Project Update_November 30th

Oh project update, how I welcome thee to my (dark) side of the webverse.

**Warning: Strong feelings ahead. 

Modding project, thy name is cruelty. Image hosted on the blog Leaving a Little Sparkle.

Modding project, thy name is cruelty. Image hosted on the blog Leaving a Little Sparkle.

Project Outline:

My project is really two-fold in terms of what I need to do: 1) learn the software to be able to make a functional mod and 2) muddle through the kind of narrative theory I would like to work on in practical application when creating a mod.  I have been looking at tutorials made by other modders and theory application is absent from their work as they are trying to fill in gaps they found in the game and extra applications/looks they think would enhance their gameplay and the gameplay of others (such as outfits, weapons, and avatar skins to be more inclusive).

Annotation: Ah, to have such hope as I did then about tutorials and YouTube demonstrations. My goals are still the same for the project, but I have had to scale WAY back on what I was hoping to do with my mod. As a nOOb at the toolset and modding in general, it is going to be impossible for my to develop an entire quest since I am still having trouble placing a functioning cave entrance to link two areas together. I have outlined the small quest I was hoping to create, but small victories do not equal winning my war against non-user-friendly toolset interface.

Is it madness if you try to do something and curse the same time every time? Don't answer that. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

Is it madness if you try to do something and curse the same time every time? Don’t answer that. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

What I will need to do before truly diving into the project is to settle on a narrative theory that intrigues me enough to see how it would operate in a gamespace, most especially in a user-modified gamespace, and I am leaning towards using Lubomir Dolezel’s Possible Worlds Theory in his book Heterocosmica. Since my major goal is to make a playable quest for my peers, I may head in the direction of possible worlds theory as a way to see users’ creations as extensions of the actual game. Players are creating possible worlds based on their experiences within the game, creating other experiences that the game developers may not have had time for or something they may not have imagined themselves. It is this aspect of my project that I am aim to extend further after the semester has ended because I want to see how possible worlds theory understands and theorizes fan creations that become part of an extension of the original work for other gamers, and to understand how a modder’s work is shaped by the the gamespace’s internal structures (i.e. the logic of the gamespace in terms of what characters can do, how well the mods fit in with the larger structure by the game, and how the characters in questing mods behave and speak in line with the game’s cast of characters).

Annotation: Lubomir Dolezel’s possible worlds theory is making my shoddy attempts at creating something actually worth it. As I clamber areas together that are nowhere near each other in the actual game, I am curiouser and curiouser about whether players can/will construct mods of mismatched areas. Do the gamers adhere to the map of the game and do their best to keep the original map’s integrity alive? Or do they feel they can tweak and swap areas to better suit their interests? The potential to script backgrounds and goals for characters in their mods also works with possible worlds theory. However, I need to dig deeper into Dolezel’s theory to see if he discusses fan/other external authors helping to reshape a fictional world, or if he sticks solely to analyzing the ways in which the texts construct the laws that hold them together (alethic, deontic, axiological, and epistemic). For now, I have more questions than answers and (many) more failures than victories, but that’s part of getting messy with modding.

Updated Timeline:

Week 1 (11-3 to 11-9):

Week 1 was devoted to learning more through the tutorials and learning how to navigate the toolset since the learning curve for the toolset for a beginner seems pretty steep. My main goal was to start with a small modding project to see how much I could do in a small amount of time and then try to see what kind of project is doable for the next three weeks by comparing with notes on forums. My main goal for the overall project is to create a quest, so I need to piece together what is required in terms of the toolset to make a quest: characters, scripting, music, object-behavior(?), and environment(s). The toolset has so far proven to be a bit beyond my grasp, but I am still trying to figure it out.

**Some of the tutorials I watched in preparation during this week were by YouTube userdragonage22: “Downloading and Installing the Toolset,” “Creating a Room,”Altering Outdoor Terrain,” and “Adding Walls and Placeable Objects to Your Room.” I supplemented this withDragon Age: Origins Toolset Experiment 01” by YouTube user Wazuki Vanguard to give me a better idea of other people’s struggles and to make sense of the toolset. The basics for the project are going to take me longer than I was expecting (bracing for?), but practicing with the toolset will be the only way to really get over my hesitation with working the mod.

Week 2 (11-10 to 11-16):

 With a better idea of what I can initially do, Week 2 will start off with planning what my mod will look like by designing it on paper through small descriptions of what I want to do. If I find that my mod really does end up being a quest, I want to plan out the general quest, a character list, and the overarching story of what the quest is and why the player is undertaking this particular quest, and whether or not my quest fits in with the official gameplay experience.As I make the mod, I will start seeing how the mod can work within Possible Worlds Theory as player creation being an extension of official gameplay, especially with such a strong collaborative community that modders have created as they share their mods and how they create those mods. The mods themselves become part of a player’s gameplay experience, changing certain moments in-game that give them a different perspective of the events they are working through, such as a romance option, a character skin (the physical look of a character), or a scene extension that is not official in Dragon Age Origins software.

Annotation: This goal for week 2 was pretty accurate, but also came with a lot of cursing and head banging as I threw myself with abandon at the toolset interface. As I stared longingly at other people’s functioning mods and my own mishmash of nonsense, the possible worlds theory I decided upon has actually gotten me pretty excited to examine mods. The quest I designed has been since pushed aside for notebook space on taking notes on how to create things in my module. 

Week 3 (11-17 to 11-23):

 Week 3 will be the time period where I start rethinking how I approach my mod and the scope of the project as I adjust to match my (lack of) skillset. Hopefully, I should be making significant progress in shaping my mod towards a viable project, rather than a shamble of modding attempts in one environment. My goal for this week is to look at the mod that I have planned out on paper and see if there is a way for me to start building a functional mod that is on a manageable scale for this semester’s project and then setting aside the rest of the potential mod for the larger project I am planning.

Annotation: This week was devoted to learning how to set up an area in which the mod will take place. I did have an easy time setting up what is known as a waypoint, which is just the toolset’s fancy way of saying the starting point where the character will appear. I ended up creating two modules “1st Try” and “2nd Try” since I mucked up the first module. I learned about module hierarchies and understanding the different camera perspectives, with the second one being extremely difficult to figure out until I found my attachable mouse. The rest of the week was devoted to crawling back through user guides and watching videos of successful mods as I tried to get a handle on the Palette that is the core menu of what I am working with. This was also the first time I started to wonder about how characters are generated if the mod is not to be integrated into the actual gameplay. 

Week 4 (11-24 to 11-30):

 Week 4 should be the culmination of all of my attempts, with a cohesive body of work in terms of a mod. This week will be about learning how to integrate my creation into the official software and make it accessible to others. This may require digging further into forums and tutorials, and scouring through YouTube for more user-friendly tutorials/demonstrations. There may be hair-pulling and rocking in a dark corner with my dogs looking on in concern. This too shall pass. Maybe. But, finalizing a functioning mod and figuring out how to distribute/give access to my peers and professor is going to be an important element to the work for this week. This will, hopefully, be the time when I look towards more difficult tutorials at how to extend the quest outwards for a longer project (such as a series of quests with an overarching narrative) and creating new characters who are fully voiced once the semester is over.

Annotation: So this week has been devoted to attempting to link two areas together to give myself space in which I can start building a quest, but it was also the center of a LOT of frustration as I went looking for information on character generation. Some of the topics I ran into while searching for what has now become my holy grail of character generation information are modifying head morphs, scripting, modifying character backgrounds, companion scripting, placeable objects, and inserting higher level characters. Search status: Unsuccessful. After cursing at the computer, I went back to the Placeable Objects tutorial since it gave me a clue as to how I am supposed to link two areas together. The tutorial I read was moderately useful, except that the author centered on how to place an interactive hut door, which I found out is different than trying to place a cave entrance. Status of cave entrance: MIA. Frustration level: High. The struggle with placeable objects continued with the hope of placing an altar and Urn of Andraste into a cavern (more on that endeavor in the Victories section below. Yay!). Status of altar and Urn: Safe, placed, and tilted. 

Week 5 & half-6 (12-1 to 12-9)

Week 5 and half-6 are going to be devoted to finishing up what I can with the mod-ish, going back to Dolezel’s book Heterocosmica, and writing the reflection. I can honestly say this will be the shabbiest mod I have yet to see, which breaks my spirit a little bit. I misjudged the learning curve for the software, thinking the interface would be more intuitive and the tutorials would make more sense. The bulk of the work I have done thus far has been to shift wearily through tutorials and YouTube guides to find a logical starting point for the mod in an effort to make a quest. The notes I have taken as I slog through the Dragon Age Origins Toolset Wiki are especially helpful since I can’t seem to remember how to do something as simple as create a new area without glancing back at the instructions I wrote for myself. **Personal goal: Rewrite the entirety of the wiki so as to save others like me massive headaches in the future, and I need to buy more Advil.

This defeat to full productivity is a bitter pill to swallow. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

This defeat to full productivity is a bitter pill to swallow. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

Victories:

So this section is going to be a bit shorter than every other section because victories have been few and far in between. Like seriously far in between. After all of the frustrations of the initial setup, it felt nice to have the toolset looking fresh and ready…and totally blank. I admit to having mini-panic attacks during my first two weeks of having to try to figure out how the toolset actually works. The palette doesn’t exactly say much about what to do or how to use the elements it offers; the little symbols reveal their names when the mouse hovers over them, but that only goes so far. My first victory came after learning how to create a module and then how to upload my first area. The area creation seems super tricky at first because it requires the user to select an area from the file folder, but the file folder only lists coded names like brc201d or hrt000d.

