Sunday, December 28, 2014

Avatar World v1.61 Release!

I love the Hunger Games movies. Mockingjay Pt 1 was no exception.

Long time no see! Busy things happening. I have the LPA cover image still in progress, I'm working on the layout of the the new tSV draft. I've started an Avatar World long-form game locally, which means I'm now in the home stretch of the AvW design history. When this long-form wraps up I will likely go into final revision mode and finish it for good.
If you are interested in keeping up with my long-form game, I do regular reports on my session through Twitter and later Storify them. Here's the page for my AvW game, which I play Monday night and usually have updated by Tuesday night.

I recently (as in tonight) finished watching the last episode of Korra. I am stunned at the quality in the last two seasons. Seriously, they're amazing. Season 3 especially was just full of duels between bending masters, rather than the political games that filled the other seasons. The creativity with the bending powers and the expansion of what can be done is extraordinary.

Two things that became prominent in seasons 2 and 3 are now sub-playbooks, the Lavabender and the Spirit Medium. Those are the prominent additions in this release (hence why it is only a .01 advancement and not a full decimal), with other mild typography fixes as well.

Latest Version (v1.61) Download:



I swear the other stuff won't take as long as the gap from the previous post until now.

Also, I've put up a Donate button on the right side of the page. Given that I can never charge for a download of Avatar World, if you get some enjoyment out of the game please consider making a donation, I've put a lot of hard work into this game. Thank you, and see you again soon!

End Recording,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Not Gone, Just Busy

I love this song. It has a lot of history for me, none of it actually related to the song itself and everything to do with the connotations it brings up in my mind. I hear the long road trips from Long Island to Montreal or Regina as a little kid, I hear Ocarina of Time's Forest Temple's mysteries, I hear junior year of high school finding and clinging to a bunch of the music that's defined my identity. The quiet crackling in the back, and the soft, lilting melody all just calm me.

Hey y'all, just wanted to check in. I know it's been a month, but it's been a busy one! I started a long-form game of Avatar World last week, Learning Pixel Art's cover image is still revising with help from the PixelJoint WIP forum, and I haven't had a chance to do the next round of Shining Void documentation. I've had basically non-stop assignments for three weeks now, I have finals next week, relatives arriving on the 19th, and the GRE on the 22nd. Basically I don't have any free time. As soon as I have a little opening I'll get some work done that I can share.

Thanks for your patience!
End Recording,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Shining Void v2 Plans

Wolfgun's music so spacey <3 br="">

So I had a couple goals in mind when I started my revision pass of tSV. My first two-session game was a surprising complete success, and I've heard very little but positive things which really excites me. Those positive things weren't without suggestions though, and I've finally got my other stuff sidled away for a few minutes to look at tSV again.

First though, I want to note: I am slightly intimidated by the other members of the field I'm running around in. Between the slightly dormant Star Wars World and Traveller World, the still-evolving Uncharted Worlds (who I am surprisingly undaunted by, I'm confident we seem to be moving in very different directions), and now Strange New Worlds. I'm not going to stop, of course, but if anyone is also intimately familiar with any of those I'd love to know if you see me straying into a major overlap. Avoiding such overlap isn't super-critical, but if I know of a different way then preserving individuality is better.
Given the recent release of Strange New Worlds I want to say some cool things I like about it! I like the XP phrases being tied to which stat array you pick, it's a clever way to increase the fictionality of the arrays. I like advantage/disadvantage, even if I have doubts about the math (though not as great as my doubts about it in D&D Next). I'm comforted by its traditional feeling - its DW roots are clear, and they make me more okay about sharing the design space because of my more storygames approach (I don't have a better way of putting that, if you really care ask me and I'll decompress the idea :/). I'm unsatisfied with its social context for the characters - they're competent independently but I'm not sure what their relationships are assumed to be. Social mechanics are tricky, but I also think they're indispensable.

Okay, on to The Shining Void.
The big change to the writing is a continued effort to scrape off the Mass Effect name and genericize it a bit more. I want to be able to play Mass Effect, but I want people unfamiliar with ME to be able to pick up and play the game, which currently isn't plausible.
This means two big changes: biotics and species. To put it bluntly, I don't have a better name for Biotics yet. I don't want to just call it psionics, for several reasons. It's basically telekinesis and energy manipulation, but neither is alone a complete description and together they're far too long. I mean, in its most basic form, Biotics is Space Magic. Even the most precise description of biotics (that you're altering something's mass content) doesn't clearly line up with the energy blasts and shields you make with it. I know it can be justified, it's just not clear. The move itself is pretty functional, though the exact wording will probably shift to avoid ME-specific ideas.

The other big diction change is around species. To start with, the playbooks for species are no longer the speciesbooks. Instead, they're Cultures (Roles are also dropping the -book suffix). It isn't a universal Newcomer culture or Scientist culture, but one particular one of those cultures. You then have a chance to choose from a couple lists to flesh out your own species within that culture. This gives a much more diverse galactic landscape while still staying in the same classification scheme. It's a little more Star Wars than it is Mass Effect, but I think it's appropriate. Of the Cultures, the Mechanoid culture is changing to the Outsider culture, which will continue to cover mechanical intelligences but also other bizarre or outlandish species.

Each of the Cultures has three lists you pick from: History, Reputation, and Appearance (which will, of course, replace the Look list). Each list has three options, giving nine different combinations for each Culture in addition to the three moves to choose from and the six Roles to combine with. Here's the lists I'm thinking of. I'm trying to strike a balance between variety, evocativeness, and tension-potential.

Newcomer: (I'm oddly pleased that Newcomer is at the top of the list with the new name change)
History: * Displaced member of young species, * Recently came to galactic significance, * Uplifted by accident or intervention
Reputation: * Unassuming, * Aggressive and involved, * Actively hostile
Appearance: * A galactic standard, * A single striking feature, * Completely unique

History: * Planet crackers, * Forced from home, * Species-wide wanderlust
Reputation: * Unreliable vagrants, * Exciting visitors, * Raiders
Appearance: * A combination of cultures, * Hidden in suits, * Adapted to space life

History: * Unrecognized independence, * Prominent, even in scarcity, * Lacking unified culture
Reputation: * Exclusive, * Unjustly suppressed, * Boat-rockers
Appearance: * Construct of inanimate material, * Like a major species with an unnerving feature, * Dangerous adaptation

History: * First member of the galactic community, * Cultural melting pot, * Isolated hermits
Reputation: * Manipulative, * Sophisticated, * Invasive
Appearance: * Unaging, * Look different from viewer to viewer, * Clearly influenced by another species

History: * Stumbled into space, * Uplifted, * Tribal communities
Reputation: * Lacks cultural cohesion, * Holds grudges, * Nonviolent by primitive
Appearance: * Gigantic, * Naturally hardy, * Unassuming
History: * Responsible for recent advancements, * Atoning for past atrocities, * Galactic leaders
Reputation: * Cold and logical, * Altruistic, * Reckless
Appearance: * Large brain, * Expressionless, * Augmented

History: * A galactic coup, * Trusted protectors, * The biggest armada
Reputation: * Highly regimented, * Honest, * Boneheaded
Appearance: * Scary, * Animal-like, * Cute

So any input on if you like/dislike any of those would be great. The move lists for each may be slightly altered (particularly the Nomad and Outsider have a couple moves to change) but I haven't done that work yet.

Another change to the game is to the stat lines for the Roles! I've been convinced to shift from a -/-/+/+ line to a -/0/+/+ line. A little more successful and heroic.
Stats are Alien (ALN), Experienced (EXP), Paragon (PAR), and Renegade (REN).
Academic: ALN +, EXP 0, PAR +, REN -
Agent: ALN -, EXP +, PAR +, REN 0
Leader: ALN 0, EXP -, PAR +, REN +
Loner: ALN +, EXP +, PAR -, REN 0
Rebel: ALN +, EXP -, PAR 0, REN +
Veteran: ALN -, EXP +, PAR 0, REN +
There's a little more love to PAR/REN than to ALN/EXP but I'm actually kinda comfortable with that.

One thing I need help with is a new name for XP. Having both a stat called Experience and a resource called XP is potentially a bit confusing and I prefer the stat name. My current best is Energy, and that's not all that good. I need something that can be accumulated and then spent to improve permanently.

I'm switching the MultiTool move to +Experienced.

I'm re-writing Support Your Team. I'm actually considering binding it and Help together, as Help is almost always a better move currently and they share a theme.

Things I need suggestions for:
~ What would a better name for Biotics be?
~ What do you think of the Culture lists?
~ Can you think of a different name for XP?
~ Anything you want out of the game that I haven't addressed?

