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Please let this be real

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I came across the video today and must have watched it a dozen times. It's funny, inspiring, incredible, and hopefully,real. Check it out:

Because the internet is the internet, you can't find a video of this guy without someone calling fake in the comments. It makes me sad that we're all so jaded, but stuff is so easy to fake these days that it's hard not to roll your eyes and brush this off as a viral marketing video.

I don't want it to be a hoax though. It's too awesome. Also, after researching this guy and pouring over his website, it seems like he's done a lot of work. If it's all fake, he's put in a lot of time to make it look convincing.

His early test video of the motors that make his wings flap—cobbled together with Wii remotes and Android phones—werefeatured on Engadgetmonths ago.

The wingspan math wasexamined by a Wiredblogger back in January after his first test flight and deemed plausible.

Then today,Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters (and Tested.com!) fame weighed in. He also seemed to think it was plausible.

Thehumanbirdwings.netwebsite is filled with blog posts that go into detail about his creation.

I want this to be real. Yes being able to one day flap off to work would be cool, but for me the exciting part is just watching it happen. The bootstrapping, DIY spirit of this thing is what makes it so endearing. I hope it doesn't turn out to be a marketing campaign for Honda or HTC phones or Southwest Airlines. That would be lame. Please, magical flying contraption inventor man, prove the internet wrong.

Posebook by Silver, you should get it

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A few months agoStephen Silverreleased an app called Posebook. I wanted it badly, but it was only available for iDevices. That changed this past week. You can now pick upPosebookfor your Android device through the Amazon App Store. If you're interested in improving your art, I highly recommend it.

Posebook is exactly what it sounds like, an electronic book full of poses. You get several costumed characters in a crazy amount of poses, plus silhouettes, hands and faces. Each pose has multiple angles and you can zoom in and flip every image. The app also comes with some short tutorial videos from Stephen and a gallery of images created by talented artists who used Posebook for their drawings. The videos are excellent and I wish there were more of them. They're really just there to drive you toStephen's Schoolism cIass, which I'm sure is fantastic (side note: if you're interested in taking a Schoolism cIass--and you should be because they're awesome--use thelink on my websitefor a discount).

The only downside to the app is that it can be a bit too sensitive when navigating the menus. The UI and overall design feels just like an iPhone app, meaning it was quickly converted and thrown on the Android market. Other than that tiny nuisance, it's a wonderful app. It looks great on my Droid Razr's big screen, and until theBlueStacksbeta starts, I can use the HDMI out on my phone to see the pictures bigger on my computer monitor.

Here are a couple sketches I did other night.

There are so many poses to choose from. I'm seeking out the ones that I don't normally draw, stuff at weird angles. Posebook is split into two apps, one has males the other has females. Each app is $10. I'm going to get the female version after my $10 Amazon credit comes in from pre-ordering Mass Effect 3. Even at $20 it's a great value. The absurd number of poses, the tutorials, and the ability to flip and zoom images elevates Posebook above its traditional paper-bound counterparts. If you have a compatible device and you want to improve your figure drawing skills, get this app.

I've been working on the art for a video game

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I've spent the last month or two working on the art for an indie game. It's my first time working on a game, and its been fascinating. It's something I always wanted to do, but I wasn't sure how to go about doing it(side note: I always imagined working on a game's story, since I write for a living. So I'mthrilledto be doing the art, it's a fun challenge). Then I was approached byblog friend Seth. He's in school for game development in Chicago, and as a sort of final project before graduating he and a team are creating a game. He told me they needed an artist and...one thing led to another and now I'm doing a lot of the art, with the help of a talented art student, Amanda Humfleet. Fun!

Broken is a game about a man suffering from a number of mental illnesses. He's got a bunch of personalities running around his brain causing all kinds of chaos. Jim is Broken, and it's up to the player to fix him. You guide Jim with the directional arrows on one side of the screen and one of his crazy personalities on the other. They move simultaneously, but their movement isn't always the same. To finish a level you must guide Jim and his personality to the same exit--therby repairing his fragmented mind.

Seth and his team are on a tight deadline, so I've been pumping out as much as I can after work and on the weekends. We moved fast, from concept to gameplay in a matter of days, and it's been so incredibly cool to see it all come together. I'm a huge video game enthusiast (duh), so the way a game gets made wasn't a complete mystery to me, but it's still neat to see, to actually be in it. Changes in gameplay have lead to changes in my art, and ideas I've had with the art have lead to tweaks in gameplay and the story. It's all happening at the same time. It's an awesome organized chaos.

