This is a breakdown of my process on this painting so far.
First I start with a sketch. I wanted to create a tall, inline composition for this one. Something that looked powerful and imposing, but with bright, rich colors.
I didn't really like the feature characters head position so I adjusted it from a downward stare, to a more imperious looking chin lift. I also made the foreground figure larger with a more reclined or off balance pose.
The basic composition was working for me, but the perspective of the feature character was sort of all over the place. I searched around for some better reference but didn't find anything that suited my needs. Remembering that I am a 3D artist, I posed a simple 3D character and set up a low angle camera. That image, along with the figure reference that I gathered (I literally just googled stuff like 'wrestler low angle' and 'athlete leaning')
Then it's on to colors. I picked a palette that I thought might be directly counter to the image. If the characters are about being powerful and imposing, the colors are the opposite of that. Pink and blue that strays into the pastel and neon.
And now it's time to refine the features, sculpt the characters with highlights and shadows and just generally start finishing the damn thing.
When I have it all wrapped up I'll post the final image. bit more to go.
You have to start somewhere.
For a while I have been doing concept paintings based on the game I am making. This is the sort of thing that might typically be done before any game assets get made or early in development. Since I am the one doing all the work on this game at the moment I’ll do it in whatever order I damn well please. In this case that means I have set up a sort of feedback loop. The stuff I do in the game informs the paintings and vice versa. It’s a nonlinear workflow.
One thing that is absolutely linear for me though, I can’t paint without first doing a sketch. Usually many sketches. So here is a set of sketches that I will be turning into a painting. Next week I will have more of a breakdown and I will walk through some of the process of making a painting.
I’m just going to write this one as an aside.
A little something that isn’t what I am really writing. What I am really writing is another short story, but I have recently found out that if you actually want to get short stories published in places where people might read them you can’t post them on your own personal blog. Now I understand the initial reasoning behind that. A publisher doesn’t want to pay money for a story that can be found for free on the internet. I also think that sort of thinking ignores the realities of the internet. Almost anything can be had for free if you are willing to look around for it. Text is especially susceptible to being copied and redistributed. The other reality is that people are pretty lazy. The types of magazines and web sites that might publish one of my stories are probably safe. People aren’t hunting around for pirated sci-fi stories. They are going to the outlets that they know. The places that curate stories. They are either listening to the ad sponsored podcast versions of stories, or paying a small amount for the digital subscription, or reading off the ad sponsored web page. That a story exists on my blog, a blog that very few people read, it won’t really factor into their bottom line. Even if it were the blog of a very popular writer, there would likely be very little impact to a publisher.
Still, they have their rules and that means that as long as I am trying to sell any stories I will have to either pull early drafts from here or just never post them to begin with. It’s a bummer, but that’s how it goes.
I suppose if anyone reading this wants an early version of anything I am writing you could just contact me and I will hook you up.
And now back to writing what I was writing before this aside. It involves aliens. And mixed martial arts. Should be fun.
Best Games - Trial Bike
Imagine that all of the controls for a game exist on two axes. Up, down, backward, forward. That’s it. That’s all. I mean, Pac-Man manages to operate on only two axes, so maybe it isn’t that difficult to imagine. Now, how many games can you think of that both only use two axes for input and sparked a decades spanning franchise. A franchise that remains successful to this day? It’s probably only Pac-Man and Trial Bike, or Trials, as the series would come to be known.
I’ll back up slightly. Trials, in the real world, is a competition where people riding motorcycles attempt to climb, hop, and navigate increasingly bizarre obstacles. Rocks, logs, concrete blocks, child play structures, stacked barrels. If you could find it in a landscaping storage yard, these folks will probably ride a motorcycle on it. Some of the obstacles are twice as tall as the riders zipping over them and they roll up these things like a squirrel climbing a tree. It’s unreal to watch. I can honestly say that Trial Bike was my introduction to the sport. It’s the sort of thing that would pop up on late night sports networks between infomercials. So, of course, It’s amazing source material for a video game.
Here we have this Finnish game from the early 2000s that borrows its theme from an obscure motorcycle obstacle course competition. The original game was made in Java and then ported to Flash. You could play it in a browser. Nothing about that description should make you think ‘franchise spanning two decades’, but new games in the Trails series come out at a fairly regular pace. Not only that, they are still made by the original developer. Now they are highly polished 3D affairs with lots of particle effects and ragdoll physics, but they haven’t really deviated from the initial concept. Ride a motorcycle, climb obstacles, try not to crash. It just works.
