A public dumping ground for words and pictures. Contact me at ThomasTamblyn@Gmail.com

Sunday 31 May 2009

Mark II crew

Fiddled with the cannoners and the misc pirates a bit. They were just outside of my tolerances. Barely worth posting the updated versions, but I can't see any harm in it.

The pirates were leaning too sharply. It's a common mistake I make, since I like to sit at funny angles I'm seldom looking at the screen straight-on. What I should do is horizontally flip what I'm working on to see if it looks wrong the other way round. I didn't bother this time and they ended up all Pisa for it.

Easy enough to fix though. Isolated the hands, weapons and heads, then skewed everything else back towards the normal, then moved the unaltered bits back into place. They also got some colour changes because i saw room for improvement.

The cannon-luggers' feet really bugged me - totally sloppy. So that got fixed. Redoing the cannon entered my mind, but they don't bother me nearly so much as the feet did. The colours could probably be tweaked, but really the feet were the main irritations.

I've still got those desert swordsmen to fix up. I'll leave them for now though - maybe when I do another desert-themed character and have more ideas for detail styles.

Saturday 30 May 2009


A pleasant change. These came easily and, while I can fret over certain details, all in all they please me. These are your generic deck-clogging sea-dog-type pirate.

No eye patches, hook hands or peg legs you'll notice. I don't want to overuse that kind of powerful cliché if I'm going to be doing more than just a couple pirate-themed guys. I figure that in any given trinity I can use one (1) of those on one (1) of the characters. For example the dock thugs (who are still borderline pirates in my mind) have one eye patch between them. I think one of my old pirates has a peg leg, so that uses up that. Hook hand I have an idea for making huge and weaponised, theming a whole character-type around maybe.

Anyway - these guys. They flowed nicely. Originally I was thinking that I could swap about the sword and pistol hand between them, but it always looked best with the pistol up and the sword down so that idea was nixed.

I've got a good set of swappable components here. Head, torso, sword, pistol, legs and even feet. The clever bit though is accessories. I managed to rig it so that the sash and epaulettes are swappable too. #3's gloves can be the third accessory type, but they're not as itneresting as the other two. Of course this all gives me way, way more combinations than I need. No big deal.

I'm rather fond of #3's hair; I don't think I've done that style before. Just four V-shapes, nice and clean, but implying some nice messy-spikey-hair. His tailed coat too actually - I figure it used to belong to a marine officer, or maybe he even used to be a marine before getting captured and joining the pirates. Made sure he didn't look too sharp by putting a bare chest underneath it. Same kind of thinking behind #2's epaulettes.

Trivia: If you take the big hat, the epaulettes, tailed coat and long boots you end up with a rather official-looking marine-type person. May or may not be useful.

I'd like to do a gunslinging pistolier pirate, but it's not coming together yet. Also perhaps a spyglass/sextant/compass-brandishing navigator. I also wanted a booze-themed barrel/crate carrier, but I'm just failing embarassingly in that direction. Combined with my old pirates it seems there's a lot of space to be explored.

So far I've been thinking that each set is good for one, maybe two missions. But if I can get a large enough set, I could have multiple missions based around the same theme, but each with a different selection of enemies.

Thursday 28 May 2009


Another set that I kind of forced through. There's quite a few areas that I consider questionable. Feet again. The designs of the cannon. Some aspects of the pose. I liked the sketch though and wanted to bring it to a finished state before I lost the love.

I experimented with some shine on the cannon barrels - they didn't look right without it. A 40% transparency layer of stark black and white seems about ok. I drew the shine bands manually, with a mouse, and it shows. When you zoom out though the wobble seems natural. That's probably just my laziness talking, but it's on its own layer so it'd be easy enough to tweak later.

Still, the cannon didn't look right until I dulled down the whole body to something closer to black to make ti stand out from the bright clothes of the gunners. Reminds me of TF2 where the weaponry is all a very subdued black and grey to be visible against the character models.

