Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Always An Angle

While there is a danger of overwhelming the dear reader with the sheer volume of my posts, another Prophets comic is presented below, one that starts the descent into lowest common denominator territory.  This was the second comic that was canon in the vast collection of fourteen comics.  Prophets of Mercury truly was the Fawlty Towers of webcomics.  Or The Office of webcomics, if you found Prophets of Mercury funny.

Original alt text: I prefer the angle gamma of the unitarity triangle. (If you get that, you know more physics than is healthy)
There's not really much to say about this one. To a limited extent it sets out the quasi-religious bent of the Prophets cult, but there isn't a lot of interest to panels one and two, either visually or textually.  However, the final panel essentially has two punchlines, both of which are pretty decent, and the look and feel is a decent approximation of a cheesy washing powder advert or similar, so to my mind this comic ends up as a reasonably successful effort.  I'm not a huge fan of the alt text, but I'm sure there were particle physicists in our intended demographic who might have got a kick out of it.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Deleted Scenes

In lieu of new material, I will carry on picking over the bones of the Prophets of Mercury corpse.  The comic below is the second one ever drawn, but was never finished or published for reasons that might be obvious.

In Dreams
In the end I didn't finish plans to alter the right-hand side of the second panel to be like that of a thought bubble, but otherwise the comic is largely as designed. The major problem is that almost everyone shown the comic the first time didn't get it, and considering the character has only appeared in one comic so far isn't a surprise. He's supposed to be innocently bad-hearted, and so the comic is supposed to be his nightmare. It's not an amazing idea for a comic, but is completely undermined by the cack-handed execution.

The first panel is supposed to be an homage to The Sound of Music:

Most people who saw panel one instead thought he was on a beach with the sea in the background, so to say that panel didn't come off is an understatement.  In mitigation, the original source picture I used had a lot less green grass visible and many more flowers, although mysteriously, or perhaps conveniently, I can't seem to find that picture now.  When drawing that panel I already regretted the standard dimensions chosen for the comic, as there was not nearly enough height to do anything interesting.

Continuing the Julie Andrews theme, panel two was intended to be a loose reference to Mary Poppins, specifically a part during the song 'A Spoonful of Sugar' when a songbird flies to Mary Poppins who is at the window, but the panel is ugly, and without merit unless you notice the obtuse reference.  The window frame, wall and the character all also seem to be wrestling for the same physical space, which is a classic mistake of the amateur 'artist'.

Panel three manages to hit the heady heights of being all right.  A nice bobble on the hood might provide mild amusement, and clever use of a dark blue filter over most of the colours to give a natural night-time look.  Indications of motion might have been an idea to suggest he had just woken suddenly, as from a nightmare, but given that the comic was abandoned anyway such things do not matter.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Prophets of Mercury

Once upon a time there was a young man who embarked on a journey to the Land of Web-Comics, with another chap who was the Samwise to his Frodo, or the Frodo to his Samwise, depending on who is telling the story.  Riches and internet fame beckoned.  The comic was called Prophets of Mercury, but for one reason or another only fourteen comics were ever published.  Now that the original website is defunct, it seems a shame not to give the comics a home, and so I'm going to publish a few here, along with a brief discussion about what I thought did or didn't work.  It's pure naval-gazing, of course, but that's what blogs are for...

Comic #1 is below, although I've completely forgotten the title of it.

"The first rule of web comics is that you do not talk about web comics"
The major plus point is that it isn't completely horrible, which is a positive result for a first comic that doesn't start in medias res.  It sets out the stall for the comic, namely geeky references and the main two characters, and could perhaps provoke a smile, although most likely because of the middle rather than final panel.  It comes dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall, and it's my understanding that breaking the fourth wall in the first strip is frowned upon in web-comic circles.

From an artistic viewpoint it's a bit of a mixed bag.  It was drawn a long time before any other comics, which is why the style still needs to settle down, and there are some terrible lines in there.  The font is a bit wonky too, mainly because the kinks in the procedure to get a comic from paper to computer to the finished product were still being worked out.  Unfortunately, for the first comic I inked in the text and speech bubbles, and then finished colouring the comic with my scruffy handwriting in place.  For later comics, I left the bubbles and text until finishing the comic on the computer, but in this case you can still see some of the old text.  I also think the colouring adds a lot to the comic, especially for the Banzai-style background in panel two and the computer screen glow in panel three.

