Captain’s Log M8•T0: Ink-Slinging

Awesome Moments has ground almost to a halt. Almost. I can get out an illustration a day most days of the week. I’m only 5 illustrations away from completion, so I’m going to keep pushing forward, but while I’ve debated making a final super push of two or three illustrations a day (these only take me a couple hours to do), I’ve decided no. I’m going to give every picture my full attention, and if I try to force it I’ll be tempted to get sloppy.

The thing that has absorbed my attention this week has been trading cards. I’ve liked cards my whole life. I thought they were fun in the Amber Chronicles. I loved them in Digimon Season 3 (known as Tamers to us Digimon snobs). I didn’t really get into Yugioh or Magic the Gathering, but I wanted to.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log M8•T0: Ink-Slinging”
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The joy of just making the story

I’ve started work on storyboarding a Wren book.

Which brings up a couple of thoughts. First is why am I making a Wren Valen book? How does that fit into my goals. Second is where I’m currently sitting with regard to kids’ books, comics, and vidya. We’ll start with the apologetic.

Why Wren?

It’s a bit of a strange thing, you know. I devised Wren (it feels like) a million years ago. In another world. In a world where I had no problem writing a fantasy of a short sorceress in an airship fighting pirates with her magic.

Now, a million problems arise. My Right Winger, primary audience is going to wonder why I’m telling stories about magic amazons. The world is full of writers who want to make stories about magic amazons. We need more stories like John Michael, of boys being allowed to be the hero again. And I agree.

But I feel like drawing and writing Wren. So I’m drawing and writing Wren.

My target audience may view Wren through a gimlet eye. But their natural foes, the Social Justice types, won’t like her either. She’s a flawed character, not a perfect Mary Sue. She understands that Force Equals Mass times Acceleration. She doesn’t pick fights with gorillas. No, the Left will call me a sexist for writing a human female, and the awesome Right will roll their eyes at Cartoon Rey.

I might pick up some sales among the Ben Shapiro, “I’m totally Right Wing, you can tell because I defend last year’s Left” crowd. People who think women in the military is a Right Wing triumph. But I have no interest in playing to that crowd at all.

Mind you, I don’t care if left, right, or center buys and enjoys my books. My enemies aren’t the commies or the not sees. My enemies are the devils. Any human I encounter is at worst a peon of forces who want to devour him. I say let him read and enjoy my books! It may be a lifeline for him. Or at worst, I will have supplied him a few bright moments in a dark life. And that is still a worthwhile thing.

But, you know, I’m trying to build a business. It’s a bit silly to build a business around books and stories that my own best customers are likely to dislike.

It doesn’t much matter to me for a few reasons.

  1. I’m taking a bit of a breather. I’ve spent four months on one project that I thought was sensible. Now I’m spending a month or two on a project because I feel like it. Got to recharge the batteries if I want to make the laudable stuff.
  2. I mistrust my motives. It is good to write stories that have good messages, good heroes and villains in them. It is good to write stories that will sell. But my vocation as a story teller is to tell stories that are good not because they are profitable or morally upright, but because they take your mind off your troubles for a few minutes. Working on a story, then, that militates against the profit and moralizing motives feels like something I can and even should do, to be true to my vocation.
  3. My wife will like it. And if I make a book that she likes, then the book was a success even if nobody buys it.
  4. There’s no rule that I have to produce this draft next. I’m currently planning to make several draft books in a row, and then pick one to produce as a final book. This Wren book is the first of those drafts. Maybe, after I draft a Hat Trick book and a John Michael Jones book and a Jump the Shark book, I’ll decide, “yeah, let’s go ahead and produce Wren first.” But maybe I won’t.

So that’s my apologetic for seeing this draft through.

Comics, Games, and Books for Children

This kids’ book format is a very compressed way to tell a story. Get in. Load a thousand words into each picture, and then maybe fifty or a hundred words along the side.

I love it. I’ve done novels, but I’m weak on them. I don’t spend enough time on the descriptions. The sights, the smells. I just dive straight into dialogue and action. Making picture books makes up for my weaknesses by leaning on my strengths.

Of course, comics are even moreso right? Right? Well. I’m not sure. It feels like it takes me forever to get through a story drawing it as a comic. I spend too much time and ink drawing the same picture over and over again.

Why not just make my “comics” as picture books, and let other, more patient men turn them into comics if they like? Seems a good plan to me.

But what will I do with Bunny Trail Junction, then? Shutter it?

Maybe. Or maybe I’ll post my storyboards there. Post them like they are a webcomic. Build an audience for each book before I even make the book.

Vidya, vidya, vidya. Vidya is prime, right? If I make a story in a game engine, I can record it as a video, post it as a comic, even make it as a kids’ book.

