A quick summary of the past few years as the artist

So I have yet to introduce myself I don’t think. Hi, I’m Anodesu, and I’m the lead artist on Exit/Corners. I first met the other team members: Percon and One5th at the university we attended together.

I was about 19 or 20 when Percon first pitched the concept to me in my dorm one day. I was extremely excited, as I thought the idea would be a great way to really build my portfolio and improve my art skills. We were working part-time between making video games for school, so the process was slow, but the length it ended up taking was significantly longer than I ever anticipated.

So to start, I’ve been itching to draw the cast in a cinematic realism style. We wanted to pull away from anime for a number of reasons, but I also wanted to do it to practice my anatomy and realism. A lot of it stems from the fact that my best friend is Linda Luksic Sejic. She and her husband are pretty famous for their phenomenal art skills and their ability to paint beautiful realistic works quickly and efficiently. I really wanted to strive to become like them.

However, I was slow. Very slow. I also hadn’t gone to art school and was currently studying at a university that specialized in programming. I spent my 4 years struggling to pass and had very little time to learn much else. Most of what I knew art-wise was self-taught, or taught to me by my friend in brief spurts. We would have projects spanning 8 months in which I, as the only artist on a team of 6, would have to work my ass off to make games look pretty. It made finding time to work on Exit/Corners difficult. In the summer I’d be commuting to a job an hour away as well, so my hopes of getting more work done then fell apart. However, I was improving, albeit slowly. The more I drew, the more my skills improved, and the more my skills improved, the more I started to hate my old sprites. I had a newer, faster style and I had to keep to the old one, which drove me up the wall. Percon was just happy to have sprites, but I, after almost 2 years, was not. I was mad at my style, I was mad at my team, I was just sick of having to draw these characters that I was now realizing were just not that great. It actually was taking me longer to draw these sprites than it would to redo them. And so, without telling anyone, I redesigned the cast. AetherComparison BethComparison LizaComparison RaeComparison

 

Now I know they don’t look terribly polished, but the amount of time I put in to them was minuscule in comparison to the amount of time I had put in to each of the first sprites. I was super happy with the outcome, and when I finally told Percon of my quite bitchy and very Phil Fish-esque move, so was he.

Around the same time that I was doing the reworks, I had applied for animation school. Graduating university with absolutely no portfolio was a major setback in regards to finding myself any sort of work, and I knew that if I wanted to get anywhere in the industry, I’d need to actually go and focus on art for a couple years. The school I chose did not exactly have much of a reputation like Sheridan, so I was hesitant in actually attending the school, The teachers I met, however, would soon help me more than I ever thought possible. These people had seriously legitimate reputations and have been amazing to learn from. My traditional art teacher was a man named Richard Pace, a professional comic book artist who has worked for Marvel and DC. Right from the get-go he was absolutely harsh in his ways of teaching. On my first figure assignment I received a 7/10, and during the break, asked how to improve.

 

“Alright, before I explain to you, I need you to know that I’m intentionally grading you harder. I’m dinging you for things that others aren’t because you already have some of the basics down.”

 

He then proceeded to show me how I needed to fix the patellas on my Loomis mannequin. Next to Linda Sejic, He is one of the most valuable teachers I have ever had, and still is. He is blunt and will tell me what I’ve done wrong, and it’s made a huge improvement on my art, even since the pieces you’ve seen up there.

The work load at school was insane, it made university feel like a cake walk by comparison. That, coupled with the string of bad luck I’ve had in the past few months have brought my work on Exit/Corners to a halt. The worst of it hit in Februrary, when I slipped on a patch of black ice on my hand and crushed my drawing hand, hyperextending the palm and ligaments and rendering it completely useless for about 3 weeks. I had a complete emotional breakdown during that point, realizing I was completely useless without it. Even now, almost 3 months later, the hand is seriously atrophied due to lack of use. However, for about 2 and a half weeks, it genuinely hurt to draw at all, and after that, it hurt to draw for over an hour.

Injured hand

This photo really doesn’t show how bad it was, but you get the gist of things.

 

I fell behind about 3 weeks in my college courses, and struggled to catch up with old projects while keeping up with new ones. I didn’t sleep much, I had no time to clean, I couldn’t lift a pot without pain so I wasn’t eating well, and any and all of my waking time was dedicated to school. I spent over 36 hours in my office at the university trying to render out an environment for a room. The last two months of school ended up being some of the toughest times I’ve ever experienced.

