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Posts Tagged ‘art’

AI Art was all the buzz a couple of weeks ago. That chatter has died off somewhat, perhaps as people got tired of the shiny new toys like Midjourney and Dall-E 2, but it’s a Thing that will only get more technically impressive and practically useful as time goes on. The pros and cons of that can certainly be debated, but I don’t think that we’re going to see that genie go back into the bottle. Like “Machine Learning”, which improves things that the Money Men care about in production, like schedule and headcount, using AI in art is a tool and a toy that is too useful to go away. At least, until the inevitable meltdown of society and technology, and we’re back to drawing on stone cave walls with charcoal-tipped sticks, but that’s tangential.

“steampunk floating island apocalypse” via NightCafe

This particular bit of buzz is of interest to me both in the abstract and professionally. I worked in video game development for a decade, and I’m working in film at the moment. I haven’t had occasion to use these particular tools for anything more intense than helping my kids with homework, but I do use Houdini, which is built on “proceduralism“, which is more or less the engine that drives AI art.

I’m already using a tool that takes inputs, runs simulations and variations, then spits out something that I can sort-of art direct. The computer does the heavy lifting of calculating all the bits and bobs bouncing about, and if I’ve set up the parameters for the procedure correctly, that calculation comes up with something usable. My job is then mostly about setting up the system for success, and inevitably wrangling things when the computer mangles them somehow. I’m not drawing and painting frames, like I grew up wanting to do, watching the Nine Old Men work their magic. No, I’m a desk-jockey cowboy-mage, desperately trying to harness eldritch powers in a digital wilderness, hoping to produce something that the art director will be happy with.

I’m using a tool to produce effects. It’s not the same as using a ballpoint pen on paper, which I can do, as seen here with my Dwarven Tinkerer, but it’s still a tool. It’s a tool with a bit of a mind of its own, and a black box heart that I hope I can channel to great effect. Sometimes it does as predicted, but sometimes it gets a bit flipped somewhere, or an assumption inverted, and things go awry. This, to me, is the most irksome part of using such tools from a production standpoint. Yes, the simulations get faster and faster every year, the results cleaner and more useful… but sometimes I just don’t have the control that I have with much less ambitious (and much more time consuming) tools.

Maybe I can have the spiffy AI system generate 200 different trees, all variations on a theme based on growth rules and parameters, but none of them are what I actually want to use for a “hero” tree. They can be good for fillers to back up the Potemkin Villages that games and films build as part of their magical facades, but for things that get the spotlight, that Uncanny Valley effect where computers still don’t quite get reality is still a hurdle.

We’ve known this for a long time in film; that’s part of why filmmakers can get away with matte painted backgrounds and greenscreen tricks, even as they spend an inordinate amount of time on actors and their makeup and lighting. Backgrounds can be simpler, counting on viewer assumptions and interpolations to gloss over imperfections. We also see a similar “audience interpretation” filling in the gaps when we look at concept art. Even masters like Daniel Dociu, for all their incredible skill and intricate detailing, still don’t work out and carefully render every little detail when they produce concept art. Zoom in on something like his “Tectonic Dystopia” piece…

…and note that even as he bombards the viewer with detail, it doesn’t always bear heavy scrutiny. He’s put in a lot of work, but a detail like a single road is largely a suggestion, a brushstroke or two, maybe a few blobs or smudges, and the viewer’s assumptions of what a city looks like at scale fills in the mental gaps. It’s a fine dance between just enough detail to be plausible without having so much detail that it triggers our sense of wrongness if something’s not perfect.

Leveraging the viewer’s imagination and interpretation is indeed part of Dociu’s mastery of his craft, and while I may sound disparaging, I recognize and am impressed by his genuine skill in performing such feats. Sometimes, we want to be fooled. Art movements and forms of entertainment have been built on this sort of shenanigan, tricking the viewer’s eye, like pointillism, impressionism, or the mental assault of cubism and lesser imitators in more modern art, bluffing with balderdash to give the impression of depth.