…..

Reaction: Holy sweet mother of monsters!  Image hosted on the tumblr AnimeOST.

Reaction: Holy sweet mother of monsters! Who comes up with these titles?!
Image hosted on the tumblr AnimeOST.

Toolset:10000000000
Summer: 0

After my freakout session in which I imagined having to open every possible area to see what they were, I noticed on the “Area Tutorial” that the authors had been kind. So very, very kind to poor to lost souls like mine. They had included an entire Visual Index dedicated to showing images of the areas with both the file name and a description of what that meant in terms of the game, which gave me a reference and jogged my tired brain since I had explored each and every one of those areas some years before.

This is the face of victory. Image hosted on the sited Gif-Animados.

This is the face of victory. Image hosted on the sited Gif-Animados.

My second, and latest, victory was learning how to create and set up “Placeables.” My first attempt with a placeable object was a door as I was trying to learn how to link two areas together. I admit that I failed that attempt with remarkable speed since the tutorial I was reading about dealt with a hut door and I was trying to work a cave entrance (and the tutorial went a little too fast and confused the hell out of me). After grumbling a bit and patting myself on the back for finding the “Interactive” stat, I finally left the should-be-save entrance to the side and muddled around with another placeable object. I recognized the altar for an in-game object called the Urn of Andraste (it’s a great quest) and thought that placing it in a cavern different from its place in the game would be a way to create a goal for the quest I will done day be successful in creating (eons ago in a galaxy far, far away). I did all right setting up the altar, but burned myself to the ground in frustration when I thought it would be a lovely idea to add the Urn of Andraste to the top of the altar.

First attempt: the Urn was in the altar. Okay….

Second attempt: As I tried to figure out how to move the Urn to sit on top of the altar rather than, you known, within it, I figured out how to turn the altar so that it faces a different direction (since the altar seems to look the same on both sides, I just left it as I had changed it).

Third attempt: Finally figured out how to raise the Urn without shifting the axis of anything. However, when I finally worked out how to zoom in and then change the direction in which I was looking, the Urn was hovering somewhere above the general direction of the altar. Um…crap.

Fourth attempt: As shown below, the Urn now resides atop a tilted altar…just going to leave that there. No, no. Don’t try to clean up the mess. Stop. Nope. It’s going to stay tilted.

It's a small (and tilted) victory, but it's something to keep massive frustration at bay.

It’s a small (and tilted) victory, but it’s something to keep massive frustration at bay.

So these were my two biggest victories. I could cry in frustration from how gosh darn excited I was to have been able to work these two small tasks out with the help-not-help of the tutorial guides I poured over in my quest to be an awesome beginning modder. May the gaming gods have mercy on whatever Frankenstein’s monster I come up with as the semester ends.

Failures and Concerns:

Oh, where do I start with this section? Which concern outweighs the others to talk about first? Ah, fuck it. So I knew modding would be hard and that there would be times when I would want to possibly throw my computer out of the window before having to listen to another YouTube video user talking about modding as if none of the words were too technical and as if the interface of the toolset was highly intuitive. I knew it would be difficult for someone who has never tried to mod at all before, but this is ridiculous!

Too much! Too much! Image hosted on the site Oh, the Books!

Too much! Too much! Image hosted on the site Oh, the Books!

I used to think that time was going to be the biggest concern because I am trying to learn to mod while also staying on top of other coursework and an internship, but time is only a concern because of the learning curve associated with the toolset itself. Even with tutorials and demonstration videos on hand, there are still parts of the toolset I cannot use properly and questions I have that I cannot find answers to.  Bioware’s official toolset wiki is a total pain in the ass to navigate because it claims that it is set up in a way that provides basics first and then more challenging modding skills later. My biggest headache has been trying to figure out how a playable character will be generated in the module I make if someone were ever able to “play” it.

Screen capture from the toolset wiki's list of tutorials.

Screen capture from the toolset wiki’s list of tutorials.

For the “Character Generation Tutorials,” the emphasis is not to discuss whether or not a playable character will automatically be generated in any module created and how to script a character’s generation if the module doesn’t automatically generate a playable character. Instead, it is about how to alter characters’ backgrounds and scripts, create a new class of character, and start a character at a higher level than level 1. I initially thought the “Background/Origin Tutorial” would provide a basic understanding of character generation in the mod, but, instead, it seemed to assume that the person reading already had that understanding and wanted to continue on his/her merry way of making the playable character even more badass. *goes looking for more Advil* The list underneath this set of “Character Generation Tutorials” would look promising except that it focuses only on “Companion Tutorials,” meaning that the playable character has to exist prior to a companion being added to the party. I am beyond tempted to email the webmaster that I am going to revise the entire bloody wiki to make it user-friendly.

Feel the rage, Dragon Age Origins Toolset wiki webmaster! Feel the rage. Image hosted on the site Soda Head.

Feel the rage, Dragon Age Origins Toolset wiki webmaster and contributors! Feel the rage. Image hosted on the site Soda Head.

Feel the rage of an overwhelmed academic! Image hosted on the wiki for Lego Message Boards.

Feel the rage of an overwhelmed academic! Image hosted on the wiki for Lego Message Boards.

In despair, I turned to YouTube tutorial videos/external website centered on Dragon Age Origins toolset tutorials. I found plenty of hits for creating awesome “Head Morphs” and swapping faces and changing expressions and facial hair for playable characters, but nothing on how to get the playable character in the mod. *gets more Advil* Maybe it’s a stupid of mine and is such basic knowledge that no one feels the need to write about it, but I work best having all of the knowledge available and working through activities I set for myself by writing out my own instructions. I even downloaded the Dragon Age Origins Character Creator in hopes that I would have a set playable character. But, as I found out after spending time mucking around with the setup and looking at what I could do with the character creator, the character creator does not link to the the toolset; it links to the actual game, allowing users to have created their characters before the original game had been released. I did find a section buried within the scripting tutorials about how to add and change information about the characters, but again, that was chaos incarnate with all the lines of scripting text needed to do any of that nonsense. I have since surrendered on the topic after two days of crawling through wiki pages, YouTube videos, and external sites, and have moved on to linking area tutorials.  *empties Advil bottle*

If my mother is right when she said that a face could get stuck in one expression if I frowned long enough, this would be the winning expression after this modding experience. Image hosted on the website NeoGaf.

If my mother is right when she said that a face could get stuck in one expression if I frowned long enough, this would be the winning expression after this modding experience. Image hosted on the website NeoGaf.

All of this ranting/mental breakdown is to illustrate just how much of a loss I am at when it comes to figuring out a logical order for how to create a quest mod, or any mod for that matter. I have been trying to put my notes into some semblance of order following parts of the module I have been successful in setting up, which is helping me to not toss my computer out of a window before moving to Seville. Ah, sweet Seville. *sigh* I’ll keep banging away at my laptop and jotting down rude thoughts to myself about my own ineptitude since this has produced the best results so far.

Mind the awful handwriting.

Mind the awful handwriting.

Forgive the awful handwriting.

Some semblance of order can still be chaos.

As we bid goodbye to November

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Comments on Three Peers’ Canonical Texts

As part of our Canonical Text project, My classmates are required to comment on three projects. This isn’t a regular blog entry for reading notes; it’s just to make it easier for my professor to find that I’ve actually done the requirement.

I swear I'm keeping up in the marathon dash to the end of this semester. Image hosted on the site Smosh.

I swear I’m keeping up in the marathon dash to the end of this semester. Image hosted on the site Smosh.

Onwards

1) Responded to Sarah Camp’s report on Donna Haraway’s text Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature

I really enjoyed her sections on the summary and broader influences of Haraway’s text. I’m not sure if her actual presentation covered the definitions of her key concepts or how Haraway connects out to our class since the link didn’t work for me, but I did wish those sections had been fleshed out within her blog space as I am curious to see what each of the terms meant in the scope of Haraway’s argument (though some of the terms were familiar and I could probably guess what Haraway meant when she mentioned them). Sarah did a good job with the brief summary, linking it to her previous assumptions about cyborgs and how that affected her readings of Haraway’s really dense text, especially as she tied it within Star Trek’s exploration of the Borg. The broader influences section provided an interesting read as well because Sarah did brief annotations of how other scholars were viewing Haraway’s work, giving a perspective on how the text can be used and what the limitations are.

**One thing that made me especially curious during Sarah’s summary was of the tension and negativity that seems to accompany the word “cyborg” in Western culture. As someone who grew up watching anime, I had a very different image come to mind than the Borg from Star Trek. Cyborgs are a very popular character type in anime, and their roles range anywhere from assassins to crime fighters to maids, and are the subject of terror, awe, and dirty jokes. From what I’ve seen, many cyborg characters in anime are female with very human appearances, which differs from the Western idea where the synthetic enhancements tend to be more visually pronounced. What is the root of the differences in tone between the US and Japan’s imaginings of the cyborg?

Chise from Saikano as a cyborg. Image hosted on Zerochan.

