Kickstarter Progress

kickstarter progress

With 18 days left on our Kickstarter, we have 55 backers and nearly 60% of our goal met! But I wanted to take this opportunity to thank some great peeps who’ve supported our project from the get-go:

The Otaku Judge – one of our first backers, most constant commenter, and great reviewer-of-anime – Thanks for turning Geek Out South-West’s attention over to us, thanks for your support, and thanks just all around. What a guy!

Geek Out South-West – thank you for the tremendous shout-out! Posted just today, we already got two additional pledges within less than an hour of your post. Hats off to you, sirs!

Ross Tunney – Another fantastic project creator you can find on Kickstarter – currently has a live campaign for his awesome, anime-inspired game, Data Hacker. Thanks for the shout-outs, Ross!

And I’d love to take this moment to thank not only anyone who has backed us, but anyone who has spread the word about Legend of Lotus – even if unable to financially back us. Please help us keep this campaign going! If any of your friends A) are rich B) love retro games or C) all of the above, send them our way for our eternal gratitude.

If anyone out there has ever wanted to take part in video game creation but lacks the time, the energy, the money, the skills or the… creativity, by backing even just $1, your name will be memorialized in our credits. By playing the demo and offering feedback, or becoming a $15 backer and downloading the game through its Beta stage, you can earn a special place in our credits as a consultant.

As long as we’re talking about Kickstarter, here are some great projects currently live:

Aegis Defenders – a visually stunning pixel art game

Steam Punk & Cthulu Soundtracks – a soundtrack production group to create awesome soundscapes for tabletop gaming

 

And finally, I’d like to give a preview of a new concept we’re planning to develop once Legend of Lotus is done:

1

We’re exploring 2D platformer construction using Unity – with a totally new art style. But not only will the art be completely different; the storytelling, game mechanisms/play, and goals will be completely different too.

aki

 

Without words, this game will tell the simple but moving story exploring the depths of the bond between a dog and her boy. It will be a pixel art game with puzzle mechanisms, and a simple, clear story with one goal: to get home with your boy. The above .gif is a rough design of the dog’s sprite, animated by yours truly.

Our goal to finish Legend of Lotus is January, provided the Kickstarter goes through. Production on Bound is slated to begin shortly thereafter. Wish us luck!

Advertisements

Edo-Inspired Woman

I’ve recently been introduced to the Weekly Art Challenges on RPG Maker’s official forum. They’re fun themed little challenges that ask for submissions each week on the forum. Thought I’d share mine for this week’s. The theme is historically-inspired. This is mine, a woman inspired by Japan’s Edo Period:

edo

 

Her kimono is not in the exact style of the Edo period, but the lithe figure is a nod to that traditional period, as well as the make-up and hair style.

Opening Credits Finally Unveiled!

With original music by none other than the talented J (aka Arc Bird) and featuring our original characters created and hand-drawn by none other than myself, we are proud to show a rough draft of our opening credits.

Please offer any suggestions if there is a way that the credits can be improved. Bear in my that the final slide featuring our “Special Thanks” are reserved for three mystery contributors who will be determined at a later date.

A Summary of Game Progress – Characters and Portraits

This blog exists because of our RPG Maker VX Ace Project, The Lotus War, but besides for posting some images of recent artwork, the game itself has kind of taken a backseat in the blog. Not because work has halted, but because so much has been covered in past posts. For example, older posts might’ve covered product reviews or character introductions – you might notice, though, that the products that we use in game creation are limited, and the main cast has pretty much been introduced. Similarly, custom scripts that we’ve utilized have been addressed in past posts, as well as some of the custom tilesets that will appear. But with a goal of having a demo available by next month (we’ll see how that goes), perhaps it’s time to recap some of our development progress. Today, I’ll start with something already familiar: the art. Expect, though, to see samples of cut scenes, the opening credits, and new views of our map coming soon.

