Today’s Art (30th April 2017)

Well, I wasn’t feeling as inspired as I’d hoped, but I ended up making a digitally-edited painting of a futuristic building of some kind. And, yes, the title is a “Doom 1” reference.

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

"Techbase" By C. A. Brown

“Techbase” By C. A. Brown

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Top Ten Articles – April 2017

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Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to create my usual list of links to my ten favourite articles about making webcomics, making art and/or writing fiction that I’ve posted here over the past month. As usual, I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

Surprisingly, there were a lot more writing-related articles in this month’s group of articles than normal, mostly because I was preparing last year’s Halloween stories at the same time as I was writing the articles that were scheduled for this month.

Likewise, this blog also celebrated it’s fourth anniversary this month too 🙂

Anyway, let’s get started:

Top Ten Articles – April 2017:

– “Four Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For Four Years
– “Two Very Basic Ways To Give Your Webcomic A Consistent Look (Without Being Boring)
– “Three Ways To Deal With The Downsides Of Getting Better At Making Webcomics
– “Three Causes Of Weak Endings In Comics, Webcomics etc…
– “Four Important Things To Remember Before You Start Your First Webcomic
– “What Does The Expression “Kill Your Darlings” Mean ? (Plus, An Exclusive “Deleted Scene” From One Of My Short Stories!)
– “Four Reasons Why Stories, Comics, Films Etc… Can Have Alternate Endings. (Plus, An Alternate Ending To One Of My Short Stories 🙂 )
– “Four Quick Tips For Writing Fast
– “How To Take Inspiration From Other Things (Whilst Writing Fiction)
– “Four Quick Tips For Writing Very Short Horror Stories

Honourable Mentions:

– “Four Basic Ways To Recycle A Webcomic Story Arc
– “Three Ways To Know When To Finish A Comic Or Story Project

Review: “Doctor Who – Thin Ice” (TV Show Episode)

Well, it’s time to review the third episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them. But, I’ll try to review as many as I can.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Thin Ice”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

As shown in the last few seconds of the previous episode, the TARDIS has decided to take both The Doctor and Bill to London… in 1814.

In that year, the river Thames has frozen over and the ice is thick enough for a frost fair to be held. After a brief discussion, they change into some historical clothes and decide to enjoy the fair. Of course, unknown to them, the TARDIS is flashing a warning message:

An oddly non-specific message, at that. I mean, surely there are millions of life forms in London. It’s a densely-populated city!

And, yes, the Doctor actually gives directions to the TARDIS’s wardrobe. Which at least explains how the characters sometimes look the part whenever they travel into the past.

After a while, Bill begins to notice mysterious green lights under the ice. The Doctor has noticed them too, but doesn’t want to ruin the occasion. But, after an orphan steals The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and then gets pulled under the ice by whatever is lurking there, the Doctor and Bill decide to investigate….

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it’s a pretty standard “Doctor Who” episode. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad episode, but that it’s the kind of episode that could have appeared in any previous series of the modern incarnation of the show.

Seriously, there isn’t really too much that sets the main story of the episode apart from, say, an episode from Christopher Ecclestone, David Tennant or Matt Smith’s tenure on the show. This episode could have easily been released in 2005 or 2010 and it would still be fairly similar.

Surprisingly, despite the premise, this isn’t really that much of a horror episode. If anything, it’s kind of a cross between a more adventure-based episode and “serious drama”. Yet, the episode mixes serious nuanced drama with cartoonish melodrama in a way that kind of ruins both of these things.

On the one hand, a central theme of the episode is the worth of life. There’s a somewhat chilling discussion between Bill and The Doctor, where the Doctor cannot remember exactly how many lives he has saved and how many lives he has ended.

This scene is surprisingly dramatic and you’ll actually wonder whether Bill will stay with The Doctor or not.

Bill also has to make a serious moral decision at one later point in the episode, which is a fairly dramatic moment. There is also, of course, also a lot of philosophical discussion about various subjects and, in true “Doctor Who” fashion, the monster under the ice isn’t really the villain of the episode.

Yes, this isn’t the main monster. But, awww… how could this adorable little angler fish be evil?

Likewise, the episode also talks about the historical context (eg: Bill nervously mentions that slavery still existed in 1814 etc..) and the time period is correctly referred to as “Regency” rather than “Victorian” (the Victorian era lasted from 1837-1901, if you’re curious).

In addition to this, the episode also quite rightly points out that London in the early 19th century was probably more of a multicultural place than is commonly thought.

