3D in Blender #5 – Material Basics (Image Textured)

First step here is to get an image to use as the texture – I created a photoshop document, 3072*3072. From the filters menu, I rendered some clouds, then pixelate -> crystallize and thickened the borders.

The nodes you need are shown below, the first two allow you to position and scale the image loaded into the Image Shader. Basically in this order:

Texture Coord -> Mapping -> Image -> Principled BSDF -> Material Output

This gives your image to the surface – the defaults seem to make it look like a cheap plastic workbench. That’s the starting point.

Next up, I wanted to make them look like tiles, so they need to be raised up above the cement: for this, I created a height map by adding an inner glow to the tiles and saving it with a different name.

Add another Image Node (with inputs from the Mapping node so that they are in the same place). Change this to say ‘Non Colour Data’ and feed the output of this into a Bump node’s Height input. You can control the strength and height of the bumps from there too. Feed the output of that into the Normal input of the Principled BSDF.

The result is slightly strange, around the edges of the tiles, but this is something that I can tune later.

Finally, I want some parts of the surface to smooth, and reflect light and some to be rough. For this, I lowered the contrast of the original image and added another node – fed into the roughness Input of the Principled BSDF.

There’s a lot of subtlety to be experimented with here – fortunately i’m looking for something stylised rather than photo realistic, and I feel like I can work with these as the three basics of what I need.

I’ve experimented with inverting the roughness and using other inputs and outputs to see what kinds of results it gives: it’s worth doing just to see what kinds of things happen.

While Principled BSDF shader is extremely handy, I suspect that for Glowing or Glass textures i’ll still want to use the specific Shaders. The Emission Shader is fun: it’ll allow for glowing control panels or seams in glass objects for sci-fi purposes.

Useful Videos:

3D in Blender #4 – Material Basics (Smooth)

Since i’m not doing animation, i’m going to use the default bottom panel to host the texture system. In the bottom window swap it to be the Shader Editor. In the Materials Tab on the right, select ‘Use Nodes’

Most of my reading indicates that most basic smooth materials are going to be partially Glossy and partially Not.

Delete the Principled BSDF Node, and using the Add tab, create a Glossy BSDF Node, a Diffuse BSDF Node and a fader to to slide between Gloss and Matt textures.

This is going to ramp up quick. A shiny version of the goblet in the previous set of notes might look like this (the colour inherits from a separate node, and the Mix Shader takes far more from the Glossy than the Diffuse):

The Glass Shader is pretty good on its own (right hand glass). My attempts to create a transparent blue plastic take the Glass Shader and Mix it in as follows:

At this point, this is for me trial and error, but i’m getting a sense that this could become very addictive…

Important Update:

I think the node blending above is definitely very useful to learn, but i’m also informed that the Principled BSDF shader does most of this in one go.

In the image below, the Gold Glass on the left uses the Principled Shader, and the one on the right is the material as created above:

Likewise, the Glass on the left uses the Principled Shader – Transmission set to 1 (this seems to be what controls the transparency – there are undoubtedly a lot more subtleties to get to grips with). The first video below seems like essential viewing to me.

Here’s the Render of the Gold and Glass using the two different methods. The glass on the left isn’t identical in the render, which I think relates to the subsurface colour, and its position in the scene, but this is certainly good enough to move forward.

Going forward, as much as I like connecting Nodes together, it feels to me as though the Principled BSDF is the best way having used the older way to get to grips with the principles.

Useful Videos:

3D in Blender #3 – Lathing an SVG Curve using a Bevel

First things first – We need to import a Curve from Illustrator. In this case though, we’re importing a glass half full, because the rotation method will be filling in the other half.

This method was shown to me by En. Thanks En, I was tearing my hear out.

I followed a number of methods before En pointed me in a better direction: Both the Spin Tool and the Screw Modifier appeared to be promising methods, but both lead me down a path that resulted in the object having a weird seam where 0 degrees met 360 degrees and the caps collided.

The Method is to create a Bevel on a Bezier Circle and use our imported Curve as the Bevel guide.

Import your SVG and get it standing up with the centre on the World Origin. Create an SVG circle that’s wider than your imported SVG.

We must place the Pivot point for the Imported SVG Curve on the Edge of the Circle, not at the centre of the Circle.

Press N to open the properties panel (which allows you to type in the location of the 3D cursor) so you can easily move it to the edge of the circle, then with the Imported SVG Curve selected: Object -> Set Origin -> Origin to 3D Cursor (you can see the point towards the bottom left of the screenshot below).

From there, Select the Circle. In the Curve Panel on the right select 3D and drop down the Geometry Tab to find Bevel. Select your Imported SVG Curve (Bottom right of the screenshot)

And that’s it:

To convert this to a Mesh (when you’re ready – you may not need to) select the Bezier Circle in object mode and “Convert To” as shown below.

Your SVG won’t have been damaged, so you can make more by making new circles. You can change the resolution of the resulting Mesh by tinkering with the Resolution Preview U numbers in both the Bezier Circle and the Imported SVG Curve. You can see what the resulting Wireframe is going to be by selecting Wireframe in the View Port Display.

That’s all. Thanks En.

Useful Videos:

3D in Blender #2 – Extrusion and Parenting

I’ve created an Illustrator Document that is 3m wide and 3m high. My plan, ultimately, is to be creating modular parts of a city scape, and 3m is to be the default unit: it’s roughly the hight of a floor in a regular building, and it divides and multiplies easily.

Each layer is going to be a separate part in Blender.

Importing as SVG this translates as 2.4 meters once within Blender. Not what I wanted, but I can live with it. Seems importing at 80% of source size is something that has been queried before and 2.4 is a good number.

