Monday, May 9, 2011

Pin Up Girl 2!

Two pin-up girls in short succession! What gives might you ask? Well, nothing really, just felt like drawing another I guess. Also, I have some glorious new pixel portraiture ripe for the uploading, I just haven't gotten around to it quite yet.  Good news too, my new job is coming along quite nicely, it's a lot of fun to say the least!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pin-up girl and a heads up!

Urgh, so busy, let's see, I'm starting a new job (hired on as a studio assistant for a very successful british photo-realist oil painter), I'm finishing up a huge freelance contract, probably starting a new one next week, and doing some more pro-bono work for WMNF's Grand National Championships!

*Whew* Amidst all of this, I haven't had nearly enough time to do any drawing for myself, so this pin up girl was a way of remedying that. She's an older sketchbook drawing I always liked, so I figured I'd just take a couple of hours and see where it got me.  Dunno how to feel about the graphic elements, but I think they work mostly.  I'll see about doing more sketchbook stuff later on, though it might be awhile!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Design Theory 03: Who can be trusted?

Firstly, the image accompanying this is a new, updated Airship game sprite sheet!  Nothing in their hasn't been posted in some of the newish screenshots, but this is just a big spread of all o' em!

Anyways, I'd actually like to talk about critics in the industry that actually know what they're talking about.  This is rarer than you might think, but lets start out with why I (and so many others) dislike the way the "Big Name" critics (IGN, Gamespot, GamePro, Gametrailer, etc.) handle reviews, and also why the way consumers view these reviews is flawed.

Lets start with a nice analogue.  I recently saw the film "The Adjustment Bureau", and enjoyed it.  It's different, it deals with some high minded concepts, and my personal favorite, it pulls a "District 9" and falsely represented itself in trailers and commercials.  I actually like this because it tricks people into watching films they might otherwise pass off.  But I digress, upon getting home, I checked Metacritic to see its score, and was unsurprised to see it landed an aggregate of 60.

This isn't too unheard of.  The film was "above average" but not by much, and I had a rough idea what these reviews might say before I even read them.  It's not a film for everyone, but thats part of the charm here, I didn't necessarily want to see a film that appealed to as large a cross section as possible.  But heres the thing, my friends and I enjoy plenty of average range films.  Not so much with games...

When a AAA release comes out, if its not greeted with 9/10's or higher you get two things: One group saying that it was terrible, and another saying it was reviewed by an idiot.

That's a really broken review model.  I've seen folks say that 7/10 is complete trash, and that 8/10 is only barely average.  Only 9.0 or higher is even worth your consideration.  But the worst part of this is, they aren't completely wrong.  The average review score for video games is WAY higher than 5/10.  Thats not right, not everything can be "above average", because those games should now be considered the average!

This isn't something thats going to change any time soon either, though a few sites have attempted to change this. 1UP notably abandoned number scores for letter grades, though this is still skewed by aggregators such as metacritic, and Kotaku (which, by the way, has suffered from Gawkers terrible redesign, but thats a different rant altogether) simply lists pros and cons, though some editors handle it better than others.

As a result of this broken review system that both consumers and critics are equally responsible for, I've found myself more interested in critics that actually spend time debating minutia of game design, or broad concepts inherent to genres or the industry as a whole, that then use games as examples of these.

There are two that fill this niche, and although I'm sure there are more that I'll add as time goes by, at this moment these are the only ones I really follow religiously:

Sessler's Soapbox:
Extra Credits:

Adam Sessler is one of the closest things to a "face" the gaming industry has.  In an industry with no actors, it's even more anonymous than the directors or music producers for film.  You might associate names with products, but thats about it.  He's also the only thing that could possibly redeem any aspect of "G4tv", a channel that still claims to be for gamers, but somehow ends up filling its schedule with week long marathons of C.O.P.S.  He's knowledgeable, he's passionate, and he isn't jaded into thinking that things are perfect in the industry right now, but he's not so cynical that he thinks its ruined either.  Reasonable.

