Category: Life


Aspirations occupy a very unique position within our mind. Despite having their fair share of time under the spotlight of our consciousness, they do not dissipate into nought. They retain a sense of permanence in a very distinct way. They are also great indicators of the time passed and the changes it has made on us.

When your consciousness is wandering, idle, you may bump into some of these past aspirations. Old or new, they are like that friend whom you bump into occasionally who not only reminds you of that time in the past — your personality and thoughts back then,  but also holds a mirror in  front of you to reflect where you stand today.

I have seen many of my own aspirations over the years. Ranging from naive ones during childhood, to the idealistic ones from teenage, to the more realistic ones today. It is relative but as you discover yourself everyday and the skills you have and the confidence you have in the said skills, these aspirations redefine themselves.

Steering on to the Topic

But let’s leave behind the stream-of-consciousness and rather personalized beginning to actually come onto the topic.

Over the past year, I have had opportunities to live through one of my primary aspiration I’ve harbored since I was a child. To become an author and to write for a living. Whatever opportunities have come my way in different sections of my life, I have grabbed them and I feel I’ve made the best usage of time that I could. Handling different parts of your life — academic, professional and personal within a common aspiration is challenging but immensely rewarding.

But one of the other aspirations which has persisted with me over the years — to make games — has always met some or the other obstacles. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the primary reasons I joined a Bachelor’s course in Computer Engineering was because I wanted to learn aspects of programming and AI.

It isn’t like I didn’t give it a shot before. I have been listing down concepts and turning them into game design documents over the past two years. But design documents are just that — pieces of paper that speak of only ideas. So, I tried making an “experimental” shoot-em-up last year but unfortunately I had lost confidence in it before it was even complete. I found that working solo is a difficult deal because you have to be decent in the three pillars of development — programming,art and sound. I consider myself okay in the former and latter but not art.

So, when I heard about Ludum Dare 26 and that it was being organized during the April 26th-29th weekend, I was excited.

Ludum Dare

Pretty sure, most of you are wondering exactly what is this Ludum Dare?

With 2,347 games submitted, LD26 was the biggest game jam event in history

With 2,347 games submitted, LD26 was the biggest game jam event in history

It is a “game jam” event that is held thrice annually and is now in it’s 26th iteration where people from all over the world — amateur hobbyists like me as well as professional developers make games from scratch over the space of a weekend. There are two events in each Ludum Dare — a 48-hour “Compo” event which is basically a competition with strict rules and requiring you to work solo and stick close to the theme. The 72-hour “Jam” event is a more relaxed affair where you are given more time and freedom to develop on your own ideas and work in teams.

I don’t know exactly what it was within me but I chose to aim for the 48-hr Competition (that’s what India does to you,I guess).

Preparation

There’s no real way of preparing for a Ludum Dare. The theme on which people make games on is only revealed once the event starts.

So, in the week leading upto LD, I focused on finalizing the tools I’ll be using. I had previously used GameMaker,XNA and Stencyl in varying measures but Unity had always been my ultimate target. Besides Unreal Engine, it is the only top-tier, professional-grade game engine available for hobbyists and indie developers.

Since I had never worked in Unity before, I set myself a task to atleast get a basic feel of its’ features. It was more difficult than I thought. It took me some time to wrap my head around its’ coordinate system, scripting of main camera, particle system and I had to even brush up some of the high-school physics and math concepts.

It was fun and challenging to learn but I knew the real challenge lay ahead.

Challenges Ahead


It was never going to be easy. In that very week, I had THREE back-to-back practical exams. So, I spent Wednesday,Thursday and Friday on them. Also on the day LD was going to start (with the announcement of the theme) I had to give my Senior Year project seminar in the college. So chances were that I was already going to start a good 8 hours later than everyone. Plus, I had a birthday lunch I was obligated to attend to on Sunday and I couldn’t excuse myself out of it.

It only got worse.  My Internet provider called up saying the maintenance of Internet would mean it would be down till Sunday morning. Just great. 

Basically, if I was planning to aim for the 48-hour deadline, I was already going to have to work with 10 hours less and without Internet to help me. Not a good start for things. I told myself that even if I wasn’t able to finish it, I’ll learn something.

With that positive mentality (hear O Pro-Life Preachers!) I went into the weekend.

Theme

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I immediately checked the site and found that the theme was “minimalism”. Since I had a project seminar in few hours, I had to get ready for that but I kept thinking about the theme and what ideas I could adopt into a proper game that is fairly unique but not too difficult to make.

Behold my infamous handwriting!

Behold my infamous handwriting!

Surprisingly by the time I reached my college at 9, I already had charted a rough concept and I wrote it down. By the time I was done with the project seminar (which was delayed no thanks to the lovely professors of our college) and I had returned home, it was 2. I took a short nap and began at 3.

Timeline

I had decided on a dynamic rhythm game with simplistic two-control scheme that had a rather deep underlying concept but absolutely no exposition.  Dynamic in the sense, the players could adjust difficulty of the game through their own actions. Create/destroy musical objects which repeat to form a pattern imitating one’s daily routine.

With the basic premise on paper, I began getting the setup ready. The LD’s “Compo” rules state that all the content — code,art and music needs to be made within those 48 hours. It took me a 4-hour sitting to get the engine set up exactly how I wanted for my game.

