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 L8·U1: Some things I aim to do

Right now I’m pushing ahead on getting Inktober drawings done. I’ve got 7 of the 31. I hope to finish the day at 8 or 9, and get 2 or 3 done tomorrow as well, then average 2 a day through September. To pull it off, though, I may need to scale them back. Do smaller pictures.

My other option is to do one or two a day, and do a comic a day in addition to that, to build up my backlog even further. And while Hat Trick and John Michael Jones are both calling out for work, I have another option as well. After all, I’ve been talking lately of which game I should make, if I were to try and make a go of making a business of making games…

Considered using one of my Unity builds..

And now I’m planning to switch to Godot. I want to reduce my reliance on Unity, and I want to reduce my reliance on Windows. I don’t trust either of those companies, least of all Microsoft.

And I’m thinking, let’s do it. Let’s build games that bring us inchwise closer and closer to Breath of the Gameboy.

So I’ve mocked up some Gameboy style graphics,

and I’m thinking make a short game where Arthur fights goblins in a graveyard over September and October, and then release it in November, just as Arthur starts fighting goblins in a graveyard on Bunny Trail Junction.

Then, next year, I can build up to and crowdfund 8 Lives Left.

Of course, my need is to make a living, and I still haven’t worked out a short term connection between my working on this and my paying my bills. I have a long term connection. January I’m planning to ring in the new year by going on a publicity blitz for Bunny Trail Junction. At that point I’ll have five months of comics, two to five months of backlog and, assuming I follow this plan, a video game. When I reach out to the internet at this point, I’ll have a lot of stuff to point them to, and a reason for them to tune in every day. Then if in, say, February or March, I run a crowdfund for 8 Lives Left, I’ll be able to build on that foundation.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, a seven comic arc going over the Hat Trick → 8 Lives Left → Breath of the Gameboy pipeline could ring in November, followed by the Hat Trick arc as it now sits, followed by some bestiary entries or something would make a decent November.

Explorations in Ink

I’m going to post three panels from Bunny Trail Junction, but they are ripped from three different episodes:

Except they’re not just three different episodes. They’re three different workflows.

In Panel 1, I printed out two comic templates on a sheet of 8.5×11 paper. Since BTJ monthlies are printed 5×8, and this is scaled to use almost all of the page up, whereas the monthlies have generous margins, this means the artwork is, say, 20% bigger than its final form.

I letter in the text with a Pigma Micron 05, except for bold text which gets my Tombow しっかりbrush pen. (And know, I don’t know what the heck “shikkari” means, I just know enough Japanese to sound it out and produce the correct letters with my keyboard). Large pools of black are filled in with the Pentel Pocket Brush. Hatching is done with a Pigma Micron 01, and corrections/stars/white outlines on black are done with white Sakura Gelly Roll 10.

This is how the hand-drawn episodes have largely been done.

However this month, I decided to try something new.

For Panel 2, I printed my template so that one template fills an entire 8.5×11 sheet. This means I’m working at well over twice the final size, as the Good Lord intended. The lettering was done with the Tombow しっかりbrush pen, with bold provided by the Tombow な(?)やか brush pen. In this case, I’m not actually sure I read the kana right. It’s something-ya-ka anyway. Maybe that first symbol is a kanji I have yet to learn (that would be most of them). The scene is then drawn with a blue pencil (like the first), but inked with the pentel pocket brush. I have a lot less control over the pocket brush than I do over the Tombows, so the result is less consistent, but it has a certain life to it that the Tombow art lacks. Again, I use my Gelly Roller for white bits and my Pigma Micron 01 for hatching. Which looks about the same, despite the fact that it should look noticeably thinner.

Panel 3 was a process I “Prototyped” yesterday. I noticed that some of my art looked from ink leeching into the paper around my brushstrokes and decided to try drawing the comic on Bristol Board, as if I were some sort of professional.

