Vargenstone Devlog 4

Now we come to the drama that inspired all this hullaballoo.

In Wolfenstein, the player is able to walk 8 directions, while aiming his gun 8 directions.

In Vargenstone, the player is supposed to walk 8 directions, while aiming his gun 8 directions.

That is 64 versions of each animation involving the weapon. 64 walks. 64 idles. 64 attacks. Even keeping the framerate low, to 5 or 6 frames, and at the low quality where I spend 20 minutes on an animation, that’s… a bit of work. When you consider I have to make a separate version for when the dwarf is disguised and armored, it’s 192 versions of each animation.

Now it’s not quite that bad. One of those elements (aiming or walking) but not both can be mirrored for all the left- and right-facing animations. So that reduces us to 40 instead of 64, or 120 instead of 192 versions of each animation. But that’s still one full time week per animation per character. Except I need to spend more than 20 minutes per animation.

And if we set aside my complaining about work, that’s a lot of graphics data to try and store in a game that’s meant to run in your web browser.

Wolfenstein solves this by not solving this.

Castle Wolfenstein Screenshots for Apple II - MobyGames

Your body can animate going four directions, but because of the low possible fidelity, they are almost indistinguishable. Your gun can point in, IIRC, 5 directions per hand, and be in either hand.

Enter the Gungeon solves this by animating your character in four-directions: the diagonals.

Enter the Gungeon Screenshots Image #10505 - XboxOne-HQ.COM

That reduces the number of character animations to 2 sets which can be flipped. Since both sets are facing to the side, they then attach your gun to the side, and rotate the gun sprite in code, giving them 180 degrees of rotation on each side.

Again, they are able to get away with this in part because of the look of their graphics. If I were to make Vargonstone work this way, I’d have to redesign the graphics from the ground up, and then get approval from the designer, who has already approved the concept work I did 4 years ago.

Now, I could probably get away with doing one of each animation in each direction. E.g. if you aim southwest and move north, the southwest walking animation plays. This kind of shenanigan is done in games all the time. Even in big-budget, AAA, 5 to 10 year dev cycle games.

But I’ve chosen to split the torso off from the legs because I’ve decided to make the work I had previously done work. Which brings us to where we are today.

Today, my goal is to draw a single frame of the upper torso aiming forward, for each of the five directions I need to animate in. Then rig it up in Unity in my little “art playground” scene so you can aim in 8 directions and walk in 8 directions.

The key will be the difference between the direction you aim and the direction you walk. I am convinced I can choose a rotation of up to 45° without it looking bad. So, if you are facing South, aiming south, southwest, or southeast are all acceptable to just play on the upper torso. I think a 90° twist that only manifests itself in the dwarf’s tiny, obscured gut is too unrealistic. My intended solution there is to turn his legs one notch toward his aim, so if he’s walking south and aiming east, the south east walking animation will be playing with the legs. And then for the remaining possibilities, I intend to play the walking animations backwards.

Onward.

Continue reading “Vargenstone Devlog 4”

Merry Christmas to you all

I’m up and the progeny is up. But the rest of the house would like to sleep, thank you very much. So I’m going to ramble a bit about what I’m up to while the offspring plays quietly with some stocking stuffers.

Hah! Just kidding. The kid ditched the stocking stuffer almost immediately for crayons and paper, because the kid is my kid.

Previously, in this space, I mentioned “rebuilding Final Fantasy using Piqha.” I did a ton of Piqha sketches to try and provide myself with six decent designs to use for the classic FF classes, and decided on these ones:

Fighter, Monk, Theif, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage. Since the white mage is supposed to be D&D cleric with the trademark information scrubbed off and any references to religion artfully removed, I cranked it all the way back: my healing class is not only a cleric, but a Christian. Similarly, while the Final Fantasy red mage went on to become its own thing, it’s fairly clear that in the first game it was a reference to the D&D ranger, so I went with one of two wilderness scout looking guys.

And hey, let’s make the wizard actually look like someone messing with dark forces, then.

Anyhow, my thought process is: if I take Final Fantasy, fix the plot holes, replace the characters with similar characters from my tool bag, and alter the plot to fit the characters, at the end of the day I’ll have something similar enough to Final Fantasy to fall into the healthy reference zone, and different enough to be its own creature.

For instance, Final Fantasy I centers on a time loop. The first guy you beat is also the final boss. Except he went back in time, and you have to go back in time to fight him. Except that has pretty much no effect on the rest of the game. It’s just sort of there.

Okay. Why not make the time travel thing present throughout? Piqha are a race of genetically engineered starship components. When they live in a fantasy setting, it’s because a ship crashed, and the little gremlins in the walls of the ship built civilization on the shipwreck. What if four piqha, Our Heroes, are on a ship that is crashing because of some kind of time vortex, they get launched into the distant future, and getting back to their own time is their whole objective?

Anyway, this year I drew pictures for Christmas for my family members, as is my custom, and because I have piqha on the brain, they’re all piqha.

