Mr. Charlton – Still Gaming

It was a week before I got the opportunity to sit down with my new computer and play a game on it for longer than five minutes. An entire week, plus a day. I got the new computer, in a number of smaller boxes, on Tuesday March 7th 2017. It wasn’t until Tuesday March 14th 2017, that I got to fire up a game and not just stress test my machine, but actually play for a bit and unwind. One very long week.

12 year old Mr. Charlton would (have tried to) kick my ass for leaving a sweet rig sitting around for a week before playing a game.

Twelve year old Mr. Charlton had a lot less responsibility than thirty-three year old Mr. Charlton. Twelve year old me also had a lot less disposable income than I currently do. But this train of thought led to me thinking about exactly when I started playing games.

The earliest I can remember was playing games over at other people’s houses. I remember heading over to the Spehar’s place when I was five to play with Stef. They had a Nintendo, the old school grey box, and they had a couple of sweet games with it (notably Super Mario 3 and Ducktales). I’m pretty sure that after playing the first time, I sped back home and started begging my parents for a Nintendo.

There was a bit of problem with this. Nintendo Entertainment Systems were goddamn expensive. When they first hit the market, they were retailing for $199. Adjusted for inflation, this was about $450. And those were American dollars, so for a brand new Nintendo, you were looking at a pile of money. My parents didn’t have a pile of money lying around, so I never did get a Nintendo Entertainment System. What we did get, in the winter of 1989, was a Nintendo Gameboy, the handheld version of the console. We also got a couple of games thrown into the mix.

Now, this was an incredibly smart move and a really bad move on my parents part, and this was no fault of theirs. It was great because it was cheaper than a big system and could be taken on long car rides, which was a pretty common occurrence when we were children. It was bad ’cause you COULD take it anywheres, which meant I was bringing it with me on every camping trip we ever went on. It was also bad because unlike the system you could plug into the wall, this little punter used 4 AA batteries, so I’m pretty sure my parent ended up spending more on the Gameboy when you factored in buying piles of batteries every other day. The biggest flaw with the handheld device is that it was a one-man operation. So even though there were three boys, there was only one Gameboy. I’d have to ask my mom, but I’m pretty sure we fought over the stupid thing constantly.

Both my brothers play video games. Heck, even my mom is playing HayDay on her IPad. But I’m pretty sure that out of the family, I’m the only one who’d be called a “gamer”. I was, and still am, a fiend. I’d consider getting a ‘Legend of Zelda’ tattoo. I’ve put a Super Nintendo emulator on basically every electronic device I’ve ever owned. I’ve beaten ‘I Wanna Be the Guy’. I played Cave Story before it was cool. Man, have you even played Cave Story? That’s straight Indie goodness at its finest.

Now I’m starting to build games. This has been on Mr. Charlton’s bucket list for a long, long time. I told myself that 2017 would be the year I at least give it the ol’ college try. So I grabbed a couple of classes from Udemy and I’ve been taking the plunge.

Luckily, I’ve got some skills from a previous life that’s making the process of learning a little easier. A decade of drafting has given me a lot of tools for designing, planning, and executing basically anything you throw at me. I’ve been slowly learning to code for the last couple of years, so when I was tasked to learn a new language, it wasn’t complete gibberish I was learning. I’m using Unity for the game engine and development environment, Blender for the 3D modeling, Visual Studio for the IDE, GIMP and InkScape for the 2D art and textures. There’s only one thing I’m lacking…

Music. Sounds. A video game needs some sort of music to fill the space between your ears. That’s the weakest link in the chain, easily. Even though I’m not a great artist, I can manage. Even though my code is rudimentary, there’s a vibrant community who’s willing to answer questions and help a noob. Even though Blender is still new to me after years of having it installed on my machine, I’m picking it up quicker now that I’m allocating time to learning it. But music?

