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MegaTokyo Visual Novel

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< Piro >

Pochiyama-san (by Yoshitoshi Abe)

"Pochiyama-san"

Tuesday - May 6, 2008

[Piro] - 12:37:44 - [link here]

You probably remember back in February when, after a few months of settling into the new reality of being a dad, I shook myself out and tackled the task of getting back to work. I wanted to find more reliable and efficient ways to produce better work, since my old methods were not what anyone would call ‘efficient.’

It’s been much easier said than done. As so often happens with ventures into the new, I found myself turning back to old ways of doing things just to get them done. What I’ve found, however, is that with some perseverance and some fortuitous equipment failures, the old ways of working can be put away for good.

One of these new ways of working that I’ve pursued vigorously in the past month is going fully digital with my drawings. You can judge my success with this by the fact that every comic since 1110 has been drawn entirely on the computer. There are a lot of benefits to this method - no clean up, the ability to work with layers of rough sketches and underlays, the ability to move things around and scale them up and down, etc. The more I work with it, the happier I am with the potential.

My first experiments with drawing digitally were actually back in Febuary last year, right after I got my Cintiq. I did a few comics using Alias Sketchbook Pro, which had a very natural feel to it (unlike Photoshop, which to me had the sensitivity of drawing with an ink bottle). The program crashed a lot, and in the end the process was actually taking longer to do than by hand.

A little over a month ago, I started poking at the idea again, which was natural given the fact that I was experimenting with digital hatching. The fact that most of the recent comics have not been hatched is because I was still trying to figure out the best way to get the look and feel I wanted. The search for this had to go on the back burner as I tried to get comfortable with the drawings themselves. The hatching methods would flow from whatever drawing method I settled into.

At first, I was using Painter IX to draw, which was giving me reasonable results. After a while, with a little practice and a lot of tweaking, I was getting more and more satisfied with the results. I was working on a fairly slow computer, which caused me much grief sometimes, but it worked, and as long as kept the load off the CPU, my old 1.25ghz G4 Power Mac was doing fine.

That was until two weeks ago, when Reki, that G4 Power Mac I’ve been working on since February 2003 started throwing up some signs that she was thinking of taking her day of flight.

I’ve been having some odd problems with some of my external hard drives not mounting properly, but I was more than a little puzzled when the main hard drive, the one I boot from, was ‘missing’. Everything ran ok, and I wasn’t keeping any data on it, but there was something spooky about not being able to access any of the files on the hard drive that the system was actually RUNNING off of. I had planned at some point to get a new drive and do a fresh upgrade to Leopard, and it looked like that time had finally come. The main drive is original to the machine and I’ve never done a fresh install (all upgrades) so i'd say she's due. Says a lot about how nice OSX is to work with. Try that with Windows :P)

As I set off to get a new drive and purchase Leopard, Sarah asked me how old the machine was, and wondered if maybe it was time to upgrade. I wonder if I looked forlorn or just sad as I shuffled off to the computer store... She took pity on me. After a trip to the local Apple store, I came home with a brand new dual 2.8 Ghz Mac Pro G5. I have called her Pochiyama (a rather quirky character in a doujinshi by Yoshitoshi Abe who runs a pharmacy and communicates by writing notes on paper rather than speaking :)

It took a while to get things set up, as you might imagine. There were all sorts of little problems, from having to find that DVI-I to DVI-D adapter that came with my Cintiq to get it to work in something other than VGA mode, the fact that I could not just plug my ATA drives into the new machine because it took SATA drives (easily solved, just got a big SATA drive and stuck it with my existing SATA drive in the machine and shuffled files around). I also upgraded to CS3, which resulted in my Canon 8000F scanner not working with my new machine... You get the idea. When you’ve been using one machine for almost five years, replacing it is a fairly major deal.

The thing I’m most happy about is the result of a small glitch in the system that was easily fixed by a reboot, but made me reconsider the use of Painter for drawing. After some frustrations with what appeared to be a non functioning Pan command, I fired up my new version of Photoshop (CS3) and started poking at the brush controls. What suprised me was that I was able to tweak texture and some other settings in ways that gave me a REALLY satisfying pencil brush. What I love about this is that I can draw in an enviroment I am very familiar with and one I LIKE to work with. :) All of the comics since 1114 have been done using these brushes and Photoshop CS3. The Hatching issue is almost solved as well. CS3 is full of much win and love.

One other thing I did was step back from my two monitor setup and go to using only the Cintiq. Part of this was because I’d need to get an adapter to run my 23” ACD on the new machine, and part because I still have it hooked up to Reki, but what I’ve found is that I LIKE not having that second screen there full of distractions and taking up desk space. Some of my friends thought I was crazy going back to a single monitor arrangement, but since so much of what I use for reference is analogue anyway... Having a more open desk is a bigger benefit.

Reki still works, and I can access the files on the main drive remotely (which is so damn odd) and at some point I’ll use one of these freed up ATA drives to rebuild her, but for now she’s resting happily.