Pirates are a new set. I've done four or five good solo pirates previously, so I can fill out their ranks easily enough even if I find myself unable to come up with anything else. The dock thugs could be pirates too I suppose, though I intended them to be unfriendly locals for the harbour. Uncertain how I feel about that kind of crossover. Then again, I do like the idea that the sets aren't toally foreign to each other. Even the jungle natives, if they're on an island or a foreign coastline could be geographically close to a pirate base of operations.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Shop talk

This hypothetical game that I'm bearing in mind when I make these graphics. The basic idea is a Kingdom Of Loathing-like browser-based vaguely multiplayer game. Not exactly like KoL, nor an optimistically conceived "KoL... but better!" I am inspired by KoL, and I don't mean "I want to rip KoL off". I mean that KoL spurs me to be creative in my own way, that it serves as an example of what's possible.

The basic idea is that you, the player, is in charge of a guild of fantasy adventurers. You start off founding the guild with your leader character and gather more guild members over time. The central gameplay system is the "group of characters vs group of characters" battle as described previously. Outside of those battles there can be economic gameplay based around hoarding and consuming resources. Other gameplay systems could be "plugged in", but those two are what I see being where the bulk of the fun living.

The importance of the setting is how much it allows for. A fantasy mish-mash milleu allows for an almost unlimited variety of styles, characters and monsters. And it immediately lets the player know the sort of thing they should expect. Such as guilds of adventurers. The guild setting is far more important than the world though. It provides a rationale for managing a stable of characters, gives you an identity to become attached to and a good reason for your characters to seek out trouble.

Multiple axes of advancement are in my mind, what makes this setup particularly good for a game. You can level up and customise individual characters to improve their stats and unlock additional attacks. You can expand your roster of characters (who can then in turn be levelled up...). You can earn money to swell the guild coffers. You can expand and upgrade the guild house with new facilities. You can increase your stash of loot. You can complete missions to improve your guild's reputation and unlock more content.
And consider how these can interact - you take characters on a mission and they get stronger and earn the guild money. You spend the money expanding the guild house so that you can support more characters, or to provide facilities for those characters to use. And these interactions can be "squishy". You might decide that upgrading the guild is boring, so you focus on getting as many recruits as possible, just barely spending enough on the guild that they don't leave in disgust. Or you might really go in for pampering a few favourite characters with sweet bonuses from a nice guild house, and sweet loot made in your guild's armoury. And that's not touching on the economic gameplay, which can be used to enable guild progression or just an end in itself.

To enable replayability I think the KoL method is best; make play cyclical. I'm imagining a "valhalla" where legendary champions live. When you "complete" the game, your guild's leader (usually the character you started with, but there can be options and events that give you the option to switch who your focal character is) becomes a legendary hero and becomes saved in his current status to your account. And then you start again from scratch.
But as you play, you slowly build up a roster of legendary heroes in their "maxed-out" state in valhalla, and that's almost like a meta-guild for you. I imagine that this would be where player-vs-player competition would occur, though there's no reason there couldn't be a bit of single player content there too as a final tier. You could also get various benefits in the normal game from restarting, like access to new content, guild upgrades or loot. Perhaps the old champions could become a wandering heroes that you can meet. The possibilities are too wide to go over in any specifics here.

The currency of play would be in character actions. Like KoL (again) this would be a limited play-per-day game. Each day, each of your characters can do one thing. This will often be going on a mission (in which case you'll be using up several characters' actions to do it). For characters who don't join a party for a mission, they can be put to work at the guild. Maybe they can craft items. Perhaps they could be hired out as mercenaries, or sent to compete in an arena - simple things with results based on character stats/skills that don't involve active gameplay like battles do, although they could be expanded to minigame-status if needed.
Downtime skills could be a class of character skill that gvies them a special option when idle. A burglar might bring you extra money. A researcher might come up with a new spell that one of your wizards can learn. A chef could make delicious cake. This means that even when you have enough characters to form multiple parties, you could just select a bunch of downtime options for your characters and call it a day.