End Recording,

Actual Play: Monsterhearts Season 3

I have a pile of Halon songs that focused me for the game. This was a relatively late addition, but it's really appropriate to the character this season. Desperate, faithful, loving, pretty much Halon's defining features, minus a huge stash of buried anger.

If you pay any attention to my Twitter you know that I've been in a long-form game of Monsterhearts for, um, maybe six months now? A bit more? We've just wrapped up Season 3.
This season I've been keeping quite pretty good records of the sessions after each session on Twitter. Now that the season's over, I put it all together in case you were interested in an entire story. I'm really connected to these characters, so I hope you enjoy it.

If you're looking for more content stuff, I'm currently concentrating on LPA and tSV. I think I'll have a tSV post to share soon.

To Halon and Lilith!
End Recording,

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Superlite Heroes! Version 2

It's not comics-related, but it's the sort of upbeat I need. And it's so so good.

Sorry for pushing this off a day, but it actually let me do another visual pass on the document and I think it's better for it!

Latest Version (v2) Download:


So first: it's been like a year, and I never even really showed off the completed v1 document when I made it. Superlite Heroes! was a game I made in a weekend last September, mostly at a rather slow Gamerati Game Day and driven by thoughts about Aaron Eckhart's "Die a hero or become a villain" quote from The Dark Knight. I was inspired by a copy of Lasers & Feeling in my folder as well - not mechanically but format-wise. I wanted to make a very simple game on a single page.
The original version was indeed on a single page, but took the front and back. It wasn't quite the pure thing I wanted. Plus it didn't look very pretty - I made the pdf in like two hours.
I decided to share the game on Story Games just to put it out there. After all, for a weekend's worth of work it felt pretty good! And the feedback was generally positive, that there was a seed of something in there. Some suggestions were given, but I was never sure if I was going to come back to Superlite Heroes!.

There are a couple reasons I decided to return to the game.
1) I had sufficient ideas about how to re-write the game.
2) I felt better-equipped for the rather intimidating task of writing the game on the front of a single page.
3) I knew that, at the very least, I could make it a little prettier and more stylish looking than the old version. That wasn't a hard task by any means.
4) I'm a game designer with no 'completed' titles under my belt yet. I have The Doppleganger, which I am proud of, but while I continue to refine Avatar World and The Shining Void I had this kernel of a game that just needed some fixing up to present as a full thing I'd completed.

What's changed mechanically? The biggest change is the simultaneous simplification and diversification of life/health. You now have three healths: moral health, social health, and physical health. However, they all operate on a system that is more unified to the action mechanic. "Death" has been greatly simplified - perhaps at cost to the metaphor of going out in comics, but still accommodates my quote inspiration.
Another change is a slight simplification to gaining drawbacks (you get it in your highest or lowest stat, your choice). The actual strengths/drawbacks are the main targets for further refinement, as some provide (small) mechanical effects while others do not. Ultimately they're all meant to be more like fictional cues (and even the impressive Unkillable Strength isn't as good as it sounds).
The thid significant change is the expansion of the GM section, now comprising nearly a third of the sheet. It includes a villain/plot generator (also a refinement target), a set of principles, and some pacing trick suggestions.

The document itself is in color, but even when printed in black and white it reads well.

I would not be surprised if I generate a version 3 for the game, but at the same time this is a completed game. I have not, however, ever playtested either version 1 or 2, so please let me know if you do because I could use a little feedback!

End Recording,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rest in Peace Torn

There is no song.  Pour out your heaviest metal and your angriest rap in memory.
If you came for a game design thing I said I'd be posting, come back tomorrow. This takes precedence.

I'm a member of a small (very small) community called Kakariko Graveyard. Many of us were also members at a predecessor forum, The Forest Haven. One member, Torn (formerly Torn&Filthy) was a good friend of mine. He had a lot of issues with trust and depression and went through periods of trying to splice himself entirely out of the online communities and social networks he was in, get a fresh start. When I stopped hearing from him in March, I assumed this is what happened.

However, it's been quite a while since I last heard from him. I got worried. Maybe he really had just entirely shifted communities or something...but alas, yesterday I discovered his obituary. There are too many similarity points between the obituary and my friend to be a mistake identity, even with a common name like Jordan Miller. My friend is gone, died literally the day after I last saw him, tweeting about the upcoming Assassin's Creed games.
I keep cycling through thoughts. Torn had a regular history of depression, and while all my recent experience of him had made me think he was doing better at the time, I can't help but fixate on the idea of suicide. Had there been warning signs that I missed? Was there anything I could have said? Was I a bad friend for taking this long to discover what happened? And then I realize I'm making it about me and I feel worse about doing that. And the worst part is that I don't know the cause of death. It might very well have been an accident of some kind. I don't know. I just fear that I let him down.

Torn was one of the first figures whose name I remember from my original foray into the internet. I must have met him over ten years ago at TFH. I didn't get to know him well there - I didn't get close to anyone there really. But I felt close to him at KG, through all the bad shit that came his way. He was unlucky, and I wish we'd all treated him a bit better at times. I won't pretend he didn't get annoying at times - he didn't believe in vaccines and had extremely strong ideas about nutrition, and would get moody if he didn't think we were paying enough attention, but there was never any real animosity. We loved him.

My deepest condolences to his family. And if any of his other friends want to talk, I'm free and open.
We miss you Torn. Rest in peace.

End Recording,

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Avatar World Version 1.6 Release

Kill Bill is great! Rap and hip-hop rarely resonate like this with me. You could only call him nerdcore in the most indirect sense. It's just chill enough for me...

So Avatar World!
Did you know? The original post introducing Avatar World was released 2 years ago as of the 14th of October. Here's hoping we can call it final before it turns 3!
This new version is largely based around some smaller changes. The most significant changes are a re-writing of Earthbending as well as a couple moves on the Earthbender. The new changes definitely eases some old tension with the original, though it is untested so far. Other changes include another pass over the sub-playbooks to clarify some stuff, and a full editing/spellchecking pass, so let me know if you ferret out any more. I also changed Armor to Fortune and tried to adjust the language to adapt to that change, but I might have missed something. The motivation behind this change is the use of the resource to negate mental or social Tags - Armor really only made sense for physical ones.
One style thing I've been debating is whether to unify the capitalization of the bending types - sometimes I capitalize, sometimes I don't. I think I'll be going through and making all references to the actual moves and playbooks capital and the more simple character descriptors lowercase.

So, I was thinking maybe if my Monsterhearts game ended soon I'd suggest a long-form AvW as the next thing, but that won't be ending anytime soon by the looks of it (and I don't want it to, just watch my twitter and you'll see how much I love and am enraptured the game). I can't really handle both for logistics reasons (the play crowd is in Olympia and I can only visit 1/week cuz of gas costs, and also I have no time), so if anyone else is either participating in or will soon be in a long-form Avatar World game please tell me! I need to know how the game holds up over several sessions. Or, more accurately, I need to see how the improvements stack up, how MC plots work over several sessions, what the Training moves look like in action, and how well the sub-playbooks work.

Latest Version (v1.6) Download:



I don't know when the next draft will come up. I hope to have at least a 2-session experience with it by then, if not a full four to five. I'm now open to feedback and suggestions of all sorts: mechanics, art, writing, layout, etc. Suggestions for what I need to include, or what needs to be explained better, are greatly desired. One thing I intend to put in is a short but illustrative Example of Play bit. What else would you like to see in the book?

As for other projects? With this release I'm sliding Avatar World to the side to focus on a couple others. 
I'm developing a v2.0 for Superlite Heroes, hopefully to fit it on a single front of a page just like its inspiration game Lasers & Feelings and like it was originally intended to be, while also expanding the GM section to indicate a more immediate rhythm of play. This is my mechanics project.
I'm currently laying out Learning Pixel Art and discovering all sorts of fun incompatibilites between InDesign and GIMP and pixel art. Getting the images to come out as crisp as they need to be for pixel art is proving to be a challenge, and getting the colors right with the CMYK-biased InDesign and the RGB-exclusive GIMP is disastrous. This is my layout project.
With Avatar World moving aside, The Shining Void is coming forward as my writing project again, as that's the majority of what it needs.

Secret potential NaNoWriMo project? Uh, still secret, and still only potential. I know, I know, I don't have much time to decide.

Oh, and I haven't seen Korra Season 3 yet, let alone 4, so please don't spoil it for me.

End Recording,

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Update

I quite like Sleepwave. They're certainly not perfect, and I'm no metal fan, so take that as you will.

I just wanted to post again before there goes a whole month without content. I've been working! Between a fairly exhausting school schedule and several open projects, nothing has changed to a degree that I want to show yet.