Yes, the episode probably exaggerates this very slightly to make a point – but, from what I’ve read about the time period, it is basically historically accurate (in addition to colonialism being a factor, this was also because formal immigration laws were first introduced in Britain in 1905 – because of a stupid anti-Semitic mass panic about people from Eastern Europe).

Yes, this is probably at least a somewhat historically accurate depiction of 19th century London.

Still, this subtle realism is undercut slightly by a speech about history that the Doctor makes early in the episode which occasionally comes across as a somewhat preachy lecture to the audience rather than just an explanation of the historical context.

Likewise, the portrayal of London as an open-minded metropolis and anywhere even slightly outside London (eg: an aristocrat’s rural manor) as being incredibly narrow-minded and backwards is slightly annoying. I mean, you sometimes have to wonder if the makers of this show have ever ventured outside the M25….

Yet, despite all of the serious nuanced drama and historical realism, there is a lot of silly Victorian-style melodrama here too. There are Dickensian orphans (who are in a vaguely “Oliver Twist“-style gang), there’s a slightly ominous-looking workhouse and the main villain of the episode (Lord Sutcliffe) is pretty much a cartoon character. He’s an evil aristocrat with a fondness for industry, racism, the British Empire and explosives. He even has henchmen too!

I say! If only I still had my moustache! I feel like twirling it right now!

He even does the classic James Bond villain thing of leaving the good characters in peril, but with lots of time to escape.

Still, all of the drama and melodrama in the episode is counterpointed with a few humourous moments. However, these are somewhat less memorable than in previous episodes.

The special effects in this episode are reasonably good, although there is a little bit of mildly clunky CGI in some scenes with the sea monster near the end of the episode. Still, in terms of special effects, the scene that takes place underneath the Thames is surprisingly good. Not only does it feature a large sea monster but, amusingly, we also get to see Bill and The Doctor clanking around in some rather steampunk diving suits too.

Do you think it saw us?

All in all, this is a fairly “standard” episode of “Doctor Who”. Although it could have gone in a much more interesting horror-based direction, it just ended up being the same kind of episode which you could have expected to see in 2007 or 2011 or whenever. It certainly isn’t a bad episode, but it isn’t an outstanding one either.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might get three and a half.

Mini Review: “Guilty Gear X2 Reload” (Retro Computer Game)

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Well, it’s been ages since I last played a fighting game! Still, during a weekly sale on GoG a few days before I originally prepared this review last autumn, I noticed that the PC version of a rather interesting looking 2D fighting game called “Guilty Gear X2 Reload” was on special offer. Since it only cost about two quid during the sale, I decided to check it out.

However, this review is probably more of a “first impressions” article than a full review, even if it was written quite far in advance.

Note: Whilst looking over this review a few hours before publication, I’ve just looked online and apparently this game no longer seems to be sold on GoG (but, thanks to their sensible “No DRM” policy, if you’ve already bought the game, you can still play it). So, it seems like the only current place to buy a new copy of this game is on Steam.

I don’t know if this was the responsibility of one or both games sites or the company who made the game. But, regardless, this is the kind of silly corporate BS that has no place in a sensible and fair games market! If a game is sold online, then it should remain available wherever it is sold. It isn’t like physical shelf space is an issue. Plus, why would games companies and/or retail sites want to alienate potential customers and/or lose out on sales?

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Guilty Gear X2 Reload”:

guilty-gear-x2-reload-title-screen

“Guilty Gear X2 Reload” is a 2D fighting game from 2002-2004, which is a PC port of an updated version of a console port of an arcade game.

Despite it’s convoluted history, one of the first things that I will say about this game is that, despite a few flaws, it is probably the coolest and funniest fighting game that I’ve ever played.

 I'm playing as an androgynous goth character (in a vaguely "Blade Runner"-like version of Britain), who can not ONLY wield a giant scythe but who also has a pet raven and the ability to create "Silent Hill 3" save points! This is AWESOME!!!!!!!

I’m playing as an androgynous goth character (in a vaguely “Blade Runner”-like version of Britain), who can not ONLY wield a giant scythe but who also has a pet raven and the ability to create “Silent Hill 3” save points! This is AWESOME!!!!!!!

Yes! This is a fighting game that is all about heavy metal/ hard rock music, ludicrous weapons and comically surreal combat! Well, most of the time anyway – there’s also some cheerful, brightly-coloured settings and “moe” anime characters in the game that detract from the cool aesthetic, badass characters and wonderfully metallic atmosphere of most of the game.

Plus, some of this non-metal/non-gothic stuff can occasionally seem a bit out of place.

