Blog & Sketches

Growing old review of: Atelier – Artworks of Arland

Few years back I saw the art-book for the Atelier games in a bookstore. I remember browsing it, being on verge of buying it but eventually left it there. Next month, the only copy had disappeared and since then I’ve had a lingering feeling about this book.

I’ve never played the games, but they are on my to-play-list. They are said to be excellent examples of how to make a compelling crafting mechanics. Also, I’ve held a soft spot on how the Japanese romanticize European aesthetics. Similarly as someone said about 5th element – it is the french interpretation of New York.

As I spent August drawing characters and using it as excuse to buy references, I decided to scratch the old itch and bought the book. Memories were hazy but expectations were high, book about character design of the revered Japanese game series! The collected best art and design from three games! Something new reaching the masterful level of design in Valkyria Chronicles, but in different style!

After initial enthusiasm, I found myself having grown old. This is more of a look back on myself than objective criticism, so while a solid 8, I go ahead where I found it lacking.  I found anime when I was 20, and it opened a fresh new world – exciting new styles, myths, arch types, humour etc. Eventually it started to repeat itself, and I moved onwards. I haven’t watched Anime in yeas and the few times I’ve tried to watch some, or read manga, it has failed to sustain my attention. I remember having adored the big-eyed cuteness and innocence contrasting with larger than life narratives, heavy themes, sex, growth and relationships.

Maybe I expected to reach and remember even a piece of that magic and emotion that back then had me charmed. This binds back to dream of being able to smoothly work with character design, portraits and emotionally expressions in multiple styles – there having a inherent understanding on anime/manga style, would be beneficial and even inspiring! I had it – just reignite the flame and maybe the book will rise to be part of the pantheon of artists that have inspired me during the last month. And while the book succeeded partially, it utterly failed with what I expected to love again.

Firstly, as art book of a game, it is only character design and story screens. Nothing about the world building, assets, maps, locations, etc. Only characters, but that can be fine. The style is maximization of sweet cuteness. And what else it could involve than magical teenager-princesses?  I’m not shy of extremeties  of cuteness, but I’ve aged, and I have a kid. When 20 I could vividly remember being a teen – now days I cannot relate. This means, that most of the female heroes, for me, look way too young to be sexualized as they are. Even though it is masked on veil of innocence, the hemlines are short, panties and legs are showing and I’m a grumpy old man. It is the extremtization of youthfulness: characters that are supposed to be teens have faces with proportions of kids under 10, and those that are  30-40, look like tweens. I feel dirty and seeing revealing dresses and mature shapes on a character that looks like 9-11. just no.

The illusion of belief is further broken by the hilarious dress design. What the main heroes are wearing, are, well, nicely put, fairyish. I applaud for bravery of the designers, as I could not have drawn those, or evolved the design through the steps  shown. It is a crappy to argue about unrealism in fantasy games, so be it that some would fall off in real gravity or the impracticality and uneccessary details and cuts.. they are there to bring out the characters, atmosphere and the world. But it shows that I don’t belong within the target audience nor understand the genre. Why the main characters look like they do? What kind of personality and world are they fitting in? How do they move? This is where contrast of having grown within Europe and making fan fiction of idea of Europe shows. There are various of elements and details of what medieval- noble- fantasy wear, but the composition, cuts and functionality are a mess. On surface, it conveys the setting, but then it goes all awry. And I love it. Cultural appropriation being fun while neatly wrong! Or more likely, evolution within the continuum of traditional of Japanese RPG-designs, where accessorizing with copious amounts of floaty leather belts is nothing unusual. Overall, less important to the story, or older the women in the book are, the better they are designed. And men, their designs just are more age-appropriately sexualized and having less ludicrous clothing while still suiting the magical world. Maybe the artist could relate better on male clothing, understood their sexuality through other means than underlining their youthfulness and women were drawn from more distant insight. Surprisingly, the designs on artificial but humanoid comic-relief characters are actually joyful, resulting being free from genre expectations?

So yes, I got what I wanted: A display of Japanese teen-targeted sugary creativity composed with visual elements of historical Europe. But instead of charm, and being fan of pin-up art and having liked the style before, I was surprised by feeling dissonance from the overt sexualization. It further made me wonder the design choices, where I kept questioning when it showed insight and creativity and when it crossed either to stereotypical or tasteless. And thinking how the style had evolved to this point: would a jrpg-fan be able to point patterns that I’m not blind to?

I’ll keep the book, and it may find a use as reference, but I will look at it differently. There was a reason why I left the book in the shelf years back. Now I know.

rolling towards another year

So much has happened, so few updates.
Slush, Junction, Assembly, PocketGameJam victory, Ludum Dares, and to that all the things at worka and in the courses. HTML5 tricks, Service design, 3D character animation, foley audio and learning Reaper and Wwise, storytelling, academic articles and getting first ciation, and so many exciting projects. The great news for year 2017: There is funding to more reseatch about mediatiotin in VR.

