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.
I promised to upload the third draft by last weekend. I have failed because I don’t yet have my pastor’s notes. I will be getting them today, inserting (I think) two more pages into the story to really hammer home the centerpiece of the plot, and keeping my promise.
The Kickstarter is 1/3rd funded! Right now, I’m not pleased with the options I have available for people to back it. This weekend, I hope to tweak it a bit so people can get, e.g. coloring books, or something else that I can price relatively low and have the book itself have a large enough markup I can actually use the funds for more than production and shipping.
I have mixed feelings about Awesome Moments. I am 100% on board with making it, and it being the greatest thing I’ve ever created, for the sake of my children. But as a product I offer the world, I am hesitant. So I am praying that it funds or not based on God’s blessing the project as a whole.
I am not hesitant to share the project with the world, however. I love it. I believe you should love it too. I am excited about it. And I am going to be putting up posters, arranging to speak at churches, and so forth. The trick is, how do I balance that with what I said I’d do in October and November before I decided to try
Bunny Trail Junction: The Comic
November has been assembled all month. So according to my normal process, I should have it uploaded to Amazon, right?
Wrong. I’ve been tearing my hair out all month trying to simultaneously do the Awesome Moments Kickstarter and get the game that also launches in November done. I haven’t even kept up on producing comics.
Technically I have, as the pixel art comics…
… are so easy to produce that I have 24 comics already done this month. The problem is, that’s not what I want to run. I don’t want to offer my Bunny Trail Junction readers me blathering about what I should do or not do. That’s what this blog is for! I want to offer the readers stories!
Moreover, Hat Trick is picking up traction at least as much as Awesome Moments, thanks to all the work I’ve been putting into the game. Although neither is getting the kind of traction I need to make a living yet.
Currently, I have a couple of ideas for the comic. All of my ideas involve finishing out December strong, then maybe changing it up.
These ideas can be mixed, matched, and stacked.
Cut Back Next Year: The current favored plan is to reduce the comic to 3 strips a week instead of seven, and release bimonthlies instead of monthlies. This frees up enough time for me to work on games and videos while keeping the comic on life support.
January Sabbatical: No comic in January while I focus on retooling everything. This would be really helpful because even if I cut back to a bimonthly, I still have to have January and February both done at the beginning of January. Unless I take a one-month sabbatical. And then, if I do the full 31 comics for Inktober next year, with every other issue being every/other month, the 2022 annual will be roughly the size of the 2021 annual.
A Story In Pixel Art: This is my favorite plan, but it’s also the newest, and I haven’t let it marinate as long. If I can devise a story that works as a sprite comic, in the style that I’m doing for the games, I can generate enough comics to cover the gap between months where I draw and months where I work on games or books.
Story Books As Web Comics: And finally, if I just do a two-page spread of the 5×8 as a single day, like the prayers I’m going to be including in December, that totally counts, and it fits certain story beats better.
3 and 4 are the newest, but most awesome notions. Sprite comics allow for awesome animations. The title screen I’ve got for my game has already convinced me that I want to do comics that look like this. And if I can make storybooks for Bunny Trail Junction that later lead to larger, illustrated books, so much the better.
Just look at that title menu! Comics that look like that would kick ass! And the more I weave my comics and games together, the better for each of them.
November will have two or three comics that straight up have animations in them on the website. And that rocks. Putting that stuff in stories will be super cool.
Anyhow, today I’m going to try and polish off the last edits to November and get that submitted to KDP today.
Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare
I spent Saturday and Monday neglecting all my other responsibilities to make Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare a complete game. And it is done.
That doesn’t mean it’s a good game, or even the game I wanted to make. To get close to what I want, I need to add:
Enemies that fight back.
Health and health drops
More combat options like dashing and parrying.
More world to explore and waves of foes to fight.
Nice sound effects to menus and the like.
Spawn animations of goblins bursting from the ground.
Music changes when exploring Vs. Fighting.
Arthur’s portrait changing based on the situation.
But, it has a win condition, a lose condition, an options menu, and a controls menu. If I get only partway through the things I want to add by November, and then have to cut it off, at least I will cut it off a finished, if sub-standard, product.
I want to make a whole blog post about what I’ve learned from making the game, and how I’d like to tweak things moving into the next one. So stay tuned for that.
Going Where My Audience Is
I have rebranded my Jump the Shark YouTube Channel as a Bunny Trail Junction Youtube Channel.
