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Apr 30, 2015

Vid: A Country Drive

More fun with green screening, and this time starring my adorable daughter! This time my brother and I made some breakthroughs with lighting, which is truly a key factor in whether a green screened video looks any good.

Apr 23, 2015

Tristan's Diary

This started out as an idea I had for my first child, and then I completely forgot to do it. I didn't do it for my second child because of his birth defect that ended up taking his life, so I dug up the idea for our third child, Tristan, who was born a month ago. I thought it would be fun to see the world through a child's eyes—to think about how an outsider who comes to earth and learns about things like physics, bodily functions, communication, etc. would react. I was especially looking forward to writing about kid logic from a kid's point of view—for example, "I think I have made a breakthrough speaking with the giants who care for me. I realize that they seem to communicate using mouth noises. I attempted to communicate in this fashion today, but they did not seem to understand. Apparently, there are some rules involved with the types of mouth sounds made."
Unfortunately, as I soon found out, the very nature of this project makes it too hard to keep up. There are simply too many things a new baby experiences to write down. Besides simple things like light, sound, and dry air, there are things like sensations, pain, color, gravity, smell, and all kinds of other crazy things we take for granted every second of our existence.
Still, it was fun to try, and if anyone wants to steal the idea to make a book, I would love to read it.

Tristan’s Diary
by Austin Ballard

January 29, 2015
I exist.
I’ve known this for some time, but it seems to have come to me gradually that I can think about it, act on it, acknowledge it. I am a being, and I am at peace with the idea of existing. And thus I will record the knowledge I obtain while existing in this World.
I seem to consist of five extensions. Four of them are basic ones, only used for kicking. The fifth seems to be closer to my consciousness. With it, I take the World around me in and out. Around me is the World. I kick, and the World pushes back. I roll, feeling it wrapping about me, containing me. The noises of the cosmos whirl about my consciousness. And always, there is the distant murmur of Goddess’s voice from beyond.
I hear her constantly, the melodious timbre of her words talking to me from beyond the World. She is always there, and somehow I know that because of her, I exist. Because of Goddess, I am alive. I feel her presence near, though she sounds far away. She sends me nourishment and energy through an extension of her own that connects to a place in the middle of my five extensions. Nourishment and energy to kick more.
For I must kick. Though this World is the only place I exist, moving around it makes me feel alive, and assures Goddess I am still here… assures her I still exist. When I stopped kicking today, I heard Goddess’s voice grow concerned, and the World shifted. Energizing nourishment flooded into my abdomen, making me want to kick more. And yet I refused, to test Goddess’s faith in me. Goddess shifted the world more, making it poke and prod me.
At last, the World contracted too tightly, and I could not resist kicking again. This seemed to make Goddess happy, and it satisfied my test. At any rate, it stopped her from poking me again.
Thus lies before me my purposes: to exist, to kick, and to make Goddess pleased. Since she created me, and nourishes me in this World of mine, I feel it is a fair price to pay, to kick every once in a while.

February 8, 2015
I discovered something interesting today. There seems to be someone other than Goddess out beyond the World. Every once in a while, when I kick a lot, Goddess seems to get excited. Then the World presses in upon me, and a deeper voice acknowledges my existence. Kicking seems to make it as happy as Goddess. But I feel no connection to the other voice, and it does not nourish me in any way that I know of. It comes and goes, too, but Goddess is always there.

February 18, 2015
I’ve discovered something somewhat unsettling in the past couple of days—the World is shrinking. I used to be able to roll around my body (what I’ve decided to call my collective extensions) and kick with ease, but every day it grows the slightest bit more difficult. I seem to be trapped in my current position, and can no longer roll. Why is the World shrinking? I thought I would live in it forever, but the inevitable result of too much shrinking is… unthinkable.
Will my body become the world? Will Goddess come to save me? Will she make the World stop shrinking and grow back its normal size if I kick enough? I will at least try—I can’t let myself get swallowed up by the World. Its only purpose is to contain me, just as my purpose is to kick and listen to Goddess’s murmurs. I will practice kicking and turning as much as I can, and see if I can make a difference on the World around me.