Of course, we have the main cast fully assembled. You may remember from earlier posts that the artwork hasn’t always been up to snuff. Fortunately, with practice, I was able to create a team of which I’m proud:

wpid-1149067_588924531160537_1382445057_n.pngTaya-BlushArinnel-Normal

Axel-NormalAuhn-Normal elf guy normalbron

 

We also have several of the secondary cast fleshed out:

Axel3-NormalAnders-NormalSteff-NormalKai2-Normal

 

And you might notice that the armor is a little more unified these days – although still varying from character to character. This was done to give it more of a military feel.

Some of the major bosses were also completed:

Galen-NormalshaneThe Bird-NormalThe Chief - Normal

 

Battlers have also been important, which we’ve been fortunate enough to obtain for customization through Holder:

ren-battler auhn-battler kai-battler galen-attack bron-battler taya-shot

 

This is all a big deal to me because it has truly come a long way. Some past examples were rough:

wpid-hero-template.png kai jealousimagewpid-taya.png

 

taya-old-shotwpid-arinnel.pngwpid-portrait_taya.png

In the past, you might notice, the characters looked a bit flat.There was little dimension due to my lack of comfort with MangaStudio. My skill has vastly improved – and I also discovered new nifty tricks (the most revolutionary being “export in dimensions” rather than “export in pixels” – for Photoshop, it makes such a huge difference!). I’ve also grown in comfort using Photoshop, and discovered a nifty tool in GraphicsGale for pixel art. Not to mention my ability with the Wacom Bamboo Splash has increased dramatically.

In addition to that, I’ve created what will become the basis of at least part of the opening cinematic:

opening 1

Of course, given that the characters are my area and I’ve been updating the blog since month 3 or so, any frequent readers are well aware of the advancements in this area. For a game development blog, the greater interest might light in world creation, coding, scripting, and the like. Fortunately, J also has some great progress to report. Unfortunately, we’re spreading this recap out so that each aspect of our game has a moment to shine.

Check back soon for progress in our game music, our opening credits, our opening “cinematic,” and out in-game cut scenes. All of this will hopefully be leading up to a playable demo some time in August.

And please, feel free to leave feedback. Feedback is what we need to fulfill our ultimate goal: creating a great game.

A Few Characters and Sprites

I wrote the other day about syncing up sprites and portraits. Today, I wanted to show a few completed ones:

bogs

bogs-walking

 

Hanlo-Normal

hanlo-walking

 

roguish girl normal

janna-walking

 

Here are some basic approximations of some NPCs and their sprites. If you take a close look, you’ll notice some details that might cause a discrepancy, as discussed the other day… but nothing too glaring, right?

Syncing Up Character Portraits and Sprites

Populating The Lotus War‘s world has been a priority of late. While I have several characters on the back burner already, they didn’t have corresponding sprites. J, conversely, had the opposite problem: he filled several maps with NPC sprites for which there were not yet portraits. So I went ahead and created characters based on the sprites, then made sprites based on the characters. Admittedly, one was a bit easier than the other: creating the sprites first, then basing the portraits on them. But with the limits on RPG Maker’s templates, that left the sprites/portraits done that way rather uninspired.

RPG Maker doesn’t even have ponytails as an option for hairstyles, for example. Not to mention rest of the costumes: there are probably about 15 or so that fit into various categories of warrior, shaman (or wiseman, or something), villager, and then a few modern ones (suits and school uniforms, mostly). I can edit these well enough on Photoshop or GraphicsGale, but I think if I were to make the sprites first, I probably wouldn’t have a mind for editing them as much before drawing new portraits.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) the little 16-bit, 2D sprites that games like ours utilize aren’t of the greatest, most explicit detail. You look at the characters and get the general idea of, ok, this one is a red-headed girl, in an ab-baring yellow top, but I don’t think you would expect to see detail at that level. In fact, if you add a scarf to your character, RPG Maker may not, by default, add that to the sprite. There are, then, a lot of little things that a designer could conceivably get away with… adding buttons, certain cuts of clothing, high collars, low collars, etc. etc. But some of the really basic things, such as color, seem to inherent to a character not to change. For example:

 

Those are the basic hair colors that RPG Maker offers, give or take. And yet, on Otaku Judge’s request, I’ve drawn a fiery red-headed rogue – not a bratty pink-haired one:

roguish girl

Not to mention my random warrior chick:

Scully-Normal

Exactly which shade above would do either of these two characters justice?

