Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Songs: Macklemore - Same Love

My brain can't make up its mind about Macklemore's status. He's profoundly indie, having resisted the swindling of the record companies, and makes a big deal out of small roots and such. He's been adopted by hipsters because of how indie his message is. And he's popular enough to get mainstream attention.
But none of that matters because my brain does know ONE thing for sure:
Macklemore is good music.

He's fresh and new, and he's damn honest. He spells good messages and fights homogenization, commercial culture, and corporate monopoly. He's vulnerable, and he's proud. And damn can he rap. Having Ryan Lewis producing and a slew of guest singers, along with his violinist and trumpeter, gives him a weird sound I don't hear much in hip-hop (not that I hear much hip-hop :/). His beats are infectious, and his lyrics strong and catchy.

I could have gone with his regular super-hit Thrift Shop. I could have gone with my favorite tunes of Can't Hold Us or White Walls. I could have gone with my favorite overall song Jimmy Iovine. But I'm going to feature a different song, also a very good song, that has an actually important message. Same Love is in support of homosexual rights, and was written in support of the proposition for gay marriage here in Washington (Macklemore is from Seattle). It's an important movement to me still, even now that Washington has equal rights. Same Love is one of the most concise and precise (and enjoyable) presentations of many of the arguments for gay marriage.

Can't Hold Us
Thrift Shop
Thin Line
White Walls
Jimmy Iovine
Starting Over

End Recording,

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Quiet Year: My Improvised Experience

I don't actually know anything about Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light. They have some good songs on their soundtracks. Also check out Venice Vices and Metro Blues.

Hey there, the eve of Go Play NW! I'm excited. And so, in the spirit of relaxing and preparing, I went to Story Games Olympia to play even more.
I might have forgotten to check the Meetup page though, where it basically said that none of the regulars were probably gonna be there. Whoops. So there I was, and with a couple newbies who'd mostly never played RPGs before (minus one gal who'd been once before and played Monsterhearts, but that was her only other experience).
Here's a note: I've never hosted Story Games Olympia before. We've always had at least one of: Ross, Morgan, Jackson, Robert, Orion. So this time, with no regulars, I guess it fell to me. I made the best of it - I kinda forgot to mention The Veil, but our game generally didn't go anywhere near uncomfortable territory (unless you are made uncomfortable by squid-hawks or radioactive zombie fish), and I WAS watching for any discomfort and didn't see any. We also didn't have a pitch circle, per say... Mostly because I had no supplies.
I had come to play. I wanted to play a game and not GM something because I was gonna be GMing Saturday night, and so I hadn't brought any stuff. No dice. No rules. Blank slate. And so, when I ended up being the only person who had ANY rules knowledge to actual play a game, I had to start improvising. Of course, you already know what I played from the post title: The Quiet Year.

I didn't have much choice. The Quiet Year is the only game I know well enough that I can run it at the drop of a hat and is easy enough that I can explain it quickly and easily to complete RPG newcomers. It does, however, have a few requirements.
It needs the Rulebook. I did not have the rulebook.
It needs playing cards. I did not have playing cards.
It needs paper. I did not have paper.
It needs dice. I did not have dice.
It needs some quantity of tokens. I did not have tokens.
So I pitched the game anyway.
It needs a pencil. I managed to actually have a pencil. Whoopie.
The required a little scavenging and alteration. For one, I had no chance for tokens, so I just axed Contempt Tokens from the game. They don't have rules impact anyway. I downloaded the PDF on my phone (legally, since they were emailed to me during the Indiegogo campaign). I asked the coffee shop in which we meet if they had playing cards and fortunately they did (if they didn't I was probably gonna use a randomizer online for card draws). Also I'm gonna plug that coffee shop, Burial Grounds Coffee, for being amazing and friendly and serving some damn good tea. Anyway, I then asked the patrons of the shop if they had any paper and someone had some notebook paper and let us have a piece - it might be lined, but god damn it it's paper, works for me. I had another small piece of paper that I used to track projects since I had no dice to count down with. And so we played, on lined paper with regular playing cards as I passed around my phone with the card questions on the screen.

And it went well I think! Here, check it out:
Click for full size. This is a better picture than I expected, it got my project sheet's corner, the cards, the map, and a bit of my index card with the Resources on it. The whole Improvised Quiet Year experience right here.

So, some cool things. It's another Dead Port! I didn't come up with it, we had the suggestions tossed out of "By The Sea" and "Abandoned City" so we put them together for a port! Still, I tried not to recycle my previous ideas, other than the half-sunken cruise ship (that we didn't explore). We had an abandoned pirate ship still floating and a haunted lighthouse. We had resources of "Drinkable Water," "Food," and "Fish" as scarcities and "Skateboards" in abundance (for transport and all). Through the game interesting things happened like having no children in the whole village, Priscilla the Dog Whisperer (aka the Charismatic Young Girl) tried to negotiate with the rabid dogs and 1/4 of our hunters died and another 1/4 became the dogs' pets, but it was peaceful. There were Squid-Hawks (table-sized hawks with 10-foot tentacles and wingspans that were the region's apex predators). There was a radioactive fish processing plant that exploded and made the biker gang radioactive and also the fish reanimated and were radioactive. Also the bikers had radioactive fleas that turned one of our warriors into Flea-Girl who was like a superhero. We allied with the ghost by trading it our divinely-glowing dog food and there was a talking crab who was the intermediary between our community and the mermaids. There was a hurricane, and a prophecy about how this place was the origin point for the end of the universe. There was a wizard who could grant three wishes who died before we could use any of them. We found some glasses loaded with Google Glass. We castrated a pedophile and then threw him to the bikers.
That's the highlights I think, in no particular order. It was pretty freakin' crazy. I was quite reliant on the principle of "you don't need to be creative or witty or whatever - just say what sounds like the obvious thing to you because it might not be so obvious to everyone else," so there was quite a few off-the-wall ideas.
Very, VERY different from my other abandoned port game. Very cool, and the improvised solutions worked decently. I'd like to thank Leo, Tash, Alli, and Rowan (hope I spelled those right) for tolerating my on-the-fly game solutions, and I really hope you enjoyed yourselves. I'd love to see you again :)
The Quiet Year really is a great game for operating under those conditions. Also thanks Joe for having my other Dead Port AP linked on the official Quiet Year page, it's been a nice view feed :D

So GPNW is tomorrow. And Saturday. And Sunday. I am about to talk for three more days in a row and maybe sleep in my car to save gas money :/
Sunday Songs will be happening on time, but there will be no Pixel Art Lesson. Later!

End Recording,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Songs: Février - Walking Song

So, uh, hello. I guess I'm coming in pretty under the wire, huh? I meant to come by earlier, I had this song all ready and everything, but then I started playing Mass Effect and time got away from me. But who cares, it's Sunday Songs time!

Fevrier is a solo act by a friend of mine from a small forum I'm part of. He's the same guy as the band 34, and he's been getting really good. Honestly, his early vocal work was a little shakily-executed, but now, especially with this song and with The Trembling Giant (the track this EP is named for) he's gotten pretty damn good. This particular song merges everything I loved about 34's sound with his newer Fevrier sound, and damn is it good.

This EP is brand new actually! I wanted to give him some advertising. It's up for Pay What You Want (thank you very much Bandcamp for offering that), so feel free to just download, or use it to donate and support his efforts!

Rock on, Fevrier.

Fevrier Bandcamp
The Trembling Giant EP (all songs from it can be heard here)
34 Bandcamp
Arbent Rite (my favorite 34 album, and his first)

Also, just an announcement for next week's regular things, there won't be a Pixel Art Lesson unless I get it done really early, but I already know what Sunday Songs will be so it'll get posted right on time. This is because my whole weekend is going to be dominated by Go Play NW! I'm super excited.

End Recording,

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pixel Art Lesson: Not Really A Lesson (Cure's "Grishkin")

This song is long as hell, and it waits too long before switching things up each time, but it's still very enjoyable, just like the rest of the music for the No More Heroes series.

So I'll be straight: I don't gave anything prepped for today. I have no critiques waiting in the wings, and didn't see anything in the New Pixel Art bin this week that inspired a good critting. A couple of little things (like a Merc FCS piece) but nothing worthy of a Lesson. As such, I'm gonna do a thing I don't usually do and show off a master's recent piece.

Cure is an old pro. He's been a moderator of PixelJoint since 2005, and has been making professional-grade pixel art longer than that. He's a regular sight on the Top Pixel Art monthly posts. One of his recent projects that I loved was doing a revamp of all 151 original Pokemon Red/Blue sprites.

His recent piece that I wanted to bring attention to is Grishkin.

Yeah, that's pixel art. I zoomed to check, and everything really is damn precise. This is a pixel version of a painting he did earlier this year:
Basically, this is how the masters really work. Precise curves with extremely careful anti-aliasing, a bright and varied color range (there are only 31 colors by the way), and visually interesting pixel clusters.Also, virtually NO dithering.

Just look at that. See what the techniques I've been talking about can create if taken to their ultimate state. And if I hones my senses way into the details, I'm sure I could find some stuff to crit for him.