The principles at play, then, those of dazzling with detail, or overloading with obfuscation, well, those are age-old fine art traditions. When it comes to AI, though, it’s still learning. It’s only as good as the material it’s trained with, and the assumptions built into the generation systems. Those assumptions aren’t always built with fine art principles in mind, or are built to function first, rather than consider fripperies like composition, emotional appeal or verisimilitude, much less photoreality. Perhaps such considerations will continue to be folded into the frameworks of these tools, but for now, there is a lot of room to grow.

Deep Fake videos are one branch of the technology that is getting particularly interesting and potentially troublesome. Sure, being able to fake Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford is a humoresque parlor trick, but more nefarious uses abound in an era of political disarray and general lack of fidelity to truth. There’s a moral dimension to art, and there always has been, so it’s wise to be aware of how technology can engender trust when it is not warranted. Again, sometimes people want to be fooled, though, for better and worse.

Similarly, there are revolutions in animation brewing. Motion is especially tricky, and much more likely to faceplant into the Uncanny Valley. The technology keeps improving, however, as noted over here, and here. This will definitely make some production faster, especially for midground and background crowds and such. It will be interesting to see how well it fares in the foreground. I’m not convinced yet that it will work as well as some would like, but there are already real consequences for production pipelines.

In the meantime, however, I’ve found that I increasingly value authenticity. From OK GO‘s oddball music videos that bank on their intense efforts in production to Wintergatan’s fascinating machine, from anachronistically authentic YouTube gamers (the older gentleman known as TinFoilChef just played Minecraft the way he wanted to and built an audience that loved his affable curmudgeonly ways) to hand-carved woodworking, I find value in things that appear to me to be genuine and honest. I still carry pens and a sketchbook most places I go, after all, and I’m almost always drawing something, even if it’s just odd designs to keep myself focused. There is value in things that have been made by hand, though whether that value can translate into a career is certainly always a question.

The sky isn’t falling. New tools mean more ways to fool people, with all its attendant implications for an increasingly dysfunctional humanity. “All is vanity“, though, and we must always consider truth and our own decisions. It was ever thus. My profession is definitely impacted, and my personal interests in creative endeavors will be perturbed somewhat, so I’m not neutral on this. I simply see yet another set of shenanigans. Artists have always borne responsibility to be uplifting and useful, since their tools are inherently not honest, as mere representations of reality. Far too many fail miserably at this, and new tools will not compensate for moral failures. Those of us in the audience will always have to be wary, or at least, we’ll have to choose which artifice we want to accept as authentic.

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OCD Mondrian Cube

The Rubik’s Cube was a Big Deal for a while when I was young. Nobody I knew understood how to solve it, but we liked trying, at least, until we got tired of failing. I think I managed to get the top layer solved, but never made much more progress, so I shelved the thing and moved on to more solvable puzzles like calculus.

Now that I’m older with children of my own, I figured I ought to learn how to solve the ‘Cube. I’m not talking about speed solving, here, either, learning those skills are far beyond what I want to spend time on. I settled for learning the simpler algorithms that other people have devised, and memorized how to solve the basic 3x3x3 standard cube, as well as the 2x2x2, the “Megaminx” dodecahedron variant and a pesky little version called the Ghost Cube.

I’ve since collected a couple dozen of different iterations of the Cube, as well as some other oddments like a barrel and flower, collectively called “Twisty Puzzles” in some corners of the internet. They are a fascinating fusion of function and fun, experiments with spatial and tactile troubleshooting with strong visual appeal. The mechanical engineering on display is almost as fascinating as the puzzles themselves.

Speaking of engineering, take a look at Oskar van Deventer‘s work. Some of his puzzles look amazing, and more impressively, function in weird and boggling ways. There’s a whole world of puzzles out there, and I’m slowly collecting some here and there to keep my brain and fingers nimble.