Lots of things I've not talked about. Interaction between players. What would matter from the economy side of things. Potential for expandability. Structure of missions and how they're dispensed. Inter-character relations absed on a few simple personality checkboxes. Special events and challenges. How collectability would be implemented.
But this isn't exactly a proper design document. Best to make sure of my big picture before I start getting all fiddly and specific.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Something from the cart

I can't seem to get this kind of pose working right. Same problem with the sutured stalkers; on the sketch it looks nice and dynamic as if they're balanced on one foot and bringing the other forward. But after the "inks" they're slouching into the foreground with their rear foot resting on invisible ground. It's probably my fault for using a perfect flat ground line way back when. I guess it wouldn't be that difficult to go back and give everyone rounded feet but... what a chore. I'm not even sure it would be a good idea - the uniform flat cutoff lets me do things like the tentacles and the rockworm more easily.

Distractions. These are new. Armoured desert-dwellers. Dervish is such a cliché name, but it'll do for now. I also have a spear and shield-wielding guy in this style in the pre-triplicate batch, but he's so old that I'd need to re-do him to fit alongside these. My node discipline is totally shot here. Maybe even too far - I might go back and prune. The thing is that they're so spindly that I end up using excess lines just to get some emaningful differentiation on such small surfaces. Maybe I was taking the wrong approach to begin with and I should try more drastic styles rather than crowding and cluttering the lines. I did kind of push myself to finish these.

Colours were a cheat. They're mainly just hue-shifts of the first one with some manual touch-ups for the masks and contrast areas. Not awful though. Might be a good time-saver when dealing with "uniforms" - a starting point at least.

So, not as big a failure as those horrible ogres. I might revise these, but I feel slightly better for the work done.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Mountain ogres

These are experimental - that's a partial excuse for the crappiness. While so far I've been tackling bigger, monsterier things by drawing them pretty explicitly, for these I tried to do them as stickmen like the human characters.

Results are mixed. They look disappointingly like a bunch of details pasted on top of a really crappy skeleton. I might have to give the arms at least volume. maybe i could shrink the legs to sticks - giving them a top-heavy look - to clear up room.

The shields are meant to be made from multiple pieces of scrap.

Too many greys make these really boring to look at. maybe they could do with some reds.

The metal areas really need some kind of shine or texture that I can't do with flats. I should probably look at reference pictures to come up with a good gimmick.

#2 gets a shoulder pad because his mask left that area looking really empty.

I wouldn't be surprised if I junked these. Though I might recycle #1 and #2's masks. I'm unhappy with the eyes. Might promote those to triangles or circles or something so they look like holes in the mask. The line-eyes really aren't working for me at that size. A node-light solution would be ideal. Maybe some kind of letterbox gap. That would also make them look a little more sinister rather than bemused and gormless.

The dangers of unbounded science

Someone prompted me to make a warning sign for causality violation. I came up with these two. And a related "closed space" warning sign. Made very quickly, hence the wacky font; I re-used the basic warning sign template from a team fortress 2 spray I'd made.

I think the one with the question mark is the best. It looks properly geometric as well as symbolic. or at least it would if it was in a serious font. I could easily see it become the kind of sign you end up recognising as a holistic image rather than a combination of symbols. I like the idea of the closed space one, but am unimpressed by the picture.

Wednesday 20 May 2009


Gribblies. I suppose these would go along with big burly beetle guy, but I have no specific plan. These were drawn for fun. There's a common theme of four eyes - I couldn't help coming up with some unifying features, but other than that they're not really terribly similar. I guess the maggot could be a larva, the skinny guy and the burly beetle could be different castes, but the rockworm is blatantly a different species altogether.

Maybe they'll end up being wandering monsters or something equally random. They were fun to do and that's all that really matters. I can come up with a theme after the fact if I end up doing enough of them.

I tried being a little more adventurous with the colour here. Lanky and worm have highlights in their eyes (maggot's eyes were too small to bother with) and worm has a two-tone body. Even maggot has an unusually smooth colour variation across his body. I like it. I might try more deviations from flat shading in the future.

Lanky was hard to colour. The angular body shape and odd pose meant it was hard to parse what you were looking at. Eventually I just coloured the chest+arms a different, stronger colour than the legs and trunk. The hands and hooves were used as details to unify the two schemes across the body. I think it just about works.