Other than that, the process is identical to 2. Well, not exactly. Since I can’t print my template onto the bristol board, I have to use a light table to project the template through. And if I’m going to project the template through, I can “pencil” on my computer and print the pencils out, which allows me to use all sorts of hacks like selecting, rotating, scaling, and smudging to more quickly assemble my scene.

The lines are, indeed, crisper on bristol board. There’s a reason it’s the industry standard. However, I still don’t have good control over the pocket brush. Moreover, because the ink doesn’t leech into the surrounding paper particles as much, it also dries much slower, and it is easy for someone sloppy — someone like me — to smear it with his hand.

At this moment, I have half a mind to go back to the Tombows for illustrating. Maybe use the bold/mystery meat tombow for outlining at this double scale, see how well it handles on Bristol Board. But I really want to keep that life that the pocket brush is giving me.

Here’s a test panel of John Michael Jones, illustrated in like manner to the above, but then colored with the Rainboy palette:

My plan, at this moment, is to take it up a level. Use an actual paintbrush and actual ink for Inktober. Then back off and try a few comics with the Tombows after I’ve finished that gauntlet.

Prompts drop tomorrow. Here’s hoping I hit the ground running.

The King of Formats II

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.

I have to care.

Captain’s Log 21·6 | 22·B: The King of Formats?

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

An older version of this picture

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.”

Captain’s Log 21.6 | 21.A: Concept Singularity 2

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.

For general blog readability, I’m tucking this beneath a fold, but the conclusion came to me the next day.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log 21.6 | 21.A: Concept Singularity 2”

Captain’s Log 21.6|16.A: Zoom and Enhance

Yesterday I told a tale of two paintings.

Then I decided to further test the process. See if I can make a book this way by storyboarding it with a rough drawing, but then progressively refining it into final art.

So I started small with a template designed to give me a 16×9 image and then show me where the pages will be in the final document. I drew a couple title pages for a therian bestiary.

This was very roughly done because while I have a little Wacom tablet I can use in my day job’s break room, Krita doesn’t like to acknowledge different pen pressures from it.

Perhaps I will get that sorted tonight.

Anyways, I got home and used my big, fancy tablet to refine it…

When painting, I like to start low resolution, something where my PC isn’t going to think five minutes before rendering a brush stroke. Here, I can abuse the power of computer graphics to its fullest. Guy’s nose is too big? Shrink it down. Hand is too far to once side? Grab a smear brush and push it over. Normally, I do this for sketches, then print them out and ink them, then scan them back in and color them. But in this particular process, I’m doing the whole picture this way.

When I’ve pushed the picture as far as it will go, I just double the dots per inch and go in and tweak it even more. So, the size in pixels quadruples, but the size in inches stays the same.

This is far as the process goes tonight. I have to go to work, which means I will not have access to the fancy tablet, only the one with no pressure sensitivity. But now you see why I call the process “Zoom and enhance.”

As you can see, large chunks of the painting get cut off in the book itself. But that’s fine. I’ve made sure the elements I want to be seen in the book are within the pages. I want there to be a 16×9 slice of every painting for me to throw on Twitter or wherever, or use as desktop wallpapers, and while it would work fine to take a slice out of the middle of the images, and have the excess in the book, it felt more right to work in 16×9 at the start and be conscious of where the page borders are within that.

The rough idea is: storyboard an entire book in the fashion of the first image. If I like the book, run a crowdfund, if the crowdfund funds, zoom and enhance until we’re at least 300 DPI on each image to create the final book.

I want (at the moment) to use this process on Awesome Moments book 1. Minus the crowdfund portion because, as much as I want the money, I don’t want the pressure to try and avoid offending my fellow believers in wildly different traditions than mine. Much as I like my Papist and Baptist friends, if I make a book that’s inoffensive both to Papists and Baptists, I will have failed to pass my faith on to my kid.

