Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snow Can Kill

Snow could kill. It was worse than all the bullets, blades, and rockets put together. It covered your view ports. It cut visibility to almost nothing. It made you slow. It made your ride slip. It made your body, already sore from hours in a cramped cockpit, ache like you’d been doing gymnastics all night. It hid your enemies until they were right on you. It made you easy to track. It caused your engine to freeze up. It meant you couldn’t touch your hatch with your bare hands – if your hatch wasn’t already frozen shut that was.

Read more at Fractured Empires.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


It's a sniper! It's a birdwatcher. It's a sniping birdwatcher. His favorite bird is a snipe.

"Sniper, no sniping."


I'm out of sniper stuff.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Abandoned Concepts with Bioshock Infinite

I live in a world of half-formed ideas. Seeing the development of movies and video games, especially in that fertile first ground before everything has been finalized, where the really wild ideas grow. Often I'll like a game's concept art more than I like the finalized version.

With Bioshock Infinite's second DLC dropping on Tuesday, I wanted to revisit my copy of the The Art of Bioshock Infinite, crawl around in the game's primordial ooze, and discuss some of the cool things I find there. Beware! I have included some spoilers, so be warned. I probably don't need to include that, but I will.

Fink's Workers
Jeremiah Fink is Columbia's resident robber-baron plutocrat. A mixture of Henry Ford and an evil version of Henry Ford, he runs the city's only corporation. He pays his employees in money that is worthless outside of his own store, deliberately imports "undesirables" so that they can be exploited, and sloganeers obnoxiously much the same way Andrew Ryan did in Bioshock. Fink's brand can be seen on nearly everything: vigors, vending machines, turrets, even the slum district where his army of tenement laborers live.

In the finalized version of the game, as you wander his factories, you see his employees: indigent, oppressed, and sad, but somehow lacking in the visual punch much of the rest of the game has. Where everything else in the game is larger than life, the poverty and abuse the workers suffer feels stunted. I found myself looking to other media that shows class warfare and abuse, and this came up lacking. Hundreds burned alive in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fires, the lower classes locked below decks on the Titanic, people accidentally ground to sausage in The Jungle. None of this, and nothing like it, exists in Columbia. Heck, during an elevator ride you see the interior of Fink's factory, and this interior section looks entirely automated: stock shipping even while the employees are actively burning the factory down. An automated factory? If these poor people don't want to be there and they're not needed, what are they even doing there.

All this was frustrating. Then, in the concept art for Finkton, there are several extremely inhumane-looking machines that originally served as part of Fink's manufacturing operations. As you can see, some of them suggest that the employees are tortured if they slow down, or simply tortured continuously. Some machines feature amputees belted or strapped to prosthetic extensions. They thus could fill several roles not met by the "standard human" employees: they underscore the danger to life and limb employees face in these factories. They serve as interesting setpieces to make this part of the game distinct from the rest.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they could serve to more adequately explain the Handymen. Tears, automatons, and vigors: the technology that resulted in Handymen could be any of these, and yet it's not clearly any of these. Rapture apparently relied on the Big Daddies to maintain it structurally (they dug foundations and repaired leaks) and to protect ADAM-harvesting Little Sisters. They arose from the technological development of splicing. There is no such visual, philosophical, or technological precursor or need for the Handymen.

Why They May Have Gone In a Different Direction
I wasn't sure why such great imagery would have been cut out of the game in favor of the workers we end up seeing. It seemed in line with the game's intent--portraying Fink as an evil tycoon of the highest order of villain (They named him Fink, for crissakes), up until they started equating the Vox to the very hierarchy they were fighting against. My assumption was that this stuff was cut because the creative staff felt the current model served the story equally well while being easier to model and animate.

Vigor Junkie and Snake Oil Salesman
Vigors were badly underrepresented in Bioshock Infinite. Originally I disagreed: we had two enemies based on vigors, whereas in Bioshock no enemies use anything that looks like the plasmids available to the player. They're obviously spliced, but you don't ever shoot up with a bottle of Crawl On Ceiling or Teleport. This was even more frustrating in Bioshock 2, where interviews with the creative leads promised "expert splicers" who knew how to handle their plasmids... but ended up being Brute Splicers, who just use a combination of tonics for their trademark physicality and endurance. So I was excited when we had a Murder of Crows themed enemy AND a Devil's Kiss themed enemy, even if only one is adequately explained.

After an examination of that, I've changed my mind. In Bioshock and Bioshock 2, enemies at least splicers: although they don't use plasmids the player has available, they're at least participating in the same world as you.  In Bioshock Infinite, most of your enemies don't use vigors, or even seem aware of them. You pull a grenade launcher on a guy with a truncheon, he'll dive behind a box full of vigors for cover. He'll sit there, surrounded by gallons of a fluid that, with one sip, would let him throw fireballs or shoot lightning out of his eyes, and then he'll come running at you with his dumb stick. Just drink the potion, man! The people you're fighting are just regular dudes and ladies (Columbia's equal-opportunity military is pretty impressive), and it doesn't make any sense. The aggressive, suicidal rampages made sense with splicers: they were drugged up, mind-controlled lunatics who want to feed your blood to little girls. These people presumably have families, friends, some remaining desire to not get sawed in half.

The Splicers in Bioshock prevent the omnipresent advertisements, vending machines and EVE hypos from seeming disingenuous or out-of-place. While relatively few enemies actually use the plasmids the player can equip, plasmids still inform nearly every aspect of the world. That same design consistency isn't covered in BSI.

Worse, BSI has moments that could really benefit from these distinctly different characters: the fight/flight moments. Often when you arrive in a completely new place, people haven't yet identified you as the enemy, and you won't get attacked until you violate the law: rob, murder, trespass. However, most of these events focus on police and guards preventing you from robbing a store. Junkies could have further diversified those events, while simultaneously re-grounding vigors in the world.

Why They Were Cut:
The vigor junkies see new life as Frosty Splicers in Burial At Sea, but both they and the other enemies seen in the art book presumably were cut for a pretty obvious reason: the mechanics that grew alongside the designs were abandoned. The snake-oil salesman

There is concept art for Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson Automated Patriots that were cut. That's disappointing for a lot of reasons: the Key/Sword/Scroll philosophy that appears in the temple at the beginning of the game is almost totally gone by hour 2, and Jefferson and Franklin won't be mentioned again until the asylum later in the game. There are lots of other automatons in the original art that never made it into the game, including a few that are purely nonthreatening, but I think it is the absence of the Franklin and Jefferson that is the most disappointing as a fixture of the story.

Why It was Cut:
Unlike the other stuff, I find automatons kind of a mystery in general. They're cool and they bring the game a certain je ne sais quoi, diversifying the enemy ranks in a way that it really needed, but I have no idea how they fit in with tears or vigors. It is expressly mentioned in the art book that automatons were a fascination of the era, but that's it. The Motorized Patriots are initially introduced as props in a museum, reciting patriotic gibberish, but that really supports presenting all three Fathers getting equal time.

The cut may be the way that the two factions' Motorized Patriots are distinguished: Washington for the Founders, and a devilish Lincoln for the Vox, but the distinction between the two factions hardly ever comes up as a function of gameplay and friendly Patriots are always identified by green lights anyway, so that hardly seems like an adequate explanation.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Admiral

Ah, welcome to my study. Please excuse me for not rising to greet you, old wounds you see, though on second hand perhaps you do not, at least not all of them. No matter. Please, have a seat and do not be shy about the brandy. The Frank ambassador likes to send me a barrel every year in thanks for my actions at the Battle of Cardonnes. In some ways, the bottle you see before you is simply another of the trophies to decorate this room.

