My first Pokemon art!

I've spent a good amount of time with Pokemon X, and the one new pocket monster that has really stood out to me thus far is Talonflame. I really love thebirds of prey-inspired designs, but this is hands down my favorite. So I decided to try my hand at recreating it, albeit a tad less cartoony. I'm really excited because this is my first attempt at drawing a pokemon, believe it or not. It's been a blast so far, and I'll definitely take a crack at more pokemon in the future.

Anyway, here's a step-by-step process of the line art and coloring process. I'll continue to update it until it's done, and hopefully any aspiring artists out there can find some inspiration to create their own versions of their favorite pokemon.

Enjoy!

Update 2: And it's done! You can view/download the full 2000x2500 version here.

Update 1: The body is almost complete. Really just playing it by ear as I go, having fun with it.

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A Look at Indie Games (with Professor Deborah Solomon)

I’m sure you’ve all seen the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 trailer by now. It looks like Treyarch is taking the semi-grounded conspiracy theory of the original and dialing it up to 11. It actually reminds me a lot of the transition from CoD4 to Modern Warfare 2. More importantly, this marks the eighth annual Call of Duty game Activision has published since 2005. The money keeps pouring in for good ol’ Bobby Kotick and the boys in Santa Monica, but I think the million-dollar question on everyone’s minds is, “How long can it last?” We’re nearly at the end of this console generation, and there haven’t really been any major innovations recently, unless you really want to count Legends of Pegasus’ “real-time terraforming,” which I’m pretty sure you don’t.

I hear a lot of gamers complaining about a lack of new ideas in an industry dead-set on sequels and yearly dev cycles, and I can’t help but think of how much indie games have risen in popularity the last few years. The iPhone has largely overtaken traditional handhelds in the portable gaming market, and the desire for smaller, more instantly gratifying games has grown larger and larger as this console generation has progressed. The disparity between blockbuster titles and indies games is growing wider, both in content and creation. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Professor Deborah Solomon, of Montgomery College’s Game Development and Simulation Program (if you listen to NPR, you should be familiar with her) and discuss the future of gaming, more specifically indie games. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:

Brooks: I was wondering if you had any insight as to whether [indie games are] where the gaming industry is going to go, or is it going to continue in the sort of blockbuster direction of the Call of Dutys and Assassin’s Creeds of the world?

Deborah: I think the industry goes in cycles and also goes in multiple directions at the same time, kind of like a game. The games that are coming out of Thatgamecompany, with Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen, they’re all very exciting and interesting kind of art games, but you’re never going to not have the Call of Dutys and the massive Halo blockbuster kind of games as well. But I think it’s interesting with indies that they can be created in a much shorter time frame and for much less money, so indies have more of a flexibility to develop more creative ideas and take something that might be too risky for a big developer, a big publisher to work on.

Brooks: What is exactly is the average budget of an independent game?

Deborah: I think it really varies from zero, you know, people who do it for free and don’t pay themselves anything and don’t make any money, to, well I don’t know what the budget for Minecraft was, but I know it’s made like $50 million and counting. It’s definitely a huge force in both the indie marketplace as indies are taking notice of what they can achieve both financially and creatively even with a very small team and a small time frame, and also what the big developers are looking at like, “Wow, this small company made a huge, huge game.”

Another way that indies are getting funding are through bundling their games, so the Humble Indie Bundle and other bundles that are on Steam where people are getting a collection of games that… may include games that they normally wouldn’t play, but maybe it expands their tastes a little bit as they try these different games that come in the bundle.

I think with indies, funding and financing is a particularly interesting part of what they’re doing, with this kind of bundling strategy but also with sites like Kickstarter where even major companies like Double Fine have raised a huge amount of money… where you can go directly to the consumer, say, “Hey, we want to make this game, and will you give us the money to make it?”

Brooks: A lot of indie developers have limited budgets to work on, and you’re very familiar with the game development process. How exactly do economics fit in to that? How many restrictions do you have there, in terms of what you can do?