Chise from Saikano as a cyborg. Image hosted on Zerochan.

2) Responded to Camille Mustachio and Ramona Myers’ report on  Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s text Remediation:Understanding New Media.

I really enjoyed how clear and concise Ramona and Camille were with their report, especially with the key concepts. I feel like I understand the concepts of remediation, transparency, and immediacy better, though I am resistant to the example of video games and immediacy since a gamer never truly forgets he/she is playing a game (gaming software still requires a physicality that reminds us that we are playing on a platform or on a computer, so there is no seamless immersion). Beyond that resistance, I found it very helpful that they included a link to a Google Scholar page that looks at the quantitative influence of Bolter and Grusin’s work in the works of others. I would have been interested to see more in the “Importance to the Field” section and the claim that “we make assumptions of our audiences and we risk failing to effectively communicate” if we fail to take remediation into account, but what happens when there is too much emphasis on remediation at the cost of looking at how unique/innovative a new medium is? The two articles they draw upon that use the work of Bolter and Grusin were interesting, especially the summary of the article that looked at remediation through the sense of touch. I really appreciated Camille’s section on Terminator, Star Wars, Marvel, shopping, and selfies/professional photography as it gave further insight on the progression of hypermediacy and remediation in our culture, especially in our entertainment.

3) Responded to Chvonne’s report on Lev Manovich’s text Language of New Media.

Chvonne’s report was very thorough, with her chapter-by-chapter summary giving readers a sense of the scope Manovich was attempting in his work to theoretically ground new media. I really liked that within her section on Manovich’s idea of new media versus popular perception that she discusses aspects of the computer as new media that are often ignored or glossed over at the time he was writing his book: “The computer is ignored for its media production and media storage abilities. Manovich points out that unlike other media revolutions, the computer media revolution impacts all parts of communication and all types of media…Printing press, television, radio, photography, and film are examples of old media that put information out to the public. During this time, computers were used for tabulation and to keep records, such as census data. The convergence of these two functions formed new media.” Yes, computers can do pretty stuff, but they have also helped reshape how we think of communication, production, and distribution.

One thing I really appreciated with Chvonne’s report was her moving through the key concepts, especially with the concept of “interactivity.” By talking about the ways in which Manovich explores interactivity as myth — “Manovich argues that the idea of interactivity is too board and meaningless. He states: ‘Once an object is represented in a computer, it automatically becomes interactive. Therefore to call computer media “interactive” is meaningless—it simply means stating the most basic fact about computers’ (55). Because modern interfaces allow users to have real-time control, computers and the information within are interactive. Manovich makes a distinction between physical interaction and psychological interaction” — Chvonne made me wonder about how we apply the term interactive far too often. We hail objects like talking Barbie dolls and video games as interactive without taking into account that we can physically interact with a great many objects (from toys to tools). A Barbie doesn’t need to have recorded sound to be interactive, physically or psychologically, and a story can be interactive without being embedded in a video game.

Another Step Towards Winter Break

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Project Plan Revisions_Modding

**This is a revised copy of the November 4th project plan.

Hoping for zen. Image hosted on Buzzfeed.

Hoping for zen. Image hosted on Buzzfeed.

Timeline:

Week 1 (11-3 to 11-9):

 Week 1 was devoted to learning more through the tutorials and learning how to navigate the toolset since the learning curve for the toolset for a beginner seems pretty steep. My main goal was to start with a small modding project to see how much I could do in a small amount of time and then try to see what kind of project is doable for the next three weeks by comparing with notes on forums. My main goal for the overall project is to create a quest, so I need to piece together what is required in terms of the toolset to make a quest: characters, scripting, music, object-behavior(?), and environment(s). The toolset has so far proven to be a bit beyond my grasp, but I am still trying to figure it out.

**Some of the tutorials I watched in preparation during this week were by YouTube user dragonage22: “Downloading and Installing the Toolset,” “Creating a Room,”Altering Outdoor Terrain,” and “Adding Walls and Placeable Objects to Your Room.” I supplemented this with Dragon Age: Origins Toolset Experiment 01” by YouTube user Wazuki Vanguard to give me a better idea of other people’s struggles and to make sense of the toolset. The basics for the project are going to take me longer than I was expecting (bracing for?), but practicing with the toolset will be the only way to really get over my hesitation with working the mod.

Week 2 (11-10 to 11-16):

 With a better idea of what I can initially do, Week 2 will start off with planning what my mod will look like by designing it on paper through small descriptions of what I want to do. If I find that my mod really does end up being a quest, I want to plan out the general quest, a character list, and the overarching story of what the quest is and why the player is undertaking this particular quest, and whether or not my quest fits in with the official gameplay experience. As I make the mod, I will start seeing how the mod can work within Possible Worlds Theory as player creation being an extension of official gameplay, especially with such a strong collaborative community that modders have created as they share their mods and how they create those mods. The mods themselves become part of a player’s gameplay experience, changing certain moments in-game that give them a different perspective of the events they are working through, such as a romance option, a character skin (the physical look of a character), or a scene extension that is not official in Dragon Age Origins software.

Week 3 (11-17 to 11-23):

 Week 3 will be the time period where I start rethinking how I approach my mod and the scope of the project as I adjust to match my (lack of) skillset. Hopefully, I should be making significant progress in shaping my mod towards a viable project, rather than a shamble of modding attempts in one environment. My goal for this week is to look at the mod that I have planned out on paper and see if there is a way for me to start building a functional mod that is on a manageable scale for this semester’s project and then setting aside the rest of the potential mod for the larger project I am planning.

Week 4 (11-24 to 11-30):

 Week 4 should be the culmination of all of my attempts, with a cohesive body of work in terms of a mod. This week will be about learning how to integrate my creation into the official software and make it accessible to others. This may require digging further into forums and tutorials, and scouring through YouTube for more user-friendly tutorials/demonstrations. There may be hair-pulling and rocking in a dark corner with my dogs looking on in concern. This too shall pass. Maybe. But, finalizing a functioning mod and figuring out how to distribute/give access to my peers and professor is going to be an important element to the work for this week. This will, hopefully, be the time when I look towards more difficult tutorials at how to extend the quest outwards for a longer project (such as a series of quests with an overarching narrative) and creating new characters who are fully voiced once the semester is over.

Materials:

  • PC copy of Dragon Age Origins 
  • Dragon Age Origins Toolset
  • Computer – my laptop
  • Paper and pencil/pen/colored pencils to map out what the mod should look like and what it will, ideally, do.
  • Narratology (theoretical texts) – most likely Possible Worlds Theory, with my main book being Heterocosmica by Lubomir Dolezel.

I already own a copy of Dragon Age Origins for the PC (I bought it through Amazon as a digital download), and the Dragon Age Origins toolset is available as a free download from the official Bioware Social Network site. Because Bioware is the one who distributes the toolset, I am not too sure if there are copyright issues, especially as the mods work within the software of the game. One of the only issues I may come across would be if I integrated someone else’s mod into my larger mod, but that is not my plan since I want to see what I can do with my own skills. The other copyright issue I may face is when I distribute my mod, but giving credit to Bioware for the use of their toolset should be enough as it is their software but my immaterial labor.

Project Outline:

My project is really two-fold in terms of what I need to do: 1) learn the software to be able to make a functional mod and 2) muddle through the kind of narrative theory I would like to work on in practical application when creating a mod.  I have been looking at tutorials made by other modders and theory application is absent from their work as they are trying to fill in gaps they found in the game and extra applications/looks they think would enhance their gameplay and the gameplay of others (such as outfits, weapons, and avatar skins to be more inclusive).

What I will need to do before truly diving into the project is to settle on a narrative theory that intrigues me enough to see how it would operate in a gamespace, most especially in a user-modified gamespace, and I am leaning towards using Lubomir Dolezel’s Possible Worlds Theory in his book Heterocosmica. Since my major goal is to make a playable quest for my peers, I may head in the direction of possible worlds theory as a way to see users’ creations as extensions of the actual game. Players are creating possible worlds based on their experiences within the game, creating other experiences that the game developers may not have had time for or something they may not have imagined themselves. It is this aspect of my project that I am aim to extend further after the semester has ended because I want to see how possible worlds theory understands and theorizes fan creations that become part of an extension of the original work for other gamers, and to understand how a modder’s work is shaped by the the gamespace’s internal structures (i.e. the logic of the gamespace in terms of what characters can do, how well the mods fit in with the larger structure by the game, and how the characters in questing mods behave and speak in line with the game’s cast of characters).

Concerns:

My concerns for this project are centered around the learning curve with the toolset and learning how to make the components of a mod about a quest work together. The toolset looks deceptively simple in terms of the categories it presents to users, but it is harder to figure out what everything does and means because the system has been so simplified. The tutorials I have been crawling through are going to be my best bet for gaining the help I need and overcoming the problems that I have been facing/will be facing with the toolset. My The concern is based mainly in the time constraints as three weeks of working through the tutorials towards practical application does not seem quite enough, and I am afraid that my project will be far smaller than I had originally anticipated or braced for during the following weeks. A final concern would be to start doing the project and too find out way later in the project that possible worlds theory is not a good match for analyzing mods, but this could be avoided if I make sure to have different theories lined up as backups (or for a Frankentheory).