Here's a thing: this was created literally FROM the painting. It was resized and vectorized, then color-reduced. That's where Cure started and then cleaned up everything else to make it into a pixel piece. One half of me says "wait, that sounds kinda like cheating, we hunt and remove color-reductions". However, the other half, the better half, says that unlike a color-reduction, which is the epitome of laziness, this is mind-blowingly precise; a lot of care obviously went into it, and how he got the framework doesn't really matter.

This is a damn good piece. But remember - don't let it influence your style too hard. The way cure moves his pixels is not the only proper way, nor is it the only interesting way. If you merely repeat his techniques, you're cheating yourself out of your creativity. See it, admire and respect it, learn from it, but don't let it dictate how to work. Think first "How would I do this?", and not "How would Cure do this?". This point is the primary reason I avoid showing off master's pieces for these lessons.

End Recording,

Avatar World, Art: The Aristocrat

The newest Sonic Racing game has a killer soundtrack and you should go listen to it. Or stay here and listen to it while you read I guess.

Hey there, Avatar World! So yesterday I spent the whole day with Kenny and Luke at a local hobby store. And, uh, during the car drive I wrote the whole damn Aristocrat. I dunno what it is, but I'm way more productive in-transit than I usually am. Over half of Avatar World's systems, and probably half of the moves, were written in a car or plane going to/in Morocco. Whatever the reason, it's working, cuz it means I've now written...wait for it...
The final playbook.
Sort of.

I need to re-write the Airbender. I got half of it done as well, but not all of it, so I'll wait on sharing that. Today is all about the Aristocrat.

So let's get right to all the stuff I wrote!

Note: Important Aristocrat characters who acted as inspiration were Xin Fu, Princess Yue, Tarrlock, and Amon. From outside Avatar, I had a couple generic characters from other media, but specifically Samurai Champloo's Fuu is an Aristocrat in my mind. For external reference,

Stat Arrays:
* Natural +2, Hot +0, Solid +1, Keen +1, Fluid -1.
* Natural +2, Hot +1, Solid -1, Keen +1, Fluid +0.
* Natural +1, Hot +0, Solid +0, Keen +1, Fluid +1.
* Natural +1, Hot -1, Solid +0, Keen +2, Fluid +1.
* Natural +1, Hot +0, Solid +1, Keen +2, Fluid -1.
Wanted a balance of Natural+2s and Keen+2s since those are the playbook's mains.

Choose one from each list:
* Courtly clothes, Fancy but practical, humble garb
* With regalia and emblems, with accessories and jewelery, with intricate designs and colors, without adornment.
* Ruler, heir, minor nobility, just regular folk
This was a hard section, as I had to include an "out" for characters who are aristocrats without being noble.

* One of the characters is from your area of influence and you've sworn to take care of them. Who?
* What other ruler have you in turn sworn obedience to? Do you still like that ruler?

Silver Tongue: Whenever you roll a 10+ to Speak Honestly, the target must also offer something extra they think you want as well.
Also called "And What Else...?" or "Persuasive", but Silver Tongue is a WAY better name than either of those. Lazy draft one was just a boost to Speak Honorably, but that's booooring.
Henchmen: You have a small force of loyal henchmen. They can be sent out with commands or aid your efforts as you wish. When you Commit Open Violence with their support, after the roll you may impose an appropriate Tag on the target.
Highly considering removing the word "loyal". Anyway, while the benefit may not seem amazing, just having the henchmen is a pretty sweet benefit itself. They aren't really pros at anything, but they can handle simple things. Examples of appropriate Tags include Surrounded, Grappled, and the like.
Succubus: When you use the promise of sexual favors (implicit or explicit) as a bargaining chip when you Speak Honorably, add 1 to the roll.
I like the idea. It's a little blatantly mechanical, and there's probably something a little more fun to do with this, but I don't have it in my sleeves right now. This will be expanded in the sub-playbook The Geisha (the only one planned for this playbook so far).
Currency of Favors: Whenever you Help someone, you can ask a favor of them first. (the favor can be specific or in abstract). If you do, lower your honor with them by 1. If you don't, raise it by 1 instead.
This was this idea I had about it meaning a lot when nobles do things out of their own kindness, but nobles also knowing how to use their assistance as leverage for their own goals. Here's the thing to remember: owing favors can also be said as "promising to do something" - it gets to go on the oaths section, and that means they have to put their Honor at stake for your help. Just remember that they can choose to say no to your Help, at which point the hard choice is on you.
Intrigue: When you Speak Dishonorably but disguise it in polite conversation, roll +Natural instead of +Hot.
Originally called "Subtle Threats". Yes it's a stat substitution, but it certainly isn't unconditional, so I feel more okay about that. 
Mastermind: When you scheme and plan a future plot, roll+Keen. On a 10+, it'll work just fine if everyone sticks to the plan. On a 7-9, you'll need to prepare some things before the plan is ready to enact. The MC will choose at least one, more if he chooses:
    * The plan will hinge on another PC's success.
    * The opportune moment isn't for days/weeks/months.
    * You'll need to get some outside help, maybe someone in particular.
    * Someone will need special training to pull it off.
First move I wrote for the Aristocrat. You'll probably recognize pieces of that list as the Workshop move, though less options. MCs feel free to add a couple maybe if nothing feels right - I left off "needing materials/supplies" because it felt very similar to needing people, and people is more interesting cuz it causes interaction, but it's still a valid thing to need, so feel free to just toss it in if you like.

And that's six moves. I've got a couple more things to handle (Chi keys as the main thing, gear too, improvements but those are standard), but that's mostly it. I have a couple seeds of potential other moves, but if I can't figure out how to make them into actual moves I'll just convert them into chi keys.

Ah yes, I also drew the art for The Aristocrat while at the hobby store! Worked well I think.
Likin' the feel of it a lot. Was at first fearful that a male aristocrat might be too similar to The Scholar in basic appearance (robes/fu manchu/scroll), so I decided to try my hand at a female aristocrat. I was concerned about drawing a woman in a really respectful manner since I don't have much practice drawing women, but I think I pulled it off pretty well. Nose looks a little weirdly rounded to me but that's okay. Also chose a different background motif to go with the fanciness.

So that's it for today. Ought to have some more soon - if I'm feeling really ambitious and I get a lucky burst of focus and inspiration I might try to get all the playbooks in complete condition and do some layout and try to have a usable game to playtest at Go Play NW next Friday/Saturday/Sunday. Very excited.
End Recording,

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Monsterhearts Design: The Doppleganger (v3 + Dop vs Cuckoo + playtests + Strings/Conditions + alternate moves)

I've heard a lot of versions of Blue Monday, and liked a lot of them. Orgy's is pretty great, the New Order original is good, LeeDM101's are great as well. However, this one takes the cake. By a LOT. This is very much up my alley, style-wise.

So, this is mostly going to be compilation of my explanations/reports I put up on Story Games recently - I realized that maybe Monsterhearts-lovers could be finding this place without knowing S-G, so I'll reproduce it. There's some brand-new material at the bottom though.

Version 3

FIRST OFF: For the games in this post, I prepared a new version of the playbook! It includes Face Dancer. It's also a Microsoft Word file because my InDesign trial ran out, but it's still pretty good looking.

The Doppleganger versus The Cuckoo

Back when Jackson Tegu first announced his Second Skins kickstarter (finished the other day with a glorious $12k, congrats man), I posted about my story of the Doppleganger vs The Cuckoo.
One in particular is of interest to the Doppleganger, and that's The Cuckoo. I became aware of the Cuckoo when I emailed Joe asking for the Skin template and he mentioned that Jackson had something very similar in the pipeline and I decided to email him about it. He shared the example move from the Kickstarter (reproduced here) with me:
When you dress in someone else's clothes in an attempt to pass as them, roll with hot. On a 10 up, you're passing as them - face and body. You'd fool their mother and their favorite hookup. • On a 7-9, same as above, but choose one:
* someone suspects,
* the clothes are noticed missing,
* you receive some unwanted attention.
While you're passing as someone, give social Conditions you receive to them instead. This won't let you avoid physical Conditions, though.
As far as the situations go, this is eerily similar to what I came up with independently. Gotta say this struck some fear into my heart - Jackson's been playtesting and revising this baby a heck of a lot longer than I've been at The Doppleganger. I didn't want to just be obsoleted by The Cuckoo, so I looked for a way around how similar they appeared to be on the surface. I haven't had a look at the complete Cuckoo (I meant to at Fabulous Replacement, but forgot - I'll probably check it out next time I can get to Story Games Olympia) but my basic musings were generally confirmed by Jackson as making sense, so I'm feeling okay about them.

