Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Boom Beach Evolution

I love looking at old designs. Abandoned concepts. Cut content. More than playing videogames, sometimes I like just seeing into creators brains. I've talked about the interesting light that concept art can shed on a game in my cut content blog entries for Bioshock and I absolutely adored the Fuck Yeah Beta Pokemon. Most of these ideas are cut for a reason. Some reasons are sad--it's too expensive, there's not enough time. Some reasons make sense--this design is confusing, beta testers hated this. And sometimes things get cut because they finally hired an actual artist and they can make things pretty, and the artist isn't even the lead dev's cousin Gary who's just a scared, unemployed kid with Photoshop, you guys. He doesn't know anything and it's not his fault.

Anyway, app games are a great place to look at cut content! Because they're usually being developed and beta tested on a live audience, games that survive a long time will occasionally go through new design phases, getting completely new design art as the company finds itself flush with cash and a product that isn't yet famous enough for new designs to risk brand alienation but established enough that a complete overhaul isn't a total waste of money. Boom Beach is one such game--at some point in early 2014 it got a visual overhaul, making it look so, so much polished and visually distinct than it had at launch. I tried to grab a couple of these images, although I by no means got everything.

The iconic Rifleman. On the left is the beta version I found on the Internet Wayback Machine, the one on the right is the current version as of May 26th, 2015.

Here we see the progression of the Tank. The first is from the Boom Beach Wiki. The second, an image labelled "New Tank" added to the current wiki in April, 2014.  The final is the current version (again, as of May 2015). The progression from blonde, jumpsuit-wearing man to grease-monkey lady to the final design (whom I call "Tank Ace" for her resemblance in cocky attitude to american flyboy aces) is interesting--to see the shift not just in demographic representation, but also character attitude.

With the warrior, we see a fairly dramatic design shift, as his skin color and facial shape changes. Higher cheekbones, thinner lips, and a sharper, aquiline nose shift the character's appearance from "nonspecific New World island native" to "European in a loincloth". This is an interesting design choice--is it to distance the game from the game's apparent colonialist imagery?

This is a really interesting conversation to have, actually. See, my instinct is to say that the Kual are treated as noble savages and to describe their technology as primitive. After all, they use wind-driven outrigger canoes to transport the tribute goods they pay you for "rescuing" them, when all other boats in the game appear to be modern, steel-hulled vessels. Where most of the game's buildings resemble WW2-era American military hardware, the Kual live in grass huts. They construct large stone statues, but these appear to be religious artifacts only. They march into battle against machine guns and rocket launchers dressed in loin clothes and wielding hammers, like suicidal nudist Gallaghers.

But then I started thinking about it. Their single-person crewed outrigger canoes appear to haul resources equal to the huge cargo vessels that deliver your Ops Rewards (depending on how you parse that imagery, of course). Their large stone structures, while appearing to be magical religious artifacts, are a kind of technology (as a corollary of Clark's Third Law) that apparently can influence a number of factors, such as increase the efficiency of ore extraction in iron mines, bolster the effectiveness of your troops' weaponry, or even make buildings more resistant to bullets. Their hammers, while seeming like blunt, primitive instruments, are (again, Clark's Third Law) powerful technological devices, healing bullet damage and burn wounds with every swing. I assume this stuff is primitive, when in fact it's quite technologically advanced, and perhaps it is my assumption that is racist. Albeit, I think I'm thinking about this way harder than most people do, and it's entirely possible that the actual design decision isn't for Power Crystals to be seen as mysterious technology but mystical mumbo jumbo.

That about wraps up this blog post. Stay tuned next week for another update, where I discuss the evolution of building designs a little bit, or at very least just show you guys pictures so you can go "Wow! Neat!" and then we all high five.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

TF2 Lego MOC: The Hospital Mark 2

I redesigned the LEGO hospital to work as a standalone building set. With 840 pieces, it's my largest build yet. Still working on tightening up the architectural complexity, but I quite like the look of the windows, which I think mirrors the actual design of the hospital nicely.

This hospital has a modular design, a central building with two small wings. The central building has a laboratory on the first floor, with a fridge, a blood sample, and a small medkit. A ladder leads to the second level, which has the operating room.  A nice bed, some cupboards, some tools. Like, you know. Reflex hammer, syringe. Chainsaw. Disembodied heart. The basics.

The wing on the left side is the waiting room. It's got your standard waiting room accoutrement. Orange chairs. Some threadbare little plants. A birdcage on the roof. An unexploded shell still jutting from the smoldering wreckage.

The right side wing is the Medic's personal locker room. Some medipacks, some syringe guns. Extra lab coats. The lab coats aren't pictured here since the LDD doesn't know that minifig torsos fit into 1x1 upright holders.

This set would come with a Heavy, a Medic, some foes, and an ubercharged Heavy Medic team.

Monday, May 4, 2015

LEGO MOC: The Hospital

Number five in my TF2 MOC series, the Medic has long been one of my favorite classes. The Victorian operating theater was originally going to be the Medic's hospital lab, but I'd decided to go for a less branded set that backfired--it was still too violent for Lego. 

I kind of regret the diorama style, here. There's a lot of unused space for a playset and it feels kind of flat. Because... it's pretty flat. But I have a lot of fiddly details that I'm pretty proud of some of them. Outside of the operating room is the waiting room we see in "Meet the Medic" Pretty straightforward, although I like the ticket counter.

 The medic's fridge is visible  in the front corner, there. The spy's head is visible on the bottom there, and there's the megababoon heart.

On the other side we have the Medic's locker room. Two medipacks and a medigun next to a bench! There's some bones there. Don't... don't ask about those bones. They're nobody's bones.

Nobody's Shhhhhhhh.

