The History of A-J Games: Part Seven

To catch up on the story to date, you can view the archive here.

Did I say that things got better? Maybe eventually, but first we need to backtrack a bit. So far we’ve been looking at character games. Some of the characters are fictional; others are based on people I knew or who I didn’t know were fictional. Whatever the origin, these games are based more on objects than subjects. They didn’t start out as theories or experiments, or attempts to express a thought or feeling though the psychology of game design. Maybe in dropping these objects into the pond I drew some subjective ripples, but in principle my methods would have fit right in at THQ.

What we’re going to talk about now is another level of objective. You will have noticed my constant references to other people’s games — mostly professional, mostly derived from the Miyamoto-fed Japanese school.

It’s normal enough for one artist to look to another for inspiration; art is a form of communication, and nothing speaks to an artist like art. It’s also normal for a novice to model his or her work on something familiar. You can’t begin to speak your mind until you know the language, and you have some idea how to fit the pieces together to express ideas. An illustrator traces to get a sense of form; a musician may spend a lifetime interpreting other people’s music before he feels comfortable writing his own.

I guess what I’m doing is justifying creative laziness. I applaud the growth of new forms, and there will be a period of grasping before a form takes shape, but I always wonder why people will take an existing recording, loop it, and add a few riffs on top. If you drew inspiration from Abba or some Motown artist, great. Build on that. Then, erase your tracks.

There can only be so many Andy Warhols, making a statement about our perceptions and expectations of art. There is a place for collage and documentary, and cultural commentary. Generally, if someone is claiming a recognizable hunk of someone else’s work as his own, to me that speaks of a character flaw. It says that the derivative artist doesn’t give a shit about the original artist, about his or her own reputation, about the integrity of either the original or the derivative art, or about the intelligence of the intended audience.

Unless it is very well signaled I don’t really buy the tribute angle, and I have little patience for pastiche. I hate it when people quote from presumed authorities to make their own points in an argument. I cannot abide organized systems of belief or thought. If you can’t find your own thing to say, in your own words, I don’t want to hear from you.

So this chapter is about my own hypocrisy. I don’t know what parts to damn and what to excuse, so I’m laying out the whole problem now. I also have problems with absolute perspectives; as strict as I may sound, I know that nothing is ever that simple. There’s the principle, then there’s pragmatism. And sometimes to embrace the principle one has to spend a while fighting it.

Take piracy, in the modern lawyered-up creative sense. Is it wrong to copy someone’s work? Maybe; why are you copying it? And what’s the result? Did it do more harm, or more good? I think that copyright should expire after fifteen years, as you can’t control an idea once it gets into the DNA of public thought — but I also think that the original author should be able to enforce attribution. Organized chaos, if you will. Evolution with footnotes.

That doesn’t stop my own guilt when I indulge (as with the borrowed images in these posts), or temper my annoyance when someone builds on my work. I guess I should just get over it.

My least shameful tributes are those where I feel I built something original out of the borrowed material, however wholly I may have borrowed it. That isn’t to say that my divergence was deliberate. How much if art is really deliberate anyway? Anything that matters is usually an accident of technique or circumstance, and anything you try to do tends to end up obvious and meaningless. Why is that? Well, think about it. If you can’t even surprise yourself, how interesting do you think your ideas really are?

Nejillian Flux was supposed to be a carbon copy of Gradius, maybe with a bit of Life Force for variety. As it happens, RSD’s Game-Maker is a poor platform for scrolling shooters. They knew it, and improvements were on the radar, but they never quite happened. So I found some workarounds. Not good workarounds, but distinctive ones.

This was an early project. I can tell you how early because of an even earlier pastiche. When I was finishing up Linear Volume, I asked my client for a title. Linear Volume, he said; I went with it. I also mentioned my next project, a scrolling shooter based on Gradius. He told me to call it Nejillian Flux. It sounded good, so again I went with it.

To this point I had designed, I think, six games — three platformers, and three adventure-RPGs. Although I completed most of them, only one of those games — A-J’s Quest — had been very successful. I figured maybe it was time to try something new.