See, what I gleaned from the move is 1) motivation behind the Cuckoo's desires and 2) the different nature of the transformation. When a Cuckoo transforms, they're taking on the appearance of someone else. It's a very physical thing, and they aren't actually changed, they're simply disguise masters. So why is a Cuckoo doing this? In my estimation, it's the desire to take advantage of what they have. You want to use their things and have access to their stuff and be with their friends. But it's always about using their actual tangible THINGS, it's about wanting what they have. It's petty and physical.
The Doppleganger, on the other hand, doesn't become a person just to have their stuff. Sure, that helps, and I'm sure the Dopplegangers of the world sometimes transform just to take advantage, but at their core, the thing that makes a Doppleganger transform is self-loathing. The Doppleganger doesn't see greatness in others and want to hold it, it sees awfulness in itself and wants to escape it. And when it takes on a person, it doesn't just look like them, the Doppleganger IS that person, attitude included. The Doppleganger wants to be them, and that means taking on their personality.

The Cuckoo is manipulative and covetous and envious and physical. The Doppleganger is desperate and clingy and hero-worshippy and emotional. Worldly vs. Cerebral.

Another separation we found was that the Cuckoo actually solves their envy when they take people's stuff. The Doppleganger's problem is eternal - transformation is a patch, but they'll grow disallusioned with their hero and find a new one, they never actually feel better about themselves. Mechanically, the Cuckoo is a Hot skin while the Doppleganger is Dark, and I play with Stats a lot in the moves while Jackson plays with Conditions.

I'm confident that the division is strong enough in theory that we needn't be stepping on each others' toes. I'm not entirely sure if that sort of division is apparent inside of the mechanics of the Doppleganger right now though. Until the Kickstarter is fulfilled people won't have their hands on the Cuckoo for comparison, but does anyone here have any insight on how much you can see that separation in the two, that specific characterization I've given to the Doppleganger? I've been pretty anxious about this for a while, but now that the Kickstarter is launched and the Cuckoo's name is out there I can finally talk about it.
I've now seen the Cuckoo, though not the very final version.Jackson had it at SGO so I had a chance to look. Jackson posted beforehand intimating that they're totally different, and I definitely agree. Fascinating. Anyway, then I played once and ran it once!

Playtesting The Doppleganger and Feedback

So, I somehow forgot to come back here. We totally played and Morgan there did indeed play The Doppleganger! It was very successful, with some interesting observations. For one, Paul, your Face Dancer move was instantly a hit with pretty much everyone who read it and they thought it definitely fixed some issues in an interesting way, so thank you very much.
Other thoughts: Morgan chose My Evil Twin with intention to try abusing it - I mean, getting people blamed for stuff for XP? Sounds fairly easy when you can BE people, right? Turns out it's actually tougher than it sounds, but in a good way, worth investing energy into while not abusable.
A couple memorable Doppleganger moments from the game included:
* The Doppleganger using an imitation Facebook account of the Queen that had some of her clique on it to impersonate her even without transforming. (Also made me think that the Crawl Inside Your Head question would be well spent asking for Facebook or email passwords).
* The Werewolf (played by me) bullying The Doppleganger in art class and events pushing me into Darkest Self, during which I started going at him in half-and-half wolf form in front of the class. In response, The Doppleganger transformed into me, also in half-wolf form. Crazy and awesome PvP wolf fight. I totally won, that move for getting Strings on people when you do harm was very very helpful, plus it turns out the Werewolf is better at hurting things, but it ended up being quite thematically appropriate - even when he transforms into an exact copy of them, he's still not as good as them.
Important Note: We decided on an impromptu basis that yeah, The Doppleganger could totally become The Werewolf even if it wasn't previously established - the Werewolf's Backstory said he wasn't very subtle, so we just went with it, and the game was better for being liberal about it.

But then! Time passed and the next time I showed up to SGO I played Monsterhearts again! In fact, I didn't just play, I ran my first ever game of Monsterhearts! And to my elation, one of us picked The Doppleganger! Thanks to Becka (took a guess, sorry if I got the spelling wrong :( ) for taking a chance. She picked Linked, which was interesting to see. In my nerves of doing my first MH game I kinda forgot about it for the first half of the game, but I definitely made a thing of it in the back half, and it made things really cool. Didn't trigger the mechanical side of it, but the narrative side was cool enough. Later on she also took Walk Like You, Talk Like You, which was pretty neat as well.
Once again, we had multiple moments of ad hoc "can I turn into that person?" and just saying sure, yeah. Also once again, I wasn't expecting it to happen two games in a row, but we had The Doppleganger transform into a person right in front of them. An NPC this time, but still.
Interesting though, I was looking at Jackson's Cuckoo skin and it had a crossed out move about turning into people in front of them labeled as "no fun," so even if it's a common thing and is cool in gameplay, maybe it's not worth making a move out of it.

The big thing I got out of both games was that keeping a small limit on the number of people you can transform into isn't very interesting and I'm thinking I'll just remove it. I'm thinking just put it at "When you have a string on someone and transform into them...".
And alternative idea was proposed to not have a move for transforming at all and instead making the core move about when you're pretending to be someone to other people, like when you try to deceive your subject's friends or whatever.
I was made aware that I need to write more clearly about how Strings and Conditions operate when you transform. To sum it up right now, narrative situations follow your current appearance, but you're mechanically treated as having all of your Strings and Conditions as usual. I'll probably write up a bonus half-sheet to go with the skin describing my reasoning for that so it makes sense to players, since it requires a certain understanding of Strings and Conditions to make it work.

Anyway, just wanted to come back with an update on how the games went! I'll be running a game of Monsterhearts again at Go Play NW, so hopefully someone will pick The Doppleganger again.
Paul brought up that the desire to be all sorts of people could be an artifact of one-shot play, which is a great point. He also expressed some interest in a potential version with Transform based around the interactions rather than the action itself, but wasn't sure about how well it would work.
Additionally, he brought up that a move he'd proposed earlier still felt like a more elegant way to handle Personality Bleed. I'll be including this with the alternate moves below!

Dani came and brought up some cool stuff! Pretty sure she's in my GPNW game, so that'll be fun. She had some questions about existing moves, some ideas for some potential new moves, and the big question of "How do Strings and Conditions work with Transform?" I'd answered a bit before, but only briefly. This is a big deal, and requires a specific understanding of the two mechanics. I'll get to that in a second.
Dani: Being able to transform should require something like a sympathetic token and/or an expenditure of a String in my opinion. It's a powerful ability and shouldn't come without a cost, plus watching them maneuver to get such a token provides great opportunities for interesting RP. That, or spending a String showing that you're using what you know about them to aid you in this process.
Ego: An interesting idea, but I'm not so sure about a full cost, precisely. In the past I considered sympathetic tokens, but I'm not sure that having a token of them means at all the same thing as knowing them - and in fact strays much much closer to the Cuckoo. Spending a string is an okay idea, but I'm not entirely sure that spending a string and then having to roll anyway is so great. Instead what I've got in mind is that you need to have a string on them, but you don't need to spend it to be able to roll. Transforming sounds powerful, but since once you're them you still need to do all the rolls and everything to complete your mischief it isn't quite as tough as you might think. The risk/cost comes from the inherent risk that comes whenever you roll I guess. And for that fun RPing opportunity, instead of where you spend a string, it's the case of trying to GET that string.
This plays into my new alternate Transform.
Dani: One thing that could be interesting is adding a Move that lets you add 1 to any roll against a person you share a String against in common with your current form. For example, The Vampire and The Doppelganger both have a String against The Mortal. The Doppelganger takes The Vampire's form and is able to add 1 to their roll against The Mortal. Does that make sense? Since they both share emotional leverage, The Doppelganger could use what they know as well as the fact that they're currently in the form of someone else who has some sort of pull/hold on them. Just a thought.
 Ego: I like this! Especially if I remove another move for some reason, this is a great contender for an additional move - I just feel a little concerned about bloating the Skin up with too many moves. Definitely a great contender though.
Gonna include this below!
Dani: Would be neat to see a Move allowing for some sort of benefit if another character is in collusion with you.
Ego: Face Dancer is already sort of this, but on a player scale rather than a character scale. An interesting idea, but I'm not quite as compelled as by that other Strings move, and if I'm limited on space I'd pick the other one. Still, a good idea, and a neat mental exercise, though I'm not quite sure how I would model it.
Despite hesitation, gonna include this with the alternate stuff anyway.