Please look at twitter for some recent screens.
Website rehaul is still on it’s way, eventually.

What has been going on?

What has been going on?

I’m alive!
It has been a hectic year two years in Aalto University Game Design Masters program, while working as a research asstistant in HIIT.
So many cool projects tell you about, but little time for updating the website. Check twitter about screens of recent projects and instagram “FurtherForm” for a photo-blog.

Ludum Dare 30/48h post mortem

Filllight screenshot

This was my first gamejam entry ever.
My participation to “Ludum Dare 30. 48h solo from scratch challenge” happened almost by accident. I knew the Ludum Dare was coming as a friend had asked me to join his team, but as the voting result nearer and nearer, I got swooned up in the hype and decided to try to do entry of my own. Just get something simple finished. I’m not a programmer, so getting anything ready would be a learnt experience of coding and Unity.

LD48_tausta01_Test
First I planned to do a simple point and click maze and working out the graphics in Hexels. While simple – just images, links and no player character seemed very straightforward, but then, the having bridges crossing over the paths and each of the screens having multiple entries, exists and then figuring out the player states and the movement options available started to feel complicated and that idea was scrapped for more simpler one.
A maze with the idea of passing a node un-even times. A lighting pole that changes state when you passed it, either turning on or off, and then having challenge of finding the possible route for lighting them all up. I began to think it was doable, the tutorial for rolling ball had most of the components ready, and I knew enough to trust that I could figure the rest out.

Filllight level map
Sketched out the level designs based on Korean words, this is from the theme words of the compo “Connected Worlds”.

Filllight_Screenshot
Level models and collision boxes were made in Blender and imported to Unity.

Filllight_screenshot3
Showing the lights and particle systems.

Friday night I made the concepts and figured out what to do and started on the models.
Saturday I made the first level and a single light pole that worked allright.
Sunday I realized that the light-pole trigger mechanism had to be more complicated than I thought. First I thought to do it with more complicated collision detection, but having multiple of triggers was the saner solution. Plenty of time was used to learn about parenting and referencing parented classes. After that was solved, rest went well, I crammed the second level in just in few hours before the deadline.

What I went right:

-Scope: small and simple was well within the time limit and my coding skills.

-Atmosphere, Thanks to unity particles. Sure, they are done with presets, but it made nice boiling sea. As my main challenge was coding, models were very minimalistic, worked here.

-Music composed  with a abundant music generator. Fast and good enough.

-Support: having helping minds to bang against when solving issues and good documentation to refer to.

-Learning. There was lots of that.

-Finished it! Yes!

What went wrong:

-Coding, while it went alright, even some more experience under the hat would’ve enabled so much more.  Better effects, more effects, smoother everything, better controls.

-Testing. I’m not certain it is possible to complete the game as it is supposed to. Luckily, some triggers collision detections bug and make it possible. Actually generating and validating levels like these would be an interesting topology problem. Afterwards got good feedback regarding controls and field of view, but that was already past the deadline.

-Controls and field of view. It wouldn’t have taken that much to make them a bit better.

What was missing:

Mainly a proper player character and more levels.  A Menu, story screens, some animations, more sounds and music,  timer based scoreboard and testing.

Proper Name: Went for the silly compound word just for the sake of visual of quirky triple l’s boderd by symmetrical i’s. Amh, yeah.

 

Conclusion:

First completed LD. This was a good intro for the starting season in the uni, got confidence knowing that I can make it. Inspiring, wanting to work more on graphics and I’m certain I’ll participate again!
Better controls and seeing too little at once, proper player character, adjustments here and there, menu and extra levels would make for a decent update or maybe a tablet tilting game.

Thanks to the friends and family making this possible.

Neon menu concepts

Neon menu concepts

Oh so formal and in nice grid! 🙂 Layouts in progress for a game of my friend… The background gradient was taken at from extreme moment for the sake UI-color testing against brights. Texts and assets redacted for keeping the theme under covers.

Script generated landscape

Script generated landscape

Quick test in MaxScript for generationg a hexapillar landscape.
Aim was to use the script to control the pillar generation z-position by a animated heightmap, but the maxscript pillar generation naming standard proved to be too random for my arrays to work logically. Still a nice landscape.

Funship!

Funship!

What to do for fun? Model spaceships!
A very rough and fast mass concept that might evolve to a little something for a friends project.
Now back to serious things until I can return to sculpting this lovely tech-bird.

Concepting for a game project plankton

Concepting for a game project plankton

Plankton_concept03
Shape tests and design studies for an casual mobile game idea I’ve been pondering over. A match-two clicker for tablets with puzzle elements, innovative multiplier mechanics set in abstracted life of bacteria / plankton  or minimalistic sea creatures. Programming a prototype in Unity has shown to be trickier than expected.

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