First step: Give everything a sensible name.

The order is important from here, and note which of the vertical line of tabs is selected, and which drop downs may have been expanded in the screenshots as it can be hard to navigate this lot.

Firstly, make sure everything has the same Origin Point by selecting them all then following the process shown in the previous post (in this case it’s the left hand corner that I want to use as the base point).

Then, move everything so their origins are at 0, then make all of the objects parent the outer ‘Wall’ object so they can be moved around with it.

Stand the whole lot up by changing the Wall objects X rotation to 90 degrees and then scale it by 1.25 to account for the 80% shrinkage from illustrator: everything else moves and scales with it.

Then we can individually extrude the objects. Extrusion can be found in the tab that looks like the curve object – hidden in a dropdown called Geometry bottom right in the next screenshot. The other parts of our window don’t inherit from the extrusion of the wall.

I’ve made the Top Frame be the parent of the Top Glass and the Bottom Frame be the parent of the Bottom Glass, so I can now move them backwards and forwards or up and down in the window casement and have them stay together.

Then I moved the wall so it’s flush with the 0 line and that’s it for this bit.

3d in Blender #1 – Importing SVG and Getting Started

The UI in Blender 2.8 is undoubtedly an improvement on previous editions which I found pretty impenetrable but that, along with the fact that a lot of it is done by keyboard shortcuts, means that we’re going to be a bit lacking when it comes to video support for a while. However I will link to the videos that I found useful in this YouTube playlist and at the bottom of each page.

As such i’ll be keeping notes here. If you’ve stumbled across them, maybe you too will find them useful.

I’m pretty comfortable with Illustrator and not planning to be doing much modelling in Blender. The workflow i’m looking for involves being able to design 2d shapes in Illustrator and then either Extrude, Lathe it and from there Create an Array of Instances of the above objects in Blender.

That’s all I want in terms of creating the objects, Light and Materials I’ll look at later.

It’s a good idea to have a point in the Illustrator file where you want the pivot to on any objects so you can select that point later in Blender.

Make sure object is one path in Illustrator then export as SVG. Import as SVG in Blender is easy enough. It’ll be imported as a CURVE. Multiple paths in illustrator will appear as multiple CURVES.

Also, it’ll be tiny by default so you might not see it immediately and will likely need to zoom right in. We can either make the document size massive in illustrator then scale it up in Blender, but that’s not the first thing we must do because likely as not our Pivot and Origin points aren’t in the right places.

Pivot and Origin Points

First thing to do in Blender is to get its Pivot AND Origin points in the right place though, otherwise we’ll be confused later, and they’re not necessarily in the same place.

Select the Curve as a whole in Object Mode then go into Edit Mode to select the pivot/origin point on the Curve you’ve imported. Then:

  • Shift + S – Cursor to Selected – This moves the 3D Cursor to that point on the object.
  • Setting the Origin involves finding it in the menu. Seems there used to be a heavy combination of shortcut keys for this. Now, though it’s Object Mode, Object -> Set Origin -> Origin to 3D Cursor

The Pivot and Origin should then both be in the middle of the object, or wherever you decided you wanted it.

I should write a script for this.

Note that with the keyboard shortcut . (yes, a full stop) – 3D Cursor – you can move the Pivot Point to the 3D Cursor without changing the Origin.

Centering and Scaling the Object

From there, to get the object to live in the center of the world to be worked on, set all its values to 0, and if it’s an object that’s going to be standing up, rotate it 90 degrees on the Z axis.

Then scale it up to the size you actually need it to be so you can zoom out again and actually start to get something useful done.

Useful Videos:

Two Titans – Terry Wiley and Craig Puranen Wilson

Going to start 2019 by remembering my friends Terry Wiley and Craig Puranen Wilson.

Newcastle lost two creative and cultural titans last year.

Craig Puranen Wilson   Terry Wiley
 

Creating a Palette for A Thing

One of the things I mentioned in my Paperjam comic ‘Making Websites Good‘ was the idea that a good colour scheme is better chosen from a photograph you like than from a raw colour picker. You’re more likely to get colours that work well together, that way for a number of reasons. The lighting on all of the things in the picture will be providing some kind of unity to the scheme. Also: you like the picture you chose right?

In starting to revisit my game ‘The Legend of Dracenstein‘ one of the first things to do is to start creating some sprites and tiles to move about the place. One of the joys of the Pico 8 was the limited Palette and having worked with that I learned a lot about colour theory in the process.

Anyway, to this end, I looked through my photo library and found some pictures of Japan. Stitched them together into a single image:

Next step: Image -> Mode -> Indexed Colour

It’ll ask you to merge layers, then you get some options. I selected 256 colours, to give myself a decent selection. For the purposes of a sprite sheet, that might be too many very similar ones.

Then: Image -> Mode -> Colour Table and save the palette.

And then make the Swatches Palette visible (Window -> Swatches) – put it wherever suits your workflow – and in the Swatches Menu choose Replace Swatches. Browse to your saved file and there you have it. A new colour palette to provide #joy and #inspiration.

Done. They look better on my desktop than they do in WordPress mind but you get the idea.

 

 

 

Pico 8 and The Legend of Dracenstein

I made a game on the excellent Pico 8. I very much recommend giving Pico 8 a go.

It was called ‘The Legend of Dracenstein‘.

I’m really pleased with how it came out and I’ve found Pico8 excellent to use: as a result I think it’s the first of many games I’ve started making that actually gets to something like finished. This is my tribute to the games I grew up on with the 48k ZX Spectrum in the early 80’s, so if you were around at the time you’ll spot quite a few references I hope.


The Legend of Dracenstein!

