Today’s Art (31st March 2018)

Well, I was in something of a rush when I made this digitally-edited painting. So, it ended up being a slightly rough still life painting of some of the random stuff lying around on my computer desk (kind of like this painting, or this painting or this older painting).

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

“Random Desk Still Life” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – March 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to collect a list of links to my ten favourite articles about making art, making webcomics and/or writing fiction that I’ve posted here this month (plus a few honourable mentions too).

All in all, this has been a reasonably good month in terms of articles, even if I ended up writing more “critic”-style articles than usual (where I talk about a genre or something like that).

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – March 2018

– “Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics Are More Similar Than You Think – A Ramble
– “Nostalgia Is A Different Source Of Artistic Inspiration For Everyone – A Ramble
– “Good Horror Shouldn’t Linger – A Ramble
– “Finding The Right Type Of “Easy” Art To Make When Making Art Feels Difficult
– “What To Do If You Feel Creatively Inspired By Something You Don’t Like
– “Another Cool Thing Computer And Video Games Can Teach Artists
– “Three Quick Ways To Make “Retro” 1980s/90s-Style Art (If You’ve Never Made Retro Art Before)
– “The One Skill That Writing, Art etc.. Courses Don’t Always Teach Directly – A Ramble
– “Three Ways To Reduce Or Increase The Emotional Impact Of Fictional Violence
– “Three Quick Reasons Why Cyberpunk Art Is Easier To Make Than You Think

Honourable Mentions:

– “Two More Similarities Between Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics
– “Creativity As Variation – A Ramble
– “Three Reasons Why Novelty Art Supplies Are Awesome – A Ramble
– “Why It’s Important For Artists To Be Part Of The Audience Sometimes – A Ramble

Two More Similarities Between Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics

Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of an animated sitcom phase at the time of writing, I thought that I’d write a follow-up to an article about the similarities between webcomics and animated sitcoms that I posted here about a week ago.

So, here are two more awesome similarities between animated sitcoms and webcomics:

1) Side stories: The day before I wrote this article, I was watching a second-hand DVD of season six of “American Dad” and happened to notice a really interesting episode. The episode is called “Rapture’s Delight” and it’s this 1980s-style religion-influenced sci-fi horror comedy thriller episode that is at least slightly visually and tonally different to the rest of the show:

This is a screenshot from “Rapture’s Delight” (2009/10). This post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror comedy episode of “American Dad” is very different to a typical episode of the show, and yet it works really well!

The episode is so wonderfully cheesy on so many levels, the “Doom” -style dystopian future, the 1980s-style electronic and heavy metal music, the stylised American Christmas scenes and the fact that it’s a cheesy sci-fi/horror/comedy/thriller story in the middle of a sitcom. Yet, it still works as an episode of “American Dad”. Not only that, it also made me think about webcomics too.

This is mostly because some webcomics will occasionally do something similar to this, where they will include a somewhat different side story in place of their usual self-contained comic updates. Although it’s been quite a while since I’ve really read it regularly, Holkins and Krahulik’s long-running gaming webcomic “Penny Arcade” will occasionally include more “serious” graphic novel style story arcs in place of the usual topical gaming comics.

These are two panels from “Sand” by Holkins & Krahulik (2013). The characters, visual style, subject matter and tone of this “wild west” sci-fi comic is significantly different from the usual videogame-themed “Penny Arcade” webcomic updates that they post on their site.

But, why do webcomic makers do this? Well, there are several reasons – but the main one is that it gives us a chance to try something a bit different. To break with routine for a while and remind ourselves of how fun making comics can be. It’s also something a bit different for the audience as well.

For example, my own occasional webcomics have featured things like science fiction story arcs (like this one, this one and this one), detective stories (like this one, this one, this one and this one), a zombie story and even a story arc set in 1990s America. In addition to this, I also recently tried to make comics that included no dialogue whatsoever. So, yes, this sort of thing happens as much for the sake of the webcomic creators as it does for their audience.

2) Historical cameos: One of the great things about any drawing-based medium is the fact that it is ridiculously easy to include amusing cameos from historical figures. After all, you don’t have to find actors or models who look like the people in question.

Although this sort of thing can also be done easily in prose fiction (John Kendrick Bangs’ “A House-Boat On The Styx” being the classic example), it obviously lacks the visual elements found in webcomics and animated sitcoms.

