My third post today: Considering the Plan

The following section now breaks Hat Trick into two pieces in the November Monthly. It’s a little ad-hoc and hastily assembled due to precise constraints on how many comics I needed…

Some of these are Frankencomics, single comics assembled from panels of multiple different previous comics. I’m not 100% happy with them. They mostly make sense and say what I want to say in the space I was given. I may make some additional comics to try out different ways of saying what I mean to say more intentionally rather than reuse the old ones or use frankencomics.

I’ve got about a week to figure it out. No big deal. If Bunny Trail Junction isn’t perfect on its first outing, well, that’s how I learn the skills that will perfect it.

So let’s think about some stuff I’ve largely already covered on this blog:

Sadly, it’s late, and I’ll have to consider course corrections tomorrow, which is irritating because my aim was to reach a conclusion today. But describing the question is half the answer.

Captain’s Log L7R1: Platformer

I have the August Bunny Trail Junction.

My theories about using green/red ramps for screens, and then printing in grayscale have been vindicated.

But for the sake of making a Wren RPG, I changed up my pixel art style to something more like a 2D Brawler.

Which drew on my cartoony hand-drawn style, and turned about and influenced it in return.

Now, I’ve been explaining my RPG notion in comic form, and have half a mind to put those episodes in the September BTJ..

But while the pixel art uses my Rainbow Rose color palette, which is intended for print, it wasn’t specifically designed with black and white printing in mind like the Rainboy Palette. So I had to get a sneak peak at how it would turn out in print. Fortunately, each monthly should preview the next monthly. And so..

It’s fine. It’s not great. Specifically targeting black and white would be a wiser choice. But it’s fine. Good enough to print.

But I’ve been going back and forth. When I get treatment, should I work on my RPG engine…

Or focus my energy on Dronefu?

Those are the financially viable ideas, right? I’ve made series of comics explaining both ideas that will likely one day run on BTJ.

The RPG is viable because when Alpha Dream died it left a huge void in the JRPG community. Maybe not big enough to feed Nintendo, but certainly big enough to feed me. Dronefu is viable because it’s basically Megaman X, only moreso. And HD drawings. Nobody wants another pixel art platformer, but HD platformers are still in it to win it, right?

But I got to thinking. Hat Trick is the thing that is turning heads right now. Any game I end up making will probably be heavily influenced by what parts of BTJ people are talking about. And I could make a pixel art Megaman X-style game with Merlin from Hat Trick. I’ve toyed with it before.

It came to a head this week because I crashed my bike and bruised up my hands. I’ve been unable to manage the fine motor functions of drawing for most of a week. It’s been frustrating.

Though I’ve pulled some pretty panels out of my recovery all the same.

And I thought about making Hat Trick comics using pixel art.

It felt wrong, so I didn’t do it.

I like how the Rainboy Palette comics turned out, so making pixel art strips for BTJ in general doesn’t feel wrong at all. But the notion of doing portions of Hat Trick in pixel for some reason causes my spirit to rebel.

So I tried an experiment. I took my Wren RPG sprites, downgraded them to Rainboy palettes, and dropped them in the bus stop scene.

It doesn’t look terrible. It looks okay. I can make comics this way.

And maybe games?

And maybe games. Maybe the combination of the Bunny Trail Junction webcomic, and making low-res pixel art platformers will work out for me. Can be turned into a career.

I think it can.

I just… love how much more expressive and stylized these larger sprites are. Even though they are 5x as much work as the smaller sprites, easily.

So, I tried popping myself and Jump the Shark into the retro diner. I had to scale up the door because it was obviously too small, but I didn’t really need to fix anything else.

It’s too small. But it’s not terribly too small. It’ll do until I get in the mood to make another. And… yeah. I’m thinking I’ll try making a platformer using these graphics. Maybe using Godot, but maybe just picking up my old Unity platformer. Because after all, it already has a shader meant for these palettes, and lighting effects ready to go. I could just fork it…

I’d want to scale up the world, or else scale back to the 16×24 sprites instead of the larger more detailed sprites. I dunno man. I kinda love both.