Check out the gallery below, andthe game's website(note the website is a work in progress, as is the gameplay you see there, it's missing final animations and a host of other things, but you get the idea). The guys are bringing a playable build to GDC next week and I'm very excited for them. Hopefully there will be a playable beta open soon and I'll be able to let a select few in for some testing. There's still a ton of art to do, some glamorous (character design!) and some less so (wall textures!), but I'm having fun doing it.

So that's what I've been up to, and what I'll continue to be up to for a while longer. I'll post more updates downt he road. Thanks for checking it out!

If we didn't like it then...

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For those that don't know, rental-by-mail service Gamefly has a PC client sort of like Steam. You can purchase games, manage your queue, and if you're a paying member, download and play a wide variety of PC games. By wide variety I mean mostly crap—those awful WalMart PC games with generic titles and even more generic art. But there are a few gems, like Prince of Persia 2008, Tomb Raider Legends and Anniversary, and all three seasons of Sam and Max.

If you're like me and you own all the systems and have been a Gamefly member for years, you've probably played all those games, which is why I don't check in on the service often. I do like to peruse it for games I missed; last generation titles that I always thought about playing but never got around to. Stuff like XIII or Red Faction 2. So that's what lead me to Rogue Trooper, a 2006 third person shooter that was among the last crop of games on the PS2 and Xbox. I downloaded it the other day and played an hour or so.

I won't be playing more.

Rogue Trooper is not terrible. In fact, it has some impressive elements considering when it came out. There's a nice upgrade system to the weapons, a pre-Gears of War cover system that works 65 percent of the time, and some slick (for the time) cutscene animations. Unfortunately it's just not fun to play. The gameplay design is uninspired, filled with stuff we've all seen before in shooters.

At first I thought this was because it was a six year old game (six years! I feel old) and I've seen the tricks Rogue Trooper used in other, better games since then. But then I looked up some reviews. Check out this bit from the 1Up review:

"But more often, you're having garden-variety gun battles, garnished with a handful of repeating tricks: "Hold off waves of attackers while your helmet hacks a door," "Put bombs in the appropriately shaped sockets, usually to unlock a door, but sometimes to prevent aircraft from landing with reinforcements," and the old favorite, "Man the turret while you ride a vehicle on rails."

Other reviewers had similar thoughts, labeling the game as "capable" and "average" a solid, mediocre 6.5. So if we were tired of those boring mission designs and combat scenarios then, why are we still playing them now? Every one of those scenarios in the quote above has made their way into most modern shooters. Last year I made a list ofgame tropes that need to die. It was sort of tongue-in-cheek, sort of serious. I didn't realize at the time just how old some of those tropes were.

Can those tropes even be avoided? Has the game industry run out of ideas? How much can you add or change in a shooter before it stops being a shooter? For example, what if instead of manning the turret in the plane, you fly the plane? What if instead of waiting for your computer-controlled ally to hack a terminal, you hack the terminal (with a clever mini-game, not the "press X to hack" thing—that's a poor attempt at varied interaction)? What if instead of being the muscled escorter, you were the weaponless escortee, trying to avoid getting shot?

Would placing those mini-games and non-shooting scenarios in a shooter break the genre label? Do shooter fans even want that stuff? I'd be willing to give it a shot (zing). I definitely don't need more Rogue Trooper in my life.

Warming Up

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I've been working for weeks onthe art for a video game, but I can't share it just yet (UPDATE:Turns out I can! The game's website is up but it's a work in progress right now. I'll post some annotated pics here later this week). So I decided I would share my warm up instead. Here's a quick (around 40 to 45 minutes) picture I did this morning. Set to the music from Bastion, because that music is awesome.

Giddy up!


Wait, what am I excited for?

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I just got around to watching the new Far Cry 3 trailer, and like the one that came before it, I walked away from it with awesome shivers. Check it out (warning trailer contains dupstep and nsfw language).

Trailer

Awesome right? My first reaction was "Now that's a game I want to play", but the more I thought about it, the more unsure I became about that statement. That trailer doesn't feature any gameplay, hints at some, but it's still all pre-rendered CG. I guess I can assume the gameplay will be kind of like Far Cry 2, even if the tone and story are completely different, and I liked Far Cry 2 well enough. So the question is, am I excited to play Far Cry 3, or do I just want to watch more of that crazy action movie-like drama unfold?

Famed game developer David Jaffe recently gave a talk at a developer's conference about story in games. As is Jaffe's **** the talk was blunt and to-the-point. His main argument: games should stop trying to be movies. (I'm paraphrasing his stuff here) Movies and books tell stories, and they tell them well. Games are interactive, so the stories should be too.Jaffe went on to point out how games like Skyrim and Battlefield 3create stories from rich gameplay experiences. Things happen in those games that might never happen again. You experience crazy stuff you tell your friends about. The story is your own, not what the developer dictates.

