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Further Thoughts on FFXIII-2 (no spoilers)

Okay, so I've completed the main storyline of FFXIII-2 now.

My overall feelings are kind of ambivalent. I don't feel let down by it, but I wouldn't rank it at the top of my list of FFs either. It'd be...umm, somewhere in the middle? Admittedly I haven't reached 100% completion, so there are bits I have yet to experience. I'm gonna put my games design MA hat on here and talk about. Let's start with the BAD: cut for length, but free from major spoilersCollapse )

FFXIII-2 First impressions

So, FFXIII-2 arrived through my door today! Woo! First impressions:

The game feels very strongly like it was built on the criticisms people made regarding FFXIII, to the point that I almost think they went a little overboard. The players told them to jump through hoops so they did an acrobatic pirouette though all the damn hoops in the world. People complained that FFXIII was too linear, so here we have a highly alinear game. The areas rather than being constrained and corridor-like are sprawling with multiple paths and the story consists of missions that don't need to be done in a particular order, a bit like FFX-2, except this game takes it further; there are multiple branching paths and things that can be done differently and because of the time-travel-centric plot, you can even rewind and redo a mission at any time from very early in the game.
The open-ness of the game gives the story a very different kind of pace. It's not as intense as FF13's was; FF13 there were no towns, you were hunted and on the run the entire game, being manipulated by these powerful beings and organisations and fighting against overwhelming odds with just the bare glimmer of hope. Personally I thought it was totally awesome though in places the gameplay and particularly the area mapping was a bit linear. This game is more like a puzzle. You're exploring and looking around in time and space for clues to try to work out what has happened to mess everything up so badly. It's fun in a different way. The strong Chrono Trigger influence is very apparent.
The battle system has been blown wide open and is now highly customisable with elements of pokemon thrown in and greater control over character development. This is...both good and bad. Good in that you really feel in control of your party and can have fun trying out new strategies and training your monsters and stuff, but bad in that it throws the beautiful, tight balance and challenge of FF13 out of the window. No longer are you level capped and thus made to overcome everything through careful tactics, and personally I'm a little sad about that.
The music, graphics, translation, localisation and voice acting are all top-notch as you'd expect from such a big name game. The game like it's predecessor is a breath of fresh air after playing all the BROWN BROWN BROWN drudgery of a lot of current gen titles; it's vibrant and beautiful and the weather effects are awesome and deserve particular note.

So far I'm enjoying it a lot even if it hasn't had as deep an emotional resonance, the fun gameplay and many mysteries to look into sort of makes up for it. It's a different kind of game to FF13, and yet still feels like a sequel. There's a huge amount to explore and unlock, which is really fun because the previous game I felt like I'd only scratched the surface of a really interesting setting.

The Vestibule

Ludum Dare results came out today!

The game I made with Bishop, The Vestibule, got into the top 50 of the Jam (out of 172 entries), tied at 32nd. We scored 4th overall in the 'mood' category and 19th in graphics, so I'm really happy!

There's a lot of stuff I'd like to improve on next time. We were kind of hindered by the fact that I was away working for the whole of Saturday running a workshop in Ashton, so we had one day fewer of contact, plus we live on different sides of the Atlantic! I also had gaming group to run on the sunday, so I couldn't spend as much time as I would have liked. We were a little overambitious with the concept, and didn't have time to playtest before uploading too (because it was uploaded with 5 minutes to spare! AGH!)

By the way, since we did the LD compo version we've done a 'full release' which puts in a few extra backgrounds and fixes the major bugs:
http://projectbc.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/the-vestibule-released/
Bishop even managed to make an android port!
https://market.android.com/details?id=com.projectbc.thevestibule

Resolutions

I don't really ever make New Years Resolutions, but maybe I should.

1. Become financially stable. Get own place.
I think this is achievable. I've saved up a chunk and I'm going to save up a little more and then get a house! A little mid terrace in Barrow would only be 55k or so, So it's not too crazy to save up for the 10% down for that, and the small mortgage would be better than pouring rent into somebody else's pocket. Steps are:
-Get an agent or become member of some kind of illustrator's guild.
-Send off more pitches rather than sending one off and getting really dejected waiting forever for response. If they don't respond, whatever. It's their loss.
-Don't be so precious about making stuff that is clever or revolutionary; no matter what people SAY, most of them actually just want cliched cheese and pretty characters and sometimes you just have to show you can deliver that.

