Captain’s Log 0210215.081

Put together a forest tileset in one day, added a couple of refinements to the platforming controller. Candy Raid: Side Story is still in the tinkering phase. However, I decided to stick to one shot type (the star), and one small “world” (Just the forest). When I switch to “draft” mode, the goal is to create a series of puzzles that reward you with candy, and a victory condition that requires some (but not all) of the candy. I feel like I’m done tinkering with this for now, though.

Yesterday, I had a small epiphany.

When I make a ‘screen’ for my Dragon Egg graphics, it consists of two parts: a background that I just draw full size, and a foreground I assemble from tiles. You can kind of see how it works in this gallery:

Making “fullscreen” backgrounds in 160×90 with only four colors is… very doable. I get a lot of fun out of coming up with interesting forms and arrangements, ‘Seussian’ proportions, etcetera. And this reduced level of details keeps me from getting bogged down.

Which got me thinking. I made static, painted backgrounds for my JRPG demo a while back…

What if I made my JRPG as a dragon egg game? What if the reason I never got anywhere with the prototype was I got too bogged down in the graphics, both the creation of HD graphics, and the busywork of making them behave in Unity?

Today, I tried recreating my RPG background in 160×90 with the Rainboy palette, and dropped some Cache Miss/Crossover Arcade characters on it to see if it would work as a comic backdrop, and…

You know what? I think I’m going to make Cache Miss settings just like this, unless I specifically need a tileset for a platformer like Candy Raid: Side Story. And I think this week’s objective is to tinker a prototype of a Dragon Egg JRPG.

I’m also gonna scope back. We’ll make the first Last Legend not a Final Fantasy sendup, but a Dragon Quest sendup, with only one protagonist, the Dragon Warrior.

If the engine works and is fun, we’ll do an Itch release, and then think about Kickstarting HD editions with hand-drawn art.

This week, my main objective is to push towards getting a day job. My secondary objective is to tinker, presumably with a Dragon Egg RPG, and my tertiary objective is to build up Cache Miss backgrounds, sprites, and strips, so that I can launch the comic in the next few months.

Imaginary Consoles

I like pixel art. And one thing I really love about pixel art is the constraints imposed by ancient technology. You have to make something look good using X colors in X frames.

So, ages and ages ago, I dreamed up a console with slightly different constraints. Eight colors per palette instead of four, like the NES, or sixteen, like the SNES, and a slightly different button layout. I called it the Game Dragon.

And then, just because I would make games (and, later, comics) for the imaginary console that were meant to run on modern machines, I decided this console spit out graphics in 16×9 instead of 4×3.

I even mocked up a controller in 3D.

My idea was that someone making a game console late in the NES’s lifecycle, but before the SNES’s lifecycle might notice that Start and Select on the NES were kind of redundant, and try a shift button instead.

At the time, I assumed, wrongly, that the NES stored its controller state in a dedicated byte. After all, eight buttons means eight bits. It’s very elegant.

It’s also not at all how controllers work on the NES. But to this day, I’ve adopted it as my imaginary controller constraint.

And then, I was handed an epiphany by someone else who makes up retro consoles in his head.

So that’s it! From this day forward, the Start button sends impossible D-Pad Directions, and there is a third face button on the Game Dragon controller. We’ll call them A, B, and J, under the assumption that the most commonly needed “extra” button is a jump button.

I have yet to make a 3D version of this gamepad.

I like three face buttons. One of my problems with SNES and later control pads is that you often have three face button functions — e.g. dash, shoot, and jump — that you want to do at separate but overlapping times in games, but because of the four face buttons, one of the buttons is nearly impossible to get at.

Anyway, a while back, while working on my sprite comic, I decided to envision a handheld version of the GameDragon. The “Dragon Egg” perhaps.

I mocked it up in 3D to use for the Twitter panel (Twitter displays 16×9 panels best if there are four; whereas a 5×8 print book works best if there are three, so having a fourth “title panel” for Twitter makes the comic work smoothly across multiple media).

Well, I’ve tinkered with the handheld over the last few days. I’ve decided that in modern times, the company that makes GameDragons made a keychain version using state of the art tech, similar to the NES Mini: that is, with a library of nostalgia-bait games stored right onboard.

