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 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 LB•T3: Fabrege Eggs

So, today I’m going to point the Mad⳩ team (let the reader understand), to this (the logicmonkey.media) blog.

When I started writing posts entitled “Captain’s Log…” the idea was I’d make a blog post twice a week. On Monday, I would lay out what I aimed to do that week, as well as the larger, but far less committed-to plan. On Friday, I would review whether the week had gone according to my plan, so I could adjust accordingly.

In practice, this has devolved into one post once a week serving both roles. On Monday or Tuesday most weeks, I review the previous week and lay out the next one. However, if you click the Captain’s Log Link on the sidebar, sometimes I post a summary at the end of the week and sometimes I even post updates throughout the week.

Historically, this has been kept on logicmonkey.media/blog, where I blog about whatever I feel like. However, as of late October, I have been transferring my notes into an Obsidian Vault, including my weekly logs. See LBT 31 Obsidian Aside.

My primary responsibility as of last week was to finish my Business Plan for various agencies. I noted that I expected to end up on a plan of creating a series of Piqha games and deriving books and comics from them.

Here’s how the week went:

  • Monday: 12 hours poured into writing the business plan.
  • Tuesday:
    • 4 hours poured into writing the plan. At this time, I decided it was well to transfer my Kids’ Pulp Formula into my Obsidian Vault, because the plan called for weekly writings of books in accordance with the formula.
    • 1 hour doing that.
    • 4 hours reading and recording my notes on An Evaluation of Claims to the Charismatic Gifts by Douglas Judisch, so I could get the copy I borrowed from my pastor back to him on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday: 8 hours spent either worldbuilding for Last Legend, or analyzing the question: can I make reusable graphics for comics, books, and games.
    • In the past I have explored working in pixel art for games and printing it. And it is workable, but Piqha really cry out for a hand-drawn look.
    • Eventually, I settled on a pipeline for turning handmade ink drawings into vector graphics, then turning them back into raster graphics in Godot (the game engine) and coloring them in code. Here is the proof of concept, using graphics I had lying around.
  • Thursday: I had a nice dinner with my family because it’s Thanksgiving in my country.
  • Friday:
    • I spent 2 hours on the business plan and finished all save the financial projections.
    • I spent 2 hours updating my logs, as they had not been kept up to date since my mother went to the hospital.
    • I spent 2 hours working on the worldbuilding and story for Last Legend.

Saturday was entirely consumed by work on my mother’s farm in her absence, and Sunday I rest, yo! Although somewhere in there, I did the preliminary work on the print layouts I expect to use going forward.

This Week

Today, my first and highest priority objective is finishing the financial projections for my Business Plan, and then formatting it properly to file with the appropriate agencies. I expect to be finished today. But I am willing to work on it tomorrow as well if necessary.

My intention is to hit the ground running on December 1st on producing the Last Legend Easter Egg Hunt game. I have December and January set aside for this game.

My aim is to have a hand-drawn piqha walking in a hand-drawn room in a spaceship by Saturday, December 4th. Because this is a brand new workflow for me, albeit grounded in things I’ve done before, 3 days to get that up and running is ambitious. I’m 90% sure I can pull it off, but even without life throwing curve-balls at me, as it does, I can’t be 100% sure.

What does that mean for the comic?

I am aiming to make the games in such a way that graphics from it can be repurposed to make episodes of the comic. I am also developing the stories and characters in tandem. They are meant to flow into each other.

I believe I will be ready to produce an episode a week of the Last Legend comic by January. That is my current objective. If by February I have failed to launch, I will be all in, 100% on the comic until it is ready to go because the comic and the game cross-promote.

Obsidian Aside

Obsidian was created for smart-noting. It’s a program that manages a folder of markdown files (which are just text marked up in a way that an interpreter can quickly turn into html, but a human can read, e.g. **surrounding text with two stars** makes it bold). I have a paper ZettelKasten on playing cards, which I am slowly transferring into Obsidian. But the nice thing, then, about Smart Noting in a folder of text files, is the links between notes are links. I can click on them and go to the note. I can embed a series of notes in a note to create a larger document.

