Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Ongoing Comic: HECKBRINGERS!

Trying something a little different today. I really want to post here more frequently, and part of doing that involves  experimenting with some content that is a little less time intensive on my end. The articles are good because they require relatively little preparation, but I don't want to go too long without posting any art, and although I will continue to post more shirt designs and stickers (I promise those are coming), I think narrative art is really my strong suit, and I want to do more of that. JA-JA-JA-JANKEN! is nearing the end of it's first major story arc, so I thought now would be a good time to start introducing a new ongoing series to experiment with.

A few things to note. First of all, this series will be posted in single pages at a time. This means less work on my end in between postings, as I don't need to finish a whole set of six pages to post an update. This also means that each page will be a little more self contained than before. This also means that I'm more able to spend a little extra time per page, and as a result, I'd like to keep this format in all color. It's certainly not necessary, but I think it's fun and adds a lot. 

Heckbringers is actually a comic that me and some friends put together years ago, and even printed a book or two of, but this version is going to be a bit different in tone and execution due to the shift in format. I may post some bits of the old comic, or some designs for characters and such, but for now I'll just be posting single pages here and then in between other things. JANKEN! Will still continue for at least another chapter, after which I may rotate in a different series to be the six pager. This will help keep things fresh around here, and hopefully build up a colorful and fun cast of diverse characters to play with.

For now, enjoy the first page of Heckbringers, in glorious COLOR! I have a few other announcements to make this week (all good, exciting things!), and a few more articles planned, but I need to get some things in order first. Be excited, please!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Shirt I Want To Make So Bad I Share With You

There was something wonderfully naive about growing up in the 90's. I'm not sure if there was ever a generation that held surfers and ninjas in such high esteem, or that there ever will be in the foreseeable future. Put this on a shirt and proudly show that you too have been irreparably damaged by 90's pop culture.

If you don't feel like fiddling with color printing, you can use this hastily decolorized version, which I almost think turned out better for it's wild jankiness.

Awesome. In other news, I'm almost done sticker stuff. I have three sets of four stickers in the works. Although I mainly wanna focus on original characters and stuff, I couldn't resist drawing Robot Masters and Ninja Turtles, so look forward to those as well.

Also contemplating the game situation here at Doki Doki. I don't have the time or a reliable enough piece of software to develop a whole game, but I think I might be able to manage doing single "episode" style stages every now and then. Would you play a vertical shmup one stage at a time? I guess we'll see.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Littlest of Battles: LBX Sprukits Analysis

When I was around 13, I developed an intense interest in Japanese mecha cartoons. I don't know of it was the giant robot designs, the action, or the political rhetoric,  but over the course of a few wonderful years I eagerly watched every available show, or at least everything that was on Toonami. I  first got on board with Gundam Wing, but other classics like Evangelion (which I still have somewhat mixed feelings about) and Big O (which I don't) struck chords with me as well. Of course, it wasn't long before I discovered the extensive model kit market at the periphery of this new genre, a sort of build it yourself action figure with an emphasis on customization and collection. At first, I had to order my model kits from Japan via the internet, which involved lots of begging my parents, but eventually they became widely available domestically in stores like Toys R Us. For a couple years, I had a good time building a painting models of various robots from the Mobile Suit Gundam series, since that was the only mech anime that got big commercially, but by the time I was out of high school the mainstream appeal of mechanical war machines had come in to question, and it was back to the internet, except that I had kind of lost interest as well (I did NOT enjoy Gundam Seed). For most of my adult life I did without any kind of model fun.

I suppose I should blame those Ninja Turtle erasers, but I've recently come to have a renewed interest in building figures, and having exhausted the supply of tiny K'nex Pac-Man dudes I've been at a loss for something to scratch that itch. However, I recently discovered Sprukits, a line of fairly new Bandai products that seem to be an attempt to reintroduce consumers to the world of model kit building. Normally I wouldn't have necessarily given much of a damn about this, but there are a few features of the Sprukits line that I find fairly amusing. The first of which is that, rather than focusing on their Gundam franchise, Bandai has opted to make deals with more traditionally western properties this time around. There's something amusing about seeing a Gundam style model kit of Bat-Man and Halo's Master Chief, and I'm sure the actual end results are fairly neat, but I don't really care at all about DC Comics or Halo, so I will probably never purchase one. Far more interesting to me is what I consider to be the secret star of the Sprukits line-up: The Little Battlers Experience.