Destroy either Van Helsing (found in the Cathedral) or Victor Frankenstein (found in the Castle)

Get High Scores by collecting Blood Goblets, Completing Levels Fast or Destroying the hated enemies! 18 Levels (though you’ll likely see around half a dozen on a play through as each screen has two possible exits).

  • Evade Captain Nemo in the Nautilus!
  • Sacrifice The Artilleryman to his own washing machine and collect his blood!
  • Beware the Ossuary!

You have six Franks and six Dracula. Exit levels by using the blue box or brown pool portals (I wanted to make these sparkle a bit to draw attention but ran out of time and tokens)

Arrow Keys to move – movement is based on Pacman/Hungry Horace in that they’ll keep moving until you change direction or hit a wall. This enables players to swap between characters while the other is still in motion. A breakable piece of wall can be used as an anchor by pressing to move in that direction while passing.

  • X switches between Frankenstein and Dracula
  • Frankenstein + Z = Punch doors, open cracks in walls, break crucifixes
  • Dracula blows up if he goes near a Crucifix.
  • Dracula + Z = Teleport through two squares worth of the same material.

You get out of a level by putting both Frank and Dracula onto the blue or brown circle/pool thing. On most levels there are two possible exits.

Here’s a map:

Feedback is Welcome.

Quite a few people really seemed to get what I was going for and of those a few seemed to actually like it and the rest game me useful and good feedback – some i’ve been trying to implement, some would take me too far back to the drawing board so i’ll take those on board when I next try to make a game.

The feedback basically comes down to better affordances, that I just didn’t have room to solve in the code:

  • Visually signalling the exists (and indeed the point of it all) and the crucifixes better.
  • Better affordances generally and a slower difficulty ramp demonstrating the gameplay a bit more.
  • Identifying Safe Zones to drop the characters off in and checkpoints for saving progress.

  • Feels like playing chess where the other guy is deciding when you loose a piece by rolling a dice, then kicking you in the gonads.
  • Is this a Joke?

Please do not get annoyed with me for making a game you don’t like.

I’ve noticed a lot of people are capable of great anger when it comes to games. How about that. I imagine if i’d committed that crime while also being woman, i’d have got it worse.

Let me know how you get on (and thanks to everyone who offered advice and assistance, and to chowyunbrent for pointing me in the direction of pico8).

Summer 2018 Events (May to August)

Sunday 12th August:
Paper Jam Comics CollectiveTynemouth Book Fair

Weekend 4th and 5th August:
Paper Jam Comics CollectiveGet North Family Expo

We’ll be bringing the Comics Robot Go to St James’s Park as part of the Great Exhibition of the North.

Saturday 28nd July:
Exchange Free Range

Myself, Britt and Alex will be DJing at The Exchange in North Shields. We’ll be playing whatever we feel like, as usual, in the realms of Indie, Funk, Ska, Electronic, HipHop, BritPop, J-Pop, Big Beat. You should come and dance. Yes.

Saturday 20th July:
BarCamp North East

I gave a talk on Comics and Space and Time similar to this one, but also focusing on the Comics Robot Go, improvisation and random panel generation. I really enjoyed the format of BarCamp, and the talk seemed to go down well.

Saturday 7th July:
Paper Jam Comics CollectiveSmall Press Day

The Paper Jam Comics Collective attended the Make and Mend Market for Small Press Day.

Saturday 23rd June:
Paper Jam Comics CollectiveMidsummer Market at Bensham Grove 

Friday 22nd June:
Exchange Free Range

Thursday 21st June:
THELMA Awards

A work thing rather than a me thing – our Room Finder project was shortlisted for a Digital Innovation Award. It was a good project, and the innovation angle came in the building on prior Data integration projects to join disparate stuff together in a coherent way. I didn’t expect to win and we didn’t, but as I’ve done more innovative stuff for less, I’ll take it. I wore a bow tie and dinner suit. #innovation.

 

Exchange Free Range

Myself, Britt and Alex are doing semi regular DJ nights at The Exchange in North Shields. The remit is to be a bit free ranging, and the poster says: indie/funk/ska/electronic/hiphop/ britpop/J-pop/big beat/ rhythm & blues/rock’n’soul/disco.

Exchange Free Range

If you’re in the North East and like music, you should pay us a visit. Hopefully we’ll get a few more in before the summer is done.

Here’s the poster I made for it:

I was going for a various 90’s vibe with the posters – touch points being The Fall and Pop Will Eat Itself covers for that period. Here’s where I found the PWEI fonts.

The set list for the previous Free Range is as follows:

01. 0:00:00 Leonard Cohen – Everybody Knows
02. 0:05:22 Pixies – Wave of Mutilation
03. 0:07:17 Frank Black – Men in Black
04. 0:10:14 Fun Lovin’ Criminals – The Fun Lovin’ Criminal
05. 0:13:23 The Presidents of the United States of America – Peaches
06. 0:16:04 The Aliens – Robot Man
07. 0:19:39 Flight Of The Conchords – Robots
08. 0:23:23 Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains
09. 0:26:58 Pixies – Here Comes Your Man
10. 0:30:17 Camper Van Beethoven – Take the Skinheads Bowling
11. 0:32:38 Tripping Daisy – i Got a Girl
12. 0:36:40 Bomb the Bass feat. Justin Warfield – Bug Powder Dust
13. 0:40:53 Donna Summer – I Feel Love
14. 0:43:38 Leftfield – Open Up
15. 0:48:12 Jefferson Airplane – Somebody to Love
16. 0:50:57 The La’s – There She Goes Again
17. 0:53:34 Alfred Brown – One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer
18. 0:56:45 Freddy Robinson – Good Feeling
19. 1:00:06 John Hammond – Cross Cut Saw
20. 1:02:49 Sugarman Three – Pull My Cart
21. 1:06:21 Elaine Armstrong – That’s The Way It Goes
22. 1:07:57 DJ Format feat Chali 2Na & Akil – The Place
23. 1:11:13 Dream Warriors – Wash Your Face In My Sink
24. 1:14:44 Little Richard – Heeby Jeebies
25. 1:16:59 The Marvelettes – I’ll Keep Holding On
26. 1:19:22 Roy Hamilton – Crackin’ Up Over You
27. 1:21:32 Jerry & The Medicine Men – The Medicine Man pt 2
28. 1:23:43 Paul Revere & The Raiders – Just Like Me
29. 1:26:04 Nawfel – Jokes On You
30. 1:29:11 Edwyn Collins – Magic Piper
31. 1:32:55 The Go Team – Ladyflash
32. 1:36:58 Altered Images – I Could Be Happy
33. 1:40:21 The Spinto Band – Oh Mandy
34. 1:43:43 LOVE PSYCHEDELICO – unchained
35. 1:48:14 Bridie Jackson & The Arbour – Mucky
36. 1:50:41 Robyn – Cobrastyle
37. 1:54:49 CSS – Jager Yoga
38. 1:58:34 Blood Red Shoes – It’s Getting Boring by the Sea
39. 2:01:27 Shonen Knife – Twist Barbie
40. 2:04:50 Sonic Youth – Kool Thing
41. 2:08:56 Fatboy Slim – Praise You
42. 2:14:10 Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Couldn’t Get It Right
43. 2:17:39 Cornershop – Funky Days Are Back Again
44. 2:21:00 Snap – The Power
45. 2:24:32 Kula Shaker – Hush
46. 2:27:23 David Bowie – Golden Years
47. 2:31:14 Pulp – Disco 2000
48. 2:35:38 EMF – Unbelievable
49. 2:39:09 Professor Green – I Need You Tonight (feat. Ed Drewett)
50. 2:42:41 The Fall – Free Range
51. 2:46:32 Kula Shaker – Hey Dude
52. 2:50:31 Pixies – Head On
53. 2:52:44 The Rolling Stones – Sympathy For The Devil
54. 2:58:44 The Cure – Inbetween Days
55. 3:02:26 The Charlatans – The Only One I Know
56. 3:06:15 Fissunix – Rapper’s Cantaloop (Old School Hip-Hop Mashup Tribute)
57. 3:10:35 RUN DMC – It’s Tricky
58. 3:13:36 Basement Jaxx feat Siouxsie Sioux – Cish Cash
59. 3:17:54 Spice Girls – Wannabe
60. 3:20:39 Bim Skala Bim – Sunshine Of Your Love

And the poster for that evening looked like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comics Robot Go!

This is a Comics Panel Drawing Robot i’ve built for the Maker Faire 2018 and Paper Jam Comics Collective.

Music in the video is by Mister Fusty

The Paper Jam Comics Collective presence at the Maker Faire was really well received. We were awarded a Maker of Merit ribbon – these are awarded to Makers that have demonstrated great creativity, ingenuity and innovation for their Maker Faire UK project. The winners embrace the DIY spirit and inspire Makers of all ages.

Excellent. Chuffed.

Winter / Spring 2018 Events (January to April)

Weekend 28th and 29th April:
Paper Jam Comics Collective: Maker Faire

The Debut of the Comics Robot Go, which was built specifically for this excellent occasion.

Saturday 21st April:
Paper Jam Comics Collective: Baltic Self-Published Artist Market and Maker Faire 

15th February to 15th March:
A Hidden Cartography

An exhibition I curated and a book launch at The Exchange in North Shields, featuring the hidden places and the signs within them indicating the passing, residence, presence or summoning of otherwise Hidden Beasts, Monsters, Demons and other creatures.

Saturday 31st March: Exchange Free Range

Saturday 20th January: Exchange Free Range

The First Exchange Free Range – I had technical difficulties, but it proved that DJing could be a thing I could do.

 

 

 

Weird Romance …and that

Group effort here – I didn’t contribute much to this Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology. For the Cover, K Ben Clark did the drawing, and Britt did most of the colouring – I dropped in the font banner design and the background photo. Happy with it.

Invisible Beasts: A Hidden Cartography

An exhibition documenting Monstrous Territory

Those hidden places and the signs within them indicating the passing, residence, presence or summoning of otherwise Hidden Beasts, Monsters, Demons and other creatures.

A Hidden Cartography features 7 Artists working in North Shields. Curated by Paul Thompson hosted at The Exchange, North Shields for the duration of February and then made permanent in the form of a Book to be launched on the 15th of February.

The cover of Invisible Beasts, A Hidden Cartography was based on an image from Ellie Tarratt’s contribution.

Events

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/544434719250406/

Thursday 1st. February : Exhibition Opening

Music from 8pm by North Shields Soul Exchange DJ Alex (@alexiconman) will be playing an off-kilter selection of weird folk, out-there psych rock and other spooky oddities.

Thursday 15th February : Book Launch

Comics and Drawing from Newcastle based Paper Jam Comics Collective: Come along and create a collaborative Zines/Comic on the subject of monsters which will be printed and available at the Exchange and Paperjam events in future. Join us also for horrific board games: Mysterium and Mansions of Madness.

The Artists

Gary Bainbridge : Of The Boggletwix and The Moskett

  • Web: garybainbridge.co.uk
  • Twitter:              @gbcomics

Monsters are surely creatures who bring chaos, fear and disaster into the world. We run from them in despair, invest in trinkets to ward off their influence, some brave souls set out to fight them and banish them. But some braver still may seek to summon theses creatures in a time of great need. Hopefully at not too great a cost.

