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Conquest of Catan

Have you ever played Settlers of Catan? It's this great board game that's won loads of awards. Well, in preparation for a local art show this Friday called "The Games We Play", I created this old-timey map based on that board game:

Conquest of Catan.jpg

Now, the funny thing is that, when I was first planning to do something Catan-themed for the art show, I was not planning to make a map at all. I was going to make a realistic-looking painting of Catan as seen from the air (the kind of thing you'd see advertising an island paradise in a travel brochure). It's why I practiced painting water for my previous Nemo-themed artwork. But I didn't like that idea and went with a map instead. Oddly enough, even though I absolutely love maps and study them frequently, I've never attempted to make one at this scale before. It was quite fun!

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Just keep painting

I decided a few weeks ago that I would make a painting. Not a digital painting, but a good ol' paintbrush-in-acryllic-paint painting. Here's how it went:

It started with this. I wanted to do an underwater scene. It seemed like a fairly straightforward thing to paint – relatively few details to mess around with. Here were the flat colors, as well as a display of my ultra-sophisticated horizontal four-legged artists easel (otherwise known as my dining room table) and circular ergonomic paint palette (a disposable paper plate for mixing the paints). Not shown is a cup of water and paper towels. If you decide to paint, make sure you get the paint off of your brush as soon as you don't need it any more. A paintbrush with caked on paint is no good to you any more.

It started with this. I wanted to do an underwater scene. It seemed like a fairly straightforward thing to paint – relatively few details to mess around with. Here were the flat colors, as well as a display of my ultra-sophisticated horizontal four-legged artists easel (otherwise known as my dining room table) and circular ergonomic paint palette (a disposable paper plate for mixing the paints).

Not shown is a cup of water and paper towels. If you decide to paint, make sure you get the paint off of your brush as soon as you don't need it any more. A paintbrush with caked on paint is no good to you any more.

After doing the initial flat colors, the comments from others were that the top was too green, like a grassy hill, and that the water got black too quickly. I had to agree, so I repainted the whole thing. (In digital art, this would have been accomplished with a gradient tool. Acryllic paint technology has not acquired one of those yet.)

After doing the initial flat colors, the comments from others were that the top was too green, like a grassy hill, and that the water got black too quickly. I had to agree, so I repainted the whole thing. (In digital art, this would have been accomplished with a gradient tool. Acryllic paint technology has not acquired one of those yet.)

Next, it was time to put some texture in. The water received some rays of light (known in CG art as "caustics"), and clouds were added. I'm not great with color theory, so it was a pretty bold choice for me to go as purple as I did with those clouds, but I'm glad I did. I like them. Note for acryllics... a lot of techniques can only be done well when your brush has very little paint on it and is nearly dry. Both the shading on the clouds and the light rays in the water relied on a dry brush.

Next, it was time to put some texture in. The water received some rays of light (known in CG art as "caustics"), and clouds were added. I'm not great with color theory, so it was a pretty bold choice for me to go as purple as I did with those clouds, but I'm glad I did. I like them.

Note for acryllics... a lot of techniques can only be done well when your brush has very little paint on it and is nearly dry. Both the shading on the clouds and the light rays in the water relied on a dry brush.

When I started the project on the first day, my thought was that it was the type of water that Nemo might have swam in. I even looked at Finding Nemo stuff for reference. It seemed only natural that I just try to paint them in, and now was the time to do it. Step 1 was sketching Marlin and Dory out in a sketchbook first. I needed to be confident of the pose before painting it. This was my first try, and I liked it enough that I left it at that.

When I started the project on the first day, my thought was that it was the type of water that Nemo might have swam in. I even looked at Finding Nemo stuff for reference. It seemed only natural that I just try to paint them in, and now was the time to do it.

Step 1 was sketching Marlin and Dory out in a sketchbook first. I needed to be confident of the pose before painting it. This was my first try, and I liked it enough that I left it at that.

Step 2 was to lightly sketch the two fish in pencil directly onto the painting, and Step 3 was to put the flat colors of the fish onto the picture.

Step 2 was to lightly sketch the two fish in pencil directly onto the painting, and Step 3 was to put the flat colors of the fish onto the picture.

Then, I added shading to the fish and a suitable movie quote to make the painting vaguely inspirational. And that was it! It was started and finished in 5 nights, a total of about 8 hours of work. It turned out decently, though nowhere near perfect. (The fact that I can see the imperfection in the art is probably a good sign that I'll try painting more in the near future.)

Then, I added shading to the fish and a suitable movie quote to make the painting vaguely inspirational. And that was it! It was started and finished in 5 nights, a total of about 8 hours of work. It turned out decently, though nowhere near perfect. (The fact that I can see the imperfection in the art is probably a good sign that I'll try painting more in the near future.)

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When a World Ends

Yes and I did hope,” said Jill, “that it might go on for ever. I knew our world couldn’t. I did think Narnia might.”

”I saw it begin,” said the Lord Digory. “I did not think I would live to see it die.
— The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

There's no easy way to say goodbye to a virtual world.

