special-5--2007
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CUTTING RED DIAMONDS

17 November 2007

Today's impossibly bitchin' Special comes from the mind [and modelling skills] of Joost van Dongen, former schoolmate. He got a Master's degree in Game Design when I got it in Animation and is now working with his team (the same guys who made De Blob) on a new game in their recently formed studio Ronimo. We worked together on the Guerrilla Games project for Killzone and during that time I exposed him to Captain August. He was already working on a 3D model at his own volition when I asked if he wanted to make a Special out of it. Not in my dreams had I dared think it would come out this great. I think the only word applicable here is wholesome. Just... wholesome.

The last few weeks I have been practicing my current skill du jour: shuffling cards. Before this, I had dice on my desk (actually; they're still here) that I would manhandle and fondle and let roll in my hands to delightful effect while browsing. But since somewhere last week, it's been all about the cards.

Why do I do it? I don't plan on entering any card trick tournements or anything. No. It's simply an incredibly entertaining thing to do while you're busying your mind with something else, like watching TV. At the same time as you occupy your mind with passive/reactive watching, you're pushing your motor skills and hand dexterity by mastering handling 52 cards at the same time.

There are a few basic moves I'm trying to learn. The first is a simple flourish; where the cards fly from one hand to the other in a continuous stream. The distance crossed should ideally be as large as possible, making it really quite an impressive trick. I can only manage to make the cards flutter a short distance, however. As I progress I'll slowly try to widen the gap between hands, but for now I'm content trying to let them fly as smooth as possible in the first place.

Then there are a few basic shuffles that I do without thinking. You've got your average-joe shuffle that everyone does. It's messy, but it lends itself well to controlling the deck to get specific cards to the front or back -if that's your aim and if you've got a stacked deck, of course. I'm also quite partial to the Hindu shuffle, where you hold the deck flat and then repeatedly bring the bottom part to the top with the other hand. This is a much cleaner shuffle and suited more for magic tricks.

But the top move I'm trying to master is the no-table riffle. You probably know the regular riffle; where two halves of the deck zip into each other by bending the corners or small edges of the cards with your thumbs. Doing this without a table to rest the cards on is much more challenging, because you lack an orientation point -or platform, rather. You need a better understanding of the physics at work, and this takes practice. At first I sucked and cards flew everywhere. But the strangest thing happened; I went to sleep and when I arose in the morning, my hands suddenly knew a lot better what they were doing. You really do learn in your sleep by processing all the stuff from your waking hours! Now, once you have the cards riffled in your hands in somewhat neat fashion (I can't as of yet manage to get a completely clean zipping with separate cards; but tiny parcels or packets are perfectly acceptable for me), you could of course just fumble the deck into a whole again. But where's the sense of theatre in that? Rather, a second move, the cascade, is the preferred follow-up. You violently bend the riffled halves in your hand upwards while holding the sides and roof tight. By applying the right amount of pressure and guidance with minute palm movements, the cards will now spring into each other in a small, controlled flourish. Seeing it is delightful; actually doing it yourself is a little boost of bliss, every single time.

Roderick.