I have been trying to decide how best to make my notes, on the Piqha especially, available to the Mad⳩ team. I copy and paste my log entries out of my Obsidian vault and onto the blog every week, so I’ve tried doing that. It works, but it’s cumbersome in high-context, low-data-per-note setting like my regular smart notes. A note about a character or setting may be a single paragraph, and half the words are links to other files. I can expand them out by making articles, and then de-linking the copied text in the blog. But it’s effort that does not move the ball forward, it only makes the ball visible to outsiders.

What I could do is upload the vault as a whole, either as a zip-file, or as a git repository of some sort. Any member of the team could read the files as plain text. Or, with a browser plugin, with the markdown formatting. The links and embeds wouldn’t look right unless said team-member actually installs Obsidian, but for those who actually want to try the program, they can, and for those who don’t, all of the information is still present and readable.

Since git hosts like GitHub and GitLab use Markdown, it would even potentially be mostly readable on the online representation of the repo.

There are two issues here. First is that I intermingle personal notes with my creative notes. People who are not my pastor don’t need to know about every spiritual struggle I face. People who are not my accountant don’t need to know my budget. And while being open about my sins and finances may be useful for building trust, broadcasting them to the whole internet still strikes me as unwise.

There are a few available solutions. They all amount to separating my personal notes from my creative notes.

The easiest is to just put my personal notes in a different folder and not copy that folder into the public-facing edition. And I have already started working on this solution. However, it’s not a polished solution. The notes are still crowded with random asides, half-finished bits, and other things not immediately relevant to the Mad⳩ crew. And making nice entry pages to the content has not been a priority, which leads to my second issue:

Because Obsidian is built for smart notes, Obsidian’s flavor of Markdown has unique linking and embedding syntax. Bold Text I compose in Obsidian will display as bold in any markdown viewer. A link to an external website in Obsidian will display correctly in any markdown viewer. But a link to a random smart note in my vault will not. And it is precisely the links between notes that make this workflow valuable.

So, either I force people who want to explore my vault to download Obsidian (which is free, but while I love Obsidian and recommend its use, I do not love the idea of forcing anyone to use it to read my notes), or I translate the links by hand (which is what I was already doing, uploading stuff to my blog), or I flatten my tree of notes out: create articles that embed the notes and export them as blog posts or what-have you.

And given, even if I were to export an Obsidian vault and make everyone use Obsidian to read it, I would want to create a “Main menu” with links to the key concept notes, lists of characters, etcetera, and that is more than halfway to building an article anyway, It may be best for me to just bite the bullet and create and maintain reference articles out of my notes.

Captain’s Log LB•M1: Piqhing a Fight

This week’s goal, aside from hugging my kin, and thanking God for what I have, is to finish my business plan.

At this point, I am about 80% sure the plan goes like this:

  1. Reconstruct my JRPG/Adventure engine in Godot.
    image
  2. Build a 1-month adventure game therein, probably using Piqha. Probably an Easter Egg hunt, to publish in time for Easter 2022. Put it up for sale for $2. Let’s call it Last Legend Zero. Say the story is set before the crash of the ship, one Piqha suspects that something is wrong, and is exploring the conduits of his ship to figure it out. I want, somehow, the Word of God to be available to post-crash colony, so perhaps this easter egg hunt is the story of how it gets there.
    image2
    • Develop within/alongside the game the sets and characters for the Last Legend comic.
    • Last Legend as a story about Piqha rebuilding their lives is designed to be a 4x8x9 comic, as laid out in Formats for Print and Screen.
      • On the completion of the adventure game, I should be set for Last Legend comics for 1 or 2 months.
    • And/or 8×9 storybooks.
    • Bunny Trail Junction will reboot as a comic in like format, or storybook pages in the 8×9 storybook format, in due course.
    • I may spend a portion of November or December assembling a post-hoc December wrapup of the current format, and perhaps the 2021 Annual. Just tie up the first year in a bow.
  3. Work on other projects with the Illusive Man as they come up.
  4. Pour 2 months building a JRPG, Last Legend I. This is our business launch. Our “two-month, $5 game that makes 4K per month of work.” Our 1K wishlists on Steam.
    image
  5. By this time, presuming all goes well, we should be far enough along on the Illusive Man’s manga project, that taking a month or two off to produce something here is a good idea.
  6. Pour 2-4 months into producing Last Legend II.
    image
    This should
    • Get us our party mechanics.
    • Finish the challenge I undertook on behalf of my swordsmanship master.
    • Be a solid game that secures the Last Legend/Piqha brand, universe, and assets for use in the comics.
    • Be a solid showcase of what my micro JRPGs look like. Which leads us to:
  7. Licensed JRPG. Say to the Illusive One, to Brometheus, to Niemeier, to my other homies, “Behold: here is a small game I have made that is designed to present a story. You have stories and an audience. Let us therefore run a Kickstarter together and produce a grand thing.” And do so. Choose the best fit. Run a crowdfund. Make a game. Lather, rinse, repeat, to raise everyone’s boats, while taking appropriate breaks to produce my own stories.

