I’m making a Sanic

So, this is what I made this weekend:

To be 100% clear, this is my plan moving forward:

In July, my priority is Awesome Moments 1, the Bible Story book that rushes from Genesis to Revelation, makes the angels awesome, and draws on typology (e.g. Adam looks like Jesus).

At my present rate of two illustrations a day, if I get an additional illustration in every other weekend, I should be finished by August. However, I’m not sweating it. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.

This means any development on a Jump the Shark game will happen on weekends and weekends only, at least until the book is done or I drop it. I’m going to hang onto it with all I have for the duration of July, but if it’s not done in August, I may well stop, leave it for a month or two, then pick it up again and finish it.

Basically, I have ADHD, and it is more productive for me to work with it than fight it. Even on a project I love, my endurance maxes out at about a month and a half before I have to switch to something else.

So… I’m probably going to tinker with this game on weekends in July. Supposing in August I either finish Awesome Moments or drop it, and decide to mainline this project. What happens then?

Here’s my plan for this project for the foreseeable future:

  • Keep adding controls until I have a fun little character that can freerun around in ways I enjoy.
  • Once I feel the character control is more or less complete, along with level gimmicks to play off of (springs, enemies that provide specific challenges, etc), graybox some levels until I have a set that I think are pretty good.
  • Build a game and bring it to market.

That is to say, I don’t have a specific game design I am working towards. I’m feeling my way forward, and I intend to continue doing so for the forseeable future.

My preference in game genre is Action Adventure, so this is likely to turn into a Metroidvania, because that’s what they call Action Adventure Platformers in these benighted days (no shade meant for Metroid or Castlevania, though). But I’m also toying with the idea of just straight up implementing Alexander Hellene’s platformer design because then at least he’ll buy the game.

A Sonic Metroidvania is not very much in the spirit of Sonic, but this isn’t Sonic. This is Jump the Shark.

Anyway, at this point, this project is still in the tinkering stage. I’m 100% playing by ear. If and when a design is finalized and put into production, of course I’ll let you know.

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.

Captain’s Log LC•R2

Last week, as predicted, I did very little on the game. Not nothing, though. I spent a lot of time doing character and setting designs that will tie into the comic. I found a workflow that is almost as fast for creating “hand-inked” looking vector art as my pixel art workflow is at making pixel art…

..which re-sparked the age-old question of whether I should use HD art or Pixel Art.

There were three elements that tipped the balance for me. First was the seasonal enjoyment of Muppets Christmas Carol. My piqha, and indeed all characters in the retro-cartoony art style I’m developing, are my version of muppets as much as anything. And one thing I like about “my” muppets is that they exist in a digital world, where Mr. Henson’s exist physically. It’s something I’ve tried, and failed, to develop, in the past:

But as much as I haven’t got it figured out, I haven’t let go of it either. Even my “paper dolls” exist conceptually in my head as digital life forms. Pixel art merely makes that explicit.

The second element that tipped the balance was watching a video on Super Mario Brothers speedrunning where they talked about frame rules and manipulable RNG. Mechanics necessitated by the hardware of the time, but mechanics that I fully desire to include in my games on purpose. And the fact that they are pixel art helps thematically hint that these things will exist in my games.

The third element that helped tip the balance was a tutorial on YouTube on how to create a pixelation filter, which I immediately implemented yesterday out of the sheer joy of doing it.

I now have a glitch animation I can call whenever I want from code, as well as a fade out/fade in method that is both more elegant than what I did with Prelude to Nightmare and more Godoty: my Hat Trick fade was done the same way I would do a fade in Unity.

Along the way, I tweaked my inky caricature to be in tune with Popeye, and tweaked my pixel art caricature to be in line with my inky one.

Which is a great improvement in my eyes.

Ink and pixels will both always be elements of how I present my stuff, I think. With 3D making rare but real appearances from time to time..

But I do love the pixels.

One marginal fourth factor convincing me to go with pixels over HD was that I want my games to run on potatoes, and not require super high-end hardware.

One marginal fifth factor is that Sierra called their graphical adventure games “Hi-Res Adventures” because this was hi-res compared to a text adventure:

… and I think it would be hilarious to call my games “Low-res adventures” despite them being higher res than the Sierra high res adventures.

The one thing that was not a factor despite the fact that it ought to have been the single most important factor is that it’d take much of a week to rebuild what I’ve got so far in HD. At some point in a project, you have to commit to not starting over, even though you’ve learned so much and done so much that you know starting over would be faster and better. Because if you let yourself start over once, you’ll let yourself start over again and again and never get done.

My books are not perfect, but they are finished, and the lessons I would learn by starting over get applied to the next book.

But while that should have been the first factor and the deciding factor, I never considered that factor, as the other factors made the decision before I got to that point.

What are we going to do this week?