Worm caused me to doubt myself. That chunky hide is really detailed. I think two of the chunks are pentagons, and all the rest are either deformed triangles or quads, but even so it gives the impression of a lot of fiddly detail. And even if the total line count isn't that high compared to some of the others I've done, it has a more naturally detailed appearance that I worried would make it stick out. Still not totally convinced that it doesn't, even if the main body is just three S-curves. The beak too is a little more detailed than I'd like, but the hide steals the show. Monsters in general need more lines. I'll let it go for now.

Tuesday 19 May 2009


More for the university. Librarians. Or possibly teachers (or even students!) with a textbook. They're very tall and with little dynamism. I wondered whether I should give them cats to fill out the frame - both as wizardly familiars and because everyone knows that libraries like to have a pet cat. I may yet.

I apologise for how boring the colouring job is here. I don't dislike these bookmen, but they don't particularly inspire me either. Filler again I suppose.

I'm glad that I was able to get three different book-holding poses. Especially #2's. Since it's really the book that is the focus, I used the simplistic wand technique I described before. Which reminds me - turns out I was wrong about how exciting eyebrows were. One of the woodsmen had them, albeit single lines with no volume.

Maybe if I use the house colour schemes method I'll be able to approach these a bit more vigorously. As is they're really rather mundane. The puppeteers were far more fun. Flamboyant costumes, cute puppet poses and bright colours.

Somehow the colours left #3 looking like Revolver Ocelot from MGS3. The effect is not entirely unpleasant, if not exactly what I had in mind when I did the linework.

These seem too fun to be dismissed as generics, but I don't yet have a proper home for them. i suppose if I had enough ideas i could do a carnival or circus set. I have a juggler I could wheel out, and a jester/fool type would be easy. Lion tamer too maybe? But evil clowns is not a trope that has ever gained any traction with me. Perhaps I'll stay away from anything circus-like and have them - along with the juggler - be street performers as part of a "city" set along with the thugs and thieves. That might work. I'd still want to do a fool though - he could be part of the chivalry/joust set to provide a bit of contrast with all those knights.

Legendary sandwich knives

Yeastbane the divider

Sunday 17 May 2009

Quiver filler

Utterly generic and characterless. Filler. They'll do as practice if nothing else. I'll probably come around to liking them in a day or two - that seems to be the usual cycle of things.

I don't think I've used a longcoat as a variant feature before - it's always been a base part of the character. So that's good. And #3's outfit turned out nattier than I'd hoped. #1's ended up looking rather plain after I put so much flash on his brothers.

Not much in the way of meaningfully swappable parts unfortunately, but that might be a consequence of there being so much variation just in the torsos. The quivers and the boots could be swapped about, but that's trivial. It'll be head swaps and colour schemes that makes the only real difference.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Wizards too!

By some coincidence, I've not done any magicy-types since I started drawing these guys in triplicate. That run has been interrupted.

I labeled these guys "instructors" for want of a better name. And because something about them makes me think "magic school". That could be an explorable new theme, or they could just as well be generic hero-types.

The poses are pretty boring - facing the camera and largely symmetrical - but I like them enough to ignore that. The high-collared cloaks please me. Really, that was the hook for the initial sketch and I'm glad i could reproduce it for the final linework. The scepters with floaty elements too - I like free-floating parts for magical implements. It's a nice simple thing I can do that adds a lot of interest. Also the hair on #1 and #2. #1's a new way of drawing hair that I experimented with; wispy and messy. I do not dislike it. And #2's silly old man hair worked out nicer than I'd hoped with a very low nodecount.

If I do decide that these are going to be magic school instructors, I'd probably re-colour them to make the cloak look like a uniform. In fact with a large enough pool of magic school characters, I could use multiple colour themes and divide them into houses. That could be cool. Something to think about if I go down that route. But like I said they could also be generics. Robed wizards in general are seldom heavily themed. Like this next batch:

Again, they could be part of the magic school (wand studies perhaps?) or generics. Note the floaty bits on the wands again.