Transforming and Strings / Conditions

Dani's question was asking how Conditions and Strings should work for a character who transforms. As something I early-on struggled with, I really organized my thoughts this time. Early on, there was bouncing ideas about getting their Conditions, spending their strings, and other stuff. Here's my definitive answer:
This is a thing I actually have thought a lot about. See, the Cuckoo makes a split with Conditions, dividing them into social conditions (like slut or humiliated) and physical conditions about your state of being (like drained or terrified). When you transform as a Cuckoo, you adopt their social conditions, but not the physical ones, as you suggest.
I don't quite agree, and I think this is where my particular understanding of Conditions come into play. In my understanding, with the exception of drained, Conditions are a list of things that you care about. When the Queen gets labeled by the school bully as a slut, that's significant because the Queen cares about that label - people can take advantage of it because it's a point of emotional weakness for her. The physical truth of the matter doesn't matter; she could sex up the whole damn football team and if she's shameless about it and doesn't care about being called a slut, taking advantage of it gives no benefit, and is not a condition. Even strictly physical matters follow this "care about" trend. If I've got the condition covered in pig's blood, I'm not easy to take advantage of because of the blood, but because I care that the blood is there. If I'm entirely nonchalant and don't give a fuck about this blood all over me, you can't really leverage that over me to take advantage of me, and thus it isn't a condition. Conditions are things we care about. Drained is an exception because it is explicitly about a physical truth of the situation, you can get there through taking Harm, it's more than just a feeling. It's also the only exception I can think of.
With that in mind, if The Doppleganger, who idolizes the Queen, transforms into her, it doesn't automatically matter to her that others think she's a slut. You idolize her, that part included! Her emotional vulnerabilities don't suddenly become yours just because you look like her now. As such, even those social conditions don't affect you when you transform, unlike the Cuckoo. (I think it's also fitting, as the cuckoo is taking their shape out of envy, and thus doesn't have that inherent idolization that overwrites people's flaws in your eyes - even if you want their stuff, you'll still care about being called a slut).
Also, Linked can make it so that when you become them, you DO feel the shame over some of it, so you can totally still tell that story.

Strings are a different matter, but some of the same basic reasoning follows. Here's the law to the approach I'm using: narrative situations follow your shape, mechanical situations are tied to the players. An important thing to this approach is the fact that strings are not tied to the situation they arise from. Once they're created, they become purely mechanical tokens until they're reintroduced to the fiction through a different action. If you help me out and I owe you a favor now and you take a String on me, you can call in that favor without spending the String, or you could spend the String and still have that favor waiting. Because they're separate, that means that it's not bizarre mechanically to be able to spend Strings from other forms.
Let's talk first about spending Strings on others from different forms. Strings are emotional leverage on someone. That's what I've typically described them as. If I have leverage over someone, I know their issues, I know how to take advantage of them. Regardless of what shape I'm in, I still have that knowledge. If I know I can control you with threats of physical violence, that knowledge is a narrative situation that doesn't change with my shape, so I could still use that as my action to spend a String. However, if you owe me a favor and I take another form, the narrative situation follows my shape still, so I can't cash in my original form's favors, so that's not a reasonable way to spend a String. The third path to this is if I'm in another form, why can't I spend THEIR Strings? If I know you owe them a favor, and I'm in their shape, that's a narrative situation I can take advantage of since it follows my shape. I could even use that as an excuse to spend my own Strings, and then they wouldn't be able to cash in that favor again later. However, because Strings aren't tied to situations, I couldn't actually reach over and use any of their Strings.
So what about having Strings spent on ME? Again, narrative follows shape, mechanics follow players. If I'm The Queen, and someone tries to cash in a favor the Queen owes them, they can't spend a String on me - it's not ME who they've got any sort of emotional leverage on. They can try to cash the favor in still, they just can't give it any mechanical weight. If the person has any emotional leverage on my original form though, well, I'm still vulnerable to that person, regardless of what form I'm in, so they can spend Strings they have on me. For this same reason, if they push on me and get new Strings on me, I'm the one who they have emotional control over.

Essentially, both of these things rely on an interpretation of Conditions as "Things about me I feel ashamed of or vulnerable for" and Strings as "Emotional leverage", not as physical or social truths and actual favors. This is my reasoning for treating Conditions and Strings this way, and I definitely plan on explaining it in an additional page page packed in with the Skin.
Now I just have to figure out how to put that on a single MH page... Do you agree with my interpretation of Strings and Conditions? It's weird and not immediately straightforward, so I want to know if there's any confusion or any more exceptions you can think of.

Alternate Moves

So I've decided to write up some alternative moves to the existing ones to test out. As-is, the Skin is playable, well thought out, and fun in games, so as far as I'm concerned, it's hit the point that everything now is experimental.
Transform: You can transform into any character you have a String on. When you transform, roll with Dark. On a 10 up, you take their form perfectly. On a 7-9, choose one:
    * Your impersonation won't hold up under scrutiny. 
    * The process is agonizing, take 1 Harm. OR * The process is slow and agonizing.
    * The disguise won't last long.
This is alternate because: It's an experimental version of Transform, but is the most likely alternate move to make it into the playbook. The alternative choice there takes the one option with a mechanical penalty (and thus is less likely to be selected) and makes it into something purely narrative but still keeps the "penalty" feeling. I'm kinda leaning toward it.
Transformed: You can transform into any character you have a String on. When you act in a way that's out of character for the person you're impersonating, roll with Dark. On a 10 up, you get away with it. On a 7-9, you raise suspicion that something's wrong and need to adjust your performance or your cover is blown.
This is alternate because: It's very experimental, and I'm way less sure about the mechanical execution, so there's some of my own fault there, not in the approach. It has the benefit of being about the social interaction itself, which is cool. I'm on the fence, but it's definitely an interesting alternative to consider.
Mutual Enemy: When both you and the character you're impersonating have a String on someone, you take +1 to all rolls against this character.
This is alternate because: It's a cool idea, and honestly this would be a great inclusion if I end up cutting any of the moves I already have. I just consider each of my existing moves to be slightly stronger than it, and I don't want to have too many moves on the Skin (I already have like 8 with Face Dancer).
Conspirators: While transformed, when another character knows who your really are, they may mark experience if they agree to not expose you. If they do, take a String on them.
This is alternate because: It's a pretty hard-to-gauge trigger, and the mechanism has huge overlap with Face Dancer. It's the character-side mirror to Face Dancer, and frankly, I think just Face Dancer is enough. However, if you don't want to have that meta-gamey "work with me here and it'll be worth your while" conversation and have the interaction be in character, you could go with this one.
Personality Bleed: When you return to your own form, ask what the highest stat was for the character you were impersonating (ask the MC if it was an NPC). Until you next Transform, whenever you would roll with that stat, roll with Dark instead.
This is alternate because: I'm hesitant about what is more or less an unconditional stat substitution. It puts a very high emphasis on Dark, and makes you use Dark even when the fiction says you should be being Hot or whatever. It's not because of the way you do it or anything, it isn't really tied to the fiction as much anymore. However, it is definitely a hell of a lot simpler than the current Personality Bleed, and that's a huge benefit since the current Personality Bleed is more inelegant than I'd like.

End Recording,

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pixel Art Lesson Companion: Editing Splug's "Taming The Beast" Step-By-Step

Much of Imagine Dragons' album Night Visions doesn't quite imprint very strongly on me, but this one is fuckin' awesome.

Hey there, check it out, time to see how I go about an edit! This is of Splug's "Taming The Beast," the original image's post on PixelJoint is HERE, and this is meant as a companion piece to the PIXEL ART LESSON I wrote about Splug today. Before reading this, you should familiarize yourself with that lesson, because this edit is how I found my way to a lot of those critiques.

This is the original! Congrats to Splug for making something inspiring enough that I could do a full edit. If you want to know on a mechanical level how I would improve this piece, read the lesson. That's not what this is. This is what *I* would do if I was in charge of this image. It involves a major dose of my own personal style, and I'll point out where that is. It's important to me that if you use this as a tool to learn from, DO NOT simply attempt to copy the sort of moves I do but understand WHY I make those moves. I try not to share the full edits I do when I can help it because I feel that when you go back to revise you are too affected by the style of the editor to allow your own creativity to shine through in the edit.Let's go!
This first edit was a color alteraton. As I say in the Lesson, flat grey is dangerous and loses a lot of power in the presence of other colors, and even a mild infusion of colors helps that. If you wanted the man to pop out most he's still brown (which is low-value orange btw), so it's a contrasting color to blue and perhaps will pop out even more.

Woah, what's that? This is color blocking, a strategy for determining the framework for a piece. I discussed these in another Lesson, and I think it's a valuable editing tool because you can block out their major shapes without the interference of shading. It's a bit muddy to pick out sections in a poorly-defined image, but you try your best. This color-blocking isn't a perfect blocking though, but the first stage of editing! I rounded out some of the curves to make it generally more pleasant.
Now let's just talk about the beast for a while.

This is the silhouette of that color-blocked beast! Looking at an object's silhouette is important to composition, letting you get a feel for the general gestures of an object. Looking at it like this, I interpreted that it actually looks too rounded, almost cuddly, like a stuffed bison rather than a stubborn beast.

To reflect this, I made some modifications, taking more advantage of straight lines rather than swooping curves - something I emphasized in the Lesson's posing section.

Looking at the silhouette of that new blocking, I think it definitely looks more aggressive. That's much better.

So I decided to begin the rendering process, making things the same color, with lines to define separate objects that would overlap in the silhouette. The paste of the color-shifted original was a quick way to have that whole palette available to me since I wasn't immediately using the whole thing.

And rendering continues with a first draft of the face! I wanted to preserve that striation thing as well as the raised section of the forehead. The thin and tightly-angled eyes added to the expression and gives it an angrier look.

This is a refinement, with the addition of some darker colors. It's more angular and aggressive, which was a small-scale implementation of the gesturing and tone. Oh, and I added the mane.