They aren’t exactly concept art, but they aren’t exactly not concept art either (each piqha picture was designed with the recipient rather than the needs of my stories in mind). For example, I haven’t even decided whether mer-piqha are a thing. There’s no reason why they can’t be, but there’s no reason why they must be either. But one of my family members likes mermaids, and I have piqha on the brain, so mer-piqha it is.

But I have a celebration tomorrow with a white elephant gift exchange, so I thought, why not straight up make concept art, frame it, and hand it out? So here’s our four Heroes of Light in their spaceship:

Since I have four, I decided to name them Tsi, Em, Wye, and Kay, respectively, after the colors of printer ink.

“But what about the character classes?”

Ideally, I’d make a custom version of each class for each character. In practice, I’m going to start with reusing the same graphics for each class, but doing a recolor for the character, and if I have time in the polish phase I’ll get more fancy than that.

Of course, this raises other problems. If Em is a girl, she can’t very well be a Christian Cleric. If I want to say, “well, suppose she’s a nun, and while that’s a very different set of powers in real life, there can be overlap in game mechanics,” then what is her equivalent to a warrior monk?

I could just say, “they’re all boys; deal with it.” It would be a pretty good selling point. It might make social justice types mad enough to advertise my game. Bands of Brothers are under attack by the forces of evil, and pushing back is a noble cause.

But on the flip side, I want the four elemental fiends to be analogues for the heroes, to be “this is you in a hundred years if you turn evil”, and in Final Fantasy at least, one of the elemental fiends is definitely female.

So here is a puzzle. I do not suffer a woman to be a Christian priest, even in science fantasy, but I want one of the character’s direct analogues to be female and I want all four characters to be allowed all six classes.

I don’t have a solution yet. My best solution is probably to make Em male, and make the Kary/Marilth analogue male as well, but it’s going to be months, possibly more than a year, before I actually have to make my call. So I’m not going to stress over it. If a better solution exists, it will present itself in that time.

In the mean while, I’m going to continue developing the concept art along the current lines. After all, it’s not final art. It’s just a white elephant gift for a small party.

Existential Horror in Media

Been trying to sculpt a piqha on this day of rest. Realistic enough to get the idea across, although realism will seldom be anywhere near a concern in official media.

My constant debate — should they have hands or not? has taken on a third possibility: hands that rest folded back, like a bird’s wings.

Not necessarily inspired by the fact that I’ve received a cockatiel for Christmas.

If this looks horrifying, it should. Piqha are the result of terrible deeds done with dark sciences.

Image

But it’s hardly their fault, and they are super cute.

Captain’s Log, 0201207.80 Candy!

I’m drawing a picture of Candy today. Hopefully it shall be epic.

It’s meant to replace the current promo image, which is too dark, doesn’t have the character centered, and is a fruit of that period where I thought painting over 3D was the solution to all my problems. (And in fairness, it is sometimes a good technique).

Candy Raid! My first collaborative effort. I did the art, Kayne Ruse did the coding. As of last month, Candy Raid has made more money than my children’s books, making me equally successful as a game developer and a purveyor of pedagogical print. We got a marketing scholarship in a contest, so the game is being re-launched in about a week.

Let’s talk about Candy Raid, then, shall we?

Continue reading “Captain’s Log, 0201207.80 Candy!”

Super Saiyan Jesus

Family has the sniffles, so we’re skipping church this week, alas. Today I decided to draw Super Saiyan Jesus.

Step 1

It’s a bit dodgy. I’m not supposed to work on my project o the month on Sunday, but it’s not December yet, and this is not a storyboard for Awesome Moments, and I feel like doing it, so it doesn’t technically count.

So this is a ‘pencil’ sketch composed in Krita. My ideal workflow is to convert this to cyan, print it out on cardstock, and then ink it with my Tombow brush pens. The ideal workflow will be used for this picture, but may not be useable for the awesome moments books; my printer is not capable of printing or scanning large enough pictures for the U.S. Letter size book I aim to make.

But there are workarounds: printers exist that can manage big enough papers, and are available at high (for starving artists like myself) but reasonable prices. It’s possible my church may have an industrial printer that I can borrow which will solve all my problems. And at the last resort, I have determined I can ink it digitally, even though I really, really don’t want to. That was the whole point of making this picture:

I’m going to post this blog post right here, right now. But I’ll come back to it as I accomplish further steps on Super Saiyan Jesus drawing because I believe it will serve as a useful illustration I can point people back to when discussing making my books.

Step 2

It’s good to slap down a picture as quick as you can, and then walk away from it for a few minutes. All sorts of tweaks begin to suggest themselves.

Continue reading “Super Saiyan Jesus”

Assessment 2

This is not a final picture, this is upscaled and painted with some different brushes, but I feel I’m onto something. The trick is whether this technique scales to full size, which I intend to spend today testing.

Trying to ink digitally at 900 DPI with the intention of downscaling to 600 and my laptop is chugging. Naturally. What if I go 450 to 300…

I can ink and paint at 450 DPI with the GDQ brushes. We may have a way forward.

Assessment

I only got 2 or three hours to paint on this, and I feel like I need a solid 8-12 hours to produce a final painting. But already I dislike where it is going.