I have observed before my audience is kids. To reach kids, I need to go where kids are. Which is not twitter, or bunny-trail.com. It may be YouTube.
My current idea is to take my Kids’ Pulp Formula, write a bunch of stories, and upload one or two a week to YouTube. I’d draw one or two pictures for the story, record myself reading it, and thus build the audience for my books, my comics, and my games. For the same purpose, I’ve created a branded SubscribeStar.
My intention is to create a family-supporting setting and cast using my Piqha for the majority of the stories, although doing my existing books and comics is also fine. But Piqha, man, they’re so cool, and so far none of my finished work is strongly counter to modern propaganda pieces. I want a Berenstain Bears but with a respectable Papa. And the Piqha can do that.
But I haven’t put a single penstroke down for this project yet. Fulfilling my comic promises and advertising Awesome Moments has eaten all of my time! And right now, I’m not even feeling it. I’m feeling my game.
Man, getting my comic to look like this would be so cool. Heck, using bits like this rendered in-engine for videos would be so cool.
I’ve never edited videos before. I’ll need to record myself reading stories and edit the audio as well, and I’m not sure how I’ll find the silence necessary to pull it off on this farm. Right now, as I write this, my sister’s dogs are barking, and there are baby chickens chirping directly under my window.
These are all rather niggling excuses. I can overcome them. But that leads me to the one all-encompassing problem that I have with my projects.
I Should Only Do One Thing At A Time
I am able to do a great job getting funding for Awesome Moments, telling people how great it’s going to be, doing updates for the Kickstarter, and tweaking the rewards to generate interest.
As long as I do nothing else.
I am able to do a great job inking beautiful comics with intriguing stories to run on Bunny Trail Junction every single day for months ahead of time.
As long as I do nothing else.
I am able to build a retro game that looks super fun and exciting and slowly build up hype for it as I put in more and more cool features.
As long as I do nothing else.
I suspect the same is true of the YoutTube videos. The reason my mind is coming up with a slew of excuses is right now I am in game-development mode, and my mind doesn’t want to switch to advertising mode or to video mode or to drawing mode. But somehow, I’ve developed a plan of action where this month I’m doing all four at the same time.
That has to stop.
I can present all four at the same time. I’m presenting Inktober right now, although it’s certainly not getting me the eyeballs I had hoped for. But I’m not doing Inktober right now. I did Inktober last month.
I have to be doing one thing at a time. If I am making videos and games and comics and childrens’ books and funding, I have to be working on only one of these at a time for multiple days at a time. I may do one per month. I may do one per week. But I can’t do two per anything ever, ever again. I am making it work half-ass right now because I promised a game in November, and I promised the comic would come out every day this year and I’m doing the Kickstarter right now and I owe it a fair shot.
Tomorrow I have an appointment to work on a business plan. My business plan has to be to make one thing at a time. And it has to be something that gets my work to my audience and starts up a cash flow.
So today, I figured I had better sort my ducks out. Here they are. Now it’s time to ponder on how to line ’em up.
The following section now breaks Hat Trick into two pieces in the November Monthly. It’s a little ad-hoc and hastily assembled due to precise constraints on how many comics I needed…
Some of these are Frankencomics, single comics assembled from panels of multiple different previous comics. I’m not 100% happy with them. They mostly make sense and say what I want to say in the space I was given. I may make some additional comics to try out different ways of saying what I mean to say more intentionally rather than reuse the old ones or use frankencomics.
I’ve got about a week to figure it out. No big deal. If Bunny Trail Junction isn’t perfect on its first outing, well, that’s how I learn the skills that will perfect it.
So let’s think about some stuff I’ve largely already covered on this blog:
Sadly, it’s late, and I’ll have to consider course corrections tomorrow, which is irritating because my aim was to reach a conclusion today. But describing the question is half the answer.
My theories about using green/red ramps for screens, and then printing in grayscale have been vindicated.
But for the sake of making a Wren RPG, I changed up my pixel art style to something more like a 2D Brawler.
Which drew on my cartoony hand-drawn style, and turned about and influenced it in return.
Now, I’ve been explaining my RPG notion in comic form, and have half a mind to put those episodes in the September BTJ..