Extra Credits features a group of three game industry veterans doing short, 7-10 minute shows that really aim for the important aspects of the industry.  They don't shy away from the hard hitingt issues, like LGBT representation, piracy, and sexuality in games.  They aren't up in arms about it either though, and touch upon the issues with enough lightheartedness to make it entertaining, but enough brevity to understand the seriousness of the topics.

Lastly, EgoRaptor, a prominent flash cartoonist with a great sense of humor, recently released his first 15 minute show about game design, title "Sequelitis":

It's an impressive piece of discerning talk that covers one of my favorite game debates,the argument  of linear vs. non-linear game play, using the examples of Castlevania and Castlevania: Simon's Quest.  A great piece of work that I hope to see followed up even more than his animations.

So, there you have it, my list of trusted reviewers and critics.  This isn't to say I don't trust anyone else, or am constantly casting a "shifty eyed" stare their way, but these are the ones that I generally agree with, but always respect.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New sprite sheet? Yes! (But will it go anywhere?)

Oh wow, apologies, it has been altogether too long since an update!  But I have an excuse! A real one!

Basically, I finally ended up landing a new gig.  It's freelance, working on a browser/mobile game, I don't honestly know how much I can talk about it, but its going well thus far and it pays fairly.  Thats really all I could hope for.

Because of this, I haven't had much time to do anything else, not work on the Airship Game project, or any other art.  But, during a bit of a lull in the work schedule, I did put together this little sheet for a game concept that came to me a couple days ago.  Will I ever turn it into a reality? Possibly, but I'm not too worried about it, I have a lot on my plate at this point, so stretching myself further would be a silly idea.  Still, it's a good way to do fun work!

I also promise I'll do another design talk soon, I have an idea for one, just haven't had the time to do it!

Monday, February 28, 2011

"Airship Game" progress!

Gods!  Temples!  More GUI stuff!

I'm not really sure how I feel about the Wind Goddess up there, I might be working on her some more.  Apologies for not updating sooner, my laptop's fan went out, meaning that any kind of prolonged use would have ruined it.  I had to wait for a week or so before I got a replacement fan, and I've been ridiculously busy as of late as well.  I should have more free time soon though, and then I'll be getting straight back into this!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

GUI progress in "Airship Game"!

 Woo! So much progress since my last batch of screenies!

So, here we get a few good screenshots of the current GUI.  As you can see, it's still a work in progress, a lot of elements are unfinished or missing, but this is a good start.

At the top of all three screens we have the health bar.  Pretty standard.  To the left of the health bar we have the in-game clock.  This is important, because different structures have different build times, and this allows the player to build settlements, and have a rough idea of when they will be finished so that they can go off and attend to other things.

Underneath the health bar is a bar that changes based on what the player currently has selected.  So, for instance if the player is in combat, the game displays the efficiency percentage for the repair, mobility, and weapons systems of the ship.  These percentages are based on the number of living crewmembers, but more on that in later posts.  This bar also displays the number of resources the player has when building, or the amount of "mana" (I'm not calling it that in the finished product)  the player has when calling on gods to perform miracles.

On the right side of the screen we see the Mode Selection bar.  Currently, the only mode that shows anything is the build mode, and you can flip through pages to display more unit types.  The "Magic" mode will eventually show the available miracles to a player, and the combat mode will allow the selection of various weapon types.  You can also minimize the Mode Selection bar.

I will be updating as often as I can on this project, and when updates take too long I'll probably end up talking about design ideas in minutia.

Also, I think I might have a few more followers from a few sources, if thats the case, please post and let me know what you would like to hear about!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Screenshots from "Airship Game" project!

These are a series of screenshots from a small project I'm working on. It's two things, one, its a way for me to make pixel art in a goal oriented environment, and two, its kind of my pipe dream project. This is the game I would make if I didn't have to worry about money, exposure, or anything like that.

So in this game, the worlds are procedurally generated. In other words, random ,with just enough rules to make it make sense. You fly around in your airship, and colonize floating islands while harvesting resources, paying homage to ancient gods, and deal with the various horrors that occasionally come up from the depths through currents.

