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Oct 29, 2013

Abelhawk's Final Smash

I've been meaning to make this for a long time. I came up with the idea years ago for if I were a Super Smash Bros. character. I took it in this shirt so that I could use it as my YouTube cover picture to match the avatar I drew.
Geeky? You bet it is. That's how I roll.

Oct 21, 2013

Story: The Bridge

The Bridge

One day while lost hiking alone, Jack came upon a thicket in the forest that had leaves of strange colors. He entered a small archway in the brush and came upon a bridge. The bridge spanned a large chasm, the bottom wreathed in black shadows too deep to see. On the other side of the bridge was a land unlike Jack had ever seen. There were fruit trees as far as he could see, rolling hills, and mountains decorated with blue waterfalls. He began to cross the bridge, intent on exploring the beautiful land, when suddenly an immense humanoid being with wings flew out from beneath the bridge and perched in front of him.
            “I am the guardian of the Bridge. You are fortunate to have stumbled upon this place.”
            “Bridge to where?” asked Jack, “I don’t even know where I am.”
            “The lands beyond are the Realm of Happiness. The people who have passed before you were wise and brave, and have built a perfect city where there is no disease, no crime, no war, and no pestilence. If you pass, then you will die only of old age, full and happy.”
            Jack thought of his life. He had little to live for back home. He had no family, no wife or children, and his job was nothing to be proud of anyway. He looked at the lands beyond, seeing a rainbow gleaming over a field of wheat. He thought he saw a glimpse of golden buildings near the horizon.
            Jack took a breath. “I wish to pass, Guardian.”
            “Very well. But to pass you must prove your wisdom. I will ask you a riddle. If you answer correctly, I will give you leave to cross the bridge, and your new life will begin. But if you answer incorrectly, I must instead end your life.”
            Jack was taken aback. “Are… are those the only options?”
            The being blinked its almond-shaped eyes. “Once I ask the riddle, your life will never be the same. However, you are free now to leave the way you came. But you will never find this bridge again.”
            Jack thought, looking out over the beautiful land. Then he looked off the side of the bridge at the blackness beneath. He opened his mouth to speak, then swallowed. He took a step backward. Then he walked through the multicolored leafy arch, never looking back.
            He soon found his way back to the trail, and made it home safely. He fell asleep that night peacefully, but in the morning he felt troubled. He had expected to forget what had happened the day before, but it was more vivid in his mind than the dreams he had had that night.
            Eventually he could go days without thinking of the strange bridge, but he never forgot the look in the winged being’s orange eyes.

Oct 18, 2013

An Ode to Blizzard

A couple of days ago I was invited by Blizzard Entertainment to be a part of the beta for their new game Hearthstone. I don't know how often they take aboard new beta testers (I even asked on Yahoo Answers), but it is a great honor nonetheless. Not only do I get to play the game before it's released, but I also get to see it in its beta stage and help the company work out bugs.

Blizzard has been a big part of my life as long as my written history shows. The first journal I had was in 3rd Grade, and I filled much of it with designs for WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness maps, and comics with the game's troops as characters. I even designed and wrote up a manual for an entire campaign I planned to make in the game called "The Hard Lands," which was literally a WarCraft II fanfiction in scenario form. The main reason I looked forward to going to my grandma's house was to get on my uncle's computer and play around on the WarCraft II map editor with my brother.
We also looked forward to seeing the vibrant Grass tileset.

Eventually one of our uncles hooked us up with the shareware demo version of the game. It only had three levels, but we played the crap out of those three levels. If we would've paid for that demo, we would've gotten triple our money's worth. If achievements existed back then we would've gotten Tree Cutter (cut every single tree down on the entire map). We mastered every level, rejoiced when we
came out victorious in a tough battle, and watched the preview for the retail version, dreaming of the day when we could see what a Dragon Roost looked like. When I finally got the game for my eighth birthday, I was ecstatic, and I would even put the game disc in the CD player and listen to the game's music when I wasn't playing it.
But let's take another step back.

This was one of the two hardest puzzled in the game for us to coordinate. After we finally did each, there was much rejoicing.1996. My uncle (I still look up to my uncles as heroes because of how much they spoiled my brother and me with computer games as children) gave me his copy of The Lost Vikings for PC. My brother_Redge and I played the game religiously, diligently copying passwords down as we progressed through the game (I still remember several passwords today—TFFF, QCKS, WCKY...), and then got stuck three levels from the end boss. We were disappointed then, but years later we figured it out and had due closure. That game was made by Silicon & Synapse, so what does that have to do with WarCraft II? Any die-hard fan like me will know that the company later became Blizzard Entertainment.
I can't tell you how cool I thought the dungeon creeps were. I wrote a comic about an Ogre and a Brigand who were friends.Back to 3rd Grade. Along with my beloved WarCraft II came a game we hadn't seen before: WarCraft 1: Orcs and Humans. This game had choppier graphics and odd controls, but there were amazing things about it like fire and water elementals, scorpions, slimes, and brigands. It also had a Unit Editor, which meant we could jack up the attack and HP of all of one race's units and whiz through the campaign. That took all the fun out of it, and even made one of the levels actually harder (where you have to spare one of your enemy's mage towers), but we still enjoyed it anyway. And we especially enjoyed the game's manual!