I hit three technical problems: scrolling, map size, and power-ups. The most fundamental of those is the scrolling, or rather the lack thereof. Game-Maker only supports a strange shifting-focus scrolling, where the camera always tries to place the character sprite 1/3 of the way from the opposite edge of the direction of the character’s motion. If the character is running right, the game wants to put 1/3 of the screen to the left of the sprite and 2/3 to the right. The same principle goes for all four cardinal directions, which in a game with free movement can cause the camera to lose all reason.

There are ways to work with this trait, but for a scrolling shooter it is fatal. The two common workarounds are to point the background gravity sideways, or to adjust the character motion so that it must always move in one direction. Neither really works, but if done well the player gets the general idea.

A related problem is in the engine’s strict map dimensions: exactly 100 pixels, square. That’s 6-1/4 by 10 screens, which may be fine for an overworld map. If you’re scrolling exclusively to the right, that means in less than 7 screens you will loop back to the start. Think of Eugene Jarvis’ Defender.

My solution was to double-decker the levels, and to hide a tunnel between the two stories. The player would keep looping until he or she found the passage, from which point the level became linear until the end. An eccentric choice, but it was the best I could think of at that time.

I also ran into problems with the weapon upgrades. The engine does not allow for arbitrary character or control states, so you can’t simply pick up a weapon and use it. The only solution is to give any weapon pickups a hierarchy, and to limit their ammunition. So if you pick up a very powerful weapon, you may only have 20 shots. When you have expended those, you default to the next most powerful weapon for which you have ammo. If you want to use one of the lesser weapons, then first you have to blow through the greater ones.

Then there is the question as to what makes a tougher power-up, as Game-Maker is very black and white about power levels. If your weapon has a level of 150 and the monster is at level 100, then the weapon kills the monster. If the monster has a power of 151, then the weapon does nothing. So weak weapons are pointless, and powerful weapons are perfect. If you’re creative you can find some lateral solutions; in 1993, I was not that creative.

Game-Maker’s engine was always a point of contention and curiosity. With a little lateral thought, it was capable of many things. Its odd and often simplistic arrangement resulted in dozens of unlisted features, and encouraged creative problem solving. Its comfort zone, though, lay in top-down action adventure games. It had the inventory and the four-way scrolling of a Zelda or Crystalis, and it was much happier when one avoided things like gravity or nuanced control schemes.

There are three ways of approaching a set of limitations. You can fight them, you can work within and around them, or you can subvert them. If you fight them, generally you will lose and your work will suffer. If you subvert them, you can produce very clever tricks to wow your peers who know what you’re up against — but chances are the tricks will be glitchy, and will fail to impress anyone else. If you work within the limits, maybe the walls won’t be so obvious and your work will be able to stand on its own merits.

Link vs. Gannon was my first go at working with the engine. This was maybe two or three games before Nejillian Flux. It was clear to me that neither platformers nor RPGs worked to Game-Maker’s strengths, so I relented. If the engine was geared toward Zelda, as it appeared to be, I figured I might as well see how close it could get.

The NES Zelda games are amongst my favorite things ever; the first for the actual moment-to-moment design, and the second for its weird atmosphere and its bold deviation from the original. I loved the claustrophobic focus, but I also loved that sweeping adventure too large to record in every detail — so I combined the design and dungeons from the first game and the free-roaming world of the second. Points of interest were scattered around a huge area, broken up by fields, rivers, hills, and bridges.

I doubt I meant to finish the game, and indeed Link vs. Gannon is the first that I left incomplete. I just wanted to figure out what the engine would handle well. The frustration came early on, when I realized that I was fighting far more than I had planned.

I often think of Game-Maker, if it just had X feature then it would be complete enough and I could work with all of the other problems. When I was in high school, I really needed a better music format. At other times I needed text boxes, or more detailed control mapping, or more complex enemy logic. On reflection, I think the sorest omission is the ability to make pervasive changes to the gameworld.

Here’s what I mean by that. In Game-Maker’s engine, the character can interact with the background — change blocks, pick up objects, kill monsters, and increase abstract counters linked with things like keys and locks. If the player dies or leaves a level, all changes to that level are reset — yet all counters remain as they were. So if you have a level that contains a precious item, you can pick up the item, leave, return, and pick it up again. If you kill a boss then return, the boss is back. And so on.

For a game like Zelda, that is all about exploring, discovering precious tools, and making slow significant changes to the world, it is disconcerting when nothing the player does can stick.

