Archive For "Development"

Returning to Cold Valley #1


It’s been over a year, but I’ve still got a soft spot for Crossing to the Cold Valley. With pressure on me to make the entire game in less than four weeks, the product I had to call ‘finished’ at the time was as polished as a lump of coal. I told myself I would really give it that spit-shine it needed over the summer, but other (maybe more serious) projects had to take priority. Many months later, I’m finally back with Cold Valley on the operating table. And what an insight it’s been forming into. We rarely have an opportunity to revisit and improve our old works, but I’ve had the space to really rework and reconstruct the game’s art and music to a level I hadn’t anticipated. I sat down with the original artwork of the bridge, prepared to just tweak it here and there, but concluded that a touch-up wouldn’t suffice. Primarily because I originally created the game at 720p – I can’t for the life of me think why I settled on that resolution at the time, even for most of today’s phone that’s low-grade. So I would go back into it using a 1080p resolution, but also the knowledge of drawing and the patience I’ve developed over the last 12 months.

And when you spend a long time on something you learn about the things you don’t know just as much as the things you do. With so much time, you get to spend longer getting frustrated at the imperfections, at the colours you just can’t ‘quite’ get right, at the shapes not feeling confident enough. I’m sure, even now, I could rip these up, start over, and create something better. But life’s too short, and you have to let that white whale go. These illustrations aren’t perfect, but hopefully they match the tone of the story well enough. Most importantly, however, is how much of an improvement they are over my last attempt, and how far I’ve come.

So, for the morbidly curious – I invite you to go back and compare.

Kingdom Ka #3 – Show, Don’t Tell

It’s been a short while since I last posted. Kingdom Ka has come along way in the past handful of weeks. I’ve more or less been building the parts of the game that peak my interest in spots, so everything exists as just bits and pieces at the moment. I’m eager for that moment when I put the final puzzle piece in and everything can start flowing, but I’m far away from that still.

I’ve been sharing and showing parts of the game to whomever’s shown interest, and I’ve had such positive response so far. The general consensus is that while I there seems to be this ‘grandiose’ vision of what it’s all supposed to mean, everyone’s always curious about exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with the piece. It’s funny that while some love the ambiguity, others find it frustrating. And time and time again I’m reminded: I’m a designer – what is it I’m actually designing? Because I don’t want ‘Kingdom Ka’ to be ‘art’. I have high respect for fine artists, but I’ve had to work hard to demonstrate that Kingdom Ka isn’t colours on a wall. It isn’t representing anything emotional, and it isn’t a personal response. I think it’s geekier than that, it’s a bit more like an essay. It’s taking the points made by other people at other points in time and drawing a conclusion – I’m just attempting to show those points rather then tell them. I can’t afford to have a moment that feels like it isn’t rooted in any kind of concept or history, because then the audience will just cut right through it.

We were fortunate enough to have designer James Langdon come to give a lecture, and he brought up a few points that I really admired – particularly regarding his fascination with designer Norman Potter (who I didn’t realize was one of the founders of my own University space). Potter was a designer but had an almost jaded poetry in his approach to his work and design. Potter writes in his infamous ‘What Is A Designer’:

Should a designer design for a factory in which he could never imagine working as an operative? Is design social-realist art? Is it handy to be in a state of moral grace when designing a knife and fork? Does design work justify its claims to social usefulness, or is it a privileged form of self-expression? Is a profession a genteel self-protection society with some necessary illusions? Should a designer be a conformist or an agent of change? Those who feel that such questions are diversionary and a waste of time, should perhaps put this book down; others read on, but not for easy answers.
Amazing stuff. But Potter also wrote his own stage play, titled ‘In:quest of Icarus’. The play itself is drawn from Potter’s own fascination of the Greek Myth – wherein Icarus flies, well, too close to the sun. And so there’s this incredible dynamic where James Langdon decided to re-stage the play, but was incredibly cautious not to fly too close to the sun himself, and ruin this source material that he respects so much. Of course, below that, I’ve no doubt Potter felt a weight to do the stories, hundreds of years old, enough justice to honour them as his inspiration.
Langdon described it as – you’re an explorer whose just uncovered a long lost ancient tomb. In the tomb, there’s a moldy loaf of bread. Do you eat the bread? Well, I think most people can tell its moldy by looking at it – you don’t need to tell them.
Some more development so far:

Also, has a new look, which you can check out.

