Five Free Pirate-themed Creative Inspirations (That Don’t Involve Digital Piracy)

Arrr! Avast ye scurvy dogs! This be an article about piracy! No, not that kind of piracy – quite the opposite in fact. Following the popularity of my article from last year about five cyberpunk inspirations that can legally be read/viewed/played for free, I’ve been meaning to write another article in this style.

And, after watching the first few episodes of a TV show called “Black Sails” on a second-hand DVD, it suddenly struck me that “pirates” would be a good theme for this article. After all, this is a genre that can be serious, funny and/or thrilling. It is also, like the cyberpunk genre, a cool genre that has fallen into obscurity slightly over the years.

Plus, unlike the cyberpunk genre, it’s actually easier to find free inspirations in this genre since it’s old enough for the copyright to have expired on some things. However, I’ll also be including things that are still covered by copyright, but have been officially made available to view, listen to, play etc… for free by the copyright holder.

I’ll also be taking a relatively strict definition of the word “free”, which means that things like “Pirate Doom” (a free fan-made add-on to a commercial game called “Doom II”) or things that were previously released for free but no longer seem to be available on official sites (like the “Rough Diamonds: A Tribute To Running Wild” album that used to be freely downloadable from Running Wild’s website 5-10 years ago) won’t be included on the list. However, a free demo for an old commercial computer game will appear on the list – since you don’t actually have to spend anything in order to play it (and it is free from modern scams like micro-transactions etc..), and it has been officially made available for free.

Likewise, if you’re unsure of the difference between taking inspiration and lazy plagiarism, then be sure to read this article.

Anyway, dust off your letter of marque – here arr some free pirate-themed creative inspirations which, ironically, don’t involve (digital) piracy:

1) “Treasure Island” By Robert Louis Stevenson:
Well, this is the obvious place to start. Since this incredibly famous pirate-themed novel was published in the mid-late 19th century, it is free from copyright and can be legally downloaded for free from numerous places on the internet (like Project Gutenberg). Although it’s been over a decade since I actually read it, it is the source of a lot of modern pirate-themed tropes (such as parrots on shoulders etc..) and is a defining classic of the genre.

Interestingly though, given that it was written in the 19th century, the pirates are actually the villains in this story. This is kind of a common theme in a lot of old pirate-themed things, but it may be surprising if you’ve never read anything pirate-themed from this era.

Plus, according to Wikipedia, it was inspired by an out-of-copyright history book from 1724 called “A General History Of The Robberies and Murders Of The Most Notorious Pyrates” which, although it apparently isn’t the most accurate of historical sources, can also be legally read, downloaded etc… for free.

2) Sherlock Holmes vs Blackbeard! – “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” By John Kendrick Bangs: If you want something a bit funnier and more surreal, then I can’t recommend John Kendrick Bangs’ 1897 novel “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” highly enough!

This out-of-copyright novel is a sequel to Bangs’ “A House Boat On The River Styx” and, like with that novel, it revolves around the ghosts of famous historical figures and famous fictional characters who spend the afterlife living on a rather luxurious house boat that floats on the River Styx. In this novel, the house boat has been stolen by the ghost of the notorious pirate Blackbeard and it is up to the ghost of Sherlock Holmes to track it down and get it back!

Although a few elements are slightly old-fashioned, this story is surprisingly funny for something written in the 19th century. Plus, it’s a story about Sherlock Holmes versus Blackbeard. From the 19th century!

3) Official music videos: Good pirate-themed music can be hard to find. So, I thought that I’d mention a few interesting pirate-themed official music videos (from official accounts) on Youtube that might be interesting. Yes, all of these are still copyrighted – but their creators/copyright holders have made them available to view and listen to for free.

If you want something a little bit more traditional in style, then I’d recommend checking out the music video to a modern acoustic song called “The Pirate Shanty” by Worldwide Adventurers. Likewise, the original lyrics to the traditional pirate-themed song “The Derelict” (the “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” song) have passed into the public domain and the song has been covered/performed by numerous amateur and professional musicians on Youtube. However, each modern interpretation and/or variation of the song is still copyrighted – even if the original 19th century lyrics aren’t.

If you want something a bit more… metallic…. then I would recommend pretty much any official music video by Alestorm – such as the video to “Shipwrecked“.They’re a heavy metal band (who I’ve seen perform live at least twice) who literally only sing songs about pirates.