If the name doesn't sound familiar, don't feel bad. The Little Battlers is a fairly long running series of action RPGs from the wonderful folks at Level 5, which has been sadly but firmly relegated to Japan-only releases, making it virtually unknown in the western world. The concept, which casts kids as the operators of miniature battle magggggggggchines competing in tournament style conflicts, is equal parts Medabots and Gundam, with a strong focus on preserving the feel of real model building sub-culture. Although I'm certainly out of the age demographic for this type of stuff, I really do love the designs of the machines, and while I haven't had a chance to play any of the games, the Level 5 pedigree, which I consider to be a history of excellent releases, is encouraging. Personally, I've been waiting for any sign of localization for this series for years with nothing to show for it, but that seems to have changed this year.

As part of a multimedia promotional thingamajig, several facets of the LBX franchise are making their way on to North American shores this year, with an anime series airing on Nickelodean of all places, and of course, a sub-line of Sprukits. I don't get Nickelodeon, as I have probably said in the past, so I have no idea whether the dub is any good, or if the anime is any good to begin with, but the designs of the mini-mechas themselves is totally awesome, so it's hard for me to not love these things. Over the course of a few weeks I acquired and built the three available figures in the lines smallest scale, partly because I love small toys and partly because I don't want to spend more than 10 dollars on something that is just gonna sit on a desk.

Here are my thoughts.

First off, these seem to be much more streamlined than the Gundam models I remember, at least as far as construction goes. There are far fewer parts, and it seems almost impossible to screw up, which is nice, as a misunderstood instruction no longer requires annoying and fiddly backtracking and deconstruction. The simplicity leads to shorter build times, which is either a disappointment if you're looking for a real event, but a bonus if you just want to build the thing while watching tv or something. The pieces snap off nice and easy, but I use a pair of clippers to free them because I like to be fancy.

The first LBX model I bought is called Hunter. There is a lot I like about the design of this guy. For one thing, he has a very unorthodox body, appearing to be some kind of mechanical bipedal wolf or something. His legs are all weird backwards jointed, and look awesome. He also seems to be a sniper, as his only accessory is a giant rife. He comes mostly molded in a kind of blueish purple, but a few stickers provide a neat facial scar. I just really love the way Hunter looks, and although his range of motion is a little limited by his unusual anatomy, I was pretty pleased with my first experience with LBX.

On my second trip to Toys R Us, I decided to go for the "main" model, Achilles, the LBX belonging to the show's hero. Visually he looks a bit like a combination of Big O and a Spartan, with a high mohawk adorning his helmet, and even a cape. He's mostly molded in white with some blue trim available via sticker work, and comes with a spear and shield. He's much easier to move around than Hunter because of his simple, solid limb structure, but his shield can be a little cumbersome, as the handle isn't at such an angle as to make realistic positioning possible. Still, he looks awesome, and definitely has a heroic look to him.

The last LBX I bought, and the only other figure available in this particular scale, is called Deqoo. As far as I can tell, Deqoo are the "standard" enemy model, like the Zaku from Mobile Suit Gundam. He's pretty simple looking, but there is a certain charm to his functional and militant appearance. He feels solid, and seems to be the easiest to pose of the three. He comes with a amusingly big pistol and a shield, which presents the same problems as Achilles' but is a little easier to work with because of its shape. I'm not thrilled with his shoulder stickers, but the "red eye" effect turned out pretty good on the helmet.

