an animated film? What more can a video game like this offer that movies can't, when it comes to story telling? These are the aspects that jumped out at me in response, and I felt colored my experience of playing the story the most:

Pace:

When you're in control of a character in a game, you decide when to hit the next trigger to proceed the story. It may sound like there's not much in that, but the pace at which you play a game is varies with each player, and that makes the story more personal to each player. For example, when Chloe is in the area outside the dorms, you can choose to talk to everyone, interact with every single object, stare at random spots, listen to the atmospheric sounds, and take it slow. Or you could skip some interactions, rush through and focus on the objective.

You could spend an hour here, or ten minutes
You could spend an hour here, or ten minutes

Being in a location for a certain amount of time, you allow its atmosphere to sink in. The place becomes more real. And if you rush through, that's still a decision that you made as someone that exists in that world. The memory of having made that choice is stronger than watching an actor take you through the story at a fixed pace.

Once you move on from that location to later sections of the game, the previous location feels more like a real place you had been to, and inhabited for as long as you wanted. The later sections feel like they're built upon that particular amount of time that you chose to take before reaching this point. It stacks up, and affects the overall experience.

Immersion:

This is closely related to what I talked about earlier. When a game is able to sell you the idea that the world you're walking around in actually exists, when everything within it feels consistent to its world, then the story that you experience in it has the potential to affect you much more than in a movie. Why? Because if the world is (almost) real, and you exist within it, then the character's story can almost become your own. Those events can feel like they're happening to you, which is huge.

What makes a world atmospheric and immersive? For me, it depends on the amount of detail in that world, and the gaps that are left in between. Filling it with a specific mood, weather, time of the day (rain, associated sounds etc) lends to the atmosphere. A table in a kitchen littered with small objects (pencils, condiments or just random "stuff") makes the world feel lived in, as if someone had occupied that space before you. In a game you can stare at, examine and interact with these objects, and that places you firmly within this game world.

Getting a little off track: I also like catching glimpses of "incomplete" edges of the world. For instance, I'd enjoy looking at windows lit from within in buildings in Sleeping Dogs, and wondering what life exists within it. The answer would be - nothing, the buildings are hollow. But it's great when your brain begins to fill in the gaps. What you see gets the chance to become a world that exists partially in your mind. The game and the hardware that it's running on are limited, but your mind is not. This is where I feel sometimes (emphasis on some) newer open world games lose out. It's like putting the floodlights on and exposing the fact that it's a game world, where you can see the systems interconnecting and working with each other, responding to the player.

I wonder how that hill looks up close? That question remains unanswered most of the time in the real world as well.
I wonder how that hill looks up close? That question remains unanswered most of the time in the real world as well.

As an example for worlds with incomplete edges though, the diner in Life is Strange comes to mind. You can see outside the diner through its windows, and walk around outside on the streets a bit, but the scenery extends beyond where your character can go. You can see some of it, but you don't exactly know what lies beyond. It's probably a whole world out there right? There's no chance of going there, being proven wrong and having that illusion broken.

Choices:

This is the big one, isn't it? The biggest weapon in video games' arsenal when it comes to story telling. Allowing the player to choose how the story itself proceeds, however small the decision and it's impact maybe, helps invest the player much more deeply into the story. A NPC's reaction to your character might differ based on something you did earlier, and it might just be a shift in tone with which the NPC talks to you, or a few different lines of dialogue, but you caused it. The NPC might compliment your character because you chose to do or say something earlier, and that compliment is also meant for you, the player - causing you in turn to feel flattered due to the compliment as well. The character's reaction towards your player also mirrors how that character feels towards you, and that's something no other medium can do - allow characters to interact with its audience at that level. In a movie, you may feel happy for the protagonist, but that's about it. Here, you can actually have your own feelings and reactions involved. You're a part of it.

Making choices extends far beyond emotions and characters of course, it can alter the plot and bend the story. In Mass Effect 2, you might see characters dying towards the end because of what you did or didn't do. That's your story. I loved the epilogue in Dragon Age Origins, seeing how things turned out for all the characters due to my decisions. My friend hated his ending, his character sacrificed himself and stuff got dark for the other characters too. But that was his story, and it affected him.

