Maya Architecture in-Design

A Life in-Design blog series

In this blog series I take a quick look at people, places, actions, and things and break them down and compare them to games. Today I decided to shift my focus to the artwork featured in Maya architecture.

A glance at the past

The early Maya societies were prosperous, and built large plazas to host the work of both the noble and the common folk. The homes of the nobles, including their religious burial sites, were often made into these large, looming stepped pyramids that overlooked the plaza. Atop these pyramids were ritual chambers for the celebration of specific gods. Many of these pyramids were also home to observatories. Because of their obsession with the night sky, this lead the Maya to create on of the most sophisticated calendars ever created. The calendar comprises of three calendars, one tracking 365 days, another tracking important events, and another tracking thousands of years in both the past and the future. It’s unfortunate that during the Spanish inquisition all but four of the Maya literature was burned. The Maya’s way of tracking information was not our typical way of writing words, but they were actually in forms of pictograms. These pictograms represented different words, and can be combined in a series of blocked pictures. Even though the writing of the Maya was mostly burned, fortunately they kept their history sculpted upon their architecture.

Brick by brick

Due to the limestone-enriched soil in the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Maya were located, the Maya were able to use a combination of mud and plastered bricks to create these large structures. By starting small, they built on top of the same formations over and over again, which reflected the city’s growing population. It is on these structures that we can find unique design patterns and their hieroglyphics.

By looking at the different stone workings, we find common patterns that they used. The use of the spiral is found in many spots upon the stonework. The spiral could represent tails of different creatures. Serpents were an integral animal in both Maya architecture and religion, from the crawling serpent temple El Castillo, with its depiction of a crawling serpent during the spring and autumn equinoxes, and the feathered snake Maya god Kukulkan. Another feature of architecture is a kind of cross-hatched, checkered pattern. These individual blocks could have had more hieroglyphs on theme, but due to the softness of limestone, they could have weathered down. A prominent feature in much of the architecture is the use of stone faces or protrusions. Because the building’s history was document upon itself, and the Maya scripture was depicted in pictograms, it makes sense to have facial features appear on their architecture much like it does in their texts.

What makes their architecture so fascinating is how it appears to be just a combination of multiple patterns, expertly placed in sequence. It almost appears to be like a quilt of some sort, stitched together as an assortment of multiple designs. Going on the fact of the Maya building on top of previous buildings, they would also place carvings on top of one another. It curious to see that of the parts of building used for decorative design, there are no blank spaces, or breaks, within that design. Even though the design consists of multiple different patterns, it is formed to create one unique whole.

Recreating through modern mediums

The current game I’m working on, Vex, is a 2D, resource management, geometric survival game, where a player must defeat waves of different shapes. Trying to create a theme and art style for the game, I happened to think of Maya architecture and its intricacies. I decided to have the background become completely filled with a pattern representing the likeness of the Maya art, and all the different shapes depicted in the game be pieces of the background pattern. The patterns seemed to fit well to the art of the Maya, especially the spirals and the checkered patterns. This was due to the fact that the art I was recreating it on was through pixel art, which lead to a more block-y square pattern. While the pixel art is made up of a series of squares, I wanted the artwork to feel more fluid and natural, like if it was the written Maya hieroglyphs, so each pattern isn’t exactly the same size as the next.

Current progress of a background in Vex

Relating to games

As I’ve mentioned before, the kind of patterns in the Maya architecture could be considered a kind of quilt, almost fitting together like puzzle pieces. Since brick is laid by placing it on top of one another, the game of Tetris can resemble the act of creating the architecture, due to both having uniquely designed blocks. When a Tetris board is also filled with blocks, it appears as a kind of quilt as well. If we think about spirals and snakes as a big feature in Maya architecture, the game of Snake also comes to mind, with the player curling around to grab the items. There is some comparison to the snake growing in Snake, and the way the Maya would constantly build buildings on top of one another.

Interested in learning more about the Maya? Check out these links!

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Time Management in-Design

A Life in-Design blog series

In this blog series, I talk about different actions, events, things, or ideas every day and analyze them a bit and possibly relate a game to it. This is more of an exercise in exploring deeper into emotions and experiences.

The Clock is Ticking…..

As ironic as it is to write this post at 8pm tonight, I usually deal with time management well. Many people could say they don’t manage time well, or they don’t have enough time to do something. I’m going to take a quick look at that mentality and the different solutions facing this conundrum.

