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12:46 AM on 05.02.2010

2D Sprites I made for Ace Yeti Trapper

There is a special place in my heart for games and artists who keep the Sprite Train steaming along. Once in a blue moon, I get to hop on board.

Ace Yeti Trapper is an iphone game I worked on recently, it's actually a fairly old mobile game the designer (my boss) wanted to upgrade. And he was insistent on using hand-drawn sprites for the, um, sprites. We did do some preliminary work creating 3D models and rendering them out as frames, but it became clear that the character presentation needed to keep that 2D pixel pushin' love.

Here's a look at the development process to define my little dudes. If you look close you can see the original sprite from the mobile game, as well as early versions at a smaller scale. Would you believe I animated sprites for the entire game at the small scale before it was decided to go bigger? In 2D, that's a total do-over. Such are the perils of game development.

This is a close-up look at the game's hero, Jack Bivouac, the titular Ace Yeti Trapper…

… And the elusive Yeti that must be trapped. If you want to see him animating in action, click here.

There are other beasts in the game to be trapped, too. The animals were not done by me, but by a buddy sprite enthusiast. My man Jason totally went to town on these guys-- check out the spots on the snow leopard, which he then animated! Insane!

One of my favorite things to do are object sprites, all the cute little pickups and FX in the game. Above are the various baits you use to catch beasties in the game, they were a lot of fun to create.

For a little more background on how it's done, I do my preliminary sprites and art targets in Photoshop. Then I use a program called ProMotion to animate-- one pixel at a time. Well, ProMotion certainly has a lot of tools to make things easier, but it's fascinating how much nuance can be achieved at the single pixel level.

To see these sprites doing what they do best, you should check out Ace Yeti Trapper for iPhone. I know that's a(nother) shameless plug I've made for it here on D-toid, but trust me when I say there's no crafty marketing team behind this. Modern sprite games are a rare breed and I'm just trying to give the game to get a little attention. Plus I genuinely hope fellow d-toiders and retro-fans would like a look behind the scenes.   read

12:30 AM on 03.09.2010

Final Fanatasy XIII Midnight Madness!

Since I live all of five minutes from a Best Buy, I thought I'd just stroll on over for the special Midnight release of FF13. And that's was the jist of it, no giant crowds to fight through here in North Austin. There were about 20 dedicated FF fans waiting by the door, half of which were revealed to be pre-orders. So, in and out in the time it would take to get back home.

But anyways:

Yes, I am totally psyched to finally have this in hand! I will work diligently to carve out the necessary time needed to enjoy...

Anyone brave any late night release shenanigans?


1:37 PM on 02.02.2010

How a title screen is made: Ace Yeti Trapper

So here's a peek into how I went about creating a title screen for an iPhone game that my company launched recently. Note I do not presume any one methodology is better than another. In fact some graphic artists may find this example to be a little overcomplicated. Anyways I thought the D-toid community would enjoy a look at the process.

Ace Yeti Trapper is in fact an older mobile game that was to be overhauled for iPhone. A lot of that task falls on the art direction and new focal image to represent the updated version of the game. All that was available were assets from the mobile game (really tiny art) and a drawing some unknown artist created several years ago.

First step was to get comfortable with the main characters, hero Jack Bivouac and the titular Yeti. The game's designer (my boss) had very specific details he wanted to keep on them, and while there wasn't total freedom for a re-design I do think I was able to streamline and modernize them a bit.

Trying to keep the feel of the original, I sketched out a pencil drawing. My goal was to have fun and showcase the characters, with some slightly better composition.

Once happy with the initial layout and having the ever-important "approvals," I was still feeling a bit romantic for the pen-and-paper approach and inked the final linework on art board. But from here on out it's all digital. As an artist I have certainly moved neck-deep into the digital creation process over the years, tho I do find myself still working things out on paper when suited.

