Archive | March 2015

The Little Painting Challenge

For the past few weeks I’ve been watching a program called The Big Painting Challenge. I love watching these types of shows as it’s not only fun being able to judge the artwork for yourself, but they can also inspire you to do more art of your own. Running alongside the show is a competition called The Little Painting Challenge, the aim of which is to create a piece of artwork on a postcard.

Unfortunately for me, not all competitions accept digitally created entries, which is how I usually work. I use to experiment with lots of different materials including Watercolour, Acrylic, Pastels and pen, but then I moved mostly to digital when space and money became an issue. I still work in pencil a lot and I think people/animals and shading are my strong points, so I figured this might be the way to go.

postcard1

As I had just come back from the Canary Islands I thought it’d be cool to look through my photos for inspiration. I bought some sepia pens and attempted to draw the image I’d taken of the two chipmunks. I figured that by using a pen I could create interesting fur textures and show the different directions and lengths running over their bodies. I attempted to combine this with pencil crayons to further help emphasize form. I’m not too happy with the final image and feel I should have perhaps chosen a different chipmunk picture to work from. I needed to try and create a background to ground them, but it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. Working on a smaller size and with pen for the first time in ages sort of threw me off with this. I wanted to have another go at this, but ran out of time.

postcard2

I love drawing eyes; the colour and texture of the iris along with that glossy speck of light. In this one I wanted the subject to appear as though they were gazing intently at something in the distance. The light is also coming from that direction. I did this with pencil crayons to try and showcase my shading skills. I was actually using a cheap set and had limited colours to choose from so I’m surprised at how well it turned out. I think pencil crayons are sometimes overlooked as not a very serious media to use, but they can give a really interesting texture to the image. I found I was able to build up the colours in a similar way to how I work digitally.

postcard3

I thought the fastening of a corset was an interesting activity to capture as you have those feminine curves contrasted by the tensing of the muscles in pulling those laces tight. I also wanted to show some anatomical knowledge; While only a limited portion of the body is shown there is still a lot of detail, from the light depicting the spine, to the ridges of the shoulder blades and the muscles and bones making up the arms and hands. This was a tip I got from the book Drawing Basics and Video Game Art by Chris Solarski, that in creating realistic figures it is important to pay attention to the points where the bone shows through on the surface. I still need a lot of practice in perfecting my figure drawing, but I wanted to have a go at this as I particularly enjoy shading skin. I might re-create this idea digitally at some point.

Celebrate The Small Things: 27 March

  • f5f01-vik-smallthings2Went to the cinema to watch Dreamworks Home – mainly because Jim Parsons voices one of the characters and it also contains a really awesome cat. :3
  • More baking success. Developing a routine of baking each week and I’m feeling more confident to experiment with my own ideas now. I’m really enjoying it at the moment. It’s fun to eat the results too.
  • I got a good bit of art done. I’m entering some into The Little Painting Challenge. Should probably get that sent off soon actually.

The Fear In Five Nights At Freddy’s

I was recently told that Five Nights at Freddy’s is a good example of game design and a pretty freaky experience. Naturally I was curious and wanted to challenge myself to take on the game. It was something that I had intended to try, but after the release of the first game I sort of forgot about it (I didn’t even realize there were 3 games in total.) It’s odd because I’ve found that I’m not really that keen on the game, but at the same time it has become a thing of fascination. In the game you are a security guard keeping an eye on the animatronics during the night shift. All the player can do is close a door on either side, flick two lights on and off and check the camera feeds. The problem is that you have limited power to perform these tasks. It’s a fairly unique concept compared to the other horror games I’ve played. The type of tension I felt was different somehow. Usually I am walking myself into the danger, like willingly wandering through the dark wards of Mount Missive Asylum or moving deeper into the bowels of Brennenburg castle. I frequently have a moment of consolidating myself from within a closet ‘this is just a game’ before putting myself back into that vulnerable situation. In Five Nights At Freddy’s there are no closets to hide in, I’m just waiting for them to come to me with limited potential to stop them. Read More…

Thoughts On There Came An Echo

I recently completed a game called There Came An Echo by Iridium Studios, a sequel to the game Sequence. I’d never played Sequence before and it didn’t seem necessary for me to be able to follow and enjoy the game. There Came An Echo is a real-time strategy following a general sci-fi story, while Sequence is a role-playing rhythm game providing a back story to one of the characters.

