Artist Log [1] – Belgian Comic Art

I went to a lecture yesterday about Strip Comic in Belgium. The presenter is from the Museum of Comic Art in Belgium, and he has mentioned several really famous comics born in Belgium including Tin Tin, Lucky Luke (which a lot of people think is American), and Smurfs (which a lot of people think is American again). It was both nostalgic and inspiring. 

I loved Tin Tin a lot when I was a kid. My cousin has a full collection of them at our grandparents’ place and reading them used to be one of my major activities when I spent my summer there. The lecturer talked about a lot of things I didn’t know about Tin Tin: it started as something to spread political ideologies (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, and Tintin in the Congo). Herge talked to a Chinese student who was studying in Belgium (Cheng/Chen/Chang/Chan?) a lot before he produced the fifth book, the Blue Lotus, which was about China. That was a huge success and after that, he started to do his own researches about the place before drawing the adventures. Also, Tin Tin’s hair didn’t start with the signature style, while it first appeared in a scene where Tin Tin was in a car and got his hair blown up by the winds. Then they decide to keep that and it became into the symbol of Tin Tin.

I guess the most important takeaway from the lecture is that good comic drawing could convey an incredible amount of motion and emotion through just static lines. And as our media of expression becomes richer and richer, those qualities don’t exist anymore. That is definitely something I should learn when I draw short comics (which are not that good at this stage) for characters in Theta in the future. For the game itself, what I have had so far are mostly avatars, so there are really limited body movements or posts. But their facial expressions should definitely be richer and more distinct.

Finally, another anecdote about Lucky Luke: the undertaker in Lucky Luke is portrayed as a super ugly guy. And that is because the author used to doodle a lot during classes in school, and sometimes he drew his teachers. When he was drawing Lucky Luke, he decides to recycle those old doodles, and the undertaker is an act of revenge to his childhood teacher…

Also, do you know that Smurfs first appeared as side characters in Johan et Pirlouit? But kids became crazy about them so they wrote letters to the author to ask for more stories, and eventually, Smurfs had their own series.

Project Theta #7

I started a YouTube channel for piano, and I even bought a microphone for this endeavor. As a result, I didn’t write a single line of code for the game in the past two weeks. Instead of feeling bad about it, I felt refreshed taking a break working on the tilemap code.

I did, however, make considerable progress on the story. I fleshed out two more plot-heavy characters and I planned the details of the next couple of chapters. Basically about how our carefree protagonists got knee-deep into the whole mess between the two countries at war. More on that in the narrative section!

Art

I got a couple of semi-finalized character portraits to share! Y has been pondering on the character designs for ages. We had countless back-and-forth discussions on how the male characters should look like, and I think we finally reached agreement.

So, without further ado, here’s Edge (20), the protagonist of the story.

And here’s Felix Mendel (26), who used to be a child prodigy sword-wielder.

Narrative

I really want to focus on the story for a bit, because ever since finishing writing the first chapter of the story back in March, I barely made any progress on it. I keep telling myself that I got the whole story arc plotted out, but there is no content to it! It’s like writing an interface without any implementations and calling it a job finished!

A major blocker for writing narrative happens when the protagonist encounters new characters. How should they act? Why do they do what they do? What are their objectives? What are they thinking? Do they have another side beneath their facade? The questions are endless, and they are all important details to consider. The story cannot progress with empty actors.

So I took some time and brainstormed two more characters central to the rest of the story. A suave guy who just hit 60, and his carefree, mysterious daughter who’s in her mid-20s. I probably can’t reveal more than that without accidentally let out spoilers, but Y might have portraits on them in the next update!

Fun little story. I had a very clear mental image of how the old guy should look like. In an effort to convey that exact image to Y, I promised her I would draw a sketch. I then proceeded to grab my pencil and notebook.

I then Googled “how to draw anime character” and landed on a WikiHow article of the same name. Gotta love WikiHow, they got a guide for everything. After an intense and extensive drawing session, I got this:

I then remembered why I have an artist and closed my notebook…



Artist Log [0] – Environment Design

Environment Design

Back to the beginning of this year, when we were talking about the setting of [Antima], we have decided that it would be based on Spain and southern Italy in terms of the natural environment and the architecture style. The weather is hot and dry, with strong sunlight during most time of the year.

