Today’s Art (6th December 2016)

Well, my long-running occasional webcomic has returned for another mini series. If you want to catch up on the previous seven mini series, links to them can be found in the “2016” segment of this site’s comics index. Stay tuned for another comic at the same time tomorrow night🙂

Like with the comic I posted a couple of days ago, this one was originally made several months in advance (before the EU referendum, and the change of prime minister and chancellor that followed). So, it’s completely out of date. But, I’ll post it for historical reasons anyway (albeit with a greyscale filter and an additional note).

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Regrown - Political Cartoons (Alternate history version)" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Regrown – Political Cartoons (Alternate history version)” By C. A. Brown

The Three Basic Types Of Webcomic Panels (And How To Use Them)

2016 Artwork Webcomic panel types article sketch

Well, I thought that I’d talk about some of the basics of making webcomics today. In particular, I’d talk about the three most common types of panels in “newspaper comic”-style webcomics, and how to use them. Although these panel types can (and should!) be combined in interesting ways, they are each suited to different types of storytelling.

If anyone is curious where the examples in this article come from, they’re from the numerous “Damania” webcomic mini series that are linked to in the “2016” part of this page. However, the example for the second point on the list is actually a preview of an upcoming comic from my Christmas mini series.

1) Art panel: This one is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a panel that consists of nothing but art:

As you can see, there's no dialogue here, just art.

As you can see, there’s no dialogue here, just art.

Since there is no dialogue in these types of panels, they can be “read” a lot more quickly. This makes them perfect for both “setting the scene” at the beginning of your comic and for dramatic visual punchlines at the end of your comic. In addition to this, they can also provide a short “break” for the reader after a dialogue-based panel. It takes a bit of experimentation to get it right, but they can be useful tools when working out the pacing of your webcomic.

These panels are also often the quickest and most enjoyable type of panel to make, since you only have to focus on art rather than writing. However, since you only have a few panels at your disposal in each webcomic update you shouldn’t use too many of these panels unless absolutely necessary. Likewise, the audience will be paying far more attention to the art in these panels than they will in other types of panel – so, try to make the art as good as possible.

2) Dialogue panel: This is the most common, basic and functional type of webcomic panel. It simply consists of two or more characters talking to each other:

Here's a dialogue panel from my upcoming Christmas webcomic mini series.

Here’s a dialogue panel from my upcoming Christmas webcomic mini series.

If you’re short on time when making your comic, one of the advantages of a dialogue panel is that you can simplify the art slightly (if you want to), and it won’t be too noticeable because the audience’s attention will be focused on reading the dialogue. This is different to an art-based panel, where all of the audience’s attention is focused on the art.

Anyway, The general rule with dialogue panels is that all dialogue is read from top to bottom. So, if a character is speaking first, their speech bubble should be above the other character’s speech bubble.

Since you’ll probably only have a small amount of room for dialogue, learning how to write concise dialogue is essential if you’re making a “newspaper comic”-style webcomic.

This takes a bit of practice, but a good general rule is that – when you’re learning – brief “functional” dialogue (eg: “I saw Mary at the bookshop yesterday”) is preferable to long-winded dialogue (eg: “You wouldn’t believe who I ran into when I went to the bookshop yesterday, Mary from over the road.”). Yes, it might sound very boring when you’re learning but, once you get used to the format, you’ll be able to add a bit more flair to your dialogue.

Since dialogue panels are one of the easiest ways to convey information to the reader, it can be tempting to produce “talking head” comics where two characters do nothing but stand still and talk to each other. These comics can be extremely boring to read, so it’s usually a good idea to break up the visual monotony by adding an art panel or a….

3) Caption panel: This is a panel that consists of an image, with a “voice over” style caption above it, like this:

This is an example of a caption panel. You can, of course, also add dialogue to the illustration if you want to.

This is an example of a caption panel. You can, of course, also add dialogue to the illustration if you want to.

This panel type has some of the advantages of the previous two types of panels. It’s main role is to either show what your characters are thinking, to show something that doesn’t appear in the main setting of your webcomic and/or to make a “talking head” comic look a bit less boring. Not only that, you can obviously also include dialogue in these panels too.

One other advantage of this panel type is that, since you don’t have to cram the dialogue into a small speech bubble, you can include slightly more writing here than you might be able to do in a dialogue-based panel. Just make sure to leave some room for the art though.