But I don’t care about peer pressure on any of my own stories. If Bob Snob thinks page 32 of Hat Trick can use more fireballs, I’ll consider his input and maybe even take it if it’s good. There’s no moral hazard really, there.

The thing that’s holding me back from diving in and finishing Awesome Moments in this fashion is I’ve done one and a half pictures with this quasi-impressionistic loose-brush Zoom and Enhance paint cartooning:

I need a larger sample of the style before I decide if it’s the right one for Awesome Moments. So, unless I get another idea, I’m putting that book on hiatus until I complete another (hopefully short) book in the new style.

The only think that my mind wants to move forward on right now, sadly, is the Therian bestiary, which is not short. But in the absence of inspiration to work on, say, Jump the Shark or Hat Trick, it’ll do. The point is to get the test done.

A tale of two paintings

I was under the weather this weekend, and it had been forever since I made any progress on any of my projects. So I painted.

Painting strengthens my artistic skills by forcing me to exercise observation and translation of form and light in ways that my normal, casual, caricature does not. I prefer cartooning to painting. I am more pleased in general with my results when cartooning than when painting. But painting makes me a better cartoonist. And besides: despite my lack of satisfaction with the results, I get absorbed into the process.

And when I have a big project, and progress is slow, it helps to stop and do a picture that takes all day, so you have a finished picture you can point to and say, “hah! I was on this day productive!”

First I did this one:

Interestingly to me, this more realistic version of Wren grows less and less disappointing every time I look at it. The first instant I declared it finished, I hated it. But now, I kinda sorta think it’s okay.

It’s a little stiff. A little plastic. But not terrible for all that. Anyway, whenever I try one of these paintings, I proceed from an energetic, lively, cartoony sketch to a kind of plastic, stiff final painting. Observe:

The picture got more detailed. The picture got more polished. But it also lost something of the personality. By finishing it, I killed it. And not in a good way.

This is not a problem outside my painting These pictures are finished, but retain all the life I poured into the sketches:

So, in a fit of dissatisfaction with my study in yellow and orange, I thought I’d try an experiment on Sunday. Instead of trying to create a fully polished painting, I’d try to paint a cartoon. I’d use a rough brush, and force myself to keep things loose, and abandon the project the moment I had successfully expressed whatever it was I was going for.

This picture runs into the constant problem of Wren’s cartoon proportions looking too young/old. I tell myself that it’s a function of the style I’m trying to build/imitate..

But I know it can be done. Betty Boop has a bigger head than cartoon Wren, and yet nobody thinks she’s supposed to be six.

But other than the problems I willingly gave myself by creating a female half-goblin lead, I really like the style of working from vague to precise, keeping it loose and scratchy all the while. Wren’s face is clear, her hands and feet are almost gestures rather than paintings. The monster in the cave look comes across clearly, but I only put half a day’s work into the painting. It has the life and an energy that the study in yellow lacks.

This semi-impressionistic work is a matter where I have mixed feelings. I like impressionism. I like attempts to go in art where the camera cannot go. As I’ve said before, I like caricature and pixel art. On the other hand, I have a well-honed distaste for abstract for the sake of abstract, for deconstructive or worse, masturbatory art that has typified the notion of art in the West my entire life.

But one of the things I like about text rather than art is that the audience participates in building the world. You write, “short ginger,” but each audience member fills in the details of the picture himself. And making the art messier, more suggestive, more abstract, pulls some of this superpower of writing into artwork.

I think I’ve concluded I want to do at least one book like this. But I need to do more paintings like this to try and explore this visual space and decide what I like or dislike about it. I’ve discovered not a solution to my problems, but a passage that may lead to a cave filled with gold, but may lead to a dead end.

At the very least, this form of picture generation is honest. I’m not trying to hide what parts of the painting I cared about and which I didn’t. It’s right there in front of you.

But I can’t explore today. I’m sorry, Mario, but our drawing tablet is in another office.