Do You Even Videogame?

posted in: video games | 0

So a few weeks ago I had a bizarre conversation with a guy about some of my video game fan art. I couldn’t quite figure out what he was asking until a few sentences in, at which point I realized he was asking if I really play video games.


Short answer: Yes, I play video games.




Long indulgent answer:


I typically play on console (Xbox 360, and XBone) because my computer skills aren’t great, and I have a tendency to drive my computers into the ground doing art, to the point where more knowledgeable friends wonder how I’ve not yet set the hard drive on fire. They are also universally appalled by the amount of dog hair trapped in the fan.


I did once manage to get a version of Fallout 1 to run on my work computer, and even managed to install the necessary mods to allow it to play without crashing. I was very proud of myself for this achievement.


While I played a bunch of xbox games with my husband and friends, I didn’t actually own my “own” console until the Xbox 360. I inherited my husband’s hand-me-down console, and as a result it’s a bit older and has trouble sometimes running in the summer. (The weather has been in the upper 90s lately, and sometimes in the low three digits.) I’ve played so much Borderlands that my friends will no longer play it with me, and I started soloing with Krieg and the Baroness. Because my 360 has a tendency to overheat at the drop of the hat, I finally had to call it quits for the season, but will resume play as soon as the weather turns cooler.


(Oh! I just remembered: John and I were also working our way through Earth Defense Force: 2025. I can’t tell if the writing is supposed to be that goofy, or if it’s just that goofy by accident. Either way, I adore EDF games!)


However, after Bethesda’s announcement of Fallout 4, my husband and I splurged on buying anniversary gifts for one another in the shape of matching XBones. We also each picked out a game that we could play together. I picked out Elder Scrolls Online, and he picked out Dying Light. Our XBones also came with the Halo collection. We wanted to pick up the Borderlands Handsome Collection, but missed the sale – but we WILL get it sooner or later!


So what am I actually playing these day?


I’ve been playing a lot of ESO on my own. While we’ve talked with friends about playing it together, it’s hard to find time to really dedicate to it, and ESO takes a LOT of time to really immerse yourself in. I typically play only a few hours during the weeknights – I try to keep it under six hours or less. On the weekends all bets are off, and if I can shirk all responsibilities and play from sun-up to sun-down, I will. This is far more rare than I’d like it to be, though, and only happens once every few months. John was out with friends the other week, and I had a great time running around Tamriel, trying to figure out how to manage my inventory and find skyshards.


Typically on the weekends I can talk my friends and/or husband into playing Dying Light. We’ve only recently made it to the second map in the game, and any confidence I had in myself as a zombie killing machine has evaporated. (I didn’t have a lot to begin with.) I have only played a few hours of this game on my own, and typically get so freaked out when I play it that I have to wait for friends to sign in, or else I’m a wreck of nerves.


I’ve been really impressed with how the controllers work with Dying Light – I know so little about game programming and design so I can’t use technical terms to describe what I’m feeling, but I can tell you that sending Crane running across rooftops feels good. And when you manage to land a jump that you shouldn’t have, or when you manage to save yourself from splattering on the asphalt by a timely grappling hook intervention, it feels even better.


So, there you have it: yes, I play games, but no more than six or so hours a night, and only if I can get away from doing chores, running errands, or being social.




Garden Age

I’ve been playing a lot of Dragon Age recently, while working on pages for All the Growing Things.

This is what happens.


While not as pretty as the actual Dragon Age cover, I’m still pretty pleased with it.

At some point, I will resume posting comic pages online. Right now I’m simply trying to get as many done as possible (I have dreams of finishing issues 4 and 5 of Era, and compiling them into a book by mid summer!) Because I’m trying to get all of the pages done at the same time, it means I have a bunch of half-done pages, but nothing I’m ready to post yet.

Some quick thoughts on Dragon Age:

A lot of people are comparing it to Skyrim, and while I can see the initial comparison, I don’t really think that’s fair to either Skyrim or Dragon Age.

Dragon Age: Inquisition does have an open world feel to it, but it’s not as sandbox as Skyrim. You can play Skyrim for hundreds of hours and never touch the main storyline. And that’s something I LOVE about Bethesda games.

DA:I on the other hand is seriously story driven. While you can roam around maps all you want, you can only unlock new maps by completing story missions.

The only complaint I really have (and it’s not much of one) is that DA introduced so many new game mechanics that I really didn’t know what I was doing with the game, while removing old mechanics I relied heavily upon (detailed tactics comes to mind).