A game is complete when it has a start menu, sound and graphics options, an input screen (although, ideally input customization options), a credits screen, and gameplay with the game over conditions (win conditions, lose conditions, so on).

I do not release incomplete games.

Note LA•S8: Complete Game

This week, my primary goal is to turn my gameplay demo into a small complete game. Doing the bare minimum work as fast as possible to have it done.

Then, in January, the first two weeks will be dedicated to expanding the game, and the second two to polishing the game, making sure at the end of each week to end with a finished game. In this way, at the beginning of February, even if I have to cut content that I wanted to put in the game, I will be able to release a game.

So that’s the plan for this week. Make a title screen/start menu, the options and credits, and the end conditions.

The FYOOOTCHER..

If God wills, and I haven’t finished development for the Mad Christian Last Legend comic by February, as a side-effect of making this game, February will be devoted to comic development until it is ready to go. Using the game engine and comic assets together to make YouTube animated shorts (and I dunno, TikToks) will be the hoped-for side-effect of that project as well, because the plan is then to spend March and April producing a JRPG, Last Legend I.

If Bunny Trail Junction is the the rocket, then Last Legend I is the launch and Last Legend Zero is the fuel.

Captain’s Log L9·R1

Three days left in September. I’ve got my plan.

I work on the Awesome Moments Kickstarter as my primary project every day until it’s good to go. Target Launch Date for the Kickstarter is October 9th.

Let’s GOOOO!

Once it’s ready to go, I return to Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare. At this time, I might start streaming my development on Twitch or YouTube.

Yesterday I made a brush holder so I could ink vertically.

Image
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And inked a Hat Trick with it. End result: good idea, didn’t actually make things easier overall.

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ONWARD!

Captain’s Log L9·F1: All Vidya, All the time?

A long time ago, I tried to ink a drawing with a brush like a real cartoonist. A Windsor and Newton #7, the favored tool of greats like Bill Watterson. It did not go so well.

Well, my challenge for ynk-topia, my terrible corruption of Inktober, was to ink with a brush from start to finish. And I have. I just now finished my 31st picture, which means once I get them all scanned and processed, the October Monthly should be ready to publish.

I’m not going to show you the ultimate picture, mostly because it isn’t scanned yet, but partly because I want to save it for the 31st, but here’s a picture from near the end:

Inked with a brush.

And this picture I made for my wife for her birthday:

Inked with a brush.

I’m at the point where I almost love the brush as much as my tombows. Almost. I can produce far more expressive linework with it, going from finer than the tombows can produce to thicker than they can produce. But it’s a fight. I need to focus. I need to pay careful attention to what I’m doing. Meanwhile, the tombows produce close to what I want with very little effort on my part.

Anyhow, starting tomorrow, I’m going to do one comic a day, to tread water, and focus all the rest of my creative energies on my game.

However, I am starting to get the feeling that the time is right to Kickstart Awesome Moments. I think I’ll run a campaign in October and work my way, bit by bit, towards having it ready, again, starting tomorrow. I’m not 100% committed to this yet, but it feels like it’s time, so I’m pretty sure I will be.

Captain’s Log L9·A1: The Dismal Science

Yesterday, after doing my Inktober stuff, I put together an interface mockup and (therefore) the interface graphics for the game I’m making over the next couple of months. I’m pretty proud of this, though it doesn’t run in-engine yet:

Couple of worldbuilding notes: I’ve decided in my game engine/game world that magic/stamina/special attacks use Star Points and life uses Heart Points (nothing too extreme here). Heart Points can be split into quarters and Star Points into 5ths for finer-grained HP/SP applications while keeping the interface readable at a glance.

Money is measured in chips. Which, in universe, each contain one dram aether, with a direct conversion of 12 chips/gil if I want to measure things in a game via gil. It’s a nice way to unify my various fantasy settings. A chip is just a 1 dram coin in the game world.

There are some pleasing coincidences. In my comic, I’ve been bopping back and forth between 320×180 and 160×90 for screen resolutions. The first is the obvious 16×9 retro resolution, the second I did half-size (and with the initial Rainboy palette) and called it the handheld version because I felt production was taking too long.

Anyways, I felt 320p was too big and 160p was too small, so I threw a dart at a resolution splitting the difference. I was aiming for 240p, but I hit 256p by accident.

You’ll notice in this gallery (at least on desktop) that the middle picture is shorter than the other two. That’s because the mockups were done in my tile editor, and assuming 16×16 tiles (which is most convenient for this style), 320×180 and 160×90 are vertically 11.25 and 5.625 tiles respectively.

But 256×144 is 16×9 tiles. Nice. In fact, I’m kicking myself for never thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I multiplied my tile size by the aspect ratio” before today.

Another nice coincidence is I made the interface panel the size that “felt right”. I was originally aiming to make the playable area a square, but that meant the interface would take up almost half the screen, and that was unacceptable.

