terça-feira, 9 de novembro de 2021

English translation for Virgil's Purgatory text

 Rough English version (I did a Google translation and tryied to correct some things):


Thoughts about my the last development cycle - part 1

I recently finished developing my game "Virgil's Purgatory" for ZX Spectrum. I saw people referring to it as "a little game", and I have this tendency to say the same thing myself. However, system restrictions and game size decisions make me return to thinking about the length of a video game.

To put it simple, nowadays I think that the criterion of duration of an independent game has a lot to do with the Player's time relation. Putting me as a player, time is what I don't have. When I stop to play something, which isn't every day, it's that "sitting" that lasts an hour. Reality facts: I've aged, I'm 40 years old, I have other things and activities, I don't have time or patience to spend a lot of time playing. My hands and eyes hurt if I spend too much time in front of the screen with the joypad in my hands. That said, nowadays I prefer games that at least for me have an average duration, and here I include my own games. Games of "one sitting".

The AAA gaming industry has gone down the path of making games longer and longer. The logic is to "make worth" the money invested in expensive machines and games (not only for the player, as these are games that need billionaire budgets, giant teams and developing cycle). If in the 80s they used the difficulty (sometimes exaggerated) to have the effect of replayabillity, now they use lots of cutscenes and hours of gameplay duratin. The big Industry defines most of the market, and they helped change the perception of what a big, medium, or short game is. Personally, I have little interest in AAA, in which I lost genuine interest about a long time.

Now tht I'm a independent developer I use to think of game length in movie terms: 2 hours is a feature film, half an hour to 1 hour is average lenght, and 15 minutes or less is a short movie. Perhaps you can also think of an RPG as a tv miniseries, something you enjoy in chapters a little bit each day. I'm always interested in understanding the game media as a language, similar to cinema, comics, or literature, and not by fashion criteria.

The funny thing is that Virgil's Purgatory, by ZX Spectrum standards, isn't a short game. If you play the game "speed running", and without dying, you should take 25-30 minutes of gameplay. No one in the ZX Spectrum community used the short adjective for my game, but those who are new to ZX game sometimes express that impression. Right now I'm also interested in make retro games, escaping from the programmed obsolescence of the industry, and discovering new aesthetics that old hardware technical limitations can bring me. In Virgil I've tryed it all the time, in visuals, in music, screen repetition, and of course, in game duration time.

The most common ZX Spectrum model had 48kb of ram, no screen scrolling or even hardware sprites. One of the limitations of the MPAGD Engine, which I use to develop the game, is that the game can only be this size at most (even less because of other internal limitations and memory allocations for certain areas of code in the engine). Developing Virgil was a challenge, halfway through I almost gave up, because it ran out of memory and made the game crash all the time, forcing me to go back and remove or redo parts of the game to save on byte count. Sometimes a day of programming adding stuff was followed by another 2 or 3 of code cleaning, or redoing things more "economically". At the end I could have a game with half an hour, 4 level bosses, 4 songs, assorted enemies, loading screen,and complex mechanics for a game of such a system.

For those who are interested in the technical part, I'll summarize the "post mortem" of the game: Its look, black/red/white, was a choice in part to save scenario graphic bytes. More importantly, the style of using 8x8 pixel blocks in the "backgrounds", in a style reminiscent of the Atari 2600 or Odyssey2, was an aesthetic choice also guided by this tile saving and the ZX's "color clash". ZX Spectrum has no sprite hardware, it renderizes everything in a single plane, and sprites have no color property, they use the second color of the tile behind it (scenery made up of 8x8 pixel blocks with 2 colors each).

Both in Virgil, as in the previous game I made for ZX (Devwill Too), the most I could from single screens in memory was 44 screens. On both screens they are planned so that certain screen "inputs" and "outputs" coincide, so that I can reuse the same screen next to different screens, enlarging the size of the scene and making a larger map with these only 44 screens. I reduced parts of the songs, redone loopings, everything to make them smaller and save bytes. At Virgil's I used an "Merge Screens" routine, where I could program that certain screens would render over each other (the transparent tiles on the second screen didn't erase the screen that was rederated before). That way I could have these 44 screens with complex backgrounds, with rich details (it is also common to see backgrounds always black and without details in MPAGD games). Each enemy, and especially bosses and the player's own avatar, require many, many lines of code each (in total 5600 lines of code on my part). Virgil's head has its own code, full of exceptions and possible situations and different attack states in the game.