The only thing I would add is I want to produce a kid’s book every now and again. Keep my library of kids’ books growing. I feel the itch even now; it has been too long. So, keeping my format notes in mind, I think I may aim to produce a 8×9 Last Legend Kids’ Pulp Formula book next, and try and put one in every other month. Maybe break Awesome Moments into that format length as well.

Maybe do a Jump the Shark story before years’ end so I keep my pattern of one per year rolling.

Formats for Print and Screen

Social Media and Screens

  • The average computer screen or TV has a ratio of 16×9
  • Phones range all over, however, well over 1/3rd of them use some variant on 9×16, with the exceptions typically being longer.
  • However, 4×3 or 3×4 is also very common because tablets work better with a more square ratio. This is what iPad uses.
  • Twitter will not crop, but will display fully:
    • 1 16×9 picture
    • 2 8×9 pictures
    • 1 8×9 picture followed by 2 16×9 pictures
    • 4 (2×2) 16×9 pictures
  • 3 16×9 pictures stacked vertically fits neatly on:
    • The average phone screen
    • Facebook, if contained within a single larger image
    • A 5×8 print book with generous margins
  • 16×9 panels with 12-point text in a 5×8 book results in text that is still large enough to read clearly in a 2×2 grid of images on Twitter on mobile.
  • Therefore, Bunny Trail Junction is formatted as 3 16×9 panels, the first two of which may be joined into a single 8×9 panel (absorbing the gutter between them to make up the difference). Any of these two or three panels may be split vertically into two ‘sub-panels’ wherever I like. Although the format is so small, it seldom makes sense to do so anywhere but the center.
    • This is posted on Twitter as individual images plus an additional “Title Card” posted at the beginning of a 3-image set, or the end of a 2-image set.
    • This is posted as just the individual images on bunny-trail.com which, thanks to the webcomic WordPress theme I’m using, arranges the panels horizontally on desktop and vertically on mobile.
    • On Facebook, I found that uploading the pages meant for the print book had some irritating cropping, but was readable.
      • Ideally, I would export a separate, lower-resolution image that was less tall, to control the cropping myself, but at the time I judged the extra work was not enough benefit for the time.
      • Just prior to launching Bunny Trail Junction, I deleted my Facebook because they were getting extra-specially Stasi.
    • None of these formats works well for Gab. I think assembling the 2×2 grid I post on Twitter, but as a single image, might work for Gab, but as I rarely go there, I have not yet tested it.
    • Instagram is supposed to be the place for images, but every time I consider starting an account, I have turned away for some reason.
  • My first print book was 8.5×11 because that’s as big as Amazon KDP lets me go.
    • I stopped making them that big because it felt wrong that my books were larger than Dr. Seuss’s.
      • However, reading a biography of Seuss killed my reverence for him. I may not yet be on his level, but I no longer care if my books are bigger than his.
    • Big books with big illustrations are great. Why wouldn’t I want kids to have bigger pictures?
    • However, ideally, I would create my drawings even larger than the final pages
      • Consumer tools are not well-suited to going larger than 8.5×11
        • I do have a printer that prints and scans 11×17
        • The paper types available at that size are either poorly suited to take ink drawings, or else too heavy for my printer to process well.
        • My standard workflow of sketching digitally at low-res, printing the sketch big, refining by hand and inking, and then scanning in, is still poorly suited to available equipment.
        • But I do have a light table that might fill the gaps once I clear out the Den.
        • More testing is required.
      • KDP’s Hardcover formats have one that is physically 8.5×11, but the pages inside are slightly narrower.
  • Amazon KDP is geared towards 6×9 and tries to push you towards it.
    • Most of my books are 6×9
    • My 11×17 scanner/printer makes my workflow quite well optimized for 6×9 work.
    • Bigger pictures would be nicer, but 6×9 isn’t bad
  • 5×8 is the smallest KDP will go
    • 5×8 does, just barely, fit into my pockets, but calling it a pocket book is a terrible stretch.
    • 5×8 it well-suited to holding 3 16×9 images on a single page.
    • KDP has a dedicated 5×8 hardcover format.
  • 8×9 is one half of 16×9, and therefore a single two-page spread of an 8×9 book would be one ‘screen’ in size or one ‘panel’ in the Bunny Trail Junction 3-Panel format.
    • 8×9 is a weird size. Some printers won’t do it.
      • This is an important consideration. If a publisher I want to work with is doing print runs instead of POD, 8×9 is not impossible, but may complicate matters.
      • KDP certainly won’t do it hardcover.
      • But they will do it paperback.
      • The first bulk POD comic printer I’ve looked at will do 8×9! And hardcover! We’re looking at $4.50 a book perfect-bound softcover, full color, or $11.52 per book hardcover, assuming my usual 30-ish pages. That’s assuming a small bulk order, unlike the single-issue POD of KDP (these will be intrinsically more expensive).
    • Prototyping a 2-page spread of 8×9, a prototype for a portion of a kids’ book, would work as an episode of Bunny Trail Junction. Or as a “Hit for the Eye-buds”
    • A 2-page spread of 8×9 would fit on 11×17 paper, albeit only just. If I want to work bigger than my final size, I still have the tech hurdles I have with 8.5×11 books.
    • You could fit 4 16×9 panels on two pages, though the read order would be unclear, and the panels would be hyuuuge.
      • Conversely, you could fit one 8×9 four-panel comic per page, the read-order would be fine, and the panels would be a more traditional newspaper comic ratio
        • This would post fine on Twitter as a second image with an 8×9 title card.
        • This would probably post fine on Gab by itself.
        • This would probably post fine on Facebook by itself.
        • I have no data for Instagram.
        • Ideally, the panels would display 4×1 on Desktop and 2×2 on mobile, but I can’t yet predict that.
        • Actually, yes I can. I can do a makeshift comic using my Inktobers. BRB.
          • Toocheke likes to do 3 panels in one row, and 1 in the last in Desktop mode, but on Mobile it stacks them vertical, and you can see 1 whole panel and most of the second on my phone (which is taller than 16×9) Not optimal, but I can live with it.
    • For projects with people making comic books and manga, I will probably favor comic book and manga sizes, in accordance with the sort of thing that is being created. However, I need to make at least one 8×9 book, and I suspect that will be my format of choice going forward.