Loved this whole scene. There was something about the atmosphere, like I've experienced this before.
Loved this whole scene. There was something about the atmosphere, like I've experienced this before.
Choices, reactions
Choices, reactions

In a way, everything I've talked about here has been circling around the same thing: feeling like you're a part of the world that the story is set in. Of removing a layer of obstruction that stands between the audience and the story, being able to convince the audience that the story is about them, for them, that this is real. The story is real, and it's yours. You know how there are studies that visualizing yourself running a race stimulates the same parts of your brain as those that are activated when you actually run one? Maybe it's got something to do with that too, your brain is in charge (even when that's just "walking") and the story feels that much more real. Just being in charge of you character, exploring the space and time of the story, gives the story greater power to move you.

There's huge potential still left to explore when it comes to stories in games, and a lot of it will rely on how technology evolves and how developers use that to create more convincing worlds and illusions. VR might be big for this reason.

I hope all of this wasn't too vague or pointless, and maybe I'll understand my own points better with time. If you're interested in reading more stuff like this, head over here, where I plan to continue discussing topics like these and where you can also follow the development of my own game :)

Thanks for reading!

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Some of this generation's "big" video games feel like time-sinks devoid of emotional impact

Excuse me for the odd title but I couldn't think of any better way to word it. This is something I've been subconsciously thinking about for months now, but jumping back for a listen to this soundtrack made me want to share my thoughts about this.

I absolutely love this suite - the first 30 seconds of the music bring back a flood of memories and emotions that had been built during a journey many of us took over half a decade. This is the reason I love video games, and if ever a non - gamer friend called games a waste of time or something childish, I'd laugh and think about experiences such as these.

But recently, when playing the latest AAA games, I have had the nagging feeling in the back of my head that I actually am wasting my time. Now this is not to say that video games that focus on something other than emotional resonance are "bad" or shouldn't be played, (I play a huge amount of FIFA with my friends) but when considering single player experiences that focus on world, atmosphere, story, emotion or characters, something feels off when playing games of this generation (post 2012/ 13)

Even as I write this though, I feel what I'm saying is not entirely correct. More games than ever are now being released, and many of them fully embrace the aspects I just listed. Walking simulators are a respected genre now, and point and click adventure games have made a great comeback. There are tons of games experimenting with different ideas and narrative structures. So then why do I feel like something's off?

I guess the answer would just be that the balance has shifted. Much of the good stuff in the departments I mentioned is being done by smaller, indie studios. I think my problem is, as many have already experienced by now, is fatigue with the formulaic, open world, crafting based, filler quest laden AAA games. I guess what I'm saying is thank god for indie games, but AAA games need to do some soul searching.

Horizon zero dawn - beautiful opening moments, tiring after that
Horizon zero dawn - beautiful opening moments, tiring after that

I really enjoyed the opening few hours of Horizon Zero Dawn - the setup and the story satisfied me in a way that games haven't for years. After the world opened up though, I can't bring myself to go out there and carry the weight of the world on Aloy's shoulders. The thought of firing up that game is a little tiring. Along with real world responsibilities, it makes me feel a little guilty or worried about spending time playing that. (Though I've heard the story is really good, so I'll definitely finish this game... someday)

On the other hand, if the game offers me value in terms of affecting me emotionally, I feel that's time well spent. Watching a movie that can affect your life, for instance, feels justified even when you're pressed for time.

Funnily enough, I've been catching up on the Uncharted series (on 3 now) and I'm having a blast. And even though that's basically equal to a hollywood action popcorn flick, what I do appreciate about that game is that it maintains its focus. It kinda makes me miss linear games! I bought Rise of the Tomb Raider as it's similar to the Uncharted games, and I loved the first hour or so. But as soon as the world opened up, with the crafting and everything, I kinda lost my enthusiasm.

Dammnit DAI, you (kinda) ruined everything!
Dammnit DAI, you (kinda) ruined everything!

It's funny - many of us used to ask the question "how long before the world opens up?" and now I kinda dread that moment. But I might not be crazy, I think the problem is that AAA games went to far in the other direction, and this began somewhere around Dragon Age Inquisition taking a leaf from the Assassin's Creed/ Far Cry games of that time. Map filled with meaningless clutter to do. Yeah you could ignore those activities, but when the developers focus on those parts, the other aspects suffer. The seamless, quick, action packed combat didn't help either.