My conclusion here is that the technical limits influenced my aesthetic choices: from the duration of the game, the content in terms of text and mechanics. What I try to do here is to consciously think and work these limits in my favor, because consciously I can use a language more effectively to achieve a givem aesthetic effect. I speak aesthetics not only as the visual part but understood as the articulation between form and content in an artistic language. I hope that if you've read this far, that you'll stop to think a little about the criteria of what defines whether a game is long, short, the other questions that I just raised, and how much this has to do with the real game content.

Below are some images of the game and its development related to the text and with explanatory captions:

Screens of the finished game, notice the choice of colors and how the "background" landscape is assembled with big blocks of 8x8 pixels.

All these 4 screens here are organized by superimposing a screen with collision elements over a "landscape" screen, designed to make the first ones richer visually by saving precious bytes of memory.

In this video, the first test I did with the "merge screen" programming, where the screen is rederated in two steps, first screen 1 where I set up a background and on it screen 2, 3, etc., which has the blocks from the ground that collide with the sprites.

Above is the MPAGD map editor screen. Notice that some screens repeat themselves, they were made for that. Background screens are not allocated here, they are loaded in the programming code I made when needed (roughly something like screen X, load screen Y first). I also used a good part of the available space to build the map, which can only have a maximum of 16 x 10 screens in width and height.

In the program's Screen Editor, this is screen 9. As mentioned above, this screen is not allocated in the map, it is manually loaded via code before certain screens that complement it.

If you noticed that screen 24 repeats itself many times on the map, now you will understand: it's just a black sky, a screen to be on top of the open areas if the player uses the double jump and "exit" from the top of the screen ( if you didn't have this screen above, the sprite would return under the screen where it started in infinite looping Screen made with saving tiles because it was already overflowing the amount of screens in memory.

Here is a video and review made by a player and game reviewer of ZX Spectrum. Watching me, I realize that he had played before and was trained in the game, already knowing which way to go without wandering too much through purgatory. He plays from beginning to end of the game in half an hour, and fails to catch 1 of the 4 hearts that boost Virgil's vitality.

Remembering that you can purchase the game on itchio, or on my website. Brazilians can also pay the amount in reais via PIX as it is on my website.


Thoughts about my the last development cycle - part 2

Something that I left out of the previous text was the influences and articulations with other works like movies, literature, and comics, which I do in the construction of the entire aesthetic of Virgil's Purgatory. In part my faulty act, which my friend Luiz Souza called my attention to. In the end, it wouldn't fit everything there is to talk about in the previous text. Some of my picks date back to 2016, when I made the PC version with a Super Game Boy look, and some are recent and have been incorporated into this new version for ZX Spectrum.

One of my constant practices is to seek inspiration outside the world of video games, always articulating sources from other languages. The thing of articulating national and international classic works with the so-called Pop Culture is purposeful, anyway what would be more "Pop" than the video game nowadays? In 2016, I was mainly inspired by the film "Deus e o Diabo na terra do Sol" by Glauber Rocha ("God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun"), by Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, and by Cordel's popular literature (string literature).

Years ago, reading the verse edition of The Divine Comedy, I could only think of how similar the "Repente Nordestino" was with it, with the typical verses also frequent in cordel literature, was in form and in certain approaches to Dante's famous work. It is from this articulation that I used to make in my head that the game universe emerged, everything should have a look that refers to woodcuts, often in string literature, with short verses and rhymes, also similar to the work of Dante and the Northeastern Popular Literature.

In "The Divine Comedy" the poet Dante dies and descends to Purgatory. His guide is the ancient Roman poet Virgil (whom he has as his patron in the arts, in the greatest spirit of the Renaissance). Virgil is Dante's spiritual guide, and explains to him the landscape in each of the "planes" of Purgatory, Hell, and Paradise at the end. In every place he passes he meets his detractors, political enemies, bourgeois and priests, as well as friends, each suffering the fate, or torture, that life has led them to deserve.