4) The art of Howard Pyle: Howard Pyle was an American illustrator from the mid-late 19th century and early 20th century. He used a rather realistic art style, and – amongst other things – his body of work includes several pieces of pirate-themed artwork. Like this:

“Who Shall Be Captain?” By Howard Pyle [via Wikipedia]

Plus, all of his paintings are also completely free from copyright (under both American and European copyright law) and this includes a number of cool pirate-themed paintings, like “Who Shall Be Captain?“, “Buccaneer of the Caribbean” and “Captain Kidd“.

5) The free demo of “The Longest Journey”: Although “The Longest Journey” is a commercial computer game (which mostly doesn’t revolve around pirates), there is an official free demo of the game that might be of interest to any fans of the pirate genre.

Although it is also apparently available on various archive sites, the easiest (and safest) place to find this free demo these days is on the game’s official Steam page. However, this also requires creating a Steam account (and the games on that site have internet-connection based DRM). Still, the full game is also available on other legitmate game sites, and second-hand official DVD-ROM copies of it also exist too.

Although most of the game takes place in both a sprawling futuristic cyberpunk city and a large tropical fantasy world, the free demo is restricted to one of the few self-contained parts of the game.

In other words, a short puzzle-filled sea voyage on a vaguely pirate-style galleon. Although it doesn’t technically involve pirates, there are telescopes, sails, the occasional piece of pirate-style dialogue and other such things that may be of interest to fans of the genre. However, the demo takes place about halfway through the events of the game, so it may be a little confusing and/or contain mild plot spoilers.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Ahoy mateys!

Review: “Rachel” (Free ‘Blade Runner’ Fan Game/Parody Game)

2017-artwork-rachel-game-review-sketch

Well, I was in something of a “Blade Runner” mood yet again and, during an idle Google search (whilst trying to decide whether or not to replay the classic Westwood “Blade Runner” game, or to continue playing another 1990s game I plan to review in the future), I ended up stumbling across a free “Blade Runner” fan game/parody game called “Rachel[NOTE: The site starts playing music automatically].

(Oh, if anyone is interested in how I created the image at the top of this article – I drew the line art on paper, then I scanned it and added the colours digitally before using a simplified version of this technique to convert it into pixel art. After this, I used various other digital effects for the background).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Rachel”:

rachel-game-titlescreen

“Rachel” is a short browser game by JeromBD that was made for an event in 2015 called AltJam. It’s intended to be a combination between a “Blade Runner” parody and an interactive version of the famous interview scene between Deckard and Rachel. However, instead of talking to Deckard, you talk to another Blade Runner called M.Graham Palmer:

Obviously, Palmer hasn't used a Voight-Kampff machine before, because Deckard clearly states that the equipment isn't affected by cigarette smoke. Seriously, it's there in the film.

Obviously, Palmer hasn’t used a Voight-Kampff machine before, because Deckard clearly states that the equipment isn’t affected by cigarette smoke. Seriously, it’s there in the film.

As you can probably see, the game itself uses 1980s-style blocky, limited-palette graphics. Whilst I can understand this decision from a creative perspective, I think that the game’s palette would have probably looked better if it was blue/green/red/yellow/black instead. I don’t know, all of the bright pink in the game tends to detract slightly from the gloomy, gothic noir atmosphere of the film.

Likewise, there is also an optional “scanline” filter that re-creates a low-quality CRT monitor from the 80s. As cool as this looks, it can get in the way of the game slightly and you’ll probably end up deactivating it fairly quickly:

The scanlines look cool, but the game is more playable without them.

The scanlines look cool, but the game is more playable without them.

As for the gameplay, you just answer sixteen multiple choice questions using the “x”, “c” and/or “v” keys. My guess is that these keyboard controls are meant to simulate the early personal computers of the 1980s. Although they’re somewhat before my time, from what I’ve read and seen, many games back then used slightly unusual letter keys for the controls. Even so, these controls take a bit of getting used to.

The animations and text in the game are also slowed down quite considerably too (to simulate using an old computer). Whilst this looks suitably authentic and helps to pad out what is a very short game, it can get slightly frustrating at times.

The writing in this game is something of a mixed bag too. Like in the film, the questions are an interesting mixture of silly questions, philosophical questions and intentionally disturbing questions.