When designing the map of [Ionforr], where [Edge] and [Abgail] started their journey, I had to find the architecture history textbook I haven’t look at for years, and searched about the rules of ancient Roman town planning, what Ancient Rome have brought to Spain when they have conquered there.

“The basic plan consisted of a central forum with city services, surrounded by a compact, rectilinear grid of streets. A river sometimes flowed near or through the city, providing water, transport, and sewage disposal”

To zoom into more details, I have designed some tile-sets that are more and less standardized in most RPG games, such as stone pavements, brick walls, and grass. Last week FB showed me how they actually look like in Unity scene, and how they were used in his work-in-progress tile editor, which was really exciting! There are definitely differences between how they look like in Illustrator and how they look like in Unity scenes, and the additional lighting effects in Unity are something that should be taken into consideration when designing those tiles. The major thing I am concerned about is that I want the game to have some kind of hand drawing style, which is achievable for the character designs since they are done in Procreate. However, the modular nature of tile-sets could bring difficulties.

Besides, I have also started drawing objects in environments such as trees, ruins, gates, and windows. What left me a really strong impression of Spain is the orange trees in the courtyards of the mosques, so we are definitely going to have a lot of them in our game lol.

Project Theta #6

I went to watch Lang Lang play piano with the SF orchestra. It was an exhilarating program, befitting his character. Thanks to a certain fervent fangirl, I had a chance to briefly converse with Lang Lang at the tail end of the signing session. He was quite a nice guy!

Music

I originally thought about writing a brief critique of the concert, but I thought talking about music in games is probably a better idea. Music is such a key component in games and films, yet most of the time people don’t really seem to notice. I once played a game where a specific music file was missing, only then I noticed how awkward the dialog was with the silent backdrop.

While mediocre game music gets ignored, outstanding music elevates a good game to new heights. Hollow Knight, for example, contains a wide array of beautiful scores. I find myself associating each track with specific emotions, which in turn heightens my immersive experience. Mad respect to Christopher Larkin, who composed the suite.

Now, where would I get my hands on some awesome game music? I do wonder about this from time to time. Eventually, I suppose the game will be presentable for a kickstarter. I can then use the funds to obtain some high quality music! One can at least dream…

Honorary mentions to sound tracks in Undertale and Final Fantasy series, which are just as amazing!

Coding

I’ve been working on more tilemaps. In fact, I’ve been working on nothing but tilemaps for the past three months! It is such a fundamental piece of groundwork that almost all other meaningful modules depend on it. NPC movement requires it. Environment design uses it. Battle system needs it. The list goes on…

I’ve finished two more needed features in the past two weeks: individual tile editor and rotation support.

Tile Editor

Unity’s 2D tilemap does not support tile attributes out of the box. For example, it is impossible annotate specific tiles such that the player cannot walk over them. The workarounds are rather ugly as I suspect it just isn’t a feature considered in the original design. With a custom system written from scratch, however, this is no longer a problem.

While this isn’t exactly news, I coded an interface to select and edit existing tiles. Previously, although tiles had attributes, there was no way to edit them.

Rotation Support for Tile Sets

Rotation is a feature in Unity’s 2D tilemap system, where the RuleTile automatically rotates the tile based on the surrounding tiles. It essentially saves some setup time, as you only need to specify what one corner looks like, instead of all four corners.

I originally thought I don’t need to implement the rotation feature found in Unity’s 2D tilemap system. Theoretically this feature only provides a moderate amount of convenience on setting up. I then realized that I’m dealing with 3D models. Without rotation support, I need to set up four copies of corner, edges, and ramps models!

I decided to shove in rotation support, and had some fun with it too.

Roadmap

I did not anticipate the 3D tilemap system to take so long to code. But then, I tend to be optimistic on a lot of coding tasks. Originally, I planned to finish a small playable demo of the game by the end of 2019. At this point, that does not seem realistic. Nevertheless, I want to plan beyond the current task. Once tilemap is finished, I would like to work on NPC and dialog. From there, perhaps a basic stats/inventory screen(s) would be a good idea.