Your reputation precedes you and I have heard your skill with pen may match mine with sword. I have sampled several of your previous works and can conclude that the praise awarded you is not undue. As such, I would make a request of you. My time is nearing its end and I believe it proper that I leave behind something to mark my thoughts on my life. I am aware that you have been working on a biography of me to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Vernica, often considered by others as the singular event that catapulted me to fame and glory. In addition to that, I would request your assistance in producing my own personal memoir. No, I do not jest. I have the utmost confidence in your ability to rise to the task and I offer you my time and what is left of my memories to assist.

You accept? Ah, most excellent. Then how shall we proceed? Stories? Of my past? You mean you do not mind an old man rambling on and on about bygone days? Lovely, I think this will be a most enjoyable liaison. Is there anything in particular you wish to hear about or shall I simply ramble on? The horns sitting next to me? Ah, an interesting first choice. Few have actually asked about them though I know many have been very curious about their presence. Very well, it all started when I was a young leftenant in the Corps....

Zachary Gorden is a guest author for Screwdle. You can read more by him... eventually...

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Fairy Queen

In case you can't tell from pretty much every other Screwdle ever, I come from the lineart school of art. Painting is something I never really went in for and it's haunted me ever since I realized I don't have the artistic breadth to do anything useful or interesting with art unless I learned how. Sort of like "drawing with colors until 2006" or "drawing things from photo references until 2010" or "hey, maybe get something more powerful than MS Paint until 2012".

So here is me, experimenting with another new technique. Well, we all have to learn sometime.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


They were locked away in the Earth. It is impossible to say how many there were. No manner of reckoning their number had yet been invented when they sank through mud and gravel. Their bodies were pushed into the deep places beneath the Earth. For a millenia the world stank of their ruined corpses and the whole of it was their sepulcher.

But memories pile on memories, and dust on dust.  Glaciers rose and sank. Seas parted. Forests bloomed and burned and from the ashes, bloomed anew. In the middle of one forest, a particular tree found purchase in loamy soil. Its canopy dwarfed all others, and its roots plumbed impossible depths.

It was the deepest taproot that pierced the cold carapace of the horrible thing. Woodflesh mingled with chitin. Conveyed upward, the vanguard of Things climbed root to trunk, trunk to branch, branch to leaf and for the first time in unknowable millenia shared the sky with the sun and the stars.

From inside to out the thing--all other names long since battered to sand on the tide of ages--choked the life from its benefactor. Leaves fell and branches withered.  The trees saw the greatest of their number weaken, slacken, and decay, and they girded themselves for a time when her mighty corpse could no longer contain the horror waiting to escape.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Curry Recipe

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2-5 diced sweet or bell peppers
  • 3-5 diced cherry tomato
  • 2 teaspoons garlic
  • 1/2 diced white onion
  • 4 oz coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup cashews / unsalted peanuts (optional)
 Put 2 chicken breasts on a medium heat with one tablespoon oil. Lightly dust with curry powder of your preference. Cook until most of the pink is gone from the meat, then add your peppers, along with one tablespoon yellow curry paste. Increase heat to high to evaporate excess water and give the chicken a firmer texture. With a wooden or plastic spoon, carefully stir ingredients together to ensure a thorough cooking and even seasoning. When the chicken is completely done and most of the extra water evaporated, reduce heat to low. Add coconut milk, onion, garlic and tree nuts of your preference.

Serve over jasmine or basmati rice. Serves 2 people.

Fun Variations
A diced jalapeno added with the rest of the peppers gives the curry a spicy kick.

Half a diced mango sweetens the curry for a lighter, fruity meal.

Pineapple Husk:
Pour the finished curry and rice into hollowed pineapple and bake it for a very sweet pineapple glaze and exciting table centerpiece.

Peanut Sauce:
Thai peanut sauce or a tablespoon of peanut butter can serve as a protein-rich alternative to coconut milk.

If the finished meal is excessively spicy, a dusting of mozzarella cheese can round out the spiciness.

Finely chopped habanero and mango chunks make for a complicated mix of sweet and spicy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Who's REALLY Committing Suicide, Here?

Recently--like seriously fifteen minutes ago--I learned that DC Comics is running contest entitled "Break Into Comics". Wow! That's exciting.  I've drawn three comic books, so the aspiration is there, although the skill isn't, even as I maintain this alleged art blog. They were amateurish, done on 8.5"x11" printer paper for small assignments in high school and in college. I think I might have colored one in MS Paint? So I'm excited. I like contests AND external validation, so I thought maybe I'd enter. There's no way I'd win, really. I don't think I'm equipped to draw any DC titles, but where's the harm in entering? I'll whip up a page, no problem.

But then I read the details of the contest. You, the contestant, must draw Harley Quinn, holding a cell phone tower above her head, trying to get struck by lightning. Then her, trying to get eaten by alligators. Panel three is Harley tickling a whale for some reason. And finally, Harley committing suicide by getting naked and dumping a bunch of appliances into a tub.

This is a bad, dumb contest. Put aside the fact that DC got a fair amount of backlash for Harley's new design both in Arkham Asylum and The Suicide Squad. We'll ignore the fact that creative staff has departed for creative differences regarding gender and sexual identity inclusion.

At it's heart, this is a company asking people to apply there, by telling prospective artists to draw a woman committing suicide in four hilarious ways. Okay, so they're not actually hilarious, although it's pretty clear that they were meant to be. That somebody--possibly a human being!--sat down and thought of four funny ways for a woman to kill herself is kind of weird and gross all on its own.

Especially because sensitive subject matter like suicide is hard to make funny. I won't say impossible, but there are correct channels to go through and criteria to meet in order to make it funny. You have to distance yourself from the reality of the situation, for the absolute horror of death and the incredible suffering a suicide victim must be going through to make it an option. Being dead isn't the punchline to a suicide joke. But then there's this sentence: "We are all watching the moment before the inevitable death." There is a voyeuristic element of anticipation in that sentence that completely terrifies me. That might be the second clearest way to tell somebody "I have watched a snuff film before." It makes the fact that this is a tortured psyche desperately trying to end her own life horrifyingly real, but we're intended to still feel excited about seeing it.

There has to be a better way to make my point. So, to underscore how creepy it is, let's do the same thing with The Joker. It's not going to make it funny, but I kind of hope it makes it clear how genuinely gross this is.

We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. - See more at: http://www.dccomics.com/node/305151#sthash.av0Q3HBJ.dpuf

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Empty World Syndrome

Recently I just played through Brutal Legend again, and it was a ton of fun, just like I remember it being when I originally played it in 2009. It's a really interesting game because the world is truly awesome. There are tons of cool monsters and locations strewn throughout the world, and the game has specific constructions that allow you to take advantage of these aesthetic pleasures. Ordinarily I hate that kind of emphasis creating a look, creating setpieces that neither serve the gameplay nor really further the story, but Brutal Legend is an epic world that really benefits from a variety of huge, cool setpieces.

Anyway, I beat the game I spent some time just kind of driving around the world, looking at all the cool stuff and visiting some of the areas I had liked while I was playing the game. I rode through some settlements, camps, and places where I'd stopped the bus during the campaign, and I began to notice something: this world was pretty empty. Whenever I'd beat a side mission, the units offering it would vanish, leaving an abandoned campfire behind. The settlements I'd worked hard to rescue from the clutches of vile monsters were empty of people. In spite of its beauty, this world felt sort of abandoned.