Avatar World
Pretty much no motion here. Keep talking about it and playing it! When I get a chance I want to run a couple sessions of it long-form style.
If you've played a game of Avatar World that has gone longer than one session, please contact me!

The Shining Void
As soon as I get access to InDesign again I'm going to be drawing up the next version. It won't be a radical change, but I'll be rewriting almost all of the fluffing on the species stuff. A couple other little changes, but nothing gigantic.

Learning Pixel Art
This has been my big project for the past several weeks. I've written a complete from-the-ground-up tutorial on the mechanics of making pixel art. I'm very proud of how comprehensive it is, and am investigating selling it for $1. All the resources, in addition to the first two chapters (of 8) and the list of exercises will be available for free to sample the tutorial before you buy. It's quite intense, currently counting to about 30,000 words or so.
I have all the text and illustrations made, though I need to go through a layout/revising/editing pass, then I think it'll be strong.

Hacked From The Apocalypse
An idea I had that's been bounced to the back burner while I complete Learning Pixel Art, HftA is inspired by the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide. I want to see if I can put together a document about hacking the Apocalypse World engine, focusing less on exact mechanics of how to put together moves and such (which is well-handled by the original game itself) and more on what it means to set up stats in certain ways, what playbook selection can mean, how adding or subtracting subsystems changes things, and more. Perhaps more important than my own contributions, I'd love to be able to talk to others who work extensively with the PbtA engine (both hack-writers and those who simply have a great insight into the system). That somewhat alleviates my own imposter syndrome regarding my "right" to write such a document.
If you're interested in writing something for it (maybe a page or three total about a particular subject?) let me know, but this project isn't on the front burner yet and may not be for a while.

Secret NaNoWriMo Project
I'm considering doing something for National Novel Writing Month this year. I have an idea that I'm going to sit on for now to see if I can get it to blossom, so I'm not sharing more until I see if it's actually viable. That might take my November writing time though.

I think that's all the projects I have spiraling around me right now. Look for more about LPA soon. It shouldn't be long before I actually get something I can show you folks.

(Life update: My brother moved out for university, my classes are wrecking me, I'm turning 21 on Sunday)
End Recording,

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

PAX and Avatar World

So I was at PAX a week ago-ish and have been delaying my writeup, but here it is.

It was great! Let's hit the not-Games-on-Demand stuff first. I didn't play many video games that really caught my eye, but Miegakure ( is a really bafflingly cool 4D puzzle platformer thing. Yeah, four dimensions. If that sounds bizarre to you, check out the site.
There was other cool stuff, but not much stood out.

Outside of Games on Demand (the volunteer service I was with to get my pass where I take a shift running games for a bunch of strangers who want to play a thing I am offering), I also played a co-op deckbuilding called Shadow Rift. It was pretty cool, but really needed a playmat or more diagrams or something to get it set up. I would totally play it again though.

Games on Demand:
So before I jump into the big triple feature Avatar World, my two other games I played at GoD.
~ I ran The Quiet Year for Ben, Dave, and Diana. I'd seen Dave before (I think he works with Gamma Ray), and Diana was around GoD with her husband a bunch of times through the weekend which was cool.

~ I played Monsterdraft, by Johnzo (aka John Aegard), with Ross and Robert and John himself. It's his new hyper-alpha thing that's a cool hex-crawl exploration game, meant not to craft a strong story experience but instead being a creativity-driven exploring game featuring monsters. He made this crazy cool oracle thing for generating ideas for both the environment of a hex as well as its denizens, and we drafted up a few elements from a couple decks that basically added up to (mechanically) a Lady Blackbird character. Creative stuff, but rough. Ross and Robert had just been at Twyla's Playtesting With Rigor panel, so they gave some pretty great feedback.

Okay, to the main event: I played a lot of Avatar World. Saturday evening, my first shift, I had out both of my sheets, for Monsterhearts and for Avatar World. After a little bit I had a signup for Avatar World, so I dropped the MH and waited for other players (and pitched aggressively). I got a lot of interested "wow, Avatar World? Is that what I think it is?" and "Is this running later this weekend at all?" which was nice. Even more surprising is that a lot of the interested parties actually came back to look a second time later in the weekend! I gave away a bunch of cards with the game's address.
Some of this had to do with THIS:
Drew printed and bound me two copies of the game. It's gorgeous - the pics don't do the material of the paper justice. I'm so crazy happy with it. <3 br="" drew="">

Within maybe a half hour, we kicked off with a three person group. We had Alex (another Games on Demand volunteer), Manu (another GoD, and fellow game designer - I played Finding Haven with him at GPNW and was a voice in his Cry of the Wilders), and Andrew (stranger). Everyone kicked ass. I offered both of my premises, the Red Mountain and the Festival of the Four. From my pitches they picked The Red Mountain, so this didn't get to be the test of the new premise.
Alex was The Earthbender, Andrew was The Waterbender, Manu was The Warrior. I had a really cool Sel this time, he was this Asian-inspired serpent dragon, blood-red scales and teeth and eyes of void, his true size masked by the Gate. Every time he needed to be more imposing,  yet more of his body slithered out of the gate. He was coiled above them, towering and terrifying. They defeated the corrupt Master of the Monastery and his spirit tiger. We had what was essentially a puzzle fight (though I didn't enforce it that way), and it felt really cool. I played some games with them about when they should have their lights on and off.
Everyone felt really satisfied with all of the choices available to them, both in playbooks and moves. All the Basic Moves had play, including Act Dishonorably, which has proven a bit of a black sheep. All my adjustments, especially player Tags instead of harm, worked great.

~ Sunday evening I didn't even bother putting out my Monsterhearts sheet, I pulled it off the table immediately. I wanted to play Avatar World. And it took a little time but not very long to gather together Noah (stranger), Orion (fellow GoD and regular gaming buddy), Jeremy (Orion's brother, also a GoD and regular gaming buddy), and Alex again! It's super exciting to me that I got a repeat player two days in a row, and another GoD to boot. Orion's played before as well, at ECCC.
Because I'd used my Red Mountain sheets, I offered both but established that I'd prefer to play Festival of the Four, especially since Alex had already played the other. Also I wanted to test my new thing :/
It went great! The things I built it to do (be more lighthearted, more social-based, with lots of seeds) all worked the way I wanted it to. Noah was on the Aristocrat (worked so so much better now that Speak Honorably can Tag), Orion was ten-year-old Firebender orphan Fenfang, Jeremy was the Warrior, and Alex was the Waterbender this time.
This time the airbenders actually were responsible for earthbenders' disappearance. Everything was good.

~ Monday morning I walked up to the table at 10am and watched the host put down my AvW sheet, and 30 seconds later I had a full 4-player game with a fifth asking if I'd be capable of handling one more. I said sure - five isn't ideal because of the more distributed spotlight, but these cons are the time to get as many folks seeing the game as I can handle. It was Tim (fellow GoD), Ed Turner (fellow GoD, designer of games), Aaron (fellow GoD), Daniel (stranger), and Michael (stranger). Tim was the late addition btw.
I had a bit of an issue that I'd run out of a couple of the playbooks (I was going to print out a couple more at Kinkos, but forgot that it was Labor Day), so I erased Genki and Panaku from my first game and cleared off the Festival of the Four sheets after asking them to pick a premise. Tim was more interested in social stuff than the combat, so Fot4 (FotF? I haven't decided which abbreviation I like more) was more fitting. We had an Earthbender (Daniel), an Airbender (Michael), a Scholar (Ed), a Waterbender (Tim), and an Aristocrat (Aaron), meaning only the Monk wasn't played over the weekend. We also had some cool age ranges with the characters, with two 40-50 year old characters and two 16-18 year olds in this game, which is cool to see alongside the 10 year old in the previous game.
This time the firebenders and a corrupt fake-guard-force were responsible for the Earthbenders, and they were rescued!

Basically everything went great. I see no rules changes to make. I saw a bunch of typos and stuff I'll get to fixing, but I saw nothing that needed me to rewrite the game again. Everyone was super supportive of the art, even before learning that I did it all myself, which is a GREAT feeling cuz some of it I worked really hard on.
I'm already looking forward to running the game in the future, and when I do cons in the future I think I'll put my GoD games as AvW and tSV. That's the next one that needs field testing once I do the next revision.
I hope to play more soon. Also I have posting plans for a thing pretty soon so look out for that. (also I started classes again today so we'll see how fast that actually happen)
End Recording,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Avatar World: v1.5 Release!

Imogen Heap recently released her new album Sparks, and it's really really good! This song's Indian themes make it pretty good for Avatar World here, but just check out the whole thing. It's great.

