Author Archives: Aditya Ravi Shankar

What we can learn from children about achieving our goals

Ever think about what goes through a baby’s mind when it is learning to crawl?

Do you think the baby goes “I want to place my weight on my knees, then I want to place my hands slightly ahead of where I am and shift my center of gravity to my left. I also need to remember to make sure my spine is pointed slightly right of the target so that when I move forward, I don’t go too much to the left. That way I can average it out with the shift during my right movement so I am always roughly facing my target.”

Doesn’t really sound like something a baby would think does it?

How about “If I can only start crawling I will get stronger and healthier. People will start praising me and respect me for my crawling skills?” Does that sound like something a baby would think?

If babies tried to learn the way human adults do, they would grow up never learning to walk instinctively, and for the rest of their lives need to keep a post-it on their arm with acronyms and rules reminding them how to crawl or walk. The rules would probably be painful and cryptic (PCLSF – point, center, lean, step, fall) and only a few “talented genius adults” would be able to walk without struggling. They would never be able to walk using instinct, and everyone would go around justifying this by saying two legged walking requires so much of muscular coordination, it is an extremely rare talent that one needs to be born with. There would be e-books and courses and self study guides on the internet about faster and better ways of learning to walk, and how to be almost “natural” at walking. Luckily for us, almost every child learns to crawl and walk without needing any of this nonsense.

But how do you think they really do it in a seemingly effortless manner?

As far as I can tell, they just look at a place and say to themselves “There. I want to go there” and then they try to do it. And when they fail, there isn’t a “I’ll never be able to do this. I am such a disappointment. I have failed at every attempt. I should just give up.”. Nope. Just two seconds of confusion later, they try again. And again.

Each time they make subtle variations to what they are doing compared to what they tried before. I don’t think they even consciously realize what they tried before. They don’t even realize what they just changed. All they know is “Again. I want to go there.”, and then with that feeling or thought inside them, they try.

Little by little something inside them figures out how their center of gravity needs to shift, which muscles need to be fired in tandem and how visual and touch information needs to be used to adjust which muscles groups to fire. At the same time, another magical part of them tracks which muscles need growing because they aren’t strong enough, and marks them so that when they sleep that night, the muscles grow and get bigger and stronger.

Do you honestly think babies plan any of this?

Oddly enough, despite all that is required, they achieve their goal.

Is it effortless? When we look at it, we admire their persistence despite all the effort required. When they look at it, they don’t look at it as effort or persistence. All they see is “Goal. Try. Goal. Try. Tired. Goal, Try. Yay!! Again.”. That’s all it was to them. No effort. Just try something they wanted to do until they got it.

All the adult motivation and learning coaches talk about the HOW – the steps and the plan, and the WHY – the motivation and the desire. How you can never achieve your goals without clearly answering the HOW and the WHY questions.

Ask a child who is thinking “I want”, “But why?” and the reply would just be “I want?” . What else is there? Why would it need another reason? Why would it need to justify why it wants something? Isn’t the fact that it wants something enough? Ask it “How?” and the reply again would be something like “I want. I try.”. Ask it “But the steps?” “I don’t know. I want. I try.”. And just with that brilliant set of plans and blueprint a child sets out and achieves its goals.

Imagine that. No plan. No motivation. Goal achieved. All the while, adults who love to spend hours, days, weeks and months in plotting and planning and self-motivating and visualizing never get anywhere with their goals. I wonder why.

Now a common thought might be “But we can’t use this children’s approach. Our goals are much more complex. Children use it for easy stuff, like crawling, walking, controlling their body, learning multiple languages or any of the rare skills that we like to say they are gifted at. Oh wait.”

Realize that this simpler method of learning apparently allows us to master anything, effortlessly. No need for how. No need for why. No need for detailed plans. Act or try first, and modify based on feedback and information later. As adults capable of reading and learning as well as searching for coaches or videos of people doing it so we can model their behavior, we can accelerate the process even further once we get started.

This is the middle ground between learning as a child and learning as an adult. A way of achieving goals that combines the best of a child’s simple way, and an adult’s research based way. A way that cuts through all the procrastination, confusion, fear, and excuses and lets us achieve our goals with the focus and intensity and speed that we were designed to achieve them.

So how do you get to the point where you learn everything in your life effortlessly and instinctively like this again?