Sadly, that seems to be it for this small, cheaper line of figures. I think there are a few other models available at the higher price point, but I'm not gonna pay 20 dollars for a slightly bigger robot from a show I don't watch. As it stands, the LBX Sprukits are fun little figures, and while I certainly won't be doing any customization, I could see a kid having fun swapping parts, maybe giving Hunter Deqoo's gun, or having Achilles dual wield sniper rifles, or even painting the figures to more closely resemble their animated counterparts. For me, I just like having these little badasses sitting next to my pencil sharpener, making my desk that much more tempting a spot for my cat to wreak havoc.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Art of Box Art

This may be hard for some to believe, but there was a time for youngsters when the only information available about a game was what was on its box. If you had a subscription to Nintendo Power you might have access to some previews or reviews ahead of time to guide you, but those were relatively few and far between, and hardly reliable (Nintendo Power, for example, rarely outright called a game bad, regardless of how incredibly hard it deserved it). The back of the box may have tried to entice you with rarely accurate flavor text and blurry screenshots that were literally photos of a tv screen, but the obvious selling point was the cover. It was the first thing you saw in the store, and what you would remember most when you eventually were pulled away from the display by your parents. To this day there are tons of games that, despite having never ever actually played myself, I will never forget the box art for.

The 80's and 90's were a particularly interesting era for this, as the box art for most games had to serve the twofold purpose of making the game look awesome AND hiding any traces of the game's probably origins in Japan. I suppose marketing guys back then looked at the Japanese art for games like MegaMan, with the big, shiny eyes and bright colors, and assumed American children would turn their noses up at such alien art styles. It didn't matter that shows like Speed Racer, Gigantor, and Astroboy had long been present overseas, or that contemporary shows like Transformers and Robotech were airing with great success, apparently. As a result of this thinking, most games had radically different art for the North American releases, usually overblown paintings influenced heavily by action movies more than the game they were supposedly based on. This era produced some really fascinating boxes, and while there are plenty of examples of famously bad illustrations, there were a fair amount of really memorable ones.

Of all the Japanese companies at their prime in the 80's and 90's, Konami probably had the best track record when it came to North American box art, with many that actually improved on their Japanese counter parts. As a kid, there was a quality to many of Konami's boxes that I found to be very appealing, and it wasn't until I grew up that I realized that many of those illustrations appeared to be by the same guy, and that there were actually a bunch of others that I had never even seen. I don't know who this guy is, or even for certain that these were all actually done by the same artist, but all of these boxes share certain brutal and rugged sense of intensity that I absolutely love. They also are shockingly accurate to the games they represent, something of a rarity back then, as if the artist actually played the games. Many of these will probably be familiar, some may not, but regardless, they are all pretty wild.

 1. The Adventures of Bayou Billy
While the game here is somewhat infamous for both its insane difficulty and shameless similarities to Crocodile Dundee, the box art is unarguably bad ass. The rough, thick brush work makes the details look more like they are hewn from rock than painted on canvas, and the greenish-yellow color palette really suites the swampy subject matter. Billy himself looks pretty awesome, way cooler than he looks in the game in fact, where he looks more like a melted cowboy in capris. The background includes several details from the game, such as the jeep from the driving stages, the New Orleans setting, the evil gangster final boss whose name I can't remember, and of course a big, bad gator. I may have never gotten remotely close to beating this game (even the famous Captain N never conquered it), but this box manages to make a kind of lame game look really cool. If this dude could make Bayou Billy look awesome (believe me, he didn't have much to work with), imagine what he did with good games!

2. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
For many player's, Dracula's Curse was basically the zenith of the Castlevania series, and while the box art for the first two games was certainly not bad (okay, Simon Quest's was a little hokey), neither did as good a job at showing much of the game. With Castlevania III, we get a good look at some of the game's most iconic features. You've got Trevor Belmont brandishing the powerful Vampire Killer, ready to take on a bone throwing skeleton, complete with gears and cogs, representing the infamous clock tower level. In that background there are Trevor's many transformations (although Sypha and Grant are visible here, Alucard is sadly covered by the stupid sweep stakes sticker). We see plenty of birds and bats, as well as a spooky red moon and castle spires. Although the Japanese box art has a certain charm, this is s definite improvement.

 3. Super Castlevania IV
This one was a favorite of mine growing up. Whereas the previous two have been fairly static images, for Super Castlevania IV Konami opted for a much more action packed illustration. Simon appears to be in mid swing across some kind of abyss, an interesting nod to one of the new mechanics introduced in the game. The little door knocker looking thing that he's got his whip latched too is crazily accurate to the in game dongles for swinging, which is a cool detail. Probably half of the enemies in the game are represented here, even little ones like the frogs and medusa heads, and interestingly the franchise's infamous stairs seem to be prominently featured too. I like that the crazy, nonsensical background composition make this look like some kind of swirling montage of the game as opposed to a depiction of a single scene, and the mostly grey-blue palette makes yellow-brown Simon really pop.