Below are the original sketches as well as the comic with my handwriting in place:
Original sketches
Handwritten text

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Manga Studio

Below is my first real test of Manga Studio Debut i.e. knocking up a quick picture and outputting the results.

Things I do not like about Manga Studio:
  • Layers are exceptionally difficult to use when trying to use text and tones, in that it seems that tones must always overlay any drawn layers... which is terrible;
  • What you see onscreen is not what you get when you export, hence the missing sign box.  I have no idea where that pink blob came from!
  • The way it pixellates the image from the start, rather than allowing any sort of anti-aliasing, is dreadful;
  • Text layers are completely unwieldy, and there is no obvious and easy way to rotate the text.  That might be a case of RTFM.  Text always seems to overlay the image, and occupies its own, mysteriously hidden, layer.
Things I like:
  • It's pretty cheap compared to its competitors;
  • It's easier to use than some other paint programs.
I probably need to read the manual and practise with it.

Monday, 3 May 2010


A holiday weekend means little coding progress, but it was not necessarily wholly unproductive, if you count half an hour of tinkering:
Flipnote Studio is rather good fun!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Wheels are Turning

One week later, and I've started the third tutorial on 2D collision detection on the XNA Creators Club website, this time with transformed object.  Things have been cranked up a notch, as I've just bailed out (for a blog post and dinner) at the point where rotation matrices were mentioned.  They shouldn't be a problem for me in theory, but it's been a while since I used matrices at all.  Some brain spring-cleaning might be in order, to get rid of the cobwebs.

So far I now have a separate Block class, created via a right-click, which leads me to believe that Visual Studio will make me an incredibly lazy programmer.  Some more interesting objects have replaced the falling triangles, they rotate around their central point, and some ugly pop out when they reached the bottom of the screen has been fixed.

However, given that the background should only be red when the player avatar when he collides with a falling object, the screenshot on this post shows all is not well in my borrowed gaming epic.  The next part will resolve said issues, thanks to lovely matrix stuff, apparently.

As an aside, there was another bug in the code you are asked to paste in, which given that earlier the tutorial asked you to correct that exact same error is somewhat bizarre. Either it was another test or the author doesn't test his/her code.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

When Pixels Collide

I've gone through the second XNA tutorial on collision detection, this time with the collision detection on a per-pixel basis rather than just crude rectangles.  It uses the information from each pixel of the two images and then compares their pixel by looping through the arrays, ignoring magenta as a transparency key.

I made a small modification to the code in the tutorial, whereby I first decide if the rectangles bounding the two images overlap, as per the first tutorial, and then only do the pixel-by-pixel basis stuff if they do, as presumably the pixel-by-pixel stuff is more CPU-intensive.  I'm not actually sure that my way is faster though, as it's pretty quick either way.

As an aside, I tried to rename the Visual Studio project to something more generic than the original 'RectangleCollision', and for some bizarre reason renaming seems to take far too much effort if you want it also to change the project directory, etc.  I expected that Visual Studio would have an easy way to do this, but many of the file paths are greyed out so you can't change them directly, and at the same time there doesn't seem to be an obvious way to change them all at once.  A rather strange oversight, and an example of why I don't always like Visual Studio.  At least with your own makefiles, etc. it is very easy to change the paths quickly if you want to move/rename the project folder, especially if you specify file paths in a relative way.  Maybe I'm missing something here.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Level up!

Two years and a nice shiny (well, lime green) Dell Studio 15 later, and I'm back on the game-making hobbyist horse.  I'm unencumbered by Apple, just after everyone else has started developing iPhone apps.

At first I was going to go for a free 'middleware' solution, such Adventure Game Studio (AGS) which broadly would do everything I would want for the kind of game I want to make.  At the same time I thought I would take a look at XNA Studio, especially given that I now use C# in my job, and ideally would like to improve my profiency with it.  Given that AGS now seems a little dated, I eventually chose XNA as my weapon of choice, especially given that it will hopefully improve my programming skills too.

Within the hour I was able to have a little game up and running, although admittedly I did little more than cut and paste from a tutorial, and I've only gone through the first part of the tutorial so far.  Rather strangely, the tutorial code contained an error, but anyone with an ounce of previous programming experience could fix it within a few seconds.  All told, it's already better than my Pong clone made all that time ago, simply because XNA provides much better support for accessing the graphics and input capabilities of my laptop than Java ever did, and brilliantly it also comes with some simple built-in collision detection routines.  A promising start.