I landed on doing 4 tiles wide of interface, which reduced the play field to 12×9.

12×9 is one off in each direction from 11×8, which are Fibonacci numbers. Which means the playing field vaguely in the ballpark of a golden rectangle.

Okay, to be honest, I’d want 14×9 to get as close to a golden rectangle as possible. But you know what? I like this rectangle. I find it aesthetically pleasing. I’m going to pretend that’s because it’s in a golden rectangle ballpark.

So here’s some sword animations before I get to the economic bit for which this post is named:

Continue reading “Captain’s Log L9·A1: The Dismal Science”

Captain’s Log L8·U1: Some things I aim to do

Right now I’m pushing ahead on getting Inktober drawings done. I’ve got 7 of the 31. I hope to finish the day at 8 or 9, and get 2 or 3 done tomorrow as well, then average 2 a day through September. To pull it off, though, I may need to scale them back. Do smaller pictures.

My other option is to do one or two a day, and do a comic a day in addition to that, to build up my backlog even further. And while Hat Trick and John Michael Jones are both calling out for work, I have another option as well. After all, I’ve been talking lately of which game I should make, if I were to try and make a go of making a business of making games…

Considered using one of my Unity builds..

And now I’m planning to switch to Godot. I want to reduce my reliance on Unity, and I want to reduce my reliance on Windows. I don’t trust either of those companies, least of all Microsoft.

And I’m thinking, let’s do it. Let’s build games that bring us inchwise closer and closer to Breath of the Gameboy.

So I’ve mocked up some Gameboy style graphics,

and I’m thinking make a short game where Arthur fights goblins in a graveyard over September and October, and then release it in November, just as Arthur starts fighting goblins in a graveyard on Bunny Trail Junction.

Then, next year, I can build up to and crowdfund 8 Lives Left.

Of course, my need is to make a living, and I still haven’t worked out a short term connection between my working on this and my paying my bills. I have a long term connection. January I’m planning to ring in the new year by going on a publicity blitz for Bunny Trail Junction. At that point I’ll have five months of comics, two to five months of backlog and, assuming I follow this plan, a video game. When I reach out to the internet at this point, I’ll have a lot of stuff to point them to, and a reason for them to tune in every day. Then if in, say, February or March, I run a crowdfund for 8 Lives Left, I’ll be able to build on that foundation.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, a seven comic arc going over the Hat Trick → 8 Lives Left → Breath of the Gameboy pipeline could ring in November, followed by the Hat Trick arc as it now sits, followed by some bestiary entries or something would make a decent November.

A Different Piece of Paper

Yesterday’s drawing and today’s drawing:

Part of this challenge is to master the brush. So, I’m not using my Tombows at all, just a #2 Round Princeton Mini Detailer. In both of these pictures. I’m not even using the Pentel pocket brush.

I expected my art to start out like that first picture and gradually move towards that second. Not to jump in a single day. Did I change anything?

Yes, actually. For my first two pictures I used Strathmore 100 lb Bristol Board. Since it’s too thick to feed through my printer, I’ve been doing my underdrawings on the computer, and using a light table to ink. But for the third picture, today’s picture, on a whim I decided to try my “printer Bristol Board”. It’s 67 lb, and not as smooth, but it comes in 11×17, so I can work much larger.

Now, working larger does make a piece look better because errors, smudges, and quivering hands are smoothed out by the greater distance. But! On an inch-for-inch basis, the second drawing is still better than the first. The lines have just as much energy, but are much better controlled.

The other change is I haven’t had caffeine today. For some reason, my craving for soda has been matched with an aversion for soda in the last two days, and the nice thing about having two warring impulses is it takes very little willpower to pick the one I’d like to win. May God let this continue.

The last observation is that I’ve been able to produce about one drawing a day since I got the prompts. But I need to do more than that if I’m going to have them ready in time. Moreover, I have reason to believe I’ll be sharply curtailed this weekend, maybe not able to draw a single picture.

I don’t know how to address that yet. I also don’t know how I’m going to store my finished pieces. I’ve been chucking my comics in dated envelopes, but 11×17 isn’t going to fit. Well, time to chew on those problems.

Dueling Spirits

The prompt list for Inktober 2021 dropped yesterday. The email says “don’t tell anyone ’til September 1st what’s on it,” but I am confident that my first essay doesn’t spoil anything. This picture is based on the first prompt, but it’s non-obvious.

But something else in the email caught my attention:

Please don’t share until September 1.


Now that you’ve got the list, use the month of September to sketch out and explore ideas!

The email assumes you will be drawing the Inktober prompts… in October!

