Project Update and Axel’s Facelift

Wow! Thanks to kind internet folks such as yourselves, our Kickstarter has just about met its 2nd stretch goal of $3000!

kickstarter progress

We’ve also updated two of our nearest stretch goal tiers to contain some more exciting incentives:

new stretchgoals

Help us meet these new goals while there’s time left! We’re down to the last 4 hours!

I have felt for a long time that as my competency with MangaStudio and the Wacom tablet have improved, some of the older characters have required a facelift of sorts. The biggest offender? Axel.

Check him out now!

Axel-NormalAxel-Normal

I cleaned up the line art, and this time knew to “Export in Dimensions” rather than in pixels – creating smoother colors truer to how they were originally blended. Expect similar updates to Adin and Arinnel too 🙂

And as always, thanks a ton for the support! I know many of our readers have donated – if you could reblog this, you will gain an extra day of eternal gratitude! 😉

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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:

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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!

Attack of the Ogres

Enemies are needed just as much as heroes. Unfortunately, the resources for enemy battlers are rather limited – at least for the monsters. I’m therefore making my own battlers based on resources provided by RPG Maker:

$BigMonster2

To make this sprite blend more with our battlers, I changed the center to a 3/4 view, and added an outline as seen on our other battlers.

I then animated it, but manipulating its parts, slightly.

His low-health state:

ogre

His primary attack:

ogre2

Expect to see more soon, as well as possibly our demo coming up soon.

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.

A Summary of Game Progress – A tour of Genos

Justin here. Just a quick update on some game progress. Specifically, the world of Genos. Every classic RPG game world is unique, but with similar roots. The dynamic? The main character who ultimately becomes a hero, has humble beginnings. This kind of classic game dynamic works, and for The Lotus War, we didn’t want to change. Why? Because that’s the kind of story that we all can fall in love with. We connect to it, envy it. An ordinary guy, who goes on to do extraordinary things. Who overcomes odds, using talents and wits. What differentiates this kind of coming-of-age story in any incarnation are the details – and we’ve seasoned both the plot and the world with originality.

None of this would be possible without the player having a world in which to become a hero. I’ve labored some hours over all the maps in the game, constantly adding and changing things. A common complaint among RPG fans (especially towards RPG maker games) is that the maps are bland, without real detail, or seeming as though the designer didn’t put a lot of time or thought into them. I have been trying my utmost to design a world that I would want to play, and the world I want to play can’t be bland or lazy. In any game especially RPG/Adventure games, the world should encourage you to explore and you should have fun doing it. None of this should feel tedious, or drawn out. Our world, Genos, is vast. It has a little bit of everything…

From the humble beginnings of Ren’s home town…

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To secret places with friends…

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…Exploration with your party…

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Steampunk styled cities…

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Lush forests…

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Snow-capped mountains…

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…and ancient dungeons.

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From desert wasteland to frozen tundra, The Lotus War has a little bit of everything to explore. It’s my hope you’ll have as much in discovering it as I have had in creating it.

A demo is forthcoming – so stay tuned! In this coming month, we plan to add several more updates to game progress, such as our opening credits and some game footage.

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

 

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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

 

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hanlo-walking

 

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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?

How do you come up with stories?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a very fantastic (as in, remote from reality) dream: I was a clone of me, created after I was brutally murdered. But I didn’t have my memories; I only knew, academically, what “my” life experience was like, who was important in “my” life, what “I” did and didn’t like. Reconciling this purely academic knowledge with my sense of self and my emotions was taking a toll. I sought rebellion from this version of me whom I didn’t know and yet who was controlling me so thoroughly. I began acting out – doing what I specifically knew “I” would not do, while conversely seeking experience that might help me to understand… well… “me.”

I don’t usually have such vivid, developed dreams, but this is not the first time a story has come to me in my sleep.