5. Contra III The Alien Wars
This is another one that is jam packed with shit directly from the game. Almost everything here looks exactly like its in game counterpart, even little details like the weird robots you have to hang from during the vertically scrolling stages. The giant skeleton boss bursting out of the wall is pretty much spot on, and oh my god that nightmare face in the background is unforgettable. I don't think I ever got far enough in the game to see that thing, but I'm sure its in there somewhere. Much like with Super Castlevania IV, the exaggerated perspective makes it seem like this is all happening in some kind of swirling vortex of action, as if we are simultaneously seeing every scene from the game at once. The intensity here is stuck at 11, which suites the game just fine.

6.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
For the home port of this gem, Konami decided to produce art that kicked the hell out of the original arcade cabinet art. Whereas the last two boxes simply looked as if they were occuring in some kind of temporal whirlpool, this one definitely is, as elements of the many time periods the turtles visit all look to be caught in a sparkly tornado. The turtles themselves look downright MENACING here, with insanely detailed and chunky musculature and faces of absolutely fury. This is probably the scariest the animated turtles ever looked in their heyday. Yeah, that's the cartoon turtles. The movie turtles would never be caught dead with those alphabet belt buckles. Also, it's neat that Raphael is front and center here.

7. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
I spent a long while debating whether to include this one on the list, as I'm not positive it's done by the same guy. In fact, the more I look at it, the more I think it isn't, but I still love it, so boo. This was probably the single most Japanese game to ever make it to the US, and it's a miracle that it made it over with much of it's character intact. Sure, Goemon looks a little more like a Garbage Pail Kid than I would like, but that tiger looks absolutely amazing, and the wacky look of the enemies seems to be pretty intact. While a little less action packed and intense than some of the others, but it's still jam packed with tons of weird shit from the game. I'm willing to bet this was a really hard one to do, so congrats to the artist for getting this done.

 8. Sunset Riders
I never really played or even saw Sunset Riders other than at the arcade, but when I saw this box later in life I instantly recognized the Konami aesthetic. Like with Bayou Billy, there isn't as rich of a world to Sunset Riders for the artist to work with, but he did an admirable job of sweeping the western action into a furious stampede of frenetic madness. Only two of the playable characters are here, unless the others are behind the logo, but a boss or two is there, and horses! Scary, scary horses. Also, check out that terrified chicken. Now that is detail.

 9. Castlevania Bloodlines
Konami didn't make a ton of games on the Genesis, but after a while they seemed to notice that the machine was getting a little traction, and decided to start dropping a game or two. The more vertically aligned boxes of the Genesis seem to have given Konami's artist a little trouble with his usual "swirling vortex" composition which seemed to fit so naturally on the Super NES's wide format. The result is two slightly unusual compositions, the first of which was done for the first and only Castlevania game for the Genesis. Here, musclebound John Morris struggles to look at enemies that are  both behind and above him. Unlike the wooshing whirlpools of the previous pieces, this is more like a hazy tower of evil, with far fewer background details than usual. Still, there are plenty of wonderfully rendered enemies on display. This cover also weirdly omits the second playable character. Still, it's a colorful and memorable piece overflowing with machismo.