Brittany Coxon : A Hole in the Sky?

Have you ever noticed a hole in the night sky? An area void of all stars. Is it truly empty or perhaps only visible from the right angles? What kind of creature might inhabit or pass through? How would one chart this gap without any point of reference? Is it a gap or a doorway?

Michael Cunliffe : An American Guidebook

America is land of opportunity, where even monsters can make you money. Native beliefs, urban myths and mysterious disappearances soon find their way into haunted house tours, tourist traps and paranormal guidebooks as harmless entertainment for the masses. Dig deeper though, and you may uncover true horrors lurking beneath the denial and amusement.

Anthony Downie : Baphomet’s Lair

Anthony Downie is an illustrator based in North Shields. He can be found most days staring directly into the sun at the end of Howard Street. This gives him the insights he needs to envisage almighty Baphomet’s lair.

Michael Jeffries : Where the Housing Estates End

Monstrosity has been connected with mixture since mixture can be understood as transgression of boundaries; monsters threaten to destabilise what had been seen as a clear and normally uncrossable lines. What is monstrous is always defined in relation to what is human.

Oscillating Brow : Things In Little Squares

Maps powerfully communicate a demystified physical world within neat gridlines. These works are an attempt to repurpose that visual language to invoke the opposite: mystical narrative places, dream-logic reconstitutions of the familiar into the uncanny. Also: the artist really likes chopping and gluing stuff.

Ellie Tarratt : The Drovers’ Road

The oldest drovers’ roads have long been thought to follow the spirit or faery paths, now generally dismissed by modern historians as myth. Interest in these drover’s roads reached a height during the 14th century when some alchemists fell for the lure of faery gold, leading to the creation of Magister masks, now more commonly referred to as Drovers’ masks.

Paul Thompson : Emily’s Brain

Disappointingly for Emily, the only place monsters genuinely exist is in the human mind, so to build a monster we must first create a mind for it to inhabit. But what constitutes a mind and how to create it?

Artefice in Theatre, TV and Film

I know some things about comics, but I don’t know all that much about Theatre. I’m going to talk about it anyway, which is a risky way to go on.

Theatre aware of the audience. Obviously in a comic, tv or film, the actors can break the fourth wall and address the audience, but only theatre can react to and interact with the audience and commonly makes a feature of its artifice.

The War of the Worlds at The Northern Stage and also at The Exchange in North Shields later this summer directly acknowledges the audience, and I would like to know more about how this ties in with the chilling last lines in the play.

Some other things i’ve seen which I think a lot about:

The clip below is from The Table, by Blind Summit which showed at The Northern Stage early 2014:

And this is from Wildworks show The Beautiful Journey, which invites the audience into the camps and refugee caravans in which the stories take place and join in with the singing and music. It was beautiful.

Bertold Brecht:

Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience’s reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.

Cinematically, Hal Hartley is the most obvious film maker I can think of whose use of dialogue deliberately draws attention to the fact that it’s being acted. By actors:

In television, The Young Ones and Nightingales are two examples that are close to my heart – as John points out at the previous link, songs and music are also part of this (obvious, looking back in this post, but i’d not made the connection).

 

 

 

Bad Decisions

This was my submission for the Paper Jam Comics Collective anthology Bad Decisions …and that.

I think we can all agree that some questionable creative choices have been made here.

Lacking inspiration, I called the above mess ‘Something Something Fish Quotas’

I did a little design work for the cover of the Comic (which was drawn by Gemma Moody) – some reformatting to fit the space, that kind of thing, but the main bad decision exhibited here was trying to get a eye bleeding shocking pink for the text. It absolutely would not print in that colour and comes out a sort of purple.

 

Amazing Adventure Comics Machine …and that

Myself and Brittany Coxon worked on this framing strip for the Paper Jam Comics Collective anthology ‘Amazing Adventure Comics Machine‘ – our first in full colour, specifically as an all ages comic due to Space Monkey being close to sold out.

Intro Pages

Some self indulgent things here about the history of the group, I guess, but I don’t think I go too far – part of the point is to make the point that this stuff is just real people making the comics.

Finale

A joke about the form lol!

Cover

I also worked on the colouring and design of the cover of the anthology based on a drawing by Cuttlefish who devised a machine to dispense comics yet to be created.

Dungeons, Dragons, Scenes and Complexity

In the last year, i’ve been playing D&D both as the Dungeon Master and as a Player, and here are some of the things i’ve observed which I think creates a successful session or dungeon. It’s based around the notion that the three pillars of D&D, are:

  • Roleplay
  • Combat
  • Exploration

Rather than have separate scenes for each of these, I tend to think it’s possible and desirable to have all three as options in all Dungeons. Not being familiar with terms, i’m going to use the word ‘Dungeon’ to refer to any distinct part of a campaign that happens at a single location and the word ‘Scene’ to refer to a thing that happens in a single room with a collection of characters and objects.

Give the Players Lots of Problems

…rather than just a single mission to accomplish, the players can be given multiple problems to solve at once, sometimes these should be competing with each other for the players attention, actively working against each other and stacking up, and all of which can be played using any of the pillars. The following are examples of the kinds of things that should be happening not one at a time, but have several of these layered on at the same time:

  • The Players must rescue a Dark Elf Prisoner from a Castle by negotiation, combat or stealth, their choice.
  • The Custodian of the Castle is obsessed with adding to his collection of Powerful Magical Objects he has ordered local innkeepers to confiscate any Magical Objects from the players.
  • One or all of the Player are being pursued by an assassin / wanted by the local police for some reason related to a previous encounter.
  • When the Players arrive, a prison breakout is already underway, the Prisoner has set himself up as a mad cult leader making complex demands.
  • A secret entrance is a puzzle involving levers and passwords and stuff, but the players should never be left alone to solve it: they’re being sniped at all the while by either literal snipers or just a stupid goblin in a cage who is constantly insulting them and demanding release in order to give them clues.
  • Minor characters in bad situations, at very inconvenient moments.