Deborah: I think it depends on your platform and the audience you’re going for. So if you’re creating a console game that you need a console kit for, that’s going to be an expensive startup cost. On the other hand, you could get on a console without a console kit like through Xbox Live. So I think with indies, if you don’t have a budget… PC games or mobile games are good way to start. Mobile, especially, is exploding, and startup costs are very small for those platforms.

Brooks: Is this a viable long-term strategy, or are these companies going to get bought up by the big publishers eventually?

Deborah: I think they’re just different parts of the marketplace, and I think when Facebook games came out people really scorned them as being very trivial and boring, and honestly, many of them are mind-numbingly boring and horrible. But there are some interesting games that are coming out of there, there’s games that are affecting not just the marketplace, but the world socially. People can raise funds for children in Uganda, for example; a game called – I think it’s Raise the Village.

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007 Legends Announced

(Note: This news post can also be found at Front Towards Gamer)

Just in time for the 50 anniversary of everyone’s favorite MI6 agent, James Bond, Activision has announced 007 Legends. A compilation of the debonair spy’s greatest moments, 007 Legends will take gamers through time to relive Bond’s most iconic missions, concluding with a mission from the upcoming Bond flick, Skyfall. “To honor 50 years of the world’s top secret agent, 007 Legends offers a collection of his most famed moments in the smartest and most treacherous Bond game yet,” said Activision Publishing Executive VP David Oxford. Developed by Eurocom, the boys who brought you the surprisingly good GoldenEye 007, Legends looks to be betting big time on gamer nostalgia.

In addition to the game’s ‘greatest hits’ story mode, 007 Legends will feature competitive multiplayer, including four-player split screen (because every Bond game since GoldneEye is required by law to have it). Fans of GoldenEye 007: Reloaded’s MI6 Ops missions will be happy to hear that the mode will be making a return. Currently set for a fall 2012 release for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, 007 Legends looks to have an uphill climb against the myriad of high profile shooters that populate the holiday rush.

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Modern Warfare 3 Map Packs Released on PSN

(Note: You can also find this post on Front Towards Gamer)

Good news for Playstation 3 owners of Modern Warfare 3 today, as Microsoft’s exclusivity deal with Activision has run its course for the first batch of DLC. Available on Playstation Network for $15, MW3’s first Content Collection consists of four new multiplayer maps – Liberation, Piazza, Overwatch (pictured below) and Black Box, along with two new Special Ops maps – Black Ice and Negotiator. This marks the first time new Special Ops content has been made available via DLC.

Unfortunately for the PC crowd, MW3 Content Collection #1 is still Oscar Mike for the personal computer, however Activision claims the maps will drop for PC soon. In the meantime, Modern Warfare 3 will hold a Double XP weekend starting Friday, April 20 at 2 a.m., so if you were on the fence about prestiging again, now’s your chance for some quick leveling. So what are you waiting for soldier? Those obnoxious screaming little kids aren’t going to shoot themselves!

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Dishonored Trailer Released

(Note: You can also find this post on Front Towards Gamer)

Yesterday, Bethesda Softworks posted an image on its Facebook page of a mysterious man, who’s clearly seen better days. The photo’s caption consisted of a single word: “tomorrow.” As you can imagine, this launched the Internet into a collective state of apeshittedness, with numerous theories about what Bethesda could possibly have up its sleeve. Well, tomorrow has come, and as many suspected, the image is a screenshot from a brand spanking new trailer of Arkane Studios’ latest project, “Dishonored.”

My faaaaaaaaaaaaaaacccccceeeeeeee!!!!!