Are you testing whether I'm a cannibal or a replicant, Mr.Deckard ?

Are you testing whether I’m a cannibal or a replicant, Mr.Deckard ?

Most of the comedy comes from the possible answers that you are presented with. However, although some of the answers are quite funny, the sarcastic answers tend to get a little bit repetitive after a while. Still, there’s at least one piece of brilliantly funny meta humour here:

Not to mention a very sneaky reference to Philip K.Dick's "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" too :)

Not to mention a very sneaky reference to Philip K.Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too 🙂

Likewise, although the fact that someone has re-created this scene from “Blade Runner” is really cool, the fact that it was made in a short space of time is fairly obvious from the English translations in some of the text screens.

Writing something in another language is difficult enough, let alone writing well – so, I have to give the game’s creator credit for including English text during the limited time frame. However, the grammar and English translations in this game can be a bit clunky – but probably ten times better than if I tried to write something in my second language(eg: rusty GCSE-level French). Whilst you can usually tell what the text is supposed to say, it can be a little confusing sometimes:

Er..... I'll choose answer one.

Er….. I’ll choose answer one.

As for the music, it’s authentic 1980s-style computer game music. Not the souped-up modern equivalent, but actual 1980s-style game music. In other words, the music only plays one tone at a time and has a rather ominous dirge-like sound to it (reminscent of a dial-up modem after an extra-hot vindaloo). It gets top marks for authenticity, although it can get a little bit annoying after a while.

All in all, the actual gameplay in “Rachel” isn’t really that great. However, for what this game tries to be, it succeeds brilliantly! Seriously, I can’t imagine anything cooler than a game where you actually get to play as Rachel from “Blade Runner”. Not to mention that, although I’m more of a 90s gamer, the fact that someone has tried to re-create what a 1980s computer game actually plays like is astonishingly cool in it’s own right.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d give it five for the idea and one and a half for the actual gameplay.

Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..

2017-artwork-free-cyberpunk-stuff-article-sketch

Well, I’d originally planned to make a “reading list” of books, comics, films, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre for people who want inspiration for making stuff in this amazing genre, but who don’t know much about it.

But, since many of the things I could think of were commercial products (eg: games like the original “Deus Ex” and films like “Blade Runner”), I was worried that this article would sound like a giant advert. Likewise, not everyone has a large enough budget to instantly buy lots of films, games etc.. just because they saw them on an online list.

So, instead, I thought that I’d challenge myself to create a list of inspirational cyberpunk things that can be legally viewed for free, legally read for free and/or have been released as freeware by their developers. Although all of the things on this list are still copyrighted (the genre isn’t nearly old enough to have any public domain works), their creators have made them freely available to anyone who wants to look.

Before I go any further, if you’re not sure what the difference between taking inspiration from something and copying something is, then check out this article which might enlighten you, and help you to avoid plagiarism.

Oh, and one more thing – I originally wrote this article a couple of weeks before I discovered an amazing free cyberpunk flash game called “The Last Night[Note: The page will start playing music as soon as it loads]. It’s a really short, but astonishingly atmospheric, “Blade Runner”-style game and it’s well worth playing if you like the cyberpunk genre. But, I found it too late to “officially” add it to the list in this article.

Likewise, I also forgot to mention a freeware cyberpunk first-person shooter game called “Hacx: Twitch ‘N Kill” despite writing a review of it last year (you’ll also need a free Doom engine source port – like “ZDoom” – to play this game).

Anyway, here’s the list……

1) “Cyberpunk” By Bruce Bethke: This is the short story that started it all and it can be read for free on the author’s site. Yes, although the genre was only really popularised and defined by films like “Blade Runner” and novels like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” in the early-mid 1980s, it technically began with this short story that was written in 1980.

The story itself doesn’t contain all of the features that would later come to characterise the genre, but it provides a slightly more comprehensible example of the cyberpunk narrative style/ visual style (which usually includes a lot of information overload and/or sensory overload ) and an early example of the futuristic computer hacker protagonists of cyberpunk fiction.

2) Valenburg’s Art Gallery: All of the awesome cyberpunk art and animations in this amazing online gallery can legally be viewed for free. And, if you’re an artist, then this gallery is well worth checking out if you want to learn some general things about how to make cyberpunk art.

