All posts by Eevee

Cherry Kisses, on Steam

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2020/11/30/cherry-kisses-on-steam/

Cherry Kisses title screen, showing Cerise at a counter

🔗 Steam release
🔗 itch release

Whoops! I meant to write about this when it originally came out, in April, but never quite got around to collecting my thoughts. Here is a very rushed subset of them.

The game is extremely NSFW, but the commentary below is not.


The game itself

I like the game. It’s essentially a visual novel, but disguised.

I’ve played a decent number of visual novels, and I’ve thought a lot about them and their role as kind-of-games, and I’ve noticed the thorny bits that I don’t like. And my thoughts have circled around the notion of player agency.

Agency is what makes a game feel like a game. You have input, in a broad sense. You can do something to the game, and it will react appropriately (fingers crossed).

This theory explains the awkward position of visual novels. The bulk of the experience is reading a passage, pressing spacebar, and GOTO 10. You don’t have meaningful input; pressing spacebar isn’t a decision, it’s scrolling.

When you do have input, it generally comes in the form of a menu. But this doesn’t feel like you’re making a choice; it feels like one is being extracted from you in the middle of an otherwise passive reading experience. The base form of the game is reading, and that has been interrupted at a predetermined point to demand something of you. You often don’t have enough information to make a meaningful choice, either, so this becomes a game of saving at each branch and performing an exhaustive depth-first search of the story. As time goes on, you end up skipping through more and more of the early parts, and may hit a point where you go down a decision branch not even remembering what form the story took before you got there.

This is a weird experience.

I wanted to try to improve the feeling of a VN without altering the substance, so this one is disguised as an RPG. I mean, not really an RPG, but that brand of top-down “walk around and interact with stuff” framing.

You play as Cerise, and the entire game takes place in her shop. At any given time, zero or more customers are present, and you can either twiddle your thumbs at the counter or talk to one of them. Whatever you do will generally advance time by an hour, which may change the set of customers; some folks left or arrived while you were busy doing something else. And different folks have different reactions to being ignored, so the whole game becomes one large meta scheduling puzzle.

The thing is, this could’ve been done just as well with a menu at the start of each hour, asking who you want to talk to. The gameplay would’ve been functionally identical. But this scheme feels completely different (at least to me) for several reasons:

  1. Instead of choices being “on top of” the prose, the prose is on top of the choices. It feels like the choices you make cause the prose to happen, rather than being forks in the middle of a river you can’t escape. You can wander around the shop as long as you like, taking breathers, and time will not pass until you, the human at the controls, cause something to happen. (You could say the same about a menu in a VN, but there you can’t do anything else either; the entire game is frozen until you interact with this modal dialog.)

  2. You can do other things. Not many, granted, but you can examine every single object in the shop, and they all have different descriptions (even if they look identical). A typical visual novel doesn’t give you the opportunity to go on frivolous tangents, but I think a big part of games is being able to forget about the progression for a minute and fuck around with something that looks interesting. Stop and smell the roses, in this case literally.

  3. A menu spells out all possible options with equal priority. They’re just items in a list, after all. A physical world, on the other hand, can add subtle differences — choices may be more or less obvious, more or less compelling, or be presented in some way that adds to the narrative. For example, while customers tend to show up at arbitrary spots throughout the shop, your girlfriend Lexy will wait for you right behind the counter, suggesting a more personal relationship even if you don’t yet know who she is. Or consider the ubiquitous option of ignoring everyone in the shop and passing time at the counter instead. That would usually be pointless, so it would be obnoxious to list in every single menu, but having it as an option in-world makes it less obvious… which is perfect puzzle fodder. Just saying.

As an added bonus, every character in the game has a “happiness” rating from -3 to 3. If you can help them with their problems, their happiness will increase. The numbers are largely arbitrary, but you do get a final score tally at the end, and that gives some sense of measured accomplishment that’s more nuanced than a mere good/bad ending. You can ignore it altogether and be happy with the story you got, or you can go down the rabbit hole and try to find the unique path through the game that will make everyone happy and get you a perfect score.

These feel like really subtle design decisions that have an equally subtle impact on the experience. I don’t know what impact it had on anyone else, but I really liked the results. I didn’t mind playing through the game a gazillion times while I was developing it, because it’s just nice to play. The story isn’t especially deep, but it has a lot of little lighthearted interactions with a variety of characters, and sometimes different threads impact each other in really subtle ways. Sometimes I ran across an interaction I’d forgotten I’d written! It feels like the kind of story game that you can’t merely grind every ending out of, one that always has a chance to surprise you a little.

I still have other ideas for making narrative games that feel more player-controlled, so fingers crossed that I can pull them off.

Steam, numbers, business

This is the first game I’ve put on Steam, a platform I’ve long had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s cool that video games have something like a package repository. On the other hand, that package repository is owned and controlled by a single company that sits back and rakes in billions (30% off of every sale!) from a glorified FTP server, something that Linux distributions do for free. And it’s normalized casual DRM, which I do not enjoy. (If I did it right, then manually running Cherry Kisses while Steam is closed should simply run the game without interacting with Steam at all.)

On the other hand, I can’t deny the impact. The Steam release earned more in its first two weeks than the itch release did in more than a year.

…okay, that isn’t an entirely fair comparison. The itch release also had a free “demo” version that was exactly like the “real” version, only with lower-resolution artwork. Loads of people played that (almost 20k downloads as of now), and in retrospect we may have shot ourselves in the foot a bit by offering a free version. But I do like when people can play my games, and releasing anything only in a paid form feels like extorting people out of their money.

I am not good at business. It mostly feels bad.

Despite that, the game has somehow grossed a bit over $10k in the last eight months (which shrinks to $6k net after the Steam tax, VAT, and refunds). That’s not a windfall, but it’s far more than I ever expected to earn on the back of a month-long jam game, and it all went to paying our 2019 taxes so it’s like nothing ever happened. It certainly makes me optimistic about selling something meatier.

Creating the Steam release

We did update the game somewhat for Steam, a process that ended up consuming almost a month somehow and still didn’t cover everything we wanted. The most obvious in-game things were the addition of character profiles, an image gallery, and an options menu — which is to say, all UI things, which I had to build in LÖVE, by hand, which was an incredible pain in the ass. But it works, somehow.

Of course I also added a bunch of Steam achievements, which were kinda fun to decide upon. It’s a story game, so they’re mostly of the form “encounter this bit of the story”, but that’s fine?

But oh boy, the thing that really took the longest time was linking to Steam at all. You get a DLL/SO, some header files, and some hit-or-miss documentation, and the rest is up to you.

The library is, of course, designed for C++.

I am not using C++. I am using Lua.

This posed something of a problem.

I prefer not to touch C++ with a ten-foot pole, so writing some glue on the C++ side did not sound appetizing. (That would’ve also left me with the difficult problem of compiling that code for platforms I do not own or develop on.) That left me with binding to the Steam API from the Lua side.

After several days of Googling, finding years-old projects that promised to do this, and completely failing to get anywhere at all with them, I resigned myself to writing something from scratch. LÖVE uses LuaJIT, which comes with the excellent FFI library, meaning I could bind to C with nothing more than a header file.

The Steam API does have a C compatibility layer, but it is basically not documented, so I had to do some guesswork to get from the documentation to the parts I actually needed. Also, the core of the Steam API is this hokey async messaging system built out of macros and C++ metaprogramming, so I had to do a clumsier polling thing using disparate parts of the C API instead. I finally discovered that there’s example code in a big honking comment in the headers themselves, except the example code is wrong, so I had to fix that as well. Plus all the obtuse bugs like with padding on different platforms which for some reason is baked into the messages that Steam sends because C programmers don’t know how to actually fucking serialize anything. It was an adventure!!

But after all that, I managed to get achievements working, and also leaderboards. Neat, cool, etc.

The game does leak coroutines indefinitely if it’s run through Steam but can’t connect, though. Sorry.

Man. The Steam website has so many features, and the documentation explains them all in one succinct list, but fuck me if I can actually find any of them. So many things are not linked from obvious places; there have been many times I knew a particular page existed but could not figure out how to get there, and ultimately I started relying on address bar history instead of trying to navigate this website.

And so many features are awkwardly built on top of older features that are actually something completely different. Like we have a “developer” page on Steam, but the only part of it we can really control is a single line of plain text at the top. If you go to the “about” tab, it just shows you that line again! That’s all we can put there! You have to click “visit group page” (why would you do that??) in the sidebar of that page to actually get to something we can control.

In stark contrast to itch, Steam really wants your store page to look like a Steam store page and not like a your-game store page. Your artwork (and there is so much artwork) has to be manually approved by a human, and along the way I discovered some extremely unintuitive rules, like that the library header has to be SFW even though it’s only visible to people who already own the game. Store pages also have a “legal” section, but I couldn’t list open source libraries I used (and their licenses) in that section, because I’m not allowed to have links. Like, at all. They really don’t want you to have links. Games exist independently of the humans that made them in the world of Steam; they are isolated jewels floating in a vast space that is linked directly to gaben’s bank account.

I cannot comprehend how weirdly low-key hostile the whole experience felt. All so they could take a third of my money.

Oh, and there’s no Mac release, because I do not have a Mac on which to sign Mac software and do not wish to pay Apple for the privilege, and Mac software does not run any more if it’s not signed. Sorry. Yes, I fucking know about fucking right-click open, please stop fucking telling me about that, that is not useful for software that is run from someone else’s launcher.

Reception

People seem to like it?? I mean, I’ve had a dozen or so people tell me to my face that they had an especially good experience with it, that it was cozy and upbeat and just nice. For a few of them, it apparently helped ease some aversion they’d had to sex, simply by showing it playing out well.

It’s funny that I thought so hard about the general design and how agency worked and all that, but 99% of the feedback has been about the feeling of the prose itself — something that just kinda fell out of my fingers. I guess I’m not surprised — after all, if these players thought as hard about game design as I do, they’d probably be designing games.

As of this writing, there have been 19.5k downloads on itch and 1750 sales on Steam. Of the Steam sales, a hair under 80% of the people who own the game have actually played it, so if I extrapolate wildly, maybe 17,000 people have played it.

But I don’t see anyone talk about it outside of my immediate circles, which feels a bit weird. Maybe? I’m not sure what the “normal” amount of conversation about an admittedly niche game is. I don’t know how things really spread by word of mouth, and I thought this might be an opportunity to gleam some insight about that, but it has not visibly materialized even though the game is being bought by people I don’t personally know.

On the one hand, it’s a sex game, so many folks are less likely to talk about it. (A couple people even specifically asked if Steam has a way to hide what game you’re playing from your friends — and, alas, it does not.) On the other hand, it’s a furry sex game, and furries are traditionally not so tight-lipped.

Maybe there’s not that much to say; the impact it’s had on people I know has been fairly personal, and if it didn’t have that kind of impact then it’s just a cute little story game.

Lessons learned

I have no idea. There are so many confounding factors here that I don’t know how to conclude anything.

I guess I’m pleasantly surprised by how many people bought a fairly short game for $7. As it turns out, people will give you money for a thing if you ask for it? That’s nice to know.

Releasing on Steam is such a huge pain in the ass lol.

Sales spiked right at the beginning and then flattened fairly quickly, but it still sells a few copies a week, so it looks like it’ll be a little trickle of income for a while. It’d be cool to get a few medium-sized games on Steam as an extra source of income. I suspect porn games have a bit more staying power, too.

Writing UI by hand sucks ass. I gotta switch to Godot asap.

Gamedev from scratch 0: Groundwork

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2020/11/30/gamedev-from-scratch-0-groundwork/

You may recall that I once had the ambitious idea to write a book on game development, walking the reader through making simple games from scratch in a variety of different environments, starting from simple level editors and culminating in some “real” engine.

That never quite materialized. As it turns out, writing a book is a huge slog, publishers want almost all of the proceeds, and LaTeX is an endless rabbit hole of distractions that probably consumed more time than actually writing. Also, a book about programming with no copy/paste or animations or hyperlinks kind of sucks.

I thus present to you Plan B: a series of blog posts. This is a narrative reconstruction of a small game I made recently, Star Anise Chronicles: Oh No Wheres Twig??. It took me less than two weeks and I kept quite a few snapshots of the game’s progress, so you’ll get to see a somewhat realistic jaunt through the process of creating a small game from very nearly nothing.

And unlike your typical programming tutorial, I can guarantee that this won’t get you as far as a half-assed Mario clone and then abruptly end. The game has original art and sound, a title screen, an ending, cutscenes, dialogue, UI, and more — so this series will necessarily cover how all of that came about. I will tell you why I made particular decisions, mention planned features I cut, show you the tradeoffs I made, and confess when I made life harder for myself. You know, all the stuff you actually go through when doing game development (or, frankly, any kind of software development).

The target audience is (ideally) anyone who knows what a computer is, so hopefully you can follow along no matter what your experience level. Enjoy!


This is part zero, and it’s mostly introductory stuff. Please don’t skip it! I promise there’s some meat in the latter half.

Table of contents

Here’s what you have to look forward to (though it is of course a WIP until the series is done). Occasionally there’ll be a snapshot of the game, but these were made on a whim during development and aren’t particularly meaningful as milestones.

For reference, I started working on the game the morning of April 29, and I released it the night of May 10, for a total of twelve days.

  • Part 0 (you are here): introduction, tour of PICO-8, putting something on the screen, moving around, measuring time, simple sprite animation

Introduction

This is not a tutorial. Please set your expectations accordingly. Honestly, I don’t even like tutorials — too many of them are framed as something that will teach you a skill, but then only tell you what buttons to press to recreate what the author already made, with no insight as to why they made their decisions or even why they pressed those particular buttons. They often leave you hanging, with no clear next steps, no explanation of what to adjust to get different results.

I’ve never seen a platformer tutorial that actually produced a finished game. Most of them give you just enough to have a stock sprite (poorly) jump around on the screen, perhaps collect some coins, and that’s it. How do you fix the controls, add cutscenes, even make a damn title screen? That’s all left up to you.

This is something much better than a tutorial: a story. I made a video game — a real, complete video game — and I will tell you everything I can remember doing and thinking along the way. Every careful decision, every rushed tradeoff, every boneheaded mistake, every weird diversion. I don’t guarantee that anything I did is necessarily a good idea, but everything I did is an idea, and sometimes that’s all you need to get the gears turning.

If you’re interested in making a video games, I don’t promise that this series will teach you anything. But with a little effort, you can probably learn something. And to be frank, if you’re starting with zero knowledge but still manage to muddle through the whole series, you’ve got more than enough curiosity and determination to succeed at whatever you feel like doing.

The game in question is Star Anise Chronicles: Oh No Wheres Twig??, which I made with the PICO-8. (If you are from the future, I specifically used version 0.2.0i; later versions may have added conveniences I’m not using.) This is not a whizbang fully-featured game engine like Godot or Unity. If I want to draw something, I have to draw it myself. If I want physics, I have to write them myself. If I want shaders… well, that’s not going to happen, but a little ingenuity can still go a long way.

And that kind of ingenuity is what makes game development appealing to me in the first place. It’s one big puzzle: given the tools I have, what’s the most interesting thing I can make with the least amount of hapless flailing? That question will come up a number of times in this series.

If any of this sounds appealing to you, keep reading! Follow along if you can. You can get the PICO-8 (tragically not open source) for $15, and chances are you already own it — it was in the itch.io BLM bundle, so if you bought that, you’re free to download it whenever you want.

Conventions

In order to replicate the experience of reading the book, I’m porting these little “admonition” boxes from what I’d started. I have a somewhat meandering writing style, and hopefully these will help get tangents out of the main text, while also better highlighting warnings and gotchas.

Here they are, in no particular order:

I reserve the right to invent more, if they’re needed and/or funny.

Setting expectations, again

Game development is about a lot more than programming, but this will contain an awful lot of programming. The PICO-8 in particular tends to blur the lines between code and assets if you want to do anything fancy.

That puts me in a tricky position as an author. I want this to be accessible to people with little or no programming experience, but I can’t realistically explain every single line of code I write, or this series will never end (and will be more noise than signal for intermediate programmers).

Thus, I’m trusting you to look up basic concepts on your own if you need to. I’m writing this to fill a perceived gap, so I’ll try to focus on the gaps — finding resources on from-scratch collision detection is a crapshoot, but the web is awash in explanations of what a “variable” is. PICO-8 uses a programming language called Lua which is pretty simple and easy to pick up, so if you’re having trouble, maybe thumb through the Programming in Lua book a bit too.

Of course, if you’re just here for the ride and not too worried about writing your own game, you can skip ahead whenever you like. I’m not your mom.

(Oh, and if you’ve used Lua before, you should know that PICO-8’s Lua has been modified from stock Lua. The precise list of changes would be a big block of stuff in the middle of this already too long intro, so I’ve put it at the bottom. The upshot is: numbers are fixed-point instead of floating-point, you can use compound assignment, and the standard library is almost completely different.)

That’s probably enough words with no pictures. Time to get started.

The PICO-8

A fresh PICO-8 window, with white old-school text on a small black screen and a command prompt

As mentioned, this is a game built with the PICO-8. I promised I’d tell you a story, but I can’t even explain why I chose PICO-8 if you don’t know what the thing is.

PICO-8 is a “fantasy console” — a genre that it pioneered. It has a fixed screen size, its own palette, its own font, a little chiptune synthesizer, its own idea of what buttons the player can press, and so on. It’s like an emulator for an 8-bit handheld that doesn’t actually exist, plus a bunch of relatively friendly tools for making cartridges for that handheld. It even has some arbitrary limitations to preserve that aesthetic. (I carefully avoid calling them artificial limitations, because there are some technical reasons for them, and a lot of programmers do a thing with their face if you say “artificial” to them. Like you’ve just spat in their lunch.)

If you’ve got PICO-8 open, you can type splore at this little command prompt to open the cartridge explorer, which lets you download and play cartridges that have been posted to the PICO-8 BBS (forum). You might want to try a few to get a sense of what the PICO-8 can do, though bear in mind that some of the best games are incredible feats of ingenuity and not representative. A good place to start is the “featured” tab, which lists games that… I believe have been hand-picked as high-quality? Some suggestions:

  • Star Anise Chronicles: Oh No Wheres Twig is in there, as is our older (and first!) game Under Construction.

  • The original PICO-8 version of Celeste, if you weren’t aware of its origins.

  • Dusk Child, one of the earliest games I played and a big inspiration — it’s pretty and expansive, but doesn’t do anything I couldn’t figure out.

  • Just One Boss, which is just so damn crisp.

  • Dank Tomb, a dungeon crawler with absolutely beautiful lighting effects.

  • PicoHot, which is absolute fucking nonsense how dare you.

Note that when playing most games, the PICO-8 functions as though it only had six buttons: a directional pad bound to the arrow keys, and “O” and “X” buttons bound to the Z and X keys. Most games refer to those buttons by name (the PICO-8 font has built-in symbols for them) rather than keyboard key, since you might be playing on a controller or with some other bindings. You can always press Esc for the built-in menu.

Had fun? Great! Pressing Esc takes you back to the prompt. From there, you can press Esc again to switch to the editor (and vice versa).

Now, this is not a PICO-8 tutorial. But the PICO-8’s design and constraints immensely impact how much I could do and how I planned to do it, so I can’t very well explain my thought process without that context. Luckily, all the code and assets for the last game you played stay loaded, so I might as well give you the whirlwind tour. Even if you’re not following along with an actual copy of PICO-8, you should keep reading so you understand what I’ve got to work with.

Code editor

A very small text editor, populated with code

This is the code editor, a very tiny text editor. If you’ve loaded Under Construction, feel free to page through and see what I did. (Keyboard shortcuts help a lot; see the manual for a full list of them. There are also some cheat sheets floating around, though they focus more on programming capabilities.)

You may have noticed the ominous 7695/8192 in the bottom right. That’s hinting at one of the PICO-8’s limitations: the token count. A cartridge’s source code cannot exceed 8192 tokens, or it will not run at all. A “token” is, in general terms, a single “word” of code — a number like 133, a name like animframedelay, an operator like +, a keyword like function, and so on. The term “token” is borrowed from the field of parsing, which is an entire tangent you are free to look up yourself.

The PICO-8’s definition of “token” is slightly different from its typical usage and includes a few exceptions. The common Lua keywords local and end don’t count at all; nor do commas, periods, semicolons, or comments. A string of any length is one token. A pair of parentheses, brackets, or braces only counts as one token. Negative literal numbers (e.g., -25) are one token.

The token limit is the most oppressive of the limits on your code, but there are two others. The full size of your code cannot exceed 64KiB, though in practice I’ve never come anywhere near that size and I think you’d only approach it if you were committing some serious shenanigans. More of concern, the compressed size of your code cannot exceed 15,616 bytes. I do wind up battling that one near the end of this project (as I did with Under Construction), and it can be extra frustrating since it’s hard to gauge exactly what impact any particular change will have on compression. Thankfully, and unlike with the token limit, the PICO-8 will still run a game that’s over the compressed size; it just physically cannot export it to a cartridge.

Incidentally, you can use Alt and an arrow key to move between the editors.

Sprite editor

A very small sprite editor, showing the mole player character from Under Construction

Here we have a tiny pixel art editor. As you might have guessed, the “native” size for a tile is 8 × 8 pixels, though you can use the bottom of the two sliders to edit bigger blocks of tiles at a time. (The screen is 128 × 128 pixels, or 16 × 16 tiles.) You have at your disposal a spritesheet of 256 such tiles, which are arranged at the bottom of the screen in four tabs of 64 tiles each. 001 here is the tile number. Each tile has its own set of 8 flags you can toggle on and off, which are represented by the eight circles just above the tabs; here, all the flags are off. The flags do nothing by themselves, but you can use them for whatever you like, and they turn out to be pretty handy.

The palette is 16 colors, as shown. There are 16 more colors on the “secret palette” which I’ll be dipping into later, but you can only swap them in; you can never have more than 16 distinct colors on screen at the same time. This is reminiscent of how some early systems actually worked.

Map editor

A very small map editor, showing the upper left of a cave-like area from Under Construction

The map editor edits the map. You only get one; if you want to carve it up somehow, that’s up to you. It’s extremely simple: you have a grid of 128 × 64 tiles (that’s 8 × 4 screenfuls), and you can pick which tile goes in each cell. No layers, no stacking, no two things in the same cell. You can pan around with the middle mouse button and zoom with the mouse wheel (or check the manual for the keyboard equivalents).

The especially nice thing about the map is that you can draw entire blocks of it with the built-in map function, which saves a whole lot of tokens over drawing a bunch of tiles by hand. Even if you’re making a game that doesn’t have a literal map, it’s a convenient way to define and draw blocks of multiple tiles.

The catch is that the bottom half of the spritesheet and the bottom half of the map are shared, so you can’t actually have a full map and a full set of tiles in the same cartridge. You could have a full 8 × 4 map and 128 tiles, or you could have a full set of 256 tiles but only an 8 × 2 map, or you can split the space up somehow, but you can’t have the maximum of both. Drawing in the bottom half of one will immediately update the other with garbage. It’s beautiful, actually, if you’re into the aesthetic of arbitrary memory being drawn as tiles.

If you have a cartridge open, you can see this yourself: check out the bottom half of the map (it helps to use Tab or the buttons in the upper left to hide the tile palette) and tabs 2 and 3 of the sprite editor. If they’re not both completely empty, something will be full of garbage. Try drawing in one or the other, if you like, and you’ll see the other update with junk. That’s the memory layout of pixel data being interpreted as map data, or vice versa. Cool, right?

Sound editor

A very small sound editor, showing a sound as bars representing pitch
The same sound, but shown using a tracker-like interface

The sound editor (or SFX editor) does a lot, despite being very simple conceptually, and it can be a little intimidating if you’ve never worked with sound or music before. These screenshots are the two display modes, “pitch mode” and “tracker mode” — allegedly pitch mode is more suitable for sound effects and tracker mode is more suitable for music, but I honestly have no idea how anyone does anything in pitch mode, and I use tracker mode for both. Your mileage may vary. As with the map editor, use Tab or the buttons in the top-left to switch views.

There are 64 sound effects to work with, each consisting of 32 notes played by a little chiptune synth. Notes consist of a pitch (i.e., the actual note being played), an instrument, the volume, and an optional effect.

I could say an awful lot about sound and chiptunes and what any of this means, but this is not a chiptuning tutorial, so I’ll save that for when I actually made some sounds for the game. Do feel free to mess around here, though.

There’s also a music editor, but all it does is arrange several sound effects to play at the same time, so it’s not especially interesting.

And that’s everything at my disposal! I guess that means it’s time to get started, for real. Go back to the command prompt and use reboot to get a fresh blank cartridge, if you’re planning on following along.

Inspiration

The first step to making a game is having a game you want to make.

I started on this at the end of April, after a very rushed month spent preparing the Steam release of Cherry Kisses. I was pretty pumped about having just published something in a very visible place for the first time, and I wanted to keep that energy going, but I didn’t want to immediately jump into an even larger thing. I wanted to make something small, something self-contained, something I could do entirely on my own. (My spouse is the better artist by far, and they did all the art for Cherry Kisses.)

The PICO-8 came to mind as the obvious platform to use. For one, the limitations make it very difficult for a game’s scope to balloon very far; you will simply run out of space and have to cut some ideas. For two, the art and audio are fairly low-resolution, so I wouldn’t have much opportunity to endlessly fuss over trying to make them perfect. For three, it runs in a browser, even on phones, so the resulting game would be easy for anyone to play. (Having to download a thing will discourage a surprising amount of casual passersby, especially if the thing is fairly small and thus low-reward.)

I also just find the PICO-8 endlessly charming, and I hadn’t touched it in a couple years and was curious how it had improved in the interim. It’s great for a game started on a whim, too, since I can jump in and start slapping stuff on the screen without worrying that my ADHD brain will start fretting over how everything should be organized.

That only left the question of what to make.

Two and a half years prior — almost three, now — I’d started on a platformer where you played as Star Anise, my cat’s fursona. It was intended to be a goofy Metroidvania where you collected cat-themed powers, ran around defeating little monsters, collected useless garbage, and generally left a trail of minor mayhem in your wake. Sadly, it was interrupted by real-life events and we haven’t touched it since.

A clip of a pastel game where a small cat meows loudly and shoots a bubble gun that knocks jars off of shelves.

I loved how this game was shaping up! It was so goofy, but its goofiness really opened up the design. Star Anise is great to build a game around. I can give him all manner of strong yet absurd motivations, and as long as I tie them to something vaguely cat-themed, they’ll be memorable and feel sensible. I can load him up with goofy cat-themed powers without needing any kind of justification, because he’s a cat, and everyone knows cats are basically magic anyway. He has a group of friends already built in: other cats. And most importantly, he’s just fun to play as, because everything he does is ridiculous and overboard, but you never have to feel guilty about his mischief because he’s a cat.

It’s such a good hook. I’ve wanted to make a whole series of little Star Anise games, but the furthest I’d gotten so far was Star Anise Chronicles: Escape from the Chamber of Despair — which is good, but is also a text adventure, one of the most impenetrable genres imaginable.

So why not take another crack at it? I couldn’t fit the entire original vision into a PICO-8 game, but surely I’d have enough room for Star Anise, a few of the abilities we’d come up with, and some things to interact with. At long last, a Star Anise platformer.

You could say the stars aligned. The stars. Get it? Like Star Anise. Okay.

From zero to something

Before I could do anything, I needed some art. Okay, that’s not true; I could have boxes moving around on the screen, but I’ve done this enough that I am beyond tired of boxes. If I’m gonna make a Star Anise game then I want to have Star Anise on the damn screen right from the start.

And right away I had to make some decisions. I wanted this to be a little bit Metroidvania style, where Star Anise gained his handful of powers throughout the game and could then explore new areas.

That meant I wanted as much map space as humanly possible, so from the very beginning I knew the sprite/map split I wanted: all map. 32 screens, but only 128 sprites.

And that made several other decisions, automatically. I probably wouldn’t have enough sprite space to include a gun and enemies and whatnot, but a puzzler would let me skip all of that.

This is why I chose PICO-8! The game basically decided its own design with only minimal input from me. Puzzle platformer with some powerups.

Now, to draw Star Anise, which meant deciding how big he should be. A very conspicuous part of his design is his huge helmet, which wouldn’t fit especially well in a single 8×8 tile, or even in two of them stacked. I decided to go one bigger and make a 2×3 block.

A charming little Star Anise sprite, with some extra bits next to him

This wasn’t especially complicated to draw. At this size, it feels like a lot of the sprites draw themselves, too. It did help that I’d already seen my spouse’s interpretation of Star Anise from the prototype game above, but I think the general lesson there is to look at existing art that’s similar to what you want to draw and reverse-engineer the bits that make it work. Here, I made a big circle, squeezed in the narrowest possible face — a pixel each for the eyes, then three pixels for spacing — and gave him a rectangle for his body. Toss a couple stars into the inside of the helmet and, presto, that’s Star Anise.

You might be wondering about those weird extra tiles on the side! I’ll get to those in a moment.

With Star Anise drawn, the obvious first thing is to put him on the dang screen.

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function _init()
end

function _update()
end

function _draw()
    cls()
    spr(1, 64, 64, 2, 3)
end

Some explanation may be in order. For starters, a “function” is a block of code that can be used repeatedly. (But then, this is not a programming tutorial.) These particular functions are special to the PICO-8: _init runs when the cartridge starts, _update runs every frame, and _draw also runs every frame.

What’s a frame, you ask? Well, you know how movies aren’t really showing movement, but are more like a very fast slideshow? Real life is “continuous” — that is, events occur smoothly over time, so when an object moves, it goes through every point between where it started and where it ends up. But we have no way to record that motion in full, becuase that would be an infinite amount of information! The best we can do is take a lot of snapshots very close together. And it turns out our eyes also work with snapshots (more or less), so it works well enough.

Likewise, simulating continuous behavior is extremely difficult, so video games tend to cheat the same way. We slice time into thin chunks — also called frames — and during each one, we move everything in the world ahead by that amount of time. If frames are short enough, you get the illusion that the world is behaving smoothly. Surprise! It’s all fake.

Modern games can (or should) deal with a varying frame rate, where each frame is a slightly (or greatly) different duration for any of myriad reasons. Since the PICO-8 is a faux-retro console, I’ll be using the retro term tic. It means the same thing, but it’s sometimes used for older systems where the framerate is reliably fixed, usually because it’s tied to (or even enforced by) hardware somewhere. Here it’s just emulated, but, you know, close enough.