I also really loved to draw demons. What can I say? They look awesome.Egads, manuals. What ever happened to game manuals?! Games back when I was a kid were like entire experiences in a box. Besides the actual game you got to play, you got at least a few hours' worth of reading along with it that told the story of the game, biographies of characters, and up-close artistic renditions of every unit in the game! What more could a young boy with a doodler's hand want? I would bring those WarCraft manuals to school and read them during personal reading time; I would try my hand at copying the drawings myself; I even made up my my own manual for a fictional game I planned to make when I was grown up. For awhile, I thought that the funnest job in the world would be to illustrate game manuals for a living. It never crossed my mind that hard-copy game manuals would go out of style.

My favorite artist in the WarCraft manuals was a mysterious man whose signature said simply "METZEN." I had no idea until later that this man was the one responsible for bringing WarCraft into existence; I only saw him as my idol as an artist. His drawings were epic, interesting, and detailed—many of my early drawings were modeled after Metzen's.

Hey, you wanna hear a song that conditioned me to think of StarCraft years later? "South Side" by Moby.My first glimpse of Blizzard's next game, StarCraft, was in 1998 at my friend Dustin's house. It must have been only a vague glimpse at that, judging by the prompt drawings of my own version of StarCraft I invented soon thereafter. It was only in 6th or 7th grade that I got the game's Battle Chest and was able to actually play it for myself. I was amazed at the "triggers" in the game that allowed you to actually
make storylines in the scenarios. While WarCraft II depended mainly on context and custom maps had only two possible objectives, the possibilities for StarCraft maps were limitless in my eyes! I had always been a map maker, but this is really where my career took off, and I made over 150 maps with varying themes. I still have these relics on my external hard drive, and am still impressed at how my young, not-yet-voice-changed self was able to program them. This is also when I was able to truly play multiplayer for the first time, with my friends Rick Hoffmann and Jason Durfee.

This scene still stands in my mind as one of the more exciting days in my life.
Around this time, rumors began to surface among my friends about something too good to be true: a third WarCraft game, with 3D graphics, animated portraits, two new races, and best of all, a map editor with triggers like StarCraft's! I watched the game evolve on its website during its development for a long time, and Redge and I hurriedly took a glass jar and taped a note on it that said "WarCraft III Fund." We saved money every way we knew how, and at last the time came to go to WalMart and buy our coveted game. I still remember the day we installed the game and played through the tutorial. It was more detailed than ever before, and the environments with waterfalls and shallows instilled awe within us. We couldn't believe that the characters we had come to love as children were coming to life in the cinematics! Soon after playing the game, I went to the World Editor to see what I could make. It was mind-blowing how many triggers there were. There were infinite possibilities for game creation, and even a Unit Editor. I could make myself in the game with the spells I liked best!  (And I did.)

I'm curious to know how many hundreds of hours I spent in this program. Very probably several.The new, more logical way triggers worked ruined me for StarCraft. Even though I've had the urge to make a StarCraft map since, the triggers are just too primitive for my mind to wrap around any more. And when WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne came out, the World Editor was made even more powerful and user-friendly. To this day I  still have phases of playing and making games on WarCraft III. It has only been in the past two or three years, after over 10 years of on-and-off play, that the game's lack of updates has begun to make the game feel dated.

I could spend a whole post on the Map Editor for WarCraft III, or the zany and cheesy maps my brother and I made (this time numbered at over 200), and I probably will someday, but I've probably lost readers by this point anyway at this long of a post, so I'll move on to...

Ah, original WoW and Burning Crusade, how I miss you. I lay a [Withered Rose] on your grave.
For whatever reason, when I read about World of WarCraft in the back of the StarCraft: Brood War strategy guide (I also miss strategy guides coming with games), it didn't seem interesting to me. Perhaps I was scared of branching out of my favorite game universe expanding outside of the strategy game genre. At any rate, I didn't even try to play the game until my uncle (yes, one of the uncles) let me try it out on his computer. I had never played an MMORPG before, except Runescape, and the third-person perspective dazzled me. Before long, my brother and I were taking the "shut up and take my money approach," and WoW was ours. We shared the subscription fee and account, which made it easier to fund. I always get frustrated at the bad connotation WoW has because of some idiots who couldn't put it down. We would play the game for six or seven months, get tired of it, and play it six or seven months later again. I think the real-time commitment to playing with other people online came across to many as an addictive force to the game, but it was more like politeness and keeping appointments.

After two tries at other classes, Thebis the troll mage was my favorite character, and I played him through the first expansion to the game, Burning Crusade. I loved the day/night cycle, meeting people and making friends with people I would never meet in person, celebrating holidays in-game, and questing and playing battlegrounds alongside my real-life friends. I was never able to meet the concurrent level cap with Thebis, but he made it to level 68, and there he sits till this day. After the Wrath of the Lich King expansion (which came out during my Brazil crusade), I was never able to get back into the game completely. I've since tried out the Starter Edition just to try out the changes, but a part of me feels dead now that the original, untouched versions are gone for good. It has been in the past three or four years that Blizzard has begun to become ultra-modern in their game designing, and WarCraft has become almost beyond a fantasy genre into a sci-fi/steampunk/fantasy/chinese genre.

Still, I am delighted to play Hearthstone. They use classic sound effects from the World of WarCraft I knew, implement characters I'm familiar with after years of reading and playing through the lore, and even play WarCraft II music when searching for players to challenge. Lots of things about it bring back memories of what Blizzard has become for me today. It has been a pleasure to grow up with Blizzard, and even though they may not have the same style or standards of gameplay as they used to, I still salute Blizzard as one of my favorite game developers of all time. (Now if only they would release Heroes of the Storm already!)