The “May Ship” is probably the worst example of this. It’s a giant plane that is filled with groups of cheerful children and brightly-coloured graffiti. It’s about as out of place as you can get in a metal/gothic-themed game!

In terms of the gameplay, it’s a fighting game. However, it’s certainly more on the challenging side of things.

When I started playing, I just did the usual beginner’s trick of randomly hammering the buttons and hoping for the best. This didn’t work as well as I’d hoped and it was only after I’d really focused on learning a few basic special moves for about two or three of the characters that I really started to become even vaguely ok at this game.

Even then, the boss battle at the end of the "Arcade" mode seems completely unwinnable, unless you've probably practiced for weeks.

Even then, the boss battle at the end of the “Arcade” mode seems completely unwinnable, unless you’ve probably practiced for weeks.

This game apparently has something of a reputation for having a complex combat system and it would be hard to disagree with this. This seems to be a game that has been primarily designed for fighting game enthusiasts.

Even so, the combat is still accessible to people who have only played the game for a few hours (despite the constant in-game “counter hit!”, “recovery!” etc.. notifications, which can often be puzzling). This is especially useful, given that the novelty value from all of the hilariously random stuff in the game will wear off after a day or so.

But this doesn’t matter because there are so many funny, quirky and downright cool special attacks in this game. Since “Guilty Gear X2 Reload” uses 2D graphics, the designers and animators had a lot more creative freedom and they use it in all sorts of amazingly cool, funny and bizarre ways.

Yes, even when you're getting thoroughly beaten by the computer, it STILL looks amazingly cool!

Yes, even when you’re getting thoroughly beaten by the computer, it STILL looks amazingly cool!

Hell, one of the characters can even summon the ghost from "The Ring" to block your attacks!

Hell, one of the characters can even summon the ghost from “The Ring” to block your attacks!

In terms of the controls, this game can be played using a keyboard or, apparently, a console-style controller.

Not having one of these controllers, I used the keyboard – although I had to reconfigure the keys into a more ergonomic and intuitive setup (eg: using the arrow keys for movement and the WSAD keys for the attack buttons, with nearby keys serving as the the shoulder buttons). Also, the only way to quit the game when you’ve finished playing is to press “F12”.

As for gameplay modes, there are quite a few different ones on offer here – which help to add some variety to the game. As well as the usual “arcade”, “VS CPU”, “VS 2P”, “Training” etc.. modes, there are also a few other innovative game modes.

For example, the “Survival” mode is actually fairly easy and fairly innovative. Although it’s game over if you die, your health replenishes between battles and – every now and then – you’ll get a “Daredevil” fight with a shadowy version of one of the characters whenever you score 20 more points.

This can happen mid-fight, so it's a also a good way of getting out of more challenging battles

This can happen mid-fight, so it’s a also a good way of getting out of more challenging battles

There’s also a story mode where you get English text/Japanese audio cutscenes between single-round fights with other characters. Plus, there is also a mode called “M.O.M” which is more like a “traditonal” survival mode (eg: you have one health bar that doesn’t replenish between fights), but where you gain coins for every successful attack that you make.

As I hinted at earlier, the character design in this game is varied to say the least. Although there are some really cool gothic, heavy metal, samurai and/or horror movie-style characters, there are also a few a slightly generic characters, and about three or four characters who look like they’re far too young to be participating in violent gladiatorial combat! Seriously, this game would have been better off with a smaller – but slightly more thematically coherent – character set.

If you’re a new player then, although it can be fun to play as some of the really cool characters (like I-No and Testament), the best character to start with is probably Baiken.

Not only does she wield a mid-range sword, but she also has at least three or four easily-learnable special and/or standard moves that can give you a fighting chance against most of the other characters (eg: the most useful one is to use the “heavy slash” attack whilst kneeling, since she will literally spin her sword around, striking anyone nearby 2-3 times with it within a second or so).

Plus, one of her victory animations is wonderfully sarcastic, and it’ll make you laugh out loud when you see it for the first time (she literally just sits next to her fallen opponent and starts casually smoking a pipe).

Another cool feature about the character design in this game is that the characters’ outfits will change colour depending on which button you press when selecting them. Seriously, each character has something like five different outfits. Although they’re all just palette-swaps of the same outfit, it’s still a really cool addition to the game:

This option will also sometimes change the character's hair and/or skin colour too. Still, it's not like every game lets you choose to play as a sarcastic, pipe-smoking samurai version of Elvira!