Coloring is done in Photoshop, in stages. After the linework was scanned in and cleaned up, a "flats" layer is completed to isolate the distinct areas of detail and get an overall feel for the palette. This is also to great benefit when color changes are needed. Next is the rendering stage, which can go a hundred different ways depending on personal tastes and abilities. The overall aim was a colorful, high-contrast image with some decent rendering detail, but holding onto the animated/comic book style that matched the art and attitude of the game.

Next came the logo. Sorry to skip over it so abruptly, but that process is easily a post all its own!

Finally it was time to composite all the assets together with the UI work I was doing concurrently. The background was kept as a textured piece to not compete with all the other junk they kept asking to cram on the title screen (OMG facebook), which now also acted as the main menu. And well, there you go.

I'd be remiss if I didn't add a little shameless promotional plug at this point, if you'll forgive me. The game itself is an action puzzle game with shades of and Dig-Dug and Bomberman. And it's also got sprites! Maybe I'll follow up with a 2D sprite post…

ACE YETI TRAPPER for iPhone/ iPod touch

Thank you for reading :-)   read

12:17 AM on 02.02.2010

I'll be playing Demon's Souls probably for the rest of my life.

I've been playing Demon's Souls since it came out last year. And I'm still on Level 1.

I can't beat the Tower Knight yet. When I can get to him.

Granted, I do not get to play as often as I like, it takes me a notoriously long time to finish games due to other obligations (sometimes referred to as "life"). Hell, half the time I get distracted by another game altogether! (I'm talking to you, Dragon Age) But sometimes you get hooked into a game and it just lingers in the back of your mind, "Aw jeeze, I really should sit down and play some Demon's Souls... If I can only get past that next part..."

When I read initial reports of the game's difficulty, I thought, "Really? I'm no slouch, how hard can it be?" And my thoughts were that a game so difficult as noted could not possibly be fun. But like so many others, I found much enjoyment in tiptoeing my way through the introduction of Demon's Souls, and an immense-- almost profound-- sense of accomplishment for meeting milestones within the game. Hours of play seemingly honed my level traipsing to near perfection, and yet I would regularly die and curse at the top of my lungs. I would boil with rage after losing a healthy wallet of souls, only to die 30 seconds after re-animation and losing them for good. Grrrrr!

Did I mention I haven't finished level 1 yet? I'm not even halfway.

Look, man, the game is brutal. What amazes me most is that I have barely scratched the surface of what the Demon's Souls world has to offer. I really do enjoy playing it, but I fear it will take years for me to finish it. I mean, that game is like a job-- serious dedication is required! I keep thinking to myself why in the world would I even want to invest that amount of time into it? And I remember the sense of elation I felt when I beat that first Phalanx boss. I remember the awe and outright fear of trying to run the castle gauntlet when the dragon flew over and torched the path (that scared the shit out of me). Basically, it is a rare, rare game -- especially after my long gaming history-- that can still elicit those kinds of emotions.

The least I can do is beat the first level.   read

11:07 PM on 01.17.2010

My Mod Nation Racers Beta experience

Yikes! I'm still a daly dtoid reader, but I haven't c-blogged in ages! Let's try and fix that :-)

Over the holidays I was able to spend some quality time with a backlogs of games I've been wanting to play or complete. Tho that effort was almost totally derailed by my luck in getting into the Mod Nation Racers Beta. I love a good cart acer, and this seemed to offer me more than I could have hoped for, even in beta stage.

I did race quite a bit, and earned a fair number of points in the online contests. The game was far from tuned, and I fear glitches in the game lead me to win a race or two under less than noble circumstances. But the racing was alot of fun and it was fascinating how quickly you can learn what other racers' styles of play were. I anticipate a strong community following for this game's eventual release.

