Intelligent Tinned Ham

Written on January 28, 2011 – 9:24 am by Ding

I have this horrible feeling that spam might be driving me to a point of paranoia where I may have unapproved a couple of legitimate comments, as some spam is getting clever and just subtle enough for me to think “maybe they did just like my article and want to say so?” despite their login name being something like FreeRegistryCleaner.  Then of course I tie myself in knots thinking that maybe they’d called themselves that to be ironic or that maybe they had the world most boring yet intriguing nickname.

If I have unapproved a comment of yours and you are a real person and not a robot (not that I’m robot-ist) then drop me a line and I’ll reinstate it.

Additional Notes:

The internet can become a paranoid place.  I started looking around on a Minecraft server last night and made the mistake of asking for building rights, which started a long “interview process” where the admin in question was definitely suspicious of me and convinced I was going to try and destroy their carefully crafted world.  I completely understand why this is the case but it is sad all the same.  Maybe there’s a broader comment about the human condition and the few making life hell for the many in there.

Killer Dice: Keith and Derek

Written on January 26, 2011 – 9:52 am by Ding

The dice are trying to kill you.

I have an affinity for Dungeons and Dragons, one of the most geeky of games.  In the right circumstances can be hugely enjoyable, with those circumstances largely being “not taking it too seriously”. 

One of my first attempts to get a couple of my friends interested in “proper” Dungeons and Dragons did not go well.  It was a standard basic-set adventure involving a dungeon for a dark wizard’s salt mine that started the players in a prison cell and was meant to lead them to an exit that turned out to be a lost city, or something along those lines. 

The two players in question only made it to room number two before killing each other following a dispute about what to do with an unconscious hobgoblin that they were dragging along behind them.

The warning bells for this scenario were probably starting to warm up around about the time the characters were rolled up and given the names “Keith” and “Derek”, the former being a thief, the latter a cleric.  I’ll admit that this was an early version of Dungeons and Dragons which was a little low on character customisation, with Dwarf and Elf being a class as opposed to a race, but in terms of fleshed out characters, Keith and Derek were particularly poorly dressed skeletons.  Of course, this didn’t register as a problem, as after all, these were pretty much new players to the game, and it was probably best just to get on with the adventure and let them work out their characters from there.

What followed is probably more likely my fault than theirs, as I proceeded to allow things that a more seasoned DM would work around.  Keith and Derek, with the help of burly NPC Axel, tricked their hobgoblin gaoler, Jerj, who I consistently mispronounced as “Jerry”, and broke from their bondage.  However, being without any equipment other than the soiled rags they were wearing, they were keen to keep a set of manacles that happened to be in their cell.  Not only this, but they then decided to fill the manacles with an unconscious hobgoblin gaoler.  Now the warning bells were starting to clang a little.  I allowed it, regretted it, and then decided that I would have the hobgoblin regain consciousness slowly, leaving them plenty of time to leave him behind.

Dragging their captive along behind them, for reasons they did not fully comprehended, their captive hobgoblin started stirring into consciousness.  They promptly entered a discussion about what to do with it.  In a reversal of what you would expect, the thief thought it would be immoral to slit the creature’s throat whilst it was out cold, whereas the cleric practically had the knife to its throat before anyone could think.  I can’t quite remember what happened immediately following this, but either Keith killed Derek, or Derek killed Keith, or Keith and Derek somehow accidentally killed each other with some unfortunate rolling of dice (the Killer Dice principle).

Taking a few things away from this misadventure, I learnt some fairly useful lessons.

1)                 Don’t always let players have their own way.

2)                 Learn to fudge the dice.

3)                 Don’t always let players have their own way.

4)                 Make sure your players actually want to play.  A bit of a no brainer, but I have suspicions that Derek and Keith were less than keen.

5)                 Don’t always let players have their own way (but not at the expense of point number 4).

If anyone out there recognises the adventure I’m talking about (something along the lines of “Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon) and has actually played all the way through, I’d be interested to know because I’m convinced nobody actually made it.  It seemed to go on forever and so in many ways, I’m glad Keith and Derek never made it past room two.

Additional Notes:

Years later I would start a campaign and allow a game-breaking Barbarian-Wizard to be created.  I swear the player used loaded dice to roll for his characteristics.  It is an all new variant on the Killer Dice Principle resulting in a long slow death from exasperation for poor soul trying to run the game.

