Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Great Artists Steal

My plan for this post was to start off with a quote, which in my mind goes like this:

"Good artists borrow; great artists steal."

I couldn't remember who it was by. Apparently, though, I can attribute it to whomever I like, because it's a saying that's been evolving for over a hundred years.

This is a great article chronicling its evolution.

I heard it a while ago and since then I haven't been ashamed of stealing things other artists have done.

If you are sceptical about this conjecture, I understand. "But artists get sued for stealing!" or whatever. Indeed, they do. For instance, George Harrison got sued for writing a song, My Sweet Lord, that sounded nearly identical to a hit song that happened decades earlier, that he just forgot he knew about. It's a fine song, but it's just not different enough from the original to avoid a lawsuit.

But this isn't the type of stealing I'm talking about. I'm talking about purposeful, constructive, and unquestionable stealing.

When an artist is good, it's because she has studied meticulously her predecessors. She knows the best works in her field. She also knows that nothing is original (watch this video). If she's clever, she realises that her idols have taken material from their idols.

Now she's going to look at one of her favourite pieces by one of her favourite artists, and improve on it. She's going to use a lot of the exact same material, but use it to tell her own story - communicate her life experiences. She will put it in a new context, or a new medium. It will become entirely original, even if some of the material is identical to the source.

As you may have guessed, I stole something just recently that exemplifies this.

Here is a link to the latest build of WordPlay, the platformer-storytelling game-thing I'm working on.

It's lifted from the last level of Super Mario Bros. for the NES. There's a piranha plant, a hammer bro, and Bowser, with an axe that breaks the floor from under him and everything. The difference lies in the goals, the failure conditions, the look, the specific jumping mechanics, the timing... it's just way different. At the same time, I'm specifically evoking feelings that would have been felt when SMB was new (as my friend said, "I've lost all my skill, because I'm so frustrated!", which is exactly what happens when you play old platformers).

Here's an image for the visually inclined:

And for comparison, the original: (I even took colours directly from Bowser's sprite)

I stayed as true to the original as I wanted to. That's the whole point of stealing from other artists: take exactly what you want. Don't worry about changing it because it's "too similar". Change it because "this needs to be different for what I'm doing", and for no other reason.

That's it for today.  Thanks for reading!

Stay dubious, wonderful thief.

-mysteriosum(the deranged hermit)

Friday, 15 November 2013

An Art Style Develops

Hello, readers! How are you today?

So I spent the last two days working on an art style for Recess Race. It's been a long road (mostly thinking about it), but I've finally come up with a basis for how I believe the final product will look.

Here's what I have right now:

What's going on: the background and level art you see are both scanned photographs I took (with a film camera) that I have manipulated for my needs.

Disclaimer: This is a work in progress and by no means final. It actually doesn't look that good right now, and I'm aware of that! There are lots of things to add, like adding mid-range background 'tiles' and possibly people/things in the foreground. I am also probably not going to use any of the photographs I currently have, since none of them were taken with this project in mind. Lots of improvements necessary, but they will come. The black box is a placeholder for the main character, Fitzwilliam.

How did I get here?

I have spent a few months on the design of Recess Race, but had never gotten to anything more solid than "retro 16 bit pixel art style" for art direction. I had sort of assumed I'd find a pixel artist to help me out, but I was never sure about that. So, when it became clear to me that now was the time to work on art for the game at least a little, I looked for a solution.

I had already taken these photographs when I was testing out my grandmother's old film camera at the school where Recess Race takes place. They were meant as reference images, nothing more. Then, (I think it was while I was playing Dust: An Elysian Tale) I thought, "It might actually work if I put the photos themselves in the art..."

At first it was only going to be in the background, but I quickly realised I needed something for the tiles (or collisions, block-out, whatever you'd like to call it) as well. I searched for a solution, and my already-purchased 2d Toolkit turned out to be the answer. They have a really nifty (and pretty powerful) tile map system integrated with Unity3D (the engine I'm using for anyone who doesn't know). I just told it I wanted these pictures as my tile set and now I can cut the images on the go very easily. 