Way back when I started playing with these not-really-stick figures, I came up with a nice way to do wands with a minimal line count. Just a straight line, with a break in it near the top to indicate the white part. I didn't use it for these guys since I wanted to emphasise the wands a bit more, but it'd be good on figures where the wand is incidental or secondary.

Not that I went all out on these wands. What is that, a marshmallow? Then some kind of crystal and a cliché star. The magic school approach would at least justify a lot of cliché. #3's hat for example.

One characteristic of robed wizards is that it's tricky to come up with meaningful variations for the main body without totally wrecking what made the original cool to me. See, they tend to be all one big shape. That's why the three here all have the same, err, don't have the words... "swooshy bits", down the front from the collar. Also, if I do come up with meaningful variation, it has to be swapped out all as one piece. So if I tried to swap parts between these guys, I'd treat the arms and body separately, so any of the robe styles could have sleeves, cuffs or gloves. Probably the shoes too, just to try and break pattern. Now that i look at them again, I wonder if I could swap hats/hair independent of heads... #3's lock might overlap #2's eyebrows in a less-than-attractive way though.

Oh yeah - #2! I want to point out that he's sporting an unprecedented new feature - eyebrows! I don't think I've done those elsewhere. The odd frown line, yes. But not distinct eyebrows. I think. Unless I did them on that old calligrapher or the minister of thamaturgy... I'm going to go check.

Nope! No eyebrows in the archives. This is a bold new advance in veep technology.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

More rumbling

Once again I somehow manage to proceed according to plan. Big, strong-looking guys in mask-shaped armour. I left these the other night thinking I'd have to redo them - wasn't happy with the weird gauntlet things even after a few revisions. but coming back to them with fresh eyes (and thanks to a second opinion) decided that they were good enough.

The colour on the other hand.... colouring these jungle guys is difficult. I want lots of nice bright painted areas on wood, but it's not coming out right. I want them garish, but it's not working. I might try narrowing the range of colour on each individual - for example, blue-greens with red contrast. Two or three complementary shades and a contrasting detail colour. Maybe that'll work. Meantime they're not awful, just... off.

I also managed to sketch up another jungle guy. Some kind of sneaky ambushy jumps-out-of-trees guy judging from the pose. The ruff things are meant to be pelts or cloaks of leaves/feathers around their shoulders that are going all floofy from the motion. I had this idea in my head that the cloak and the mask are meant to draw attention away from the limbs, making them look like floating demon heads when they leap down and attack.

I think I've settled on that as a theme for these jungle guys - fear. The masks, like the fetish wards are meant to intimidate, so it makes sense that a large part of how they deal with interlopers is psychological. It also matches up with how scary inhabited jungles are commonly portrayed in other media.

It's probably a little late to come up with a theme when I've already done a startling number of these jungle guys, but I found it satisfying to finally put my finger on it. "Fear" is certainly a lot better than some laughably generic spiritualist mishmash. I may be happy with cliché collage for the pictures, but I like to be at least a little original with the concepting.

If I compare to the hospital and creepy sea-cult set, I've actually got a fair number of jungle guys. Spear guys, sword+shield guys, skull staff guys, hulking guys and scary knife-guys. Five not even counting the kind-of cheaty fetish wards and the vine monster. Just missing a boss-type guy. I guess padding out the ranks didn't end up being a problem. I'll shelve the unenthusiastic-looking gorilla for now. And the dinosaurs can be for further into this jungle, or a different place entirely. No need to dilute.

Saturday 9 May 2009


I suppose these are properly props rather than creatures, but I see them being used in much the same way and it's good to expand.

I was wary of them being cheap and sloppy-looking compared to the characters. I took several passes throwing away dodgy-looking elements and adding more details like the dead animals. At one point I had a hanging skull and ribcage, but it just didn't look right. I have a method for doing ok skeletons in the stick figure style, but in the context of the wards it wasn't obvious what you were meant to be seeing. There's very little room for me to be stylised on these so I focused on making the masks bright and chunky, and keeping the skulls low-node.

