New Skill

Office Lens_20160306_211423_processed(1)

Okay, “Skill” might be pushing it. I’m not really sure I’m ready for this yet. I mean, I know we are our own worst critics, but even still. I think there’s a long way to go before I would classify this as a skill.

I’ve been toying with the idea of building an RPG in the style of the Final Fantasy series. I have been bothered with a story I’ve wanted to tell, and I’m sort of interested in building an RPG, so the two things work with each other. The drawback is that I really don’t have much innate ability to draw. The image above is one I sketched out as sort of an initial go at one of the early recurring locations in the story.

The overall project is a homage of sorts to the Final Fantasy series. There were several elements to each game that I really liked, and others that I thought would make way more sense if they had been included. Since I do have the ability to sling code, the thought of building my own game occurred to me many times. What was missing then was the story to tell. Now that I have that, the beginnings of a story outline, a vague idea of the initial cast of characters, and the beginnings of a script, what’s missing is the artistic ability to pull it off!

So I’m learning how to draw… (and if I’m honest, praying I’ll find someone who’s more adept than I am at it, and wants to get involved in that side of the project). I picked up a couple of books by Yishan Li, and I’m starting out at the bottom rung of the ladder. It doesn’t help any that I’ve never followed Manga; the choice of character styling comes from the influence.

So they’re pretty rough. Feel free to laugh at them. As I said, I’m not any good. Here are a few of the characters I’ve sketched up (read: painstakingly drawn) in an effort to teach my old-dog self a new trick or two.

This last one is as yet unfinished (as I hope you can see). I’ve been debating how to get these from the paper to a code-friendly format, so I’ve been thinking I could scan these in, then recreate them as layered images in Photoshop. As you can no doubt see, faces, hands, and feet give me absolute fits.

I’ve imagined when I tell my daughter that practice makes perfect, she must get sick of hearing it. Now I have to tell myself the same thing. I don’t know if she gets sick of hearing me say it, but I know that I am!

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14 thoughts on “New Skill

  1. writingbolt

    What code are you good at slinging? And, doesn’t that code include graphic manipulation?

    You DO have knowledge of Photoshop–which helps immensely with fabricating and correcting lines you mistake (provided the PC doesn’t crash). And, aside from the fingers, maybe, and the hairstyles that kinda resemble the main character of FF7, your drawings aren’t terrible. [I’ve seen worse.]

    I particularly like the start of the girl with short hair…if the story takes place in a sort of futuristic Tron world or, at least, involves some club/gaming arena with neon lights, because she has a very 60s Mod look (at least, from what I am visualizing).

    I was going to offer a suggestion if you felt unable to write a story from start to finish. But, it looks like you just need someone to help convert hand-drawn art to graphics and, maybe, to either supply some art or be a cheerleader.

    I may be able to do some basic drawings to get you started or fill in some blanks. But, I am not much more confident about my skills than you are. That’s an endless debate between the opinions of those who favor my work and my examination of countless pieces by other artists which just flatten my motivation to try.

    One more thing, WHY do they have to be manga characters (which I DO NOT draw)? The series of games may have been made partially/fully by Asian artists, but it need not be solely Asian art.

    Reply
    1. matt Post author

      By day, I work mostly in the .NET environment; I’m currently developing RESTful web services. I’m planning to use Unity 3D for this project, so I’d use C#. I’ve made some sprite animations before when tinkering with a similar idea – I had the desire to do an RPG, but didn’t have a story then. I was just playing around with some stuff.

      I do have some knowledge of Photoshop, but it’s a pretty small base of knowledge. I don’t do a lot of post processing to my photos, and I mainly have used Photoshop far below its capability. I’m currently using it now to scan, transfer these drawings in. I work on a Surface Pro 3, so I have the pen and touch aspect, and I’m getting used to working with that. The hairstyle also reminds me of Cloud, and I’m definitely not trying to draw that comparison; the spikey hair was how the character was in the book I was using. Fingers are HARD! The “mod girl” also looks that way from the Li book I’m using currently; that character in her book is holding a mixing bowl.

      I haven’t set a “Time” for the game. I have some areas that seem medieval when I picture them in my mind; and others that are sleek and modern. In my mind as I go through the story outline, I’m trying to keep each place from being exactly like that last one. And I don’t want all of my dungeons to be caves and moody; I think a dungeon can exist in a squeaky clean, well-lighted high rise.

