Print Is(n’t) Dead

So yesterday’s blog was a little bit sour on print, so I figured now would be a good time to revisit a talk from Marcroy Smith I attended. A great deal of talks I attend usually result in just being information that you could probably find with a quick internet search, but Marcroy gave perhaps my favourite talk I’ve attended this term, despite specializing in print, because he shared his experiences, opinions and philosophies, as well as a few heartfelt tips.

After graduating from Brighton in 2008, Marcoy was shipped to New York and worked an unpaid internship at Urban Inks and Post Expose Studio. This was Marcroy’s interesting point, while we’re usually taught to never do any work for free ever out of respect for our own progression, Marcroy suggested that if the experience is a good enough opportunity, then it shouldn’t always be turned away.

Marcroy has since furthered his company People of Print, started the quarterly magazine ‘Print Isn’t Dead’, worked for Levis and Mastercard, and even had his work stolen by Crystal Castles. He attributed much of his early success to his work in New York that helped him expand his passion for screen printing, and launching him deeper into the industry.

It’s certainly reassuring, what with the sheer number of horror stories graphic designers are told about unpaid work robbing them of potential thousands in royalties – it’s good to know the dream of working free for the experience can sometimes be a success story.

In 2011 People of Print were in Berlin with Mother Drucker, and brought with them enough screen printing gear to fill a disused swimming pool, and used it to fill a disused swimming pool. My understanding is only two colours were used, Cyan and Magenta, which any designer will know produces a fantastic retro effect. Despite my favour towards digital media, screen printing can produce some incredibly great stuff, and can produce great looking prints onto a great deal of different materials very quickly, and I’m envious of those who can work the gear with such confidence.

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What I love most about People of Print, however, is the store (Department Store). Marcroy explained that if you send him an email, and he thinks your work is cool, he’ll pretty much always put your stuff up on the store, providing a great platform for designers who work with print. While that isn’t typically me, there’s some really fun stuff up on there backed by a great philosophy when it comes to selling work -I always get an itch to purchase something when I visit.

And I think that really just goes to show, while I ranted about the sheer time it takes to use traditional printing media, the care and attention that has gone into something letter pressed or screen printed makes it feel that much more genuine to the touch, and encourages you to cherish it in a way that a digital print might not offer.

I decided as a little bonus I would print out a short publication that featured the background illustration from Crossing to the Cold valley, and it’s great to see how well some of the illustrations have transferred onto the printed page. Since I emulated a brush and canvas for a lot of my drawings, it only makes sense to see them as print. It’s a digital print, but I chose an almost watercolour paper to print on to give the publication some texture that helps the images sit on the page and, in a simlar vein, just suggests you handle it with slightly more care than had it been printed on standard A4. It’s a strange irony that I work digitally but deliberately make my work look analogue, but this goes to show that it can still translate between these two very different realms of working.

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Thoughts on Photo Etching

After reading that I would attending a workshop on ‘photo etching’ I had to google the definition first. Even re-googling the term now for the sake of this blog leaves me pretty clueless as to what the process I learnt was called:

“photo etching is a chemical milling process used to fabricate sheet metal components using a photoresist and etchants to corrosively machine away selected areas.”

Well, I certainly didn’t end up with thousands of precisely cut metal pieces as I thought I would, but instead a printed image. The process involved exposing a piece of metal that had a translucent image overlayed to a bright light. For reasons that are slightly beyond my understanding, the darker areas had denser areas of microscoping holes form, whereas the lighter areas had fewer holes. Removing the plate, we then spent about ten minutes aggressively rubbing ink into the dark holes with leather dabbers, wiping off the excess, buffing and repeating. Finally once, in theory, the holes are filled with ink (the denser areas more so) and an image can be printed. The plate and a piece of paper are placed down on the surface of a large contraption where a huge bit of cloth is placed over the top, and a crank is turned for a minute or so until the roller has completely passed over. This is, by the way, on paper that had to be soaked in a body of water, and then left to dry for a few hours, so that it was still a just little bit wet, but not too wet.