I can’t give you any magic steps or an algorithm to follow, because that would defeat the purpose. But here is a hint – If you just make instinctive learning your goal, something you want, something you keep trying to achieve without even necessarily knowing how, guess what will happen?

The shortest path to silencing your thoughts and having complete peace of mind

Have you ever tried to meditate or use other techniques that are supposed to give you peace or make you happy and then given up on them as a lost cause? Because they either didn’t seem to work for you, or they seemed like a struggle with very slow or no tangible results?

Well, maybe the reason they weren’t working was because you were missing something. Maybe the reason you kept giving up was because somewhere deep inside you realized that it was not the best path to peace and you were just waiting until you found a better way.

Over the centuries, learning to control the mind has been a subject of constant discussion and debate both within and outside spiritual circles. People over the years discovered and rejected many methods of meditation. Wise men sometimes recommending techniques that often contradicted what others wise men recommended, sometimes even contradicting themselves.

In their own search for peace more and more people in the general public started experimenting with these spiritual techniques and adapting them so that they could be applied in their day to day life – simplifying them, extracting only the parts they needed, trying to make a list of simple ideas they could use. Their goal was simpler than the spiritual masters – to reduce their unhappiness, and feel peace, content and joy in their daily lives, as far as possible.

The many methods that have come over the years:

  1. AFFIRMATIONS – The first trick everyone tried was to repeat and memorize happy thoughts. “I am happy. I am a good person. Only good things happen to me.”. The problem with this technique was that a very big part of their mind didn’t believe these thoughts. The contradictory thoughts “This is a lie. what nonsense! ” were just waiting to come back, the first chance they got. Trying to drown out thoughts by yelling louder can’t work forever. When you finally stop your affirmations, the doubts will come right back. And that’s what happened. A few lucky people managed to do better than others because they accidentally discovered better techniques but incorrectly attributed their success to affirmations.  However affirmations are not the answer, at least not a complete one.
  2. CLEANING THE BAD THOUGHTS – The next trick was to try to actually clean out the bad thoughts from the mind rather than trying to drown them out. This included methods like  becoming aware of thoughts when they happen and snapping a rubber band on your wrist to punish yourself every time a negative thought came up. Negative thoughts were bad and they needed to be punished. Only positive thoughts were good. Again, while the awareness of thoughts did help, the judgment of good and bad tended to add guilt and shame in addition to the never ending stream of thoughts themselves. Now, not only did people have negative thoughts that made them feel bad, they also felt bad about having bad thoughts, making them feel worse.
  3. NON JUDGMENTAL AWARENESS – The next solution was to just be aware of all thoughts that came in the mind and not resist them or try to judge them as good or bad. If a thought was negative and caused pain, it was OK to just notice that this was happening. If a thought was positive and caused happiness, it was OK to just notice that as well. There was no need to fight. Just notice and become aware. With calm awareness came the possibility of finding the root beliefs and emotions that caused the negative thoughts or the pain and letting them go so that some of these repetitive thoughts would go away. A lot of psychoanalysis, journal writing, introspection, and awareness meditation is based on this principle. This is a beautiful technique for helping people in pain, however it can never clear away all thoughts because our minds are capable of generating infinite amounts of thought. You can read more about how thoughts and emotions cause us pain and a few ways you can use awareness to clear your thoughts and emotions here.
  4. DROWNING OUT ALL THOUGHTS – As it became clear that clearing bad thoughts, while helpful, wasn’t a complete solution, the next goal in everyone’s mind became to shut down all thought because thoughts were the enemy. They caused pain, and distraction and prevented people from living in the present moment. The solution was to try to force the mind to shut up like an obstinate child by treating it as one. Again we used similar techniques to what we used for bad thoughts, except now instead of calling them affirmations, we called them mantras. Keep repeating the same set of words again and again until the brain stops thinking because it gets too exhausted. The problem was, other than a few people who might have accidentally stumbled upon something bigger, most people found this exhausting exercise would stop working the moment they stopped the chanting. Meditating even for hours didn’t seem to give them peace when they were out in their daily life. The problem with this approach is the same as before – you can’t drown out thoughts by screaming over them. Repression is never the answer.
  5. NON RESISTING AWARENESS OF THOUGHTS – This was the next answer. Not resisting or judging thoughts when they came and just becoming aware of them. Not getting upset if a thought comes or getting happy if thoughts stop. Just watching and being aware of what happens. This was the technique recommended by a lot of spiritual leaders and masters. Find peaceful surroundings and just watch your thoughts. Once you can do it in peaceful surroundings, start doing it in every waking moment, wherever you are. This method seemed to get results, though not reliably, consistently or universally. However it worked, and it worked for people who achieved great things, so it became the standard with minor variations everywhere.