Incidentally, if anyone laughs at you or otherwise teases you for playing Dungeons and Dragons, remember the following two things:

1)  They have heard of the game and therefore probably know what it is thus maybe just as geeky as you.

2)  They are secretly jealous.

Love Never Dies: The Phantom in Plain Sight

Written on January 24, 2011 – 8:33 pm by Ding

The mask from Phantom of the Opera. Of course, in Love Never Dies it has been reduced to a quarter mask. Maybe if they do another sequel he’ll just wear an eye-patch.

A quick disclaimer before I launch into what will probably read like a bit of a grumble or small rant:  Love Never Dies was not an awful performance.  I generally dislike musicals as I find myself frequently wanting to scream out “Just stop bloody singing and say it!” but that doesn’t mean I hate them and I have a certain fondness for Phantom of the Opera at least.  The performers themselves did a fantastic job with the material given (with the exception of a ten year old boy who might have been a volunteer from the audience or somebody on the crew’s nephew) and despite the fact that the story, setup and most of the songs weren’t very good did not stop me from enjoying my evening.  This could possibly be because of my general disposition for anything shown at the theatre generally being “good until bored to tears” that saved it for me, or it could have been the one or two redeeming moments after the interval, or it could have been the fact that I’d heard it was awful going in and was thus very happy that I wasn’t going to have to grit my teeth and say to people afterwards that I enjoyed it when I didn’t.  I am as of writing this, not gritting my teeth, so I am therefore perfectly happy.

Love Never Dies takes off “ten long years” after the events in the Phantom of the Opera.  Don’t worry if you can’t remember that fact as you will be reminded of it several times throughout the performance in all mediums, including dialogue, song and spinning-newspaper-headline forms.  We have well and truly left the Paris opera theatre burned to the ground and are shown that a couple of the key players from Paris have relocated to Coney Island in America to set up a sideshow under the name of “Phantasma”.  Oh, and the sideshow is owned by the Opera Ghost himself, the Phantom.  We are told that Madame Giry and her daughter Meg helped him set it up and that he’s been running it for “ten long years” and that he has been unable to really write anything for “ten long years” because he has been apart from Christine for “ten long years”.  The plot comes along when Christine and husband Raul with tone-deaf son turn up “ten long years” after the opera house in Paris burned down and are reunited with the Phantom who essentially kidnaps them as they get off the boat.  From there unravels a paper thin plot resulting in a brain dead reveal and a slightly rushed ending.

I will reiterate.  It is not good, but it is not devoid of any enjoyment.  I just want to state again that I didn’t hate this.  This is not a post born out of hate.

On the off chance that anyone reading this considers anything else I say to be spoilers, I will put the rest behind the jump.

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Killer Dice: Arkham Horror

Written on January 20, 2011 – 2:03 pm by Ding

You have seen this box. If you haven't seen this box, you will see this box.

If you play board games for any length of time, you will know about Arkham Horror.  You’ll see it’s box adorning the shelves of your local gaming shop and you will be aware of its existence.  Eventually you will hear rumours of it’s arcane game mechanics; a clunky and intricate aggressive underbelly geared towards devouring fleshy unsuspecting players.  I’ve seen reviews that discourage and recommend the game at the same time for its poor yet simultaneously amazing mechanics.  In short, Arkham Horror is difficult to explain and to define.  With most games you can say “well it’s like Risk, but with terrorists and oil” or “well it’s like Monopoly but my friends still talk to me once we’re finished” but with Arkham Horror, all I can really say is that there are counters, dice and a board.

Arkham Asylum Horror is a board game for 1-8 players set to the theme of the H.P Lovecraft mythos.  It is a co-operative game, and as a group you win by preventing an elder god from awakening from its slumber by sealing enough inter-dimensional portals or by defeating said elder god once it awakens.  The game puts you in the shoes of a selection of investigators and sets you out on the streets of Arkham to search for clues and fight of mind-destroying monsters and abominations.

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Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood: A Pope Punching Moment

Written on January 19, 2011 – 9:30 am by Ding

The last time I scribbled about Assassin’s Creed, it was with Assassin’s Creed II, whereby I did a post-completion double-take when I realised I had just been manoeuvred into an in-context fist fight with the Pope.