There’s a certain irony that the platformer already exists with Candy. Way back in the day, when I did a Ludum Dare with a programmer who is now my friend, I conceived in my head a platformer staring Merlin. But I swapped in Candy the Witch because if my partner turned out to be dodgy, I wanted a character I wouldn’t be too upset over losing to be in the game. And Hat Trick is fairly dear to me.

I do have Merlin in both sprite scales.

Well. Anyway. The comic is launching in roughly four days. Everything is primed and ready to go. I’ve got the first week loaded, the first month planned, the first two months drawn…

Onward!

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”

Aseprite 1.3; Mixing Pixels and HD

Yesterday, the beta version of Aseprite 1.3 dropped for Steam users. I use Aseprite to make pixelart animations…

…and Pyxel edit to make the tiles. Pyxel Edit lets you edit a tilemap with your tiles in it that gets live-updated as you work on the tiles, allowing you to very quickly make a very functional tileset.

Now you’ll note that not everything on the screen is my tileset. I like to dedicate layers to characters and objects so I can preview how the whole thing will look together.

Well, Aseprite 1.3 added tile features. And…

… they don’t hold a candle to Pyxel Edit’s. They’re a very good start. And I like these tiles better mostly because I made them with the lessons learned from making a tileset in Pyxel. But you can’t easily flip tiles. Rearranging your tile palette changes the tile map because the tile map stores the tile indices and doesn’t change them when you monkey with your palette. Oh, and you can’t export your tileset.

I’ll repeat that. You can’t export your tileset.

You have to build the image you want to be your tileset and export that.

That’s not 100% a deal breaker. Some people would rather export an image because it is more convenient to them to have the tileset arranged a specific way.

On the other hand, Aseprite’s general pixel art tools are, for the most part, way better, and the two programs do not gracefully copy and past art to one another. There’s a huge amount of convenience in saying, “You know what, I’m tired of working on the tiles right now, I’m going to tweak that tree.

I also added a third character to the mix and discovered that Wren was too short. When compared to “normal” people in the game, she will look like a child in a bikini. Wren is not entirely human, and canonically characters do assume she’s younger than she his because of her unusual height, but it was too far. So, I fixed that.

At the end of the day I don’t know whether I’m going to stick with my current, split workflow, or switch to an all-Aseprite workflow. The pros and cons of each workflow are dancing on a razor’s edge.

High Definition

So, let’s do a quick mockup on how the game might look if we use pixel art for the world, but a high definition interface:

If I’m going to put conversation on the bottom of the screen, I might want to consider pushing the world design so that the action happens higher up. The top of the screen certainly is more spacious, and a more reasonable place to put interface. If I move dialogue up there, I’ll have to change the visual metaphor for the character graphics, maybe stick the face in a box. But overall, I don’t hate the look.

I was planning on making combat menus radial, bursting out of the player when the time comes to menu, but in my mockup test, it felt right to have buttons materialize under a character’s stat bar. But I’m not decided.

I need to try it out, see what works. At this point, the next step is to give Wren a walking animation and get gameplay up and running.

I’m sad that you can arrange a palette in uneven rows in Pyxel, but not in Aseprite. Ah well.

Captain’s Log 21·5 | 24·A: The Random Adventures of Wren Valen the Wanderer

So, for context, I’m going to tell you roughly how I’m beginning to organize my life.

I keep a deck of blank, poker sized playing cards, on which I take notes. Both to-do lists, but also anything I need to remember for whatever reason.

The numbering format is WW·X | YY·Z where WW is the two digit year, X is the one digit month (A=10, B=11, C=12), YY is the two-digit day, and Z is the note. When notes follow up on each other, a series of numbers goes underneath the note ID.

At times of my choosing, I go through these notes, and rewrite them to put in my Zettelkasten. This is my permanent external memory. Cards that get copied from my journal to my Zettelkasten get cross-referenced so I can go to my monthly archive and see the context of the thought.

Well enough, but what if I need more illustration and room to write? Well, I take the comic format I developed for Bunny Trail Junction…

… and decided was too intense, and bean-ified it..

And I simply index it the same way.