With Bunny Trail Junction, I am (with the exception of Inktober) two months ahead, and my goal is to be six months ahead. You see, the spirit of Bunny Trail Junction is freedom. The freedom to jump around, work on whatever I feel like, confident that I can discard it or rearrange it before it comes out. The purpose of Bunny Trail Junction is to get all of my stories into the world without putting sufficient pressure on my flaws to make it fail.

The Spirit of Bunny Trail Junction is freedom, and this spirit is served by having a backlog.

The Spirit of Inktober is to encourage artists to produce a finished piece every day. The Spirit of Inktober is served by making setting aside specific days to produce and display finished pieces. The early release of the prompts is not so you can draw them in advance, it’s so you have time to think them over, do any research sketches you want.

These two spirits are intrinsically opposed. You don’t make a Bunny Trail Junction on the day it releases, you make it at least two months before that. You don’t make an Inktober drawing in advance, you make it on the day it is released.

There are four methods I can think of off the top of my head to resolve this conflict:

  1. The Worst of Both Worlds: Get the prompts ASAP (A week before September) and crank out 2+ pictures a day so you can have the monthly assembled by the ides. Does severe violence to the spirits both of Bunny Trail Junction and Inktober.
  2. Offset By A Year: Do Inktober properly. Publish it on Bunny Trail Junction a year later.
  3. Christmas Vacation: Publish normal comics in October, but do the Inktober challenge as well. Use the Inktober drawings to fill the December Monthly.
  4. Prompt in a Different Way: Similar to Offset By a Year, but instead of using the Inktober prompt list, I come up with my own prompt list to disguise the fact that I’m not doing the art at the same time as everyone else. This fits with coming up with my own branding for Inktober, and further, would allow me to pick a different 31 day month to execute in if I wish.

I am already committed to the Worst of Both Worlds solution for October 2021. However, I am considering the other solutions for 2022 and beyond.

Explorations in Ink

I’m going to post three panels from Bunny Trail Junction, but they are ripped from three different episodes:

Except they’re not just three different episodes. They’re three different workflows.

In Panel 1, I printed out two comic templates on a sheet of 8.5×11 paper. Since BTJ monthlies are printed 5×8, and this is scaled to use almost all of the page up, whereas the monthlies have generous margins, this means the artwork is, say, 20% bigger than its final form.

I letter in the text with a Pigma Micron 05, except for bold text which gets my Tombow しっかりbrush pen. (And know, I don’t know what the heck “shikkari” means, I just know enough Japanese to sound it out and produce the correct letters with my keyboard). Large pools of black are filled in with the Pentel Pocket Brush. Hatching is done with a Pigma Micron 01, and corrections/stars/white outlines on black are done with white Sakura Gelly Roll 10.

This is how the hand-drawn episodes have largely been done.

However this month, I decided to try something new.

For Panel 2, I printed my template so that one template fills an entire 8.5×11 sheet. This means I’m working at well over twice the final size, as the Good Lord intended. The lettering was done with the Tombow しっかりbrush pen, with bold provided by the Tombow な(?)やか brush pen. In this case, I’m not actually sure I read the kana right. It’s something-ya-ka anyway. Maybe that first symbol is a kanji I have yet to learn (that would be most of them). The scene is then drawn with a blue pencil (like the first), but inked with the pentel pocket brush. I have a lot less control over the pocket brush than I do over the Tombows, so the result is less consistent, but it has a certain life to it that the Tombow art lacks. Again, I use my Gelly Roller for white bits and my Pigma Micron 01 for hatching. Which looks about the same, despite the fact that it should look noticeably thinner.

Panel 3 was a process I “Prototyped” yesterday. I noticed that some of my art looked from ink leeching into the paper around my brushstrokes and decided to try drawing the comic on Bristol Board, as if I were some sort of professional.

Other than that, the process is identical to 2. Well, not exactly. Since I can’t print my template onto the bristol board, I have to use a light table to project the template through. And if I’m going to project the template through, I can “pencil” on my computer and print the pencils out, which allows me to use all sorts of hacks like selecting, rotating, scaling, and smudging to more quickly assemble my scene.

The lines are, indeed, crisper on bristol board. There’s a reason it’s the industry standard. However, I still don’t have good control over the pocket brush. Moreover, because the ink doesn’t leech into the surrounding paper particles as much, it also dries much slower, and it is easy for someone sloppy — someone like me — to smear it with his hand.

At this moment, I have half a mind to go back to the Tombows for illustrating. Maybe use the bold/mystery meat tombow for outlining at this double scale, see how well it handles on Bristol Board. But I really want to keep that life that the pocket brush is giving me.

Here’s a test panel of John Michael Jones, illustrated in like manner to the above, but then colored with the Rainboy palette:

My plan, at this moment, is to take it up a level. Use an actual paintbrush and actual ink for Inktober. Then back off and try a few comics with the Tombows after I’ve finished that gauntlet.

Prompts drop tomorrow. Here’s hoping I hit the ground running.