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Captain’s Log M4•D1: Wren Redesign Coda

Here’s my historical Wren imagery, plus the brainstorming for the redesign, with the additional work I did after I more or less settled in on a design.

I also went back to my pixel art last night and implemented the new design, as well as updated some of the pixel character designs. The new Wren design is down in the bottom left. It works very well indeed in this format.

My two or three month long flirtation with HD art is grinding to what may be a close. It looks nice, and is more marketable. But. I have two issues with it.

1. I am making a comic about John Michael getting sucked into a video game.

Using pixel art helps sell that it’s a video game. John Michael is, in many ways, the anti-Scott Pilgrim, and deserves much of the same marketing style for the same reasons.

My other option to get a video gamey look is low poly, but I’m less confident in how well I can go from construction to print. Not that I haven’t considered it:

2. I am considering whether I haven’t made a wrong turn in putting vidya as prime.

While there are many video games I want to make, and they are unique and would add something useful to the world, they are not as unique as or as useful as the stories I want to tell. And the fastest, most useful way to tell them is children’s books. Let other people make them into comics and games if they want.

I can make a good kids’ book in about a month. Two months, given time for editing promotion and release. And yet, since 2019, I’ve only made 4, even though this is the best, most useful thing I can do. And most of those were in the first year. I made 3 books in ’19, 1 book in 2020, 4 comic compilations in 2021, and that’s it.

I think I need to try and put out at least two or three kids’ books every year. 4 if I can. Make the games a hobby instead of a primary goal.

And if the games are a hobby, they may as well be pixel art.

Wren Valen Redesign

Wren Valen was a character I designed when I was single and lonely, and it shows.

But while I’ve been making children’s books for a while, I recently realized it’s really my whole thing. My ideal reader is 9 or 10. He doesn’t need scantily clad heroines. And my branding especially doesn’t need scantily clad heroines. It needs to tell parents, “these books are fine for your kid.”

Which has put me in a sort of dilemma. My wife has long said I need to tell the rest of the Wren stories. I could tell them just for her, as written stories. But there’s nothing in the plots and I have planned that isn’t suitable for children. Just skimpy costume design.

And skimpy costume design is not necessary, even though it fits the character’s personality and activities (she’s basically a sky pirate). For you see, in the first pair of Wren stories, the ones that hooked my wife, she got a shevlar harness at the end. A shevlar harness is a tight outfit that serves as the anchor for armor summoned from the aether. I’ve drawn her a couple times in the past in said harness, with various amounts of other costume over the top of it:

Which leads me to a couple of questions:

What would she choose to wear over the harness? What are the various possibilities? Which would she choose and why? And can I design the harness and/or the outfit she would wear over it to be good to animate?

After all, she went from this: to this: specifically because the skimpier outfit reads better when animated. Arms and legs are clear, the costume isn’t a jumbled mess. And in addition to reading better, it also animates better. The crop-top “woman boxer” look I’ve adopted most recently also conveniently separates out each of the parts I am liable to move independently:

When I animated John Michael breathing, I was able to scale and alter his tummy and ribs differently, as I did with Wren, but it was nowhere near as elegant because I had to ensure his shirt looked continuous:

Anyway, today I decided I needed to start investigating a Wren redesign, so I can write Wren stories in kids’ book format, and thus please my wife, myself, and my customers.

Here’s my working file, with past imagery for reference:

  1. Harness, covered with boots and bucklets
  2. Harness, covered with pirate outfit
  3. Harness, pirate top
  4. Harness, pirate bottom
  5. Harness, light armor
  6. Harness, dress
  7. Harness, cloak

1, 2, and 3 look fine and are reasonable. 5 looks wrong. I’d probably want to replace the leather boots with proper greaves instead of having the greaves go into the boots. 6 is cute, but doesn’t feel like the character. 7… 7 makes sense. Wren wouldn’t want people to know she was wearing a shevlar harness, especially before she gets armor chips for it.

Right now, my favorites are 2, 3, and 7. 7 seems most likely. But I think another round of designs is in order.

Decided A) I needed to give the light armor a proper shot, which meant separating out the boots and B) I might want to retry the dress not because it will be Wren’s main design, but because she might want to make social calls. So I did the harness without the boots and bucklets, gave the armor and dress a second go, and then did a trio of variations on the cloak.

