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Mark the Artist Fights the Future

Oops, Crap. Copyright.

Posted by , 27 September 2012 - - - - - - · 3,566 views
ip, legal, copyright
Sorry it's been over a month, but I had to make the choice between writing about working on the sprite pack, or actually working on it. I chose the latter for the most part, and playing Halo: Reach.


FAQ Through the Heart

So there I was, minding my own goddamn business wandering around on the internet at work, checking the gamedev.net forums when I started reading up on legal issues. I kind of like those threads where a new poster comes in and wants to make a sequel to an already extant IP, and they don't want to believe the fact that copyright law is basically a sword of Damocles hanging over their project.

Well in one of those threads (don't remember which one exactly), I clicked my merry way to Tom Sloper's website (one of the moderators here) which has an extensive FAQ about game development, including this entry, which has this gem:

Q:I want to depict a specific car or airplane or handgun, and I don't wanna deal with asking permission. Should be OK, right?

A: Better ask permission, or make your car or airplane or handgun look different from the actual one. A lot of manufacturers have taken to enforcing their IP rights recently, with model kit manufacturers and video game makers. License it or change it.

Ooooohh shit. I remember thinking about that once, probably the last summer when I was working on this sprite pack, but obviously completely forgot about it. I remember quite clearly that Tom Clancy's HAWX had the approval of all the aircraft manufactures since their logos were plastered all over the intro screen (which was actually pretty neat for an airplane nerd for me), so there's a very obvious precedent I can't really ignore. Plus there's the fact that I can't really just ask for permission because each person that tries to release a game containing the sprites will also have to get permission. Having end users other than myself also adds the complication that they might use the sprites for some unsavory game the original IP holders might not appreciate like "Super Orphanage Napalmer 64". So once again: Shit.

Okay, Now What?

Luckily it's not too bad since a significant proportion of my designs are completely original, like my signature "Fighter Jet Montage" here:
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Only the F-22, F-35, F-15, Su-37K, and Su-49 (real-life T-50) are actual, but all are fictional variants and altered somewhat to significantly from the real-work counterparts. I think the path forward is to rename them within sprite pack, and change the real-world aircraft more than most of the ones seen above.

The side view sprites are going to be a little more difficult since the long-lost point of that project was to make a game with actual airplanes from every era after Korea.

For example, the following new sprite LOOKS SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE BUT TOTALLY IS NOT an F-16 right now. That's a problem.

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By basically moving things a row of pixels down or up, I came up with this:

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I think this one is satisfactorily different, and might be even a little overboard (although that might be the airplane pro within me saying that), to avoid copyright issues with any company named vaguely like Blockeed Fartin. Although now I have to do this with every real-world aircraft in my collection... oh well. By the way, you might have noticed that the Not-Fighting Falcons above are significantly more boring that the jets in the full montage. That's because I draw the base art in MS Paint to get the pixely-feel (gray being the easiest color to gradient), and then make color alterations (including camouflage versions) and other random polishing within Photoshop. I'm sure the dudes at pixeljoint would be super pissed if they found out, but whatever. I actually wrote a draft of a detailed explanation of my process, so look forward to that in the next entry.

Let me know what you guys think about how close or how far I should go to the original aircraft, especially since I'm so close to the issue (ie, have these jets ingrained in my subconscious).

Thanks for reading!

-Mark S

Sprite Pack Dillema... Featuring Fighter Jets

Posted by , 19 August 2012 - - - - - - · 4,393 views
sprite, animation, pixel art
Sprite Pack Dillema... Featuring Fighter Jets Well, after two weekends shot sprite-pack wise thanks to a killer cold and a visit from my girlfriend (she currently lives about 3 hours away from where I live), I'm finally taking a solid look at what I need to do in order to get stuff done. I exchanged some PM's with Michael Tanczos- Jesus, like a year ago at this point, but thanks to school and the fact that I have an uncanny knack for retaining employment limited the opportunities for work on it. It's the classic problem of a large personal project getting buried under external life pressures.

Here's the situation:
I have 683(!) files, which sounds great, but that are a combination of:
  • Different genres
    • Space
    • Air
    • Ground
  • Different angles
    • Top-down
    • Sidescrolling
  • Different scales
    • (for example) Space battleships vs space fighters
  • Different qualities
    • I grew considerably as an artist over the 7 years of game art I've been working on, and the quality gap is sometimes stark.
  • Incomplete sets
    • Thanks to the transient nature of our projects and my own inclinations, there's simply a lot of stuff that would be really useful for in-game use that I never bothered to make.