I’ve also recently taken a simple shape-shifter version of the ‘Cube and inflicted a bit of graffiti on it. I call it the OCD Mondrian Cube for now, though it’s more colorful than a proper Mondrian painting, almost more like a stained glass sort of thing, as my eldest noted. Proper Product Name Pending, and so on, etc.

It has two “solve states”, but it’s more precise to say that those two solved states are each “half-solved”. You can either make it into a nice, smooth cube (scrambling the colors), or you can group the colors in the six cardinal directions (scrambling the shape). You cannot solve for the shape and the colors at the same time. It will either drive your OCD mad or overload it and help you relax, maybe even allowing you to just play with the thing and find a completely unsolved state that you can find beauty in. I’m not sure how it would actually work with someone vexed with such a psychological condition, so it may be more trouble than it’s worth for some people, to be sure. Even so, I’m fond of the thing, and I’ve half a mind to see about getting it made more officially than this permanent-marker version I’ve prototyped.

Puzzles are good for the brain, I think. There’s value in learning methodical approaches to problem solving, and I see some extra value in this half-solvable mutant I’ve cobbled together. Sometimes life simply doesn’t have simple solutions. You can optimize for one thing, but you have to let something else go. I believe it’s a valuable life lesson to learn that sometimes solving things doesn’t mean they are then perfect. Sometimes “good enough” truly is enough, and while we’re commanded to “be perfect” in holy writ, that’s only something we can do with divine help. Sometimes all we can do is make life a little bit better, or simply find joy in the journey.

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I introduced the Scarbots a bit last time, and have since produced a couple more of them. I’ll save today’s for next time, but these two get to join their brethren to finish up Week One of Inktober 2021. I had a little more time on these, so I managed to finish up the inkwork. I do clean them up a bit before coloring them, so that’ll wait, but for now, that’s 7 new Scarbots in the sketchbook for the year!

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Inktober is an annual art project, intended to get people in the habit of drawing a bit with ink every day. I’ve never really had time to fully commit to such a thing, but I’ve been trying to do a bit of ink drawing each day this October. I’ve only “finished” one of these, and I suspect I’ll go back and do more with each of them at some point, like I did with this, the first Scarbot I ever produced (there’s another over on my Artstation page):

The Scarbots are a remnant of a forgotten war in an alternate Earth history’s northern Europe. They are part of the Project Khopesh storyline that I work on when I can make the time. They are expert scavengers, repairing themselves and each other as often as they need in the Northscar badlands. No two are the same, and though they are expert mechanics and very skilled in improvisation, they aren’t all that intelligent outside of their mission expertise and maintenance.

This new batch of Scarbots are certainly rougher, but these are the raw scans, straight from my sketchbook. I did some pencil work first, then inked in with a simple Uni-ball Onyx Micro ballpoint pen. If nothing else, I’ll have a new herd of Scarbots to play with at the end of the month. It will be fun to “flesh” these out, as it were, one of these days.

Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see what else I can come up with!

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I was recruited to produce an adventure for my local library’s teenage D&D event that will be running tomorrow, and while it’s taken more time than I thought, I’ve had the opportunity to learn to use a half dozen new pieces of software and brush up a bit on my writing, editing, sketching, painting and cartography.  Some of the need to learn new tricks is due to the midstream switch to using the Roll20 website for remote play instead of just meeting at the library in person.  I like learning new things and finding ways to make old tools do new things, so this has been a good experience.  It does wind up taking longer than just using old, mastered tools, but I like to think that the ability to learn new things is a healthy one, even if it hasn’t led to more employment opportunities.