The Perception of Time

I think our mentality of being able to use time wisely correlates to our own perception of time. If I’m trying to work on something that has a deadline, I have one eye on the clock and one on what I’m doing. On the other hand, if I’m more “loose” with when my tasks need to be done, I’m not as focused on the time. Time always seems to go by quicker when I’m working on something or having fun. The bottom line is when I’m not focused on the time, it goes by a lot quicker.

I think there’s different levels of focus that you could have on the clock. There’s the casual glance, like to make sure your stomach is in sync of when it’s time for lunch; the rapid glance, like when you’re looking back and forth at the road and your clock because you’re late for work; and the surprised glance, like when you look outside and then at the clock when you realize the day just flew by. Notice in every scenario we are looking perceptively at time. Time itself is something we merely created to make sense of the circular motion of the stars and planets. If we were to just be still, close our eyes, and just sit there, we won’t really know how long we’ve been in that state. It’s like when you’re really tired so you drift off, then jolt back awake thinking you’ve been asleep for a while, only for it to be a minute or so.

Think inability to “feel” time is the constant problem we’re trying to overcome. We could get lost in watching TV, playing games, or scrolling through social media. There may be an inexplicable reason why televisions don’t have a constant clock at the top (could be a setting, I wouldn’t know). These kinds of devices require your time and attention and know that you’ll probably get lost for hours in it.

“No!” you say “I’m not distracted at all. I’m a well-oiled machine of tasks and actions.” Okay, that may be true, I’m not going to judge you. Have you ever thought about how long things take you, however? Just thought, “I’ll make lunch, which is 30 minutes, then go to the store, which will be an hour,” and you’ve completed all the tasks in the exact time you thought of? Obviously, since time is mainly within our own imagination, not all tasks can fit within the time frame that you’ve allotted for it. The real problem comes when we look back at the clock and realize how long we’ve spent doing something. If it’s something you enjoyed, you’ll react in a more positive surprise like “Oh the time just flew by!” If you look at the time however and knew that you should’ve been doing something else, you’re filled with regret, like “Oh, shoot, I need to go do the laundry.” These feelings of regret are what motivate us to take control of time and search for ways to make ourselves more efficient.

Father Time

I’m going to go out on a limb and just say it: Nothing can motivate you other than yourself. Sure, you can buy all the planners, clocks, egg timers that you want, only you can force yourself to use them. In the purpose of using these tools, they are there to keep stimulating yourself with positive emotions as you’re checking things off of your list. They could also be friendly reminders so you’re not late for an important meeting. These time tracking tools CAN be helpful, but they could also work in a negative way. If you’re spending so much time writing down all the things you are going to do on your planner, then you are just wasting time writing things down on your planner. Having a planner could also cause the problem to over plan. Remember how we felt when we were late in completing our tasks? Imagine that feeling multiplied as you realize your tight-knit schedule went uncompleted as a task too way longer than you expected. Every day is a kind of balancing between the tasks we have to complete and how we want to feel at the end of the day when no more tasks can be done.

You got time for a game?

Time stresses people out. It stresses me out. Our inability to mentally sync up with the clock is detrimental to how we want to organize our life. As humans, we are more conscious about time than we think we are, and there are many games that reflect on our desire to control time.

Imagine any kind of race: marathon, triathlon, NASCAR, you name it. The biggest judge on who wins in any of these games is time. In each of these games we are trying to win at time. Yes, we could be racing against others, but we’re merely trying to get a better score, which is denoted by the numbers on a stopwatch. Isn’t it strange how we try to manipulate the very thing we created for ourselves? Perhaps I’ll dive deeper into more invented measurements in the future, but for now it seems I’ve run out of time.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing a couple dollars to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Snacking in-Design

A Life in-Design Blog series

In this blog series, I talk about things that I’ve done or have been thinking about, and analyze them in terms of design while relating them to games.

Crispy, Crunchy, Salty, Sweet

If you’re like me, you love your snacks. I usually like to have a salty snack when I’m relaxing, with a sweet snack nearby to balance it out. As I write this, I’m munching on a freshly popped bowl of popcorn, with a bag of M&M’s sitting on the table a foot away. Why do we snack? I believe it’s a combination of different senses: first we have the obvious taste to it, then the texture in both our hands and mouth, and then the sound as we bite down. I’ll go over each sensation in more detail, then try to see if I can compare then all to a game or two.