I am, of course, comparing it to the RPGs of my youth. In those games, cities were heavily populated, with dozens of locals discussing local landmarks, moving the story along, or offering gameplay advice disguised as banter. Perhaps this is somewhat unjustly offered. Brutal Legend does make some efforts to make the world feel occupied: the whole world is full of units constantly marching around "kicking ass", as they proudly proclaim, there are a few areas where you can interact with campaign characters after the fact, and a few units can be seen doing odd jobs.

But the automated units running around fighting creeps never feel quite like characters: they fight, often they die, and they're replaced by new units as though nothing happened, often while you're sitting there, watching. Seeing people live and struggle in their world is pretty cool, as is seeing aspects of gameplay happen without you--it makes the world feel more immersive.

But then again, it was strange to think that at the beginning of the game, when the humans are living as slaves under Doviculus, they can be seen having a party on the beach--a party that vanishes after you beat the associated secondary missions and never returns, even after the campaign is over. It seems incongruous and makes you question whether you actually improved anything.

However, the absence of civilians from the gameplay is something I've noticed in a couple games. The whole human population of Rapture seems totally absent--you meet a few people that are implied to be non-splicers, but they're always story focused, and their rarity is underscored by the fact that more than half of them show up as corpses and the fact that you have to murder a dozen people just to go to the bathroom. The idea that this place is still a functioning city in the throes of a civil war--and not a long-dead, mouldering ruin--is completely damaged by the overwhelming presence of enemies.

Borderlands basically didn't have anybody. The first town features one NPC and three corpses, but the doctor behaves like he's in a bustling small town. There's a jobs board that often features jobs written as though they're from people who live in the local community, but you almost never see them, or any indication that they might exist beyond a note and the promise of a handful of cash. This is another game where you're exterminating small civilizations the way most people might clean the garage. So any given hut could be a clown car full of axe-wielding bandits, but entire cities often consist of the one guy who coincidentally runs a planetwide chain of vending machines. Again, incongruous.

Bioshock Infinite, however, breaks the mold by featuring civilians. Actual, real civilians that you're not supposed to murder and who flee as soon as the gunfire starts. It really took big steps towards making BSI feel alive, although you can review elsewhere for its storytelling deficiencies outside of the recognition that videogame setpieces don't have to be abandoned sets.

So don't leave an empty world. To me, games feel more interesting and the world more engaging when they they're populated. If you want to build a static dollhouse, we had the tools to do that lying around our mud huts 4000 years ago. We didn't need to tame lightning and teach it to count. If you have an open world, it needs people to feel alive. All those wonderful things setpieces you create should serve a population that has a need for them, or at least an appreciation for them.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Demon Doodles

I've got demons on the brain. It's been driving me up a wall, actually, because while I love these guys I want to draw other stuff. Whenever I try to think of anything else, they come clawing their way back. If I try to think about them, I hit a wall. 

Stumpy up there has given me the most trouble. He's a drummer with a drum-kit car. The drum kit car has been bothering me, so I was skipping it to focus on Stumpy himself. Immediately Rick Allen from Def Leppard came to mind: a one armed drummer, are you kidding me? That's an iconic look and it breaks the expectation that a monstrous drummer be an octopus. The mustache is from Neil Peart, but it's way too much.

Look, if you can get this off my brain with something distracting, I'll be infinitely grateful.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Double Draggin Design

Double Draggins are a pair of demons in a sidecar.  Sometimes, they split the sidecar off the motorcycle, and clothesline people with their serpentine bodies. Or chains, or something. Look, they're very scary. I not feeling very creative today, so I'm not going to write anything else.

....After writing that sentence, I immediately spent five minutes thinking of something else to write.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Brutal Legend: Fletus and His Outlaws

Taken from the Brutal Legends Wiki
Fletus concept art by Scott Campbell
When the Titans left, they didn't just leave behind their adoring pets, the Tainted Coil. Another race of demon slaves toiled for the Titans, helping to build and maintain their wondrous chariots, terrifying weaponry, and beautiful musical instrumens. Where the Coil attempted to simulate the beauty and majesty of their former masters, these demons only emulated their love of fast cars and fast music.

When the Titans ascended, the Tainted Coil turned their fury on the whole world, and no one suffered more than the demon mechanics, their hideous forms unrestricted and their knowledge more thorough and secret. The Coil waged an unceasing war against those ugly few who defied them. These creatures, the Outlaws, went into hiding on the edges of the world. Few survived the unending slaughter, but those that did continued to hone their arts in secret, racing against any challengers and sharing their most sacred knowledge with whomever could best them.

Fletus was one of the few who emerged first in the twilight of Doviculus' rule. When Doviculus was defeated by Eddie Riggs and the Coil routed by the human army Ironheade, the Outlaws rose again, racing along the ancient highways, resurrecting the mighty machines of their long-gone gods, and seeking a share of the homeland they lost; eventually going to war with the Ironheade Nation.

Boss Fletus
The leader of the Outlaws, Fletus had an amicable personal grudge against The Roadie that turned sour as his people seek fair access to the homelands to which they feel entitled. The humans of Ironheade are suspicious and fearful of the demons and reluctant to relinquish control of the lands hard-won from the Drowning Doom and the Coil seek to drive them back. Eddie arrives to mediate but when the Outlaws are less than reasonable in their demands, negotiations fall through and Fletus decides to raise an army and take back their land.

Fletus' combat style is less dependent on solos, and focuses more on the Squealer to dish out punishment.

These lovably bug-eyed monsters with a giant, distended jaws full of terrible teeth form the Outlaw's front line.  As

Double Team: Carjack
A team of Freeks will gather around Fletus. Damage they do during this attack provides bonuses to the Squealer.

Ranged Infantry
Hovering demons on high-powered engines, gunning their engines causes a percussive blowback, injuring enemies.

Double Team: Smoke Screen
Generates a smoke screen that renders a specific unit invisible.

Grease Gorilla
Support Vehicle: Healing
These mobile garage-driving demons keep the Outlaws and their vehicles outrunning the pigs. Bring one onto the field to patch up your boys.

Double Team: Overhaul
Nearby units heal to more health while Fletus rides along. Overhauled health starts to deplete as soon as Fletus leaves the sidecar, but it's a good way to preload units riding into battle.

The Shark [1]
Anti Infantry Vehicle
The Outlaw equivalent to the Metal Beast or Reaper, the Shark exudes dozens of vicious bats that swarm enemies, cutting a swath through their infantry forces.

Double Team: Blood Drive
 The Shark is under control of Fletus as it rapidly accelerates, trailing a line of bats.

The Double Draggin'
Heavy Anti-Vehicle 
Two chained-up demons on a motorcycle with a sidecar, they whip each other at vehicles as they pass, dealing heavy damage.

Double Team: Hell's Clothesline
The sidecar splits off from the main vehicle, connected by a chain. Enemies caught between the two vehicles are dragged with it.

Holey Driver
Ranged Artillery
 The heavy artillery car driven by a freed Screamer, he seeks vengeance on the Coil for his torture on the Scream Wagon. His catapult car fires gas cans at enemies.

Double Team: Light The Fuse
Fletus drives the Holey Driver and can manually aim the catapult. When attacking, he'll light the tank with his cigar, adding extra explosive damage.

Driveable Support Vehicle: Buff
Stumpy's drums provide a powerful buff, causing nearby units to deal more damage. This effect does not stack with multiple drummers.

Double Team: Painkiller
Stumpy parks his drum car and begins a hyperpowerful drum solo that renders nearby units invincible. When the solo ends or Stumpy is killed, his car explodes in a fireball, destroying him and ending the buff.