This “module” of sorts is offered as a free download.  It was done for the Orem Public Library, using some of my own art, a bit from my daughter, and free assets from other sites, noted in the text.  It’s designed as a toolkit; a setting, maps, an adventure, a handful of monsters and some NPC “seeds” to spur adventures.  You can play through the adventure or just noodle around in some of the maps, fighting monsters.  It’s an introductory sort of thing, meant to engage teens who may never have played an RPG before.  I haven’t yet produced the “printer friendly” version of the file, since making the Roll20-ready assets was the priority, but I’ll see about getting those optimized monochrome assets done in the next week or so, time allowing.

If you do poke around in these files, I’d welcome feedback of any sort.  I believe it will serve its stated purpose, even as I admit that I’m new to the 5th Edition of D&D, as well as the production software, so this isn’t going to be as polished as some of those glossy minibooks that the Pathfinder or D&D people produce.  I may also note that I’m not attached to any particular RPG, and this production was meant to be flexible; it could be tweaked fairly easily for use in other systems.

Please feel free to download these files and reproduce them for personal or nonprofit use.  Tangentially, I also modeled a sculpture of the “Gyro Golem” for use on the library’s 3D printers, but that sort of fell by the wayside.  It’s also available as a free download on Thingiverse or Pinshape.

GyroGolemRenderCropped

Thank you, and hopefully these are of some use to you!

LibraryOfTheLost2020

(Link above is to the master PDF, the following are supplemental images for Roll20 usage)

 

Roll20Prep

 

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I’ve been meaning to recycle this article for a while, and I had a few minutes to work on it lately.  It’s more or less a copy/paste of an art tutorial I wrote up for the player forums for YoHoHo Puzzle Pirates!, a game that I still think well of, even if it’s in its sunset years.

I tend to sketch with ballpoint pens, and paint in Photoshop.  This tutorial covers taking what I think of as a rough sketch, and turning it into a 150×150 pixel “avatar”, but some of the techniques work elsewhere.  I do seem to be missing some of the original art, sadly, but the original article is still up on the YPP! forums over here:

Silveransom’s Avatar Tech

For a “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version”, please continue, and as always, I’m happy to answer questions.  I’ve added a few asides here and there, always in italics.

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It’s come up a few times, and I’ve wanted to do a Photoshop tutorial since before my YPP days, so here’s a whirlwind tour of my methodology of avatar art. It’s actually a bit generalized, but this is how I wind up doing most of my avatar art.

1. Draw something cool in my sketchbook. I do this with a ballpoint pen, most of the time. It’s personal preference… as is the definition of “cool”. This particular monkey is actually a component of an avatar I did for Phillite. He works as a standalone critter, though, so I’m reusing him for this project. (Which also means that, as might be expected, I ask that the art in this thread not be used elsewhere.)

2. Scan it in to Photoshop, usually at 600 dpi. This gives me room to play with effects. I usually shrink it down once it’s all painted the way I like it, but I like working big. It gives me more freedom to try big, sweeping brushstrokes, and more precision in tweaking. I bought a cheap Memorex scanner on sale for $40 years ago, and it’s been fantastic.
By the way, if you’re serious about computer art, do yourself a favor and get a tablet. Wacom Bamboo tablets are a great entry level product. The software doesn’t matter all that much, since paint.net, GIMP and ArtRage are free and will suffice (Clip Studio Paint and Affinity work as fairly low cost powerful single-purchase alternatives as well), and some tablets come with software. I use Photoshop Elements 2 because it’s what I have handy. I also use Painter on occasion, but that’s an indulgence. The tablet, though… that’s almost essential.

MonkeyTutorial01

3. Use Photoshop’s Levels modifier to clean up the sketch. I make a duplicate of the scanned layer, just in case I need the original for some reason, and apply Levels (Ctrl-L) to the duplicate. Pulling in both end knots a wee bit cleans up most of the static that came from the scan.