So on to the main thing! AVATAR WORLD DRAFT v1.5!! I've been working on this pretty much nonstop for the past two weeks, and I'm pretty much incredibly happy with it. Here's what I wrote for the draft notes:
~ The entire layout and text got a makeover! In addition to just looking better and being written more clearly, it's also full of art! I'll be honest: there are a few pieces that are in there just because I didn't want to leave the spot blank (and so will be replaced later) but some of it is for real.
~ The Player Tag system replaces Harm, and Armor is revamped to match! I haven't played with this yet, but it draws on ideas that several groups produced after playtests, and it feels pretty good to me. Much more fictional and it solves my PvP problem! Also on a Tag note, the Basic Moves had a bit of modification to make when-to-place-Tags a little more obvious. Specifically, Speak Honorably can now place Tags, which makes using Chi in social situations much easier.
~ Sub-playbooks are now in the book! Including one I debated whether to put in or not, but decided to go for it: The Avatar. Honestly I think I did a pretty good job with what could otherwise have been a very overpowered concept.
Some of the sub-playbook stuff is also very last-minute, so fair warning. Still, that stuff will get less play than almost anything else in the book.
~ There's a second Quickstart in there! While I really like The Red Mountain, its tone is a bit more serious and mystical and can trend away from the more social moves in the game. To complement that, The Festival of the Four is touched with whimsy and the lighter tone that many get from the show, while also being more social-focused rather than exploration-focused.

In general, I feel really good about almost everything in this draft. All the big things that have concerned me at all in playtests have been addressed, so all that remains is refinement. I intend to make the next revision the final one, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

It looks good, it plays well, it's all going great.
Latest Version (v1.5) Download:



Also, if you're interested in playing Avatar World and are at PAX Prime this weekend, I will be running either it or Monsterhearts during my Games On Demand slots Saturday 6pm-10pm, Sunday 6pm-10pm, and Monday 10am-2pm.

End Recording,

Friday, August 22, 2014

Elysian Shadows: Interview With The Artists Part 2 (Leandro Tokarevski)

This song has nothing to do with game, but as I already shared Connor Linning's work on the game I figured I'll share music I'm enjoying a lot from a different indie game, Electronic Super Joy: Groove City! I love this song, and the whole soundtrack. EnV did a great job.

This is a continuation of my previous interview with Patryk Kowalik, this time featuring the game's other artist Leandro Tokarevski! Read the previous interview, and get details on the Kickstarter itself, here.

The Logbook Project (tLBP): So let's start simple: who are you and what is your role in the Elysian Shadows team? I'm interested in general information as well as your history with regard to art, and specifically pixel art.
What sort of programs do you use for making the assets for the game?
Leandro Tokarevski (LT): My name is Leandro Tokarevski, I'm a pixel and concept artist for Elysian shadows, as well as a level designer. I'm half Italian and Half Russian, I was born in Rome, and now live mostly in St Petersburg, Russia. I've always loved drawing and painting, when I was 11 I entered an evening art school and then went on to entering the academy of arts of St. Petersburg, I'm about to start my fifth year studying architecture. Despite drawing for so many years, I've only relatively recently delved into pixel art, Elysian Shadows is my first real pixel art project. It's been an interesting experience, learning the specifics, but I found that most of the techniques used in traditional art were just as valid in pixel art, so it wasn't hard to adapt. I use GraphicsGale, Adobe Photoshop, and more recently Spritelamp. I find GraphicsGale is the best program for more old-school pixel art and animations, but ES has ventured so far from the classical 16-bit RPGs it was inspired by in terms of visuals, and gameplay for that matter, that its features are simply insufficient for our game. The addition of Spritelamp really helped develop ES's visual style, I'm still figuring out some of the details, but I'm pretty sure that with the help of Photoshop and Spritelamp We'll develop an atmospheric and unique art style. We're really doing things nobody really did on such a massive scale with pixel art.
tLBP: I absolutely agree that traditional art techniques are often just as useful to pixel art. When I'm working with pixel artists almost half of what I talk about is more fundamental general art concepts, with the other half being specific pixel-art techniques. I also agree about GraphicsGale's excellence as a program for standard pixel art - I don't use it personally, but along with Pro Motion it's the most robust pixelling program I know of. It's really interesting that ES is unique enough that GG wasn't enough. Having watched the video about SpriteLamp Patryk put out a few days ago though I can totally see how unlike anything else SpriteLamp is. It's a great piece of unexplored technology that I underestimated originally.

tLBP: Can you tell me something about how the process works between you and with the rest of the members of the team?
LT: I usually am given to design and draw an entire area of the game at the same time, along with all of its enemies, the architecture of the towns and dungeons, so everything in it is consistent and the designs are similar and work with each other. The team has a huge (and secret) design document in which all of the lore, characters, and environments are described, so before creating any assets I go there and read what exactly the area of the game is about. After that as long as I stay true to what's in the design doc, I have pretty much carte blanche, and can invent pretty much anything. We have a team chat on Skype, in which we discuss all of our ideas and suggestions. Once an idea is approved, I can go ahead and draw it out in pixel art. Sometimes, when the team chat is not enough, we have a team hangout where we brainstorm ideas and figure stuff out. It needs to be planned in advance, because we're all in different time zones. It isn't uncommon for us to have a hangout when for someone it's 4am.

tLBP: I don't have experience with pixelling for game development, but I always hear about how restrictive the time crunch can be in creating the art. How much time do you reasonably take on a single asset (a background, a character and their animations, whatever)? Are you often forced to work with the first draft of a piece or do you get much chance to go and revise before moving on?
LT: It's only me and Patryk creating assets for ES, and the amount of stuff that needs to be drawn is sometimes overwhelming. Most times when creating a tilesheet or a sprite we skip the concept art stage entirely and start drawing pixel art right away, speeding up the process. This sometimes backfires, however, if there's a miscommunication between team members during the discussion phase, and sometimes we end up repixelling something we spent a lot of time into. After the kickstarter we'll finally have enough time to draw concept art first, and then go into the pixel art. I'd say on average a tilesheet for an environment of the game will take about 15-20 hours to complete, it varies from area to area, though. Same with sprites, it depends on the kind of creature. A stone golem will take less time to animate then a living breathing creature. The time crunch was particularly restrictive on the last weeks before the kickstarter campaign launched. So much work needed to be done, that there was barely any time for discussion. Now the pace of work has slowed down a bit, thankfully.
tLBP: I don't have a metric for if 15-20 hours really is a huge amount in game develoment, but it certainly sounds like a lot! Glad that the pace is starting to slow a bit though, seeing more refinement will be really cool.

tLBP: How indicative of the game's look are the Kickstarter photos? I gather that the asset quality will continue to be upgraded, but is there anything style-wise thatyou think will change from the current look?
LT: I'd say the kickstarter screenshots are barely representative at all at this point of how the game is going to look like when finished. Since we decided to use Spritelamp and to draw normal maps by hand, our process for creating pixel art has changed completely. We no longer have to put shadows on to sprites and tiles themselves, we draw a normal map that when implemented in the game will create lights and shadows automatically. This is such a fundamentally different and new approach of creating pixel art, that we'll have to redraw and rework every single asset we currently have, so I'll say that 99% of what you see on the kickstarter page will look different in the actual game. Actually no, make it 100%.
tLBP: Wow! So the general aesthetic (perspective, etc) will be pretty similar but everything will be redrawn using Sprite Lamp's normal mapping? I'm really excited to see hwo the areas start looking when you get whole regions fully built with the normal maps, I bet that'll be really impressive.

tLBP: A big change to the way pixel art works in games comes from the lighting engine the game will be using, SpriteLamp. Can you tell me something about how that technology works and how it changes the creation of art assets?
In my own experience, a consistent lightsource is an important part of making a pixel piece seem cohesive. How do you make the base art that SpriteLamp will then work on while still trying to produce good assets on their own?
LT: When we first experimented with Spritelamp, creating up to 5 lighting profiles for every single asset, first of all it took way to much time, it would become impossible for us to ever finish all of the artwork for ES, and secondly the normal maps that it created weren't even that accurate and looked off most of the time. Patryk then had the idea of drawing all of the normal maps directly by hand. He explained to me how it would work, and it just made sense. We would start by drawing a diffuse map, basically a drawing without any shadows, where the light comes from every angle. Then, we would draw a normal map by hand in Photoshop, so that it would look exactly the way we want it. Then if needed we would draw depth maps and ambient occlusion maps, and feed it all into Spritelamp. The results are fantastic, and it doesn't take that much more time than drawing traditional pixel art. It's sometimes even quicker. When a dynamic light hits an object it comes to life, it looks three-dimensional, and exactly the way we want it to look, while still looking like pixel art, since we can regulate how many shades the dynamic light will be divided into when it hits the object. 5 seems to work best. As far as I know nobody ever used such a method of drawing pixel art, I'm sure we'll learn more along the way on how to perfect it, but even now we already fixed basically all of the issues traditional pixel art had with dynamic lighting.
tLBP: One of my initial concerns with using SpriteLamp was that the outputted normal maps on Sprite Lamp's own Kickstarter page looked pretty unimpressive to me, but manually creating the normal maps has seemed to really show the true power of the program, as shown in some of your recent content. Being able to regulate the shades is interesting too, I didn't know you had that control. Did having more shades just not hold enough of that "pixel art" look or something? It's also really interesting that it's not any slower to do it this way. I'll have to try it sometime!