Down to the end of the line we go

Posted in Individual Multimedia Project, New Media_ENGL 866 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lighting Up Classical Rhet_Reading notes for November 10th

Welcome to the Sunday edition of Monday homework.

Oh Saturday homework binge, you heartless fiend. Image hosted on Thought Catalog.

Oh Sunday homework binge, you heartless fiend. Image hosted on Thought Catalog.

 It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

It’s…Cultural Cool?

Is this a representation of the mysterious Cultural Cool? Image hosted on the site Your Wild World.

Is this a representation of the mysterious Cultural Cool? Image hosted on the site Your Wild World.

So, yes, this digital text discusses cultural cool, which is a bit of a new concept for me, though the author mentions”some scholars have argued that sensibilities resembling cool appeared in Africa as early as 3000 B.C.E” (Peppers). But what is this cultural cool? Peppers turns to the work of Dick Pountain and David Robins (this is a link to the first chapter of their book on the New York Times website) to hash out this phrase: “one of their key aspects of cool—its mutability. ‘Cool is not something that inheres in artefacts themselves, but rather in people’s attitude to them’ (p. 18). Therefore, the what of cool will keep changing across geographic, generational, and cultural boundaries, which makes the task of categorizing cool incredibly tricky. Exactly what styles, music, books, movies, etc. are cool necessarily have to change over time since cool is ‘a permanent state of private rebellion’ (p. 19). There is obviously no rebellion in adopting behaviors or artefacts that previous generations elevated to cool status (unless enough time has passed or if it’s done ironically).” The breaking of trends from one generation to the next is interesting because it is a conscious break, seeking to find a different path that those who came before may have rejected or not imagined, but these countercultures are often absorbed by the mainstream culture they had been pushing back. This creates a cycle as the next generation feels the need to break away from the generation before, with the older generation’s rebellion becoming part of the overarching cultural narrative.

Mainstream absorption of counter culture. Image hosted on Izismile.

Mainstream absorption of counter culture. Image hosted on Izismile.

Before leading his readers through a “historical tour of cool” (which ranges from “West Africa” to “The Lost Generation” to “James Dean” to “Hip Hop” to “Bill Clinton”), Peppers discusses two other characteristics of cool, permanent and private, as those who strive for cool are doing so to fit in with a group through rebellion, but also the act of rebellion is done by the individual rather than the collective who is being defiant. Peppers acknowledges that there are contradictions in this since the person is rebelling in order to impress a peer group where members are (most likely) also rebelling, but “cool” remains an individual expression. Makes total sense, no? Just take a deep breath and remember that it’s all cool. Peppers also draws attention to personality traits associated with cool: “Pountain and Robbins (2000) were at their most specific (and uncool) when they identified the three personality traits required for coolness: narcissism, ironic detachment, and hedonism (p. 26). They argue that these traits remain constant throughout generations even if the specific cool artefacts and behaviors change.” One of the best examples Peppers gives of narcissism was that of Bill Clinton’s public image overwhelming the presidency, such as his saxophone playing publicity and ironic detachment as Clinton’s ability to shrug off the backlash for his less than savory behaviors. For hedonism, besides thinking of the Picture of Dorian Gray, I think of hippies and free love, with overtones of anarchic peace and love and sunshine (nothing against hippies, except they kind of scare me).

But what does cool have to do with the New Media course? Cool rhetoric would be the  answer to that. Peppers looks to two scholars discussing cool rhetoric in the digital era: Jeff Rice and Alan Liu. Peppers highlights Rice’s three strategies for cool rhetoric, which do not include narcissism or hedonism, as appropriation, juxtaposition, and non-linearity.

Appropriation –> “the borrowing of pre-existing items for incorporation into a new assemblage of meaning. A more complex take would also suggest that specific subcultures, generational nostalgia, and contextual signifiers can also be borrowed and, in a cool fashion, brought into a new time and space of meaning”

Juxtaposition –> “takes potential meanings of individual signifiers and forces us to fashion new meanings from viewing them in close proximity”

Non-linearity –> “The non-linearity of digital texts highlights that they have no true entry or exit point…They are almost always works-in-progress that will morph and change often through the intentions of multiple authors” <– this strategy rather reminds me of Wikipedia, where readers can start with any page and work their way through the hyperlinks for the information that interests them rather than an origin point, and the pages are never fully complete as anyone can go in and expand upon the content.

Liu’s article has a different focus than Rice as he explores “the status of ‘knowledge work‘ in a society now focused on the production and transfer of information. Liu was also on a quest—to save the future of the Humanities when that area’s focus of interest and study (art, literature, aesthetics) seemingly have nothing to offer the profit motivated, homogenous output of knowledge work in a world of hyper-capitalism” (Peppers). Once Peppers stops looking at Liu’s work through Rice’s observations, Liu’s exploration of “cool” rhetoric makes more sense. By looking at the rhetorical strategy of ethos beyond writing from authority to (re)seeing it as “a habitual gathering place,” Peppers shows how virtual spaces on the interwebs can take on the role of habitual gathering spaces, especially with the example of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr: “Teenagers and adults alike have especially demonstrated a penchant to gather and form communities across the web—a fact easily demonstrated by the quick rise (and fall and replacement) of social networks sites like Friendster, Xanga, Myspace, and Facebook over the past decade. The success of newer additions like Tumblr and Pinterest suggest a continued demand for digital gathering places where the sharing of information is, at their core, their raison d’être.” I do think Peppers has a point (one I had never considered) that social media sites are rhetorical spaces, but he drops the train of thought just as quickly as he brings it up.

Knowledge workers, unite with your code! Image hosted on the site Eccentex.

Knowledge workers, unite with your code! Image hosted on the site Eccentex.

Leaping into a different train of thought with Peppers, we finally see a definition for his section on cool ethos as the focus turns to Alan Liu’s “ethos of information,” which is defined as “the moment of tricky reversal when we see that interfaces are always two-sided . . . the user throws his or her point of view ventriloquially outward into the realm of information and from there peers inward back through the interface at his or her own awareness of the information (p. 184)” (qtd. in Peppers). This is a rather curious idea (and one that reminds me far too much of Nietzsche’s “abyss peering back” to be comfortable). The idea that we find ourselves consumed by the information playing out on our screens and being “gratified” by what we are looking at in our browsers often rings true, but there are days when crawling through the internet is more distressing and exhausting than gratifying (especially when doing research on a niche topic). The other side of Liu’s ethos of cool is “ethos against information”: “Liu (2004) defined cool as an ethos against information where the ‘schema of useful versus useless [information] is inadequate, for it is the uselessness of useful information upon which cool rings the changes’ (p. 186)” (qtd. in Peppers). This “ethos against information” includes “ironic detachment” (remember that lovely phrase?), “useless usefulness,” “the ‘wow’ factor,” but, thankfully, “ironic detachment” finds a stronger example with The Onion as a “cool” news outlet where satire reveals truth sometimes better than other news sources.

**Couldn’t resist posting the video below.

While Pepper’s text was enlightening, it also drove me crazy by how fast he blipped through the material. With every section, I grew more frustrated with Peppers’ text as I felt like I knew less and less what “cool” was, and I started out not knowing the phrase at all. I admit that “cool” rhetoric in someone else’s exploration would be fascinating in its own right (though I never want to hear the word “cool” again), but what I liked best about the site was the way it displays information. The historical tour was my favorite part because I could click on the “more” button and, instead of directing me to a different page and interrupting my navigation through the information flow, a description box for each represented time period popped up and was as easily dismissed. I think the article/thesis would have been much more effective if the author had tried making a more comprehensive text than making it super “cool” to look at.

 Some extra vocabulary

topoi – Aristotle’s term for what “establish common meanings, ideas, and assumptions that allow a rhetor to structure his or her argument in familiar (and therefore assessable) ways” (Peppers)

**As a side note, I found this while doing some external research: Topoi.org is a pretty nifty research project with “more than 200 researchers from diverse disciplines investigate how space and knowledge were formed and transformed in ancient civilizations.”

chora – Rice “adopts chora (originally from Plato) to update the topoi for a digital age where ‘choral writing organizes any manner of information by means of the writer’s specific position in the time and space of culture’ (Ulmer, 1994, p. 33)” (Peppers). Chora (which is spelled Khôra) “has been used in philosophy by Plato to designate a receptacle, a space, or an interval in the Timaeus,” which is is one of Plato’s dialogues that “puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world and human beings” (Wikipedia).

Citation

Pepper, Mark D. “Classical Rhetoric up in Smoke: Cool Persuasion, Digital Ethos, and Online Advocacy.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 18.2 (2014). Web. 08 Nov. 2014.

New Music for Every Post of the Week

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Reading Notes_delayed from October 27th

Part 2 of Manovich’s Software Takes Command reading notes, with part one hashing out the categories of cultural software.

Lev Manovich divides his book into three parts: 1)Inventing media software,” 2) “Hybridization and evolution,” and 3) “Software in action.”

Because my New Text Report will be centered on Manovich’s text, I am going to focus primarily on the “Inventing media software” section since that will not feature as much in my report. So let’s start with what Manovich sees as the “secret history of software” and look briefly at the major movers-and-shakers of the software/hardware world:

Creator of the Universal Turing Machine, Image hosted on the blog for the UK-based 27 Stars.

Creator of the Universal Turing Machine, Image hosted on the blog for the UK-based 27 Stars.