Look, I consider myself a lousy guitarist and an OK harmonica player. But I don’t know where to begin with making music on my computer. I’ve been given some pretty good advice so far, it’s just that I’m so new I might be asking the wrong questions. So if I’m making music on the old PC here, here’s what I need to know. Ignore these questions if you’re not

  1. What DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is right for me? And when I say right, what I mean is cheap or free. Unity? Free until I make bank with it. Ditto for Visual Studio. Blender, GIMP, and InkScape? All free. I’m going to start out with Audacity, ’cause it’s free. But people keep telling me I’ll have to upgrade eventually. I’m leaning towards Reaper, ’cause it’s cheap and people seem to like it. Keep in mind I’m doing this legit. Don’t fire me a link to a torrent for Fruity Loops.
  2. People, I’ve got no sense when it comes to plugging instruments into a computer. No sense? I might have to steal some of that sense from you. Should I get a keyboard? Or a controller? Can I rock one of these things into my computer via USB? Where can I get some cheap instruments? Where’s the shady guy with a van full of gear that ‘was just left behind in a warehouse’ somewhere? Mr. Charlton is in desperate need of some cheap stolen shit.
  3. All the other programs I’m using make sense to me. Blender is just 3D modeling, and I have a background in that sort of thing. I’m not a great coder, but I know what they’re talking about when they’re asking me to import a library. But this audio shit? Holy Christ on a cracker am I out of my element. I might have to actually sit down with someone and get this sorted out.

So music people, I’m asking you; what the hell are you people doing making music so damn complicated? I don’t need this malarkey. Can’t a guy just hammer on his computer keyboard to make some beeps and bloops for a game? Did you folks make this complicated to pretend like you’re doing actual work? Where’s the MS Paint version of music making?

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Seriously, I am a fish out of water when it comes to music production. Any advice you wish to solicit would help me out greatly.

p.s.s. I ended up going with Reaper. I’m slowly, slowly learning it. The manual is only 500 pages long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Charlton – Gamer for Life

“Do we have enough tape? This is important. Everybody, even Grandma, games–meaning checkers, cards, if not now, in the past. Show me even freakin’ nun or a hermit who hasn’t done cards or checkers.”

Adam Wood, from ‘King of Kong’

A couple years back, I can’t remember the exact date, a few years ago, but yeah, a few years ago I was sitting on a friend’s couch, and I was playing a game with Jered and Metal Rob. I’m pretty sure I was playing with Rob, and we were playing ‘Gear of War 2’. Now, the two of them had played this game before but I had not, and I was picking up the game about half-way through the story mode. There was a lot of plot I was missing, but the gist of the story was one of the main characters was looking for his wife. Alien/Demons/Monsters/Baddies had taken her, and you and your friend were tasked with finding her.

I’m just going to point out, if you haven’t played this game or don’t play the big ‘Triple A’ games or don’t play games at all, ‘Gears of War 2’ is not a happy game. It’s set in a bleak, grey world, where humanity has it’s back against a wall. The last shred of our civilization battles an unknown horde, one that has emerge from the ground under our feet. Most people have been drafted into the war, essentially becoming ‘Gears’ in this awful machine. It’s a visually stunning game, but it’s not painting a pretty picture. I mean, your gun has a chainsaw on the front of it so you can saw Baddies in half. It’s that kind of game.

So here I am, playing this game with my friend, the two game characters are battling through this horrible underground cavern trying to find a wife, and we hit the game’s climax. You find her. It breaks to a cut scene.

She emerges from her prison cell. She looks exactly like his memories. She come out and passionately embraces our character. But this is an illusion. The game character snaps out of his fantasy, and sees his wife for how she really is. Incredibly malnourished, missing clumps of hair, hollow eyes. She’s completely catatonic. Whatever soul used to inhabit this body has disappeared completely, and there’s now just a shell of human being. The game character is shattered. With no way to help his wife, he can only help her by ending her life. He takes his sidearm, and while holding the husk of what remains of his wife, he puts a bullet in her head.

Pardon my language, but What The Fuck?

People, I put down video games for a year after I played that sequence. A goddamn year. I told people I was giving up the game, forever. This wasn’t a small statement, either. I loved video games. I used to be able to play with my feet. It wasn’t just something I did, it was part of who I was. But after that jarring scene, I thought I was done.

I went back to gaming, but my views on the medium will never be the same. I grew up in the ‘Mortal Kombat’ period of gaming history, when violent video games like ‘Doom’ and ‘Splatterhouse’ and the aforementioned ‘Mortal Kombat’ were taking the arcades and the home by storm. A lot of people thought these games were obscene. For me, there was always this fat, thick line, between the game and my emotions. I couldn’t see how they’d be offensive, because it was so obvious these pixels weren’t stirring any emotions. ‘Gears of War 2’ changed my perspective forever. I mean, kudos for the medium for stirring emotions in me so greatly I couldn’t touch a controller for a year after that. If there was any question in my mind whether video games could be art, this shattered any doubt.