For example, pay close attention to the artist’s use of colours in many of the pictures. There are many possible cyberpunk colour schemes (in fact, any complimentary colour scheme, or combination of complimentary colour schemes, will work), but the blue/purple/pink/black one here gives the art in Valenburg’s gallery a very “modern” look.

Likewise, his artwork also contains many great examples of how lighting should be handled in the cyberpunk genre – namely that it should come from things like computer screens, neon signs, windows etc… and that the lighting should be emphasised by setting cyberpunk art and comics at night.

3) Dreamweb:Dreamweb” is an old cyberpunk computer game from 1994 that was later released as freeware by it’s developers. In order to get it running, you’ll probably have to use another free program called “DOSBox“, which emulates an old MS DOS computer.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played any of this game but, although the game uses a fairly minimalist top-down perspective, it isn’t short on atmosphere. If you want to see an example of a grimy, gritty, dystopian cyberpunk story then this game might be a good place to start.

This game might also give you some inspiration for creating cyberpunk characters, as well as giving you an interactive example of the well-used “high tech low lives” quote that is used to define the cyberpunk genre.

4) “Vurt” Partial Comic Adaptation by Leo Connor: This intense, nightmarish cyberpunk comic by Leo Connor [NSFW] is an adaptation of the early chapters of an old cyberpunk novel called “Vurt” by Jeff Noon, and it can be viewed for free.

Although it is quite far from some of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it provides a great example of how the cyberpunk attitude, narrative style and atmosphere can be applied to stories that don’t actually involve computer hacking or high technology. It also provides a good example of how to incorporate elements from the horror genre into the cyberpunk genre too.

The story focuses on a group of stoners who access an alternate dimension, similar to cyberspace, through the use of hallucinogenic feathers. It’s strange, it’s bizarre, it’s disturbing, but it’s still cyberpunk. Somehow.

5) Beneath A Steel Sky:Beneath A Steel Sky” is another freeware game from the 1990s that you’ll probably have to use DOSBox to run. If you can’t be bothered with setting up DOSBox, then it is also available for free (with a pre-made DOSBox launcher) from an online game shop called GoG, although you’ll have to create an account there in order to download this version.

Although I go into more detail about the game in my review of it, it’s a slightly unusual example of a cyberpunk game. Although it still contains all of the classic features of 1990s cyberpunk (eg: cyberspace, mega-cities etc..) a lot of the artwork in the game is significantly brighter than most things in the cyberpunk genre. Likewise, the tone of the game is slightly more comedic than you might expect from the cyberpunk genre, even if the humour can be slightly dark.

Still, as an example of something that is both within and outside of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it’s well worth playing. Although you might need to find an online guide for some of the puzzles though!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Weird And Wonderful Bookmarks You Can Use

Seriously, I can't remember the last time I actually used a proper bookmark rather than just a random scrap of paper.

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I actually used a proper bookmark rather than just a random scrap of paper.

Well, whilst I was trying to think of an idea for today’s article, I started randomly doodling in my sketchbook. And, after a while, I suddenly realised that I could turn this doodle into something resembling a bookmark (if I edited it digitally after I’d scanned it).

So, I decided to make a couple more of these bookmarks – because, well, it’d be kind of weird just to post one of them here.

I’m not sure how printable these are, but feel free to print them out and use them if you like them. Although I should probably warn you that the second bookmark will probably be fairly ink-intensive to print and the fine details on the first one might not print that well.

However, you might need to resize them slightly, since although the original bookmarks were all about 3.5 x 13.8 cm in size, I’m not sure if the scanned images will be larger or smaller than this if printed.

If you want to see a larger version of the bookmarks in this post, just click on the images (or just download them).

Anyway, enjoy 🙂

"Purple Maze" By C. A. Brown

“Purple Maze” By C. A. Brown

"Red Planet" By C. A. Brown

“Red Planet” By C. A. Brown

"Temple Wall" By C. A. Brown

“Temple Wall” By C. A. Brown

Anyway, I hope that these were useful 🙂 Hopefully, I’ll think of an idea for a proper article for tomorrow.