I’ve fattened it up so it can look small while still having room for batteries and electronics, added the keychain, a power LED and speaker holes. Moved the shift button to the top. Added labeling. This is about as good as I can make this model. To do any better, I’d have to make a new model from the start, which is fine, but not high on my priority list. This will do extremely well for many title screens to come. This model is not a well-made thing, having a ton of shortcuts taken and junk geometry generated, but I can swap out the graphic on the screen and change the colors of the casing to signify different story arcs etcetera.

Theoretically, this is the world the comic would take place in. Because the ROMs of dozens of classic Dragon Egg games are stored inside the Dragon Egg Mini, all the game characters can live together and interact. Because it’s newer technology, it can use a color screen with separate foreground and background palettes for games that were originally 100% black and white.

The Art of Drawing the Same Thing Over and Over…

Yesterday I made a diner for my sprites to hang out in, and tried a small cartoon with it. I then printed it out grayscale to get an idea what the monthlies will look like.

The process taught me several things.

  1. On a colorful background, giving the word balloons drop shadows instead of outlines looked better and more elegant. On a grayscale background, or to a lesser extant a gameboyscale background, the balloons need the extra highlighting of the outline, though.
  2. While Inkscape’s new text tools are nice, it behooves a craftsman to still choose line breaks by hand from time to time. I did not do so in the above comic, and it looks sloppy.
  3. Pixel art looks okay at 160×90, as in the first panel, when printed. But the closer you get from that, the less readable it becomes. Even the medium shot is hard to read.

Charles Schulz wrote, in a little book on cartooning I once got for Christmas, “Cartooning is the art of drawing the same thing every day, but convincing everyone you’ve done something different.”

Well, I can’t stand drawing the same thing every day. One of the reasons I’m pushing back production of Hat Trick is because when I inevitably get around to it, I’m going to have to redraw similar panels, and worse, do the same background in multiple panels.

I can get lost in drawing a good backdrop. I greatly enjoy it.

But once it’s drawn, I don’t want to touch it again, not even from another angle. That makes me an okay game artist, and a terrible comic or storybook artist.

Unless I use game art tricks. Which a sprite comic is meant to do. Use game tricks to produce a comic strip.

So… what if I made HD graphics for the sprite comic. Still made the long shot panels pixel art, to maintain the conceit of a digital world, but moved around HD sprites on HD backgrounds for the mid and close ups? Kept the color scheme though.

I toyed with the notion when the sprite comic was to be full-color, and decided then it was too much effort.

But what if I just cyanified the pixel art, printed it out at a consistent scale, inked over it, and then colored it to match the pixel art?

Well, I’ve tested the sprites. It was a bit time-consuming, but each additional character and background I make means the comic can be produced to that quality level with less work next time. And…

I need to produce the diner before I can make a final determination, but I like this process, and I like the products it produces.

So, to test the diner?

Heck naw. I said I’d work on Vargenstone today. IF I put my hours in on Vargenstone and IF I have time later today, I will start drawing the diner. But probably not until Friday.

Update

Continue reading “The Art of Drawing the Same Thing Over and Over…”

Yet Another List of Projects

Yesterday, I went through my old attempts to build a 3D basis for book making and extracted a new proportion set:

Big feet, big hands, big heads gives a cartoon/toy feel. Sculpted forms plays into my prejudices also. I think it will do. I won’t know until I model a couple of characters, and ultimately make a book with them. But I have a good feeling about this set.

The single, most efficient way to test this idea of using lego people to make books is to design a book that only has one character. At most, two. Preferably a constant background. Preferably a blank background.

Basically, The Monster at the end of this Book.

Vintage Books for the Very Young: The Monster at the End ...

Although, come to think of it, making posters would be a good intermediate step. Just having finished, printable pictures would tell me a lot of what I need to go to keep, cancel, or modify the project. So, my prior contention that I should just use this as a way to do the Original Character challenge is probably the way to go. And that is probably what I’ll do.

But I started this blog post with the intention of listing as many potential projects as occur to me in the off chance that one of them will have an obvious “Monster at the End of this Book” story I can tell. And having that list will be useful. So I’m still going to make it. In alphabeticalish order.

Read on, reader!