“Jadzia Strange (remake)” – Pages 24 & 25

Well, here are pages twenty four and twenty five of “The Adventures Of Jadzia Strange“. Whilst I quite like the writing on these pages, the art in most of the panels was slightly rushed.

And, yes, I know that the plants look nothing like an Agave Americana (even a mutant one). It’s kind of an extremely obscure in-joke/reference (anyone who did a GCSE in ICT in the early-mid 2000s might get the reference though).

As usual, these two pages are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 24" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 24” By C. A. Brown

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 25" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 25” By C. A. Brown

This Looks Cool :) – “Zombies Hate Kung Fu” By Ricky-Marcel Pitcher, David Velasquez and Leo Au Yeung

Image from: http://www.verygraphicnovels.com/pressimages.html

Art by David Velasquez

Well, I recently got a comment mentioning this comic project which is currently raising funds on Kickstarter.

I was initially slightly sceptical but, when I read the press release, it actually sounded like a seriously cool comic with a fairly innovative take on the zombie genre too (seriously, Iā€™m surprised that no-one has ever thought of combining martial arts and zombies before).

Here’s the plot synopsis from the press release:

“…it covers a self contained story, introducing a Kung Fu expert called Mann and a horticulturaly gifted slacker named Ziggy. The two form a unique partnership, combining their disparate skills and allowing them to thrive in the face of the zombie apocalypse. Mann and Ziggy’s ‘easy’ life of growing, trading and fighting is suddenly disrupted when they run into a scientist who has her own theory on the origin of the ‘zombies’, and how to deal with them. Reluctantly, Mann and Ziggy get thrown into her adventure of scientific experiments and running battles with a mysterious band of heavily armed strangers, along with their regular tangles with zombie hordes.”

One of the innovative things about this comic is that a Wing Chun master and fight choreographer called Leo Au Yeung will design all of the fight scenes in the comic. Not only that, most of the fight scenes will apparently be rotoscoped from footage of Master Leo and his students too. So it seems like the Kung Fu in this comic may be fairly realistic and accurate too.

Also, the fact that Mann is wearing blue gloves in a lot of the art from the comic seemed a bit puzzling at first (and I thought that it was a “Firefly” reference). However, I suddenly realised (in a moment of what TV Tropes would call “Fridge Brilliance“) that he probably wears these to stop himself from being contaminated [with a possible (?) zombie virus or just ordinary bacteria from the zombies] if he grazes his fists whilst fighting the zombies.

If Pitcher and Velasquez are able to put such a clever detail into the promotional art alone, then the comic is probably going to be filled with interesting and realistic stuff like this…

So, if you are interested, check out the Kickstarter page.

Review: “Virus: It Is Aware” (Playstation One Game)

Since I recently got a second-hand copy of this game, I thought that I’d review it. I should probably point out that I’ve only played it for a couple of hours, so this review only reflects my initial experiences of the game. However, in all honesty, a couple of hours of “Virus: It Is Aware” is probably more than enough. I think that this may well be my first truly cynical review on this blog. So, yes, it will be long and it will be sarcastic.

The thing is that, despite all odds, I wanted to like this game. Yes, it was a movie tie-in (and this type of game doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation) for a sci-fi/horror film called “Virus”, but the cover art looked amazingly cool and the intro movie was also amazingly cool too. Even the menus looked wonderfully dark, cyberpunk, gothic and futuristic too. I was excited and I was looking forward to playing this game. What a fool I was.

Little did I know that these are probably the best things about this lamentable 3rd person shooter game. From what I gather, this game doesn’t follow the plot of the movie (which I saw about half of on TV about seven or eight years ago) but takes place sometime after the events of the film.

Anyway, you play as Joan – a police officer without a surname – who, along with her partner Sutter, has to infiltrate a hotel because it has been filled with zombies and cyborgs which have something to do with the villain in the film. As I said earlier, I’ve only played this game for a couple of hours, but any connection to the film seems to be tenuous as best.

Although I say that I’ve only played this game for a couple of hours, what I mean is that I’ve only got halfway through the second level. The levels are fairly short and it still took me a couple of hours to get to the second level.

This is mainly on account of the fact that the game is frustratingly difficult in all sorts of obtuse ways – Joan can take a lot of damage very quickly and the only health power-ups you will get are when Sutter randomly decides to heal you at a couple of points in the first level. Not only that, but there are a few “instant death” moments where unless you’ve worked out exactly what to shoot or exactly where to stand or run (through lots of labourious trial and error), then you’ll end up dying in less than three seconds.

Now this might not be so bad if “Virus: It Is Aware” had a decent re-start system which allowed you to try again (from an earlier point in the level) a few seconds later or to re-start the level instantly. But, no, that would be logical. That would be fun.

Instead, it displays an animated “game over” screen, then it spends a while loading the main menu again. After that, you can start a new game (and go through the 3-4 pages of introductory text again) or you can load a saved game.