I then began coding the individual behaviour of the player “cube” and it was around 10, I could finally start working on the chief concept of the game — recycling objects. This required creating a custom module. Something which a newbie to Unity like me obviously suffered to do.

Unable to find solutions, I decided to plug in my MIDI keyboard and create some tunes in the meantime. A rhythm game needs to have some good tunes after all. I stuck with ambient music as the background soundscape as I felt it was minimalistic and sparse enough to suit the theme.

I used FL Studio for the beats. I really liked the simplistic interface and how easily one could mix. For the MIDI, I used the typical MAGIX Music Maker and stuck with the traditional play-record-mix-master technique to get the appropriate sounds. I liked how I could imitate sounds of a flute and of a violin using a low-pass filter applied onto lower keys of the keyboard.

While I was doing this, I was constantly trying to rack my mind to solve the issue  I was stuck on. It was around 3:30AM when the migraines started creeping in and I finally gave up for the night and went to sleep.

New Day, Late Beginnings

I had set my alarm at 6. I snoozed it.

When I next woke up, it was 7:30AM. Ugh.

Within 10 minutes, I was back to work. And tell you what, it took me just 10 minutes to crack the problem that was plaguing me for almost 4 hours last night. Just ten minutes.

Over the next three hours, I was on a roll speeding through the lost time last night. If this were the popular Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story, I would be a programmer “on fire”.

Unfortunately, my mean streak came to an end when I had to go for the birthday lunch. I came back at around 2PM and graciously avoided the comforts of an afternoon nap and set back to doing. I had been feeling weirdly confident since morning. As if, despite all the odds that had been stacked up against me, I was going to do it. At the same time, I was a little wary of being like a hare in the Hare and Tortoise and not getting too overconfident of where I was.

The workspace

The workspace

So, I continued working without a break. More tunes were created by 4PM, some of which were recorded live using my iPad and SoundCloud app on it.

Then I set aside everything to work on my primary weakness — art. I believe I have a decent visual aesthetic sense, but when it comes to creating them I’m no good. There’s this inherent phobia that drawing instills in me which seems to sap all the confidence I generally have for other things.

So, I got onto it. Using Inkscape and Photoshop, I created simple designs that described the type of instruments each track was imitating and keeping the color palette fairly simple.

I did not believe that minimalism = black & white. In my opinion, minimalism is something which conveys a deep concept through limited usage of aesthetics and exposition(if used in a narrative context).

So, as you can see the colours I used were a lot more vibrant than what most of the others used for their games.

It was about 8PM when I was done with art and sound. So, I started implementing them into the engine one by one. Surprisingly, art didn’t result in any obstacles. It was Unity’s sound design which gave me trouble as I couldn’t wrap my head around how I should use it to fit the purpose of my own game.

I tried to look up at the Internet.

Still no internet.

I was seeing visions of yesterday, where I was stuck on a problem and without help from the Unity forums, I wouldn’t be able to get past them. But somehow, a few workarounds later, the sounds worked pretty much like how I wanted. I guess that is an important aspect of design as well. “Trying to adapt things as much as possible”.

Late Run 

Around 10PM, I had this crazy idea. An idea that could certainly have a positive effect. Now, I despite this being my first time in any game jam, you need not tell me that even entertaining these ideas was basically signing a death certificate. Given the time constraints, you had to stick with the idea you had originally thought. I had managed to do it thus far — but this idea seemed too delicious to not implement it.

So,leaving all my scheduled plan for the game aside, I started focusing on this. It was not before 2AM when I had finally finished this. With the deadline date, just a mere 5 hours away, I decided I needed to wrap up ASAP.

So, as I was finally getting the win/lose conditions implemented, I realized something.

I had not even made the Main Menu.

Again chucking everything out of the window, I frantically set to making the Main Menu, the “How to Play” screen as well as the Win and Lose screens. This took art and some new scene scripting to implement but I finally did it.

The screenshot at 5AM. With 2 hours left on the clock

The screenshot at 5AM. With 2 hours left on the clock

The GUI needed tweaking, so I set on doing that.

It wasn’t until 6AM when I was finally done. But then I just recalled that I could make the background music vary according to different “phases of life” or the progress bar atop.

So, I spent another hour doing that. Then, almost frantically, I baked the native version (Windows) of it and quickly set about uploading it on Dropbox. It was just around 7:10AM (the deadline was 7:30AM) that I logged onto the Ludum Dare site and filled up the submission form, describing my game and uploading various screenshots.

I had made it on my first Ludum Dare. I had finished making my first “complete” game and that too within the 48-hour Compo deadline as I had initially aimed. Despite all those obstacles that the world threw at me, I managed to do it.

Post-Mortem

In retrospect, I am rather proud of myself. Not because of the game. But because of the dedication I never knew I had within me. I don’t recall ever waking up for the entire night for something I was working on. On occasions, when I have done that, I’ve done it if I was reading a really interesting novel (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle),watching a really interesting TV series(Twin Peaks) or playing an addicting game(too many to name).

But never for something related to work or even a hobby. Something where I wasn’t getting entertained. I lost motivation while developing a number of times before and this time I had plenty of opportunities where I could have table-flipped and just quit. But I didn’t. I stuck to my target and that makes me really proud of myself. This past year has been great for a number of reasons and I think I might have found another good reason for that.