I went from being a die-hard gamer, to quitting cold turkey, back to being a hardcore gamer.

I’d be lying if I said the only reason I gave up gaming was because of this emotional roller coaster ‘Gears of War 2’ put me through. Deep down, somewhere buried in my psyche, was the notion that video games were a waste of time. And they are. They are totally a waste of time. But sitting down and watching a film is a waste of time. Going to an art museum is a waste of time. Cheering for a baseball team is a waste of time. And yet everyone reading this has partaken in time wasting with games or film or sports.

Which brings me to the quote above. Everyone games. Everyone, every once and a while, likes to blow off steam by doing something irrelevant, like playing crib with a deck of cards, or playing ‘Candy Crush’ on their phone. The moment cave people starting losing their teeth was the moment someone decided to collect those teeth, rattle them around in a coconut shell, and then toss them to see how many they could get right side up.

There’s this weird underlying idea in our culture that if you’re not hustling 100% of the time, you’re doing something wrong. That you should feel a little ashamed for kicking back and taking it easy for a bit. Screw that baloney. You know what people aren’t doing when they’re watching sports? They’re not killing people. You know what people going to the movies aren’t getting up to? Definitely not eating babies, that’s for sure. And you know people aren’t doing when they’re playing video games? I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not trying to create a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room of my apartment.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. If there was only some way of combining work and play into one…

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I am definitely not building a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room.

p.s.s. I made a game. Click on this link to see it. It’s not my first game (nor is it the most complicated), but it’s the first one I’ve been able to upload to the web.

p.s.s.s. This link is only good for 30 days. When I finally stop  being lazy and build an actual website, I’ll put it up again.

Mr. Charlton Builds a Computer

I received my computer Tuesday and after work, chores, making dinner, and a bunch of tasks needing to be accomplished, I finally had time at about 10:30 pm to sit down and put together a massive box of computer pieces. By 2:00 am Wednesday morning, I finally had the damn thing together and running with an operating system. Ran into a couple snags, though…

  • I bought a CPU fan, thinking the CPU wouldn’t come with a fan. It did. So I have two CPU fans. Now, the extra one I bought is most certainly an upgrade, but Christ, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine attaching such a massive and ugly piece of hardware to a CPU. It looks like my processor is being molested by a silver monster.
  • I also bought an extra tube of thermal paste. That’s only because I didn’t expect the extra fan to have some. It did. Now I’m capable of attaching a ton of processors to heatsinks and fans. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
  • I installed the mother board first, which turned out to be a mistake. You see, that crazy monster CPU fan needs to fastened to the BACK of the motherboard as well as the front. I had to take off the sucker and attach this beast of a fan before I could put the motherboard back in.
  • I was going to return the fan, once I realized what a pain in the ass it was. As I was looking up the return policy, I spilled coffee on the instructions for this fan. After a lot of swearing (sorry Kat!), I decided to keep the fan.
  • If you haven’t noticed, basically every problem I had was with this fan. But damn, does it push some heat!
  • Once everything was installed, I went to go install my operating system. Except I didn’t actually buy one. After some digging, I found my old copy of Windows 7. Brand new machine, and it’s running an operating system that’s over 7 years old. I’m off to a great start.

It might seem like two and a half hours is a long time to setup a computer, but remember, this is the first computer I’ve bought in 8 years. I was taking my sweet time, occasionally smelling the cords as I was putting it together. They had that new cord smell. Delicious.

I’ve been slowly adding software to the machine. Slowly. I’ve starting with some basics I use a bunch. Which brings me to a new problem. Because right now I’m satisfied that everything that NEEDS to be installed finally is, and I’m writing this blog at 3:00 pm on Friday. From the time of unboxing to the moment I can finally sit down and feel comfortable using my computer, it has been three days. 2 and a half hours ain’t bad, but 3 days is a goddamn long time to be waiting to use your new toy.

You see, you can’t just start mucking about on the computer the second you have it plugged in. No sir. You have to make sure everything is updated first. You have to update all the drivers for the hardware; the motherboard (you should do this first), the video card, the LAN, the audio. You have to install the latest service pack for Windows. You then have to update Windows. Now you’re going to want to install all the cool software you use on a regular basis; A good internet browser, Skype, Steam, a slew of design program I tell myself I’m going to learn but never do. Once that’s all done, once all of that was setup, I finally installed Skyrim to see how well this computer would run.

It runs at 60 FPS on the highest settings. I mean, it’s a game that’s also 8 years old, but damn, it still looks pretty good.