Right, so, back to the PICO-8 itself. Every tic (of which there are 30 per second), the PICO-8 does two things: it calls _update to advance the game, then it calls _draw to draw the new state of the game to the screen. You might immediately wonder: why have these be separate if they happen one after the other anyway? Great question! The answer is that the PICO-8 does something clever — if it notices that the _update + _draw combination is taking longer than one tic (and the game is thus starting to lag), it will automatically drop down to 15 FPS. In this mode, it will call _update twice and then call _draw. Here is a terrible ASCII diagram.

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        | tic                   | tic                   |
--------+-----------------------+-----------------------+
30 FPS: | _update() _draw()     | _update() _draw()     |
--------+-----------------------+-----------------------+
15 FPS: | _update() _update() _draw()                   |

As you can see, the game still updates twice in the same amount of time, so it still runs at the same speed, but it only draws half as often. With any luck, that saves enough effort that the game can keep running at the intended speed.

All of that is to say: the _draw function draws to the screen.

The first thing you (usually) want to do in _draw is clear the screen, which is accomplished by the charmingly terse cls(). If you don’t do this, your game will merrily draw right on top of whatever was on the screen previously: the prompt, a previous game, even the code editor.

After that, I called spr() to draw Star Anise. The usual arguments are spr(n, x, y), where n is the sprite number (visible near the middle of the screen in the sprite editor) and x, y say where to place him. He’s made up of six tiles, and you might think that drawing six tiles would thus require calling spr() six times, but it helpfully takes two more optional arguments: how many tiles to draw, as a single rectangle taken from the spritesheet. The above code thus draws a 2-by-3 block of tiles, starting from tile 1, at the coordinates (64, 64) — the center of the screen.

As is programming tradition, sprites are drawn from their top-left corner, so the initial tile is the top-left of the rectangle that gets drawn, and the coordinates are where the top-left of the drawn rectangle appears on screen. Thus, Star Anise appears with his top left “corner” in the middle of the screen.

Star Anise standing near the middle of the screen, as promised

There he is! How immensely satisfying. I always try to get something “real” drawing as early as humanly possible. It helps me feel like I’ve made some progress, like I’m working on a specific game and have made steps towards making it exist. This is already, quite clearly, a Star Anise game, but that wouldn’t be obvious if I’d started out with rectangles.

Now what? A good start would be to have him move around a bit. That’s easy enough if I introduce some state.

I do need to check what buttons the player is pressing, which I can do with btn(b), where b is the button… number. Left is button 0, right is button 1, up is button 2… but that makes for some unreadable garbage, so instead, let’s use a recently-introduced shortcut. If you hold Shift and press U, D, L, R, O, or X, the PICO-8 will insert a symbol representing that button. (I will be representing those symbols as ⬆️⬇️⬅️➡️🅾️❎, which is how the PICO-8 stores them on disk.)

That’s enough to move him around:

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function _init()
end

local px = 64
local py = 64

function _update()
    if btn(⬆️) then
        py -= 1
    end
    if btn(⬇️) then
        py += 1
    end
    if btn(⬅️) then
        px -= 1
    end
    if btn(➡️) then
        px += 1
    end
end

function _draw()
    cls()
    spr(1, px, py, 2, 3)
end

Here I’ve put his position (still anchored at his top-left) into some variables, and during _update() I update them. (If you’re familiar with Lua, you may balk at += and -= — these are extensions added by PICO-8, and they save enough space that they’re definitely worth it.)

Star Anise sliding around the screen

This is already halfway to being a game — it does something when I press buttons! Excellent. But also weird. This doesn’t look like Star Anise is walking around; it looks like he’s a static image being dragged by an invisible cursor or something. A very easy aesthetic improvement would be to make him not moonwalk when moving left.

That’s easy enough; the spr() function takes two more optional arguments, indicating whether to flip the sprite horizontally and/or vertically. I can just slap those in when he’s moving left. Or, well, not quite — I want to flip him when the last direction he moved was left. If he moves left and then stops, or moves left and then up and down, he should still be facing left.

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function _init()
end

local px = 64
local py = 64
local left = false

function _update()
    if btn(⬆️) then
        py -= 1
    end
    if btn(⬇️) then
        py += 1
    end
    if btn(⬅️) then
        px -= 1
        left = true
    end
    if btn(➡️) then
        px += 1
        left = false
    end
end

function _draw()
    cls()
    spr(1, px, py, 2, 3, left)
end
Star Anise sliding around the screen, but turning around when moving left

Making progress, but obviously he’d look a lot better if he were animated, right?

Which, finally, brings us back to those extra tiles I drew. They’re copies of Star Anise’s legs and antenna, lightly edited to look like he’s in mid-step. The legs are sticking out all the way, and the antenna is adjusted to be… positioned slightly differently, since it’s bouncy. It’s a bit rough, but I can touch it up later.

Star Anise's walk animation

Note that I’ve crammed as much movement into as little space as possible here. This is only a two-frame animation, so the leg movement is exaggerated to get the most bang for my buck. I don’t even duplicate the entirety of Star Anise for the other frame; instead, I only copied the tiles that change. That’ll make him more complicated to draw, but it does save me sprite space — remember, I only have 127 tiles available, and 9 of them is already 7% gone. (Writing more code to save on limited asset space is, in my experience, a pretty common PICO-8 tactic.)

Unfortunately, this makes flipping his sprite somewhat more complicated. I can’t just use that argument to spr(), because— well, I’ll get to that in a second. Here’s the updated code.

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local anise_stand = {1, 2, 17, 18, 33, 34}
local anise_jump = {3, 2, 17, 18, 19, 35}

function _init()
end

local t = 0
local px = 64
local py = 64
local left = false
local moving = false

function _update()
    t += 1
    t %= 120

    moving = false
    if btn(⬆️) then
        py -= 1
        moving = true
    end
    if btn(⬇️) then
        py += 1
        moving = true
    end
    if btn(⬅️) then
        px -= 1
        moving = true
        left = true
    end
    if btn(➡️) then
        px += 1
        moving = true
        left = false
    end
end

function _draw()
    cls()

    local pose = anise_stand
    if moving and t % 8 < 4 then
        pose = anise_jump
    end
    local y = py
    local x0 = px
    local dx = 8
    if left then
        dx = -8
        x0 += 8
    end
    local x = x0
    for i = 1, #pose do
        spr(pose[i], x, y, 1, 1, left)
        if i % 2 == 0 then
            x = x0
            y += 8
        else
            x += dx
        end
    end
end

That sure got longer in a hurry! A quick overview:

I’ve introduced a global called t to act as a clock. I intend to use this for animation and other global cycles, so I don’t care about the actual time — that’s why I take it mod 120.

If you’re not familiar, the % (or “modulus”) operator gives you the remainder after division. It’s super duper useful and I wish we taught it as a primitive math operation! You can think of it like “clock arithmetic” — if it’s 9 o’clock and you wait 4 hours, it becomes 1 o’clock, which is the remainder when you divide 9 + 4 by 12. Or you can think of it as removing all chunks of something — to convert the 24-hour “13 o’clock” to 12-hour, you remove all the 12s, leaving just 1 behind. Or you can think of it as coiling the entire number line into a circle, so after 11 you wrap around to 0 and start over. (That’s not quite how clocks work, but using 0–11 turns out to be much simpler than using 1–12.)

The upshot here is that t will hit 119 and then wrap back around to zero, which is important because PICO-8 numbers can’t go any higher than 32767. If I left it to its own devices, it would still wrap around, but to the more cumbersome -32768. I don’t want a negative clock!

But why 120? Because I want to be able to divide the clock cycle into smaller animation cycles, and I can only do that evenly if the whole clock’s length is a multiple of the smaller cycle’s length. (On a more powerful system, I’d have a more elaborate animation setup, but that would cost more space and code than I’m willing to spend here.) Consider if I had a clock that wrapped around at 10, and I wanted an animation 3 tics long. I would use modulo 3 to shrink the clock, resulting in:

Whoops! Frame 0 will show twice in a row, intermittently, even seemingly at random. That’s not great. For the best chance of avoiding that problem without having to think too hard about it, I want a clock whose length is divisible by as much stuff as possible — a highly composite number. And, of course, 120 is one such number.

Next, I track whether Star Anise is moving at all, so I know whether to play the walk animation. Note that I always assume he isn’t moving, and then correct myself if it turns out he is; otherwise, the new value of moving would persist into future tics and he’d never stop.

That brings me to the new drawing code, which is a little tricky, so here it is a bit at a time:

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-- top of the file
local anise_stand = {1, 2, 17, 18, 33, 34}
local anise_jump = {3, 2, 17, 18, 19, 35}

    -- in _draw()
    local pose = anise_stand
    if moving and t % 8 < 4 then
        pose = anise_jump
    end

This decides which tiles I’m going to draw. I can’t draw the walking part (which I’ve called “jump” because it does look like a jump in isolation, and I’ll be reusing them for that later) as a single block with spr() like before, and I’d like to share the code, so both frames are now assembled from individual tiles.

Note that tiles 1, 2, 17, 18, 33, and 34 are exactly the ones I was drawing in a single spr() call before. (The numbers increase by 16 when jumping to the next row, which makes sense, because each row has 16 tiles in it.) The other set is similar, but it has the alternate tiles substituted in.

I only want to use the jump tiles if Star Anise is moving, and if t % 8 < 4. That % turns my 120-tic clock into an 8-tic clock, then checks if we’re in the first half of it. Essentially: if it’s before noon, show the alternate frame; otherwise, show the normal standing frame.

The use of a global timer does have some subtle drawbacks here. If I tap an arrow key to move Star Anise only very briefly, then he may or may not animate, depending on whether the tap happens to be during the “stand” or “jump” intervals. A more powerful system, where every animation kept track of its own time, would always briefly show him moving. (On the other hand, this is an interesting aesthetic in its own right that kinda complements the very low-res and exaggerated animation.)

Next I need to draw the tiles, but we’ve come to the catch I mentioned before. When I draw Star Anise flipped, I’m now drawing him as a bunch of separate tiles. If I drew them in the same left-to-right order, then his left side would be flipped, and his right side would be flipped, but the whole image wouldn’t be. Er, just look at this picture.

Star Anise's walk frames, flipped one tile at a time

See? The tiles are arranged the same way, but each one is individually flipped, and the result is… not what I want. I’ll need to also draw the columns in reverse order. And that’s exactly what I do:

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    local y = py
    local x0 = px
    local dx = 8
    if left then
        dx = -8
        x0 += 8
    end

Here I’m determining the start point and how far apart the tiles are. The variable names are fairly terse, for a couple of reasons: one, the PICO-8 screen is not very wide, so long variable names make code much harder to read; but also, math code tends to be easier to follow with shorter names anyway. I’ve even taken the naming conventions from math — the initial state of a variable is often written with a subscript zero (\(x_0\)) and a change is written with the Greek letter delta (\(\Delta x\)), so I’ve used the ASCII equivalents of those, x0 and dx.

I’m starting from Star Anise’s position, of course, and then each tile is 8 pixels right of the previous one… if he’s not flipped. If he is flipped, I want to move left, which will draw the tiles in reverse order. But that would change where he draws from, so to compensate, I also start drawing 8 pixels right of where I usually would. (Try to convince yourself that this is correct; on a flipped Star Anise, tile number 1 should draw 8 pixels left from his upper-left corner.)

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    local x = x0
    for i = 1, #pose do
        spr(pose[i], x, y, 1, 1, left)
        if i % 2 == 0 then
            x = x0
            y += 8
        else
            x += dx
        end
    end

All that’s left to do is the drawing itself. For each tile in the pose list, I draw that tile. Each row is two tiles wide, so after every second tile, I reset the horizontal “cursor” (x) back to where it started and move down by one row’s worth of pixels. For any other tile, I just move horizontally by dx.

The results are basically magic.

Star Anise walking around the screen and turning to face the way he's moving

And that’s a good place to pause for now. Yes, I know, we didn’t get very far, but this is part zero! It’s mostly a test of this series and its tone for me, and a test of fortitude for you. I hope you could follow along with the minor mathematical hijinks above, because next time it gets much worse — before I can do anything else at all, I have to write collision detection. Oh boy! Stay tuned! And always feel free to ask questions, of me or anyone else!

Appendix: PICO-8 Lua extensions

Here are all the modifications PICO-8 has made to the language (based on Lua 5.2). If you’ve never used Lua, keep in mind that these won’t carry over if you try to write Lua anywhere else. Some of these are advanced features, so if you have no idea what something means, that’s probably fine.

Spoilers: it’s mostly that the standard library has changed.

  • Numbers are signed 15.16 fixed-point, rather than stock Lua’s 64-bit floating point. That means fractions can only be represented in increments of 0.0000152587890625 (= \(2^{-16}\), a cumbersome number I refer to as the “Planck size”), and numbers can’t exceed ±32768.

  • Compound assignment is supported: a += b works as in a = a + b in stock Lua, where + can be replaced with any binary operator.

  • != is allowed as an alias for ~=.

  • if (foo) bar = 1 is shorthand for if foo then bar = 1 end. The parentheses are required, and the condition ends at the end of the line. (I strongly advise against using this unless you’re very desperate for space; it scans poorly and doesn’t even save tokens.)

  • The new @, %, and $ unary prefix operators read 1, 2, or 4 bytes from a memory address. (PICO-8’s memory, not system RAM!)

  • The ? unary prefix operator is equivalent to print. (I’ve never used it, and it’s not even directly documented.)

  • The built-in functions collectgarbage, dofile, error, pcall, require, select, and xpcall are not available (though the lack of select might be a bug).

    The built-in variables _G and _VERSION are not available.

    load has been replaced with a function that loads PICO-8 carts from files.

    print has been replaced with a drawing function, which prints a single string at a position on screen.

    tonumber and tostring have been replaced with tonum and tostr, which behave slightly differently (but tostr does still respect the __tostring metatable field).

    (assert, getmetatable, ipairs, next, pairs, rawequal, rawget, rawlen, rawset, setmetatable, and type still exist and work as in stock Lua.)

  • The coroutine library is not available, but most of its contents are exposed directly as cocreate, coresume, costatus, and yield. There is no equivalent for coroutine.running or coroutine.wrap.

  • The require function and package library are not available, though the #include syntax can be used to textually substitute the contents of a Lua file.

  • The string library is not available. Replacement string functions are: chr, ord, split, and sub.

  • The table library is not available. Replacement table functions are: add, del, deli, count, all, foreach. There is no built-in way to concatenate or sort a list.

  • The math library is not available. Replacement math functions are: max, min, mid, flr, ceil, sin, cos, atan2, sqrt, abs, rnd, srand. There is also an integer division operator, \.

  • The bit32 library is not available, but bitwise operations are available as both functions — band, bor, bxor, bnot, shl, shr, lshr, rotl, rotr — and operators — &, |, ^^, ~, <<, >>, >>>, <<>, >><.

  • The io library is not available. Running PICO-8 cartridges have no notion of a filesystem.

  • The os library is not available. Running PICO-8 cartridges have no direct access to the underlying operating system. (Some facilities are exposed through the “syscall” function stat, such as accessing the current UTC or local time.)

  • The debug library is not available.

  • A number of other new functions were added, though I won’t list them all here; they’re generally for drawing, working with assets, or interacting with the PICO-8’s faux hardware.

fox flux, three years later

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2020/08/04/fox-flux-three-years-later/

I’m working on a video game! Like, a serious one.

The past

I wrote the original game (very slightly NSFW) for my own “horny” game jam, Strawberry Jam (more likely to be NSFW), way back in February 2017.

You play as Lexy, my shameless Floraverse self-insert, who owns an enchanted collar that (among other things) makes her basically indestructible and allows her to easy to transform into… whatever, given some kind of sensible trigger. And then you do some puzzle-platforming to collect “strawberry hearts” and gain access to new areas, much of which (surprise!) involves getting turned into things.

For example, this chain-link fence blocks you:

Screenshot of the player being stuck on one side of a fence

But if you let that green blob in the grass turn you into slime, you can walk right through it.

Screenshot of the same area, but the player is now green slime and free to pass through the fence

There are also spikes, which you get stuck on if you land on them… but slime can walk right through them, glass can stand on top of them, and stone outright destroys them. And so on. As a jam game, it’s not very expansive, but many of the puzzle elements interact differently with many of the handful of Lexy variants, which provided enough potential to make eight levels.

Post-jam

The jam game was rough, but I really liked the concept and wanted to expand on it. I spent a good chunk of the summer of 2017 on it, but it was a struggle. I was still fairly new to pretty much every aspect of actually creating a game — I’d only been drawing for two years, I’d sometimes hit big gaps in the design with no idea how to fill them, and I wasn’t yet entirely comfortable with complex physics or shaders. The art in particular was a huge problem; it took me a long time to produce sprites that I was only passably happy with. My spouse Ash is an artist, and we’ve made several games together where they produced all the art, but this was my idea and I was determined to draw it myself.

Then 2018 hit, which was a whole entire mess, and I didn’t really touch fox flux at all for over a year. I made a couple of other games with Ash, some finished, some not, and kept drawing intermittently.

I returned to fox flux for the middle of 2019, and decided… I’m not sure what I decided, exactly. I guess I’d gotten better at all the things that had been difficult for me before, so I set about trying to improve every aspect of the game at once.

  • I realized the (many, many) improved sprites I’d drawn in 2017 were not actually very good, and drew a new Lexy design from scratch that absolutely blew me away… which meant throwing away all the existing art.

  • I’d come up with a few new things for Lexy to turn into, each of which altered her behavior pretty significantly, and her code was becoming a spaghetti disaster. So I spent some time completely refactoring actors into bags of components, which I was unsure about until very recently and which ended up breaking pretty much every single object in the game, sometimes in subtle ways.

  • I decided to add water, which unraveled into a whole pile of decisions and problems.

  • I tried to make consistent or interesting physics for pushing things (e.g. wooden crates), and that became a nightmare. I easily spent weeks on this, trapped in a cycle of finding some edge case that couldn’t be fixed without considerably expanding what I was simulating, struggling to do that expansion while keeping all the basic stuff working, and then finding a new and different edge case.

Did I mention that I tried to do all of these things at the same time, while also trying to nail down the design of a game that’s naturally prone to a combinatoric explosion of interactions?

At a certain point it just felt hopeless. I’d poured easily over a year into this game, and all I had to show for it was a jumbled pile of stuff that didn’t work, strewn about a couple test maps that didn’t even contain any puzzles.

The present

I don’t know what happened, exactly. I’d given up on the heavily-simulated push physics last year, at least, so that wasn’t so much of a concern any more. But I still had a mess. I’d long since written git status off as unusable.

Until this past month, when I sat down and just started powering through the mess. One by one, I fixed the serious breakages that the component refactor had caused. I dedicated a day or two just to figuring out water physics, put a little more thought into it, and ended up with something that looks and plays quite nicely. I finished redrawing basic Lexy, and even added frames I hadn’t had before.

I think the difference was… fear. I’d previously hesitated so much, both in the art and the gnarlier code. It was such a struggle to get something working at all that changing it in any way was terrifying — what if I broke it and couldn’t even get it back to how it’d been?

I don’t know how to describe exactly how this felt, and I also don’t know how to explain what changed. It was like a switch flipped. I think it started when I drew new dirt tiles, and it didn’t even take that long, and I loved them. I’ve always had a hard time drawing terrain, and for once I just sat down and did it and it came out well and it looked like mine, like my style, which was a thing I hadn’t even really grasped I have before. After that I just cranked out a mountain of new sprite art, faster and better than anything I’d done before. Like I’d been accumulating XP over the past few years and just now decided to spend it all on levelling up.

Over the past six weeks, I have:

  • Redesigned the terrain
  • Vastly improved the palette
  • Completely finished redrawing Lexy
  • Redesigned the HUD
  • Mocked up a new dialogue layout
  • Drawn a new font
  • Drawn and implemented new consistent level entrances
  • Animated a treasure chest opening cutscene
  • Animated getting a key
  • Added a completely new tally at the end of a level
  • Added transitions for entering and leaving levels
  • Added swimming behavior
  • Redrawn the old gecko as a much more visible bananalizard
  • Animated the hearts and several other pickups
  • Ported the original forest levels to use all the new stuff
  • I don’t even know there has been just so much

Just look at the style evolution! God damn.

Three versions of Lexy in dirt tiles; over time, the style becomes more colorful and relies on stronger shapes and silhouettes

Here’s that same level from above:

Slime Lexy once again passing freely through the fence, but using newer assets

A lot of the last few weeks went towards level transitions, which previously… kind of worked. They were always a hasty jam hack that I never liked; there was a quick screen fade when going through a door, there was barely any notion of being “in a level” vs not, and the game even counted the fucking hearts in a level on the fly the first time you entered it. It was all very silly.

But now (please pardon the occasional frame drops from my screen recorder):

GIF of Lexy entering a level with a transition, collecting candy, exiting with another transition, and seeing the level tally

I finally feel like I’m making some real progress. I finally feel like this could be something I take seriously, that it could be a real game, something more than half an hour long. At some point it just became an absolute joy to look at and run around in.

The idea

The basic concept is the same, but I want to add some structure to it. The jam game was four single-room levels you could tackle in any order without much guidance, then another set of the same. Which is fine, but doesn’t give me much wiggle room in the design.

In the full game, levels will contain not just hearts, but also a treasure (a la Wario Land 3), some amount of candy (usable at the shop to buy things of some description), and an explicit exit. The overworld will function a bit more like a world map, and though you’ll still need to collect N hearts to get to the next zone, there may sometimes be obstacles that can only be overcome by finding the right treasure in a level.

I also intend to give Lexy some active abilities, for example this blown kiss (recorded with older art) that can toggle pink objects between two states:

Lexy blows a kiss towards a pink brick wall, which changes it into a pink grating

I even have a plot in mind! The jam game had only a teeny tiny one.

The future

Ash is currently busy with their own game, so I think this is gonna be The Thing I Do for a while. To that end, I’m in the middle of setting up some infrastructure:

Also, I recently created a secret Discord channel on the same server, where I intend to do planning and design work that I’m not ready to make public yet! Spoilers will abound, but if you’re interested and okay with that, you can get in by pledging at least $4 on Patreon and letting me know to give you the role. (I don’t use Patreon’s native Discord integration because it does rude things like forcibly rejoin you to the server even if you manually leave.)

Specific priorities

I’d like to finish porting the old levels over to new artwork, the new level infrastructure, etc. It’d make for a nice little Patreon demo or something, it gives me a milestone with pretty clear goals, and it’ll leave me with at least a small palette of puzzle elements that I know work correctly.

I’d like to write about what I’m doing sometimes on this dang blog. I’ve found that structured writing is really, really, really hard when my head is a mess, and it has been extremely a mess for the last two and a half years (sorry), but jotting down what I’m already doing should be much easier than the more elaborate posts I’ve written, which need research and tooling and whatnot.

I have a good handful of puzzle elements — some of which even work — and a bunch of ideas for more, but I haven’t actually tried building levels since I made the original game! That’s kind of the important part, so I’d love to do some of it now that the dust is finally settling.

I still have some design decisions to make, though they’re getting trickier since I’ve already decided all the easy stuff. But I’ll save that for the generous folks who give me four dollars, I guess.

The elephant in the room

So. As I mentioned at the beginning, this game was originally made for a “horny” game jam. Given that it’s mostly platforming, you might be wondering why that is. I already feel like I’m crossing the streams somehow by even mentioning this on this blog, so I’ll try very hard not to get TMI here.

I have a foot in “TF” (transformation) kink circles, and one thing that’s always struck me about that subculture is how much of it is completely non-sexual. You can find no end of artwork of, say, someone being turned into one of those inflatable pooltoys — where both the artist and the audience are obviously having a good time with it — yet with no hint of sexual elements whatsoever. It’s a form of sexuality that doesn’t need to be sexual at all.

I started Strawberry Jam because I wanted to see some adult games that were more creative with their gameplay. Much of the genre consists of otherwise regular games that occasionally show you some explicit artwork, and while that’s a perfectly fine way to design a game, I felt that the medium surely had more potential. It turns out that a non-sexual fantasy kink works wonders as a gameplay element; rather than just giving you a picture, the game takes a concept and has you experience it yourself, even figure out by experimentation how it’s altered the way you interact with the world.

This puts me in a slightly awkward position. I do, genuinely and platonically, love these kinds of gameplay themes! I adore changes in how you perceive or interact with a world — the dark world in Metroid Prime 2, the time reversal in Braid, the “dimension” swapping in Quantum Conundrum, etc. I think this is a great concept that anyone can have a good time with, and I feel like this game is a love letter to the Wario Land series.

At the same time, I do also appreciate the kink inspiration. Even Lexy’s collar was originally conceived as a gimmick I could use for drawing adult artwork. The jam game contains a lot of suggestive dialogue, since Lexy herself also appreciates the kink aspect. And that was a lot of fun to write, and I’m sure it enhanced the experience for other folks with similar leanings.

But this is such a good concept that I want it to be playable as just a regular puzzle-platformer as well. I think it would have fairly broad appeal, and I don’t want to hamstring myself by totally fucking weirding people out when it dawns on them that “oh the dev is kinda Into This huh”. And yet I don’t want to completely sterilize the game, either, because… well, ultimately, it’s my game and I like the suggestive parts.

This is a tough line to draw, and I’m not yet sure how to do it. I’ve considered just making alternative dialogue that you can opt into when you start the game, but given that Lexy already speaks differently depending on what form she’s in, I have no idea how feasible that is.

I don’t know how to gauge this. I’ve always been up to my armpits in the side of the internet that just posts porn and talks about sexuality casually, whereas I’m dimly aware that most people see sexuality as this completely distinct part of life that you hide in a small box, far away from the eyes of polite society. But maybe I’m overestimating that? Does anyone actually care if the protagonist of a game comments “hey this is hot” about something weird but innocuous?

Or maybe that’s exactly where the line is. I remember Nier: Automata, a game that is all too happy to show off the protagonist’s immaculately-rendered ass, which is clearly meant for the enjoyment of both the creator and the players. But nobody comments on it within the game, which makes it seem incidental, somehow. I can’t explain why that is, and it feels slightly dishonest to me.

Am I overthinking this? If you’re not involved in any kind of kink circles and played the original jam game, I’m curious to hear how it read to you. Was it at all uncomfortable, like perhaps the game was expecting you to heavily empathize with a feeling you don’t share at all? Or does putting that feeling on a character, rather than aiming it at the human player, make it something you can easily shrug off? The full game will have more stuff going on, so there should be lots more dialogue that isn’t solely about Lexy’s feelings, if that helps.


Hm, I thought I would have more to say here! I have a lot of ideas, but only a handful of them are implemented yet, and I guess it’s hard to show what a game will be like before most of it works.

I hope this is enough to whet some appetites, at least! I haven’t been excited like this about anything in far too long.

Rowling is dangerously wrong

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2020/06/11/rowling-is-dangerously-wrong/

I read J.K. Rowling’s essay.

I regret doing so.

Here are some thoughts. Trans readers, brace yourselves, especially if you didn’t read the original.

Some help came from Andrew James Carter’s response thread, which has many more citations but feels less compelling to a general audience to me.


This isn’t an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it’s time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity.

I admire that. I, too, would prefer not to add to the toxicity.

For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.

We are off to a poor start. Framing an unrenewed contract as “losing her job” is dubious. And specifically, Judge Tayler ruled that “she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” — that is, she would be actively and knowingly rude towards people in the workplace, and that is not protected.

(Forstater later disingenuously claimed to have lost her job for “speaking up about women’s rights”. And I’m just now learning that she compared the use of correct pronouns to the use of rohypnol — the date rape drug — while this court case was pending. Charming.)

All the time I’ve been researching and learning, accusations and threats from trans activists have been bubbling in my Twitter timeline. This was initially triggered by a ‘like’. When I started taking an interest in gender identity and transgender matters, I began screenshotting comments that interested me, as a way of reminding myself what I might want to research later. On one occasion, I absent-mindedly ‘liked’ instead of screenshotting. That single ‘like’ was deemed evidence of wrongthink, and a persistent low level of harassment began.

This sounds like a simple misunderstanding which could have been resolved with a single explanatory tweet. Instead, your spokesperson referred to it as a “clumsy and middle-aged moment”. And now you categorize the tweet vaguely as something to research — suggesting to a casual reader that you had merely liked a link to a scholarly article, perhaps — when it was a mundane personal rant which referred to trans women as “men in dresses”.

I have a hypothesis about where the toxicity began — right there, when you clicked the heart underneath it. It’s something you know is mean and hurtful to the people it describes, and is intended to be so, and you not only defend it but cloak it in an obligatory 1984 reference. This is deceptive, mean-spirited, and shameful.

We are only on paragraph four.

Months later, I compounded my accidental ‘like’ crime by following Magdalen Burns on Twitter. Magdalen was an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumour. I followed her because I wanted to contact her directly, which I succeeded in doing. However, as Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises, dots were joined in the heads of twitter trans activists, and the level of social media abuse increased.

You are fucking blackface actors. You aren’t women. You’re men who get sexual kicks from being treated like women. fuck you and your dirty fucking perversions. our oppression isn’t a fetish you pathetic, sick, fuck.”

That’s what Magdalen Berns, whose name you misspelled, had to say about trans women. (Ironically, it’s not too far off from what folks used to say — and occasionally still do — about gay folks.) I’m going to hazard a guess that this was more of a concern than any discourse about who lesbians choose to date.

The funny thing is, while I’ve seen the “gender critical” crowd complain numerous times that trans women are somehow trying to force cis lesbians to have sex with them (by tweeting about it?), I’ve virtually never witnessed the phenomenon directly — and I am neck-deep in trans Twitter. Perhaps two or three times over the years, I’ve seen some discourse about “genital attraction” and whether it’s socially influenced, which I suppose is an interesting question. On one singular occasion, such a tweet came uncomfortably close to suggesting that people were obligated to correct for what’s presumed to be social influence in who they’re attracted to, and I swiftly pushed back against it.

But the way “gender critical” folks talk about this, you’d think it was the only topic trans women ever discuss! Meanwhile, do you know who most trans women I know are dating? Each other!

I mention all this only to explain that I knew perfectly well what was going to happen when I supported Maya. I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then.