On some levels I agree with this, especially after completing Skyrim. While the narrative dictated by the developers was entertaining, the most memorable moments for me in that game came from exploring the world. When I talked about Skyrim with my brother on the phone a few weeks ago, we didn't talk about the story, or the developer-designed quests. We talked about things that happened while we were out exploring. I told him how I took down a wild mammoth with nothing but a lightening spell and luck. He told me how he got swarmed by frost trolls on a mountaintop while poking around for treasure. The developers created the world and we made our stories by interacting with it.

The original Borderlands was a bit like Skyrim in that stories organically appeared thanks to the nearly endless amount of guns, and the four player co-op. When you talked about Borderlands, you didn't talk about the thin plot and fetch quests, but what kind of guns you found and what you could do with them. Take a look at the new Borderlands 2 trailer. It is the opposite of the Far Cry 3 trailer (except for the dub step, they both have that). Instead of showing you a pre-rendered scene with the implication of excitement, it shows you gameplay, which is exciting in itself (joy puke!). There's a story in Borderlands 2, but that's not the draw, and they know it.

Trailer

But not every game is like Skyrim or Borderlands, nor should they be. I think there's a place for good pre-determined narrative in video games. I think it's possible that the two styIes, organic story and pre-determined story, can be combined. The industry is still relatively young and developers are still exploring the medium—there's a ton of potential there. The biggest problem right now when it comes to marrying the two styIes--and this may have led to Jaffe's speech--is the disconnect between cutscenes and gameplay and the pattern they create.

Remember thatamazing Dead Island trailer? It caused quite a stir back in the summer of 2011. It didn't show any gameplay either, though the developers went on to argue later that that wasn't the point. The pre-rendered trailer was a tone piece, a taste of what the actual game would be like. It worked too. If playing the game could evoke the same emotions as watching the trailer, I was sold. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I haven't played Dead Island, but from what I've read and heard, it doesn't deliver on the trailer's promise. It's not a bad game, it's just not the game the trailer implied it would be.

The point of the Far Cry 3 trailer is to make you think that playing the game will deliver the same rush, the same "ohmygod, ohmygod, what is happening!?" feeling that watching those kinetic scenes creates. They are showing us a dire situation and then saying, "Guess what, you get toplaythis. You are on the run and a crazy man is after you, this isyourdire situation." That is something only video games can do. But they're still working out how to do it well.

There's a good chance that Far Cry 3 will open with a balls-out crazy scene, setting up a situation not unlike the trailer. Your pulse will be pounding, your mind will race at the thought of jumping in the shoes of this man on the run, and then…you'll shoot dudes with a gun, just like every other FPS game. You'll creep along through the jungle—just like Far Cry 1, Far Cry 2, Crysis, Call of Duty Black Ops, and countless others— and shoot more dudes. Then there will be a turret sequence, or a sniping sequence, you'll shoot more dudes, and then—oh boy!—another cutscene!

It's a cynical view of game design sure, but if you've played games long enough, you've seen that exact setup dozens of times. I think that pattern is what Jaffe was getting at with his speech. There's got to be a better way to tell a story than the current, popular loop of cutscene-gameplay-cutscene. When you step back and look at it, it's a pretty ugly, stapled together format. All first person shooters boil down to shootin' dudes. It's the context wrapped around that core mechanic and the promise of a compelling yarn that keeps us coming back to the controller. The promise of a perfect marriage of organic and inorganic story.

At least that's what keeps me coming back. I'm a sucker for that promise. I want to see them sustain that excitement created in the unplayable parts of the game to the playable parts. I don't want to shoot dudes in the jungle. I've been playing games for more than two decades; I've had my fill of shooting dudes. I want to play that story. It's possible, and I'm an optimistic guy, so I'll check out Far Cry 3 and hope they pull it off. That trailer is a doozy, and if they can translate the excitement of watching it into gameplay, they can take my money.

Run For Your Lives

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In the interest of keeping my decent streak of Tuesday-Thursday updates going, here's a cool thing that's not happening where I live and I really wish it was:

A coworker tweeted a link toRun For Your Livesthe other week. It's a zombie run, and it looks awesome. Here's the gist:

-You run a 5k course filled with obstacles and zombies
-You wear a flag football-styIe belt. The flags represent your health
-Lose all your health and you die (I don't think you become a zombie)
-Health bonuses are hidden throughout the course
-Make it to the end with at least one flag intact and you're eligible for some cool prizes

Anyone can run the race or register to be a zombie (age restrictions do apply). I'm not sure what the specific rules are for a zombie, and I'm also not sure which role would be more fun. Unfortunately I won't get to find out because this event isn't coming to Charlotte, at least not right now. It looks crazy fun though, like playing Left 4 Dead in real life...without the guns.