When a TV show ends, after producing seasons' worth of content, it gets to have its finale. The fans will be upset, begging for it to continue, but after the show is done, they still have the opportunity to relive it exactly as it was by catching reruns or watching DVDs of it.

When a series of video games ends, the fans get upset, but they still usually have the ability to dust off the old game console, pull out the controller, and play the game as it was.

But a virtual world... they never die gracefully. The moment the plug is pulled, it's gone. It ceases to exist, because it was never about the art, it was about the community.

On March 29, Club Penguin will close its doors.

I hadn't visited Club Penguin in years, to tell you the truth. But when I heard the news a few days ago, it still hit hard. Club Penguin was my introduction to the video game industry, and what a way to begin. The silly virtual penguins and their furball pets that I helped to create have been seen by over 1.5% of the people on Earth.

To distill the experience of Club Penguin into a few paragraphs is impossible. Any attempt to do so brings to mind a thousand memories, from the absurd to the serious, from the insignificant to the monumental:

  • A digital clock that was somehow powered by throwing snowballs at it.
  • Kids using the game to learn how to read.
  • Hot sauce as jetpack fuel.
  • A western party that was voted for, but that no one seemed to want when it actually happened.
  • Secret agents that were horrible at keeping their identity a secret.
  • An autistic child whose experience in making friends online gave him the confidence to make friends in real life.
  • Wearing snowshoes, a sweatshirt, a bowtie, and a hat made out of fruit all at the same time just because you could.
  • A Friday afternoon with a dozen other artists sketching ridiculous concepts about what penguin sumo would look like.
  • Seeing Club Penguin gift cards pop up in my local supermarket for the first time.
  • Rejoicing at the Club Penguin Beta Party that we were able to cram over 60 penguins into one room without the game crashing.

From May 2005 to May 2009, my job was to help make Club Penguin awesome, and it was magical. There was stress, there were conflicts, but when I look back at it, the good parts easily outshine the bad.

And that is what I hope for you. You, the faithful fans of Club Penguin, whether current or former, I hope that when you look back at this little world of flightless birds, you remember the good outshining the bad. I've heard many stories of people being inspired by Club Penguin to follow career paths that they might not have otherwise pursued. I've seen others get their first taste of caring for their community by donating to Coins for Change. Even with Club Penguin shutting its doors – a decision that I believe is unwise, considering the population of people that still care about this virtual world – examples like those mean that I can't dwell on the negative side.

Club Penguin isn't truly going away, of course. Club Penguin Island is coming out as a mobile app, and I have hope that it's able to build the same sense of community. I hope that the team working on Club Penguin Island will value their fans and listen to their feedback, and I hope that the Walt Disney Company will allow that team the room they need to make the same kind of frequent improvements that made Club Penguin great.

I have more to say, but for now, I'll end the blog post here. I'm thankful that I and the thousand other past and present employees of Club Penguin were able to make you smile. Now go, waddle on, and make new memories.

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Phrase Shift

I, like most artists, am pretty horrible at self-promotion. This extends to games that I have created, which is likely why I haven't yet mentioned Phrase Shift on this blog.

Phrase Shift is a word puzzle game that I created for Hyper Hippo Games. It's already shown up on Android and iOS, and is launching on Steam this week.

Sample puzzle. To solve, you slide the words in the definition left or right until the answer is spelled down the center line. To answer "Jam's glass container", you spell JAR down the center. Simple enough, right?

Sample puzzle. To solve, you slide the words in the definition left or right until the answer is spelled down the center line. To answer "Jam's glass container", you spell JAR down the center. Simple enough, right?

So, here's the thing... I really want this game to work. But the game industry is telling me the following things:

  • The game should be free, and then you sell level packs.
  • Word puzzle games don't sell well. Most of your audience will just see them as edu-tainment.
  • If you wanna make a popular puzzle game, for heaven's sake, don't make the user think! Make it as easy as possible to solve, until the solution is just out of reach, and then charge them more money to be able to solve the thing.

I hate this. I just want to go back to simplicity: you buy the game, you play the game. No unfair tactics, no shady business dealings. I also would really like to believe that there are a few of you out there that enjoy word games.

If this is you, please purchase Phrase Shift. I'd really appreciate it. The Steam version is launching with 600 puzzles (and the mobile versions will be updated to have those puzzles soon as well). It's less than a penny a puzzle!

Thank you for your time.

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When News Breaks...

This is almost exactly the train of thought that went through my brain a few days ago. I was reading news articles online, and wondering why they'd all gotten to be such a pain to read... so many advertisement barriers and nastiness surrounding them. I yearned for a simpler solution, and then remembered the humble newspaper, which is going out of business around the world, replaced by the "superior" alternative that is online news.

There's something wrong about that.

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Carving

Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween both happen in October. For some reason, they connected in my mind today, and this was the result.

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Monster Movie

You think movie ticket prices are too high for you? Think about needing to buy 5 extra pairs of 3D glasses...