Oh. So you didn’t follow merely to be able to DM her, as the last paragraph implied; it really was a show of support, one you knew people would take issue with. And you did it anyway, unapologetically. One begins to suspect you don’t care about anyone’s opinion of the cruelty you endorse.

I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called cunt and bitch and, of course, for my books to be burned, although one particularly abusive man told me he’d composted them.

I am genuinely sorry that people are abusive on Twitter, but I don’t know how to avoid it when you have more followers than the populations of NYC and LA combined. It’s a much broader problem, though definitely exacerbated when you support someone who openly calls an entire minority group perverts.

I’m not sure what to make of the last part. Is composting a book worse than burning it? And are you hinting a comparison between burning one’s own personal property and the actions of Nazi Germany, or am I reading too much into this conspicuous phrasing? I hope the latter, because the former would be extremely tasteless, considering that part of what was burned was the research and library of a sex research institute which was founded by the man who coined the term “transsexualism” and had trans people as both staff and clients.

What I didn’t expect in the aftermath of my cancellation was the avalanche of emails and letters that came showering down upon me, the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful and supportive. They came from a cross-section of kind, empathetic and intelligent people, some of them working in fields dealing with gender dysphoria and trans people, who’re all deeply concerned about the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice and safeguarding. They’re worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s [sic] rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.

I note, conspicuously, that zero of them were from trans people, or you surely would’ve mentioned as much. You give trans youth a token mention at the end, but only as an object of external concern, not as people to be listened to and trusted about their own experiences. This is a theme that I see we’ll be revisiting.

I’d stepped back from Twitter for many months both before and after tweeting support for Maya, because I knew it was doing nothing good for my mental health. I only returned because I wanted to share a free children’s book during the pandemic. Immediately, activists who clearly believe themselves to be good, kind and progressive people swarmed back into my timeline, assuming a right to police my speech, accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF.

I note for the audience that the “gender critical” crowd — you know, TERFs — love to use the term TRA (trans rights activist) to refer to pretty much any trans person who doesn’t buy what they’re selling. I don’t know if this is meant to be a dogwhistle, but it at least quacks like one.

More generally, “activists” is a favored scare word across the political spectrum, much like “ideology” — it conjures the image of someone who is angrily trying to push Politics on you, while neatly obscuring that the political view they’re trying to push is “please don’t be cruel to me or people like me”. Are you, Rowling, not an activist? What about the people you support, like Berns? You use “activist” ten times in this essay, and every single time to describe trans people.

It’s rhetorical sleight of hand. Trans people who want to live their lives without being called blackface actors are “activists”, while the people making those comments are merely expressing concerns. Telling people what they should be able to wear earns no mention in this essay at all, but replying on a public platform to tell you that you are being hurtful is “policing your speech”.

Do you know where I first learned about this trick? From people who opposed the gay rights movement. “Gay rights activist” was a phrase I saw bandied about a lot while I was growing up, as though wanting to be able to marry one’s partner instantly transformed a person into some sort of unreasonable lobbyist, while opposing it was just the normal and natural thing to do. Frequently they’d have one gay person who agreed with them to put on a pedestal, the proof that they didn’t actually hate gay people — at least not the ones who’d sit down and shut up and accept whatever scraps they were given.

If you didn’t already know – and why should you? – ‘TERF’ is an acronym coined by trans activists, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In practice, a huge and diverse cross-section of women are currently being called TERFs and the vast majority have never been radical feminists. Examples of so-called TERFs range from the mother of a gay child who was afraid their child wanted to transition to escape homophobic bullying, to a hitherto totally unfeminist older lady who’s vowed never to visit Marks & Spencer again because they’re allowing any man who says they identify as a woman into the women’s changing rooms.

As any best-selling author would know, if a word is used incorrectly at least two times on Twitter, it loses all meaning.

From what I’ve observed, the vast majority of people referred to as TERFs are people who claim an interest in the well-being of women and lesbians, but exclude trans women from that (or outright classify them all as predators), treat trans men as confused women, speak over or outright ignore the people they claim to be defending, and spend an awful lot of time inventing or vastly exacerbating “concerns” about trans people so as to excuse spending an awful lot of the rest of their time saying incredibly nasty things.

Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.

This is trans-exclusionary. It’s feminism that ignores and talks over trans men, which is a strange thing for feminists to do to people they consider to be women.

But accusations of TERFery have been sufficient to intimidate many people, institutions and organisations I once admired, who’re cowering before the tactics of the playground. ‘They’ll call us transphobic!’ ‘They’ll say I hate trans people!’ What next, they’ll say you’ve got fleas?

Not wanting to come across as hating a group of people is generally considered polite. Imagine saying this about, I don’t know, lesbians.

Speaking as a biological woman, a lot of people in positions of power really need to grow a pair (which is doubtless literally possible, according to the kind of people who argue that clownfish prove humans aren’t a dimorphic species).

Is “courage is stored in the balls” feminist now?

But since you bring up dimorphism, here’s a fun anecdote that’s relevant to my field. It seems that one of the biggest factors a neural network (“AI”) uses to determine a person’s gender is… hair length! Which isn’t a dimorphic trait, at least not how you’d think. The sexes are not really all that distinct; much of it is decoration we put on ourselves to exacerbate the differences, for some reason.

For some more anecdotes, feel free to look for reports of cis lesbians being kicked out of public women’s restrooms for looking too masculine. Like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one. Whose activism do you suppose would exacerbate this?

Firstly, I have a charitable trust that focuses on alleviating social deprivation in Scotland, with a particular emphasis on women and children. Among other things, my trust supports projects for female prisoners and for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. I also fund medical research into MS, a disease that behaves very differently in men and women. It’s been clear to me for a while that the new trans activism is having (or is likely to have, if all its demands are met) a significant impact on many of the causes I support, because it’s pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender.

What a perfect example. What does it mean for MS to behave very differently in men and women? “Man” versus “woman” isn’t a switch you flip; it’s a combination of dozens of factors. If the difference is caused by hormone levels — which looks plausible — then trans women on HRT will be affected similarly to cis women, because they have the same levels of estrogen! And by excluding them — by insisting we talk only about “biological” “men” and “women” rather than specific biological factors — you are miscategorizing them for no reason.

The second reason is that I’m an ex-teacher and the founder of a children’s charity, which gives me an interest in both education and safeguarding. Like many others, I have deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having on both.

Ah, you mean Lumos, the charity you cofounded with Baroness Emma Nicholson, who just yesterday said that gay marriage is degrading women’s rights after attempting to repeal it in 2013? I have some deep concerns about the effect this person will have on the well-being of gay teens — and she’s not a mere “activist” or “movement”, but a lawmaker! Strange company you keep. And that’s not even getting into how she called it pedophilia for a trans charity’s website to have an escape button on it in case of abusive parents, a mere week and a half ago.

The third is that, as a much-banned author, I’m interested in freedom of speech and have publicly defended it, even unto Donald Trump.

Much-banned”? You wrote one of the best-selling books of all time and the best-selling series of all time. You have sold at least one book for every fourteen humans alive and made almost a dozen movie deals. When you tweet, it trends for days and makes national headlines. Your freedom of speech is not at risk here — and if it were, you could probably afford to inscribe whatever you wanted to say on the face of the moon.

The fourth is where things start to get truly personal. I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women [sic] wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex), because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility. Some say they decided to transition after realising they were same-sex attracted, and that transitioning was partly driven by homophobia, either in society or in their families.

Yes, it’s truly tragic that homophobia is still rampant, such as in the baroness you cofounded a charity with. Especially in parents. Incidentally, the most common reason given for detransitioning — which is pressure from a parent (36%, see page 108); the next is harassment/discrimination (31%), followed by having trouble getting a job (29%). Most of the other reasons given were pressure from some other external source. Only 0.4% of the people in that survey reported detransitioning because they simply did not like transition. And, by the way, detransition (even temporarily) is several times more common in trans women than trans men.

If you really want to fight detransition, the most effective action you could take would be to delete this post. But you’re approaching this from the perspective that trans men are confused, just like swaths of homophobic parents have said of their gay children.

Most people probably aren’t aware – I certainly wasn’t, until I started researching this issue properly – that ten years ago, the majority of people wanting to transition to the opposite sex were male. That ratio has now reversed. The UK has experienced a 4400% increase in girls [sic] being referred for transitioning treatment. Autistic girls [sic] are hugely overrepresented in their numbers.

Of course they are. Trans people are disproportionately autistic, so this is to be expected. I’d think this would be cause for celebration — people are being treated who previously wouldn’t have been! That’s excellent progress.

But instead of celebrating it, you suggest here that autistic trans boys are being taken advantage of. No, worse; you suggest that autistic trans boys are incapable of making decisions about their own lives, and don’t even respect them enough to refer to them as they wish to be referred to. You speak over them, dismiss them as obviously wrong out of hand, and ignore how they wish to be referred to while pretending to care about their well-being. This is deeply condescending and appalling.

As an aside, it’s quite frustrating that you so frequently refuse to connect the dots — instead you leave a trail of breadcrumbs and let some haunting conclusion form in the reader’s head, while retaining plausible deniability for yourself because you never actually said the things you’re trying to imply. That leaves you free to claim that a response like this one, which spells out the winks and nods, is yet more dismissable harassment.

The same phenomenon has been seen in the US. In 2018, American physician and researcher Lisa Littman set out to explore it. In an interview, she said:

‘Parents online were describing a very unusual pattern of transgender-identification where multiple friends and even entire friend groups became transgender-identified at the same time. I would have been remiss had I not considered social contagion and peer influences as potential factors.’

Littman mentioned Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram and YouTube as contributing factors to Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, where she believes that in the realm of transgender identification ‘youth have created particularly insular echo chambers.’

Her paper caused a furore. She was accused of bias and of spreading misinformation about transgender people, subjected to a tsunami of abuse and a concerted campaign to discredit both her and her work. The journal took the paper offline and re-reviewed it before republishing it.

This is probably because “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” is not a real phenomenon. The critical flaw in the idea is so blatantly obvious that you’ve very nearly spelled it out yourself: parents described an “unusual” pattern of behavior. Not the children themselves, not psychologists, not therapists. Parents. Parents who are upset that their children are coming out as trans, who are searching for some external factor to blame so they can rest assured that their children have simply been taken advantage of by some nefarious force.

I remember this all quite well from the 90s, except then it was about homosexuality. (A pattern begins to emerge.) There were no signs!, cry parents who punished their children for ever showing any signs, thus swiftly teaching them to put on a good act. It must be the media. It must be the evil other gays somehow influencing my poor child, who otherwise would be straight, like I want them to be.

The only difference is that this time it’s been given an acronym to lend it some veneer of credibility. But it’s not a clinical diagnosis; it’s a study of the feelings of parents who were caught off guard and are searching for an explanation other than “my child is trans”. Even the paper itself has a preface saying the term “should not be used in a way to imply that it explains the experiences of all gender dysphoric youth”.

There’s no mystery to be solved here, anyway. Talk to a single queer person (who isn’t isolated due to factors beyond their control) and I’ll bet you they have disproportionately many queer friends. People who are alike tend to clump together, especially if they sense that society at large is uncomfortable with them. All that’s been observed here is that trans teenagers form friend groups, and when one of them comes out, the others feel confident enough to come out as well. And their parents don’t like it, because of a culture that includes essays like this from household names with massive platforms.

However, her career took a similar hit to that suffered by Maya Forstater. Lisa Littman had dared challenge one of the central tenets of trans activism, which is that a person’s gender identity is innate, like sexual orientation. Nobody, the activists insisted, could ever be persuaded into being trans.

I remember this from the 90s, too. I remember the argument having to be made that sexual orientation is fixed and absolute and predetermined — because, regardless of how true or universal that may or may not be, the alternative is to leave the door open for parents and communities to try to “fix” gay children and ostracize the gay adults who had “persuaded” them into being gay.

Here we go again, except the “fix” for trans youth is to merely tell them to knock it off because they’re mistaken and leave it at that.

The argument of many current trans activists is that if you don’t let a gender dysphoric teenager transition, they will kill themselves. In an article explaining why he resigned from the Tavistock (an NHS gender clinic in England) psychiatrist Marcus Evans stated that claims that children will kill themselves if not permitted to transition do not ‘align substantially with any robust data or studies in this area. Nor do they align with the cases I have encountered over decades as a psychotherapist.’

They won’t necessarily kill themselves, but you could throw a rock and hit a study telling you that trans folks have a shockingly high rate of suicide attempts, and the absolute number one factor that drops that rate precipitously is transition. Or you could talk to a trans person and see if they have a friend who attempted/committed suicide because they were unable to transition (yes). Or at the very least, maybe cite someone who didn’t resign.

What a shockingly insensitive thing to say.

The writings of young trans men reveal a group of notably sensitive and clever people. The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.

You call them clever, but immediately turn around and suggest that they are somehow artificially trans, that they have been “persuaded” into it. Again, you express ostensible care but use it as a springboard to dismiss them and talk over them. And what of trans women, who are well aware of what womanhood entails but still prefer it? This is precisely what I mentioned as the common TERF rhetoric, and is why people are calling you one: you speak piteously of trans men while suggesting with every word that you know better than they do what’s good for them, while trans women are… well, who knows what that omission might imply?

When I read about the theory of gender identity, I remember how mentally sexless I felt in youth. I remember Colette’s description of herself as a ‘mental hermaphrodite’ and Simone de Beauvoir’s words: ‘It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.’

As I didn’t have a realistic possibility of becoming a man back in the 1980s, it had to be books and music that got me through both my mental health issues and the sexualised scrutiny and judgement that sets so many girls to war against their bodies in their teens. Fortunately for me, I found my own sense of otherness, and my ambivalence about being a woman, reflected in the work of female writers and musicians who reassured me that, in spite of everything a sexist world tries to throw at the female-bodied, it’s fine not to feel pink, frilly and compliant inside your own head; it’s OK to feel confused, dark, both sexual and non-sexual, unsure of what or who you are.

At last, you spell it out. But trans men are not confused and don’t need you to save them.

I want to be very clear here: I know transition will be a solution for some gender dysphoric people, although I’m also aware through extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria.

Flat-out incorrect. I assume you’re referring to research that the bulk (“65 to 94 percent”) of dysphoric prepubescent children will “grow out of it” — but if it persists beyond puberty (i.e., into their teens), it’s most likely permanent.

Again and again I’ve been told to ‘just meet some trans people.’ I have: in addition to a few younger people, who were all adorable, I happen to know a self-described transsexual woman who’s older than I am and wonderful. Although she’s open about her past as a gay man, I’ve always found it hard to think of her as anything other than a woman, and I believe (and certainly hope) she’s completely happy to have transitioned.

Describing them as “adorable” does not fill me with confidence that you listened to anything they had to say, especially in light of your repeated attempts to cast trans boys as confused or misled.

I’m glad you have 1 trans friend, whose viewpoint or input you manage to not actually mention whatsoever before using her as a foothold to make another “concerned” point:

Being older, though, she went through a long and rigorous process of evaluation, psychotherapy and staged transformation. The current explosion of trans activism is urging a removal of almost all the robust systems through which candidates for sex reassignment were once required to pass.

If you would “just meet some trans people”, you would know that the long and rigorous process is torture. Quite regularly I see tweets — from folks in the UK especially — about having to wait for up to a year or more just to see a gender therapist once, after which they have to wait even longer to even begin hormones. In the US, I’ve read no end of anecdotes from people who have to perform the right “kind” of transness to convince a therapist to write them a referral letter, after who knows how many sessions. And this is, quite often, after years of internal debate and questioning. Years and years of their lives lost forever.

All of this is predicated, once again, on the idea that trans people just don’t know what’s good for themselves.

A man [sic] who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself [sic] a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law. Many people aren’t aware of this.

She would need a formal diagnosis and to have lived as a woman for at least two years. At least as written, a cis man cannot simply show up and get an F stamped on his passport. I don’t even know what possible purpose that would serve.

We’re living through the most misogynistic period I’ve experienced. Back in the 80s, I imagined that my future daughters, should I have any, would have it far better than I ever did, but between the backlash against feminism and a porn-saturated online culture, I believe things have got significantly worse for girls. Never have I seen women denigrated and dehumanised to the extent they are now. From the leader of the free world’s long history of sexual assault accusations and his proud boast of ‘grabbing them by the pussy’, to the incel (‘involuntarily celibate’) movement that rages against women who won’t give them sex, to the trans activists who declare that TERFs need punching and re-educating, men across the political spectrum seem to agree: women are asking for trouble. Everywhere, women are being told to shut up and sit down, or else.

I cannot believe you are comparing sexual assault and incels — who have committed mass shootings! — to angry trans people tweeting anime screenshots captioned “shut up” at you. “TERF” doesn’t even imply a woman — the most infamous one by far is a man, Graham Lineham!

Meanwhile, you have — multiple times in this essay — suggested that trans boys are misled and the choices they’ve made for themselves are somehow mistakes. I know you consider them women, because your exact phrasing was to call them “girls [sic] being referred for transitioning treatment” and then reframe their choices as actually being about misogyny. What kind of feminism is it to decide you know better than people you think are women? Not even decide, but take for granted, speak about as though their agency never existed to be dismissed in the first place?

I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive. It’s also clear that one of the objectives of denying the importance of sex is to erode what some seem to see as the cruelly segregationist idea of women having their own biological realities or – just as threatening – unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class. The hundreds of emails I’ve received in the last few days prove this erosion concerns many others just as much. It isn’t enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves.

Who has said that cis women don’t have common biological experiences? The issue is that most trans men and some nonbinary folks also have those experiences (and some cis women don’t), so if you’re going to talk about them, why not talk about the experience instead of saying “women” and presuming that everyone will intuit which of a dozen possible facets of womanhood you’re referring to?

And if the experience in question is a social one, based on other people’s perception of you as a woman, then guess what: loads of trans women will also have had those experiences.

But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume. ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head. ‘Woman’ is not a pink brain, a liking for Jimmy Choos or any of the other sexist ideas now somehow touted as progressive.

The women saying those things, anecdotally, appear to have significant overlap with women who criticize trans women for not “looking” female enough. Or who, sadly, misidentify cis women as trans women for not “looking” female enough. You know, that refined classical sexism.

If trans women wear dresses, they’re treating womanhood as a costume; if they don’t, they’re faking it.

Moreover, the ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.

Clearly you don’t understand, as no one is blanket referring to “female people” as “menstruators”. The current kerfuffle started because you commented on an article titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate”. It used that phrasing because it was about menstruation (and was written by three women). The only person in this whole mess who has tried to reduce women to their body parts is you, in your initial tweet, insisting that menstruation is a uniquely defining feature of womanhood.

Moreover, the article is about addressing a women’s health and women’s rights issue, and it mentions women frequently, but your only response was to criticize the title for trying to include the very people — trans men — that you keep trampling in this essay. I find your choice of priorities increasingly alarming.

If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.

I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.

So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.

I’m sorry for what you went through, but these few paragraphs horrify me. You understand and describe in vivid detail what some of these women go through, how their lives end, how at risk they are, and then immediately segue into how those women should not be given shelter — hell, not even just shelter, but a place to pee — because someone else might hypothetically abuse it.

I must be missing something, because this has never made sense to me. People who commit sexual assault are not especially interested in following the rules, so how is adding another rule meant to dissuade them from this contrived scheme? If someone is around to police who goes into the bathroom, why could that same person not instead intervene if someone tries to cause harm?

Anyway, what do you propose instead? You never say, which seems deeply at odds with your desire for trans women to be safe. The only alternative I ever hear involves checking identification and chromosomal analysis and all kinds of other absurdity — which is clearly aimed at trans folks and not nefarious men. Are you fine with the status quo, which is that trans people already use whatever bathroom they find most appropriate? Or do you think your trans woman friend should be forced into the men’s room, surrounded by men? Without saying one way or the other, you’re actively encouraging fear and hostility towards people who just want to pee — and not just towards trans people, but towards anyone who doesn’t “look female enough”.

On Saturday morning, I read that the Scottish government is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one. To use a very contemporary word, I was ‘triggered’. Ground down by the relentless attacks from trans activists on social media, when I was only there to give children feedback about pictures they’d drawn for my book under lockdown, I spent much of Saturday in a very dark place inside my head, as memories of a serious sexual assault I suffered in my twenties recurred on a loop. That assault happened at a time and in a space where I was vulnerable, and a man capitalised on an opportunity. I couldn’t shut out those memories and I was finding it hard to contain my anger and disappointment about the way I believe my government is playing fast and loose with womens and girls’ safety.

Why did you take it out on the very people you just said you also want to be safe? Why did you take it out on an article that had little to do with safety and was pushing for better health and privacy? You’ve already said you know exactly how your actions will be perceived, so the backlash this time cannot have come as a surprise.

There was so much opportunity here for talking about cultural expectations and gender roles, how those foster and overlook violence and aggression from boys from a young age, how a lot of societal structures still suggest that men are “owed” something by women, or how violence is more broadly glorified in Western culture. As a world-renowned author who’s done extensive feminist research, you could surely make an impact.

Instead, you decided to hurt people.

Late on Saturday evening, scrolling through children’s pictures before I went to bed, I forgot the first rule of Twitter – never, ever expect a nuanced conversation – and reacted to what I felt was degrading language about women. I spoke up about the importance of sex and have been paying the price ever since. I was transphobic, I was a cunt, a bitch, a TERF, I deserved cancelling, punching and death. You are Voldemort said one person, clearly feeling this was the only language I’d understand.

You offered absolutely no nuance yourself, and this essay has carefully weaved around it the whole time as well. You, a straight person, co-opted the gay community’s struggle so you could wield it as a club against trans people — after tossing them Dumbledore as a token afterthought — despite having ties yourself to an MP who has actively tried to erode gay rights.

But yes, let us talk about Harry Potter and how it reflects your values. Zero non-heterosexual characters mentioned within the canon. But more of interest: where are the women? The main character, a boy; his mentor and the primary authority figure, a man; the teacher he’s at odds with, a man; the rival and entourage, all boys; his best friend, a boy; the awkward coward who gets a late redemption arc, a boy; the primary antagonist, a man; the sympathetic adult confidant, a man; the rediscovered long-lost family member, a man; the endlessly regenerating Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, all men except for the cartoon villain Umbridge. The Weasleys have seven children; six are boys. Two of the Hogwarts founders are men, and two women… ah, but the men are the founders of the two plot-important houses. Vernon is clearly the head of the Dursley family, and their only child is a boy. On it goes.

Girls can aspire to be the nerd no one likes (hey, that’s me!), the insane woman no one believes, the abusive monster, the nurse with no personality, or one of a handful of love interests. McGonagall is extremely cool and can turn into a cat, I grant you. And I think there was someone named Bellatrix? But wasn’t she a Death Eater?

I don’t claim to be an expert on your series; on the contrary, I read them casually when they came out and haven’t revisited them since. This is the cast that left an impression on me. I have published half-hour video games with more female characters than I can name off the top of my head from the entire Harry Potter canon. Where was your concern for uplifting girls throughout the decade you spent writing the most popular book series in the history of the human race? Where was your interest in the well-being of gay teens as you dedicated untold pages to descriptions of wizard football?

I hope that’s enough nuance.

It would be so much easier to tweet the approved hashtags – because of course trans rights are human rights and of course trans lives matter – scoop up the woke cookies and bask in a virtue-signalling afterglow. There’s joy, relief and safety in conformity. As Simone de Beauvoir also wrote, “… without a doubt it is more comfortable to endure blind bondage than to work for one’s liberation; the dead, too, are better suited to the earth than the living.”

Virtue signalling” is not in itself a bad thing; it is literally the indication to others of what our values are, so others know what we believe and how we are likely to treat them. Your essay still signals your virtues, as does mine.

Of course” trans rights are human rights? I cannot even tell if this is meant to be serious or sarcastic, with how much seething resentment you’ve wrapped it in. Do you also consider your supposed support of lesbians to be “conformity”, since that’s no longer an especially controversial stance?

This is all outright reactionary rhetoric and you know it. You are using the very same catchphrases that the incels you so revile use when justifying their hatred for women.

Huge numbers of women are justifiably terrified by the trans activists; I know this because so many have got in touch with me to tell their stories. They’re afraid of doxxing, of losing their jobs or their livelihoods, and of violence.

Who is doxxing people? I tried to look into this and instead found a list of TERF websites with a prominent warning that they track and doxx and harass trans people; the Rational Wiki asserting that TERFs engage in doxxing; and this second-hand account that an ex-TERF was “threatened with doxing” by her own allies and “kept in a perpetual state of fear”.

And who on earth is sinking to violence over this? I find e.g. the “photo with a gun pointed at the viewer” phenomenon pretty distasteful, but it doesn’t seem to be unique to this issue, it’s not an especially credible threat of violence, and it’s the closest to actual violence I’ve ever heard of here. Surely, if anyone had come to blows, we’d never hear the end of it?

I note that Forstater’s contract wasn’t renewed because, as best as we can tell, she made her coworkers uncomfortable and the work environment hostile. Meanwhile, trans people can be (and are) fired for simply existing. Citing this as a fear people have of trans people, as though they were some large shadowy conspiracy, feels fairly tasteless.

But endlessly unpleasant as its constant targeting of me has been, I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it. I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single sex spaces. Polls show those women are in the vast majority, and exclude only those privileged or lucky enough never to have come up against male violence or sexual assault, and who’ve never troubled to educate themselves on how prevalent it is.

By “young gay kids” and “fragile teenagers”, are you once again obliquely referring to young trans people who you take to be merely confused? What of their freedom of thought, of their right to decide who they are for themselves without seeing you use them as ammunition against other people like them? What impact do you think that will have on them, exactly?

Falling back on “freedom of speech” to defend one’s own hurtful speech is another reactionary talking point; when you cannot defend your speech on its own merits, you can only defend that it is not literally illegal to say.

What polls are you finding? 26% is not a vast majority, and it’s troubling that you proactively dismiss the women who disagree with you as aloof and uninformed. What kind of feminism is that?

The one thing that gives me hope is that the women who can protest and organise, are doing so, and they have some truly decent men and trans people alongside them. Political parties seeking to appease the loudest voices in this debate are ignoring women’s concerns at their peril. In the UK, women are reaching out to each other across party lines, concerned about the erosion of their hard-won rights and widespread intimidation. None of the gender critical women I’ve talked to hates trans people; on the contrary. Many of them became interested in this issue in the first place out of concern for trans youth, and they’re hugely sympathetic towards trans adults who simply want to live their lives, but who’re facing a backlash for a brand of activism they don’t endorse. The supreme irony is that the attempt to silence women with the word ‘TERF’ may have pushed more young women towards radical feminism than the movement’s seen in decades.

Absolute bullshit. You’ve consistently brushed off or spoken for women and trans men who disagree with you in this post alone, but frame your own stance as though it were shared by all women. Two women you’ve mentioned by name and made a point of supporting — Maya Forstater and Magdalen Berns — have said some astonishingly cruel things about trans people as blanket remarks, so I can only interpret their “non-hate” in the same way as people repeatedly told my younger self that they loved me but I would burn for all eternity if I kissed both boys and girls. If their “concern” for trans youth is anything like yours, then they’re only interested in trying to berate trans youth into not wanting to be trans any more — yet again, no different from how homophobia played out.

And, hang on, they’re hugely sympathetic towards trans adults who’re facing backlash? You must be joking. They — and you — ARE the backlash! What good is sympathy from the very people who are deliberately hurting you?

The last thing I want to say is this. I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me, not even a teeny-weeny one. I’m extraordinarily fortunate; I’m a survivor, certainly not a victim. I’ve only mentioned my past because, like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people.

You’ve done so multiple times in this essay alone, and your heroes do it on a pretty consistent basis. What an insult to everyone who read this.

All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.

In the entirety of this essay, you didn’t even mention a single concrete concern. You did some vague fearmongering about how a cis man could get a piece of paper saying he’s a woman, and that’s all. Meanwhile, you managed to repeatedly misgender and patronize trans boys; paint trans adults as a nefarious political movement trying to “persuade” children; cite multiple people who’ve been fiercely nasty towards trans people as a whole, while avoiding mentioning what they actually did so you could frame them as innocent victims; invoke multiple homophobic and reactionary tropes with a quick coat of paint slapped on top; present “parents who wish their children were cis” as though it were a diagnosed phenomenon; and generally checked off every possible TERF talking point while smiling kindly the whole time.

You’re saying things you know are actively hurtful in the name of preventing a hypothetical harm that is so nebulous you can’t even describe it.

This sucks.

Star Anise Chronicles: Oh No Wheres Twig??

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2020/05/10/star-anise-chronicles-oh-no-wheres-twig/

Title and logo for the game

🔗 Play it on itch.io
🔗 Play it on the PICO-8 BBS (where you can also download the cart and view the source code)

(I originally drafted this just after publishing the game, but then decided to start a whole series about its development and wasn’t sure what to do with this! But it’s solid and serves a different purpose, so here it is.)

It’s been a while, but I made another PICO-8 game! It’s a little platformer with light puzzling, where you help Star Anise find his best friend Branch Commander Twig. It’s only half an hour long at worst, and it’s even playable on a phone!

This is the one-and-a-halfth entry in the Star Anise Chronicles series, which after several false starts, finally kicked off over Christmas with a… uh… interactive fiction game. Expect the series to continue with even more whiplash-inducing theme shifts.

More technical considerations will go in the “gamedev from scratch” series, but read on for some overall thoughts on the design. Both contain spoilers, of course, so I do urge you to play the game first.


The first attempt at a Star Anise game was two years ago, in early 2018. The idea was to make a Metroidvania where Star Anise had a bunch of guns that shot cat-themed projectiles, obtained a couple other cat-themed powers, and made a total mess of a serious plot happening in the background while he ran around collecting garbage.

After finishing up the Steam release of Cherry Kisses last month, we decided that our next game should be that one, which would now be Star Anise 2 (since i’d already released a Star Anise 1 some months ago). We have, uh, already altered these plans, but that’s the background.

I don’t really know why I started on this game. I guess there’s some element of stress to working on a project with someone, even if that someone is Ash (my spouse), and especially if I’m supposed to be driving it forward. I have to tell someone what to do, and then if I don’t like the result I have to ask them to fix it, and a lot of tiny design questions are out of my control anyway, and all of this is happening on someone else’s schedule, and I have to convey all the project state that’s in my head in a complicated non-verbal form, and… all of those things are a constant low-level source of stress.