In case it's not obvious, these are meant to be some kind of territory marker. I guess they'd have a variety of useful effects like inspiring allies or terrifying enemies. They may or may not be magical. I don't see myself doing a lot of prop-type enemies. These felt right though. Maybe for a reason as silly as having a face.

I also recoloured the witch doctors. They were too dull; I wanted them brighter and showier. Still not hugely happy with them to be honest, but not sure what needs to be done. Maybe they're still too unsaturated after all.

Embarassingly, I've run out of decent ideas for jungle peeps. I've got spear guys, sword+shielders, witch doctors, fetish totems and a vine golem. Is that enough? I could lump the dinosaurs in with them I suppose. Drummers maybe? If I can come up with an interesting pose. Carnivorous plants? Some kind of triffid? Maybe it's time to just go back to doodling randomly until I happen upon a new theme.

Hmm, maybe if I could come up with a nice style of armour, based on the mask shapes, I could do a jungle juggernaut character. Worth scribbling I think.

Thursday 7 May 2009

A picture jungle

Inexplicably, I made good on my plans. Witch doctors. These are the first jungle natives I've done in colour. I'd been seeing the masks all bright and colourful in my mind's eye, but for these shaman that seems wrong. Bone white it is then. That also helps make them stand out.

That's a problem with that kind of closed pose you see - all the details overlap and it looks messy. Even making a deliberate effort to keep the torsos naked and featureless, the arms and staff crossing the front divides a lot of areas in a distracting way. The masks needed to be striking.

I'm not sure why I did it, but i like the strong red in the skin tones I've got here. I think I'll carry that across all the natives. It can vary from light to dark, but I'll try and keep them all looking ruddy. It could be some kind of decoration or just the local look.

Also had some unexpected luck doodling a jungle golem. I was pondering what sort of motifs these natives might have and I liked the idea of vines and flowers. That and trying to doodle a kind of jungle scarecrow gave me this very swooshy vine monster. I imagine it's animated by some kind of magic in the mask.

No variants here for the same reason as previous monsters. Not much I can easily vary. The mask I suppose, but that on its own wouldn't be enough. I'm not sure that the curling bits of creeper and blossom give me enough to work with either. To be honest I'm not terribly motivated to even try right now - I'm happy with it on its own. It's got an unstrung puppet look about it that I'm fond of.

Not rocket science

Some victims of eccentric hospital experiments. These ones based around unlocking the potential of the human mind. This particular unlocking either kills you or turns you into a twitching imbecile, but a twitching imbecile with telekinesis!

I started these ages ago with the rest of the hospital guys, but they were crap and so I moved them to my fragments file and forgot about them. Last night I looked them over again and rescued them from awfulness. Now they're mediocre at worst.

#2's collar is unusually 3d. And so I judged it worthy of survival when I was de-awfuling them. The green things are meant to be holding tanks for some noxious chemical. Maybe I should try and make them shiny, or put bubbles in them, or make them partially empty? Something to make it more obvious.

The collars/devices and heads are all independently swappable. I wouldn't have been happy with just the heads, so I'm glad I managed to get another modular detail there. I briefly pondered different styles of manacle and, err, footacle, but decided that that would be reaching.

At the moment my eye is turning towards those natives again. I'd like to expand their ranks a little. Some kind of shaman/witch doctor seems a good move. Maybe totems, idols or fetishes of some kind? I might have a go at some kind of pet triffids or vine monsters. Or whatever. Masks are fun.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Talking about icons

When I was making my icons, I looked at a lot of existing ones for inspiration. Also to steal. I've liked these cute little symbolic graphics ever since I first saw them in Diablo 2, and so I thought I'd blather and over-think them a little. Or at least, the ones whose icons I can easily gaffle from the web.

Diablo 2's icons are all silver silhouettes on brown. They're made to look like they might actually exist in the world as glyphs. There's drop shadow and texture, and the silver symbols don't touch the edge of the glyph plate.

