Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Black and White

Some bits and bobs. portraits of characters, The Captain and Keisuke. Not based on photographs. I wanted to construct faces from scratch rather than just using photos. Tutorials like these are very handy for stuff like this:
Keisuke was a lot easier to draw for me. I live and grew up in an area with very little ethnic diversity, but I did live in Japan for a year, so I'm more used to the typical details of a Japanese face than an Afro Caribbean one!

And yeah, I just spent a couple of weeks teaching myself how to paint more realistic style faces. My comic line art style just doesn't feel right for this game, plus I don't particularly like digital painting with heavily stylised faces (unless the painting is purely for colour or shade, it kept simple and used in conjunction with line art, like the work of manga artist Nana Li, where it looks awesome). I think it's fortunate in a situation like this, that despite drawing manga style, I tend to spend a lot of time studying real anatomy, and tend to stick to naturalistic proportions. If that weren't the case, it would have been much more difficult to make the transition!

The room isn't as good because...well, I am not naturally very good at things like that. I've given it a go, but really I find inorganic and geometric things very difficult. The more organic elements there are in a room, the easier I find it generally, so a ramshackle cottage would be much easier than a minimalist space ship cabin.

Thursday, 22 October 2009


This sure is a fast way to make art! This only took about 30 mins. Starting to understand why it's used for concept work so much, as an atmospheric and fairly finished full colour image can be created remarkably quickly. While it is tricky because I've just started learning, I'd say this is actually a lot easier than manga. Manga is deceptively hard, as the simplicity and clean lines are far less forgiving than painting, and you can't always just chip away at something until it looks fine, particularly with physical rather than digital inking. I don't know why they think we're hacks. -_-;

I think I'll use Digital painting for the mock screenshots in the FPT project. It's a lot faster way to make a finished looking image than line art and inking and stuff. I think monotone painting will work really well for a nice noir-ish feel anyway!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tatatataa taa taa tatataaaa!

Look, I know that the subject matter is not related to the project, being a picture of Cloud from FF7, but I'm very pleased with my progress in Digital painting today.
It's so useful having a lot of artists as friends at times like this. Since saying I wanted to learn, I've been given a huge amount of advice, resources and links to tutorials!

I feel a lot more confident about using digital painting for this project now I've discovered it's not actually all that hard to learn.

Oh snap

Okay, this whole 'not doing any digital painting' would be a lot easier if I wasn't so obsessive.

I was told by a few people that I should start in black and white. I also figured that starting with rooms wasn't a great idea seeing as I'm considerably better at organic stuff than inorganic.
This was done using a rough pencil sketch from my sketchbook. Obviously it's not an ideal sketch to use, as it was drawn with stylised proportions. Personally I'm not a huge fan of painterly styles applied to manga proportions, as the more realistic lighting and texturing combined with unrealistic proportions creates a strange 'uncanny valley' effect. My manga style doesn't deviate hugely from real proportions, but her head looks a little too big (unless she's 5'1", of course, my head:body ratio is about the same as hers, 1:6.5), and her eyes I had to paint smaller than I'd drawn them, they looked freaky hahaha! I used the sketch mainly just because this was purely a quick technical exercise.
It's not perfect. The contrast isn't confident for a start, and the light direction isn't distinct enough. Starting in monochrome is a good start though, and I didn't use brush opacity this time, and was more confident and free flowing.

Hmmm...perhaps I should give digital painting the screens a shot...

Down to business

Okay, I think I should leave off digital painting for this project and keep it as something to practice in my spare time. It seems like something that takes a long while to learn and experimenting with a completely new medium I've barely used when doing a new project probably isn't the best idea. I may try to work any good digital paints I DO manage into the project, but I'm going to stick with what I'm good at for bashing through the work.