The Taste you can taste

I’m probably different than most people in such that I like my food to be bland. Well, maybe BLAND isn’t the right word for it. It’s more of a one-note. I don’t each many things with complex flavors, it tastes like one thing and that’s good enough. Take for example my favorite snack (and food): popcorn. Popcorn has little to no natural flavor to it, it is merely a vehicle to carry butter and salt.

If we think about the one ingredient, salt, it is in a lot of snack foods. Just think of all the chips, pretzels, popcorn, and nuts that line the snack food aisle. The parts of our tongue that favor salt take up most of the area on both sides. There’s a reason why salt is a very popular ingredient in snack foods. The ingredient itself is very easy to prescribe: I just take the salt shaker and tip it over some food I need to flavor. The same can be said for sugar, but powdered sugar is less commonly used, and not many foods need sugar as much as they need salt.

The Sound you can hear

Whatever movement takes place, there’s sound that happens. Most of the time, we don’t think about the sound we’re making when we’re eating, unless you happen to have Misophenia towards mouth noises. Crunch is a widely popular sound among snack foods, because a lot of the snacks we eat must be ground down to chew and swallow. If you think of it in a way, our mouth is like a mortar and pestle; the top part of our mouth is like the pestle, that pushes the food into the bottom part of our mouth, like a mortar. The ways we hear the sound is determined by how we shape our mouth. Think of the mouth as a kind of cavern, however the inside is shaped determines the reflections of sounds that echo inside. Companies use the sounds from snack foods to their advantage in marketing. If you’re interested in finding our more, check out this cool article: https://www.good.is/articles/watch-your-mouth-the-sounds-of-snacking

The texture you feel

Here it is. This is the most important sense, I believe, in terms of snacking. There are multiple times we “feel” the food: when we hold the container, when we bring it up and out of its container, when we place it in our mouth, and the little parts we feel when we chew. I think we are drawn to certain snacks is mainly by “mouth feel.” What I mean is that certain foods, like say a banana, feels a lot different in my mouth than a chip would. This goes back to why crispy and crunchy snack foods mainly dominate. When a crunchy food is chewed, it is broken down into smaller hard bits of itself, kind of like when glass breaks into smaller pieces. When a soft food is chewed, it kind of forms into a soft string. When we smash a chip apart, it almost has the same consistency of sand.

Many people find sand relaxing, like walking on the beach barefooted. This is mainly because it is many little hard rocks that push against our skin, massaging the many little tendons in our feet (I’m not scientist, but this seems like a viable reason). Since crispy food turns into a kind of sand when chewed up, it can have positive feelings within our mouth.

Snack foods and games

So one of the popular games people have played with small snacks include who can catch it into their mouth. The game is fun because it takes skill and coordination between both your hand and your head. The challenge is trying to figure out the actual trajectory the piece of food will take as it leaves your hand and flies into the air. Since every piece of food weighs slightly different, there’s no way in correctly determining where to place you head exactly so the food falls into your mouth. While this is a solo game, it is enjoyed by others around because one: it is impressive if someone can catch the food, especially if it is thrown from a great height; and two: it’s funny to see people jerk their heads widely, only to miss.

While playing with food can be fun, there can be games that resemble food. The most notable one that I can think of is jacks. It’s a simple kid’s game when you bounce a ball off the ground and while it’s still in the air, pick up as many jacks as you can while also catching the ball as it comes down. The reason I relate this game to food mainly has to do with the shape of the objects. The jacks almost resemble popcorn, as there’s a center part with limbs that stretch randomly in all directions. The act of picking up the jacks is reminiscent of scooping popcorn out of a bowl. It’s a little bit of a stretch to compare the two, but I hope you understand what I mean.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing a couple dollars to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Mixing in-Design

A Life in-Design daily blog

So this is the first time that I’ll try to keep a daily blog of comparing my usual life (or things that happened in the past) in a more design perspective. This means I’ll be analyzing the different structures that surround certain events and relating the experiences to different kinds of games.

The Elements of Mixing

Now I don’t mean mixing as in stirring things up (I’m no chef, so I would never talk about those kind of things), but I’m actually talking about mixing in terms of audio. For the past couple of days, I’ve been editing a lot of audio in preparation for this weekend’s digital memorial day concert. My first shot at mixing them were quite terrible; panning was all off, levels were out of balance, and the audio wasn’t lined up. Wanting to start over, I erased all the plugins (reverb, EQ, etc.) that I had for each track, reset the levels and panning for each track, and started fresh.

