Ludum Dare 31 Postmortem

Back in December, I made a half-hearted attempt to create a game for the Ludum Dare 31 competition. I hadn’t been planning to do a Ludum Dare, which is a huge time commitment when done properly. I just noticed it was going on when I felt like writing some code, so I took a casual stab at it. I made some progress on a pure JavaScript game engine, and defined an interesting look for a game, but I didn’t really have time to make it a playable game.

I do like what I came up with, and I’ve continued to work on it in my spare time. I’ll post about it again eventually.

Ludum Dare 31 is on….

Ludum Dare, the popular game-making challenge, is running this weekend. Coincidentally, I need to break in a new software-development computer. So I’ll see if I can make a game this weekend. Wish me luck.

I’ll post occasional updates on the Ludum Dare multi-blog, starting with this one: OK, I’m in.

The game will go here when it’s done, or even sooner if there’s interesting progress to show:

The Mystery of Crystal Crater

For Halloween 2014, I’ve created this thrill-packed virtual roller coaster for your enjoyment.

The Mystery of Crystal Crater
The Mystery of Crystal CraterFor a long time, there were no giant crystals available as RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 scenery. Now there are! JimmyG’s Crystal Set came out this summer and I just love it. These virtual crystals are so pretty I just want to roll around in big piles of them.

…Hence this ride.

Ever since my first ride on Space Mountain as a child, I’ve been fascinated by the entertainment potential of strongly themed roller coasters. Zooming through vivid imagineered environments, dodging faux dangers? Awesome. Ridefilms like Star Tours are similar – the zooming and dodging is simulated, but the imagineering can be far more spectacular when the scenery doesn’t really have to be physically built around the ride.

The Mystery of Crystal CraterThese days, software like RCT3 makes it possible to explore this art form without a theme park’s budget. Which is pretty amazing, really. I can’t tilt your chair for you (alas!) but I can create a POV video from the front seat of a ride that, a month ago, existed only in my daydreams.

…So I have. Enjoy!

(Rider caution: this virtual ride experience includes flashing lights, very loud noises, high speeds and high G’s. And we shoot fireworks right into your face. For best viewing, prefer a dark room, full-screen view, stereo sound – not too loud – and a smooth frame rate even if that requires switching to a lower video resolution.)


Giant Crystals come to RCT3

RCT3, to those in the know, is RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, a computer game in which you can design and ride your own rollercoasters.

To me, that seems like the primary reason to own a computer! You can design and (virtually) ride your own rollercoasters!

And the software is really full-featured, too. You can build a whole theme park. You can sculpt and paint the terrain, plant trees, lay paths, include a full assortment of non-coaster rides…create fireworks shows and even design custom fireworks to use in them. The game comes with a wide assortment of scenery, up to and including animatronic dinosaurs! And when the built-in scenery isn’t quite enough, you can add Custom Scenery sets created by other users with 3-D modelling tools.

Then you can export POV video of the rides you design…which can include not just a wide range of roller coaster types but also “dark rides” where the angle of view can be controlled at every turn. With a little imagination and a ton of patience, this game can be used to create some truly stunning videos, far more artistic than a simple simulated roller coaster.

Anyway, if you’re an RCT3 fan, you know all this already. (If you’re not…well, if you ever wanted to design a roller coaster, you probably ought to check it out.) Personally, I grabbed the game on sale via Steam a few years back, and I’ve been very impressed with all it can do. But there was always one thing missing…

Giant crystals!

Seriously, if you can make thrill rides with giant ferns and dinosaurs and waterfalls, and customize lava-like fireworks, and import cavern rocks and lost-temple walls…why are there no giant crystals?!? Isn’t that the obvious next step?

So I always hoped someone would create a Custom Scenery set with some big crystals…and that it would be good, too!

Well, someone finally did, and it is!

I hadn’t been thinking much about RCT3 for months, but about three weeks ago my son wanted to play the game again (who wouldn’t!) and this reminded me to wonder whether there was any recent progress on the giant crystal front…so I searched that ol’ Internet and found that, indeed, after months of silence, JimmyG had announced that day that he would finally release his not-quite-finished set of giant crystals. His preview images looked fantastic, but would he really post the set soon? Would they look that good in the game? Would there be a decent selection of shapes and sizes? What did the “as-is” release status imply for the set’s quality? Would it even run properly, or crash the game? (Making these CS sets isn’t easy! Making them really good is even harder.)

Well, the next day he did post the Custom Scenery set, and I immediately downloaded it and tried it out.