This option will also sometimes change the character’s hair and/or skin colour too. Still, it’s not like every game lets you choose to play as a sarcastic, pipe-smoking samurai version of Elvira!

The sound design in this game is very good, although the same cannot be said for the voice acting. With the exception of the in-game announcer and the text screens in story mode, most of the in-game dialogue is in un-subtitled Japanese. Likewise, one or two of the character names (Baiken springs to mind for starters) on the character select screen aren’t translated either, which can be confusing.

Yes, this is realistic and it adds atmosphere to the game. But, it’s kind of annoying when you can tell that the characters are making sarcastic comments to each other -but you can’t understand what they’re saying. Some English subtitles might have been a good idea!

Seriously, they were able to include subtitles in the story mode, so why can't there be any in-game subtitles?

Seriously, they were able to include subtitles in the story mode, so why can’t there be any in-game subtitles?

In terms of music, this game has one of the best soundtracks that I’ve ever heard. Literally every piece of background music in this game consists of instrumental metal/hard rock music. Seriously, more games should have a soundtrack like this \m/.

All in all, this game is incredibly cool, unique and fun. Yes, it would have been even better if it had had a more consistent aesthetic, a more consistent character set and more consistent location designs – but most of this game is still really cool.

It’s fast-paced, it’ll make you laugh out loud and it will make you feel like a badass when you play it. It isn’t a completely perfect game, but the parts that it does get right, it really gets right.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Today’s Art (28th April 2017)

Well, I was feeling slightly uninspired when I made today’s digitally-edited painting. This gothic horror painting also required more editing than I expected after I scanned it (eg: cropping it for compositional reasons, raising the colour saturation levels, altering the colour scheme digitally etc..)

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

"The Skeletal Hall" By C. A. Brown

“The Skeletal Hall” By C. A. Brown

Learning To Love The Limitations Of Your Art Style – A Ramble

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Although none of the paintings that I’ll be talking about will be posted here in full for a month or two, I thought that I’d talk about a time when I tried to make a type of art that was incompatible with my own art style.

Basically, after watching quite a few episodes of the ITV adaptation of “Poirot” on DVD, I wanted to make some art that was set in similar kinds of locations. I wanted to make 1920s/30s-style art, with Art Deco architecture, vintage fashions and a slightly decadent atmosphere.

After all, I knew how to make new types of art inspired by cool things that I’ve seen. But, despite two attempts at this, I failed.

It was only a while later that I realised why, everything about my own art style was the opposite of the type of art that I was trying to make. The type of art that I wanted to make was bright, highly minimalist and almost modern/timeless in style.

However, my own art style and aesthetic preferences include things like giving the impression of lots of detail, gloomy locations , a focus on the more recent past (eg: the 1980s and 1990s) etc…. Although I probably could make the type of “art deco” art that I’d wanted to make, I’d probably feel like it wasn’t really “my” kind of art.

My kind of art looks a bit more like this:

 This is a reduced-size preview of a painting that is slightly more typical of my style, the full painting will be posted here on the 11th June.

This is a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting that is slightly more typical of my style, the full painting will be posted here on the 11th June.

The only way I could even try to make the 1920s/30s style art that I wanted to make was to add a lot of my own style to it, to change the lighting and to change the detail levels to something more in line with the type of art that I usually enjoy making.

Here is a reduced-size preview of the best of the two paintings in this style that I attempted to make. It looks more like something from the 1990s than the 1920s, and it looks considerably gloomier than the things that inspired it:

The full-size painting will be posted here in late May. The other one will be posted here on the 9th June, and doesn't really look as good.

The full-size painting will be posted here in late May. The other one will be posted here on the 9th June, and doesn’t really look as good.

One of the problems with developing a unique art style (eg: how you draw people, buildings etc..) and/or a unique aesthetic (eg: how you use colours, lighting, patterns etc..) is that it’s going to limit what you can and cannot make. For example, if your art style/aesthetic is very bright and whimsical, then you’re probably not going to be great at making gloomy gothic art and vice versa.

But, this isn’t the giant problem that you might think it is. Your limitations can actually improve your art. After all, trying to make another type of art fit into your own “style” will make your art look more unique. It’ll make it stand out from the things that have inspired you.

Plus, finding a type of art that you can’t make because of your art style may possible also be a sign that you’ve actually found your own style. Of course, it could also be a sign that you need more practice but, if you feel like you could technically make the kind of art that has inspired you but would feel like it wouldn’t quite be “right”, then it’s probably a sign that you’ve found your own style.

——–

Sorry for the rambling article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