Just Playing

Over the past several months Simon has spent many hours per day 100%-ing Baba Is You and studying Baba Is You related content. He also just enjoyed creating his own levels, whether actual puzzle levels or trying to create new visualizations using Baba Is You as a computer language. If you have the game, you can search for Simon’s level using this code: HR3F-TV3W.

Simon finds this genre of mind boggling abstract puzzles 🧩 so appealing that he has preferred diving into this world (probably very intimately connected with pure math) to continuing working on the platformer-shooter game he and his teammates were almost done with. Simon and Neva have also tried taking part in their first game jam and built a small puzzle platformer, but Simon decided not to send their entry because the hasty code wasn’t neat enough to finish the debugging and level design.

Simon testing out the platformer-shooter they were building in Unity as a team but didn’t release

I had to rush the level design! It’s the worst thing to happen in a game jam! In a puzzle game, level design matters more than in execution-based game because you can’t just make any environment you like. In platformers, for example, you can randomly generate level design and it doesn’t really matter. In puzzles, you need to hand-craft them, because otherwise the puzzle will either be too easy, impossible, or it just won’t be a cool puzzle.

Neva hoped to finish this game jam project outside of the game jam, but Simon seems to be too carried away by the abstract puzzles at the moment.

Since two days ago, Simon has started exploring yet another abstract puzzle game. Just like Baba Is You, this game has been developed by one person. I believe Simon actually hopes he would be able to make something like that himself at some point. The new game is called Patrick’s Parabox and is also available on Steam. Unlike Baba, this is a fresh release! And the name contains a warning: the game does include paradoxes, which even physically scared Simon once while playing the demo version. The horror Simon experienced when he thought he could push the level out of itself was akin to the existential paradox that destroyed the German mathematician Frege’s health when he was asked by Bertrand Russel whether the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves contained itself. It is very logical (sorry for the pun) in that sense that Simon’s current obsession is such puzzle games.

I still like Baba more by the way. Baba has more of a range of possibilities and depth. In Parabox, the core mechanic is meta stuff. But in Baba, there are a lot of different mechanics and the meta stuff is just a natural consequence of those mechanics. So I feel like Baba is more elegant in that way.

Simon has concluded that he is happier working on his own coding projects including any future game dev alone, at least for the time being. He has experienced working in a team as demotivating, it gave him the feeling that he was working for someone rather than developing his own ideas. I think this is very valuable self-reflection. Getting to know yourself and what you want to do with your life is probably the main pieces of wisdom one can hope to acquire as one matures. I do find this development painful for Neva, who has actually really enjoyed learning game dev as a team and making stuff together with Simon. I’m sure she will figure something out though, if she is really determined to take that route (she says her dream is to work on a huge game like Sky one day, which would entail working in a very large team).

One thing I know for sure by now is that even when it seems like one chapter is coming to an end and your child is in between actively working on projects or has lost her collaborators, you as a parent are not in the position to set up new working environments for her or find her a new team. Give her the time and the space to figure those things out on her own, just be there to facilitate the tools. You may not be aware of it but what sometimes seems like more passive learning (reading, watching, playing, chatting) is an extremely valuable time she is sucking knowledge up like a sponge, including getting to know herself better.

I remember the anxiety I used to feel about the kids becoming obsessed with one area of interest for a while. Now I realize how wrong I was. The most notorious example was my thinking Simon was too obsessed with Magformers, the magnetic construction set he used to make all sorts of intricate 3D shapes and vehicles. He was also very much interested in using it to explore tiling. At one point, I got really worried he didn’t do anything else but Magformers and we had a “serious talk” about it, completely unnecessary in hindsight. We still have one expensive unpacked Magformers set in mint condition because I probably scared Simon away back then. Guess what is one of the hottest topics in space architecture today? Tiling and magnetic tiles capable of self-assembly!

It has been fascinating to observe Neva devoir everything she could find about Sky: Children of the Light and about Thatgamecompany who made Sky, fascinating to see how she has been applying her musical and artistic talents inside this near-metaverse environment, involving curating audio experiences and digital fashion collections. Her vocabulary has expanded thanks to Sky’s poetic language and storyline, she has been pushing the limits in trying to explore how the game is structured and architected and how the 3D models interact with one another. Perhaps most importantly, she has developed a tender friendship that has taken her way beyond the limited realm where she used to experience meeting new people and maintaining relationships in and has opened a whole new world to her.

Neva flying in Sky
Neva and her best friend under a wisteria tree, wearing their new hard-earned capes, in the Hidden Forrest realm
Neva, wearing her previous cape, in the Village of Dreams inside the Valley of Triumphs
Neva and her friend exploring the “out-of-bound” area (beyond area that players are supposed to see). They have found out ways to glitch out there, like real pioneers.
also in the OOB area
getting to the out-of-bound area

In the chaos and the total unpredictability of the current events, we have once again felt thankful to our unschooling lifestyle: the flexibility it provides and the crucial and cutting edge skills it allows us to acquire. One perfect example is that Simon and Neva have been really enthusiastic in helping me set up a new Discord server for the independent Russian Press in Exile, a safe networking place where independent journalists can help each other and exchange life hacks.

Simon has also been helping me to problem solve while I was working on my latest animation, a parody of the famous Wordle game (that we are still enjoying on a daily basis btw). He explained how ortho projection works in 3D and came up with solutions how to recreate Wordle’s signature letter twists. Once again I have been able to witness Simon’s deep understanding of graphics, even when helping me with software he wasn’t directly familiar with.

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