Saturday, November 17, 2012

Roguelike Radio episodes 51 & 52, ft. Me

Darren Grey contacted me a few weeks ago in the comment section of my DCSS article to take part an episode of the podcast, Roguelike Radio. (

I actually only discovered Roguelike Radio about a week or two before Darren's message by stumbling onto his episode with Derek Yu (  Now that I've listened to a few more episodes and taken part in one myself, I definitely feel that Roguelike Radio is something special.  Just as the term "roguelike" has expanded far beyond its original meaning, I think the podcast has also evolved into something larger than its namesake.

Each episode allows anyone to essentially sit in on the type of conversations indie developers would normally only carry on behind-the-scenes.  The effort by the guys behind the show to tear those walls down for anyone who cares to listen is pretty great.

Check out episodes 51 and 52, both of which I appeared on earlier this month, along with fellow developers Ido Yehieli, Jagosh Kalezich, and Thomas Whetnall:
Episode 51: (Part One)
Episode 52: (Part Two)

Edit: I updated/reworded much of this post today in response to a comment by Andrew Doull of Roguelike Radio.  He informed me that the podcast is actually a community effort rather than the work of a single person -- so there is a lot more credit to go around than I had realized.  You guys are awesome, thanks again for having me on the show.

Friday, August 31, 2012

DCSS Article: Thank you!

A quick recap
As I said last week, the response to the DCSS article was completely awesome and unexpected.  I never planned to write articles on here, but when I was organizing my DCSS art for my post I realized I had a lot of pent up thoughts about the game and they just spilled out of me.  After only starting the blog on Monday I wasn't expecting many views, let alone over 1200.

I also got a great response from several roguelike developers, including Chris Triolo who was the animator for Dungeons of Dredmor, Kornel Kisielewicz of DoomRL fame, Darren Grey of Roguelike Radio, and David Ploog (aka dpeg) -- who was up until recently one of the main designers and coders behind DCSS.

On Sunday, David first contacted me and offered to post a link to the article on the main DCSS news feed.  That was the final straw I needed for inspiration to offer something more than just words to show my gratitude to everyone.

My gift to you guys
I decided to do something special for the DCSS community.  Over the last two days I created a new splash screen for the game that the DCSS team is free to include in the next build.  It's the largest and most detailed piece of pixel art I have ever made.

I just submitted the proper size file to David for putting into the game.  I also made a larger 2x sized version so it can be viewed in better detail.

To see the enlarged version, just click on the thumbnail below.  Thanks again!!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Gone for the Weekend

Hope you all liked my post yesterday about DCSS.

The response has been great so far, and I truly appreciate everyone who has taken the time to post replies on here, Reddit, and Shacknews -- including the animator for Dungeons of Dredmor and the creator of DoomRL.

Definitely glad I finally took the leap and put this blog up.

Be back Monday!

Animation by me (circa 2003ish)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Looking back on Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

Instead of just sharing my art this time, I decided to write a full out blog post about my work on Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup and my thoughts looking back on it two years later.

The moment I started writing about my work on the game all of my old nagging feelings and wishes about roguelike development came rushing back.  The genesis of this blog -- my recent realization of the folly of condemning work to obscurity -- definitely put some fire behind my words as well.

This essentially turned into a post-mortem of my time contributing to Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup's development back in 2010.  If you are unfamiliar with DCSS, it is one of the few enduring open source roguelikes out there.  Here's a link to the project's homepage:

Note: you can click any picture to see a larger version of it.

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup was the first project where I worked primarily on character design and creation.  I decided to opt for something more akin to what games like Diablo do.  My goal was to keep the theme of several character types intact, but to create largely unique art for each variant.  In the picture you can clearly see how the designs in each row build off of each other.  Several of these were already established and only had to be overhauled, but the elephants and the creatures on the bottom two rows all had no precedent in the game.  Purely through iteration, 6 designs turned into 30.

LensCrafters should pay kickbacks to the developers of tile-based ascii roguelikes...
...and it doesn't have to be this way.  I played a lot of DCSS on a laptop leading up to me working as an artist on it.  I clearly enjoyed it enough to dump several weeks of development into it.  I also have enjoyed other roguelikes such as DoomRL.  Even if you're a fan of these types of games, let's take a step back.  Try playing the tile version of an ascii roguelike for an hour on a modern computer at a reasonable display resolution in 2012.  Now go apply ice packs to the burning craters that used to be home to your eyes.  Besides the inevitable squinting to make out anything, the uninterrupted uniformity of the visuals takes quickly its toll on your vision.  I'll admit I am partially to blame for this.  My dungeon tile set is primarily dark, brown, and grey.  Not exactly a great combination for eye health.  In my defense my main mistake was expecting the momentum of my art overhaul to radically change how the art was displayed for the better.  The older, super high contrast visuals were easier to make out, but I think they were an eye sore for different reasons.

Now that isn't to say I didn't have a very positive experience overall while working on DCSS, and there are some great dedicated people working on it.  However, I have to admit I was extremely frustrated with the restrictions placed on tile development.  There are many limitations you wouldn't expect.  This is because everything is 99.9% subjugated to the design and limits of the ascii version.  The following are three of the biggest issues I ran into:
  1. No sprite scaling.  This is why if you run the game at 1080 the sprites are still at their native size of 32x32 pixels.  It's possible to add scaling that retains hard edges in pixel art, but from what I saw there was zero drive to implement this.