One of the main selling points of There Came An Echo is the fact that it uses voice recognition. You can use a number of built in commands to tell the characters what to do, such as moving between points on the map and switching weapons. This works by calling their name followed by the command. I felt a little odd talking to the computer at first, but it was a really fun and novel feature. For the most part the voice recognition worked better than I was expecting, although there was the odd finicky moment where they performed the wrong command or just wouldn’t listen. Luckily the game comes with voice calibration and you can also change the words used for each command. One of the characters was called Syll for instance and as the game didn’t seem to pick up on the name very easily I changed it to ‘cat,’ which worked much better. Another nice little touch is that you can navigate through the game menus using voice commands also. It feels pretty cool being able to tell the game when you want to pause or exit.

Unfortunately, as a strategy game There Came An Echo falls a bit short. It felt like I had very little choice on how to approach a situation and most of the scenarios were quite straightforward. This could be due to the fact that simplicity had to be maintained in order to implement the voice recognition. I think using speech – especially when I had to repeat myself – also resulted in slower reaction times compared to just clicking with a mouse or using the keyboard. It is possible to play the game without using the voice recognition, but this is one of the main features of the game. There were a couple of really fun missions though, including a defensive one where you could change the aim of a couple of turrets and detonate mines. On a side note, my first attempt at playing this game was waylaid by a rare bug that stopped my characters from using their weapons properly. I think the developers have been working to patch this, but I did have to restart.

As a story it is full of mysteries and twists, focussed around a set of really strong characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but as it is a short game (I was able to complete it in one sitting,) it felt like there wasn’t enough time spent building up to the finale. I’d have liked a bit more of an explanation in places. One of the other aspects that drew me to this game was the quality of the voice acting, including the names Will Wheaton (from Star Trek) and Laura Bailey (Final Fantasy XIII.) The soundtrack is pretty good too. It all seems to be very well thought out and of a good quality.

Overall, There Came An Echo is a worthwhile experience for the current price of £10.99, although it is a bit on the short side and lacks replay value. Strategy fans may also find it disappointing as this game feels fun more for the novelty of the voice recognition than that of the mechanics themselves. That being said, I would like to see more games attempting to use voice recognition and expanding upon the ideas shown in There Came An Echo. The end credits also have a treat in store.

Celebrate The Small Things: 20 March

biscuits

  • I was making tweaks to my website Share And Bake and the tester I was using came back with no coding errors, which felt pretty good.f5f01-vik-smallthings2
  • I made some cherry and almond biscuits without any help off my mum whatsoever, and they turned out really well.
  • My boyfriend had flu (its been going around lately,) but hes recovered now. Plus I managed to avoid it myself in the process. 😛
  • I updated my Red Bubble for the first time in a while as I have a lot more and better quality images stored up on my computer now. I had a sale on one of my images.

Anime – Dub Or Sub?

Is it better to watch Anime dubbed or subbed? – This seems to be a common disagreement that occurs amongst my friends. In a dubbed version the dialogue is recorded by new voice actors, while in a subbed version the translation is displayed in text along the bottom of the screen.

For some folks watching a dubbed version is an absolute no. In fact the guy that first introduced me to Anime recommended to me to never watch the dubbed versions because the voice acting is usually of a poor quality. I stuck to his advice for a long time until finally moving over to the dubbed versions. Now I’ll default to a dub if it is available.