Kingdom Ka #2 – Establishing Tone

Writing music for my pieces is my guilty pleasure. That is, I spend longer on it than I probably ought to, and deep down I know it’s still probably procrastination at times, even when it’s still technically work. But I’ve learnt that music is also a very powerful tool in discovering the tone of a piece. As such it’s been very valuable creating music this early on, as music tends to more abstractly convey a sense of emotion and mood compared to a written narrative. Music has always been a great source of inspiration, and I’m sure that’s a universal truth. It plants moments and characters and thoughts in your head that simply theorycrafting couldn’t. Music gets inside your gut. And while it’s probably typical to have music composed for a piece towards the end of its development, I’ve found it might just be best to get working on it as soon as possible. Okay, sure, certain moments will need very specific music – you can’t just compose a few tracks and glue them onto every situation – but once you have those first few refrains down to begin with, I think it’s really helpful as a guide for the visuals and story.

Kingdom Ka already has a wider soundtrack than Cold Valley (if it’s appropriate to compare), and I’m kean to take it even further. I’ve been working with a trained cellist to help record some of my compositions to help really give them that sound of authenticity. I’m so happy with some of the results, and believe these pieces to be some of my best work. As it stands, I’ve built a very traditional soundtrack, with mostly strings and piano (inspired mostly by Thomas Newman, Yann Tiersen and Mark Hollis), but since Kingdom Ka will feature more abstract imagery, I’m hoping to create some more glitchy and unplaceable tracks as I move forward, incorporating electronic and modern sounds. I’ll also be looking to create some more ambient tracks, the kind that sit behind and aren’t designed to be noticed, but help keep the mood rolling. Anyway, feel free to listen to what I currently have available on SoundCloud:

In push for presenting my ideas at a sort of mini-exhibition my tutor group held, I spent last week building the first part of the game that would introduce the player to the setting and the world. It was well recieved, which was a relief because as it stands it throws the user the deep end with very little explanation. And that would be its main criticism, which is fair at this point, and I’m working on ways to make it less obtuse while holding onto its ‘mystery’. Still, it was selected as the piece that felt the ‘most finished’ (which we agreed was slightly ironic as it’s about a tenth of the entire thing!), but no one could really give a definitive reason why they felt that way. What was certainly highlighted as a strength was the visual style. And I think the direction I’m taking is one of the most interesting I’ve attempting yet. Combining black and white pattern work with faded colours of real world photography has been really successful so far, especially when combining live action footage into the mix. I feel like I’ve only skimmed the surface of what I might be able to do with the art style, but so far it’s worked best when the collage chosen is unusual, but not entirely out of place. The beauty of it is when the characters move around it like it’s entirely normal, and when the photography starts to feel like a relic or memento of our own world and culture.

Kingdom Ka #1 – New Beginnings

It’s been a while! And in that while the holidays and the new year have already flown by, and we found ourselves in the last part of Winter. I’ve no doubts that this year will represent a permanent shift. Certainly no part of my time in education has flown by as fast as the last three years. As things conclude in the Summer, I’ll be turning my efforts towards entirely personal projects that I’ve been excited to start work on for a number of years, as well as my freelance work.

But, as they say, summer is so close but also so far. Before then I’ll be completing my single largest body of work to conclude my time at University. It’s daunting and exciting. A few weeks have already passed me by, but I feel confident I’ve been productive. With nothing but my project on ‘Awakenings’ to complete now, it’s very theraputic to return to a fresh mindset, not dissimilar to where I found myself last year with Crossing to the Cold Valley.

I’ll be returning to Visionnaire to build another interactive designed piece. ‘Game’? Maybe. But I’ve been hesitant to describe my idea as a ‘game’ when there really isn’t anything to play. Following my investigation into Buddhism and Awakenings, I will be creating a piece where you are invited to explore a digital, fictional, ‘spiritual kingdom’ that will be mapped and made. Every corner will feature a new story, concept, conversation or imagery to consider. It will be experimental, but I’ll be working hard to not let that turn people away.

