Meet Atom Bot

Atom Bot. Likes long walks on the beach, a romantic tuneup, and bashing evildoers.

Atom Bot. Likes long walks on the beach, a romantic tuneup, and bashing evildoers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to focus my wandering mind by doodling during meetings or other events that need my mind to be focused for a prolonged period. These doodles usually end up in a notebook, but tonight they are on my computer thanks to a good phone call, and a conveniently handy graphics tablet.

Atom Bot spilled out on the page with a variety of other nonsense, but the basic shape eventually caught my eye, so I quickly refined it and added some colour to make him pop. Not too shabby. I guess I should make more calls.

On sharing inspiration – Ripples in the pond

Rise of the Redshirts

Rise of the Redshirts

I illustrated the image above back in 2009 as an entry to the “Be the Hero!” Game Career Guide challenge . I did it rather quickly, but am still quite pleased with the image, as I used it as an opportunity to try some new techniques with a Wacom stylus and Photoshop. The entry didn’t get picked up, so I may re-post it later for reference’s sake, but I did end up posting the picture on conceptart.org. I forgot about the image up until recently, when I was cleaning some files up in my computer in an attempt to speed my aging beast up.

I smiled as I remembered that in 2012, John Scalzi published Redshirts, a novel where one of a starship’s intrepid security staff decides that dying for the captain isn’t for him. As I sat there and thought about it, there certainly is some similarity in the concepts between the story and my image above. I started looking around the internet to see whether anyone else had caught on to the idea. I found that in 2011, a youtube channel called Star Trek Online: Rise of the Redshirts saw the light of day. The similarity between the titles does catch the eye. There is now a very cool game in development called Redshirt by the Tiniest Shark. There are certainly some similarities in the general layout and theme between the two images.

Redshirts game image

I am certainly not arrogant enough to believe that I am solely responsible for the ideas these highly creative people have developed. After all, if I had an idea, there is a high likelihood that someone else may have had the same idea before or after me with no external help whatsoever. In fact, I drew on inspiration from other short stories about the Redshirts always getting whacked to come up with my game pitch and illustration. There are only so many ways to illustrate a game cover, and there are some narrative illustration short hand techniques and tips of the hat that tend to ensure that there will be some similarity in imagery for science fiction posters. However, I do like to believe that the picture I tossed out without a second thought on the internet kicked off some spark in imaginations I’ve never met and ultimately served to enrich each of us. Like a stone cast in the pond, the ripples of inspiration can travel far and wide, touching distant and unseen shores.

So share your ideas. You never know how or who they’ll help.

Lost in Thought – an awesome game design blog

I came across the Lost in Thought game development blog this evening.

If you’ve got the slightest, mildest case of interest in game development, this blog is for you. A small development team is giving us a running insight into the creative process behind the design of a 2.5D platformer.

Here’s one of the shots from their site:

’nuff said.

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

Any author worth her or his salt has probably laid eyes on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and is familiar with the concepts relating to the The Hero’s Journey, which one should incidentally avoid using as an excuse for writing a poor story, or risk the wrath of Autotelic.

The CMA (http://www.the-cma.com/images/openmagazine/201210/seven-steps.png) has distilled the work into a brilliant infographic and tossed a few more tidbits in to optimize helfulness:

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

I love it! I just wish my printer could cleanly pump this graphic out so I could pin it up on my wall.

What’s that you say big game studios? Gamers only want to play Modern Warfare 3 clones?

Kickstarter game pledges pass $100M

One. Hundred. Million. Dollars.

I feel like it’s something Dr. Evil should be shouting out as a ransom demand, not an amount raised by crowdfunding to support game design.

This tells me that although there may not be a megabucks market for non-AAA FPS baffling brains with blasty bling, there is still a significant market for games that offer deep gameplay opportunities over rapid reflex twitch-based shmups. You know, like games used to be made because the technology didn’t exist to push a zillion teraflops around so you can see individual nose hairs on each character in a crowd. It feels to me like studios have too often taken the route of tossing in multiplayer and the promise of cutting edge graphics so sharp they can shear through the space time continuum so as to avoid the difficult issues surrounding the development of deep, engaging single player games that keep users coming back for more for hours on end.

In the olden days, game designers could not rely on such crutches. Games had to be fun and engaging in of themselves because the graphics were nothing more than an ASCII alphabet soup tossed onto the screen. Witness Begin: A Tactical Starfleet Simulation, a game I considered as having some pretty nifty graphics at the time; this was several years after I discovered computer games. How would such games fare today, dragged out of carbonite and tossed onto a PS 4? They certainly would get blown out of the water, but that would be ignoring the 30 years of work and lessons learned that have gone into game design since, and all the new ground that these games broke to get us where we are today. I am not saying that AAA FPS aren’t fun. Halo and Crysis certainly get my heart pumping and have their moments, but they have narrowed the user experience to such a narrow slice that one cannot help but wonder what could be achievable if some of the grand ideas of yore were brought back onto the table.

I believe the Kickstarter phenomenon is a manifestation of the public consciousness’ desire for some of the magic the first computer games brought to our desk tops. Fun isn’t purely about having a highly polished visual experience with 150 fps frame rates. The old games were able to do this by fully engaging our minds, and using the power within to fill in the blanks, much as happens when reading a book. That takes a lot of hard work, plenty of imagination, and some very clever people, but not necessarily hundreds of millions of dollars in development, as Minecraft has recently demonstrated.