The other thing that works is the control scheme. Web games of the early 2000’s were fairly simple out of necessity. There was no real way to stream high quality graphics to you at that time. You couldn’t use a webGL plugin to play a game in your browser. Web games were quick things that you could drop a few minutes on here and there. Unfortunately that does mean that a lot of them have been lost to time. There probably aren’t many that you would still want to play, but from a preservation standpoint, it’s upsetting that some games might be lost forever. Tangents aside, the control scheme of Trial Bike is really something special.
Like I said before, Trial Bike only uses two axes, or four buttons. Forward and back control the throttle and brake on your bike, up and down control where the rider balances their weight on the bike. When you press down the rider sits lower on the bike, but also further back on the seat. When you press up the rider stands and leans over the handlebars. Shifting the riders weight changes how and where your bike grips the ground. Press down and forward on the throttle and you can make you bike do a wheely. Press up and slam on the brakes kicks your back wheel up into an endo. Feather each of these controls just right and you are doing some Trials! You climb straight up that pipe that looked impossible to scale. You hop those boxes and land each tire perfectly straddling a dangerous gap. You ride just on the edge of control. You only use four buttons.
The legacy of Trial Bike is sort of a wild one and it’s really no surprise. Trial Bike is one of the best games.
Two weeks ago I posted up a painting. This is one of a series of concept paintings that I have been doing for my game. The aim with all of these paintings has been to create a sort of 70’s album cover aesthetic. The sort of fantasy art that would have been printed on 12 inch vinyls.
While I could have tried to just straight up copy the style of someone like Roger Dean, that would never have felt like something that I would actually paint. Instead, I started shifting whatever my own style is in the general direction of 70’s fantasy art.
The last painting I did was fine. I like some elements of it. The figure has some good energy and the palette fits the era, but I just didn’t like the painting. That happens. I think I actually like about three paintings from the entire series. Sometimes I don’t even like those. I read recently that the reason artists don’t like their own art is because it looks like they made it. I can second that. Anything that looks like I made it, I’m usually not that interested in.
Just to be absolutely clear, I am not some self flagellating artist. I don’t have a perfectionist complex or think that nothing is ever good enough. I’m just not that interested in looking at stuff I made, because I remember making it. More than that, I know that I can always do more. It’s very easy to see the potential in a thing that I made because I typically have no fear of changing it. If I want to repaint a thing, I repaint it. No big deal. When I look at someone else's art I get to dissect it. I can imagine how it was made and reverse engineer the stroke choices, the techniques, the tricks. That is much more interesting to me.
Since that last painting wasn’t really doing it for me, I decided to try again. Usually I like to move on and paint something new since I will probably learn more from painting something new. This time I painted the same subject with a similar composition, but I attempted a bunch of the techniques I have been gathering from 70’s album art.
Maybe it’s successful, maybe it isn’t. That isn’t really for me to judge. I mean, I made it. I enjoyed making it. But I did make it, so I don’t really find it that interesting. Time to move on to the next one.
Best Games - Death Rally
This post is not really about a game. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Death Rally is great. It’s as much fun now as it was when it launched as an Apogee published shareware title 25 years ago. This post is about first steps.
In 1995 a group of Finnish demo scene kids set out to make a game.
Let’s walk this back a little. The demo scene, if you’re not familiar, might be described as a loose network of extreme hacking clubs. These are the type of people that like to make dazzling animations set to electronic music on Commodore 64 and Amiga Machines. Sometimes long after the usable lifetime of the machine. They like to compact an unreasonable amount of data into a miniscule space just to watch it sing and dance. These are the type of folks that want to see what they can make a computer do. They are most often European. Not sure why. It might have something to do with the Amiga.
This group of demo scene kids had been dabbling with the PC. In 1990, no one would have tried to make a fast action game on a PC. PC’s were primarily business machines. Beige monoliths with green and amber crt screens. Good at crunching numbers, awful at moving pixels. Machines much more suited to spreadsheets than Mario. In five short years PC’s went from ascii art to Commander Keen to Doom. Formidable graphics and sound advancements, along with the concept of shareware, had made the PC the place to play for up and coming developers.
That’s the world that this group of Finnish demo scene kids were working in. They knew how to make a PC sing, and they wanted to try their hand at making a game. They pitched a car combat game to Apogee, the shareware people, and got to work. They needed some writing done, so they got their friend who was studying English literature to do it. They were in the right place at the right time, yes, but they had arrived there with the right skills.
Death Rally is a PC take on arcade and console driving games like Super Sprint and Badlands. It remains a great game to pick up and play. The controls feel great and the car combat is satisfying, if maybe a bit too difficult. It looks like a SNES or Genesis game that got dislodged from its cartridge and somehow ended up on a PC floppy disk. Suffice to say, the game is great but the real reason I selected Death Rally for a Best Games has less to do with the game and more to do with who made it.
