Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Minimalistic RPG

Ludum Dare is an online “game jam” and competition where participants from all over the world make a game of their own from scratch in 48 hours or less (or 72 hours, for the more informal version that goes on at the same time). There are some basic rules, a theme to work with, and everyone just goes at it. It takes place a few different times over the course of the year, and I honestly didn’t plan to take part at all.

But then the theme was announced to be “minimalism”. Early on, as their interpretation of the theme most people seemed to using the simplest graphics possible. But I began to wonder what other possibilities there were and started reading up on the minimalism movement. While most people are familiar with it as an art movement, it also covered various other forms of design, most notably architecture. In architecture, minimalism wasn’t just about making things as simple as possible, it was also about finding multiple visual and functional uses for a single element in the design. I was already stewing on jumping in and trying the event out, but learning about this was where inspiration really struck.

I decided that I was going to make a mini-RPG where all the graphics came from a single 128×128 pixel sprite sheet divided into 8×8 pixel tiles, and only a palette of 16 colors were allowed. Oh, and the 16 colors had to all be 8-bit (3 bits each for red and green, and then 2 for blue). I was looking forward to this!

Mini-RPG Screenshot

A single 8×8 tile can be flipped and mirrored to make all the corners of the coastline.

Of course, an RPG is a bit of a daunting task to finish in just 48 hours. There’s an overworld, dungeons, towns, shops, battle screens, enemies, status menus—all sorts of elements that have to come together to make an adventure. But who said I’d need all of these things? Minimalism was the theme, after all, and the less there was in the game the less I’d have to find room for in the cramped sprite sheet. I’d just shave the game down to the bare essentials. A tiny handful of enemies to fight, twelve or so screens worth of simple map to explore, and a basic menu system. Even battles can be streamlined to the bare essentials. Many people do RPGs for Ludum Dare, it’s not like the idea is unusual. So, Saturday morning, I was all ahead full.

But come Monday evening—the end of the relaxed 72 hour version of the challenge—I just barely had the thing playable. It was my own fault for using a game engine that wasn’t quite as complete as I thought it was, but even as the deadline neared I could still have pulled it off by greatly reducing the scope of the game to just the six or seven screens of map that were finished and tapping “fight” to automatically win battles. That’s minimalism, right? It counts. With a few lines of dialog here and there it could have even been a fun ten minute game.

But I didn’t want to do that.

Mini-RPG Screenshot

These slimes are small, leaving more sprite room for larger enemies elsewhere.

No, I’d fallen too madly in love with the idea. Just how much game could I cram into those handful of 8×8 pixel tiles? The font alone took up almost a quarter of the space on the sprite sheet, so whenever I want to add something, I have to jumble things around, find things that can be taken out, find things that can be reused elsewhere in different ways. And yet I’ve already got a world map with forests and deserts and mountain ranges. I’ve got caves and forest paths and castles to explore. I’ve got not just one character, but a little party that fights together as a team. Even with these few things to work with, I think I could make an engaging “full” game.

I’m tempted to put Junction aside for awhile and just keep running with it. With a month or so of work, I’d probably have a pretty cool little game that’d be worth a dollar or two. I think I’ll toy with it a little longer before committing to it, or putting it aside until later.

Majestic 12

The Official Seal of Operation Majestic Twleve

The secret government organization that you work for is known simply as “Majestic 12”, or MJ-12 for short. Formed by executive order of Harry Truman it began as a simple committee of military leaders, scientists, and government officials to investigate the aftermath of a junction in Roswell, New Mexico. Today Majestic 12 is a powerful paramilitary organization, and the United States’s primary anti-slider task force. Although they report yearly to the president and a small number of select congresspeople, they are granted the privilege to withhold information at their discretion for the purposes of plausible deniability, a privilege they routinely abuse. In order to maintain their cover many agents of the organization work under dummy corporations (such as Majority 12, Inc.) or using the names of other federal government departments (the Department of Homeland Security is a current favorite).

Junction Style Sheet – Serenity

Character style sheet for Travis from the game Junction

For larger version, click here.

In Junction, you are Serenity Bell. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that Serenity Bell is you? Either way, you are a photographer in the secretive government bureau, Majestic-12, and your daily job is to document the classified phenomenons known simply as “junctions”. Your son Travis has the ability to influence these reality-warping events, and there are others in Majestic-12 and beyond that will stop at nothing to wield him as nothing more than a tool, as they once did his father.