Here's the protoype wall-mounted medigun keeping the Heavy alive while the Medic performs surgery. And here's the heart with the uber meter, sitting on a table near the stretcher

Monday, April 27, 2015

LEGO MOC: Meet the Scout

Number four in my Team Fortress 2 / LEGO MOC set, this time featuring the Scout. This set was designed to hit a much lower price point, in the $10-15 range, so it only contains about 200 pieces. I was striving to build some sets that would add some customizing options to other sets.

BLU scout has a bat, RED scout has a pistol. Miss Pauling has a clipboard and pistol. I should probably make a fancier set featuring Scout and Miss Pauling going on a date and fighting a nice monster or some such. I elected to use clasp legs for the Scout to give him a markedly different profile from other LEGO mercs.

These are two shipping containers, which seemed like a rather fitting prop for the Scout. The RED container also contains a small health kit.

To make this kit seem more individualized to the Scout, I included a BONK vending machine. It sells Crit-a-Cola, Bonk! Cherry Fission and Bonk! Blutonium Berry. 

And finally, we have the BLU bomb cart. Given that the Scout pushes the cart at twice the rate twice that of other units, this seemed like a prop well-dedicated to the Scout. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Shorty: Gotham

"Hey, we're making a Batman-themed ultragritty police drama."
"Will there be powerful, independent women?" 
"Shit, yeah, dog. There'll be tons of tough ladies! And domestic abuse." "Awesome! And, wait what?"
"Oh, domestic abuse. Yeah, you know Batman's colorful entourage of villains that commit cute themed robberies?"
"Well, we replaced all that boring, kiddy stuff with more realistic villains. Like a guy who abducts women, forces them to wait on him hand and foot for weeks, and then ties them up and murders them. No costume or anything. Just a regular guy. We call him The Ogre because it sounds cooler than an appropriate modus operandi nickname like Bluebeard or King Henry or Praying Mantis"
"But there will still be Batman stuff, right?"
"Oh, sure, sure. Every episode the whole cast will stare into the camera chanting /Batman, Batman, Batman/ in a haunting monotone for five minutes. It'll make you totally forget you're basically watching what Criminal Minds would be if their Standards and Practices department ate a bad batch of mescaline."
"...That actually sounds radical."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

LEGO MOC: The Demoman's Bomb Lab

The third set in my TF2 Lego Digital Designer series. Much like the Engineer, the Demoman is someone I always felt hinted at having technical expertise that doesn't come out much in the extended universe of TF2, but it must be there! While most people assume the Engineer is responsible for the Bomb Carts, I've always put that squarely on the Demoman, and a bomb artist must have his studio. This set is an expression of that. It's also the place where I decided to explore the more complex mechanical side of LEGO as well: specifically, using TECHNIC blocks to push some more playability. The Demoman seemed the perfect set to do it with, too: his compound is boobytrapped, in case anybody gets any smart ideas about penning him in.

The Demoman set is my first hinged piece. BLU has a great orthogonal building style that's fairly straightforward and industrial. This may be something that deserves a second pass at some point in the future, or perhaps a future BLU building will just be more visually interesting. If you have ideas for sprucing up the appearance, let me know! Don't ask why I decided to go RED soldier/BLU demoman when the War! Update specifically stated the opposite: I don't know man. I'm just an architect.
Here's what it looks like unfolded. The red patches are the removable wall fragments--press the button emerging from the left side and that section of wall will pop out, revealing the dynamite stashed there by our favorite inebriate!

The wall on the lower section, underneath the air conditioner, is held on by two pegs. A simple flick with a finger will remove it with suitable panache for a charging Demoman pounding through. I won't bore you with details of these wall designs. Here, however, is the interior of the compound. Currently there's a table laid over a barrel--perfect for two friendly enemies to play cards by. On the second floor is the Demoman's bomb-making lab. Detonators, some miscellaneous sticky bombs,  and of course, walls with blueprints on them. The one piece that I felt was crucial for the bomb lab that we didn't have? The Scissors, currently available only in 3 sets and not yet added to the LDD; I felt the wiresnips used to cut the various lengths of wires used in the manufacture of explosives would be a nice accessory.

Also visible hanging from the wall is a Charging Targe and Eyelander. The third floor features a target dummy like the one's seen in Degroot's Keep, and of course, a couple bottles. 

Detail of work area

Detail of card table
Another great accessory for the Demoman is not yet available in the LDD, and that is the Super Jumper, a device that allows characters like Superman appear to fly into action. For a class characterized by explosive jumps (like the Soldier and the Scout) this would be a pretty handy device to incorporate.

Monday, April 13, 2015

LEGO MOC: The Sniper Tower

Another LDD design. I guess I'm doing a series now, because I don't think I'm wired correctly! Seriously, I keep me locked in my basement, it would be abduction if I were also someone else. In addition to being me. For the Sniper I was going for a more spartan feel to match his lifestyle, and also because I was looking to make a $30 set.

Pretty straightforward set, for the sniper. He... he doesn't have a lot going on. The tower manages to look funky but I think it could look cooler (leave me comments with suggestions for improvements!) I think there may need to be more embellishments on the roof.

The Sniper himself has a sniper rifle, Razorback, binoculars and the ever popular Jarate. It was too easy to just give the Sniper a prefabbed rifle, so I elected for the (only slightly) more complex 3-part rifle.

I added two small details just to shore up the set. One is the payphone from Meet the Sniper, the other is Saxton Hale fighting a gorilla. I'm pretty fond of those.

The camper van is something else I'm pretty proud of. I wanted to make it on a minifig scale, so I used two 4x6 baseplates in order to ensure that it matches the wheel wells of the intel truck from the Engineer set. However, there wasn't a prefabbed door that fit that size on the truck, so I elected to use a hinge to keep that interior area in play.