What’s better is that the game has received some really good praise from fellow LD-ers and their comments both on the game page and my Twitter were really encouraging. Even the criticism has been helpful since I apparently had messed up on a number of small factors(resolutions on Web browser etc) but it’s all cool.

The best part besides finally having a “finished” game? THE MOTIVATION! I have loads of it now. I had heard people say how a finished game helps and now I am experiencing it first-hand. I’ve already made plans on reviving some of my older “ideas” and seeing if I could implement them. All while implementing some features I left out of the LD48 game due to the time constraints.

So expect to hear more of this “new” side of the old Ansh in the coming weeks.

Of course, here is the game page on the Ludum Dare site. Currently, I’ve managed to port it on all versions — Windows/Mac/Linux as well as Web through Unity without any major issues. I explain the underlying concept and the mechanics much better there. So,it’ll be better if I keep it simple here.

Any feedback is appreciated. I’m new to this and I’ll take any words — praise or criticism alike with a pinch of salt and take it as part of my learning process.

That is all for now.

–Ansh

 

EDIT: Indie Game Mag featured my game as their “Indie of the Day”

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The Mask

There has been a certain craze related to “confessions” lately which has spread itself  like a plague on Facebook. It started with “college confessionals” and spread to specific localities and we now even have a “Twitter Confessions“. On Facebook. There’s an inherent irony in that but my sheer disgust at this prevents me from appreciating it.

This piece was born out of that disgust for what I see as a silly craze that goes on to show just how badly Internet has made us starve for attention and validation. 

A-Dozen-Masks

The Mask

We wore our masks – the facades behind which we hid our true selves from the outside world. We never removed them in front of others. The mask was a chameleon, a shape-shifter – changing colours and forms evolving according to the will of our minds. It would enable us to shift from sympathetic friends to disdainful rivals in the space of moments. We lived in bliss with our masks on our faces, not caring what lay beneath. Why should we? What if whatever lay beneath was inferior in comparison to the masks we wore? How would we face the world then? How would we face ourselves?

Then came a time, in the midst of a flux, when one of us stumbled upon an object. This object lay in a remote corner of our virtual space. In this virtual space, the masks people wore gained strange powers. It unshackled them from responsibility curtailing their intentions behind a veil of anonymity and freed them from following typical social conventions. Everyone had flocked to this virtual space when it was first created and over a period of time it had become our second home. One where we and our masks – together in solitude communicated with millions of our kind. Personas could be created and destroyed at will when you hid beneath this virtual veil – it made us feel strangely empowering.

But this object which they found changed things. It was a mask.

Another mask.

The first ones to wear it among us claimed that the new mask gave them immense freedom under absolute anonymity – unlike anything people had ever imagined. They could reveal their inner-most thoughts about people to everybody without ever revealing their true names. Confessions was what they were calling it. The traditional act of absolving one’s guilt in front of God. But what guilt could we have when we were so lost behind our own masks?

Yet, each one of us wore that mask. Turn by turn, we confessed our inner-most thoughts, feelings from the very recesses of our decaying core and it felt great. What was better was that people talked about it. They talked about it all around – their voices whispering in the empty corridors and crowded class-rooms talked about us, about our inner-most thoughts in a tone of excitement that made us feel proud of ourselves – a little better about whoever lay beneath the two masks we wore.

Slowly a change began encompassing our daily routines. In the virtual space, in groups and in our real lives, people rarely talked about anything besides it. Laying our deepest thoughts open while we remained hidden behind our masks gleefully watching the world whisper excitedly about what we thought was turning into an image-booster. In the anonymity offered by the mask, we began feeling better about ourselves and what we felt. It attached some meaning to our feelings even if they never had any significant outcome or effect. It was turning into a borderline obsession for all. People raged and argued about inanimate things – about feelings which were left orphaned by their creators, never to be looked upon by either of them.

It wasn’t until long before some of us realized that it was the mask which was controlling us. The lure of confessing in anonymity of feelings which had little worth in real life was too great for us to overcome. We tried telling everyone about the evils of the mask before it was too late. Some realized their folly and tried removing it in vain.

They didn’t know where the mask ended and where their true selves began.

In their attempt to chase behind primal urges and shower feelings on people who didn’t know they existed, they had forgotten to understand their true selves. To find time and take a look at who was the person behind the masks. In their vain quest for a stranger’s affection, they never understood their ownselves.

One by one they began to drown in the sea of their own regret. Of aspirations and castles that never were.

Strangely, people said that when they died, the masks they wore simply fell off from their faces. Beneath the mask, they were all just faceless.

No identity.

——————————

Coincidentally, this is also the first time I have posted a short story/fictional piece (if you can can call it that) written by me on this blog. I’ll be doing it on certain occasions in the future.

For now, it is time we must wear our masks and move on back to the real world.  Because god forbid, if anyone sees our true selves, what if they don’t like it? That is a part of us that can never be changed.

But there lies the question doesn’t it? Is there ever really a “real” you when you are never really aware of it?

Twenty-One

It’s funny how birthday springs up every year in the flow of life being just what it is — a milestone for you to gaze upon and reflect on where you stand on your journey.