I think I had better sleep on it before I try my hand at round 3.

Planning on being broke

At present I own and use the domains “logicmonkey.media” and “bunny-trail.com.” However, I typically pay for my web service with my tax returns, and well, things are tighter this year than last.

My plan is to definitely renew the “bunny-trail” domain, but not the expensive business hosting plan that lets me use the webcomic theme. This will result in Bunny Trail Junction’s format getting utterly replaced.

As I’m considering the comic possibilities using HTML5/Godot/Itch, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean the first pass at Bunny Trail Junction will be primarily available as the paperbacks.

Much as I like having this blog ad-free and at an easy URL, I’m probably going to let it lapse. I believe it will be logicmonkey.wordpress.com after that*, but I’m not certain. People subscribing or following through WordPress’s interface, which is most of you, should still be able to find it just fine.


*it will not.

Captain’s Log M4•62: Aftermath

I’ve been on the same project too long.

2 months building a comic and tinkering with an attached game, for production in the Mad Christian Mondays newsletter. My tolerance for a project maxes out at 2 months. I find one month is optimal.

Worse still, I’ve been trying to develop a comic/game for Mad Christian Mondays since December. It’s only the current iteration that has had 2 months of effort put into it. The project as a whole is closer to four.

It isn’t right. With medication, it is possible, but even with medication, I am better served having multiple projects that I switch between. I need to harness my ADHD, and reserve fighting it for critical moments.

I lost a week at the end of March to the burnout. On a whim, I joined Ludum Dare 50 just to try and clear my mind. And my mind has been cleared. John Michael Jones needs to be set aside for a month or two. Which doesn’t mean I can’t launch the comic and run it — I have more than a month’s worth of work built up. Only that it needs to go on the back burner for a while.

In the mean time, I made a game with frogs in it.

Ludum Dare 50. Waterlogged. It’s nothing special. But, for something thrown together by two guys over three days, it is something decidedly okay.

As I push John Michael on to the back burner, I want to note a couple of things for the record:

  1. Right now, the game engine uses HD, hand-drawn vector art. But the comic will put John & friends into a digital world. I half plan to use the HD art game engine for the game world, but a part of me wants to use either pixel art or low-poly 3D art, to really sell that the world is different.

  2. Here are two vector drawings of characters. The first uses a technique where I draw with a tablet and try to imitate my pen and brush inking, then convert this raster image into a rough vector approximation, color, and assemble it. The second, I draw the image in Inkscape directly. The first is slightly closer to how I like my art to look; the second is significantly easier to tweak.
    If I am making vector game art, I need to pick a lane and stick to it. But I like them both.

But, so long as I am working on a different project, I don’t need to make that choice right away. And, after all, I may decide upon mulling it over to stick to pixel art for the game world/game engine. Who knows at this point? All I know is I need to let it simmer for a month or two.

What should I do this month? Well, a few ideas occur to me.

  1. Could spend a month trying to learn a language. I am currently tinkering with Toki Pona, and I have tinkered with Japanese for years. Sure, if I go all in on Japanese for a month, I won’t suddenly know the language. But I will be better at it than I was before.
  2. Always wanted to make a stenotype minigame to teach myself stenotype. It would be a useful product, and would benefit my various life goals.
  3. It’s been a few months since I worked on Hat Trick. Some Hat Trick comics, stopping once a week to ink a John Michael Jones comic, might be a good plan.
  4. The Therian Virtual Pet is wildly different from the John Michael Jones stuff. But therians play into that story, so if I started work on it, I would come back to John Michael Jones in a couple months having worked on something different, but still having made progress.
  5. My wife occasionally reminds me that she would enjoy more adventures of Wren Valen the Flying Privateer.

There is something that I also want to note down. When I did the Ludum Dare challenge, I initially published Waterlogged as a Windows game because I already had experience doing so, and I didn’t want to get stuck in unfamiliar territory right before the competition ended.

But once I had done that, I re-published it as an HTML5 game that can be played in the browser. And it worked so smoothly and so well I was caught off guard. I think I may want to publish more things this way. Make comics that are animations in game engines, and publish them to itch.io.

It’s not any one specific project at the moment. It’s just a thought that needs further thinking.

Captain’s Log M3•I4 – Meet the New Plan: Same as the Old Plan

So, here’s the quick rundown:

February, I do what I want. It’s my sabbatical from trying to be pragmatic about my projects.

