Recently, I’ve been working on a huge update for my pet programming project. Since development is still pretty steady, this probably isn’t much of a surprise – recent commits have included a teleport tile that can send bugs to arbitrary points on the canvas, improvements to the style of menus, limited UI customization functionality, and so forth. I spent much of the last week overhauling Tracker2D’s audio ‘system’ by more comprehensively exposing the HTML5 Web Audio API’s various audio convolution and filtering features. This has been quite a task, and I thought writing about the process would be interesting as well.
Tracker2D is a program where a bunch of smiley faces run around a field of colorful dots and cacophonous noise plays.
It occurs to me that the summary I just wrote for this program may be intentionally inaccurate. Whether Tracker2D is a toy, a digital audio workstation, or a visual programming language, it’s still a browser-based music creation program I’m working on that you can check out here. As of today, it is in very active development with new features being added all the time.
If there’s any one philosophical point underpinning Tracker2D, it’s the idea that a musician’s output is shaped by… well, the shape of their instrument. A pianist is going to have a different approach than a guitarist, or a violinist, or a percussionist, and so forth. More subtle, however, is the influence of your composing tools. Having written a lot of music, I’ll note that I underwent pretty massive paradigm shifts when I made big changes to my workflow – from notation in Sibelius, to step sequencing with Famitracker/OpenMPT, to piano rolls in REAPER, and so forth. Even subtle things like how these programs map keyboard shortcuts to editing functions have probably altered elements as fundamental to how I work as, for example, tonality and rhythm.
You might be wondering what this has to do with the actual software at this point. Tracker2D is nonlinear by design; you cannot determine the order of execution for musical events you input into the software simply by panning your eyes in one direction. Instead, your musicians (“bugs”) travel over a two dimensional field and can end up all over the place depending on what sort of instructions you paint on the field. At this point, there’s even some basic programmatic ability with counters and teleporters; at some point, you’ll be able to create relatively complex musical machines of a sort; how Turing-complete these are depends on how much work I’m willing to do in the future. The entire visual<-> sound relation concept is inspired by Toshio Iwai’s work, especially Simtunes. Tracker2D is intended to be more complex and “useful”, though – it’s going to implement a larger soundset, bugs aren’t tied to specific instruments, you can have up to 8 simultaneous channels instead of merely 4, and so forth. Then again, Simtunes was explicitly marketed towards children, so it was kind of simplistic in a lot of ways. The people whom I’ve discussed this with probably know what I’m talking about.
Another facet of advertisement reveals itself! I hired an artist to illustrate some characters for Second Contact Is Worse, and he recently completed the job, so I figured I’d upload them so that they’d be on the internet. That’s a reasonable course of action, right? These illustrations were made by Łukasz Juśkiewicz from Poland. If you like them, be sure to check out his deviantART page… where you can also see the cover art my book’s going to have upon publication. He’s also open for commissions, so if you think his style is appropriate for your own works, I highly recommend you look to him for work. The artwork you’ll see after the jump (assuming you read this from the front page and don’t click directly through to here) is legally his property, although I made sure to get usage rights, so if you want to do something with this art for whatever reason, please contact him instead of me to get permission.
Hold your mouse over these images for character descriptions. Shrewd readers will note that I do this for pretty much every image on my website, although I usually don’t upload this much text.
While this project is still in its early stages, I’ve decided to reveal it on the grounds I may turn it into a multimedia project, as vaguely hinted at the last time I did a teaser for a book I’m writing.
Twilight Emperor is currently set to be my third novel. Compared to the First Contact Is Bad For You series, it’s going to be more realistic – it takes place in an alternate 1930s Europe, with some jaunts to the United States of America and perhaps other parts of the world. The point of divergence is close enough to when the book takes place that Europe is slowly but assuredly sliding towards cataclysmic war. In the middle of this is Lawrence Walker, the main protagonist; a foreman at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Georgia who makes the mistake of vacationing in in Belgium when the French are crowing about nationalism and the restoration of their country’s glory.
Currently, there are two side-projects I am seriously considering in addition to the novel (which is currently at approximately 12,500 words):
- A mod for the game Hearts of Iron III, which is a strategy game where players take control of countries during World War II and attempt to rewrite history in their favor.
- An academic paper relating in some way to the actual historical events that inspired me to write this book. By engaging in research to make this book more detailed and plausible, I’ve acquired enough texts to get started. The academic work of Robert O. Paxton is playing a major role here, and I would recommend his book, The Anatomy of Fascism to anyone who is interested in understanding interwar Europe.
To be fair, Twilight Emperor is (in its current form) driven primarily by its protagonist’s exploits – were it not for his touristy tendencies, the setting would be a backdrop at best. Prospective readers should be happy to know that they won’t need to be familiar with the actual history to enjoy this book.
It might take quite a while to get this out – this depends on a variety of factors, such as the progress of Second Contact Is Worse, my out-of-creative-lifestyle workload, and my overall interest in this project. Keep watching your maps, folks.