As beautiful H:ZD's open world is, I still treasure my time with games like Gothic 3 and Oblivion more (I know Oblivion gets a lot of shit for basically just being rocks grass and trees, but I found it pretty beautiful and immersive) These worlds inspired me to create art - draw, write etc. Maybe that's because they felt more real (despite the graphics) because they didn't have ridiculous "stuff" to do? List of similar things spread across the world to collect, gamified patterns that would scream at me everytime I'd come across them? Sometimes a hut would just be a hut, with nothing of note in it. That makes the world a lot more immersive. Open worlds where things exist (or don't) for reasons other than player interactivity. I'm hoping the upcoming Kingdom Come: Deliverance can... well, deliver on this front (hehe) I think it might. I also love the open world in the GTA series. I love a detailed open world where activities and just existing feel natural. Rockstar are great at making lived in, immersive worlds where you can just exist.

A really immersive world (Gothic 3)
A really immersive world (Gothic 3)

But as I said, there are plenty of (relatively) smaller indie games doing good things too. I was really impressed by the Quick Look for Observer, for instance. Only yesterday I finished the first episode for Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and felt quite involved in that game world. I enjoyed my time with it and felt it gave me some value for the time it took. Now I'm looking to jump into a recent game called The Last Day of June. I've played these two games on my 4-5 year old laptop, while I see less of my new PS4 - which can play all those powerful new games - without feeling a tinge of guilt about spending my time on something non - fulfilling.

The living, breathing world of GTA V
The living, breathing world of GTA V

And at the same time, despite the indies, I'd love for the big AAA experiences to deliver those kinds of experiences that maybe only big budgets can. Sweeping epics like the Mass Effect series (we're not gonna talk about 4) can maybe only be delivered by bigger studios.

Felt pretty good to play this
Felt pretty good to play this

Ironically, my blog post probably lacked focus and my thoughts might be a little scattered (and at times possibly self contradictory) What I mainly mean is, though, that there's something missing from the bigger games nowadays, and they feel a little hollow. Maybe it's just me growing older, or maybe we need a big game to buck the formulaic trend. What do you think?

Edit: I should add, other features that make all these games feel similar and fatiguing would be quest markers, quest trails, and the worst of all, the variations on the "detective vision" that many games have. Detective vision works for some games like Hitman, but others don't need it at all. That's a feature that needs to be phased out slowly. For example, Rise of the Tomb Raider could completely do without it. The shapes of objects you can interact with are enough to give you an idea of what you should do. The Uncharted series doesn't use it, and is so much better for it. Instead it uses clever level design tricks to guide you.

Edit 2/ tl;dr:

To clarify, I'm not saying that video games that focus on something other than emotional resonance are "bad" or shouldn't be played, I'm only talking about a recent trend in single player story driven games. What you may call "open world fatigue" and discussing that the previous approach these types of games used to take seemed to work better than the approach that many games take now (everything placed in the open world for gameplay reasons, a predictable, formulaic feel, quest markers/ trackers, detective vision)

As pointed out by me saying something feels off, I don't have answers. I've just felt something and I'm trying to figure out what that may be through discussion.

It's not like I hate video games or I'm complaining. I love the medium and I'm pretty grateful for the progress we've made! But I also feel it's good to continuously judge and discuss what doesn't work in something you love, to avoid stagnation. In terms of design, the aspects I mentioned have become somewhat predictable.

This guy's video touches upon similar sentiments but explains it far better than I could!

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I lost years' worth of work due to a hard drive crash

Yes I know, I should've had backups. And I have no one to blame but myself. There isn't any hope left of recovering any of the work, so this is kind of a eulogy (and a way to get myself to accept reality) before I start everything again from scratch.

A few days back I took my external hard disk drive to my sister's place to watch a movie. Stupidly enough I plugged that in to the TV directly instead of transferring it onto a pen drive as I always do. In fact, when I had the thought of transferring it onto a pen drive, a voice in my mind said, for some reason - "nah, this time we'll try and play it directly." And so I did. Not just that, I also plugged it into her new sound bar to play it off that when the TV didn't recognize it.

Of course, then I tried it on a laptop and it wouldn't recognize the drive. The usb plugged in sound would play and it would show up in Device Manager, but not in My Computer. Later at home, Disk Management saw the drive but labelled it "Unknown, not initialized". I tried it on multiple laptops with different cables but it wouldn't show. Partition and data recovery softwares wouldn't detect it either. There were no spinning sounds.

