Friday, May 1, 2009


I have been interviewed about my pixel art (mainly) and comics at 8bit today. Click on the image above to traverse to the wonderful world of the 16 color machine palette, of 4 channel sound, when 256k of memory weren't 'enough for everybody' but more like manna from the techno-gods. Some added thoughts after the jump.

Sander van den Borne, who did the piece and conducted the interview comes from a demoscene background. For the readers of this blog, 'demoscene' might be a completely new word so here's in a nutshell what it is: When personal computers became affordable back in the 80's a lot of introvert children learned to do code, graphics routines and compose music on them in the privacy of their own bedrooms.You know at least one of these people if you think about it. Some employed these skills to make computer games, and back in that time it was entirely possible to make a hit game on the microcomputer just by yourself in your bedroom and become a professional game programmer once it got picked up by a publishing house.

Others employed their technical skills on these microcomputers to crack the protection of games put out by the companies of the time, so they can be copied freely from the original disks to backup floppies. They would then put these games on underground BBSes (the precursor of the internet, in a way) for other people to download, or just disk-trade them away. If you're over 30 and have an interest in videogaming you've probably played something that has been cracked by one of these people. A 'scene' solidified around this application of getting games for free, which still is very much alive today. Everything that you download and play on your PC illegally has been cracked by someone that belongs to a group with a fancy name like 'Razor' or 'Fairlight'. If you check you'll see they've usually put their name somewhere, be it in the filename, a small demo in the cracker utility, something.

Some of these active teenagers back in the day were also making crack intros to the games they cracked, it all started pretty lowbrow will just some scroller sending out greetings and admonitions to other scene people, but as more people got involved the crack intro scene spawned a very competitive sub-scene in more elaborate intros, with music and fullscreen graphics and code routines that seemingly defied the paltry limitations of the 8-bit machine they were working on. Look at this for a standout example of that aesthetic of the era. This is by the demoscene group 'Crest'. The machine this is running for natively - and from where the video and audio data is captured - is a commodore 64. These demos came in competition in large demo-parties, where they were ranked by the popular vote.

Sander van den Borne is a person that has experienced the demoscene first-hand for a quite relevant period. You can see the collection of his work here. It is especially worthwhile, if you're interested, to watch the demos and look at the graphics he's done chronologically so you can see how the aesthetic zeitgeist of the early 90's was definite for the demoscene, and how he - amongst others - has tried to move from there to more individual approaches. Look at this, for example. I have respect and admiration for Sander and it's a privilege to be interviewed by him on 8-bit today.

I was marginally involved in the commodore 64 demoscene, which is still going almost 30 years after the release of this particular 8-bit machine for a time, because I had taken to doing graphics with the limitations of its main two visual modes, hi-res (square pixels, 320x200 screen, only two colors from the machine 16 color palette on every 8x8 cell at a time) and multicolor (every picture element is two pixels wide, only 3 colors from the palette plus one global color that is the same for the whole picture). I made these pieces of artwork because I am fascinated by limitations, as I explain in the interview. I did not get involved in the social aspect of the scene and as such I cannot talk about its conception of my work from the inside. From the presentation and interview it is my understanding that some of the work I've done for that machine has been of interest to some.

I do a lot of pixel-art, some professionally, some not, using a lot of limitations that are more fabricated than the c64 ones. I do not post about pixel art on this blog because I'm trying to not make it into a 'everything Helm has done, is doing and will ever do' blog. Perhaps it's a mistake to not go that way because then I would be able to post almost every-day with the various bits of creativity I channel to pixel art, to music, to the critique process. I kinda like the idea of this blog being 'pure' though, I don't know. What do you think, should I post more about my other creative endeavors besides comics?

Edit: keep in mind that if you say 'yes' you might be subjected, some days, to my imaginary stillbirths such as this edit.



Nick said...

Hah,I would love to see pixel art posts here! I knew demoscene long ago, but never got really into it ..
In fact I started checking some videos etc when we already had Pentium & Pentium 2 processors available or something. I am not that old, although the first pc i used was 286 12MhZ ;D

Solar said...