Give the Players a Toy Box

Once the players have a mission to accomplish, the environment should be rich with stuff the players can use. Multiple levels, things to hide behind, destroy or climb over. Bridges and Balconies are always good. It is not the DM’s job to figure out how this stuff gets used, or even to worry about it. The players will always find things to do when under pressure.

  • If the players see a very expensive chandelier in a room near a balcony, above the entrance, that is clearly stolen from Elven culture, at a point where Orcs are imminent, there are at least three or four ways to use that.
  • A magic grappling hook/glove thing with a high chance of entertaining failure. This is a good tool, as it allows the players the opportunity to work with the environment and alter the topology of combat.
  • Barrels full of Very Expensive Flammable Booze.
  • You can’t beat an angry and belligerent Goat: fight, befriend or enrage for tactical opportunities.
  • Objects which have vaguely suggested interactions with other objects seem helpful, but don’t be prescriptive: all of the above seem to me to be combinable in interesting and alarming ways, alongside whatever other nifty items the players have on them.

Interesting Antagonists

Partly, the above points about complexity and toy boxes is to enable you as a DM to give the players more interesting villains for low level players and the equipment to deal with them outside of regular combat and weapons:

A badly wounded Liche who is bargaining with the players for its life and the players own while it is also under seige by a Half-Orc Crime Syndicate turned vigilante force gives the players a chance to encounter big villains without being completely outclassed in combat, as they would be against any one of these characters under normal circumstances.

Mister Mouthy

There was an imprisoned Gargoyle in the basement demanding to be set free (the players passed on this) and a swamp outside one entrance with a being known as ‘Mister Mouthy’ living in it. He ended up being used to dispose the main villain by an unexpected combination or throwing axes and flight potions.

But since we’re using this to pit the players against higher level villainy than the Manual recommends, we must…

Give the Players An Exit

If things are getting overwhelming, the players should never be unable to leave in such a way that it feels like an entertaining tactical and temporary withdrawal rather than failure. An exit should always lead to further complications and opportunities. Keep exit scenarios in mind in case you need to use them, if they aren’t used, they’ll keep.

  • Players leaping out of windows may find themselves in a moat containing an alternative entrance to the Dungeon. Probably the one with the goblin mentioned above if the players hadn’t found that by other means.
  • While the Villains are looking for the misplaced players, they can sneak back into the game, but the players have new pursuers to add to their troubles later.
  • They’re hiding in a Priests Hole when the encounter the Priest, a pythonesque character capable of giving the players important information, but is similarly insisting on shouting and singing and attracting the guards.

The players will find their way

Players will find their preferred solution to a problem: some will want to fight, some to sneak and some to roleplay their way into the castle, so it’s worth wile considering at least one ‘scene’ of each. Make them work for their preference and mix it in with the other things:

  • Players who want to Sneak can find the secret entrance, but also encounter That Priest or That Goblin meaning that they have to either Fight or Roleplay in order to maintain their sneakyness.
  • Players who want to Fight can find the fight, but will find themselves outclassed and find themselves having to explore to find tactical advantage, or Roleplay with other entities for support.
  • Players who want to Roleplay can find the tense negotiations, but should probably have to do it while hiding behind a barrel of explosives, or during which they witness a mugging through the window in the background.

The characters choose what success and failure means.

Part of the benefits of throwing a lot of stuff in is that it always gives the players (and their characters) choices: about how to prioritise threats and benefits, and about how to judge their own success.

  • OK we didn’t rescue the prisoner, but he tried to kill us, and anyway look at all this magical loot.
  • OK we are now wanted for the crimes of our enemies, but we freed the goblin slaves and our conscience is clear.
  • OK we had all our gear stolen, but we have all these barrels of expensive booze.

Pirate Town

A town harbouring Pirates, who prefer to remain secret, but with a vested interest against securing the town against the Mayors necromancer daughter, who had escaped from her ‘private residence’. It wasn’t a bad setup, fight was fun and the players had to decide what to do with the Daughter, who could be viewed as ‘innocent’ on some levels… But it was confused by having multiple factions of Pirates whose motives and power game in the town was vaguely explained and distracted from the meat of the situation.

Some mistakes I make:

  • Don’t overdo it and confuse the players, but should have maybe two immediate concerns from the three pillars during any scene, and maybe up to half a dozen such things going on in a bigger picture.
  • The players should largely be able to distinguish between the local story and the Campaign Story. The Campaign story should probably be pretty simple and easy to grasp: if you do have a grand conspiracy, interest in smoke and mirrors will wane pretty quick of you don’t start being decisive about giving players answers.
  • Aside from the Campaign Theme, don’t keep a concern live for more than two to three sessions otherwise either the players will bet bored with it, or conflate it with a bigger plot when you don’t want them to. So: tidy up none Campaign plot lines reasonably fast and have one closing as the next opens. After introducing an assassin, the players should start the next Dungeon being pursued but have the opportunity to confront and defeat them within the next two Dungeons.

Conclusion

As I got better I tended to make lots of modular bits and pieces: characters, objects, sets and combining these, ‘scenes’.

I should say that I always have a reasonably well sketched out situation: the players would feel as cheated if I was making it up as I went along as if I was rigid in the outcomes. This is hugely difficult to get right.