The eventual idea is that the enemies have routines. Some get hungry and snack on smaller ones, others might be interested in stealing your resources, or eating your settlers. None are specifically going after you just because they can, they have some basic logic. In other words, do something like build too close to an anthill, and the ants will start going after your settlements.

The other idea is that your basically confined to relatively small maps, and that you are trying to turn these things into stable colonies as soon as possible, to move onto later maps, with greater challenges and rewards.

These screenshots show most of the art assets in game, all drawn by me, on my laptop, with a mouse. The biggest ones (not counting the cloudy backgrounds) are only maybe 100x100 pixels.

Like I said, pipe dream project, but I think thats the fun part, if it never gets finished, its not a huge problem, but at the moment, if I could complete any project with no worry of money or recognition, just do what I wanted to, this would be it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sort of NSFW...

Normally I try to keep it pretty PG around here, and though this image is mostly harmless and funny, I don't want anyone being offended for something on the front page of my most-updated site.  So if you want to see it, you'll have to click the link below.  Again! It's nothing terrible, definitely just PG-13, but still, probably NSFW.

NSFW: ****ing Magnets; how DO they work?

Blast O Nauts sprite sheet!

Sprite sheet of the assets in Blast O Nauts!  Expect another piece sometime tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Self Portrait in vectors!

I was recently able to get my hands on Adobe Illustrator again, thanks to the help of a friend!  This is the first real piece I've done in it.  I had to keep it fairly simple (my poor laptop was chugging away as is with its measly 1 gig of ram!), but that situation will be remedied in the next week when I get some more installed on my laptop.  Then I can hopefully begin work on some bigger projects!

Also, the site went over a HUGE redesign recently.  I really never liked the old design much, and the banner image didn't fit either, but now I've got a new banner and a new design for this place, and it's all much better!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Design Theory 02: Difficult Design Decisions.

First things first, this is the game over screen for Blast O Nauts!  The asteroids carry the same motif of being buttons, so the three big ones will have text in the final version.  On to the discussion!


A games difficulty is of huge importance.  Some genres come with a certain level of inherent difficulty (shmups and rougelikes for instance) whereas others can run the gambit from easy to soul-crushing.  Other genres can have a mortality rate of 100% built into the design itself (arcade games) or not have a "losing" condition at all (Harvest Moon).

With this in mind, you'd think that most people would realize that the difficulty of a game should not be based on a gold standard.  You hear a lot of crotchety "old" gamers complaining about how easy current gen games are, and a lot of people that play a game like Henry Hatsworth or Demon's Souls and say it "ruins the game" for them when its too difficult.  Fact is, depending on what the overall design is like, "hard" games can be great, and "easy" games can be too!

Let's go back to Demon's Souls here, just because its the most current.  Now, by my own admission, I don't know that hard is the correct adjective for Demon's Souls.  I think "strict" is more apt a descriptor.  Once you know the levels, and the enemy strategies, most of the game can become pretty easy (the boss fights are another thing entirely though...I'm looking at you New Game++++++ Maneaters), but should you mess up, thats where the "strict" part comes into play.  You die, your health is cut down by 1/4-1/2, and then you have to survive all the way back to that point to get all your souls back.  Thats harsh, but again, once you get the strategies down, you learn to deal with it.  If the game was easier, would you be playing it your 6th run through the game? Not likely, you'd find no challenge and put the game away.  The fact that even a high level character can be defeated in 3-4 strikes from most enemies is a challenging prospective.  In this case, difficulty keeps you playing the game after the first playthrough.

But heres the thing, in order to play a game with the sort of risk/reward inherent to Demon's Souls, I need to be mentally ready.  If I'm stressed or tired, Demon's Souls is not the game I pick up from the shelf.  I will be destroyed, because quite simply, its a stressful game and you will not do well!

So what about easy games?

We'll, what about the Lego games? Lego Star Wars, Lego Batman, Lego Indiana Jones, etc.  These games are easy, obviously marketed to a younger audience (thought they certainly fit the "fun for all ages" category) but they are still a lot of fun.  Theres virtually no death penalty (the player respawns quickly thereafter, but drops a percentage of "studs" or in-game currency) and the player can complete any stage through sheer determination.