      For art, I definitely feel my characters need some serious help help from someone else. I think I may be able to get the overall feel of the levels I want, but I don’t think I have the skill set to work on the mood for places like dungeons. Getting colors and lighting right are important to me, despite it being an ‘amateur game’. That said, I doubt I’d turn my nose up… In fact, I wondered if maybe you were looking for a code slinger based on your initial question.

      I haven’t looked at your site yet, but plan to as soon as I possibly can. I wanted to scribble up this response before I left for work this morning, and that didn’t happen. One reason I felt I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do this, as I mentioned, was the motivation flatteners… but ultimately, they don’t count. Like George says in the first episode of Dead Like Me: I excel at not giving a shit.

      As for the “Why Manga” question, I don’t really have a good answer. Since the game is a homage to the Final Fantasy series I’ve enjoyed playing, the look and feel I’m going for in characters is highly influenced by that. And despite not reading Manga, I do sort of like the style. That said, the environment I imagine when I think of the external sites is a bit Schwarzwald. So I wasn’t necessarily thinking of an overly Manga environment necessarily.

      Thanks for the comments, and the support. I do appreciate it.

      Reply
      1. writingbolt

        I’ve heard of C# before. I am not versed in code-ese.

        RESTful web services?…like screen savers?…or the hibernation mode of a PC?

        Well, you have the latest equipment with that SP 3…for the next few months, at least.

        Cloud, that was it. I could not think of his name. I’m partial to the wizard woman who summons the water dragon and I guess dies at some point in the story?

        Well, what if your RPG doesn’t have a specific time period? What if it transitions times and spaces? You could have some sort of “chrono key” or temple that the characters must use–sort of like Link’s sword in Ocarina of Time–to transition different times to collect pieces of some puzzle which were scattered through time by some “big bang.” [I am writing an RPG as I speak!]

        Otherwise, different time appearances could be attributed to a more culturally diverse city, maybe including a medieval restaurant, a Mod nightclub a prehistoric theme park, etc. And, the employees of each somehow come together.

        So, a dungeon–or “danger zone” could be an office building in which some insidious experimenting is afoot. [Sort of like the business buildings you visit in the Pokemon games that usually get overrun by Team Rocket.]

        Maybe you cannot make a 3D CG fancy-pants game like modern gaming companies can. Maybe you make a homage to the old-fashion 8 bit systems with Atari pixels. [This makes me think of the RPG from Community, a silly TV show which developed a rather cool yet creepy video game for one episode.]

        Well, a “code slinger” sure would help turn some of my ideas into video-game-capable notions/creations. That is, if the code slinger is versed in visual coding as well as whatever is required to make the “gears” work.

        Ah, a fellow Dead Like Me watcher. I miss that show, not George herself so much, but the concept of the show and that blonde thief/dancer/actress working with the scrawny Brit thief.

        Did you get hit with a toilet before having this RPG idea? 😀

        Okay, but was the original Final Fantasy really manga/anime? I don’t think so. Only after they started adding film/CG elements did we see anime-ish imagery. Technically, the game series is a rather vague fantasy inspiration that veers off in a few directions while trying to hold some basic tenet/philosophy together, not quite as well as some other game series I know.

        I am not a manga fan, essentially, because I don’t like the rather hectic panels nor the exaggerated facial features which usually make eyes look…I don’t have a word for it. But, I’m more of a “traditional American” cartoon fan, if I can even say that when many cartoons were imagined in the US but sent overseas to be drawn/animated, including some of my favorites.

        Is Schwarzwald a real thing or your idea?

        No prob.

        Reply
        1. matt Post author

          I like your interpretation of RESTful web services.

          I liked Final Fantasy VII, but I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all that everyone’s whining to have remade (successfully, unfortunately). I would rather see shorter release cycles between titles than there currently is, though to be honest, I don’t really have the time to play any of the new ones. And I’m still trying to figure out if upgrading my Xbox 360 to an XBO is even worth it. I really liked X and XII much more than VII and even VIII has a lot more going for it than VII does.