Anti-Infantry Vehicle
A sentient and viciously evil taxicab with a "pedestrian crossing" sign jammed in his radiator. Warning: do not be a blind pedestrian when this wild eyed demon takes the field.

Double Team: Powerslide
Fletus takes control of Noxing. Hit the break and turn to deal extra damage by powersliding into enemies.

The Doom Buggy
Heavy Ranged Unit
A tank pulled by a team of Tick Choppers and piloted by wild-eyed Freeks.

Double Team: Motorcade
The Doom Buggy parks and its Tick Chopper pull team disengage to circle, attacking foes that come near. If a Tick Chopper is destroyed, a new one will be generated to take its place after 3 seconds (+1 second per chopper destroyed).

Saturday, August 24, 2013

OTRSPoD Trenchcoat

Zeboyd Game has a ton of excellent items in their On The Rainslick Precipice series, as I have touched on before when I drew the Knitters way back in whenever I did that. I'm not going to look it up. My favorite item from the game is the Trench-coat. A coat that allows the wearer to defend all of his allies when he assumes a defensive position. Or she! It might also be a lady wearing the sassiest new fashion from the Maginot Line. But I don't care about the item's qualities in-game. It's "qualities" being the aforementioned group defense and a decent stat bonus.

No, I care about the name and concept of a coat, that is also a trench. A Trench-Coat. Just kind of revel in that for a minute. So I decided to draw it, a decision that was ultimately a mistake that I'm still going to share with you guys.

So that's what that drawing is, up there. It's the trench-coat design in its first iteration. Enjoy it. Revel it in the barbed wire and sandbag epaulettes. The searchlights adorning the brim of the fedora, and the complete absence of anything else that might indicate that it is, in fact, a visual pun.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Breastfeeding! And Feminism!

The other day, breastfeeding came up on the radio during my drive home from work. A conservative radio host was relating a story about a local pizzierrarist (pizzarite? pizza-slanger? pizza-shop-owner, anyway) who recently got in trouble because when a woman began breastfeeding in his shop, he asked if she would be more comfortable breastfeeding somewhere else.

Sounds reasonable, right? Moderately reasonable. After all, that can be a pretty vulnerable, intimate moment, so perhaps this young mother would want to go somewhere more private. The woman, mildly offended, mentioned it on Facebook, where it turned into a Major Thing, with women apparently sending this pizza guy boycott threats and all kinds of things. I guess what he did is crime here in Wisconsin. I did not know that, but here:
Right to Breast-Feed.
A mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be. In such a location, no person may prohibit a mother from breast-feeding her child, direct a mother to move to a different location to breast-feed her child, direct a mother to cover her child or breast while breast-feeding, or otherwise restrict a mother from breast-feeding her child as provided.
Now, the radio host himself wasn't against it. He was so emphatically equivocal, in fact, you'd think he was a groundskeeper, because he was hedging a champion. He had a rhetorical topiary. "It's not obscene." he'd say, "But it is a bodily function! Like, well, not like farting! But... I mean, I just think that decorum dictates that women should do it in private."

The first caller that I heard was a woman who emphatically agreed with him, except for the part where she ignored his hedging ridiculousness and came right out with it, saying that it was obscene and that it shouldn't be done. She didn't do it in public when she had a kid! Which is fine, lady, that's your choice. She then shared a story about how she was enjoying a meal with her teenage son, when a woman popped out her breast and began feeding her child, much to her son's discomfort. Now, having been a seventeen year old once, many years ago, and using forensic witchcraft, I think I can accurately figure out what this kid was thinking:
"Keep it together, now..."
"I want to look at those boobs, but I can't, because my mom is right there. It's fine, I'll just have to wait until I get home, or the bathroom, or the backseat of the minivan, then I can take out my pocket computer that can literally condense breasts out of the air like a mammary dehumidifier and look at boobs then. I just have to keep it together and wait."

Worrying that your nearly adult son might see another human being's breasts is dumb. Worrying that he might see them being used for their main, indeed only, biological purpose is so dumb, it's actually the death rattle of brain choked with unthought.

I exhaled, willing all the horrifying fury of my thoughts into the deepest recesses of my mind, where it can hang out on the jungle gym or something. I was still curious; I wanted to hear more about this story, even if it was communicated in between calls from yokels with jaws so slack you could fit an elephant between their mandibles. Man, that is a tortured simile. Still exhaling, I removed my hand from the radio dial and listened on.

"She shared this on Facebook." The host explained, "Which got the Breastfeeding Coalition of South Central Wisconsin involved. Heh heh heh. I want to sit in on that meeting.I temporarily went deaf with fury, and when I regained my senses, he had already fielded another call, from someone I can only imagine has, at some point, been wrist-deep inside a trout with his eyes closed and his pants down. Possibly not, and I might be poisoning a stupid well, but just let me have this. Character assassination is an excellent way to blow off steam.
He's sexually satisfied by fish, is what I'm saying.
 "It's not right." mansplained this man-caller, manfully. "When I was growing up, women knew that that stuff wasn't something you'd do in public. I mean, we have to keep these restaurants family friendly!" These are words, that he actually said. Out loud, on the radio. He said that a woman feeding her infant child was not "family friendly". The most elemental aspect of a nuclear family was not family-friendly. At this point, I was tempted to mercy-kill the English language. We could start over in Chinese, it doesn't matter. I reached for the dial again, but he wasn't done.

"It's just very uncomfortable for me. It's awkward for everybody, you know? I don't want to seem like I'm staring and that makes it very weird for me." "Yes, of course. I agree!"  These two presumably grown-up, fully adult men just made a woman and her baby responsible for their emotional well-being in a public restaurant. Beholden for causing them discomfiture. The comfort and convenience of a child no more than a few months old must be put on hold, so that these grown-up people don't have to worry about whether or not they are embarrassing themselves. If blood can curdle, my circulatory system was a cheese-press. And they still weren't done.

"Breastfeeding Coalition of South Central Wisconsin, huh? That's a thing. Boy, I'd like to sit in on that meeting!" chuckled the caller, apparently having enjoyed the joke and deciding that it bore repeating. "Yeah!" cackled the host, having forgotten that he'd made the exact same joke, word for word, literally minutes earlier. The plagiarist and his victim giggled together about the novelty of attending a meeting of medical professionals, so that they can watch a group of women breastfeed. That's what medical professionals do at those meetings, right? Show off their boobs, for breastfeeding or possibly for the sexual satisfaction of creepifying radio personalities and the orangutans that give them phone calls?

Breastfeeding--or having breasts out in public--is bad when it causes men discomfort. You'll notice that the lady caller earlier didn't say it made her uncomfortable, but her son. The same is true of the jackholes above. It is good, acceptable, or funny when it causes men sexual joy. Don't get me wrong; I like breasts, both as purveyors of nutrients and as aesthetically pleasing anatomical parts. I've even owned a shirt to that effect.
And a notarized certificate identifying me as a douchebag
Breasts are just more flesh. They possess no inherent magical powers, except for... you know, the milk. Stop trying to cover them up! Especially stop trying to cover them up when they are doing their job.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Did Aang "Cheat" on Katara?

Okay, that's a bombastic headline. With the new season of Avatar: The Legend of Korra getting ready to air and me working on a new Avatar-themed side project, I find myself thinking a lot about Avatar these days. Now, I think about AtLA pretty frequently anyway, mostly because it's such a wonderfully internally coherent world it's just fun to pull at little threads and see how they twitch, but lately that's been amped up and the thought that's been on my mind the last few deals heavily with Aang and Katara's relationship after the great war was over.