Though Manovich does not spend a lot of time discussing Alan Turing and the Universal Turing Machine, he does make it clear that Turing is one of the key foundational people who made today’s computers and World Wide Web possible. Manovich states that Turing’s work “theoretically defined a computer as a machine that can simulate a very large class of other machines, and it is this simulation ability that is largely responsible for the proliferation of computers in modern society” (Kindle Locations 1286-1288). To supplement Manovich’s scattered comments about Turing, I turned to other sources: 27Stars’ blog entry on Turing, biographical website on Turing by Andrew Hodges, and the BBC section on the mathematicianOne article I found absolutely fascinating on the UK’s Daily Mail website is the work still being done with the film about Turing, “Imitation Game,” by academics.

**Side note: He was definitely not the most humanely treated man on the planet, as he was subjected to chemical castration for being a gay man and has only recently received posthumous pardon from the Queen of England.

Manovich also highlights over the work of Douglas Engelbart and Ted Nelson, who were integral to hyperlinking that we use all the time (I know I do!).

Douglas Engelbart_creator of the mouse and all around computer-New-Media badass. Image hosted on the site Telepresence Options.

Douglas Engelbart_creator of the mouse and all around computer-New-Media badass. Image hosted on the site Telepresence Options.

Ted Nelson_hyperlink pioneer. Image hosted on ComputerHistory.org.

Ted Nelson_hyperlink pioneer. Image hosted on ComputerHistory.org.

These two men are probably the coolest computer techies I have read about in Manovich’s text as they helped shape the kind of culture we have on the interwebs. While Engelbart is famous for inventing the computer mouse along with Bill English, he is also known for his team’s development of “the ability for multiple users to collaborate on the same document” (Kindle Locations 1309-1310). The collaborative nature of the second development is something we use heavily in the New Media course as we work together on Google Docs (along with other software available through the Google Drive) and sites like Wikipedia (and the horde of smaller wikis that are cropping up, like this one on New Media). Manovich also explores Ted Nelson’s (paralleled with Engelbart’s) designing of a way to link documents together in what is now known as hyperlinking, though Manovich points out that the hyperlinks we use today are just one of the options Nelson pointed out in his theoretical works.

Despite Turing, Engelbart, and Nelson being super stars in the computer world, Manovich spends much of his time centered on Alan Kay and his “universal media machine” (with the name being a play off of the Univeral Turing Machine): “Kay wanted to turn computers into a ‘personal dynamic media’ which could be used for learning, discovery, and artistic creation. His group achieved this by systematically simulating most existing media within a computer while simultaneously adding many new properties to these media” (Kindle Locations 1196-1198). In essence, Kay and his Learning Research Group at Xerox Parc set about to simulate existing media (such as print, film, and sound) within a single machine (rather than watching a movie on your TV, using a typewriter, or turning on a radio, and so on) while also adding new dimensions of what could be done with each of these mediums, for “while visually, computational media may closely mimic other media, these media now function inf different ways” (Kindle Locations 1206-1207). But what does this mean? How can existing media now have different functions than before they were accessible on a computer?

Alan Kay, one of the masterminds who worked towards creating what Manovich terms “personal dynamic media” (Kindle Location 1202). Image hosted on Cyborg Anthropology.

Alan Kay, one of the masterminds who worked towards creating what Manovich terms “personal dynamic media”
(Kindle Location 1202). Image hosted on Cyborg Anthropology.

Let’s work through an example Manovich brings up: word processor. Because my computer is such a prevalent part of my life and my work (especially as a grad student), I take using Microsoft Word for granted. The software will never do ALL of the things I want it to, but it functions and I know how to use most of its features. So why is a word processor on a computer something to take notice of? Well, think about your relationship with your writing when you write with a pen/pencil and paper compared to when you compose on a computer screen. Both have limitations and affordances that the other may share, but not always. Personally, writing by hand is my preference because I can move the papers every which way I want without being constrained by screen size and I have as many pages as I want scattered about me without needing one to overlap another. On the other side, though, composing on a computer allows me to copy and paste without extra effort on my part (clicking a few buttons vs. rewriting entire sections). And then there comes issues with distribution. Yes, I could physically hand over a copy of my handwritten work to a professor or colleague or whoever else would see my work, but a computer that has access to the interwebs allows me to email work, upload documents to learning sites, share work through this blog, and so on instantaneously (in most cases, though not always). Composing on the computer also feels less permanent in the way that pushing delete a few times will erase what I had previously written without leaving a visible mark (we’ll leave that thought here because that would be one hell of a rabbit hole to fall through), but there is also a deeper sense of permanency because what going into the interwebs and now the Cloud is archived so long as there is an archive.

Whew, that was quite a tangent, and that was only looking at a few aspects of word processing software that many of us use but don’t always take the time to thoroughly consider. And this is exactly Manovich’s point in this first section of the book. Much of our Web culture is founded on software that is invisible to us so long as it is functioning. Once something breaks down–such as a site not working, a blog entry not saving, a browser freezing up, a digital game glitching — we start to take notice of the software running our work, hobbies, shopping experiences, and information gathering.

Collaborative writing is another space where the developments in this “secret history of software” makes looking at the current Web’s affordances interesting. Manovich talks about collaborative writing/editing spaces on the Web (spaces that include pictures, video, sound files, and text), which have altered approaches to information: “By harvesting the small amounts of labor and expertise contributed by a large number of volunteers , social software projects— most famously, Wikipedia— created vast and dynamically updatable pools of knowledge which would be impossible to create in traditional ways . (In a less visible way, every time we do a search on the Web and then click on some of the results, we also contribute to a knowledge-set used by everybody else. In deciding in which sequence to present the results of a particular search, Google’s algorithms take into account which among the results of previous searches for the same words people found most useful)” (Kindle Locations 1317-1321). These sites (or search engines) are not static texts waiting for the next edition. They are constantly being updated, reviewed, changed, expanded, and deleted as people access them as readers, writers, and editors. And anyone who has access to the Interwebs can potentially access these sites and become writers/editors (though there are practices in place where the sites’ moderators attempt to review information for accuracy). We are consumers and producers in the information age.

Here’s a terrible example of collaboration, but an example nonetheless. Do love watching Stephen Colbert, though, that crazy man.

Is the Web a truly democratic space? Yes and no. Manovich states that, “at least in Kay’s and Nelson’s vision, the task of defining new information structures and media manipulation techniques— and, in fact, new media as a whole —was given to the user, rather than being the sole province of the designers. This decision had far-reaching consequences for shaping contemporary culture. Once computers and programming were democratized enough, many creative people started to focus on creating these new structures and techniques rather than using the existing ones to make ‘content'” (Kindle Locations 1484-1488). There may have been some democratization of computers and programming, but there are still obstacles to learning the binary code underlying software: financial ability to purchase the hardware, time to learn to code, access to any external resources (guide books, forums, wikis), mental capability/interest, and (at times) familial/societal/cultural expectations on whether such a thing is a worthy pursuit (or waste of time). There is a definite learning curve in regards to attempts with programming. If you are like me, all of the zeroes and ones make my brain swirly and I scurry back to the comfort of letters.

An attempt at democratizing computers. Image hosted on Amazon.

An attempt at democratizing computers. Image hosted on Amazon.

Citation

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Shipping the Arrow and His IT Lady Love

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Project Plan_Modding

Shall we get started? Why yes, yes we should. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Shall we get started? Why yes, yes we should. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Timeline:

Week 1 (11-3 to 11-9):

 Week 1 will be devoted to learning more through the tutorials and learning how to navigate the toolset since the learning curve for the toolset for a beginner seems pretty steep. I am going to try to start with a small modding project to see how much I can do in a small amount of time and then try to see what kind of project is doable for the next three weeks by comparing with notes on forums. My main goal is to create a quest, so I need to piece together what is required in terms of the toolset to make a quest: characters, scripting, music, object-behavior(?), and environment(s).

Week 2 (11-10 to 11-16):

 With a better idea of what I can initially do, Week 2 will start off with planning what my mod will look like by designing it on paper through small descriptions of what I want to do. If I find that my mod really does end up being a quest, I want to plan out the general quest, a character list, and the overarching story of what the quest is and why the player is undertaking this particular quest and whether or not it fits in with the official gameplay experience. As I make the mod, I will start seeing how the mod can work within Possible Worlds Theory as player creation being an extension of official gameplay, especially with such a strong collaborative community that modders have created as they share their mods and how they create those mods. The mods themselves become part of a player’s gameplay experience, changing certain moments in-game that give them a different perspective of the events they are working through, such as a romance option, a character skin (the physical look of a character), or a scene extension that is not official in Dragon Age Origins software.

Week 3 (11-17 to 11-23):

 Week 3 will probably be the time period where I start rethinking how I approach my mod and the scope of the project as I adjust to match my (lack of) skillset. Hopefully, I will be making significant progress in shaping my mod towards a viable project, rather than a shamble of modding attempts in one environment. This week will be about learning how to integrate my creation into the official software and make it accessible to others. This may require diffing further into forums and tutorials, and scouring through YouTube for more user-friendly tutorials/demonstrations. There may be hair-pulling and rocking in a dark corner with my dogs looking on in concern. This too shall pass. Maybe.