Below I list a bunch of things I’d like to work on, in order:

  • Tilemap system
  • Decoration system (trees, doors, windows, etc)
  • Simple NPC system
  • Dialog system
  • Stats and inventory system

Art

After many back-and-forth sessions, we are almost finished with the design for our protagonist, Edge. I expect a finalized portrait in two weeks!

Meanwhile, Y drew another comic short! She’s giving it the finishing touch, and she should post it to Instagram soon!

I also imported some of the tilemap textures she has been working on.

Narrative

Time to reveal something else about the continent!

The Antima Empire is a relatively new player in the game of politics on the continent. Founded in 1043, it barely has 200 years of history. It was born as the result of a tumultuous event – the Gemian anti-magic revolution. Civil disobedience leading up to the event was largely ignored by the Council of Five, as they believed the non-magic users were powerless in their struggle. Little did they know that they would be betrayed by influential individuals among their ranks…

Excerpt from A Brief History of Antima

Project Theta #5

I went to watch Joker. As a big fan of the Dark Knight trilogy, I was pleasantly surprised how the backstory of Joker snugly weaves into the entire franchise, as if it has been thought out from the very beginning. As for all material I find interesting nowadays, I try to see if I can incorporate the points I find particularly appealing. A memorable story doesn’t just depict an appealing main character, but also an irresistible villain worth defeating.

In fact, for the past two weeks I’ve been working on character backstories and the settings of the world, and almost didn’t touch any code at all.

Art

Y has been working on town mocks again. Here’s a mock for how she wants the town to look like. We had a discussion whether it’s worth it to spend time developing the tilemap tool to be able to draw this, as opposed to just to draw every building separately in Illustrator. Well, I hope I’m able to make a powerful enough tilemap tool that justifies the time I’ve spent making it.

On the other hand, Y has ideas for the second comic short, based on the backstory I just wrote this week! I shall wait with bated breath. Check out our Facebook page and Instagram, where she will be posting it.

Narrative

I started watching two new shows in the last two weeks, and somehow that gave me inspirations to write character backstories of my own!

A Certain Scientific Railgun captivated me with its characterization and above average number of “hmm, this make sense” moments out of a wild esper anime setting. Usually in this type of stories it’s very easy for the author to make up something that doesn’t even make sense within the rules of the world, and yet I couldn’t find big plot holes.

I find the protagonist Mikoto Misaka – an overpowered high school girl – quite intriguing. Her powers are balanced with various mechanisms that I haven’t considered before, such by rules of society, her sister, her feelings for her friends, and etc. It really reverberated with me on an emotional level, and I wanted to create something similar.

To commemorate this, I shall make our female protagonist Abigail a thunder magic-user, and I will find a place in the plot where she will be cooler than Mikoto Misaka.

Magic

While I can’t really divulge the backstories I wrote for Abigail and her father (whose plight is worthy of a game of its own), I do want to write about how magic should work in the game.

I have some objections with how magic usually works. You know, the type where users just declare the magic they want to use, and they unleash magic. Pure and simple.

But where did the energy come from? It can’t be possibly from the human brain, or their diet won’t be 8,700 kilojoules, more like 8,700 megajoules!

Also, what do wands/staves do? In Harry Potter, wands are necessity for magic casting. For many other worlds, they look like prop. If magic users are able to cast magic without them, why carry them in the first place?

I had this idea of moving the notion of “mana”, energy used to cast magic, to the magic weapons instead of an intrinsic trait of humans (more broadly, creatures). Magic weapons act both as vessels to store magic energy, and as conduits for casters to channel the energy stored within.

This solves both problems above. Magic users can no longer pull out crazy amount of energy themselves, and their weapons serve important functions. On top of enabling them to cast spells (making them powerless without), the weapons store the energy required by the spells. This means it makes sense for casters to carry multiple magic weapons with them on adventures.

I was slightly disappointed, very soon after, when I found out that the concept has already been implemented by Noita, a 2D exploration game where you play as a spell-caster. Oh well, I still think it’s a great idea to make a world out of. Noita is an amazing game, though. It takes the idea of “pixel game” quite literally by physically simulating every pixel on the screen.

Potentially Hurtful Truth

The other anime I watched, only because there are too many memes about it, was Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Why did I not mention it earlier? Because I regret every minute I had spent watching this full-of-cringe show. It is the epitome of cliches and awkward fight scenes. No. Just…No.