The trailer itself is CGI, but from the looks of it, Arkane is taking some cues from Assassin’s Creed and Bioshock (the Lyon-based studio assisted in Bioshock 2’s development). Details are at still fairly sparse, but here’s what we know so far:

You play as Corvo, a bodyguard who’s been framed for the murder of a beloved Empress. You’re now an assassin, with supernatural abilities like teleportation, time control, and the ability to possess living creatures. The city of Dunwall has been besieged by a plague, and the government isn’t too keen on improving the 99 percent’s survival odds. Gameplay will indeed be open-ended, with players able to tackle confrontations using any combination of stealth, brute force, and powers. Dishonored’s city of Dunwall is designed by Viktor Antonov, the mind behind Half-Life 2’s City 17, so expect plenty of dystopia to go along with the game’s futuristically steam punk aesthetic.

Currently set for a late 2012 release, we’ll be eager to see what kind of appearance Arkane and Corvo make at this year’s E3. For more information on Dishonored, head on over to the game’s official site here.

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Preview: Elemental: Fallen Enchantress

(Note: This preview can also be found at Front Towards Gamer)

If there’s one thing that’s synonymous with PC gaming, it’s strategy. If you have a halfway decent rig and an appetite for conquering lands or casting magic, you’re platter is likely full to bursting. One of those games you’ve likely come across in your travels is Elemental: War of Magic (2010). Developed by Stardock Entertainment, Elemental is a turn-based strategy game with an emphasis on magic and mythos. While War of Magic received mixed reviews for a lack of polish, the backbone for a genuinely fun strategy game was there. And so with two more years under its belt, Stardock is taking another crack at the ever-expanding PC market with Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.

Set in a fantasy world called (oddly enough) Elemental, Fallen Enchantress casts you in the role of one of small number beings capable of channeling magic in the aftermath of a war between humanity and the Titans. As a member of the magical one percent, people naturally look to you for guidance and leadership. It may not be the most original concept, but Fallen Enchantress’ dark storybook art style really sells the world of Elemental as one of strife and wonder.

Stardock’s pedigree as a 4x (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) developer comes to bear in Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, as experienced gamers should have little trouble adapting to the conquer-by-any-means-necessary style of the genre. With 10 factions to choose from, it’s your job as a sovereign to lead your faction to glory through copious amounts of mouse clicks and hotkeys. The premise is simple enough: begin with a single capital city and, through battle, resource and technology management, diplomacy, or guile, be the last man standing.

Elemental’s hook is that, rather than have predetermined outcomes for battles based on unit stats, you have the option of getting into the nitty gritty and mixing it up with your foes. From what we’ve seen, the combat plays similarly to that of Might and Magic, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. You can keep your hands clean and play armchair general, or get into the fray yourself and let loose a wide variety of spells. Speaking of which, there are several flavors of magic at your disposal, most of which is standard fare for the genre. You have the basics like Fire and Water along with Death and Life which add buffs, all of which have five levels of mastery.

With such franchises as Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire under their belt, Stardock provides plenty of reason for optimism with Elemental: Fallen Enchantress. War of Magic may have lacked polish, but the base for a solid 4x strategy game was most certainly there. Currently in beta, Fallen Enchantress looks to be a legitimate competitor in the ever-growing PC strategy market. If you already own a copy of War of Magic, you may be eligible to receive Fallen Enchantress for free or at a discounted price, but for the rest of us, Fallen Enchantress is available for pre-order now at $40. With no hard release date, it looks as though Fallen Enchantress will see a late 2012 or early 2013 release, but if the early footage is any indication, we can’t wait to start conquering the lands of Elemental. For more information on Stardock and Elemental, check out www.stardock.com/games/.

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Preview: Dead or Alive 5

(Note: You can also check out my preview at Front Towards Gamer)

The Rodney Dangerfield of Fighters.

I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of fighting games. The idea of waiting in line at the arcade to play Street Fighter II never really appealed to me. To be honest, I had more fun watching the ridiculous moves other people would come up with than getting in on the action, myself. I suppose the same logic could be applied to something like Counter Strike, but I never felt the same barrier of entry with shooters as I did with 2D fighters. One of the few fighting franchises that I have always enjoyed is Dead or Alive. Though it has the unfortunate distinction of being better known for its liberal female physics than anything else, Tecmo’s longtime fighting franchise has always struck a good balance between skill and button mashing.