I’ve been working on two other projects during all of this, which has also had an impact on my schedule, but as of today I think things will level off a bit. I’d like to thank everyone for their patience with me and the schedule in recent months, and for my lack of communication on just what exactly is going on. This long and eventful chapter is coming to a close and I’m looking forward to wrapping it up and moving on to an omake.

I have a few ideas I’m working on for that, we’ll see which way I go. It will depend on how off the deep end i feel at the time. (Chuckle)

< Dom >

"Mohs Scales for Gamers"

Thursday - June 5, 2008

[Dom] - 12:22:46 - [link here]

Ugh. In my last rant, I inadvertently betrayed one of the first rules of game writing I learned while an intern at GamePro. I used "hardcore gamer" in a sentence and meant it.

This many not seem very big to you, but it's gnawing at me. When I spent my 3 years at GamePro learning the ropes, Dan Amrich taught me a hell of a lot about the game industry and general gamer culture. One of the first things he taught me, based on his experiences with teenage gamers on forums, was that there is no such thing as a hardcore gamer.

Or, perhaps there is, but because no one agrees on what the definition is, there is no real meaning to the term. The term "hardcore gamer," at least as it existed on the GP forums and in the GP offices at the time, was used as a way for people to look down on others. "Hardcore" gamers were, supposedly, better than "casual" gamers for some undefined reason. When pressed, every so-called "hardcore gamer" turned into Potter Stewart - they couldn't explain what separated the hard from the soft, but they knew a hardcore gamer when they saw one. The prime example was nearly always themselves, while the counterexample was usually everyone they didn't like.

Now, with the rise of casual gaming, it's not as much of an epithet as it used to be, but it still was a massive lapse of judgment on my part to throw around the comparison "Lego X = casual and Ninja Gaiden = HARDCROOOOOOE!!1!"

More on this later - back to Disgaea for me.

< Dom >

"Two Roads Diverged"

Tuesday - June 3, 2008

[Dom] - 17:08:42 - [link here]

As I sit here at the office, my mind drifts to the near future, because I'm going straight from the office to Fry's, where I will figure out which of these games deserves my money and my gaming time: Lego Indiana Jones or Ninja Gaiden 2.

The "just buy both" answer flitted through my mind a couple times here, but what is at stake here is not just sixty bucks and a couple weeks of gaming time. What's at stake here is my gaming soul itself! It's a classic struggle, like ice vs. fire, tiger vs. dragon, and in this case, light entertainment vs. self-flagellation.

The Lego X games have been engineered to be enjoyable for all audiences - cartoonish romps through fanciful renderings of classic movie sets. They're made so that families can play them together, with little winks to the audience and the simplest forms of fun you can get. Heck, they can even make mine cart rides fun (it helps that Temple of Doom is the grandpappy of all mine cart levels). It's all about running around with buddies stomping baddies, breaking things, and finding secrets - all things that I could enjoy with my roommates.

On the other hand, Ninja Gaiden for the NES was one of the original games that defined "Nintendo Hard". From all reports, the 360 iteration has a combat system that rewards attention to detail, target prioritization, and an intimate knowledge of such terms as "hit box," "invincible startup," "safe on block," and "clear-out." If you stop paying attention for a moment, it will kill you without remorse, and then it will probably do all sorts of unspeakable things to your corpse so you never make that mistake again. The outspoken designer himself (and yes, I know that Itagaki has made all sorts of news to coincide with the release of his game, I'll talk about that another time) has bragged that he caters to the hardest of the hard, and his games have always [insert obligatory sexual joke here].

What it boils down to is this: am I a casual gamer these days, playing Scrabble and Boggle on Facebook with family, or am I still an obsessive, full-bore gamer, playing Devil May Cry on progressively harder difficulties until my thumbs bleed? In my younger days, I would have had more time to devote to the latter pursuit, what with summers and the short school day working in my favor so I could devote maximum time to frivolous pursuits. These days, I keep thinking that I'm ready to enter my gaming old age, content to sneak in some light gaming on the DS or via Flash applications. I haven't played all the way through an RPG in ages - Disgaea doesn't count, because I consider that game to be more of a spreadsheet than an RPG. A deliciously enjoyable spreadsheet, but a spreadsheet nonetheless. So it does nothing toward proving that I'm still an obsessed gamer, even though I've played it for 50 hours, 3 of which were spent poking around kanji lists to find just the right names for my mages.

Oh, who am I kidding? I learned Japanese so I could play games like Disgaea 3 early. I stay up at night thinking about hit boxes, frame advantage, and startup animations. I can play Columns with my feet. I don't think I'll ever be able to shed the mantle of "unredeemable gamer," no matter how I try to trick myself into thinking that I'm a casual, non-geeky gamer.

Alright, Ninja Gaiden. You should get got comfy, because I'm not going to stop until I have mastered you to my satisfaction. Maybe I'll take occasional breaks for Lego games with buddies, but you and me will make beautiful music until a new game dethrones you. Sorry, Lego Indy, but rest assured that Lego Batman will avenge you.

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