Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Quick Drawing Tips #2

Alright, so a few posts back I put up a simple guide on understanding basic drawing principles for the human body.  I've since done another guide on the human head and face, so here it is:
Click to enlarge.
I'm a bit happier with the art in this one.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Transformers: Robots...On the Go!

So yeah, after becoming a bit disillusioned with the 360 version of War for Cybertron for a few reasons, I opted to pick up one of the DS games instead which I had been reading good things about.  I still may grab the 360 version as well I'm just disappointed having found out that the campaigns are apparently 4 hours for each faction and learning of the complete lack of offline multiplayer.  If a game has co-op play, there's no good reason to not make it available offline.
As for the DS (Autobots) version, I'm enjoying it.  The game plays very similarly to the 2007 movie DS games which isn't a bad thing.  Out of all the games to come out for the first live action movies, the DS titles were often considered the best; and were also considered to be 'decent' games which kind of showed how poorly the other versions of the games were doing in reviews.
In War for Cybertron on the DS, you play through each stage with two bots that you can switch between at will.  If both end up dead simultaneously, or if you fall into a pit, you fail the mission.  Characters are divided into 'Heavy' and 'Light' categories, both of which are useful for different things.  For instance:  Optimus can boost through certain walls in vehicle mode while Bumblebee can travel through narrow tunnels.
Incidentally I've yet to make use of the aforementioned Heavy ability because 'L' is the button for boost, and of the 3 DS's available for me to use not a single one has a properly functioning L button.  Thankfully, the brittle (or should I say 'Britt-L'?  Haha..bad puns) shoulder button hasn't been a necessity so far.  I'm sure being able to lock on to my opponents would make the game a lot easier though.
On that note, the game has proved to be challenging (again, much thanks due to the lack of lock-on) so I can't say for sure how long it will be until I can put up a full review.
Later for now.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Some More Drawings

Just as the title says, I've more drawings to post.  I've been playing around with GIMP plenty and got a few digital sketches out of it I've liked.
This one is in a pretty early stage (moreso than the Batman and the sketch to follow) and I plan on, hopefully, make it into a colourful digital painting eventually.  Incidentally, it's linked with that 'story' that I have nothing but a premise and characters for.
This was a request of a friend, a Spider-Man fan and fellow Superman disliker.
And I'm out, need to work on finding a summer job for a bit.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sleeplessness Equates to Rantiness. Alternate Title: Ye Beware, Wall of Text Approacheth

So, for the last couple of nights, I've had a lot of trouble sleeping.  Instead, I've spent my night time hours attempting to sleep, failing, then getting up on 'playing' on the computer for a while.  Two nights ago, I was going over a 'fantasy conversation' in my head (i.e. something that never happened but is conceivable with a specific person) about why the Final Fantasy series is just...well, bad.  I actually gathered a lot of thoughts on the matter and quickly thought up a very simple way to improve the series.
Note that I am not against the stories the series tells (just the way it tells them).  I am not against JRPGs when they're done right.  I am not even against turn-based combat.  I am against two things that hinder gaming experience that Square Enix refuses to avoid.
1.  Over-intrusive stories.  When you spend more time taking in a story by watching cut-scenes or reading dialogue than you seem to spend actually playing the game.
2.  Horribly outdated combat mechanics.  This is the specific area I'm covering in this 'article'.  After I gathered my thoughts, I typed them out and did my best to present them in a meaningful and easy to follow way.
So, without further adieu, I present to you:  "Why Final Fantasy Sucks and How It Could Be Very Easily Made Better"

Final Fantasy, the original game that is, was released on December 18 of 1987.  It was among the first standard JRPGs to have ever existed.  It had a unique play-style much like the majority of NES games.  The 8-bit era saw probably the most innovation in gaming history with every developer attempting something different.  It was a great time to see what worked and what didn't.  However, time has a way of making something that once worked far less useful.
Nearly 23 years hence, Squaresoft (now Square Enix) hasn't done a thing to streamline the combat system found in the Final Fantasy franchise.  They add things and update things, sure, but those implementations just result in more text boxes and wasted hours dealing with "customization"; in other words, it's going in the wrong direction.  At its core, it remains nothing but scrolling through lists and selecting specific words from those lists.
This was perfectly 1987.  It worked back then, and it still 'works' now, but by what we find in today's games (even those of the same genre) these old mechanics are rusty.  A lot of people have started waking up to how boring playing like this is, myself included as I used to swear up and down that JRPGs were automatically the best games ever just for being JRPGs, and these people are absolutely right.
But what of it?  Should we completely toss out the old system and start anew?  Square Enix obviously doesn't think so and, surprisingly, I'm in partial agreement with them.
Yes, these mechanics are rusty.  So what can we do with rust?  We can polish it.  Streamline the system to make it slicker, prettier, more accessible, etc. all without sacrificing anything that's actually important.  The functionality will remain the same, the ease of use will increase.
Let's take a look at a screenshot of a battle from Final Fantasy IV.