Wat really got me? The Mod Shop. I could customize cars for hours in this thing (and I did!). The tools were really intuitive and the cart-proportions of the cars were quite manageable and not overwhelming considering the level of detail you were able to employ in the games beta stage. What killed me was all the locked content that I couldn't make use of, which I'me sure is all part of the shippable game's career mode, and no doubt linked to some online component. How I longed for the different car bodies and parts, all the extra decals and do-dads... I love this kind of stuff! Even with the limited custom sets I think I was able to pull off some cool cars:

Sadly I spent so much time on cars that I hardly got to play with the track editor. That is where some real creativity is set to be unleashed. From what I did mess around with, I was pretty amazed, and judging from the tracks that did get on line, the sky's the limit (literally in some of those insane designs). Based on the beta, I will be first in line to get this game in its final form. I hope a bunch of you all got to check it out, too!   read

12:05 AM on 02.18.2009

Street Fighter IV US print ad = fail, Japan = predictably rad

Continuing the fine tradition of shockingly bad print advertising for videogames here in the states, Street Fighter 4 presents us with this shockingly magenta quandry:

"To Hadouken or not to Hadouken?"

It's got an over-airbrushed Ryu and... E. Honda? Wha-? Cause the first fighter I think about in Street Fighter is E. Honda. Plus a really tiny logo and even tinier screenshots. What is that, a law or something? This ad is running in the currently shelved comic books of our fair nation, and probably a gaming mag or two.

Now for fun, let us compare to the print ads featured in Japan-- which a keen friend from the land of all things awesome was kind enough to forward me after I regained my eyesight and sought redemption. These are ads you'll find in Famitsu, at trade shows, subway platforms, etc.:

"Screenshots? We don't need no stinking screenshots! We have art!" Now lastly is the coolest one, abstractly, perhaps. My friend explains it as "All the special moves written as if from a class studying calligraphy, marked up by the teacher."

Any yet we get to Hadouken or not to Hadouken. How about a Spinning Star Kick to the gonads, pinky.

[/shame]   read

11:02 PM on 02.13.2009

Lovin' me some 8-bit Jesus

Not long ago it was D-Toid that pointed me towards the amazing chip tuner Doctor Octoroc and his x-mas tunes under the guise of "8-bit Jesus."

Um, it's kind of awesome. Real awesome. Any season of the year.

At his site you can donate to get a physical CD. How could I NOT support such a thing?! But the Doctor also noted he was way behind on getting some more CD's pressed and shipped out, and to be a little patient. That patience paid off as the other day I got my CD's in the mail (I just had to share with friends). Just as amazing as the music itself was the super slick foldout-retro-messiah packaging in all its pixelly goodness.

Huzzah, Doctor Octoroc, you rock!


3:32 PM on 01.11.2009

More Chrono Trigger drawings: Lucca and Frog!

If you commented on my last post, be sure to check the comments to see if you got one of the original drawings!

Just for fun I thot I'd round out the cast with a couple pencil sketches.



10:08 PM on 01.09.2009

Chrono Trigger drawings up for grabs

UPDATE: The Dtoid site update wiped alot of comments, alas, these drawings have all been claimed.

"What I did over Holiday"

a) Las Vegas
b) Chrono Trigger

The two went surprisingly well together. I was sooooo looking forward to some time off work where all I had to do was sleep in late, get up and be a total couch potato with the new DS version of Chrono Trigger. Also, strippers.

Not only did I gleefully wile away the afternoon hours traveling thru time (thus far to the Ocean Palace), but was also inspired to do some sketching of my favorite characters from this RPG classic.

Chrono (aka Edco :-), special appearance by Robo

Marle, "mar-ul?" "mar-lee?" I always pronounced it the later... How do you say it?

And of course Ayla. "Edco tough like Ayla!"

Man, this game! Oh how I love it. What surprises me is how quickly you begin to care and get attached to the characters, still after all these years. By the end, well, some of you already know how that plays out. But it's all the little moments in-between that add to the whole. Like Frog's tragic origin, Robo's selfless bravery, and Ayla's unapologetic bravado. Modern games go thru great pains to evoke such things but can't quite get to it on the same level as these cool little sprites. Retroforce Go! did a great episode on Chrono Trigger, check it out if you aren't already a regular listener.