Once you lift the cloth you have a perfect black and white image that’s impressively identical to the original. Should you want another print, you would have to return to the leather dabbers and do the process all over again. After all this time for a couple of prints, it felt somewhat strange that all I was getting out of it was a black and white print, when I’d already printed out a black and white photo to create the print. It didn’t seem cheap either – apparently an A4 sized plate would set you back £10, and unless you want to spinning that roller over each time for a single print, I imagine you’re going to want a buy a good few of those plates to begin seeing volumes of prints in any reasonable amount of time.

And why? It costs me 4p per black and white A4 print on a printer, and I get the results within seconds. Is it the print quality? Unlikely – since the plate will only look as good as the print you made using a printer to begin with. There was certainly something novel about how the image is made up of thousands of little dots, but this is hardly noticeable unless you’re nose is pressed up against the print, and it’s an effect very convincingly achievable through digital means anyway. Perhaps if you want to print thousands of copies of a single image (that would need be single colour, by the way) then this is a more economic way to do, but the sheer labor that goes into every single prints – it seems completely alien to me what the point is.

Ah, okay, it’s a printing method that dates to the early sixteenth century. So I suppose the reason we still use this method is for the history, for the ritual and for the authenticity of the final piece – but does it extend much beyond that? At my letterpress workshop, there is certainly something cozy about laying each letter individually, and taking the care to ensure everything is perfect before the print is made. There’s also something undeniably important about preserving a piece of this history that formed into graphic design today, and it would be a great shame to forget about these methods. For me, however, very few ideas or projects deserve the time that these methods require, you begin to become far too precious over the smallest of decisions. I would much rather stand by an old digital photocopier all day, playing with contrast and inversions and tone limitations, wiggling bits of paper underneath and saying what comes out. I much prefer something spur of the moment, something inspired or accidental that can almost only be achieved with the convenience of the digital era. I’ll take a zine someone photocopied at their local library fifty times than the authenticity of a letterpress print.

But then, my childhood was spent tinkering on computers, whereas I know plenty of designers that would much rather get their hands covered in ink. God bless those enthusiasts (and their enthusiasm) which preserve these still-functional pieces of history – doing it in this day and age so I don’t have to.

Hey, at least now I’ve got this really nice metal plate.

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Crossing to the Cold Valley – Development #11 ‘Art of Cold Valley′

And so, as the finale of my development journey of my first ever video game, I thought I would simply share almost all the raw artwork I completed for the game as it exists at the moment. Over the summer I will be further refining the artwork in the game, so it’s important to remember that these aren’t finished pieces, but will still be what I submit on Tuesday for my final deadline. Thanks to everyone who’s had to patience to read my waffle over the past few weeks – I’ve had a great time writing and sharing it all, and I’m looking forward to publishing the finished piece!

Over the next few days I’ll be writing up a few more blog posts to wrap up any last pieces I missed for my Uni documentation, so feel free to come back for that. Otherwise – enjoy.

PSD3

spirit

 

shore

guards

hill

axe

king

grove

kingshorse

son

ferry

oldman2

cottage

pond_inside

castle

player

vista

forest

gardener

pond2

cottageinside

Crossing to the Cold Valley – Development #10 ‘My Rationale′

Our very first task when returning from Easter was to write a 150 word rationale for our project. I suppose the idea is to provide milestones where you can see how your ideas have developed and changed, but also to get a better understanding of just what it is you’re doing to begin with. It certainly helps, after having a hundred different ideas bubbling in your head, having something written down provides a much better sense of clarity – but anyone will tell you that.

So, for my very first rationale I wrote:

The games’ industry today places great emphasis on empowering the player through more player choice. I want to create a game where the player has no choice, where they feel more like an insignificant part of a rich, fictional world that mirrors a hyperbole of our own. The story also focuses on the theme of willpower in achieving a single goal. The player will interact mostly with a ferryman, reflecting the Greek mythological character ‘Charon’, who delivers soul across the river Styx to the underworld. Despite ferryman’s bigotry, the theme of comradeship between two unlikely characters is present, and the idea that each person has their own values and goals, but ultimately wants the same thing, is explored. The game is targeted primarily at 15-30 year old males, and the growing audience for the revival of the ‘Adventure Game’ genre, and the rise in popularity of the
‘Walking Simulator’.