Somehow I managed to do enough that my teachers were willing to pass me, which left me flabbergasted, but relieved. My hand hurts even now at times, but I’ve been drawing like mad since then and can finally start again on the comic. I’ve improved significantly in the past 8 months, in regards to speed, as well as skill. I’ve met some amazing new people who have been nothing but supportive, and I am able to sit down and get these sprites done in one last iteration… albeit with feet this time.

ECFeet

 

I’m now currently spending the summer getting art out and working with my traditional art teacher to improve my skills over the next little while by having one-on-one lessons and going to Toronto to draw some sexy burlesque models. As for those who are interested in watching me draw, I’ve been streaming my work pretty frequently as of late. You can follow me on http://twitch.tv/anodesu

Tangent ~ Kentucky Route Zero and Emergent Storytelling

It’s us again! We’re still kicking around, and still working on Exit/Corners, but I thought I’d take a break from our rather slow development schedule in order to share my thoughts on Kentucky Route Zero.

krz1

Kentucky Route Zero is an episodic adventure game that has been getting a lot of attention since it received an IGF nomination. That nomination sure was warranted – the game oozes polish and has excellent visual and audio design. The story is pretty engrossing, too, which helps when your game is an episodic adventure with a focus on narrative. From what I could tell from the (tragically short) first episode, they’re well on their way to completing a compelling adventure that just screams “cult classic”.

Something that I thought was unique about Kentucky Route Zero was the way the game handled emergent narrative. What is emergent narrative? In short, it’s a story that you, the player, interpret for yourself. This type of narrative usually emerges from the player’s actions; it is most common in games where there is a very loosely-defined story, such as Animal Crossing. The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing is a good example on how open to interpretation emergent stories are and how fun they can be with a willing audience.

Kentucky Route Zero has an interesting take on this type of storytelling. As a dialogue-heavy game with a focused and somewhat-linear narrative, it wouldn’t seem like there would be that much room for the player to come up with his or her own interpretations of the story. Instead, the game defies genre conventions by not only encouraging, but actually mandating players to make these types of emergent decisions. Oftentimes, the game will ask the player to answer questions regarding their character’s back-story without knowing any context. What’s interesting about these decisions is that the player’s answer is (from what I played) always treated as the truth, meaning the characters’ motivations and circumstances could be radically different depending on the player.

krz2The most commonly-cited example of this in Kentucky Route Zero is a decision at the very beginning of the game where the player is prompted to answer the question “What’s your dog’s name?”. Depending on your answer, the dog’s name, gender, and relation to the player character can change. The sheer number of choices such as these make Kentucky Route Zero’s story a very malleable one – every player will paint the story to his or her liking.

Not every story would benefit from using emergent narration, mind you. Games with hyper-focused plots might not be flexible enough to allow that level of player involvement and this level of vagueness might not be the right fit for some story genres. Still, in a game where immersion and personal involvement are key, emergent narration can be an extremely powerful tool.

While this certainly isn’t the first time this type of emergent narration has been done in games, I thought that Kentucky Route Zero’s execution was excellent. If you’ve got the funds, I’d recommend investing in a season pass.

 

Thinking About UI

Aaaaaaand we’re back from the dead!

As we near the launch of the first episode of Exit/Corners, something hit the three of us – none of us really knew anything about designing User Interface for games. After briefly considering hiring someone from outside our development group to help us with this, we tossed around a few mock screens and ended up coming up with decent results. Although it took much longer than it should have, we now have a much better idea of what our game screens will look like.

There are three primary game screens in Exit/Corners: Story Screen, Puzzle Screen, and PDA Screen. Though we’re still going through some different iterations of the PDA Screen, the other two are coming along fairly well. Currently, the Story Screen looks like this:

As you can see, we’re going for a minimalist user interface. Given our relative inexperience designing UI, we thought that a more minimalist style would be a reasonable endeavor.

There isn’t much to say about this screen. In the top left of the screen there’s a small pull-out menu where you can toggle music, sound effects, auto-advancing text and full-screen mode. The text can be advanced with either the mouse button or the space bar and by holding down Enter you can scroll through text very quickly.