Kingdom Ka at its core is designed to be something to bring to light many ideas and states of mind to the user – parituclarly that of focusing on their own body, their selves, and their finite life. That said, there’s nothing I want less than the piece to be labelled as New Age, or (on the other end of the spectrum) cynical.

Death and rebirth will be keen topics, but explored in ways that feel contemporary and tangible. That’s the biggest challenge – making the piece feel relevant today. Because so much of life and death within religions is not, in itself, religious, but is still ignored or been made taboo. I think above everything, the piece will be a celebration of the cycle of life, and the importance of ‘living in the now’.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks both collating stories, writing music and defining an art style. My current direction seeks to combine traditional patterns, as well as modern objects, photography, typography and sounds. I always want it to feel like something that’s aged and old that’s been strangely taken over by things that seem alien, but contemporary to us – because that’s ultimately what this will be, taking old ideas and bringing them to light in the present day.

And it’s been a lot of fun, playing with pattern work and collage, rather than my typical illustrative style, to build the world’s and characters. I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks, but heres a quick glimpse into my efforts so far.

Crafting Kingdoms


It’s Monday.

Continuing on from my project of ‘awakenings’ I’ve played around with a number of visual ideas and methods to get my message across. It’s not proved easy—the message of ‘wake up’ is pretty vague and maybe even a little condescending. ‘Wake up’ is the sort of thing your mother tells you to do before going to school.

While my project isn’t specifically focused on major Asian religions, it’s certainly settled somewhere in that field. At least for now. It’s a subject that would be almost impossible to entirely wrap my head around in the time I have. The sheer number of ideas and books and people is as exciting to read into as it is easy to forget due to the language barrier. ‘Manjuśrīkīrti’ has proven to be an important figure, for instance, but I can barely say it, let alone remember it.

It makes sense then not to pretend to be the expert. I want it to be clear from the start that none of my work is attempting to be authentic, only inspired. Combining my ideas with ideas formed through hundreds of years of culture. I’m always going to be straddling a dangerous line of pretence.

Still, while looking into the various aspects of these religions, one concept that particularly grabbed me is the idea of ‘realms’ or ‘kingdoms’. ‘Shambhala’, despite losing a lot of its meaning through Westernisation, is originally a mythical kingdom that is believed to have existed as a concept long before both Hinduism and Buddhism. Another realm, ‘Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring’ is a place where happiness is a tangible substance and the entire place is made from it. What I think makes these ‘Kingdoms’ particularly interesting is how they can be tools to teach and to guide. I’ve put it to myself, then, that I could design a similar ‘Kingdom’ that leads its audience to think differently about the world.

That’s a tall order, but it’s early days still. There’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Over the weekend I decided to experiment with artwork inspired by Buddhist Sand Paintings as well as Thangkas—large Buddhist paintings on cotton or silk. These are often built as patterns, and since I’ve never really explored creating patterns before, I felt it could be an interesting challenge.

Krita is an open source bit of software that I’m falling in love with more everyday, and its Mirror Tool makes creating patterns with ease. By creating a mirror line directly down the horizontal and vertical centre, I only have to draw a single corner and then see it repeated in the other three.

I kept referring back to other pattern work from East Asia to guide me when I was stuck, while also making a few creative decisions of my own to give it my own flavour. I knew it wanted it to feel more hand-drawn than traditional, and with just a hint of punk to give it that Western edge.

Once I’d drafted everything, it was easy enough to vectorize in Flash and have repeated three times to make up the image.

Next, I had it in my head that I wanted the image to appear as though it’s drawing itself, like a ‘Kingdom’ rising from the dust, or something romantic like that. We all know destroying is easier than building, so I worked backwards. Frame by frame, I erased more and more of the image until there was nothing left. This was fairly arduous work, taking the better part of a day to complete, and some 730 frames. Still, once reverse it gives it a really gorgeous effect that I couldn’t be happier with.

I created a short bit of music that I thought was both mysterious, melancholic, with hints of Eastern and Western history. Put together and I’ve got something that I think would work very well as an introduction to my ‘Kingdom’, whatever form that might take.

It lacks substance, or a message, or a direction at the moment. What I think I was really able to capture was a certain meditative tone. Where this takes me next, I have no idea.