Captain’s Log LB•33: Moving on to the next game

As of Captain’s Log LB•11: The Primacy of Vidya, I have decided that henceforth instead of making comics, games, videos, or books as the fit takes me, I will be making games and then deriving comics, books, and videos from the games as much as possible.

It’s no good for some things, like Awesome Moments, obviously. In that specific case, I am content. Awesome Moments is a record for my own children, and I feel a little odd about making it a product. But I do need to make a product.

I’m working using a concept/business model I am calling the Game Tower.

Game Towers

Game Tower is a game development technique wherein you make a miniature game that is a Complete Game that implements a core mechanic of some larger game you would like to make. Then you release and sell that game. Then, on top of that miniature game, you build a larger miniature game that has an additional component. In this way, you build a tower that grows towards the dream game you wish to make, while also increasingly funding that game and expanding your track record.

Note LA•S9

I have discussed before how I find dismal projections of how little money indie game developers make to be encouraging. Partly because I’m old poor, so a coder’s “I could never live on this” is easily 50% more than I can hope for as a Lowes Greeter. But partly because of the way Game Towers work. The projections in question assume you are marketing from square one each time, but every brick in a Game Tower helps sell the brick below and the brick above.

I have two Game Towers in the running. A JRPG Tower, which we’ve spoken of and…

The one I’ve chosen, Game Tower Awakening, is building a foundation with my favorite games in mind, especially The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Gameboy, with later influences from Megaman and Megaman X.