Now, the plan in December and January was simultaneously make an adventure game and plan a comic for the Mad Christian Mondays newsletter. That resulted in this demo:

And the realization that it is a bad idea to plan a release for an adventure game when you don’t already have the story nailed down.

Of course, not having the story nailed down meant not only didn’t I have the adventure game, I didn’t have the comic either. I let the crew know where I was, made noises about focusing on the comic for February, but really committed to tinkering with whatever I felt like, as is my tradition, and hoping the comic would bubble out of it.

So I started throwing a bunch of my characters together in a video-game art compilation, to try and kick something loose.

I tried making a space shooter with Spaz McDragon, since that was the most scaled-back game idea I could come up with. Here was the plan: get Spaz McDragon into a space shooter, release that after a couple of months of dev. Then make a Spaz platformer. Release that after a couple of more months. Make the comic about John Michael Jones getting sucked into a video game, and have his initial area of hanging out be one of the Spaz Platformer level. Thus, bring all the projects together.

I got Spaz animated and loaded into the Adventure/RPG codebase, and got some space shooter mechanics running in a day or two.

Started working out the John Michael Jones story alongside it, and built some forest platformer graphics to stick them both into:

I realized that my dislike for shmups was strong enough that it would be worth it to just go straight to the platformer right away, even if it did take a little longer. So I animated John Michael as a platformer character, in case I could come up with a game idea that overlapped with the comic story.

And that’s where the status quo lay until the end of February.

In the last week of February, I had almost everything I needed for the comic nailed down, when I was inspired by a series of videos to try HD videogame art in Godot one more time. So, I spent three days jerry-rigging a demo of John Michael running and jumping in an HD hand-drawn world.

Thing is.. I’m sold now. I absolutely want my games to be hand-drawn. It’s not even significantly harder to do it this way than pixel art. It’s harder to animate. You can’t tweak things as quickly. But throwing together backdrops is even easier. And I can take advantage of code-based squash and stretch without it looking weird. And my game can have a unique look that immediately stands out.

I’ve spent the first two weeks of March hurriedly figuring out the last bits I need to know about the comic to actually produce it. And actually producing it I am. Expect the first episode next Monday or the Monday after that. Bunny Trail Junction is coming back, albeit (for starters) at a slower pace.

But if I’m going to make a game, what should it be? I have some great ideas, but they are all too big. I need to start small. Get something finished and shipped. I’ve been contemplating that for the last week, as I wrap up the work I need to do for the comic launch.

I figured it out. Meet the new plan: same as the old plan.

Yeah. I’ll just make Prelude To Nightmare a platformer. When it’s done, I’ll have a solid start on the graphics necessary to continue Hat Trick as an (HD) sprite comic, if I so desire.

And the plan after Prelude To Nightmare was to make a game for my wife that layered stealth mechanics on top of Prelude To Nightmares’s mechanics. I see no reason why we can’t assume that second step next.

So, let’s make set the tentative schedule as follows:

Last Week of March/First Week of April: Race to make Prelude to Nightmare a complete game.

Remainder of April: Expand Prelude to Nightmare

May: Playtesting/me working on other projects.

June: Fix and polish Prelude to Nightmare.

July: Launch as a $5 game.

As always, this is less a promise and more a chosen direction. But I think it’s time to put the pedal back down to the floor!

Update

I’m being an idiot. Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare in engine would be very nice, and I should add it to the list of potential things to make. But as far as “smallest, best first building blocks” go, making the exact same gameplay with John Michael Jones characters is a far better plan.

What are all your thoughts on Godot?

Studio Daeera, a Lebanese Canadian pixel artist with a stick shooter demo on itch asks:

To the specific context of the question: I am not a great coder. My programming skills are mediocre to okay. But I do enjoy programming. It is fun for me. So my needs in an engine are 20 or 30 degrees off from yours. Keeping that in mind, I think there are other engines, like Construct, that are likely to meet your needs better than Godot, whereas Godot is very well suited to my needs.

But I have not used the engines, like Construct, that I suspect might be better. Of the engines I have used, Godot is the one you can get the most out if you “suck at programming.”

There is a visual scripting tool that allows you to get your code functionality without coding. I can’t say if it’s any good or not, though, as I don’t use it.