There is a way around this issue, but it involves a bunch of busywork and a tangle of logical wires that are very easy to lose track of. I also didn’t hit on the solution for a very long time. If I did, then evidently I never felt it was worth the effort. And that was my ultimate decision with Link vs. Gannon; it wasn’t worth the energy to figure out how to make it work, or to draw custom background tiles, or to put real work into the level design. I filed the game away, and for a while I continued with my own projects.

Over the years, the counter-and-flag issue kept raising its head. If I tried to do something complex, it was the lack of flags. If I tried to do something simple, it was the counters that wouldn’t reset. One of my more successful games, curiously enough, was a very hard Pac-Man clone. I asked that anyone who enjoyed the game simply send me a postcard, saying “I like Pac!” I got maybe half a dozen cards over the years. Nejillian Flux also traveled a bit. For a while it seemed I couldn’t browse a shovelware CD or Russian shareware site without stumbling over the game.

The problems with Pac were twofold. First, there was no way to contrive it so that power pellets made the character immune to the enemies’ touch. I got around that by turning the pellets into projectiles that the character could spit out. More worrisome is that if the player died before eating all the dots, the counter would carry over but the background would not. In retrospect I’m sure I could have contrived a way to drain the counter at the start of a new life, but the solution I found was to give the player only a single life. One life, one hit point. To reach the end, you have to play a perfect game. Not the most elegant solution.

If it wasn’t the flags and counters, it was a lack of arbitrary character logic. Pac can’t eat ghosts, and Mario can’t stomp enemies. For kicks, one of my later projects involved transcribing the background tiles from Super Mario Bros. and the sprites from Super Mario 3, almost pixel for pixel out of a magazine, in attempt to find some way around the stomping issue.

Even more so than Link vs. Gannon, Jario! is barely a game. I didn’t bother to animate the sprites or design a real level; my whole concern was with trying to force an issue on which the engine wouldn’t bend. It was just as well; I never much liked Mario anyway.

So most of my tributes were a bust. That can be a problem when you have a fixed idea of what you want to do. When you follow the tides of intuition, things tend to just work. You take what comes and you look for something unusual to build on. When you’ve a specific goal and method in mind, anything can trip you up — and since that’s not where your head is you won’t be prepared to roll with the problems and compromise. As time went on I softened in my preconceptions as to what I wanted from a game, as to what a game was, and as to how to achieve that.

About thirteen years after my last Game-Maker project, I unearthed the software as part of a series for an indie game blog. I was surprised how good the design tools still were. If anything, they were more fun to use than most of the games they produced — clear, intuitive, instantly rewarding. I knew the engine’s limits, and I was curious how well it would serve to make a contemporary indie game. In my articles I had mentioned the engine’s strengths; as a test, I chose to replicate The Legend of Zelda as exactly as possible.

I ripped the original sprites and background tiles, then enlarged them by 25% in Photoshop to fit Game-Maker’s standard. It turned out that despite the difference in scale one Game-Maker screen had the same number of tiles as an NES screen — so I recreated the maps as closely as I could, block by block. I found tricks to allow Link to burn bushes and touch an Armos to bring it to life (and maybe find a secret passage). I gave the Octorocks complex behaviors and allowed the Leevers to burrow, immune to the player’s protests.

The only real problem remaining with Overworld was the counter/flag issue. I used a web of level nodes to ensure that Link would only find the wooden sword the first time into the cave, but I knew that after just a few choices the game would soon get much too complex to keep track of that way.

I stopped after filling the world map; I figured I made my point. The dimensions are different from the original Zelda overworld — taller, narrower, and a little smaller overall — so I made do, compressing some locations and expanding or moving others. I figured if I ever continued with the game I could split the overworld across two maps; maybe connect them with bridges across a river.

Although the game was never a serious effort, and indeed took no more than a few hours from me, my mind began to swim with the new techniques I found while bending and cajoling RSD’s engine — the screen-by-screen level design; the complex monster behaviors; the constrained color palette; multi-stage attacks; new monster birthing techniques; and in particular, using monster counter-buffers to alter the level geometry. Those techniques, and their very buggy repercussions, would become the basis for Builder, my first new Game-Maker game in half a lifetime.

Builder was a web of secrets, accessible only to a player who surrendered to and explored the engine’s glitches. A big part of the design involved ensuring that the game’s secrets remained secret until the player hit the right triggers, which on the lowest level I controlled with level nodes and paths. Finally a Game-Maker game responded meaningfully to the player’s actions, and in the most profound sense it did it behind the scenes.