I’ve been going on such a downloading spree that I had to call my service provider and have them bump me up to their platinum program. If I hadn’t done that, I would still be installing Visual Studio’s 2017 (this program happens to clock in at over 50 Gbs with all the bells at whistles. No joke). I’ve only had this computer for a couple days and I’ve already downloaded well over a hundred gigs of sweet data, and from how it’s going so far, that ain’t going to stop any time soon.

TLDR; Mr. Charlton got a new computer. Mr. Charlton build his new computer. Mr. Charlton is now treating his new machine like a China vase, and refuses to even browse Facebook with it yet. You’ll know the new shiny has worn off when I start downloading crap I shouldn’t be.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I missed a post ’cause I was enthralled with my new toy. I should be working instead of playing, but I just downloaded Batman: Arkham City and SWEET PEARL it runs at 60 FPS with every damn thing turned on. An old game, but this tells me I can at least play some new games if I choose to.

 

 

Mr. Charlton Buys a Computer

Eight years. Eight years wasn’t always a long time for an appliance. Back in the day, it was common to have one phone in the house, and that was the phone you had for years. You had a washing machine until it broke down, and you’d at least try and get the thing fixed before you bought a new one. And kitchen appliances lasted forever, shucks, they still do. My stand mixer is going to be one of those things I will never get rid of. Mr. Charlton ain’t going back to making bread with his hands like some sort of pedestrian.

Computer’s though, that’s something that gets old quick. Not many people have vintage computers. Besides a couple of strange peripherals, you want the latest and greatest. Not only does the hardware get old, but the software for computers is always getting updated. A computer five years ago running Windows 7 won’t be running the same version of Windows 7  today. The software giant, Microsoft, is constantly tweaking and adding things. New features are usually great, but it bogs down the hardware. Unless you go rogue with an operating system like Linux, it’s something you’ll have to deal with.

For the non-techies reading my blog, think of it like this. If I bought a car tomorrow, stuck it in a garage for a decade, pulled it out, how would the car run? It’d run fine. You might have to lube up some bit here and there, but if the room was sealed, you wouldn’t really have any issues, except it might not have that new car smell anymore. A computer’s a little different. You buy a computer, hide it away, and pull it out ten years later? It’s going to be a pile of crap. We’ll take the car analogy again. You store the car away for a while, pull it out for a test drive after a decade, and you find out the roads are now made of steel coated with a strange lubricant. You can still drive, but you’re going to have to slow your ass down. But hey, you decide to go upgrade your car at the mechanics. Maybe they can help you out. No go. Turns out the new wheels use a way different method of attachment. Your car is no longer any good.

This isn’t a particularly great analogy. The gist is computers get old, and they need to be upgraded if you want to use the latest software. I’ve got a little laptop, an old netbook I call ‘The Pony’, and it’s fine for writing words. But it can’t even handle the internet anymore. That’s what I use the Pony for, though. When I want to write stuff down and I’d rather not be distracted.

Enter ‘The Work Horse’. This was a great machine. I mean, it had a Xeon Intel processor. A Xeon! It had 4 gigs of RAM. Big old 300 GB hard drives, and it was one of those new fangled ‘Raptor’ drives that spun at 10,000 RPMs instead of 7,200. You can’t just stick that Xeon in any old motherboard, though, that baby required the special server motherboard. That board was big, too, and it needed a special computer case that could handle the size. I wasn’t pissing around either, this was going to be a multi-media center, so I needed the separate audio card. To top it off, I had a 260x GeForce Video card. A couple of fans to her the Horse cool. It was a work of art. Eight years ago.

It’s basically being held together with duct tape at this point. I’ve done everything I could to keep her going, but it’s been a long eight years. I can’t part with the old gal, though. She ain’t as fast as she used to be, but she can still carry a load, so I’ll turn her into a little home server, add a couple of old hard drives to her and use her as a little storage unit.

I ain’t a car guy, never really saw the appeal, but I get why other people are. I look at computers the same way. My new machine should be getting here tomorrow, and I’m going to love every second assembling her, but I’ll miss things about the one I’m writing on right now. How it basically heats my little office here, or how it won’t boot up if I have a USB memory stick inserted into it.

Tomorrow, the Work Horse is going to be put to greener pastures. After eight years, it could use a bit of a break.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. After the OS, what should I install first?

p.s.s. I now feel like I used to on Christmas Eve. I might not even go to bed tonight.