So I guess we’d just finished a game that I’d designed, and it was looking like we were about to start a sizable project where I was the design lead again, and I wanted to make something I could finish by myself as an interlude.

And so I sat down with a teeny tiny tool to make a teeny tiny version of what I expected would be our next game.

Design

The basics were obvious: run, jump, land. I gave Star Anise little landing particles early on — they’re in the bigger prototype, I love landing puffs in general, and having them be stars adds so much silly personality.

I knew I wanted to have multiple abilities you collect, since that’s the heart of Metroidventures. I briefly considered giving Star Anise a gun, as in the prototype, but gave up on that pretty early. I would’ve had to sprite a gun, a projectile, a projectile explosion, enemies, enemy attacks, enemy death frames…

Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with drawing all of that. The concern was that PICO-8 has a very limited amount of space for sprites — in the configuration I was using, 128 sprites of 8×8 pixels each. Star Anise himself takes up 9, even with some clever reuse for his walking animation. The star puff takes 4. The common world tile, plus versions for edges and corners, takes up 9. That’s 22 sprites already, more than 17% of the space I have, for absolutely nothing besides jumping around on solid ground. I would have to keep it simple.

That led me to the first two powers, both borrowed from the prototype:

  • AOWR starts conversation with NPCs and opens doors. I can’t really take any creative credit here, since these are both things Anise attempts to do with aowrs in real life.

  • Papping activates levers and knocks over glasses of liquid. Anise only does one of those in real life. (In the prototype, this is a gun — which shoots pawprint-shaped projectiles — but I’d already been thinking about making it a “melee” ability first.)

I adore both of these abilities. I think they both turn some common UI tropes on their heads. NPCs, doors, and levers are all things you usually interact with by pressing some generic “interact” button, but hitting a lever (and meowing at a door) adds some physicality to the action — you’re actually doing something, not just making it go.

And pressing A to talk to an NPC doesn’t really make any sense at all! Consider: almost universally, even in games where the player character speaks, pressing A to start a conversation leads off with the NPC talking. So what the hell did you actually do? What does pressing A represent actually doing that results in someone else casually starting a conversation with you, seemingly unprompted? I have no idea! It’s nonsense! But Anise meows at me all the time and I always respond to him, which is perfectly sensible.

The third power, telepawt, is a little newer. We’d conceived a cat teleporting power pretty recently, but it was more involved and required some big environmental props. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t possibly do much of interest on the tiny PICO-8 screen (16 × 16 tiles), but I do like teleporting abilities! I briefly considered ripping off Axiom Verge, but I’ve already done that in fox flux, and the physics are a little involved… and then, lo, inspiration! Combine the two ideas: teleport great distances, but in a controlled and predictable way, by teleporting to the point on the opposite side of the screen. It felt like a very 8-bit kind of power, and I could already imagine a few ways to hide stuff with it, so off I went.

And that seemed like a reasonable progression. A way to talk (and progress through doors), a way to interact with objects, and a way to move around. I decided about halfway through development to make jumping a faux powerup as well; it stretches out the progression a bit more by making you walk past potential jumps and then come back to them later, which is important when I don’t have much map space to work with.

I’d originally planned for items to be separate from abilities, but ran into a couple problems, the worst of which was that I really didn’t have much screen space for sprinkling more items around. I ended up turning items into abilities in their own right, which I think was an improvement overall; now you can crinkle the plastic bag wherever you want, for example.

The game deliberately doesn’t try to explain itself; PICO-8 only has six buttons, and four of them are a d-pad, so I figured button-mashing (as in ye olde NES days) would get everyone through. Still, several players were confused about how to jump (and possibly gave up before even acquiring jump?), and one didn’t realize you could switch abilities, despite the up/down arrowheads on the ability box. Not sure what to learn from this.

The map

I struggled a bit with the map. PICO-8 has a built-in map editor with enough space for 32 screen-sized rooms (arranged in an 8 × 4 grid), which it turns out is not very many. I also very much did not want the game space to be confined to exactly that size of rectangle, so I knew I’d have to do some funky stuff with room connections. (Armed with that power, I ended up making loops and other kinds of non-Euclidean geometry, but hey that’s plenty appropriate for an imaginary moon.)

The bigger problem was designing the rooms outside of the PICO-8 map editor. I tried sketching in Krita, and then on paper, but kept running into the same two problems: it was tedious to rearrange rooms, and I didn’t have a good sense of how much space was available per room.

I found a novel solution: I wrote a Python script to export the map to a PNG, opened it in Aseprite, and edited it there — with each pixel representing a tile and the grid size set to 16. Now I knew exactly how much space I had, and rearranging rooms was easy: double-clicking a cell selects it, and holding Alt while dragging a selection snaps it to the grid. Here’s the beginning part of the game, screenshotted directly from Aseprite at 400% zoom:

A very pixellated map, with bright pink lines to indicate odd connections

When it came time to pack it all back into a rectangle, I copied the whole map, rearranged the rooms, and numbered them all so I could keep track of connections. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad a workflow.

The non-Euclidean map connections came in handy for packing secrets in more efficiently; most of the secret stars are off-screen, making them harder to find, but I couldn’t really afford to have a dedicated treasure room for every single one. So I crammed two treasures into the same room a few times, even though the two routes you’d take to get there are generally nowhere near each other.

Doors helped stretch the map out, too. It’s probably obvious if you think about it in the slightest, but doors don’t lead to different rooms; they reuse the same room. But some tiles only appear in the overworld, some tiles only appear in cave world, and actors (besides doors) don’t spawn in caves. That seemingly small difference was enough to make rooms vastly different in the two worlds; the most extreme case is a “crossroads” room, which you traverse vertically in the overworld but horizontally in cave world. (Honestly, I wish I’d done a bit more of this, but it works best in rooms that only have two overworld exits, and there ended up not being too many of those. Also, caves are restricted to basically just platforming, so there’s only so much variety I can squeeze out of them.)

Designing caves was a little trickier than you might think, since the PICO-8 map has no layers! If something needed to occupy a tile in the overworld, then I could not put something in the same place in cave world. Along with the design nightmare that is telepawt, this gave me a couple headaches.

I do like the cave concept a lot, though. I love parallel versions of places in games, and I have an unfinished PICO-8 game that’s centered around that idea taken to extremes. It’s also kind of a nod to my LÖVE games, all the way back to Neon Phase, where going indoors didn’t load another map — rooms were just another layer.

Aesthetics

Originally, PICO-8 had a fixed palette of 16 colors. You could do palette swaps of various sorts, but you can’t actually change any of the colors.

But since I last used it, PICO-8 gained a “secret palette” — an extra 16 colors that you can request. You can’t have more than 16 colors on the screen at a time, but you can replace one of the existing colors with a “secret” color. There’s also an obscure way to tell PICO-8 to preserve the screen palette when the game finishes, which means I could effectively change the palette in the sprite editor. Hooray!

I didn’t want to completely change the palette, so I tried to keep the alterations minor. For the most part, I gave up reds and pinks for a better spread of greens, purples, and yellows. Here’s the core PICO-8 palette, the secret PICO-8 palette, and the game’s palette, respectively:

A very bright palette, a softer and warmer version of the same colors, and a mix of them

I think I did a decent job of preserving the overall color aesthetic while softening the harsh contrasts of the original palette, and the cool colors really helped the mood.

Note that I changed the background color (color 0 isn’t drawn when it appears in a sprite) to navy and promoted black to a foreground color, which helped black stand out more when used as an outline or whatever. Probably the best example of this is in the logo, traced from the vector logo I made for the first Star Anise game.

Hmm, what else. The tiles themselves felt almost forced, if that makes sense? Like I could only draw them one way. PICO-8 tiles are a rinky-dink 8 pixels, and boy that is not much to work with. If I had a lot of sprite space, I could make bigger metatiles, but… I don’t, so I couldn’t. I tried a lot of variations of tiles, and what I ended up with were pretty much the only things that worked.

I love how the emoting came out. I knew I didn’t have nearly enough room for facial expressions for everyone, but I wanted to give them some kind of visual way to express mood, and the tiny overlays kinda fell naturally out of that. I think they add a ton of personality, especially in how everyone uses them differently.

I’m pretty happy with the sound design, as well. I’m an extremely amateur composer, and I wrote 90% of the music in a few hours on the start of the last day, but I actually like how it came out and I like going back to listen to it. The sound effects are, with some mild exceptions, pretty much excellent — the aowr is incredible, it has fooled other folks in the house more than once, and I knew I had it right when I had a blast just running around mashing the meow button.

I’m also happy with the dialogue, and hope it conveys the lunekos’ personalities in just these few interactions.

While writing the ending, I had to stop in mid-draft to go cry. Then I cried again when I finished it a few days later. I’ll miss you forever, Branch Commander Twig.

If you did, thanks for playing.

Old CSS, new CSS

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2020/02/01/old-css-new-css/

I first got into web design/development in the late 90s, and only as I type this sentence do I realize how long ago that was.

And boy, it was horrendous. I mean, being able to make stuff and put it online where other people could see it was pretty slick, but we did not have very much to work with.

I’ve been taking for granted that most folks doing web stuff still remember those days, or at least the decade that followed, but I think that assumption might be a wee bit out of date. Some time ago I encountered a tweet marvelling at what we had to do without border-radius. I still remember waiting with bated breath for it to be unprefixed!

But then, I suspect I also know a number of folks who only tried web design in the old days, and assume nothing about it has changed since.

I’m here to tell all of you to get off my lawn. Here’s a history of CSS and web design, as I remember it.


(Please bear in mind that this post is a fine blend of memory and research, so I can’t guarantee any of it is actually correct, especially the bits about casuality. You may want to try the W3C’s history of CSS, which is considerably shorter, has a better chance of matching reality, and contains significantly less swearing.)

(Also, this would benefit greatly from more diagrams, but it took long enough just to write.)

The very early days

In the beginning, there was no CSS.

This was very bad.

My favorite artifact of this era is the book that taught me HTML: O’Reilly’s HTML: The Definitive Guide, published in several editions in the mid to late 90s. The book was indeed about HTML, with no mention of CSS at all. I don’t have it any more and can’t readily find screenshots online, but here’s a page from HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide, which seems to be a revision (I’ll get to XHTML later) with much the same style. Here, then, is the cutting-edge web design advice of 199X:

Screenshot of a plain website in IE, with plain black text on a white background with a simple image

Clearly delineate headers and footers with horizontal rules.

No, that’s not a border-top. That’s an <hr>. The page title is almost certainly centered with, well, <center>.

The page uses the default text color, background, and font. Partly because this is a guidebook introducing concepts one at a time; partly because the book was printed in black and white; and partly, I’m sure, because it reflected the reality that coloring anything was a huge pain in the ass.

Let’s say you wanted all your <h1>s to be red, across your entire site. You had to do this:

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<H1><FONT COLOR=red>...</FONT></H1>

every single goddamn time. Hope you never decide to switch to blue!

Oh, and everyone wrote HTML tags in all caps. I don’t remember why we all thought that was a good idea. Maybe this was before syntax highlighting in text editors was very common (read: I was 12 and using Notepad), and uppercase tags were easier to distinguish from body text.

Keeping your site consistent was thus something of a nightmare. One solution was to simply not style anything, which a lot of folks did. This was nice, in some ways, since browsers let you change those defaults, so you could read the Web how you wanted.

A clever alternate solution, which I remember showing up in a lot of Geocities sites, was to simply give every page a completely different visual style. Fuck it, right? Just do whatever you want on each new page.

That trend was quite possibly the height of web design.

Damn, I miss those days. There were no big walled gardens, no Twitter or Facebook. If you had anything to say to anyone, you had to put together your own website. It was amazing. No one knew what they were doing; I’d wager that the vast majority of web designers at the time were clueless hobbyist tweens (like me) all copying from other clueless hobbyist tweens. Half the Web was fan portals about Animorphs, with inexplicable splash pages warning you that their site worked best if you had a 640×480 screen. (Any 12-year-old with insufficient resolution should, presumably, buy a new monitor with their allowance.) Everyone who was cool and in the know used Internet Explorer 3, the most advanced browser, but some losers still used Netscape Navigator so you had to put a “Best in IE” animated GIF on your splash page too.

This was also the era of “web-safe colors” — a palette of 216 colors, where every channel was one of 00, 33, 66, 99, cc, or ff — which existed because some people still had 256-color monitors! The things we take for granted now, like 24-bit color.

In fact, a lot of stuff we take for granted now was still a strange and untamed problem space. You want to have the same navigation on every page on your website? Okay, no problem: copy/paste it onto each page. When you update it, be sure to update every page — but most likely you’ll forget some, and your whole site will become an archaeological dig into itself, with strata of increasingly bitrotted pages.

Much easier was to use frames, meaning the browser window is split into a grid and a different page loads in each section… but then people would get confused if they landed on an individual page without the frames, as was common when coming from a search engine like AltaVista. (I can’t believe I’m explaining frames, but no one has used them since like 2001. You know iframes? The “i” is for inline, to distinguish them from regular frames, which take up the entire viewport.)

PHP wasn’t even called that yet, and nobody had heard of it. This weird “Perl” and “CGI” thing was really strange and hard to understand, and it didn’t work on your own computer, and the errors were hard to find and diagnose, and anyway Geocities didn’t support it. If you were really lucky and smart, your web host used Apache, and you could use its “server side include” syntax to do something like this:

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<BODY>
    <TABLE WIDTH=100% BORDER=0 CELLSPACING=8 CELLPADDING=0>
        <TR>
            <TD COLSPAN=2>
                <!--#include virtual="/header.html" --> 
            </TD>
        </TR>
        <TR>
            <TD WIDTH=20%>
                <!--#include virtual="/navigation.html" --> 
            </TD>
            <TD>
                (actual page content goes here)
            </TD>
        </TR>
    </TABLE>
</BODY>

Mwah. Beautiful. Apache would see the special comments, paste in the contents of the referenced files, and you’re off to the races. The downside was that when you wanted to work on your site, all the navigation was missing, because you were doing it on your regular computer without Apache, and your web browser thought those were just regular HTML comments. It was impossible to install Apache, of course, because you had a computer, not a server.

Sadly, that’s all gone now — paved over by homogenous timelines where anything that wasn’t made this week is old news and long forgotten. The web was supposed to make information eternal, but instead, so much of it became ephemeral. I miss when virtually everyone I knew had their own website. Having a Twitter and an Instagram as your entire online presence is a poor substitute.

So, let’s look at the Space Jam website.

Case study: Space Jam

Space Jam, if you’re not aware, is the greatest movie of all time. It documents Bugs Bunny’s extremely short-lived basketball career, playing alongside a live action Michael Jordan to save the planet from aliens for some reason. It was followed by a series of very successful and critically acclaimed RPG spinoffs, which describe the fallout of the Space Jam and are extremely canon.

And we are truly blessed, for 24 years after it came out, its website is STILL UP. We can explore the pinnacle of 1996 web design, right here, right now.

First, notice that every page of this site is a static page. Not only that, but it’s a static page ending in .htm rather than .html, because people on Windows versions before 95 were still beholden to 8.3 filenames. Not sure why that mattered in a URL, as if you were going to run Windows 3.11 on a Web server, but there you go.

The CSS for the splash page looks like this:

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<body bgcolor="#000000" background="img/bg_stars.gif" text="#ff0000" link="#ff4c4c" vlink="#ff4c4c" alink="#ff4c4c">

Haha, just kidding! What the fuck is CSS? Space Jam predates it by a month. (I do see a single line in the page source, but I’m pretty sure that was added much later to style some legally obligatory policy links.)

Notice the extremely precise positioning of these navigation links. This feat was accomplished the same way everyone did everything in 1996: with tables.

In fact, tables have one functional advantage over CSS for layout, which was very important in those days, and not only because CSS didn’t exist yet. You see, you can ctrl-click to select a table cell and even drag around to select all of them, which shows you how the cells are arranged and functions as a super retro layout debugger. This was great because the first meaningful web debug tool, Firebug, wasn’t released until 2006 — a whole decade later!

Screenshot of the Space Jam website with the navigation table's cells selected, showing how the layout works

The markup for this table is overflowing with inexplicable blank lines, but with those removed, it looks like this:

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<table width=500 border=0>
<TR>
<TD colspan=5 align=right valign=top>
</td></tr>
<tr>
<td colspan=2 align=right valign=middle>
<br>
<br>
<br>
<a href="cmp/pressbox/pressboxframes.html"><img src="img/p-pressbox.gif" height=56 width=131 alt="Press Box Shuttle" border=0></a>
</td>
<td align=center valign=middle>
<a href="cmp/jamcentral/jamcentralframes.html"><img src="img/p-jamcentral.gif" height=67 width=55 alt="Jam Central" border=0></a>
</td>
<td align=center valign=top>
<a href="cmp/bball/bballframes.html"><img src="img/p-bball.gif" height=62 width=62 alt="Planet B-Ball" border=0></a>
</td>
<td align=center valign=bottom>
<br>
<br>
<a href="cmp/tunes/tunesframes.html"><img src="img/p-lunartunes.gif" height=77 width=95 alt="Lunar Tunes" border=0></a>
</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td align=middle valign=top>
<br>
<br>
<a href="cmp/lineup/lineupframes.html"><img src="img/p-lineup.gif" height=52 width=63 alt="The Lineup" border=0></a>
</td>
<td colspan=3 rowspan=2 align=right valign=middle>
<img src="img/p-jamlogo.gif" height=165 width=272 alt="Space Jam" border=0>
</td>
<td align=right valign=bottom>
<a href="cmp/jump/jumpframes.html"><img src="img/p-jump.gif" height=52 width=58 alt="Jump Station" border=0></a>
</td>
</tr>
...
</table>

That’s the first two rows, including the logo. You get the idea. Everything is laid out with align and valign on table cells; rowspans and colspans are used frequently; and there are some <br>s thrown in for good measure, to adjust vertical positioning by one line-height at a time.

Other fantastic artifacts to be found on this page include this header, which contains Apache SSI syntax! This must’ve quietly broken when the site was moved over the years; it’s currently hosted on Amazon S3. You know, Amazon? The bookstore?

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<table border=0 cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0 width=488 height=60>
<tr>
<td align="center"><!--#include virtual="html.ng/site=spacejam&type=movie&home=no&size=234&page.allowcompete=no"--></td>
<td align="center" width="20"></td>
<td align="center"><!--#include virtual="html.ng/site=spacejam&type=movie&home=no&size=234"--></td>
</tr>
</table>

Okay, let’s check out jam central. I’ve used my browser dev tools to reduce the viewport to 640×480 for the authentic experience (although I’d also have lost some vertical space to the title bar, taskbar, and five or six IE toolbars).

Note the frames: the logo in the top left leads back to the landing page, cleverly saving screen space on repeating all that navigation, and the top right is a fucking ad banner which has been blocked like seven different ways. All three parts are separate pages.

Screenshot of the Space Jam website's 'Jam Central'

Note also the utterly unreadable red text on a textured background, one of the truest hallmarks of 90s web design. “Why not put that block of text on an easier-to-read background?” you might ask. You imbecile. How would I possibly do that? Only the <body> has a background attribute! I could use a table, but tables only support solid background colors, and that would look so boring!

But wait, what is this new navigation widget? How are the links all misaligned like that? Is this yet another table? Well, no, although filling a table with chunks of a sliced-up image wasn’t uncommon. But this is an imagemap, a long-forgotten HTML feature. I’ll just show you the source:

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<img src="img/m-central.jpg" height=301 width=438 border=0 alt="navigation map" usemap="#map"><br>

<map name="map">
<area shape="rect" coords="33,92,178,136" href="prodnotesframes.html" target="_top">
<area shape="rect" coords="244,111,416,152" href="photosframes.html" target="_top">
<area shape="rect" coords="104,138,229,181" href="filmmakersframes.html" target="_top">
<area shape="rect" coords="230,155,334,197" href="trailerframes.html" target="_top">
</map>

I assume this is more or less self-explanatory. The usemap attribute attaches an image map, which is defined as a bunch of clickable areas, beautifully encoded as inscrutable lists of coordinates or something.

And this stuff still works! This is in HTML! You could use it right now! Probably don’t though!

The thumbnail grid

Let’s look at one more random page here. I’d love to see some photos from the film. (Wait, photos? Did we not know what “screenshots” were yet?)

Screenshot of the Space Jam website's photos page

Another frameset, but arranged differently this time.

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<body bgcolor="#7714bf" background="img/bg-jamcentral.gif" text="#ffffff" link="#edb2fc" vlink="#edb2fc" alink="#edb2fc">

They did an important thing here: since they specified a background image (which is opaque), they also specified a background color. Without it, if the background image failed to load, the page would be white text on the default white background, which would be unreadable.

(That’s still an important thing to keep in mind. I feel like modern web development tends to assume everything will load, or sees loading as some sort of inconvenience to be worked around, but not everyone is working on a wired connection in a San Francisco office twenty feet away from a backbone.)

But about the page itself. Thumbnail grids are a classic problem of web design, dating all the way back to… er… well, at least as far back as Space Jam. The main issue is that you want to put things next to each other, whereas HTML defaults to stacking everything in one big column. You could put all the thumbnails inline, in a single row of (wrapping) text, but that wouldn’t be much of a grid — and you usually want each one to have some sort of caption.

Space Jam’s approach was to use the only real tool anyone had in their toolbox at the time: a table. It’s structured like this:

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<table cellpadding=10>
<tr><td align=center><a href="..."><img src="..."></a></td>...</tr>
<tr>...</tr>
<tr>...</tr>
<table>

A 3×3 grid of thumbnails, left to the browser to arrange. (The last image, on a row of its own, isn’t actually part of the table.) This can’t scale to fit your screen, but everyone’s screen was pretty tiny back then, so that was slightly less of a concern. They didn’t add captions here, but since every thumbnail is wrapped in a table cell, they easily could have.

This was the state of the art in thumbnail grids in 1996. We’ll be revisiting this little UI puzzle a few times; you can see live examples (and view source for sample markup) on a separate page.

But let’s take a moment to appreciate the size of the “full-size, full-color, internet-quality” movie screenshots on my current monitor.

Screenshot of one of the Space Jam website's full-size photos, fullscreened on my monitor

Hey, though, they’re less than 16 KB! That’ll only take nine seconds to download.

(I’m reminded of the problem of embedded video, which wasn’t solved until HTML5’s <video> tag some years later. Until then, you had to use a binary plugin, and all of them were terrible.)

(Oh, by the way: images within links, by default, have a link-colored border around them. Image links are usually self-evident, so this was largely annoying, and until CSS you had to disable them for every single image with <img border=0>.)

The regular early days

So that’s where we started, and it sucked. If you wanted any kind of consistency on more than a handful of pages, your options were very limited, and they were pretty much limited to a whole lot of copying and pasting. The Space Jam website opted to, for the most part, not bother at all — as did many others.

Then CSS came along, it was a fucking miracle. All that inline repetition went away. You want all your top-level headings to be a particular color? No problem:

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H1 {
    color: #FF0000;
}

Bam! You’re done. No matter how many <h1>s you have in your document, every single one of them will be eye-searing red, and you never have to think about it again. Even better, you can put that snippet in its own file and have that questionable aesthetic choice applied to every page of your whole site with almost no effort! The same applied to your gorgeous tiling background image, the colors of your links, and the size of the font in your tables.

(Just remember to wrap the contents of your <style> tags in HTML comments, or old browsers without CSS support will display them as text.)

You weren’t limited to styling tags en masse, either. CSS introduced “classes” and “IDs” to target only specifically flagged elements. A selector like P.important would only affect <P CLASS="important">, and #header would only affect <H1 ID="header">. (The difference is that IDs are intended to be unique in a document, whereas classes can be used any number of times.) With these tools, you could effectively invent your own tags, giving you a customized version of HTML specific to your website!

This was a huge leap forward, but at the time, no one (probably?) was thinking of using CSS to actually arrange the page. When CSS 1 was made a recommendation in December ‘96, it barely addressed layout at all. All it did was divorce HTML’s existing abilities from the tags they were attached to. We had font colors and backgrounds because <FONT COLOR> and <BODY BACKGROUND> existed. The only feature that even remotely affected where things were positioned was the float property, the equivalent to <IMG ALIGN>, which pulled an image to the side and let text flow around it, like in a magazine article. Hardly whelming.

This wasn’t too surprising. HTML hadn’t had any real answers for layout besides tables, and the table properties were too complicated to generalize in CSS and too entangled with the tag structure, so there was nothing for CSS 1 to inherit. It merely reduced the repetition in what we were already doing with e.g. <FONT> tags — making Web design less tedious, less error-prone, less full of noise, and much more maintainable. A pretty good step forward, and everyone happily adopted it for that, but tables remained king for arranging your page.

That was okay, though; all your blog really needed was a header and a sidebar, which tables could do just fine, and it wasn’t like you were going to overhaul that basic structure very often. Copy/pasting a few lines of <TABLE BORDER=0> and <TD WIDTH=20%> wasn’t nearly as big a deal.

For some span of time — I want to say a couple years, but time passes more slowly when you’re a kid — this was the state of the Web. Tables for layout, CSS for… well, style. Colors, sizes, bold, underline. There was even this sick trick you could do with links where they’d only be underlined when the mouse was pointing at them. Tubular!

(Fun fact: HTML email is still basically trapped in this era.)

(And here’s about where I come in, at the ripe old age of 11, with no clue what I was doing and mostly learning from other 11-year-olds who also had no clue what they were doing. But that was fine; a huge chunk of the Web was 11-year-olds making their own websites, and it was beautiful. Why would you go to a business website when you can take a peek into the very specific hobbies of someone on the other side of the planet?)

The dark times

A year and a half later, in mid ‘98, we were gifted CSS 2. (I love the background on this page, by the way.) This was a modest upgrade that addressed a few deficiencies in various areas, but most interesting was the addition of a couple positioning primitives: the position property, which let you place elements at precise coordinates, and the inline-block display mode, which let you stick an element in a line of text like you could do with images.

Such tantalizing fruit, just out of reach! Using position seemed nice, but pixel-perfect positioning was at serious odds with the fluid design of HTML, and it was difficult to make much of anything that didn’t fall apart on other screen sizes or have other serious drawbacks. This humble inline-block thing seemed interesting enough; after all, it solved the core problem of HTML layout, which is putting things next to each other. But at least for the moment, no browser implemented it, and it was largely ignored.

I can’t say for sure if it was the introduction of positioning or some other factor, but something around this time inspired folks to try doing layout in CSS. Ideally, you would completely divorce the structure of your page from its appearance. A website even came along to take this principle to the extreme — CSS Zen Garden is still around, and showcases the same HTML being radically transformed into completely different designs by applying different stylesheets.

Trouble was, early CSS support was buggy as hell. In retrospect, I suspect browser vendors merely plucked the behavior off of HTML tags and called it a day. I’m delighted to say that RichInStyle still has an extensive list of early browser CSS bugs up; here are some of my favorites:

  • IE 3 would ignore all but the last <style> tag in a document.

  • IE 3 ignored pseudo-classes, so a:hover would be treated as a.

  • IE 3 and IE 4 treated auto margins as zero. Actually, I think this one might’ve persisted all the way to IE 6. But that was okay, because IE 6 also incorrectly applied text-align: center to block elements.

  • If you set a background image to an absolute URL, IE 3 would try to open the image in a local program, as though you’d downloaded it.

  • Netscape 4 understood an ID selector like #id, but ignored h1#id as invalid.

  • Netscape 4 didn’t inherit properties — including font and text color! — into table cells.

  • Netscape 4 applied properties on <li> to the list marker, rather than the contents.

  • If the same element has both float and clear (not unreasonable), Netscape 4 for Mac crashes.

This is what we had to work with. And folks wanted to use CSS to lay out an entire page? Ha.

Yet the idea grew in popularity. It even became a sort of elitist rallying cry, a best practice used to beat other folks over the head. Tables for layout are just plain bad, you’d hear! They confuse screenreaders, they’re semantically incorrect, they interact poorly with CSS positioning! All of which is true, but it was a much tougher pill to swallow when the alternative was—

Well, we’ll get to that in a moment. First, some background on the Web landscape circa 2000.

The end of the browser wars and subsequent stagnation

The short version is: this company Netscape had been selling its Navigator browser (to businesses; it was free for personal use), and then Microsoft entered the market with its completely free Internet Explorer browser, and then Microsoft had the audacity to bundle IE with Windows. Can you imagine? An operating system that comes with a browser? This was a whole big thing, Microsoft was sued over it, and they lost, and the consequence was basically nothing.

But it wouldn’t have mattered either way, because they’d still done it, and it had worked. IE pretty much annihilated Netscape’s market share. Both browsers were buggy as hell, and differently buggy as hell, so a site built exclusively against one was likely to be a big mess when viewed in the other — this meant that when Netscape’s market share dropped, web designers paid less and less attention to it, and less of the Web worked in it, and its market share dropped further.

Sucks for you if you don’t use Windows, I guess. Which is funny, because there was an IE for Mac 5.5, and it was generally less buggy than IE 6. (Incidentally, Bill Gates wasn’t so much a brilliant nerd as an aggressive and ruthless businessman who made his fortune by deliberately striving to annihilate any competition standing in his way and making computing worse overall as a result, just saying.)

By the time Windows XP shipped in mid 2001, with Internet Explorer 6 built in, Netscape had gone from a juggernaut to a tiny niche player.

And then, having completely and utterly dominated, Microsoft stopped. Internet Explorer had seen a release every year or so since its inception, but IE 6 was the last release for more than five years. It was still buggy, but that was less noticeable when there was no competition, and it was good enough. Windows XP, likewise, was good enough to take over the desktop, and there wouldn’t be another Windows for just as long.

The W3C, the group who write the standards (not to be confused with W3Schools, who are shady SEO leeches), also stopped. HTML had seen several revisions throughout the mid 90s, and then froze as HTML 4. CSS had gotten an update in only a year and a half, and then no more; the minor update CSS 2.1 wouldn’t hit Candidate Recommendation status until early 2004, and took another seven years to be finalized.

With IE 6’s dominance, it was as if the entire Web was frozen in time. Standards didn’t matter, because there was effectively only one browser, and whatever it did became the de facto standard. As the Web grew in popularity, IE’s stranglehold also made it difficult to use any platform other than Windows, since IE was Windows-only and it was a coin flip whether a website would actually work with any other browser.