February 21, 2015
I heard a lot of voices outside the World today. Deep ones, loud ones, all like Goddess’s, but not quite the same. I wonder just how many voices there are out there, watching and waiting for me to make my next kick.
Speaking of kicking, I seem to be getting very good at it. I enjoy it, even. Goddess is, as always, delighted with my progress. I’m beginning to really enjoy practicing the movements in my body. The World still seems to be as small as ever, but I don’t mind. I’m sure everything will work out. What could possibly happen in such a safe place? Goddess won’t let me down.
I’ve realized a couple of new developments concerning my body. My four kicking extensions—I have begun to refer to them as limbs—are more different than my head, which is what I refer to the extension that houses my consciousness. My head is much bigger than my limbs, and is not very good at kicking. But it does allow shapes to enter into my consciousness. I have sensed two types of shapes, and they are always changing, depending on the time and which way I crane my head. I haven’t discerned their meaning yet, but I’m sure they are important. All I can tell is that when Goddess stops talking and the World lies still, there is only one type of shape to be found for a long time.

March 3, 2015
Existing is hard sometimes. The past few days the World has just felt too cramped and small to kick in. I know Goddess is upset with me… she’s been making the World roll around and poke me over and over. I know she wants me to kick, but I just haven’t been up to it. Goddess even sent a whole bunch of nourishment through my cord (the extension that goes into my tummy, the area below my head)—more nourishment than I think I’ve ever gotten at one time. I don’t know, maybe I should try to kick more. I just don’t know how much longer I can keep it up. Why won’t Goddess release the pressure? She can make the World poke me, but yet she won’t make the World as big as it used to be. I’ll be patient, though. I’m sure she’s just testing my patience and trust in her.
Maybe I’ll kick again tomorrow.

March 10, 2015
After my last entry I started kicking again, like usual. It keeps me feeling like I have a purpose in the World, and I can tell it makes Goddess happy. I’ve also been hearing the deeper voice more lately, which is intriguing.
However, I’m starting to feel a significant difference in the World, and it’s beginning to genuinely alarm me. I don’t think that the World is going to stop shrinking. It’s as if my body’s size is finite, and the World’s area is diminishing rapidly. The World cannot contain me if it continues to shrink like this. I feel as if I have less and less space to kick in. What if the World does not stop, and strangles me as I exist here?

March 15, 2015
Something strange happened today. The surface of the World became tense and taut. It was as if the World were trying to push me in the direction my head is facing. This cannot be the purpose Goddess intends for me… there is nowhere to go besides the World. I have felt the World in every direction that I have kicked. Besides me, there is nothing, except for the cord that is part of both me and the World, and that connects me to the voice of Goddess—the source of energy.
Still, I thought it wise to record this detail. I feel that this contraction of the World is significant somehow. At this point, I can’t imagine what I did wrong to cause the World to shrink so. I can’t move. My limbs are pressed to my face and chest, and kicking—or moving at all—is nearly impossible. I can only trust in Goddess as usual to make the World grow back to its normal size. I will not lost hope.

March 20, 2015
I feel worried. The past week has been full of the tight, contracting feelings of the World, as if it is about to constrict me into oblivion, or absorb me into itself. I don’t know what to do. Looking back on the recent past, nothing has improved. I remember times in the past when I felt free, as if the World was an immense place where I could float and bob about. But those days are over. I feel as if I and the World are about to become one. I see no other alternative.
There are so many voices out there besides Goddess’s. Voices, noises, otherworldly sounds. I hear the beating of Goddess in the World, but it feels as if there are many other beings peering from outside. Strange, I know. How can anything exist outside of the World? Goddess is the only being I know of who is outside of the World, and yet she is the World, all around me.

March 23, 2015          -           8:00 pm
            Something’s not right. The tightenings of the World are accelerating, and the World is taking me with it. Strange, powerful forces tighten around my head and body, forcing it into itself. I believe that the World is attempting to devour me. Goddess’s voice is as present as ever, but she seems to have given me strange nourishment through the cord. I feel… sleepier. Calmer. As if everything is going to be okay. And yet, most of my consciousness screams for answers and help. Save me, Goddess, from the encircling, swallowing void!