A Fresh Start.

With the recent release of Ninja Gaiden 3, those who pre-ordered or bought the collector’s edition received an exclusive alpha demo for Dead or Alive 5, which is set to release later this September. Though it only features four characters – Ryu, Hayate, Ayane, and Hitomi – and one stage – a Tokyo rooftop, this early build of Team Ninja’s first real Dead or Alive since Tomonobu Itagaki’s departure shows a lot of promise.

A New Coat of Paint.

The most apparent difference between Dead or Alive 5 and its predecessors is in the game’s art style. In the past, characters had a pseudo-anime look, with exaggerated eyes and plastic-looking skin. No longer is that the case, however, as characters are now portrayed far more realistically. In addition, fighters will now degrade over the course of a battle, sweating and gathering dirt as they mix it up. It’s not on the scale of Mortal Kombat, but Team Ninja did an absolutely phenomenal of updating the look of a franchise begging for a stylistic overhaul.

Ready? Fight!

The actual fighting remains largely intact from previous iterations, though there are some pretty big additions this time around. Other than the usual assortment of move list refinements, character interactions with the environment are a lot more prevalent in Dead or Alive 5, with several opportunities for the ever-polarizing quick time sequence. The AI starts out stupidly easy, but gets tougher the more you play, though even when I did lose, I never felt cheated like in DOA 4.

Even with only one stage available at this point, Team Ninja’s emphasis on “fighting entertainment” this time around could not be more obvious. “RB” (or “R1” on PS3) now enacts a heavy-hitting slow motion attack, the final blow of which allows you to choose which direction the poor soul on the other end of your fist goes flying in. If that direction happens to be one of a stage’s many danger zones, then prepare for absolute chaos.

If DOA 5 is any indication, the Japanese government should really look into the stability of its building construction, because one hit to a generator is apparently all it takes to completely level the top story of a Tokyo skyscraper. And while the ensuing pandemonium may suck for all the hapless Joe Shmoes below you, it sure makes for one hell of a fight.

Show me what you’ve got!

At this point, Dead or Alive’s M.O. should be no secret. If you’re looking for the deepest, most technical fighting game ever, you’re barking up the wrong tree. But if you enjoy the thrill of watching an EVO tourney, but lack the time or patience of competing in one, or you just want to beat up your friends, Dead or Alive 5 looks to be right up your alley. It speaks to how much fun DOA 5 is that I’ve put in well over five hours in a demo that features a scant four characters and one stage, and I still can’t get enough. Going into the demo with absolutely no expectations, Dead or Alive 5 is now my most anticipated game of the fall, without question. Whether Team Ninja can translate that anticipation into success remains to be seen. Either way, be sure to look for a full review later this year.

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Preview: Mass Effect 3

I admit, when the original Mass Effect was first released with the promise of carrying over all of your decisions in one expansive trilogy, I was just as skeptical as I was excited. Five years and two critically acclaimed games later, we’re on the eve of the epic conclusion to Bioware’s massive space adventure, and I’m (more than happily) eating my words of skepticism.

Let’s not kid ourselves, Mass Effect 3 is going to sell like gangbusters. And, unless Director Casey Hudson decides to make some serious last-minute changes, the overall experience will likely remain intact. Of course, for any game, particularly a franchise like Mass Effect with such a fervent fan base, the Devil is in the details.

In Mass Effect’s case, the combat has always been the one area Bioware couldn’t quite nail down. With ME3, however, the Edmonton, Alberta-based developer is taking more cues from big-name contemporaries, like Gears of War, without sacrificing their RPG roots.

ME3’s all too brief demo, which was released via Xbox Live and Playstation Network on Valentine’s Day, takes you through a chunk of the Reaper invasion of Earth, and then skips ahead to an extended battle with the human-supremest group, Cerberus on Sur'Kesh, the Salarian homeworld.