Anywhoooooo... Would you like one of these drawings? Leave a comment starting with the word "Gimme!" and note your attachment or favorite memory for the drawing you want: Chrono, Marle, or Ayla. Say something that would make me tear the very page from my sketchbook and send it to you!

I'll check back in a day or two and choose three different lads or lasses, leaving instructions on how to redeem in the comment thread. The offer is for these three drawings only, to be sent "as is." Meaning they are just sketches done in ink, a bit rough around the edges as it were. (pages are about 5x7") I know they aren't all that, but I wanted to offer to the DToid community if anyone wanted.


12:20 AM on 12.25.2008

Tales of PS3 Tomfoolery: Why has God forsaken me?

On this Christmas day, when many of you may be unwrapping some new games or maybe even a new console, I wanted to share the shenanigans I've been dealing with the past several weeks. Don't worry, it has a happy ending, sort of.

I have wanted a PS3 for some time. I was hedging my bets with Sony for a few reasons, tho I care little for console wars or fanboyishness. So with some extra ducats saved up, I hopped onto ebay to find me a 60 gig. Because backwards compatibility is how I roll. I landed a machine and waited eagerly for it to arrive. It did and I happily launched into Soul Calibur 4.

Strangely, after a few hours, it crashed. Well videogames are no stranger to software crashes so I just reset and kept going. This was also about the time Little Big Planet came out, and a bunch of friends picked it up and we wer all enjoying it. Then LBP crashed. Odd.

I was only about a dozen or so hours into the console, and soon Soul Calibur would boot and freeze consistently. Little Big Planet lasted about ten minutes. These were no mere software crashes, something was wrong and I began squinting apprehensively at my new (but actually pre-owned) PS3.

Then I got this little screen: Sony PS3 error code 80010514. WTF? This required research, and none of it was good news. At least it was known (even here on DToid), there's nothing worse than an error without any type of classification. The internets revealed to me this was a rather fatal firmware error with few workarounds. I tried reformatting, restoring, all that junk. Sadly the ebay seller would not honor his guarantee to refund or replace a defective system, he would not even return my emails looking for advice.

The ebay seller even promoted an extended warranty by a third party company. Which I chose to purchase on this rather expensive piece of used hardware. For those who may be thinking of this, I can't recommend it after my experience. After the ebay seller would not respond, I tried to activate the warranty option. But the warrantee company would not honor any defective merchandise until after 60 days (they never advertise that part). Sounds lame, I know, and it is, but they have their reasons. Might have something to do with getting scammed by people selling defective hardware and expecting the warrantee company to cover it.

So next it was on to Sony themselves, but that did not go any better. You see, the 60 gig PS3 is no longer supported by sony. They will not repair or replace it. An since my system was used, I would have to pay for that service anyways. And even if I chose to pay for that service, close to 200 bucks, they would not srvice the 60 gig at all, instead they would likely send back a 40 gig if they chose to take my claim at all. Wow, gee, thanks Sony, you guys are great.

Woe is me! I delved further into the interwebs and looked for ways to fix the damn thing myself. It's not impossible, it's really just a conglomeration of parts. The PS3 itself had devolved into not reading any discs at all, but PS Online and downloads worked fine. So the crux of the problem was just the drive. Shit, drives can be replaced.

I cracked that puppy open mostly out of frustration and desperation. I just wanted to get a look inside the thing that would not allow me to play games. Indeed everything was pretty modular and came apart well enough. I pondered my options. Whilst discussing the frustration with coworkers, my pal Enrico (the same dood who built that kick ass arcade cabinet) said he'd be glad to take a look. I've mucked around in plenty of machine before but I felt alot better handing it off to a "pro," as it were. Plus, the whole situation had me rather depressed, all I wanted to do was play some new games.

I did get to play. True gent that he is, Enrico loaned me his PS3 to use while he went off on winter break. And before he left he even let me know he found a replacement drive for mine and had some faith in getting it back up and running. But wait, there's more!!!