Anyway, a good example of historical cameos can be seen in an episode from season two of the animated sci-fi sitcom “Futurama” called “A Head In The Polls” which features a hall filled with the re-animated heads of many US Presidents, who have amusing conversations with the show’s main characters.

This is a screenshot from the Futurama episode “A Head In The Polls” (1999). Re-creating this scene in a live-action sitcom would be ridiculously difficult yet, since this is an animated sitcom, the creators of the show were easily able to include a scene like this.

This concept of historical cameos is explored a lot more comprehensively in Kate Beaton’s excellent “Hark! A Vagrant“, a webcomic which mostly revolves around history-themed comedy. Beaton’s comics often feature amusing meetings between historical figures and/or silly situations involving historical figures, and it is hilarious.

These are two panels from episode 213 of Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant!”. This comic update revolves around Jules Verne sending Edgar Allen Poe some obssessive fan mail, and it is one of many examples of historical comedy in this webcomic.

So, why do webcomics and animated sitcoms do this kind of thing? Well, the obvious answer is because they can. The more subtle answer is that it is a very good source of comedy, for the simple reason that history is often treated with a very high degree of seriousness and reverence. As such, it is perfect for irreverent humour. It can also be a good way to pay tribute to historical figures and/or to critique the way that history is recorded and remembered too.

Although this is something that I haven’t done that often in my own occasional webcomics, this mini series of mine features silly historical cameos from Ada Lovelace, Karl Marx and Jack The Ripper. I mostly just did this for the fun of it, but it certainly gave the mini series an extra something.

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art ( 29th March 2018)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was vaguely inspired by part of a nature documentary I’d seen on TV shortly before making the painting, which revolved around two falcons that nested in an old church tower. However, I was in a slightly more gothic mood, so it ended up being a painting of some ravens instead.

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

“The Raven’s Perch” By C. A. Brown

Three Quick Reasons Why Cyberpunk Art Is Easier To Make Than You Think

Cyberpunk art is a genre of art that has a reputation for complexity. If you do an internet search for cyberpunk art, you’ll probably see lots of hyper-realistic and hyper-detailed pieces of art that might make you think that you can’t make art in this genre. Well, you can.

As long as you know a few basic art skills, then you can make cyberpunk art. Yes, it might not look like the hyper-realistic art you’ve seen online, but it will still be cyberpunk – like this:

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

“Coast Road” By C. A. Brown

So, here are a few things that will reassure you that cyberpunk art is easier to make than you think. I’ve probably mentioned some of these before, but they are worth repeating.

1) Look at computer games, low-budget movies and anime: One way to reassure yourself that cyberpunk art doesn’t have to be hyper-realistic is to look at old science fiction computer games, modern low budget cyberpunk computer games, low budget cyberpunk-influenced movies and pretty much any cyberpunk anime.

Because these things have limited graphics technology and/or money, they have come up with interesting-looking but less “realistic” versions of the cyberpunk genre. They use stylised drawings, more primitive computer graphics or more “basic” set designs. Here are some examples:

This is a screenshot from the most cyberpunk scene in “Trancers” (1984). As you can see, the film-makers created a convincing cyberpunk location by adding a few neon lights, a couple of machines, some modified cars and some fog to an old diner. It isn’t a very large or elaborate set when compared to a film like “Blade Runner”, but it still looks cyberpunk.

This is a screenshot from “Cowboy Bebop” (1998) – Due to the challenges of traditional animation, this classic anime TV show uses less “realistic” artwork but is still wonderfully cyberpunk.

This is a screenshot from “Technobablyon” (2015) – a low budget computer game that still manages to create a compelling cyberpunk world, despite not using the kind of almost photo-realistic graphics that high-budget games from 2015 used.

So, yes, realism isn’t an essential part of cyberpunk art.

2) Lighting: A lot of what makes cyberpunk art “cyberpunk” is the lighting and colours. As long as you know the basics of painting realistic lighting and know a bit about complementary colours, then you can make cyberpunk art.

One of the easiest ways to make any piece of art look cyberpunk is simply to set it in a gloomy area and to make sure that all of the light sources in your painting or drawing are artificial (eg: neon lights, computer monitors, shop windows etc..). You can also make your art look extra cyberpunk by ensure that all of the light sources in your art fit into 1-3 complementary colour pairs:

This is a digitally-edited painting of mine that uses artificial light sources and gloomy lighting to create a cyberpunk atmosphere (“Old Video” By C. A. Brown)

Some good general rules to remember here are that, to get a good cyberpunk “look”, at least 30% of the total surface area of your painting must be covered with black paint (so that the lighting and colours stand out more).