9:00 pm
            The tightenings are maddening. They are constant, powerful forces. I feel that my time has come to stop existing. Has this been my fate all along? To kick, to appease Goddess, to be nourished through our divine linking cord, only to be squeezed and forced into the folds of the World? Will I become the World? Or perhaps, a new World? Perhaps I will become a new Goddess, and nourish my own… come to think of it, what am I? I exist, but I never realized before, until I was confronted with this dark destiny, that I am, myself, a being.
            In that case, perhaps I will nourish my own being, if I become a new World or a new Goddess. If this is true, it brings up the question: What will happen to Goddess? What if her purpose of helping me to live and exist is ending as well? The thought makes me sad. I love her deeply. Even if my existence is as short as it has been, it has been enjoyable, comfortable, and pleasant because of her. Her pleasant murmuring voice has lulled me to sleep and reassured me; and of course, her cord has supplied me with all that I have needed to kick and survive.
            I wish that it had not ended this way. I would have liked to live forever.

10:30 pm
            This is it. This is the end. I can feel myself even as I write these words being pulled farther and farther into the World by my head, and the walls of the world are encircling me, strangling me. The World itself seems to be collapsing. I feel pressure changes, and the very substance that surrounds me seems to quiver and tremble.
            And yet there is something oddest of all—Goddess is still out there. Her voice is still present outside the World, and does not sound the least bit concerned. She even seems excited for the end. I thought I understood her, but it appears that I was wrong. Whether she had my best interests at heart all along is unknown, but now, she seems to revel in my final moments.
            Oh, no… even at this moment I feel the last lurches of the World about to devour me. Farewell, World, and all who read these words. I, the existing being, am finished.

March 24, 2015          -           3:00 am
            I cannot begin to describe what has just happened to me, and to what I referred to as the “World.” It has been a day since my life there ended, and a new one has apparently begun anew, since here I am. I will try to explain as best I can.
            Soon after I wrote the last entry, my head was sucked deeper into the World, squeezed tightly through a tight space… and I soon felt a strange sensation on the top of my head. It was an alien sensation, completely foreign to me before that time. It was as if a new substance besides that which surrounded me in the World was now touching my head. It wasn’t long before the unthinkable happened—I extended outside the World. My head, body, limbs and all were suddenly and painfully washed over by this new sensation. It was very unpleasant and shocking to me. But not only did I feel the warmth—yes, warmth was what I had been experiencing in the World all along, and yet I had nothing else to compare it to—of the World leave me; noises of all kinds bombarded my head from all sides. My limbs splayed outwardly with no more walls to hold them. With the substance that once surrounded me gone, replaced by a much drier, colder substance (to coin a few new words for ease of speech), a force dragged me downward. I could still kick (and kick I did… I seemed to have no choice. There were no walls to stop them anymore!), but I could not float or bob anymore. It was as if the World was replaced completely by one with no regard for the previous one’s laws. Seeing as this is so, I will refer to the old World as the Womb. Whereas the Womb was a place of warm, secure fluid, this new world is infinite in all directions… full of empty coldness, noisy voices, and an all-encompassing presence of the strange shapes I saw glimpses of in the womb.
            One of the voices I heard when I emerged was that of Goddess, I’m sure of it. I seemed to recognize one other voice from days past, but the others were unfamiliar to me. I felt strange objects grasping at me, and suctioning the last drops of the Womb’s fluid I had left from my mouth. When that happened, I felt new forces inside me contract, and the cold dryness of the new world entered my body through my mouth! And what was even more horrifying, a new, high-pitched voice bellowed forth out of my own mouth! The sounds were overwhelming, frightening, but most surprising at all was that the end had not come. There had only been great changes take place. I still existed, though for how much longer I didn’t know.
            Soon, I felt myself floating again, but only through the help of something firm and strong beneath my body. The force still pulled me downward, threatening to suck me downward at alarming speed. But the firm things kept the force from taking me. Then, a softer, warmer surface appeared beneath me, and Goddess’s voice spoke to me more loudly and clearly than it ever had before. I found it reassuring amid the madness of what had just happened. I was still reeling with the fact that Goddess had literally been outside the World this entire time.
            The rest of that terrible day was a blur. I felt soft and wet surfaces rubbing every inch of my body, revealing to me parts that I did not know that Goddess had given me. I have “ears” on the sides of my head, and the closer the voices speak to them, the louder the noise; I have a “nose” above my mouth, which aids in breathing, but also brings with it a strange sense with which I can detect different chemicals and surfaces in this new world; my limbs have smaller limbs at the end of them, which I call “digits.” A few times, a surface has touched them, and my first impulse is to hold on to it for security. The digits have been very useful for this task, but I have a hard time controlling them when the air of the new world is the only thing they are touching.
            Strangest of all are my “eyes.” These parts are above my nose and in between my ears, and with them I have discovered a new sense with which I can perceive the new world. I realize now that I had been using them subconsciously in the Womb, to see those strange shapes. After some time in the new world, I opened them, and realized that this “shape” I had been seeing glimpses of is everywhere. Whereas a darker shape completely encompassed me in the Womb, this new world is full of both lightness and darkness, which varies greatly. I also seem to have some control over this. When I close my eyes tightly, the darkness returns, whereas if I open them, lightness is everywhere.
            I’m tired from writing so much and from all of these new developments. I’ll write more after some rest.