Two Very Basic Tips For Making An E-Book Cover (With Examples)

2015 Artwork Simple ebook cover art article sketch

So, you’ve written something that you want to release as an e-book, but you’re not sure what to do when it comes to making the cover image.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you don’t have the time and/or money to hire a professional graphic designer (since you should always do this if you can, because you’ll end up with a much better cover).

I’m also going to assume that you have little to no artistic experience too.

However, you will need some extremely basic graphics editing knowledge. In other words, you will need to know how to do some very basic things in MS Paint – such as changing the background and text colour in a text box and copying other images.

(If you don’t know how to change the background colour of a text box in MS Paint – just create a text box, then right-click on one of the colours in the palette and the background will automatically change. To change the text colour itself, just left-click on one of the colours in the palette.)

Although the two very basic tips I’m going to give you won’t make an outstanding e-book cover, they’ll at least let you make a moderately good one that won’t automatically put people off of looking at your book.

1) Keep It Simple: This sounds obvious but, if in doubt, always err on the side of simplicity when designing your cover.

Not only is it easier to make good-looking simple cover art, but it’ll also look a lot more professional than badly-made, but ambitiously complex, cover art.

The most basic way to make a simple cover image is to just use large white text against a plain black background. Yes, this won’t stand out from the crowd, but it will still look clean and professional. Like this:

White text against a black background. (The font used in this example was one called "Riky Vampdator")

White text against a black background. (The font used in this example was one called “Riky Vampdator”)

Just be careful about which fonts you use in your cover, since some commonly-used fonts require you to pay royalties to the designers if you use them commercially (I’m not a lawyer, so do your own research here).

So, it’s probably a good idea to search the internet for fonts that are free for commercial use.

I found a lot of them fairly quickly when searching online. However, I should warn you that at least a few of them seem to be based on fonts that are used in copyrighted movie posters (and therefore may not actually be truly free for commercial use and/or might land you in legal trouble if you use them for your cover). So, be careful and always do some research about your fonts, so that you don’t make something like this:

Yes, the idea that this font is "free for commercial use" might sound like an offer you can't refuse, but....

Yes, the idea that this font is “free for commercial use” might sound like an offer you can’t refuse, but….

Most importantly, when choosing a free commercial font, be sure to go for a font that is still legible when viewed at a distance.

Although your actual cover image might be fairly large, you’ve got to remember that most people will probably only see a small thumbnail image of it on whatever e-book site you’re using to sell your book. As such, your font should still be readable at a fraction of it’s original size.

2) Public Domain Artwork: If you want to make your cover look a bit more artistic, then one of the best ways to do this without having to splash out on lots of stock images and/or royalty payments is to use artwork that is already in the public domain.

In other words, use old art whose copyright has expired (eg: in most countries, this usually means that the original artist died more than seventy years ago).

There is absolutely loads of this artwork on the internet and a good place to start looking for it would probably be Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons is absolutely crammed with old public domain paintings, etchings etc.. that anyone can use in any way (even commercially).

And, with a little bit of editing in a program like MS Paint, you can make a fairly professional-looking book cover with these images – like in this example:

The image in this example  is "Messaline (entre deux figurantes)" By Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

The image in this example is “Messaline (entre deux figurantes)” By Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

However, unless you find a fairly obscure old painting, this will make your book cover look slightly generic. But, as a way of finding quick and free cover art, it’s probably one of your best options.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Copyright-Free “Merry Christmas” Graphic :)

Well, I was making this year’s Christmas picture ( based on my “Damania” comics) earlier and I was really proud of the gothic lettering, so I thought that I’d release this part of the drawing without copyright in case anyone wants to use it for Christmas cards, website graphics or anything like that.

As for the rest of the drawing, well, you’ll have to wait until the 25th….

"Merry Christmas" by C. A. Brown [This image is released without copyright, use it however you like]

“Merry Christmas” by C. A. Brown [This image is released without copyright, use it however you like]

Free E-Book! “Some Tips For Developing Your Own Art Style”

Developing Your Own Art Style Book Cover

I am very proud to announce that my new (free) E-Book “Some Tips For Developing Your Own Art Style” is now available on Smashwords.

“Some Tips For Developing Your Own Art Style” is a slightly revamped version of one of the most popular articles on this blog, which can be found here. Although, unfortunately, it doesn’t contain any images – unlike the original article.

You can read the whole thing, without downloading it, by clicking the “view sample” link at the bottom of the Smashwords page.