But while the pixel art uses my Rainbow Rose color palette, which is intended for print, it wasn’t specifically designed with black and white printing in mind like the Rainboy Palette. So I had to get a sneak peak at how it would turn out in print. Fortunately, each monthly should preview the next monthly. And so..
It’s fine. It’s not great. Specifically targeting black and white would be a wiser choice. But it’s fine. Good enough to print.
But I’ve been going back and forth. When I get treatment, should I work on my RPG engine…
Or focus my energy on Dronefu?
Those are the financially viable ideas, right? I’ve made series of comics explaining both ideas that will likely one day run on BTJ.
The RPG is viable because when Alpha Dream died it left a huge void in the JRPG community. Maybe not big enough to feed Nintendo, but certainly big enough to feed me. Dronefu is viable because it’s basically Megaman X, only moreso. And HD drawings. Nobody wants another pixel art platformer, but HD platformers are still in it to win it, right?
But I got to thinking. Hat Trick is the thing that is turning heads right now. Any game I end up making will probably be heavily influenced by what parts of BTJ people are talking about. And I could make a pixel art Megaman X-style game with Merlin from Hat Trick. I’ve toyed with it before.
It came to a head this week because I crashed my bike and bruised up my hands. I’ve been unable to manage the fine motor functions of drawing for most of a week. It’s been frustrating.
Though I’ve pulled some pretty panels out of my recovery all the same.
And I thought about making Hat Trick comics using pixel art.
It felt wrong, so I didn’t do it.
I like how the Rainboy Palette comics turned out, so making pixel art strips for BTJ in general doesn’t feel wrong at all. But the notion of doing portions of Hat Trick in pixel for some reason causes my spirit to rebel.
So I tried an experiment. I took my Wren RPG sprites, downgraded them to Rainboy palettes, and dropped them in the bus stop scene.
It doesn’t look terrible. It looks okay. I can make comics this way.
And maybe games?
And maybe games. Maybe the combination of the Bunny Trail Junction webcomic, and making low-res pixel art platformers will work out for me. Can be turned into a career.
I think it can.
I just… love how much more expressive and stylized these larger sprites are. Even though they are 5x as much work as the smaller sprites, easily.
So, I tried popping myself and Jump the Shark into the retro diner. I had to scale up the door because it was obviously too small, but I didn’t really need to fix anything else.
It’s too small. But it’s not terribly too small. It’ll do until I get in the mood to make another. And… yeah. I’m thinking I’ll try making a platformer using these graphics. Maybe using Godot, but maybe just picking up my old Unity platformer. Because after all, it already has a shader meant for these palettes, and lighting effects ready to go. I could just fork it…
I’d want to scale up the world, or else scale back to the 16×24 sprites instead of the larger more detailed sprites. I dunno man. I kinda love both.
There’s a certain irony that the platformer already exists with Candy. Way back in the day, when I did a Ludum Dare with a programmer who is now my friend, I conceived in my head a platformer staring Merlin. But I swapped in Candy the Witch because if my partner turned out to be dodgy, I wanted a character I wouldn’t be too upset over losing to be in the game. And Hat Trick is fairly dear to me.
I do have Merlin in both sprite scales.
Well. Anyway. The comic is launching in roughly four days. Everything is primed and ready to go. I’ve got the first week loaded, the first month planned, the first two months drawn…
There is a thing called comicsgate. I mention it with some trepidation.
When it became obvious that Marvel and DC were more committed to their observance of the Death Cult’s religious shibboleths than even to profit, several groups of people began simultaneously making their own comic books. Some, I consider friends and allies to this day. Some, I wish well, but I would rather ignore them and be ignored by them in turn. Together, this merry band was branded comicsgate.
And then it fractured into pieces as the groups attacked one another. I have my own theory as to who is at fault, but I’ll not share it here. Obviously, my guys were 100% innocent and the other guys were 100% guilty. But I am not in the thick of Comicsgate; I am outside it.
See, I’m not a comic book sort of a dude. I never got ahold of comic books as a kid. While Comicsgate is either reminiscing about the glory days when we didn’t know Wolverine’s true identity, or even delving back farther, to the days when Batman wasn’t afraid of guns, my exposure to the comic art form was 100% newspaper comics.
I knew superhero comics were a thing. My mother loved the Chris Reeves superman movie. I spent hours pouring over a book about Spider man from the local library. I had caught bits of the Adam West TV series. But I don’t have nostalgia for the good old days when comic books were good because the only comic books I had access to where collections of BC, Peanuts, Wizard of Id, Garfield, and Calvin & Hobbes.