There was years worth of random data on it, but the important stuff I lost was my freelance work - artwork (digital paintings), photography and an indie game I had just started working on. Fortunately I hadn't built too many levels on it yet, and with a bit of time and patience I'll be able to rebuild that. But what I miss most is the script. It is a story driven game, so the script was full of random bits of dialogues, characters' personalities and research on psychology. If there was one file I could recover, it would be the script. I remember the plot, but there's no way all the details are still in my head. And there were so many tiny things, so many bursts of inspirations that I had scribbled down! There's no way to recollect those.

The worst bit is that only two weeks back, I left my job to focus completely on my art side business and on making this game. This doesn't change everything, but it just messed up my smooth transition from job to self employment. Unnecessary stress and hard work.

I had given the disk to a professional to check, who said that the data can't be recovered because the platters are damaged/ scratched, probably because of a sudden disconnection (or a power surge, my guess) I just came back from meeting him, getting my now useless HDD back with me. I guess professional services could still save the data, but I can't afford their upwards of 500-1000$ fee.

While the disk was with that guy, I spent two full days doing absolutely nothing. Playing video games, skipping meals, watching videos and generally being depressed while waiting for news from him. That feels like shit. These were the days that I was to spend immersed in my indie game work, while doing art on the side.

So this is the point where I accept reality, and start creating again from scratch. Now that I've written all this down, it's time to forget the past and work for the future. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise - that the script was getting bloated and was full of crappy stuff, and now I have a chance to forget that and create something brilliant! Or maybe not. Regardless, I don't have a choice. It's time to get back to work. And to backup that work.

Anyone have any similar hard disk heart break stories?

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I just bought my first console ever

Hey duders!

It's really odd, but I've never had any platform for gaming except a PC for the past 15-20 years that I've been playing video games (except for some cheap knock offs of N64 and such that I had as a kid) My parents never got me a console 'cause getting something exclusively for games didn't agree with them. A PC was useful in many ways though, so I got that. (They did buy me a good one at the time though.)

In recent years, games had begun to bring my laptop to its knees and I realized I needed to build myself a desktop or finally get a console. I'm 24 now, and since I got a job and started earning last year, I thought this was a good time to fulfill my childhood dream!

I got myself a PS4, and am finally able to catch up on exclusives such as The Last of Us (kinda terrified of the clickers tbh) I'm gonna re-buy The Witcher 3 and it's expansions as well, as I quit that midway on the PC since my setup wasn't doing justice to the beauty of that game. A lot of other good games also seem to be on the Horizon (hehe).

It's a pretty special feeling. I got it yesterday and spent most of the day getting drawn to it over and over. Seeing that box sitting in front of my TV made me feel excited like a kid again.

I still kinda feel bad about having missed out on last generation's exclusives like RDR (which is on PS now but I don't know if my internet's good enough to make that work) Fable 2, Nier etc, and I didn't want that to happen again. Luckily, a lot of them have been brought over to the PS4.

Any of you have a similar experience? Do you remember how you felt when you got your first console?

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Need to quit my 9-5 job and focus on things that matter. Thoughts?

Introduction

As you might have read in my previous blogs, I've been pretty confused about the direction in my life that I should be headed in (career wise) I joined an Architecture college 6 years back, tried to shift to video games mid way (but gave up as there's no game scene in India, and the indie scene wasn't as strong as it is today I think) Along with that, I grew a passion for films - which I did pursue after college (but after experiencing the work process, I found it very dry and realized I didn't enjoy it) I still like making films and music videos of smaller scope. Also, keep in mind that I live in India (and would prefer to move out)

My passions

It's kind of hard to describe, but my life is all about searching for and creating beauty - that's where video games and movies have had such an impact for me. It started with Fable, and went on to include The Witcher 1, TES IV Oblivion, Dragon age origins and Mass Effect. These games moved me and inspired me. I also saw films like The Last Samurai, Into the Wild during that impressionable age of mine and later fell in love with films/ TV such as Memories of Murder and Twin Peaks. I call this feeling "magic"

A picture might describe my feelings better - Images like a monastery on a misty hill, where the hallways are dark and the monks converse in hushed tones get me excited. Imagine that monastery filled with the sounds of Gregorian monks chanting. A village below the hill is filled with rumors, myths, mysteries and legends. There's something beautiful about the unknown. Even in games, I like wandering off to dark forests or just sitting in a village in a peaceful spot. There's much more to what I find beautiful, but upon examination, I have found these kinds of images to be the core of it all.