As far as I know, using shaders requires you to have an actual idea as to how the code works and what it is doing. But I’ve never been in a position to try using Godot’s shaders without having that understanding, so who can say?

But you asked me to tell you all my thoughts on Godot as a game engine.

buckle up

Captain’s Log M3•41: Bygone Months

I know I haven’t said much in February. I’ve been working on comic development for the Mad⳩ crew all month, more or less. I’ve been experimenting with how to make the comic dev and the game dev overlap as well, leading the previous blog post, as well as this:

I think I’m close. I think before I wrap up tonight’s shift, I may have an actual product going into production.

But I’m not there yet.

Captain’s Log M1•O1: I dunno

At the start of last week, I got Spaz into the game engine. Everything seems to be going about as swimmingly as it can.

But I promised the Mad⳩ Crew I’d take a look at the comic when my “two-month” game was done. And since Last Legend Zero is done with me pretending it’s in production, when it’s actually still in the tinkering phase, I turned to the comic.

I was recently reminded that Isekai Is My Favorite genre, from Narnia, to Oz, to Digimon. No, I haven’t seen any of the popular anime, That Time I Got Hit By A Truck And Woke Up in a Fantasy World Where Girls Like Me, and I don’t intend to. I found the first two episodes of Sword Art Online sufficiently tiring to repel me from that particular formula. But Portal Fantasy is my jam. Why not have the escapism be actual escapism?

The first night my mother was home, instead of sleeping, I played various old vidya to try and drum up inspiration for dialing back Last Legend. What I got instead was a notion:

A man sees a bunch of people hunched over their phones. Feels his family has spent too much screen time. Decides to go camping. He drags his kid away from some vidya. Kid reluctantly goes along. At the campsite, finds a retro console in the basement or attic of a cabin, or in the woods or something, and gets sucked into a video game world.

It’s not the first time the idea of isekai’ing someone into a retro game world has occurred to me. John Michael Jones was made to go there at one point…

Well, what I have for John Michael and his family at present doesn’t really fit the story idea. But then, I’m not a huge fan of the story I’ve got going for them, either.

So, I’ve begun toying with the idea of taking this idea, and adapting John and his family into it. Fleshing out situations, world settings, and the like. And making concept art to go with it…

I still haven’t got anything solid. I have some notions that, if I keep pushing them, will turn into a setting that might make a good comic strip or storybook.

So now I’m at a sort of crossroads. I can spend February creating Spaz Invaders. I can spend February developing the comic. Both are good to do. Both feed into each other. I am going to do both. The question is which I will do first.

I’m going to put a bit of thought into it today. This week, I’ll be getting my papers in order, though, and February will be a new year.

Captain’s Log M1•G3: Smaller Bites of the Elephant

So, a few things have changed. Now that my mother’s home, someone needs to stay on call throughout the night in case she needs anything. My sleep schedule still hasn’t recovered from being an overnight stock boy last summer, so it was easiest for me to make the shift.

More to the point of these logs: looking at what I’ve done in the last week and what I aim for this week. You already have my notes on the matter. The fact of the matter is that I bit off a larger project than I expected, and I also put a project into production when it should have remained in the tinkering stage.

All is not lost. In fact, very little is lost. 70% of the work I did for Last Legend Zero can be retooled for any game I want to make. Of the other 30%, most of it is still useful for multiple game projects I’d like to get to, and all of it can come up again if I take Zero off the back burner and put it on the front.

So let’s scale all the way back and start with a shmup. I know, I’ve said I’d rather do anything but another shmup, but that’s no longer true. I’m willing to use it as a stepping stone to larger games. Let’s take the work I’ve done on palettes, screen sizes, controls, menus, and so forth, and reuse it to finally finish my old project Spaz Invaders.

We’ll keep the art style consistent, consider this all one project, and keep on trucking.

When I finished the brainstorm, I put together Spaz, used him and myself to scale a coin:

.. and then got to work building the basic shmup movement animations for Spaz.

He still needs to be able to spit fire, hover for aim mode, charge his breath, take damage, and die. Ideally, I’d also have his spines sway in the breeze while he glides. But animating a character like this has been very enjoyable. I’d forgotten how much I love the absurdity of smears.

This week I’ve got to take a couple days and get back into the good graces of the paperwork brigade. Hopefully I’ll finish in a day or two, and have Spaz up and running before the end of the week, but I make no promises.