Even one of our stars, Arinnel, has pink hair… but it’s too fair a color to use RPG Maker’s red with. So does that mean that I should stick to the 6 or so shades offered by the game? Or should I just do a bit of a bait and switch to make my job easier? It’s not like it’s unprecedented, even in professional games:

It’s a little hard to see, but notice how the character’s talking to a dude that seems to have blue-ish gray hair, but the dialogue portrait shows him with tannish blond.

But hair is not all:

billy

I drew this guy a while ago before really thinking about his sprite. Not only was orange not available for his vest, but in RPG Maker, he wouldn’t even have a vest. It would’ve been a jacket. So I made some simple modifications:

liam

Yet even that’s not perfect. If you look closely, his collar in the sprite sheet hangs low and is orange. In the portrait, it is gray and upright.

But all in all, I do wonder: how closely do sprites and portraits need to align? What do you think?

Characters in the Cold

Ren Jacket-Normal

Jtaya-normal

So far, I have two jacket designs down for the colder climate areas! The only problem is that we might not be able to make the battlers match the difference – though the travel avatars will.

What do you think of changing character clothing depending on the climate?

Nerd Blasphemy: Why I Don’t Like Firefly

There are some things that nerds just enjoy. Robots, space ships, blasters that go “Pew pew!”, smart people talking over the heads of the “cool” and attractive – or better yet, being the cool and attractive – winning the girl/guy and saving the day. These are things that we just want to see in TV shows. Put all of them together and we will literally give you all of the money (but not literally because that would be just crazy). Firefly, Joss Whedon’s brain baby (yes, that Firefly, just to be sure), gives us a good portion of these. And I just. Don’t. Like it. I tried. And I can’t.

Disclaimer: I know that Firefly is over 10 years old, and the anime listed even older, so this argument has probably been dumped back and forth, but as another friend of mine just proclaimed his deep and abiding affection for this show, I want to lay out exactly why it strikes me as stale.

It’s not a terrible show, granted. The characters are good and the world is built nicely. But let’s put this all into perspective from my point of view. I’ve been watching anime since I was in… 2nd grade, when Dragon Ball Z was airing early Saturday morning. I’ve been watching giant robotic ships blast each other into oblivion near since I can remember. My 90s were filled with scenes like these:

vash spikemelfina

Now look at the scenes below. Any of them seem a little familiar?

Simon_Tam_Glasses

Notice the round, orange sunglasses.

mal-reynolds

The callback to the signature pose of our favorite anime space cowboy/ship captain/bounty hunter/does anything for a meal bad-ass with a mysterious and haunted back story.

river tam

…does this need any explaining?

So the homages to anime are obvious. What about the plot points?

-Several anime are more or less “episodic” like Firefly. Most of the series doesn’t cover a specific arc, but the arc is divided sparsely between episodes before coming to a dramatic conclusion. See: Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star.

-Features anti-heroes with a history as part of some kind of organized violence; men that are soulful and damaged who don’t trust easily but wouldn’t betray a crew mate. Clever in combat and tricky in dealings, even if not part of intelligentsia. Smugglers and bounty hunters with rascally charms just trying to get by. See: Spike Spiegel, Gene Starwind, Lupin III, Vash the Stampede.

-Shepherd Book – a minister formerly of a deadly profession. See: Nicholas D. Wolfwood.

-The “special”/”gifted” girl – usually one that has undergone some kind of experimentation – and an ongoing investigation into her background, i.e. what caused her to be special and pursued by enemies. River Tam was abducted for being so fantastically special that the government just had to have her as their uber special super-soldier. Melfina from Outlaw Star, the character whose pose River Tam borrowed in the picture above, is a special biosynthetic android created by scientists to find the Galactic Leyline. Both girls are hunted by various organizations but are protected by their ragtag crew mates because, as you might’ve guessed, they’re just so damned special. (An even even features River “becoming one with the ship.” While a prank, was this a purposeful allusion to her influences?).