I know a few people who are the opposite and the thought of having to read while watching a film/show is so off putting they’ll avoid it altogether. If there is no other option I don’t mind having to read subtitles, but I think it can detract from my engagement of a story. For starters, I miss some of the action because my eyes are focussed at the bottom of the screen where the text is displayed. Sometimes I have to pause or rewind because they flash up too quickly. I also find that I can’t pick up on inflection so easily when it isn’t in my own language. I can imagine in the case of comedy that the delivery of a line will feel very different based on whether you read it or hear it. Not all Anime has bad voice acting either – for instance I love Vic Mignongna in both Fullmetal Alchemist and Ouran High School Host Club. On the other hand the dialogue is not always 100% accurate to the original and the way it is said can greatly change the meaning. Broc referring to rice balls as jelly filled doughnuts in Pokemon for instance, although I don’t always find these issues severe enough to ruin my enjoyment of the Anime.

As a final point, I guess sometimes I just want to sit back and relax or watch it in the background while doing something else and with a subbed version this can be difficult to do. So yeah, I admit, I do prefer a well done dub over a sub, but I’m not fussy to the point that I can’t do either. Feel free to share your own preferences and reasons in the comments below.

Celebrate The Small Things: 13 March

  • f5f01-vik-smallthings2Went to a house warming party and had a lot of fun. Got to play a few card games with a larger group of people.
  • It was my friend’s birthday so we all went out for a meal. I had that pleasant feeling that occurs when you think you might have really conencted with people.
  • Finally fixed some issues on my website that I’ve been putting off for a while. Been making the time to do a bit of programming just for fun too. I came up with a new idea that I’m really excited to try out sometime.

Star Wars Books (Drew Karpyshyn)

I’ve really been into Star Wars lately. Leading up to Christmas I sort of fatigued myself playing The Old Republic a lot; during the experience boost up to the release of the expansion Shadow Of Revan. After that point my interest sort of died down for a bit; Sometimes an experience boost can also be a bad thing because the game won’t feel so good once the bonus is removed. My partner kept insisting that I read the Revan book by Drew Karpyshyn though, something that I had meant to do a long time ago at the release of The Old Republic, but for some reason I never got around to it. It’s a fairly short and easy read so I figured I could now make time for it. Reading this book managed to put me back in a Star Wars mood.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Revan. Drew Karpyshyn’s writing style does appeal to me though (he also wrote the Mass Effect books and worked for Bioware.) He has a simpler style that seems to cut straight to the point (in contrast to other books where you’re left thinking that they could have made it shorter and edited some parts out.) It also feels like he knows a lot about the subject matter, offering little geeky titbits – such as what lightsaber form a character is using. At the same time I don’t think you have to be massively up on Star Wars to follow the stories, but the details are there for those that want it.

I enjoy learning about the old republic era more so than the time around the films. I always liked Star Wars, but I got into it more after playing Knights Of The Old Republic (There is a lot of content outside of the films that is just as good if not better.) I was introduced to Revan for the first time and I absolutely loved the character and the story that revolved around him (the twist is still one of my favourite reveals.) I haven’t completed the second game. I’ve started it, but for some reason it doesn’t maintain my interest for long enough to get to the very end. Either way, as far as I know, Revan has disappeared during the time of that game and the book explains where he was. The story also introduces a character called Lord Scourge. Somehow their fates become entwined as they attempt to take on the Sith emperor.

The ending of the book is exciting, but is also left open and isn’t entirely satisfying. I’ve heard that it concludes in The Old Republic knight storyline (Lord Scourge also appears as a companion.) I’ve finished all of the storylines on the side of the Empire (I just find this side more entertaining for some reason,) but knowing what I do now I’m eager to start a knight at some point.

Reading Revan left me wanting more, so I went onto the Darth Bane trilogy (also written by Drew Karpyshyn.) These books follow the rise of Darth Bane from his beginnings as a miner on Apatros to the battle with his apprentice. He was the one that noticed a flaw in the system and invented the rule of two – there can only ever be one master and one apprentice. The reasoning behind this was because the very nature of the Sith – power to the individual – meant that they were constantly weakening the order through infighting. A group of less powerful Sith could take down a leader. Having just one apprentice killing the master to take their place ensures that they will always get stronger. The very nature of the Sith is at times contradictory and at odds with itself.