When one thinks of a journey, one’s thoughts immediately go either to how they have arrived where they stand right now or what their eventual destination shall be in the near future. Personally, I have found that thinking about future is a more stressful endeavor because one has to partake in many variables and the element of uncertainty puts many off, breaking trains of thought before they can pick up speed.

Nostalgia

Thinking about the past? That’s much easier.Be it embarrassing situations that you blush or facepalm at the moment they enter your consciousness to the events that make you smile. I won’t lie — I’m a very nostalgic person, I think about past as much as I think about the abstract (which is also quite a lot) and as it always has been the case, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past as my birthday draws near.

The most obvious observation that I make is — “the time has gone too fast” . I think this is true for anything but it’s an especially peculiar thing to say for one’s life. After all, my knowledge about “time” has been as long as my life. It would be odd for me to say that it has gone too fast.

However, I mean it in the sense that when we consciously perceive our age — in numbers — something which no other animal does (or is capable of) it’s only then do we become conscious of the time and how quickly it has sped past. Does our conscious perception of “age in numbers” make humans more nostalgic than others? In the absence of such numbers, we would really have no indicator of time and then where would we stand? Would we ceaselessly worry about what we have achieved and what we haven’t compared to our peers? Would we worry about time running out? I doubt any animal species worry as much about the “passage of time” as us humans do.

Fears

At 21, my fears haven’t really changed. I am still ceaselessly fearful that I’m wasting too much time doing nothing. When others — parents and peers — tell me I’ve achieved an appreciable amount for my age, I see it as shallow praise. It’s not that I don’t appreciate people praising me, but I find any words of encouragement that say “you’ve done enough” as unsatisfying.

I think part of the “competitive” attitude has been pushed into me by the environment I’ve grown up in. Born in the post-globalization era of India, I was among the millions others who had the entire world of opportunities to explore and an equally large volume of challenges to overcome.

The strange part is I don’t know if this “fear” of being left behind in this race I don’t even care about is a good or a bad thing. It is this “fear” which drives me to do things which I’d generally be too lazy to do. It makes me wake up till 3AM at night and finish stories or articles that I’m starting to pitch to editors. Create something that I can be proud of — now or someday when I’m old enough not to look down at my own creations. But, it is also this same “fear” that drives me mad — feeding my bipolar personality — swinging me from unbound joy into depression at a single chain of thought.

In about a year, I’ll probably have to make my life’s “biggest” decision. While my peers decide between GRE or a job after graduation, I have to decide exactly what I want to do. I have a fair idea — a couple of options — I think they are entirely viable but another fear permeates at this point.

I’m scared of being stuck doing something I won’t like. Interests and passions are fickle in nature and if entire mountains and course of rivers can change over years, then what is a mere human? It might seem like a naive fear but at the point where I stand — at this milestone of Twenty-One that fear seems valid in my eyes.

I can see people around me satisfied with dreams of a secure job which is more than what they ask for in this uncertain financial environment. I kinda wish I had dreams as simple as theirs. It’s not like money isn’t of importance to me. It’d be stupid to ignore money but it simply isn’t the No.1 priority in my eyes.

I envy those who excel at a specific skill and they can be confident about their future too. I consider myself to be a jack of all trades, master of none. If you know me even a little bit, you’ll know that such a saying would be quite apt for me.

Parents and Childhood Dreams

I think it isn’t surprising to see that the only people who remain excited about your birthday over the years are your parents. If you have a healthy relationship with your parents like I do (shame on you if you don’t, give them a call and tell them how much you love them!) then such excitement never fails to bring a smile on your face.

As I look at them, all those years of my childhood where they were with me in every moment — smiling over me, watching over me as I grew into what I am today. *I swear my eyes were wet as I was typing this*

I know many like giving credit to what they become to their ownselves. It’s a fair action but one cannot overlook the influence one’s parents have on you. I still recall those days when my Dad used to take all of us to an eatery on my birthday only because it was the only place in my vicinity that had a Street Fighter II Turbo arcade machine.

I still recall the day when my Mom took me to a library and bought its membership for me when I was eight. She isn’t as fluent with English and she didn’t want the same for me. She wanted me to read books and possibly write one someday. Even when I wrote short stories at nine — a kid writing about weird space adventures — both of them were the ones who showered me with words of praise and encouragement. I think if they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have pursued my literary passion and without that I wouldn’t be as proud of who I am today.

I still recall the dreams I used to have back when I was twelve. I couldn’t remember the dream I had last night, but I remember what I used to dream back then. How strange is that? It’s as if my mind is still stuck somewhere in a time vacuum of a place where I shall eternally be the twelve-year old dreaming about going on adventures and solving mysteries just like in Enid Blyton novels.

thinking

Existential Realization

It is then that I finally realize the question I had been pondering over lately. Over birthdays becoming less important for us and more for others– either because we’re jaded or because we’re special for others.

I think the latter makes me realize that among life’s many objectives — one of them happens to be “being special for others”. Be it being a friend you can always stick for, being a son that makes your parents proud or a lover who will always be there for you.

Till now, I had seen the “selfish” side of humans. I had believed that *everything* that we do in life is for validation. Money. Job. Anything that we put effort into is an effort to seek validation. It’s only people who are already famous who say “I don’t like fame”. Every human wants to be appreciated for what he does. Nobody wants to go to a remote countryside hut, make dozens of masterpieces and die only to be forgotten.

