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Jun 25, 2013

Comic: Those Darn Pine Trees

It's likely that only people who have had a mowing job will get this, but it was fun to draw anyway. I've been in a real comic-drawing mood lately. I wish I could just force myself to do an epic 12-page fantasy graphic novel using Knight Guys, but that just leaves me frustrated. In the meantime, enjoy!

Jun 24, 2013

Battle Cards Spotlight 2: Design

Part 2: Design

The attributes of our cards evolved over time, just like any project that adds on to itself. But we were able to basically divide the types of cards we manufactured into some simple categories that stuck. Each card contained one of these symbols in the upper-right corner, signifying its element or function:

The cross was the symbol of good cards. These were benevolent creatures or humans who had powerful defensive and enhancing abilities. Examples are the King, Unicorn, Archangel, Phoenix, Medicine Man, and the Genie. The good hero class was that of Knight. I made 20 good cards.

Evil cards bore a skull on their corner. These were creepy, scary, and otherwise malevolent creatures and humans, including several undead cards, and focused on attacks that were poisonous, destructive and dangerous. Examples of evil cards are the Vampire, Mummy, Devil's Viper, Chimera, and the Parasite. The evil hero class were the Necromancers. I made 28 evil cards.

The gaping jaws was the symbol of wild cards. These were beasts, barbaric humans, alien-like creatures, and elementals. Their abilities were many times physical attacks, and chaotic, unpredictable spells. A few examples of wild cards are the Behemoth, Hydra, Flame Dragon, Void Elemental, and the Basilisk. Barbarians were the wild class of heroes. Due to the elementals being wild, as well as the wide range of animals available to classify as wild, I made a whopping 47 wild cards.

The whip was the tame symbol. This was a host of cards that were lawful-aligned, hired, enchanted, or otherwise domesticated creatures. Their abilities were often magical, and focused on manipulating the battlefield in unique ways. Some tame cards are the Squire, Silver Magus, Griffon, Wood Golem, and the Halfling Throng. Tame heroes were Enchanters. There were 30 tame cards.

There was really not much special about the hero cards, except that they had names and could wield artifacts. I think I was shooting for a bit of a roleplaying element, with heroes that had similar attacks but different specialties. Some of their histories interwove, too, which may have inspired my Battle Card Quest decks (I'll explain that in a later spotlight) Anyway, a flag with the letter corresponding to their element was the heroes' symbol. Each faction had 2 or 3 heroes.

Gods were a special card that came about later in the game, symbolized by the lightning emblem in the element corner. Gods had names, were one of a kind, and had one more attack than other cards (four, as opposed to three). They also had a special defense condition: they could not be killed in one attack. For example, the God of the Void Orin has 190 hit points. If an enemy card did 190 or 200 damage, it would have no effect whatsoever. Orin would have to have been dealt at least 10 damage to be vulnerable to an attack like that. To counter this, there was one wild card in my deck called the Titan who could kill gods in one hit. Another fun fact is that each god was named after the middle name of one of my family members. I encouraged my friends to name their god cards in the same fashion. I had 7 god cards in my deck.

The gem was the symbol of the item or artifact cards. Artifacts were originally created as ways to increase the abilities of heroes to make them more of an asset to one's army, but many items eventually were able to be equipped by normal cards as well. Mainly, they gave special attributes to the army or otherwise modified the rules of the game; for example, the attack of all wild cards could be increased by 10. Also included in the artifact deck were credit cards (credits as in money), which were largely useless cards used to "buy" enemy cards; and some items that granted the card more abilities than they normally had. There were 54 artifact cards.

The leaping man icon meant the card was a 'special move' card. These cards were good in theory, but I  think the idea was severely underdeveloped. Basically, these were abilities that heroes could "learn" that would simply add to their regular abilities, allowing a person to more fully customize their heroes for the battle. Unfortunately, many of the abilities were power-happy, or otherwise game-breaking. Either way, it was an interesting idea to come up with. There were only 13 special move cards.

The ridiculously mundane stupid smiley face was the symbol of a master card (I know, there are a lot of weird puns happening here. Master card, credit card. Purely unintentional). I mean, seriously? A smiley face? Not even a smiley face, an indifferent face. The symbol for the most important card in the deck could have been a crown, or a star, or a sword, but no. Had to be an indifferent face. Anyway, the master card was a card invented to add an element of overarching leadership to an army, beyond the heroes. Specifically, there was to be one master card per deck, and it was us. Meaning, I made a master card called Austin Ballard, illustrated myself the way I wanted, and made attacks for myself, my friend Dustin made one called Dustin Clements, etc. I think this card was meant to be more powerful, and perhaps if it died then the game was over, but I kind of choked when it came to designing it. It was less powerful than most of the regular army cards and had mundane attacks anyway. Oh well. A good idea. But not a good icon.