(One begins to suspect that monopolies are bad. There oughta be a law!)

In the meantime, Netscape had put themselves in an even worse position by deciding to do a massive rewrite of their browser engine, culimating in the vastly more standards-compliant Netscape 6 — at the cost of several years away from the market while IE was kicking their ass. It never broke 10% market share, while IE’s would peak at 96%. On the other hand, the new engine was open sourced as the Mozilla Application Suite, which would be important in a few years.

Before we get to that, some other things were also happening.

Quirks mode

All early CSS implementations were riddled with bugs, but one in particular is perhaps the most infamous CSS bug of all time: the box model bug.

You see, a box (the rectangular space taken up by an element) has several measurements: its own width and height, then surrounding whitespace called padding, then an optional border, then a margin separating it from neighboring boxes. CSS specifies that these properties are all additive. A box with these styles:

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    width: 100px;
    padding: 10px;
    border: 2px solid black;

…would thus be 124 pixels wide, from border to border.

IE 4 and Netscape 4, on the other hand, took a different approach: they treated width and height as measuring from border to border, and they subtracted the border and padding to get the width of the element itself. The same box in those browsers would be 100 pixels wide from border to border, with 76 pixels remaining for the content.

This conflict with the spec was not ideal, and IE 6 set out to fix it. Unfortunately, simply making the change would mean completely breaking the design of a whole lot of websites that had previously worked in both IE and Netscape.

So the IE team came up with a very strange compromise: they declared the old behavior (along with several other major bugs) as “quirks mode” and made it the default. The new “strict mode” or “standards mode” had to be opted into, by placing a “doctype” at the beginning of your document, before the <html> tag. It would look something like this:

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<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd">

Everyone had to paste this damn mess of a line at the top of every single HTML document for years. (HTML5 would later simplify it to <!DOCTYPE html>.) In retrospect, it’s a really strange way to opt into correct CSS behavior; doctypes had been part of the HTML spec since way back when it was an RFC. I’m guessing the idea was that, since nobody bothered actually including one, it was a convenient way to allow opting in without requiring proprietary extensions just to avoid behavior that had been wrong in the first place. Good for the IE team!

The funny thing is, quirks mode still exists and is still the default in all browsers, twenty years later! The exact quirks have varied over time, and in particular neither Chrome nor Firefox use the IE box model even in quirks mode, but there are still quite a few other emulated bugs.

Modern browsers also have “almost standards” mode, which emulates only a single quirk, perhaps the second most infamous one: if a table cell contains only a single image, the space under the baseline is removed. Under normal CSS rules, the image is sitting within a line of (otherwise empty) text, which requires some space reserved underneath for descenders — the tails on letters like y. Early browsers didn’t handle this correctly, and some otherwise strict-mode websites from circa 2000 rely on it — e.g., by cutting up a large image and arranging the chunks in table cells, expecting them to display flush against each other — hence the intermediate mode to keep them limping along.

But getting back to the past: while this was certainly a win for standards (and thus interop), it created a new problem. Since IE 6 dominated, and doctypes were optional, there was little compelling reason to bother with strict mode. Other browsers ended up emulating it, and the non-standard behavior became its own de facto standard. Web designers who cared about this sort of thing (and to our credit, there were a lot of us) made a rallying cry out of enabling strict mode, since it was the absolute barest minimum step towards ensuring compatibility with other browsers.

The rise and fall of XHTML

Meanwhile, the W3C had lost interest in HTML in favor of developing XHTML, an attempt to redesign HTML with the syntax of XML rather than SGML.

(What on Earth is SGML, you ask? I don’t know. Nobody knows. It’s the grammer HTML was built on, and that’s the only reason anyone has heard of it.)

To their credit, there were some good reasons to do this at the time. HTML was generally hand-written (as it still is now), and anything hand-written is likely to have the occasional bugs. Browsers weren’t in the habit of rejecting buggy HTML outright, so they had various error-correction techniques — and, as with everything else, different browsers handled errors differently. Slightly malformed HTML might appear to work fine in IE 6 (where “work fine” means “does what you hoped for”), but turn into a horrible mess in anything else.

The W3C’s solution was XML, because their solution to fucking everything in the early 2000s was XML. If you’re not aware, XML takes a much more explicit and aggressive approach to error handling — if your document contains a parse error, the entire document is invalid. That means if you bank on XHTML and make a single typo somewhere, nothing at all renders. Just an error.

This sucked. It sounds okay on the face of things, but consider: generic XML is usually assembled dynamically with libraries that treat a document as a tree you manipulate, then turn it all into text when you’re done. That’s great for the common use of XML as data serialization, where your data is already a tree and much of the XML structure is simple and repetitive and easy to squirrel away in functions.

HTML is not like that. An HTML document has little reliable repeating structure; even this blog post, constructed mostly from <p> tags, also contains surprise <em>s within body text and the occasional <h2> between paragraphs. That’s not fun to express as a tree. And this is a big deal, because server-side rendering was becoming popular around the same time, and generated HTML was — still is! — put together with templates that treat it as a text stream.

If HTML were only written as complete static documents, then XHTML might have worked out — you write a document, you see it in your browser, you know it works, no problem. But generating it dynamically and risking that particular edge cases might replace your entire site with an unintelligible browser error? That sucks.

It certainly didn’t help that we were just starting to hear about this newfangled Unicode thing around this time, and it was still not always clear how exactly to make that work, and one bad UTF-8 sequence is enough for an entire XML document to be considered malformed!

And so, after some dabbling, XHTML was largely forgotten. Its legacy lives on in two ways:

  • It got us all to stop using uppercase tag names! So long <BODY>, hello <body>. XML is case-sensitive, you see, and all the XHTML tags were defined in lowercase, so uppercase tags simply would not work. (Fun fact: to this day, JavaScript APIs report HTML tag names in uppercase.) The increased popularity of syntax highlighting probably also had something to do with this; we weren’t all still using Notepad as we had been in 1997.

  • A bunch of folks still think self-closing tags are necessary. You see, HTML has two kinds of tags: containers like <p>...</p> and markers like <br>. Since a <br> can’t possibly contain anything, there’s no such thing as </br>. XML, as a generic grammar, doesn’t have this distinction; every tag must be closed, but as a shortcut, you can write <br/> to mean <br></br>.

    XHTML has been dead for years, but for some reason, I still see folks write <br/> in regular HTML documents. Outside of XML, that slash doesn’t do anything; HTML5 has defined it for compatibility reasons, but it’s silently ignored. It’s even actively harmful, since it might lead you to believe that <script/> is an empty <script> tag — but in HTML, it definitely is not!

I do miss one thing about XHTML. You could combine it with XSLT, the XML templating meta-language, to do in-browser templating (i.e., slot page-specific contents into your overall site layout) with no scripting required. It’s the only way that’s ever been possible, and it was cool as all hell when it worked, but the drawbacks were too severe when it didn’t. Also, XSLT is totally fucking incomprehensible.

The beginning of CSS layout

Back to CSS!

You’re an aspiring web designer. For whatever reason, you want to try using this CSS thing to lay out your whole page, even though it was clearly intended just for colors and stuff. What do you do?

As I mentioned before, your core problem is putting things next to each other. Putting things on top of each other is a non-problem — that’s the normal behavior of HTML. The whole reason everyone uses tables is that you can slop stuff into table cells and have it laid out side-by-side, in columns.

Well, tables seem to be out. CSS 2 had added some element display modes that corresponded to the parts of a table, but to use them, you’d have to have the same three levels of nesting as real tables: the table itself, then a row, then a cell. That doesn’t seem like a huge step up, and anyway, IE won’t support them until the distant future.

There’s that position thing, but it seems to make things overlap more often than not. Hmm.

What does that leave?

Only one tool, really: float.

I said that float was intended for magazine-style “pull” images, which is true, but CSS had defined it fairly generically. In principle, it could be applied to any element. If you wanted a sidebar, you could tell it to float to the left and be 20% the width of the page, and you’d get something like this:

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+---------+
| sidebar | Hello, and welcome to my website!
|         |
+---------+

Alas! Floating has the secondary behavior that text wraps around it. If your page text was ever longer than your sidebar, it would wrap around underneath the sidebar, and the illusion would shatter. But hey, no problem. CSS specified that floats don’t wrap around each other, so all you needed to do was float the body as well!

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+---------+ +-----------------------------------+
| sidebar | | Hello, and welcome to my website! |
|         | |                                   |
+---------+ | Here's a longer paragraph to show |
            | that my galaxy brain CSS float    |
            | nonsense prevents text wrap.      |
            +-----------------------------------+

This approach worked, but its limitations were much more obvious than those of tables. If you added a footer, for example, then it would try to fit to the right of the body text — remember, all of that is “pull” floats, so as far as the browser is concerned, the “cursor” is still at the top. So now you need to use clear, which bumps an element down below all floats, to fix that. And if you made the sidebar 20% wide and the body 80% wide, then any margin between them would add to that 100%, making the page wider than the viewport, so now you have an ugly horizontal scrollbar, so you have to do some goofy math to fix that as well. If you have borders or backgrounds on either part, then it was a little conspicuous that they were different heights, so now you have to do some truly grotesque stuff to fix that. And the more conscientious authors noticed that screenreaders would read the entire sidebar before getting to the body text, which is a pretty rude thing to subject blind visitors to, so they came up with yet more elaborate setups to have a three-column layout with the middle column appearing first in the HTML.

The result was a design that looked nice and worked well and scaled correctly, but backed by a weird mess of CSS. None of what you were writing actually corresponded to what you wanted — these are major parts of your design, not one-off pull quotes! It was difficult to understand the relationship between the layout-related CSS and what appeared on the screen, and that would get much worse before it got better.

Thumbnail grid 2

Armed with a new toy, we can improve that thumbnail grid. The original table-based layout was, even if you don’t care about tag semantics, incredibly tedious. Now we can do better!

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<ul class="thumbnail-grid">
    <li><img src="..."><br>caption</li>
    <li><img src="..."><br>caption</li>
    <li><img src="..."><br>caption</li>
    ...
</ul>

This is the dream of CSS: your HTML contains the page data in some sensible form, and then CSS describes how it actually looks.

Unfortunately, with float as the only tool available to us, the results are a bit rough. This new version does adapt better to various screen sizes, but it requires some hacks: the cells have to be a fixed height, centering the whole grid is fairly complicated, and the grid effect falls apart entirely with wider elements. It’s becoming clear that what we wanted is something more like a table, but with a flexible number of columns. This is just faking it.

You also need this weird “clearfix” thing, an incantation that would become infamous during this era. Remember that a float doesn’t move the “cursor” — a fake idea I’m using, but close enough. That means that this <ul>, which is full only of floated elements, has no height at all. It ends exactly where it begins, with all the floated thumbnails spilling out below it. Worse, because any subsequent elements don’t have any floated siblings, they’ll ignore the thumbnails entirely and render normally from just below the empty “grid” — producing an overlapping mess!

The solution is to add a dummy element at the end of the list which takes up no space, but has the CSS clear: both — bumping it down below all floats. That effectively pushes the bottom of the <ul> under all the individual thumbnails, so it fits snugly around them.

Browsers would later support the ::before and ::after generated content” pseudo-elements, which let us avoid the dummy element entirely. Stylesheets from the mid-00s were often littered with stuff like this:

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.thumbnail-grid::after {
    content: '';
    display: block;
    clear: both;
}

Still, it was better than tables.

DHTML

As a quick aside into the world of JavaScript, the newfangled position property did give us the ability to do some layout things dynamically. I heartily oppose such heresy, not least because no one has ever actually done it right, but it was nice for some toys.

Thus began the era of “dynamic HTML” — i.e., HTML affected by JavaScript, a term that has fallen entirely out of favor because we can’t even make a fucking static blog without JavaScript any more. In the early days it was much more innocuous, with teenagers putting sparkles that trailed behind your mouse cursor or little analog clocks that ticked by in real time.

The most popular source of these things was Dynamic Drive, a site that miraculously still exists and probably has a bunch of toys not updated since the early 00s.

But if you don’t like digging, here’s an example: every year (except this year when I forgot oops), I like to add confetti and other nonsense to my blog on my birthday. I’m very lazy so I started this tradition by using this script I found somewhere, originally intended for snowflakes. It works by placing a bunch of images on the page, giving them position: absolute, and meticulously altering their coordinates over and over.

Contrast this with the version I wrote from scratch a couple years ago, which has only a tiny bit of JS to set up the images, then lets the browser animate them with CSS. It’s slightly less featureful, but lets the browser do all the work, possibly even with hardware acceleration. How far we’ve come.

Web 2.0

Dark times can’t last forever. A combination of factors dragged us towards the light.

One of the biggest was Firefox — or, if you were cool, originally Phoenix and then Firebird — which hit 1.0 in Nov ‘04 and went on to take a serious bite out of IE. That rewritten Netscape 6 browser core, the heart of the Mozilla Suite, had been extracted into a standalone browser. It was quick, it was simple, it was much more standard-compliant, and absolutely none of that mattered.

No, Firefox really got a foothold because it had tabs. IE 6 did not have tabs; if you wanted to open a second webpage, you opened another window. It fucking sucked, man. Firefox was a miracle.

Firefox wasn’t the first tabbed browser, of course; the full Mozilla Suite’s browser had them, and the obscure (but scrappy!) Opera had had them for ages. But it was Firefox that took off, for various reasons, not least of which was that it didn’t have a giant fucking ad bar at the top like Opera did.

Designers did push for Firefox on standards grounds, of course; it’s just that that angle primarily appealed to other designers, not so much to their parents. One of the most popular and spectacular demonstrations was the Acid2 test, intended to test a variety of features of then-modern Web standards. It had the advantage of producing a cute smiley face when rendered correctly, and a fucking nightmare hellscape in IE 6. Early Firefox wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly much closer, and you could see it make progress until it fully passed with the release of Firefox 3.

It also helped that Firefox had a faster JavaScript engine, even before JIT caught on. Much, much faster. Like, as I recall, IE 6 implemented getElementById by iterating over the entire document, even though IDs are unique. Glance at some old jQuery release announcements; they usually have some performance charts, and everything else absolutely dwarfs IE 6 through 8.

Oh, and there was that whole thing where IE 6 was a giant walking security hole, especially with its native support for arbitrary binary components that only needed a “yes” click on an arcane dialog to get full and unrestricted access to your system. Probably didn’t help its reputation.

Anyway, with something other than IE taking over serious market share, even the most ornery designers couldn’t just target IE 6 and call it a day any more. Now there was a reason to use strict mode, a reason to care about compatibility and standards — which Firefox was making a constant effort to follow better, while IE 6 remained stagnant.

(I’d argue that this effect opened the door for OS X to make some inroads, and also for the iPhone to exist at all. I’m not kidding! Think about it; if the iPhone browser hadn’t actually worked with anything because everyone was still targeting IE 6, it’d basically have been a more expensive Palm. Remember, at first Apple didn’t even want native apps; it bet on the Web.)

(Speaking of which, Safari was released in Jan ‘03, based on a fork of the KHTML engine used in KDE’s Konqueror browser. I think I was using KDE at the time, so this was very exciting, but no one else really cared about OS X and its 2% market share.)

Another major factor appeared on April Fools’ Day, 2004, when Google announced Gmail. Ha, ha! A funny joke. Webmail that isn’t terrible? That’s a good one, Google.

Oh. Oh, fuck. Oh they’re not kidding. How the fuck does this even work

The answer, as every web dev now knows, is XMLHttpRequest — named for the fact that nobody has ever once used it to request XML. Apparently it was invented by Microsoft for use with Exchange, then cloned early on by Mozilla, but I’m just reading this from Wikipedia and you can do that yourself.

The important thing is, it lets you make an HTTP request from JavaScript. You could now update only part a page with new data, completely in the background, without reloading. Nobody had heard of this thing before, so when Google dropped an entire email client based on it, it was like fucking magic.

Arguably the whole thing was a mistake and has led to a hell future where static pages load three paragraphs of text in the background using XHR for no goddamn reason, but that’s a different post.

Along similar lines, August 2006 saw the release of jQuery, a similar miracle. Not only did it paper over the differences between IE’s “JScript” APIs and the standard approaches taken by everyone else (which had been done before by other libraries), but it made it very easy to work with whole groups of elements at a time, something that had historically been a huge pain in the ass. Now you could fairly easily apply CSS all over the place from JavaScript! Which is a bad idea! But everything was so bad that we did it anyway!

Hold on, I hear you cry. These things are about JavaScript! Isn’t this a post about CSS?

You’re absolutely right! I mention the rise of JavaScript because I think it led directly to the modern state of CSS, thanks to an increase in one big factor:

Ambition

Firefox showed us that we could have browsers that actually, like, improve — every new improvement on Acid2 was exciting. Gmail showed us that the Web could do more than show plain text with snowflakes in front.

And folks started itching to get fancy.

The problem was, browsers hadn’t really gotten any better yet. Firefox was faster in some respects, and it adhered more closely to the CSS spec, but it didn’t fundamentally do anything that browsers weren’t supposed to be able to do already. Only the tooling had improved, and that mostly affected JavaScript. CSS was a static language, so you couldn’t write a library to make it better. Generating CSS with JavaScript was a possibility, but boy oh boy is that ever a bad idea.

Another problem was that CSS 2 was only really good at styling rectangles. That was fine in the 90s, when every OS had the aesthetic of rectangles containing more rectangles. But now we were in the days of Windows XP and OS X, where everything was shiny and glossy and made of curvy plastic. It was a little embarrassing to have rounded corners and neatly shaded swooshes in your file browser and nowhere on the Web.

Thus began a new reign of darkness.

The era of CSS hacks

Designers wanted a lot of things that CSS just could not offer.

  • Round corners were a big one. Square corners had fallen out of vogue, and now everyone wanted buttons with round corners, since they were The Future. (Native buttons also went out of vogue, for some reason.) Alas, CSS had no way to do this. Your options were:

    1. Make a fixed-size background image of a rounded rectangle and put it on a fixed-size button. Maybe drop the text altogether and just make the whole thing an image. Eugh.

    2. Make a generic background image and scale it to fit. More clever, but the corners might end up not round.

    3. Make the rounded rectangle, cut out the corner and edges, and put them in a 3×3 table with the button label in the middle. Even better, use JavaScript to do this on the fly.

    4. Fuck it, make your entire website one big Flash app lol

    Another problem was that IE 6 didn’t understand PNGs with 8-bit alpha; it could only correctly display PNGs with 1-bit alpha, i.e. every pixel is either fully opaque or fully transparent, like GIFs. You had to settle for jagged edges, bake a solid background color into the image, or apply various fixes that centered around this fucking garbage nonsense:

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    filter: progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.AlphaImageLoader(src='bite-my-ass.png');
    
  • Along similar lines: gradients and drop shadows! You can’t have fancy plastic buttons without those. But here you were basically stuck with making images again.

  • Translucency was a bit of a mess. Most browsers supported the CSS 3 opacity property since very early on… except IE, which needed another wacky Microsoft-specific filter thing. And if you wanted only the background translucent, you’d need a translucent PNG, which… well, you know.

  • Since the beginning, jQuery shipped with built-in animated effects like fadeIn, and they started popping up all over the place. It was kind of like the Web equivalent of how every Linux user in the mid-00s (and I include myself in this) used that fucking Compiz cube effect.

    Obviously you need JavaScript to trigger an element’s disappearance in most interesting cases, but using it to control the actual animation was a bit heavy-handed and put a strain on browsers. Tabbed browsing compounded this, since browsers were largely single-threaded, and for various reasons, every open page ran in the same thread.

  • Oh! Alternating background colors on table rows. This has since gone out of style, but I think that’s a shame, because man did it make tables easier to read. But CSS had no answer for this, so you had to either give every other row a class like <tr class="odd"> (hope the table’s generated with code!) or do some jQuery nonsense.

  • CSS 2 introduced the > child selector, so you could write stuff like ul.foo > li to style special lists without messing up nested lists, and IE 6! Didn’t! Fucking! Support! It!

All those are merely aesthetic concerns, though. If you were interested in layout, well, the rise of Firefox had made your life at once much easier and much harder.

Remember inline-block? Firefox 2 actually supported it! It was buggy and hidden behind a vendor prefix, but it more or less worked, which let designers start playing with it. And then Firefox 3 supported it more or less fully, which felt miraculous. Version 3 of our thumbnail grid is as simple as a width and inline-block:

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.thumbnails li {
    display: inline-block;
    width: 250px;
    margin: 0.5em;
    vertical-align: top;
}

The general idea of inline-block is that the inside acts like a block, but the block itself is placed in regular flowing text, like an image. Each thumbnail is thus contained in a box, but the boxes all lie next to each other, and because of their equal widths, they flow into a grid. And since it’s functionally a line of text, you don’t have to work around any weird impact on the rest of the page like you had to do with floats.

Sure, this had some drawbacks. You couldn’t do anything with the leftover space, for example, so there was a risk of a big empty void on the right with pathological screen sizes. You still had the problem of breaking the grid with a wide cell. But at least it’s not floats.

One teeny problem: IE 6. It did technically support inline-block, but only on elements that were naturally inline — ones like <b> and <i>, not <li>. So, not ones you’d actually want (or think) to use inline-block on. Sigh.

Lucky for us, at some point an absolute genius discovered hasLayout, an internal optimization in IE that marks whether an element… uh… has… layout. Look, I don’t know. Basically it changes the rendering path for an element — making it differently buggy, like quirks mode on a per-element basis! The upshot is that the above works in IE 6 if you add a couple lines:

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.thumbnails li {
    display: inline-block;
    width: 250px;
    margin: 0.5em;
    vertical-align: top;
    *zoom: 1;
    *display: inline;
}

The leading asterisks make the property invalid, so browsers should ignore the whole line… but for some reason I cannot begin to fathom, IE 6 ignores the asterisks and accepts the rest of the rule. (Almost any punctuation worked, including a hyphen or — my personal favorite — an underscore.) The zoom property is a Microsoft extension that scales stuff, with the side effect that it grants the mystical property of “layout” to the element as well. And display: inline should make each element spill its contents into one big line of text, but IE treats an inline element that has “layout” roughly like an inline-block.

And here we saw the true potential of CSS messes. Browser-specific rules, with deliberate bad syntax that one browser would ignore, to replicate an effect that still isn’t clearly described by what you’re writing. Entire tutorials written to explain how to accomplish something simple, like a grid, but have it actually work on most people’s browsers. You’d also see * html, html > /**/ body, and all kinds of other nonsense. Here’s a full list! And remember that “clearfix” hack from before? The full version, compatible with every browser, is a bit worse:

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.clearfix:after {
  visibility: hidden;
  display: block;
  font-size: 0;
  content: " ";
  clear: both;
  height: 0;
}
.clearfix { display: inline-block; }
/* start commented backslash hack \*/
* html .clearfix { height: 1%; }
.clearfix { display: block; }
/* close commented backslash hack */

Is it any wonder folks started groaning about CSS?

This was an era of blind copy/pasting in the frustrated hopes of making the damn thing work. Case in point: someone (I dug the original source up once but can’t find it now) had the bone-headed idea of always setting body { font-size: 62.5% } due to a combination of “relative units are good” and wanting to override the seemingly massive default browser font size of 16px (which, it turns out, is correct) and dealing with IE bugs. He walked it back a short time later, but the damage had been done, and now thousands of websites start off that way as a “best practice”. Which means if you want to change your browser’s default font size in either direction, you’re screwed — scale it down and a bunch of the Web becomes microscopic, scale it up and everything will still be much smaller than you’ve asked for, scale it up more to compensate and everything that actually respects your decision will be ginormous. At least we have better page zoom now, I guess.

Oh, and do remember: Stack Overflow didn’t exist yet. This stuff was passed around purely by word of mouth. If you were lucky, you knew about some of the websites about websites, like quirks mode and Eric Meyer’s website.

In fact, check out Meyer’s css/edge site for some wild examples of stuff folks were doing, even with just CSS 1, as far back as 2002. I still think complexspiral is pure genius, even though you could do it nowadays with opacity and just one image. The approach in raggedfloat wouldn’t get native support in CSS until a few years ago, with shape-outside! He also brought us CSS reset, eliminating differences between browsers’ default styles.

(I cannot understand how much of a CSS pioneer Eric Meyer is. When his young daughter Rebecca died six years ago, she was uniquely immortalized with her own CSS color name, rebeccapurple. That’s how highly the Web community thinks of him. Also I have to go cry a bit over that story now.)

The future arrives, gradually

Designers and developers were pushing the bounds of what browsers were capable of. Browsers were handling it all somewhat poorly. All the fixes and workarounds and libraries were arcane, brittle, error-prone, and/or heavy.

Clearly, browsers needed some new functionality. But just slopping something in wouldn’t help; Microsoft had done plenty of that, and it had mostly made a mess.

Several struggling attempts began. With the W3C’s head still squarely up its own ass — even explicitly rejecting proposed enhancements to HTML, in favor of snorting XML — some folks from (active) browser vendors Apple, Mozilla, and Opera decided to make their own clubhouse. WHATWG came into existed in June 2004, and they began work on HTML5. (It would end up defining error-handling very explicitly, which completely obviated the need for XHTML and eliminated a number of security concerns when working with arbitrary HTML. Also it gave us some new goodies, like native audio, video, and form controls for dates and colors and other stuff that had been clumsily handled by JavaScript-powered custom controls. And, um, still often are.)

Then there was CSS 3. I’m not sure when it started to exist. It emerged slowly, struggling, like a chick hatching from an egg and taking its damn sweet fucking time to actually get implemented anywhere.

I’m having to do a lot of educated guessing here, but I think it began with border-radius. Specifically, with -moz-border-radius. I don’t know when it was first introduced, but the Mozilla bug tracker has mentions of it as far back as 1999.

See, Firefox’s own UI is rendered with CSS. If Mozilla wanted to do something that couldn’t be done with CSS, they added a property of their own, prefixed with -moz- to indicate it was their own invention. And when there’s no real harm in doing so, they leave the property accessible to websites as well.

My guess, then, is that the push for CSS 3 really began when Firefox took off and designers discovered -moz-border-radius. Suddenly, built-in rounded corners were available! No more fucking around in Photoshop; you only needed to write a single line! Practically overnight, everything everywhere had its corners filed down.

And from there, things snowballed. Common problems were addressed one at a time by new CSS features, which were clustered together into a new CSS version: CSS 3. The big ones were solutions to the design problems mentioned before:

  • Rounded corners, provided by border-radius.
  • Gradients, provided by linear-gradient() and friends.
  • Multiple backgrounds, which weren’t exactly a pressing concern, but which turned out to make some other stuff easier.
  • Translucency, provided by opacity and colors with an alpha channel.
  • Box shadows.
  • Text shadows, which had been in CSS 2 but dropped in 2.1 and never implemented anyway.
  • Border images, so you could do even fancier things than mere rounded borders.
  • Transitions and animations, now doable with ease without needing jQuery (or any JS at all).
  • :nth-child(), which solved the alternating rows problem with pure CSS.
  • Transformations. Wait, what? This kinda leaked in from SVG, which browsers were also being expected to implement, and which is built heavily around transforms. The code was already there, so, hey, now we can rotate stuff with CSS! Couldn’t do that before. Cool.
  • Web fonts, which had been in CSS for some time but only ever implemented in IE and only with some goofy DRM-laden font format. Now we weren’t limited to the four bad fonts that ship with Windows and that no one else has!

These were pretty great! They didn’t solve any layout problems, but they did address aesthetic issues that designers had been clumsily working around by using loads of images and/or JavaScript. That meant less stuff to download and more text used instead of images, both of which were pretty good for the Web.

The grand irony is that all the stuff you could do with these features went out of style almost immediately, and now we’re back to flat rectangles again.

Browser prefixing hell

Alas! All was still not right with the world.

Several of these new gizmos were, I believe, initially developed by browser vendors and prefixed. Some later ones were designed by the CSS committee but implemented by browsers while the design was still in flux, and thus also prefixed.

So began prefix hell, which continues to this day.

Mozilla had -moz-border-radius, so when Safari implemented it, it was named -webkit-border-radius (“WebKit” being the name of Apple’s KHTML fork). Then the CSS 3 spec standardized it and called it just border-radius. That meant that if you wanted to use rounded borders, you actually needed to give three rules:

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element {
    -moz-border-radius: 1em;
    -webkit-border-radius: 1em;
    border-radius: 1em;
}

The first two made the effect actually work in current browsers, and the last one was future-proofing: when browsers implemented the real rule and dropped the prefixed ones, it would take over.

You had to do this every fucking time, since CSS isn’t a programming language and has no macros or functions or the like. Sometimes Opera and IE would have their own implementations with -o- and -ms- prefixes, bringing the total to five copies. It got much worse with gradients; the syntax went through a number of major incompatible revisions, so you couldn’t even rely on copy/pasting and changing the property name!

And plenty of folks, well, fucked it up. I can’t blame them too much; I mean, this sucks. But enough pages used only the prefixed forms, and not the final form, that browsers had to keep supporting the prefixed form for longer than they would’ve liked to avoid breaking stuff. And if the prefixed form still works and it’s what you’re used to writing, then maybe you still won’t bother with the unprefixed one.

Worse, some people would only use the form that worked in their pet choice of browser. This got especially bad with the rise of mobile web browsers. The built-in browsers on iOS and Android are Safari (WebKit) and Chrome (originally WebKit, now a fork), so you only “needed” to use the -webkit- properties. Which made things difficult for Mozilla when it released Firefox for Android.

Hey, remember that whole debacle with IE 6? Here we are again! It was bad enough that Mozilla eventually decided to implement a number of -webkit- properties, which remain supported even in desktop Firefox to this day. The situation is goofy enough that Firefox now supports some effects only via these properties, like -webkit-text-stroke, which isn’t being standardized.

Even better, Chrome’s current forked engine is called Blink, so technically it shouldn’t be using -webkit- properties either. And yet, here we are. At least it’s not as bad as the user agent string mess.

Browser vendors have pretty much abandoned prefixing, now; instead they hide experimental features behind flags (so they’ll only work on the developer’s machine), and new features are theoretically designed to be smaller and easier to stabilize.

This mess was probably a huge motivating factor for the development of Sass and LESS, two languages that produce CSS. Or… two CSS preprocessors, maybe. They have very similar goals: both add variables, functions, and some form of macros to CSS, allowing you to eliminate a lot of the repetition and browser hacks and other nonsense from your stylesheets. Hell, this blog still uses SCSS, though its use has gradually decreased over time.