OMG, that grappler.avi just sent me in spasms of laughter.

Great interview btw, although I'm sure I could convince you of some solace in liberating yourself from determinism, if I worked a bit harder. :P

As to posting 'everything helm' on this blog, I think it should remain comic based. However a pixel art comic would be more than acceptable.

You should link to your other projects though. Whether it be a separate blog or forum etc. I just scanned some of your pix's on pixel joint and as expected they are great. However, don't you think there is a bit to much colour in some for your style ;) Also had a go of thrustburst a while ago. Damn that's a punishing game.

Helm said...

If deterministic points of view make me happier and stronger, should you help me grow out of them, theough?

Solar said...

Happier and stronger? You're starting to sound like a darwinian headonist :)

The perspectives of determinism and free will often seem irreconcilable when put down to descriptions of choice and no choice. It was only to this point that I jibe.

In practice, neither view satisfactory explains the complex situation we find ourselves in. That there is cause and effect leads to a determined outcome, but that we can perceive alternate outcomes and even 'choose' to interfere with cause and effect, gives the resemblance of free will. The question becomes which is the bigger illusion; the fixed causal associations or the capacity to alter them.

In viewing the past or the present this has little bearing, there is no way to choose or change. Even the moment of choice is gone as I type. However, reconciling with the future what the present choice means or what past choices meant becomes a preoccupation of any that wonder what their existence means in relation to the world we are presented with.

I don't deny determinism completely, but there is something incomplete, in that it doesn't capture the sense of meaning and responsibility in making choices, of the sense of shaping the future. I like your view of internalising 'shames' to have a positive influence should that situation arise again, it's probably the most internally reflective (and emotional) use of determinism I've heard. The catch for me it how we can incorporate personal meaning related to the past or the future

Rarely from determinists do I hear 'that was the way it was meant to be' ie. there was a sense of meaning tied up in the events leading to this point. Not that free thinkers would agree with this statement either, as the meaning was in the choices not the events. The point here is that a deterministic world view encourages a relationship with emotion or meaning that is both rational and observational.

There is nothing wrong with this approach and it works for many. For me I find myself wanting to actually understand that emotion from wallowing in the experience of it, and the choices leading up to that seems inseparable from generating that experience. Interestingly I don't see this as paralysing or preoccupying, being reflective on choices made. It's not something I spend a lot of time on. But when presented by things like the small shames it seems inevitable to assess not just the choice but the emotion behind that situation (even when there may be no choice).

I feel I'm talking in circles here. Would need to devote more time to explaining myself.

In short, both determinism and free will fail to really pin down what it means to have a mind, to be a witness to the world around and and then deal effectively with the emotions that creates. I find more often than not that I approach these issues liberally, opening my heart and mind to the situation at hand, be they the result of choices or determinants.

Helm said...

I'll work a bit backwards from your post. Excuse me if I'm not very clear in my text below because I am not a an academic and the words come to me a bit jumbled and it might not seem clear what I say by common definition and what's just Helmspeak.

I do agree that deterministic systems, especially when dryly described and not evoked from deep internalization, seem to fail to include the essential part of the experience of sentience in their causal constructs.

I think that element might not be easily tackled in text because it is a product of prelingual instinct, a very pure experience that when one tries to make it fit in a naive construct of reality like determinism (naive not comparatively but ultimately) it just seems to flow out of the borders mockingly. It informs everything we say (the very basis of language makes bold free will assumptions. In just saying 'I will do this' one is commiting to a clairvoyance of a certain future, built out of sheer willpower) but not everything we say can capture it in essence.

On the other hand I think that a lot of people that claim an interest in determinism, and describe determinism in text, have not experienced it in an essential level and therefore what they write is a diversion from the examination of its capability on the aforementioned essential level. I think a lot of people are just interested in philosophical concepts and play around with them and that's fine, but they're muddying the waters for those that are trying to find clarity in order to survive.