tLBP: The game is going to be run on a variety of systems. SpriteLamp is native to Windows, and has plans to work with Mac and Linux, but are there special considerations you need to accommodate for it to function on Dreamcast/Android/iOS? Should you reach the Xbox One/PS4/Wii U stretch goals I'd imagine those consoles are strong enough to handle it, but the relative power of the mobile OSs seems like it'd be an obstacle.
LT: That's not really my area of expertise, but from what I heard from Falco, the Dreamcast is just about capable of handling what we create with Spritelamp. I really hope the programmers will find a way to implement the light engine on all of our platforms, I really don't know if that's possible and what it would entail.
tLBP: Patryk was confident that the systems were more than capable of handling it, which is very exciting.

tLBP: Still on the topic of the other operating systems, are you doing anything special to make it look great both at the small resolutions of mobile units as well as on large monitors or televisions with the PC/Mac/Linux/Dreamcast? Will it be a matter of scaling the assets, or some other solution?
LT: The resolution of the game right now is 720p. I would personally prefer it to be a little lower resolution, because right now the character sprites are really small on screen, and sometimes we show a little too much of the map at the same time. The pixel art suffers a little too, making the grid-like patterns of the tiles more apparent, but I digress. We'll scale all of the assets to match 720p, or whatever resolution we decide on. It just doesn't make sense to make a full HD pixel art game. It's better to just zoom in. Pixel art looks better zoomed in anyway. :)
tLBP: I agree in a lot of cases about zoomed-in pixel art. And full 720p doesn't actually add that much precision to pixel art. Especially if emphasizing the pixel-art look is the goal, a bit lower might be preferable. As you've said though, ES's pixel art isn't quite like any other pixel art, so it'll be interesting to see how it behaves.

tLBP: This is a long ways out, but about the Next-Gen+ stretch goal: will that high-end graphics setting be an entirely remade set of assets or just upgraded capabilities (physics etc)?
LT: It will have the same set of assets as the regular game, just upgraded features. Not sure exactly what though, it's still a little early to decide, I'd rather wait for us actually reaching that stretch goal!
tLBP: No problem, that covered what I was interested in! Thanks for all your time - these answers have been really in depth, so I can't actually think of any additional questions! I'm really excited to see how the game develops. Good luck on the final leg of the Kickstarter, and I hope that even should you miss the goal that we haven't heard the last from you yet! I'm rootin' for ya. :)

The game is only $4000 away from funding! A great burst in these last ten days has taken the game out of the scary uncertainties of the middle point of the campaign.

End Recording,

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Elysian Shadows: Interview with the Artists Part 1 (Patryk Kowalik)

Connor Linning, the ES team's musician, has all the music set to no-embeds, so have a video of one of his own OTHER songs! Check out his soundcloud account, or the playlist you can find on their Kickstarter page. It's actually really nice sounding. The game's main theme sounds great.

Part 2 of the interview, with Leandro Tokarevski, can be found here!

Hello, welcome to my brief foray into becoming a member of the gaming journalism press. Let's get to it.
Image taken from the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter page.
Travel through lush environments and diverse biomes, exploring a series of mysterious ruins, and discovering a world caught in constant conflict between magic and technology. Magic is a gift reserved for only the loyal followers of The Creator, while the non religious sects of society are forced to rely upon technology in their daily lives. Upon uncovering a mysterious artifact deep within one of the ancient ruins scattered throughout the land, Julien and friends find themselves thrust into the middle of this rising conflict. Can you solve the mystery of the ancient civilizations and prevent the destruction of your own?
Elysian Shadows is an indie 2D RPG being developed for Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Ouya, and even the Sega Dreamcast (not even kidding). We fuse aspects of 16-bit classical RPGs with a highly stylized, modern vision by using dynamic lighting, physics, and audio engines along with swapping between 2D and 3D perspectives. Our goal is to create the "next-generation" of the 2D RPG in terms of gameplay, graphics, and audio. We want to reinvent and revitalize the aging genre for a new generation of platforms, while still remaining true to the 16-bit charm of the SNES and Genesis classics that we all grew up loving. 
Those are the opening blurbs of the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter, which has been going on for two-and-a-half weeks now. A friend of mine showed me their campaign, spurred on by their own love of the Dreamcast, and I had a bunch of interesting thoughts about it. Most importantly, I noticed the distinct appearance of the art. Here's a couple pictures to illustrate.
In-game captured GIF In-game screenshot
In-game screenshot

These are some in-game screenshots presented in the KS. So if you're a veteran of my Pixel Art Lessons, or if you're just a frequent pixel-artist yourself, you might notice some stuff. I did. I then talked about it a lot on twitter, like on three separate days for an hour each, which is a lot of talking. Most of it wasn't particularly favorable, though not mean-spirited, especially in light of both of the artists being relatively new to pixel art but also in light of the struggles of making assets for game development as opposed to gallery-style work.
I had so many thoughts that I decided I should just figure out more about how it works with them from the artists themselves! So I reached out to Falco and he put me in touch with Patryk, the lead artist. My questions have also been sent to Leandro, but he's on holiday with family in Italy right now, so I'll put up that second half of the interview later.
The format for the interview was I emailed a bunch of questions, received the answers, then fired off a couple follow up questions. For smoothness purposes I'll be integrating the follow-up questions where I they make sense to be.

The Logbook Project (tLBP): So let's start simple: who are you and what is your role in the Elysian Shadows team? I'm interested in general information as well as your history with regard to art, and specifically pixel art.
Patryk Kowalik (PK): I'm Patryk 'Imrooniel' Kowalik and I'm lead artist art ES team. Joined close to 3 years ago, initially as concept artist but when I saw that we're severely lack actual game assets I picked up pixel art. We all are wearing multiple hats, so I'm also writing a ton of lore and world building.

tLBP: What you think of pixel art as a new artist? I'm frequently involved with the teaching of relatively new artists, so how new pixellers start out and how they teach themselves or learn the craft is really interesting to me.
PK: I know I'll be stoned by pixel art purists for this answer, but it's just yet another category of art styles for me. Just like vector art, hand painted... But I think that's what allows me to come up and mix in new things like normalmapping - there's nothing sacred for me in pixel art, so I'm not afraid to experiment with it.

tLBP: Have you done any work outside of the assets for Elysian Shadows, whether elsewhere or more likely just for fun?
PK: Actually I've been freelancing artist for over past two years, since high-school. I've worked on quite a few projects - most of them never got finished unfortunately.
(here, my portfolios if you want: and

tLBP: What sort of programs do you use for making the assets for the game?
PK: Photoshop actually, I know it's not the best program for pixel art out there, but I've been using it for past 8 years and it works. Also Spritelamp to check out normalmaps.

tLBP: Can you tell me something about how the process works between you and with the rest of the members of the team?
PK: Well... I'm making a map, post progress as I go on forum and once I'm done with all the major points (ground, walls, and big structures) I give it up for our level designer for testing. Because we're using a lot of tile flipping and rotation, sometimes it is confusing to build out of the tilesheet at first sight, so that's a time to spot it and add any additional comments.

tLBP:I don't have experience with pixelling for game development, but I always hear about how restrictive the time crunch can be in creating the art. How much time do you reasonably take on a single asset (a background, a character and their animations, whatever)? Are you often forced to work with the first draft of a piece or do you get much chance to go and revise before moving on?
PK:Honestly, crunch is result of poor management and planning. So far we could work at our own pace, with only minor hiccup just before Kkickstarter - but that's because we were trying to get as much done as possible before KS. We're not corporate, so we don't have to bother the rigid structure and methodology: I have a general time-line as to what should be completed until when, but it's more of an approximation. So far we're ahead of the plan, that left me some extra time for RnD.
tLBP: It's also very encouraging to hear that you're ahead of the game when it comes to time management!
Patryk pointed me at their brand-new "Adventures In Graphic Design Chapter 1" which illustrates how SpriteLamp and pixelling for the game works, and it's on its own the most understandable explanation of how SpriteLamp works I've seen yet. Check it out here:
tLBP: How indicative of the game's look are the Kickstarter photos? I gather that the asset quality will continue to be upgraded, but is there anything style-wise that you think will change from the current look?
PK: Quite indicative. There are some things that can be easily tweaked - perspective, scaling, shaders... But the art style itself will remain pretty much the same. I'm actually trying out different approach as we speak - one where shading is entirely dictated by normal map and not colour map. The result should be similar to what we have now - after all, I'm quite fond of what we have, except all lighting will be dynamic - not just overlay cast shadows.