Flexbox

But then, like an angel descending from heaven… flexbox.

Flexbox has been around for a long time — allegedly it had partial support in Firefox 2, back in 2006! It went through several incompatible revisions and took ages to stabilize. Then IE took ages to implement it, and you don’t really want to rely on layout tools that only work for half your audience. It’s only relatively recently (2015? Later?) that flexbox has had sufficiently broad support to use safely. And I could swear I still run into folks whose current Safari doesn’t recognize it at all without prefixing, even though Safari supposedly dropped the prefixes five years ago…

Anyway, flexbox is a CSS implementation of a pretty common GUI layout tool: you have a parent with some children, and the parent has some amount of space available, and it gets divided automatically between the children. You know, it puts things next to each other.

The general idea is that the browser computes how much space the parent has available and the “initial size” of each child, figures out how much extra space there is, and distributes it according to the flexibleness of each child. Think of a toolbar: you might want each button to have a fixed size (a flex of 0), but want to add spacers that share any leftover space equally, so you’d give them a flex of 1.

Once that’s done, you have a number of quality-of-life options at your disposal, too: you can distribute the extra space between the children instead, you can tell the children to stretch to the same height or align them in various ways, and you can even have them wrap into multiple rows if they won’t all fit!

With this, we can take yet another crack at that thumbnail grid:

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.thumbnail-grid {
    display: flex;
    flex-wrap: wrap;
}
.thumbnail-grid li {
    flex: 1 0 250px;
}

This is miraculous. I forgot all about inline-block overnight and mostly salivated over this until it was universally supported. It even expresses very clearly what I want.

…almost. It still has the problem that too-wide cells will break the grid, since it’s still a horizontal row wrapped onto several independent lines. It’s pretty damn cool, though, and solves a number of other layout problems. Surely this is good enough. Unless…?

I’d say mass adoption of flexbox marked the beginning of the modern era of CSS. But there was one lingering problem…

The slow, agonizing death of IE

IE 6 took a long, long, long time to go away. It didn’t drop below 10% market share (still a huge chunk) until early 2010 or so.

Firefox hit 1.0 at the end of 2004. IE 7 wasn’t released until two years later, it offered only modest improvements, it suffered from compatibility problems with stuff built for IE 6, and the IE 6 holdouts (many of whom were not Computer People) generally saw no reason to upgrade. Vista shipped with IE 7, but Vista was kind of a flop — I don’t believe it ever came close to overtaking XP, not in its entire lifetime.

Other factors included corporate IT policies, which often take the form of “never upgrade anything ever” — and often for good reason, as I heard endless tales of internal apps that only worked in IE 6 for all manner of horrifying reasons. Then there was the entirety of South Korea, which was legally required to use IE 6 because they’d enshrined in law some security requirements that could only be implemented with an IE 6 ActiveX control.

So if you maintained a website that was used — or worse, required — by people who worked for businesses or lived in other countries, you were pretty much stuck supporting IE 6. Folks making little personal tools and websites abandoned IE 6 compatibility early on and plastered their sites with increasingly obnoxious banners taunting anyone who dared show up using it… but if you were someone’s boss, why would you tell them it’s okay to drop 20% of your potential audience? Just work harder!

The tension grew over the years, as CSS became more capable and IE 6 remained an anchor. It still didn’t even understand PNG alpha without workarounds, and meanwhile we were starting to get more critical features like native video in HTML5. The workarounds grew messier, and the list of features you basically just couldn’t use grew longer. (I’d show you what my blog looks like in IE 6, but I don’t think it can even connect — the TLS stuff it supports is so ancient and broken that it’s been disabled on most servers!)

Shoutouts, by the way, to some folks on the YouTube team, who in July 2009 added a warning banner imploring IE 6 users to switch to anything else — without asking anyone for approval. “Within one month… over 10 percent of global IE6 traffic had dropped off.” Not all heroes wear capes.

I’d mark the beginning of the end as the day YouTube actually dropped IE 6 support — March 13, 2010, almost nine years after its release. I don’t know how much of a direct impact YouTube has on corporate users or the South Korean government, but a massive web company dropping an entire browser sends a pretty strong message.

There were other versions of IE, of course, and many of them were messy headaches in their own right. But each subsequent one became less of a pain, and nowadays you don’t even have to think too much about testing in IE (now Edge). Just in time for Microsoft to scrap their own rendering engine and turn their browser into a Chrome clone.

Now

CSS is pretty great now. You don’t need weird fucking hacks just to put things next to each other. Browser dev tools are built in, now, and are fucking amazing — Firefox has started specifically warning you when some CSS properties won’t take effect because of the values of others! Obscure implicit side effects like “stacking contexts” (whatever those are) can now be set explicitly, with properties like isolation: isolate.

In fact, let me just list everything that I can think of that you can do in CSS now. This isn’t a guide to all possible uses of styling, but if your CSS knowledge hasn’t been updated since 2008, I hope this whets your appetite. And this stuff is just CSS! So many things that used to be impossible or painful or require clumsy plugins are now natively supported — audio, video, custom drawing, 3D rendering… not to mention the vast ergonomic improvements to JavaScript.

Layout

A grid container can do pretty much anything tables can do, and more, including automatically determining how many columns will fit. It’s fucking amazing. More on that below.

A flexbox container lays out its children in a row or column, allowing each child to declare its “default” size and what proportion of leftover space it wants to consume. Flexboxes can wrap, rearrange children without changing source order, and align children in a number of ways.

Columns will pour text into, well, multiple columns.

The box-sizing property lets you opt into the IE box model on a per-element basis, for when you need an entire element to take up a fixed amount of space and need padding/borders to subtract from that.

display: contents dumps an element’s contents out into its parent, as if it weren’t there at all. display: flow-root is basically an automatic clearfix, only a decade too late.

width can now be set to min-content, max-content, or the fit-content() function for more flexible behavior.

white-space: pre-wrap preserves whitespace, but breaks lines where necessary to avoid overflow. Also useful is pre-line, which collapses sequences of spaces down to a single space, but preserves literal newlines.

text-overflow cuts off overflowing text with an ellipsis (or custom character) when it would overflow, rather than simply truncating it. Also specced is the ability to fade out the text, but this is as yet unimplemented.

shape-outside alters the shape used when wrapping text around a float. It can even use the alpha channel of an image as the shape.

resize gives an arbitrary element a resize handle (as long as it has overflow).

writing-mode sets the direction that text flows. If your design needs to work for multiple writing modes, a number of CSS properties that mention left/right/top/bottom have alternatives that describe directions in terms of the writing mode: inset-block and inset-inline for position, block-size and inline-size for width/height, border-block and border-inline for borders, and similar for padding and margins.

Aesthetics

Transitions smoothly interpolate a value whenever it changes, whether due to an effect like :hover or e.g. a class being added from JavaScript. Animations are similar, but play a predefined animation automatically. Both can use a number of different easing functions.

border-radius rounds off the corners of a box. The corners can all be different sizes, and can be circular or elliptical. The curve also applies to the border, background, and any box shadows.

Box shadows can be used for the obvious effect of casting a drop shadow. You can also use multiple shadows and inset shadows for a variety of clever effects.

text-shadow does what it says on the tin, though you can also stack several of them for a rough approximation of a text outline.

transform lets you apply an arbitrary matrix transformation to an element — that is, you can scale, rotate, skew, translate, and/or do perspective transform, all without affecting layout.

filter (distinct from the IE 6 one) offers a handful of specific visual filters you can apply to an element. Most of them affect color, but there’s also a blur() and a drop-shadow() (which, unlike box-shadow, applies to an element’s appearance rather than its containing box).

linear-gradient(), radial-gradient(), the new and less-supported conic-gradient(), and their repeating-* variants all produce gradient images and can be used anywhere in CSS that an image is expected, most commonly as a background-image.

scrollbar-color changes the scrollbar color, with the downside of reducing the scrollbar to a very simple thumb-and-track in current browsers.

background-size: cover and contain will scale a background image proportionally, either big enough to completely cover the element (even if cropped) or small enough to exactly fit inside it (even if it doesn’t cover the entire background).

object-fit is a similar idea but for non-background media, like <img>s. The related object-position is like background-position.

Multiple backgrounds are possible, which is especially useful with gradients — you can stack multiple gradients, other background images, and a solid color on the bottom.

text-decoration is fancier than it used to be; you can now set the color of the line and use several different kinds of lines, including dashed, dotted, and wavy.

CSS counters can be used to number arbitrary elements in an arbitrary way, exposing the counting ability of <ol> to any set of elements you want.

The ::marker pseudo-element allows you to style a list item’s marker box, or even replace it outright with a custom counter. Browser support is spotty, but improving. Similarly, the @counter-style at-rule implements an entirely new counter style (like 1 2 3, i ii iii, A B C, etc.) which you can then use anywhere, though only Firefox supports it so far.

image-set() provides a list of candidate images and lets the browser choose the most appropriate one based on the pixel density of the user’s screen.

@font-face defines a font that can be downloaded, though you can avoid figuring out how to use it correctly by using Google Fonts.

pointer-events: none makes an element ignore the mouse entirely; it can’t be hovered, and clicks will go straight through it to the element below.

image-rendering can force an image to be resized nearest-neighbor rather than interpolated, though browser support is still spotty and you may need to also include some vendor-specific properties.

clip-path crops an element to an arbitrary shape. There’s also mask for arbitrary alpha masking, but browser support is spotty and hoo boy is this one complicated.

Syntax and misc

@supports lets you explicitly write different CSS depending on what the browser supports, though it’s nowhere near as useful nowadays as it would’ve been in 2004.

A > B selects immediate children. A + B selects siblings. A ~ B selects immediate (element) siblings. Square brackets can do a bunch of stuff to select based on attributes; most obvious is input[type=checkbox], though you can also do interesting things with matching parts of <a href>.

There are a whole bunch of pseudo-classes now. Many of them are for form elements: :enabled and :disabled; :checked and :indeterminate (also apply to radio and <option>); :required and :optional; :read-write and :read-only; :in-range/:out-of-range and :valid/:invalid (for use with HTML5 client-side form validation); :focus and :focus-within; and :default (which selects the default form button and any pre-selected checkboxes, radio buttons, and <option>s).

For targeting specific elements within a set of siblings, we have: :first-child, :last-child, and :only-child; :first-of-type, :last-of-type, and :only-of-type (where “type” means tag name); and :nth-child(), :nth-last-child(), :nth-of-type(), and :nth-last-of-type() (to select every second, third, etc. element).

:not() inverts a selector. :empty selects elements with no children and no text. :target selects the element jumped to with a URL fragment (e.g. if the address bar shows index.html#foo, this selects the element whose ID is foo).

::before and ::after should have two colons now, to indicate that they create pseudo-elements rather than merely scoping the selector they’re attached to. ::selection customizes how selected text appears; ::placeholder customizes how placeholder text (in text fields) appears.

Media queries do just a whole bunch of stuff so your page can adapt based on how it’s being viewed. The prefers-color-scheme media query tells you if the user’s system is set to a light or dark theme, so you can adjust accordingly without having to ask.

You can write translucent colors as #rrggbbaa or #rgba, as well as using the rgba() and hsla() functions.

Angles can be described as fractions of a full circle with the turn unit. Of course, deg and rad (and grad) are also available.

CSS variables (officially, “custom properties”) let you specify arbitrary named values that can be used anywhere a value would appear. You can use this to reduce the amount of CSS fiddling needs doing in JavaScript (e.g., recolor a complex part of a page by setting a CSS variable instead of manually adjusting a number of properties), or have a generic component that reacts to variables set by an ancestor.

calc() computes an arbitrary expression and updates automatically (though it’s somewhat obviated by box-sizing).

The vw, vh, vmin, and vmax units let you specify lengths as a fraction of the viewport’s width or height, or whichever of the two is bigger/smaller.


Phew! I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty and folks will have even longer lists of interesting tidbits in the comments. Thanks for saving me some effort! Now I can stop browsing MDN and do this final fun part.

State of the art thumbnail grid

At long last, we arrive at the final and objectively correct way to construct a thumbnail grid: using CSS grid. You can tell this is the right thing to use because it has “grid” in the name. Modern CSS features are pretty great about letting you say the thing you want and having it happen, rather than trying to coax it into happening implicitly via voodoo.

And it is oh so simple:

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.thumbnail-grid {
    display: grid;
    grid: auto-flow / repeat(auto-fit, minmax(250px, 1fr));
}

Done! That gives you a grid. You have myriad other twiddles to play with, just as with flexbox, but that’s the basic idea. You don’t even need to style the elements themselves; most of the layout work is done in the container.

The grid shorthand property looks a little intimidating, but only because it’s so flexible. It’s saying: fill the grid one row at a time, generating as many rows as necessary; make as many 250px columns as will fit, and share any leftover space between them equally.

CSS grids are also handy for laying out <dl>s, something that’s historically been a massive pain to make work — a <dl> contains any number of <dt>s followed by any number of <dd>s (including zero), and the only way to style this until grid was to float the <dt>s, which meant they had to have a fixed width. Now you can just tell the <dt>s to go in the first column and <dd>s to go in the second, and grid will take care of the rest.

And laying out your page? That whole sidebar thing? Check out how easy that is:

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body {
    display: grid;
    grid-template:
        "header         header          header"
        "left-sidebar   main-content    right-sidebar"
        "footer         footer          footer"
        / 1fr           6fr             1fr
    ;
}
body > header {
    grid-area: header;
}
#left-sidebar {
    grid-area: left-sidebar;
}
/* ... etc ... */

Done. Easy. It doesn’t matter what order the parts appear in the markup, either.

On the other hand

The web is still a little bit of a disaster. A lot of folks don’t even know that flexbox and grid are supported almost universally now; but given how long it took to get from early spec work to broad implementation, I can’t really blame them. I saw a brand new little site just yesterday that consisted mostly of a huge list of “thumbnails” of various widths, and it used floats! Not even inline-block! I don’t know how we managed to teach everyone about all the hacks required to make that work, but somehow haven’t gotten the word out about flexbox.

But far worse than that: I still regularly encounter sites that do their entire page layout with JavaScript. If you use uMatrix, your first experience is with a pile of text overlapping a pile of other text. Surely this is a step backwards? What are you possibly doing that your header and sidebar can only be laid out correctly by executing code? It’s not like the page loads with no CSS — nothing in plain HTML will overlap by default! You have to tell it to do that!

And then there’s the mobile web, which despite everyone’s good intentions, has kind of turned out to be a failure. The idea was that you could use CSS media queries to fit your normal site on a phone screen, but instead, most major sites have entirely separate mobile versions. Which means that either the mobile site is missing a bunch of important features and I’ll have to awkwardly navigate that on my phone anyway, or the desktop site is full of crap that nobody actually needs.

(Meanwhile, Google’s own Android versions of Docs/Sheets/etc. have, like, 5% of the features of the Web versions? Not sure what to make of that.)

Hmm. Strongly considering writing something that goes more into detail about improvements to CSS since the Firefox 3 era, similar to the one I wrote for JavaScript. But this post is long enough.

Some futures that never were

I don’t know what’s coming next in CSS, especially now that flexbox and grid have solved all our problems. I’m vaguely aware of some work being done on more extensive math support, and possibly some functions for altering colors like in Sass. There’s a painting API that lets you generate backgrounds on the fly with JavaScript using the canvas API, which is… quite something. Apparently it’s now in spec that you can use attr() (which evaluates to the value of an HTML attribute) as the value for any property, which seems cool and might even let you implement HTML tables entirely in CSS, but you could do the same thing with variables. I mean, um, custom properties. I’m more excited about :is(), which matches any of a list of selectors, and subgrid, which lets you add some nesting to a grid but keep grandchildren still aligned to it.

Much easier is to list some things that were the future, but fizzled out.

  • display: run-in has been part of CSS since version 2 (way back in ‘98), but it’s basically unsupported. The idea is that a “run-in” box is inserted, inline, into the next block, so this:

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    <h2 style="display: run-in;">Title</h2>
    <p>Paragraph</p>
    <p>Paragraph</p>
    

    displays like this:

    Title Paragraph

    Paragraph

    And, ah, hm, I’m starting to see why it’s unsupported. It used to exist in WebKit, but was apparently so unworkable as to be removed six years ago.

  • Alternate stylesheets” were popular in the early 00s, at least on a few of my friends’ websites. The idea was that you could list more than one stylesheet for your site (presumably for different themes), and the browser would give the user a list of them. Alas, that list was always squirrelled away in a menu with no obvious indication of when it was actually populated, so in the end, everyone who wanted multiple themes just implemented an in-page theme switcher themselves.

    This feature is still supported, but apparently Chrome never bothered implementing it, so it’s effectively dead.

  • More generally, the original CSS spec clearly expects users to be able to write their own CSS for a website — right in paragraph 2 it says

    …the reader may have a personal style sheet to adjust for human or technological handicaps.

    Hey, that sounds cool. But it never materialized as a browser feature. Firefox has userContent.css and some URL selectors for writing per-site rules, but that’s relatively obscure.

    Still, there’s clearly demand for the concept, as evidenced by the popularity of the Stylish extension — which does just this. (Too bad it was bought by some chucklefucks who started using it to suck up browser data to sell to advertisers. Use Stylus instead.)

  • A common problem (well, for me) is that of styling the label for a checkbox, depending on its state. Styling the checkbox itself is easy enough with the :checked pseudo-selector. But if you arrange a checkbox and its label in the obvious way:

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    <label><input type="checkbox"> Description of what this does</label>
    

    …then CSS has no way to target either the <label> element or the text node. jQuery’s (originally custom) selector engine offered a custom :has() pseudo-class, which could be used to express this:

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    /* checkbox label turns bold when checked */
    label:has(input:checked) {
        font-weight: bold;
    }
    

    Early CSS 3 selector discussions seemingly wanted to avoid this, I guess for performance reasons? The somewhat novel alternative was to write out the entire selector, but be able to alter which part of it the rules affected with a “subject” indicator. At first this was a pseudo-class:

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    label:subject input:checked {
        font-weight: bold;
    }
    

    Then later, they introduced a ! prefix instead:

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    !label input:checked {
        font-weight: bold;
    }
    

    Thankfully, this was decided to be a bad idea, so the current specced way to do this is… :has()! Unfortunately, it’s only allowed when querying from JavaScript, not in a live stylesheet, and nothing implements it anyway. 20 years and I’m still waiting for a way to style checkbox labels.

  • <style scoped> was an attribute that would’ve made a <style> element’s CSS rules only apply to other elements within its immediate parent, meaning you could drop in arbitrary (possibly user-written) CSS without any risk of affecting the rest of the page. Alas, this was quietly dropped some time ago, with shadow DOM suggested as a wildly inappropriate replacement.

  • I seem to recall that when I first heard about Web components, they were templates you could use to reduce duplication in pure HTML? But I can’t find any trace of that concept now, and the current implementations require JavaScript to define them, so there’s nothing declarative linking a new tag to its implementation. Which makes them completely unusable for anything that doesn’t have a compelling reason to rely on JS. Alas.

  • <blink> and <marquee>. RIP. Though both can be easily replicated with CSS animations.

That’s it

You’re still here? It’s over. Go home.

And maybe push back against Blink monoculture and use Firefox, including on your phone, unless for some reason you use an iPhone, which forbids other browser engines, which is far worse than anything Microsoft ever did, but we just kinda accept it for some reason.

Eevee gained 3169 experience points

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2020/01/14/eevee-gained-3169-experience-points/

Eevee grew to level 33!

I had kind of a rough year. Between medication issues, a lot of interpersonal tangles, and discovering ancient trauma, it feels like my head is full of static a lot of the time, and I don’t know how to create when I’m in that state. I might be able to function, even do rote programming work, but I just can’t synthesize.

And that sucks. I miss it. I miss writing! I barely wrote anything here all year. I’ve had a half-finished post open for months and just haven’t been able to wrap it up and get it out.

I’m working on it. It’s just hard.


Ash and I made Cherry Kisses (nsfw), probably the best puzzle game I’ve designed and the most polished game we’ve released, so that was nice. I also made a particle wipe generator out of the screen wipe effect I used in the game.

I started on baz, a game creator meant to kinda blend the styles of MegaZeux and PuzzleScript and bitsy, but it’s yet to see the light of day.

I worked a lot on fox flux — adding water physics, redesigning the player sprite, inventing some new mechanics, adding a menu, refactoring to use an ECS-like approach, massively cleaning up my collision code, and whatnot. I also got stuck in a quagmire of trying to make push physics work how I want, but never actually got it working despite pouring weeks and weeks into it, and now the whole codebase is in a broken shambles. Kind of a mixed bag there.

I finally started on GLEAM, an editor for the VN engine I’ve used for Floraverse for many years now. It’s not quite ready for public use, but it’s far enough along that I can make VNs with it and only a little manual adjusting, which is cool.

Twigs died.

After half a year of pulling teeth, we managed to get Ash’s divorce from Marl finalized.

Ash and I married.

I did the advent calendar, which included a dozen or so smaller projects. That was pretty fun, if a bit ambitious.

I drew more than the previous year, I think, and probably got better at it. I even drew some character references, at long last.


I don’t know what I’ll do this year! I’m tired of listing a bunch of ambitions and then not being able to do them. But I’ll keep trying.

Doom text generator

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2019/12/01/doom-text-generator/

Screenshot of a generator with controls for the font, color, scale, and alignment

🔗 Doom text generator, locally hosted

I’ve been mad my entire life that one of these didn’t seem to exist. ZDoom can print arbitrary text, of course, but only if you fuck around writing and compiling an ACS script or whatever! There’s no console command for it! Outrageous!!!

So I finally made this. It took like ten hours, which I have to say, is fucking incredible.

I don’t want to make a whole blog post out of this (I mean it was only ten hours) but a few points of interest:

  • Probably most of the work was in getting stuff out of Doom and into a usable format. The end result is a thorny combination of three different file format parsers (half of which I threw away), manual extraction from game files via SLADE, both PyPNG and ImageMagick for some reason, and way too much JSON.

  • Did you know that the small Doom font’s | (pipe) character is inexplicably assigned to lowercase y? Neither did I! It’s the only lowercase letter in the font — it only supports uppercase.

  • I fucking love CSS grid.

  • The colors are done using ZDoom’s font color translation. I always thought those were palette remappings — which is what “translation” means elsewhere in ZDoom — but no! They actually use the perceptual brightness of the font, stretched to the full range, and then mapped to a color gradient. It’s not at all what I expected (which led me to some dead ends early on), but it’s kind of cool.

  • Implementing undocumented RLE is fun because if you’re off by even a byte somewhere you suddenly have either ten times more or ten times less data than you expected and it’s all complete garbage.

  • I haven’t put the source code up yet but will eventually. I want to put it on itch, too, but I have to put together a whole page and stuff and I’m very tired now.

Anyway now you can make your own cool in-game textures and other shenanigans, enjoy!

Advent calendar 2019

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/release/2019/12/01/advent-calendar-2019/

Calendar of things I made during December, with little screenshots

🔗 Advent calendar, with links to individual projects

Happy new year!

For December, I had the absolutely ludicrous idea to do an advent calendar, whereupon I would make and release a thing every day until Christmas.

It didn’t go quite as planned! But some pretty good stuff still came out of it.


Day 1: I started out well enough with the Doom text generator (and accompanying release post), which does something simple that I’ve wanted for a long time but never seen anywhere: generate text using the Doom font. Most of the effort here was just in hunting down the fonts and figuring out how they worked; the rest was gluing them together with the canvas API. It could be improved further, but it’s pretty solid and useful as-is!

Day 2: I tried another thing I’d always wanted: making a crossword! (Solve interactively on squares.io!) I didn’t expect it to take all day, but it did, and even then I found a typo that I didn’t have time to fix, and I had to rush with the clues. All in all, an entertaining but way too difficult first attempt. I’d love to try doing this more, though.

Day 3: I’ve made a couple SVG visualizations before — most notably in my post on Perlin noise — and decided to take another crack at it. The result was a visualization of all six modern trig functions, showing the relationships between them in two different ways. I’m pretty happy with how this turned out, and delighted that I learned some relationships I didn’t know about before, either! I do wish I’d drawn some of the similar triangles to make the relationships more explicit, but I ran out of time — just orienting the text correctly took ages, especially since a lot of it needed different placement in all four quadrants. I vaguely intended to get around to doing a couple more of these, but it didn’t end up happening.

Days 4 and 7: I love the PICO-8‘s built-in tracker, which makes way more sense to me than any “real” tracker, and set out to replicate it for the web. The result is PICOtracker! Unfortunately, this one didn’t get fully finished (yet) — it can play back sounds and music from the hardcoded Under Construction cart, but doesn’t support editing yet. Most of my time went to figuring out the Web Audio API, figuring out what the knobs in the PICO-8 tracker actually do (and shoutout to picolove for acting as source code reference), and figuring out how to weld the two together. I definitely want to revisit this in the near future!

Day 5: I’d been recently streaming Eternal Doom III and was almost done, and I keep being really lazy about putting Doom streams on YouTube, so I finished up the game (which took far, far longer than I expected) and posted the whole thing as a playlist. It spans like 24 hours. Good if you, uh, just want some Doom noise to listen to in the background.

Day 6: I’d expected Eternal Doom to be a quick day so I could have a break, and it was not. So I took an explicit day off.

Days 8 and 13: I made flathack, a web roguelike with only one floor! The idea came from having played NetHack a great many times, and having seen the first floor much more than any other part of the dungeon — so why not make that the whole game? It needs a lot more work, but I’m happy to have finally published a roguelike, and I think it already serves its intended purpose at least a little bit: it’s a cute little timewaster that doesn’t keep killing you.

Days 9–12: I got food poisoning. It sucked. A lot.

Days 14–20: Fresh off of making flathack in only two days, I got a bit too big for my britches and decided to try writing an interactive fiction game. In one day. Spoilers: it took more than one day. But I think the result is pretty charming: Star Anise Chronicles: Escape from the Chamber of Despair, a game about being a cat and causing wanton destruction, and also the first Star Anise Chronicles game to actually be published. A good chunk of the time was spent just drawing illustrations for it, which weren’t strictly necessary, but they add a lot to the game and they did get me back in an art mood.

Day 21: I feel like I’ve been scared of color for a long time, and that’s no good, so I drew and colored something.

Day 22: I drew some weird porn, and colored it too! Porn is just a blast to draw, and it’d been a while. I’ll let you find the link on the calendar if you really want it.

Day 23: Did not exist, due to becoming nocturnal.

Day 24–28: I started a big reference of a bunch of my Flora characters way back in November 2018, but I tried to paint it when I didn’t know what I wanted in a painting style, and eventually I gave up. Flat colors are better for references anyway, so I tried again, and this time I finished! I’m really happy with how it came out — I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of art, maybe, just as I hit five years of trying. Again, it’s wildly NSFW, but the link is on the calendar.


All told, I didn’t quite end up with 25 distinct things, but I did make some interesting stuff — some of which I’d been thinking about for a long time — and I’ll call that a success.

I’d love to get flathack to the point that it’s worth playing repeatedly, make more crosswords, and finish PICOtracker — but those will have to wait, since my GAMES MADE QUICK??? FOUR jam is coming up in a few days!

And speaking of which, I need to put a bunch of this stuff on Itch!

Goodbye, Twigs

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2019/10/26/goodbye-twigs/

Twigs lounging in a cat tree, while a bright sunbeam illuminates him from behind

I did not expect my return to writing to be like this.

Twigs, our nine-year-old sphynx cat, has died.

He is survived by Pearl, his lovely niece; Anise, his best friend and sparring partner; Cheeseball, his wrestling protégé; and Napoleon, his oldest and dearest friend.

Twigs was Ash’s¹ cat, more than I have ever known anyone to be anyone’s cat. He loved them so much. No matter where in the house they went to sit or lie down, Twigs was practically guaranteed to appear a short time later to insert himself into their lap.

¹ For those who’ve been following along for some time, Ash used to go by Mel.

If there was no room for him, or Ash rebuffed him for whatever reason, or if he was just in the mood, his backup plan was to sit somewhere else and keep an eye on them. Sometimes I’d be talking to Ash and catch sight of Twigs behind them, staring at them. Just watching. I’d tell Ash, and they’d turn around and giggle at him, and he’d keep on staring. Sometimes they played hide-and-seek with him, ducking out of sight and then peeking back out at him; he might still be staring, or he might have trotted over to see where they went. Or they could call out to him, just say his name, and he’d acknowledge them with a little meow and come over. They could summon him silently, too, with nothing more than eye contact and a particular nod.

Sometimes we’d be sitting apart and Twigs would sit on me instead, laying chest-to-chest against me. He’d play this ridiculous game where he’d nuzzle my chin a few times, then look at Ash for a moment before doing it again. As if to say, hey, look what you’re missing out on. Or maybe just to say he hadn’t forgotten about them.

Twigs liked to sit at the top of the cat tree in our dining room, right in the path of a huge sunbeam for much of the day, where he could watch Ash at their desk and also see most of the house. We got a huge beanbag over the summer and put it behind Ash’s desk, and Twigs spent a lot of time there as well. He did his own thing at times, certainly, but it was rare for a day to go by without Twigs trying to be close to Ash.

If Ash was inaccessible — in someone else’s bedroom with the door closed, or in the backyard, or even in the bathroom for too long — Twigs would sit at the objectionable door and yell for them. I can’t think of many other cat meow I’d describe as a yell, but that’s definitively what Twigs did. MYAOOOW? MYEHHHH! When Ash was out of town, I’d often hear him trotting up and down the upstairs hallway, yelling for them — until he gave up looking for the moment and came to snuggle with me, just as intensely, like I were the one he’d been looking for all along.

His favorite thing in the world was bedtime, when Ash would finally not be distracted by anything else, and he could lay with them all night. All the cats sleep with us to varying degrees, but Twigs was usually the first to show up. His arrival was so distinct: the quiet footsteps, the weight on the bed, and then the purr would start up before we could even see him. He’d spend all night with us most nights, laying on Ash’s chest in the classic Sphinx pose or curled up behind their knees under the blanket.

