Idle Picasa is the Devil’s Plaything

Confession time: I keep looking back at my own habits and tendencies, finding what I hope are good traits for a game designer. Many of these are expressed as near-obsessive compulsions. I love to alphabetise things, to form cataloguing systems and maintain an orderly hard drive, however it’s often the process which excites me more than working with the system itself. To wit:

  • I’ve created four separate game design-related blogs in my time, all achieving roughly the same goals;
  • my website has been through near enough a dozen revisions and three name changes since its original launch, all with quite different layouts and logos;
  • my hard drive too has seen tens of gigabytes of data reshuffled many times over, all so I can access my picture libraries more easily.

You would also not believe how many times my bedrooms have been shuffled about. It is a mercy that my current furniture layout cannot physically fit any other way, and my bookshelves have to stay as they are. Despite that, this weekend has seen me re-organising paper documents, installation disks and the behemoth that is my Picasa library, mostly for fun.

I think I was an early Picasa adopter, once Google had bought it and released the desktop photo manager as a free download. I piped my photos into it, and all was well until I read an article by ‘Duddlebug’ in ImagineFX. He suggested using Picasa’s smooth layout, handy thumbnail views and tagging features to organise a visual reference library. I remember this much: the fortnight after I had read that advice were a blur. The fifth or sixth iteration of my file folder system was thrown out of the window as I set about importing everything into Picasa, then toying about with its albums and categories. It took a while, but I got there and have a system which stands to date. I’m rather proud of it.

If I were to read this staple of my digital life back as a design brief, I’d have the following:

  • My Picasa library is a combination of visual reference and photo album – there are spaces for my own photographs and a variety of visual mood boards comprising found images, magazine scans, screenshots and downloaded artworks.
  • The system is mirrored in Windows Explorer under the ‘public’ and user -specific ‘My Pictures’ folders.
  • Pictures are sorted by:
    • theme, e.g. cyberpunk, erotic art, pulp;
    • and purpose, e.g. stock, photos, inboxes.
  • There is room to tag each image with appropriate keywords, or they can be searched for by title and folder name too.
  • Photos can be held in a temporary tray and exported into new destinations, compiled as photo sheets, or added to ‘mood board’ albums independent of folder structure.

This creates a desktop-launched environment in which I can scroll down a set of themes, opening each to see a few dozen folders, all containing images related to that theme. I can then pick out a few pictures from various sources and bind them in an album for sharing online, printing as a contact sheet or exporting to a disk.

Open “raypunk”, for example, and I find:

Screenshots: "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog", "Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow", "Flash Gordon" and "Things to Come";

Artworks: Andy Hill, Bradley W. Schenck, Frank R. Paul and Johnna Y Kuklas;

Generic pictures relating to artworks, fashions, architecture and even glamour shots taken in the raypunk style.

Pretty useful if you happen to start designing a raypunk-themed game!

I’m currently threatening myself with starting a tagging regime. As with many of my cataloguing systems, the tags drifted into obscurity as I imported too many images to handle. My Picasa installation is surely housing around 10,000 images if not more, and I have to wonder about the balance between ‘making do’ and investing a few days’ tedious data processing in order to add another, more useful indexing method.

Sadly, it’s hard to find an answer when even tedium fulfils some odd compulsion of mine.