The form of the project will be a mock 'Let's Play'. 'Let's Play' is a concept I really like, as it's basically a bunch of screenshots or a video with a commentary, either written or spoken depending on the format which takes you through a playthrough of a game. Some are humorous, mocking bad or strange game elements, making humorous asides or playing the game in an eccentric way on purpose, others are serious and straightforward. You can find loads of them here:
I love the concept of LP, because sometimes I have limited time or don't have the console or the game never came out here, or it's just too difficult or a horror game (as I have mentioned before I am a complete wuss and lose all playing skill and control when scared so can't play horror games, but like to watch others play them!), but I really want to know what happens in the game and the storyline. Some of them, like the 'Knights of the Old Republic 2' LP even give storyline commentary, pointing things out, as well as including reconstructions of content cut from the game, and showing conversations which are hard to get due to requiring high empathy with certain characters.
I suppose as a person, I enjoy watching others play games just as much, sometimes more than I like to play them myself. My brother tends to call me a 'walking instruction manual' since I tend to learn every aspect surrounding a game, and always know what to do, I'm just not great at playing them. Sometimes you notice game design aspects more when watching a game than playing it anyway, because you don't have to concentrate and can look around from a more objective perspective.

I'll be making the screenshot type, but of course, the screenshots will be fake, like a storyboard with descriptions. This will hopefully give the reader a good idea of what a playthrough of the game would be like. How it would play, what sort of thing would happen etc. It plays to my strong areas as a comic artist, and illustrates the game concept, as it's a subtle game involving reading clues and picking up information. Simply saying the game is like this wouldn't quite get across the nuances.
I think I'll do the whole thing in black and white. It'll save time, print nicely and I think look quite atmospheric. The game itself wouldn't be in black and white, but I think I'd like to go for a very sparse aesthetic. I loved the minimalist approach of 'Radical Dreamers' a very obscure sequel to Chrono Trigger made for the Satellaview. You can download this game and a translation from Japanese for a snes emulator, and I recommend it. It's a text adventure with very minimalist graphics and music (the music is still awesome though, it's Mitsueda), which after the first play through, can be played multiple times for radically different story tangents, many comic, some sweet and one freaking scary!

The LP I'm making will illustrate a possible run. It's not a perfect run. The player works out the identity of the killer and a rough idea of how it was done, but doesn't get a lot of evidence. They visit every character though, to give a feel for the game as a whole.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


I think I need more practice. This digital painting melarky doesn't come naturally to a dyed-in-the-wool line artist like me. These are not very good hahahahaha!

Aesthetics IN SPAAAAACE!

I've been thinking though the look of the game. I don't want to go for anything too crazy for the depiction of the future here, because I think that in the same way that fundamentally clothes, architecture and furniture aren't too different from 100 years ago, some things don't really change that much. I doubt that in a few hundred years we will all wear outfits with fins on the shoulder pads and everybody will universally wear lycra bodysuits. So to prevent things looking silly or gimmicky, I've tried to design the characters with a fairly timeless look. Simple jeans, shirts, suits, cargo pants, t-shirts etc. These have stood the test of time pretty well. Even though the game is set on a spaceship, I don't want the fact that it's on a space ship to overtake the importance of the murder mystery.

For the look of the ship, I want it to feel like a modern ferry or a 2-3 star hotel. It's not luxurious and the design isn't showy. It's simple, utilitarian, but not ugly. It's not dirty with exposed mechanical parts and grilles and unpainted metal everywhere, but it's not pristine and with all glowy surfaces and super cool curved minimalist design. It's minimalist, yes, but it's not inspired.

When I did a brief stint of work experience with an interior designer, I learned a lot about how public spaces are done out. Naturally as a beginner, I wanted to make the spaces look exciting, fashionable, cool and unique. That's actually what you really don't want to do, especially if the place will only be decorated every 10 or so years! You want something that's hard wearing and rather than strongly appealing to one kind of person, will be comfortable for a wide range, as well as a simple, classic look that won't date quickly.
So what I want to make is a ship interior that feels clean, a bit sterile and boring but without being uncomfortable. Rather like a student flat or the cabin on an overnight ferry or the room at a travel inn.

I think the ships in the Star Wars universe are a good start. I've always really liked the interiors of the Star Wars ships. They look really believable somehow. They're not cosy, not excessively cool looking, but they don't look really uncomfortable or grungey. It's great design. I'd like it to look like the Republic ship from the start of 'A New Hope', the one with the white interiors. I just think that's a really believable space ship interior myself.

