Monday, August 25, 2014

A New Direction, And Saturday Morning Anime For Grown Up Kids

I've been doing a good deal of thinking lately, about what I want to do creatively. I have spent the last two months or so working almost non-stop on the fourth issue of Nova Phase, which I think looks and reads pretty damn awesome, but it's made me question certain hopes and beliefs I had held on to. For the longest time, I thought that getting a comic published would change everything for me. I thought that someday I would get this big break, and suddenly my career would be awesome. I've been working on Nova Phase for quite some time now, and although the initial high of positive reviews and long awaited validation was nice, it has since given way to the very real feeling that, in many ways, this is getting me nowhere.

Nova Phase is a very time consuming project. I draft, draw, color, shade, and letter the entire thing myself. It's very difficult to work quickly, because the precise placement of every pixel is very important to the look of the finished product, and the scale of the art is literally hundreds of times larger than any traditional pixel art project really should be. There are probably a billion more pixels in a single issue of Nova Phase than in any one real 8-bit game game, and despite the scale, I still chip away at it zoomed in so close that it's like painting with your face an inch away from the canvas.

It also makes me absolutely zero money. I have never made a cent from Nova Phase, and probably never will. To produce Nova Phase in a remotely timely manner would require me to work on it like a full time job, which would mean I wouldn't have time for a full time job, which would mean that I would not ever make any money. I don't even have time to find commission work, let alone work on any commission that I did find. As an adult with very adult sized bills, this makes life very difficult, as I never have any money.

So here I am, almost a year after my big dream of professional comic artistry came true, and very little has changed. I'm still nobody, and I'm still basically poor.

So like I said, I've been thinking. After years of casual research, I have determined that there exists no existing publisher that deals in the type of content I'm interested in creating. Every major and minor publishing house is either too schlocky, too artsy, or too impenetrable to present a good match for what I want to do. There just isn't an environment for what I want to do. But what do I want to do exactly? I thought long and hard about that, but after analyzing the ideas I am most enamored with, I think I have more or less nailed it down.

I want to make Saturday Morning Anime For Grown Up Kids. I want to make the kind of stupid, D-list, hastily dubbed by Fox Kids without watching the whole thing to compete with Pokemon, Saturday morning anime, but with the added benefit of absolute self awareness. I want to write comics that know exactly why they are stupid, and then go absolutely off the wall. I want to deconstruct the kind of crazy crap I watched as a kid, but without losing the colorful fun or frantic energy that made those shows so hypnotic. I've tossed around a few names for this subgenre that I am trying to pioneer. A Self-Abridging Series could be one description, but I think  Saturday Morning Anime For Grown Up Kids is a bit more catchy. There are, I think, a few shows out there that might fit into this subgenre, though perhaps unknowingly. Black Dynamite, Gintama, and to some extent Steven Universe are good examples of what I'm after.

Also, I don't want to sell anything. I have no means of distribution, and no interest in seeking a partnership or deal with any existing entity that could handle such a thing, so I'm just gonna give this crap away for free. I want my online presence to be a constant stream of maddening content, available to anyone and everyone, completely free of charge. I'm gonna be poor either way, so I'd rather be poor and have people enjoying my work than not, so I think this is the best way.

Finally, I need to split up my blogs. Although I have long populated Doki Doki Arcade with whatever I damn well felt like, I think the time has come to focus. Doki Doki Arcade will remain focused on video game related musings, of which I will probably still have many. I'm planning an exhaustive article on Time Stalkers once I manage to get some momentum going, so never fear. I also finally got a scanner again, so getting quick art up here will be much easier. In fact, the illustration at the top of this page will have been done in like, 25 minutes as soon as I am done writing this. I can't want to see how it turns out.

ANYWAY, Doki Doki Arcade will continue to focus on video games, while my original comic creations will get a new home, probably called Saturday Morning Anime For Grown Up Kids, but I haven't decided yet. We shall see. Original creations that take the form of games, like Bird Force, I will play by ear. They will probably be represented on both sites, or maybe I'll make a development blog.