These last few elements of cards were kind of odd. I'm not sure where we were going with these. The darkened skull signified a possessed card. there were only 3 possessed cards, and I think I was the only one to ever mess with them. Basically, possessed signified an "evil" version of a good card. There was Evil Arko, Evil Jerrith (both were also knight hero cards), and even Evil Austin. Apparently in the lore of Battalia, at some point knights had become corrupted (or more accurately, infested. They look just like infested terrans from StarCraft), gaining separate, disgusting abilities as part of their new form. Again, it didn't go too far, but I like how Battle Cards had a sort of unwritten story you could catch glimpses of between the lines of the card descriptions.

There was only one relic card symbolized by the many-faceted gem: the full-color Prize Flag card, which granted all units in the army carrying it the Regeneration (+10HP per turn) and Fire Shield (10 damage to attackers) abilities. The Flag was to be passed on to the victor of each battle it was used in. I really like this idea, and I wish we would have actually played games with it. Judging by the apparent age of the card, though, it looks like I made it very late into development. I also regret some of the color choices on the flag. It could have looked really cool, but it just looks like a mess.

- - -

Those were the standard Battle Card elements, which basically sums up the design section of Battle Cards. I'll talk more about the ideas behind certain attacks and other mechanics in the Gameplay spotlight. 

Jun 21, 2013

The Hero's Journey

When I was taking my Creative Writing course in college two years ago, I learned about something called The Hero's Journey that changed my life. Or at least the way I look at life and stories. Basically, the Hero's Journey (or Monomyth) is a formula that Joseph Campbell came up with that maps out what makes good stories good, and shows a distinct pattern in the sequence and characteristics of every story ever written.

I was straight-up in awe that such a formula existed, and was enthralled to make the connections depicted in the Hero's Journey with books, movies, plays and even songs that I knew. Most of all, I figured it could be really useful in analyzing other stories and mapping out my own! There's at least one entire book devoted to this concept, so I'll basically go over my take on it all. Here's a diagram I found depicting the basic outline of this formula:

Now, you may have the tendency to think of the elements of this journey literally, which is in the sense of some kind of a fantasy or mythological story. After all, those were the first stories ever passed on anyway. But these elements can and are all symbolic in every kind of story, no matter the genre. Sci-fi, Western, Romance, Superhero... no matter the setting, corresponding elements in a good story can always be identified by using the Monomyth formula.

Essentially, all stories start with a boring, hard, or even comfortable life being interrupted by a call to adventure. Sometimes there's a herald character who does the adventure-calling. The hero sets off, sometimes with talismans to help him on his way or remind him to stick to his quest. Eventually, he reaches the threshold that divides the life he now knows and the unknown. As soon as he crosses it, he begins to transform. The obstacles and temptations he overcomes are difficult, and his ego is diminished with each "monster" he slays. Many times there is a mentor or other helpers who aid him in this part of the journey.
Eventually, the hero must enter the Abyss, which he must face alone. This is the point where the hero fails, or comes to a point so low that the old "him" is completely destroyed. But from the ashes of his old self, he is reborn.
At this point, the hero now knows what's important in his quest, and can face it with all of the things he has learned to this point. He is a new person; he overcomes obstacles that were impossible before. Eventually, he defeats the ultimate enemy, The Other, who is oftentimes a symbol for his own faults. Once this enemy is defeated, the hero is awarded with the ultimate boon—the treasure he has been searching for all this time.
The last phase is the Return. The hero returns to the life he used to know, but he is not the same person, and can no longer keep on living the same life as before. Somehow, everything he has come to know is now part of a past life...

There is the Hero's Journey, in a tightly-squeezed nutshell. The reason I've been thinking a lot about it lately is because of a short film I saw on YouTube which depicts the journey perfectly and has given me a lot of inspiration.

This film, The Reward, is an excellent example of what a good story can be. And it has no dialogue and is only 9 minutes long!

It's interesting that all these stories have a formula of a journey, death, rebirth, and atonement. Somehow we all have a deep desire to shed all our imperfections and become new people, and love hearing stories about it.

After you watch this film, or even before, check out the shorter soundtrack to The Reward. The music alone perfectly depicts the entire Hero's Journey, from setting off to coming home. If you want a treat, as you listen to it, try and imagine your favorite film or book's plotline fitting into each part. You'll be surprised.

Click >>HERE<< for the soundtrack.

Jun 18, 2013

Writing Center Infomercial

Done! Check out what I've been working on for the past month or so. Most of the work was finding people to cast in it, but it's finally done. I work at the Writing Center and our old video was... lacking in luster, to say the least... so I thought this one would be both entertaining and informative. It was a lot of fun to write the script, direct the filming and voice acting (in an actual recording studio too!), and edit the footage in the end.

A big thanks to all the actors (both willing and unwilling), the Writing Center Staff, Peterzach Power for the logo and color scheme input, my little brother for the wastebasket shot, and the infomercial that inspired me, Orgreenic Cookingware (don't buy it, but it is a convincing infomercial).

Jun 15, 2013

AustinCraft Pics up

I finished revamping AustinCraft after the big update that separated the files, and I just added a bunch of screenshots to show samples of the game. I realized I hadn't really done that much.
So if you're a Minecraft player, go check it out! I really think you'll enjoy it.

