Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pixel Art for Fun and Profit

I don't know how forward I've been about this in the past, but damn would I love to just do pixel art professionally. I've dabbled in doing freelance stuff, like Boon Hill, and arguably Nova Phase is pixel art, though I don't really make ANY money off of that, so it's more like an expensive hobby than a job. I have still never seen any of my work, including freelance stuff, used in a finished game, except Bird Force, which I made myself and still really isn't done. I see tons of games come out that still utilize pixel art, so obviously somebody somewhere is doing this stuff for a living. That's what I want, but man,  doing something for a living is really hard when nobody will give you any money for it.

But still, I just love doing the stuff. I guess that's why its kind of weird that I've never tried bringing my work into the physical, real world, like that cyber demon from that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You know the one. I've seen people do these little bead jobbies, and always thought it would be cool, but I don't generally think of myself as a craftsy person, so I never got into it. It's weird, but I just never did it. Until today, of course, when my fiance thought it would be cool to make a pixel art cake topper for our wedding. Good on her, because I think I might do a ton of this.

This was my first attempt at bringing a pixel work into the real world, like said Buffy episode. Moloch the Corrupter was the name of the demon, just looked that up. The sprite I used hasn't been shown off before, and is for a new project that is super early in development, a dice battling game called HyperDyce. It is in fact as ridiculous as it sounds, possibly more so, but more on that later. This is the player character, a scumbag dice battler called Jackalope Winfight, as he appears on the overworld between battles. But I've already said too much.

There's something remarkably satisfying about physical things. Pretty much all of my work is confined to the digital world, so being able to hold something I've created in my hands is kind of amazing. Although Nova Phase was intended to be a digital comic from the get go, getting my hands on the printed volume just felt really cool, and was actually the first time I felt genuinely excited about the whole experience. This is the first time I've been able to have this experience with my smaller scale pixel art, and I really like it.

I need way more of these little boards, and an assload more beads probably, but I think I'm gonna be doing alot more of these, maybe even selling them! I love the idea of making and selling stuff, maybe because of some weird, RPG, Animal Crossing brain problem, but whatever.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pac-Man Fever is a Real Thing and I Have it Sometimes

Is there anything Japanese text can't make me want?

So I have a weird relationship with Pac-Man. Unlike the other big mascots, Mario, Sonic, what have you, Pac-Man hasn't been nearly as successful at staying relevant, I guess. It actually came as a complete surprise to me that there are people who hold the Pac-Man World games in high regard, as growing up I kind of considered them pretty crappy. Pac-Man never seemed, to me anyway, to have the same kind of appeal as Super Mario, for example, because his world just didn't seem to evolve and grow naturally at all. The world of the Pac-Man World games, for example, just seemed lame.

Lately, though I've been warming up to Pac-Man, for a few reasons. First of all, I guess in the current drought of anything remotely colorful or fun looking in the video game world, its refreshing to see a yellow ball with an impossibly huge grin running around. This isn't the 90s or even the 00s anymore, and this kind of thing just isn't everywhere like it used to be. There ain't no Klonoas or Tombas or Goemon's or really any kid friendly action platforming to be found outside of Nintendo's stuff, except maybe Skylanders, so when Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures was announced, I was actually kind of excited. Not because I thought the game was going to be necessarily anything special, but just because it was nice to see a third party try to do platforming again. I love platformers, regardless of the amount of Ds they are in, and its always nice to have options beyond just Super Mario and Donkey Kong.

Ghostly Adventures also happened to turn out okay, in my opinion way more fun than the World games. I got the Wii U version for cheap, mostly because I like playing games on my Wii U, and mostly because I feel like that's the console where colorful platformers belong, and while I wasn't blown away (no, it was no Pac-Man Galaxy), I did enjoy the time I spent with the game. Had that time been a little longer, I would have probably been even more pleased, as it was on the short side, but maybe its unfair to be a grown man playing what is clearly for children and then complain about the length or difficulty... But still, Ghostly Adventures was a solid little 3D platformer with some cool level designs and some genuinely fun power ups, probably my favorite of which was the giant rolling stone Pac-Man head. Hilarious. I also genuinely appreciate that Namco went through the trouble of developing a dedicated 3ds game, and not just a port of the console version. Haven't played it yet, but it looks like a fairly charming sidescroller something Pac-Man has sadly little experience with.

This is by far my favorite power up.