In the game these icons are displayed at a fairly large size, and with few on screen at a time, so they can get away with a lot. And yet they're pretty abstract. This means that while you may not know what a given glyph is meant to represent, you can still recognise it pretty easily in a crowd.

I think that the texturing actually harms the readability of these icons. In areas of high detail, the grey lines on the white confuse the shape slightly. Very visible on the second glyph on the bottom row.

World of Warcraft. Warcraft 3 had almost exactly the same style icons, but they mainly portrayed units and are less interesting to me (though most of them did get recycled into WoW. More on that later).

These icons are actually small illustrations. The icon frames are like windows onto a larger scene, unlike the or symbolic Diablo icons. They also use strong colours and high contrast to make the icons even more distinctive from each other. Necessary, since WoW gives you a bar of relatively small icons to select from and it's easier to pick out colours than shapes at a glance.

This small display size does mean that a lot of the detail is wasted in play and you come to rely on recognizing the colour and rough shape of an icon, often with little thought to what it's a picture of. Still, if you take care to look they do work to illustrate the skill in a way that the Diablo icons don't.

Another problem with these illustrative icons is that they're harder to make. As a result, WoW re-uses a lot of icons for multiple skills and/or items. It's simply too much bother to commission a new piece of art for every single new ability.

Guild wars. Like World of Warcraft, these are fairly illustrative. They have a softer look, less cartoonish but not significantly less stylised. Guild wars also likes to use graduated fills or textures as a backdrop while WoW usually prefers featureless black.

Something Guild Wars does with colour that WoW doesn't, is that each class's skills have a unified palette. If you see a cyan-on-purple icon, you know it's a mesmer skill. Green and chestnut brown = hunter. Like WoW's, you tend to focus on the pattern and colour at display size rather than looking at the illustration, but the unified colour scheme means that your skill bar is cohesive and attractive to look at. Since guild wars characters have access to skills from two classes, this also helps distinguish between them on the skill bar.

Despite Guild Wars' icons being just as complicated as WoW's, it doesn't repeat icons like WoW does. Unfortunately they've chosen quantity over quality. While a lot of the icons, especially the ones from the basic game, are very striking and attractive, others are very obviously under processed photographs. The fourth icon on the second row is a particularly bad example.

When I played Demigod recently, I found its icons particularly problematic. They're fairly attractive illustrations and a unified colour scheme across all of the skill icons makes them pleasing to the eye in a group. Unfortunately they're just far too detailed and with far too little contrast.

On the character's skill bar, displayed at roughly this size and with only four icons to choose between it's no bother selecting the correct one. On the leveling-up page though, they are less than half the size they are here they all become identical brown blurs. You actually have to memorise the position of the skills you want to buy and check the tooltips since the icons are almost no help as reference.

As you can see from my previous post, I decided to go with a stark Diablo-like style for maximum contrast and readability, though my icons are also a little more illustrative than Diablo's glyphs. You can also see where I stole the dummy person silhouette idea from. While I do plan to use colour, I'm following Guild wars' with a very limited colour palette for maximum clarity and also using that colour to convey other information.

In all honesty, my options were also fairly limited by the fact that I lack the ability to draw proper illustrative pictures, but I don' think I'm missing out on much. To my mind, flat high-contrast shapes are the way to go. Readability before illustration. Also, the simplicity of these icons should make it relatively quick easy to come up with a large number of them, hopefully obviating the need for repetition or bad photo manipulations.

Symbolic gesture

I mentioned that I'd gotten into doing icons, yes? Here are an arbitrary sample of the (over 170 now) ones I've done. I've got the idea in my head that these are the skill icons for characters' attacks, to add some visual interest and flavour past the name.

Since they'd be pretty small, I went for clean, distinctive shapes and maximum contrast. They were all draws as white on black background, like the rightmost column here. The coloured ones are experiments. White on black is striking, but boring. Colour adds another axis of interest. I could use it to distinguish two skills with the same icon - an orange potion vs the blue potion, for example. Though for now, icons are fun and easy enough to make that I'm in favour of each skill having its own unique icon.