And I am working on a project, I promise. It's actually for my work, so I'm getting paid for it. It'll be done later this week and you Pretzel-Lectern watchers will be the third group to see it! (Right after my actual work staff members and the VIP showing for the volunteer actors, and right before Facebook)

Jun 4, 2013

Creative Writing Inspiration

Yesterday, I got to go to a book signing of my second-favorite author of all time, Brandon Sanderson, who signed my number-one favorite book trilogy of all time, Mistborn! That checked off an item on my Bucket List I forgot was even on there! (I really need to actually write down my Bucket List)
Branderson, as I will refer to him henceforth, is an epic fantasy writer renowned for his non-cliché fantasy settings and incredibly clever magic systems. I’ve read most of his mainstream adult novels, and expect to read his teen books as well. Going to his book signing was an energizing experience, because I got to have a taste of the inner mind and soul of the author I have come to admire in the past three years. Branderson is a champion writer; his passion for writing made me remember my own fiery resolve to write stories that has mainly fizzled out. He read some raw passages from his upcoming novels straight from the word processor on his laptop to us. One of the passages he had written that very day!

A couple of things I learned from Branderson last night. Number one: I think writing well is something you’re born with. Branderson said in the Q&A session before the signing that he’s a compulsive writer. He even wonders why other authors take so much time staring at blank pages waiting for inspiration. Since I could compare with this latter difficulty of writing, it sort of sank in to me that Branderson was born to write. Writing doesn’t expend energy for him; it gives him energy. Some people can practice writing, but talent is definitely a key factor in whether you’re going to actually take your writing to new levels. Far from being a pessimistic or cynical observation, this realization actually gave me some comfort and relief. Maybe, no matter how hard I try, I won’t ever be as good as Branderson. And that’s okay! I should just be grateful that such a powerful writer like him exists, that his books are written in my language and are available, and that I’m able to read at all. I should focus more on honing my own natural talents that can reach new heights, such as drawing and programming.
Lesson number two: authors are just regular people with cool achievements. As we waited for Branderson to enter the ballroom in the library, I remember looking around at all of his fans around me. Some were really old, a lot were within ten years of my own age, some were kids. Lots of men and lots of women. I remember looking at a particular, nondescript middle-aged man behind me and wondering what made him different than the man we were waiting for. He was a normal guy. He had lived at least forty years on earth. He probably ate three meals a day, had kids, had fallen in love at some point and had many interesting stories about his life. And yet he was sitting there in a chair, just as I was, not being noticed by anyone. I thought about how Branderson, when I finally saw him, would also be a human being, with childhood memories and problems and issues just like everyone else; but he had worked hard to release over twenty books for people to spend hours reading. I think that when we invest hours of our life in the work of another human being—novels, movies, books, comedy acts—it joins our soul with theirs, ever so slightly. And we look forward to seeing them in person, just to assure ourselves that they are really, truly flesh-and-blood human, and not something supernatural or holographic on a TV screen. When Branderson entered the ballroom, we cheered and clapped for the man who had helped make our sunny afternoon or rainy night that much more enjoyable, curled up with The Way of Kings or Warbreaker. He was just doing what he loved most. But we were all grateful that he had fanned his flame of passion and published his work and spread his fire of creativity so that we could all bask in its glow. Yes, he was a normal, imperfect human being, breathing and swallowing every waking moment as each one of us, but because of his accomplishments of which we were a part, we felt like we were in the presence of something just a bit more.

Lesson three: everything we invent, we figure out a way to pass time with. This is an odd sort of mini-lesson, but Branderson’s new book The Rithmatist is based on the idea of having magic in a world and using that magic for games, and Branderson explained this idea that piqued my interest. Computers were invented to help with mathematical equations and processing, and yet almost immediately after their advent came computer games. We invented writing to communicate, and yet fictional stories have been around since the beginning of time. And so it goes with weapons (dueling, archery, skeet-shooting), war (first-person shooter video games), phones (prank calls), paper (paper airplanes and tic-tac-toe), and even speech (jokes)! There must just be something about humans that makes us want to make our world into our own personal entertainment center, and we work hard at it! It’s natural for us to just brush things off and not take things seriously. I think this is a good thing, for the most part. I don’t think our world would be worth living in if it didn’t have a fun aspect to it. That’s another reason why I feel like creating and doing projects. Why do I work so hard to make my own RPG or a movie? Why does my favorite Youtuber, PeanutButterGamer, spend all day every Monday editing 10-minute movies for thousands of unknown faces? Because it’s fun!All in all, I feel lucky to have had the experience I had yesterday. It was an occasion that opened my eyes, made me see a bigger picture, and leave with physical and sentimental tokens of creativity.

"I try to err on the side of awesome."
"Too bad. It's cool."
"Everything we invent we figure out a way to waste time with it."
"The misuse of religion is the scariest thing I can think of."       – Brandon Sanderson