However, in spite of all these methods, there was still something missing. None of these techniques worked all the time. None of them worked predictably. The fact that they worked means they were doing something right, but the fact that it wasn’t repeatable meant that no one was exactly sure what that something was. In fact, every technique here is capable of sometimes hitting that special magic, which is why there are successes using each technique and so many proponents of each method.

However there is a simpler meditation, that in my experience has phenomenally fast results. Not months and years, but rather hours and days. Once you see the results, you will just want to increase and expand the duration of peace you can hold. It will feel so effortless that it will almost seem like peace was your natural state and you will wonder why you ever thought it was a struggle.

THE SIMPLEST MEDITATION – NON RESISTANCE AWARENESS OF SILENCE – This isn’t some magical trick that I have discovered. There have been many masters who have described similar ideas for ages, however the actual idea gets lost in preconceived notions of what the technique should be, as a result of which very few people seem to have paid attention and realized how simple it actually is.

The essence of this technique is the same as the last method. Watching the mind with non judgmental awareness. However, instead of paying attention to the thoughts, become aware of the silence BETWEEN the thoughts. The one or two second breaks between sentences. The breaks between words. Sometimes the longer breaks when you aren’t thinking at all for a while. Become acutely aware of them. When thoughts start again, just wait for the next silence.

You are no longer watching for thoughts and waiting to jump on them. You are watching for moments of silence and jumping onto them. Each time the silence occurs, for however long  (a few seconds, several minutes, it doesn’t matter), just enjoy those moments of silence and appreciate them and be completely aware of them. Keep doing it more and more.

You will see more and more silence within a day of starting this awareness meditation. You will be amazed at how easy and effortless it feels. And once the little click in your mind happens, you will realize that this peaceful state is your natural state that always comes back on its own and thoughts are the temporary phenomenon.

And once that realization truly hits you, the thoughts go away. Even when thoughts do come, it will feel almost like you are aware of the silence behind the thoughts, and know that this silence is who you are – your true nature. This is an indescribable feeling, so all I can tell you is to try this for a few days and experience it for yourself.

I can promise you is that it will be worth the effort.


Everyone is Enlightened – Except You

Have you ever been emotionally affected by something that was said or done by someone – a friend, a family member, a random stranger? It could be anything – an innocuous remark, which in hindsight shouldn’t have bothered you at all, or an act that you felt was so thoughtless and hurtful that it drove you into rage or had you crying tears from pain.

When this happens, it is easy to just blame the person for causing the pain or the anger, but the fact is all emotions are generated inside our own minds. No matter what a person does, they cannot control what happens inside your mind. Every emotion is the result of anchors from events in our own past and the way we interpret events. Each of us reacts to the same input in different ways. If this weren’t the case, we would all enjoy the exact same movies, laugh at the exact same jokes, at the exact same time.But that isn’t the case.

We all have our own likes, dislikes, fears and desires.

We are all unique because of the events that shaped us. A person who associates cookies with the love and affection of their grandmother who used to bake them will have a different association to cookies than a person who remembers being yelled at and punished for wanting them. Both these people will react differently to the same offer for a cookie and both will attribute any emotional reaction to the person asking, not to themselves. The first person would feel loved while the second might feel mocked. Neither would realize that what they felt was their own reaction to the question and had nothing to do with the other person. They would say it was the question that was either sweet or mean depending on their perspective.

So assuming that you understand this in theory, that it is all your perspective, and you are the one who causes yourself pain, what does this mean for you? How can you use this to get rid of pain and live a happier and more peaceful life?

Well, here is a simple trick that might help – Assume that everyone in this world (except you) is enlightened.

Assume that no one is trying to hurt you or cause you pain or cause you anger or any other bad emotion. Assume also that each of them is just trying to help you find your triggers so that you can become aware of them and get rid of them. Assume that the only reason you feel pain or other strong emotions is because of your own emotional baggage and clutter. You might be holding onto something from your past or believing something that isn’t necessarily true. You might even be projecting your own motivations or thoughts onto them, and attributing it to them. For example, if you believe you yourself are selfish, you will also assume other people are acting selfishly even if they aren’t necessarily.

