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Strip 1134


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< Piro >

Pochiyama-san (by Yoshitoshi Abe)


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 >

The heartwarming tale of a girl and her machine gun.

"Return to the Fold"

Monday - June 23, 2008

[Dom] - 13:53:09 - [link here]

A few weeks ago, I started playing Senjou no Valkyria (which will be dubbed Valkyria Chronicles when it's out in English). It was kind of a long journey to get started on the game, which was released in Japan back in April - for the longest time, I couldn't figure out why the game refused to output sound to my TV, unlike Disgaea 3 and every other PS2 game or DVD that I stick into my PS3. After consulting with various people's sound systems, I realized that the game was trying to output its audio through a non-existent dolby digital connection instead of the HDMI I was using. A few quick sound setting changes later, I made up for lost time, squeezing in the game at every opportunity. And oh boy, has it been worth the wait - it's easily one of the best games Sega has released in the last decade.

That's not really a big claim to make, with some real stinkers out of Sega lately - the only recent Sega games I can think of that I consider "great" are Sakura Taisen 3, Skies of Arcadia, and Jet Grind Radio. Space Channel 5 might wrestle for a spot, but it doesn't hold up quite as well as the others.

Back to the game itself. The first thing everyone notices about the game is the utterly gorgeous art and animation style, so when I talk to people about Valkyria, the first thing they say to me is "Oh, yeah, the really pretty game, I know what you're talking about now." My (soon-to-be-wed, woo!) roommate is enchanted with the game and will be buying it as soon as it comes out in English, while Fred has become similarly entranced by the canvas style and is now looking for excuses to buy a PS3.

I have to admit that I really like how the game looks too, but the looks of a game can only hold me so long (see: Ninja Gaiden II) before some real gameplay hooks me in. Besides, what's the point of explaining to you how good the game looks when you can find a trailer and see for yourself? No, what has me enchanted with Valkyria is the tactical strategy system, which is just fast enough to keep me on my toes and just slow enough to let me think hard about the next move.

The basics of the strategy system are really simple: each turn, you have a set number of Command Points (CP) you can use to take control of units you've deployed on the tactical map. When you select a unit, the map zooms in and you transition into a pseudo-realtime action mode as your selected unit runs or drives around the battlefield. This is where all the action comes, as you maneuver your infantry and tanks through a carefully crafted maze of trenches, sandbags, towers, and vantage points to get good shots and set up crossfires to greet enemy troops.

What makes this system a hybrid of turn-based and real-time is that while enemy troops are stationary until it's the Enemy Turn, anyone with a rifle ready can still take shots at anyone in range and in their line of sight. So, unlike other strategy RPGs, you have to think about angles and ambushes instead of just running up to the enemy and hitting him in the face while it's your turn. Charging right at an Assault unit and his machine gun is a recipe for disaster, so you need to be smart to take out enemy defenses. Whether it's blowing them out of their defensive positions with grenades and Anti-Tank units, taking Snipers to good vantage points and picking them off with well-placed bullets, setting up a kill zone with Assault units and their handy-dandy machine guns, or simply running up behind them with Recon units and ambushing them, there are a lot of ways to approach the game, depending on your own style.

The mix of strategy and action is thrilling, and aside from a few minor nitpicks about unit design, I'm completely hooked and am singing this game's praises to anyone who'll listen. Sega's crafted the game experience very well, and I get more excited playing Valkyria than I have with any other game in years. Every time I turn a corner and find an Assault trooper waiting for me, I yelp and duck behind a corner until he needs to change clips. I pump the fist every time a Sniper takes out his target or an Anti-Tank unit slips behind a tank's anti-personnel defenses and shoves a rocket right up its metal keister. The game is incredibly fun and satisfying to play, and I hope that you guys have as much fun playing it when it comes out in November as I am having now.

Because oh, man, thank you Sega. I forgive you for Sonic for the 360. Bring out more games like Valkyria and all is forgiven. Yes, even Sakura Taisen 4.


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