However, this type of panel can be slightly slower to read than both art-based and dialogue-based panels, so it’s probably best not to use it in more fast-paced parts of your webcomic. It’s best when used for descriptions, thoughts and other slow-paced things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful🙂

Today’s Art (5th December 2016)

Well, my long-running occasional webcomic has returned for another mini series. If you want to catch up on the previous seven mini series, links to them can be found in the “2016” segment of this site’s comics index. Stay tuned for another comic at the same time tomorrow night🙂

Have you ever wondered what Derek and Rox having a drunken 2AM conversation about music looks like? Well, now you know.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Regrown - Mainstream" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Regrown – Mainstream” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Red Faction II [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Red Faction II Review sketch

Although I have very fond memories of playing the Playstation 2 version of “Red Faction II” when I was a teenager, I’d almost forgotten about this game until earlier this year when I saw that the PC version of this game was on special offer on GOG. Out of sheer nostalgia, I bought a copy within an hour of seeing it.

During the sale, the game cost about two quid and this is probably what I’d recommend paying for this game (for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this review). So, it’s probably a good idea to wait until it goes on offer again. At the time of writing, this game also seems to be available on Steam for a slightly lower price than the full-price GOG version, however it also comes with all of Steam’s DRM too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Red Faction II”:

2016 Red Faction II Main menu with bot match

“Red Faction II” is a dystopian science fiction FPS game that was originally released for the Playstation 2 in 2002 (with the PC port being released in 2003). Although it is supposedly a sequel to “Red Faction“, you don’t need to have played that game first since it’s almost a completely different game.

In “Red Faction II”, you play as Alias, a demolitions expert in a team of nanotechnology-enhanced super soldiers that serve under the command of a Stalin-like dictator called Sopot. However, after a few years, Sopot becomes suspicious of the super soldiers and orders them killed.

Fortunately, Alias and the rest of the team are able to escape execution and they decide to ally themselves with the Red Faction, a group of rebels who are waging a civil war against Sopot’s government….

Although the premise of the game sounds slightly generic, there’s a surprising amount of complexity in the game’s story. Yes, it can’t exactly be compared to a novel – or even a TV show – but, for a FPS game from the early 2000s, the story is slightly more complex than you might think. However, I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers.

I have a lot to say about this game, so I’ll start by talking about the things I loved about this game and then I’ll talk about all of it’s flaws. There are a lot of things in each category, so I’ll split this review into two segments.

The Good Things About “Red Faction II”:

One thing that I really love about this game is it’s atmosphere. Although there are at least few generic “military base”/ “dreary factory” levels, some of the levels have a very distinctive cyberpunk aesthetic to them that reminded me of a cross between “Tron” and “Blade Runner”:

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory :)

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory🙂

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like "Blade Runner". Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like “Blade Runner”. Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

The range of weapons in “Red Faction II” is surprisingly good too. Although this game includes a few boringly “realistic” guns, many of the weapons on offer here are of the futuristic variety and they all look, sound and feel really great.

The weapon that you’ll probably be using the most is the “NICW” – a futuristic assault rifle that also contains a powerful grenade launcher. Since it’s extremely useful at both short and long ranges, you’ll probably just end up ignoring all of the other weapons once you find it.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it's secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it’s secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Plus, unlike many other FPS games, “Red Faction II” contains a ridiculous number of weapons. One of the advantages of playing classic FPS games on the PC is that you can use the number keys to switch between weapons. Well, in “Red Faction II”, you’ll also have to use several punctuation keys to select weapons too. And that’s not even including the 4-5 types of grenades that you’ll find throughout the game. Seriously, I cannot fault the weapons in this game.

As for the enemies, they’re moderately interesting. Since this game came from the tail end of the time when FPS games were at their best, there is some actual creativity here. Although you’ll spend the first few levels fighting generic “enemy soldier” enemies, you’ll soon also be facing robots (large and small), evil “nano elite” super-soldiers and two types of zombies.

Yes, they’re technically nanotechnology-enhanced corpses but, well, zombies!:

Yay! It's a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun :)

Yay! It’s a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun🙂

In addition to this, the game also contains several challenging boss battles too. Does anyone else remember when FPS games used to include these? Although these battles can occasionally become frustrating due to some poor elements of the game’s design (which I’ll discuss later), they mostly provide an enjoyable challenge where you’ll have to think carefully about the tactics that you use.

This game also includes several vehicle segments too. Although I’m normally opposed to vehicle segments in FPS games, most of these segments are fairly good (especially those where you get to use a giant suit of battle armour). However, the segment where you control a gun on an aircraft plays like an on-rails shooter rather than a FPS game, which can be confusing at first. However, as I’ll explain in the other half of this review, one of the game’s other vehicle sections isn’t so good.