Did Aang cheat on Katara? Or rather, did he enjoy relationships with women other than Katara? Of course, canonical support for something as unsavory as an affair would always be hard to come by in a show like Avatar--this is a show that features a century-long war, yet the war memorial would have  three names on it. Even the insane genocidal tyrant was merely imprisoned after the war. Although the show isn't as shy as it could be, adultery and affairs are necessarily difficult to get details about; these would be closely guarded secrets in real life, and even in a show as frank about adult sexuality as Avatar information is going to be sparse.. There are plenty of historical people we can be pretty sure had extramarital affairs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton (to name a few American presidents). Thomas Jefferson allegedly sired children in his affairs with slaves. Suffice to say, it happens in real life and nobody wants to talk about it. But I think it could have happened. Let me explain.

Reason One: The Man

Aang is a decent man. He has some incredibly strong principles. His taboo against taking life is so sincerely held that even when faced with the dude who wanted to burn down half the planet Aang sought to spare him. Against the advice and counsel not just of probably every single person in the world, but also some of the people out of it; even another air-bender, met through Aang's spirit link to his past lives, strongly implies that Ozai's only just fate is death. Which makes sense--the dude wanted to kill everything in the world's most populous nation and as an unintended side effect probably would extinguish all life on the planet (as a country-sized wildfire might be expected to do).  Aang spared that guy. Aang invented a new kind of bending in order to spare that guy. Morality is basically the only thing Aang can't bend, so if he believes in monogamy, he probably won't stray.

However, Aang is unquestionably a troubled young man. When he wakes up in the iceberg, he feels as though only a day or two has passed, but it's been a century and the total genocide of his people. From his perspective, the transition between "all my friends and family are alive" to "my entire people and culture has been graphically murdered" takes place over a few days. Aang deals with it almost unbelievably well, finding ways to channel his total devastation productively. He has his quest to master the bending arts and defeat the Firelord to distract him. He has to let his relationship with his people go in order to attain control over the Avatar State. He has his relationship with Katara. But then the war's over, he's mastered the elements, and suddenly he'll have time to really appreciate the fact that his people are truly dead and gone. Once again, I just want to emphasize that "one minute everything's fine, next minute it's a hundred years in the future and also my entire culture has been driven to extinction" thing. Holy crow, talk about emotional damage. Although he is strongly principled, he has betrayed his friends when he was afraid he would abandon them (S1E15: Bato of the Water Tribe). This is something he may have matured out of, but his fear of abandonment is powerful, and he's demonstrated that he would lie to people he loves to keep them in his life.

Aang also craves recognition and enjoys the attention of others, especially women. He can be seen showing off for girls on Kyoshi Island before he is seriously engaged in the war (S1E4: Kyoshi Island) and for his fanclubs  after the fall of the Phoenix King (The Promise, Book 1), suggesting a consistent character trait that is unchanged by his character growth during the war. It bears remembering that he's also only twelve during the show--that means he's on the cusp of a pretty confusing time. Men, especially in their late teens and early twenties, tend to have impulse control problems as a result of brain growth and shifting hormones, and Aang has undergone a year of fairly extreme trauma during a very vulnerable part of his social and physiological development. While it's entirely possible that Aang could weather this without cheating, he's a young man that desperately craves attention, has canonically established abandonment issues, and will undoubtedly live a life of easy access to interested women. Which brings me to my next point.

Reason Two: The Ladies
 Women--and possibly men--are going to throw themselves at Aang for the rest of his life. First of all, he's wildly famous, popular, and recognizable. It is in human nature to desire a high-status partner, and Aang is high status. Mesospheric status. Orbital status.The world he lives in is also recovering from a pretty terrible war. All belligerents in the war appear to field mostly male armies (the Southern Water tribe nearly goes extinct doing so), so it's a fair shake that young men in the late teens to twenties are in short supply. The major cultures of the Avatar world are much more egalitarian than comparable real-world cultures, but there's still a traditionalist/patriarchal element that would see some women--and their families--eagerly jockeying for position with a man of wealth and status like Aang.

After the great war, Aang is unquestionably the most recognizable person on the entire planet. While his role in ending the war--defeating the Fire Lord--isn't strategically any more important than dismantling the Fire Nation air force (Sokka, Toph and Suki's job) or ensuring Zuko's ascension (Katara's), it's an important symbolic victory and an impressive feat of bending. Plus, he's the Avatar doing it, so whatever he does is automatically more notable. That's right, you can be historically important for doing stuff that's only important because you did it while being important for having done it. Aang canonically attracts women for this in the graphic novels.

Of course, Aang is also a hottie, I guess? Even as a twelve-year-old he attracts a reasonable amount of attention from girls: Meng (S1 E 5: The Fortune Teller) and On Ji (S3 E2, the Headband), neither of whom care that he's the Avatar. Both his fanclubs on Kyoshi Island and seen in The Promise are exclusively female, and although they might only care about his Avatar status, their interest in Aang certainly makes Katara jealous and suggests some of them have more prurient goals in mind.

Now, all this attention could go to a man's head. Aang has an iron constitution for his principles, it's true, but it is well textually supported that Aang adores getting attention and especially glories in it from young ladies. Plus, he's the Avatar. The Last Airbender. The hero of a century long conflict. No matter where he goes, I imagine there will always be some women interested either because he's famous or good-looking, and it's on him to keep his ego in check. Any man might lose his resolve, and normally he's saved because he have a chance to think about it, because there won't be a ready and willing woman somewhere nearby whenever he wants: and any effort spent finding her allows him to regain his senses. Aang, if he's as popular as he appears, will never get that grace period.

Third Reason: The Mission

I think it bears repeating that Aang is, in fact, the Last Airbender and he loved his people and his culture. His offense at seeing his culture destroyed or mocked represent pretty impressive conclusions for a twelve year old boy.

So here we have a man who likes attention and will definitely receive it from nubile young women for the rest of his life, and his mission is to completely restart a nation by himself. After trying his whole life, the only thing he has to show for it explicitly is one airbender son; he dies at least three years before his first airbending grandchild. It's hard to picture Aang holding Tenzin, the person who will inherit his title of "Last Airbender anywhere in the world" and thinking to himself "Yes. Yes. Now that I have this one basket, time to put all my eggs in there."

Bending's link to genetics isn't really clear, and there aren't any very long multiracial geneologies available for our comparison. While we see nonbenders coming from bending families (Aang's son Bumi is a nonbender) and benders coming from nonbenders (Toph's parents are not apparently benders), it's not clear how bending powers are assigned. However it works, it's safe to say that Aang wouldn't be comfortable trying to reestablish his culture with a single airbender-capable infant.

This is a concern that I imagine Katara would be sympathetic to; while she's visibly jealous of his attention to other women, she's also only fifteen when he starts getting that attention; the jealousy might fade, replaced by her empathy for Aang's dilemma. He's the last breeding male of his race. Or the anything-male of his race. Or anything anything of his race. He can teach a fair amount of knowledge about his culture to the Air Acolytes, but airbending itself apparently hinges entirely with his genetic line. And it could take years--decades!--to find out if any one child he has is capable of bending, and what. Katara predicts that Meelo will be a bender, but it's unclear whether this is a real power she is capable of or if she's just being a normal grandmother; my own grandma predicted I would be a boy because of obscure Polish folk wisdom. Aang is thirty one when Tenzin is born and presumably won't know for sure that Tenzin's an airbender for another four or five years. Tenzin, in turn, does not take his role as scion of the Air Nomads very seriously--his first child is conceived when he's thirty four, seven years after Aang's death.