More likely to my mind is colour-coding them so that, say, default skills are green, conditionals are yellow and specials are orange. Other colours could be used for things like passive traits or I don't know what. Another option would be, rather than a uniform colour key, it varies for flavour. So player characters are always orange yellow green, but maybe the fish cult enemies go blue, cyan, white. Not sure whether there's enough design space there to be worth doing, but I like the idea of local colour schemes.

Speaking of colour, I had grander plans initially. I was going to vary not just the colour of the icon, but the colour of the background too. So I could have yellow on red, white on blue or whatever. However experimentation showed that the vast majority of colour combinations just didn't have enough contrast to look good at small sizes. Even something like red on black proved too difficult to distinguish, hence why it's only bright colours up there. Tinting the background remains an option I suppose; that is, near-black colour shades.

I let myself use a lot more nodes and lines than I do on the veeps themselves. It would have excluded more interesting ideas than it spurred, I think. Besides, the small size and two-tone style provides plenty of restrictions as it is.

I tried to stick to some conventions. The more literal attack icons, whether they're swooshes or weapon icons, travel from the top left to the bottom right. More symbolic icons can stay central. Compare the pierced heart to the target next to it. Both could be icons for the same kind of attack, but the former is representing the attack, while the latter is describing it visually.

I built up a small vocabulary of shapes doing these. Hearts and shields are good - easily recognisable, even if you mangle them a little bit and a cracked or pierced heart or shield has obvious meaning even without a name to go along with it. The little person silhouette is good too. It can make a fine crash test dummy, or I can surround it with auras, halos or what have you.

By and large, these icons were made with no specific purpose in mind beyond looking cool. I decided "I want to do a swooshy thing" or "the ground cracking" or "a splash". Sometimes I had more specific motivations; "something suitable for a beast" gave me the first three in the second row of that picture there. Looking at the brine mutants I made a few tentacles, shells and so on. The big burly insect bruiser was the impetus for some bug-based icons. But I'm using them as springboards rather than wedding myself to any specific plans. I'm making these icons because they're fun to make. Any eventual purpose is unlikely and secondary.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Thugs and brains

Generic dock toughs. They should fit nicely alongside the various sea cultists and mutants in the corrupt port town. Not exactly in line with my plans, but then little ever is.

I think it's the swaggering pose that sells them. They're also nice and simple in the design - a return to form. The lines of the jacket are a bit clumsy still, but you wouldn't know from the final output.

#1 had concerns. His cutlass hilt was a trial and I'm still not happy with it. His hat is fine on its own, but when colouring him any bright colours made him look like a YMCA member. It's probably the bare chest that does it.

Hmm - speaking of bare chests, I've just realised that #1's sling-strap-thing and #3's scar run the same direction. I should probably flip one of them so that it doesn't look like a pattern. #3, most likely, since now that I think about it that kind of scar would likely go top right to lower left, if inflicted by a right-handed opponent.

I also returned to the hospital of horrors. No variants though - I think these are the "boss monsters" of the area. Graft-spiderman's skeleton is too distinctive to reskin and I can't come up with any worthwhile ideas for scalpelwoman.

Spider-guy's really loaded for bear. Bonesaw, scalpels, syringe, trolley, even a cloth for his brow! A surgical genius who decided he could do so much better with an extra pair of hands.

Scalpelina's something I promised I wouldn't so. Leggy woman in heels. I tried so hard to avoid the sexy nurse cliché, but the sketch just... happened. And I liked it. I'm still wavering over whether she's too long and spindly, the leg is a little unconvincing and the swoosh of the coat is bizarre. But nevertheless, I like. At least she's flat-chested. Maybe I'll come back to her tomorrow and, with the benefit of fresh eyes, despair over the anatomy and start over.

Still, I can overlook dumbsexy a little for the sake of a boss character. And I do really like the pose with the scalpel and clipboard. If Dr Spider is the frothing nutjob, she's the obsessive badass. They could each support their own staff, or combine forces in the same hospital. Who can tell. She was originally going to have a fuckoff hypodermic, but that was harder to look cool than I expected. Happier with the scalpel.