Anyways, I took this to a friend of mine and we began to talk about ways I could develop this into a story. I was also considering how I could mold this into an idea I have for our next big game (our clone-space saga). My friend, though, kept asking me “What’s the plot?” – and I kept giving a premise – “She’s trying to reconcile with being a clone.”

When I gave a few more details, they were all world-building and character development-based. None of them really were based on a sequence of events I wanted to present. And I realized: everything I’ve ever written or imagined started with a person and a premise. Then I thought about what the person would do in such a premise and called it a plot. I can’t really envision another way of devising a story. In fact, normally, my first step is creating a character sheet: drawing out the character (whether it’s an illustrated story or not), writing out his/her background and characteristics, and maybe a few key quotes from said character.

She thought I could play around with inverting this structure: thinking of a series of events and letting that inform a character. So far, though, it feels as though I can’t even conceptualize a series of events without knowing the person walking through them.

Creating the Lotus war was probably the closest to this I’ve come, and that’s because Justin was beside me on it – but I still became attached to a Taya-prototype and an Arinnel-prototype even before we knew what the end would be.

So I ask in a spirit of curiosity: any of you out there plot-driven writers? How do you come up with stories?

On X-Men: Days of Future Past

My fellow comic book buddy, whom you might know as Muscle Milk, and I have differing perspectives on what makes a good movie. His focus: Did I have a good time? Did enough things explode? Was I constantly entertained? Was there a hot girl?

My focus tends to be: What did this say to me? Was it consistent? Did the characters develop through the course of the movie? Then, depending on the genre: was it funny enough? Was it dramatic enough? Did Godzilla eat enough people?

It’s the rare occasion when these two standards intersect on one movie – especially a comic book adaptation. I actually feel, though, that the latest X-Men entry didn’t fare too badly. Beware, because the following contains spoilers.

Admittedly, I am the first to say that I’m getting a little tired of all the Wolverine entries. Yes, he’s a cool tough guy and that’s always fun. But believe it or not, there are plenty of other cool butt kickers in the X-Men universe. Let’s try exploring some of them before Hugh Jackman gets too old and tired and then the whole X-Men franchise crumbles beneath his adamantium claws.

However, if we go back to the questions ahead:

Did I have a good time? Yes. The movie was pretty quick-paced and I felt it didn’t spend overly-long drawing out points that we already know and have ingrained in our collective cultural subconscious. We did not need to be re-introduced to the fact that Wolverine is a tough guy bad-ass. Just look at that haircut and facial hair! We know the Xavier-Magneto dynamic, so they didn’t re-tread that too much beyond what felt natural. And plus, Patrick Stewart is objectively wonderful. So there’s that.

Did enough things explode? Aka, was there enough action. Yes. Although, we were subjected to Wolverine bone-claws again. Ick. But I mean, watching the opening with the younger generation of X-Men, headed by Bobby, fight off the Sentinels was pretty awesome.

Was I constantly entertained? Yes. As mentioned, the movie kicks off with pretty great battles against the sentinels, demonstrating what a threat they are. We get some drama between young Charles and Eric. Mystique is actually pretty entertaining throughout – despite how I felt about her portrayal in the previous movie (they took the mystique out of her). It’s partially heist, partially action, all comic book. It’s definitely entertaining.

Did it have a hot girl? Take your pick. Jennifer Lawrence. Bingbing Fan (aka Blink aka the Asian chick with Portal powers). Even Famke Janssen made an appearance (of course).

Down to my criteria:

What did this say to me? There are a few areas to focus on. I really liked the treatment of Xavier, for example. What Prof. X said to his younger self was a thought to ponder on: young Charles wasn’t afraid of feeling other people’s emotions. He was afraid that it would make him confront his own. There’s a lot to be said of that even for we non-mutants. For example, are people with hurtful biases able to sympathize with those over whom they’re casting judgment? Or are they afraid to because once they do, it will cause them to confront themselves and their own wrong-doing? Would it cause their entire value system to collapse? How about focusing on Eric and Raven: are people born villains? Will changing events of their past keep them from pursuing a villainous future? And that ties right along with destiny, namely: will time always auto-correct its course so that no matter what “pebbles” are thrown into its stream, the current remains unchanged? (The movie says no).