Of course, the Pac is pretty big news right now, what with him set to appear in the next Super Smash Bros. game, which I honestly find to be absolutely hilarious. This news also led to a pretty amusing Pac-Man related release in the form of the Famicom version of the arcade oddity, Pac-Land. As the first scrolling platformer ever made, Pac-Land is a pretty odd game, and the Famicom version isn't any less whacky than the arcade original. I had never played the game and picked it up as a curiosity of sorts, as my Virtual Console is reserved almost exclusively for imports and other impossible to find in real life games, but man, its actually kind of fascinating. The controls are ass backwards, the game is Bubble Bobble levels of mysterious and random, and of course, Pac has a sharp lookin' alpine hat on. Its super weird, but also surprisingly addicting. Its no Super Mario Bros. 3 for sure, but its still worth looking into for how bizarre and challenging it is.

Lately my weird fascination with the character has come to focus on these neat little K'Nex toys that come in blind bags, which I love. I've always had an obsession with tiny toys distributed randomly, and as these happened to be on sale I bought kind of a lot.
Damn it, I don't want Cylindria or Spiral at all...
I was lucky enough to get Clyde (the giant orange ghost) on my first pull, but then met defeat with two consecutive Cylindria, the little pink punk girl with the Hot Topic combat boots. I was a little pissed, but at least grateful I didn't end up getting Spiral, the red idiot. Eventually, I did end up getting Pac himself, as well as Pinky, though her bag was already opened and as such she is missing an arm. Generally I like these guys, particularly the Pac, as he can actually open his mouth INSANELY FAR, which just looks great. Each set also comes with one of the lame generic ghosts, in either scared or not scared form, so I have a ton of those populating my desk as well.

I don't really know anything about the cartoon with which all of this current Pac stuff is associated, as I don't get Disney or any of its affiliate channels and my fiance won't let me watch cartoons anyway, but I did end up seeing some amazing ads for the Japanese dub. The Japanese title for the series (including the games and toys and such) is Pac-World, which I think sounds a bit cooler than the Harry Potter style title the North American version has, and the theme song, done by generally awesome dude Hyadain, is simply amazing.

I have no idea what is wrong with my brain, but I'm honestly tempted to try to download subtitled versions of the Japanese dub rather than watch the North American version. I am, in fact, a lunatic.

Anyway, so that's a quick summary of my recent and totally inexplicable romance with Pac-Man. I know that alot of people really hate the new design and direction or something, but it honestly doesn't seem any worse than anything else that has ever come out of the franchise, and I kinda love Pac's sneakers. Oh well.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


After a great deal of work, Bird Force is finally in a playable form! Still not nearly done, but the main gameplay is there! Please enjoy, and let me know what you think! Oh yeah, doesn't work on phones yet. Sorry!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bird Force Update!

Some time ago, I posted some mock-ups of a game I was half-jokingly planning about birds flying jets.  I had a fever of activity, possibly due to temporary madness induced by too much work on Nova Phase, which subsided once I was working full time. Now, however, I'm back to working on Nova Phase, and I guess the madness must have seized me again, because I started working on Bird Force again, only this time much more earnestly. I actually started trying to program the damn thing.

Using a somewhat stable free version of and HTML5 game development tool called Construct 2, I've started working pretty seriously. Things have not been going entirely smoothly, but I figured it would be fun to post my progress here. Eventually, I'd like to post a playable version here (if that is actually possible, that is), so for now, here are some shots of in development stuff!

Here's the first shot. It's a pretty simple game. You click to fly up, release to drift down. Moving rings come down towards the player, and you just need to fly through them to get points! As you can see, there is pretty minimal stuff going on here, but the basics of the game are in place. Woo, look at that score!
 Okay, no we're talking! We've got obstacles to avoid, a much more attractive score display, and slick, parallax scrolling to  fake depth on the clouds. There's also a neat little afterburner effect! Score has improved as well, thanks to a combo system that rewards players for flying through rings consecutively.
Accidentally left the game running, and got a pretty good score! Of course, the bombs weren't actually programmed to do anything other than look cool at this point, so the game was basically impossible to lose. Notice the sparkly effect around the ring! Yummy!
Finally programmed in a way to lose! Added some appropriate dialogue, as well as a cool game over screen! Now there is actually a game happening! And its actually pretty hard, as a matter of fact.