The easy guide is, anytime a strong emotion comes along – pay attention. There is something going on. A thought that might not need to be there. A belief that might be inaccurate. Something that if addressed will let you be in control instead of letting the emotions control you.

So from now, any time you feel a trigger of strong emotions because of something someone did or said, you can first become aware of the emotion and then mentally thank them for pointing out the trigger to you.

After that, during a quiet moment of introspection, try and understand what moments in your past or what beliefs and thoughts in your mind make you feel that way about the event. As you dig deeper, and become aware of the clutter in your head, you will find that you get affected by the event less and less. Keep digging until you no longer feel emotionally affected when replaying the event in your mind.

Once you have dug to the root of the emotion and are completely aware of it, you will feel like a load has been lifted off your chest. You won’t need to do anything else. You will find the trigger no longer has any power over you. In the future similar events will just wash over you and instead of a knee jerk emotional reaction, you will be able to just peacefully assess the moment and react calmly and intelligently.

As you continue this practice in your life, with each trigger cleared, you will become a lighter and happier person who no longer feels the need to blame the world. You will find that you stay calm and peaceful more and more, and the world will start feeling like a much more beautiful place.

Goals – The Struggle of Life

Why do we struggle with life instead of just enjoying it?

I don’t think we were born this way. At least I don’t think I was.

I don’t think babies do long term goals and planning. They just enjoy whatever is happening in the moment.

At what point does life become a struggle to get to an imaginary distant future instead of just experiencing whatever happens?

Why do we get so attached to outcomes that our happiness and sadness are dictated by whether we go closer to our own made up goals that don’t really matter?

We end up not being able to do the things that we really want out of fear that our actions might lead us away from our goals, second guessing everything that we do.

We end up living a stifled and unhappy existence, chasing one goal after another, hoping that one day we will be happy again.

How did we let this happen to ourselves? And why?

A Perfect World

Imagine a world where every living being was connected to each other, and thanks to this connection each being would always try to work towards the greater good.

Every time you needed something, those closest to you would sense your need and selflessly come to your aid, knowing that whenever they had the need for anything, someone else would always be there for them.

Imagine that this world had a simple way of communicating with feelings, and these feelings were enough to keep all the beings in harmony, always taking care of each other and trusting that they would be taken care of.

In this world, there would never be a reason to worry.

But then something happened…

Fear crept in.

Suddenly the beings were too distracted to listen to their feelings and were focused on their own needs. They didn’t realize that if they just focused on their feelings, the little signals that told them what to do, everything would continue to work out. They started focusing on their own needs, driven by the fear that if they didn’t, they would be left without anything.

And as the fear started spreading, more and more of the beings stopped listening, and tried to do things alone in a world where they were meant to do everything together.

And with each day, the fear and the loneliness got worse. The beings forgot about the connection that they once had. They still felt something missing somewhere deep inside and constantly kept searching for this missing thing, and this pain made them feel worse.

But the connection wasn’t gone. It was still right there waiting for them to start listening again.

And in this world, a miracle happened.

A few people started rediscovering the connection in little bits and pieces.

Some just reconnected to their own feelings and started trusting their heart more. Some started listening for the needs of others and trying to selflessly help them. Some started caring more about others than themselves and trusting that the universe would take care of them.

Each of them, without realizing it, was recognizing a tiny piece of a larger truth hidden deep inside. The same truth that connected them all.

All of them realized that they were discovering something amazing, but still didn’t understand what it is that they were experiencing. So they started trying to find out more and more.

And with each action, they inspired more and more people to also start connecting with each other and that hidden truth deep inside them. To slowly go back to the amazing world they had left behind.

And this is where our story begins.

What if there was no right or wrong?

How would you live your life differently if you could do no wrong?

If you somehow knew that whatever you did was the exact right thing to be doing, so you didn’t have to worry that you might be doing something wrong?

For example, say, a time traveler came to you and showed you how events are supposed to play out and you already knew what you were going to say or do was best for you in the long run, so you didn’t have to worry about it?