 11:00 am
I realized something horrible just now… the cord from which I gained all my nourishment is gone! Severed completely from my body, replaced by a useless stump not connected to any World at all! How will I survive now? How will I have enough energy to kick? Of course, it seems that my purpose has greatly changed now. Kicking is almost uncontrollable in itself. I can barely stop moving unless I am constricted. It appears that the voices know this, because they have often reassured me, before soft—albeit dry—surfaces have enveloped me, almost like the old Womb did. My head is still uncovered, but I have begun to be somewhat used to it being exposed to the air. I also am accustoming to my own voice. Yes, the voice that comes out of my mouth is my own. I seem to have been given it by Goddess in order to inform her that I need help. Whenever I cry, her voice returns to comfort me, and I am wrapped and contained. She seems to be trying to make me feel at home here.

That’s all he wrote.

Apr 16, 2015

Have Video Games reached their Peak?

There's a point where "flashier" is too flashy.
My brother recently got the new Super Smash Bros. game for Wii-U (I still can't believe that's its name... I was so hoping for something like Super Smash Bros. Onslaught or something), and I realized something interesting and odd the months and weeks before it came out, as well as the hour or two that I played it—I wasn't excited for it. It seemed to me that all the anticipation of Smash Bros. Brawl that I had experienced after high school had used up my excitement for Smash Bros. games entirely. It didn't matter if they had 15 new characters in this new game or 30, or even if they would keep adding new characters forever. It felt like the game was superfluous and that no amount of new features or improved graphics would ever improve on the perfection that was Brawl.

I thought I may be biased about this. Maybe I only liked Brawl so much because I had invested so much personal anticipation in it, especially in a monumental time in my life. But then I began to think of other games, and realized that most sequel-based games I could think of had a clear and distinct point where they seemed to "jump the shark" and lose their charm. Even though StarCraft II had amazing graphics and effects, it seemed to be missing something the old StarCraft had. Every expansion of World of WarCraft after Wrath of the Lich King subtracted more and more from the classic feel of the game, until now it's barely a husk of what it once was. And I can see what people are saying when they criticize Diablo III, even though I've never even played the previous ones. Even Skyrim seems like a step backward from Oblivion in some ways.