Between these new tricks and my success with Builder, I was ripe with enthusiasm. It had been ages since I had worked on any game, never mind this old engine. I had the notion that I would pull out all my old unfinished Game-Maker games (nine, including Overworld) and wrap them up with style. I would put a cap on that whole thread of my life. No one would ever play them or care, but I would feel a sense of closure.

After perusing then discarding the obvious candidates (The Return of A-J, Sign of the Hedgehog 2) I turned to the best of my tributes, one that had lain neglected since 1994. Rōdïp was the unripe fruit of a competition with another Game-Maker user, a fellow whom I had met through a long distance dial-up board. Both he and I set about designing Blaster Master tributes; his was nearly as literal as Overworld, and my game took on a life of its own.

The vehicle looked similar to the one in Blaster Master, and on paper it had similar abilities — and the background tiles in the first level were similar to the tiles in one room of Blaster Master‘s final level. My vehicle controlled very differently, though — indeed better than nearly any pre-Builder character. The moves and attacks all had their own interesting flavor. The monsters were original and memorable. The level design needed work, but it involved some big, brave ideas. The game had spirit. I wondered why I ever put the game aside; it wasn’t much, but it was good.

It was also fully planned. Maybe I’d just had an Alfred Hitchcock moment and grown bored the moment I knew how the game would pan out. I had blocked the whole thing out — all of the levels, all of the bosses, the environments, the upgrade sequence, and the web connecting it all. All the game lacked was content and polish. So, slowly I added content and I polished it. Maybe I’m still doing it. I haven’t touched the game in months. Right now it just needs a final level, a transition level, and five or six bosses. I also need to complete a water level. I’d say it’s 80% done. I think I’ve just had other things on my mind.

The real trick to Rōdïp is its structure. It’s a free-roaming action-adventure; you beat bosses, earn upgrades, and revisit old areas to climb that wall or destroy that barrier with your new powers. This means affecting your environment, which means setting flags, which Game-Maker won’t abide without a headache.

Well, I survived the headache. The game has only a few items to account and maybe 18 unique areas, but it needs 80 nodes to track the changes and who knows how many links to hold it all together. If I weren’t intent on copying someone else’s idea of a game structure, I wouldn’t have bothered — but I did, and it works.

I’m building up to a point here. Hang with me.

Continuity notes:

After Nejillian Flux, The next game I designed was Explorer Jacko — you remember, the insertion game with all of the Star Control and Trek references. The ship that Jacko steals, early on? Why, the Nejillian Flux of course.

Also, some of the elements in Link vs. Gannon would later be incorporated into Linear Volume and Explorer Jacko. This is why in effect you will see Tektites bouncing around the fields of Motavia.

The story continues in Part Eight

This Week’s Releases (April 10-14, 2006)

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Week thirty-five of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation. Two of the sections are expanded into full articles, posted later in the week.

Game of the Week:

Tomb Raider: Legend
Crystal Dynamics/Eidos Interactive
Xbox/Xbox 360/PlayStation 2/PC
Tuesday

Something that people keep bringing up, yet probably don’t bring up enough, is that the first Tomb Raider was a damned good game. And what it seems Crystal Dynamics has done is go back to the framework of Tomb Raider 2 and to break it down, analytically. What they chose to do is bring the focus back to exploration – in part by introducing some new gizmos, in part by making the environments more fun to navigate. Reviews nitpick a few fair issues; still, the overall response seems to be a huge sigh of relief. Maybe it’s not the best game in the world, or all it ever could be. Still – it’s not terrible! The theme that keeps coming up is one of nostalgia – that, for the first time, someone has managed to recapture what makes Tomb Raider interesting. And that sentiment is itself interesting. Continue reading “This Week’s Releases (April 10-14, 2006)”

THE RETURN OF FRED?!

Today was a nice day. I went for a walk. Although I did not intend to go that way, I once again found myself in the Electronics Botique a few blocks away. I had no reason to stop there. I am not at much liberty to squander money, at the moment. I saw little to draw me back, the last time I was in the store. Yet there I was, somehow. And the “old platforms bin”, absent entirely a few days ago, was returned.