MonkeyTutorial02

4. Since my sketches tend to be a little rough, I need to do some Rubber Stamp surgery to clean up a bit. The Rubber Stamp tool takes data from a source part of the image, and replicates it elsewhere. You Alt-click to define the source, and then “paint” the duplicate, winding up with this sort of effect, here duplicating the alternate arm’s thumb:

MonkeyTutorial03

5. Rubber Stamp to clean the drawing, like this, cloning in the blank paper/background into the areas that should be clean on the drawing… it may take a bit of work and several clone source points, chosen each time with the Alt-Click:

MonkeyTutorial04

6. I then make a new level (on which I’ll be painting), and move the clean sketch to the top of the stack, and set the level blending type to Multiply. This lets me treat it as an outline, and paint the color in underneath.

MonkeyTutorial05

7. Start painting on a layer underneath the drawing. I don’t paint on the drawing layer. All coloring takes place on layers between the drawing and the white background layer I’ve set up. This gives me the ability to tweak the painting independent of the background and the sketch. This use of layers is one of the huge strengths of Photoshop (or any program that uses layers), and why working digitally can be a very different animal from traditional art.

MonkeyTutorial06

8. The base color for the monkey is in, carefully covering his space. Now, it’s time for another layer for the shadowing.

MonkeyTutorial07

9. The shadow layer is just a bit of paint that’s darker than the base color. It’s painted in a bit roughly at first…

MonkeyTutorial08

10. Then the Gaussian Blur filter gets applied, to soften it up (I usually do this, as illustrated, on a copy of the shadow painting layer, just in case I need to go back a step and tweak it):

MonkeyTutorial09

11. This makes for a nice rounding effect, and even gives a nice “reflected lighting” subtlety to the larger areas, like the monkey’s torso. (The dark side of most objects in real space is tempered a bit by reflected light, which this neatly simulates.)

MonkeyTutorial11

 

12. The Gaussian Blur pretty much obliterates the subtle shadows in the hair, so I make a new layer, and start painting in new, detailed shadows. These are brushstrokes, like the main shadow layer, but I don’t use the Gaussian Blur on these. I just use the Smudge tool to push things around the way I like them. Here’s a close shot on the hair in progress:

MonkeyTutorial10

and the tail:

MonkeyTutorial12

and I sharpen up the cast shadow under the chin with a few additive strokes:

MonkeyTutorial13

13. Erase around the edges of both shadow layers. It’s a subtle thing, but this shows how the Gaussian Blur pushed the color out of the outlines. I prefer to keep things clean, so I erase the blurred bit.  Of further note, looking at this from 2019, this edge cleanup can also be accomplished by putting all of the color layers into a layer group, and adding a layer mask to that group that simply masks off anything not inside of where you want colors.  This lets you create the edge cleanup for all of the color layers with a single operation, which is a great update to the workflow.  Photoshop Elements 2 had neither layer masks nor layer groups, so this is a bare-bones tutorial.  The fuller releases of Photoshop give more tools to work with, including “Smart Objects”, which I’ll revisit in a different tutorial.

MonkeyTutorial14

14. Now for a highlight layer. I do this the same way I did the shadow layer, just with a different color, and from a different direction. In other words, paint,

MonkeyTutorial15

blur,

MonkeyTutorial16

and make a secondary highlight layer for detail work, then erase around the edges to be clean:

MonkeyTutorial17

15. Since monkeys in YPP have a two tone look to them, with the belly, feet, hands and face a different color, I make a new layer to try to get this effect.

MonkeyTutorial18

16. Paint the relevant parts in a lighter color, then change the layer Blending options to get the desired effect. I settled on Soft Light. This allows me to paint in a second color tone, without losing the shading and hair effects I’ve made so far.  I’m using a subtle secondary tone here, and you can do more with color shifting by using a different paint color and layer compositing effects like Hue (instead of Soft Light) that shifts the color underneath while maintaining the shading:

MonkeyTutorial19

MonkeyTutorial20

17. Close to being done, it’s time for little tuning. I decided that the monkey’s belly needed a bit more dimension, so I added a bit to the shadows:

MonkeyTutorial21

18. Finish by painting the sword on a few new layers, using similar effects for shading:

MonkeyTutorial22

Add a layer for his eyes and nose…
aaand he’s done!