All in all, it’s a pretty fantastic game, and I’m having to restrict myself from playing it (and I am now counting down the days until Friday, where I plan to play it to my heart’s content. Or, well, until the early hours of Saturday morning.)

Borderlands 2 Sketches

posted in: Art Making, video games | 0

I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from ACE yet, but I’m slowly getting back into gear (I mean, it’s only been a week and a half!) and I wanted to share some sketches I’ve been working on.

Most of the time I spend all of my time working on comic layouts, penciling, inking, and things like that. I’m usually going for speed, rather than elegance or accuracy, so it’s… it’s more of a “workload” sort of mentality. Drawing up posters feels like an indecent luxury that I can not, and should not take time to do, but I had such a fun time talking to people at the convention about Borderlands, and I found myself really inspired to work on more pinup styles of art.

I also had a couple of people tell me how to take out Pete the Invincible and Terramorphous the Invincible, so I’ve been looking forward to that as well.  I swear, I sometimes suspect I’m the only person that has not been able to kill any of the raid bosses.*

Either way, I’ve been thinking a LOT about Borderlands, but haven’t been able to do much of anything between working on AtGT and Era, and finishing up my Innsmoon stuff.**


Above is the sketch for Rakkman that I started a while ago. I thought it was kind of stupid and not as dynamic as I wanted it to be, but you know what? I’m just being dumb – After I color this, and drop some more rakk in the background (and put more details in the rakk) it’ll be fine. Also: I want to do a neat logo at the bottom, but I’m not sure if it’ll overwhelm the rest of the poster. We’ll see, I guess.

Smile, you son of a...
Smile, you son of a…

I’m not so sure about Salvator’s face (above) because he’s smiling, but then again, when I play him he always seem so happy to be out and killing. A bit like a more lucid Krieg. I’m fairly certain I’m going to screw up his right hand (I’m going to have him holding an version of Unkempt Harold, I think) and have been putting off penciling it. But this dang drawing won’t be done  until I do, so I can only put it off for so long. Also, his eyebrows are a bit funky, but… I don’t know. Maybe they’re fine. Gah. Indecision and self doubt: I wouldn’t know how to function without them.


* Mind you, it would probably help if I took some time off work to play more video games, but then again, that’s what the weekends are for. Well, that and errands.

** At some point I’ll have to update y’all on the Innsmoon Stuff. It’s 80k words and still going. It’s exhausting. I also wrote a short story (13k words) in the same world, and that -at least- came together fairly quick.


posted in: Art Making, video games | 4

I’m slowly going through all the Borderlands characters that I really -really- like playing. Next up is either the Gunzerker or Gaige. I’m not sure – I’m tied on those two.

Stay Still

Also, I really need to learn to sign art with my name. I can’t seem to figure out how to do that consistently.

Gratuitous Krieg Art

posted in: Art Making, video games | 0

…and I just can’t really believe that’s how you spell “gratuitous,” but I guess that’s how it goes. Staring at the word won’t make it any better.

I met with my friend The Red Neb yesterday, and talked comic business with him and John. I’m fairly certain that they were supposed to talk about the upcoming TerraFarmer’s issue, but Neb and I ended up talking Cintiqs and software instead. He’s been doing a bunch of poster art, getting ready for the convention season, where as I… have not.

I’ve avoided doing it for so long, and art is so difficult when my heart isn’t in it, but John talked me into doing posters of things I like, so I’ve been drawing up a few video game related pieces. (I think I started in November?)

One of the ones that I (finally!) finished last night (although, looking at it in the cold light of morning, I think it needs some more shadows and highlights brushed in) is a picture of Krieg from borderlands. He’s one of my favorites and he’s changed my gaming style for the worst, I think. I’ve recently been replaying Fallout3, and wow, it’s a different game when you’re playing as if you’re still Krieg!


I think the other nice thing about working on poster art is that it gives you (meaning “me”)  a sense of accomplishment that I don’t have as much as when I work on pages and pages of comics. With the actual comic art, there’s always another page, always another formatting issue to be dealt with, always some marketing thing to think about. With a poster, you just draw it up and show it to people, and if you’re lucky they’ll put it up on the fridge and give you a cookie.

I’m working on a “sexy” Poison Ivy poster too, but I’m not so sure about it. I’m not good at “sexy,” and I’m also not all that great at drawing women. BUT, I DO LIKE DRAWING PLANTS, so there’s that. Did you know that Poison Ivy was originally designed after Bettie Page? I had not known that. I also had not known that it was “Bettie” with an “ie” at the end either, so yesterday was full of learning moments for me.

Which is always kind of nice.