          The time period of the game isn’t particularly important to the story, though I sort of like your idea of time traveling puzzles… (would those be marketed as 4-D puzzles near the bargain section of Barnes and Nobel? I wonder). There is an element of collecting something; a game has to have a maguffin, after all. In the world, the medievel-like coexists with the modern. I never played the Pokemon games, but I think I catch your drift by context. I’ve resigned myself currently to the idea that it won’t necessarily have 3D/CGI or anything like that. I wrote some ‘cut scenes’ stuff into the outline, not knowing how I’ll manage that, exactly. It’s eerie you suggested the 8-bit homage: I initially was thinking along those lines. I still haven’t gone entirely away from that, actually. As I was just replaying through Final Fantasy (I have it on my phone), I realized I don’t really connect well with 8-bit sprites. Their simplicity, however, is tempting. The Manga-style characters really does come from the later games (X, XII).

          I’m not sure I understand “visual coding”?

          I say for certain I wasn’t hit with a toilet seat before learning something new like this. I loved George and really dug Rube; I was never a fan of Daisy, though.

          I’ve flipped through some Manga books at the book store when I’m there; I bet I notice the busy panels now, certainly (I hadn’t before). The last Comic Book/Graphic Novels I read was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Death series. I love The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, but never got into other comics that much. I thought your work was pretty cool; I liked some of the V-Day cards you did.

          Der Schwarzwald is the Black Forest in Germany.

          Reply
          1. writingbolt

            What do you mean 4D puzzles in the bargain section of Barnes and Noble?!

            I am not saying FF7 is the best in the series. To be honest, I’ve never played a single FF game. I was torn between those and the Dragon Warrior/Quest games and went with the latter, just watching the FF saga unfold from afar, never understanding what it was going for.

            The 8-bit games were limited and perhaps more involved/tedious in design because that was the limited thinking of the time, and the limits of the technology. Now that more code options seem possible, I suspect more can be done with the old graphics and new move capabilities. So, you could even have cut scenes that look like Paper Mario but are detailed in backgrounds/story without the slow-loading script.

            Visual coding. There is coding that operates the mechanics of a game, the responses to button presses, move index, etc. And then, there is coding for graphics, the characters and animations, etc. Either you use a software already written to do that, or you’d have to code the graphics, yourself. Back in the days of DOS, there was a very primitive program called Turtle in which you wrote lines of code to create images. Line 10 (do this)…Line 20 (do that)…and, lastly, you’d type something like Line 60 Run (name) to see the image unfold. Then, you saved it to a floppy disk and prayed you never crossed paths with any magnets or sharp objects.

            You didn’t like Daisy? sigh.

            I like Gaiman’s Neverwhere in terms of design. I found the ultimate villain–who I think is Key’s dad–a lil unsettling for my taste. But, decent concept. I also saw one volume of a live-action series based on the book/graphic novel which was poorly made but still coherent to the book.

            Yes! Calvin and Hobbes. Great artwork with the dinosaurs and Space Man Spiff.

            Thanks. My posted work here is just the simplest of MS Paint pieces I make. I used to have a cheapy version of Photoshop called Photo Studio 2 that I used on my old Win 98 PC. But, I wasn’t sure I could use it on a new PC. Otherwise, I’d be airbrushing, masking and photo-editing up a storm, again.

            So, an actual forest. Is that where Black Forest Cake derives its name? A German dessert?

          2. matt Post author

            I actually said near the bargain section of B&N. That’s where they are in our local store.

            I would recommend the series to you. Start at X if you don’t like to read, though. Earlier than that and all the story and dialog is text (Which is actually how I plan to do mine). Some of the stories are a little goofy, but overall they’re really rather immersive environments. I certainly considered writing my own game engine before settling on Unity. Unity gives me some additional options toward cross-platform distribution (if it gets that far), for instance. I’d have to do that myself if I were to write my own. Ultimately it became a matter of being more interested in working on the game rather than on the engine.

            I’m not familiar with Paper Mario; though I think can do some keyframe animations in Unity to do the cut-scenes in. Given enough time, I can pretty much figure out how to do anything with the code; even if it wasn’t strictly designed to do it.

            After a quick spin around the internet, it appears the cake does indeed come from Deutschland: http://tinyurl.com/9gxgcdj

          3. writingbolt

            What are these 4D puzzles that involve reading of which you speak?

            Wait, or did you just slide into recommending Final Fantasy X, not a puzzle book called X.

            Isn’t FFX the one where the three female characters take over? Or, is that XII?

            I am sure most of the stories are goofy because the creators seem to throw in a lil of everything imaginable into the games. They don’t seem as coherent as the Dragon Quest series which slowly built new creatures and characters around one old kingdom. Similar to how the Zelda games expanded Hyrule. [Now, that is possibly my favorite game series, the Zelda series.]