At the moment, the result is interesting, but not pretty per se. I have not given up and I am fully aware of the amount of work that has to go into it for it to look at all presentable (the GUI, the actual character instead of a black box, other decorative elements, but I'm satisfied with how it's coming along at this stage.

Heck, the only reason there's any colour on the platforms is because I looked up colour theory after doing this:

So much more boring... At least as far as I'm concerned.

So let me know what you guys think in the comments! Thanks a lot!

Stay sharp, lens people.

-mysteriosum (the deranged hermit)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Wordplay: new interactive fiction

Hello, squirrels! Err, readers. Sorry.

I'm writing today quite satisfied, yes indeed. I have been experimenting with the combination of two of my favourite things: platforming and creative writing. Check it out here:

It is a platformer where each level requires you to collect words to form sentences that contribute to the story. If you collect them in the wrong order, it tells you to restart. I was going to make it judge your sentences' grammar, but I found that would be complicated so I decided to make it one-solution-per-room for now.

I have plans for adding branching story lines and unlockable paths and such, but all that will come later. I am very happy with what I have now, and will continue working on it this week. I will have this story done tomorrow, I'm quite sure. After that it's a matter of adding some "juiciness" and refining the mechanics to make it feel good.

If you've played it, you might notice the mechanics are a bit tough to master. This is intentional! It's supposed to be contemplative. I want the player to think about the relationship of the level's layout to the words, and the phrases in the level.

This format allows me to get very creative with both my writing and my level design. I'm forced to put my thoughts in as few words as possible to make each level bearable (and so the story doesn't get boring). I also get to build the level organically from the words. I like to think I can sort of paint scenarios with these factors without using any visual aid. Imagination is key!

If you have played it you'll see what I'm talking about. Let me know in the comments if you're interested in copying this idea, because that's totally cool! I'll send you the link to the github repository.

Thanks for reading!

Keep reading, brain children.

-mysteriosum (the deranged hermit)

Sunday, 10 November 2013

PuzzleScript is cool and awesome!

Hello fellows,

During the last couple of weeks, I have been thinking constantly about PuzzleScript. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should. It's a small, easy to learn puzzle making engine. Its simple language means commands are fairly limited - which forces you to be really creative with your programming.

For instance: Terry Cavanagh's Collapse is an interesting game with tricky puzzle-platforming mechanics, and there are only like ten rules.

My game, on the other hand, doesn't have a traditional "player" actor as conceived of for the engine originally. Instead there's a cursor which affects five tiles in a + shape. Because of the way the rules work, I had to put around 25 or 30 rules.

Play it here!

I'll be showing it in a couple of hours to the fine folks down at the Mount Royal Game Society. I haven't gone to a meet in a few months, so it'll be great to see some old faces again! :)

Thanks for reading!

Stay resolute, lucid enigma.
-mysteriosum (the deranged hermit)

Monday, 4 November 2013

What an Honour!

Big news on the Hermit front!

I recently participated in a world-wide game jam, called Indie Speed Run. With my team, I made a weird visual novel-space shooter crossover, which we thought was so out there nobody would get it.

WELL, turns out someone did!

That someone was Greg Broadmore, a big artist in the film/games industry. He chose our game as one of the finalists for the competition! Which means it's 15th at the very worst out of maybe 700? PRETTY DARN GOOD FOR OUR FIRST GAME JAM.

Sorry about the caps. I'm just a little excited.

If you want to check out our game, it's here:

It currently has a 4.5 star rating, which I had assumed was just the team voting... now I'm not so sure o_o;;

That's it for now! Thanks for reading.

Keep stayin' alive, lovable mutant.

-mysteriosum (the deranged hermit)

Friday, 1 November 2013

A Marketing Plan

So, today I've spent my day browsing the internet.