MonkeyTutorial23

Since this was done at 600 dpi, it’s not really ready for an avatar. It comes out to be this big, useful for seeing detail:

Monkey2Huge

 

After rescaling the resolution, a middle sized version looks like this:

Monkey2Med

And the avatar might look like this:

Monkey2Avvie

It loses a lot of detail at that scale, so this methodology isn’t always appropriate. It’s how I work because I like to have my art around at high resolution if I need it for my portfolio, especially if I need to print it out. Working high and reducing as necessary winds up looking a lot better than working small and magnifying it if necessary.

I would also usually go back and flatten some layers, erase the edges, throw in a background and/or a border… but that’s about it.

Thanks for stopping by! I’m happy to answer any questions.

-Silver

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ScourgeOfTheSkiesSplashB

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Going through Final Fantasy XII again via this spiffy video reminded me how much I really love the worldbuilding and look of Ivalice. It’s a world that spans multiple games as well, in different RPG subgenres. It has a great sense of place and history. It’s interesting to see a game studio do that sort of thing over the course of several years.
Blizzard has done some similar things with Azeroth, and I think it serves both companies well. A big part of making these games interesting to me is making them believable. Not realistic, not really, but believable as Other Places that are more than just Potemkin Villages.  That’s what I find most unique and appealing about video games; the ability to explore a different world and tinker about within it.  It’s always nice to see thought and craftsmanship involved in the setting rather than just the splashy things like polycount, soft body physics, battle engines, progression schemes and stunt voice casting.
I do have my quibbles with Azeroth and Ivalice, like the character design of Fran and her kin (she’s actually a great character with excellent, memorable voice work, but making her race be literal bunny girls with little modesty is dumb), or the strained two-faction lore of World of Warcraft (OK, maybe I just want a neutral Tauren to play).  FFXII owes a lot to Star Wars, Azeroth leans heavily on Dungeons and Dragons and is unnecessarily goofy at times (pop culture references don’t age well).  They both have somewhat lazy writing at times and weird choices in protagonists (Thrall and Jaina are overplayed, Vaan is a much weaker character than Balthier or Basch), but are endearingly earnest in their devotion to their story.
The thing is, neither game is in my top 10 list of games, but the worlds of Ivalice and Azeroth are high on my list of game worlds that I love to investigate.
I also find that the rather slow, political, story of FFXII is easier for me to follow when it’s all together like this, rather than in cutscenes between hours of grinding in a barely-interactive combat system, all over the space of a year, a few hours here, a few there.  Call it a personal failing, but I found the story much, much more entertaining when I was allowed to get on with it instead of plodding through the game, looking for the next story crumb.  I did actually like the game sometimes, like when I just wanted to zone out and look around, but the story got lost sometimes.

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In a shocking, earth-rattling decision, Blizzard has finally allowed Gnomes to be Hunters.  Maybe.  Possibly.  Probably.  At least, this screenshot swiped from Twitter seems to indicate as much:

GnomeHunter

I guess I need to update my shirts over on Zazzle (based on an idea by the Big Bear Butt himself).

Why Gnomes Can’t Be Hunters

BBBFishCleanGnomes

…oh, and Blizzard?  If you want to make a Fish Tank Gnomish Hunter Pet, I’m very happy to build you one that looks like this.  I’m very familiar with modeling, texturing, rigging and animating video game characters, having worked in the game industry for almost a decade.  I’m also presently open for contract work.

I also find it interesting that this is happening at the same time as a melee-based Hunter spec.  Coincidence or conspiracy?  Dun dun dunnnnn!

