this sky is a canvas

I love the strange tangents and unexpected details that arise when you try and translate something from one medium to another. This month’s piece was born of a desire to recreate two specific things in a fused, interactive form: the gorgeous pastel skies of Steven Universe, and this track by Lake Mary.

It’s in a similar vein to the work I did for my PhD. That was focused on creating a fused audiovisual instrument, but these days I’m not sure that “audiovisual instrument” is the best way of describing these things.

That’s because 1.) they rarely have the same expressive range as traditional acoustic instruments, and 2.) I think calling them instruments obscures the relationship between me as the creator of the thing, and any players of the thing.

What I mean is: while we don’t tend to think of it this way, ultimately all (instrumental) musical performance is a collaboration between the musician and the creator of their instrument. The musician determines how the performance plays out, but they do so entirely within the space made for them by the instrument creator.

So I’m calling this an interactive composition. I think that helps manage expectations in terms of what’s possible (this piece has a far more limited expressive range than a guitar, for example), and it also clarifies our relationship. I’ve determined the space you can play in, but without your input, your choices, nothing will happen; there will be no music.

Download this sky is a canvas

Controls: move mouse to play; escape: quit; s: take screenshot; r: start/stop audio recording

how you move the mouse matters; it will react differently based on your gestures

The Rules:

  • The file at this link will be deleted 1 month from now (05/10/19).

  • All downloads are zipfiles containing a Windows executable.

  • All source code and assets are included, licensed under the GPL (code) and CC-BYSA (assets).

  • As long as you abide by those licenses, you can do whatever you want with the download.

Further Reading

A fascinating, in-depth look at the differences between british and dutch streets, and the specific choices and priorities that shape them.

A beautiful, aching piece about birds and a cancelled wedding.

Rufi Thorpe on the difficulties of motherhood and being a writer.

Liz Ryerson and Emilie Reed both wrote about the state of games criticism and the economic structures that shape every aspect of videogames as a medium. Emilie, I believe, alluding to the abuse that engulfed the Ooblets devs last month (note the content warning at the top of that article).

Staying with that Ooblets horrorshow, thecatamites is insightful on the role of the market and the big gaming monopolies in feeding into and perpetuating this system where small devs find themselves compelled to take these exclusivity agreements (i.e. because there are no other real options). Tbh, my own thoughts mainly echo this tweet by JP LeBreton.

The White Pube with advice on how to take criticism.

I’ve not watched the entire playlist of talks, but Hannah Nicklin’s keynote from Freeplay ‘19 is really good on who we make games for, and how we might do better.

A short story by Rachel Swirsky about loss in a world where people are able to store snapshots of their consciousness so their loved ones can still talk to them after they pass away.


Lastly, this tweet by Alan Hazelden reminded me of a nomic game I took part in 8(!) years ago. Nomic games are all about writing and altering the rules of the game you’re playing together as you’re playing it, and they tend to involve a lot of politics and rules lawyering. My main memories of Our Law are of feeling completely bewildered and out of my depth, but it was kind of amazing to go back over Jonathan’s official record of the game and my own diary.

I’d completely forgotten that at one point I managed to form a political party named NIALL (the New Independent Anarchist Labour League), and then somehow had a law passed which stated that citizens who were not affiliated with NIALL were not allowed to vote. I also made a complete fool out of myself at one point when I misinterpreted a rule and accused Stephen and Terry of a grand conspiracy against the rest of the players.

I also love how Jonathan’s official account and my diary only really cover the surface of what happened in the game. There was a lot more going on (particularly in the first few days) that is only really alluded to in these 2 accounts. Anyway, reminiscing about this has got me itching to play a nomic game again, so I guess that’s something to add to my todo list.


That was all I was planning on writing this month, but then #metoo finally hit the games industry, and it feels wrong to not acknowledge that. Someone has set up a google doc here with a list of all the people who have been outed as abusive, and links to the accusations (the accusations themselves are not listed in the doc, if you don’t feel up to learning the details and just want to know who is involved).

I don’t really know what to say, but now that I work in games academia I have to recognise that I have some power in this situation and a clear responsibility. I need to figure out what I can do, and how. And it has to be more substantial than the performative outrage we saw from so many men on twitter when the accusations first hit.

Some other links if you’re feeling up to it (big content warning for these):

Nathalie Lawhead's initial post about Jeremy Soule, and a follow-up post.

Scott Benson writing about his relationship with Alec Holowka.


Ugh. Ending on a grim note this month. Take care out there. Look after yourself, and look out for the people around you. I’ll see you again next month.