I know what you're thinking: what a waste! But no, I assure you, I was doing work.

I was looking up how to do marketing. I don't know why exactly, but it occurred to me yesterday that I needed to start marketing, and marketing hard. So I went to The Pixel Prospector for their list of indie marketing tips.

It's a very good list, and I just clicked randomly on a couple of articles that seemed relevant to my interest. I read some stuff, I watched some stuff... I learned some stuff.

So here, now, I'm going to make a marketing plan. For Recess Race! It's going to be boring and pictures-less because I'm boring and lack pictures.

Step 1
This blog!

You're already reading step one! This is what I did yesterday when I realised I needed to start marketing, and I also realised that it won't be enough. That brings me to step 2...

Step 2
Landing page for Recess Race
This is going to be a little more complicated because I lack pictures. But the idea is that once I have those pictures, I can use some web app to make a nice looking page super easily. That will allow people who are interested in my game but don't want to read my ramblings a place to go look at those pretty pictures and see if there's a release date yet.

Step 3
This should probably have been step 2, but it's written and I'm lazy so I won't change it. Twitter is wonderful. If you don't think it is then you've never used Twitter (or it's just not for you and that's fine!). It's a medium where you connect with people immediately and first-hand about your stuff, or their stuff. You can show them things, try their things, comment, suggest, riposte... it's an interesting environment unlike any other social medium (imho). In fact, when I'm done doing this, I'm going to make a Deranged Hermit twitter page and tentative logo, and add a bunch of cool people.

Step 4
Announce the Game Officially
Announcing a game is important. It may seem obvious at first, but it's not necessarily. As far as PR goes for indie games, there seem to be 2 camps of thought: one that says you should publicise hugely when the game is released, because the people can buy your game then and there and they [hopefully] will. The second camp says, "Bullshit! Tell everyone everything about your game always, so that people are perpetually talking about it!" This last seems more sensible to me, and that's what I'm going to do. So, I'm going to send the announcement to a list of...

Step 5
Make a press list!
Another step that probably should have come before the preceding one - and yet here we are. The press are - you guessed it - a key part of the PR process. If a game is on Penny-Arcade Report or Kotaku, I will likely hear about it. I don't frequent a lot of other game news sites, but that doesn't matter because I don't know a lot of people who follow more than a few game news sites (it becomes overbearing). If I start a conversation with a lot of game news people (persons!) then they are more likely to review/cover my game when it is out.

Step 6
Be present on forums, blogs & Reddit
Forums are an important place to focus my attention. Forums like TIG(TheIndieGame)Source are concentrated gatherings of geeks who have a higher chance to be interested in my game. If 4% of my Facebook friends will actually play my game, maybe 25% to 40% of TIGsource forum members will (these are all completely made up).

Reddit is weird but if you can get a hot conversation going there it can do wonders for your visibility.

This is Friday, which will hereafter be my be-on-the-everythingverse day. Follower Friday and the like!

Step 7
Be consistent
This may be a challenge for me. I have a habit of starting some sort of a campaign or a plan like this and never following through because I lost hope or whatever. That's obviously ridiculous and I should keep going no matter what happens or goes wrong or anything. This is the most important thing. Don't stop... belieeeving!

I will blog at least once a week (or as I have interesting stuff I want to share), and keep up with the other rules I'm setting myself.

Step 8
Make a big announcement every month
This might be tricky, but when I pull it off, it will be very effective. This is the first of November, so I'll say that on the first of every month, I'll make some sort of dramatic announcement. This will encourage me to keep going and get shit done. In the public eye, I must not waver!

So that's it for now. I think that's a pretty good start. I have stuff to do today, right now: make Twitter, follow some people, visit some forums... by next week I'll have something to show for it!

Thanks for reading everybody.

Stay prominent, public figure.

-mysteriosum (the deranged hermit)