In the past, I was too shy and ashamed of self promotion to bother caring how many people looked at my work, but things are different now. For my work to matter at all, people need to see it, and for that to happen, I need to get out there. Nova Phase made me recede into a quiet place of non-stop work, but I need to get out of that place and back to interacting. Nobody else is going to make an environment in which my work will thrive, so I need to try to make one myself. That's what I'm gonna do.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lots of work on AtomMan

Was seized by the desire to work on AtomMan, a project I've been working on and off on for a very long time. It was actually the first ever game I ever made, waaaay back in like 1999, when I was just a 6th grader! It originally started as a MegaMan fan game, but after a little while, I guess I wanted to make up my own bad guys and such, and it turned into a VERY thinly veiled ripoff, parody, homage, or whatever you want to call it. The sprites were even just crappy recolored versions of MegaMan characters, with pretty minor tweaks. There was a great deal of humor in the game, and some pretty terrible and basic gameplay, but I felt pretty accomplished.

Now, years later, I couldn't really resist the urge to look at these characters again, and I started to think that maybe there was some potential here. Sure, it started as a pretty basic ripoff, but some of the designs had genuinely cool elements, and I thought I could re-imagine it into something much more original, while still obviously honoring the games that inspired it.

So yeah, the inspiration is probably SUPER OBVIOUS, but I think this turned out really well. I don't want to talk to much about the story just yet, but these guys are the main bad guys.

Now, because I can't focus on anything, this is both a comic and a game, so here's some of the animations and such I've whipped up!

 Look at him go! These are just his basic animations, but there are going to be tons of other weapons and maybe even forms to take on. To get started, though, I think these are coming along nicely.

I also mocked up a little screenshot today, which I think turned out well. This is the first time since being a kid that I've gotten this far on this project, so it's pretty exciting.

 Not  finished anything yet, but just trying to establish the look of the game. Obviously very MegaMan inspired, not going to debate or deny that, but I want to push this game into some pretty out there territory. I want to try to bring all the things I loved about the Legends and Battle Network games into the basic gameplay of a 2D classic MegaMan game, but there's elements of other games from this era that I really loved back then, including Shenmue, Brave Fencer Musashi, Legend of Zelda and Mystical Ninja.

OKAY! So that's what I got so far. Feeling pretty good about it so far, but definitely a work in progress.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shenmue is Tons of Fun Until One of its Billion Discs Don't Work

Okay, okay, so it only has three discs, actually, but it is still mighty annoying to not be able to finish the game. I recently set my Dreamcast up after having not really played it for, well, a very long time, and since I had only brought a few games with me, I had to choose between playing one of the Sonic Adventures or Shenmue. Although, unlike many people, I actually don't have anything but fond feelings for the Adventure games, I decided to revisit Shenmue, as I had only a year or two earlier replayed both of Sonic's Dreamcast outings. 

I like the Dreamcast. I liked it when it came out, and I still like it now. It was the first console I had ever bought with my own money, but my library of games was basically limited to whatever my older siblings bought (they had moved out by then and had their own Dreamcast, which I guess was why I wanted one so bad). I spent sooo much time playing Marvel Vs. Capcom, House of the Dead 2, Sonic Adventure 2, and of course, Shenmue. Other favorites included Record of Lodoss War, an absolutely absurd Diablo clone based on Ryo Mizuno's books and the awesome anime they inspired, and Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise From The Ashes. At this point in my life I was basically in love with Japanese cartoons, with Lodoss War and Gundam being among my favorites, but both of those games were actually better stand alone titles than they were licensed games, to be honest. 

Now, at this point in my life, I can't help but shake the feeling that I've already played anything worthwhile on the consoles with which I am most familiar. I know that isn't actually true, but it just FEELS like I have exhausted the supply of good, or even decent, games on most of my machines. It wasn't until recently rediscovering the Dreamcast that I realized I had barely scratched the surface of its library, due to my being 11 and having no money. This was actually distressingly exciting for me, as in a way it feels like the final unexplored frontier. I tracked down a few games that caught my eye, including survival horror game Carrier, insane action adventure Blue Stinger, and an RPG called Timstalkers, which appears to combine dungeon crawling, turn based combat, and monster raising, which personally sounds like an absolute free time annihilator. 