I’ve put a lot of work into this character, despite the fact the game is played from a first-person perspective and you rarely ever see her on screen. I’m still not 100% happy with the way she looks, but that’s what happens when you’re a perfectionist who can never be pleased. Her color scheme is likely to change in the near future.

Done completely in Photoshop. Time taken: ~5-8 hours.

Let’s Draw Medusa Gorgon!

Wherein I do a sketch of Medusa Gorgon, a character I know nothing about from Soul Eater. Maybe you can enlighten me.

This was a request done for a friend. Maybe if you leave a request in the comments a character you want to see will show up in a later week?

The Many Hairstyles of Serenity Bell

Character style sheet for Travis from the game Junction

For larger version, click here.

In Junction, you don’t actually see Serenity very much. The game takes place largely from a first-person perspective even though it’s a 2d game. Every now and then you might catch a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, but most of the time you’re focusing on the other characters and the world in front of you, as if through Serenity’s own eyes.

Despite this, Serenity is going to be very much front-and-center when it comes to the promotional art. For this reason (and my own innate perfectionism) I’ve put a lot of work over the past three years into getting her to look just right. Of all the characters, Serenity Bell—the one you see the least—is the one that’s been the hardest to pin down.

As I’m finalizing everyone’s looks in their new style sheets, Serenity is finally coming very close to completion. The only major hurdle I’ve left to clear, it seems, is her hair. For most of the characters I already had a clear idea of what I wanted their hair to be like before I even set a pencil to paper. Serenity on the other hand, I’ve been more fidgety about. What you see above is a collection of different hairstyles I’m considering for her. Look “A” is the one I’ve usually given to her in sketches, but she may end up with one of the others—or maybe something else entirely.

What would pick? Which ones are your favorite? Which are your least favorite?

Junction Style Sheet – Waechter

Character style sheet for Travis from the game Junction

For larger version, click here.

While you have few allies in your daily struggle to protect your son and avoid becoming a sacrificial pawn in the government’s secret bureaucracies, Professor Jacob Waechter is one of them. The chair of the physics department at Westgrove, a small college in rural Virginia that just barely manages to stay afloat, he is an expert in everything related to the phenomenons known as “junctions”. Unfortunately that doesn’t bring much prestige thanks to the government keeping all his most valuable work under wraps.

Done completely in Photoshop. Time taken: ~5-8 hours.

Junction Style Sheet – Travis

Character style sheet for Travis from the game Junction

For larger version, click here.

Travis is Adrian’s and your son. He has somewhat unique abilities related to the phenomenons known as “junctions” and their impending arrival causes electronics and other mechanical and electronic devices to often fail in his presence, a condition commonly misunderstood and labeled as “street light interference”, or SLI. There are those who want to take him away from you to use his abilities for their own purposes, so be sure to protect him no matter what.

These take a long time to make. I like to do research to make sure the character’s outfits and proportions are at least believable, and I also spend a lot of time tweaking everything to make sure it matches and looks right to me.

Done completely in Photoshop. Time taken: ~6-9 hours.

Junction Style Sheet – Adrian

Adrian character style sheet for Junction

For larger version, click here.

Adrian is one of the main characters in Junction. As a covert agent popularly known as a “man-in-black” his job is to investigate the phenomenons known as “junctions” and keep them in check, not to mention stifle any knowledge of their existence from coming to public light. This is not a job that he chose for himself, but one he continues to perform in the hopes that his son Travis will continue to have a better life than he did.

I put a lot more work into this than initially planned. In-game the character is usually off screen.

Done completely in Adobe Photoshop. Time taken: ~5-7 hours.

Junction Style Sheet – David

Style sheet for Junction character David

For larger version, click here.

David is one of the NPCs you interact with in Junction. He’s all-around obsessed with aliens—not that he’d willingly admit that. The color of his outfit may or may not change in the future.

Really been wanting to update all the in-game character art, so I’ll probably do a style sheet for everyone. Maybe. Or I might just stick with what I’ve got and save time. But I really would rather everything look its best. Even though I’m not working with any other artists, I’m really bad about keeping characters on-model, so I thought this would be a good exercise. Should prove helpful when I start work on the promotional art down the road.

Don’t forget to check out the game’s website at:

Done completely in Photoshop. Time taken: ~4-6 hours.

Junction Gameplay Preview #2

More footage from Junction. Here I talk a little bit more about character interaction and dialog choices, and show off some new areas and music from the game.

If you’d like to know more about how in-game dialog choices affect the story, you can read this previous article on the Vision Riders blog where I talk about it in more detail. For more information about the game in general you can check out the game’s web site at