Or, say, you trusted that the Universe or a higher power was guiding you so everything you did was the exact perfect thing towards a bigger plan,  and you didn’t have to worry about anything?

Suddenly you wouldn’t have the fear of doing the wrong thing. There would be less hesitation and more anticipation in your steps. You would look forward with wonder and anticipation at what would come next instead of holding back trying to control what happened, trying to do the “right” thing while feeling extremely stifled, nervous and confused.

And what is the right thing anyway? Have you forgotten all the countless times in your life that you didn’t know what to do, didn’t know if things would work out and then they magically did? At what point in time did you manage to suddenly do the right thing, when you had no idea what you were doing?

And then there were all the times you tried to control your life and guide it in a specific way with all the plans that you tried your level best to stick to by doing the “right” things. But for some reason, life decided you were meant for other things and none of your plans ever led you where you wanted them to.

It’s just something to think about. Somewhere inside, you’ve always had uncertainty about the right thing to do because you never knew what the right thing was, and you have a lifetime of experiences to remind you of this fact.

So maybe it’s time to do things differently now and see if something changes.

I have no idea where you are in your life right now. You may be happy that everything in your life is going perfectly. You might be wishing for more in your life. Or you might be devastated because everything in your life seems upside down at the moment.

All I ask is that just as a thought experiment, for the next week or so, let go of right and wrong. Assume that everything that you say is right, assume that everything you do is right, and assume everything that is happening is right.

See what happens.

All the money and cool stuff – Why are you still unhappy with your life?

You thought you wanted money. You thought once you had enough you would be happy. But everything still seems empty. You find that you are still dissatisfied with your life. Something still seems to be missing.

The money doesn’t work like it was supposed to. Nothing you buy with it works.

Everything you get is fun for maybe a day, and then you start feeling lost and empty all over again.

New kinds of food. Yeah that works. For a while. And then even that makes you start feeling empty inside.

Why are you unhappy with your life when you have everything you wanted? Especially all the money and the things that you thought would give you the perfect life?

Why don’t you feel happy now?

Well. Here is a dirty little secret from the past that everyone has been hiding from you

Money is not really something worth considering as an end in itself. It was never meant to be the final goal.

Money has always just been a very crude and approximate way to estimate how much you have been able to help others. A simple way to keep score of how much good you did and how much it has meant to others, and nothing more than that.

It was never supposed to be the end goal.

The real goal is and has always been to help others in the best way that you know how, and always do the best that you can.


Then somewhere along the way, someone decided to destroy a beautiful system of caring for others by putting a horribly evil thought in your head – “If I just focus on money, then I can get others to do good for me without having to do any good for others”.

And after that, suddenly people started trying to make more money so that they would eventually never have to do anything and one day “retire”. But that one day never came.

Because that money never really gave any peace. All it did was bring misery. But everyone kept trying, hoping that one day this thought would magically change it’s nature and start giving them peace. And even that day never came. All that came was more misery, that they tried to push away with more things that didn’t help them find true peace.

They didn’t find peace because they didn’t realize that the thought they had started believing was a lie. Any thought that doesn’t get you closer to true inner peace is always a lie.

Because what was really meant to bring us peace was to give and care for others and love them unconditionally without expecting anything in return with complete faith and trust that every other being was doing the same.

Who wouldn’t find peace if everyone cared for you and loved you more than they did themselves? It’s all you would ever feel. Peace and everlasting bliss.

Why would you not want to go back to that? Caring about others more than yourself? When you could have this instead of all the pain?

Let go. Let go of that silly voice that says money is important. In your heart you’ve already started realizing that this isn’t true.

Listen to it again while ignoring the voice and you will know what you truly desire. And if you follow your heart, it will lead you where you truly want to go.

Then you will learn what will make you happier than you have ever felt before. You will live a life beyond your wildest dreams. Anything you think ever dreamed about is possible. And yes. Even the ones you are afraid your loved ones will laugh at.

YES. Even that one.

It is possible.

You know this in your heart.

Aiming without Aiming Part IV – Breaking Down The Details of Aiming and Shooting a Billiards Shot

An interested reader very recently reached out to ask me a very simple question – “When you are actually shooting/cueing the ball on the final stroke, where are you looking? Where and what are you focused on?”.

Most players who have been playing for a while might not even be consciously aware of where they actually look during the aiming process. However, since I have been actively working on improving my potting consistency for snooker over the last few months, I actually happened to have written notes that I used to track, fine-tune and improve my technique.