"God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun" is a reference that I already make explicit in the game's poster art, which copies elements of the art from one of the film's posters. The Practice of citing movie posters, and articulating them with another language, I took from the creation procedure of the black metal band "Ghost", which does a lot of that in song lyrics and record covers. If in music an artist can, and should, look for inspiration outside music, why not videogames as well?

In Glauber Rocha's movie, an important character for the protagonist's destiny, Vaqueiro Manoel, is the pilgrim Santo Sebastião, who preached against the misery of people deprived of support by local landlords. He then gives the protagonist a path to walk, something to follow when he feels lost, until the religious frenzy takes on an almost lysergic atmosfere and mental confusion. Clearly inspired by the figure of "Antônio Conselheiro" (Canudos war in Brazil), this was the figure that inspired the game's Pilgrim. Like the Poet/guide Virgílio from Divine Comedy, my pilgrim gives tips, insinuates the direction the protagonist should follow, but always in an enigmatic and poetic way, giving room for the player/reader's interpretation.

Purgatory is the first place visited by Dante, and it is where in the Christian religion sinful souls who have some salvation atone for their sins. It is a "temporary hell", so to speak, not constituting eternal damnation. There is also an important detail in the characterization of my Virgil's Purgatory: it is not just any purgatory, but the character's personal projection on what purgatory should be. I assume that magic, or the invisible, like the afterlife, can only be what one believes it to be. If the cangaceiro lived in that popular Christian religiosity, the life of a sinner in search of justice, he could only imagine going to purgatory where he would face all his demons. It is about using the magical concept of the "form idea", presented to me by the tales of my friend Luiz Souza,and which can also be identified in the work of Neil Gaiman.

Virgílio was the perfect name, because at the same time that he referred to the poet of the Divine Comedy, he also remembers Lampião's name, Virgulino (most famous Cangaceiro gunslinger in Brazil history). But my cangaceiro is not simply Lampião, he, like Curisco in Glauber Rocha's movie, embodies the spirit of the mythical cangaceiro. That myth is almost always associated with Lampião in "string literature", but which makes the figure of the cangaceiro gunslinger tragic, violent, revolt against the authorities, and also poetic. Result of an arid land and a brutal society, he takes all the hardness of society in deep old Brazil to an extreme (think about wild west).

Something I've done new for this 2021 ZX remake of the game, is related to the look and visuals of the game. In addition to what I said in the previous text about technical limitations, there are also choices that I really appreciate. I was inspired by the woodcuts in "string literature", but it would be much more uninteresting to just reproduce the look of these on the screen. Rereading it through pixel art interests me because I can create an original visual from it. I am then inspired to create something that is "plastically" different from Woodcut, but still retains something of it. Part of the inspiration, at least in the choice of colors, also came from the comic books "Sin City" by Frank Miller. In the drawings of the comics, black and white predominates, with some key elements in red or yellow, from time to time. 

But where do I want to get with all this effort? What does it mean for me to articulate Glauber Rocha, with The Divine Comedy, String Literature, Woodcuts, with the fantastic magician and Frank Miller? It means not only explaining some of the cultural references that formed me, but also associating them without hierarchies, and without idealizations or either shame. Because many times, one work "checks" certain ideals present in the other. It means taking a stand against the idea of ​​culture as a plastered tradition, and understanding that culture is only alive when it is constantly changing. That which has stopped transforming is not alive, and if it is not dead and buried, it becomes a zombie, a "living dead", a carcass that roams and occupies the space that could harbor new life. This is also the case with culture,and any attempt to maintain some artificial "Purity" will always be authoritarian and still doomed to failure in the long run.

What is obsolete in the first world is often new here, and so the industry has a place to dump all the garbage stranded in its warehouses. I wouldn't exactly call it an advantage, but one of the consequences of my cultural formation in the third world, where things always arrive second or third hand, is that we learn to be a kind of "garbage collector". Of looking for the pearls, or their fragments, among the trash from the leftovers of canned goods that are relegated to us to "amuse ourselves" and soothe. On the other hand, we have a poignant traditional folk culture heritage. At this crossroads, the most common is either for people to close themselves in tradition to deny the rubbish that comes from abroad, or to embrace Foreign Pop Culture while ignoring the entire local culture. For me (and luckily not only for me and this is not new in most artistic languages ​​throughout the history of art) there is nothing to throw away. Part of my job is to select and digest what comes to me, and to make pearls from sand if its what it's need. Not to please "the market", not to please any boss, but for the sake of my own cultural survival. I should never let myself run over unconscious of the world that crushes me.