If the difficulty curve of the first freaking level was reasonably fair, then this wouldn’t be an issue. But, since you’ll end up dying ridiculously often in the first level, this process gets very annoying very quickly.

As for the gameplay, I’ve already mentioned the “instant death” moments in the first level, but the other frustrating thing about this game is how repetitive it is. Whilst I don’t really mind this too much if the gameplay is reasonably solid – when you’re fighting the same three enemies in pretty much the same room for the third time, it starts to get a little bit dull.

In fact, “fighting” isn’t even the right word. Since you start the game with two fairly weak pistols which you can’t re-load whenever you need to (ok, I’ll give the game points for realism here) and you are faced with enemies that will pretty much halve your health bar if they get within a metre of you, combat in this game mainly consists of running backwards and tapping the “fire” button as quickly as you can.

Fortunately, this game has a fairly intuitive and almost automatic aiming system, so the designers obviously put a tiny bit of thought into trying to make the game playable.

However, the gameplay and combat also suffers from another major flaw. You can’t strafe. Yes, I’m serious here. This is a fast-paced shooter game with no strafing in it. I’m serious. Whether it’s a first-person shooter game or a third-person shooter game, it’s a pretty well-known fact of gaming that moving sideways is an essential part of gameplay. Hell, even games which were made four years before “Virus: It Is Aware” gave the player the ability to strafe.

In addition to this, “Virus: It Is Aware” contains a few interactive ‘in game’ cutscenes. Now, this might sound pretty cool and forward-thinking for a game made in the late 90s, but there is no way to tell whether a cutscene is interactive or not until several enemies are already attacking you. Not only that, but when the cutscenes end, the camera angle and/or the player’s position will sometimes suddenly change. This can be disorientating and distracting to say the least.

In fact, during one part of the first level (where you have to outrun a wall of water and climb up a ladder) the camera completely changes direction halfway through this fast-paced and time-sensitive sequence. In fact, the only way I was able to get through this part of the level was through dead reckoning (eg: making sure that I ran along a line between two rows of floor panels in the corridor) and a lot of time-consuming trial and error.

The dialogue in this game is done entirely via text boxes too. This is probably a good thing since I still dread to think of what kind of quality the voice-acting would have had if it had been even twice as good as the dialogue itself. Honestly, it seems like some of the dialogue has been badly-translated into English from another language. This probably wouldn’t be an issue if the dialogue was interesting and contained proper characterisation, but most of Joan and Sutter’s conversations in the first level are as generic and utilitarian as some of the robots they are fighting.

I can’t really comment on the settings, since I only played one and a half levels before abandoning this game out of sheer frustration, but the first level is set in a vaguely-futuristic and very generic sewer. This is probably a good metaphor for the game itself too.

All in all, the box art might look cool and the intro movie might give “Resident Evil” a run for it’s money, but the only people who might be genuinely interested in playing as much of this game as possible are game designers who want to learn what kind of mistakes to avoid when making a game.

If I had to give this so-called “game” a rating out of five, then it would get one and a half. And the only reason it gets one and a half rather than one is because of the cool intro movie, the realistic (albeit badly-handled) reloading system and the cool menu design.

“Jadzia Strange (remake)” – Pages 22 & 23

Well, here are pages twenty two and twenty three of “The Adventures Of Jadzia Strange“. I’m really proud of the art and panel layout on page twenty two, although page twenty three was slightly rushed and looks a bit too cartoonish.

As usual, these two pages are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 22" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 22” By C. A. Brown

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 23" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 23” By C. A. Brown

Three Ways To Write A Cool Story

2013 Artwork Cool Story Sketch

I’m sure that you’ve probably read a few cool stories. These are the kind of stories which linger in your imagination and shape it for years afterwards. The kind of stories where you still keep your first dog-eared copy of it in a special place on your bookshelf as if it is some kind of priceless sacred relic. The kind of stories which you look at and think ‘damn, I wish I’d written that.’

The amusing thing is that, although a few stories are fairly well-recognised as “cool” (eg: ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac, “Neuromancer” by William Gibson etc…), everyone will have their own personal ideas of what is and isn’t a “cool” story. If we all thought that the same things were cool, we’d probably be borg drones or cylons rather than human beings.

Although I’d count “Lost Souls” and “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite (Billy Martin) and “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis as being valued parts of any canon of “cool” literature, many people (with no taste) probably wouldn’t. What we consider to be cool is, by it’s very definition, extremely subjective.

Whilst this is much less of an issue with visual forms of storytelling (eg: comics, art, films etc…), telling a cool story using only the written word is a much more difficult thing to do (and it’s something I still hope to do one day). The fact is that, if you tell a cool story, it will probably be obscure for a while. It’ll be a cult classic. This is a good thing. A small number of dedicated and interested fans is a lot better than hordes of slightly more indifferent and superficial fans. Plus, to be honest, the real challenge of making something cool is to make something that will still be cool at least a couple of decades later.

