Ambitions of pushing the envelope.

I’m currently in my final semester for the Bachelor of Graphic Design degree, so I’m devoting my time to a project I haven’t discussed here so far. Now that I have something to show, though, I think it’s time to talk about it a bit. I’ll start from the very beginning: the conception of the idea.

I’ve been an avid videogamer for the best part of my life, so I can account for many hours spent in front of a screen, with a controller in my hands. One day, around two years ago, probably while playing this brilliantly elegant game called Polarium,1 I realized that I was having more fun creating levels, and making sure that they were both solvable and aesthetically attractive, rather than just playing the game proper. I found that the visual patterns created by the simple colored shapes in puzzle games like Tetris, Puyo Puyo and Puzzle Bobble could, and sometimes would, form beautiful patterns. This is, of course, where my training in design comes in; I realized that a game could be made where the objective, the very goal, was not to match shapes or make chains, but to create an interesting visual composition.

I had very little experience programming, though, so I never took it upon myself to make that game. Time passed, and one day there was a special event, hosted by a friend, called the Super Game Bakedown, that simply consisted of creating a game for the duration of a single month, in the spirit of the NaNoWriMo. I knew I couldn’t achieve such a feat, but I joined anyway, and made it my goal to finish a design document for this dream game of mine. I even added a secondary characteristic to the game, which was an idea that had intrigued me for a while: The game would not use words (or numbers) whatsoever. In the end, I didn’t even finish the design document, but I did get a clearer idea of what I wanted to, and could, achieve. […]

  1. Polarium is a videogame developed by Mitchell and released for the Nintendo DS. It’s an abstract puzzler whose objective is to turn every row, from a rectangular grid of white and black squares, into a single color, by means of tracing a path that flips white tiles to black, and vice versa. This simple premise, intuitive during the first few stages, gives way to mind-bending puzzles that test the player’s ability to analyze and recognize patterns. It includes a level creator. There is also a free-to-play Flash clone called Blackflip

An ant gets up and goes on parade.

Remember that idea I had of making a round-robin webcomic? Well, I’ve finally launched the site, with a strip to start things. It’s called The Ants Parade, a name that, I believe, illustrates what I want to achieve with the comic: collaboration, a succession of authors, whose works, together, contribute to a bigger opus. Not that big, of course –we’re not talking elephants here–, but hopefully worth everyone’s time.

The first strip is already almost not a comic strip, which is how I wanted to steer this from the beginning. Not that I mind traditional comics, but I wanted the project to explore vastly different ways to make a comic. If we’re talking many authors with so many liberties, the least we can expect is radical diversification. So I hope that my first strip, regardless of its quality, can inspire future contributors to go wild.

The site incorporates one rant per strip for the author to voice his thoughts, as long as they’re vaguely related to the comic. There’s also a blog, which, honestly, I don’t foresee getting used much, but it’s there for the different contributors –who might not even know each other– to discuss anything at all. Anyone can comment on posts, and I can promote registered users so that they can create new posts. It’s almost a message board, really, but those are generally too hermetic to outsiders, so I wanted something that was transparent, with a quicker flow.

The technology I use is Pixelpost for the strips and Chyrp for the blog. I had used Pixelpost before, and it’s as easy to set up as ever–even if it lacks versatility, reason why I had to edit the script’s code at times. Chyrp, on the other hand, I will admit, was a big pain. Its theming language is really poorly documented, and the little documentation there is seems to assume that the reader is familiar with Chyrp’s code. Errors in the themes’ syntax don’t even receive a helpful error message from the parser, which just breaks, so bug-catching is a slow process. In all, the experience was pretty terrible, but once the language (called Twig) gets some decent documentation, it might become very usable, since it’s quite flexible–but hell if I know how to tame that flexibility right now. The engine itself is very economic, with none of the bloat of WordPress, but, then again, with the limitations one would expect, which are partly offset by its modules (add-ons). What that means is that the blog can be exactly what you want it to be, with none of what you don’t need; in theory, because it’s rather difficult to get it to be what you want it to be in its current form.

But the site is up now, so whatever happened in the process doesn’t matter. It still needs to be improved and polished, but it’s perfectly usable right now…, I believe. All it needs is some more strips.

Runaway Blast.

What happens if you mix a group of people, an old and crippled game-making software, and two hours on a Saturday evening? Awesomeness happens, that is what. It’s the basic premise of the Klik of the Month Klub; you grab Klik & Play, a buggy, limited and old (from 1994) software that is nevertheless endearing and fun to use (also free,) then make a game with it during those two hours. The results are often broken and nigh-unplayable, but hilarious or even enlightening.