Week 4 (11-24 to 11-30):

 Week 4 should be the culmination of all of my attempts, with a cohesive body of work in terms of a mod. I should be working on finalizing a functioning mod and figuring out how to distribute/give access to my peers and professor. This will, hopefully, be the time when I look towards more difficult tutorials at how to extend the quest outwards for a longer project (such as a series of quests with an overarching narrative) and creating new characters who are fully voiced once the semester is over.

Materials:

  • PC copy of Dragon Age Origins 
  • Dragon Age Origins Toolset
  • Computer – my laptop
  • Paper and pencil/pen/colored pencils to map out what the mod should look like and what it will, ideally, do.
  • Narratology theory books – most likely Possible Worlds Theory with my main book being Heterocosmica by Lubomir Dolezel.

I already own a copy of Dragon Age Origins for the PC (I bought it through Amazon as a digital download), and the Dragon Age Origins toolset is available as a free download from the official Bioware Social Network site. Because Bioware is the one who distributes the toolset, I am not too sure if there are copyright issues, especially as the mods work within the software of the game. The only issue I may come across would be if I integrated someone else’s mod into my larger mod, but that is not my plan since I want to see what I can do with my own skills.

Project Outline:

My project is really two-fold in terms of what I need to do: 1) learn the software to be able to make a functional mod and 2) think through the kind of narrative theory I would like to work on in practical application when creating a mod.  I have been looking at tutorials made by other modders and theory application is absent from their work as they are trying to fill in gaps they found in the game and extra applications/looks they think would enhance their gameplay and the gameplay of others (such as outfits, weapons, and avatar skins to be more inclusive).

What I will need to do before truly diving into the project is to settle on a narrative theory that intrigues me enough to see how it would operate in a gamespace, most especially in a user-modified gamespace, and I seem to be leaning towards using Lubomir Dolezel’s Possible Worlds Theory in his book Heterocosmica. Since my major goal is to make a playable quest for my peers, I may head in the direction of possible worlds theory as a way to see users’ creations as extensions of the actual game. Players are creating possible worlds based on their experiences within the game, creating other experiences that the game developers may not have had time for or something they may not have imagined themselves.

Concerns:

My concerns for this project are centered around the learning curve with the toolset and learning how to make the components of a mod about a quest work together. The toolset looks deceptively simple in terms of the categories it presents to users, but it is harder to figure out what everything does and means because the system has been so simplified. The tutorials I have been crawling through are going to be my best bet for gaining the help I need and overcoming the problems that I have been facing/will be facing with the toolset.

 

End of the semester stress? No comment. Image hosted on Becuo.

End of the semester stress? No comment. Image hosted on Becuo.

Almost to the end of the semester. Image hosted on Becuo.

Almost to the end of the semester. Image hosted on Becuo.

Such Music to Inspire Our Plans

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Software Takes Command_Reading Notes_delayed from October 20th

“The time for ‘software studies’ has arrived”  

(Manovich, Kindle Location 413). 

These are part one of my reading notes for Lev Manovich‘s Software Takes Command, with part two to be posted soon.

So who is our main writing star for this entry?

Lev Manovich. Image hosted on CUNY Academic Commons.

Lev Manovich, a professor at the Graduate Center at CUNY. Image hosted on CUNY Academic Commons.

This text by Manovich can be considered a kind of sequel to his The Language of New Media, published in 2001, and he discusses the changes that have happened to the Web as “the developments of the 1990s have been disseminated to the hundreds of millions of people who are writing blogs, uploading videos to media sharing sites, and use free media authoring and editing software tools that ten years earlier would have cost tens of thousands of dollars” (Kindle Locations 139-141). He also points out that companies like Google and Facebook are updating their codes on a regular basis (sometimes daily), from which emerges a “world of permanent change— the world that is now defined not by heavy industrial machines that change infrequently, but by software that is always in flux” (Kindle Locations 145-146). What I found the most interesting of his opening statements what when he showed just how important software has become to our work as individuals and as scholars (for Humanists as much as for everyone else): “Software has become our interface to the world, to others, to our memory and our imagination— a universal language through which the world speaks, and a universal engine on which the world runs” (Kindle Locations 155-156). As someone who is maintaining a blog devoted to academic writings and assignments, who does research through online databases more often than physically combing the library for a book, and who accesses others in the field and in my own program, I can see why Manovich would claim that software is our interface to the world and to others. So much of what we do is now online, accessible almost anywhere.

Virtually touch all of the things. Image hosted on the site Les idées des IESAViens.

Virtually touch all of the things. Image hosted on the site Les idées des IESAViens.

His interest for this book is looking at consumer products to see the daily uses of software as a tool instead of looking at programmers and the work they do. His interest is in the ways software adds a new dimension to our culture (Kindle Locations 626-627), something I will discuss further below. Manovich goes on to explain that the prevalence of new media in our culture masks the software that makes it all possible and declares that since “software development is gradually getting more democratized. It is, therefore, the right moment to start thinking theoretically about how software is shaping our culture, and how it is shaped by culture in its turn” (Kindle Locations 411-413). His aim in this book is to engage in software studies, especially with an emphasis on cultural software, maintaining that there seven categories of media application (Kindle Locations 452-469):

1) Media software – The creation of cultural artifacts (like music videos or memes) and interactive services (apps and websites) that “contain representations, ideas, beliefs, and aesthetic values” –> With the nod to music videos, this reminds me of Beyonce and her music videos, but it is also Microsoft Word, Dreamweaver, paint, and other “media authoring/editing” software.

2) “Accessing, appending, sharing, and remixing such artifacts” – Manovich mentions YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest, and Tumblr, but, for me, Flickr’s pages on Creative Commons and the attributions users can allow and are required to follow offer a good example of people coming into contact with cultural software and having to engage with the affordances and limitations that the software’s creators and other users’ creators are placing on those who explore and use the site. Manovich mentions that this category overlaps with Media Software as sites that allow access to artifacts also allow for the editing and authoring, even going so far as to say that communication sites like Google are for publishing as well as creating content.

Manovich makes an interesting comment under this category, mention that, “Alternatively, we can define ‘content’ by listing genres, for instance, web pages, tweets, Facebook updates, casual games, multiplayer online games, user-generated video, search engine results, URLs, map locations, shared bookmarks, etc. Digital culture tends to modularize content, i.e., enabling users to create, distribute, and re-use discrete content elements— looping animations to be used as backgrounds for videos, 3D objects to be used in creating complex 3D animations, pieces of code to be used in websites and blogs, etc. (This modularity parallels the fundamental principle of modern software engineering to design computer programs from small reusable parts called functions or procedures.) All such parts also qualify as ‘content'” (Kindle Locations 495-501).

Image hosted on the site Dealer-Communications.

Image hosted on the site Dealer-Communications.

3) “Creating and sharing information online” – Manovich lists Wikipedia and Google Earth as sites for users to engage in the creation and sharing of information, but even this blog would be an example as I am sharing with visitors knowledge of Manovich’s work.

4) Communication technologies –> Gmail, Yahoo!, Facebook, Snapchat, FaceTime <– What’s interesting with this one is how often we create a culture around our communication technologies (such as iPhone vs. Android vs. Windows Phone) where certain service providers start to become more prevalent to our activities because of what they allow us to access and do (think of how often Facebook and Gmail are a way to log in to a website instead of filling out forms).

5) “Engaging in interactive cultural experiences” –> Manovich lists video games, but that could also extend out to apps like Zombies, Run!

6) “Participating in the online information ecology by preferences and adding metadata” –> data mining on sites like Amazon seem appropriate here, especially as they filter into spaces like Facebook and YouTube as advertisements based on your searches

Just keep buying and it will be ALL the data on your preferences. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Just keep buying and it will be ALL the data on your preferences. Image hosted on Tumblr.

7) “Developing software tools and services that support all of these activities [above]” –> Think of the people who designed YouTube or WordPress as larger examples of this, but Manovich also looks at smaller creations like a single theme being created for WordPress

Manovich mentions another category that has appeared in the wake of sharing apps, stating that “we should also include software tools for personal information management such as project managers, database applications, and simple text editors or note-taking apps that are included with every computer device being sold” (Kindle Locations 544-546). This would include software like Zotero that helps collect and store research source, as well as Drop Box and Evernote that can be synced across devices so long as there is internet connection and the app is downloaded. This information does not always have to be shared (unless the user prefers it that way) and can be maintained away from the public sphere, though even private files are not as safe as we believe them to be.

But, how much of our lives do we keep private? Manovich explores the social nature of current software and its uses: “However, since at the end of the 2000s, numerous software apps and services started to include email, post, and chat functions (often via a dedicated ‘Share’ menu), to an extent, all software became social software” (Kindle Locations 542-543). We do this all the time with articles we read on websites, we upload pictures we take to Flickr or Instagram, and we share statuses and tweets we like. I am constantly driving my best friends to distraction by sharing my favorite YouTube videos (as I do with every blog post), news articles, funny gifs, and and animal stories. We create a networked identity through what we choose to share from the sites we choose to explore and the communities we choose to share with. Manovich further explore the sociability of software and how culture shifts with software and software shifts with the culture:

“These and all other categories of software shift over time. For instance, during the 2000s the boundary between ‘personal information’ and ‘public information’ has been reconfigured as people started to routinely place their media on media sharing sites, and also communicate with others on social networks. In fact , the whole reason behind the existence of social media and social networking services and hosting websites is to erase this boundary as much as possible. By encouraging users to conduct larger parts of their social and cultural lives on their sites, these services can both sell more ads to more people and ensure the continuous growth of their user base. With more of your friends using a particular service and offering more information, media, and discussions there, you are more likely to also join that service”  (Kindle Locations 546-553).