Fog, mist, hills, evenings, grass, fields, trees, candle-lit stone hallways, medieval villages, myths and mysteries - Those words and images heavily inspire me. I also spend a LOT of time listening to video game soundtracks. Music is a huge inspiration too. This is why things like the Witcher and Dragon age have had such an impact on me (or maybe it's the other way round - they made me fall in love with these feelings/ images)

All of this has caused me to make films that try to capture this visually and through sounds. It has also gotten me into painting, photography and cinematography. I also sometimes blog about the beauty of games and make videos showcasing that. It has also caused me to travel extensively seeking hills, fog, nature, mystery and magic- to places around the Himalayas, and most recently, to beautiful, mysterious Bhutan. Here's a photograph I took in one of the places that looked like a location from the Witcher series -

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And another one I clicked on a trek in the Himalayas:

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In 2013, I made this painting after spending an hour watching the clouds and sipping tea inspired me. I later composed music for it and animated it as well.

I also have a band with a friend of mine, and we make music videos twice a year. Here's one of them that's about the feeling of mystery and how that fades away as you grow older -

I'm the happiest when I'm sitting in my room at home, with the lights dimmed, some beautiful video game music playing in the background, and me creating something/ painting/ editing a video or just reading about video games on the internet. That's literally the happiest moment of my life - and it comes every weekend.

Current state

This year in June, I joined an Architecture firm after 1 year of experimenting around after graduating. I did this to give myself more time to figure out what I need to/ can/ should do in my life. The plan while joining this was to figure things out in a year or two and transition to that. As expected, I've hated the 9-5 aspect of the job, living from weekend to weekend. I pursue my passions in the evenings and in the weekends, and that is all that I live for. I realized that I shouldn't end up taking too long in this phase either- therefore I've promised myself to earn more than my month's salary through one of my businesses and then transition into that full time. But I'm hoping to do this before June 2017 (one year in the job)

After graduating I tried to understand the concepts of money and entrepreneurship - cause whatever I end up doing, I need to fund myself. That led to me getting into the T shirt design thing, selling stuff on redbubble and the like. I make about 20$ a month on that - not much, but it's something. I've been trying to scale it up but have not had much success yet (I digitally paint footballers and try to sell them to football/ soccer fans) But one thing is for sure - I need to start my own thing and earn off it soon, so that I can focus on my passions.

Also in the pipeline is to make an indie game - an idea that lines up with my passions and my original dream that I had back in college. It's creative and I can make something beautiful. The problem is, my friend that is in with me on this idea lives in another city, and doesn't seem to want to work a little bit on it everyday - we just talk about ideas and get nowhere (he's the programmer, I'm the artist/ story guy) I'm putting a lot of time into it but I barely get any replies from him. The lack of communication is frustrating, and I almost want to just do it myself. Let's see where it will lead. But as an idea itself, I would love to spend all my time working with dedication on a video game. It's been a dream forever.

What should I do next? Getting down to what would be the best for me -

Yesterday, as I grew frustrated by the lack of T shirt sales, I decided to sit and re think everything I was doing and what really matters to me. I wanted to chip off all the extra stone on the block I have to get to the sculpture inside, and get to the core of my motivations (which I did and described it above^) I am focusing right now on starting a business. Why? To earn enough money. Why? So that I have the freedom and not be tied to a job. Why? So that I can do whatever I want whenever I want. What are those things? The passions that I described above. The core of that?

I thought about it, and realized that my biggest inspiration is to move people emotionally. To create things that show them extreme beauty. The world and life is so beautiful, and people and artists have created such amazing things - I wanna be a part of that and completely indulge in that. Most people may find this weird, but I think the Assassin's creed series is exceptionally beautiful. The epic scope, the history, and the tragedy that seems to exist in most of these stories is almost perfect for me. It's not the story, but the way it is told that moves me. Here's the best soundtrack I've ever heard, from ACIII, and it describes everything I said. The bit at 1:26 kills me everytime I hear it-

A possible plan in alignment with these motivations -

If I think about it, maybe starting a blog where I share my thoughts about and explore the "beautiful side of gaming" would be something that fits the core of my motivations. I also have a Youtube channel, which I could focus more seriously on and make videos analyzing the beauty of particular games as a series. I could immerse myself in this magic everyday, and share beautiful game related things (like orchestral performances of certain video game soundtracks) on it.