Some futuristic ideas I'd like to use:
Picture frames in rooms. Digital frames are starting to become commonplace now, so doesn't it make sense that you'd be able to upload pictures of your choice via bluetooth to the picture frames in your room at a hotel or whatever? Also, when you get a phone call, the image of the speaker could appear in those frames for the duration of the call.

Lighting that mimicks a sense of daylight. No dark and dingy ships! That's unrealistic, especially for a passenger ship. In order to combat SAD, there would definitely be a source of artifical daylight, probably large light panels. This is another thing I like about Star Wars ships, they have a comfortable lighting scheme without being flashy.

Handprint activated doors. Perfectly feasible future tech. I don't think in the future we'll have physical currency. I think we'll more likely have either fingerprint/retina scanning OR we'll all have a chip inserted into the wrist or somewhere linked to electronic funds.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

You Spoony Bard!

I have spent the past week studying murder mysteries and how they're constructed.

One thing about me as a person is that I hate compromising an idea due to personal limitations. For this reason, I always try to research what I'm creating thoroughly rather than steering away from genres I don't know about. I love documentaries (but I'm a lot less keen on docudramas. Either make it a period drama or a documentary! Surely the facts in themselves are fascinating enough to not need the justification of some bad acting!?) and tend to devour information.

Murder mysteries are something I admire but have never really considered making myself. They are actually quite challenging to make well. You need to leave clues so the conclusion doesn't come out of nowhere, but without making the solution too obvious. I love laying out red herrings and coming up with motivation for characters, it's something I'm used to doing in comics, so a mystery is just that turned up a notch. You have to make it seem like everybody could feasibly be to blame at first. The hard part is not getting contrived or descending into farce.

The fun thing about making this first person and having you visit suspects personally, is knowing that you could be sat in the room with a killer. I think I'd want minimal music and sparse environs for this, like 'Portal', which would make sense on a space ship. I want the player to feel like they're alone with nobody to trust. Even though they have friends on the phone, those friends are thousands of miles away.
The Gap Year girl, Miranda, I would deliberately write as sympathetic and friendly. People latch onto a friendly face in a desolate environment, so it just makes it worse when she's the accomplice of the murderer and not trustworthy. The characters you have to work to gain the trust of make better friends. I guess the moral is that sometimes people who are a little shy of making friends at first make really trustworthy, loyal friendships.

One idea I like would be to have a little minigame area, like when you visit Dan, you can play retro arcade games with him, and gradually he relaxes and speaks to you while you're playing the game. I think it'd be good to be able to play the game a few times seeing different outcomes and conversations. There's no way you could see everything in one playthrough, but you could have a playthrough where rather than focusing on solving the case, you just hung out with and learned all about a particular character.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Some thoughts on Metal Gear

Some of the inspiration for the 'First Person Talker' idea came from the 'Metal Gear' series. I want to talk about what's special about the series of games.

I really, really love Metal Gear Solid 1, 2 and 3. I haven't played 4 yet, because, well, I'm broke haha! Sometimes, they can be a little too verbose in the cutscenes, which is my only real criticism of the series. Overall, they're original games with great attention to detail and memorable characters. I still remember the first time I saw MGS1, my jaw just dropped. Even though it was one of the earlier PS1 games out, the graphics still looked good toward the end of the console's life, so when it game out, it just looked amazing. The voice acting was great and it was so atmospheric!

There are two things that really stand out for me in MGS games:

1. Cinematic reality and the 'rule of cool'.
Unlike other stealth games, which depict realistic situations in a fairly realistic way, like the uncompromising 'Rainbow Six' series, 'Metal Gear' games are more concerned with being FUN. In a Metal Gear game, you're not just some soldier, you're a badass action hero who's a one-man army. It puts you in the role of main character in an action movie, allowing you to do things like hide under a cardboard box, dodge roll into people to knock them over and fight mecha with rocket launchers! Because of this, it's a lot more forgiving on the player and less fiddly. It's not like other Stealth games where you can die without even knowing what the heck killed you. It also allows for over-the-top Bond style baddies. Not only are they wonderfully cheesy fun, but the themed bosses all have different tactics and stuff.