Below is an excerpt of the lyrics from the song I transcribed and is in the middle of the movie "God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun", and that relate to my game (track 7, Corisco, on the movie's soundtrack album):

"From the death of Monte Santo,

left Manoel Cowboy

By the pity of Antonio,

Cangaceiro Killer.

The story goes on,

pay more attention.

Manoel and Rosa walked,

in the paths of the Sertão.

Until one day,

by the yes and the no.

came into their lives,

Curisco, the devil of Lampião"

Soon after, an excerpt from the monologue of the cangaceiro Curisco speaking to his wife, the cangaceira Dadá. I didn't remember this dialogue anymore, I had watched the movie a few years ago and I saw it again moments before writing this text, but it is interesting how the question of the "head" is addressed here and how it is also present in my game:

"Take the ghosts out of my head that I can't stand to see you suffering anymore. It's been 3 days, it's a long time for those who lived in the war. Maria Bonita's body swelled and rotted. The animals are now eating her pretty eyes. Maria died, but Lampião is alive. Virgulino (Lampião birth name) ended up in the flesh but the spirit is alive. The spirit is here in my body and now he has joined the two. Cangaceiro with two heads, one on the outside, the other on the inside. One killing, the other thinking . see if this two-headed man can't fix this backlands" (emphasis mine).

Links and images with more comments:

Blog with stories by Luiz Souza:  https://praiadoesquecimento.blogspot.com/

String Literature; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordel_literature

Cangaço https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canga%C3%A7o

God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_God,_White_Devil

Full movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyTnX_yl1bw

Movie Soundtrack:  https://immub.org/album/deus-eo-diabo-na-terra-do-sol-trilha-sonora-do-filme

Wikipedia entry on Sin City: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sin_City

Entry on the poet Virgil:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgil


First: poster for the movie "God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun", and then a poster I made for the game "The Purgatory of Virgil".

On the right, the cover of the band's first album, Ghost, from 2008, and on the right, the poster for the movie Salem's Lot, also called Black Sabbath, which is certainly one of the films that influenced the creation of the video game Castlevania. More parallels between this band's album covers and movie posters at this link:  https://whiplash.net/materias/news_755/302240-ghost.html

Scene from Glauber Rocha's film: Pilgrim Santo Sebastião uses his cross-shaped staff to restrain Vaqueiro Manoel's wife as he ascends in martyrdom from the steps of Monte Santo carrying a stone and a rosary. I couldn't help but think about the "Myth of Sisyphus" that I've covered in my Devwill Too games. The summary of one of the chapters of Camus' book on Wikipedia is very brief:

In the last chapter, Camus outlines the myth of Sisyphus, who challenged the gods: when captured suffered a punishment: for all eternity, he would have to push a rock of a mountain to the top, the stone then would roll down and it would again have It's all about starting. Camus sees Sisyphus as the being who lives life to the full, hates death, and is condemned to a pointless task, like the absurd hero.

source:  https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Mito_de_S%C3%ADsifo

Woodcut by the northeastern artist J.Borges. More information at:   https://followthecolours.com.br/art-attack/xilogravura-nordestina/

Cover of one of the issues of the comic book Sin City, by Frank Miller.

Below are some comparative screens of the two versions of the game, on the left the version of 2016 for PC, and on the right the version of ZX Spectrum now in 2021, followed by the complete map of purgatory in the latest version.

Title screen on PC and loading screen on ZX Spectrum.

Screen where the journey begins.

A church in such a hellish place? Anyone who watches Glauber Rocha's film will surely see reasons for this...

Caves and their devilish creatures.

A giant coral snake could populate any cangaceiro's nightmare.

A giant ape master, remembering the cangaceiros' persecutors government soldiers.

This is Virgil's Purgatory, where he atones for his sins by trying to regain his head and achieve eternal rest.

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