Unfortunately, after this the project literally fell apart due to some weird instability in the way the program paths files or something, and for  few days I couldn't even access my work. Very annoying. After a lot of reading on the Construct forums, I was able to figure out how to access my back up work and actually get some of my work back.
To celebrate, a title screen! Though I did a bit more tweaking on the combo system to today, this is about as far as I've come. I'd like to add a few more elements to this beta version, including at least 5 minutes of dialogue and of course maybe some music. Reading all about Famitracker and such, hopefully gonna be able to actually do something with that.

Anyway, that's it so far! Hopefully I can have something playable up here soon! I have no idea how that works, though.

Honesty important, right?

In other news, issue 4 of Nova Phase is going really well! Slowly making progress!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wii U eShop Gems: Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails

     I love my Wii U.  I'm not shy about my appreciation for Nintendo, even when popular opinion seems to be nothing but doom and gloom. There's just this sense of fun and whimsy on Nintendo machines that makes them stand out from the serious business of competition, and I appreciate that. Games are meant to be fun first and foremost, and in an era dominated by big budget cinematic grandstanding and technical pissing contests, Nintendo has remained resolute in their assertion that innovative and creative design trumps hardware specs every time. Unfortunately, this ideal has always created a divide between Nintendo and virtually everyone else in the industry, and right now it seems that the Wii U's line up is pretty sparse when it comes to third party efforts. Most major developers have abandoned Nintendo's struggling console, leaving a serious dearth in the system's slowly growing library. Despite the exit of giants like EA and Ubisoft, I've been finding plenty of games to play on my humble little gamepad. While the titans of the gaming industry have given up, a new generation of bright, lean, and creative studios has filled that void and supplied Nintendo's  eShop with some simply awesome titles. These independent developers are bringing a welcome sense of fun and innovation, and providing Wii U owners with experiences that value fun above all else.
    The improbably named Scram Kitty and his Buddy On Rails is one of many treasures to hit the eShop this year, and has been on my radar for some time.  The crisp visuals, fast gameplay, and of course, bewildering name all captured my imagination when it was first announced. Now that I've finally got my hands on it, I'm pleased to say it far exceeded my expectations. Beneath the slick presentation is some truly devious design, resulting in a game that will push even veteran players to previously unheard of levels of frustration and satisfaction.
     In theory, the game's premise is simple.  It is essentially a 2D platformer, with the unique twist of having the player affixed to a series of rails, as the title would imply. This allows Buddy to traverse walls and ceilings just as easily as the floor, and creates some truly mind bending platforming. Gravity and momentum work wonders in allowing players to jump and swing in unexpected ways, and the labyrinthine stages will have players moving in 360 degrees of fast paced action. It's a bit like Mario Galaxy in 2D, only its really nothing like that at all.

While the platforming is conceptually quirky, it is the devilish design of the stages themselves that bring out the best this system has to offer.  Huge, maze like, and occasionally hiding Metroid style puzzle and exploration, each stage feels like a carefully crafted play set, and can even be a bit daunting. To truly complete each main stage, players must complete all 4 objectives, which include finding the goal, defeating a hidden mini boss, collecting all of the coins, and chasing down a fast moving target. 100% success comes from mastering the traversal of each stage, a feat that requires both expert us of the rail jumping mechanic and careful study of the structure of level.  It's a system that can definitely breed frustration, but just as often rewards with a feeling of accomplishment at a job well done.
     Although Scram Kitty's design may be decidedly old school in its sense of challenge, its audiovisual presentation is thoroughly modern, with slick, colorful graphics that blend 2D and 3D, and an extremely catchy techno soundtrack. Each area has both a distinct visual style, and the many special effects for weapons and explosions are sharp and fluidly animated. The whole game has a satisfying quality that comes from a strong marriage of art and sound design, so every jump landed, missile fired, or enemy exploded feels good. Of course, this also means that every missed jump or laser to the face feels like a crushing defeat, but once you hear the thumping tunes your motivation returns in full force. The menus and HUD elements are also packed with charming little details, and overall the game's presentation is oozing with effort.

 Altogether, Dakko Dakko's Wii U debut is a remarkably charming title with deep platforming action and top notch presentation. In a time where most games are too busy talking at you and rendering explosive set pieces that would make Michael Bay blush, it really is refreshing to see a game like Scram Kitty, so totally focused on just being the best game it can. To me, this is the kind of game Nintendo consoles are made for: fun, quirky, and challenging.

On a side note, I think it's worth mentioning that this entire post was done exclusively on my Wii U gamepad. Pretty neat, and actually very relaxing after being at a computer all day!

UPDATE: Wow! A whole lot of spelling mistakes! That's what I get for typing on the gamepad, I guess...