So here’s a gif of the game as it sits so far:

And here are the Wren Beans I’ve collected, making this post the official stop for the Wren Valen RPG

Today’s big projects are contemplative, though I may do physical work as well. By integrating bullet journaling but on playing cards with the Zettelkasten, I have brought together a collection of lessons that have changed how I approach the question of what I should create and how, and I’m going to navel gaze about it below the fold.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log 21·5 | 24·A: The Random Adventures of Wren Valen the Wanderer”

Digging into my Slip Box

So, I’ve been sort-of-kind-of bullet journaling, except on blank playing cards. The same ones I use in my Zettelkasten. And then indexing the cards in a manner like unto the zettelkasten.

Hilariously, even though when I took to Bullet-Journaling™ and realized I could combine techniques from Smart-Noting™, the idea to dip back into my deck and see how my current thought meshes with lessons from my past didn’t occur to me.

But last night, I started reading Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings, and today I decided since I was going to consolidate my notes from that and decide how I would proceed with my Candy Raid sequel from there, I figured I might as well break out the Zettelkasten itself and see how it all worked out.

And well I did. I have learned several lessons in the past that I was ignoring. As well as several lessons I learned recently As well as several lessons I learned recently AND in the past.

Here are a handful of lessons I decided I need to be daily reminded of. Some are good advice in general, others are tailored to my specific personality and style, and are probably bad advice for people who are not very similar to me.

  • SAY WHY. Even to children. Even to yourself. Nobody is motivated without a WHY.
  • COMMIT strongly but rarely, and CUT your losses swiftly when your gut says to do so.
  • PROVOKE yourself to action with challenges. Race the clock. Make bets with yourself.
  • The correct challenge is seldom the easy one. CHOOSE the challenge with the right amount of meaning and awesomeness.

So, heck with it. I’mma make a JRPG. Not an adventure game, we’re gonna get the combat right in. And instead of tinkering with a property I’m apathetic about, I’m breaking out the Naval Navel herself, the Girl Goblin, my wife’s favorite of my past creations, Wren Valen, the Flying Privateer!

“Wait, did she magically become a redhead halfway through?”

Yes. Hollywood has decided to blackwash all the gingers, and I have decided in return to gingerwash every one of my own characters whose hair and skin color is inessential to the character. This is why John Michael Jones, who is supposed to be a bog-average boy, is a redhead instead of having brown hair.

Obviously Jump the Shark is a shark, and Sera Mermaid was already published as a blonde. Most of my characters cannot be ginger for one reason or another. But those what can, are. And Wren can.

Allons-y!

Captain’s Log 0210416.105: It Could Be a Bit More Awesome

Thanks to a retreat last weekend with my best friend, I realized that I’ve been focusing heavily on what is pragmatic in my constant quest for a golden workflow road.

No project is worth doing unless it’s full of awesome. Now, all of my projects have that potential, but I have not been specifically seeking that potential out. I’ve been looking for a way to do cheap and easy, instead of investing time.

I’m not sure how this revelation (which I need to rediscover from time to time) is going to shape projects in the immediate future. Awesome Moments itself may resume being my focus on the other side of the Weekend. However, we shall see.

In the mean time, here’s a workflow for making HD animations using Spriter & Krita:

Step 1: create prototype graphics at half size. Be careful about form and posture, and sloppy about everything else. The initial version of a character, especially if I intend to use character maps, should have out-jutty things designed to ensure each part takes up as much space as it ever likely will.

Here’s the Solar Guard, created for that exact purpose:

Step 2: Export at 4X size (that is, 2x the intended size; 4x the ‘sketch’ size) and animate in Spriter. Here, I am intending to shrink the graphic in Unity. By going to 4X size, I can allow for an amount of zooming without losing detail.

Step 3: Open the generated graphics in Krita and save them as *.kra files. Double the size once more, draw final quality art on new layers, then export it to a new skin folder at half size as png.

Apply skin in Spriter and see how it looks.

I may abandon shading on characters, in line with old cartoons where the backdrops were carefully painted and shaded, but the characters had flat coloring except in extreme situations. But I am content with this workflow and this art style.

I think after I’m done with Awesome Moments and in between books, I’m going to work on making a hand drawn game with Piqha. Maybe it’ll be an RPG. Maybe a platformer. Maybe I’ll work on both and see what happens. Maybe I’ll backburner Awesome Moments until my heart is in it again.

We’ll see what happens. But I need to feed my kid and the farm aminals.