A 'ghost' presence inside a human being that seems to be driven by inner forces but yet can sense itself on a higher level is what complicates the issues of choice and morality and draws a strong distinction between free will people and determinists. The former consider that ghost paramount and base all their meta-ethics on its capability for uninfluenced action and the latter fail to account for it on some essential level, as if the very essence of existence eludes them. Both incomplete systems?

The first consider existence self-evident because one knows they exist. The latter consider existence evident only when the existing party has a causal effect on the outside world.

The difference between existing because you have a causal effect on the outside world, and existing simply because you know you exist is not as great as it might initially seem. To not step fully into sophism I will just mention that 'noticing oneself existing' is another causal chain, another interface model, but just between different parts of the same machine. Like a debugger running parallel to a program. What is that program's directive? To survive.

Free will people have difficulty with seeing their 'I' in this light because their metaphysics are so divorced from the mechanistic aspect of nature. It is as if once one has noted they exist they are to be tormented by the existentialist conundrum without any point to hold on to, any truth that can guide them. The existence of the 'I' as examining the 'I', becomes the end in itself. The human condition. We suffer but why.

I think a lot of the problems that occur on this level are there because people tend to megnify the capacity - and importance - of their conscious self as opposed to their subconscious workings. It is commonly discussed that the 'I' is this 'ghost' who has a given name and who is swimming around somewhere in the body and that this 'I' is the most important piece of machinery inside of there and that the rest is there just so this magnificent sentience could eventually manifest. This is a roundabout theistic position that a lot of free will thinkers adopt even if they consider themselves staunch agonsticists otherwise.

It is telling that one has internalized a determinist viewpoint when that 'I' becomes gradually less important initself, more equalized with the machine it is housed in and when the goals of the two halves converge towards the factuality of survival. As you say, determinism isn't useful in practical terms. I suggest it is useful exactly in allowing a person to not draw this sharp dualism between the 'I' and the 'machine'. A fully internalized concept of this allows one to look at themselves as a holistic machine that has developed the ability to sense itself in the abstract, to make differentiations between itself as a machine and itself as a metaphysical construct.

When 'I' look at myself I do not see 'Helm'. I see a being that amongst other features has developed this fissure of consciousness identifed as 'Helm'. This observation is useful because then I can examine if this 'Helm' is making the whole machine happier and stronger, or if it's malfunctioning. I can predict 'Helm's movements on the basis of past behaviour and how it has affected the wellbeing of the whole machine and I do not feel as concerned with lying to myself about its future capabilities. In effect, determinism has allowed me to reign in a self-destructive, naive optimism that I will magically stop making the mistakes I've made in the past just because I know I've made them and surely once you know you don't do it again, right?

At the same position a person that has divorced themselves from their body would be constantly preoccupied with the recursive considerations of sentience as-an-end-in-itself (and the worrying issues of why the sentient self doesn't seem to be doing what the sentient self says it's going to do), whereas I am interested in how sentience helps the whole machine operate.

You might have noticed me say things like 'I just want to survive' often and then follow them with what seem like nonessential desires like '...and to do that I want to have a capacity for artistic expression and a living communication with humans as audience' etc etc. These might at first seem like humour... superficial quirks of language used to entertain, after all everybody on the internet must write in an entertaining way. But they're not. I honestly mean that in order for my machine to survive, I need these things. It's not just the 'I' that needs them, they're as basic to me as food and water and the roof above. It is exactly because my goals as a being have slowly began to converge to a single stream that such an absurd desire is basic, and my basic desires no longer feel absurd.

If I am allowed to stray from the matter at hand here it is worth noting that this process I am explaining is a very inconvenient one for me as a consumerist citizen and that modern society does its best to keep my 'I' separated from my 'machine'. Modern society divorces myself from myself because when I am left directionless and distraught I can be worked and milked and I can be fed easy, vicarious entertainment that mockingly presents me with allusions of the 'other' type of folks, those that actually lead meaningful lives, where they want things and they take them, where their desires are converged and singular. I may not have these things and I am not allowed to create a space where they might flourish. I must instead be worked by my masters and then I must be placated with these mirrors of distant pleasures until I die.