I hope Kickstarter keeps chugging along, and that more great ideas see the light of day. In the meantime, maybe we can convince someone to revisit the Crescent Hawk’s Inception (and their ultimate Revenge.)

 

 

Helicopter used in jailbreak? Sure! Just another day in Quebec.

I love living in Quebec! If I am ever caught short for a story idea, I just need to wait a day or two, and something will come up.

This weekend, individuals hijacked a helicopter at gunpoint, and forced it to fly to a prison where they lifted away two inmates…dangling from the helicopter by climbing rope!

It’s well worth your time to watch the entire news report: CTV News: Helicopter used in prison escape was hijacked at gunpoint

You can’t make this stuff up! Brilliant! Sounds like Grand Theft Auto VI: San Jerome was released a little early.

Of course, crime doesn’t pay, and the lot of the thugs were caught shortly thereafter, which really makes you think about the value of the concept of busting out of prison in the first place. Even if it ain’t Dredd, the law is coming for you, crooks. Be patient, serve your time, then think about going for sessions of aerial tourism. Or better yet, don’t break the law and you can earn frequent flyer miles like the rest of us.

Having said this, I bet Hollywood is taking notes and coming up with a way to jam the concept into the next Bruce Willis mega blockbuster, Die Hard: Die Hardest Another Day: Resurrection.

If they aren’t, I’ve call dibs on the storyline!

Uber’s uber-solid model design

I am always awed by the beauty of strong design. The folks over at Uber recently released a new batch of imagery for their upcoming game, Planetary Annihilation.

Uber Entertainment’s Planetary Annihilation blog

They convey so much information through the use of simple shapes and strong textures.

All I can say is ‘wow’!

Finding inspiration for my illustrated book – It’s a process

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

When I set out to write my book, I had in mind a short picture book for kids to flip through and enjoy a fantasy encyclopedia of sorts. It was to have a dual purpose by providing sufficiently detailed illustrations to allow adults to flip through the pages and enjoy a rich visual story, perhaps drawing them back to time when life was simpler and they could take the time to let their minds wander through their imaginations.

My first step was to collate the various notes I’ve scribbled on notepads, notebooks, napkins, recorded in word processors, and other indescribable media over the years to pry out some useful ideas. A healthy dose of goofy imagery courtesy of the doodles I generate so that I can keep my ephemeral attention focused during long meetings helped crystallize a concept in my mind. I then mashed all of these together into a rough outline hitting the key characters I wanted to talk about in the story.

I had started collating some of my notes in a Word file many years ago, but had since migrated my computer to an Apple system. I’d never obtained Word for the Mac, since I had been using Apple’s “Pages” software for my shorter work projects. It’s a nice program, but does not handle large texts with numerous illustrations very well. At least, the version I bought back in 2007 with my computer does not like them at all. It isn’t very good at organizing information, either. I therefore searched the internet for a resource that would help me bring order to the chaos of my notes and help me visualize my story’s structure. I happened upon “Scrivener” a short while ago, and I must say that I am thankful for the way in which it allows me to coerce my information from a shapeless mass into a structured, if nascent, text.

I then built little blurbs for each of these characters and generated an art brief that I would be able to provide an illustrator to share my vision and inspire his or her work. These came together in the form of a project work description that I placed on Freelancer. I was surprised by the level of interest that the diverse community of artists that resides there showed for my project. In particular, a few artists rose above the crowd and became active participants in my writing efforts by coaching me through the Freelancer process and their perspectives on the nature of the work I was asking. In particular, Kenneth “Canifu”, and JJ Zhang were extremely helpful. I am humbled by their talent and their generous sharing of information. In the end, I settled with Art Corod because of the original vision he proposed and his inexhaustible enthusiasm. I may discuss my Freelancer experience and lessons learned in a later post.

After a short process of nailing down the visual style and going over specific project requirements, we set off on our grand adventure. The great thing about writing this book is that I am keeping my child in mind as the primary reader. Even though he probably won’t be able to fully appreciate it for several more years, I show him Art’s preliminary work and ask him which he prefers. As it turns out, a toddler can be pretty opinionated. This particular one appears to have a certain sense of aesthetics which is useful to the book’s art direction as well.

Somewhere along the way, my wife looked at the text I’d put together so far and asked: “Is that it?”

I could have immediately felt crestfallen, but instead sought her insight. She correctly pointed out that a young reader in the range I was designing this book for would be seeking more than fifteen to twenty pages of a fantasy hinterland’s wilderness observer’s guide. They would be seeking a story. At about the same time we were having this discussion, my illustrator sent me a wonderful landscape. You can see a small crop of the image at the top of this post

Although the image was unfinished, the amount of detail was astounding. Within its lines, a wealth of potential adventures played out. A light bulb lit so brightly in my mind that my brain is still sunburned. I was going to use the illustrations that Art was providing me as the inspiration for each of the book’s chapters. Just as I had provided the visual artist with just enough of an impulse to generate these rich images, the illustrations were going to serve as the catalyst for my stories.

Our collaboration has now become even closer, as both writer and illustrator rely on each other to develop the next story thread. As I receive an image, I quickly hammer out the corresponding chapter and feed it back to Art so that he can see where the story is going. This helps him come up with new ideas with which to populate his images, which in turn inspire the details to subsequent chapters. The main plot line will be unlikely to change much, but the detail that makes a story live and breathe will get richer with each passing illustration.

I am looking forward to the next image!