Suffice to say, this is not a good situation for Aang and it's difficult to accept that Aang would be comfortable with that. There is no way he'll ever reestablish his culture or its dominant physical paradigm (e.g. airbender) without maybe meeting a few nonbender ladies on the side to discuss repopulating all those crazy temples.

So there you have it.  I can't prove that Aang cheated. Canonically he probably didn't, but think about it: this is some pretty compelling evidence that Aang might have had women on the side, and possibly even with her permission. Now, to help you recover from that depressing trainwreck, here's the trailer to The Legend of Korra, Season Two: Spirits.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Kingsley Doodle

I'm trying to start drawing again for realsies, and I wanted to try my hand at a painterly style, using less lineart and more broad strokes. I don't really know what I'm doing with all this jazz, but maybe I'll keep it up this time. Hey, if you have anything you'd like me to screwdle, I'm open to that! Make a request!

Okay, so I actually tried the painterly thing, then I went through and added lineart on the top. It's a rough look but I think it'll fill out as I practice.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


 I recently tried to revive an old, old painting from college called Chronomentrophobia, inspired by Outkast's song of the same name. At the same time, I also wanted to draw a picture of a steampunk gentleman for my brother. The result was this weird painting, which I think we can agree has way too much going on in the negative space and could benefit from a little more direction in the highlights.

This may warrant a little more investigation. I also included some of the planning sketches I made early on, designs for the robot arm and the medals on my steampunk gentleman. I should probably redesign the whole look now that I'm seeing it in a new light.

As always, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, let me know!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Animal Crossing: Zombie Horde

Recently I watched Yahtzee Croshaw's review for Animal Crossing: New Leaf, wherein he laments that the game is, at its heart, a simulation of a suburban hellscape. You eagerly wait for the fish to respawn so you can go fishing, then you go catch your butterflies and pull your weeds. Eventually your neighbors will complain about something, so you'll take care of it. Animal Crossing is apparently a game about being a British pensioner that got into the good mescaline and has been hallucinating that the drifter outside his apartment is a terrier with a guitar.

Which sounds boring to me. I remember the first Animal Crossing game, back when I had a subscription to Nintendo Power and no Nintendo. It sounded enchanting! Then, after a year or two, I got the game for the DS and was disappointed to find the game came with a prescription for digital Xanax and a pamphlet on surviving postpartum depression. Finding the rare items that required social contact with other Animal Crossing players was impossible since I didn't know any, and I found the game's capitalistic obsession with house decoration to be dreary. I think I'd mistakenly thought that Animal Crossing was like the Sims but with an actually interesting art direction. Or I don't know what I thought.
It's like the logical progression from the Dancing Baby GIF

Looking at the game, I think we could pull a more conventional, conflict-themed game out of Animal Crossing. And that is to take the basic gameplay of Animal Crossing, and add in the zombie apocalypse. Well, not the zombie apocalypse, actually. Zombies are played out as a narrative conceit. In fact, on the off chance that somebody reading this decides to make this game, if you use zombies as the game's antagonists I will poison you with fugu powder then sacrifice you to Papa Ghede. Do I make myself clear?

Anyway, so you're put in charge of a randomly generated town populated by a manageable cast of neighbors. You're free to decorate your home, fish in the deep end of the ol' Swimmin Hole, head out back and dig for treasure, whatever. However, your village is under attack! Periodically, it will be attacked by something and it's your job to repel the invaders as best you can, with the help of your neighbors.

In addition to the decorations you can hang in your house, you also have options for a number of suitable fortifications. Will you build a gym and turn your neighbors into a ragtag team of monster killing experts? Or will you hire carpenters to build a defensive wall with sentries and turrets? Will you appease the monsters with a sacrifice of blood? Each option will have its strengths and weaknesses: the economy would be designed in such a way as to allow you to mix and match options, and change styles fluidly, but prevent you from utilizing every strategy simultaneously or optimizing excessively.

Unlike Animal Crossing, where neighbors pester you to do minor chores for them, in this game you could assign them to do minor chores. Learn your neighbor's personalities, find the job that's best for them, and assign them to it! Do you have a flighty, unreliable neighbor? Put him on guard duty where his panicky nature keeps him on high alert! Hardy, courageous neighbor? Direct combat! Adjust your strategy to play to the strengths and weaknesses of your neighbors.

There would also be ruins on the outskirts of your village. These places might host new neighbors hiding in the squalor, valuable parts for home defense, or just cool decorations!

The antagonists should be diverse and, like Animal Crossing, be partially randomized. Will you be beset by a giant dragon or a swarm of giant beetles? Will enemies attack with brute force, or will they try to infiltrate your neighborhood as new neighbors and sabotage the works?

Monday, July 22, 2013

History of Relics

I like items. I think the fact that I have a blog dedicated to designing weapons for TF2 is testament to that, but it goes deeper. I like the items in the Legends of Zelda games. Items in comic books, items in roleplaying games, even items from mythology. I like seeing how technology affected history, especially with regard to (you guessed it) items. I like seeing what developments improve each piece of technology, and the history of magical items, the source of their power. I'm still thinking about these, so if you have some fun ones, especially from an unusual cultural source, speak up! I'm very curious to hear about them.

 The Wooden Spoon
The Troll Witch, Hellboy book 6. Mike Mignola.
The Wooden Spoon was an ordinary spoon used by an enraged young woman to rescue her sister's head from a pack of trolls. Afterwards, the spoon was permanently wet with troll blood and the sound of cracking troll bones was captured in the wood. Trolls feared it and would not pass near it, even to take refuge from the sun.

Quality: Reputational. The spoon itself has no impressive force or origin before or after its use. Unlike many magical items, its power comes from fear of it, not any supernatural strength it bestows on the user. However, it is unique.

The Hand of Glory
A Box Full of Evil, Hellboy book 4. Mike Mignola.
The Hand of Glory is the hand of a hanged murderer, dipped in wax or fat and turned into a candle. When used, it grants light only to the user, unlocks any door in the house where it is lit, and immobilizes anyone inside; it's basically the ultimate magical burglar's tool.

Quality: Manufactured. A hand of glory can be made by anybody with the necessary skills and ingredients.

The Painted Skin (画皮)
The Painted Skin. Tales from a Chinese Studio. Pu Songling.
The origin of the painted skin is unknown, but when it appears in the story it is owned by a demon that eats men's hearts. The skin allows the user to disguise itself as a human being, which the monster uses to seduce one victim by appearing as a young woman. Later it uses the skin to protect itself by appearing as an old woman. Although the source of the item and its powers are unknown, the demon did paint the skin, hence the name.

Quality: Spoils. An item--a tool--won from a defeated monster.

The Head of Medusa
Medusa. Wikipedia.
Medusa was cursed by the goddess Athena for defaming her temple, reducing a beautiful woman to a monster with wings, bronze claws, and snakes for hair. Seeing her face petrifies her victims. The Greek hero Perseus slayed her, then used her head as a weapon to petrify his enemies. Ultimately, Medusa's head was placed on Athena's shield.

Quality: Trophy. Rather than being a tool stolen from an aggressor, the Head of Medusa is a weapon made from a slain monster. It retains the qualities of the monster.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What if Bioshock Infinite Wasn't an FPS?