But human beings were born of violence and by violence I do not mean only suffering but also crucial adversity and they cannot fully unlearn that they were once a single machine bent on violence and so I am searching for violence in order to be alive. This violence (perhaps 'disruption' is a better word) is in art and in direct human communication and in the shattering of the spectacle that fuels this uneasy divorce between desire and existence that the modern world is defined by.

Nick said...

"I think a lot of people are just interested in philosophical concepts and play around with them and that's fine, but they're muddying the waters for those that are trying to find clarity in order to survive."

I believe getting involved in philosophical concepts on a clearly theoretical level might be termed "intellectual masturbation". Concepts,ideas,thoughts are there to be implemented and practically help us move better in our life, not to delude us by being totally disconnected to our life stasis.

So I have been thinking, is it really necessary for someone to get involved with the more 'academic' side of philosophy, reading thousands and thousands of pages of philosophical concepts ... and do them what?
Sometimes I have the sense that there are people that have integrated these very same philosophical concepts in their lives, even if they can't express them in an analytical way or even if they are unaware of the terminology.

In the past I used to claim to be a big advocate of the "You create your own reality" concept, misinterpreting to mean that you can choose to be or do anything , anytime.

Nowadays I turn to determinism much more, of course through some choices and life stases you re-define your reality, in some way

Practically, determinism helps me a lot because it alleviates the "What's going to happen next" stress/anxieties or the "Why did I/he/she did that or behaved that way" guilt or sorrow.
That way I am much calmer and able to enjoy the present.

Of course as in every concept, there are traps when you "use" it the wrong way. E.g someone could rationalize using determinism as an excuse for his going down the drain ( and yes, one can argue that if one does that, it was determined to do so, if he really could have done another way he would have).

I don't disregard the quasi-freedom of choices we have, but I am aware that these very choices are defined by a bunch of parameters, from past experiences to our idiosyncrasy and psychism.
Being aware of it helps me feel less 'obligated' to choose something just because I had - rather superficially- believed this to be the right thing, so even these very choices I am making are much more in accordance with my Self.

Helm said...

I'm all for masturbation, really. I'm sorry if I came across as if I resent the armchair determinists, I don't, really. Whatever makes them happy. It's just that to get to the core of it you have to bypass a lot of opinions that aren't based on high stakes.

"you create your own reality" hehe if that were so it would be kinda depressing to see how mundane the realities we create are... no... let's think of Debords psychogeography project. Theoretically a human being is free do go wherever they like, so they tracked this French student and her life was practically lived in a small triangle from her flat, to her academy, to her piano instructor, very rarely venturing further.

We are not free to determine our reality. But every one of us detects it in a different way. It's easy to get confused just because there is no objectivity that we are free to reign in our personal universe but, as you say...

I am glad to see that since we first met you're going through your own personal metamorphosis. Not so much because I hold you responsible for putting it in motion - as we said I don't - but because any sort of metamorphosis will lead to you being a stronger person, I feel.

Nick said...

Well it was mostly the fact that due to a very unpleasant mental/psychis state I was in , I was trying to find some concept to cling to and solve all my problems through it. Escapism that turned out make me problematically delusional totally misinterpreting the 'you create your own reality' to a ridiculous extent.
Of course I am aware that there are people that flirt with the 'i define my own reality' concept and are generally very happy in their lives. But obviously that's something much more complex than whether one believes in determinism or free will.
But anyways when someone tells me "You Create Your Own Reality" I'll reply "You Create Your Own Delusion".
But I don't even know how one means,interprets,implements or how much one believes this concept.
Words have many meanings and colours anyways, let alone that they can be very limiting most of the time. So the best approach is to play with them in my opinion.

As for the change, yes, I feel this way too, and the best is that I have a steady feeling that I am changing for the best,not descrbed best in a linear way, but through fluctuations that are transposed upper in the y axis as time passes by ( if that makes any sense, the highs are higher than the previous highs and the lows higher than the previous lows too ).

Stathis said...

I'm new here, but I vote for the diverse option, if you're doing more stuff, I'd like to read about them! Great job on the pixel art by the way :-)