I may have just found my equivalent double-take moment in this follow up title.  As it could be considered spoilery, I’ll hide it behind the jump.

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Moving to Mars

Written on January 18, 2011 – 11:00 am by Ding

This is not what the M25 is. Also London is a bit more interesting than this. And it's bigger. And not made of what looks like mutated tetris blocks.

I’m not moving to Mars, but judging by some reactions, I might as well be.

In a few months, I am moving from Camden (just off central London) to Woking (London suburb in Surrey).  This is for all of the reasons one would move from central London to a bit further out, namely more space, less money and a David Hing special: less noise, for I am a delicate flower who likes things nice and quiet.  How I have survived in London for six years I do not know.  I suppose not complaining much helps.

Now, physically, Woking is further away from central London than anywhere inside London.  It is outside of the M25, thus officially not part of the city.  Here is the crucial thing that I am having to remind people:  The M25 has not been turned into a moat.  Woking to Waterloo takes 20-25 minutes by train, making me almost as close to central London time-wise as I am now, despite being much further away.

Another comment I’ve had is that a friend of mine found it odd that my whole group of friends is living a 20s lifestyle in the city and me moving to Woking seems quite a grown up thing to do, as if suddenly I have to be in bed by 10 each night and I need to apply for some kind of visitors permit to come to the bright lights of the city.  Seeing as pubs close well before the last train home and on those now-rather-rare occasions that I’m out any later than closing time I have a small network of wonderful accommodating and hospitable friends whose floors I can pass out on, I don’t foresee a massive change in my nightlife.

I suppose in some ways I am getting a little older and this is a little grown up, but only in the way that I don’t want all of my money to get poured into a black hole of rent and I’m reluctant to live with other people.

I hasten to add that I don’t think I have ever had a bad housemate / flatmate / room-mate.  It’s not that I’m at my wits end or that I’ve become so misanthropic that I need to live in a cave, I’ve just come to the conclusion that I want my space to be my own.  I am attempting to embark on a career path that will eventually lead me to becoming a profeshnul riter so a little solitude and peace and quiet might help that too and give me a little focus.

Incomplete Works: Ego

Written on January 17, 2011 – 6:44 pm by Ding

This is my last post in this run of “Incomplete Works” but I foresee that I will add more in the future when the following happens:

1)  I inevitably start and subsequently run out of steam on a new project.

2) I want to talk about myself again without actually directly talking about myself.

Ego - A pixelated author self insertion character.

Today’s incomplete work is therefore highly relevant as we’re on the theme of talking about myself.  Today is Ego.

Ego is a game that I have been building with the help of Game Maker , a fantastic easy-to-learn deeper-than-you-think game development environment that utilises its own very easy to pick up language and is loved by many many startup indie game developers.  I consider myself to now be a hobbiest indie game developer having made the horrendously difficult and un-enjoyable Pavlov’s Keyboard (I dare you to have fun) and now this little project.

The game is about creativity and how we often create copies of ourselves in our work.  It’s largely a reaction to a lot of my comic work where I have a tendency to draw myself as main characters, or an abstraction of my personality as the main character and it’s a trait that I know others possess as well.  Needless to say, the playable character in Ego is a pixelated version of myself just to drive the point home.

Ego is in an alpha state at present.  The basic gameplay is there, although there are a few occasional glitches that I can’t quite figure out with the sound and occasionally controls, but it’s largely just graphical and doesn’t actually break the game.

In the tradition of some of my favourite indie studios, I thought I’d offer my initial playable build for feedback and potential enjoyment.  One recent victim player got very stuck on one of the levels and started trying to solve it in a rather unusual way and I’d be interested to see if anyone else does the same.

Download Ego – Windows only – .rar file that extracts a single playable .exe

Oh, and just as a quick warning:  It’s very short at the moment.  The equivalent of a comic that has hit the ten-page mark.

Additional Notes:

Indie studio that is taking the novel concept of a completely open alpha phase:  Wolfire Games.  These are the guys behind Lugaru, and more recently the Humble Bundles, which have been an incredibly fresh, interesting and overwhelmingly well received idea.  Their open alpha involves distributing the current alpha build to everyone that has pre-ordered the game, allowing them to see exactly how the game is progressing and offers a remarkably deep insight into how these things are made.  Their site is worth a look and their blog is worth subscribing to, even if the open alpha doesn’t interest you.