As I figure it, I have two different options: lumping and splitting, i.e. grouping the sprites by genre and releasing separate packs, or lumping the best together and making a “Starter Pack” (which is what Michael Tanczos suggested). I'm kind of torn, but leaning towards the former so I can release them in stages, the aircraft pack is reasonably close to being done, and any beginner pack would still have substantial gaps in the basics. Buuut... what do you guys think as game developing folks?


Photohizaps Breakthrough

Hey... hey guys, check this out:
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I finally figured out how to animate things in Photoshop, which is the real breakthrough of the weekend. I thought it would be much harder, but nope, I'd just been putting off for essentially no reason. The relevance to the sprite pack is that I can finally test animations like the one above, which actually never got implemented or even testing in anything (but looks good anyway, no?)

One of the issues with the airplane sprites is that most of the the prettiest, coolest ones never acted as game sprites and lack the accoutrements of real game sprites, like animation or damage levels (unlike the above example):

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This concerns me, because those are basically the crown jewels of my artwork. They're the first search result for "fighter jet" at DeviantArt, which would be more impressive if anyone on that site searched for something other than soft-core hentai.

I found sticking on damage levels isn't that hard, since I just made a set of "scars" in a photoshop layer that I can then stick on anything I want without much trouble. That, and the burn tool is pretty self-explanatory... That leaves animation as being the big problem, which is a pain in the ass. Today's task was to figure out how big of a pain it actually would be to add basic "banking" animations to the existing sprites.

First, I went back to an existing animation I had made last summer and added another "tween" frame to the whopping one frame of animation that was already there, but only in one direction:

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I used the "fancy" version I had made last summer by throwing on some directional lighting via layer effects in Photoshop, which turned out to be a mistake since there was also an extra "shading layer" that needed to be animated, too. Trying to juggle all the effects depending on the angle is why it only banks in one direction. So that turned out to be more work than I really wanted to do for the whole set, so I tried another airplane that I hadn't animated before and which didn't have all the extra layer stuff, and made only one frame per side:

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This turned out to be much easier, and I figured out I could just rip out the center section with the cockpit and move it and it would look more or less okay. The other easy thing is shortening the wings and tail, but both only work for one frame (maybe two). After that, I think the geometry of the fuselage of most of the planes would get too wonky, and would require some in-depth redrawing.

So... I'm still figuring out if I need to get over and do it, or find a workaround. Whaddya think? How important would banking animations be to a prospective developer?


A Funny Thing Happened on XboxLive...

I had a funny exchange this afternoon when some guy which I had exchanged standard insulting messages the night before: My teammates decided to try and spawn trap, which ironically cost us the game (capture the flag) since in trying to set it up, they let other team get the flag too many times. Some guy on the other team took it upon himself to message me and only me "NOOB!" (I guess I had the most kills) which I felt was rather ironic since he actually couldn't shoot his way out of a paper bag, and told him so. We exchange a couple messages, pretty standard, and then no more. So I get on today to play Dance Central, and the idiot decides to send me this:

Guy: [In reference to the half-assed spawn trap] “it's hard to aim when you die every 10 seconds”
Me: “I think you're confusing cause and effect.”

At which point, I unlocked the SICK BURN achievement. Or should've, anyway. Maybe you had to be there. But seriously, the next day? Let it go, man!


Anyway... Let me know what you guys think and have a good night!

Sad Panda Weekend

Posted by , 05 August 2012 - - - - - - · 1,469 views

Hey guys, I meant to post a long entry this weekend but somehow I managed to wake up sick Saturday, and my condition has not improved. I did browse through the sprite pack folders I have, and I got further then I thought last year, and I'm debating on how much more I should do. Basically, I have a ton of airplane sprites, but most of them don't have damage states or anything, so I'm tempted to PhotoHack damage decals onto them so at least users will have another state of the sprite to work with. Plus, I need to make a bank of missiles and afterburner animations, but I don't think that will be very hard.