I usually have had some idea how these are to be strung together, but I’m usually quite happy to leave them out of a scenario for later use if they don’t occur. I’ll throw the band of drunken Dwarves in in when they’ll add complexity to the situation in response to a particular player action rather than necessarily that it has to happen at this particular point in the story.

By complexity, I sometimes mean threat, but more often than not I’m motivated by what seems funny and upsets the apple cart if the players are too relaxed about the setting: they should feel their characters are competent but always off balance.

The pacing of adding and resolving these multiple layers in a Scene or Dungeon is very difficult to get right. Finding a Rhythm is key. Some Inspiration:

Jackie Chan, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Left 4 Dead Director, Pixies

Making …and that

The Paper Jam Comics Collective anthology specifically made to celebrate the Maker Faire and launch at Maker Fire 2016, my comic outlines, in a vague sort of way, some ideas about making Websites Good… (and how they relate to making Comics Good, with specific emphasis on getting it done rather than right) …an area in which I have more expertise than I can ever be bothered to apply to my own projects. The result is a bit hap hazard, but I was trying to get away from things that try to hard with the rendering in favour of getting the ideas down.

Aside: I’ve been thinking about the cult of User-Centred (and Data-Driven) Design a lot recently, and while I get that if you’re actually building a web application to enable people to pay their taxes you want to remove all possible friction, but a lot of the conference cultists seem to completely miss the value of self expression, exploration and evoking curiosity.

Design can be influenced by many Sciences, but it can also be influenced by Art.

Anyway.

Also, I put together the Cover, based on interior strips and an Ikea Catalogue.

Gish Wishes

I have no idea what any of this means. I was given some brief instructions by Linda Jameson about the various characters involved. I think it was for a charity treasure hunt?

Anyway, I had a spare evening and did this. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. Presumably someone out there understands this, and that person understands it better than I.

Food Encounters of the Third Kind?

Here’s the comic I made for the Paper Jam Comics Collective Food …and that Anthology.

Deliberately trying to be less previous about the rendering here and focusing on just getting something done quick that has a few jokes. I’m pretty pleased with how it worked out and some of the panels are funny.

Game Over

The game may be over…

…but do we know who won?

As the members of the excellent Newcastle Playtest group will know, my preference is for games that do not require a counting of things and adding up of points after it has ended. Adding up the Victory Points is a very well used mechanic in modern boardgames, but it always leaves me cold.

All of the games listed below are brilliant and games I really enjoy and would always play when offered the chance. The purpose of the rest of this post is not to consider why they’re so widely used, question my objections to them, think on alternatives, and/or to find ways to make them easier or more relatable.

I understand why they must be so: one of the principles of Euro Game design is that ‘no player elimination’ is a good thing – and it is – all players should be fully invested in the game till it’s over. One way to achieve this is to hide who is doing exactly how well, and the most frequently encountered way of doing this is to hide it all in a pile of maths functions.

Since these functions are at least partially intended not to be intuitive, they must, by their nature, give you a headache.

No-one needs that.

Tzol'kin: The gods of maths will let us know who won.

Tzolk’in: The gods of maths and geometry will let us know who won.

Agricola, for example, ends like this. It feels… arbitrary and to me quite horrific:

lookout spiele.de wp content uploads agricola cards completelist v7.pdf

  • Ticket To Ride and Carcasonne should be more accessible family games but both feature a big pile of counting things up at the end, then subtracting penalties, then adding bonuses. Those latter two games are mostly tolerable because I play them on a console and the xbox is pretty good at counting things really fast and just sorts this out for us.
  • Small World and Libertalia are two of my favourite games – both better in that you only have to add up your pile of money which you’ve been hiding for the duration of the game.
  • Android: Netrunner is over when a player has seven points. No further adding up required. I suspect that this kind of thing is much, much easier to achieve in a two player game than a five player game, but note that the game allows for any player to get to seven in a single turn, so being on three while the other is on six is still not as obviously a lost cause as it might appear.

Can we eliminate any and all post game adding up without demoralising those who may have obviously lost early in the game but must keep on playing?

Android: Netrunner: ah, it's over.

Android: Netrunner: ah, my nets have been over ran.

Victory Points don’t exist

Victory Points are always unthematic: the game is over, and now the god of maths will tell you who won. Tzolk;in acknowledges that we’re appeasing the ineffable whims of the gods of cogwheels and maths so: fair enough. Not so Ticket To Ride, which alleges that it’s actually a race that takes place over 7 days… but… but…

If we’re designing a game  and find we’re adding up victory points, we could take a good look at our game and consider whether victory can be measured in something real and derived from the games theme so that the players understand who they are and what they’re competing for. If the victory points are more relatable, adding and removing them might be less of a chore.

Victory Points should to be replaced with some concrete thing that exists in the games theme

  • Can they be translated into some kind of market force or survival requirement? Can we hand out awards and trophies for having eight cows or five fields rather than move people a made up number along a score track? Ticket to Ride does this, but it could be a lot simpler.
  • Victory points are going to reflect the opinions of the game designer: It is Uwe Rosenberg who decided the relative values of carrots and sheep in Agricola, not any kind of in game or real market forces. If it must be this way, we could personify that and make the giver of victory points the opinion of a local lord, deity, AI (and if we do that, consider the possibility that we could all gang up on them and win a co-operative victory).
  • Consider the possibility that if no such thing exists in the games theme, the game shouldn’t be competitive?

Theory: Games with victory points are almost always games where there isn’t natural competition in the games theme anyway. Why are we even fighting?

Agricola: Um... ah... i'm enjoying my farm, but... winning?