  2. Animation frames hard-locked to turn count.  I briefly pushed for untying animation frames from turn progression.  That would allow any animation, such as torch fire, to play constantly instead of just being updated one frame per turn.  It would also stop animations from flickering 1000 frames per second whenever you moved across a room.  I was told that from a programming standpoint, it was going to be too much work to be worth it.  If it had been introduced into the tech, there are so many graphical elements that could have been created alongside it (monster idle animations for one).

    Here's a quick mock-up using the animation frames I created that are already in the game.  Look how much just animating the torches independently of turn count enhances a standard scene.  To tie this into my first point, you can also click the picture below to see how DCSS would look if all the tiles were scaled up 200%.

  3. Lighting effects (or any visual that spanned multiple tiles) were a big no no.  Tying lighting to specific tiles (ie. torches) could have added a nice visual flair without adding a glut of work.  The rationale that prevented the addition of a lighting system was that it would give tile players more tactical information than ascii players.  An example would be seeing torchlight casting out from an unexplored area and being able to visually judge the distance to an unseen wall.  Therefore, no art could extend beyond 32x32 pixels.

    Lighting could go a long way in making the game more visually interesting.  As it is, besides torches (my own addition to somewhat improve this), it is nearly impossible to avoid levels look very monotone and monotonous unless each tile could be hand-placed with tile art in mind.   Because the game has been out for years there is simply too much created level content to go back and redo it all by hand.  Not to mention when making prefabs, only wall *types* are chosen as they are created via text files.  The RNG picks the art variation per tile (remember, the tiles are just window dressing for ascii).

    My only regret related to this point is that I probably should have radically improved the brightness and contrast of the dungeon art once it was clear that a lighting system was never going to happen.  At that point I already had spent several weeks working on DCSS art in my free time.  All in all I had already made about 60 tiles.  Before I left the project I agreed to let all my art be open source with no restrictions so that anyone could modify or use it as they saw fit.  To this date, two years later, it has remained untouched.  I truly hope someone takes my dungeon art and either overhauls it or replaces it with something better.

    Here's another quick and dirty mockup I just made with very basic lighting effects to show how they can help add nice flourishes to the scene visually.

In closing
I truly respect the hard work of the guys behind DCSS.  I feel we did great work together and while I've written at length about the things I wished for, there were definitely several small effects added to go along with my tiles thanks to the very talented Enne Walker.  My criticisms are intended to try and make people reconsider their ideas of what is possible in this genre visually.  Sure, graphics aren't everything...but there is already a substantial and ongoing effort behind creating and maintaining a working tile version that -- so why not take it further?  The tile version should be free to grow and discover its own unique potential, balance with the ascii version be damned.  I seriously doubt a venn diagram relating ascii and tile players would have much, if any, overlap.  Even for that group of players, I'd like to think they'd appreciate having a slightly different experience when switching between the two builds.

So why not push the limits farther?  Why not aspire to create better atmosphere and reach more people?  Maybe I'm expecting too much from these existing projects.  They are obviously bound to many existing expectations from the hardcore group that beats and re-beats the same game for years.  I definitely think it is more likely that the real future of the indie side of this genre will be forged by new games like Dungeons of Dredmor and Binding of Isaac that branch off the roguelike concept and make something new.  Imagine if a guy as talented as Derek Yu ( had free reign to make DoomRL ( from the ground up instead of just working within its confines.

With all that said, I can't help but think that there are a ton of pixel artists out there who fill their blogs with awesome game art that will never get used for anything.  Any one of them could answer the call if there was a boundary-pushing environment to work and innovate in.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tradigital 3ds Max (Animation Tutorials), Chapters 01-05

I'm currently working through this animation tutorial book for 3ds Max.  I bought it via the Kindle store for only around $30 and it's been great so far.  Even though I don't own a Kindle device, I just use the PC Kindle viewer and read it on my second monitor as I work.

Here's the link to the book:

I'm just starting Chapter 6 right now and just started getting into the rigging and IK parts in Chapter 5.  The first 4 chapters had me doing some very interesting things alongside guiding me through the basics.

I put this video together of what I've done by working through the first 5 chapters:

Song: The Twist by AA Bondy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day Z Comic Book Cover (WIP)

I was a big fan of Day Z for a quite a while which led me to create what you see below.  No actual comic exists, this was just an idea I was toying with.  It's a little rough in its current state, but I might revisit it at some point and polish it up.

As an aside, me and a group of friends got inadvertently featured in a fairly popular vid on YouTube:
You can see my glorious bearded self freeze-framed @ 6:20

Monday, August 20, 2012

First Post + Monster Concepts

This is my first blog post ever.  I'll waste no time and share some art.

Here is something I drew today.  The concept behind this creature incorporates the idea that many animals in nature can employ tactics to appear larger and more imposing.  When at rest, the tentacles would be at rest.  When approaching prey however, its tentacles could fan out and wave around (as pictured) to cause fear and confusion, and then lash forward like a cat o' nine tails.

Next is some pixel art I did on a much larger scale than most of the pixel art I've done before.  My main inspiration for this was the vibe of the original Splatterhouse.