When I brought the loaner home, I tried to get it up and running, only to see a black screen. I freaked out. In the short span of time since i picked it up and transported it, had I broken (or cursed) my friends PS3?? He was already gone on vacation, and I didn't know what to do. I called another friend and asked if I could bring it over and try it out, maybe all my cables were bad, or my TV shorted something, I didn't know. See, I have just a plain ol AV setup, so I couldn't check to see if the HDMI worked and it was just the AV hookup that busted or something. Sure enough, at my other friends the HDMI hookup worked just fine. Fhew! But not having any HD myself, I was still without some next gen gaming :-(

As it happens I was reporting my sadness of the situation over lunch one day when another coworker offered some advice. It seems that in an HD setup, you have to go into the system settings of the PS3 and make a bunch of selections, and these selections actually turn off the AV access. The potential solution was to BLIND NAVIGATE the PS3 menu system and reset things back to AV.

Imagine the following phone conversation with another friend and his own PS3 as a guide:

"Is it on? Okay, press left a bunch of times"
"Um... press right three times"
"Now press up a bunch to get to the top of the menu. An then press down... eleven times."
"...9 ...10 ...11"
"Press down once. Press X. Press left. Press X twice."
"Mm hmm."


Believe it or not, that shit worked. And it only took two tries! How fucking ridiculous is that? I might go so far as to say redonkulous. But the system was back on AV and the ol' PS Triple was up and running in my living room.

Joy! So I've been spending some of my break gleefully creating custom characters back in Soul Calibur 4. God I love that game. Yet this is all temporary, Hopefully my next post will describe how I got my own PS3 back and in working order. Keep those fingers crossed!


7:40 PM on 11.30.2008

A Time to Build: Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit

So "back in the day" there was this software, Shoot 'Em Up Construction Kit. Lovingly referred to as "SEUCK." It's still one of the pieces of software most responsible for my career to this day.

I was very fortunate to have a father who was not only an artist, but a pioneer of computer graphics. As such, after exhausting the uses of the C64, he had latched onto the Commodore Amiga-- a machine ahead of its time in many, many ways; its graphics capabilities being leagues beyond PCs at the time. While he was busy paving the way for the future of CG, the household computer was all about games for me. Especially the C64 as I'm sure many of you know holds a classic games library, but the Amiga brought with it not only some amazing new games, but a suite of incredibly powerful creative tools.

But when a new version of SEUCK came out (there was a C64 version previously which I surprisingly never knew about), it found a beautiful home with the sweet new Amiga hardware and graphics. Basically it's a shmup creator, but it's all data driven by user imput. No coding, just lots of numbers. It also had a mini paint program inside to make all your graphics. I was totally addicted, because as much as I loved playing videogames, I longed to make my own. Basic programming was just that, it hindered my more artistic leanings with left-brainded coding language my right brain wanted to bypass. Since SEUCK was all GUI, it gave me much more freedom to create than to code.

I spent all my computer time with it, making little shooters and testing out all the features. I exhausted that thing for all it was worth. I wrote the developers letters and told them all the things I was making and sent them my games. The amazing thing was, they wrote back!! They answered all my questions and encouraged me to keep making games, which I certainly did. 

There were a couple games I made that I still remember in vivid detail. One was "Spider-Man" which is exactly as it sounds. One of the things I always tried to do with SEUCK was experiment with what was possible in the shoot-em-up genre, just by altering player's perspective. The software gave you a wide berth in making any sort of top down type of game. With Spider-Man, I had the "top down" feature the side of a building with Spidey crawling up it. A building was easy to make with the tile artwork system. Spidey could crawl all around the windows and such, I had falling flowerpots and screaming residents. Why were they screaming? Because at the top was the Green Goblin throwing pumpkin bombs! All Spidey could do was shoot webs, but that was enough, I just gave the bosses lots of hit points. I had a level in a sewer with the Lizard, A warehouse with Hobgoblin, a construction tower with Sandman, and for the final boss, Venom. I wanted him super big so I figured out how to join 4 sprites together to make one giant one... It was so awesome to have a Spider-Man game of my own, considering there weren't really any other ones to play! 