Anyway, to celebrate not being able to function at normal human speed, I bought Panzer General II from GoodOldGames (Gog.com). Well, I had planned on playing Panzer General 3 since I found a copy at a thrift store, but it turned out to be in that awkward stage in game history where they went from well-done 2D graphics (sometimes prerendered stuff) that still look acceptable to horrendous early 3D graphics ("But 3D!!!" someone shouts from 1998). Anyway, Panzer General II is one of the best turn-based strategy games ever made, and it's one of those games I periodically replay and that never let me down. Plus It's super nostalgic getting out the old strategy guide appended with my own notes, which feel like surprisingly thoughtful secret messages from my past self.

Okay, one more thing, I did complete another airplane (which I plan to show the "making of" later), the J-20, the Chinese maybe-kinda stealth fighter prototype:
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Also, don't forget to check out the spaceship design rant's comments (entry before last), we ended up having a belated but extremely interesting discussion about what space combat would really be like.

Short Photoshop Update

Posted by , 15 July 2012 - - - - - - · 1,425 views

Hey guys, just a quick update on the big Photoshop drawing from the entry before last. It's been slow going for the past couple of weeks since my girlfriend is in town, and for some reason she expects me to do things and also speak with her after I get home from work. Oh well... We did go to the Nuclear Museum here in Albuquerque, which was pretty cool, since, you know, nuclear cannon:

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Battlecruiser Update

I've been refining the piece overall, but basically got sidetracked with something I had kind of hoped I could avoid, which doesn't really make for startling progress at first glance. Essentially, I started working with lines scanned from the paper version of the drawing pretty raw and started thinning them out as needed. Unfortunately, much more of the ship needed that than I had thought about, so I went back and started retracing the lines in photoshop so I could guarantee their width, smoothness, etc., which is important to me for technical stuff like gun barrels. Speaking of gun barrels, they should all be the same length now since I made a couple base versions that I've copied and moved around as needed. It would be incredibly easy, except that damn Italian renaissance popularized perspective drawing, so they still need to be adjusted for each position.

Alright, here's what I got:
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What is this place? It's vaguely familiar...

Posted by , 11 June 2012 - - - - - - · 1,287 views
creative, hobby, hobbyist, art and 2 more...
What is this place? It's vaguely familiar... It's been almost two years since I've posted, and I'm not really inclined to guilt myself any further by being any more exact than that.

What can I say? Life got in the way, per usual. I'd say I regret not spending any time on game development, but I honestly don't know where the time would have come from. Getting old. Feels bad man (see Figure 1).

Anyway, I'm basically stumbling head first into the American dream. Turns out if you work really hard in school, get good grades, and have a bunch of extracurricular activities, and don't major in something fictional like English Lit, you can in fact get a job after graduating college that doesn't involve wearily counting up the contents of the tip jar at the end of the day. I just got a job in the biggest city in our tiny state, Albuquerque, which is an actual place for Bugs Bunny fans and is pretty much as described for Breaking Bad fans. Well, probably anyway, I’ve only seen very small slices so far…

Gamedev.net. Right. Well if you haven’t ever read my journal before, and there’s a good chance you haven’t since I haven’t been around. Since I have more free time now, especially since my girlfriend is still going to school, I’m planning on getting back into art. When I was packing, I stumbled upon some of my old artwork I forgot about from high school and thinking “man, I used to be really good”. I totally meant to upload a scan/picture of one of them, but that stuff is still stranded at my house so that will have to wait ‘til next weekend.

I actually do have a project- well, I’ve had it for about a year: releasing a sprite pack or two into the Gamedev.net marketplace. I actually have had them for a while, but using really old art from high school, which was five years ago. So the plan, right now, and I have to message Michael Tanczos about it, is to basically take those old sprites and “upgrade” them in Photoshop, and add a few new sprites in to keep it interesting. I’ll definitely have to explain what I mean in a future entry.

I know there’s a halfway decent market for the sprites, judging by the emails I am receiving years after this thread was posted: http://www.gamedev.n...ne-sprite-pack/, and from people finding my deviantart account: http://prinzeugn.deviantart.com/, and that’s just people who bothered to email me, god knows how many actually used them… But even so, making money isn’t that important to me, it’s having the motivation to produce artwork. And dammit, I miss art!

With that note, here’s something I’ve been working on recently. I’ll probably give a more in-depth description of what’s going on with it in a later entry:

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