The first brick in that tower is familiarize myself with the Godot engine, try out some graphical and gameplay ideas, and see how that goes. And so I have done. Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare was made in Godot, tested the ideas, and is technically a Complete Game, even though it is not a good game.

Today’s Choice

Now, this is not the first game in the tower to be ‘financially viable’. Nor can I follow the proper methodology with this game, as making it has taught me several things I want to change on the ground floor. So after concluding I should focus on vidya, I debated two options:

  1. Release the Proof of Concept with no real gameplay to the world and immediately begin working on the second brick.
  2. Spend up to a week polishing the Proof of Concept so that it can be reasonably considered a real minigame.

The advantage of 1 is that it does a better job as a marketing tool. Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare was not meant to be a mere proof of concept. It was meant to market the Hat Trick comics on Bunny Trail Junction And it was meant to market the second brick. Right now, it’s not a good game. All it can really do is prove I can make certain things.

To make it a good minigame, I have a week or more of work ahead of me. Animating goblins, developing rudimentary AI, filling out the levels, changing the music at dramatically relevant times, and adding a bunch of satisfying beeps and swooshes to the menuing. This puts me a week or more further away from making the second brick. No big deal?

It would be good to do. I have learned a lot of stuff about Godot making this first game in the engine. There’s a bunch of things I want to do completely different now. And I know from experience that game dev will always be like this. If I start over, build a new foundation, by the time I get a game out of that, I will have a ton of stuff I’ll wish I’d done differently. Pushing forward to make the minigame a proper minigame would mean I begin work on it with even more notions of how I can do better.

But some of the changes I intend to make are fairly drastic.

Some Changes

For instance, I want to build my animation system differently so I can compartmentalize animations and reuse them between multiple characters. Oh, and here’s a big one.

I’m going to ditch 2D for 3D.

Not entirely. I still intend to use the same sprites and tiles. But I will do so in a manner reminiscent of Paper Mario or Octopath Traveler, albeit with an overhead perspective instead of a side-on perspective. So more of a Pokémon Black & White kind of look.

See, one of the things I love about Link’s Awakening is all the jumping. To add top-down platforming in 2D would be complex. I’d have to carefully consider how to emulate the third dimension. How to alter and sort the graphics as they get higher or lower. How to track which parts of the map are at which height.

If I just shift that gameplay into Godot’s 3D engine, I get all that stuff automatically.

And I can take a Link’s Awakening style adventure and make Megaman or Sonic levels by tipping the camera on its side a little.

And I suspect (I do not know, but I suspect) that Godot may succeed for me where Unity failed, allowing me to prototype gaming in pixel art, and then slip HD art with the same proportions in if I decide to make the game more ambitious.

Unity, I had such high hopes for you!

The Choice Revisited

Now, let’s take a quick look at Option 2: cut off my proof of concept where it is and begin building the second brick now.

If I am correct, I should hit a stage in developing the second game where I can take a couple of days, build out the first brick’s world and situation in the game in progress, and simply publish it in place of the proof of concept. That is, a month (hopefully less) into making the second brick, I can paint the second brick to look like the first brick, and get all the advantages of finishing the first brick first, as well as the advantages of cutting directly to the second brick.

So that’s my choice. Today or tomorrow, the Proof of Concept will be available for download on bunnytrail.itch.io/hattrick0 and then, later, when I can recreate it and more in the second brick engine, it will be swapped out.

The Second Brick

The Second Brick is a ninja stealth combat game where you play a snow leopard ninja my wife uses as her online avatar, sneaking around and killing therians. Tenchu Z in the Link’s Awakening engine. Aside from the meager marketing I manage on Twitter by my lonesome, this has the advantage that I can have her run betas on her Twitch streams, and enlist her fanbase in spreading the word.

The Third Brick…

I have many, many friends online who are writing excellent books and comics and drawing attention. Releasing the second brick is all the proof I need that I can turn one of these into a still bigger game. I have lots of ideas for several properties, but we will see who is amenable. With our audiences combined, the Third Brick will have an even greater reach.

And Beyond?

That JRPG Tower I was working on? The one that’s more marketable, has better storytelling potential and so forth than the Tower I’ve chosen to build just because I happen to like it more?