Runaway Blast screenshot

You can’t do a lot during that short span of time, so not being overly ambitious is key. Last saturday was my first time participating in the monthly event, and I thought that I was going to have about an hour’s worth of time to work on my game, since I was supposed to go visit some photography exhibitions, which in the end didn’t happen. Given my lack of familiarity with the (at times esoteric) software, my humble aspirations were, nevertheless, extremely helpful. My design document, if we can call it that, was scribbled only a few minutes before the two hours started. Sadly, I ended up going 40 minutes over the deadline, which is not actually enforced, since it’s all just in good fun, but still. The end result is a game I called Runaway Blast; you can download the slightly polished version of the game, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, the original from the official thread of the KOTMK #14, though you’ll need some DLL files only included in the other package.

It was an exciting experience, being there in the IRC channel, everyone making terrible games together, sharing advice (or asking for it, as I was doing) and just having fun. Afterwards, everyone trying out each others games, sharing praise or anecdotes. I will certainly try to be there next time too.

So, my game. The main idea was to make it a tense pursuit, to be outnumbered and with little resources, that is, only your wits (and some timed bombs) to aid you against the brainless mass of enemies. Which is not unlike a zombie game (survival horror,) now that I think about it. The map that I drew in my sketch illustrates this, but being surrounded from every side would have made it difficult to be strategic. The resulting mechanics are not too bad; not incredibly original or engaging, but for a first attempt, and for having been made in under three hours, it’s not a half bad result. Of course, what I’m not mentioning here is that the game is broken: you can go through walls, even though you’re not meant to. The limitations in the software made this unavoidable; attempting to overcome them would have costed me too much time, and I’m certain that it would have been worthless, considering the scope of my efforts. Had all conditions met, my character would have actually followed the pointer with a specific velocity, which would have fixed the wall-crossing bug and also made the game more challenging, since you would not be able to outrun your enemies quite as easily. The game will stay as it is, though, so we will all have to learn to live with that.

Glory to the filmmaker!

Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano is my favorite director in Japan right now. The first film of his that I watched was Dolls; at the time, it had been recently premiered (2002 or 3.) Someone from the Internet community I used to frequent was praising the film, so, fan of everything Japanese as I was back then, I went looking for it. Now, my memory gets fuzzy at this point, but of one thing I’m sure: I ended up not only watching Dolls, but Hana-bi too, and while the former was a good movie with interesting cinematography, it’s the latter which really caught my interest and made me the fan that I’m now. The film was so very contrasted; it was violent but it was not raw as life, it was preternatural, it sublimated the awful and the quietly beautiful and confronted them, just as black and white struggle in the chiaroscuro of a romanticist painting. The stillness and the orthogonal perspective and framing of the camera captivated me.

The perhaps strange thing do consider is that, in his early years of fame, Kitano performed as ‘Beat Takeshi’ in manzai comedy duo Two Beat. Last night I watched Glory to the Filmmaker! (Kantoku, Banzai!,) a comedy that seems to harken back to those days. It’s worth mentioning that this is not his first comedy, but it does seem to be his silliest. It could easily be divided into parts and made into a TV show; even better if it’s live, with the audience laughing and interacting. Office Kitano’s troupe would do great in television, if this movie is any indication, as I constantly felt the actors about to come out of the screen, almost talking directly to me; breaking the fourth wall is not a new thing for Kitano, but it seemed like the whole point this time around. For starters, the movie is about Kitano himself (again, nothing new,) or, rather —in a way that reminded me of Adaptation,— about his troubles trying to make a film. But the script is fanciful, so while that is the point of the movie for the first half hour or so, it promptly forgets about all that and decides to just incoherently throw situation after situation, loosely tied by the characters and a certain chronological continuity—and this is what I meant by it being perfect for television. I spent most of the movie staring at the screen and going ‘what the F?,’ too offput to even laugh, as I had a hard time even deciding when it would be appropriate. Yes, it’s a weird, stream-of-consciousness, post-modern comedy; and if that sounds appealing, then it won’t disappoint you. Me, I actually liked the film immediately preceding it in Kitano’s filmography better: Takeshis’.

Maybe this fact is true of Glory… as well, but probably more so for this film: You should watch it only after you have amassed a decent number of Kitano’s movies under your belt; otherwise, most of the irony will be lost on you. It’s an absurd comedy as well, but in it, the character of Kitano himself, as a director, is at the center of the attention the whole time. Here, Kitano is not only himself, but also a regular, quiet store clerk that happens to be a fan of Kitano’s. After he meets him and is ridiculed by his idol, the story drifts into the surreal; every character has a more sordid double in town, and the store clerk-Kitano turns into a parody of the yakuza characters that Kitano himself has impersonated in his gangster films. This time the script loses coherence but not focus, as it is delivered at a tight and ridiculous pace. It feels like a film the whole time through, too.