I am now going to break it down into more detail than most people will ever care about. I realize it takes a little bit of obsessive behavior to micromanage or study this level of detail, and I do admit that I can be obsessive at times. However from my experience, once you actually pay attention and take these seemingly minor things to a consistent level, the amazing improvement in your aiming and shooting more than makes up for all the effort.

So here goes. This is the series of steps that I used to shoot more consistently now days.

  1. Before getting down on the shot, I see the line from the object ball to the pocket, and in my mind, figure out where the cue ball needs to go and hit the object ball. If you are just starting out, you can use one of the simpler aiming systems I have lined out in previous articles  (How I really aim a billiards shotA system for making long cut shots). However in the long run, this becomes more of a memory/intuitive thing. At this point, I “just know” from tons of shooting where I need to hit the ball. Use the aiming systems as a temporary crutch/approximation, with the intention of moving past it eventually in the long run.
  2. I then line up my body and cue so that I am pointing precisely along the line from the cue ball to that specific point near the object where the cue ball needs to go. Note that MOST of my aiming happens before I get down on the shot, not after.
  3. While being aware of this second line, and while watching the object ball, I slowly walk forward and lower into position. It is important to be aware of this line while placing your bridge hand on the table since your bridge has to be on the line. It is also important to be aware of this line while you lower and place your chin on the cue, since not doing so will mean you might lose your alignment and not be pointing the cue along this line (that you already KNOW is the correct line). For this reason, don’t allow yourself to be distracted while getting down on the shot, and continue to look along the line from the cue ball to the special aim point on the object ball, and keep that line in mind while getting down.
  4. After getting down on the shot, while wagging/stroking the cue, I double check that I am still in alignment and that the object ball will go along the line I need it to, by verifying both the first line and the second line. During this time, my eye moves back and forth between the object-to-pocket and cue-to-object lines while I do my practice strokes. With time you will get an intuitive feeling that the shot is perfect, and that the object ball will go exactly where you want it to. You can micro adjust your elbow slightly if necessary, until it feels perfect. If it doesn’t feel right after even a while, something is probably off with your alignment, so get up and repeat everything right from Step 1.
  5. I stop moving the cue, take a deep breath to calm myself down, and while relaxed and focusing on the object ball, stroke through and strike the cue ball. Make sure you are focused on where you want the cue ball to go on the object ball and are not focused on the pocket. In fact if you are making a cut shot where the pocket and object ball can’t be seen at the same time, it becomes extra important not to let your eyes wander towards the pocket (hard as it may seem). During the final stroke/shot, you have to be looking along the line where you want the CUE BALL to GO, and looking towards the pocket will probably cause you to subconsciously drift your aim line towards the pocket, causing you to miss the shot even though you had aligned and aimed correctly.
  6. Finally, after the cue ball has hit the ball exactly where I wanted it to go, I stay down and watch where the object ball is going, saving the information in my mind (so I can tweak/adjust my aiming in the future). If you didn’t hit the object ball where you aimed, you know to fix the earlier steps to ensure you aim correctly. If you hit where you aimed but the shot goes in the wrong direction, automatically adjust your aim line the next time. This way, whether you make the shot or not, you will always get feedback, learn, and improve your game with each shot.

This is pretty much it. There are a few more things that I pay attention to including where the cue is under my chin, how I grip the cue, where the cue touches my chest and waist and my follow through. However honestly, I think even this present level of detail will be boring for most people, and I don’t see any point in bogging you down with mind-numbing levels of detail. You can check out some of my other billiards articles to get a better idea.

Just focusing on these few things should be enough until you get to a strong intermediate level.

Now bear in mind, that on the days when you are “in the zone”, you will obviously shoot effortlessly and probably won’t remember or pay attention to a single one of these steps. And that’s perfectly all right – you probably won’t need to.

The advantage of using this system, of taking this much control, and micro managing each step, is primarily on those days when you are NOT in the zone.

These are usually the days when most players end up missing a lot, not being able to shoot even half as well as they are used to, feeling completely “off”, and in general getting very frustrated with the game. Now however, by following this simple set of steps, you should still be able to shoot reasonably well. Not as well as your “on nights” of course, but decently well.