The other memorable game I made was also based on a favorite comic. Simply called "Doctor Doom," it had the player play against Kristoff, one of Doctor Doom's robot doubles who became self aware and thought he was in fact Doom. The player had to guide the real Doom thru his highly fortified castle mowing thru an army of renegade Doombots and even fight the Fantastic Four. It was not too difficult to emulate the FF's powers as weapons, tho Mister Fantastic did pose a problem. I wanted him to have stretchy arms, of course, but needed a way get the software to do that. There had to be a way, because arcade games at the time did cool tricks like that with sprites, I just had to figure it out. "If Ikari Warriors can do it, I can do it!" The trick was making Mister Fantastic's hands as separate enemies and program their movement independently. SEUCK allowed you to set speed and movement attributes for every sprite, and allowed yo to attach "child" sprites to "parent" sprites. So to the hands I attached several arm segments, where each different arm piece had a -1 slower speed than the previous. It's kind of hard to describe, but trust me: stretchy arms. I was so damn proud of those stretchy arms, and I didn't realize it at the time but SEUCK was really getting me to think and deconstruct how videogames were made.

Fast forward: I'm interviewing for a testing job at Electronic Arts, and they are asking me all this stuff about the games I've played. At one point I go on and on about Spider-Man and Doctor Doom, and the guy is asking which one, because he hadn't heard of them. I'm all, "Oh, the ones I made myself," and whipped out the disks and asked if they had an Amiga to play them on. They did, the reaction was a mix of surprise and curiosity, but they offered me the job. This of course led to exposure of new, professional tools, and even more ways of thinking about making games. It only furthered my love for videogames inside and out. 

From PC to Genesis, SNES, Playstation and on, it's been games ever since. I've done all kinds of stuff in the industry over the years, but all in all I've been making a living making games, something as a kid I never thought I could do. Dozens of times I've been on the other side of that interview, and I can say to everyone who wants into the biz if you want that edge, make games. Over and over I note that people who get hired are people who involve themselves in the creative process on their own. Be it Doom maps, Sim Golf courses, Unreal mods, Little Big Planet levels, programmers, artists, designers-- find a way. I don't claim that SEUCK was the only thing I had gong for me, and it wasn't even the only construction kit I played with. But I garner it helped clinch the deal.

Some kind of Amiga Emulator exists, I'd love to try and get the old SEUCK games up and running again, but I've yet to properly follow up on it. Altho I'm sure as an adult and seasoned gamer my old games may not be as amazing as I thought they were, in retrospect I know they were crude. But I sure do remember making them with a smile.

SEUCK resources:
The SEUCK Vault
Classic Amiga
Shoot-em-up Construction Kreator (PC translation)
[url='Em-Up_Construction_Kit]SEUCK @ Wikipedia[/url]


3:10 PM on 11.02.2008

Street Fighter Tourney at Arcade UFO, Austin


Arcade UFO is an arcade in Austin that features several Japanese-style sit down cabinets, among other traditional cabinet games. This Saturday they hosted a Street Fighter tournament that included Street Fighter II, Third Strike, and Street Fighter 4. Yes, they are rockin' the SF4 arcade.

I actually went to watch the 3rd Strike battles, cause you know, 3rd Strike is ten kinds of awesome. I am warming up to SF4, it's got some coolness brewin' and it has been consistently drawing crowds. But it does cost a dollar (day-um!!)

But the 3rd Strike battles in the tourney were sweet. There is just something about watching top players in a crowd setting. Especially so if you're a fan of all things Street Fighter and can recognize the challenges and nuances of the battles. I probably should have entered myself just for the fun and experience of it, but I had no prob waqtching the entrants go to town on each other. I wouldn't say it was at the intensity of stuff you might see at EVO, but there were some kick ass bouts. There were a couple dudes there from other cities as well, and I can admire that kind of dedication to play. And of course it got a couple friends and I psyched up to get a little SF action going on our own little arcade (see my last post... )


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