And, as I’ve related before, I also had access to books on how to make these newspaper funnies, and articles interviewing Jim Davis, Charles Schulz, Johnny Hart, and eventually, Bill Watterson.
All because five-year-old me miscommunicated and said I wanted to be a cartoonist rather than an animator.
And you know what? I want to be a cartoonist rather than an animator. I love the art of the newspaper comic strip. I think Scott Adams’ formula of 6-dimensional humor is a fantastic innovation in the understanding of the format.
Even though, you know… I’m not making much use of it.
Yep. I’m taking the lessons I’ve learned from the study of newspaper comic strips and applying them to story telling rather than joke telling. And that’s just how I intend to do things.
This is fine. There have always been newspaper comic strips that worked this way. Either mixed humor and storytelling, or else abandoned humor altogether and focused entirely on storytelling.
The newspapers are dying. The Newspaper comic strip is dying. The webcomic is its heir. But the webcomic changes some things.
Newspaper comics were filtered by syndicates and newspapers. Webcomics are unfiltered. The filtering process weeds out visionaries and prophets who defy convention and social norms, but it also weeds out dreck. So now, comics can exist that are better than what the papers would allow … but a lot of other comics exist that previously were denied existence because they were legitimately crap.
Webcomics can have color every day, not just Sundays! And yet I’m ignoring this and working purely in black and white ink. I’ve considered trying to come up with a setup where I use grayscale paper and black and white ink to create a tri-tone comic, or simply adding in a gray after I scan, but I’ve discarded these ideas.
Webcomics can have animation. Again, I’m ignoring this. I’m just making paper comics, but keeping the web in mind.
And that’s the aspect ratio for you. 16×9 doesn’t show up in a lot of newspapers. But it works nicely on Twitter, and if I stack the panels vertically, you can read it on your phone.
This kind of vertical formatting is the innovation of Webtoonz, and now Arktoons as well. Webcomics for a new era. Huzzah. I approve. Especially since, IMO, they will fit nicely in a pocket book printed by KDP.
I think the Newspaper format comic deserves to live. I think I’m going to take it under my wing and continue to produce things in this fashion. I think my 3x16x9 styling will neatly combine the needs of screens and books. But it has other advantages that recommend it to me.
The Format of ADHD
I can spend several months making an illustrated book. I’ve proven it several times over. And I’m definitely going to drag Awesome Moments across the finish line. I don’t know when, but it’s good for my kid to have.
But long projects are hard. If what I am told about ADHD is true, I don’t struggle with controlling my focus; rather, I literally cannot control my focus.
When I try to simplify comic making down enough to make it a rapid prototype, which was the original purpose of this strip, I lose interest. It’s too easy. When I try to do multiple drafts to maximize final quality, as is really ideal for the kids’ books, I lose interest. It’s too long.
If I have an excess of focus, enough to make a proper comic book or (alas) a children’s book, I can make my RPG engine, and that will be better both for me financially, for the culture at large, and of course, for great justice.
But I need enough of a challenge to care. It is not enough to make beans. There has to be craftsmanship.
Yesterday in a big mess of brainstorming I circled around the idea of making a prototype comic. Again. You know, the same prototype comic I made back in April. But for real this time, you guys.
Last night, before work, I did concept drawings for the characters. It happened that I had a printout of my pixel art mockup for my Wren game in my clipboard
And so I tried to match styles. Which, in turn, the pixel art is an attempt to match styles with the hand drawn art I’ve been doing, so…
I was very pleased with the result, and so I carried my brainstorm across in my 16x9x3 format:
I think that this comic format and my tendency towards cartooning are so suited one to the other that that’s basically what I should do. Just go back to making comic strips of anything I feel like, and hoping that I can eventually harvest fully grown stories off the comic vine.
The art style works best, I think, if the characters are a little more lean and lanky than the pixel art equivalent, but I think drawing to pixel to drawing design pipelines are worth considering.
But here’s another thing. I can produce 2+ strips a day in this format, even when I’m not making Beans. Meanwhile, the average update schedule at, say, Arktoons is once a week.
So why not be random splody and make comics of everything? When I have enough Hat Trick, I’ll ask Arktoons if they want it, and easily keep up a once-per-week upload schedule. When I have enough Jump the Shark, I’ll ask Arktoons… etc, etc, etc.