The team at Remedy who made Death Rally went on to create Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Control. Some of those same demo scene kids are still there, still at it, making dazzling images set to phenomenal music. Death Rally was a first step. It’s a very good one. While their games diverged from Death Rally in terms of genre and point of view, one ingredient remains. You can tell that these games are made by people that aren’t aware of what the boundaries are. They don’t know what the ‘right and proper’ way to make a game is. They are still demo scene kids trying to pack as much of everything they love into every single game. As a result the pacing and tone of each of their games is slightly different than what most studios would make.
So there it is. As a first step, Death Rally is really quite phenomenal. Go give it a try. It’s one of the best games.
First, write something.
I write a lot here about games. I write here about game development. I write about art. I sometimes even write about movies. I write about all of these things, and even though I have been writing about them for about ten years, I never really write about something I spend a lot of my time doing. Writing.
It’s tough. I feel like I know a fair bit about the subject of games. Games and movies are absolutely the entertainment mediums that I have spent the most time in my life enjoying and analyzing. While they may not always be great opinions, I do have opinions on those forms of art. That means it’s pretty easy for me to rattle off a thousand words or so about some game or movie. The thoughts are all right there on the surface. I rarely write about writing because I don’t really feel like I have a lot of expertise in the field. I have opinions, but I am absolutely not an on the subject.
All that said, here are some thoughts on writing. At least how I do it. You can do it any way you like. If you have been thinking that you would like to write something but didn’t know where to start, this post might give you some ideas about how to get going. And more importantly, how to keep going when you feel stuck.
If you read this page at all regularly, it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I don’t edit these posts very much. I read them over (usually). I fix major mistakes (usually) but I don’t pore over them. I don’t test and compare word choices or sentence structure. These are stream of consciousness posts, for the most part. When I write stories though, that is an entirely different beast.
When I write stories I like to get a first draft out of my head as quickly as I can. I stick to the concept and sort of see where it leads. I have been informed that this is the panster method. As in ‘by the seat of your pants’. The opposite of the pantser method is the plotter method, where you plot out every beat of your story before writing. So I suppose I am sort of a pantser-plotter, because when I edit, I like to plan.
Once the first draft is down and out of my head I feel like I have stuff to play with. Some paint to smear around. Some clay to work into shape. It gets fun, but also a little frightening. What if I plop the wrong paint daub down or lop off the wrong bit of clay. Something that was working might now look like a heap of word trash. That’s the fear and adventure of editing.
I open up a new document, or several new documents, and start making plans. I write out timelines. I gather research notes. I write short character biographies. All of this stuff will be only for me. Then I start working my way through the story pulling out parts, changing them, moving them around the timeline, clarifying them, and weaving them back into the rest of the story.
I take most of my inspiration from film so I tend to write in scenes. This is helpful for me since I can usually pull a scene out, change it, and put it back without disrupting the scenes around it. At least not too much. When I plan, each one of these scenes is usually represented by one or two lines that sum up what happens, and why the scene exists. The “why the scene exists” part is especially useful when it comes to cutting or removing scenes. Lots of times changing one scene will make another scene redundant and it becomes easier to pull it out. Of course I never just delete a scene. I cut it out and paste it into my orphan scene document, where all the ideas I liked but didn’t work go to spend languishing in digital eternity.
All of this is probably pretty standard editing workflow stuff. I’m sure there are tricks and techniques that authors use all of the time that dwarf my feeble nonsense. I’ll keep adding those tools as I carry on learning to write.
I think that might be the part I like about writing. There will never be any end to it. There will always be something new to learn. Some way to get better. Some new way to string one word after another to tell a story, or describe a process.
Really, I just bang out my thousand or so words here once a week and then write a few thousand more in the times between. That makes me feel like I accomplished something. It might never grow to anything larger than that, but I suppose that is okay too.
While writing this post, I removed two full paragraphs that didn’t need to be here. I changed a few dozen sentences, and several hundred words. That’s about as stream of consciousness as I get. So that distills it. My advice on writing anything. First, write something. Then read it to see if it makes any sense. Then change the parts that don’t. That may sound too simple but it’s that first step. The one that starts everything. First, write something.
I think I finally finished editing one of my stories. Kara’s Spine is a short, near future, sci if story about an elite athlete who receives a life changing surgery. I did a few rounds of edits and improvements on it over the last few weeks. A huge thank you goes out to the beta readers who helped me find places to revise and improve it. They know who they are. It might not be perfect, but I think it turned out alright. If you send me a note I can tell you were to read it and let me know what you think. Good or bad.