We are all on a quest to become “immortal”.  We all know that we cannot escape from time nor death, so the only option that is left with humans is to immortalize themselves somehow. Most of us either tend to achieve it by creating something that shall last beyond our grave — an artistic creation, a scientific discovery or even an architectural structure. We also achieve it by becoming part of the “cherished” memory of others. I think it is this “selfless” part that I have overlooked till this point. That perhaps, in their selfish attempt to immortalize themselves, humans do make a brief attempt to become special in someone else’s memory. Chances are they will live beyond us — generally our kids — and we shall continue living in their memory.

In a year filled with proud achievements, first break-up, ascending on the popularity charts (again!) and the death of my beloved grandfather, I think such a thought is an apt way to finish this rather personal and introspective blog with.

Regards.

Ansh

2012: A Year in Review

World

Out of the blue, into the black” — Neil Young

From a global perspective, I think 2012 was another year that followed 2011’s rise of increasing awareness among people as countries realized that passivity and disillusionment wasn’t going to get them anywhere. Despite disconnection existing in our modern society, 2012 gave us more examples of the “People Power” that I talked about back in 2011.

It wasn’t without resistance though. Syria still suffers from the massive fight-back from its local militants in response to the people’s voices against their rulers –the al-Assad family. Myanmar had their first elections and Aung Suu Kyi finally returned to lead the country after spending over two decades under house arrest. On the other hand, the transition to democracy wasn’t so smooth for Egypt, which still faces a certain degree of unrest over the supposedly biased polls.

There are a lot of things wrong in our society. Mass killings, gang rapes going unpunished and indiscriminate corruption. But it’s only been over the last few years, I’ve seen voices rising from places you normally wouldn’t expect. People rebelling against tyrants, speaking out for long-ignored prejudices rooted in tradition, for biased laws and against blind-folded, indecisive governments. Be it something as loud as the Russian all-girl punk band “Pussy Riot” or as brave and solemn as Malala Yousafzai, 2012 continued the tradition of social-media and Internet playing a massive role in spreading the awareness among people without being needlessly filtered through the propaganda of the news channels — and while it may not always had a visibly positive impact, the initiative means there is potential for hope in the future.

Life

2012 was a very fruitful year for me. It started right off with me winning a couple of literary competitions — creative writing, debate and it ended with me becoming part of the Student’s Council of the college as the Literary Chief and organizing literary events including an inter-collegiate quiz.  More duties and responsibilities await for me in the horizon in that regard and for once I’m excited about them.

On the writing front, I finished three short stories which I shall briefly describe.

A Clockwork Soldier’s Diversion —  A parable of sorts describing a man trapped by his mundane schedule — a clockwork soldier working going about his routine until the day the key in his back stops turning and how he suddenly finds a source of inspiration to help him look for happiness in the little moments of daily life. Nostalgic and introspective in equal regards, this was one of the two entries that resulted in me winning the aforementioned “Creative Writing” competition.

The Disciple —  This was part created during the competition where I was given two randomly-chosen popular characters and I had to write any creative piece on them. The two characters I got were Barney Stinson (of How I Met Your Mother fame) and Golem(the mythical folklore creature). It was an interesting challenge and I think what I created stood true to their characters but combined them in a unique way. Partly funny and part-metaphoric tale of the ugliness of Golem, I consider this to be inferior to the other two shorts.

Genesis A surreal adventure taking place in the dreams of an unborn child in the womb of mother that was written purely with the intent to self-indulge, Genesis was conceived from the mixture of two ideas — 1) how do infants learn certain things that we never have to teach them and 2) how the human embryo evolves in a mother’s womb over a period of nine years through stages that resemble — a tadpole,a tiny bird and then finally something resembling a human — the stages of evolution in a general sense.  I received considerable amount of praise from my peers (especially from those who matter) and I personally think this was the strongest of the three shorts I came up with in 2012.

I dabbled a little with game development in 2012. I participated in the NaGaDeMo (National Game Development Month) which despite the word was international in its scope. Working solo, I created cheap pixel-art and a developed a rather rudimentary prototype using Stencyl of a shoot-em-up whose design I had been working for quite a few weeks before it. It turned out to be a fairly OK first-try and the positive feedback from the closed community has encouraged me to try more of this in 2013. If I had a New Year’s Resolution (I don’t), this would be it. Hopefully, I will had something solid I can share with the world by this time next year.

I also ended up buying a MIDI keyboard in October. After meddling with it a bit, I decided to buy a Digital Audio Workshop (DAW) which is basically a music production program. Hours of meddling and slow progress eventually lead to my first electronic track “Drenched“.

I got a lot of encouragement particularly from an acquaintance of mine who ran a fairly popular music blog. This inspired me to learn more about the specifics of production and the various techniques. Being an engineer, a lot of the aspects related to wave theory were fairly easy to grasp, so the progress went good and in less than a month — “Drenched (Final Cut)” happened.

Longer and more haphazard than the first, it successfully achieves my intent with the track combining all my various influences into one 5-minute track. If you haven’t please listen to it. Any feedback is appreciated.