I usually only run races when I can justify the cost. I can run anywhere for free, and since I'm not a competitive runner, there's not much of a difference come race day--let's be honest, at my 10 minute a mile pace, I'm notracinganyone. In order for me to fork over $40 or more to put my left foot in front of my right foot a race needs to either be a long distance on a good course, like the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll half marathon; or if it's shorter, have some kind of crazy hook, like zombies or running across the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston.

I'd gladly pay to run this event if it was coming to Charlotte. If anyone out there plans to run the zombie race, or already has, let me know. I had a blast doing the Warrior Dash back in August (pictured above...I lost my shoe in the final mud pit), so I imagine this would be even more fun, since it features similar obstacles and has a fun zombie movie/video game vibe.

Leaving less to the imagination

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"Show don't tell" is a much heralded mantra in writing—it's a practice proven to make good stories great, and it works for most other mediums as well. Games have been telling for a long time, but as the industry matures, technology advances, and budgets expand, showing is getting easier. Our imaginations don't have to work near as hard as they used to. And that makes games more accessible, more fun, and in most cases, more entertaining.

While there's nothing wrong with using your imagination—I mean, I use it for a living—it's kind of exciting to see games get to a point where that's not necessary. Those that have been gaming for a long time know that sometimes you have to fill in the gaps. Sometimes a game implies something amazing happened, or just straight up tells you what a character is feeling, and you have to use your imagination to gauge the impact. For example, you may know the back story of a character after hours of play, so even though the game can't properly show it—due to technical limitations—you know that the revelations about his motives have a big impact on the direction of the story. Your imagination covers the game's technical shortcomings.

We've come a long way in the last decade. The easiest way to see the progression is to show you (duh)...

Click here to read more.

Pretty good TV is pretty good

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I haven't been really hooked to a TV show drama since Lost. Outside of my favorite comedy programs—Community, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Daily Show and Modern Family—there are few shows that I watch with complete focus. Most I'm content to have on in the background while I screw around on the internet or entertain my son with things that rattle.

I tried a few "full focus" shows that others rave about. Mad Men had promise, but I eventually gave up on it, tired of finding out that every single male character was a cheating scumbag. I tried Breaking Bad, and I really like it, but I have to be in the right mood to watch it, because that show's kind of a downer. Then there's Doctor Who. That show is great and stupid at the same time and I think I like it. It has replaced 24 as my favorite form of ear TV. I usually "watch" it while I'm working on art. It streams from Netflix in a small window on my other monitor.

Maybe Lost was a one-time thing. Now that I have a baby I rarely watch a show when it actually airs. Our DVR is always packed with shows waiting to be watched. It's kind of nice actually. Whenever I sit down to watch TV, I can watch what I want, and that suits me. I hate flipping channels and just watching some mindless programming. If I've designated some time to watch TV, I want to watch TV, not some lame apartment hunting show on a upper-200 channel with a nonsense acronym.

I have tried out a couple of non-comedy shows, and one I keep coming back to is Person of Interest. It's not particularly great, but it's consistently pretty good, with promise to get better.

It's about a machine that predicts threats to the nation. It was built by an insanely smart and insanely rich guy named Finch, played by Lost's Michael Emerson. When Finch realized that the machine was also predicting small crimes—it would spit out social security numbers of those that were in danger, or about to commit a crime—and they were getting ignored, he struck out on his own. Then he hired Reese, played by Jim Caviezel, an ex-super spy dude looking for a purpose. Together they use the machine to find the people the government deems "insignificant", and they save lives. Finch uses his nerdery and Reese uses his general badassery.

I like the show because it's got that crime of the week thing, and also some light over-arching mystery. Each episode reveals just enough of the mysterious side stuff to keep you coming back. It's not heavily serialized like 24 or Lost, but it's not completely disconnected like some procedurals. I guess I just appreciate the fact that they aren't doing that heavy handed "we have a mysterious development that we're going to hint at (or beat you over the head with) in every episode!" thing that every post-Lost drama tried to do.

I have no idea how the show is doing because I always DVR it, but I hope it continues. Yes Caviezel's delivery can be wooden and forced at times, and some of the stuff they do with technology crosses the line between sort-of, maybe possible to just outright dumb, but the good outweighs the bad. Emerson is fantastic as Finch. He's a good guy, but he's got skeletons in his closet. He's not nearly as duplicitous as Ben was in Lost, but Emerson still plays up some of that same "I've got some secrets you shouldn't know" tension to great effect. Also, Caviezel's smooth badassery approaches Jack Bauer levels on occasion, and that's never a bad thing.

It's pretty good TV, and maybe it will eventually make the leap to pretty great. Any other shows out there that fit the same description?