Erasing the boundary should always look something like this. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Erasing the boundary should always look something like this. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Think of how often people go on Facebook or Twitter to post pictures of themselves, friends, pets, family. How often do people write statuses detailing not major moments in their lives, but small, day-to-day occurrences? For me, social media is kind of like a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) in that it is not the software that draws people in, but other people being active in that community. In no one played World of Warcraft, the game would collapse and fade into the memories of gamers and the archives of the internet. If people stopped posting on Facebook and turned off their accounts, the site would lose its advertisers and the site would most likely be shut down. People’s activities are at the core of social media, hence the title social. Businesses take advantage of these social spaces, collecting data from our searches on sites like Google, Amazon, and YouTube to strategically place advertisements, but in a way that can be more personalized than ads on television. These businesses rely on the belief that people will follow the trends of their loved ones and friends, and then these businesses loop their own sites back to the social media as a way to draw in more customers. One example would be Netflix and its option for users to share on Facebook what they have been watching on Netflix, potentially drawing in those who may not have Netflix or who may only have streaming versus getting the physical DVDs. Those who share their preferences with friends are doing the advertising work for Netflix, as is Facebook by allowing Netflix ads to appear in their interface. It becomes a social space, even though it is a private account.

Go on, take a peek at what your friends are watching. And then add to the cycle by displaying your favorites. It's all in the social, darling. Image hosted on a blog on the New York Times website.

Go on, take a peek at what your friends are watching. And then add to the cycle by displaying your favorites. It’s all in the social, darling. Image hosted on a blog on the New York Times website.

Following up on his list of cultural software categories, Manovich adds two more: programming environments and media interfaces. He includes programming environments because they are part of the process of making software, “Since creation of interactive media often involves writing some original computer code” (Kindle Locations 563-564). With media interfaces, Manovich reminds me of Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory as he lists the kinds of interfaces and how these interfaces are the connection between people and the software they use: “icons, folders , sounds, animations, vibrating surfaces, and touch screens— are also cultural software, since these interfaces mediate people’s interactions with media and other people” (Kindle Locations 565-566).

Manovich also sets up a dichotomy to explore:

“media/ content” versus “data/ information/ knowledge”

The example for media/content was that of a film, while an excel spreadsheet was listed for data/information/knowledge. However, Manovich mentions that, oftentimes, the dichotomy is blurred, with an object being both media and data. This intersection is really interesting as Manovich has projects where he makes visualizations of data, letting these two categories blend together. My favorite project of his is called Phototrails as it looks at photographs posted on Instagram from 13 cities around the world. In the case of Phototrails, the pictures become the data and the visualization becomes the content. However, there is another way in which these two categories blend and it is familiar to all of us who use the computer: “Of course, since media software operations (as well as any other computer processing of media for research, commercial or artistic purposes) are only possible because the computer represents media as data (discrete elements such as pixels, or equations defining vector graphics in vector files such as EPS), the development of media software and its adoption as the key media technology (discussed in this book) is an important contributor to the gradual coming together of media and data” (Kindle Locations 595-598). Video games do this as well when they take the binary codes underlying the gameplay and produce images, music, videos, and actions to take for the users. What we are seeing as media is made possible through the data and we interact with that data to engage with the media.

 New Vocabulary

* Metamedium – “was coined in 1977 by researchers at computer Americans Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg to refer to the ability of computers to influence other media (the media , the singular medium ) and to simulate the features, or to transform into other media in function of the software executed by the computer itself (obviously in the presence of appropriate hardware and peripherals)” (Google translated from an Italian page on “metamedia” on Wikipedia).

*Cultural Software – It is “cultural in a sense that it is directly used by hundreds of millions of people and that it carries ‘atoms’ of culture —is only the visible part of a much larger software universe” (Manovich, Kindle Locations 231-232). When Manovich uses the phrase cultural software, he is talking about the software that underlie “actions we normally associate with ‘culture,'” such as YouTube, Facebook, cell phone apps, and Adobe Photoshop.

* Software Studies “has to investigate the role of software in contemporary culture, and the cultural and social forces that are shaping the development of software itself” (Manovich, Kindle Locations 287-288).

Manovich develops this further by discussing topics software studies underlie: “I think of software as a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary societies. Therefore, if we want to understand contemporary techniques of control, communication, representation, simulation, analysis, decision-making, memory, vision, writing, and interaction, our analysis cannot be complete until we consider this software layer. Which means that all disciplines which deal with contemporary society and culture— architecture, design, art criticism, sociology, political science, art history, media studies, science and technology studies, and all others— need to account for the role of software and its effects in whatever subjects they investigate” (Kindle Locations 369-373).

*Media Software – “programs that are used to create and interact with media objects and environments” and “a subset of the larger category of ‘application software’— the term which is itself in the process of changing its meaning as desktop applications (applications which run on a computer) are supplemented by mobile apps (applications running on mobile devices) and web applications (applications which consist of a web client and the software running on a server)”  (Kindle Location 517 and 517-520) –> This kind of software “enables creation, publishing, accessing, sharing, and remixing different types of media (such as image sequences, 3D shapes, characters, and spaces, text, maps, interactive elements), as well as various projects and services which use these elements” (Kindle Location 520-522)

Let's all bound for joy together. Image hosted on the site Love This Pic.

Let’s all bound for joy together. Image hosted on the site Love This Pic.

Citations

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Moving Forward Towards Another Project

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Learn Tech and Reflect about Modding_Part 2_Reflection

This is the second portion of my Learn Tech and Reflect assignment, with the first part as my annotations on tutorial/support sites for modding.

And away we go!

As only academics can with reflections. Image hosted on Tumblr.

As only academics can with reflections. Image hosted on Tumblr.

So this weekend was my first time really opening up the Dragon Age Origins toolset and mucking (it’s really the only way to describe it) about with the software. I had some trouble installing the toolset since Windows 8 is not completely compatible with Microsoft SQL 2005. The official wiki for the toolset was quite useful for this issue since it is a common one for users, and there were plenty of instructions for different errors that might have occurred when trying to download the SQL. But what did I learn after sifting through tutorials, video demonstrations, forums, and wikis on modding once I got the installation settled?

Actually, quite a bit. I found out that mods can range anywhere from new costumes to head morphs to magical items to new spells to rebuilding an area that has been devastated in-game to creating an isolated scene to creating fully functioning quests.  I also learned just how collaborative a community can be fostered on different sites that are devoted to modding, with plenty of creators willingly sharing knowledge they have gained and modders of all levels sharing their work to receive constructive feedback as well as giving others access to mods. As a new modder, I didn’t feel uncomfortable exploring the forums, clicking on threads geared towards those who have little to no experience with the software and its limitations. I was bracing for some presence of trolling from users who felt that modding was their territory and not for those who were considered “noobs,” but this wasn’t the case in any of the forums’ threads that I explored, which was rather refreshing.  I have also learned about different technical jargon that will come in handy when I am starting to make my first forays into modding, such as scripting, morphs, reskinning, override files, different types of files (UTI, for example, which is Uniform Type Identifier), and console command. The Nexus Mod forums were a great resource for this because users are actually dealing with these issues in their own work, rather than dealing with the terms on a theoretical level. As someone who is taking first steps in the world of modding, seeing these problems being hashed out is both overwhelming because there are so many issues that can arise and encouraging because each of these problems seem possible to overcome in time.

Reading tutorials by themselves does not generally do anything for me as I am more of a hands-on learner, so I spent much of my time switching back and forth between the toolset and whichever tutorial I had been reading. The official wiki for the toolset was the most useful to start with because so much of it is directed towards those who are new and would be the ones in greatest need of a tutorial, though the linked tutorials increased in difficulty further along in each page so that experienced modders would still be able to come and find the information relevant to their projects. The Getting Started section, which was different from the Tutorials section, was where I spent most of my time as it explained how to install the software and then also how to check to make sure that everything is in working order in terms of connecting to the Bioware Dragon Age database and making sure that the Palette section of the toolset actually had assets stored. This will also be the place where I will go as I start to learn how to create what is known as a modulewhich is “A module is a playable set of resources, which can be”: 1) “A campaign that players can embark on,” 2) ” An extension to a campaign,” or 3) “An extension to all campaigns” (Dragon Age Origins toolset). For my own project, I think that a new campaign will be my goal if I can learn to navigate and manipulate the toolset, and this wiki will provide me the technical terms for what I want to create and what tools I need to create it.

Where do I go from here?