Some of the games in it weren’t even all that bad. Mixed amongst the old sports and wrestling and licensed games, I saw almost-pristine copes of Fear Effect, both 1 and 2. Two near-mint copies of MGS. A curious PlayStation-era update to Galaga. And. Blaster Master: Blasting Again.

For $2.99.

Let’s explain, shall we.

This is one of the rarest Playstation games around. Only a few thousand copies were pressed, as far as I know. It was Sunsoft’s final game before the US branch of the company went under and the Japan branch disappeared into obscurity. From what I understand, the game was mostly produced due to incessant requests from North American fans of the original Blaster Master (much as with the contemporary Metroid resurgence) — so this was the game’s primary market.

It’s not like the game is impossible to find, or all that valuable; the demand is low, since not many people are even aware that the game exists. It got no publicity at all. Anyone who didn’t know that the game was in development probably missed it altogether. Many who were waiting for it (I included) probably didn’t realize it had been released until some while later. I was surprised that it had come out at all. I mean, it barely did.

So. Incredibly obscure game; direct sequel to a game generally considered one of the best ever made for the NES (and one of my personal favorites); $2.99.

So why, besides the obvious, was the game was so inexpensive? Yes, it was used. Closer inspection, however, revealed it as about the most used used game I had ever seen. At least, on the surface. The case seemed like it had been dropped in a bathtub. The manual and traycard were all warped and crinkly.I opened the instruction manual; the pages were all stuck together and torn. The gloss on the traycard was effectively glued to the plastic of the jewel case, meaning it could not be removed without tearing the hell out of the card.

Still. $2.99. Blaster Master. Rare.

So, all right. I took it home, and I replaced all of the elements of the jewel case save the bottom half of the tray. It doesn’t really look all that bad.

The disc itself is more or less pristine. So I put it in the drive.

Now. You know how after you spend years pining after that elusive obscure game, you usually realize there is a reason why the game was so obscure to start with? Your dreams are shattered and you become just that more bitter in your outlook toward life?

That ain’t the case here.

Shep had already described it to me in some detail. I can’t recall where he found his copy. I remember that he was fairly positive about it. I am about an hour in. I will be even more positive.

Aside from the typical camera and loading issues (which I will discuss in more detail in a moment), as yet I have no complaints about the game — in design, execution, temperment, tone, focus, or presentation. It is Blaster Master, in 3D. The adaptation is done as well as you can imagine it being done, and is in some ways far better.

While I don’t mean to overhype the game — it’s not going to change the world or anything — the most clear comparison I can make is to Metroid Prime. It’s an obvious one on the surface; the original games were near-identical in overall concept (if the details made them distinct enough to be individually memorable). Both were almost inherently two-dimensional concepts. Both involve exploring subterranian passages. Both were mostly popular in the West. Both were ignored for years by their original creators, probably in large part because, as these things go, they weren’t all that well-received in their own home countries.

And now, the ideas in the reinterpretation for 3D space are often similar — and often successful, for the same reasons in both games. I’m not going to go into the details; it would run too long. Just hold that image. It works for many of the same reasons Prime does.

Had this game received any publicity at all, and had it been produced in larger quantities, I am fairly certain that it could have made Sunsoft close to a household developer again. It’s just a damned good game, for what it is. It has a bunch of heart, and it knows what it’s doing.

The one non-camera-related frustration I have faced involves the game’s structure; unlike the original Blaster Master, which contained rather enormous levels perforated by the occasional screen change, Blasting Again (I’m growing more fond of that name, actually) takes place in a series of small rooms — perhaps the size what you’d see in Phantasy Star Online, although far more elaborate and platformy — connected by doorways. Every time you go through a doorway, you face a loading time of perhaps five to ten seconds. The loading screen itself is almost endearing to the long-time Blaster Master afficianado, as it attempts to channel the “SOPHIA zooming into the screen” image from the introduction of the NES game. The reference is successful (as are most of the other references: visual, musical, mechanical, tonal, conceptual). It’s just, you’ll be seeing about half as much of this screen as you will be seeing actual playtime.