2. Stop spending so much time on unpaid hobby projects and spreading attention too thinly.
This is easy in practical terms, but it's hard teaching myself to say no. I just always want to be involved in everything and it's a bad habit that stems from natural curiosity mixed with my insecurities.

3. Stop being so stressed and anxious about EVERYTHING.
There are things I can help with and things I can't. I'm not a superhero.

4. Try to do something awesome every day.

5. Try to be less of a derp. Be more honest with self about feelings.

Ludum Dare!

I entered the Ludum Dare Jam this year for the first time!

LD Link:
http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-22/?action=preview&uid=9103

'The Vestibule' is a Visual Novel style game with branching paths made in Ren'Py. I made it in collaboration with Bishop, since we have been working together on the Vacant Sky series for a while now and thought it'd be fun. He did the writing and coding, I did the arts, we both helped contribute to the mechanics and overall flow ans structure.
Making a game in 72 hours is a lot of work, but it's very rewarding to have a game finished. Oh, and yes, it has a kitten or even two, but they're sort of hidden ^_-

GAMES!

You know what I haven't done on here in ages? Just talked about video games! So I'm gonna talk about some video games!
Lately I've had the chance to try a load of awesome games:

-Minecraft: So I decided to try this after hearing all the hubbub, it's a strange little game. It's like Dwarf Fortress but in first person 3d and you're all on your own. It's a fascinating combination of building, survival and adventure. It's sort of fun to play online because people can see your creations, but I think it'd be most fun if I could find a server without too many people on, just a few friends.

-Phoenix Wright. I finally got to play these and found myself totally enthralled by them. The sense of drama is awesome, but the best part is the characters. The animated sprites are so well done! I'm playing Apollo Justice right now, but it's just not quite as good; a little too bright in tone perhaps and lacking the excellent pacing and tension, I think.

-Skyrim: Skyyyyrrrriiiimmmm...Ohman, best Elder Scrolls game. It has much improved mechanics and AI and brings back the sense of being in another world that I really felt was lacking in Oblivion. It's great fun to play as any kind of character and you can enjoy playing it haphazardly just wandering around finding interesting stuff, or going straight along major quests.

-Fallout 3: My bro got it me for my birthday! Unfortunately playing it after Skyrim really feels like a step backwards. Shows how much Bethesda learned from stuff they didn't do right this and Oblivion! I do really like how true to the setting of the first two games they have stayed, it's like even though it's a new company, they really respected what had been done beforehand. Overall it's a good game, but there's a bit too much trudging around in dirty brown wastelands without much going on, I think.

I'm not just playing games. I am also working on them. Right now Project BC are hard at work not only putting the final touches on and Beta testing Vacant Sky Volume 1 Complete Edition, but we're also in the concept stages for the next game of the series! The complete edition adds a lot of nice things, like new areas and quests. Act 1 has been largely re-written to improve the pacing and also mechanics from the later acts have been added retroactively. The next game, which I'm not able to talk about much, but I can say that we're working on some really cool new mechanics both for battle and out of battle.Oh, also, I'm lead character designer on the next game, so that's a lot of fun!

More stuff

More painting stuff:

Bit of Homestuck fanart. Blh blah, read the comic blah. I keep saying it and yet people don't. At least try watching the Let's Read:
http://www.youtube.com/user/HomestuckColab
Just a quick piece for practice. It's nothing special at all.

Original piece trying out working with interacting bodies and objects and an interesting pose and angle:

It's not great, but every piece is worth it for the experience.

So yeah. Busy week of making art and learning new stuff and improving. I am left with a feeling of emptiness. I seem to have gone all the way through happy and come out emotionally drained and really bummed. Ugh.
I just want to be valued, I guess.

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Love and Paint

I'm learning digital painting! I know I've technically been learning it for years, but I only feel like I've just now hit something close to where I want to be with it. So let me show what a difference a day and some good advice can make...