Immediately what caught the attention of those reading it was the hook – ‘I want to create a game where the player has no choice’. And I had always intended that to be what grabs people’s attention, because of the push for greater and greater player choice in video games, it does stop you in your tracks somewhat. But as ideas got thrown around, I realized that this little sentence drew people away from everything else that was written underneath it, which is where my heart and soul was. The truth is: of course my game gives the player choice. No meaningful choice, no game-changing choice, but having no choice would basically be watching a movie – you wouldn’t have any control at all over what you look at, how you pace yourself, where you move and so on. Sure, the game is designed to make the player feel as though they’re powerless, but not entirely robbed of choice.

Besides, its already been done. ‘Super PSTW‘ was a little flash game that got a lot of attention back in 2009. ‘PSTW’ meaning ‘Press Space To Win’, every single task in the game was completed by pressing the space button – in effect removing all player choice (except, if you want to be picky, the choice of whether or not you press the space bar at all). Needless to say though, the gimmick didn’t translate well to some…

And to me that’s all ‘a game with no choice’ sounds like now – a gimmick. It’s like ‘Batman Vs. Superman’ – that gets your attention, but then underneath is a hollow shell of a story because it relied too hard on that simple gimmick alone to sell itself. I didn’t want people going into the game thinking ‘This is about no choice’, in fact I hardly want them to know anything at all. Above all else, I didn’t want to make something based on an idea that was trying too hard to be original, I wanted something well considered, well crafted, that rests on the ‘shoulders of giants’ when it comes to its influences. There’s so much pressure to be revolutionary sometimes, but a great deal of what I enjoy and appreciate is derivative in some way, understands and responds to what inspired it, and reacts to its history and roots in an interesting way. Call me conservative, but this project was about ‘drawing our line in the sand’, and I have no shame in wanting to continue the lines that have already been drawn by greater men or women than me, only in my own direction.

My next rationale is much more in line with what I wanted to set out to do.

Crossing of the Cold Valley is a game where players will find themselves faced with one simple task: to cross to the cold valley. Despite the initial simplicity of the task, the player will find themselves in a rich, unforgiving fictional world that mirrors a hyperbole of our own. The player will have very little choice in the path they take to accomplish the goal, sometimes forcing them down routes they might not always feel comfortable with. Inspired somewhat by Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, the world seems hopeless to begin with, and when hope does appear, it is quickly taken away to reaffirm that “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. The game looks to appeal to nostalgia currently surrounding classic point and click adventure games, while also drawing influence from the recent popularity and success of ‘walking simulators’.

Having completed this game, two weeks later, I’m still happy with this statement within the 150 word limit. There’s not necessarily anything ‘gripping’ about it, but anyone who would view this rationale as boring wouldn’t be my target audience to begin with. I want to create work that allows you to relax, reflect and think, not something that rocks your socks off or blows your mind. I’d love to be able to do the latter, but at this stage I simply don’t think its within my understanding or skill-set to create, so more power to those who can – there’s a great talent in always being on the cutting edge.

I’ll be rewording this rationale again as I come to promote the game over the summer, and considering what information is important to keep and keep out to best allow people to enjoy the game – because it’s almost always the things you don’t know about something initially that help you to love it.

We’ll see.

Tomorrow finalize this series of blog posts with simply a collection of all the art work I’ve completed for the game in their state as they are now. I look forward to sharing it!

Crossing to the Cold Valley – Development #9 ‘Guiding The Player′

Every Bethesda Softworks RPG deliberately has a moment where you step out from the ‘tutorial’ (which also acts as an introduction to the story) and into the open world. Almost always the first thing you see is a wide open vista to make the player really feel like they’re able to go anywhere and do anything.

However, in a ‘game’ like mine that’s far more linear, the player should need some direction. Right?

That’s something that’s been conflicting me from the start of this game’s development. I’ve always felt as though raw exploration is an important part of any game, and that ‘hand-holding’ in video-games can tend ruin the reward that comes from committing time and thought to the game. Even though the story in Cold Valley is linear, I didn’t want them to necessarily be told what to do, I wanted the experience to still be organic.