If the abovementioned films are meant for a knowledgeable fan, then the complete opposite must be Zatoichi, apparently his most commercially successful film to date. The good thing about it is that he does not compromise; yes, it’s part of a franchise (not unlike England’s James Bond,) but the movie still exhudes Kitano. It’s an action/comedy flick of a blind swordsman, which sounds (and is) a clichéd concept, but the Kitano flavor takes precedence: you’ll be amazed when the tap dance group The Stripes intervenes in the background; it gave me goosebumps, at least. If you’re new to the glorious filmmaker, then give this film a watch.

Round-robin webcomic project!

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I read some thread on some forum, which was about the webcomics that posters had been involved in. Comparing all the varied styles I thought “I’d like to write a webcomic once too. Too bad that I suck at drawing comics, and also at being persistent.” But the answer to my problem was right before my eyes, and realization suddenly and dramatically hit: “I should make a round-robin webcomic!”

Round-robins are a format in which a group of authors take turns in writing the story. In this case, one comic per author. With this whimsical idea I approached a friend, who okayed me, and then some other people kind of gave me the thumbs-up unenthusiastically. But that’s okay! Because after the first few kick it off, everyone will want in. Especially considering what little effort it takes to just make a comic, and make it part of a larger project.

I will eventually be creating a dedicated website for the comic, and, I guess, draw the very first one myself. In the meantime, in case this idea interests you, here are a few anticipated rules of play, or rather a statement of principles:

  1. Comics should be original, use no copyrighted content and be made specifically for this project.
  2. There will be no restrictions in their aesthetics, plot, characters used, etc. Except for those in the following two points.
  3. At least one element of the preceding strip should be used or developed in yours, to keep a modicum of continuity. Examples: a character, colors used, a part of the plot.
  4. No text may be used at all, no matter what language it’s in (unless it’s a fictional one.)
  5. Strips should consist of a single image file of png, jpg or gif format, in any proportions (there might be a maximum width decided at a later time,) but made to be read on a screen. Maybe we should keep an archive of 300 dpi originals just in case, too?
  6. Those interested in contributing need to be of my acquaintance, or of an author of one of the strips (this is not a completely open project.) No special talent is required.
  7. Authors may not draw a strip again if they have already drawn one before, unless there are no fresh candidates.
  8. The use of a particular logo of the project somewhere in the strip might be a requirement in the future. Maybe a name/pseudonym as well.

Take your strip as seriously or as lightly as you like; that’s the whole point! The rules above are only to make sure that the spirit is maintained, and for basic coherence. Things not mentioned are that I’d like it to be weekly, if we can pull that off, and that we’ll have to decide what to do in terms of authorial rights; some creative commons license should be okay, I suppose. Contact me if you’re totally in, and also to suggest a name for the comic.

[…]

‘Recaída’ in depth.

This is called Recaída (Relapse,) a decidedly bad and rather cheesy name (the ‘caída’ part means ‘to fall’) for an animation I made for school in 2006. It’s, as I describe it in the video page, ‘a simple story of lost love,’ as told in wiggly pen lines, abstracted characters and two colors.

The story behind its creation should start, I guess inevitably, with my getting dumped by a girlfriend that year…, or maybe the year before that (I’m not putting the ‘water under the bridge’ act, really.) Either way, the truth is that I’ve always liked misty love stories, the more heart-wrenching the better. Yes, yes, I know. The point is, though, that the girlfriend deal I just mentioned was really only an excuse for me to make a story about dropping down from a great height in hopelessness. No, I never considered suicide, don’t worry.

Well, I never stopped to think about this so deeply while drawing the storyboard; it was the night before I had my class, so I had to get something done, and I had previously come up with that squarey character, which looked rather charming and easy to animate to me. In general –and this is a characteristic of mine– I can finish things quicker and be more satisfied with the result the less time I spend thinking about it, and the more I let it just be whatever and blah: get it over with. So then I can be surprised if it turns out sort of nice, instead of underwhelmed because of all the effort I poured into it (like with another animation I made later, Pixevolución.) So for giggles, here’s the storyboard in its finished form, and a pageful of sketches, for those of you who… Ah, who am I kidding, no one cares about this other than myself.

Only thing left to add is that every frame was drawn freehand with a pen. I didn’t even use fancy light boxes or nothing, just like real men do. I cut paper into square pieces and drew on them, then scanned them and… put them in Flash. Which is ridiculous, since Flash is not exactly made for that, but still, it worked I guess. The point was to make an animation using Flash, that was the assignment, but I wanted to make it hand drawn, so I just did it. Oh, and about that breathing sound? Yeah, that was my lazy way of adding sound, which was a requirement; it totally doesn’t fit it, but I wanted everything to be made by me (it’s an obsession, perhaps,) and I can’t play an instrument, sing or make any sort of music, so…

On a budding expressive medium.