I don’t dislike the concept sketch though. It suggests a final product I could be quite pleased with. But how do I get from here to there?

Should I do successive refinements leading to a printout across 4 pages of 8.5×11 with each page of the final book being inked across two pages? Should I kickstart funds for a big printer/scanner? Should I try to ink in vector art? Should I suck it up and see the painting to the end, wherupon I discover the lameness in this muddy middle was merely an awkward growing pain?

I’m not sure. But it’s good to ask these questions now, because I feel the answers are just beyond my fingertips.

Continue reading “Assessment”

Captain’s Log, 0201122.185

I’ve been too sick to move the last three days. Going into my sickness, I tinkered with Alpha Test (which I’m now calling 8-Bit Demake). I got a single comic done, and then I crashed hard.

When I look at all my projects, the only one that strikes me as long-term is Awesome Moments, because the only thing that matters in this world is who makes it into the next one. I would like to make the list. I would like my children, also, to make the list.

I’m a bad man, so I don’t really care if anyone else besides my friends and family make it, but it would objectively be a good thing if something I made got some rando stranger I don’t care about into God’s Kingdom.

Hat Trick, Re-Tail, all my other projects are dust in the wind. I will make better things in the Resurrection. Awesome Moments is the single project idea I have that will matter even after this world is aborted and the do-over spins up.

That’s technically not 100% accurate. I’m sure more people have been converted by Narnia than by Mere Christianity, by Lord of the Rings than by any theological rant of Tolkien. I don’t know how God will use my creations. My calling as an artist is to make the very best creations I can, and trust God to use them well, rather than trying to be a second-rate priest instead of a first-rate nursery jester.

But it’s close enough to the truth. I do have a duty to catechize my children. If I choose to do so by making for them a picture book, why shouldn’t anyone else in my religion profit by my labor? Truly, this is the only project of mine that can objectively be seen as urgent.

Yesterday, as I was slowly emerging from the mucus-encrusted cocoon of my convalescence, a thought began to find its way through my crusty brain. You see, my first book was a big 8.5 x 11 inches. But all the books I have created since have been scaled back to 6×9. There are two reasons for this:

  1. It felt wrong that my books were bigger than Dr. Seuss’s.
  2. I want to make my art large, and then scale it down for the book. But I haven’t a scanner nor a printer capable of handling something larger than 8.5 x 11.

The first objection was dealt with simply by reading a biography of Dr. Seuss. I ceased to view him as an unattainable standard, and instead began to see him as a rival I could one day overtake. There’s nothing sacrilege about having bigger books than him! If kids like big books with big pictures, then that’s what I should make!

The second objection fell last Sunday, when I did some art of Wren for fun. You remember, this bit?

I’m not 100% happy with this process. But I didn’t need to be for this picture. It was a one-off, not a product for a client or something.

However, that process of drawing a picture at low resolution, scaling it up and painting over it, then scaling it up and painting over it again… that could work as a “multiple drafts” way of making a children’s book. If I did the writing at the same time, gave each draft some space, got proofreaders and editors involved before the pictures had too much work put into them…

Maybe I can make 8.5 x 11 inch books after all.

So now we come to the end of my story. Today I woke up strong enough to cook and clean and look after my family, who are all ailing just as I was. And I had an impulse to do a quick color sketch of the first few pages of Awesome Moments.

I think tomorrow I shall pick a pair of pages and try to produce a polished painting so as to prototype the process.

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow I will try and do at least 4 more draft pages, and polish 2 pages, probably 4 and 5 (the middle pair) or 6 and 7 (the dragon pages!) into what would look like a final form. Tomorrow or Tuesday, another 4+ prototype pages and a a write-up of what Awesome Moments is, and why I’m so insistent on doing it. I aim to take Thursday off.

The muse has smitten. Ars longa, vita brevis!

When in Doubt, Downsize?

Here’s a desert scene in Alpha Test’s Game-boy Color / NES inspired art rules:

Here’s a desert scene in my experimental “Gameboy cartridge being run by a GBC or GBA, one background palette, one foreground palette” ruleset.

A lot of the same ideas. But I executed it way more quickly and it has way more personality. Since presumably I’m using a desert environment to retro-flannelgraph Bible stories, a background of hills with cities is more useful than one with pyramids. (Though revisting pyramids will come with time).

So what have I done here?

I’ve created two ‘grayscale’ ramps, one for backgrounds, one for sprites. The BG ramp has a blue/green tint, the FG ramp has a red/orange tint and is the only permitted use of pure black and white. And that’s it. All graphics must be made with these ramps.

I’ve also cut the screen size in half both ways, as befits a handheld. Though I’m still making an imaginary retro device that has a 16×9 widescreen aspect ration.

Hmm.

Here’s the WordPress Gallery, so I can test it for the phone…

And here’s the whole page in grayscale, so I can guess how it will print:

The whole idea of Alpha Test is to prototype my stories quickly. The more harsh my constraints, the quicker it can be assembled.

I think this is probably The Way.