This is a detail view of the face, showing how the eye ridge is much more angular rather than curved, showing how it alters the expression.
If you're astute, you'll notice that I did some smooth-line rounding off of the curves, like on the mane, using anti-aliasing. That's a thing of mine. You'll also notice that there's banding toward the left side of the face. That's me not catching my mistakes yet.

More refinement, but more importantly I shifted the palette again! It's more blue now, less cyan. I confess, as a general thing I'm not fond of cyan as a major color in pieces. It's just me.

These two are about mapping the posing! This is a general sketch of what the current posing is. Kinda docile pose on the beast.

This is what I decided to go with, a much more resistant (and much more angular) shape, with more of the weight shifted toward the back.

Here I used a sharp color to re-define the outlines.

Same thing, with the sharp color redefined.

 I'm changing the ears! I feel like they were in a crazy place on the original.

 I remembered to keep a layer of just the color-blocking for an ear.

 Head's complete!

For this, I decided that just squaring off the feet could make my life easier. Since I'm gonna make the feet sink into the snow a bit that worked out great.
Nearing the final stretch of the beast. From here on out, I basically just started rending the rest. I started with just round color regions, but nothing felt right till I did that staggered thing to make it look like fur. The foot gets modified several times over the next few steps.

This next leg I made  couple decisions. For one, I made an odd decision in highlighting on the knee. It still looks a bit odd to me, but I think I like the look. It didn't work out otherwise.
I also decided that I'd use the background's bright snow color inside the body.

There's the rest!

I switched out the very neutral brown background for a brighter color so I could measure my sel-out and anti-aliasing.Oh, and added a bit of hair texture to the mane, though I'm still not sure about that at all.

Tried a different palette. Looks too dark.

That's better!

 Let's get onto the dude! Here he is, isolated from the beast.

 Color-blocked him too!

And checked out my silhouette of him.

 This is the silhouette of the whole thing, along with the beast.

 Gestures reiterated.

I re-blocked him, trying to emphasize the strong straight gestures wherever possible.

 And the silhouette of that. Even better!

I forgot to save intermediate frames of my rendering of the guy. I again had the original guy there for color reference. It also serves as a good comparison! You can see that mine is darker overall.

An important thing to me was to make the contrast on the guy compare to the strong contrast on the  beast. This is the completed man and beast together.

Compared to the original! I admit, the original has this, I dunno, RAWness that's pretty cool. There were definitely other ways I could have gone about it, but I feel very confident in the pixel integrity of my edit.

I added a gentle curve to the background. You'll notice all those lines are gone, and I'm letting more sky shine through.

This is the final image! I added some mountains in the back, but made sure they felt very far away and to give the beast and the man a fair berth of background around them to enhance that "barren" feel.

So there you have it! The creation of an edit. Let me know if you learned anything out of this. This was one of the more intense pixel-editing jobs I've done lately, so it was nice to stretch out and throw around my own pixelling ability again. I rarely have the inspiration to do my own pieces, so having the idea already there is really nice.
Anyway, later folks!

End Recording,

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pixel Art Lesson: Splug's Taming The Beast (Composition and Design, Posing)

Linkin Park is not good all the time, but I've been quite fond of this one.
Note: If you hate 'em for their reputation, yeah, you're a hipster. Open that mind.

Sorry for the delay, had to actually write this damn thing.

Splug's "Taming The Beast"

Major Themes: Composition, Posing, Design, Colors

No author comments, this is his first piece here.
Thursday, when I first saw the piece, I wrote this:
This is an interesting piece. You have some good intuition about the composition and structure of the piece, and those alone give it a pretty good look. However, the pixel techniques are pretty lacking, and I want to talk more in-depth about them. I don't have time right now, but I'll be back writing you some real critique sometime tomorrow. I think you have some serious potential, I can see the artistic/creative parts of you run really strong, so it's just a matter of learning the ins-and-outs of the medium.
Just wanted to leave this here to remind myself to come back. Also, I like the kinda Sword & Sworcery vibe coming off the dude.
So, did you notice how it's basically that's some REALLY kid gloves I've got on there? I'm treading with a VERY light touch here for three reasons. The first is that this guy is friggin' 14 years old and I want to support an artistic kid. Second, he has no comments and no other pieces, and I really didn't want to scare him away with a giant critique without preparing him for it. Third, well, this piece has a LOT of flaws on the pixel side. I don't end up talking about them too much because a piece THIS LACKING in pixel-level technique indicates ignorance of the very existence of these techniques, so I just introduce the idea of the techniques.

Today, I finally finished writing.
Oh man, where to start? I don't mean that the piece is so full of issues (though, well, it is, but not in a way you should be ashamed of or anything, you're just still new!), but moreso I mean that this piece highlighted several major things I want to talk about. Essentially, this is a piece with a great concept and a decent composition without the slightest understanding of pixel-level technique. I want to establish right off the bat that I think you do indeed have what it takes to be pretty damn great - I don't take this sort of time for people unless I think they have real potential, so please don't be afraid of the large volume of text. Of all things, that idea stage is the hardest, and you have that already. The composition stage is part intuition and part science, and I think you have the intuition side down, and I just have some ideas that could further it. The pixel-level technique stage is both easiest and most difficult - at its core, it's just a set of specific techniques that make pixel art distinct from other art forms, but the hard part is that the only way to get these skills is through practice.
I'm not lying here - the idea's the hard part. Everything else is practice.
Full disclosure: I did a COMPLETE edit of your piece. I will NOT be showing you the whole, but portions for illustrative purposes. This is to keep you from getting my image in your head and mimicking it and instead allowing your own creativity and ideas to flow better.
I hope to use this sort of strategy in the future as well. This is why I teach by critique, and after seeing multiple people editing their pieces to kinda look like my edits I realized I was defeating myself.
HOWEVER, you the blog readers will see it! In a whole post featuring my overall process! That's my repayment for the lateness.
Okay, my critique of composition has 4 primary factors: creature design, posing, the environment, and color choice. Let's hit 'em one at a time.
Creature Design: The Beast here doesn't appear to be any one existing creature. When I look at it, I see a polar bear crossed with a lion, plus whatever those lines are on its face (ridges?). All in all, a cool critter. It definitely looks like a creature that has some real power behind it. My weirdnesses with the creature mostly come from the ear/mane region. The mane doesn't seem to be following along any real shapes like the neck or anything, so it appears to just form a natural point, which is a bit odd. Also, the ears are both quite large, but more importantly, they're VERY high up on the head, coming out of where we'd expect a neck. I would expect them coming out of the mane only just aboe the eyebrow ridges, slightly off to the sides.
Also, uh, based on that pose, we ought to be able to see the fourth leg, at least a little.

Posing: As it is, it looks good, but I think it could be even STRONGER. See, the beast currently looks relaxed, like it's just moving along at its own pace, being led by the man (who, incidently, reminds me of the Wayward Vagabond from Homestuck for some reason). I was looking at the piece, and with a name like Taming The Beast, I was wondering if we could get an even more aggresive feel from it, like the beast is actively struggling against him and he's really trying to haul the beast along. As it is, it looks more like "large pet" than "wild beast on a chain."  Here's a "science of composition" thing: in your general shapes, straight, angular lines convey a sense of power, while smooth curves convey a softer feel. Not just in the literal lines, but in the gestures. Here, check this out:
These are the silhouettes and basic gestures of your characters right now. Instead let's have the beast digging in his feet, trying to stay rooted while the man pulls him along: (image 11). Here's the silhouette of my edited version, with gesture lines:
The straighter your general motion lines, the more aggresive the pose seems (in general). By giving the characters more active poses, I tell a more concrete story of "taming the beast" with the composition even before I get to the pixel level. Try exaggerating your gestures!
 The Environment: Now, I'm not precisely sure what you were going for with those background lines. My guess is that you wanted to convey the feeling of a vast barren waste that the man has to drag the beast all the way across, making the struggle seem even greater. Those background lines, well, I think they were meant to make it look like there's all those snowy hills in the back, but really they just muddy the piece. Additionally, with those snow mountains in the back, honestly it looks like you got a little lazy - the main problem is a lack of variation. It's cool to have mountains, but if they're far you should have a clear horizon line and the mountains shouldn't all look so similar to each other. Honestly though, I think the whole "barren desolation" thing could be better supported with a mostly clear horizon, maybe with a couple mountains poking out past it.

The Colors: This is a hard one to explain. Basically, my main point is that you've used a true grey and that's a bad idea. See, almost nothing in reality is true grey, everything is hinted with color. Grey has two main purposes in pixel art: a) to accentuate an object's LACK of color (often used for dramatic effect or to draw attention to the more bold or colorful objects in an image), or b) to act as a buffer between two other colors (as it is in the Commodore 64 palette). I don't want to say NEVER use grey, but in this piece, you want to infuse some sort of color into that grey, even if it's a very low saturation color. Grey pushes the eye away, and is generally just boring (not to mention the fact that contrast with grey is much stronger than with many colors). Here's an example where I through some blue into your palette:
Also, your sky color is very, well, bland. It's not BAD, but it doesn't pop, it just kinda blends with your mountains, so it's not very distinct. A common thing with barren wasteland pieces is they often put a very intense sky color to balance the desaturation of the rest of the piece - check out any major desert imagery or the like and you'll see what I mean. Think about throwing a much more saturated sky in, just for some contrast!