I've noticed this trend especially in older games when the game developers change from pixellated graphics to three-dimensional models. Stronghold 3, for example, is much less fun than the first Stronghold, and the Kings Quest series took a turn from awesome to terrible shortly after the graphics were improved after Kings Quest VI. Heroes of Might and Magic V was a terrible update from Heroes IV, which was already a ruined game compared to Heroes III (don't get me started on the Heroes series—it deserves a category all its own). Some exceptions to this rule are found in WarCraft III and Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

It seems as if computer games are losing their essence as a whole, and the way I see it, this could be for two reasons. First, what was once a narrow and focused industry of a few game developers has since exploded into countless (literally countless) indie groups, so that games and apps are a dime a dozen and are at best revolutionary spiritual successors of old games, and at worst, glorified mechanics playtests. I could rant all day like an old millennial geezer about the good old days of video games, and about how in my day we'd download our games with CDs instead of Steam, and how we only had a handful of games to play, and had more fun playing each one than we did playing any dozen indie games. I think people subconsciously understand this concept, too—You can clearly see the indie companies' desperate scrabbling for attention and renown in their deliberately attempts to supply games that have retro graphics and music.

The second reason is that creativity seems to be stunted through making too many sequels. I'll use Nintendo as an example of this, because they are the worst at it: When was the last time Nintendo came up with something new, noteworthy, and fun? I can't think of it. In recent years, they've come up with nothing but remakes of the same few games over and over again, to the point where you can get good at one of them and essentially get good at all the rest. They've juggled a few mechanics here and there, but the funnest version of the game, the point where the game reached its peak in fun, was 15 or sometimes 20 years ago.

Take MarioKart, for instance. The Super Nintendo version was fun, but somewhat limited and the controls were difficult to play. MarioKart 64, however, was perfect. The gameplay was fun, the graphics were charming, and hours upon hours of fun can still be had while playing it. Then came Double Dash. The graphics were better after seven years, but a bunch of superfluous characters were added, and for some reason, Nintendo thought it would be fun to have two characters ride on each cart. It wasn't. Double Dash is awful, and they seem to have realized this when they made MarioKart Wii, essentially MarioKart 64 with updated graphics, motorcycles, and even more characters no one would ever want to be (Baby Mario? Really? He was in one game, and he wasn't the protagonist!). And of course, it wasn't nearly as fun as MarioKart 64. I'm not even going to talk about MarioKart 8, since I never care to play it and it has Pink Gold Peach as a playable character.

This is only one example of Nintendo's rut they're stuck in, but think of how it applies to their other games. There are five MarioKart games (I'm not going to count handheld versions, because those never count in my book), four Super Smash Bros. games, and ten Mario Party games! Ten! I'm surprised there isn't a minigame where you have to tap A as fast as you can to beat a dead horse. Even the Legend of Zelda series, with its nearly eighteen games, seems to be losing steam. I only find the games up to Twilight Princess fun, and even that one is on the line with me. It seems like every game franchise has its heyday, and then there's one extra game afterward that's sort of the "beginning of the end." After that, I think game companies need to just move on and start something new. Going back and resurrecting the same game repeatedly, giving it a polish and a new storyline, does not resurrect the fun. It only makes the contrast between the past and present more stark. All I can say more about sequels is "I'm looking at you, The Sims."

A part of this is comforting to me. If I never get in to new sequels of games, that means I have financial security if I own the older versions. As long as I own and enjoy playing Heroes III, I don't have to worry about any bad sequels coming out to entice me to buy more. I can end my search for peak Heroes of Might and Magic perfection, and enjoy it while VI, VII, VIII, IX, and any other garbagey sequels that get juggled from non-3DO company to non-New World Computing companies get tossed around future generations.

I can also ensure that my children develop a respect for the video games of old. If I can teach them that graphics do not matter, who cares if future versions are in HD or have all-new game modes? I feel like the fun and charm of an old video game is worth the disappointment that the journey ends there. Sometimes, things need to end, and new things need to be born. Making sequels of the same few games till the end of time may earn money from diehard fans, but if these fans lose sight of when perfection was in their grasp, they'll ultimately find that the road to polishing a stone that has been polished a hundred times turns it into something that can no longer be called a stone.

Apr 11, 2015

Vid: Monstrosity

Still not quite out of my project funk, but this alleviated the boredom somewhat. I got a green screen for my birthday and took it out for a test drive.