It’s clear that, even in an unfinished build, the combat is far and away the smoothest it’s ever been. The fluidity of aiming and moving from cover to cover is spot on, though sprinting feels a tad too swimmy. Heavy bass and kick give ME3’s firearms an extremely satisfying report, and combining biotic and tech powers with squad-mates never gets old.

From the outset, the demo has you choose from three specific gameplay presets. Though not entirely surprising, given the direction the franchise has taken, “Combat” automates character and dialogue decisions, allowing action-minded gamers to get straight into the trenches. “Role-Playing” offers a more traditional Mass Effect experience, balancing combat, strategy and narrative, while “Story” allows gamers to focus on dialogue and characterization, rather than shooting.

For old-school Bioware fans, you’ll be happy to know that skill trees have been expanded back to ME1 sizes, though each ability now has a branching path to choose from. “Throw,” for instance, has options to either increase the power’s force or impact radius, with the highest level allowing you to have two projectiles at once or an accelerated recharge speed.

One thing to note is that the frame rate during cutscenes and dialogue was noticeably choppy. Though this is likely due to the demo being an incomplete build, the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 had a similar problem.

Mass Effect 3 is set to release for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on March 6.

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Preview: Twisted Metal

Quick show of hands, how many of you out there remember a time in which the vehicular combat genre was all the rage? It kinda seems odd to think that, at one point in time, Call of Duty wasn’t the omnipresent entertainment Goliath that it is today. Not to bring back some really, really painful memories, but you know you’ve struck gold when even George Lucas gets in on the action (yes, I’m talking about you, Star Wars: Demolition).

Set to release on Valentine's Day, Twisted Metal (Feb. 14, 2012) is more of an amalgamation of the series’ high points, rather than a continuation of the established canon. “It’s kind of a new universe that takes what we think is the best of the Twisted [Metal] series,” said series co-creator, David Jaffe.

A demo of the upcoming release, which hit the Playstation Network on January 31, gives players the chance to play both Deathmatch and Nuke, TM’s take on capture the flag, in the suburban-themed, “Sunsprings, California.”

While Deathmatch has been a series staple since its creation, Nuke is brand new mode for the Twisted franchise. Set up in a series of baseball-esque innings, the team-based mode has each side attempting to destroy each other’s base, and by base I mean a giant statue of each faction’s leader (e.g. Sweet Tooth for the Clown faction). Each team takes turns attempting to launch missiles at the enemy statue by capturing faction leaders, and feeding them into meat grinders attached to several missile launchers scattered throughout the level. In true Twisted Metal fashion, Nuke is nothing short of bedlam, and it’s an absolute blast to play.

In addition to increased mode variety, Twisted Metal now features playable helicopters. While it allows for greater mobility (and a wicked Gatling gun), “Talon” is one of the most fragile vehicles available, providing an interesting trade-off.

Whether this “rethinking” of the Twisted Metal franchise pans out for the tight-knit developers at Eat, Sleep, Play! is still largely a mystery. “Honestly, we’re a small team... and we really don’t know,” said Jaffe. “We don’t know if it’s going to sell huge or sell small. We have no clue where it’s gonna go.”

Eat, Sleep, Play! hasn’t ruled out the idea of releasing downloadable content, but the decision largely hinges on Twisted’s success. “If it’s a success, it would be a blast to do DLC, whether it’s levels or modes or vehicles,” said Jaffe. “Right now it’s up in the air.”

And while the recent announcement that series Director, David Jaffe will be leaving Eat, Sleep, Play! following the game’s release has brought increased speculation to the franchise’s long-term success, Jaffe was quick to reassure fans that he isn’t abandoning the house he helped build. “I am still WITH ESP and have not left and will not leave until we got TM launched and stick around2balance&bug fix&tune (probably another 1.5-3 months). Still being paid with ESP paycheck, etc. But I WILL be leaving2start new game studio.” said Jaffe, on Twitter (@davidscottjaffe). “Talking2peeps about some big, huge next gen game ideas I’d love for us2make, as well as cool stuff in the browser space.”

For more information on Twisted Metal, check out twistedmetal.com.

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