…and, it’s AWESOME! Everything I’d been wishing for and a bit more besides. The crystals are some of the most realistic scenery in the game: Clear, but not too clear. Optionally self-illuminating, but not glowing unrealistically. A wide range of sizes, shapes, and orientations of crystal clusters. Control over the material and light colors – separately. Whatever was “not quite finished” about the set…doesn’t show. If you, like me, were waiting for something like this, run don’t walk:,15320.0.htmlJimmyG’s Crystal Set release announcement, demo pictures, usage tips;sa=view;down=2409 – CS download page

I immediately put together a very short ride to test-drive this new CS. What a delight! Every time I went back to the scenery menu, hoping to find a crystal cluster of a slightly different size, shape, or orientation, there it was. Every time! (Much nicer than the game’s built-in scenery which, though generally quite good, often falls short when it comes to variety. There aren’t enough different trees, for example.)

This little coaster I built, Discovery Mine, is only a tiny taste of what this CS can do – an appetizer, if you will – but I found that I could decorate it precisely as I had envisioned it, almost as if I’d designed the crystal clusters myself. Thank you JimmyG!

Though it’s tiny compared to what many other artists have done with RCT3, I’m pleased enough with this little ride to release a video. (This is the first coaster I’m showing off in public; it surely won’t be the last.)

So please enjoy Discovery Mine:

The Other White Keys

The piano keyboard’s distinctive pattern of white and black keys is, when you think about it, a little strange. The black keys nestle between the white keys in alternating groups of two and three. Why?

Of course the answer is familiar to most musicians: the black keys represent the accidentals, the sharp and flat notes between the notes – C, D, E, F, G, A, B – of the C-Major scale.

Yet this raises another question. Why C-Major? The white keys represent the notes represented by the unadorned letters A through G, but why are those the notes of C-Major and not, say, A-Major? Wouldn’t it be more convenient not to be starting with C all the time? (The “home” key on a piano is “middle C” – why not “middle A”?)

Ah, but C-Major is also A-minor, which does start with A. That’s a little clearer, but aren’t Major scales more important, more basic, than minor?

No, not really. Major keys have just been very popular for hundreds of years, that’s all. Minor’s a close second; the other traditional modes are largely ignored…except by good musicians.

So why are they called “Major” and “minor”? That sounds prescriptive (or even proscriptive), and probably confuses the issue unduly. Personally, I think it would have been better to keep calling them Ionian and Aeolian modes.

Of course, music notation had a long and varied evolution – still ongoing – and all this stuff is pretty much arbitrary. The people who invented the Ionian scale weren’t the same people who decided, much later, that it should be emphasized over all the other modes. And those weren’t the same people who gave letter names to the notes – but not to all of them, just the notes of…not C-Major, presumably, but A-minor or whatever they were calling it at the time. (Hypodorian mode?)

After that choice was well established, putting all the simple note names like “A” on the white keys, with the “accidentals” on shorter keys between some of them, is a fairly straightforward choice. The piano (and the similar-looking harpsichord before it) could have been tuned so that any major or minor key falls on the white keys, or could have been built with a different arrangement of keys entirely. Indeed, chromatic keyboards and other types have been built, but – like the even stranger QWERTY keyboard for typewriters – the piano with C-Major/A-minor white keys is the style that caught on. (Though it was not uncommon at first for the colors to go the other way with the main keys black and the smaller ones white.)

In any case, the familiar layout is very convenient if you’re playing something in C Major or A minor. There’s no question where the relevant notes are. But to play in any other key, you need to memorize some other pattern of white and black keys. Awkward.

Of course, unlike a traditional piano, a good electronic synthesizer (or software synth) can be easily transposed up or down, so you can shift your favorite scale onto the white keys. Convenience restored, but everyone will look at you strangely. (It’s traditional to learn all the weird patterns.)

Which finally brings us to the odd thought I had one day. What if, instead of transposing the notes, you transposed the colors of the piano keys?

Imagine a fancy electronic keyboard with color-changing keys. When you’re playing a piece in A minor, the main keys are white as usual. But if you set it to display a different scale, the pattern of white and black shifts. Of course the keys don’t move or change shape – there are still small keys between the large ones – and the notes don’t move – middle C is still middle C. But whether C is white or black depends on the chosen display mode (pun intended). A minor key (say) is always the same pattern of black and white, but draped across a different group of large and small keys.

What would that look like? Would it be easier to play? Or hopelessly confusing? I was curious, so I created a diagram of the white-and-black patterns representing each spoke on the Circle of Fifths. I was not curious enough to repaint my synthesizer’s keys over and over to actually try it out. I don’t even want to risk putting stickers on the keys. But perhaps someone with a lot of spare keyboards will give this a try, and report back here on how it worked out.

In any case, I think the chart is interesting, and perhaps it will help some of us learn our scales. I’ve formatted it for printing, on two pages; it’s labelled for Major scales. Enjoy!