Despite Revan being my favourite Star Wars character I think I enjoyed the Darth Bane books more. I found it really interesting how they followed through so much of Bane’s life and the process to becoming a Sith. You can understand how he ended up being on the dark side and even find yourself rooting for him only to have your allegiance later changed to his apprentice. The final battle is a thrilling one.

I don’t own Drew Karpyshyn’s final Star Wars book – Annihilation. I’ll probably correct that at some point. I do have a few other Star Wars books that have been sat on my kindle for a while and need attending to though. If you are a fan of The Old Republic or just Star Wars in general I would recommend trying some of the books out as they add to the plot and help to explain a few things. One of the main reasons for why I would like to get through all the classes in The Old Republic is because I want to find out about all of the stories in it.

I’m currently reading A Brief Guide To Star Wars by Brian J. Robb that covers how the franchise began. I picked it up for less than £1 and wasn’t sure if it was going to be any good. Its been a compelling read so far. I always find stories about unexpected successes and the struggles leading to them to be inspiring.

Celebrate The Small Things: 6 March

  • f5f01-vik-smallthings2Had a catch up with my friends. Went to the cinema to see Project Almanac (admittedly it was a slightly disappointing film though.)
  • Had a look through some of the photos I’d taken in Fuerteventura and a few of them have turned out quite nicely (I uploaded some to Flikr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/115638066@N07/sets/72157651157773732/.)
  • I’ve had the chance to meet some really interesting and friendly people through this blog, so I just want to celebrate all of you that make the community as awesome as it is. 😛

Review Of ‘Lady, Thy Name Is Trouble’

ladythynameistroubleI was given the privilege of being sent a copy of ‘Lady, Thy Name Is Trouble‘ by the author Lori L. Maclaughlin so that I could read and review it. She manages a blog called ‘Writing, Reading, and the Pursuit of Dreams‘ where you can read all about her writing journey.

The book is a fantasy adventure about the sisters Tara and Laraina who end up fleeing with a prince and young sorceress after a surprise invasion by the Sulledorn army. An assassin who has never previously failed in his mission – called the butcher – is pursuing them. As the name of the book suggests, this is a story full of ups and downs. It doesn’t take long for the action to start and continues at a high and exciting pace through to the very end. At times the book is quite dark and tense – with some sad moments too -, making the sprinklings of romance and humour all the more delightful.

I found myself developing a fondness for the characters as they desperately try to flee the butcher. In some ways the story feels like it’s more about the characters and how they grow and change than the rising Sulledorn army, which provides a means for this to happen. Even the butcher offers a lot of intrigue – at first he seems inhuman and invulnerable, only to develop to the point that you can almost sympathise with him. The main character also appears to be strong and undefeatable, only to have to face self doubt for what seems like the first time. These character arcs help to drive the story forward. Back stories are also trickled through to help explain some of the character’s motives, but there is enough held back to leave you always wanting to find out more.

Tara and Laraina are the most interesting characters in the story – referred to as fire and ice with the looks and personalities to fit. While in the beginning they seem like your typical swords for hire, they develop in complexity as the story progresses. While their relationship feels unwavering at first – just like the characters themselves -, it later becomes apparent that each sister’s own desire is in conflict with maintaining what they share. Their similarities and differences leave an impact on how the plot and characters develop, and it was an aspect of the story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I also quite like strong female leads. I can imagine many more exciting tales could be told about the adventures of these sisters.

The way the story is written particularly appealed to me; it flows nicely and is easy to read. It doesn’t overwhelm you with descriptions and explanations, which is a problem that can easily crop up in the fantasy genre. At the same time there is enough depth there to help bring it all to life. It feels like you’re jumping into the world and based on the encounters the characters have you can sense there is a history to it that is yet to be revealed. I would have liked to have found out more, but it is left open for the next book; Even so, the ending felt very satisfying. Can’t wait for book two.

‘Lady, Thy Name Is Trouble’ is an action packed adventure containing aspects of humour and romance with an interesting array of characters. An enjoyable read for fans of the fantasy genre.