On the career front, in less than a semester I’ll be heading towards my final year. Things have gone too fast and I really need time to have a perspective on things and prioritize. I have a few ideas about what I want to do once I get my bachelors’ but they seem too fantastical to be true/too risky/too costly. Maybe now is the time to do some soul-searching and figure out exactly what I want to do. Fears and worries multiply within the realms of my mind when I think of this but I know this is a decision I have to make. And I need to be confident about it when I do.

Literature

I frankly spent a lot less time reading books than I did in 2011. Part of the reason was that during Summer, where I generally spend most of my days reading novels, I was instead taking part in the afore-mentioned NaGaDeMo.

Still I think I’ve read enough to choose the best.

My Favourite Novel in 2012”  — Wolf Hall

Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” besides being a thrilling piece of historical fiction was one of the best pieces of literature I’ve read from recent times.

Hilary Mantel has been on a roll of late — with Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, she has bagged two Man Booker Prizes and with the final part of the Tudor-inspired trilogy coming up in a few years, she might even bag a hat-trick.

While it’s easy to be skeptical of “awards”, I think the Man Booker Prize still manages to maintain a fairly high standard and Wolf Hall reaffirms my faith in that. Named after the traditional seat of the Seymour family as well as the old saying “Man is a wolf to man”, it is a great piece of literature and historical fiction that didn’t require any particular background knowledge for you to be immersed in the court-room politics of Henry VIII. I’ve had one or two book-store reads (a term for sitting in a sofa and reading 20-30 mins of a book in a book-store) of its sequel and I was surprised to find out it gets even better.

Moreover, reading Wolf Hall coincided with my addiction of Crusader Kings II and watching the second season of Game of Thrones and that resulted in some intense backstabbing and court-room scheming entertainment for me during the sweltering heat of Indian summer.

Music 

2012 was another solid year for music. I have had a lot of discussions veering on the edge of arguments that 2012 was as significant a year in music as 2011 (just as in gaming) but some people just won’t listen. Regardless, personally for me 2012 stands out because of a singular masterpiece that swept aside the prejudices I had for its genre due to the sheer brilliance of its music and lyrical content. Also, at the backdrop of the mainstream praise this artist has gotten, I think the world may potentially have a new music legend in their hands.

But first, let us talk about the songs. Or tracks as some of these lack any distinct “singing” trait to classify it as a song.

Best Album Cover of 2012

(III) by Crystal Castles

(III) featured an award-winning photo by Samuel Aranda of a Yemeni mother holding her injured son shielding him from tear-gas

Best Music Video of 2012

Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus

Kahlil Joseph’s short-film combined a series of stream-of-consciousness scenes into an interweaving tale that within its 3-minute duration manages to say much more. FlyLo’s multi-segmented track serves as the background score to it instead.

Best Tracks of 2012

15) Paradise by Wild Nothing

The Michelle Williams starring straight-outta the post-Instagram era music video does zero justice to WN’s dreamy epic. Right from the quietly humming base, to the long meandering mid-section breaking into the familiar guitar jam, on dreamy mornings in 2012, Paradise was very much like its namesake.

14) Apocalypse Dreams by Tame Impala

Animal Collective bombed out big-time in 2012 and there was much laughing-and-pointing at them but Kevin Parker’s project did a great job of filling the void AnCo left for many of us in 2012. Loud psychedelic jams that break and build as often as they resonate into the empty space somewhere at the back of your head. This was the best of their lot in 2012 by quite a distance.

13) Wild by Beach House

Baltimore’s dream-pop duo had another successful outing in 2012 cementing their “mindie” (mainstream indie, yes I know what you’re thinking) status. Wild certainly had the best of Beach House’s elements — synth-driven dreamy music combined with Vicky Legrand’s sultry,beautifully sung vocals.

12) Grown Man Cry by Amanda Palmer

Sometimes known as Mrs.Neil Gaiman or otherwise AFP(Amanda Fucking Palmer), Amanda Palmer had her most successful year as a solo artist in 2012 with a successful Kickstarter project which resulted in the excellent album of which this song is a part of. Typically,AFP with a mid-tempo rock tune and honest acid-spewing lyrics, this was the star pick from the album for me.

11) Baby by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

An erotic cover of the 70s slow-drawling Donnie & Joe Emerson original, Ariel Pink infused a rare amount of oomph into his otherwise weirdo outcast repertoire. Combining Dam-Funk’s smooth vocals, this was essentially “2012’s Sex Song”

10) She Never Dies by Tying Tiffany

While structurally she has transitioned from experimental to traditional, Tying Tiffany still has a knack for genre-skipping musical elements and the beat that thumps throughout this song is the best example of it. Part-industrial and part-post-punk, this song evoked the perfect themes of this underrated album.

9) Transgender by Crystal Castles

Best track from CC’s surprisingly solid (III), it showcases both their refined minimalism in Ethan Kath’s production as well as the continual growth in Alice Glass’ icy vocals and introspective lyrics. “And you’ll never be pure again” has to be 2012’s most painfully delivered line with detached emotion.

8) Gun Has No Trigger by Dirty Projectors

Both an excellent music video and a song that brings out exactly what Dirty Projectors wanted to achieve with their 2012 album. Strip out all the complex parts but maintain the essence of the music. Cooing female vocals and a sick bass-tune provide enough structure for Dave Longstreth to wound his vocals around.