Anyway, I thought I’d give you three alliterative tips about writing a seriously cool story. Your cool story must be subversive, sacred and savvy. Allow me to explain:

1)Your story must be subversive: I’m not talking about politics here. There is nothing worse than a political tract poorly-disguised as a story. But, your story should still be subversive in other ways – in other words, it should show the world from a perspective which is either ignored or derided by the mainstream.

Your protagonist and/or narrator shouldn’t be an ordinary “everyman” or “everywoman” character. They should, to use a wonderful term used a lot by Kate Bornstein, be an “outlaw” of some kind or another.

This doesn’t mean that your main character has to be a literal “outlaw” who is on the run from the authorities. However, it means that your main character has to be outside of what is currently recognised as the mainstream. Of course, there’s something of a paradox in this, since mainstream society is thankfully gradually becoming more accepting and open-minded (despite the efforts of more conservative people). This is a wonderful thing for everyone. Except writers.

After all, what was “subversive” a few decades ago usually becomes part of the mainstream. So, you have to find a way to make sure that your story will still be subversive even when some parts of it have become mainstream.

One way of doing this is to make your story so transgressive and shocking that, even years later, the mainstream will barely even want to look at it. But, the downsides of this approach are that, eventually your story will lose it’s shock value after more shocking things are made and you might even face the occasional obscenity trial too. So, I wouldn’t advise using this strategy unless you’re William Burroughs, the Marquis De Sade or Kathy Acker.

Instead, if you want to write something subversive and cool, look at yourself. Look at your worldview, your experiences, your opinions and the essential parts of who you are. Now find the unique parts of your soul, find the parts of yourself which don’t quite “fit in” with the world around you. You might only have a couple of these, you might have loads of them. Once you’ve found them, find a way to incorporate them into your story.

Yes, it will be scary (and I’m an absolute coward when it comes to this) since you will basically be “exposing yourself” in your stories. However, even if you do this in a subtle, exaggerated, altered and/or obscured way, then it will still add a lot to your story.

2) It must be sacred: A truly cool story isn’t something which you read once and then forget about. It isn’t a throwaway thriller novel or a formulaic romance novel. It isn’t “fashionable” either – yes, things that are fashionable might be “cool” for a while, but they’ll soon become laughably cliched and dated. A truly cool story is like a sacred text – it is timeless in a gloriously imperfect way and you will almost always discover something new in it every time you read it.

So, if you want to write a cool story, then it has to have depth. You have to geek out about your story and throw all of your energy into writing it. Your characters have to be so well-developed and well-written that your readers will actually end up dreaming about them if they aren’t careful. Your narration has to be gripping and unusual. Your settings have to be interesting, detailed and memorable.

The story itself doesn’t matter so much (eg: “Lost Souls” by Poppy Z. Brite/Billy Martin barely has a “plot” as such), but what really matters is that your story feels like it has it’s own unique soul and it feels like it is a treasured companion to your readers on their journey through life.

Now, as I said earlier, your story should include a part of you. This is what will really give your story depth. This will be what reaches out to readers who are like you and says “you are not alone in the world” or “this story will help you understand yourself and your true value in this screwed-up universe a little bit more”. If you can find a way to do this, then at least a couple of people will think that your story is the coolest thing in the world.

3) It must be savvy: Yes, I find the word “savvy” annoying and pretentious, but it’s a useful word for another quality which a cool story should have. Your story should be intelligent and it shouldn’t patronise your readers. This sounds obvious, but it needs saying. Basically, just treat your readers like intelligent mature adults (and this goes for stories which will probably be read by teenagers too. When I was a teenager, I stayed the hell away from “young adult” books since I wanted to read things which actually treated me like an adult and didn’t water everything down purely on account of my age).

For example, if there’s something unusual/strange in your story, then either make the meaning of it clear through the context and/or leave it up to the reader to do their own research. Or, if there’s a morally ambiguous or complex sitution in your story, then don’t simplify it or offer a clear “moral” at the end. Give your readers some credit, let them think for themseleves.

It’s also a good idea to be what TV Tropes calls “Genre Savvy“. In other words, know the genre that you’re writing in and try to avoid as many cliches and predictable plot elements as you can. However, never let this get in the way of your story – it’s ok to use a few cliches if they fit into your story very well and changing them for the sake of being “different” would make your story less enjoyable.

————–

As I said earlier, not everyone will think that your story is cool. But as long as it is subversive, sacred and savvy some people will. And, to be honest, that’s all that matters.

Anyway, I hope that this article was useful šŸ™‚

How To Draw A Teabag

For today’s instalment of my “How To Draw” series, I thought that I’d show you how to draw a teabag. Although there are quite a few types of teabag, this guide will only focus on drawing one of them (although, for the sake of simplicity, I haven’t drawn the small string which is normally attached to this type of teabag).

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.