IV is my favourite Final Fantasy title, in fact it's the only one at all that I enjoy.  However, I don't enjoy this game because I think it's fun to play, which is what we're going for in the polishing process.  I enjoy it because I love the story, the characters were awesome and the game even tossed in some great humour that was placed well enough to never deter the story from feeling 'epic'.
That said, we're now going to take my favourite game of the franchise and pick it apart; or at least it's battle system.
Three text boxes?  I think we can do better than that.  How about...NONE.  But now there's no information or anything to interact with and tell our characters what to do.  Well, that's fine because we're going to put some new stuff in that will be simpler and quicker and, again, all without compromising the important stuff.  To find the solution, we need look no further than the console we're already on.

Like so many gamers the Super Nintendo was my childhood, and it was a glorious childhood.  Developers were still trying new things, improving their previous ideas and really hitting their stride.  Things just worked.  And then there's the scale.  Proportionately, the scope of Super Metroid's adventure absolutely dwarfs some adventure games on today's market.
So how does the quality of the SNES's general library relate to the much overdue optimizing of Final Fantasy's game mechanics?  Well, the SNES contained many JRPGs and the like, several of which are deeply loved by just about any seasoned gamer out there.  Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, Illusion of Gaia, the list really goes on and on.  But the exact game I'm going to bring your attention to is a classic title called Lufia.

In this screenshot, you'll notice a significantly different battle layout than what you'd typically find in Final Fantasy.  That's not what we're here for though.  Take a look at the center of the heroes and you'll see five icons.  These are what you use to control in battle:  Simple icons.  This is the principle we're looking for, but even Lufia doesn't have it quite right.
Let's backtrack a bit and look at the screenshot of Final Fantasy IV again.

To start, let's actually leave the text boxes as they are and see if we can shrink that list at all.  Thankfully, we have the perfect example in this particular screen as it's good old wizard Tellah up to bat.  His magic skills are separated into two groups:  White Magic and Black Magic.  I ask, why?  I mean, I know what the difference is, but if we have one list of magic and just have the spells themselves tell us whether they perform healing or deal damage (which can be done with either text or icons) then we start on our road to optimizing this system.
So, the list of actions for Tellah now becomes Attack, Magic, Recall and Items.  Here's where the icons come in.  Visualize the scene with no text boxes but with small, simple icons hovering around Tellah; one below him, one above and one on each side of his sprite.  Picture each of these icons having a simple drawing on them that tells you exactly what they are.  This is where Lufia really comes into play because it does just that.  The sword icon is for Attack.  Of course!  The magic staff is for Magic.  Duh!   So on and so forth.
What Lufia did not do right, however, is that there's still the inconvenience of highlighting your options with the D-pad and then  selecting one with A.  This doesn't seem like much of a problem but it is something that can be made more efficient easily so there's no good reason not to do so.
We're getting to the real purpose of minimizing the list that appears in the screenshot.  Having 4 options is perfect for this scenario.  Again, we have simple yet informative icons hovering around Tellah in four directions, one for each of his main options.  What we can do now is simply map each option to an input on the controller.  Here is an SNES controller:

I don't suppose you see anything that would be good to assign FOUR DIRECTIONS to?  The D-pad/Control pad/Cross pad/whatever is the key to this entire process.  With nothing but a single tap of one of the buttons, we now instantly access any one of the four options.  This means no dealing with text box lists.  Again, it doesn't seem like much of an accomplishment when first thinking about it.  But really, with just these simple couple of changes alone, we've pretty much tripled the efficiency of a once incredibly cumbersome battle system.
Tellah's magic may raise a concern however.  In a lot of JRPGs, characters who cast magic end up with a gigantic arsenal of spells by the end of the game.  Certainly we can't assign all the spells to the four directions.  Even if we accounted for the D-Pad recognizing diagonals and all the other buttons, we're still likely to come out short.
So what can we do about this?  I admit, there's a bit of a compromise here but in the end, it's really not that bad.  As I just noted, the SNES's D-Pad does recognize a total of 8 directions and having access to only 8 spells during battle doesn't hinder things as much as one may initially think.  Those large arsenals of spells are often loaded with skills long since made inferior and even of those that are still useful, you're incredibly unlikely to find a battle where you would use all of them.
So, we can use the field menu.  As for the menu itself, I'm perfectly OK with its use of text boxes and such as it is pretty much just the pause screen; i.e. what you go to when you actually want the game to slow down.  A needed feature in the menu would be the ability to select a character who uses magic and decide, from what they know, which spells are their 'battle spells'.  So these are the spells that would be assigned to the directions during combat.  Of course, you can swap these out for other spells at any time outside of battle.
The reason this would work just as well as having access to every spell is that, as was already said, you won't find a single battle where you'll be using all your useful spells.  It's also very possible to determine which spells are going to be useful before you encounter any enemies.  If you're wandering the overworld, the area you're in will affect what monsters appear, so you can of course 'equip' the spells useful against the monsters that are common of that area.  A simpler example is a Boss fight:  You know exactly what you're up against, therefore no problem.  A similar principle could be applied to Items.
So maybe it eventually turns out that access to 8 spells isn't enough.  Well, we still have 6 more buttons on the controller (A, B, X, Y, L, and R; Start and Select are there too but they should probably be saved for other functions) we could use anyway.  8 spells is probably enough and 14 is plenty.
There are some things that don't really need any changing like choosing your target.  I'm OK with the D-Pad scrolling and A-button selecting in this case, though it certainly doesn't need a text box when the cursor could just point at the enemy itself.

There, with some very simple critical thinking we have a much more efficient battle system that the SNES is perfectly capable of supporting.  The SNES came out 20 years ago in Japan.  If this can be done with technology so old then why hasn't it been completely mastered and flawless by Square Enix now?

That's the end of the article I already had worked out.  I realized something as I was proofreading though.  One text box probably is necessary for the battle screen.  Considering the resolution of the SNES, the heroes' stats and ATB bars would cause too much screen clutter if we had them display somewhere around the heroes (a la the icons).  So, leave the one text box for the heroes' stats.  The point of this whole spiel was to point out flaws in the game mechanics, not issues with screen clutter so my point still stands.  This is an improvement that could easily be made of more recent entries into the franchise.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dammit Miyamoto, Calibrate the &%$&ing Motion Plus!

So today I watched Nintendo's and Sony's press conferences at E3.  I had planned on watching Microsoft's as well but I missed it.  Based on what I've been reading it doesn't seem like I missed anything special.  Apparently the executives appeared to be 'trying too hard' to make the Kinect (the final title for Project Natal) look fun as if they were afraid of people being unimpressed.  Take that statement with a grain of salt as I did not see the conference personally.

Nintendo really surprised me this year.  Their showing last year was pretty bad aside from Mario and Metroid, and it seems they learned from their mistakes.  As someone who is obviously foremost a Nintendo fan, it's probably hard for people to find credit in me stating that Nintendo's was the best conference of the Big 3, but make no mistake, it truly was.
They opened right away with what I wanted to see the most:  The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.  In other words, Zelda Wii has a final title and there's finally some footage of it.  Visually, the game is similar to Twilight Princess in designs but is instead cel-shaded.  I currently have mixed feelings about how I think it looks but I'll withhold judgment until further down the road.  A lot of the concepts that were revealed were pretty cool but my happiness couldn't help but be ruined by Miyamoto's horrible performance at attempting to play the game.
They asked the audience to turn off wireless devices a few times, believing that was the problem with the motion controls, which were clearly not working properly.  However, the odd motion-translation acted much the same as it does in Red Steel 2 when the Motion Plus falls out of proper calibration.  Hence the title of today's post; I was quite irritated that Miyamoto didn't even think to try re-calibrating the Motion Plus.
So, if Nintendo failed in any way this year, it was making Zelda the weakest portion of the show.
Moving on from that annoying display, we were hit with some giddiness-inducing gems.  In no particular order:

On the Wii
Kirby's Epic Yarn
Donkey Kong Country Returns

On The DS
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Dragon Quest IX

On the 3DS
Street Fighter IV 3D Edition
Starfox 64 Remake
Paper Mario
Kid Icarus Uprising

There is another remake evidently coming to the 3DS as well which was not announced and it appears Nintendo wants to keep it under wraps.  Screenshots were found at hidden links on Nintendo's site but have since disappeared.  I'll give you a hint: Hey!  Listen!
The 3DS itself has also caught my interest.  As I covered in my review of How To Train Your Dragon, I do not like the 3D gimmick, however I think I can look past that in this case.  For one, the 3DS doesn't require any glasses and it includes a slider to adjust the depth of the effect to the point of having it completely turned off.
Of course those are not the only games that were showcased, just those that piqued my interest.  For everything else, check out

And now we move on to Sony.  I feel like Sony had a good presentation ready to go and then decided to pad it to three times the length with ads.  "Something cool, an ad to tell you how awesome we are, something else cool, 3 more ads to tell you how awesome we are" etc.
Ignoring the ads, the fact that almost 4 years after the PS3 came out they were actually pushing the PS2, and they're celebrating a new racist marketing campaign for the PSP, it was a strong showing.
The Playstation Move performed really well ignoring a bit of lag.  The movements themselves were translated perfectly, they just showed up slightly later than the player actually performed them.  All wireless controllers have input lag, in this case it was just a tiny bit more noticeable.
I'm definitely interested in trying it out, no matter how disturbing it is in appearance.  The glowing pink ball on top of a phallus haunts me.  Unfortunately, the cost of admission is a bit high as the wand itself comes in at approximately $50, the control pad (equivalent of the Wii's nunchuck) at $30, and then there's a camera that it uses as well which I don't recall the price of (or if they even gave a price).
However, speaking proportionately, if the amount of money spent to get the most out of a Wii controller is worth the intuitiveness of that experience, then the Playstation Move seems at a fair-ish price.  I won't deny that it certainly outperforms the "1:1" movement presented by the Motion Plus.
The highlight of Sony's conference absolutely had to be the surprise showing of Portal 2.  Glad0s is back and she sounds angry.
The next best thing, however, was oddly enough also the worst thing of the conference.  Jerry Lambert, or rather 'Kevin Butler', made a "surprise" showing as well.  He made a bunch of really bad jokes and, much like the commercials he appears in, came off like a really annoying version of William Shatner.  He then performed a segway into a pretty awesome speech about video game patriotism.
As for actual games, only two caught my interest:
Sorcery - a game exclusively for the Playstation Move in which the wand is used as, well, a wand to cast spells.
Twisted Metal - I don't remember the proper title for this installment in the franchise but it's still a new Twisted Metal after quite a long time.  To be blunt:  Looks good.

UPDATE:  Well, the images of the aforementioned 'secret remake' are back up on the official site and the game is on display on the 3DS page.  In other words, it's not a secret anymore.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.  The most revolutionary Zelda title to date is receiving a remake on the 3DS and I couldn't be happier.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dun Dun Dun Duh-duh Duh-Da Deedley Deedley Deedley TRANSFORMERS!

I have been playing around with my new toy (GIMP) plenty lately and have one new drawing to post.

Don't worry, I'll (probably) clean it up eventually.  This is certainly the most accurate drawing of Bumblebee I've ever done.
Also, lately I've bee working on building World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. in 3D.  I've nearly completed it, here's a far zoomed out shot of the whole thing:

Basically what I have left to do is add the bushes, the Item Blocks and update the textures' colours.  I started this before I had GIMP and am just using public domain textures I found online so until now I didn't have a decent tool to modify the colour of the textures.

Enjoy all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Back on Track...Hopefully

Alright so there's been a lack of updates this week and I'm hoping to stop slacking off on posting from now on.  We'll see how it works out.  Anyway, for the time being I do have something to show.
Last night I recalled the existence of what is, to put it simply, freeware Photoshop; i.e. GIMP.  I had tried it once before but felt the interface to be really awkward and I've pretty much forgot about it ever since.
Now that I've re-acquired it, I can hardly believe I ever had a problem with it.  It has all of the functionality of Photoshop, making it good for drawing 2D images and composing textures for 3D, and it has some unique features which make it especially awesome.  Of course the best part is it's free!
The tablet functionality beats out Photoshop as well.  Pressure sensitivity is restricted to line width in Photoshop whereas in GIMP you can pick and choose what pressure (as well as other things like velocity) does from a list of functions.  You even have the option of combining these functions.
Anywho, I had been thinking of doing something along these lines to help out some friends with their drawing skills and I finally got around to it early this morning.  Here's a visual guide of quick tips to building your drawings using the human body as the example:

Click to enlarge of course.  My handwriting is really bad but I tried to make it at least legible.
Part 2:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

Please ignore the lack of a picture for this review.  I had a hard time coming up with anything humourous or cool-looking to draw.
So, I must preface this review by stating that I may have some trouble reviewing this title as it's...well it's hard to find anything that's actually wrong with it.  Everything the game sets out to do, it accomplishes well and in a very polished manner.  I'm not calling it the best game ever but the fact is that there's simply nothing bad about it, though I suppose I can try my best to delve into the specifics and at least give you an idea what you're in for.
To change things up, I'm going to start with commenting on the soundtrack; I always seem to save this for last even though it's the part I'm least interested in.  That said, the soundtrack is very memorable.  From the returns of the instant classics of Super Mario 64 to the brand new orchestral numbers, it's beautiful work that carries a tone both epic and yet fitting for the game.  Chances are you'll quickly be humming tunes from the game without even realizing it.
In the area of graphics, we have yet another example of 'games that make me think Nintendo is withholding information from third party developers'.  Everything is just so smooth.  When you look at a game like this (or Smash Bros. Brawl, Metroid Prime 3, etc.) it's difficult to understand why so many third party games look so bad on the Wii.  The game is, of course, also very colourful and vivid.  The beauty of space and the fun 'cartooniness' of Mario go hand in hand perfectly.
So...gameplay.  Super Mario Galaxy (that is, the first one) did gamers quite a favour by pushing 3D platformers into a new realm.  Prior to the gravity-centric platforming of Mario Galaxy, all 3D platformers I played could probably have also been made in 2D in some way or another; I'm not saying it would have been practical, just possible.  These games, on the other hand, truly take full advantage of being in three dimensions and do a wonderful job of it.
Regardless of whether they liked it or not, no one who's played the first Mario Galaxy can deny it's bursting at the seams with creativity.  The no exception to this.  I would say Mario Galaxy 2 is just as creative as its predecessor, no more no less.  Then again, that's still pretty damn creative.
Of course, the mechanics of playing the game are still the same.  Run, jump, spin, etc.  There are a few additions that are worth taking note of:  The Drill, the Rock Mushroom, the Cloud Flower and, of course, Yoshi!  Rather than getting into long-winded explanations of how each of these work, I'll leave it to you to find them in trailers or to simply experience when you play.
Now as you may already know, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was originally conceived as an expansion pack for the original that simply grew too big.  The seeming result of this is a simpler hub to traverse levels and minimal story presentation.  Ironically, I find this to be an improvement; much like No More Heroes 2 was improved by the removal of the open world.  This lets you get to the fun and action quicker without sacrificing anything at all that's actually important.
As wonderful as the game is, if I could change it, I definitely would.  The multiplayer is practically the same as it was in the first game; unnecessary and boring for the second player.  Personally, I would love to see co-operative play treated something like Kirby Superstar; i.e. the second player gets Luigi (of course), no split screen, if and when Luigi falls behind he simply "teleports" to catch up rather than slow down any progress.
The present multiplayer is pretty lackluster but I don't count it against the game because 1. the game gets everything else so right and 2. at its heart, Mario Galaxy 2 just is a single-player title regardless of what the instruction booklet or in-game dialogue might tell you.  The experience for the first player, or rather the one and only player is thoroughly enjoyable.
So, to (very quickly) wrap up:  Get it.

My next review probably won't be a Wii one (finally).  Transformers: War for Cybertron is set to come out in less than 3 weeks and currently I'm leaning towards either the 360 or PC version.  I'll probably grab one of the DS versions as well, but those aren't going to be the same as the HD console/PC versions.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wah Hahoo Yippee!

A review of Super Mario Galaxy 2 should be well on its way.  I finished the game a couple days ago so other than organizing my thoughts about it, I'm pretty much set to write a review.
Of course, I've also been drawing plenty so you can expect to see some more art posts.
And that about covers all I have to say for now so see ya later.