I've been thinking a lot about Bioshock Infinite lately. I also recently watched a pretty brutal criticism of it done with a guy with a brogue of some kind--if you know what it is, let me know because I'd like to find it again. Anyway, this guy took a hammer to Bioshock Infinite like it slept with his girlfriend and also he was his girlfriend's pimp. That's too harsh on him, maybe, but the point is that he really went all-in denigrating the game with the interest being that he would illustrate that Bioshock Infinite wasn't deserving of the plaudits it received back in March.

Anyway, he had a lot to say and as soon as I can find the video I'll let him say it, but there was a small sliver of information that got me thinking: a first person shooter is not something that served Bioshock Infinite's story. That makes sense: a story about a man seeking redemption from a life of violence and brutality isn't well-served by a scene where he chainsaws a man and hurls his corpse into a crowd of screaming civilians. Elizabeth even responds to moments like this with fear, but she's remarkably on-board for Booker's pretty goddamn crazy murder spree, especially since he's already gained the ability to shoot crows out of his hands by the time she meets him.

The original Bioshock was a survival horror game. Everything about the game lent themselves to that central conceit; everything served to remind you that this was a game about feeling scared and isolated in a place that was full of insane junkies hungering for your blood. Considering the big twist at the end of the second act is a moment where you realize that you weren't in control and technically you haven't been all along. Plus, the people who are trying to kill you are superpowered mutants who've lost touch with reality and want to make a you-skin belt.

However, the major thing in Bioshock Infinite is Elizabeth: interacting and bonding with her, learning about her powers, and using her to explore the world. The villains are mostly regular people. Regular people representing a racist society, but they're never racist at us, and there's a surprisingly small amount of actual interracial violence, for a game that originally seemed premised on it. It seems to me that there are mechanics that would work better with that story, and that would allow us to take better advantage of the powers we're told Elizabeth has. My immediate response: first person puzzle game! Now, all three Bioshock games (we'll count 2 because we're nice) have featured a "puzzle" that really just sends you to get the nearest free plasmid. "The wall is frozen, we need fire to melt it. You'll never see ice again, for the rest of the game. Seriously." "These doors can only be opened with electricity. Also, there'll never be another one of these doors ever again. Seriously." It's somewhat frustrating. However, from a narrative standpoint it's nice to have an objective aside from "Open door" with a solution more complicated than "Murder everyone and touch everything until the door opens."

Having goals aside from "murder everyone" and the tools to do it would be such a revelation in game design. For example, in addition to all the other crap heaped on them, Big Daddies are essentially magic janitors: one of their jobs is maintaining Rapture. The first ranged weapon you get in Bioshock 2 is a rivet gun. An objective where you are tasked with repairing damaged pipes with your rivet gun literally writes itself. Ideas like this for Bioshock Infinite's many, many cool mechanics should be easy.

Let me know what you've got. I'll come up with some too. It'll be fun!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Playing With Voices

In addition to drawing silly pictures and writing silly ideas, I also do silly voices! This first video is me, rocking a thinning hairline and a series of impressions of orc, troll, goblin, and ogre voices from Warcraft 2. The trolls are my favorite, but I think I might do a whole line of Orc voices once my throat has recovered. If you have a funny thing you want me to say with a funny voice, leave it all up in the comments section and I'll do my best to mangle your pristine funny with my noisemaker.

An aside to actual voice talent: if you know what you're doing, I'd love to hear your take on my technique. I learned mostly by watching Billy West give interviews. Tell me what I'm doing wrong, I love improving.
  And here's an improvised monologue I did with my King Candy impression. Don't ask me where it came from, I was just sitting in my living room and it kind of struck me. But I have a lot of fun doing these!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Brain in a Jar

In an early bid for immortality, the Eblonians pioneered the out-of-body experience. It's a brain in a jar. In theory, the brain will live forever, in sync with the Heart of Eb, reliving its life moment for moment in a perfect loop. Of course, brains don't work like that, especially brains with no external feedback. Also, low-fat jar fluid? Their poor myelin sheaths!

I've been drawing organs in jars lately, and I think that's a sentence you don't really have appreciation for how creepy it is until you say it out loud. If I had to guess why I've been doing it, I'm going to say three way tie between Mike Mignola, TF2 and Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Got inspired to draw one of the Judge-type zombies I was developing for the story a couple years ago. Lesson learned, though: don't do a composition without having at least a rough background sketch to fall back on.

The Judge Zombies are particularly well-preserved ghouls tasked with commanding heavy machinery for the maintenance of Eb. They move around their facility on elevated tracks, hooking into the nearest limbs. Although huge and seemingly cumbersome, the limbs are actually extremely flexible when they're kept in good condition.  Although pickled nicely, they're a bit crazy: this may have something to do with being zombified while still alive, having your limbs cut off, and being enslaved as a heart surgeon for a thousand lifetimes.

Anybody have any recommendations on the background? All black and spolights weren't really cutting it for this one.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Another Kark Doodle

The Kark is a guy. He's a big guy, right? Tough. I don't know what's happening here. I guess somebody's throwing something at him? Well, they are now. In short order he'll get up there, and they won't throw things at him anymore. Or throw things in general. Ever again.

The Kark hates it when people throw things at him. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Factions and Possession in Bioshock Infinite

Recently I wrote a blog about factions in Bioshock Infinite, wherein I described the way I felt the mechanics for a good factional combat game had been laid into BSI's combat system. Today, I had a further epiphany for an enemy that could take advantage of the factional system. Now it's time to meet the Mesmer.

Found at the Bioshock Wikia

The Mesmer would be a vigor-using Heavy Hitter, using the Possession vigor the same way the player would: hypnotizing their opponents. It might be used to steal away friendly units or to hijack friendly machinery. However, its most interesting mechanic is its ability to hypnotize the player. While under the effects of a Mesmer's possession, random allies and enemies would appear to change sides, making it difficult for the player to know who to kill without paying attention. To escape his possession, the player would have to kill him or risk breaking the alliance. In later levels or at higher difficulty settings he may also use a modified version of Ghost Soldier to haunt weaponry.

Deciding on his visual design would be necessary to make him immediately recognizable. The Firemen and Zealots both have props that call to mind stage magicians and escape artists of the era; arcane torture devices, coffins, and chains. Of course both the Vigor demonstration videos and the Vigor vending machines feature tuxedo-clad magicians as well. So a third stage magician style is called for. I am sorely tempted to use the Orientalist-type magician: the self-styled "swami" or "Turkish sorcerer" in ill-researched costume. It seems reasonable that such a viciously racist society would take a certain amount of transgressive delight in attending shows put on by a "foreign menace". And connecting the design to Rapture via  Epstein the Swami and Suresh Sheti does have a certain appeal, doesn't it?

To sell the design as a Columbia vigor-user and to give him a distinct profile, he'd require a totem to tie his outfit together. I'd initially thought it natural that a hypnotist carry a watch. However, I was worried that it might confuse the design with Jeremiah Fink, so I elected for a cracked bell. The bell symbolizes Pavlovian conditioning; where scientists were able to condition animals to associate the stimuli of a bell sound with the presence of food, until they would salivate purely as a response to the bell. The swinging motion of the bell also bears a certain similarity to the movement of a watch in a stage hypnotists' act: together they suggest a character capable of coercing her enemies. There's also wonderful resonance with the morbid imagery carried by the other vigor-users: coffin and the chains; the tolling of a bell in mourning is a classic thanatopsist image, as in the John Donne poem. As not for whom the bell tolls! It tolls for thee!

