Captain’s Log m8•11: Clip Studio Kaplooey

Like in October of 2021, I have heaped projects on my plate. And like October of 2021, it is not working well. I don’t really know how I’m going to handle it just yet, however.

I am making John Michael Jones Gets a Life at a rate of one comic a week, which is a nice, slow, easy pace. Nevertheless, I have been a scant 2 weeks ahead this whole time, and this week, I’ve slipped to 1 week ahead. They are color comics, so they take a little more producing, and eventually, our heroes will be in a digital world, which will allow some shortcuts, but there it is.

Concerning to me, I’ve launched this before I’ve finished the draft. Which means I don’t know if I can land this ship. But I felt if I sat on it any longer, it would never get done, so…

Awesome Moments is my Bible Story book series. Awesome Moments 1 goes from Eden to Christ to the Parousia as briskly as possible to serve as the anchor for the rest of the series. I’ve ranged from doing two illustrations (each of these being two pages) per day, to one, to none.. I want to have it all done by the middle of the month so it can be thoroughly exorcised from my system, because I feel kids’ books are my best medium, but I haven’t been able to finish a draft. I think my gears are clogged, and won’t start turning again until I finish this book.

Also, while the publisher intends to Kickstart it in December, they’d like it a good deal sooner.

Jump the Shark is a platformer that’s a big dose of Sonic, a moderate dose of Megaman X, and whatever else I feel like mixing in to taste.

Strangely enough, the adoption of all these projects can be traced to one program: Clip Studio Paint.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log m8•11: Clip Studio Kaplooey”

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.

Grumbles of a Sonic Aficionado

I don’t describe myself as a fan of anything these days. “Fan” is short for fanatic, and nothing but God Himself is worthy of fanaticism.

But the fact that I once would have described myself as a Sonic Fan is not a secret.

The obvious clue is my first children’s book:

What happened here is I sat down to read my kid a kids’ book, and I didn’t like the book. It occurred to me then and there that I certainly possessed all the component skills to make my own kids’ books, and so I set out to see how that would turn out.

I decided I had better pander to my kid, so that if the book was bad, at least the intended audience would like it. My kid loves sea animals, so I set it underwater.

I decided I had better pander to myself, so that if the kid loved the book and requested it every single night, I wouldn’t get sick of it. Also so I would feel motivated to finish the book. So I plucked Jump the Shark, a character created to parody Sonic the Hedgehog, out of my box of characters. That way the book could be 30ish pages of thinly disguised Sonic fanart.

Now, Jump the Shark isn’t the first bit of evidence I enjoy the occasional Sonic game, nor the best. He’s just a side-effect of my enthusiasm that happened to spin off (all puns always intended) and become my best property.

But we’re not here to talk about Jump the Shark. We’re here to talk about Sonic Games.

Continue reading “Grumbles of a Sonic Aficionado”

Why not make animations?

I’ve spent the last week making hand-animated games for a game jam. Why not make an animated movie? Why not present my material as cartoons? Meaning what a child means by cartoons: animated shorts; as opposed to what an artist means: sequential art.

You gotta admit, this looks better than Peppa Pig:

My answer is complicated, which is why I’m putting it up here.

Continue reading “Why not make animations?”

Captain’s Log m•5•6•1: Embracing

Took my month off. Tried to storyboard a kids’ book. Didn’t work. Did a game jam. Did okay.

Here’s kind of where I’m at.

I decided to roll my game dev back to the gameboy-esque standards. I’ve been slowly rebuilding Prelude to Nightmare using all the knowledge I’ve gained about Godot since I made it. Here’s where it was…

.. and here’s where it is..

A long bit away from where it was, but with numerous improvements. Things I’m doing “right” that were being done in a hacky way before, but I didn’t know.

Quite the whirlwind tour to come back to the beginning. But to my way of thinking, if it took Yacht Club Games a bazillion years to finish all their Shovel Knight promises, and they have way more skill and experience than me, then… 🤷

Time to start biting off smaller bites or something.

Meanwhile, since zero of this process is making something new, my brain has been freed up to consider what I should make. Refactor the kids’ book ideas. That sort of thing. And I keep circling back to John Michael Jones.

Maybe Wren would be better off motivated as a monster hunter/collector than a bounty hunter. Maybe that would fix her story. But I’m already exploring that angle for Princess Pluot. I don’t want the characters to overlap! Maybe I can do an action story for Jump the Shark. But why not do the action story with John Michael instead? Man, I wish there were more stories that had X, or Y. John Michael has these things!

One of the things I was worried about was trying to take the story of a kid getting sucked into a game, and making a game look like the story. For instance, I gave these trees zigzag bark and square moss and flowers that aren’t physically connected to themselves all as ways of signaling that John Michael is in a digital world..

But good old pixel art does that just fine.

Indeed, I originally planned to have the comic be black and white in the real world, and colored in the game, as a nod to Wizard of Oz. But I want to tell the opposite story from Oz. I want kids to enjoy the fantasy of being sucked into a video game, but then also have it feel natural when the characters in the game say, “Ah, but in real life I have friends and steak and wind in my hair.” So the “real” world should have color, and the game should be black and white.

So yesterday I colored John Michael’s first comic, and then made a proper cover for the first arc of the series.

So that’s where I am. Gearing up to release John Michael Jones Fights a Dragon. Simultaneously developing a Hat Trick game. And trying hard to nail it down to just those two things for now.

Captain’s Log m4•q1: Will o’ the WIPs…

Wren Valen draft is stuck. The problem with continuing a story that is over a decade old is that my plans don’t all work anymore. Looks like I may have to redo it from scratch. Sad, because this moment:

..is both the place where the train jumped off the ancient rails, and the thing I am most committed to keeping.

Right. Set it aside. Draft something else. Just keep going until I have one or more actual books to make, right? Sure. Maybe.

Looking back at the last couple months:

I mean, yeah the first one is nicer to look at. It’ll sell better, probably. And it takes no more time to make than something similarly detailed in pixel art.

But a heck of a lot less than something like the second, which also looks nice, will print nice, and can be assembled in a fraction of the time.

More to the point, if I’m making a comic about John Michael and his friends falling into a game world, it works better if the game world look like a game.

Along those lines, while trying to dig myself out of my book plot corner, I’ve been pondering what sort of game I’d like to make if I were making games just for the heck of it, and not as some sort of massive multimedia project.

Go back on the road to 8 Lives Left/Breath of the Gameboy?

Action platformer with Mega Man influences?

Digital Monsters on your phone?

Bring back the RPG/Adventure engine?

Right now I’m sleep depraved. I’m leaning towards a turn based RPG with influences from Link’s Awakening, Mario RPGs, and games nobody’s heard of any more like The Magic Candle. But where this ship goeth, nobody knoweth. Except God. Who may well will that it run aground.

Just wanted to toss my thoughts out there before retiring to ponder.

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.

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