 tLBP: A big change to the way pixel art works in games comes from the lighting engine the game will be using, SpriteLamp. Can you tell me something about how that technology works and how it changes the creation of art assets?
In my own experience, a consistent lightsource is an important part of making a pixel piece seem cohesive. How do you make the base art that SpriteLamp will then work on while still trying to produce good assets on their own?
PK: Well, normalmapping works by changing the way surface's normals interact with dynamic lighting. With it, we can simulate a volume to some extent, by making it in pixel art style, we can have pixel art that dynamically reacts to light. I actually spent last 5 days painting normalmaps by hand and trying different approaches - I'm trying to balance how much details I'm putting into normal map and how much into colour map. Different shaders also drastically affect the way it all looks.
To be honest, it's not quite a pixelart any more. We're using a lot of techniques from 3d modelling, experience from traditional painting and illustration and apply it to pixelart. What's the result if not pixelart? I have no idea, probably something in-between everything.
tLBP: That's really interesting to me. It may not be pixel art in the purist's sense, but that doesn't really mean anything except to the medium's connoisseurs. Forging new ground with how pixel art is manipulated and what it can be capable of using other techniques is really interesting, and one of the things that most interests me about the game.

tLBP: The game is going to be run on a variety of systems. SpriteLamp is native to Windows, and has plans to work with Mac and Linux, but are there special considerations you need to accommodate for it to function on Dreamcast/Android/iOS? Should you reach the Xbox One/PS4/Wii U stretch goals I'd imagine those consoles are strong enough to handle it, but the relative power of the mobile OSs seems like it'd be an obstacle.
PK: Spritelamp is just a tool for normalmap generation. Just like Photoshop - it doesn't affect on which systems our game will be played.
But as for dynamic lighting - it all works on dreamcast. Today's mobile devices and consoles are little bit more powerful than that, so I don't think there will be any issues

tLBP: Still on the topic of the other operating systems, are you doing anything special to make it look great both at the small resolutions of mobile units as well as on large monitors or televisions with the PC/Mac/Linux/Dreamcast? Will it be a matter of scaling the assets, or some other solution?
PK: It's mostly scaling, and we're using "nearest neighbour" so there wont be any issue with pixel art.

tLBP: This is a long ways out, but about the Next-Gen+ stretch goal: will that high-end graphics setting be an entirely remade set of assets or just upgraded capabilities (physics etc)?
PK: Emm.... do you mean new-game+? That's just a different game mode...
tLBP: That was in reference to a different higher-up stretch goal - as the stretch goals are no longer visible on the KS page I don't recall what the dollar amount was. Regardless, it was so high that it seems very unlikely to occur, so the question is irrelevant at this point anyway.

tLBP: Do you see yourself continuing with pixel art as a medium when you're done with the game?
PK: Definitely. It remains a cheap and affordable art style (well, relatively to everything else), so devs will still request it. Plus, you know, if Elysian Shadows' reception is going to be good, then we're definitely making expansion ;)

I want to thank Patryk and the Elysian Shadows team for taking their time with me and for being so openly transparent in general with all of their development on the game. Their regular livestreams and extensive documentation on Youtube is really impressive and respectable. You can see the Adventures in Graphics Design video above, but you should check the rest out. Check out the rest of their Youtube channel here.

And once again, their Kickstarter is still going here. Come support these developers!

Part 2 to this Interview, with Leandro Tokarevski, will be posted once it's completed.
End Recording,

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Midsummer '14 Day 31: The The - Lonely Planet


The final day! Nothing has changed since three years ago when I did my first Songaday: The The is still my favorite band. Something about Matt Johnson's voice and spirit and mind is enchanting. Lonely Planet was the last song on Dusk, which is my second-favorite album after NakedSelf, which tragically has almost no good videos online. I really wanted to do December Sunlight. I still love Dusk though, it's much slower overall and very introspective and focused on love and loss.

Thanks for coming along with me this month on another Songaday! Midsummer '14 was a lot of fun. You're all great and I love doing these. Hopefully the blog won't seem to be dead once the daily posts stop, as I'll be around!

G'night folks, hope your July was great.
End Recording,

Midsummer '14 Day 30 & Watch Dogs Revew: Rise Against - Help is on the Way

Not late so much as delayed, I was writing this thing and the deadline slipped by.

This song is by Nickelback-clone Rise Against. Rise Against is not a particularly good or bad band - they are at best competent and at worst trite and dull. This song is among their competent ones.

So if they're insignificant, why do we care? Because it's also one of the only interesting songs on the Watch Dogs soundtrack.

Watch Dogs is a Ubisoft cross-generation video game that came out in May. It was met with great anticipation after solid showings from trailer footage and pre-release hype. Of course this is all a wind-up for the punchline:
The game sucks.

Okay, that's not precisely what I mean. Instead, the game passes every basic competence test while failing every single test for excellence. The game is thoroughly and universally mediocre.

Let's start with the all-important plot. I didn't get all that far, through the middle of Act 2 before returning my rental copy, so I won't judge it based on the ending but based mostly on the impressions the game gives to a new user.
You are Aiden Pierce. You were a dude who has a criminal past, but you've tried to put that behind you. Then all of a sudden your beloved niece is the victim of seemingly random violence in a car attack that you managed to live through. You get involved with the underworld again to try and hunt down the culprit, despite the ubiquitous surveillance.
Did I mention the surveillance? The setting is a near-future Chicago in which a single system controls watches every part of Chicago, maintaining a rigorous database of every single person in Chicago. Aside from the fact that even in the growing surveillance-state nature of the states, this would not be the route taken (as it provides the same weakness the game preys on - a single exploit would unlock the whole thing), it's aware to an almost silly level. In fact, scanning every single person in the city, the only one who comes up "unknown" is, well, Aiden Pierce. Even though his absence is kind of conspicuous - every single cop should immediately know to stop him if he's in view of any camera.
Aiden is a hacker (though a rather poor one if I do say so, in spite of how great we're told he is), and has gained access to the system that now controls literally everything in Chicago. The system, dubbed CTOS, controls every single digital interface in the city, and Aiden has cracked it. Hooray.

To hunt his niece's killers, we're opened into the game with him beating and terrorizing a man who ultimately doesn't know much of anything, hanging out with a renowned fixer. He seems to spout some kind of "I'd rather not kill" philosophy, which is immediately thrown away. In this game, you will kill hundred of people - ordinary gang members, agency workers, security forces, cops (an infinite supply of cops), anything. The game's tagline is "Hacking is your weapon" but it's not, your collapsible baton and  your silenced pistol and your sniper rifle and your grenade launcher and your automatic shotgun and your grenades are your weapons.
Does that sound like a lot of high-grade guns for later in the game? Nope. I had 'em three missions in, because everything opens up immediately. No, wait, actually things open up halfway through Act I, then there's literally nothing that seems to be locked off. You can do all the side missions, unlock everything, get every weapon and car, reveal the whole city, do literally everything that isn't directly a story mission. There's no real sense of the game pacing things out.
And if things seem like they're expensive, well, no problem! One of Aiden's tricks is that he can drain the bank accounts of the people he meets on the street! Not everyone though. Only some people can be drained, and they're usually the people with, like, one or two hundred in their account at most. You're taking the poor for what they have. And since you get a little blurb of insight into the life and occupation and income of every single person you see, you feel bad for people. Especially when I'm told that I'm robbing people in situations like "Taking out a second mortgage" and "Recently laid off" and "coming from family's funeral." Maybe its just me, but when I was playing this with friends, there was a trend toward the people you can steal from already being down on their luck.
And this isn't just something you the player know - Aiden knows it too. So what do we have so far? Aiden is a murdering vigilante using the mass surveillance but not breaking it down, robbing ordinary people down on their luck to fuel his crusade against what at first could only have seemed like random violence.
So he acts like he's doing this to bring peace to his niece's mother and brother, the latter of which has PTSD as a result of the loss. Oh, but he's doing it against his sister's wishes, who just wants him to let it go so they can heal and try and move their lives forward. Instead he gets them caught up in it and makes targets out of them.
And Dead Cell! Dead Cell is fictional Anonymous, hacktivists against the surveillance state. Oh except these guys actually seem to be behind virtual (and perhaps physical) terrorism.