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It’s been a while since I actually had enough time to play anything on my Steam backlog.  I still haven’t since last time I posted about this project, but I have been playing a few smartphone games and even a PS3 game, so I’m splicing them into the project.  Gaming is gaming, more or less, and it’s worth writing a bit about these.  Standard boilerplate disclaimer/description, with a rider that most of the images this time around are swiped from the ‘net, since I couldn’t get screenshots:

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I’m going through my Steam list (and then some, as it happens) alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First, I’ve mentioned Slingshot Braves before, which I’ve played on my Android smartphone and an Android tablet.  It’s a fairly solid game, as far as actual combat goes, but the progression system and gear acquisition system is… not good.  If you’re up for some good combat-billiards…ish sort of gaming, it’s worth checking out for a bit.  Just don’t spend any real money on it, and don’t expect to make much progress once the leveling curve ramps up.  The “Gacha” system, popular in Japan but with all the stink of F2P underbellies, is kin to the lockbox system we see in many Free To Play MMOs, where you can pony up about $5 worth of premium currency (earned either slowly in-game or via cash purchase) to open a thingamabob that might have a small chance of being useful instead of something you will just break down into materials you could literally earn in a three minute mission.  It’s a waste of money.  I’m not above wasting money, but this just itches in all the wrong places.  It’s a game I Regret, but only because it could have been so much better, not because it was awful to actually play.

Embracing Diversity

Yes, that’s his best armor.  Optimus Striptease, The Chief and Tutu Gogo.  The game’s gear design is largely the same old ridiculous chainmail bikini sort of crap, but once in a while they do something cool like steampunk armor, so there’s gold in there somewhere.

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Automatic RPG is silly.  That’s OK, as the charm of the goofy writing takes mild jabs at badly translated Japanese games and other RPG tropes.  The gameplay is minimal, even banking on the “it plays itself” mechanic to sell itself, and it’s kin to mildly entertaining time wasters like Candy Box and Candy Box 2.  It was fun for a while, seeing what gear the team found and what conversational malaprops happened, but there’s not really any meat on the game’s bones.  The Fire Emblem-like minimal graphics are good for what they are, and the competent music is probably out of a game dev bundle somewhere, but they serve their purpose well enough.  Again, not something to spend money on, but it’s fun to see what people do sometimes.  I don’t exactly Regret playing it, but it’s close, and it won’t last for more than another week or so, unless I forget I have it installed.

AutomaticRPG

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Random aside:  The current (for another 12 hours) Humble Weekly Bundle has some game-making programs and assets that are worth investigating, if you’re itching to dig into making games.

There’s also a ton of stuff in this bundle:

Game Makers Mega Bundle

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Terra Battle is my current favorite mobile game.  It’s from the Mistwalker crew, complete with Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura music, as well as art from stars in the JRPG community, so there’s more to it than Just Another Mobile game.  The core design is derived from the Puzzle And Dragons mechanic of swiping a unit around, nudging other units into place for some sort of attack, but the increased depth in its tactical considerations of placement and team composition is much more satisfying than games of that ilk.  Sure, there’s a Doctor Who and a Mario P&D variant if those are your IP hooks, but Terra battle takes the core design further, and does a great job at making it more satisfying.

The goal is not to line up units or whatzits to match three in a row and have them pop, but rather, to move your fighting units around to pincer enemies in, since the only way you attack is if you can set up your units in that sort of pincer.  This spreads things out, rather than clumping them as in a match-x sort of game, which shakes up the formula nicely.  Also, units that are lined up with the units initiating the pincer can lend some support, especially mages and healers, so mastering the entire battlefield and positioning is critical.  It’s rewarding to learn the system and plan things out well, making the most of your assets.

terrabattle-review1

(Image from this review, complete with a customer complaint.)

Mistwalker has also promised to do a console Terra Battle game, though the last time I checked, they didn’t know what sort of game it would be.  I’d love to see them tackle a Final Fantasy Tactics sort of game using that IP.  I can dream.