In addition to this, if you don’t know how to paint neon lights or glowing screens – then just make the edges of the area in question darker than the centre. Like this:

As you can see the centre of the computer screen and the centre of each neon light tube is brighter than the edges (Detail from “Disused Sector” by C. A. Brown)

3) Detail: Last but not least, although cyberpunk art doesn’t have to be “realistic”, it is usually a good idea to make it look as detailed as possible. This is mostly because the cyberpunk genre relies on the idea of “information overload”. So, the more background detail you can cram in, the better.

This is probably one of the most detailed, but not the most realistic, paintings I’ve ever made. It’s also a cyberpunk painting too. (“Architecture” By C. A. Brown)

Although it is certainly possible to make undetailed cyberpunk art (and I do this far too often when I’m in a hurry), if you want your artwork to look really cyberpunk – then just cram in as many intriguing, strange and/or futuristic background details as you can.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (28th March 2018)

Unfortunately, I was feeling extremely uninspired and after two other abandoned attempts at making a painting, I finally made this (heavily) digitally-edited painting. More information about the creative process behind this painting, and how I eventually got inspired, can be found in this article.

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

“Neon Corridor” By C. A. Brown

Let Enjoyment Be Your Guide – A Ramble

Well, although today’s article won’t directly be about creating things, it will be about all of the culture and/or entertainment that inspire us and drive us to create things of our own. So, yes, this is another article that is mostly about being a member of the audience.

A while ago, I started to think (yet again) about how I’m completely and utterly “out of date” with modern computer and video gaming- or, rather, more out of date than I used to be when I was younger.

I started to think about how I prefer single-player gaming to modern online multiplayer, how all of my knowledge of gamer culture is either first-hand knowledge from the early-mid ’00s or second-hand knowledge from modern Youtube videos etc…. How virtually all of the computer games I play these days are older games or more low-budget modern games. How the “newest” game consoles I own come from the early 2000s. And… I love it!

Although this used to make me feel like I was losing touch with a key part of who I am and made me worry that I wasn’t “cool” any more, it doesn’t really do this any more. Because, I realised that the whole point of gaming is to have fun. It isn’t to show off or to be part of a “culture” or whatever. It’s just sitting in front of a computer (or a console) and relaxing for a few minutes to a few hours.

The same is true for so many other things too. For example, I’ve always just listened to the music that I enjoy, regardless of whether it is considered “cool” or not. Whether it’s various old and new heavy metal bands, various 1990s punk bands, various gothic rock songs, a few pieces of rap music, various acoustic musicians, various pieces of old 1980s/90s pop music, a few classical pieces etc.. I listen to music because I enjoy it rather than because it happens to be trendy at the moment.

So, why am I rambling about all of this stuff? Well, it’s because the best approach to modern culture is simply to let enjoyment be your guide. If you worry too much about being “up to date” or being what other people consider to be “cool”, then you’re missing the point. The whole point of entertainment and culture in general is fun and relaxation. It’s meant to make us feel positive emotions, to expand our imaginations and to make us relax.

If you’re a creative person, then this also has another cool side-effect too – originality. If you focus on the things that you enjoy, then you are probably going to end up with a more distinctive and unique mixture of creative inspirations. This will make your creative works look a bit different to those produced by people who are eager to be “up to date” with current trends.

But, most of all, you’ll have fun. And this sense of fun will remind you why culture and entertainment matter so much. There’s a famous quote from Alan Moore, where he talks about how “art is magic”, because of the way that it can affect how people think and feel. So, if you focus on the parts of culture that you enjoy, then you will get to experience this a lot more often. And, if you’re a creative person, then this can also be a great source of motivation too.