7) Sleeping Ute by Grizzly Bear

Definitely 2012’s best opener which followed their tradition of “Openers that will blow your brains to bits”. Weaving a spiraling guitar riff and an oft-kilter drum track with a dream-folk outro that harkens back to Nick Drake. They struck all the right chords with this one, literally.

6) good kid/m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar

It might be cheating since this is basically two tracks but both of these serve as the pivotal turning point in this album that is essentially serves as a semi-documentary of Compton. This is the turning point when things start going sour and our protagonist — K Dot — is forced to introspect about his gangsta’ lifestyle. Fictional or real — this shit’s brilliant.

5) Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus) by Grimes

2012’s radar-star, this is among Grimes’ more challenging albums bringing forth all the weird and eclectic influences in her music. I might have chosen a more obvious and likeable “Oblivion” but I instead went with this track which is every good as the more popular tracks on the album.

4) Cherry by Chromatics

Chromatics’ were bound to have commercial success after composing part of the background score for 2011’s Drive and this additional song definitely shows them at the height of the power. While I was learning music production, I couldn’t help but appreciate the various aspects of this song. Clean beats that build up with just the right intensity to build the effect but not sound too out-of-place.

3) The Apostate by Swans

Swans’ 23-minute closer was every bit as epic as their 2-hour long album. Literally bludgeoning their listeners into a trance built on repetitive riffs and beats, few musical pieces evoked as strong reaction as Swans did in 2012.

2) Running by Jessie Ware

UK’s major newcomer struck gold among every possible community. Her voice harkened back to UK’s golden era of soul-music of Sade but the dance beats that ran in the bloodstream of her music meant they had a modern vibe that with her sultry 80s vocals made just the right mixture for everything element of the song to click to perfection.

1) Pyramids by Frank Ocean

A 10-minute epic in every possible sense of the word. Musically, it travels across the history of the R&B genre — from the 80s space-funk to the modern slow-club jam. Thematically, it compares the decline of Afro-American women in the US culture using Cleopatra as the central allegory — from a queen to a stripper. There have been over a dozen interpretations of this epic, and that only goes onto show that when it comes to music, 2012 only had one star.

Best Albums of 2012

Underplayed Albums

  • Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  • Bish Bosch by Scott Walker
  • Kindred EP by Burial
  • 11:11 by Chiasm
  • Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus
  • Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen

Honourable Mentions

  • Give Up The Ghost by Polica
  • Narrow by Soap&Skin
  • Lonerism by Tame Impala
  • Theatre is Evil by Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra
  • Bloom by Beach House

The Top 10

10) Shields by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear would be the greatest band if their albums were only 4 or 5 tracks long. But, that is the issue with their music — the longer you listen, the more passive you get to them. Which might have something to do with the placement of their strongest tracks at the fore-front of the album. Just like Veckatimest in 2009, Shields is another indication of progression but I still think the best of this talented Brooklyn quartet is ahead of them.

Choice Picks: Sleeping Ute, Yet Again

 

9) (III) by Crystal Castles

Despite their established “mindie” status, after a rather lackluster (II), Crystal Castles’ were just one misstep away from being discarded as “lamestream” by the hipsters. Yet, they essentially improved their goth-rave sound and cut down all the excesses to the very basic. Rudimentary and raw at the same time, (III) is the darkest of all CC’s albums and rightfully so with its themes of oppression,violence and women harassment. After this, CC are in my good books for the first time.

Choice Picks : Wrath of God, Sad Eyes, Transgender

8) Mature Themes by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink transformed from another Beverly Hills weirdo to a LA cult-icon in 2010 with his commercial breakthrough Before Today. With Mature Themes, Ariel Pink dials back to the obscure and utterly weird music aspects of his earlier albums and lyrical content about “hopped up shemales on meth” so weird, you don’t know whether to laugh or grimace. But what matters is Ariel Pink hasn’t lost his touch for the forgotten retro pop and he still cooks up the best of that for anyone with enough gut to digest his other weird aspects.

Choice Picks: Only in My Dreams, Symphony of the Nymph, Baby

7) Kill for Love by Chromatics

Chromatics’ Kill for Love shouldn’t have worked in theory. They make music for movies — even their producer calls their music “cinematic soundtrack” but somehow in between 2011’s Drive and this they made songs so structurally conventional that it is now hard to believe I ever thought of Chromatics as movie score-only artists. Ruth Radelet’s dreamy voice and Johnny Jewel’s neat production are certainly the driving force behind their hazy synth-driven tracks that made up the bulk of my 2AM listening.

Choice Cuts: Kill For Love, Back from the Grave, Lady

6) Dark Days, White Nights by Tying Tiffany

Yeah I know. She’s hot. Now quit staring and continue reading!

Tying Tiffany had been circling around the radar, on the verge of a breakthrough and 2012 seemed to be her year. She was composing for Hunger Games and her album had been quite possibly her strongest. But much to the disappointment of her fans (me included), her achievements went under the radar. She has built a solid base in the non-English speaking countries in Europe but despite combining the best concoction of post-punk and industrial on this side of the Atlantic, her solid album was quite easily one of the most underrated ones of 2012.

Choice Cuts: Drownin, Sinistral, She Never Dies

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On to the Top 5. Traditionally, these always are my “Highest Recommendations” or “Must Listen Albums at Any Cost” and this year it’s not any different.

