Simplicity, Efficiency And Creativity – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Simplicity and efficiency article sketch

Although this is an article about creating art, comics, fiction etc… I’m going to have to start by talking about old computer games for three paragraphs. As usual, there’s (sort of) a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

The day before I wrote this article, I started playing a set of new fan-made levels (called “Death Wish”) for an old computer game called “Blood“. Although I’ll probably post a review of these levels when I’ve played more of them, I had a rather strange experience when installing the levels.

Many old games by certain developers have had their underlying source code released to the public, so that people can create free programs that allow them to run on modern computers. One of these games is ID Software’s “Doom”/ “Doom II”, which now has a plethora of programs (called “source ports”) that both enhance the game and allow it to run on 2000s and 2010s-era computers. These source ports also make installing and playing fan-made levels for “Doom”, “Doom II” etc.. really easy too.

But, even though other games with similar underlying code to “Blood” (eg: “Build Engine” games like “Duke Nukem 3D”) have had source ports released, the exact source code for “Blood” was never released, which made installing the fan made levels about ten times more difficult than it should be. It took a lot of online research, experimentation and trial and error to get this set of levels to run properly.

This, naturally, made me wonder if my experience with installing these computer game levels could teach us anything about creating art, comics etc… I’ll start by looking at it from the side of the person who creates these things and then I’ll look at it from the audience’s side.

If you create art, make comics or write fiction regularly, then you probably have your own set of routines that you follow. Your art style probably follows certain “rules”, you probably make preliminary pencil sketches in a particular way, your story or comic planning is usually done in a particular format etc…

Most of the time, these ‘routines’ and ‘rules’ evolve of their own accord because they make the process of writing, making art etc.. easier and quicker. They might also evolve because they allow you to produce better things with less effort. But, if you do anything creative regularly, you will probably find that you’ll fall into a routine and, gradually, your routine will make things easier for you.

Despite what people might say, these routines are a good thing- provided that you’re willing to let them evolve over time. To give you an example, the current standard size for most of my digtally-edited paintings is about 18×18 cm these days, with 1.5 cm black borders at the top and the bottom of each picture. Like this:

"Duty Free 1996" By C. A. Brown

“Duty Free 1996” By C. A. Brown

The borders help me to make a “landscape” picture in a square-like area (which displays at a larger size when the image size is automatically-adjusted on websites), they give the painting a “cinematic” look and they also give the impression that I’ve made a larger painting than I actually have (which saves time, since I only have to fill an 18 x 15 cm area with detailed artwork).

But, when I started making art regularly in 2012, my pictures didn’t use this format. In fact, it wasn’t until early this year that I eventually settled on this particular format. If I’d have stuck rigidly with my original format, rather than letting it evolve, all my pictures would still be small rectangular Tarot-card sized things. My current format may well end up changing again in the future, but it’s a good illustration of the fact that you should let your routines and ‘rules’ evolve over time.

This evolutionary procress can also be seen in the computer game “source ports” that I mentioned earlier. Because the people developing these programs are making them non-commercially, they will only usually alter or change the program when there is a good practical reason for doing so (eg: allowing higher screen resolutions, making fan-made levels easier to load, allowing modern control schemes to be used etc…).

As such, a newer version of a ‘Doom II’ source port like “ZDoom” is considerably more user-friendly and efficient than one from 10-15 years ago. This is a great example of creative evolution in action.

From the audience’s perspective, stories, comics and artwork that are “easily accessible” are generally a lot more enjoyable. If you can just jump right into a novel or a comic, then it’s a lot more fun and a lot more inviting. However, if you have to read several other things first, or study a particular type of art first etc… then this can be very off-putting to many people.

This is one reason why webcomics, graphic novels and manga are often a lot more popular than traditional American superhero comics. With many webcomics, you can just start reading them from any point in the comic’s run. Many graphic novels are also self-contained things that tell a single story. Likewise, with the relatively few manga paperbacks I’ve read, each book in a series is clearly numbered, so you know where to start and where to finish.

Manga paperbacks also always include a clear instruction page for how to read comics that have a Japanese-style layout. This is usually placed in the part of the book that new readers will instinctively look at first (eg: the front of the book), which helps to reduce confusion for new readers.

However, one thing that has always seemed a bit off-putting about superhero comics is the fact that you apparently have to have memorised a lot of history, characters and/or “mythology” in order to enjoy a particular comic. Likewise, many superhero comics are often sequels to other comics which can, in turn, be sequels to even older comics. Given that some of the major superhero franchises began decades ago, getting into superhero comics obviously isn’t really practical, cheap or easy for most new readers. No wonder their readership is declining!

Another good example is Lee Child’s series of “Jack Reacher” novels. Although there must be over twenty of these novels, one of the reasons why they have such a huge readership is because each novel can be read on it’s own. In other words, they’re written in a way that doesn’t require you to read them in order (even if one novel might take place after the events of another novel). This allows new readers to jump in at any point in the series, without having to worry about finding the previous novels first.

So, whenever you’re creating something, simplicity and efficiency are two words that you should always think about. Not only should your creative works be as efficient to make as possible, but they should also be as simple as possible for your audience to get into.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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