“From scratch”

When people say “from scratch” it’s an abstraction, you know?  And what that actually means is contextual, though if you have some basic domain knowledge it’s not too hard to figure out.

In music, for example, when I say “producing a song from scratch”, I mean to say that you’re not re-using existing parts from other songs and just splicing or mashing them together to make something “new”.  Of course, that doesn’t preclude the use of premade synths, presets, samples, and even drumloops.  Well, unless your whole song is basically just rapping on top of a drum loop, but please, let’s not even go there *slight eyeroll*. **  But it doesn’t literally mean you’re not using anything that anyone else has ever made, ever, because that’s just nonsensical.  At what point do you draw the line?  Are you allowed to use a preset that someone else has made?  Are you allowed to use a softsynth that someone else has programmed?  Are you allowed to use a hardware synth that someone else built?  Are you allowed to use the DAW that you didn’t code yourself?  Are you allowed to use audio encoding techniques that you didn’t invent?  Clearly the farther down the line you go the sillier and more useless the concept of “from scratch” becomes.

Similarly, programming a game “from scratch” doesn’t mean you can’t use any outside libraries or anything.  Now, if you said “programming a game engine from scratch”, then that would mean something more in-depth, but I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be able to make a game using SDL or XNA or something and call it “from scratch”.  Because thinking about the process of making a game, none of that stuff is actually about the game itself, and can be applied to millions of other games in exactly the same format.  Just like a synth patch.  (But not like a catchy melody riff).

So would using RPGMaker be considered “programming a game from scratch”?  No, because using RPGMaker doesn’t involve programming.  Would using RPGMaker be considered “making a game from scratch”?  Well…still probably no, because you’re probably still using a bunch of the provided generic assets and graphics and everything.  But on the off-chance that you actually used RPGMaker =solely= as an engine (very possible, but probably not very possible for you), then yeah, sure, I could call that from scratch.

The other question is what is actually the supposed inherent value of doing something “from scratch” anyways?  I mean does this whole notion even matter in the slightest at all?  Well…sort of and sort of not.  It sort of doesn’t matter because in the end it’s the final product that counts, and if you can make a “better” final product using stuff that’s just recycled from somewhere else, well so be it.  There’s two issues with that though–one is that recycled stuff often -isn’t- better, and the other is that it misrepresents the amount of work done.  Which isn’t too much of a problem unless you’re on the “from scratch” side of things.  And it’s not a problem unless other people, who don’t have any sort of clue about the domain knowledge, assume that “oh, you’re just taking existing stuff and putting it together, right?”  And they still think it’s really great and everything, but it still bugs you that they have a totally incorrect idea of how the process works.  But if someone doesn’t have a clue about the domain, should it really matter?  It’s probably all the same to them, just the difference between “I’m never gonna do that in my life” and “Whoa, I’m -really- never gonna do that in my life”, which really is not entirely different.

But it’s hard for us makers and producers and designers to not care about that sort of thing.  Because at the end of the day, we’re showing our work to you because we want you to appreciate it, and it doesn’t really feel all that great when the effort you put into it isn’t correctly understood.  And I know that if I put a piece of electronic music out there, the teeming masses don’t really have much of a clue how it’s produced.  Is it…me playing things on an electronic keyboard and then recording it?  Is it…me coding something in some sort of sound programming language like ChucK? *scoff*  Is it…something that looks like this that makes you go O_O if you haven’t seen a tracker before?  Is it…me picking and choosing different pieces of sound and placing them together like some sort of floral arrangement?  (hint: it’s none of the above)  And so even though yes, it’s the final product that -really- counts in the end, you feel like people just don’t really understand it as well.

There’s probably room for me to make fun of CCRMA people again somehow at this point, but I’ve done that so many times already that I shouldn’t bother xD.

**Not discounting rap music, but really intended to seriously poke fun at the kind of people who use the words “song” and “beat” interchangeably.  On the flipside, I could also poke fun at the people who render MIDI files of their beautiful scores using silly GM soundbanks when they could easily find some better soundfonts (or even better, free orchestral VST sample libraries), throw on some reverb, and make them sound at least kind of decent.  But seriously, I feel like at one point or another one of my songs was referred to as a “beat” by somebody, and that kind of almost seems offensive, because that wording implies that you’re not even giving credit to half of the other elements in the song…


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