I know not everyone uses windows, but really, industry standard and all.  If Steam have only just started offering things on Mac and the only other companies producing for Mac are quirky ones like Blizzard or Maxis, then I feel justified in the excuse of “I am not those stuidos”.  I can barely grasp what’s going on in the programming here and it’s insultingly simple.

Also, I’m not sure I fully comprehend what Linux is.  It sounds like some kind of cat.  Maybe an open source cat.

Incomplete Works: Eye: Private Eye

Written on January 15, 2011 – 9:48 am by Ding

After reading the Order of the Stick last year, I was quite keen to try and launch a web comic again.  In order to not be too ambitious, I wanted something that I could do a regular four panel for that could be funny without setting out to be perpetual comedy and carry a enough story to not stagnate and maintain a certain amount of interest.

One of the few finished panels of Eye: Private Eye.

I know there are inherent problems in shoe horning everything into a four-panel format (most jokes end successfully on the third) but I wanted a standard format to use so that I could work on building a decent website, which is another skill I need work on, with decent archiving and a clear simple design.

Then I made my trademark mistake:  I drew the characters, I constructed the framework of a setting, and came to the conclusion that my throwaway idea to just give me something to draw was too good and my artistic talent

will never live up to my expectations.  I have to this day drawn two strips and finished neither of them completely.

Eye is a mutant.  He’s a runt with a squashed beak like mouth and only one eye.  He is sour, grumpy, unkempt, untidy, perpetually hung over, disorganized and penniless.  He makes his living as a private detective with his gentle-giant friend Hammerhead, a fearsome looking shark-headed mutant who wants a kitten and has a childish innocence that means he can’t comprehend why people find him frightening.

It’s set in a near-future urban sprawl where mutants are the mutated-disfigured variety as opposed to the super-model with special powers variety and distrusted and downtrodden accordingly.  This project is again one of those where I have more in my head and in notes form than is on actual physical pages and the disruption of the transfer from brain to page has been largely self defeating.

I sense that I’m now starting to talk about things which are not merely unfinished and incomplete, but actually not started.  Both Eye and Paladin are almost in a planning stage as opposed to anything else.  Having said that, this early planning stage for my earlier work would probably mean I had ten pages already before grinding to a halt when I realised I had no idea where I was going.  I think I’ve probably grumbled about it before, but planning is very important and my inner-8-year-old weeps every time I admit that.

Incomplete Works: Paladin

Written on January 14, 2011 – 10:30 am by Ding

This is an odd one.  This is a more recent project that started off as a cliché ridden fantasy idea that I was using almost as a thought experiment and culminated in a story that I really want to tell.  I have what I think to be really good ideas for this but have also become convinced that my art is not good enough to tell it properly or do it justice.

This is Paladin, a story about a young goblin who wants to become a knight of the realm dedicated to honour and justice as opposed to a scheming thieving power grabbing violent malcontent like the rest of his species.  The series would see him taken on by a disgraced trainer of knights and through a series of coincidence or destined events would get closer and closer to achieving his goal to the utter dismay of “Lord Smith”, the ruler of the realm currently descending to despotism and tyranny.  The ultimate point of the story would be to explore the idea of power inevitably corrupting and forcing compromise on ideals as Snakral the goblin follows the path that was only recently tread by a young dreaming blacksmith’s apprentice who wanted to become a knight, ending up toppling the previous tyrant-king to become Lord Smith, ruler of the realm.

Snakral the goblin picking mushrooms and dreaming of life as a knight of the realm.

I have a bunch of concept sketches, a load of plans and even a few page outlines, which is a first for my comics.  I also experimented with making it novel-based instead, but that didn’t work and this definitely belongs in comic-format.  I also can’t shake the idea that it might make a decent animated series, but that is so far beyond my means, abilities and work ethic that it’s untrue and borderline delusional.