As I continue forward with my project, I am definitely going to have to sift through more tutorials, looking for ones in particular that are geared for beginners but are also designed for campaign creation rather than just smaller mods like head morphs or armor creation. I also need to look into more video tutorials (though ones that go more in-depth than the video demonstration I have listed below) are going to be helpful since I am a visual learner, but it will be interesting trying to find tutorials that are specific to this toolset as there are supposedly two others modding software. The official wiki is going to be one of my best resources because it covers many topics (such as “variables,” though they recognize that the information they provide will not always be needed: “the vast majority of the variables in this table are only referred to by core scripts; most modders will likely not need to worry about these”) that have charts and images to help users figure out what they need to do and what elements they are looking for, and has troubleshooting articles. As I do further work, I may need to look into installing a Lightmapper software, which is used with modifying levels, and then looking for tutorials specific to using that supplemental software. Gaining a working knowledge of how a toolset works will let me start to apply narrative theory as I work towards creating a small campaign/quest.

Resources I Annotated

BigDownload. “Dragon Age Origins Toolset Demonstration Part 1.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

“Dragon Age.” Nexus Mods. Nexus Mods, 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Dragon Age Origins Toolset Wiki. Bioware Social Network, 08 Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. 

“Forum: Dragon Age Origins Toolset.” Bioware Forums. Bioware, 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

What do we say to the God of Death? Image hosted on the site GifSec.

What do we say to the God of Death? Image hosted on the site GifSec.

This should be enough. Image hosted on the site Rebloggy.

This should be enough. Image hosted on the site Rebloggy.

As Halloween Revels Closer

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Learn Tech and Reflect_Part 1_Annotations

Ready for lovely modding tutorial annotations? Image hosted on the site PandaWhale.

Ready for lovely modding tutorial annotations? Image hosted on the site PandaWhale.

Image hosted on Reddit.

Hopefully, it will be like this. Image hosted on Reddit.

BigDownload. “Dragon Age Origins Toolset Demonstration Part 1.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

This basic tutorial video about the Dragon Age Origins toolset was created by Fernando Melo, who is currently the Director of Online Development at Bioware (the company that designs the Dragon Age series, among others), with Ferret Baudoin, who was one of the lead writers for Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age II, as a guest. The video is rather informative for a beginner as the speaker breaks down the basic elements offered in the toolset’s palette (it holds the “categories of assets” modders can access), starting with the areas (settings) for what will be crafted as the start location for the mod, especially since the speaker is so familiar with the technology and the game being explored. To give viewers a sense of what can be done with the software, he opens an “area layout,” which he uses to give viewers a guided tour of the 3D landscape of a layout that is used as a battleground for players in the early parts of the game. He takes the chance to introduce beginning modders to the implementation of scripting (which, according to Wikipedia, is “a scripted sequence is a pre-defined series of events that occurs when triggered by player location or actions that play out in the games engine”), though he mentions he will not be discussing how to script in detail until the toolset had been officially released to the public. The video has a definite weakness in that the screen being displayed is too distant to allow viewers to clearly see the menu items, so viewers must depend on the speaker to identify which selections he is making in the various menus. This is also a problem when the speaker talks about the variables of each item that are listed in the “Object Inspector” box. One other limitation of the video is that it was created before the official toolset was released (the creator mentions that they only have uploaded “what was needed to make the demo”), so the items in the toolset are very selective because the toolset had not yet been finished, but this limitation is easily resolved by locating tutorial videos released a little later.

“Dragon Age.” Nexus Mods. Nexus Mods, 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Out of the four sites I have listed here for my annotated bibliography entries, Nexus Mod’s section the Dragon Age Origins toolset is the most devoted to the products of the modding community, with the creators providing the files and instructions for other users to download and implement their mod into the actual gameplay. What struck me first as I explored the website was just how collaborative the community is, with members willing to share their hard work with others to make the game more enjoyable and customizable. As I begin learning how to use the toolset and to develop my own materials, this site will allow me to see what is possible in toolset through what other people are creating (as well as the limitations with what even experienced modders could not make or could not get to work). The site is split up a bit differently than other tutorial sites I have been looking at, as it has categories for “Files,” “Images,” “Videos,” “Forums,” and “Chat,” rather than direction categories for the types of mod creations. For my project, the Forum is going to be the place where I go the most on this site as it deals  with more than just modding, going as broad as news about and technical support for the game series to spoilers about the game. There are even sections devoted to troubleshooting for building and modding, as well as requests for mods (which enhances the collaborative nature of the community as creators seek requests for what other players would want to see in the game as well as players asking for mods they would like to see created) and spaces for mod talk. For my project, the sections of troubleshooting for modding, mod talk, and the section for articles about Dragon Age mods are going to be the most useful as supplements to the official toolset wiki and various YouTube tutorial videos as it will be nice to read issues other users are having in comparison to my own difficulties navigating the toolset as well as see what can be done with mods (giving me a greater idea of the kind of scope I want for my project and the work it will take to make it happen). While the forums are created by other users, there seems to be very little trolling in the forums, as more experienced modders are very careful in breaking down explanations for new and other less experienced modders, which is not always the case for gaming communities.

Dragon Age Origins Toolset Wiki. Bioware Social Network, 08 Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. 

This resource is the official wiki set of tutorials for Bioware’s Dragon Age Origins toolset (the studio has other toolsets for games like Neverwinter Nights), and includes a link to the Dragon Age help site for users who experience issues the wiki site does not or cannot cover. Within the wiki, there are eight overarching categories: “Getting Started,” “Tutorials,” “Design,” “Art,” “Cinematography,” “Sound and music,” “Script,” and “3rd Party Extensions.” The Getting Started section was the first entry I read through as I started downloading and installing the toolet, skimming through the section on potential comparability issues since the toolset was designed for Windows XP and Windows 7 since I have Windows 8. This site was particularly helpful because I did have an installation issue, but it was with a program called Microsoft SQL 2005 (my computer could run, but made me jump through metaphorical hoops to download properly), which I found was a common issue for users. The tutorials section, which expect to spend a great deal of time perusing, is broken down into links to tutorials into beginner’s needs and moves out to larger tutorials with the promise that, “This set of tutorials forms a series, each building on or filling in omissions by the last.” The tutorials section does not just deal with how to create mods, but also how to export and implement those mods into the gameplay experience, and links out to other external sites with tutorials that I will most likely be scrawling through when I start to dig deeper into the toolset. This resource is going to be both very helpful and a little difficult to navigate, with each entry linking technical jargon to other pages, making it a web of linked pages that can be a bit overwhelming for a new user.

“Forum: Dragon Age Origins Toolset.” Bioware Forums. Bioware, 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

The Dragon Age Origins Toolset Forum is a great resource for modders of different levels to post questions, betas to test, information about patches, and issues and potential solutions, among other threads. As someone who is both new to modding and new to the Dragon Age Origins toolset specifically, this may end up being the place for me to get started as I learn how to navigate the toolset and also act as a space where I could present questions and receive feedback about practical applications. The forum is broken down into seven broad categories: “General Discussion,” “Level and Area Creation,” “Cutscenes,” “Audio,” “Scripting,” “Project Announcements and Recruiting,” and   “Custom Content.” One of the most interesting aspects of the collaborative community being fostered in forums are the “community contests,” particularly the ones hosted through a thread titled “The Toolset doesnt have to be hard! Noob-friendly video guides for the Community Contests.” In this thread for “Noobs,” the topics range from prop-making to level-making to head morphs, with links to video tutorials and lists of outside software needed for the side projects. The forum has ties to Bioware’s official toolset wiki, with users linking out to tutorials to read first before returning to the forum to ask more specific questions, but this relationship goes two ways as the official wiki pulls useful content from users’ posts to fill in tutorials. There are no major limitations to this resource, except for the amount of time it may take to wade through the thousands of threads and responses (the site has a search tool, but that is useful if I know exactly what I am looking for when I come to the site), but this is also a good thing because searching through the threads can lead to surprising and inspiring finds.

**This is the first part with the second as a reflection on my wanderings through these support sites.

A Little Dragon Age to Lead Us On

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5th Daily Create Challenge_October 09

Last Daily Create challenge for me to do. Woohoo! So today’s prompt is: “That @jimgroom (and @paulbond) are running ‘Wire106’, all about TV drama ‘The Wire’. They love that show. Bless ‘em. Describe ‘The Wire’ in a way that is almost entirely lies. Aim to entirely confuse any person who hasn’t seen ‘The Wire’. If *you* haven’t seen the wire DON’T LOOK IT UP!”

And here goes my response:

“There are no kings in America, no lives to be lost, no games to be played, and no wars to be won. Every child you see on these pretty little streets, they are all going to have a damn fine life. So what need have we to be afraid when justice will always be served? What need have we to fear from the night or the day when there are no monsters left in hiding? The men and women serving this beautiful city, our peacekeepers, they always know what to do, how to help, and let us just be. Equality. Moderation. Compassion. There is only truth in this fine city. What you see is what you get, moving through these lighted streets. Money isn’t worth a life. Money just sits crumpled in our pockets, waiting to be spent on ponies and ice cream. We wage no wars in the streets because we know there are no wars to be fought, no wars to be won, and no tyrants to be taken down. What you see is what you get in every window that you pass. What you see is what you get, and only justice will be served.”

 

Finished this assignment like a boss! Sort of. Maybe. Image hosted on the website Panda Whale.

Finished this assignment like a boss! Sort of. Maybe. Image hosted on the website Panda Whale.

Not finished with the semester yet, so Edna needs to beat me back into productivity. Image hosted on Photobucket.

Not finished with the semester yet, so Edna needs to beat me back into productivity. Image hosted on Photobucket.

For your viewing pleasure

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