Of course, I had to wait for those games to arrive, and in the interim busied myself with Shenmue, which was actually full of surprises for me. I hadn't played the game in a VERY long time, probably not since it came out in 2000, so while I thought I remembered most of the game, there have been some pretty big things that had completely escaped my memory. I found myself literally opening every drawer and cabinet in Ryo Hazuki's house this time around, mostly for laughs and to see just how mundane they would allow me to be. This turned pretty exciting when I discovered an old key in my murdered father's desk. This was mind blowing to me, because nobody told me to go looking in there; that key was not my objective. As far as I was concerned, I was supposed to be asking locals if they had seen a black car. Obviously this excited me, as I was determined to find where that key was supposed to go. I searched high and low in the Hazuki household, removed literally every picture from the walls hoping to find a wall safe or something, but found nothing. It wasn't until I entered the dojo that I found a locked box. Inside, I found a sword. The sword fit into a hidden compartment behind a wall scroll. I was on a roll! Again, this was perhaps 20 minutes into the game. I hadn't even left Ryo's house yet, and yet I was engaged in some National Treasure shit. Of course, progressing any further on THAT particular distraction required another mystery item that I had not accidentally stumbled upon, and so I was forced to give up and move along with my investigation as it had been assigned to me: the black car. Still, I was refreshed by the freedom I had felt.

Shenmue really is a remarkable game. It's also an incredibly boring and cumbersome game, but honestly that doesn't really matter. The world feels so authentic, so real, and so detailed, that it's kind of weirdly pleasurable just walking around and talking to people. There's a great deal of freedom in Shenmue, but unlike alot of modern open world games, that freedom feels... special, somehow. There feels like there might be some consequence to your actions, I suppose. The NPCs are fairly distinct, with their own voices and often super weird personalities, each building feels distinct and placed with purpose. Compare that to something like Grand Theft Auto, where most of the pedestrians are just mindless faceless drones, and most of the buildings are just copy pasted filler. By comparison, Shenmue's game world feels dense with content and purpose, and there always seems to be some strange surprise popping up here and there. Sometimes you'll enter a building or a park completely on a whim, only to suddenly see some cutscene or learn a new move, and you walk away wondering "would I have missed that if I hadn't just decided to walk in here? Why did that happen?" Whether you're buying Sonic toys from a vending machine, feeding the kitten you find on the road, or hanging out at the arcade playing darts and Space Harrier, you feel immersed, somehow. 

Objectively, lots of modern games have aped some of Shenmue's approach, but I don't feel like anybody has really replicated that feeling of really being in a place. The Elder Scrolls games offer these huge worlds to dick around in, but they mostly feel dead. Sure, they are big, and there are a bunch of things scattered around, but none of it feels particularly consequential. Mass Effect, at least the first one, is similarly dense with dialogue and exploration, but again, the places never end up feeling very distinct. The adventurey talky bits of Mass Effect just seem like filler in between janky third person shooting, and neither seems as realized as it really could be. Deadly Premonition has probably come the closest to replicating the experience of adventure and exploration that Shenmue pioneered, which, after replaying Shenmue, I am realizing is probably why I found myself so enamored with it, in addition to its particular wackiness.

Of course, all of this more or less boils down to nothing but frustration when one advances to the third disc only to discover that the damn disc won't read. I don't know if it is scratched or what, but it doesn't seem to want to load my safe file, which leaves me basically stranded. I can't go back to disc 2, and I don't know whether disc 3 is actually busted or whether my safe file is wonky, so for now, I'm just gonna play Time Stalkers. 