What Happens on Gaming Night STAYS on Gaming Night

posted in: video games | 0

Video games I’ve been playing:

I figure Monday is a good day to talk about video games, and the world thereof. Mostly because that’s what I do with my weekends. Well, besides various chores and errands. (I actually spent Saturday sending longing glances to the xbox because we ended up playing an RPG with dice and paper instead. Felt like middle school all over again!)

Diablo 3

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Diablo 3 with my husband and friend Joe. Both Joe and my  husband have played all the other Diablos, so as we’re playing through 3, they’re able to point out the neat call backs and cool things that they remember from having grown up playing the franchise. It sort of makes me feel like I missed out on bits of my childhood/young adulthood because I have no idea who The Butcher* is in the other games, but I can tell you that in Diablo 3 with just my husband for back up, The Butcher is a jerkface.

A serious jerkface.

With Joe, the Butcher only butchered the three of us once, and then we were able to take him out on the next try.

Playing Diablo 3 by myself has taught me that I die a lot, and apparently do not know how to make good choices when it comes to character builds. Nor do I know how to dodge, or do any sort of defensive maneuvers. I am one of those people who played Magic the Gathering and built decks based on cards “that looked pretty,” instead of choosing effective deck builds.

In my defense, I never really liked Magic except for the art, so if I was going to hang out with my friends, I was going to have something pretty to look at.

Borderlands 2

I’ve also been trying to talk people into playing Borderlands with me. I’ve two characters (Krieg and Maya) that are level 50, and I’ve been trying my best to get them up to level 72. I’ve a dozen or so other characters at various levels at the first play through, and when I do get my two 50’s up to 72, I’ll go back and level the others up.

Unfortunately, while I prefer to play games cooperatively with others, most of my friends (including my husband) have decided that since we’ve finished the main campaign once, doing the second play through is unnecessary. I keep trying to explain that the game becomes brilliant with loot drops when you start the second play through, but no one is backing me on this.

I can usually con people into playing Borderlands when there’s a new expansion drop, so hope that they’ll drop the Moon Base raid that they’ve been hinting at. I think at this point, that’s the only thing that’ll bring my friends back to Pandora (until Borderlands 3!)

Oh, also, (and this shouldn’t be a side not, but for this post it is) Borderlands is incredibly inclusive. They’ve talked in the past how they try to include players and people from all walks of life, body types, sexual orientations, various things. A little comes through in the games themselves, but if you’re really curious, you can check out their Developer Blogs and read about how they’ve tried to make the game a welcome space for any one to play in. That alone makes me love Gearbox a lot more.

Payday 2 & Feng Shui RPG

I never played Payday 1, but 2 is pretty fun. I now have a hard time watching crime shows (Burn Notice and White Collar) without thinking of how many times one of us has screwed up a job and we’ve all ended up trying to fight our way through wave after wave of police, swat, and military to our get-away van. We tried playing a game of Feng Shui on Saturday (a pen and paper RPG from back in the day) and we were tasked with robbing a canister of suspicious material from a Cartel, and instead of coming up with a clever way to solve the problems, I kept freezing and thinking of that awful mission in Payday 2: Big Oil.

We may have done a lot more random damage than we should have, and while I would contend that violence doesn’t solve anything everything, it does solve some things. While we finally managed to succeed with Big Oil, (even though we’ve never succeeded at Day One of the mission) but the memories of failure still run strong and deep in my psyche.

I know I’ve blogged about Big Oil before, and honestly, this probably won’t be the last.

Suffice it to say that Feng Shui ended in a hail of gunfire, and then us trying to figure out how to deactivate the money golem that had been created out of our payday loot haul. We did NOT burn it, as our GM thought we would, instead we patiently searched through the attacking body of cash until we found the activation script, and burned that.

We also burned our taco truck down, but that was an accident, and was in no way our fault.



* Thinking about it now, nothing ever good comes from a video game character called “butcher” – those are the guys that scare me the most in the Dead Island games.

In a Dr. Pepper-Fueled Haze

“Fueled” is a weird word. I’m sort of thinking that it’s real, but then again, maybe it’s not? I don’t play enough scrabble or do enough crossword puzzles to know if it’s a legitimate word (because those are my standards, I guess?)

My husband is out of town, which means I have been returning to my feral semi-human state of not having changed out of my pajamas all day, and I’ve been eating cold spaghetti and drinking shocking amounts of that most forbidden of drinks: Dr. Pepper.*

I have been trying to fix the website, but not much appears to have been done because not much of what I have done has been successful. I still need to put in another mailing list . The last one was… complicated, and I forgot how to do it. The newer one is also complicated and keeps sending me passive-aggressive emails that suggest that I’m a bit of a disappointment when it comes to following through at projects.