With time, you will develop so much consistency that no one other than professionals will even be able to tell that it is an “off night” for you. And building this technique in your muscle memory will mean that on you “on nights”, you will play breathtakingly well.

If you are someone looking to improve your game, hopefully this discussion will help you in some way. Once I fine tune my current snooker practice routine and feel it is reasonably optimized, I can probably share it here for interested readers.

Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts and insights.

Commandos: BEL – HTML5 – Recreating the classic 2.5D real time tactics game in the browser

After my last game recreation project, Command and Conquer in HTML5 (a complete real time strategy game with multiplayer implemented in HTML5), I was looking for a new and bigger challenge.

My most recent project, a recreation of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines in HTML5, makes Command & Conquer feel like a kiddie project.

While Command & Conquer took me around three weeks for a first version, and then a couple of months of iterating to create the polished version that it is today, Commandos has been 8 months of slogging just to get the first working game level out.

Every few weeks into the project, I would reach a point where I would think “There is no way I am going to be able to do this bit. I have no idea how to…”, and a few days later, magically, I would find just the thing that I needed to get it done.

Over this period, I’ve gone through what feels like hundreds of articles and computer science Phd papers on path-finding, handling polygons, depth sorting and various aspects of game artificial intelligence.

This has honestly been one of the toughest projects I have ever taken on by myself. Looking back, I have no idea how I ever came this far. In fact, I am amazed that I actually managed to complete this project.

Here is a quick video of the project.

But what really made this project so hard?

I consider Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines a 2.5D, real time tactics game.

What the 2.5D means is that while the game used 2D assets and images, all the game elements contain 3D position information (x, y and z coordinates) as well as shape information (length, breadth, height). This simple difference however brought on most of the challenges that I had to face.

The first and biggest challenge while recreating the game was just rendering everything onto the screen. C&C was entirely 2D, so depth sorting was as simple as drawing everything from back to front and left to right, and everything just looked more or less OK.

Depth Sorting in Commandos HTML5

Depth Sorting is so simple with these blue lines

However with Commandos, things got a lot more complicated. Game elements are not positioned along the X & Y axis, and can overlap each other in very different ways, making depth sorting slightly more challenging.

I tried several different implementations. With each implementation, I would find some items rendered correctly, while others would render incorrectly.

After tons of research and experimentation, I finally managed to come up with a reasonably simple and elegant solution – First do a simple comparison to decide whether or not each item is in front or behind every other item, then run a topological sort to order the items for rendering. The image shows how I use a simple line across each item to decide whether another item is ahead or behind. As you can see, the results are pretty decent.

Commandos HTML5 Path Finding

Pathfinding  using a mesh of polygons

The next big challenge was path-finding. Unlike C&C and it’s simple grid based A* path finding, Commandos uses a polygon based mesh and needs some pretty flexible pathing. I originally started with a simpler implementation using points-of-visibility pathing, however I finally had to switch to a full-blown navigational mesh with path smoothing to allow for everything that commandos needs, such as climbing up ramps and traveling across bridges.

Again, everything had to implemented from scratch and I didn’t use any libraries for it.

Commandos HTML5 Guard AI

Guard AI – Guards follow footsteps in the snow

The next big headache was the guard AI.

The guard vision and visibility cone computations needed to be fast and optimized since they were calculated in real time so they could be used to decide when a guard could see something.

That, combined with a very tricky AI involving some crazy state flip-flopping, meant it took me a couple of months before the guards could even see and attack a commando properly.

At this point guards can patrol or watch areas, investigate suspicious noises (explosions, gunshots, yelling), follow foot steps, and finally chase commandos and attack or detain them.

Apart from these were all of the little things that I never thought would take much time, which in hindsight turned out to not be so little and took quite a lot longer.

Climbing Walls - Who thought this would be so hard

Climbing Walls – Who thought this would be so hard

  1.  Building a complete in-game multi-window system.
  2.  Teaching the commando how to climb walls (starting with detecting whether a surface was climbable).
  3.  Building a very intricate game loader system that handled mission files, sprite sheets, audio sprite sheets and the in-game menu files
  4.  A custom in-game menu system.
  5. Handling Weapons, Driving vehicles, Rowing boats, Scuba diving, Explosions, Using Decoys, Hiding inside buildings and every other action the commandos can take.

After 8 months of work, I’m happy to say the game is now finally ready and playable.