That's a shame, though, because Shenmue is a game that deserves to be played, even today. Hell, maybe even especially today. Open world game design is more popular and possible than ever, and I think Shenmue still has alot to offer, provided that the player is willing to really get into the game. I sincerely hope someday Sega reissues or rereleases this game, maybe via the eShop (I am a Nintendo fan after all), but really any digital storefront would be ideal, as this, and honestly many Dreamcast games, shouldn't be lost to the ages.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

MegaMan Battle Network on Wii U Virtual Console Makes Me Very Happy

The Virtual Console was one of my favorite features of the original Wii. It was very cool to be able to go back and experience games from a bygone era, whether they were classics I remembered fondly, gems that I had missed in my youth, or, most excitingly, imports that had never made it to North America to begin with. The Wii's Virtual Console had a pretty impressive selection of consoles on offer, ranging from the 8-bit NES and Master System to the N64, plus weird stuff like the Turbo CD, and plenty of great games, including stellar imports like Monster World IV, Pulseman, and Dracula X, so when the Wii U Virtual Console got up and running, I was a little skeptical as to how much it really had to offer. Of course, I was almost immediately surprised (pleasantly) with the long awaited release of the SNES cult classic Earthbound, which i took to be proof positive that there was still plenty to look forward to, a feeling was ultimately justified when the unexpected announcement was made that the Wii U VC would soon feature Game Boy Advance games.

I've always considered the Game Boy Advance to be somewhat under appreciated. In my opinion, there were some truly wonderful games released on the handheld wonder, and at the time the prospect of having a secure, last foothold for 2D games in an era that was solidly 3D on the console side (the whole retro chic thing had yet to manifest) was comforting.  I still remember looking at the line up for the GBA and just being awestruck, and the two games I was most excited for were MegaMan Battle Network and MegaMan Zero. Oh MegaMan...

Let me set the scene here, because being a MegaMan fan at that point was very different then, and yet weirdly similar.  I had eagerly bought up every MegaMan game that had come out during PSX/N64 era, which was comparatively slim pickins. Sure, there were two awesome MegaMan Legends games, as well as a few traditional sidescrollers and even the bizarre Tron Bonne, but compared to the momentum the series had during my childhood, it was a time of famine. Six games on the NES! I loved MegaMan Legends something fierce, but I also missed the classic series in a way, and it seemed as if it was never coming back. When I saw Battle Network, though, I started to feel as if things were changing. I started to feel like MegaMan was BACK!

And you know what? That feeling was not incorrect. Seven Battle Network games on the GBA, plus four MegaMan Zero games! There was just a steady stream of games, bosses, songs comics, shows... it was a kind of amazing time. Sure, I didn't have the time or money to keep up, to be honest, but I was just excited to see the art and designs for each new game! There was this fresh, modern feeling to everything, and yet it was all still familiar, it really felt like the MegaMan I remembered. Battle Network successfully reinvented the world of MegaMan as a slick, action RPG, and reintroduced classic characters with drastic new designs, and tons of personality.

When the GBA Virtual Console was announced, Battle Network was one of the first games I thought of. Now, Capcom has been a little squirrely with MegaMan recently, so nothing was certain, but with Megaman being a major player in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. game, I felt that even they had to realize the time was right to start dipping into their ample supply of MegaMan games for rerelease. They've already done Wii U versions of several games, including the NES and SuperNES games, but so far very few third parties have done anything with the GBA VC. As far as I know, Namco was the only third party to tackle the GBA Virtual Console with Pac-man Collection, Klonoa, and most recently Mr. Driller 2, while others with huge libraries of GBA classics, like Konami and their many Castlevania games, have sat idle. Fortunately, this week Capcom took the plunge and joined Namco, releasing Battle Network as the beginning of a string of MegaMan related releases in the month of August.

So far, I've played for a few hours, and battled my first boss, FireMan.exe, and am having a blast. The Battle Network games combine action, card battle, and RPG elements with a charming game world populated by colorful characters. They manage to play totally unlike any other game on any console or handheld, and it always surprised me that they weren't more influential, as Capcom created a truly unique RPG experience for the Game Boy Advance.