Another good thing about this game is the excellent voice acting. A few seconds after you see the main menu, you will be greeted by a thunderous speech from Sopot which really sets the tone for the game. Seriously, it’s something that you won’t forget – and will probably be able to recite parts from memory after listening to it a few times. Not only that, there are also a couple of famous names amongst the voice cast too:

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham :)

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham🙂

Plus, as a single-player gamer, one thing I loved about the PC port of this game is that fact that instead of a multiplayer mode (that I’ll never use), the game only includes a “bot match” mode, where you can play deathmatch, capture the flag etc… games against the computer🙂

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local  multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

Since you’ll unlock extra content for it (as well as several movie/ model/ concept art galleries) as you progress through the main game, it has even more replay value than you might expect. However, if you’re a multiplayer gamer, the lack of local or online multiplayer will probably be a critical flaw rather than an awesome feature.

The Bad Things About “Red Faction II”:

Despite all of my praise for this game, it is not without a litany of serious flaws. Most of these problems stem from the fact that this game is very obviously primarily designed for consoles. These are things that I didn’t notice much when I was a naive PS2 (and PC) playing teenager but, as a more seasoned retro FPS PC gamer, they stand out from a mile away.

The first of these problems is that this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving. Yes, I can see why this was done for practical reasons on consoles, but there’s no excuse whatsoever for it in PC games. And, as if to taunt you further, the game contains a “save game” option in the in-game menu, which only allows you to re-save your latest checkpoint.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many of the boss battles are preceded by unskippable cutscenes which you’ll have to re-watch every time that you die. And, this will probably happen again and again and again….. Seriously, I pretty much memorised the dialogue in the cutscene before the final boss battle.

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

In addition to checkpoint saving, this game also includes a limited form of *ugh* regenerating health. Since the original version of this game was released in 2002, the rot hadn’t fully set in yet, so you’ll still be able to collect health power-ups. However, these serve as more of a “lives” system and you lose one of them whenever your short regenerating health bar runs out.

Ironically, the “bot match” mode includes a proper non-regenerating health system, so I don’t see why this couldn’t have been added to the main game as well.

Plus, despite carrying the “Red Faction” name, this game has barely any links to the previous game. In fact, even the really cool “geo mod” system in the first game (that allowed you to destroy almost everything in the game) has been reduced to a few specific pre-determined desctructible items, walls and areas. I really don’t understand why this unique and distinctive feature was mostly removed in the second game. I mean, it was one of the things that made the original “Red Faction” stand out so much.

Not only that, there are only a few very easily-missed token references to the first game here:

Wow, I never that that I'd actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation....

Wow, I never that that I’d actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation….

The level design in “Red Faction II” is also more “modern” than classic too. What I mean by this is that many of the levels are of the highly linear variety. Yes, there are a few non-linear parts and a few cool hidden areas to find but – for the most part – there isn’t really much room for exploration. You just carry on walking along the one fixed path that the game designers have told you to follow.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

Even though I’m not really much of an options nerd, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that, apart from re-bindable keys and a few gameplay options, the “options” menu is fairly limited. You can’t change the screen resolution or do many of the things that you would expect in a PC game. Still, since it’s from 2002-3, this game will run smoothly on even fairly old PCs (like mine).

Although the game’s progamming is fairly stable and reliable, I had one “shout at the screen in frustration” moment when a glitch prevented me from completing a particularly difficult boss battle. After several attempts, I’d finally completed the first half of the battle and I was moving to the second half when….

 ... I got stuck in a door. I'd just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss... Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

… I got stuck in a door. I’d just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss… Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

The absolute worst part of the game by far is, of course, the submarine section.

Many of the vehicle segments in this game are fast-paced and thrilling… and then you have to spend some time aboard a … well, I can’t think of an insult strong enough to describe it … submarine. Not only does this decrepit rust-bucket handle like a slow-moving brick (unlike the enemy submarines that will be shooting you and the homing mines scattered on the ground below you), but it’s weapons are slow-firing and inaccurate too.

 I'm not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

I’m not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll be spending these parts of the game navigating murky underwater caverns. In fact, once you’ve completed the objective in the last part of the submarine level, you then have the fun task of finding the submarine bay that will allow you to finally leave this despicable crime against gaming behind you. Forever.

Of course, the submarine bay doors are not clearly lit or clearly marked. In fact, they’re hidden in a part of the level that doesn’t even obey the laws of physics! In one part of the level, there are several thin metal platforms (that are thinner than the submarine) protruding from a rock. If you try to land on top of them, as any sensible person would, nothing will happen. Instead, you have to go underneath one of these thin platforms… to surface inside a large indoor facility that is obviously directly above the thin metal platform that you just landed on top of twenty minutes ago! AAAARGH!!!!