I’m in my senior year, studying graphic design and doing my final year project, which will be due in January 2009. I’m a big gamer; played videogames since I was little and got my NES (which I still keep,) and have kept going at it since then, more or less uninterrupted. So I guess it’s no surprise that I decided to make, for my project, a game; the first videogame I’ve ever made. Nevertheless, this post is not about my project, but, rather, about my opinion on videogames, which I hope will serve to justify my choice. Though I consider myself a critical individual, I’ve cut videogames a lot of slack in the past; I’ve become a lot more critical of the medium lately, though, and done a lot of reading on the subject because of my project. Thus, a collection of some posts I’ve made elsewhere, on the subject of videogames: […]

Minding the ‘house’.

It was a busy day! I’ve been setting up this website, and the only thing I hadn’t yet done was post here. Among the update’s there’s a new main page with links to the blog, the portfolio and the piclog. The latter is a Pixelpost installation for what some people call a photoblog, but the word has a negative connotation to me (at least phonetically,) and it wasn’t meant to be for photographs only, so I chose ‘pic,’ for picture. The difference with this blog is that the piclog is more of a gallery with not much other than the pictures themselves; to flesh out the process, the ideas or the anecdotes behind them I will use this blog. So they’re meant to complement eachother.

I set up a script that lets me more or less automatically send my pictures from the piclog to my Flickr account. Why the redundance? Because Flickr is more ‘connected,’ so more friends, or whomever, can find my pictures, comment them, et cetera. I’m not really into text blog communities so I don’t intend to do the same with this blog.

Another thing I spend my time in today was uploading videos to Vimeo. I already had a YouTube account, but since Vimeo has so much nicer image quality, I signed up, and in a couple of hours I had already uploaded everything. Now my YouTube account is outdated; I’ll have to consider whether or not to upload the rest of the stuff there, since I will mostly just be using Vimeo to embed the videos here and get them streaming, to tell the respective tale. Some videos are kind of embarrassingly mediocre-to-bad, though, but I just put them up because they’re interesting one way or another.

So, what’s still left to do? The hardest work will be making a custom theme for this WordPress installation. It seems quite a bit more complicated than with Pixelpost, but I’ll just have to find the time, because I really dislike the overload of most ready-made themes, and the fact that I can’t comfortably go into the code and add a bar with the latest piclog updates, or Vimeo videos, or whatever. What else? Well, I should smoothen out the wrinkles in the piclog, and I also want to, eventually, integrate both blogs with the main page, and maybe the videos too. Not much else, for now!

My seed.

I don’t like blogs all that much, to tell you the truth, Dear Reader. I don’t think the phrase has much weight when it’s written as my first post in this here blog, though. I usually don’t like them because they feel exhibitionistic and egocentric in many cases. But there are some important, useful, interesting blogs out there, and these are nice to have; and am I to judge what a good blog is, anyway? A blog is good –it is useful– if it’s fulfilling a purpose. I may find some of those purposes less relevant, but it might be very much so for the person writing it.

What makes this blog worthy for me, then, even if I can’t foresee it getting any more than a visit per day? I simply needed a dumping place for my things; little things that might not be appropriate to display anywhere other than this tiny personal space, but which, put together, might form a collection worthy of showing. I lack a timeline for my doings in and out of the Web, one that could document my own growth. And I wanted a more personal web space, something that felt more like myself rather than what I do (my portfolio.) Yes: this blog is my face, my mind, my hands. It’s already starting to feel like it’s my child. I will not post here for you, Dear Reader; I will do it for myself.

El problema de conocer dos idiomas es el sentir la necesidad de comunicarse usando ambos, porque, no importa cuál se elija, siempre se va a dejar a un enorme grupo fuera. He elegido el inglés como el idioma principal de este blog porque es estadísticamente más hablado, pero intercambiaré con el español en la medida en que crea preferible. Espero me disculpes, Lector.

Eso a un lado, te explico el motivo de este espacio que he creado para mí, repitiendo parte de lo de más arriba. Sentí la necesidad de convertir mi sitio web no en aquello que yo he hecho, sino en un reflejo de mí mismo, un pequeño pedazo de mi propia piel que pongo aquí no para ti, Amado Lector, sino (y lo digo honestamente) para mí. Sentí el vacío que siente el que no deja huella; no por pisar poco fuerte, sino por dejar que la erosione el tiempo. Cuando no tienes registro de ti mismo es como si no dejaras de empezar. Con suma envidia del que te resume una vida entre un hache-te-te-pé y un punto-algo, abro este lugar que es hoy mi propia semilla.