No. That’s the wrong approach. And here is why: the heart of my stories is the characters and plots. The heart of a game is the player and his choices. If I try to make my game dev a vehicle for my stories, I will gimp my gameplay and my stories. Better to make the stories as books, maybe post the storyboards in lieu of a webcomic, maybe read them on Youtube. Then, in my copious “spare time”, go ahead and tinker with game development. But as a hobby. If a game starts working out, then, sure, steal liberally from my books so that the books and games cross-promote.

Every now and then I think about Dr. Seuss as some sort of rival. Oh, I’m not trying to compete with his rhymes. And I doubt I’ll ever see hide nor hair of his fame. But there are some things I dislike about the man, and one of them is his pride. It took him forever to embrace making kids’ books. He later saw it as a true and worthy calling, but at first he intended to make serious art for serious people.

Trying to center my work on vidya is the same sort of hubris. I have a hundred fun stories in me. I should walk the shortest road between where I am, and where people can get at them. And I should have always been walking that path.

And are they children’s stories after all?

The Wren stories were not originally aimed at children. But they don’t have anything I wouldn’t give to a kid.

My cartoony style will be off-putting to serious men wanting serious stories. But at the end of the day, at least in the case of this Wren book, I’m making the books I want to make, and I hope some kids may like them and maybe even some adults may like them.

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•B2: Cleaning Up

This week’s update is simple. My mother is returning home on Thursday. I have to spend most of my time preparing her house for her return. I may tinker a bit here and there before, and I may return to my work full-force after, but this week will be mostly dedicated to those preparations, and to her return.

That I am, by no means, anywhere near where I thought I’d be at this point in development means I need to reconsider my whole plan and workflow. Since my watchers in the government are asking what my plan is, I think next week will be dedicated first and foremost to very question.

February, I historically take off to do whatever I feel like. At the moment, despite spending three weeks of December and one of January pushing hard, though, I don’t feel burnt out on this project. I could easily switch projects, but I could easily just keep my nose to the grindstone and keep going. That’s a good sign that the medications are working, and I expect to re-evaluate, come to new estimates on the same plan, instead of changing plans again.

I ended last week by finding a plugin for Godot that will allow me to import animations directly from Aseprite, and by being fed up with my social media participation and choosing to go dark for a while. I predict both aid my productivity immensely.

Presently, I aim to spend whatever work time I get this week retooling the plan to take the new timing information into account. That, and producing a polished business plan take priority until such are done. I hope next week’s post will be the result.

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 LC•K4: I’ll not be focusing on the Game this week.

Last week we got a lot done. The game now has lighting, spaceship graphics, and a lot of input/bug fixes.

I may tinker with it this week, but my plan is to focus on holiday preparations, as well as story matters. Figure out who the characters in the comic are. Make presents for my family members. Clean my house.

Next week, the first proper week of Christmastide, my goal will be to make a Complete Game. That is, to make the title screen and menus, the win condition, the credits… the minimum product, so that all development in January will be improving and expanding a complete game, and I’ll not spend the last week or so trying to desperately tweak it into a finished product before release.

And that’s all I have to say about that. May you have a Merry Christmas.

Captain’s Log LC•D3: A Look of my Very Own

We closed out last week just a little shy of all the needed gameplay (namely, going places, clicking on things, and having my scripts play as a result). Thanks to a helpful plugin called Dialogic, I had no need to make my own dialogue system…

And Godot comes with pathfinding out of the box, albeit buggy pathfinding, which may mean I need to apply a couple bandaids of my own.

The hope was to have all the gameplay systems done that week, spend this week making a Complete Game, and then the rest of December and January expanding the game.

As of the close of today, I have reached the point I aimed to hit last Friday which is… not great, but better than my other missed targets by a lot. Crosswiring multiple forms of input in Godot proved challenging, but not nearly so challenging as Unity. With Dialogic coming with choice boxes, and me spending my first couple days implementing palette management and a custom animation system suited to my prejudices, my Godot RPG Engine is now more capable than my Unity RPG Engine, and I have less experience with Godot on the whole.

Here’s my sweet, sweet radial menu radial menuing.

But that is not (for me) the most exciting bit of news. Unhappy with my test graphics, I began the process of doing research and mockups into the sorts of graphics I’d like to do in my game. I have wavered between my hand-drawn style and pixel art in the past. And one of the reasons is I can make competent pixel art, but not unique pixel art.

Until now. The dam broke.

foo

That’s a mockup, but that’s the style. It means the characters (except for the piqha) need to get larger, but I’ve realized I can bring the feel of my brush into the pixels. In fact, I’ve done it before:

I am now genuinely excited for the art I am going to bring to this game, and to future books and comics, even if it is low-res adventures.

When I ended the week without reaching my goal, the plan changed. This week is no longer for finishing, but for building. Next week is not for finishing because of Christmas. The last week of December is now for finishing. But that’s fine. I went for two months so I would have that space to work in.

So this week, the plan is to build out from this foundation. Get the game looking interesting.

Next week, I intend to work on it some, but not a ton, thanks to Christmas.

And the week after that is a race to make it a complete game. That is, having the win or lose conditions, the music, the options menus, the title screens, and so on.