As a final coup d'grace, we have the Liberty Bell, to bring home some patriotic imagery. For the Mesmers associated with the Founders, the Bell retains its status as a pure symbol of American independence, and so they'd wield one. For the Vox Populi-associated Mesmers, the bell carries later, Civil-War themes of liberty for all, and that era's anti-slavery propaganda would feature heavily into their thinking. Both would carry the cracked bell; I had originally thought of it as being a censer, but felt that it would make for janky animation if the Mesmer has to move quickly in combat, so a crozier with the cracked bell hanging from the end seems like a better solution.

Finally, the Mesmer's writing and voice acting should reflect the nature of his disguise. His vocalizations at high health should be deep-voiced and bear a distinctive fake accent. It shouldn't be ridiculous: fake enough to be recognizable but not so fake as to excessively stand out from other enemy vocalizations. However, pain vocalizations and low-health vocalizations should both be handled in an American accent, recalling famous yellowface stage magician Chung Ling Soo; the man who publicly lived as his stage persona and only broke character once: to announce that he had been fatally shot.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Factions in Bioshock Infinite

Another post about Bioshock Infinite. This time I think I glimpsed something that became cut content, or maybe unreleased content: it's hard to tell when I'm just guessing from promotional material and the final game. Either way, we'll file this under DLC speculation for now. Bioshock players beware: plot speculation may include spoilers ahead. You've been cautioned. Is the bold too much? It feels like it's too much.

Early in Bioshock Infinite's dev cycle, enemies were more patriotic, wearing red-white-and-blue ensembles. Saltonstall, a politician from one of the early trailers, wore striped pants in this fashion. A Handyman in a demo wears a similar outfit. However, in later versions enemies are almost totally stripped of this political chic. The outfits are streamlined, divided into either blue outfits or red. Blue is the color of the Founders; most soldiers wear blue, their outfits assembled to look like uniforms or military gear. Their gun icons are blue. The Vox always wore red, but it's further codified as numerous enemies were given red character models, and the Vox weapons are adorned with red ribbons, in addition to their red gun icons.

 At one point in the game, you emerge to find the Vox are your allies. Friendly without being Possessed, they join you in the fight against the Founders. If you attack one (as I did, not realizing that the guys executing unarmed men were supposed to be on my side) the game warns you to stop shooting allies. This mechanic is explored for the next five minutes, then never discussed again. It was heavily touted in press releases that in certain instances enemies wouldn't attack unless provoked, which seems like a mechanic that would play into factional combat.

Knowing all that going into BSI, I assumed that the faction-specific guns were relevant to that. Most of the guns are nearly carbon copies across the aisle. The mechanics are slightly modified between factions, but in practice most weapons are nearly identical. Additionally, upgrades are faction-specific; upgrading the Vox Heater doesn't improve the Founder China Broom or vice versa, so if you want a fully upgraded shotgun you're loosely encouraged to pick sides.  There's the rub! The game's enemies were redesigned, seemingly to help players differentiate between the Founders and the Vox. The combat system was designed to facilitate the player swapping between weapons, but then you're heavily encouraged to invest in faction specific weaponry. The game even offers warnings when you hit allies in the one section where that is legitimately a serious concern. Factional combat was baked into BSI, and then almost totally ignored.

So I was thinking about how it could have been expressed. It's pretty simple: as you enter an area, enemies might take exception to the gun you were carrying and attack you, declaring you an enemy sympathizer. Alternatively, killing enemies could make the other side sympathetic to you. Depending on your relationship with a faction, they might offer you side-quests.  Potential hostiles would ally with you and you could turn battles in their favor. Allies, for ease of recognition, would share faction-specific HUD colors in addition to their appearance. How strongly do you sympathize with a particular faction? Will you fight to further their goals, or will you use them to further your own?

Why do I care about this? Well, Bioshock Infinite doesn't have a mechanic that carries it in an interesting direction the way that Bioshock's Little Sisters do. I also feel that a factional system makes for the possibility of a more interesting "moral system": rather than saying "Press X to be Good or press Y to be Evil", the game would let you join a party, then decide whether or not you want to toe the party line. Which faction you join and how much effort you put into serving them influences the outcome of the story.

Monday, April 29, 2013


I've been doodling some devices. There's a samovar, a tea kettle, a teacup, mortar and pestle, a pumpkin flower, and some kind of air pump. I haven't doodled in a while so I wanted to do some fun stuff. Yep! Fun stuff for me includes drawing samovars.

This stuff is all used to develop medicine! Not in real life, oh, heavens no. But in my mind, anything can be used to make medicine.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Intimidation as a Gameplay Mechanic

Bioshock Infinite has gotten me thinking about how enemies in videogames respond to the player. In most video games--especially videogames outside of a zombie horror settings--it's often unbelievable how waves of enemies will run at me with no regard for their own safety, determined to tear my face off. It doesn't matter how many of them I kill, nor how brutally I kill them, they never even seem to flinch.It gets especially hilarious when you could rebuild the Sedlec Ossuary with all the bones you've shattered in a single fight, but the one remaining enemy continues to berate you with tired braggadocio.

Bioshock and Bioshock 2 handwave this with splicers. They're addicts, lunatics, and mutants all at the same time: their naked hostility may not be completely sensible but it's totally understandable. Splicers are generally depicted as being profoundly delusional. They get confused about who the protagonist is, about where they are, about what's going on. They're capable of lucidity, and a few even have conversations that you can listen in on if you're sneaky enough, but mostly they're raving lunatics. That's gone in BSI, though. The Founders and the Vox Populi are regular human beings. Sure, they're caught up in the fervor of a civil war, but that's the only thing that could explain anything going on inside their heads. These are regular people who, if they were real, would be terrified of dying. But they don't care if you're carrying a rocket launcher, they'll still try to hit you in the face with a lead pipe if they could just get close enough.

Hey, Terry, you got something in your eye.
In a Bioshock 2 promo video, they implied that splicers would fear you, that they'd drop off, look to get a different angle, or just flee. They even showed a splicer fleeing in terror when the player revved his drill; he didn't even hit them with it, just revved it up, and they fled. This idea enchanted me: enemies that leave the fight not because you murdered them, but because you scared the hell out of them. It began to take shape even more firmly as I realized that executions in BSI don't serve much purpose. They only work on enemies that are badly injured anyway. They provide some extra damage but not enough to be worth it unless you're a melee specialist.

This got me thinking: I don't care how gung-ho you are to kill somebody, when you see that guy incinerate your sergeant with fire he shoots from his fingertips, you lose a little bit of confidence. When that same guy then picks up the lieutenant, chainsaws off his face, and hurls his corpse across the room, you should probably start working on your "innocent, fireproof civilian" look. When you look around and realize that this dude has visited some variation on the theme of grisly murder on everybody in your platoon, and now he is coming for you with a grenade launcher and a purposeful look, I think maybe you just totally rethink your "murder this guy" strategy. If that doesn't work, maybe you just jump off the nearest balloon. After all, what's the worst the ground can do to you?
It sure ain't gonna set you on fire and then steal pineapples from your wallet
So, my idea is that enemies enact smarter behavior. We already have that to a certain degree; enemies will tell each other to flush you out of cover, they'll loudly announce that they're reloading, they'll complain that they're on fire, and they'll loudly telegraph haymakers while threatening to kill you. I just want to take it a step further: when you do something horrifying, I want the enemies to recognize that as some hard core stuff, and be suitably impressed.. To think "If he did that to Frank, imagine what he could do to me!"

During the course of combat, enemies would swing from brave to scared depending on how the player behaved. A brutal melee execution might cause the other units to give up and flee. Setting off traps or seeing particularly powerful special abilities would make enemies scared. On the flip side, badly hurting the player would make enemies brave again, as would killing the player, seeing the player retreat, or receiving reinforcements.