Thing is, it's difficult to grow these things, and I have mostly failed at it before. It's not really the most lucrative option anymore - the internet is noisy as hell. It's a slog to grow these platforms in the early stages, and can be very disheartening to talk to yourself when you don't have an audience. It's like talking to an empty classroom. But if I know that this is a good idea that people would eventually flock to after years of work, then I would be motivated enough to just keep putting in the work. What do you think, would it work?

Also, I could use this as a platform for my other endeavors - mainly I could gain a following that agrees with my thought process and therefore would be interested in playing the games that I make.

I think since I feel so strongly about all this, I should lean heavily on these passions and focus on it - mainly video games (rather than trying out different business ideas for earning money) I also really feel that I'd be better off in another country - there's not really a scene for all this in India. Of course, the internet makes it easy for me to do this regardless, but I want to live around people with similar passions. This also includes places like Sweden, Germany, Poland and Denmark, (places that have those medieval festivals, that atmosphere that inspires me, and places like Germany seem to make interesting PC RPGs) apart from the US.

Thoughts?

(My brain feels like sludge after typing all that out. Hope I was able to convey my thoughts clearly)

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Understanding the beauty of Grand Theft Auto V, and games in general

A few months back I'd written a blog post discussing the reasons why I loved GTA V, quoting the game world as one of the biggest factors that kept pulling me back. (Read that blog here) The living, breathing world of Los Santos (as long as you're willing to play along and maintain the illusion at least) I observed, can offer moments and experiences unlike anything I've seen before - video games or even otherwise.

What creates this experience is the amount of detail put in every tiny area and aspect of the world, coupled with the size and scope of the game world, ranging across different land forms and atmospheres. Each area has its own vibe, and the contrasts of different places at different times is something that you'd only expect in real life.

My favorite experience remains cruising down the highway in a good car while listening to something like Radio Mirror Park, at night. It disconnects you enough from the game world to make it seem even more real. For all you know, all the cars passing by actually do have real people within them, leading their own lives. It's a beautiful, surreal experience.

But what is it that makes the whole experience feel specifically beautiful? I suggested that it might have to do with how not only does the game resemble real life, but life itself shares aspects with a simulation, about how our brain is the vehicle that is used to perceive both experiences, real life or simulation. And if the game is realistic enough, it can bring forth the same hormonal reactions from our body that a corresponding event in the real life would.

I still felt that I had more to say though, and realized that I wanted to show what I was talking about - which inspired me to make a video for it. Check it out here, and let me know what your thoughts are about this topic!

Also, HUGE thanks to @bigdaveischeap for providing the excellent narration. Wouldn't have been the same without the magic of his voice!

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This Game of Thrones season, I've been making a painting for each episode (SPOILERS)

So I wanted to get better at digital painting, and get faster at it as well. With the new Game of Thrones season (now almost over) I decided this was the perfect way to get involved with a series I love, and churn out weekly paintings on an episodic deadline. The different scenes also allowed me to get used to a variety of color pallets. I don't know about getting any better, but it's definitely helped me get faster!

I missed out on episode 4 as I was travelling, but here's a painting for each of episode 1-7 (still got to start 8, running behind schedule!)

Spoilers follow:

The Oathkeeper - Game of Thrones
The Oathkeeper - Game of Thrones"Lady Sansa I offer my services once again. I will shield your back and keep your counsel and give my life for yours if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new."What a great scene! This is why we love this show. ~Game of Thrones Season 6 - Episode 1

Tyrion Trains a Dragon
Tyrion Trains a Dragon "I came here to help. Don't eat the help!" Great scene from Game of Thrones Season 6- Episode 2!
The Tower of Joy - Game of Thrones Scene from episode 3, season 6 of Game of Thrones. What's in the tower?
The Tower of Joy - Game of Thrones Scene from episode 3, season 6 of Game of Thrones. What's in the tower?
Hold The Door!Hodor! Hodor!Goddammit Bran!
Hold The Door!Hodor! Hodor!Goddammit Bran!
No one is someone again? Game of thrones season 6 episode 6
No one is someone again? Game of thrones season 6 episode 6
Episode 7 - The hound lost his only friend within an episode :( (The follow up was hilarious though
Episode 7 - The hound lost his only friend within an episode :( (The follow up was hilarious though "Let me chop off ONE hand" , with a puppy face)

"A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I'm going home" Hell yeahh! Season 6, Episode 8

A great scene from the battle of the bastards. Episode 9. On to the Finale!
A great scene from the battle of the bastards. Episode 9. On to the Finale!