I loved how frequently he showed up already purring, apparently anticipating how good of a time he was about to have. It came across as this comical overconfidence, like he took for granted that of course he would be involved in whatever Ash was doing. But his purr, as common and subdued as it was, was such a deep and full and genuine rumble. He made me feel like I’d earned it, like I must’ve done something truly admirable to earn this level of praise. I always called it regal. The purr of a king.

In the early morning hours of October 13, early enough that it was still the previous night, Twigs came downstairs and yelled. That wasn’t unusual; he’d yell for Ash’s attention all the time. But then he lay on his stomach, angled straight up like the actual Sphinx, a pose he exclusively reserved for comfy places like laps and cat beds.

Ash and I went over to check him out, but we couldn’t find any tender spots, injuries, or other obvious problems. My best guess was a stomachache, which wasn’t unheard of for Twigs; perhaps laying on his stomach helped settle it? The room was a little chilly and he wasn’t wearing a sweater, so Ash wrapped him in a blanket and set him on the beanbag he liked, in the path of a heat lamp.

We went to bed only an hour or so later, and Ash carried Twigs with them. Without the heat lamp on him, he was noticeably cold to the touch now, and starting to stumble. I didn’t think of it until later, but as cold as he was, he never shivered once.

We rushed him to a 24/7 emergency vet.

His temperature was 92 when we arrived. Normal body temperature for cats is around 100.

They set about warming him up, rushed through some authorizations, drew some blood, told us results would come in about thirty minutes.

Twigs didn’t make it that long. At 4:26 in the morning, cold and confused, somewhere in a sterile room apart from everyone he’d ever known and loved, his heart stopped.

Only three or four hours had passed since he first showed any signs of distress whatsoever, and Twigs was gone.

Twigs was so expressive! He had so much personality, and he showed all of it. Sphynxes seem a little easier to read than furred cats, but… well, Pearl is a little reserved, and Anise is downright incomprehensible. Twigs was an open book.

Photos don’t quite do him justice, since cats are easiest to photograph when they’re relaxing. All of his body language and facial expressions felt really crisp and distinct, like he wanted you to know what he was thinking, but didn’t want to ham it up. How do I even explain this? How would I explain the faces a human makes, even?

His “I love sitting on you” face, his “I want to eat that” face, his “this is a bit annoying but I’ll put up with it” face… they were all so clear and distinct, moreso than any of our other cats, moreso than any cat I’ve met. He’d even turn up the corners of his mouth when he was really happy, making a little cat smile.

His eyes were huge and beautiful, and we got to see them a lot while he played sentinel, perched somewhere with a good field of view. They were different colors, too! Only slightly, but in the right light, one was distinctly greener and the other distinctly bluer. It was obvious from a glance at his eyes whether he was staring into space, watching you, wanting something from you, or wanting to come over to you.

He was always, always delighted when someone would pet him. I don’t think Twigs ever acted solitary; he stands out as the most readily and consistently affectionate cat we’ve had. He even had a specific expression for when he was in a good mood and wanted someone to pet him, which I called “bedroom eyes” — both because he lidded his eyes a bit, and because he mostly did it when laying in bed with us. If he was especially happy, he’d come lie on your chest, scoot forwards as far as he possibly could, and give you super nuzzles all over your chin.

Twigs had a very pettable head, too. Broad, with his ears more to the sides. I always said he had a cheese head, because it reminded me of a cheese wedge? For some reason? He had a good cheese head, perfect for kissing (“kitten kisses”), which he seemed to understand was a sign of affection. He loved having his head pet so much that he’d keep tilting his head further and further back, ostensibly to press harder against your hand — but if he was perched on the top level of a cat tree, that made it harder to reach the top of his head, so you’d have to do this silly little negotiation with him. It made his smile all the easier to see, though.

He had some other quirky little “tells” that seemed subtle, but that gave away what he’d almost certainly do next: hesitating in a particular way before inexplicably dashing away, or looking up and around at the ceiling before doing a big meow.

His meows! Twigs had a huge vocabulary, and so much of it was for asking politely for things. His “yell” for when he wanted Ash was big and boisterous, with a little characteristic warble to it, and he opened his mouth comically wide when he did it. If he wanted Ash’s steak scraps (which he loved), he had a very reserved meow for asking for them. If he couldn’t get under a blanket, he had a different reserved meow for asking for help. He was the only cat who regularly did that funny chirpy meow at bugs on the wall, though we hadn’t heard that one since we left the Seattle area — Vegas didn’t have nearly as many bugs.

When Anise would roughhouse a bit too hard, Twigs had a distinct pained meow for “this is too much” that would bring one of us running. I didn’t hear it much after we got Cheeseball, who acts as a more eager sparring partner for Anise, until one day I heard a distorted version of it — and I found Twigs and Cheeseball happily wrestling! Twigs came up with a new meow, ending on a happy note rather than a painful one, just for when he was playing with this new giant kitten friend.

One of the most frustrating parts of this is that it’s so hard to capture a cat’s meows, or a lot of other subtleties. As vocal as Twigs was, he still only spoke when he had something to say, and that was rarely when he was in front of a camera. I remember them so clearly now, but how can I convey them in text? Myehhh doesn’t really cut it. (I’ve been sorting through old cat videos, but it’s slow going; I’ll throw some of them up somewhere in the near future.)

I don’t understand what happened.

The test results only showed that he was severely anemic — he had far too few red blood cells, so he couldn’t warm himself or get enough oxygen. They didn’t explain how he’d reached that point in a matter of hours without showing milder symptoms first.

The day had been entirely normal. Twigs had been happy and active earlier in the afternoon. He wasn’t in the habit of chewing or eating strange things. We keep all our cats indoors, and the others are still fine, so he couldn’t have picked up a communicable illness. If he’d ever shown any sign that anything was wrong, I know with absolute certainty that Ash would’ve noticed, just as I immediately noticed when my cat Styx had lost weight. But there was nothing.

What, then, actually happened to him? I don’t know. I’ll never know. I briefly thought to ask for an autopsy, but at the time, I couldn’t bear the thought of what that would… mean.

No explanation, no reason, nothing to blame. Twigs was his healthy happy self all day, all week, all month, all year. Right up until he wasn’t. And then he died.

Twigs was so friendly. Kind, even. He never hurt anyone; he rarely did anything unexpected or rambunctious. He rarely even messed with things he shouldn’t, in sharp contrast to Anise, who tries to push my phone off my desk anytime he wants my attention; the most Twigs would do was gingerly tap something with a paw to see if it would react, then move on.

(Well, with one exception. If he found an unguarded glass of water, but the water level was too low for him to reach it, he was smart enough to tip the whole glass over and douse everything on your desk. We switched to reusable water bottles years ago.)

I can’t think of a single time Twigs was mean or angry or even wanted to be alone. All the cats have times they’re comfortable and don’t want to be disturbed, or just aren’t in the mood, or whatever — except Twigs.

If Ash scolded him (“Twigs!”), he’d dash off to a cat tree and scrabble at it briefly, taking his frustrations out with a few quick scratches and this funny little shimmy of his hips, then forget all about it. In extreme cases, he might run upstairs to our empty bedroom, yell once or twice, then come back down. Or in milder cases, when he couldn’t get something he wanted, he’d snort audibly and that was that. It was so, so charming — if he was upset, all he needed to do was go somewhere to yell about it for a moment, and then he was fine.

He was so patient, too. Ash put little costumes on him a few times, which he took in stride — well, for a cat, at least. He was always happy to be picked up, wrapped in clothing or a blanket, and/or held in all manner of silly positions. You could check his teeth and he’d hardly mind at all. Play with his ears, shake his paw, squish his lip, whatever; he was content just to be interacted with. (I suspect there was some mutual reinforcement between Ash doing goofy things to Twigs, and Twigs laying in increasingly obnoxious ways on Ash.)

He didn’t much like having his claws trimmed, and when Ash would do it, he used to bite the squishy part of their thumb — but not bite down, only put his teeth around their hand. Enough to communicate “I don’t like this” without trying to hurt them. Ash eventually started bribing him with cat treats every few claws, and then he disliked the process a bit less.

His good nature extended to the other cats, as well. He befriended every cat we’ve ever had! I didn’t really think about it until after he died, but if I ever saw two or more cats hanging out together, Twigs was almost guaranteed to be one of them. He was the binding force of our little cat sitcom.

There was one brief exception, when Ash first adopted Pearl — the first new cat since Twigs that was 100% Ash’s. They kept Pearl with them all the time at first, and Twigs got so jealous. Very early on he made his feelings very clear: he stood on the other side of the room, stared right at Ash (and Pearl), and made a huge meow at them. Then after like three days he found out that he and Pearl could both fit in Ash’s lap and everything was fine.

He’d cozy up with Anise or Pearl for warmth, and we’d often see all three of them nestled together, as though Twigs’s soothing presence deterred Anise and Pearl from their usual squabbling. He had an awkward but friendly relationship with Napoleon, the most aloof of the cats by far, who doesn’t show much affection towards any of the others except Pearl. I remember Napoleon used to refuse to groom Twigs anywhere but on the backs of his ears (the only place he had fur!), but after some years together, we started to see Napoleon grooming Twigs’s face and neck as well. For Napoleon, that was a really close friendship.

Twigs was even friends with Apollo, the German shepherd we used to have, who was much bigger than this tiny bald cat. I have a video of Twigs and Apollo playing, where Apollo is gently nudging Twigs around with his nose and Twigs alternates between nuzzling and lightly smacking Apollo. What a sweetheart. I don’t think any other cat interacted with Apollo quite like that.

He had a somewhat more complicated dynamic with Anise, who’s a good bit rowdier and more… destructive. Anise liked to start little brawls a lot, which wasn’t quite Twigs’s usual style, but he’d play along until Anise got too rough. (It probably didn’t help that Twigs would often respond by grabbing Anise by the sweater, which allowed Anise to wriggle backwards out of it and unleash his full powers.)

It’s been funny looking at older photos; when we first got Anise, Twigs was pristine, with maybe a scar or two on his haunch somewhere. (And all down the top of his tail, which he liked to nibble with some intensity.) At the end of his life, Twigs was riddled with little round scars from where Anise had bitten his back, and even a conspicuous dark spot right on top of his head. Who bites someone’s head?

I don’t remember his relationship with Styx as clearly, but I have enough photo evidence of it. The two of them were very close and spent a lot of time snuggled together, whether sleeping or just hanging out. We even got them matching pink sweaters! I’d forgotten that was deliberate. They played together, too, though much less seriously than Anise and on more “even” terms.

Six and a half years ago, my own cat Styx died. He’d been my cat, the way Twigs was Ash’s cat, sticking to me like glue the whole time I had him. But then Styx contracted a cruel and incurable illness, one that can strike even indoor cats and prefers to take the young. He wasted away over the course of a month.

I’d like to think that, whatever it was that took Twigs from us, maybe this swift departure saved him from the kind of long and excruciating ordeal that Styx went through.

I wrote his eulogy the day after he died. I avoided looking at it for years, but finally went back and read it a few days ago. It seemed so short! Was that really all I had to say about him? I knew him for over a year, yet I feel like I barely got to know him — I think Cheeseball is already older than Styx was when he died, and Cheeseball’s personality is still rapidly developing.

I was more shocked to find my own tweets from soon after Styx’s death, saying I couldn’t even look at photos of him. How long did that last? I don’t remember.

It hurt too much, so I avoided his memory, and now so much of it is a fragmented blur. Watching him deterioriate was gut-wrenching, and the worst part of his life — but it’s what I spilled the most ink on, and the part I need the least help remembering. Why did I write so much about that month? None of it was important in the end, yet I liveblogged every gratuitous medical detail. I guess I didn’t know what else to do, watching Styx wither away in my arms, while I couldn’t do anything about it.

I still cry for him, sometimes. I get a little sad over something else, and I remember Styx, and I cry. No matter how many of the details fade, I know I had a little cat named Styx who I loved dearly, and he loved me back.

This feels like a second chance, though. I won’t make the same mistake again.

It was hard to grieve with Ash all those years ago, back when things were so awkward. Now we can mourn together, and thinking about Twigs doesn’t sting the way thinking about Styx used to. It finally feels okay to remember Styx, too, and I’ve been rediscovering some old moments as I’ve sorted through photos in search of Twigs.

We’ve been celebrating and filling our space with both of them — we printed out physical copies of our favorite photo of each and put them in little thematic frames. Their pawprint casts are together on a shelf behind Ash’s desk. Nearby is Twigs’s urn, and I’d like to put Styx’s humble grave marker next to it, once I figure out where I packed it. Ash is painting portraits of them.

At my suggestion, we threw Twigs a little goodbye party — I baked a pumpkin cake (in honor of his homemade pumpkin cat food and the one fall he loved a tiny pumpkin), Ash decorated it, and we talked about Twigs and all the things about him that we miss. I insisted we wear party hats.

I’ve been taking notes on his life ever since he died, all so I could write this eulogy for him. It’s intimidating and even more difficult than I expected, trying to capture a life that meant so much to us in only a few thousand words. I hope I’m doing him justice. I want everyone to know how good Twigs was, and how much we’ve lost.

Twigs had his sassy side, but it was always sweet and harmless. Less like typical cat aloofness, more like that charming confidence of showing up to cuddle with his purr already in full swing, completely taking for granted that he was welcome and was about to enjoy himself. Or the similar energy he put on display when you were on a couch and he wanted to sit on you: he’d identify the most Twigs-shaped nook on your body and wedge his butt backwards into it, sometimes even hoisting himself with his front legs a bit, like a human settling into a recliner.

For example: if Twigs tried to approach Ash but Ash pushed him away — e.g., because they were eating or painting or their lap was occupied — then Twigs would often do a complete circle around the table or part of the room, only to approach Ash again from the other direction. It was so comical! So gentle and friendly, but cheerfully defiant about being near Ash. As if he couldn’t even imagine that he was disallowed for the moment. The problem must have been with his approach. There’s just no other rational explanation.

Since living in Colorado, we’ve occasionally come home and opened the front door only for Twigs to immediately dart outside… just so he could cross the front porch, stop at the nearest blade of grass, and bite it. None of the other cats have ever shown any interest in grass, but every once in a great while, Twigs would just get a hankering, and it’s the only reason he’s ever so much as attempted to leave the house. (Thank goodness.)

The thing that hit hardest right after he died was the feeding routine. Several of the cats eat storebought food, kept out of reach in a big dog cage we bought for this purpose, while Pearl and Twigs share homemade food. For the last couple months, whenever I went to go open the cage to let the other cats in, Twigs would trot along with them! He wouldn’t actually go in the cage, and he’d even slow down before getting to it (so the others would get ahead and it’d be easy to keep him out), but he acted like he belonged inside. It was such a perfect reflection of his personality: he went after something he wanted, yet he stopped short of breaking the rules.

Twigs knew how to have a good time, too. He loved rollin’ around on carpet. He’d wriggle on his back, grab the carpet with his claws and pull himself along it, and clearly be having the time of his life. Our Vegas home didn’t have any carpeted floors, but we added a little carpeted platform to the stairs (so the cats wouldn’t fall off!) and he had just as good a time on that. Later we got some small cat trees with singular round platforms, and those had a carpet texture he loved as well.

Rollin’ around would put Twigs in a feisty mood, and he’d reach out to smack anyone — cat, dog, or human — who came nearby. Ash would make a game out of this: they’d tap the floor nearby or the edge of the platform, then try to pull their hand away before Twigs “got” them. Sometimes Twigs would make a very riled-up face but not try to get you, and you could wind him up a little more by performing the “cat pat” — lightly and repeatedly tapping his haunch with your fingertips. You could watch him get more rowdy in real time, and then the game was to stop before he suddenly rolled over and tried to grab your hand.

Our home near Seattle was just up the street from a big park, and on a couple occasions, Ash took Twigs out for a walk on a little leash. On one such walk, while I was holding Twigs’s leash, he suddenly darted straight away from me and towards some underbrush! The leash caught him, of course, but he was running so fast that it actually yanked him right off the ground and flipped him over. (He was fine, albeit just as surprised as we were!)

(On another walk, Twigs stood right in front of Ash and made a huge myeehhhh up at them, clearly indicating that he was Done With Outside For Now. Poor baby. Ash picked him up, wrapped him in their sweatshirt, and held him until we got home. He really knew how to say exactly what he was thinking.)

Twigs played the typical cat games as well, when he felt like it — he might join in when we were playing string with Pearl, or teleport into the room when the laser pointer came out. One of the last things Twigs played with was a tiny mouse toy, ripped and with its stuffing pouring out. He sometimes liked to carry them around, roll around on the floor fighting them, then carry them somewhere else and do it again. He had a surprising ferocity with toys at times: wild eyes and incredibly quick pounces! It made me appreciate all the more how gentle he was with cats and people.

Once in a great while he’d play fetch, repeatedly bringing the same toy (or twist-tie or something) back to Ash’s feet so they could toss it and he could pounce it again. I even have an old video of Twigs playing chase: Ash would dash down the hallway, Twigs would dart after them with an intensely serious expression, Ash would yelp that Twigs “caught” them, and then they’d run down the hallway the other way. I don’t think any other cat we’ve had has really done that! They’ll run away from us, but not try to chase us around.

(Ash put fantasy “Luneko” versions of all our cats in NEON PHASE, a little game we made a few years ago, and I was struck by how Branch Commander Twig’s personality was so serious, when Twigs struck me as mostly lighthearted and friendly. But then, I suppose Twigs was very serious — about being lighthearted and friendly.)

I can’t tell what effect this has had on the other cats. They were all friendly with Twigs. Do they wonder where he is? Do they, too, assume he’s out of sight somewhere? Are they grieving? Will they grieve later?

The other cats got to saw Styx’s body, but Twigs died elsewhere. We have no way to tell them what happened to him. They just have to… guess? After living their whole lives with him? That sucks.

I think they’ve been more affectionate over the past week or so. Or they might be cuddling more because it’s getting colder. Or I might be paying more attention to them. Hard to say.

They do seem to be expanding their roles to fill Twigs’s niche. Napoleon, best known for spending almost all his time alone, has come and hung out on the couch — virtually unheard of. Anise and Cheeseball are, well, fighting each other instead of both fighting Twigs — but they’re starting fewer fights with Pearl. Pearl, who has had absolutely no tolerance for Anise since we left Vegas, has spent whole nights asleep next to him without making a fuss.

I guess they learned a lot from him.

Twigs was also fiercely loyal, but thankfully only had to show it a couple times.

We spent last summer in Marl’s parents’ unused (finished) basement, where they kept four cats of their own. (For a total of nine. We had quite a time.) One of them, Seamus, kept antagonizing our only furry cat, Napoleon.

We aren’t really sure how or why this started, but every so often, Seamus would start chasing Napoleon around, and Napoleon would scream. I don’t know why Napoleon was so scared of him, or what Seamus thought he was doing, or why he couldn’t understand that Napoleon didn’t like it. It was a constant source of stress for everyone; Seamus did it infrequently but seemingly on a whim, and we didn’t have many options for segregating the cats outright.

The incredible thing was, every time Seamus would start chasing Napoleon… Twigs would start chasing Seamus. And then Pearl would chase along with Twigs. And this would often end with Twigs and Pearl facing Seamus down, with Twigs saying some very nasty things that I will not repeat here.

(Anise would often show up and also run around, but he didn’t seem to understand why everyone was making such a fuss. While Twigs and Pearl were cornering Seamus, Anise would be standing next to them while mostly looking confused. Hey guys I see we’re playing chase!! I love chase too!! Oh why’d we all stop?)

I wouldn’t say it helped matters much, but it was strangely heartwarming. Twigs considered Napoleon his friend and had no problem telling this strange bully cat, a Maine Coon twice his size, to fuck right off.

Oh, but that’s nothing.

Apollo, that German shepherd we used to have, once somehow managed to knock down a whole set of shelves in Ash’s room. Ash, of course, yelled his name in response. They must’ve sounded really mad, because Twigs appeared instantly. He stood right in front of Apollo (separating him from Ash), in a very aggressive stance, making some very threatening growls and meows.

And he chased Apollo out of the room and right down the hallway.

All Twigs knew was that Apollo had seriously upset Ash, and that was that. No questions asked. This tiny little cat stood up to a giant wolf, because he thought Ash needed defending. Twigs was never aggressive or mean towards Apollo any other time, before or since. This only happened once, once ever, when Twigs thought Ash was in danger.

What a brave cat! If Apollo had wished Ash (or Twigs) harm, well, I don’t like those odds. But Twigs didn’t even think twice. We’ve never stopped marvelling over it.

I say “brave” very deliberately, because Twigs while was not fearless, he stood up to his fears. The only one we really saw was a fear of, ah, foam strips. See, we used to have a tiny “gym” in the corner of the kitchen, and the equipment sat on a foam mat made out of tiles with jigsaw edges that could fit together. To give the assembled mat a smooth perimeter, the tiles also came with thin edge pieces.

Foot traffic (or cats) could knock one of the edge pieces loose, leaving a strip of black foam alone on the floor. Twigs found this highly alarming. He would crouch down and eye it very suspiciously, creep up to give it a light smack and then back off, and generally treat it like a live wire. We assume it looked like a snake to him, though no other cat took interest in the edge pieces except to play with them, and Twigs never reacted the same way to anything else snake-shaped.

But he didn’t run away. He investigated, to see if it was dangerous, see if there was a predator in his home. Even after we’d find him doing this and put the foam piece back, Twigs would creep around for a while, looking for possible snakes until he was convinced it was gone. He was clearly very wary, yet he never ran, never hid.

The only other times I recall seeing Twigs anything close to scared were when he encountered a couple of accessories that resembled large animals: a Lucario hat Ash bought many years ago, and one of those goofy horse masks. I’m not even sure if “scared” is even the right word; he looked more annoyed? He neither backed down nor tried to attack them. I only remember him standing his ground and hissing, warning them to leave him alone.

I never heard him hiss any other time.

(Ash did, though. Once as a tiny kitten, our late cat Granite sat on him. A big furry cat just sat his ass right down on this little kitten. Kitten Twigs hissed about this, but kittens aren’t very ferocious hissers, so it came out khh! khh!, which Granite ignored.Funnily enough, once Twigs grew up, he developed his own habit of sitting on furred cats!)

We haven’t had a death since Styx. Twigs’s best friend! I never once expected Twigs would be the next to go. Now Napoleon is the only one left of the original crew.

Ash moved in with me not long after adopting Twigs. I don’t think he was even a year old. I knew him his entire adult life! I lived with him longer than I’ve lived with anyone, save my parents as a kid.

For so many years, it’s been Ash and Twigs. The inseparable duo, joined at the hip. I knew it would end someday, but I was so sure that day was much further off. I thought he’d be around for another five years at least, and secretly hoped he’d make it another ten. But we only got half of that. He loved twice as hard, and his heart burned out far too early.

He had so much life left in him. He played, he ran around, he wrestled (or, at least, was wrestled upon). He was still growing, inventing new antics and new ways to interact with us.

It’s been a strange experience. I couldn’t even absorb the factual knowledge of his death at first, even as I spent much of the first few days crying. How could Twigs die? That doesn’t make any sense; I haven’t seen him yet today, but he’ll show up soon. But I feel really sad. Oh, right, that’s because Twigs died. Rinse, repeat, over and over.

We picked his ashes a few days later. It’s been nice to have him home again, and it helps to have something physical to look at, rather than just the lack of his presence. Ash intends to paint his urn.

It got easier much more quickly than I expected, and that’s been weird as well. I wanted to hold onto his memory and be happy for the time I got to spend with him, and then that actually happened. I think about him a lot (especially over the multiple days it’s taken to write this), and a lot of little things remind me of him, but they don’t make me break down in tears. Usually.

That feels a little bad. But I know that hurting less doesn’t mean I loved him any less. And I know the last thing Twigs would want is for us to be sad.

Twigs was the best. I miss so much about him. I miss the way his whole nose scrunched up when he did a big meow. I miss his distinct little trot as he came down the hallway to see you. I miss watching him do eager little circles on the floor as I got the food out. I miss how he’d smack his lips as he showed up, a distinct and inexplicable quirk I’ve never seen in any other cat, a good compliment to how long he’d spend licking his chops after eating. I miss his huge ears! I miss “savannah cat” — when he’d hook his paws over the edge of something he was lying on, like an arm or the edge of a cat bed or the corner of my computer tower. I miss what a serene and calming presence he was.

It’s funny how some of the most memorable moments are things he only did one time. He joined Ash in the bathtub once — they were reading a book and Twigs came in, hopped in the bath, and sat in water up to his neck, just to be with them. He often announced his presence with a questioning meow when coming into Ash’s Vegas room at night, and once he did this really funny “meow-ow!” kind of double meow, and we’ve repeated it to each other as a nod to Twigs ever since, even though he never did it again.

One fall, we got a tiny pumpkin — the size of a slightly disappointing donut — and Twigs was enamored with it. We’d roll it along its edge and he’d chase after it and keep biting it, and it was so cute. Another fall, we bought another one, and Twigs wasn’t interested in it at all. Very cutting-edge of him. Tiny pumpkin is so last year.

He used to be really interested in eggs, too. For a while, we couldn’t turn our backs on an egg on the counter, because Twigs would materialize and start gently batting it around. Then he lost interest.

I miss how he slept with me. He’d always slept either behind my knees or on top of the covers, but right towards the end of his life, he invented a new trick, just for me. I sleep on my side, so he couldn’t lay on my chest; instead, he went under the covers, poked his head out, and lay against my chest with his head on my pillow. Like a little person! It was so sweet. He’d then keep nuzzling my face with his cold wet nose, which was kind of annoying. I miss that, too.

Even the annoying things are conspicuously absent. He frequently stepped on my hair while I was in bed, trying to get around me to get to Ash, and wow that is painful. Twigs groomed his cat sweaters more intensely than any other cat, biting the fabric and pulling so hard that it stretched and made this horrible high-pitched squeak, like nails on a chalkboard. He loved to groom people, too — usually on the chin or upper chest, since that’s what was accessible when he lay on you. Somehow Ash got used to it (and learned to redirect him to their palm, which he’d lick for ages), but I could never bear more than a few seconds of his cheese grater tongue.

What a good cat.

I felt like I’d been waiting for this all year. I don’t want to go much into it, but death has felt like a looming spectre almost since we moved in. The pointlessness of doing things, the feeling that I’m just passing time waiting to die, the occasional intrusive thought about a tragic accident befalling one of us or one of the cats. Never Twigs, though.

Last year was harder on me than I thought. I fired on all cylinders, trying to get Ash back on their feet, and once that happened… I deflated and never quite recovered. I lost a lot of my drive, my spark, my voice. I got frustrated with difficult work much more easily. I stopped writing. I stopped interacting. I stopped trying.

I didn’t even realize. Even as I felt increasingly distant and detached from the universe, I still thought I’d been pretty normal all year with only a few rough patches. It’s been hard to compare the past to the present, separated as they are by a strange and tumultuous six months that changed almost everything. Then Ash commented that I’d seemed kind of down all year. What a jolt that was, and only a few days before Twigs died.

Twigs’s death feels like a kick in the ass. I’ve felt a lot of despair over the past year, but all of it has been tied to anxieties and what-ifs — imaginary things. But this is sad, which is very different. This carries a pain for something tangible, something real, something important, something I want to hold onto. How can any of my little fantasy fears matter, when the loss of a cat outweighs all of them combined?

I don’t want to waste any more time. I want to reflect what I admired about Twigs: kind, patient, confident, and loving. I want to make this mean something.

Twigs had a good life. He spent it around people and cats he loved dearly, and who loved him right back. He had friends when he was lonely and blankets when he was chilly.

Oh, did he ever love blankets. Sphynxes are naked and tend to seek out warmth, of course, but of the four we’ve had, Twigs was by far the one who treated heat sources like a passion rather than mere physical comfort. His ability to identify the most snuggly spot to back his ass into was nothing short of superfeline. Sometimes he’d toast himself so well that he turned a little pink! And he used to do this incredible display of cat paws, with all four paws, accompanied by the occasional meow — but only on a specific blanket that we’ve long since lost.

He was also the one who tolerated cat sweaters the best (despite inflicting the most destruction on them). Anise’s powers of antagonism are greatly reduced in a sweater, and he will run away if he sees you approaching him with one; Pearl still does a funny awkward walk with her back half lower to the ground, even after wearing them through half a dozen winters. But Twigs in a sweater just acted like Twigs.

And what a well-travelled cat! He lived in four states and drove through half a dozen others. That’s more of the world than a decent number of humans see. He got to meet and snuggle with all kinds of other cats, and even some sort of giant wolf-cat who tried to herd him occasionally. He got to see the great outdoors, then decided he didn’t like it and returned to the great indoors.

Twigs did spend a couple of his later years afflicted with “pillow paw” — his pawpads swelled up one day, for seemingly no reason. Our vet couldn’t find an underlying cause, and meanwhile it was uncomfortable for him to land on his feet from a height. Poor guy. I’m eternally grateful to the vet we found last summer, who finally solved the mystery and cured him. He got to spend his final year active and unhindered again.

Ash spent much of our last couple Vegas years secluded in their office, too, so Twigs didn’t get as much face time as I’m sure he would’ve liked. But in our new place, both of our desks are out in the open and right next to each other, so Twigs could see them whenever he wanted. Sometimes he lay on a cat bed on my desk watching them, or strolled back and forth between us both, purring up a storm.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for all of us, but I think the last year was the best year of his life.

I miss Twigs, but I smile when I think about him. He made us so happy while he was here.

Twigs came into Ash’s life while they were somewhat adrift — no clear goals, no home of their own, resigned to an unhappy marriage. He stuck with them for nine whole years, unwavering in his affection. He followed them down into the darkness, down where they couldn’t feel love from anyone — anyone except Twigs.

Now Ash has work and a community they love. We have a home together, and it finally feels like one. And by sheer coincidence, Ash’s divorce was finalized mere days after Twigs died. His entire life was contained within that marriage, from birth to death.

(Oh, we’re married now. Hurrah.)

Ash adopted Twigs almost on a whim, and he left us just as abruptly. As though he’d only shown up in the first place to help Ash when they needed it, and with Marl finally out of our lives, his work here was done.

The last thing Twigs did, the night that he died, was tell us he loved us. Ash put him under the blanket to try warming him up, and at first he was by our feet… but then he crawled up to slump against me, similar to how he did when I was alone in bed, and then he climbed on Ash’s chest and lay on them for a moment. Right at the end, as cold and confused as he must’ve felt, all he wanted was to be with Ash, to be with both of us.