Oh, also. The game is slightly inspired by Ocarina of Time. This has its strong elements. A less-strong one involves the sister of the hero (himself the son of Jason, from the original game). I’m not sure where she’s sitting; I want to think she’s in the guts of SOPHIA (as with the girl sidekick in Meta Fight, the less-bizarre Japanese version of Blaster Master), though that doesn’t seem to be the case. Either way, after an hour of play I am beginning to long for Navi. It doesn’t help in the least that Sister keeps demanding my attention right when I’m in the middle of some touchy action — and that I need to take my finger off the fire button, and find the Start button, to get rid of her. You think Rose has a bad sense of timing? Imagine if she were in Gradius, and ten times as talkative. Yeah. That’s kind of what it’s like.

Oh, right. This game is a little more action-oriented than the original Blaster Master. There is more shooting (and Metroid Prime-style jump-strafing) than platforming. And I have, as yet, found only one save point. It’s okay, though. It all works, so far.

Wow. I should… eat something.

EDIT: Okay. The game doesn’t save my control configuration. This is the level of minor annoyance that plagues the game. Nothing major; just the details which show what the game could have been, had there been more time or money or assistance.

However. This game is the best excuse ever for the “fast load” function of the Playstation 2. Really. As silly as it makes Silent Hill sound — that’s how much irritation it removes from the load times here. To the last, they are minimized to one or two seconds. I can deal with this.

The $10,000,000 Commando

I keep typing these things off to random people as I sort them out in my head. It seems to make more sense, though, to dump them somewhere I can more easily dig for them later. So here this is.

Of course, Bionic Commando is a spin-off of Commando. We know this much.

It seems that the arcade version of Bionic Commando comes first. I saw it once in a LaVerdiers, years ago. I’m not sure if I ever got to play it, though. It’s super-deformed and action-oriented, but familiar. Apparently, Super Joe (from Commando) is the main character.

(As a note, Super Joe also is in a game I’d never seen before by the name of Speed Rumbler. He’s in a car this time, and someone kidnapped his family. It looks like Commando, only… with cars.)

The second game in the series is Bionic Commando for the NES. The main character is Ladd, and he’s out to defeat Hitler and save Super Joe. It’s an action-adventure sort of in the vein of Blaster Master or Metroid, with occasional overhead-view segments to hark back to the original Commando.

The Gameboy version of Bionic Commando (still the same title, yes) comes third. Super Joe has disappeared again while looking for a secret weapon known as “Albatross”. The main character is now Rad Spencer. It appears to play very similarly to the NES version.

Finally we get the Gameboy Color edition, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces. Super Joe’s gone yet again — only now he’s moved up to the title of Commander Joe. Maybe they figured a desk job would keep him from getting taken hostage all the time. No luck, though. Now there are two main characters — a nameless male and a female Bionic Commando, each of whom gets referred to throughout the game by whatever the player dubs them. The female one, with her purple pony-tail, seems to be the one given more focus. Also, the overhead-view throwbacks to the first Commando seem much more elaborate than before.

So:

[Commando]
[Speed Rumbler (?)]

  1. Bionic Commando (arcade)
  2. Bionic Commando (NES)
  3. Bionic Commando (Gameboy)
  4. Bionic Commando: Elite Forces (GBC)

Yes, I’m back from Otakon.

The Darkness Between the Pixels

I think what’s so attractive about old nes games is, it’s just popped out to me, how dark they all feel — just a little surreal and a little mysterious. Blaster Master and Simon’s Quest and Zelda and Metroid — there’s so much which can’t be seen — you don’t know what anything is, and have to fill it in for yourself. All of the creatures in Blaster Master are a flat gray. The colors in Zelda are completely two-dimentional blobs; it has indistinct sound effects and rocks which look like turtles. Metroid is all black and empty, as is Blaster Master — and, actually, lots of Zelda and Simon’s Quest, really. They feel. . .unexplored. There could be anything in any niche. It’s like a dream. . .

With today’s games, you see everything and you know where and what everything is. The jellyfish in Blaster Master Look like the Metroids. Goonies II — well, that’s a strange one. It sort of overproves the point.

Life Force and Gradius. . .

The games which were hardest to play, I think, were the darkest ones — Gradius and Metroid and Castlevania 1; all great, but all kind of depressing. The games of today are… Microsoft/Apple spawn. They don’t feel real because they’re made to feel too real. Old NES games are like a dark fantasy — they feel so unreal that the mind makes them more real and alive than anything today could strive to be. And they’re mostly smaller than this text. . .