Taking a few steps back from the project over the last few months, I’ve noticed the elements that I thought were unique are probably not quite so.  The character design of Snakral, the goblin, is somewhere between Dobby the house elf and a young Yoda and the idea of a traditional monster-race being the questing protagonist-hero isn’t a million miles away from Shrek, the ogre with a heart of gold and two too many films.  I still love Snakral as a character.  He moves slightly beyond my usual “He is ____ but incompetent” archetype that I’ve noticed pops up in everything and is instead a determined underdog with hopes, dreams and a modicum of talent mixed with luck.  In essence, I like this project because it has the potential to mix nihilistic predeterminism with pure naïve optimism which could provide an interesting juxtaposition.

I am fully aware that this is a hilarious situation I have got into:  I am talking about a project as if it exists already whereas all I can really show is a couple of sketches, the result of an attempt to learn how to use a tablet in Photoshop, and a half finished splash page.  This is all that exists in any solid substantial consumable form.

Additional Notes:

This is my fourth post on outstanding projects and although it’s all horribly self indulgent, it’s actually been quite interesting for me to write about these things.  When you look at a project with a view to explaining it in something approaching a pitch format, it’s so much easier to pick up on the weaknesses and inadequacies.  Part of that is the lizard brain constantly shouting at you that you’re rubbish and your work takes on your characteristics of rubbish-ness, but part of it is genuinely good self assessment.  I would heartily recommend this to anyone with a languishing project of this nature.

Incomplete Works: The Adventures of Spaceman

Written on January 13, 2011 – 10:30 am by Ding

Spaceman and the Territorial Space Marine Corps. It's an odd tag-line to have when there are 5 people in the picture. Did not think that one through.

The Adventures of Spaceman was looking promising for a while.  I finished about ten pages in as many days and was delighted with the results.  I’d learnt some lessons from Matt Cubed about black and white comics, and that getting a bit more black in gave it a bit more definition (and if anything, a comic set predominantly in space should give you plenty of opportunity for more black), I was happier with the writing which was at least partially planned, and some of the jokes made me laugh at the time.  There is a very sad reason for why I stopped drawing this one, a reason that to this day haunts me.

My pen ran out of ink.

It is the most pathetic of reasons that if anyone else had uttered those words I would have scoffed and turned away, clear in my mind that the person declaring such a pathetic excuse for halting production on an otherwise promising-to-themselves comic was a moron, a buffoon and several other undesirable things that I did not wish to associate with.  Unfortunately it’s true.  I’d been using a different, thicker, beefier pen and it ran out.  By the time I came to replace it, I just wasn’t in the mood to draw the comic any more, so it languished at the ten-page-mark in the way that so many of my comics seem to.

Spaceman is the story of the last British man alive.  In space.  Simon Paceman lives in a time where nationality as an aspect of identity means very little to anyone with political borders all but disappeared what with the colonisation of space, and symbols like flags are worn merely as novelty historical heirlooms to a distant past.  Simon lives with a family prophecy that his life will never amount to anything, and in the course of trying to prove that wrong, ultimately proves it to be right.

Now this set up ultimately proves problematic.  To have a comic about someone not succeeding in his aims is to have a comic where not much actually happens.  You could have a Wile E Coyote and  Road Runner scenario where no matter how hard he tries, the status quo is restored each week, but I was looking to do something a bit more than that and to hopefully build some form of narrative with the characters.  In short, a Road Runner cartoon would be destroyed by making the characters talk, but in a story where characters talk, having the status quo restored each episode invariably renders the talking moot.  Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but long explanation short:  I wasn’t and am not entirely happy with the set up.

I am tempted to revisit Spaceman, as there were characters I had created but never really introduced.  In fact, only two characters from my sketch of the Territorial Space Marine Corps feature in the comic at all, and one of them is only in it for a grand total of one panel.

Incidentally, Spaceman also features in a game by the marvellous Cathelius Games and a sequel is planned (where we learn from the mistakes made in the first one, because it has its quirks) so in some ways, I suppose I can’t help but come back to S.Paceman and his colleagues at some point in the future.  I actually recall really enjoying scribbling out a few little comics for some of the different characters that you could play as.

The first ten pages or so are included in the rar file below.

The Adventures of Spaceman – rar

Additional Notes:

Spaceman: Prelude by Cathelius can be found here and a sequel is being worked on.  There is artwork for it and everything.  The working title is “The Wrath of Stan”.