Cutscenes vs. gameplay

Prompted by a bit of fantasy-novel induced research about fiction writing, I went and tied up some loose threads in the SJ plotline. There shouldn’t be so many loose odds and ends anymore. Some things had to be a little better explained, some characters’s storylines had to get a sense of closure and some conflict was added for heightened tension. Inasmuch as a videogame plot allows for that, at least. It’s a three-act structure with between nine and twelve noninteractive scenes each, plus a bunch of interactive ones that don’t take control away from the player.

I thought this might be too much – that it would perhaps drown the interactive part of the game in heavy storytelling – but I looked at some other story-driven games and found that they tend to have up to five hours of noninteractive content. That’s ridiculous. SJ shouldn’t nearly reach that amount of cutscenes. A lot of the ones it does have aren’t very long. I currently estimate something like 55 minutes of cutscene per act, but that includes a few pretty long ones such as the introduction, the key story sequence in the middle of the game, three miniboss/boss fights, and a long ending sequence. The rest are one- to four-minute scenes. The game will allow you to skip cutscenes.

Gameplay is roughly estimated to be minimum 5-6 hours if you know what you’re doing and only barge through the main storyline without ever taking any quests, not bothering to build up Scout’s skill tree or to revisit any of the semi-sandboxy game environments. If you really relish in it, it should be three or four times that, if not more. And since first-time players usually take some more time (and the game isn’t meant for a habitual shooter audience), these estimates might be on the low side.

So I think I’m fine. Which is a nice surprise.

It was originally structured “early game” – “mid game” – “end game” but I noticed that the early game was too long. When I tried to apply the classic three-act structure, it fit immediately in a very natural way, as if it had always been there, which was a happy coincidence. I’ll take that as a sign that I did something right.

Each scene has already been matched to a certain spot in the game’s progression. A lot of them take place in faction camps that are situated a bit out of the way of the gameplay. Others are tied to major events or to things like picking up a key or accomplishing goals in the main questline, so a good number of them should come as rewards for the player. The placement of triggers in the levels has largely been finished, apart from one level that is concepted but needs to be blocked in yet. It’s pretty tight but there is a lot of room left to gameplay and simply scavenging around or taking quests. Roughly one scene per major new area, which means as long as you don’t proceed down the main line, or spend time scavenging or questing in already-known areas, you won’t see any cutscenes until you choose to continue the main quest.


Bodies.

You HAVE to see these “more realistic” photoshops of female video game characters. A difference like night and day! This should make anyone realize how unrealistic the depictions of the female body in games actually are. Spindly legs, spindly arms, tiny heads, skinny torsos, huge breasts.

Some gaming studios boast their hyper-realistic lighting techniques, touting natural cloud movements as the latest features of their games. And with that kind of attention to detail, it makes us wonder, why can’t they accurately portray the female body?

asks bulimia.com.

Also, I can’t help but notice how ridiculous these “outfits” look on a properly proportioned body. It’s gross. The stuff they’re wearing is revealed in its entire impracticability and respectlessness. It follows that once you have realistic-looking characters, you better dress them realistically as well. The two definitely go together.

Video game artists have been using a cross of Barbie and various swimsuit competition/soft porn references for years. The sad thing is that these ridiculous body shapes limit them in their craft. You can’t do proper anatomy, which is a foundation of art, if the marketing department keeps insisting to make their heads smaller and their torsos skinnier.  I mean, it just looks bad. Maybe it’s a voluntary self-limit, but more likely it is a result of narrow thinking and disconnection from reality both on the part of the artists and on the part of the marketing folks.

I’m afraid a generation of 12 year olds will be shocked for life by this.


I swear, no paper

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Had to do another one. That should teach me to tone the “paper” first (what paper? digital drawing is weird.)

20 minutes, getting pretty fast.


Twitter art dump: Ears

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Some results of my practice. There was more drawing on paper between these digital ones, of course. You can see how they get better from one attempt to the next. It’s magic! I wonder what years of practice would do!

All of these got the anatomy roughly correct (it’s actually not hard once you know how), but some have weird angles or the proportions are off. Quite often, I didn’t pay enough attention to which parts are in shadow, and finally I used too few midtones in the shading. I’m quite fine with #5, which seems to get a lot of things right.

In character concepts, nothing will be this detailed of course, not even in portraits. I still like to learn the fundamentals well though.

All drawn from memory, no reference images. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stare at people’s eyes and ears all the time, though. I also read in “Drawing on the right side of the brain” quite a lot. It’s such an amazing book. Thanks again to the person who gifted it to me!

I also realize only now how fortunate I was to have great art teachers in school. I was taught in 3rd grade how to draw perspective and complementary colours, in 5th grade I had a teacher who was not afraid to let his students paint a profile portrait(!), slightly later others were asking me to paint hands for them (there was a line), and in 11th-13th grade I had a very good art historian as a teacher who taught us everything from pencil drawing to classical architecture to printing techniques to all the famous painters of the last 200 years. That guy was incredible (also notoriously gay) and I never noticed it back then, although art class was one of those I rarely missed so it must have been good. I know a lot of people stop drawing when they hit puberty. I was lucky to have these teachers, because I might have dropped art and never looked back if it hadn’t been for them. These guys motivated me to draw well into my 20s at an OK level.