It may have very different gameplay than this Tower. But I might be able to take the work I do on graphics and dialogue and world representation, and use the same foundation for a second Game Tower.

Captain’s Log LB•11: the Primacy of Vidya

After several days of consideration and a day walking ’round in chilly weather with a cyborg eyepatch and a cockatiel, I have settled on some conclusions for Bunny Trail Junction and my various projects going forward. Chief of these is this:

Vidya is Prime

Vidya is my prime medium. Comics, children’s books, internet videos, and so forth are all fine ways to tell stories, and I should use them, especially when vidya is unsuited to a specific story. But most of my alternative media should be vidya first, and then derived from vidya.

LB1•11

Now, there are arguments against vidya being prime.

Vidya is Bad!

I’ve been listening to a podcast called A Brief History of Power, and it has been recommending that we disconnect as much as possible from screens in general. Your life will, it is argued, be more functional without TV, Facebook, and Mario. And I agree. I try to limit my kids’ screen time and advocate the whole family limit theirs.

But I do not believe the technology is intrinsically evil. I believe it is a usable tool that has been made into a glowing idol before which men bow and receive propaganda from their gods. Christians ought to be wary of the tool because that is its primary usage. But we can and should use it to our ends by our means.

In A Brief History of Power, especially BHOP 063, Rev Fisk and Dr. Koontz make a distinction between media intended to be integrated into life and most media, which is design to wholly absorb your attention and suck you into its world. This is regarded by Fisk and Koontz as an unhealthy thing, especially in excess.

I am a proponent of Tolkien’s Escapism.

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!
– J.R.R. Tolkien

That is, I agree that Escapism to the extent that you run away from the real world when you could be making it better is at some point a vice, and it is a vice that is clearly endorsed especially by the Pop Cult, one of the Secular Cults of my area and era.

The Pop Cult is devoted to movies, video games, and other franchises. It is the religion of Disney, Marvel, and other forms of mass media. Men escape their sad lives into fantasy worlds. The Pop Cult is offered up to the population by the Death Cult as a narcotic, and the media therein is intentionally laced with Death Cult propaganda. However, practitioners of the Pop Cult are not necessarily conscious Death Cult Members.

However, I believe that attention absorbing, escapist media is good, right, and salutary for two purposes, hinted at by Tolkien.

  1. For Christian Rest. That is, for escape from this world, this vale of tears, with all its woe, toil, struggle, and incessant Death Cult propaganda.
  2. For escape from cults. That is, Christian men should create media that permits refuge for their fellow believers, and a doorway to freedom from evil cults for the trapped cultists.

Consumption of non-Christian-made entertainment is not wholly contraindicated here. I’m not making a law saying “don’t watch TV”. Nor are Fisk and Koontz.

Fisk and Koontz, (and I) would recommend, rather, that you consider what the media you consume is doing to you, and consciously decide whether you want that to happen.

And what is indicated is the production of media by Christians.

Reasons FOR the Primacy of Vidya

  • can make it. While the barriers of entry are lower than they ever have been, and continue to plummet, not many men can.
  • It combines all the skills in my talent stack, making it both more valuable and harder to duplicate.
  • Distribution is solved. While I can (and want to) make physical copies, I can give away a game to Kickstarter backers for 25% of the final intended cost, or as a free add-on for subscribing to my mailing list. These things are not possible for paper children’s books.
  • It is easier to derive my other media forms from vidya than vidya from the forms. I have already solved the problem of making black and white print comics from pixel art. I have not yet made motion comics for YouTube, but I suspect a game->video pipeline is simpler than a video->game pipeline.
  • It is much more likely (IMO) that I will build a game business that puts out books and comics than that I will build a book business that puts out games.

Conclusion

My new plan is to finish out December in Bunny Trail Junction, then go on indefinite hiatus while I roll up a video game business. That game business should quickly start leaking into videos, comics, and books as well. I hope in time to end the hiatus in February with a bimonthly format that carries through 2022, so that the 2021 annual and the 2022 annual are roughly the same size, but the Vidya is Prime.

Captain’s Log LA·K1: I need to do one thing.

So, here’s the updates I should have done on Monday, except I was pushing the game to completion, and yesterday, except I was power-recovering from a head-cold.

Awesome Moments

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.