Usually I post all this stuff to Twitter as I do it, but ever since I hit on the art direction, I’ve been holding off. I want my next salvo to hit hard, with lots of the new art to gawk at.

Captain’s Log LC•72: Pixels or Pens?

According to schedule, this week is supposed to be the first full week of development on Last Legend Zero, in which basic gameplay is established. Next week, then, is the week of “finishing” Zero, that is, ensuring it is a finished game, so that anything added or refined during the remainder of the development time is literally added or refined. However, yesterday I had a mild cold, and today I slept in due to the some moderate symptoms.

Additionally, I spent the last week developing a workflow that would create HD graphics that I could then reuse in books. However, there are still several advantages to using pixel art, and I recently was reminded of them.

At the moment, most of my work can be re-purposed easily. Turning my HD palette shader into a pixel art palette shader will only make it simpler, not more complex. The palette management system I’ve devised for the one shader will work for the other. I’ve made almost no graphics for the game.

So, let us weigh the pros and cons of making a game in both pixel art and HD graphics with these emoji: 👾🖋️

  • 👾 Pixel Art is Future Proof: As screen resolutions improve, pixel art will continue to look just the same.
  • 👾 Pixel Art Implies More Gameplay: The more bespoke an asset is, the less you can do with it. The more reusable the assets are, the bigger the world feels.
  • 👾 Pixel Art is More Gameplay: Pixel art takes less time to make, meaning more of my time and money budgets can be devoted to the actual game.
  • 👾 Pixel Art Runs on Potatoes: The lower the resolution of the active area, the less work the computer has to do, the wider the range of machines that can run your game.
  • 👾 Pixel Art Palette Controls are Tighter: Instead of having to adjust several related colors into several other related colors, I can simply turn one color into one other color. This allows for shading, and for larger palettes if I so desire.
  • 🖋️ HD Art Is More Distinctive: While pixel art styles vary, especially as you go up in resolution, unless you try to adopt a fairly extreme style, your game will not stand out from other pixel art games. An HD hand-drawn game will always look like Hollow Knight to some degree, but it will have more of an identity of its own than a pixel-art game.
  • 👾/🖋️ Pixel Art Is Considered “Cheap”: You have to charge less for the same amount of effort if you make your art pixelly. Although with the current plan, we’re already talking price ranges that fit pixel art just fine, so this isn’t decisive for one or the other.
  • 👾 If we do pixel art in 3D, we can replace it with HD art at a later date: This means committing to pixel art is not committing against HD art.
  • 👾🖋️ HD Art works better for illustration, but not decisively: There are plenty of kids’ books and shows that use illustration styles that seem sloppier or otherwise less good styles. And, in fact, if I make children’s books with pixel art illustrations, I will be doing something that few people do. It will be a distinct book style.
  • 🖋️ Pixel Art Implies a Computer/Virtual World: While I do want to mix Digimon, Wreck-It-Ralph, and Tron for a virtual setting, and both art styles can be used to mean both kinds of world, HD art is better at representing both realities.
  • 👾 I have better tools for animating Pixel ArtAseprite is simply better than any HD animation tool I own. It is certainly better than animating by pencils and guesswork.
  • 🖋️ I’ve Always Wanted to Make a Hand-Drawn LookingGame: And here’s where I trot out the classic pen test of piqha:
  • 🖋️ Godot Does Not Gracefully Translate Inputs Into Differently Scaled Viewports: In Unity, I could set one camera to a pixel art scale, and one to an HD scale, and mix and match the styles, which is how I made this lovely thing:

    Mixing and matching scales like this doesn’t work out of the box in 2D in Godot AFAIK. Although, this isn’t a total win for hand drawn art, as it does work out of the box if I do a 3D world:
  • 🖋 Piqha Just Work Better Hand Drawn.: Here I want to do a compare and contrast between the above picture and one I generated in Aseprite that, for some reason, refuses to export correctly. But it refuses to export correctly, so I can’t.

So it looks at this point like Pixel Art is winning by a wide margin, especially if I use a 3D world.

This week’s task, as I said, is to get the basic gameplay up and running. Next week’s task is to turn it into a complete game. Time to buckle down!

Update:

I got scale-mixing working in Godot and it wasn’t even hard.

Norm

Standard Maintenance Leaf Node, or “Norm,” is the single most common Piqha aboard a Peoples of the Cosmos Theriopliotic vessel. Their duty is to scurry around through ducts and perform general maintenance and repair. They are characterized by a no-frills, pale gray shell, and that’s that.

Maintenance nodes are by-the-book sorts. They get their marching orders, they perform tasks according to the manual encoded in their aether cores, and they plug back in for R&R.

Most feral piqha began as “Norm.” Common changes are loss of the mouthplate, and slow diffusion of color into the shell, so that a younger Norm gone feral may reach a jewel tone shell by adulthood, but most have pastel, desaturated shells.

Most wild piqha have an abundance of Norm genetics, more than any other variety.