If you haven’t tried it out yet, you can play Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines – HTML5 here.

Looking back, I don’t know if I regret taking on this project. Thanks to this project, I’ve learned an incredible amount – about  computer science and AI, about better game programming techniques and practices, about automating and streamlining my entire game development process. But the biggest thing I learned was what it takes to build a really big game in HTML5, and how to push myself to achieve something that I never thought possible.

Now that the first mission is finally complete, I’ll probably take a break for a while. Once I come back, the plan is to add more missions, and a multi-player cooperative mode using HTML5 Websockets. Again, all playable in your browser without needing any installation.

If you have any feedback or questions about this project, please feel free to leave a comment below or on the game page.

If you would like to get notified about future game projects, get exclusive access to beta test new project updates, or learn advanced game programming and collaborate with me on future projects, please sign up using the form below. Make sure you fill out the check boxes correctly so I know what you are interested in.

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Cue Ball Position Control Basics – Part III – The Draw Shot

In the first two articles of this series on cue ball position control, we looked at using the stop shot and the follow shot for basic position play.

Now, it’s time to look at the draw shot.

The Draw Shot

A draw shot (or screwback shot), occurs when the cue ball has a reverse spin (or backward rolling motion) at the time when it hits the object ball. After it hits the object ball, the reverse spinning motion cause the cue ball to get backward momentum, causing the cue ball to start moving backwards after contact.

draw-shot-straightIf the cue ball is aimed directly towards the center of the object ball, then the cue ball will first come to a dead stop, after which it will slowly start returning towards the cue stick, usually at a lower speed than the object ball. The final speed and distance that the cue ball travel depends on the amount of reverse spin that is imparted to the cue ball.

While it can take some practice, it is possible to draw the cue ball an entire table length by using proper stroke and follow through.

draw-shot-angleIn case the cue ball is aimed off center (a cut shot), just like in the case of the follow shot, the cue ball will deflect off the tangent line path that a stop/stun shot would take. This is the result of the reverse spin adding a component of movement in a direction opposite to the cue ball’s original direction.

In the diagram, the light gray line shows the path the cue ball will take once it strikes the object ball. Notice that draw shots cause the deflection angle to widen.

Now, that we know what this shot is, how do we go about adding the reverse spin to the cue ball?

Unlike the follow and stop shots, the draw shot can be a little tricker to master.

Typically, you add reverse spin by striking the cue ball anywhere from one to three cue tips below center as needed. Unlike with the the follow and stop shot shots it is essential to have a straight stroke, and a smooth follow through during the shot

In fact, I have a detailed set of instructions on the essentials for mastering the table length draw shot.

Try to pot the object ball into one of the side pockets while keeping the cue ball about a half table breadth away along a straight line, so that the cue ball slowly comes back a few inches after striking the object.

A good exercise to build your stroke that I strongly recommend is trying to draw back the cue ball and scratch in the opposite pocket to where you just hit the object ball. This take some very decent cueing and is another shot I’d recommend practicing until you can hit it perfectly at least 9 out of 10 times.

When in a straight line, the draw shot will let you move anywhere from a few inches to a few feet back from the object ball’s position, as needed. When shooting a cut shot, this will widen the deflection angle slightly, allowing you to move the cue ball to different areas than with the stun and follow shot.

Let’s take a look at an example like before.

draw-shot-position-zoomedImagine you had to run the three balls in numerical order, starting with ball in hand, using only the shots you have learned so far. How would you do it?

The simplest solution? Set up for a straight shot on ball 1, and draw back a few inches to get a decent angle for ball 2. Notice the tangent line when trying to pot ball 2 will cause the cue ball to potentially bump into ball 3. To avoid this, again use draw while cutting ball 2 in to deflect the cue ball by a wider angle, to place yourself for a relatively simple shot on ball 3.

Again, this is a simple and easy solution that would have been very difficult using only stop and follow shots.

Between the stop, follow and draw shots, you already have an incredibly powerful arsenal of tools to control the cue ball position and play better than most of your friends who don’t understand these basics of position play.

However, once you master these three shots, it’s time to move on to the more advanced tools, including using the half ball shot, and using side-spin with the rails.

In the next article in this series, we will look at how the half ball shot can become one of the most important tools that you will ever use to build long breaks effortlessly.