          4. matt Post author

            You mentioned in an earlier comment the idea of traveling through time to collect all the pieces of a puzzle. I merely joked that you’d find such a puzzle in the toys and games section of B&N.

            I did recommend Final Fantasy X, if you don’t like reading (since all the FF games prior to X, you had to read the story). FF X-2 is the one where the party consists of girls. I didn’t get into that one too much, though I tried playing it; it just didn’t work for me that well. I felt it was too many minigames stitched together. I think some of those stories are simply silly. FF VII and VIII have some cringe-worthy, derpish story moments for sure. To me, the different worlds and characters of the FF universe help: each one can be different as needed without having to drag around a bunch of apocrypha through the sequels.

            I only played a little bit of Zelda and never played Dragon Quest, so I have no real comparison. I had always meant to get around to doing some of those games, but just never found the time.

          5. writingbolt

            A time-travel puzzle game of some sort? Or, just one of those old wooden puzzles they keep remaking and rarely sell because of all the APP pushing and dumb smartphones going on?

            So, FFX is a pure-action fest?

            I have no problem with reading story as long as it has an adjustable speed. 😛 Some games, the text is so hard to advance, you feel like you’re dragging a mule through a desert. And, other games/movies, the text is too quick to get all of it. That’s one of the perks of some modern games I like, including the 90s/200X Pokemon games; the text speed is adjustable.

            I actually wish the old Dragon Quest games would have had more story, to some extent. The plot was decent but a little thin/vague. I might have missed some points if I didn’t find a strategy guide/map. Games that require you to buy/read a guide and map seem kinda shady and bent on merchandising/paying for extras. If you want to finish the game, insert more money into the slot.

            But, given time, I was able to piece stories/games together. I still need to go back and finish that series, at least, through 3. I am not sure I can sit through more than that.

            That’s another huge problem I have with the old RPGs in general. The games require a HUGE investment of time. And, if you are a good balancing type, you might be able to divide your time patiently. But, me, I’d be so distracted, thinking about getting further in the game, I’d get little else done with adequate focus. I like the slowness of the games better than fast-action games that fray nerves. But, I prefer games I can finish in maybe 2 hours and get on with my day. Which is why I like replaying TMNT 2 for the NES and Final Fight for the SNES. There’s just enough of a story even in those and plenty of butt-kicking fun to be had in a shorter-than-lifetime amount of time. RPGs just suck everything out of you, again, unless you are good at putting things down for a while.

            Maybe we need to come up with an RPG that DOES NOT require leveling up. One in which you start just fine and simply need to canvas some territories to get to the goal.

            Ah, the mini-games on top of all the leveling…madness on top of madness, trying to make strategy and story more fun. They’d be better off putting mini-games into a spin-off carnival game of sorts, like Mega Man Soccer or Mario Party.

            Derpish moments? What is “derpish?”

            Well, Dragon Quest starts as a tale of a legendary knight being struck down from his fame, leaving the kingdom in ruins under the rule of a wizard called Dragonlord (who can turn into a dragon). You are sort of an heir to the throne who is sent to rescue the kingdom by amassing items and weapons that will be needed to reach the Dragonlord’s elusive island (in the middle of the map), including tracking down sun stones, a tear? that creates a rainbow bridge and pieces belonging to the legendary knight that fell which give you exceptional power in the final battle but are not easy to find and guarded by powerful monsters. In DQ 2, the story takes place some time after the first with 3 new characters taking up the quest. I forget who replaces Dragonlord, but the stories just kinda keep cycling through similar plots with evolved versions of the previous monsters, always adding new variations. Some are quite cool while others are amusing or pathetic. I particularly enjoyed chasing the elusive metal slimes in DW 1 and collecting heaps of gold from the goldmen (which are very cool-looking). The most annoying aspect of the old games is the music. I had to turn all sound off, after a while, because the repetition eats at your brain. The same happens with Pokemon games, sadly.

            Likewise why I never got into FF. The games were twice the time investment I had already spent on other games. I couldn’t read every encyclopedia on RPG. So, I picked one and went with it. Sadly, back then, I only truly got through DW 1. I had put the others on wish lists no one filled. And, realizing I was interested in less time-consuming games at the time, I wasn’t spending my few dollars on more of the same. I pursued games like Mega Man, Double Dragon and Street Fighter, instead.