2. Attention to detail.
There are so many ways you can play a Metal Gear game. You can play cautiously, carefully edging around, tranquillising guards as you go. You can play like a swift, darting ninja, running circles around the guards before they notice you're there, or you can play a gung-ho action man, who shoots anything in his path. In MGS3 you can have fun blowing up enemy food stores, to starve guards in the area so they'll pounce on whatever food they find, even if it's rotten or poisonous. Not to mention details like catching cold by being out in the rain, or posters in lockers etc. I'm always amazed by what your helpful colleagues over the codec radio will comment on. There's so much to see and try in these games, it's just great fun.
I also really like how you get extras for completing the game under different circumstances.

So as games go, I would rate the MGS series very high. It's a shame the cutscenes are so long though! (MGS2 was the worst, though I hear 4 is pretty bad too). As far as gameplay goes, I really can't fault them.

Back to Chat

So, back to making the dialogue-based game.

I'm going to use the term 'first person talker' for what I've decided to design here. I wanted to make a mystery game of some kind, and I think it should be a murder mystery. It makes the situation more suspenseful if there's a chance that the person you're talking to is the murderer, and could be psycho, after all!

I want it to be a sci-fi and set on a space ship. This gives a good reason for why your character is involved, as well as for why everybody's stuck there. I remember playing '7 Days A Skeptic' and being totally freaked out by the claustrophobic atmosphere. Of course, this would be less scary, and less gore-filled than that game, and without the supernatural elements.

The mechanics of the game:

There's a map screen, where you can select where in the ship you want to be. You have your dorm, the ship's mess, and the cabins of other characters. Not all characters will be in all the time. They have their own daily routines. Also, sometimes you'll find somebody in somebody else's room, or they'll be in the mess or somewhere. Time advances over the period of the voyage, and events happen. You have to decide how to spend your time. during waking hours (there is a curfew at nights, where you can't go out). This includes remaining in your room to wait.

You can converse with characters, which takes place in real time. You can talk to people face to face, or on your phone. I'll talk about the phone later. When talking, you can look around freely (with the mouse, wiimote, analogue or whatever). Avoiding eye contact may be offputting for some people you talk to. When you mouse over an object you see that's of interest, it will be added to your conversation queue.
Dialogue is initiated either by somebody asking you a question, or by you pressing the 'que' button. If you press this in the middle of a person's sentence, you will interrupt them. Characters may become agitated if you interrupt them repeatedly!
When you press the que button/key, you're given a list like:

"Er..." (this cancels the interrupt, the speaker may continue, if they haven't lost their thread or become angry)
"What do you know about...?" (this opens a menu of possible topics)
"I want to tell you about..."

During a conversation, you can press the 'demeanor' button/key to select from a menu your body language and tone of voice: Cold, Formal, Vulnerable, Gregarious, Sympathetic, Agressive. Different characters will react to these differently depending on their personality and current situation.

You also have a phone. You can use the phone in the privacy of your own room, or you can use it when in other places. Be aware that using your phone isn't always appropriate, and may annoy other characters. Your phone contacts can also call you, and you have to use your judgement whether or not to answer. Only you can hear your phone, but anybody in the room will hear your responses! This could lead to a great suspenseful scene in which the main character is in a room, talking to a character, their phone rings, they take the call, and it's a friend ringing to say they checked some details and think the person you're in the room with IS the murderer!
While speaking on the phone, you can look around as usual, but not use demeanour commands, because your friends know you too well and you're always on friendly terms.
Your phone friends will probably include:

-A science expert of some kind.
-A literary and/or history buff.
-Somebody with a lot of common sense/everyday knowledge
-Somebody who thinks outside the box, like a conspiracy theorist, detective novelist etc.

I think that's everything for now.
I'm thinking the main character will be an actor perhaps. I'll write more later.