I don’t know where Twigs is, now. He might be nowhere. But the universe has consistently proven itself to be more baffling and beautiful than I expect, so I’ll hold out hope that he’s somewhere — somewhere he can once again see Styx, his (other) best friend in the whole wide world. Somewhere that we can see them both again, one day.

Goodbye, Twigs! We’ll always love you, and we’ll always miss you.

Thank you, so much, for everything.

A colorful and abstract painting of Twigs

Weekly roundup: Foglights

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/09/22/weekly-roundup-foglights/

Hello!! This is just the year of endless interruptions. I switched medication and I’m functional, but I think I have withdrawal from going off the old stuff, so I’ve been a little spacey for about a week. Hoping it passes soon! Also some other distractions happened. But in the meantime I’ve been drawing a lot.

  • art: I’ve been joining Ash’s commission streams for the past week or so and mostly doodling porn, but after doing that for a while, I decided I should try coloring stuff again, so now I’m doing that also. Definitely need the practice, but really enjoying seeing myself produce more finished work again. I guess I could go put some of that work in the canonical place, too.

  • blog: I did a whole bunch of work on a blog post which is going to be preposterously long, but hey, what a way to come back. Hoping to finish it by the end of the month, if I can get my brain working again.

  • alice: Still writing for this…

Weekly roundup: All that glistens

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/09/12/weekly-roundup-all-that-glistens/

  • fox flux: I’ve been kind of taking a break from physics, but I did have some ideas about how extrinsic velocity could work, got them working for a conveyor belt, and then extended the same concept to a rough rework of pushing. It works surprisingly well given how little time I spent on it, so that’s very promising.

  • gleam: I put together the first production VN with it, and although I had to cheat and hand-edit a bit, GLEAM grew a bunch of useful stubs of features along the way! It’s getting there. Also I discovered a fascinating edge case in Firefox when you have 800 images visible but all but one of them have zero opacity.

Old CSS, new CSS

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2019/09/07/old-css-new-css/

I first got into web design/development in the late 90s, and only as I type this sentence do I realize how long ago that was.

And boy, it was horrendous. I mean, being able to make stuff and put it online where other people could see it was pretty slick, but we did not have very much to work with.

I’ve been taking for granted that most folks doing web stuff still remember those days, or at least the decade that followed, but I think that assumption might be a wee bit out of date. A little while ago I encountered a tweet incredulous at the lack of border-radius back in the day. I still remember waiting with bated breath for it to be unprefixed!

But then, I suspect I also know a number of folks who only tried web design in the old days, and assume nothing about it has changed since.

I’m here to tell all of you to get off my lawn. Here’s a history of CSS and web design, as I remember it.


The very early days

In the beginning, there was no CSS. This was very bad.

My favorite artifact of this era is the book I learned HTML from, HTML: The Definitive Guide, published in several editions in the mid to late 90s. The book was indeed about HTML, with no mention of CSS at all. I don’t have it any more and can’t readily find screenshots online, but here’s a page from HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide, which seems to be a revision (I’ll get to XHTML later) with much the same style. Here, then, is the cutting-edge web design advice of 199X:

Screenshot of a plain website in IE, with plain black text on a white background with a simple image

Clearly delineate headers and footers with horizontal rules.

No, that’s not a border-top. That’s an <hr>. The page title is almost certainly centered with, well, <center>.

The page uses the default text color, background, and font. Partly because this is a guidebook introducing concepts one at a time; partly because the book was printed in black and white; and partly, I’m sure, because it reflected the reality that coloring anything was a huge pain in the ass.

Let’s say you wanted all your <h1>s to be red, across your entire site. You had to do this:

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<H1><FONT COLOR=red>...</FONT></H1>

every single goddamn time. Hope you never decide to switch to blue!

Oh, and everyone wrote HTML tags in all caps. I don’t remember why we all thought that was a good idea. Maybe this was before syntax highlighting in text editors was very common (read: I was 12 and using Notepad), and uppercase tags were easier to distinguish from body text.

Keeping your site consistent was thus something of a nightmare. One solution was to simply not style anything, which a lot of folks did. This was nice, in some ways, since browsers let you change those defaults, so you could read the web how you wanted.

A clever alternate solution, which I remember showing up in a lot of Geocities sites, was to simply give every page a completely different visual style. Fuck it, right? Just do whatever you want on each new page.

That trend was quite possibly the height of web design.

Damn, I miss those days. There were no big walled gardens, no Twitter or Facebook. If you had anything to say to anyone, you had to put together your own website. It was amazing. No one knew what they were doing; I’d wager that the vast majority of web designers at the time were clueless hobbyist tweens (like me) all copying from other clueless hobbyist tweens. Half the web was fan portals about Animorphs, with inexplicable splash pages warning you that their site worked best if you had a 640×480 screen. (Anyone else should, I don’t know, get a new monitor?) Everyone who was cool and in the know used Internet Explorer 3, the most advanced browser, but some losers still used Netscape Navigator so you had to put a “Best in IE” animated GIF on your splash page too.

This was also the era of “web-safe colors” — a palette of 216 colors, where every channel was one of 00, 33, 66, 99, cc, or ff — which existed because some people still had 256-color monitors! The things we take for granted now, like 24-bit color.

In fact, a lot of stuff we take for granted now was still a strange and untamed problem space. You want to have the same navigation on every page on your website? Okay, no problem: copy/paste it onto each page. When you update it, be sure to update every page — but most likely you’ll forget some, and your whole site will become an archaeological dig into itself, with strata of increasingly bitrotted pages.

Much easier was to use frames, meaning the browser window is split into a grid and a different page loads in each section… but then people would get confused if they landed on an individual page without the frames, as was common when coming from a search engine like AltaVista. (I can’t believe I’m explaining frames, but no one has used them since like 2001. You know iframes? The “i” is for inline, to distinguish them from regular frames, which take up the entire viewport.)

PHP wasn’t even called that yet, and nobody had heard of it. This weird “Perl” and “CGI” thing was really strange and hard to understand, and it didn’t work on your own computer, and the errors were hard to find and diagnose, and anyway Geocities didn’t support it. If you were really lucky and smart, your web host used Apache, and you could use its “server side include” syntax to do something like this:

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<BODY>
    <TABLE WIDTH=100% BORDER=0 CELLSPACING=8 CELLPADDING=0>
        <TR>
            <TD COLSPAN=2>
                <!--#include virtual="/header.html" --> 
            </TD>
        </TR>
        <TR>
            <TD WIDTH=20%>
                <!--#include virtual="/navigation.html" --> 
            </TD>
            <TD>
                (actual page content goes here)
            </TD>
        </TR>
    </TABLE>
</BODY>

Mwah. Beautiful. Apache would see the special comments, paste in the contents of the referenced files, and you’re off to the races. The downside was that when you wanted to work on your site, all the navigation was missing, because you were doing it on your regular computer without Apache, and your web browser thought those were just regular HTML comments. It was impossible to install Apache, of course, because you had a computer, not a server.

Sadly, that’s all gone now — paved over by homogenous timelines where anything that wasn’t made this week is old news and long forgotten. The web was supposed to make information eternal, but instead, so much of it became ephemeral. I miss when virtually everyone I knew had their own website. Having a Twitter and an Instagram as your entire online presence is a poor substitute.

So let’s look at the Space Jam website.

Case study: Space Jam

Space Jam, if you’re not aware, is the greatest movie of all time and focuses on Bugs Bunny’s brief basketball career, playing alongside a live action Michael Jordan. It was followed by a series of very successful and high-praised RPG spinoffs, which tell the story of the fallout of the Space Jam and are extremely canon.

And we are truly blessed, for 23 years after it came out, its website is STILL UP. We can explore the pinnacle of 1996 web design, right here, right now.

First, notice that every page of this site is a static page. Not only that, but it’s a static page ending in .htm rather than .html, because people on Windows versions before 95 were still beholden to 8.3 filenames. Not really sure why that mattered in a URL, but there you go.

The CSS for the splash page looks like this:

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<body bgcolor="#000000" background="img/bg_stars.gif" text="#ff0000" link="#ff4c4c" vlink="#ff4c4c" alink="#ff4c4c">

Haha, just kidding! There’s no CSS at all. I see a single line in the page source, but I’m pretty sure that was added much later to style some policy links.

Next, notice the extremely precise positioning of these navigation links. This feat was accomplished the same way everyone did everything in 1996: with tables.

In fact, tables have one advantage over CSS for layout: you can ctrl-click to select a table cell and drag around to select all of them, which shows you how the cells are arranged and is kind of like a super retro layout debugger. This was great because the first meaningful web debug tool, Firebug, wasn’t released until 2006 — a whole ten years later!

Screenshot of the Space Jam website with the navigation table's cells selected, showing how the layout works

The markup for this table is overflowing with inexplicable blank lines, but with those removed, it looks like this:

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<table width=500 border=0>
<TR>
<TD colspan=5 align=right valign=top>
</td></tr>
<tr>
<td colspan=2 align=right valign=middle>
<br>
<br>
<br>
<a href="cmp/pressbox/pressboxframes.html"><img src="img/p-pressbox.gif" height=56 width=131 alt="Press Box Shuttle" border=0></a>
</td>
<td align=center valign=middle>
<a href="cmp/jamcentral/jamcentralframes.html"><img src="img/p-jamcentral.gif" height=67 width=55 alt="Jam Central" border=0></a>
</td>
<td align=center valign=top>
<a href="cmp/bball/bballframes.html"><img src="img/p-bball.gif" height=62 width=62 alt="Planet B-Ball" border=0></a>
</td>
<td align=center valign=bottom>
<br>
<br>
<a href="cmp/tunes/tunesframes.html"><img src="img/p-lunartunes.gif" height=77 width=95 alt="Lunar Tunes" border=0></a>
</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td align=middle valign=top>
<br>
<br>
<a href="cmp/lineup/lineupframes.html"><img src="img/p-lineup.gif" height=52 width=63 alt="The Lineup" border=0></a>
</td>
<td colspan=3 rowspan=2 align=right valign=middle>
<img src="img/p-jamlogo.gif" height=165 width=272 alt="Space Jam" border=0>
</td>
<td align=right valign=bottom>
<a href="cmp/jump/jumpframes.html"><img src="img/p-jump.gif" height=52 width=58 alt="Jump Station" border=0></a>
</td>
</tr>
...
</table>

That’s the first two rows, including the logo. You get the idea. Everything is laid out with align and valign on table cells; rowspans and colspans are used frequently; and there are some <br>s thrown in for good measure, to adjust vertical positioning by one line-height at a time.

Other fantastic artifacts to be found on this page include this header, which contains Apache SSI syntax! This must’ve quietly broken when the site was moved over the years; it’s currently hosted on Amazon S3. You know, Amazon? The bookstore?

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<table border=0 cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0 width=488 height=60>
<tr>
<td align="center"><!--#include virtual="html.ng/site=spacejam&type=movie&home=no&size=234&page.allowcompete=no"--></td>
<td align="center" width="20"></td>
<td align="center"><!--#include virtual="html.ng/site=spacejam&type=movie&home=no&size=234"--></td>
</tr>
</table>

Okay, let’s check out jam central. I’ve used my browser dev tools to reduce the viewport to 640×480 for the authentic experience (although I’d also have lost some vertical space to the title bar, taskbar, and five or six IE toolbars).

Note the frames: the logo in the top left leads back to the landing page, cleverly saving screen space on repeating all that navigation, and the top right is a fucking ad banner which has been blocked like seven different ways. All three parts are separate pages.

Screenshot of the Space Jam website's 'Jam Central'

Note also the utterly unreadable red text on a textured background, one of the truest hallmarks of 90s web design. “Why not put that block text on a solid background?” you might ask. You imbecile. How would I possibly do that? Only the <body> has a background attribute! I could use <table bgcolor>, but then I’d have to use a solid color, and that would look so boring!

But wait, what is this new navigation widget? How are the links all misaligned like that? Is this yet another table? Well, no, although filling a table with chunks of a sliced-up image wasn’t uncommon. But this is an imagemap, a long-forgotten HTML feature. I’ll just show you the source:

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<img src="img/m-central.jpg" height=301 width=438 border=0 alt="navigation map" usemap="#map"><br>

<map name="map">
<area shape="rect" coords="33,92,178,136" href="prodnotesframes.html" target="_top">
<area shape="rect" coords="244,111,416,152" href="photosframes.html" target="_top">
<area shape="rect" coords="104,138,229,181" href="filmmakersframes.html" target="_top">
<area shape="rect" coords="230,155,334,197" href="trailerframes.html" target="_top">
</map>

I assume this is more or less self-explanatory. The usemap attribute attaches an image map, which is defined as a bunch of clickable areas, beautifully encoded as inscrutable lists of coordinates or something.

And this stuff still works! This is in HTML! You could use it right now!

Let’s look at one more random page here. I’d love to see some photos from the film. (Wait, photos? Did we not know what screenshots were yet?)

Screenshot of the Space Jam website's photos page

Another frameset, but arranged differently this time.

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<body bgcolor="#7714bf" background="img/bg-jamcentral.gif" text="#ffffff" link="#edb2fc" vlink="#edb2fc" alink="#edb2fc">

They did an important thing here: since they specified a background image (which is opaque), they also specified a background color. Without it, if the background image failed to load, the page would be white text on the default white background, which would be unreadable.

This is still an important thing to keep in mind, by the way. I feel like modern web development tends to assume everything will load, or sees loading as some sort of inconvenience to be worked around.

Anyway, there’s not much to say here. The grid of thumbnails is, of course, done with a table. The thumbnails themselves are 72×43 pixels, and the “full-size, full-color, internet-quality” images are 360×216. Hey, though, they’re only like 16 KB! That’ll only take nine seconds to download.

The regular early days

So that’s where we started. This all sucked, obviously. If you wanted any kind of consistency on more than a handful of pages, your options were very limited.

And then CSS came along, it was a fucking miracle. You could put borders on stuff! You could set colors without having to copy-paste them everywhere! You could just write HTML and another file somewhere else would make it look like the rest of your website, which was important, because we still didn’t understand what “server-side scripting” was or how to use it to make anything more interesting than a hit counter! (I absolutely wrote a hit counter.)

A website even came along to take this principle to the extreme — CSS Zen Garden is still around, and showcases the same HTML being radically transformed into completely different designs by applying different stylesheets.

But we’re not quite there yet. First is CSS 1, made a recommendation in late ‘96.

I don’t know that this has been explicitly state, but CSS was clearly designed to divorce the existing layout and appearance capabilities of HTML away from the markup structure. That’s why even CSS 1 had the float property — it encapsulated the same functionality as the <img align> attribute. The white-space property exposed what <nobr> and <pre> did. That meant you could use a <p> to indicate a paragraph, and have it still mean “this is a paragraph” while styling it however you wanted.

Beyond that, though, there was very little to CSS 1. You could set the font, color, and background of basically anything (though color keywords weren’t even defined yet, and were left up to the implementation!); you could set margins, borders, padding, and width/height; and that was pretty much it. Even the position property didn’t exist yet.

So while CSS 1 was a tremendous help for trivial aesthetics like colors and fonts, it was useless for layout. Everyone picked it up as a really convenient way to keep the theme consistent, but tables remained king for actually laying out your page.

  • alt stylesheets!! when did those come along.
  • reader stylesheets, much much less useful nowadays

  • blink and marquee

css2 not until mid 98

  • browser wars, css included
  • nothing fucking worked, people stuck to tables for arranging things and css for light details
  • quirks mode! introduced by ie4? (list quirks, i love the img in a table cell one)

So, along came CSS, and it was a fucking miracle. Now you just needed to put that color in a single file:

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h1 {
    color: navy;
}

And it would apply to every <h1> on every page you included that file in! This changes everything.

This is about where I come in and where my perspective really starts. But please bear in mind that I was like 11, with no idea what I was doing, talking to mostly other 11-year-olds. I’m sure the paid web devs putting together MSN or whatever had a slightly better grasp on things, but honestly — who the hell was going to business websites in 1998? Like, why would you even do that? The web was for random people to make their own little quirky beautiful things.

very, very long sigh …

Anyway, CSS basically killed all those <body> attributes and <font> tags and whatnot overnight. Budding web developers would get very haughty about how much better CSS was, and how you clearly had no idea what you were doing if you still used <font size=+1>. And so began best practice snobbery.

For some span of time — I want to say a couple years, but time passes weirdly when you’re a kid — this was the state of the web. Tables were still used for layout, but CSS was used for, well, style. Colors, sizes, bold, underline. There was even this sick trick you could do with links where they’d only be underlined when the mouse was pointing at them. Incredible!

But there were plenty of things you couldn’t do. Rather a lot, in fact. Here are some that I remember, and the workarounds we were stuck with.

  • You couldn’t, of course, put rounded corners on anything. You had to make four round-corner images yourself and put them in the corners of a 3×3 <table> (!). Or, if you knew the size of the element ahead of time, you could just make a single background image (!!). Of course, Internet Explorer 6 didn’t understand when an image in this newfangled “PNG” format had an 8-bit alpha channel, so you’d have to either use a GIF with jagged edges, or just include the page’s background color in the corner images so they could be opaque (!!!).

  • Speaking of opacity, that didn’t exist at all. The opacity property was new in CSS 3, and IE choked on PNGs, so if you wanted any sort of translucency, the solution was usually: don’t.

  • What the fuck is a “web font”? Your font options are, uh, whatever’s installed on your computer. I’m sure everyone else has the same fonts you do. Everyone’s using Windows XP, right?

    (There was once a time where people could configure their web browser to use fonts of their choosing, and it would actually matter, but those days seem to be long past. Alas, the stack of defaults means any website that doesn’t specify a font would be ugly for most people.)

  • No box shadows, no text shadows.

  • The +, ~, and > CSS combinators didn’t work in IE until 7, so they effectively didn’t exist.

  • XXX

I cannot stress enough that Stack Overflow did not yet exist. This stuff was picked up from various websites about websites, like quirks mode and Eric Meyer’s website.

(Eric Meyer is a CSS pioneer. When his young daughter Rebecca died five years ago, she was uniquely immortalized with a CSS color name, rebeccapurple. That’s how highly the web community thinks of him. Also I have to go cry a bit over that story now.)

XXX complexspiral?

The struggle begins

  • browser wars around the same time

Then, something happened. I don’t know how, or when, or why exactly. But people started to do website layout using CSS, too.

In hindsight, this was clearly absurd, and let me tell you why. CSS in its original form, which we’ll say for convenience is CSS 2.1, was designed like it was for articles — and nothing else. You could play with margins and font sizes and even colors, all you wanted.

But you could not put things next to each other.

Okay, that’s not entirely true, but it is mostly true.

CSS was, as I understand it, designed to extract out all the presentational stuff that people were already doing with HTML. So it inherited a lot of the HTML model, just abstracted away from specific tags. That meant there were really only two layout models. Inline layout was for stuff like <b> and <i>: variations on style within a line of wrapping text. Block layout was for stuff like <p> and <hr>: a vertical stack of elements that each stretched across the full width of the page (or whatever container).

So if you want to have a navigation sidebar on the left side of your website, what do you do?

You can’t use blocks, because those stack vertically. That leaves inline, but… that’s for flowing text, not putting large complex blocks next to each other. CSS had also introduced “absolute positioning” for sticking elements at a precise position on the page, but people had all kinds of different screen sizes and that approach was remarkably inflexible. What does that leave?

Only one option. And it’s only in hindsight that I can truly appreciate how ghastly this was.

You see, the HTML <img> element normally sits in the flow of text, as an inline element. But if you set its align attribute to left or right, the image would jump out of the flow of text and shift to one side of the document, with text flowing around it. And CSS had absorbed this functionality in a general way, as the float property.

CSS floats were only designed for one thing: flowing text around an image, like you might see in a magazine article. That’s it.

But they were also the only way to put two things next to each other. Because if you have two floats in the same place, then one will butt up against the other.

And so it begins.

The float hack era

Now, to be fair, this wasn’t a bad idea. Crafting layouts out of tables was hellish nonsense, and it suffered from the same problems as embedding colors in your HTML: if you ever wanted to make a slight adjustment, you’d have to repeat it on every single page. Surely, the ideal would be for the markup to describe the content and the CSS to describe how to arrange it on screen.

XXX how a float layout actually worked

XXX why it was brittle etc, but the biggest problem was:

The dreadnaught: Internet Explorer 6

released in 2001, right around when css layout concept was taking off. completely ate market share in XXX, over 95%. basically abandoned for the next five years

and we discovered some problems

and then firefox came along and was taking the world by storm so suddenly everyone had to make their carefully-hacked websites work in both ie6 and firefox, and that was proving to be a problem, because ie6 had a lot of fundamental and severe bugs

acid2!!

what were the biggest things in css3? mention those
– no web fonts, so people basically used whatever shipped with windows, which sucked if you weren’t on windows

using <!-- at the start of your stylesheet lmfao
the bad old days

i came in shortly before the long winter of ie6
browser wars
basically came down to just ie6 and a handful of people using like, konqueror on linux. (hi! ps that became webkit)
let me explain ie6 to you

ie6 box model, solved by strictmode? A LOT of stuff was “solved” by strict mode
– margin: auto treated like 0, but you could use text-align on the parent to center
“min-height” bug, no overflow it just makes stuff taller

no inline-block! i remember being very excited for firefox 4(?) for this reason, was a huge refactor by david baron

oh, the cross-browser hacks. oh my god.
parsing hacks: conditional comments, putting a squiggle before css prop name, ie6 can’t parse >
zoom
ie6 filters to fix stuff sometimes

xhtml??

shenanigans: complexspiral, etc

dhtml”, dynamicdrive (oreilly book from 2007) (dynamicdrive was 2000)

pushback against tables, which some folks didn’t really understand
it was a good idea but css was still designed for print, kinda, concerns, so didn’t have a ton of layout options
everything done with floats, the only way to put stuff side by side
“clearfix”, sob. could do it with ::after but i don’t think ie6 supported those

css reset

lot of stuff done in flash because it was easier

started making progress when firefox came out

the miraculous turning point came when ie6 was dead
but it was a slow, agonizing death, no real moment, kind of up to everyone individually
if you were doing web dev for a job, maybe even 2% ie6 traffic was enough to keep support for it
but wow what a nightmare that was

youtube dropped it March 13, 2010, which i think was the first serious big-name shun and imo marked the end

transitions? jquery. that’s it. an era where “modern” websites had everything sliding around with jquery effects, sort of like the linux 3d compiz cube thing

nowadays, css flexbox and grid, holy crap
rounded borders, sure
but also drop shadows, text shadows, transforms, transitions/animations, filters, svg filters

finally a css feature that lets me say what i want and have it happen, rather than try to coax it into happening implicitly”

fun facts:

(Fun fact: HTML email is still basically trapped in this era.)

grand irony: as soon as rounded glossy bubble buttons became easy to do with css, they went out of style! now we’re back to stuff we could’ve done pretty easily in 1996, except for the round avatars i guess

Weekly roundup: Waste not, want not

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/09/05/weekly-roundup-waste-not-want-not/

Wee bit late, but I’ve been busy.

  • fox flux: I wrote some push physics tests, now that it’s possible to do that. Removed some old obsolete garbage I’ve hated for like a year, hooray. And then I got stuck in a horrible loop of coming up with a new idea for how to do pushing, realizing it won’t work in some case, making a thousand notes, rinse and repeat.

    I can’t even fall back to spriting, because my tablet broke! Argh.

  • doom: I made WasteNot, a ridiculous ZDoom mod that tracks how much ammo/health/armor you lose by grabbing items when you’re close to the max amount you can carry. Also I put some Doom stuff on Itch and the landing page here.

Very exciting week. I spent a lot of it exhausted, after rushing to invert my sleep schedule in not very much time.

Weekly roundup: Breaking up (code) is hard to do

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/08/28/weekly-roundup-breaking-up-code-is-hard-to-do/

  • irl: I went to the dentist, which I think was the last of the errand backlog, hallelujah.

  • fox flux: Continuing on from last week, I threw myself headfirst into this idea of splitting up base actor code.

    I tried it against Isaac’s Descent HD (my LÖVE port of Isaac’s Descent that I only ever released on Patreon), since it has a very small number of abilities and objects, and just went hog wild.

    The results have been promising! Most of it went much more smoothly than I expected. A little bit was much more horrible than I expected. But within the space of a week I’d gotten a rough first attempt working, ported it to fox flux, and gotten the game… um… mostly limping along. There’s still some lingering fallout, and I haven’t even gotten to Lexy herself yet, but it seems like this will be an overall improvement. I can even write tests now! Tests!

    I also did some more work on the revamped Lexy sprites, but then my tablet broke — again — so that came to a screeching halt.

  • blog: I started on a second post (without finishing the first, hm), or more specifically, I started on a complicated but very cool interactive doohickey to accompany the second post. Very excited. Should probably, like, finish one of them.

  • alice: Planning, writing.

Weekly roundup: Chugging

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/08/19/weekly-roundup-chugging/

I’m discovering all kinds of ancient damage in myself, but I’m chugging along!

  • irl: We’re making our way through an endless backlog of errands. There are so many. But they’re getting done, which is good! Also the internet was out for a day so that was fun.

  • gleam: It got a big ol’ refactor, which left it working exactly the same, so that’s fun! Stubbed out enough features that it’s now (technically…) possible to use it to make a VN from scratch, rather than just previewing and making minor edits to an existing one. I split apart the player from the editor and ensured the player works standalone; I added a loading screen; and I finally got around to adding back music support. It’s coming along!

  • art: I did like half a dozen daily comics? You know. “Daily”. The last one was… oops, almost a week ago. I’m sure I’ll get back to them real soon now.

    Also some sketching! I’ve almost filled a real physical sketchbook for only the second time in my life.

  • stream: I took a crack at Sigil on UV, trying for 100% kills and secrets, with… mixed results! Great fun, I guess.

  • fox flux: I am admittedly struggling a bit.

    We played Cadence of Hyrule; I found the art style inspiring; I tried to glean something from it that I could apply to my sprite work; and I realized basically everything I’ve drawn is counter to what I most like in pixel art. It was a struggle just to produce the few tiles I have so far, so I don’t know what to feel or do here.

    At Ash’s suggestion, I started trying to draw some Dewclaw tiles, but boy! That’s difficult. How do you design small pieces that can be put together into something sufficiently reminiscent of a city? I don’t even know how to draw a city, not really; I’m remarkably terrible at filling in small details of a concrete place or situation.

    And then I tried to do something technical and split up Lexy’s code — since historically it’s been littered with a ton of if self.form == 'foo' then ... special cases — only to discover that it breaks everything. Now I’m trying a different approach, which is not breaking everything quite as badly, but which has massive repercussions and possibly slows the game down by double-digit percent. Love game development.

  • alice: Still plodding along on Alice’s Day Off. I wrote a half-draft, half-outline of another route. Just been hard to get in the right mood, lately.

  • blog: I started on a post! Wow! Remember when I used to write posts? I’d like to do that again. I’ve got one half-done and ideas for a few more, if I can just get some momentum going again.

I’ll get there.

Weekly roundup: GLEAM

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/08/04/weekly-roundup-gleam/

Hello. I don’t know how I am! But I did some stuff.

  • fox flux: Workin’ on a new walk animation.

  • gleam: After years of saying I should totally do so, I finally started making a little editor for the Floraverse web VN engine. I’ve been gradually teaching it to load and play back the existing VNs (from scratch, because the old code is Quite Bad), and it’s finally hitting the point where it’s possible to make something from scratch. Sort of. I mean, there’s no saving or loading or exporting, and a bunch of stuff is broken, but you know. Getting there. Maybe I’ll even make a VN myself.

  • art: I started doing daily comics again and then forgot after day 1.

GLEAM has basically taken up my whole week; turns out that while client-side web stuff has improved dramatically, writing an editor is still an incredible pain in the ass. Getting somewhere, though.

Oh, and that marks the end of my journal! Cool, I guess. I don’t tend to fill up notebooks very often.

Weekly roundup: Recharging

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/07/28/weekly-roundup-recharging/

Hello. I’m kinda up and down but recovering, I think.

  • art: I drew a bunch of porn, most of which is on my porn gallery (warning: porn). I even wrote some stuff, which will never see the light of day.

    I also finished putting all my 2015 art on my clean gallery, if you want to see the arc of my art journey, which slowed considerably after the first couple years. Kinda bummed about that.

  • irl: We have done so many fucking errands you have no idea.

  • gleam: I put together another Floraverse VN, but more importantly (to me anyway?), I’ve actually made some inroads on making a little editor for these things. It’s not entirely functional yet — did you know that drag-and-drop is a huge pain in the ass — but it resembles something and I’m making swift progress. Hallelujah.

  • fox flux: I gathered up like a dozen pages of dense notes and kinda consolidated them into one place, which is nice.

    I also, accidentally, uh, okay funny story, I was taking notes on paper and I doodled Lexy pulling a lever, and later I tried to sprite it based on her current sprite, and I didn’t like it a lot, so I pixel-traced over the drawing instead, and it was way better, and this led me on a journey that ended up with a completely different sprite design. It’s a thousand times better in every possible way, but I’ve also invented a massive pile of work for myself, because now I have to redesign a dozen variants of her and redraw like 200 sprite frames. It kind of feels like I’m back to square one and have accomplished nothing at all on this game, in fact! But fuck me it’s so much better

Next week marks a fun milestone. I’m now on the very last page of the book I’ve been using to jot this stuff down, one week per page. It spans almost four years. I should probably find another one real quick.

Weekly roundup: Vacay

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2019/07/16/weekly-roundup-vacay/

I’m burnt out. I just can’t get into anything. And I’ve been dealing with a huge stack of accumulated errands from last month. And it’s fucking hot in here and that just pisses me off all the time???

So I’m trying to step back and chill and draw and hang out with folks and whatever. Sorry. I don’t know why I’m apologizing.

  • fox flux: Added some sparkles to a key.

  • mario maker: Made Star Anise’s Dream Land (5TQJG0MNG), a happy-go-lucky level inspired by my cat, and Koopa Valley (463-9CJPVG), an attempt at some standard friendly SMW-like fare. Also made half of like six other levels, but I’m having trouble even finishing those.

  • art: I’ve been drawing, just, a bunch of porn. It’s nice to be getting back into that. Drawing, I mean, not porn. But porn too.

See you next week.