This is my design / composition critique. Next up is the pixel-level techniques.

Alright, so you're missing the most basic pair of tools in the pixel artist's arsenal: clean lines and anti-aliasing.
Clean lines are a tough thing to do at first. Oftentimes, recognizing jaggies (a piece of lingo referring to jagged lines, or unclean lines that are aesthetically unpleasing) is down to intuition, and this is something that will be trained into your eye as you do more pixel art. For my part, I'm especially sensitive to unclean lines, giving my art a lot of smooth, swooping curves. The key to a smooth line is evenness. In a straight line, it's about being consistent with the length of each little segment of the curve. With a curve, the key is to increase or decrease the segment length in only one direction. This piece's biggest issue comes from its cleanliness - the environment lines behind them, the shading curves on the beast, the general outline shapes. With curves cleaned up, it could be awesome.

Sometimes, you can't make a line totally clean without sacrificing shape, and shape would seem to be more important. In those cases, you make the lines as clean as you can, and then use the most prevalent and most generally helpful technique that's specific to pixel art: anti-aliasing. AA is where you place an intermediate color at corners of junctions between two colors. It's a very well-documented technique, and I recommend reading some stuff about it. A simple google search should find you some decent explanations, as well as another TUTORIAL BY ME which also explains a problem called banding that you want to avoid (it commonly arises from misunderstanding AA, so watch out!). Because the piece doesn't have ANY of it, I'm gonna chalk it up to not knowing of the technique, so I won't go into depth about where you should use it so you have a shot to try for yourself.
Whoops, I pawned off my whole pixel-level section to my other tutorials! I think they're worth it though - I wrote them very carefully, so wasting space reiterating is  useless.
Overall, the piece looks sketch-like. The key now is refinement. Anyway, I'll shut up now, so I hope to hear from you and maybe see a revised version of this, cuz again, you got the instinct to really make it!
And that's pretty much it! He has yet to reply, and I don't know if he ever will. I hope he does though, I want to see more from him.
Oh, and here's that edit!
You'll see the whole piece wit hthe whole process very soon. Later folks!

End Recording,

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Songs: MS MR - Hurricane

Well, before I get to the video, I'll make the announcement again here cuz these are the posts music-lovers are most likely to read: Embeds are back! AdSense is a huge fucker and refuses to approve me for copyrighted material even after I removed it all, so fuck it, I can't figure it out and it's not worth losing out on the music stuff.
I put everything on the front page back, but re-adding embeds is a huge bitch of a project so I'll be doing it over time. Eventually they'll all be back though!

Also, if you're looking the Pixel Art Lesson scheduled for yesterday, I'm still writing the critique for it, so please bear with me. I made a complete edit of the piece for it, so there'll be a bonus post to go with it documenting my entire process of the edit! So it'll be worth the wait, the piece is one with a lot of potential and such has my critique bones rattling hard.

Anyway, to Sunday Songs!

I know literally nothing about MS MR. I heard the end of this song on the radio and had to track it down. They've got this dark sound with curious ethereal vocals (I think through multi-tracking her voice), but it's pretty sweet. They also have this kind of older, near-vintage vibe to them, but they started in 2011 actually! I'm gonna be checking out their album.
For more just check out their Wikipedia page:

That's why I inflated the top stuff a bit, cuz I have no links today :/

End Recording,

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Avatar World: The Monk's Moves Completed!

Really like this song. It's long, and the version I have on my soundtrack (some dude's custom ost) is spliced parts of this, but I love the middle eastern vibe that the song gives off, it's great for Samara and the Justicars.

SURPRISE! I actually wrote Avatar World stuff!

Where has this stuff been? Stuck. I've been bashing my head against finishing the Monk for a while now and just wasn't sure where to go with it. I kept trying and nothing was coming. Maybe it's been a couple of other side-track things I've been doing with ApW hack work (such as The Doppleganger, or talking with JasonT on S-G about his Mass Effect ApW hack the past few days), but I've had my head back in the AvW space the past few days, so I sat down with a few hours of the show Defiance and wrote the rest of the Monk.
(note: Defiance isn't related to AvW in any way, I just kinda enjoy it as a show in the background. Also, you should check it out because it is literally just an Apocalypse World game with aliens in it - it's amazing how ApW it really is)

Anyway, I'm just gonna put out the stuff I have.

The Monk is a Natural/Solid playbook. There will be a balance of stat arrays with +2Nat/+1Sol and +1Nat/+2Sol.

Clarity of Senses: It's hard to take advantage of your watchful eyes. As long as you have at least 1 Chi, activating tags against you costs an additional Chi (even for the MC).
I dunno about the name. I'm also not sure how useful it actually is. We'll see.
Guru: You teach others the path to self-improvement. When highlighting stats, choose another player and highlight a third stat. All of that player's rolls to Help/Hinder you are considered to be 10+ for this session.
The last move I wrote, and probably risky business. I kinda like it though. I can't lie that I was definitely thinking of ApW's The Solace when I wrote it.
Rivers of Energy: You may pay 1 Chi to redistribute the Chi of all characters you're touching however you like.
No permission needed! This is strong as hell probably. 
Calm Stability: When you are still and unflinching in the face of imminent harm, roll+Solid. On a 10+, the danger washes over you harmlessly. On a 7-9, you still come through unscathed except (choose one):
     * the experience is painful (take 1 Harm) but you are unphazed.
     * your resolve is broken, take the Tag Shaken.
     * ?
I feel like there should be a third, but I dunno what it is. It's pretty decent only with two. This is a more fun defense thing I believe than Chi armor.
Stillness: When you are subtle with your motions or settle into a defensive stance, you Move With Intention using Natural instead of Fluid.
Pretty simple. Didn't want an unconditional stat-substitution move, but with fictional reinforcement I like it. 
Spiritual: With effort, you can contact entities of the Spirit World. When you meditate to call upon a spirit, roll+Chi spent. On a 10+, that spirit appears to you. On a 7-9, choose two:
     * The correct spirit appears,
     * The spirit is benevolent,
     * The spirit doesn't want something in return.
 This one took me a while to write, but I'm now quite fond of it. Want to hear what you think of this one.

Also, I wrote the Oaths. The Monk starts with an Oath With Self to represent their monastic vows.
Your monestary prized one or more of the following vows:
* I will not intentionally harm another,
* I will not tell falsehoods,
* I will not afford myself any luxury.
 That's a vow of Peace, a vow of Honesty, and a vow of Poverty.

Uh, that's the stuff I think I've got now. However, that's enough stuff to say I'm good with the Monk right now and can move on to the final two playbooks!
Well, the Aristocrat, yeah. The other one is the Airbender. "But Ego, didn't you do the Airbender already?" you ask! Well, yes, but it's also pretty bad, and I don't feel satisfied with it at all, so I'm gonna re-write it.
Anyway, later!

End Recording,

Monday, June 10, 2013

Video Games: E3 Bloggin'

Just a good song from the movie.

Just an announcement that I'm tweeting all about the stuff at the e3 Press Conferences so if you care about what I think about the games and their announcements, just follow me on Twitter. I'm @Logbook_Project, or just look to the right there.

EDIT: MIRROR'S EDGE 2 TRAILER I don't even need to keep watching my wish is fulfilled. All I need now for this to be a perfect storm of E3 is The World Ends With You 2 (with pixel graphics) and Beyond Good & Evil 2.

End Recording,

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Songs + Movie Review: Now You See Me - Codec

Now You See Me is a move currently in theaters, about a group of magicians called the Four Horsemen who use their magic to perform large crimes in public defiance of the police. I was expecting a regular ol' crime movie, and thought it'd be decent.

I wasn't expecting Ocean's 4, with all the great things that brings with it. The cast was full of stars I didn't know were in it (Mark Ruffalo? Morgan Freeman? Michael Caine? Jesse Eisenberg? It's like a who's who of some of my favorite recent performances), the camerawork was really fresh and fun, it featured slick and charismatic criminals (stylish like the Clooney/Pitt/Damon trio in the Ocean's movies or Matt Bomer's character in the show White Collar), and it had some of the most over the top and crazy magic tricks I could think of. Starring an all-purpose magician, an up-and-coming illusionist, an escape artist, and a mentalist, the movie was all around a fantastic time. Yeah, the ending is a little vague and leaves you puzzle it out for yourself and kinda leaves you hanging without resolving anything, it was the most fun I've had at the movies in a while, and I loved Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness, and had an absurd blast of a time with Fast and Furious 6, so that's kinda saying something. Really, ignore the critics this time. It's definitely worth seeing, and worth seeing on the big screen too.