Agricola: I’m enjoying my farm, but… I’m meant to be winning?

Less and Lower Numbers

The second thing we can consider is to minimise the things that need counting and adding up, lowering the numbers, lowering the amount of different numbers and making sure those that are left can be easily put into piles adding up to five or ten and easily divisible.

  • We remove trophies worth 4,18,27 and 11 and instead have trophies worth 1, 2 and 3. Blueprints has a really complex scoring system while you’re building, but a nice mechanic where your position on the score track is regularly exchanged for Prize cards, and it is these that are added up at the end. Most players will end up with only two to four of these.

Blueprints : A complex scoring system that gets paired down to a simpler one as you play.

Blueprints: A complex scoring system that gets paired down to a simpler one as you play.

  • We ensure that we provide tokens that can be put into piles and not added up in abstract. Small World and Libertalia do this well, they have coins in useful denominations that can be put into nice piles by each player.
  • Small Worlds’ combat mechanic is very interesting because it usually comes down to: whose pile of cardboard is the highest? This kind of idea could be nicely reused for scoring as it is immediate and visual.

Small World: That troll is on a bigger pile of cardboard than the skeletons. They should go home.

Small World: That troll is on a bigger pile of cardboard than the skeletons. They should go home.

The game is over when someone wins

I think that the ideal solution here is to figure out the goals from the theme, and the first player to achieve the goals indicated by the theme is the winner. It must be designed such that the goals are pretty obvious when achieved.

The downsides of this is are…

  • It’s likely to create games of unpredictable length (many modern boardgames are based on a fixed amount of turns, and most seem to aim for a game length that can reliably come in at 40 – 90 minutes).
  • If designed badly, we’ll end up with a kill the leader problem as seen regularly in Munchkin, Risk and race to the end games: the player in the lead gets his head kicked in, the players in second and third place then end up bargaining with the player in fourth place who acts as kingmaker while being unable to ever win themselves.

The upside is that it solves a lot of the other problems.

  • If we design the game so that the winner must take responsibility for hiding their potential to win or when this is likely to happen, all players would likely remain invested in the game throughout.
  • Other benefits are that since there is no longer a fixed turn limit, we’ll likely not get the ‘inevitable betrayal’ two turns before the end, or people stockpiling resources for the last half of the game for a final turn blowout: all players need to be always pushing for victory, and any pause to take stock is a risk.

Hellish complex, but it's over when you control 7 castles.

Game of Thrones: It’s over when that jerk controls 7 castles. I’m dead so I don’t need to do any more counting, which is a kind of moral victory.

Counting to none

One way to do that is to look at goals where the players are counting downwards rather than upwards: The first player to clear all of the pests from their garden, the first player to get all of their children to leave home, the first player to achieve a state of grace.

The games listed above: Agricola, Small World, Carcasonne are all about refining a position, and yet when it comes to the victory tracking, your purpose is to get more points until the game stops.

A game where the goal was to move towards none nicely lends itself to games whose themes are not so much about acquisition of lots of stuff, but refinement of a position, clearing out your karma, simplifying. The players resources move from a complex state to a simpler one as the player trades sets of cows for award cards, currency for favour cards, sets of favour cards for a few expensive ones, matches and discards all the sets of cards from their hands, finds ways to give them to other players, and ultimately, drops their last three Zen cards face up in a ‘tadaa’ moment.

Damnit I knew someone else had those Zen cards…

I think that’s probably quite a satisfying way to end a game.

Hypothesis: most games that currently have a quantitative, abstract victory point system could quite easily replace it with a qualitative one in a way that would simplify the end of the game, improve the experience of the players and will better support the games theme.

Newcastle Stories … and that :  ‘Urban Fictions’

31 May 2014 at The Late Shows 

The PJCC exhibition and anthology launch

The launch of the Paper Jam Comics Collective‘s tenth anthology, Newcastle Stories, took place at the Holy Biscuit as part of The Late Shows 2014. As any novocastrian knows, The Late Shows are annually one of the most exciting art events in the North East of England and we were very proud to have had this opportunity to take part.

Newcastle Stories ...and that - Cover by Gary Bainbridge

Newcastle Stories …and that – Cover by Gary Bainbridge

As well as artwork exhibited by the collective, and the launch of our anthology, the exhibition included prints, collages and photography on the subject of Urban Fictions, and a Board Game simulating the not inconsiderable terror of Newcastle’s Bigg Market. The game was created by the excellent Mike Jeffries of Northumbria University (Mike was also a great source of wisdom during the early development of the Newcastle Science Comic project).

I had two pieces in the exhibition and comic: Schwitters and Calvert, I also designed the back cover and the PJCC logo.

Paul Thompson showing off his comic: Calvert

Paul Thompson showing off his comic: Calvert

Schwitters

from Newcastle Stories …and that.

a Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology

Newcastle Stories …and that was the Paper Jam Comics Collective’s 10th collaborative anthology, launched as part of the Late Shows on 17th May 2014. It was launched as part of a larger exhibition in collaboration with The Holy Biscuit entitled ‘Urban Fictions’.

I had two pieces in the comic. This one, Schwitters, is about the how the Merzbarn arrived in Newcastle and is still viewable at the Hatton Gallery.schwitters-web

Calvert

from Newcastle Stories …and that.

a Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology

Newcastle Stories …and that was the Paper Jam Comics Collective’s 10th collaborative anthology, launched as part of the Late Shows on 17th May 2014. It was launched as part of a larger exhibition in collaboration with The Holy Biscuit entitled ‘Urban Fictions’.

I had two pieces in the comic. This one, Calvert, is about the how the Tyne and Wear Metro System got its font.

calvert-web