The key to the Lego games is the content. The lego games have tons of collectibles, so the game design is more about exploring, less about combat.  The stages are minimalist, allowing the lego parts to stand out even further, and the player keeps playing to unlock more content.  It certainly doesn't hurt that drop-in/out co-op is a major feature of the game, since theres nothing more fun than beating up baddies with friends.

So my closing point is this: Difficulty doesnt make a good game bad or a bad game good, but if used correctly, it can help a game find its audience, and keep them playing longer.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Design Theory 01: Exploit Exploration!

So here we are, at the first of what I hope to be many of my self indulgent exercises. Really I just want to type up my ideas on aspects of game design, whether anyone listens isn't really the point, but please do regardless! These are going to probably ramble on a bit, since I mostly think about what I'll type when I'm working on the art to go along with them, but we'll try to keep that to a minimum. On to the subject at hand!


When I was younger, before my life was ruled by pixels and controllers, my favorite past time was exploring the property surrounding my parents one acre of land in the middle of the countryside of Indiana. The land was surrounded on all sides by an unkempt field that extended into a small pond, and eventually gave way to thick woods that went on for miles.

The woods were of course, the prime spot to explore, since seeing any further than 40 feet ahead was impossible even in the autumn, and this made exploration all the more interesting. But looking back, the field that extended outward on all sides was the real deal. It's no surprise to me that Pokemon games use tall grass as a means of random encount
ers, the fact is, you can trip right over a turtle, or an abandoned tool, without even knowing it. You could walk the same path every day a year straight and find something new every time.

But upon reaching adulthood you come to the stark realization that everything has BEEN explored, or at least, everything worth exploring. Road Atlas's, Mapquest, GPS, these all take the romanticism right out of you. Someone else has already done it all, and cataloged it neatly for you to passively examine.

We're programmed, on a genetic level, to move outward and explore. But for the moment, discounting a few extremely inhospitable places on earth, until we as a species are ready for interplanetary travel, that option is currently off limits to us.

It is no surprise to me (or really anyone I think) that a game like Minecraft has done so well. But I think that the truth of the matter is that people like the idea of Minecraft more than the game (at least for the time being). When you start a new game in Minecraft, you are literally the first person to set foot on that land. The beauty of it is, from there on out, there are so many options open to you that the fact the game has no set goal is of no importance at all. The goal is what you make it. Do I want to make an underground mineshaft, or a castle on the beach, or perhaps I'll be a vagrant traveler exploring my surroundings until
I put up a tiny camp before nightfall?

Exploration is not simply the environment, at least in this case. Exploration is the ability to find things in every aspect of the game that the player hasn't before. A skill tree in an action RPG is full of unturned stones, even if it gives you the basic information of the skill before hand, you have never used it!

Discovery! You can go everywhere! But there is nothing to do.

So can a game have a bad sense of exploration? Yes. Definitely. We need look no further than Spore.

I'm not going to get into all the speculative fractures within the team that developed Spore, the whole science vs. game deal, or any of that. If you want to, there are some very interesting articles out there on just that. What I am getting at is that the game has literally a galaxy's worth of content, but most people just won't care by the time they reach a point that they can access it.

Let's look at the Space Stage of Spore. Again, galaxy's worth of content here. You fly and upgrade a space ship, you contact and deal with other civilizations, and you colonize planets. The thing is, the average player will have done all of this within the first half hour of gameplay. Everything after that is basically the same thing, only faster as you gain access to new equipment. You can deal with every alien species a handful of ways, a
nd although the game pretends to have depth by making various equipment available only to players that play a certain way, the fact that the game has to force players to do things just for unlockable equipment is a problem in and of itself. I should WANT to establish contact with 10 alien species, because they should all be so different that I actually seek them out!