Obviously, it’s not a carbon copy of any particular anime. The plot specifics differ completely and the characters themselves unique. Indeed, the settings differ: where Japanese media depict crime syndicates ruling the roost and weak governments unable to protect their citizens, American media like Firefly often depict a heavy-handed, oppressive government keeping the masses suppressed while “the little guy” squeaks by on petty crime, just trying to get by. Clearly cultural viewpoints have somewhat reversed the respective roles of government/organized crime, and the series reflect that.

I’m just saying that the elements are definitely there. Firefly feels inspired by the anime/manga mediums but is unable to fully convey the essence due to the constraints of its own medium. And considering what a nerd Joss Whedon is – what, a comic book writer and all – and the fact that he makes it a point to include Asian-inspired motifs – I would not be surprised at all if he’d watched anime or read manga himself. Or at least was aware of the space cowboy subgenre at the time of creating Firefly and used that as a launch point to create something that Western audiences haven’t given much of a chance.

In fact, his later project Dollhouse shares a lot of similarity with the fantastic and iconic Ghost in the ShellBuffy The Vampire Slayer, likewise treads in the magical girl genre (and though entirely different series, there’s something to be said for the immature, boy-crazed, popularity-seeking, blond Usagi/Sailor Moon growing into a butt-kicking, sacrifice-making heroine and the basically-fits-the-same-description Buffy Summers. Oh and the appearances of Dawn/Chibiusa. And exploring alternative sexualities through secondary characters).

It’s completely possible that Joss Whedon simply had all these good ideas on his own, independent of the boom of stories that happened to manga in Japan in the 90s. In fact, from what I’ve read, he lamented that the show was viewed merely as a “live-action anime.” But then damn: why would you make it so close?

Honestly, all the shots, the angles, the costume design, set aesthetic – all of it from the pilot onward just reminded me of my well-loved anime. Except that anime is drawn, so it doesn’t need to worry about budgetary constraints or technological limitations. If you want to show a pants-crappingly scary monster, draw one. If you want to show incredible maneuvering by a space ship, animate it. If you want your hero to have super-human fighting ability, well, ok! And so all the callbacks to anime that I noticed in this otherwise original series simply reminded me of all the things it was missing: action, visible and creative enemies, cool visuals. Instead we got Reevers, which until the movie were boring, faceless crews of ships with blood spattered on them – and dry-as-can-be Alliance military (although I enjoyed the plot linking the two).

It’s not that I can’t enjoy Firefly because I think it’s bad or anything. It’s just all-too-familiar when I had a decade of watching action-packed anime before Firefly ever made it on TV. As for fans’ claims that Firefly was… like… the most creative, original sci-fi basically in the history of ever, a lot of them don’t watch anime – because if they did, the themes would be instantly recognizable and familiar. In fact, by the time I got around to watching it, everything Western audiences felt was incredibly original to me felt tired and used. I don’t think anyone born and bred on manga/anime would find Firefly particularly groundbreaking – maybe just cool because it’s live action and Whedon-esque. And to fans that did watch Cowboy Bebop and like to claim that Firefly was “done better”, well – geez: I guess it’s just like how I like Chipotle better than Moe’s and probably always will. Chipotle introduced me to this style of food and set the standard for me. Chipotle also came first. And has better-seasoned chicken. Moe’s will therefore always play second fiddle, despite their provision of wonderful sweet tea and a salsa bar. I’m sure that people who tried Moe’s first might have a similar feeling, just like people who prefer Firefly and think that Cowboy Bebop‘s plot is “simplistic” can be excused for their poor taste due to a lack of proper culturing.

What do you think? Am I being fair to Firefly? Which side of the debate do you take?

Why a Reboot of Sailor Moon is Needed

Many people remember Sailor Moon as unwaveringly and unapologetically ridiculous and girly. And many people would be right.

In the name of the moon, and not S&M- definitely, certainly… I mean… S&M… Sailor Moon… holy cow! did I stumble onto a secret code?!, anyways- I WILL PUNISH YOU!

If, that is, they’re thinking about the anime. See, like many works the anime and the manga differ immensely.