          6. matt Post author

            No, FFX isn’t pure action fest. It actually has one of the most annoying minigames I’d seen since Final Fantasy VII’s stupid Golden Saucer (like a whole arcade of stupid minigames all in one hellhole place). Blitzball is like Football under water. There’s a couple of must-do matches, and then I ignored it completely. Some sections of the story are slower than others, but with most things Square does, it’s pretty to look at ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgVnds4gW3s around 1:50 in). It’s an overall pretty good story, one of the better ones I think.

            I’m noting it down as a suggestion: configurable text speed. That’s something that drives me nuts in some of the older games.

            I prefer the older JRPG style of game play. I sort of suck at button combos, so games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were impossible for me. The number of times I have killed Lara Croft because of inept controller manipulation… I like the turn based stuff that gives me time to think about what I want to do in a given situation. I know a lot of people hate doing it, but I (generally) don’t mind grinding. That said, I think the Final Fantasy hand holding is a little extreme; every point in the main story, by the time you get there, you should be able to handle the enemies there. Keeping areas blocked off or inaccessible until you reach certain points is silly. One element I plan to implement is the ability to go where ever you want in an area. You may get severely punished for it, but I think you should be able to do it.

            It’s interesting to think of an RPG without leveling. Might have to give that one some thought.

            I can see why you might not be interested in something you have to set so much time aside for. One thing that annoyed me with the older games is that you can’t just save and go. I know frequent saves takes away some of the artificial difficulty, but seriously…. who actually has time to sit and spend hours on end? I know some people actually do, but the majority? Uh-uh. If you as a game-maker can’t respect my time, I definitely won’t respect yours.

          7. writingbolt

            So, X has the least to read…but also has the most annoying mini-games. Gee, nice recommendation. 😛

            Well, yes, button combos are a pain to me, too. My sis and I just would “shadow box” as she calls it. We tap buttons rapidly together til something good happens…which is nuts. So, a simpler combo, maybe, of 2 or 3 buttons should be all one needs to diversify. I like the Final Fight 3 system which allows a variety of moves by combining A, B, X or Y with up, down, forward, back, etc. You’d get a limited number of maybe 6 moves, but that’s plenty for me. There’s also a fun power-up move that provides minimal entertainment.

            I think Lara Croft/Tomb Raider can get a bit tricky/intense, having to figure out a series of moves/steps to get through a small area. But, I did enjoy the demo immensely. I like the part requiring you to watch out for spiders on the floor before you go outside and see the birds swooping down on you. That was quite cool.

            Right, time to think and pick a move from a menu saves a lot of sweat and stress. That’s why I liked the coaching mode on Tecmo Bowl. I could just sit back, pick plays and let the game fill in the gaps.

            One of the other cool aspects of Final Fight 3, you could change the direction of game play by breaking down a barrier and picking that path. You had options regardless of your “level.” You could shorten or lengthen the game.

            Yea, saving is another important feature. If that’s lacking or missing, the game sucks. Or, the games that used to require you to save in a special spot, only to start at some place you don’t want to replay to get back to where you left off….UGH!

            Now that I think of it, I don’t want to play any of those old game without the ROM versions which give you save states. And, even then, some old RPGs are too tiresome, like the really old text-only ones. I tried playing one which required you to assemble a team and get gear before heading out. That was insanely tedious, and you had no way of really knowing how good anything was before heading out. I suppose that was the case for many if not most games that didn’t come with a detailed manual/guide, but, still.

            Maybe we should take this long chat elsewhere like my Chat Cafe. 🙂

            Oh, remember the games that punished you for saving, too? How dumb is that? If you save more than once, it costs you some part of a grand ending. Sick programmer heck!

          8. matt Post author

            Naw, X was just the first to have voice acting.

            The “Think and Pick a Move” approach gets tedious too. I planned to implement a “repeat” option in the menu that allows you to just do the last thing that character did without having to push the action button a bunch of times.

            I don’t know much about Chat Cafe, but I’m sure by now this comment thread is squeezed down to a letter a line.

          9. writingbolt

            But, how do you determine how many times to repeat an action? And, need anyone repeat an action? Isn’t that tedious in its own way? How tedious is too tedious. All tedious questions. 😛 hehe

            Yea, it will get that narrow if you don’t relocate to that lil page/link thing on top of my pages.

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