I did this 2 days ago, and don't intend to finish it because...well it'd take so much fixing doing a new piece would be faster:

I couldn't really work out why the style wasn't working for me. Then I got some advice from Anna that I should look at painters whose work I like and try to get a similar result rather than just throwing paint at something without a clear plan or goal in mind. One of my favourite digital painters is:
http://konpeito-ko.deviantart.com/gallery/
Anna said that this was a good pick for me, as the style would probably match my drawing style and the bright mood of my work. So yesterday I took this advice to heart and painted:

Pretty pleased with the improvement there! The image is hardly an ambitious one, I didn't want to overstretch myself. Character from a story by a friend, simple setup, medium zoom head and torso shot with minimal background. I wanted to concentrate fully on the light and colour. Having done that, my confidence grew and so today I painted something with a bigger scale and some action and stuff:

It was one of those silly late night ideas "I'm gonna draw somebody in the snow with a rainbow sword fighting a lava monster!" but I decided to actually do it as a serious illo hahaha. Happy with the result. Both this one and the previous one took around four hours or less, which is pretty good!

I think my next step will be to start trying to do more polished looking work. Some nice portfolio pieces kind of thing.

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DRAWING IN SPAAAAAAAAAAACE

I've been feeling sort of dissatisfied with my art for a couple of weeks. I typically go through stages like this. I reach a new level of understanding and ability, then hit a wall, then spend a while being frustrated, then reach a breakthrough and can continue. I hit a breakthrough today. I'd been unsure for a while what was missing from my work, and I had a feeling the answer had something to do with my inability to capture the feel of Hiromu Arakawa's work (She did Fullmetal Alchemist and is one of my favourite manga artists). I bought a load of books and today finally hit a conclusion: The missing element was DEPTH.

DEEEEEEEEEEPTH-!
Yes,stupid doodle, I don't even know what it's of. Some regency era dude with a sword in a forest? 0_o;

But yeah, basically I have got out my books on perspective and anatomy and I've been looking through my Fullmetal Alchemist manga and I think I can do this! I think this'll make a big difference to my work; I feel optimistic for the first time in a while.

Oh, speaking of good comics, you can now buy all of one of my favourite OEL, Shutterbox, a Tokyopop Orphan in PDF format. It's inexpensive and really good. It's a sort of gothic-ish manga about a girl who goes to an academy for muses when she sleeps. It has a lot of literary references and some gorgeous outfits. Go get it!
http://tavicat.deviantart.com/journal/43753209/

Let's Go God Tier

Man, I haven't updated here in way too long

Last night I was at an art exhibition, and there was a book shop there, and I was looking at the kids books and I just thought, 'wait, hang on, these covers are rubbish!'
I've been feeling pretty down the last week or two. Neither Marvel nor the Phoenix have sent any response to my work other than assurance that they did get it, and while I've had just work enough to keep me ticking over, it's hardly been crazy busy or anything exciting. It's funny though how a negative feeling can make you feel better. I am surrounded by fantastic artists every day. I love to look at good art, but sometimes being in such a situation, you get it into your head that you totally suck, and you forget that actually there are tonnes of surprisingly bad artists out there making a good living.
I've been prompted to look into getting my career to the next stage. The UK's comics industry is too small really to be just a comics artist unless I get a big break with Marvel or somebody, and I can't just wait around for that, so I'm going to get into illustration. I've ordered some new books and I'm going to to some new stuff to beef up my portfolio and then join the Association of Illustrators and maybe see about getting an agent! Mission de gozaimasu!

I do find it amazing though, interacting with fantastic illustrators every day that so many books are using these godawful photomontage covers! I hate them! They're like... stock images superimposed together, like...geez, I stopped doing that crap when I was fifteen! Can they really not be arsed to get in somebody who can draw something? I mean, okay, maybe for adult books, but for kids, particularly fantasy, I think the cover art should be vibrant and exciting!

So anyway, kind of a change of subject, but I've kind of swung back into my old hobby of voice acting. I saw some guys doing a 'Let's Read' of Homestuck, and I watched and thought, "hey this is great!" and then there was an opening for somebody to provide a voice for Kanaya, everybody's favourite chainsaw-wielding lesbian alien fashionista so I auditioned and actually got the part! We're currently making Act 2 and I don't appear til Act 3, but I have been heard in the 'next act' preview currently up. It's really fun!
It's a fun way to experience Homestuck as videos with spoken narration and voice acting, and great if you don't like reading on a screen but still want to enjoy the animation, music and general awesomeness. You can view the vids here:
http://www.youtube.com/user/HomestuckColab

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