That was probably the most amazing sequence on Game of Thrones ever. The music, the buildup, everything was masterfully crafted. Here's my painting for episode 10. It's been fun, thanks for following along!
That was probably the most amazing sequence on Game of Thrones ever. The music, the buildup, everything was masterfully crafted. Here's my painting for episode 10. It's been fun, thanks for following along!

In case you're interested in seeing more -

As for the season itself, I've loved every episode so far. What about you?

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The Beauty of GTA V - The Simulation of Reality

One of the main reasons I play, and love playing video games is that they transport me into a (very believable) alternate world. Sometimes, these worlds are straight up beautiful - The forests in Cyrodil, the hamlet of Bowerstone, or just all of the Witcher 3. Other times, the world is a just an accurate reflection of where we live - GTA V's LA for instance. Somehow, that makes you first realize how beautiful the in game reflection of the real world is, and then that carries over when you walk around your own city and the experience begins to realign to reflect your experiences within the game.

I've been playing GTA V ever since the PC version came out last year, and it's become one of my favorite games of all time. I love the story, cinematography, characters, gameplay, missions etc, but what keeps me coming back to the game all the time is the insane depth and breadth of detail of the in game city. To me, it feels like a living, breathing world. (Of course, you could break that immersion by doing a number of things, which I usually avoid. It takes a bit of effort to keep that immersion running) The fact that there are events taking place all over the game world that you wouldn't even stumble upon if you weren't at the right place at the right time is insane. The phone conversations between characters, hundreds of different streets and neighborhoods, the infrastructural detail at every corner (gutters, electricity transformers etc) are limitless and if it is an illusion, it's a really great one.

These kinds of details make my heart race. It's a filthy service area BELOW the highway!
These kinds of details make my heart race. It's a filthy service area BELOW the highway!

These guys will work on constructing that house even if you never stumble upon them (They even take lunch breaks)
These guys will work on constructing that house even if you never stumble upon them (They even take lunch breaks)

There is a feeling of presence and of place created in every location is really strong. I guess I'm talking about the atmosphere here. The contrast in the atmosphere between a sunny day on the Vespucci beach, to a rainy day spent cycling on the same beach, to mountain biking in the morning in the countryside, to driving down in a shiny, expensive car on the streets of the brightly lit city of Los Santos, as sky scrapers line its people on both sides - the fact that such a huge range of atmospheric experiences can exist within the same game world, apart from being an admirable achievement, creates an experience that can very closely mirror real life.

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What's my favorite experience in the game though? Driving down the highway at night, in a good car, with the radio playing some good music. (prefer Radio Mirror Park personally) Do this for a while and you really begin to feel a part of that world - the traffic passing by, everybody living their own lives, probably going home after work or heading for an outing in the evening. Taking it real slow in the game - walking around the streets or bicycling around is also a great experience. Sitting in a taxi is another experience - probably the strongest one - that blurs the line between simulation and reality.

So this game does a lot of things that fool your brain into believing (at times) that it's in the real world. Why does that feel so beautiful though? That's a point I've often wondered about and haven't found much of an answer to. What is it about things/ games that come really close to imitating real life that makes them beautiful? I remember having similar experiences in GTA IV, and especially miss riding a bike through that toll booth monitored flyover.

Miss-able details
Miss-able details

There is the argument, or theory, that life itself is a simulation. I mean, even if it's not, there isn't much to differentiate life from a simulation. In both games and life, we experience events with the help of our senses (though games use only about 2-3 senses, whereas in life we use all 5), and there is a beginning and an end, before and after which we can't experience any of the events. We do stuff in life and our brain/ hormones react to it. Ride a bike down an open road and we feel exhilarated. Watch the sun setting over the skyline and we find it beautiful. Listen to music while taking part in these activities and the experience is enhanced. So what happens when you ride a bike down an open road within a game and that game feels very realistic? Our brain reacts in similar ways. And so watching the sun setting over Los Santos can bring forth the same feelings as watching the real thing.

Experiences within a game shouldn't be looked down upon or taken less seriously, because we perceive it all through our brains - real life and video games are just mediums. The thoughts, hormonal reactions, and feelings are the inside response. Simulation or reality are the outside stimulus. And if a game can be as realistic and beautiful as GTA V, I really think that that can open up a lot of possibilities.

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