I’m still trying to put together Namio Tristique.** I’ve been feeling the urge to work on it lately, but was a bit surprised to find out that all the art I’d previously posted has… gone… somewhere else. I know that the last year was pretty crazy for me, but I’m fairly certain I didn’t make up the whole Namio Tristique project as some sort of hallucination, so the art assets have to be somewhere on my hard drive. Right? RIGHT?

Because files don’t just disappear… right? *sigh*

I may have to scan everything in again, but that’s how it goes.

I’ve also been working up to splitting All the Growing Things into smaller, issue sized bites, that way people who want to buy it, but aren’t yet ready to plop down $20 can still check it out. Also, I think having a goal of 22 pages to shoot for is a good one for me as an artist to have, especially since I’m about 15 pages into the next book, and quite a few people have been asking about when the next one is out.

22 pages is do-able, where as another 148 pages is… daunting to say the least.

I’m also working on nanowrimo*** this year. I normally don’t do it because I tend to fail at it, but I figure that – hope springs eternal – I can do it this year! I’m already off to a pretty decent start (after a bit of a delay while we were at the Tuscon Comic Con at the beginning of the month.)

If all goes well, I’ll have a truly embarrassing piece of Lovecraftian steampunk that I’ll have to edit like crazy before I can ever show it to anyone. Ever. Still, it’s fun to do, and it’s been keeping me from playing too many video games. Which, considering that Gearbox knows the way to my  heart is paved with golden weapon drops, there has been a LOT of videogaming in the past month.

I’ve been dreaming about playing Fallout 3 again though. Is that weird? It seems weird. Maybe I should try to finish one of the other Fallout games first. Or maybe I should go back to trying to get Namio Tristique back online.

Arg. Things.



* John does not like them because he says they are “too sugary” BUT HE IS WRONG AND THEY ARE PERFECT. THEY ARE THE MOST PERFECT DRINK KNOWN TO HUMANKIND.

** I’d link you, but it’s REALLY messed up right now.

*** If you want to add me as a buddy, that’s cool and I’ll add you back; if you don’t want to, that’s all cool too!

Where’s Wallace?

posted in: video games | 0

So, I thought I would go into a little more detail about my decision not to purchase Grand Theft Auto V.

I am fan of the crime genre. It and horror stand together as my two favorite genres so when the series began it was a moment of real excitement for me because it offered a break from the video game industry’s seemingly endless litany of sword and sorcery and space opera entries.

But as the series wore on it begun to develop exactly the same traits that make a lot of longstanding series become stale. Good crime fiction (that is stories about criminals as opposed to detective or police fiction) is generally driven by two concepts, the thrill of transgression and the development and constant threat of consequences.

The early GTA games specialized in the latter. Not just in the giddy thrill of cutting loose in a virtual city but also in the games core storytelling, the leads were criminals who were taking part in an escalating series of transgressions that were both exciting and made for fun character arcs. Tommy Vercetti’s search for revenge and CJ’s quest to protect his friends and family were particularly strong examples of this.

This combined with the pulpy, heavy duty genre pastiches that made up the earlier games drove my enthusiasm for the series (in 2002 it was revelation to see video game designers who were even aware of Scarface and Heat, let alone gave players the chance recreate scenarios from those stories, the same was true for hip-hop heavy references in the next game).

But with GTA IV the series moved from pulpy transgression to the consequence focused crime stories we associate with headier film and prestige television drama.
The problem was that the series completely failed to integrate what makes consequence focused fiction engaging, let alone integrate it into the gameplay.

For example in David Simon’s The Wire the criminal half of the story is driven by the constant moral mathematics the characters must endure (consciously or otherwise) as they are forced to choose between the strict Darwinian relationship between their humanity and the cynical pragmatism that rules their environment.

GTA never offers players that. Even in the stronger plot and character moments nothing has weight because nothing has consequence. The game never offers players it’s “where’s Wallace” moment, only constant reminders that things are very serious despite never putting that weight on their shoulders.

Similarly the series never captures the doom drenched suspense of something like Breaking Bad where with every act of the protagonist dig himself deeper and deeper into a hole that will eventually swallow him, an experience that become all the more intense because it is never clear when Walt has passed the point of no return. This sense of doom is completely lost because again nothing has the kind of weight needed to give these experiences any ability to affect the player.

In essence Rockstar has foresworn what made their earlier games appealing without capturing what makes the stories they are trying to imitate so effective.