Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Heart Of Video Games

(This post is dedicated to someone very special – my thoughts on why video games are and always will be worthwhile)

My very earliest memory of video games goes way, way back to about the time I was maybe four years old.  My parents had a large conversion van that had the luxury (the time being the early 90s) of having a TV installed in the roof for the back seat passengers to see. For reasons unknown to me, (maybe as  an attempt to keep me and my sister occupied on the long trips to see my grandparents) my parents hooked the TV up to a SNES console.  I can barely remember it at all except that I remember playing what I think was the only game we had for it – a game where you controlled a fighter and fought your way down street after street, knocking out bad guys.  I’m not 100% sure but I suspect that the game was called Street Fighter ll, an immensely popular game of the time.

My second game memory comes from the largest vacation my family has ever taken, back in 1998 when I was eight years old.  We stopped at a large fancy hotel and they had a video game system in the room.  I wasn’t, however, too interested in the little blue hedgehog running around the screen collecting rings and left my dad and brothers to play it, preferring to watch Brady Bunch reruns in the next room with my mom (sorry Sega!).

And then comes my first important video game memory of Christmas 2000 when we received our first real video game console, the lovely, wonderful, fantastic N64 when I was 10.  That aqua blue contraption started the influence of video games in our lives.  My siblings and I did everything together so it was natural that we did video games together as well.  We had classics such as Donkey Kong, Kirby Crystal Shards and Banjo & Tooie and despite the fact these were platformer games, we played them co-op, each night getting comfy on the lower bunk of my brothers blue bunk-bed that the TV had been set up to face as we took turns controlling the character on the screen.  If we weren’t playing tag-team platformers, we would put in a multi-player racing game or the mini games on Kirby (we loved those!). I can clearly remember those nights, and how some even included root beer floats and bags of Goldfish crackers (a favorite video game night snack for us).  We played that way for nearly three years.

 As time went by more video game consoles entered our house.  First a PS1 for which we had many more games than our N64, but for some reason we never played those games together like we did the N64 – though I did get plenty of game time in by myself playing games such as Disney’s Mulan, Barbie’s Winter Sports, Angelica’s Dress Up and (my fav) Harvest Moon Back to Nature.  The PS1 was eventually followed by a PS2, a console for which I personally don’t think any games of any importance were made – even Harvest Moon Save the Homeland was a flop.  After the PS2 came the Xbox when I was about 14 years old – another console that didn’t offer me much in the way of interesting games, but my sister discovered Knights of the Old Republic and fell in love.  For several months, each evening was spent with my siblings and I on the couch as Jen played the game (with our helpful input and suggestions of course).  The game was wonderfully made and despite the fact that Jen was the one officially playing the game, the rest of us had just as good of a time watching because the game was practically a movie with all the cut scenes, options and storyline.  And the ending was fantastic!  It was the first time since the N64 that all four of us had come together in such a way to play a game.

 Then came the Game Cube. I didn’t even know it existed until my little brothers came out of Gamestop proudly holding a purple console and a game called Lugi’s Mansion.  At first, I wasn’t that interested – after all, nothing that good had been on the PS2 or Xbox – but then I realized that just like the N64, the Game Cube had my kind of games on it.  I played through a great part of Lugi’s Mansion and an even greater part of Animal Crossing, and later Harvest Moon: Magical Melody.  But I also started to fall into a role of being what I like to call a “Back Seat Player”.  The people with the most interest in video games turned out to be me and my youngest brother and we ended up spending many hours on the couch together as I helped him play games such as Super Mario Sunshine, Mario Paper and Harvest Moon: Wonderful Life.  To date that was the best quality time I’ve ever been able to spend with my baby brother, who is five years younger than me.  Eventually, my brother’s interest in console video games waned, helped along by his interest in World War ll and a certain game known as COD.  I was 16 years old at the time.

COD however, turned out to have some interesting family value as well.  My brother convinced the entire family to play a game together and soon a ‘few rounds of COD’ became a nightly occurrence in my house.  We would shower and get in our Pjs, then I would serve up whatever dessert I had made earlier and we would get ready at our desks, our teamspeak headphones on as we battled our way across Europe.  I was a poor machine gunner and overall probably a poor fighter, but I was wicked good with a  sniper rifle!  Over time, another game, Age of Empires was added to our family nighttime gaming rounds.  This game was quieter and more peaceful, but ultimately ended up with somebody razing somebody else’s city.

Over time, the nightly games of COD and AGEs faded out, but like the video game traditions before them, another came to take it’s place: this time it was a new console called a Wii and the game was called Mario Kart.  My parents both adored this game and each evening was spent running through Mii-populated malls and throwing banana peels at each other.  My mother favored the Baby Peach character and I the Rosalina one.  My brothers switched often but Bowser and Mario often joined our races.  My dad, more often than not, was Yoshi. Mario Kart wasn’t the only Wii game that saw a lot of use, of course, but it was certainly a fav.