So okay. Aiden is a vigilante, willing to kill anyone and everyone in his way to get vengeance for a single murder, falling in with virtual terrorists while taking advantage of the surveillance state they are also fighting, working with criminals who are mostly killers themselves, robbing average civilians to buy automatic weapons and fancy sport cars, and putting on a batman voice and pretending to be in the right this whole time.
And this is the protagonist.

Aiden is not a likable character by any stretch of the word. He doesn't even have that lovable charm of most anti-heroes and he's an asshole to his former friends (he has no current friends). In any other game, this is the man you're stopping!
The game tries to wrap itself in an anti-surveillance-state PRISM-is-bad message, and while I didn't see the end myself, I'm told it kinda handles it ham-handedly.

So what about the gameplay? Is it fun at least? Not particularly. Lots of driving everywhere, except the driving's not particularly fun. The controls are loose and the for a seemingly-realistic traffic flow, the lack of turn signals alone kinda screws with the flow. Turning is a bear, even with the best-handling tightest-turning motorcycles. I stopped using cars fairly quick and relied on just motorcycles - much easier, plus you can just ignore the traffic and blaze your own path through the streets. Hell, getting hit isn't even that bad, you just get thrown from the bike.
You can hijack every single car in sight, but because the game wants you to use the phone's Cars On Demand app that orders a vehicle to near your location (for free at least) there aren't very many parking spots let alone cars parked in them. Chicago is apparently a city of people driving but never parking. And because the Cars On Demand app always puts it somewhere in a lot or on the street near you but not right AT you, it's often a hassle.

The stealth gameplay wasn't that bad, but not exceptional. I'd play, well, any other cover-based stealth game as soon as Watch Dogs. Even The Last Of Us, which while I loved its plot and characters found its gameplay slow and unsmooth, was far more effective. I personally made it a bit harder on myself because I didn't like killing people in Watch Dogs (I interpret the melee takedown as nonlethal), but even if I wanted to use my guns there's only one silenced pistol as well as a silenced uzi that's hidden behind a pretty extensive unlock requirement.
And god help you if the cops find you. They're everywhere, spawn from everywhere, are fast and smart and call in helicopters pretty quick, and it is literally impossible to fight your way out, as they spawn infinitely until you hide and they give up.

The soundtrack is varied, but none of it is particularly noteworthy. Passable, but not exceptional. None of the voice acting is awful, though Aiden's gravelly grumbling is just, like, whatever.

The graphics are okay, though the debacle with the PC version's graphics is just ridiculous. Even on next-gen they're really not the revolution they'd been talking about, but they're still good.

So the plot's early game sucks, the protagonist is supremely unlikable and hard to root for, the driving sucks, the stealth sucks, the guns are whatever, the soundtrack is whatever, the graphics are good but not exceptional, is there anything I really like about the game?

Yes. The minigames.
Now, none of the minigames are killer apps that make the game worth its price tag, but they're nice pieces to mitigate the boredom. A decent shooting minigame, but that one's only okay. The highlights are:
* The poker minigame. It's basically a complete 4-person poker simulator. It's fairly robust, and while there are some tricks to abuse it into making your odds slightly better it's a decent model for someone who just wants to spend some time playing poker. I played it all the way through twice, the second time winning, in order to get its unlock, the best motorcycle in the game.
It is rather lengthy though, and some of the required animations are annoyingly long.
* The chess minigame. Unlike the poker game, it's not just a chess simulator. It's instead a series of chess puzzles, working within a situation and making best moves. It's pretty fun actually, a good puzzle.
* The hacking minigame! In general, the game's use of hacking is superficial - making distractions, looking through cameras, moving some cover around. The main minigame itself though is a pretty involved puzzle that takes some real thinking, especially the more you go through. A full puzzle game for 3DS that expands upon the concept and explores it fully and finds the extent of its challenges would be really interesting, or a low-cost Steam release. I'd buy it. As an occasional and only slightly-explored diversion to the main slog, it's fun but not a selling point.

So yes. Watch Dogs has points of occasional quality that shine through the dull mediocrity, but they're far too few and far-between. Overall, I can't warrant the game at its current price, or even half the price really. A $20 game? Maybe. It'd make a good timekiller. Really though you'd be much better off buying GTAV or Saint's Row or Assassin's Creed or any of the other comparable-but-better alternatives to the game.

There's my opinion. Later folks, see you later today in the final installment of Midsummer Songaday!
End Recording,

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Midsummer '14 Day 29: Lime of the Season - I Like, Like Like You


Brandon Strader made this remix of an array of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons songs for Lime of the Season, Hylian Lemon's remix album of that game. A follow up to HL's previous album remixing Oracle of Ages (Essence of Lime), this one doesn't disappoint. This song isn't actually my favorite from the album (check DJ Mokram's "Quicksands") there's a very limited selection uploaded in video right now.

I love Oracle of Seasons. Not only was it my first Zelda, it was one of my first games period. I have extremely fond memories of the game, and it's got a permanent place in my heart. When I talk about favorite Zeldas I put Wind Waker first, but I always make the point that the Oracle games aren't even in the same running, they get to jump the line.


End Recording,

Monday, July 28, 2014

Midsummer '14 Day 28: Avicii - Addicted To You


I listen to about half of Avicii's album True a lot. Some of the stuff is just whatever, but other bits are great. I wish Levels was on it. Wake Me Up is a radio powerhouse and hasn't stopped getting daily radio play on basically all the stations I listen to for over a year - it's truly amazing how much staying power it has. I think Avicii hit the goldmine of genre-blending, carrying more pop-styling into his EDM tunes and augmenting with folk sensibilities and soul-inflected voices (this one, for example, features Audra Mae but reminds me a lot of Adele). His constant parade of guest vocalists on the album gives a wide variety of sounds, which acts both for and against him but largely for.

I credit Avicii with being one of a small handful of names largely responsible for the mainstreaming and pop-ification of EDM and house, which may not appeal to some people but does to me.

End Recording,

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Midsummer '14 Days 2, 27: Hitman Blood Money, Bobby Hurman

This time's missed day wasn't actually my fault! The servers that manage the university ePass for my email (which also manages my blog) were bugged out until just a little bit ago, so I couldn't get in here to post this D:


I don't think Jesper Kyd's Hitman soundtracks are as good as his middle Assassin's Creed soundtracks, but they're still pretty good.

ForseenFusion from Immaculate Restitution on Myspace.
Bobby Hurman aka Immaculate Restitution aka 9inchesoffun is a pretty chill musician. I met him on Sheezyart many many years ago. Sadly, Sheezy has been closed for remodeling for years, so I actually have songs of his saved to my hard drive that don't exist elsewhere on the internet. It took a good bit of digging to even find this one, which I admit was one of my favorites. I wish Crystallinity was still up. Maybe I'll upload it myself sometime.

End Recording,

Friday, July 25, 2014

Midsummer '14 Day 25: of Verona - Match


I love of Verona. Indie rock fronted by Mandi Perkins, focusing on an ethereal ghostly resonance to their tone? Hell yeah, I'm in. Castles, Match, Dark In My Imagination, Take Me, Centipede, The White Apple, We Are Not Alone Here, yeah.

End Recording,

Pixel Art Lesson: s0mber's "cloak" (Contrast, Palette Size, Resolution, Lightsource)

Abhainn Mor from Young Dubliners on Myspace.
The instrumentals of The Young Dubliners are pretty great. I'm not totally into their lead singer's voice, but the celtic rock style is pretty sweet. Also their new album is barely anywhere yet so sorry about having to embed friggin' MySpace.

I've been running my mouth some more on PixelJoint, so I guess it's time to share some of my and my recipient's experiences.

s0mber's "cloak"

Major Themes: Contrast, Palette Size, Resolution, Lightsource

The piece actually went through a lot of stages. What you see here are, on the right, the final stages of the piece. I don't actually have the very first iteration, and it seems that s0mber also saved over them. Unfortunate, but what can you do? I'm gonna have to get in the habit of saving originals. Technically, the one on the far left isn't actually what it was - you'll see it's true form through the critique.

I don't have the first image, but my points were very quick before the first edit.
s0mber uploaded it as his first image. I wasn't the first commenter, but I thought I was - I was typing my comment when 7heSama cut in beneath me with:
7heSama says: Needs higher contrast, esp. in the light gray in his foot/shdow and the dark/medium red
Looks nice tho
Which is basically what I ended up saying in more words:
Ego says: Welcome to Pixel Joint!