Game 1: Lining things up

When I “line things up” in the mix, I try to get the instruments to play at the same time, which is done by taking a wavelength and “nudging” it until its beginning matches up with another. Here’s the challenge, however, sure you can visually line up the wavelengths to match, but when you play it back, one instrument may not have full resonance right at the beginning, so it sounds like they come in late.

Okay, so let’s relate this action of lining up instruments to a kind of game. Imagine if you had a puzzle, but the pieces were cut diagonally, so they had to be slid in sideways instead of merely straight up and down. Lining up sounds feels almost like that. Even if you only complete one corner of the puzzle, it feels satisfying to have part of the picture complete. It’s also interesting to note the contrast of the jagged edges of the puzzle when the pieces are loose, and the smoothness of the puzzle surface once the puzzle is complete. The same kind of feeling comes from wiping a clean line on a dirty window (not that I would know such feelings). So yeah, when the audio all lines up, it feels like I’ve solved a kind of puzzle of sorts, and it’s satisfying to go from different notes jumping out at me at random times, to one unison note from everyone playing together.

Game 2: Panning

Panning in terms of audio, means moving the sounds being heard from one side of the stereo space (or you could go surround sound, but I don’t bother with it), to the other side, or balancing left or right. When I record instruments, I typically record in mono, which allows me to choose which side (left or right) that I want it to go. Sometimes I want an instrument to be fully on one side so only the left ear hears it, and sometimes I want it to go through both ears. So you can see in this kind of scenario, it’s a little balancing act.

In this game, imagine you have different widths of cooked spaghetti (it’s what I’m having for dinner tonight, gotta have spaghetti Monday), and you want to try to balance them on a balancing scale because you’re only allowed a half a pound to eat. The problem with this spaghetti is that it’s so long, it hangs off the sides, so even by having one end of the noodle hang off the edge affects the weight on the balance scale. So most of the time you’re spending shifting the noodles back and forth to really see if you have the correct amount. This kind of game relates a lot to panning, where I must shift the different instruments to either the left or right to help balance out the space, and make it sound like a live ensemble. Is the bass too heavy on this side? Are the mid range instruments clashing by both being on the same side? Once everything is balanced, the audio feels solid, meaning that nothing is pulling my ear from one side or another. This is also the same kind of feeling as trying to figure out how tight to pull the straps on your backpack; if one side is too tight, you can loose balance.

Game 3: Levels

Yeah there’s panning, but what about the actual levels? Should the levels of the instruments change throughout the piece, or should they be constant? This kind of depends on the piece and how the instruments and players were recorded at the time. Sometimes a player can get a little too excited and blast a section when they should really be in the background, and sometimes the sound engineer puts the microphone to close to the instrument (not that I would EVER do that). Through these different scenarios, while the panning may stay the same, the levels may change from song to song.

Okay, so you have this giant cooler of lemonade (could be pink), and you’re trying to get it to the pitcher sitting outside in preparation for a party. Your friends offer to help, but all they have are irregular sized cups, and the cooler is too heavy to carry over to the pitcher (this scenario doesn’t make sense, but just roll with it). Your goal is to figure out how much to fill each cup so that it one; doesn’t overflow, and two; fills the pitcher perfectly. So relating this to determining audio levels, imagine the cooler is all the audio you’ve collected from a previous recording, the cups are the instruments, the lemonade is the sound, and the pitcher is the main sound levels (or the capacity at which your computer can process the sound). How much should we give each instrument to fill up the pitcher of sound? What instrument is more important, i.e., which cups are taller? What if you fill up the cup, but some ice falls in it, meaning that it could overflow once it melts, just like an instrument could get louder later into the song? This kind of puzzle is tricky, but once completed, you’re left with a cool, refreshing pitcher of lemonade, or a clean wall of sound. The act of moving the faders (it’s what control the levels) up and down almost look like the different levels of cups, with the knob being where the top of the liquid is.

Analysis in real-time

Of course I’m not writing this while actually mixing audio, but here are just some thoughts I had whilst mixing. The more you work on a piece of audio, the more numb your mind gets to what you’re actually hearing. What I mean is that after listening to the same kind of mistake multiple times through playback, you may actually think it’s fine. Mixing is a lot like designing games; even though we are the ones making the piece of entertainment, we must take ourselves out of the equation of experience. What will people actually hear when they hear it for the first time? How many times will they actually want to listen to it? Why? How people experience media is what we’re striving to learn, but since people experience things in different ways, we must continually look for opportunities to broaden our mind to understand the many faces of society.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing a couple dollars to my ko-fi. Have a great day!