The way I’ve tackled this currently is through a few visual queues. For instance, at one stage of the game the player will be expecting some very clear story progression from the ferryman, but won’t receive any. However, should they return to the forest area that was previously blocked off by bandits, they will immediately see that the bandits have now gone, and should understand that new areas are unlocked for them, and there are new places to explore. It’s a delayed gratification, for sure, but I think that makes it more powerful since the player directed themselves to the forest, rather than being told where to go.

The part I gave up on in Monkey Island 2, is when you’re suddenly able to travel to a number of different islands, and expected to traverse between them completing puzzles and collecting items. The small town I had spent so much time becoming familiar with had suddenly expanded three-fold, and I felt completely overwhelmed. This is the opposite effect. This is where an abundance of options and exploration simply causes fatigue, rather than player engagement. For that reason, Crossing to the Cold Valley only features a handful of different zones, but changes the way they behave so that the player can see that they’ve made progress, but doesn’t feel overwhelming.

'Captain Dread' was appropriate for both meanings of the word.

‘Captain Dread’ was appropriate for both meanings of the word.

Now, upon showing the game to my tutor, his immediate reaction was that there was nothing giving suggestions to the player, or guiding them along. At first I was a little irked thinking ‘that’s the point’, but as he explained it I understood more where he’s coming from. In a game where you can’t win or lose, and the only objective is to get to the end of the game, then what should be keeping the player from progressing? In a book, all you need to do is turn a page, so you shouldn’t ever feel blocked or confused as to how to progress. In a game like mine that’s essentially an interactive storybook, what should the difference really be?

So I had the concept spinning in my head for a while. My tutor suggested a sort of strange creature that would speak to you and guide you along. I loved the idea, but I wouldn’t want it to be something compulsory, since I didn’t want the player to feel as though they had a companion, or someone to turn to, at all times – it should feel like a solo experience through and through. Still, the idea of a crow that would land on your request and give a subtle hint or riddle as to how to proceed would be a nice touch, and would only be summoned if the player felt it was necessary.

Now with just a few days left until I wanted a finished version of the game, this wasn’t a realistic goal. I would have to do a great deal of work planning where exactly the crow would land, how the camera would center on him if he wasn’t on screen, do different lengths of animation depending on how much time it would take him and so on. So I’ve made a compromise of a hint system. Inspired by the masterpiece that is Windows Solitaire, hitting H will rather bluntly tell you what you should do next. It’s only there should you want it, but it provides the player with a fallback should they ever need it.

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Just to top everything else, I just sat and watched Rachel play through the game for the first time, and she expressed that the hints were too obvious and ruined some of the fun. Damn. I can sympathize though – I remember bugging my brother to tell me how to do the next bit of a video game, and after he insisted on not telling me, he would also just tell me straight up, and then I would feel like crap for not working it out myself. In an ideal world, the Hint system should only be used as a last resort, but it’s only human instinct to want to hit that button and get the juicy answers. You can’t please everyone. It’s a difficult dilemma, but I think ultimately the responsibility now falls with the player. If you ask me, the game should be played without any use of the hint button, but then isn’t the magic of games that it can be played in however way the player wants, within a set of rules?

It’s been a long, long day, and a long, long three weeks. Give or take, I’ve been working on this game for ten hours a day, six days a week, giving myself a day off for when I had to go into Uni for tutorial. I haven’t had such raw drive for any project since when I animated ‘A Performance’ in 2010 and I thought redrawing limbs for every frame was a good idea. Certainly the deadline has helped, but also the belief that I’m making something pretty cool, and something I can be really proud of. I’ve officially packed up version 0.0.1 of the game to send to a few people for initial thoughts, and over the next week I’m sure I’ll be making tweaks here and there where I can. But, for now, I can say I’m finished, perfectly on schedule. My leg muscles feel like they’ve turned to jelly and my eyes are having a hard time adjusting to sun-light (I jest, kind of) but it’s been thoroughly worth it. I may have made a game that’s basically walk from point A to point B five times, then die, but it’s been a learning experience.

There’ll be two more development posts, less wordy this time, and then I’ll be spending the week printing out any documentation I might need for my final hand-in for the year on the 3rd.

After all that, I’m going to grab a cold beer. See you tomorrow.