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyper Stone Heist
I remember being really excited for this game. I don't know why, as I already had Turtles in Time for SNES, but having Turtles game on the Genesis was something I was really looking forward to. Again, no swirling vortext montage here, but in terms of composition I think this is a really strong piece. It uses the tall format of the box to provide a great sense of scale, with the towering heights of New York City ascending into the darkness of the sky. The lighting on the turtles, who are again rendered as visceral beings of fierce determination, draws the eye to the heroes immediately and contrasts the largely blue palette of the background pleasantly. While little of the game is really represented here, the illustration is still overflowing with detail. It's one of my favorite boxes, and one of my favorite illustrations of the Ninja Turtles in general.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue
Again, I never played Radical Rescue, but upon seeing the cover I couldn't help but see the connection to the other Turtles related art. The other Gameboy games didn't use this particular art style, opting for art from Mirage artists, so this, Turtles in Time, and Hyper Stone Heist are unique as being the only TMNT games to have box art done by Konami artists. I don't like this piece nearly as much as the others, but I couldn't not include it, as it isn't without it's charms. First of all, only one turtle is pictured, but that almost makes sense, as the game is mostly about rescuing the other turtles. Granted, in the game you start as Michelangelo, but whatever. Leonardo appears to be utilizing a drilling strike to tear through a wall, which I think is actually from the game, which is a cool detail. Much like how the tall Genesis boxes seem to have prompted a shift in design, so did the small format of the Game Boy boxes. This was probably about half the size of a SNES box, and perfectly square, so the artist opted for a simpler composition, as if Leo is bursting out of the box itself. The contrast between the bright light of the background in the cool blues of the wall and Leo is a pleasant effect. I think it works, even if the logo is a little cheesy.

That took a lot longer to do than I expected, but ultimately I'm glad I went through this. I have no idea who this guy is or what he is up to now, but I know there was something wonderful about these boxes. The sheer frenetic energy of these illustrations managed to sell me on an entire game in just one feverish image, and many of them stuck with me for my whole life. These are objectively beautiful pieces, dripping with raw intensity, and still manage to be remarkably accurate to the games they adorned.

Although this was sort of a grueling process for me, I think that I like this enough to probably do more of it, though I think in the future I'll probably stick to a single piece at a time, as it's past midnight while I am writing this, and I am both super tired and need to use the bathroom something fierce.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Saturday Morning Anime for Grown Up Kids: Ja-Ja-Ja-Janken! Continues and Serious Matters

Finally, the thrilling continuation of Ja-Ja-Ja-Janken! Maki's Counter Attack! In case you missed it here's part one.

I've had this nearly finished for about 4 months now, but was totally thrown of course by my new job. Now that I'm more accustomed to my new schedule, I wanted to finally start back into getting more content up here. I plan on doing just a bit more of Ja-Ja-Ja-Janken! Before moving on with other stuff for Saturday Morning Anime for Grown Ups, but I'm already working on other little treats for this place. Hint hint: I desperately want to start making stickers!

I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do with this place lately. My last big post happened just before I ended up finding the job I mentioned earlier, and I've spent most of my time just getting to and from work, trying to adjust to my new schedule and still find time to spend with my wife, my family, my friends, my pets, my games, and finally, my art. It's tough, honestly, to balance the things I care about, and thought I hate to say it, I have pretty much prioritized my art pretty low on the list. That probably won't be changing, but I do desperately want to continue to create on my own, so I'm trying to push myself more to be as active as I can in the time I have available.

With that all said, I'm still left with something of a mystery as to what exactly I want to do with this place. Of course, I know that I'll probably keep doing comics and random articles about nonsense (I'd like to talk about LBX models at some point in the NEAR future), but I want to have a more specific goal in mind for all of these things. I've been very into Dinosaur Dracula lately, and on some level I think I've come to start building more of a goal for Doki Doki Arcade. At its heart, I think I want Doki Doki Arcade to appeal to the kid in all of us, so that's what I'm going to shoot for from now on.

More importantly, I'm going to try to shoot for much more frequency in my posts, so hopefully if you get in the habit of coming here often, you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised with new stuff. It won't always be comics, and often won't have any art at all. I've experimented with that in the past, and the relatively positive responses to articles like Pac-Man Fever and Halloween Turtle Treats would seem to indicate that people are fairly tolerant of my frank and open discussions of my juvenile delight at small trinkets, provided that occasional photos are tossed in for reference, so expect some more of those (LBX coming soon! Maybe!)

In any case, I hope that anyone reading this is enjoying what little time they spend here at Doki Doki Arcade, because I'd like to make it a place where you could spend more of it. Not because I think that this will ever go anywhere, or because I want an audience, but because I like the idea of a place like this existing, like a run down old comic shop, or Mr. Higsby's shop from Battle Network. Maybe those two things aren't actually the same, but to me, they kinda are.

So yeah, come back soon for Bird Force Stickers, an in depth discussion of some Little Battlers Experience models, and of course, more Ja-Ja-Ja-Janken!