Now the music. See, the movie's soundtrack is amazing. Definitely the best film soundtrack of the year so far. It uses a single theme melody to tie a lot of the songs together, and there are several remixes of the main song in the movie. While much of it is a sort of electronic-augmented orchestral slash jazzy feel, there's also a number of far more electronic songs here. Party movies wish they could use dubstep and the like in the way this movie does. This song, Codec, is a great one. Technically it's by a guy called Zedd instead of Brian Tyler (who did the rest of the soundtrack).

Verdict: Go see this movie, for serious. Also buy the soundtrack. But more importantly, go see the movie and support this director's continuing efforts. (ps he's the guy who directed the first two Transporter movies as well as the Edward Norton Hulk, which was a good one).

Now You See Me
The Four Horsemen
Now You See Me (Robert Delong Remix)
Welcome To The Eye
Now You See Me (Spellbound Remix)
NOTE: these remixes are official and on the soundtrack, not fan stuff.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Pixel Art Lesson: Kits' Zodiac!Rat (WIP) (Creating a Unified Piece)

I don't know anything about Shattered Horizon, but the soundtrack was composed by Markus Kaarlonen, who also did the Rochard sountrack (and probably others). He's also the keyboardist for Poets of the Fall, who are totally rad! But his work on Shattered Horizon is very impressive, even if the soundtrack is very small.

So today I have what I actually consider to be my best single targeted critique yet! While I extremely proud of the extremely understandable explanation I gave to Jiinchu about banding, that happened over several posts. This is, I believe, the single largest critique I've ever given in one sitting. And it's cuz I think Kits can take it.

But let's back up. Who is Kits?
Kits is a PixelJoint user, named Kirsten. She's not a very active poster, who only had one piece around a while back, called Lace (Standing), which I've actually shown in the Building A Framework tutorial. Here's Lace (Standing):
I had some crits for her then and even did an edit, but that's not particularly relevant (you can still see it if you go back and check that other Framework tutorial).
This is a pleasing piece, with a kinda interesting character and a neat visual aesthetic, even if there's pixel-level flaws.

So the other day, I was super-excited to see this pop up in PJ's Newest listing:
Whoo, another Lace! This is Lace (Attack Stance). Apparently it predates the standing one, but I think it's superior overall, though I think Standing had a more ambitious (and thus more difficult) idea, so that's okay. See, this didn't quite prepare me for THIS sucker that's been sitting in the Public Queue:

Kits' "Zodiac!Rat (WIP)"

Major Themes: Presenting a Unified-Looking Piece, Coherent Design, Palette Optimization, Lightsources, Black Outlines

Oh my. If you've been reading these tutorials at all, I hope you see at least a few of the reasons that this is pretty awful. I'm not the only one to be shocked by the sudden drop of quality from Kits.
Jalonso: This is quite a mess in comparison to your 2 nice and clean and well designed gallery pieces.
If you're not a PixelJointer yourself, Jalonso is our most-present mod, and overall just a really chill dude. He has an eye for talent, and is a really active guy who posts a lot of great advice. (on a personal note, he's the dude who awarded me my badge and gold star for critique work) But here Jalonso basically just channels my own thouhts.
FreshSheet: Nice design, but the banding is seriously killing this.
Hey, it's FreshSheet! We just saw his Jack Black piece a couple weeks ago. He's done quite a bit of commenting with some generally good advice. His own art has improved significantly over that piece as well, especially in the palette selection area (where I focused that crit) so it feels great to know that I really helped a guy out. And you definitely don't need to be an expert of banding to see that, yeah, the banding is pretty incredible. Oddly enough though, while writing the crit I found that banding wasn't too impacting compared to other fatal flaws here.

Then Kits posted (her first comment!) this wonderful little gem:
Kits: Hence the WIP, I started with a different coloring style when she was still without a head...but when I made a head things started to take a different shape. I'm trying to parse out how to make the entire thing more unified and was hoping for some feedback by putting her up as is hahaha...
Oh my god I should not be thinking this but seeing her, a person with a great deal of potential, say "was hoping for some feedback by putting her up" just through all sorts of sirens off in my head, and they all read "CRITIQUE OPEN SEASON!"
And so that's what I did. Let the crit beast commence.
Ego: Well, if you word it THAT way I'm totally in for helping and feedback and all. In the future, keep in mind that the PixelJoint gallery isn't supposed to be for WIPs, but for finished pieces. There's a forum here for posting WIPs and getting feedback just for that purpose :) Also, there are other forums (such as Pixelation) dedicated to feedback and the like, and I'll open the door here as well and say that if you ever want some feedback you can message me here and I'll help out as best I can, any time. And if you DO just post to the gallery again, put a message like "really would like some help figuring out how to do x/y/z with this piece, please help" in the description or something so everyone knows you're not putting this forward as something you're done with.
General good advice. And that invite goes for every single pixel'r out there who wants some targeted help, just toss me a message (or a comment here works) and I'll toss you some stuff to think about.
Alright, to the piece. Now, you have two types of issues going on it seems, pixel-errors and design-errors. Both have elements that are playing into the "not unified" thing, but I'll start with the design.
Design-wise, the character is pretty okay, but some parts don't make sense to me really. That's acceptable to some level (crazy fashion is the norm in a lot of stuff), but not when the fashion isn't quite understandable. Here's some of the points where I notice that the, um, horn I guess doesn't make any sense to me and the belt/sash thing seems a bit loose. We can obviously tell that it's a separate piece because its edge sticks out on the right side, but if it were actually holding something together it would cinch in together. Here, check this picture:
You can see how the sash is at the thinnest point cuz it ties it together. Here's a drawing I made illustrating it for your piece: LINK.
I did a bunch of hand drawings for this piece because design concepts were much easier to parse out by hand than by pixel.