The only part of the Space Stage that never quite got old to me, was the planet terraforming aspect. This was just about the only mechanic that required the player to put any thought into it, and it was almost too obtuse in comparison with the other objectives in the space stage. Still, it was a fun way to kill the time while I waited for my trade routes to allow me to buy out other planets.

What keeps me playing 40 hours into the game?

Spore is an example of bland exploration. What is a game that does it well?

Just Cause 2 is a sandbox shooter. Sandbox games are obvious choices for good exploration potential. So what puts Just Cause 2 above the others in this regard?

There are a few things, for one, the world map is massive, 400 square kilometers, bigger than any other sandbox shooter at the time of release. The world map is also, mostly, natural landmass. Canyons, jungles, deserts, mountains, plains, and ocean. Lots of ocean. Even the way the player moves is made to facilitate this huge map size, with a grappling hook and a parachute at your disposal, traveling several kilometers takes only half a minute or so, and of course, there are very fast land, air, and sea vehicles.

What does this all mean? Well, the fact is, you spend as much, if not more time, searching new places out and finding secondary objectives, than you do shooting at bad guys and blowing things up in bedazzling sprays of pyrotechnics. The game is, in all actuality, a thinly veiled collect-a-thon! But its the variety of the locales, and the variety of ways to deal with collecting and destroying the objectives, that keeps you going. Even when you tire of that, there are completely optional races and missions that you can do in the meantime.

Heres some other games that get exploration right:

Spelunky: It could be said that most rougelike games actually get this concept right, but in the case of RPG type rougelikes, the player is oftentimes met with situations that are inescapable simply because the dice rolled against the players favor. Spelunky is a platformer though, and as a result, it relies more on the players skill than on the invisible number cruncher behind the scenes.

Transendence: A space themed adventure game, the thing the game gets right is by having short term and long term objectives. The player can easily seek out a warpgate to the next star system, at the risk of missing out on the numerous instances within the current map that could provide them with weapons, armor, or money. It's also one of the few games out there that has a "death deletes your save file" sort of system, but also allows for an ingame way to subvert this system (though it is not easy to do).

Skies of Arcadia: A Dreamcast JRPG, it suffered from many of the problems that games in that genre do, but the entire game focused on discovery from a thematic element, as well as a gameplay one.

Closing Comments:

The indie gaming community has made it abundantly clear that ideas that aren't part of the mainstream can be wildly successful. If I had to make one assumption about what is going to happen in mainstream gaming in the next 10 years though, it would be that exploration is going to be facilitated through the use of procedurally generated content. Some games have been, or have begun to skirt this idea (Spore, randomized loot in games like Borderlands) but I think that with Minecraft showing off the kind of stuff you can do when you let players do it, this will be a much bigger deal, especially when the next generation of consoles is released.

So hopefully this didn't bore anyone to much, it's a rather big wall of text, next time I'm going to try to keep it much more concise, and hopefully shorter!

A new thing.

So heres the deal, I'm going to be doing a couple things to keep my art up to snuff around here, as well as give me more of a creative outlet. Noone follows this blog really, and thats fine, just so long as I can speak my mind on things relevant to my other words mostly game design and illustration.

The plan is to choose a topic, post about it, and have a piece of art to go along with it, maybe it will be pixels, maybe it'll be vectors, it might directly correlate to the topic at hand or just be something I wouldn't otherwise post.

In any case, the plan is to do one of these a week. I'm not exactly employed at the moment (hint hint potential employers stumbling upon my site!) and I need something to keep myself preoccupied. I think this is a fun way to do just that.

I'll be tagging these posts as "design theory", and that'll be basically be the one thing that keeps them all together. Hopefully this will keep me practicing! Expect the first one shortly, in the next day or two.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Supa Blast O' Naut featured in the one hundred indie games in ten minutes video!

At this point, I liken Supa Blast O' Naut to "The Wrestler". Critics tell you its great, noone plays/watches it.

Thats a bit lofty of course, but still! It's pretty awesome that I got in there! Not only that but I'm one of the first games in it, at number 8! Though I would highly suggest you watch it all the way through, virtually every title is great, and that comes from having played quite a few of them!