 

Meta Post – Writers Block Strikes Again

The last time we spoke, which was this Tuesday, I believe, I was on a path to stardom fueled by the sweet embrace of heroin. I’ve run out of heroin, and as I’ve discovered, the only thing worse than failed stardom is failed stardom with massive heroin withdraw. Who would have known that donning a skin-tight spandex suit, learning four chords on the bass guitar, and pumping my veins so full of Moroccan candy that I got addicted wouldn’t guarantee me a place in the rock and roll hall of fame?

So I’m back at the keyboard, putting one word in front of the other. And it’s not going so well this week.

It happens. You get into a rut. Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking to my writing group about writing comedy. I started off with a joke that fell flat, but the rest of the presentation went pretty well. I made a pretty bold claim near the beginning, though. I said writing, like all other art forms, is created to evoke an emotional response, which are pretty big words for a guy who’s a recovering heroin junkie. Whether it’s writing, or painting, or sculpturing, or making music, the point of these things is to stir something in your peers.

But…

Writing is kinda different. Sure, writing can stir things in people, but it’s a delayed gratification. It takes a while to read a novel. If you hear a song, it’s connecting to you right away. The second those sound waves start rattling the bones in your ear and your brain starts translating the waves to the beats, your butt starts to shake and you’re connected to the primal beast in your soul. If you see a painting, your eyes instantly devour it, the colors and shapes and textures of the paint hitting your noggin immediately.

Put it this way. We’re having a party, and it is off the chain. I mean, drinks are flowing, I’ve got a crazy spread going, and everyone is having a good time. I’ve brought three of my friends to this party; The Handsome Musician, The Stunning Painter, and The Sexy Writer. They show up, and they each start doing their own thing.

The Handsome Musician sees my guitar in the corner and heads over. He picks it up and starts playing some sweet riffs. His riffs are crunchy as all sin. The people around him start to gravitate towards him. Men nod in agreement. The women look at him doe-eyed. He’s not paying attention. His eyes are closed and he’s lost in the moment. Once he’s done,  he receives a small amount of applause. The dude doesn’t even have to tell people he’s a musician.

The Stunning Painter heads over to the snack table and gets himself one of my tasty hors d’oeuvres. A cute lady approaches, which is a bit of a letdown for my painter friend as he’s gayer than springtime. No matter, he’s a gentleman through and through. She asks what he’s been up to recently. He replies that he’s been painting. Before she has time to ask, he whips out his phone and proceeds to show her his work. Her breath is taken away. His work, even though it looks better in real life, is still amazing over the tiny pixel screen.

The Sexy Writer bee-lines it for the bar. He pours himself a scotch, neat. He downs it almost instantly and pours himself another one. He scours the room, somehow looking at everyone but managing to avoid eye contact with anyone. He sticks himself up in the corner and hopes he can drink in peace. He’s approached by a heavy-set man.

“Hey, you’re Sexy Writer guy, Mr. Charlton’s friend. How’s it going this evening?”

Sexy Writer guy tries to look somewhere else. “It’s going.”

The heavy-set man laughs. “It certainly is GOING, isn’t it friend? Tell me, do you have any hobbies?”

The Sexy Writer looks down at his feet as he mumbles. “I write…”

“I’m sorry, my hearing isn’t what it used to be. What did you say you do for fun?” the heavy-set man says as he leans in closer.

The Sexy Writer sighs. “I write.”

The fat man nods. “Really? Do you have anything published?”

Something snaps in the Sexy Writer’s mind. He grabs an empty beer bottle on the table, smashes it and holds it up to heavy-set man’s throat. He speaks, but his voice is high-pitched and shrill, like that of a maniac.

“Am I Published? AM I PUBLISHED?!?! No one asked the HANDSOME Musician if HE’S landed a recording deal, no one questioned whether or not the Stunning Painter had his artwork in the LOUVRE, and you want to know if I’m PUBLISHED?”

Before anyone can react, the Sexy Writer turns the broken glass on himself, stabbing himself repeatedly in the neck. Once again, my party is ruined.

The moral of the story is that writing is hard, and can be sometimes kinda thankless. If you’re going to write, you gotta do it for yourself. And hopefully, you won’t murder yourself at one of my parties.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Anyime I have writers block, I write about writing. Kinda like jacking off for a scribe.

p.s.s. Most readers don’t get feedback, but I get tons of feedback from wonderful people like you, so pat yourselves on the back.