So, yes, let enjoyment be your guide.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “SiN” (Retro Computer Game)

Like with “Blood II: The Chosen” and “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division“, “SiN” is one of those games that I first discovered on a magazine demo disc when I was a lot younger – but only got round to actually getting the full version nearly two decades later. If I remember rightly, I thought that the demo was kind of cool, but didn’t really get into it that much. Then again, I was playing it on a Pentium 166 computer, so it was probably a bit slow…

Still, when I noticed that the “SiN Gold” collection (which also contains the expansion “Wages Of Sin” that I’ll review in early April) was on special offer on GOG last summer, I just had to get the full version of this half-remembered game. Although the extras for the GOG version of this game aren’t spectacular, the manual is definitely worth reading just for the hilariously immature 1990s style humour. Yes, even the manual contains comedy!

Plus, although I rarely directly recommend one game site over another, the version of this game that is available on GOG is closer to the original game than the version available on Steam. This is because the Steam version apparently contains some censorship (eg: the removal of suggestive content, marijuana references and/or pop culture references from some of the game’s textures), whereas the GOG version seems to be the original uncensored version.

Anyway, this review has been nearly two decades in the making. So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “SiN”:

“SiN” is a first-person shooter game from 1998 by Ritual Entertainment, which uses a modified version of the “Quake II” engine. Set in a dystopian cyberpunk future, you play as John Blade – an elite member of a private security organisation called HardCorps (pronounced “Hardcore”, because it’s from the 1990s).

Being from 1998, Blade only looks THIS realistic during the game’s few pre-rendered cutscenes though!

After a report of a robbery at the local bank, Blade goes to investigate – with a sarcastic ex-computer hacker called JC providing remote support for him. Of course, what begins as a routine “shoot the bad guys” mission quickly turns into something much larger and much more menacing…..

One of the first things I will say about this game is that it contains some of the best and some of the worst elements of 1990s FPS gaming. It is a game that you will hate to love, or love to hate or both.

For everything it gets right, it also gets something wrong. For every moment of gameplay that is brilliantly fun, there will be another one that will frustrate the hell out of you. Let’s just say that I’m glad I got another two decades of FPS gaming experience before playing the full version of this game!

Seriously, don’t let the easy on-rails turret segment at the beginning of the first level fool you, this is a challenging game!

Yes, this isn’t an easy modern FPS game! Even on “standard” difficulty, this game is hard. HardCorps, even! Sometimes, this challenging difficulty is achieved in enjoyable and fair ways (which fans of other challenging old FPS games like “Final Doom”, “Blood”, “Duke 3D” etc.. will love). When it is at it’s best, the combat in this game is thrillingly challenging, and well within the traditions of 1990s FPS gaming.

Yay! Late 1990s FPS gaming 🙂 Seriously, there will be very few combat-based screenshots in this review because the game’s combat requires your full attention and reflexes!

Plus, this game contains a proper saving system – with none of that annoying modern “checkpoint saving” rubbish either! So, remember to save regularly! Seriously, save your game once every minute at least! I’m not joking here…

Seriously, you’ll be seeing this death animation (and hearing the accompanying voice-over from JC) a LOT! So, save often!

But, for all of the “good” difficulty, a fair amount of the game’s difficulty is also achieved in all sorts of cheap, borderline unfair and/or annoying ways.

This can include things like placing long-distance snipers directly behind the beginning of a level (and it’ll take you several deaths before you work out where they’re shooting from), sending infinitely respawning waves of henchmen at you during one level, extremely gloomy areas with few to no light sources, a *ugh* stealth level, a (thankfully optional) vehicle segment, occasionally stingy ammo/health/weapon distribution etc…

Yes, a stealth level! One of those boring, frustrating, slow-paced levels that has no place within a thrilling FPS game!

The game’s difficulty curve is also a little bit uneven too – with earlier boss battles being considerably more difficult than the final boss battle at the end of the game, to give one example. Likewise, some of the game’s more difficult levels occur earlier or during the middle of the game, rather than consistently towards the end.

So, yes, you will need the kind of perseverance and determination that can only be gained by playing other fiendishly difficult retro FPS games and/or modern fan-made levels for “Doom II” in order to complete this game. And, yes, it can be completed! Just don’t expect to do it in a single weekend though!

Like a lot of old FPS games, “SiN” is a full-length game! It’s up to you whether you consider this to be either “good value for money” or “Oh my god! This game is so long! I’ll never finish it!“, but it contains something like 20-30 challenging levels – with some larger levels being split into two halves.

However, the quality of the level design is extremely variable. For every great, interesting-looking, thrillingly fun and/or inventively non-linear level – there’s also a level that you will probably get completely and utterly stuck on.