“Was it consistent?” didn’t fare as well. By and large it’s pretty solid – especially for a summer blockbuster. But it’s afflicted by the same plot hole as pretty much every movie that ever uses time travel to fix a present-world problem: why, if you could transport a person back in time to any point in time, would you only give them a matter of days (or hours) to fix a huge, time-changing problem? Now, the reason from a story-telling stand-point is obvious. The movie needs tension to be exciting. But there’s not even some convenient deus ex-machina to explain why Wolverine was given so little time. They don’t really explain it at all – they comment as little as possible on it, in fact.

On to power problems, such as Blink’s. The Sentinels are shown to have adaptive power to compensate for the powers of the mutant they’re fighting, rendering them almost indestructible when fighting one mutant long enough. Blink alone seems to offer them an upper-hand: she opens portals left and right so that the Sentinels cannot anticipate who will attack them. For a brief moment of time, though, whoever is on the other side of a portal is vulnerable to attack. At one point, she’s not quick enough closing a portal and gets stabbed through the chest – the portal immediately closes and severs that portion of the Sentinel off. So… her portals can literally slice through Sentinels. While it’s awesome watching the portals being used by her teammates, wouldn’t it be more effective to open portals around the Sentinels and slice them in half?

Or Mystique’s powers. While Mystique traditionally has been an ass-kicker with the power to look like anyone, the movie implies that it’s more than just that: she adopts their traits on a biological level – it’s what gives the Sentinels their adaptive power. So wouldn’t that mean that while she looks like Wolverine, she’d heal like Wolverine? Look like Charles, become a telepath like Charles? While I’d have been satisfied if they’d explained that the Sentinel’s abilities come from scientists tweaking Mystique’s genetic code, the movie implies that it’s already inherent.

Then, of course, there’s Kitty Pryde. When, exactly, did she gain the power to send people’s minds through time to inhabit their past bodies? She’s not a telepath. She can’t do it to herself. And it’s not exactly molecular phasing.

From a story-telling perspective, they also had to retcon the past movies by making old Prof. Xavier give his spiel about how Raven was a cherished childhood friend – though if you watched the first trilogy, there’s no evidence of that. The Sentinels already had working prototypes in the 70s, but did not attack the X-Men until well over 40 years later. Magneto sends Wolverine back to help himself out – and yet young Eric has no interest in knowing how his future self would correct his… er… present past. Or the fact that a mutant killing some random scientist motivates the government to begin plans to exterminate mutants – but not a group of mutants breaking into and out of the Pentagon. Nor a mutant literally lifting a football stadium, encompassing the White House, and threatening to kill the president and his cabinet – the fact that Mystique saved him does little to fix the fact that something so tremendous happened. And Charles decides to trust Eric to go free, despite his willingness to kill friend and comrade. And somehow old Xavier is still in his own body… inexplicably. So consistency wasn’t DoFP’s strong suit – but it wasn’t so glaring that it detracted from my enjoyment.

If we move on to whether or not the characters develop, in this case I’d go back to yes – although Wolverine is still obsessed with Jean and there’s no mention of Mariko. But young Charles transforms dramatically, and Mystique is swayed by her old friend to become a hero to the president rather than villain – although her true allegiance doesn’t seem to be changed. In the end, Wolverine took up a lot of screen-time, but plot-wise, he was really a bystander (or perhaps prompter) in a story about Charles, Eric and Raven – which was welcomed.

And as for whether or not it fulfilled my expectations of the genre, it did. It had, as mentioned previously, explosions, cool fight scenes, excellent graphics, and an ounce of drama.

Overall, I’d give the movie 4/5 stars.