There's a bit of readability trouble. The saturated red distacts from the grey shirt enough to make it harder to read, and the shading on the cloak is really hard to see without zooming way in because of the low contrast. I like the character though!
That's basically the briefest I've ever posted in, like, years. I had so much I could pick on but didn't want to scare away a new poster. Like I said though, I've been running my mouth lately, so that didn't last long...
s0mber replied: Thank you! This is one of my first creations, I'm fairly new to arts.. Will play with colors, thanks for the motivation.
Followed soon by
s0mber says: Updated. Not perfect, but better?..
Well, first off, that's the right way to take critique! Right in stride, and immediately incorporating it. Any regular readers can catch some potential troubles already: a different sort of contrast issue, and a color count one.
Ego says: Ah, interesting. You've solved the one issue, but stepped into a different one - no biggie, that's how you get better, right?
Fix the previous problem and give me a whole new subject to talk about? My favorite. Lets me practice a bunch of kinds of pixel knowledge.

So yes, you've done a decent job solving the contrast thing. Even at 1x the feet in the shadows can be made out, and the red of the cloak is less saturated to the point that the other bits show through a bit better. Nice job!

The new issue is partially about contrast till (yes, same concept, but in a different way), and partially about the way pixel art in particular works. It centers entirely on the cloak - there's little things you could work on elsewhere, but the cloak is the big deal. In this version, you added some extra colors to the cloak. I can guess why you did it: you switched the dark bits from before to the much darker red, and the change felt too abrupt so you added some intermediate colors. Not unreasonable. However, there's a couple problems with doing that here.

The first is with regard to contrast. While the difference between the light part and the dark part is visible, most of the intermediate stuff fades together when zoomed at 1x or even 2x because the colors are close together. Getting the contrast right here is going to be a bit of a struggle - both solid red and solid blue are hard colors to show the contrast without being too abrupt. But just adding colors in a gradient like that isn't usually a great strategy - it starts doing this thing we call banding (you should look up Banding in The Pixel Art Tutorial in the resources section of the forum here - you do it pretty heavily in a couple places) that we try to avoid.
That tutorial is easily accessible right here! The Ramblethread cure links there is super interesting but much more advanced - I link the Pixelation Knowledge Repository later, which is a summation of a lot of the points of that thread. In the PJ tutorial by cure, section IV-4 is the one I'm pointing at, which talks about banding. If you read my Lessons here, I've discussed banding a lot - it's the hardest-to-explain fundamental concept of pixel art, and is commonly caused by otherwise-good practices used without care.
Another question for you to think about: what's your light source for this piece? This is an important question for any kind of art, not just pixel art. Based upon the highlights on the chest, the light is in front of him on the right. Based upon the shadow, the light is coming from right above him. Based upon the cloak, the light is coming from the left, or maybe from above if you're looking at the hood. Pick a light source, and think about how the form of the character would cast shadows over other parts.

About color count: well, a) you don't have 20 colors, you have 19 now! I arranged your palette here: Take a look and think about how many of those look similar to other ones you have. An unspoken goal of pixel art is to have as low a color count as needed to provide the impression you want - it's considered good craftmanship. Looking at your palette, some of those colors are really close to other ones - you could just make them the same! When we're zoomed out, looking at the piece at 1x or 2x, the differences are often not too noticeable, so always keep in mind that THAT'S the scale people will mostly be looking at your piece.
Here's that image if you don't feel like clicking a link.

I always worry when I explain the idea of low color count to new users because it's NOT a rule. High-color work can be great, like the TheoVision piece I showed last time. You don't need low colors, but if you can achieve the same effect in a piece with fewer colors it's considered good form to do so. If the impression you want ends up needing a lot, so be it. However, this is pretty rare - go through the PJ hall of fame and you'll be hard-pressed to find many pieces with more than 40-ish colors, and the ones that are almost all demoscene-style pieces from a very different tradition of pixel art. Also, the smaller your piece, the fewer colors you'll need, although the opposite is not true (larger pieces do not necessarily require more colors).

A last note: if you have the capability, consider making the background to the character transparent! It's by no means necessary, but I think it might actually look nicer without the box of color around him. This isn't too big a deal though, it still looks fine with it.

Hope this stuff helps! Let me know if you'd like something explained further, and sorry about it being such a dense block of text. Keep it up man, I'm looking forward to seeing your stuff here in the future!
And s0mber took the concepts well! And posted the following post and new iteration.
s0mber says: Thanks for the pointers! Still don't seem to get it right, but at least the number of colors is down to 6 now.. Need to do some more reading and experimenting and then reiterate :) Getting the colors right is tough, lights and shadows - even more..

Ego says:
No doubt this is the best iteration yet by a good deal!There's still a couple floating contrast things that could be perfected (using the pant shade on the shirt might be too harsh a transition, and the hair shade blends with the cloak) but the reds are great with each other and you cleaned out the superfluous colors.

You've stumbled into an odd situation - you mixed resolutions! Most of the piece (and the entirety of the previous versions) was blown up 2x beforehand so that each individual pixel was actually a 2by2 square. That's totally fine. However, when you made this iteration, you have those mostly 2x2 blocks but a couple of 1x1 pixels. I'm sure that you wanted the extra room to add detail, but since now the eye can distinguish what a 1x1 pixel looks like the rest of the 2x2 shading seems blocky by comparison. Wherever a single pixel is visible, that provides your resolution.
 I'll be honest: I don't see this problem very often at all! I most often talk about resolution with banding because I'm basically parroting what the Pixelation tut says about it. Here though I think I finally understand exactly what it means in those explanations and why obfuscating your resolution is one of the primary goals of pixel art. This is really why I write long explanatory crits, because it teaches me as well as other people. I mean, just last night I was musing about clusters on Twitter and broke through how AA interacts with cluster theory. That's unrelated to this crit of course.

The other thing would be that I can tll what you were doing with the shading on the cloak, but it seems more like the idea of a cloak fluttering rather than how a cloak would actually fold. Think about it like this: those sorts of ripples, while iconic for a cloak, make the most sense if it's being blown in the wind. If that were the case, it would be blown up a lot more. At rest, it would have a much more predictable shadow, cast simply by the body against the cloak.
This is very much a composition crit, and yes lightsource is (to me) a composition-level problem. It's a good sign for you when I stop talking about pixel-level stuff and move onto your composition-level stuff! While those are harder to fix as they require redoing whole sections completely, it means that your pixel-level stuff is at a point that I'm not concerned about it.
Of course, it also could be the result of the fact that no amount of pixel refining can fix a piece with a broken composition.
(I also talk about it less because I'm totally not a pro at composition - there's a lot of great resources for that if you want to learn, but I need to figure out more myself before I start talking about it TOO much)

A very specific note: you see that shading on the cloak right next to the arm? The way that it exactly mirrors the shape of the arm? THAT is banding. This is the tutorial you want for a good opening explanation, at section IV-4:

I try not to do this with new folks, but I did a quick edit of your piece to show you what I mean. I show you this on a condition: don't just copy what I do. Understand how it works and apply those lessons in your own way.
I think I've been quite clear in the past why I don't like showing edits to new folks; it's the same reason I write my tutorials as examinations of others and not walking through a thing of my own - learn from it, don't copy it.

Hopefully that puts a visual point on the points I was explaining. Keep going - your improvements have been in leaps and bounds :)
And the process continues:
s0mber says:Thanks! A couple more iterations. I see what you mean, but still can't get it right in some places.. well, trial and error.. Think I shall switch to something else, read some tutorials for a moment and review in some time, as I feel like I'm out of ideas for this one.. Iterations so far: link
This is the linked image.
Ego says: Aye, and the latest ones have the best forms yet :) Still a bit of that resolution mismatch, but whatever.

Don't feel obligated to stick onto this one at all. I rarely actually go back to change a piece and just apply critique to the next one. You've made tremendous progress with this piece, and you should be proud of that :) If you're ever stuck and itching for critique, hit me up and I'll see if I can't help.

To help with the tutorial searching, the one I linked in the previous post is one of the best. This one is actually my favorite, though it doesn't go out of its way to explain all the lingo (but has a great explanation of the resolution thing I was talking about): And I'll be a bit selfish and link my own lessons, mostly teaching through observing other critiques to understand what to watch out for:
The rest is asking permission to write, well, this. I could have left off with some additional crits about the final ones (such as the resolution issue not being resolved) but it's also made some great choices like the switched hair color and the generally fixed cloak shape. I decided not to though, better to leave it as it is and keep an eye out for whatever he comes up with next. Keep it up man!

End Recording,