Go pills or no pills

Female soldiers under prolonged isolation

One small but important piece fell into place recently. Not a fundamental part of the story (it’s pretty much written) but a detail that will not-so-subtly influence everything else.

Remember that in SJ, a former elite military unit (including female soldiers) become isolated, partly in another world, for many months. At the time Scout goes on her mission, this isolation lasted for more than nine months. On top of that, the group is turned into a fundamentalist religious cult by their new leaders.

I had been researching for quite a while about what happens to people under such circumstances. It’s likely that morale and discipline will go down the drain during permanent deployment in hostile space. Supplies will dwindle. People will start to drink (unless religion forbids it), aggression levels will rise, and – likely – there will be gender related tensions. We are seeing this in the real world, unfortunately, as well.

So I thought I had a pretty good idea about the situation. I was wrong.

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Image by Matthew Bowden.

I got a question about the pill, Ma

Because a key question was how this affects women. This is actually surprisingly difficult to understand from a typical male perspective. After all, there are certain problems we (men) simply don’t have. I only really understood the implications bit by bit (in retrospect, I want to facepalm – how did I not see this coming?), and it certainly made for some interesting research. Asking my mother on the phone about what happens if you don’t take the pill anymore was a highlight. Fortunately, there is the internet. I had to look up a lot of things that men usually don’t pay any attention to – how many contraceptive pills would a soldier carry, how many tampons are in a box, what are the details of the female cycle – and then I had to do the math and make some newly-educated guesses. The results I arrived at were significant.

What would actually happen?

It turns out that in a near-future European army, female soldiers would probably end up wanting to completely suppress their menstrual cycle during deployment, simply because of the stress and sanitary concerns. That means taking a pill every day, skipping the placebo pills. One pack lasts for 28 days, minus the 7 placebos. So four packs would last you three months. You would probably not be carrying more than that. After you stop taking them, the menstrual cycle would return in roughly six months (it varies) and you’d need to deal with it.

How to deal with menstruation (not to mention birth control) under stone-age circumstances is another interesting question, and one that provided surprising (and sometimes horrifying) answers after I did some more research. Suffice to say, there are some very interesting methods that are definitely useful for game developers to know if their game has female protagonists. Ask Mr. Google.

Add to that a male-dominated military environment in which women are constantly at the risk of harrassment or worse. After nine months of isolation, it would certainly start to get very interesting very quickly.

Consequences

Round about the time where Scout enters the game, things have gotten pretty bad. The only supplies still available are things like “go pills” (battlefield drugs.) Medical supplies would have become rare. Band-aids would be everywhere. Morale would be at an all-time low, and female soldiers would by far have it worst (especially the few poor souls who were not permanently taking pills when it hit them.)

So what happens in SJ is that a couple firebrands band together simply out of the need to protect themselves and care for the most basic needs. But with a male leadership who don’t give a shit about women’s complaints, how do they get their needs covered?

Turn to the enemy. That’s how.


SJ progress

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Hello friendly people, I wanted to talk a bit about my progress on Scout’s Journey.

I’m currently continuing traditional art practice, both on paper and using pixels. The topics are still heads, features, and now also the anatomy of the torso. Very old school stuff. I hope to be able to draw portraits of all SJ protagonists not too far into the future, and to start modelling bodies after that. I think I already mentioned that I prefer paper for drawing (superior precision and simplicity), so I’ll have to find a way to scan things soon. I think I’ll pay a visit to the local Staples.

I’m also continuing work in Blender as well as writing. There’s not much fundamental writing left, the gameplay is now nailed down and so are the story and the characters. There are no more major changes. I worked on some minor characters, both male and female,  and polished some scenes that existed largely as sketches. For example Scout’s warehouse job, Herd commanders Dave and Esperanza talking about getting old, Banshee Sarge Nkoyo kicking a few guys’ asses, a female combat trainer NPC called Torill, and lots of other good stuff.

SJ will have a few audio logs, although they won’t be the main way of telling the story, and I wrote a few good ones explaning how the Banshees came about and what happens if a company of soldiers, male and female, endure many months of supply shortage and general craziness. It gets pretty dark at times, but there’s always a protagonist to shine a ray of light. I’m confident that people will really, really like the characters in my game.

Overall I’m still enjoying this. Rock on friendly people, happy midsummer and have a kickass summer 2015.


Better tablet support in Blender

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Blender 2.75 RC2 contains a bugfix that allows for fly mode with a graphics tablet. Fly mode is especially neat for environment artists because it lets you traverse large models quickly and precisely, much like “noclipping” in an engine.

Previously, the view would spin uncontrollably.

I’m slowly getting into working in Blender with a tablet instead of a mouse – I use a Wacom for all my PC work now – and after some initial finding my feet, it works very nicely.

I’m convinced that a tablet is a much more ergonomic input device compared to a mouse, my wrist feels a lot better since I started doing this anyway.

You can get this version of Blender here.


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