Often, you’ll be able to work out what to do after you’ve spent 10-80 minutes wandering around in circles. But, occasionally, you’ll find yourself so stuck that you’ll actually have to look online for a walkthrough – only to find that the solution is seemingly “obvious”, but implemented in a way that doesn’t make it obvious to the player.

For example, all you need to do to lower this lift is to press a little button. Yes, that tiny little thing shrouded in shadows that is really, really easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it! *shakes fist angrily*

I almost had to check a walkthrough for this bit. Fortunately, I eventually happened to look upwards and notice a crane on top of a tall building nearby that I was supposed to shoot.

Still, that said, some areas of this game look really cool. Yes, there are a lot of generic-looking levels, but this game can get really creative sometimes – including locations such as an oilrig, a vaguely “Goldeneye”-style jungle segment, a surprisingly good underwater segment, futuristic areas with cool lighting, a creepy mansion etc..

Seriously, more of the game should look like this!

Finally! An underwater level that I DON’T hate!

The weapon and enemy designs in this game are acceptable, but not quite as creative as many FPS games from the mid-late 1990s. Although the later levels give you some slightly more interesting weapons and include a greater variety of enemies to fight, many of the early levels mostly involve just fighting almost identical henchmen (who are very vaguely similar to the Strogg from “Quake II” but with different graphics) with the standard pistol, shotgun and assault rifle. *yawn*

Still, there is a certain element of skill to the combat, since this game allows for headshots (which you’re going to have to use regularly, since the henchmen are bullet sponges otherwise). Likewise, in the earlier parts the game, enemies will occasionally shoot your weapon out of your hands.

However, you have to manually pick up any ammo etc.. that enemies drop by pressing the “use” button. Yes, you’ll get used to doing this after a while, but it can be confusing at first.

Even so, the later parts of the game are certainly better, and the monsters on offer include robot spiders, robotic zombies (the Strogg again?), large muscular mutants and even a monster who reminded me a bit of the Bandersnatch mutants from an early 2000s Playstation 2 game called “Resident Evil: Code Veronica X“:

Yay! Survival horror 🙂

“SiN” also comes from an age where FPS games weren’t dreary, “realistic”, ultra-serious things. In other words, this game actually contains some creativity and humour! Whether it’s the numerous sarcastic conversations that Blade and JC have over their radio or lots of silly background details, this game doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously.

For example, the bad guys in the first level quite literally kiss their asses goodbye when they die.

Yes, this humour might not be to everyone’s taste, but it really helps to add some light-hearted fun to the game, not to mention that it also keeps the player’s spirits up during some of the more frustrating and/or annoying parts of the game. For example, whenever Blade kills one of the monsters, robots, mutants or identical henchmen you’ll face throughout the game, he’ll sometimes say a vaguely “badass” line such as “Ha! Schooled ya!” etc… Seriously, this is wonderfully 90s 🙂

However, I should probably also point out that this game is a bit “politically incorrect” by modern standards. I have mixed views about this.

On the one hand, the game’s immature humour can still be absolutely hilarious at times. However, some other parts of the game do seem a little uncomfortable by modern standards – such as the game’s “men vs women” theme (eg: Elexis’ speeches, Blade’s frequent use of the word “bitch” etc..). So, yes, this game can be somewhat eyebrow-raising when played these days.

In terms of music, this game is reasonably good. Although some of the music is kind of forgettable, some of the music – especially in the later levels – is fairly good, and it really helps to add some atmosphere to the game. Seriously, I’m kind of annoyed that GOG didn’t get the rights to include a MP3 copy of the soundtrack for this game as a bonus (like they’ve done with some other games).

The voice-acting in this game is absolutely brilliant too. Whether it’s Blade’s gloriously cheesy “tought grizzled action hero” dialogue, or JC’s constant sarcasm over the radio or Elexis’ melodramatic “sophisticated villain” dialogue, the voice acting is wonderfully fun 🙂

All in all, this is both a great and a terrible game. If you’re looking for 1990s nostalgia, you’ll find it in abundance here. But, don’t even think about playing this game unless you’ve had a couple of decades’ worth of FPS gaming experience! This is a game that demands perseverance, and which will barely play fair with you sometimes. Likewise, the level design is of varying quality too. Still, it’s imaginative and silly and creative and… well… FPS games don’t really do this kind of thing any more.

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