I Recommend this game, with the caveat that the bog standard “free to play” shenanigans pop up with its own sort of “gacha” system for character recruitment.  Extremely rare mages are somewhat overpowered, but I was able to finish the game’s main storyline without needing them and without spending money.  Rare characters are not critical to success in the game, and the game is more generous with its premium currency than most, but still… it’s not something I want to spend money on.  I’d be perfectly happy to pay $15 or so for a faster leveling pace and guaranteed recruiting (say, in given story missions) in a Buy-And-Play version of the game, though.

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It’s a solid game, fun to play, at least until frustration sets in with a slow leveling curve and some of the game’s more annoying bosses or level hazards (spiked floors in chapter 18 are eeeeeeevil) pop up.  I finished the main storyline without spending a dime, and I think I have a good feel for what the game offers.  I played way more than the 15 minutes I’m budgeting for this project, but I love just playing the game, so I don’t mind.

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And then there’s the biggie.  Motorstorm: Apocalypse.

I love this game.  I Recommend it.  It’s ridiculous, entertaining, and just a blast to drive through crazy, shattered locations.  Yes, I’m a sucker for apocalyptic land-and-cityscapes, and the overall look of the game is really what sold me, but the gameplay is really, really solid in my book.  The challenge of driving any of a fairly wide variety of vehicles through tracks that don’t always stay in place is just fun.  They really embrace the post-apocalyptic setting, but only as a vehicle for making sweet places to drive in absurd scenarios.  Drive through an earthquake, a hurricane, or just a huge rainstorm, all while plowing through buildings and skating across roads that break as you drive on them.  Drive anything from a semi truck to a superbike, taking advantage of the terrain and your ride, which makes replay interesting as the same track plays differently according to your vehicle.  Sure, it’s all contrived, and Michael Bay-like explosive events conveniently happening as you drive by are sort of silly, but it’s all so goofily fun in a wonderfully conceived and realized world that it’s hard to complain.

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The “comic book” storytelling is weak, with palpable yearning to be Image Comics in video game form and a thin story with cliche characters.  It’s not offensively bad, but it doesn’t really add to the game.

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I was hooked in the first five minutes of driving through a broken city, though.  I’ve played through about half of the story and driven on about a third of the open “free race” tracks.  There are more tracks that  I get to unlock, but out of the gate, there is plenty of fun to be found.

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It’s not quite as great as Burnout Revenge in my driving library, but it’s easily in second place, just edging out Burnout Paradise.  And yes, all of these edge out any Mario Kart game I’ve played.  Perhaps that’s sacrilege, but the pure mayhem in Burnout Revenge (crash events, especially), gorgeous explorable world in Burnout Paradise, and the broken, beautiful world of Motorstorm: Apocalypse are just more fun for me.  Sure, I had a blast with the original Mario Kart on the SNES back in the day, just like I had a lot of fun with Goldeneye, but these days, the field is a bit more stuffed with options.  I also haven’t played more than a few glorious minutes of DIRT 3, which seems like it might fit in the top 5 somewhere with a proper review.

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This is also a good excuse to share a few of my favorite short films.  First, there’s Ruin, which is most on-topic.  This post-apocalyptic short film is apparently a “tiny” piece of a bigger world, and I’d love to see more of it.  The character is a bit JRPGgy, in that he’s slightly oddly proportioned and moves in some regular cycles, reminiscent of Final Fantasy characters in their prerendered movies, but that’s the animator in me nitpicking.  The sense of world and place is great in this film, and I’m fond of the world building that the creator indulged in.

Then there’s World Builder, which scratches my film-making and game dev itches at the same time, and is just a sweet little story to boot.

And then there’s Carousel, one of the best CG short films I’ve seen to date.  The clowns are creepy, the “moment of time” hook is brilliant, and the story told really works well for what could have simply been an exercise in showing off fancy image-smithing.

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Until next time, then!  I’m hoping to dive back into Steam, but the Tinker Plastic Dice should be at my place this week or early next week, so I’ll be busy again with that for a while.

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