I'm still comin' up blank on what that piece of fashion is called. I use both Sash and Band around the piece, eventually settling into "Sash" for the wider light grey part and "Band" for the dark grey bit with the gem in it.
What does the basic sensibilities of her outfit have to do with unity? Well, in this case it's mostly about removing distraction. When I see a piece like this, even if I can't put my finger on WHY it looks weird I'll be put-off by how her outfit makes no sense. I once did a piece with a mayan pyramid in it, but I forgot how those are 3d and so left off a side, and despite the pixels being fine it made the whole thing just look, well, wrong.
I always look back at this piece and can't unsee the lack of side on that pyramid. Ruins a lot about it in my mind, that and the incredibly fucked perspective on those tiles.
Fixing some design elements like that can go a long way to making the piece look good.
So what else do I have design-wise? First, I've got the pose. I can't quite tell if those are just very high heels or if she's floating with her feet pointing down, or what. Also, choosing to go with that style of face (very stick-figure-esque) makes it kinda confusing on the eyes.
In a disconcerting "is she super-cartoony, or stylized, or anime, or what?" way.
So what can you do on other pieces to try and tighten up that design stuff and not hit the same pitfalls? Well, think about where things would realistically lie. Even in a totally fantastical piece, think about the reality, then make the conscious decision to deviate from that reality - just make sure you know you're doing it. That's why it's so important for even moe anime artists to understand anatomy, because in the end everything is based off of reality (even if the piece doesn't look realistic). The difference between stylized design and laziness/ignorance is deliberation. The most helpful tricks to getting your head around a design when you're pixelling is a) look at references - pose, material, anything and everything, and b) draw a sketch beforehand of how you want the pixel-art to be shaped. Like, pencil on paper. Even if you suck at drawing, just use it guide your thoughts and plan your piece beforehand.
I remember that advice! I just might have said the exact same thing in the framework post.
Also "The difference between stylized design and laziness is deliberation" is a GREAT line and I've been trying to come up with a great way to say it for a long time. It is a single line that defeats the ever-popular newbie's "but it's my style!" argument for poor quality. Perfect.
That's the design side of things. How about the pixel side? Well, there's a lot of stuff actually. But I'm going to focus on three things, and touch on a fourth and fifth. Three of them have to do with presenting a more unified image.
Here's my big one for unification: the black outlines around everything. See, solid black is a very hungry color. Weird sentence, huh? But it's true. Black eats everything around it. Unlike off-blacks and off-whites, true black (hex code #000000) and true white (hex #ffffff) act like totally saturated colors in that they are extremely bold and attract the eye. When you put a highly saturated color next to an unsaturated one, the saturated one can be so bold that it overpowers the other color and making the fine detail harder to see. (I refer to this as the saturated color "eating" the other color, hence the hungry thing).
Now, some pieces have it where they put a big block of bright cyan next to some grey, and it's obvious there. But the black outline is the trap - black doesn't seem like a saturated color, and doing it as an outline isn't very much there, so it's not a problem, right...? It is a problem though. When you have a black outline, it actually eats up the detail of pretty much everything that comes right next to it. Fine detail gets lost to the black. Using black on all the internal lines as well (such as between the red and grey on the skirt) means there's black all over the place. However, this is only one of the problems of the black outline. The other problem is much more straightforward - black breaks the flow. That's why we use it as an outline, it defines the edges of things, right?
The problem is that too often in spriting we get caught up and make EVERY line a black outline. You should only use black where you want to imply real separation - black along the bottom of the skirt, or around the legs, is fine. However, some areas, such as red-to-grey on the skirt (and near the neck) definitely don't need it. Sprites are small, every pixel is a precious space for you to flesh out the detail of the character, and to lose all that space to just separating things is too costly. This is the #1 reason, in my opinion, that it doesn't look unified - your black lines took the piece and split it into a bunch of separate pieces that we perceive as distinct and isolated from each other. I could go on about why black is awful for outlines (for example, it doesn't assist in relaying the properties, such as color, of the object it's outlining), but I'll stop there for now. Just look at the skirt here and tell me it doesn't look more like one object because I removed the line: LINK
There may also be other mild changes in here. Look for colored outlines.
Black outlines DO have uses, primarily in making Game Assets as you can take advantage of the separating effect to break the foreground sprites from the background. In just a piece of pixel art, that's not necessary, and even with game assets you usually don't want internal black lines.
Unification point 2: The palette. First, this is a thing you should do on every piece: construct a palette map. A palette map is an image that shows each of your colors, setting them side by side in their ramps (or strings of colors that go from light to dark on the same structure), with maps sometimes branching out if a single color is a part of multiple ramps. I made one out of your image: LINK.
This is a basic-style palette map. It's similar to a ramp display, but with branching. I discussed this stuff in the FreshSheet lesson.
What do we see? I see five ramps: a long bright red ramp and a long grey ramp, linked at the brightest color. I see an offshoot on the red ramp where you have what seems to be a nearly identical color (this is from the shoe btw). I see a duller red ramp of the hair, a brown ramp with almost no purpose (eyebrows and two pixels between the arm and body outside the black outline), and a yellow ramp of the skin. Black is both the end of every single ramp and not really a part of any ramp at all. All and all, plus transparency (or that white bg) it comes to 25 colors, which is a lot.
Why is black not a ramp? Disconnection. Black only makes sense at the end of ONE of these ramps, the grey one, but for some reason appears on ALL the ramps. When used as a black outline, it's not a part of the object being shaded with the ramp, instead becoming a piece added on that is alone in the piece as an outline color, rather than being integrated into the shading paths of the objects.
If you want black in your ramps, don't use it as just an outline color, use it in any of the darkest spots of the piece. Just remember: sometimes black doesn't BELONG in your ramps, and if it doesn't belong in your ramps, maybe it doesn't belong as an outline color.
Now, I'm going to draw your map a little differently. This time, I'm going to show the map of each part of the piece. LINK.
 This is more of a ramp map than a palette map. Pretty powerful tool for showing some different things though.
This shows us a couple of interesting things. First is shows us that there's no rhyme or reason to when you used the brighter colors vs the darker ones - you obviously had a lightsource, from the left, but the intensity of that lightsource appears to change from piece to piece. The skirt has it going at a medium strength, the gems and lighter-grey band thing have it very strong, and the arms and face have almost no effect from the lightsource. So there's that - a lack of consistency with the lightsource can make pieces look separate and un-unified. Also, from this map we can clearly see that you never integrate colors from certain ramps into other ones. See, that's the real TRICK of palette optimization. This one makes it clear, but look back at the first map real quick, the one that doesn't separate the parts, just the colors. The goal of Palette Unification is to make those color ramps link up as often as possible while still remaining sensible and usable. Look here, at the Commodore 64 palette. See how strange and different the colors are, but one can still make ramps out of them in almost ANY combination of colors, even purples and yellows and greens making ramps? 
That link there is the Pixelation Restriction Guide again. I often use the c64 palette as evidence because, to the common sense mind of the regular person beginning pixel art, it does NOT look like it should work at all, but because of the interesting laws that govern pixel art (such as the power of dithering and our conservation of colors) it is way stronger than it would seem. This is also why the c64 and other diverse (or bizarre) palettes are challenges for beginners, they require some understanding of how to optimize colors and how color theory works with them, but making use of the palettes take you from comprehension of the principles to really understanding and mastering their implementation.
If you don't like how dusty and desaturated the C64 is, check out Dawnbringer's palette. I've linked it before, or just search "dawnbringer palette pixeljoint" in google.
Essentially, I'm saying that you can put colors that don't SEEM alike into the same ramp and it can still work. Look at any entry from the week's Weekly Challenge and you'll see people doing this like crazy. For your piece, some re-working of the palette will probably be necessary to do very much unification, but here's an easy few: merge the two similar reds in the shoes, turn the browns into dark greys, use your hair colors as accents within the exisitng red ramps, and use the brightest skin tone in place of that bright grey you use - it gives a visual splash of color without making the image look too skin-like. If your palette across the piece looks unified, the piece itself will appear more cohesive and drawn-together.
(the weekly challenge this week was to use the inverted version of the Dawnbringer palette)
My third thing is banding. This is not about making it unified. Banding is a pixel-level error where you make a row of pixels "hug" and exactly repeat another line of pixels of a different color. For example, the way your bright highlight on the legs hugs the black outline on the left. THIS is a tutorial I wrote for my blog about what exactly banding is, why it's a problem, and how to fix it, in the simplest terms I could come up with. You have banding on the legs, the gems, the sleeves, the sash/band, the hands, the horn, and the red bits of the dress around the neck, to name a few.
Wasn't as bad as I thought at first!
My fourth thing is a type of line we call "jaggies", which is pixel artist jargon for "unsmooth curves". It's caused by abruptness in curve angles or inconsistency in a curve. An example of the first is the top-right part of the hair or the legs, and an example of the latter would be the way the skirt seems to bulge out on the right side. It can also be caused by a curve being too straight on an object that is otherwise curvy, such as the left side of the skirt (which is a straight diagonal line on an object that should be curved and flowing, making it appear uncharacteristically stiff). THIS is also a tutorial I wrote for my blog on how to fix things and understand what a smooth curve actually is. (sorry to keep linking you to my other stuff but it helps save space in these posts)
This was the real killer that made the piece look sloppy. The other stuff would make it look ill-thought out, but the jaggies are what reduce it to a really bad piece right now. As I've said though, I'm a stickler for smooth lines.

I really am sorry, but this explanation as it is comes to about 2400 words, or 14000 characters, which required four freakin' posts to deliver. Sometimes redirection is necessary for brevity (and my own sanity).
My last thing I want to mention is lightsource again. You see, lightsource is important. Along with the shape of an object and its pixel clusters, it's the single most important thing to make an image look consistent. And you HAVE a lightsource, as I mentioned, at the left. The problem is that it is unevenly applied. Not even just in the way I talked about above, where it's stronger in some places than others - there are places where it literally makes no sense. I'm talking about the skirt. There are two main issues with it. One is that you don't seem to understand how light hits folds like that (not an uncommon problem). Second is that you treated the red and grey on the skirt separately, probably because they had a black line breaking them apart, but the light should follow the two colors exactly the same way. Here, I have more visual aids. LINK
Yeah, I'm a real pro at not cropping my photos of my doodles. So enjoy my Art Of The Mass Effect Universe book in the background there. (ps you should buy that book if you like concept art at all, it's really really amazing)
This is the skirt reduced to its simplest forms, an up side and a down side to every fold. Where the fold faces the light source it is bright, where it doesn't it is in shadow. Let's add a little curve to those zigzags: LINK.
The primary difference here between my drawings and your pixels is that on yours, the greatest highlight is on the very tip-top of each curve, but it should actually be the part that faces left - the top should be where it transitions into shadow!  Let's add that second section to it and see how the light changes when it hits it: LINK1 LINK2. (note: my point is that it didn't change by splitting off another color)
 Huh, that's a pretty good upside-down shot of Grunt and Mordin there. Also visible: my bed.
So here's the wrap-up: For a more unified piece, you should do away with black outlines where thigns aren't actually separated (and might do away with them entirely), unify your color ramps across the whole palette to a greater degree, and establish a consistent lightsource not just for direction, but also strength of the light. Also design the character in a way that makes sense to the viewer and doesn't break the laws of reality unless you intend it to do so (and even then it should LOOK intentional, not ambiguous or indistinct). Pixel-wise, you need to smooth out your curves and avoid both banding and gradienting (where you shade by just using a darker color as you move in one direction without real concern for the way the light is actually wrapping around the object - this is very evident in the legs).
This is a tl;dr! I don't do these often, I don't believe in cutting out all the important explanation, but I did one anyways because this post is kind of a bear to look at.
Also, I left out the obvious one: finish the piece! Shade that hair. But WIP, so not too big of a deal.
Well duh.
Well, this is kind of a beast of a post, so I'm going to stop there. This should give you some serious stuff to think about and work on, but if I said ANYthing that didn't make sense or you want additional help on a specific section, just ask - I check back on pieces I critique frequently, and am always up for a follow-up post. Good luck!
Hopefully that helps though. Jalonso asked if this could be turned into a generic-ized n00btorial (a set of tutorials told in almost all images that cover a wide range of topics), so it'll be really neat to maybe have something actually hosted on PJ. I really hope Kits gets something out of it too, because I would really love to see some more refined stuff from her in the future. Good luck Kits! Hope to see more soon!
End Recording,