And maybe Arktoons will turn me down. But I think this is the way forward. I think it always was, even though most of the comics I produced in April and May were false starts. The nice thing about false starts is I can make ’em, then turn around and make the proper starts. It’s all good.
Bunny Trail Junction AKA Magic Beenz is back on the menu. But I think not beenz. The beenz were an experiment, and the result was “It’s aesthetic, but not what I’m going for.”
I’ve got a bunch of ideas whirling about right now. They’re not organized, and I’m blogging them because it’s better to have them out than in. This is going to take into account many of my recent adventures.
Yesterday, the beta version of Aseprite 1.3 dropped for Steam users. I use Aseprite to make pixelart animations…
…and Pyxel edit to make the tiles. Pyxel Edit lets you edit a tilemap with your tiles in it that gets live-updated as you work on the tiles, allowing you to very quickly make a very functional tileset.
Now you’ll note that not everything on the screen is my tileset. I like to dedicate layers to characters and objects so I can preview how the whole thing will look together.
Well, Aseprite 1.3 added tile features. And…
… they don’t hold a candle to Pyxel Edit’s. They’re a very good start. And I like these tiles better mostly because I made them with the lessons learned from making a tileset in Pyxel. But you can’t easily flip tiles. Rearranging your tile palette changes the tile map because the tile map stores the tile indices and doesn’t change them when you monkey with your palette. Oh, and you can’t export your tileset.
I’ll repeat that. You can’t export your tileset.
You have to build the image you want to be your tileset and export that.
That’s not 100% a deal breaker. Some people would rather export an image because it is more convenient to them to have the tileset arranged a specific way.
On the other hand, Aseprite’s general pixel art tools are, for the most part, way better, and the two programs do not gracefully copy and past art to one another. There’s a huge amount of convenience in saying, “You know what, I’m tired of working on the tiles right now, I’m going to tweak that tree.
I also added a third character to the mix and discovered that Wren was too short. When compared to “normal” people in the game, she will look like a child in a bikini. Wren is not entirely human, and canonically characters do assume she’s younger than she his because of her unusual height, but it was too far. So, I fixed that.
At the end of the day I don’t know whether I’m going to stick with my current, split workflow, or switch to an all-Aseprite workflow. The pros and cons of each workflow are dancing on a razor’s edge.
So, let’s do a quick mockup on how the game might look if we use pixel art for the world, but a high definition interface:
If I’m going to put conversation on the bottom of the screen, I might want to consider pushing the world design so that the action happens higher up. The top of the screen certainly is more spacious, and a more reasonable place to put interface. If I move dialogue up there, I’ll have to change the visual metaphor for the character graphics, maybe stick the face in a box. But overall, I don’t hate the look.
I was planning on making combat menus radial, bursting out of the player when the time comes to menu, but in my mockup test, it felt right to have buttons materialize under a character’s stat bar. But I’m not decided.
I need to try it out, see what works. At this point, the next step is to give Wren a walking animation and get gameplay up and running.
I’m sad that you can arrange a palette in uneven rows in Pyxel, but not in Aseprite. Ah well.
So, for context, I’m going to tell you roughly how I’m beginning to organize my life.
I keep a deck of blank, poker sized playing cards, on which I take notes. Both to-do lists, but also anything I need to remember for whatever reason.
The numbering format is WW·X | YY·Z where WW is the two digit year, X is the one digit month (A=10, B=11, C=12), YY is the two-digit day, and Z is the note. When notes follow up on each other, a series of numbers goes underneath the note ID.
At times of my choosing, I go through these notes, and rewrite them to put in my Zettelkasten. This is my permanent external memory. Cards that get copied from my journal to my Zettelkasten get cross-referenced so I can go to my monthly archive and see the context of the thought.
Well enough, but what if I need more illustration and room to write? Well, I take the comic format I developed for Bunny Trail Junction…
… and decided was too intense, and bean-ified it..
And I simply index it the same way.
So here’s a gif of the game as it sits so far:
And here are the Wren Beans I’ve collected, making this post the official stop for the Wren Valen RPG
Today’s big projects are contemplative, though I may do physical work as well. By integrating bullet journaling but on playing cards with the Zettelkasten, I have brought together a collection of lessons that have changed how I approach the question of what I should create and how, and I’m going to navel gaze about it below the fold.