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5) Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors

With Animal Collective bombing in 2012, the coveted throne of “Hipster Kings” was empty. In a cliched manner, the two front-runners happened to be from the hipster-country of Brooklyn, but Dirty Projectors always seemed to be the favourites. Despite losing Angel Deradoorian who took a break thanks to AnCo’s Avey Tare (oh lord! The amount of conspiracy theories people cooked up) DP’s follow-up to the “music so complex it’ll blow your brain to bits” Bitte Orca turned out to be the polar extreme — structurally and musically simpler, less textures, hand-claps replacing drums at many places and music so organic you could almost smell the soil. Once again proving that despite pretention, when it comes to music, there were fewer geniuses in modern-day with as much variety as Dave Longstreth.

Choice Cuts: About to Die, Gun Has No Trigger, Just from Chevron

4) good kid,m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar

Coming into 2012, Kendrick Lamar was among the most hyped artists. At the end of 2012, he was the second-most acclaimed artist standing just a few steps behind the obvious winner. But that’s no mean feat. Kendrick’s 2012 venture shows ambition beyond anything one can imagine gangsta’ rappers are capable of. Essentially structured as a movie where the story proceeds through lyrics and telephonic conversations as Kendrick jumps through the various personalities of the protagonist — K.Dot.

Be it the typical gangsta’ with the swagger (Backseat Freestyle) or the introspective and deep reflection on where he began going wrong (Art of Peer Pressure) or the core twist in the tale (good kid) where he is in for a rude awakening as both hoodies and police chase him and (m.A.A.d city) where his backs are against the wall and he lives a living nightmare in the place (Compton,CA) that he used to call his home.

I personally jot this one down as hands-down one of the best rap albums in lyrics and themes in ages. Seriously great!

Choice Cuts: Backseat Freestyle, The Art of Peer Pressure, good Kid

3) The Seer by Swans

Michael Gira has lived through four decades of making brutally punishing music. Back in the 80s, NYPD had to shut down their live shows because audience often reported for being ill and being bludgeoned into unconsciousness by their music. The Seer, a 2-hour long epic album is the summation of everything he has done in career. Few artists appreciate space as much as Gira does, his songs build up in a very slow manner which requires patience but that is part of the charm as it traps its listeners into a trance with their repetitive riffs and beats as well as the loud droning sound of Michael Gira himself. With numerous collaborations in this album from Karen O, Mimi Parker,Alan Sparhawk and the good ol’ Jarboe, The Seer isn’t just majestic in its scope — it evokes the kind of violent primal highs — which only music can.

Choice Picks: LunacyThe Seer, The Apostate

2) Visions by Grimes

2012 will also be remembered for how “weird” became popular. Grimes aka Claire Boucher was at the forefront of this movement. Founder of the term “post-internet music” that is possibly the best way to define her music. Influences so diverse in time and location, that only someone who has lived their childhood through Internet can develop such an eclectic and diverse taste. Visions was her most successful attempt of merging these eclectic melodies into a conventional pop structure. The end result was one of the strongest pop albums of this new decade (it’s only been 3 years I know) and a new electro-pop icon to be watch out for.

Choice Cuts: Genesis, Oblivion, Be a Body (侘寂), Colour of Moonlight(Antiochus)

1) Channel Orange by Frank Ocean

There was always going to be only one winner and Frank Ocean was more than the obvious choice. 2012 will be remembered as a year for a lot of things but primarily it will be seen as the year when Frank Ocean burst forth onto the scene amid unusual controversy. He revealed via his Tumblr post that his first love was a man. While this may not be unusual, for the traditionally conservative and chauvinistic hip-hop/R&B community it was. He backed it up with his album. And dear lord, what an album it was.

I have always said before that R&B has been the genre worst-plagued by modern technology. Auto-tune has been used in the worst manner possible and people have forgotten how R&B actually had soul and heart during 70s when Marvin Gaye was still alive.

But Frank Ocean played a key role in sweeping away my prejudices for the genre. He is a talented musician and has a great voice but he is also a great story-teller. His songs weave so much of himself into it that you want to listen to more of what he says. He fills every word with pleasure and pain be it when he speaks about his first love (Thinkin Bout You) and then speaks of his aspirations of his unborn daughter(Sierra Leone) and then goes into the excess-filled lifestyle (Sweet Life), the downside of wealth(Super Rich Kids). One song after another, the album gut-punches you with brutal honesty.That is even before the 10-minute epic (Pyramids) in the middle of the album changes the flow of the album from heart to the mind. What follows is an honest confession of the religion of unrequited love to a cab driver (Bad Religion) ,a stream-of-consciousness song (you heard that right) about existentialism (Monks) and then teams up with Andre 3000 to cook up one of the most painful songs about pleasure (Pink Matter).

2012 will be remembered as the year when each sphere of music — mainstream and indie had the same favourite — Frank Ocean. With depth and accessibility, he topped charts, had the most acclaimed album of 2012 and leads the race with 6 Grammy nominations (for a change,Grammy).

Choice Cuts: Thinkin Bout You, Sierra Leone, Pyramids, Bad Religion

That ends the Part One of my “2012: A Year in Review”. I’ll be back with Part Two which will talk about Television,Movies and of course — GAMES!

Till then, take care and wish all of you a Happy New Year.

–Ansh