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The Time of Your Life

How come this problem never happens in sci fi movies? Seriously, I have never yet seen anyone have to deal with this. You have the earth rotation, the earth's orbit around the sun, the sun's orbit through the Milky Way, and the universe's general rate of expansion. I really don't think Doc Brown's DeLorean accounted for all of that stuff.

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Stuck

I can deal with having a song stuck in my head. It's annoying, but whatever, it happens all the time.

I can even deal with having my own song stuck in my head. It's more annoying, but it's an occupational hazard for being a composer. I talked about it in Chapter 10 of Orchestra of One... I can totally deal with it.

But the song stuck in my head right now? It's the worst.

I've been composing a song for the last few days, and have been making revisions and changes to it. And it's an old version of the song that's stuck in my head. A version that NO ONE ELSE WILL EVER HEAR.

AAAAAAAAAARGH.

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Wish You a Gary Christmas - Puzzle

As much as I do other things, I'm fully aware that most of the people that visit this site do so because of my connections to Club Penguin. As a little Christmas gift to you this year, I've made a special puzzle. Can you solve it?


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Thinking Cap

Have you heard the phrase "put on your thinking cap"?

The first time I heard it was when I was in kindergarten. The teacher was trying to get us all to think hard about something, and so she said "Put your thinking caps on!" in that cheery way that is known only to those who regularly try to educate children under the age of 6. What she meant was something like this:

A thinking cap, it seems, is an imaginary device that allows you to help focus your mind on things and concentrate. My assumption is that all of the other students understood it in this way as well.

Not me. The first time I heard that phrase, I envisioned holding two bottle caps to my ears to hold in all of my thoughts.

The problem, I think, is that the teacher said "Put on your thinking caps". She pluralized "cap". Makes sense if you're talking to a room full of children, but being an only child and an introvert, did I think about the other children in the room? No! I was trying to wrestle with the absurdity of putting two hats on my head – who would do such a crazy thing? – and decided that holding imaginary bottle caps to my ears was far more logical.

I got pretty good grades in school, though. So... thanks, bottle caps?

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Making for Me

I have made my living in the video game industry for over 10 years now. In many ways, it's been a wonderful job, and I've progressed in ways that I didn't expect. I've done art, level design, programming, music composing, and have been exposed to a large number of areas in the game industry and beyond. I am thankful for that. However, choosing to turn my hobbies into my job has come at a price. 

I don't make art just for me any more.

When I create something, it's for someone else. Usually, it's for work, sometimes it's for friends or close family, but it's almost never just for me. I get paid for my work, either with money, attention, or words of praise. Whenever I create something, it goes through this filter of "would anyone else like it?"

I hate that.

I used to do things just for me. I used to doodle on homework, not caring if anyone would see it. I would compose songs that no one would hear. I would bring ideas to life and then hide them away. And then there was the big one...

Teenagers was my comic strip. I started it the day I turned 13, and stopped when I was 16. I tried to make it daily, and while I fell short of that goal, by the time I decided to stop making them, I had over 700 comics.

700 of these things. Granted, most of them weren't funny, and the writing was less than stellar, but a great deal of my childhood was in these.

The thing is, I can count on one hand the number of people who have read them all. A few of the better comics were in a high school art show, and some of the punchlines ended up getting repurposed for Club Penguin's comics page, but generally I kept them to myself.

I didn't do it for them. I didn't do it for you. I did it for me. And it was good.

Maybe I should blame it on the fact that I turned my hobby into a job. When I started doing art all day as my actual work, coming home and doing more of that didn't have the thrill it used to. Maybe I should blame it on our culture – so obsessed with social networking and being dependent on others for validation. Am I still good enough at this? Let's ask the 7000 Twitter followers!

I don't know. I don't regret my career decision, but I also know that if I'd chosen a completely different direction and kept art as my hobby, I'd have kept a joy in it that I seem to have lost.

Oddly enough, this is one of the things for which I love Super Mario Maker. I've made levels that no one might ever see, and I've enjoyed it. And that proves to me that the spark isn't completely lost at all. 


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Super Mario Maker - First 3 Levels

On Sep. 11, Super Mario Maker released. It's a product that is a perfect justification for the Wii U's existence, but more than that, it's an ultimate creative tool for video game makers. I've been loving it, and I'm posting my first 3 levels here. If you own Super Mario Maker, I'd love it if you checked them out:

1. Fill in the Blank

Level Code: 0D15-0000-004E-21D2

Level Code: 0D15-0000-004E-21D2

My easiest so far (at least of the level's I've released). However, it's not as easy as it first appears.

2. Bowser Reef

Level Code: 9CE0-0000-0032-79C9

Level Code: 9CE0-0000-0032-79C9

This started from asking myself the simple question "What if there were underwater Thwomps?".

3. The Fish Fryer

464E-0000-0034-DD76

464E-0000-0034-DD76

According to the ratings as of this blog post, it's the least-liked level out of the three, but it's my favorite. Using the lava levels, I gave myself a restriction of using just a few enemy types, focusing on the Cheep Cheeps (the fish). The result is downright stressful.

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