This really terrific manga, which basically on its own revitalized and recreated the magic girl genre, had been reduced from basically a coming-of-age story for girls with a character who progressively matures and tackles difficult, literally world-changing decisions to kind of a platform for goofiness. Yes, while still unabashedly a girly fantasy, the manga also had more dramatic undertones, coupled with plenty of mythological allusions and mature themes. For example, in the later books Mamoru (aka Darien aka Tuxedo Mask) was even wiped from existence by the latest foe and Usagi, stricken with PTSD, couldn’t remember it as anything other than a dream (as he had been traveling to America for college at the time of the incident). Later, she struggled with the idea that staying with him in what was basically the afterlife could endanger the rest of the universe – literally a would-you-save-one-despite-the-many ordeal. Michiru and Haruka, in the manga, had a more complex relationship, too, than even what was presented in the Japanese anime – and were certainly not cousins. Feminine empowerment is highlighted, and so Usagi’s transformation from a careless teen to a responsible leader even more pronounced. Oh, also, Darien/Mamoru is a high-schooler, too, when we first meet him. So that’s way less creepy. (It was always pretty ambiguous in the anime),

One time, after my friends told me that Pokemon was now on Netflix and it was almost embarrassing to watch, I looked up clips of the anime that I so used to enjoy. One of the only ones I could find were of a kiss between Serena and Darien. And it. Was. Awful. “HMMMM… MUWAH MUWAH MUWAH, mmm MMM MMMMMMMMMMMMmmmMMMmmmmMMMMmMMM.” SERIOUSLY?! I WATCHED THAT?!!!! THEY GOT STUCK ON HER BUBBLE GUM?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSI-

Ok. Cool it. It was just a show. A show for kids.

*Deep breath*

Anyways… all this to say, basically, that an anime based on Naoko Takeuchi’s coming-of-age legend of a manga is certainly welcomed.

What do you think?

Character Outfits

Since times immemorial, iconic video game characters have had an outfit – one outfit – you identify them with. Mario and Luigi have blue overalls with oversized hats of red and green, respectively. Donkey Kong has a really phat fur coat and red tie. Link has a green tunic and slouchy, pointed cap.  But the video game, as a medium, has grown. Suddenly, not only can you design and select the gender for Revan in KOTOR (is it still too early for that spoiler?), but find a new robe with better Force conduction (or something) and boom. Your character looks completely different. Countless games allow you to modify the avatar you see onscreen.

Yet even in an age where customization exists, you still have your recognizable icons: Titus and his ridiculous belly-shirt, Yu Narukami in his black and white school boy get-up, Snake with his… eyepatch (although his outfits change).  Even cartoon characters that for generations did not have the same restrictions that video game tech of old have that: Race Bannon with his red, collared shirt; Sailor Moon, Goku, Kenshin, Mugen, Spike, Faye – despite fleeting occurrences when a new outfit plays into a particular point, having a look definitely helps with branding and identification. Also, it gives the fans a basis for cosplay (really, that was a concern of Hideo Kojima that prompted him to say a character’s costume needed to be “more erotic”). For big, branded adventures, being iconic certainly has advantages.

But here’s a problem I’ve been grappling with: our characters go through extreme weather. Ren/Taya/Axel’s hometown is a little desert town with the fortune of being near one of the region’s few oases. It is a dusty, dead, “wild west” kind of place. It’s hot. So Taya’s low-cut, sleeveless, skirted outfit makes sense – even the scarf, as many desert areas include cottony, breezy scarves and shawls so that a person may hide under its shade during the more brutal parts of a day. However, they travel north to Ever Winter – the human population’s wintery capital – for military training at the Academy… and then travel again to the spring-like mild temperature of the elves’ forest home. So should Ren & company keep their short sleeves for the entire trek? Maybe I should throw a jacket on ‘em – though that would, cover some of Taya’s… um… assets.

taya2

Sorry, Otaku Judge.

I think we should. Although Justin rightly points out that keeping them in one outfit follows the tradition of iconic RPGs since the conception of the genre.

What do you think?