Conclusion:

All in all, this game is a real mixed bag. For every wonderfully cool thing about it, there is also something absolutely terrible. Although I miss the days when I could be naively nostalgic about this game, re-playing it wasn’t an entirely bad experience. As such, I’d recommend waiting until this game goes on sale before you buy it (or, even better, buying the first “Red Faction” game instead).

Even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, if you’re willing to put up with some extremely frustrating moments and console-centric PC game design.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would maybe get a three.

Today’s Art (4th December 2016)

Well, my long-running occasional webcomic has returned for another mini series. If you want to catch up on the previous seven mini series, links to them can be found in the “2016” segment of this site’s comics index. Stay tuned for another comic at the same time tomorrow night🙂

As regular reader probably know, I make these comics (and write these descriptions) at least several months in advance of when they appear here. And, yes, I didn’t predict the US election correctly in this comic.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Regrown - Back In Time (alternate history version)" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Regrown – Back In Time (alternate history version)” By C. A. Brown

When To Use Invincible Comic Characters (And When Not To)

2016 Artwork Death In Webcomics article sketch

Well, I’m still in the mood for writing about making webcomics – although everything that I say in this article can probably also be applied to both traditional comics and (to a lesser extent) prose fiction too. In fact, I’ll also be using examples from television and cinema too. I will, of course, be talking about death. Or, rather, the lack of it.

"Damania Regrown - Cheating Death" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Regrown – Cheating Death” By C. A. Brown

One of the most important, but usually subconscious, decisions that you’ll have to make when you start making a webcomic (even an occasional one) is the question of whether your characters can die or not. Or, more accurately, how difficult it will be for your main characters to die.

The general rule here is that, if you’re making a comedy comic, then your main characters should either be immortal or – at the very least- extremely unlikely to die. Although this depends a lot on the style of humour you’re using, it’s a good general rule to follow.

Generally, good comedy tends to subvert the rules of life slightly. After all, good comedy relies on playing with the audience’s expectations. For example, if the famous “Springfield Gorge” scene from “The Simpsons” took place in a “realistic” live action film, not only would it be stomach-churningly horrific – but it would only last for maybe a quarter of the amount of time, for the simple reason that Homer Simpson would have died by then.

However, since it’s an unrealistic stylised cartoon in a comedy show where character deaths are extremely rare, the scene goes from being one of abject horror to being a classic example of slapstick comedy. But, it’s only funny because we all know that Homer Simpson won’t die. Not only that, we also know that his injuries will have magically disappeared in the next episode.

But, if you’re going to include frequent character deaths in a comedy comic, then make sure that these characters don’t have too much characterisation. For example, in my short-lived comedy fiction series from 2013 called “Ambitus“, one of the running jokes is that the lifespan of Captain Jola’s first officer can usually be measured in minutes rather than years. Since these characters tend to die in amusingly bizarre ways several minutes after being introduced, the audience doesn’t have time to form an attachment to them.

However, if your comic or webcomic is trying to tell a more “dramatic” story, then you should probably take death a bit more seriously. For example, one of the things that has always put me off of the superhero genre is the fact that the main characters seem to be pretty much invincible (and/or easily brought back from the dead). When the main character is invincible in a “serious” story, then it’s like playing a computer game with the “God mode” cheat turned on. It’s fun for a few minutes, but it quickly loses all suspense and becomes boring as a result.

To use a cinematic example that I’ve used before, it’s like the difference between the first and fifth “Die Hard” movies. In the first movie, one dramatic moment is when the main character treads on some broken glass and seriously injures his foot (which actually has an effect on the story, for a short while at least). This increases the suspense by explicitly showing the audience that he’s only human. It also makes his eventual victory against a team of heavily-armed terrorists all the more dramatic and satisfying.

However, in the fifth movie, the same character is able to survive a large fiery explosion right next to him just by hiding behind a small box. He’s also able to fall large distances, with only a scratch or two to show for it. He’s very clearly invincible, so there’s no real suspense because the film has basically told the audience “he’s an invincible superhuman who cannot be harmed, unlike the villains..“. He goes from being an action hero to being a superhero in all but name.

Of course, I’ve described two extremes here. Obviously, not everything is either highly comedic or gloomily serious. Most things fall somewhere in the middle.

Even so, it’s worth considering how invulnerable your characters will be before you start making a webcomic, making a traditional comic, writing a novel etc..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful🙂

Today’s Art (3rd December 2016)

Well, my long-running occasional webcomic has returned for another mini series. If you want to catch up on the previous seven mini series, links to them can be found in the “2016” segment of this site’s comics index. Stay tuned for another comic at the same time tomorrow night🙂

Wow! It has been way too long since the Grim Reaper appeared in a “Damania” comic!

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Regrown - Cheating Death" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Regrown – Cheating Death” By C. A. Brown