The Puzzle Screen (for Tile Puzzles) looks like this:

Naturally, this screen has a few more interactive elements. In addition to being able to play with all of the pull-out options found in the story screen, you’ll also be able to interact with the puzzle, check your answer, and ask the other contestants for their thoughts on the puzzle by clicking on their names in the bottom-right corner. That’ll look something like this:

There are no penalties for asking the other characters about the puzzle. I encourage players to speak to the other characters often; not only will it often aid in solving the puzzle, but you might even be able to learn a thing or two about them. Note that they’ll eventually run out of things to say or advice to give.

Anyway, that`s just a small update on what the game is looking like thus far. Things are moving a bit more quickly over here, so hopefully I can have another update up before long.

As an aside, we’re finally going to start using our Exit/Corners Twitter account! If you (you!) are interested in development news and announcements, follow us over at @ExitCorners!

Cutting/Corners – 1

I spend more time than I should scouring the web and taking note of gamers’ reactions to various features in games (or lack thereof). What do gamers find most important? Which feature, if omitted, irks players the most? These are questions I ask myself as my team and I build Exit/Corners with players in mind.

I know that it is impossible to ensure that everyone who plays Exit/Corners will end up liking it, but I feel a responsibility to ensure that the experience is a comfortable one for as many people as possible. This is why it pains me when we end up cutting intended features out of the game; for every feature scrapped, some part of the audience will be disappointed, or even furious, that it isn’t there.

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Delays and Other Uncool Happenings

So we’re not exactly moving very fast.

Getting messages here and there about how people are looking forward to our project is uplifting. Seriously, having random folks say that they are interested despite knowing so little about the game is incredibly encouraging; it makes me want to launch Exit/Corners more than ever!

Despite this, development has come to a crawl in the last few months. Writing and art have been coming along at a snail’s pace and the engine hasn’t been so much as touched in over 30 days. Our one saving grace at the moment is Julian, who has done a great job of continuing to compose music at a steady rate. If it weren’t for him, I’d really have nothing to talk about (speaking of which, I’ll see if I can throw you guys a sample soon).

Now I’m not one to make excuses – so I won’t. Instead, I’m just here to remind everyone that everyone involved in the project, despite going through a bit of a rough patch, is still very motivated to see Exit/Corners launch. Saying this is especially frustrating for me, who, in my naivete, believed we could launch this summer. While that is unfortunately no longer going to be possible, I’ll let you all know my new personal goal: launching by mid-november 2012.

Why mid-november? Though there are a few reasons, the main one is that I would really like to launch before MIGS 2012 (that’s the Montreal International Game Summit, for those who don’t know). I plan on attending the summit and networking, but I find it’ll be a lot harder to do so if the project I am working on has yet to launch. I doubt I’ll attend if I can’t get the first episode released by then, so I’ll say that november 2012 is my own new personal goal.

I thank our (few) readers for their patience and hope that you still look forward the eventual release of Exit/Corners.

Failing Better

I hate losing.

Whether getting schooled in League of Legends or failing a mission in Fire Emblem  due to random number generation, losing is always a sour ordeal. Though it certainly isn’t fun to fail, the silver lining of this cloud is that I am able to learn from my losses and apply what I’ve learned in future sessions. If I do this correctly, I can rectify my mistakes and prevent myself from losing later on. How neat is that?

I hate to paint in broad strokes, but I’d say that a good majority of people dislike losing, and that gave developers have taken note. While this doesn’t mean that all developers are set on making their games easier, it does mean that they’ve taken measures to make losing a less frustrating ordeal. You know – frequent automatic checkpoints, minimal downtime after a Game Over, or what I like to call “pity powerups”, such as the emergency raccoon suit in Super Mario 3D Land.

Most games use some form of Game Over screen, a medium staple, to inform the player that they have lost. Whatever the screen looks like, the message is the same: something the player did was incorrect, which resulted in a loss. Afterwards, the player is spirited away back to the title screen or to an earlier checkpoint and are given the opportunity to approach the problem from a different angle, or try again with better timing, or what have you. However, I don’t believe that story-driven games benefit from handling loss in such a fashion.

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New Composer!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; a new composer has entered the ring!

I have enlisted the help of Julian Culme-Seymour to compose music for the project. You can check out his site here.

We’re very glad to have him as part of our team and we can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together.

Puzzles, Part 1

We’re back! I promised to talk about puzzles this time, didn’t I? While we aren’t as far along as we’d like to be in regards to puzzles, I can still afford to explain our puzzle system a little bit.

Anyway, here’s what a puzzle looks like right now:

Oh shiiii-

 

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