And finally, that brings us to today.  My family is now busier than we used to be and many things have changed.  My sister moved out, and work takes up a lot of our time.  But my brothers still like to play a few rounds of COD or Portal on their lunch breaks, and I’ve found a new gaming love called Webkinz.  But that the old home console still sees the light of day.  On our living room TV stand is a PS3 that was last played maybe a year ago and now lives only to serve as a DVD player.  But a Wii and a N64 (yes, a N64!) sit beside it and I now keep them running.  My greatest video game love has and probably always will be the Harvest Moon series and I have the goal of playing each game in order.  I’ve still got a long way to go, but most evenings find me on the couch working my way through another crop or wooing.  My family enjoys my gaming and the tranquil farming music is often our background at dinner time.  My mom’s favorite part of the day is settling on the couch beside me, coffee in hand and watching me go about my farming.  She tells me it’s calming and a nice way to end her day.  More often than not my dad will join us.  I suppose in the busy, stressful pace we live our lives now my folks being able to slow down and watch peaceful game play is restful.  I’m sure they also get a chuckle out of seeing their daughter, nearly 22 years old now, with my pink note binder in my lap, carefully marking down crop notes and other important game facts.

Many people consider ‘gamers’ to be people who play MMORPGs or other expensive, often violent games, who are almost always male and usually reclusive and nerdy.  And for many people, that is what they see when they see a video game console.  But I don’t think that’s what keeps the video game industry alive.  What keeps the industry alive is people like me, people with warm fuzzy memories of playing their first game in a booster seat in the family van, or of laying on the bottom bunk while you fought your brother for first place in Mickey’s Speedway, or spending hours of cooperative play with your siblings to save the day and princess.  As time goes by and technology grows at an alarming rate, video game makers scramble to get the best graphics, the best sound track, the best whistles and bells and whatever else will make their game ‘be the best’ while stealing plots and stories from books and movies and best selling games from the 90s.  The best isn’t about looks or pretty packaging.  It’s creating an experience that players cannot get from watching a movie or reading a book or even playing a board game.  And it is delivering that experience in such a way that people will still be replaying it decades from now.  And making it something that people can enjoy together!  I’ve logged in hundreds of hours of solo video game playing but the ones I remember are the times I played with my family.  And most of those games were ones that were only for one player, but the family still gathered to ‘help’ play it.  Games have, and always will be, a social thing.  The ‘gamers’ who play by themselves in their dark basements are still playing with others though they might be miles away.  Despite popular belief, there is nothing reclusive or solitary about the all mighty video game.

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How to Clean and Tone a Sketch with Gimp

I thought I’d share how I make my little comic doodles using a rough sketch and gimp.  I enjoy making these because they’re quick to do and don’t require any of my fancy drawing tools, meaning I can make these at work to pass the time (I keep card stock on my desk to use instead of an actual sketchbook).  Typically, it will take me under two hours to make one of these from start to finish, depending on how complex the drawing is.  To follow along, you’ll need:

  • paper (a thicker sketchbook paper, or card stock)
  • pencil (you can use your fancy drawing pencils, or a simple every day pencil)
  • Ultra Fine Point Sharpie Marker (the kind you can pick up in any office store)
  • Scanner (and the basic knowledge to use it)
  • Gimp (and the basic knowledge to use it)

Making the Doodle:

To get started, draw your doodle on the paper with the pencil.  Easy, right? (sorry, this isn’t a drawing tutorial, it’s a “make this picture look good and put it in a digital form” tutorial).

Don’t worry about getting your doodle perfect – I usually leave a lot of my sketch lines.  We’ll erase these later so it’s okay.  I also don’t put in the finer details until after the main inking is done.

Using the ultra fine point marker, start slowly going over the lines of your doodle.  *NOTE* This can be tricky to get the hang of at first, so don’t get discouraged!  Even if you make a mistake or decide you don’t like what it looks like, you can fix it with Gimp.  Notice that extra line on Wonder Woman’s right thigh? I decided after I inked it that it made her leg look too straight, so I added the second, softer line.  I’ll remove the first line in the touch up phase.

Continue to ink your lines until you’re happy with them (please excuse the blurry pic).

Once the main inking is done, erase your original sketch lines.  This is where you’ll really see how your doodle looks.  If there is any fine detail to do, sketch it in now and ink once you’re happy with it (I did the W on Wonder Woman’s chest after the other inking was done, and no, still not happy with how it looks but that’s about the best I can do on a little chibi doodle).

Go over your picture one last time and make sure it’s as clean of pencil marks as can be and then scan it, saving it to your computer.

Editing in Gimp:

Now, open the picture in gimp.

Start by creating a new layer. This is the layer we’ll add our clean up touches to.

Working on the new layer, zoom in until the area you wan to fix is large on the screen.  In this case, I’ll be fixing the line on the thigh.

Select the magic lasso tool and select around the blemish you want removed.  Using the paintbrush and white, touch up the area (notice I had to be careful around the lines of the boot as I didn’t want those removed).

Repeat where ever necessary. When you’re satisfied, merge the touch up layer down to the bottom layer.  This is your cleaned up raw.  I like to save my work as a PNG now, usually naming it something like [projectname]_clean.PNG

If you’ve already saved your clean version of your doodle, save a new version of it (something like, [projectname]_1.png).  This is the version you’ll be adding screen tone to.  With the newly saved version, scale it down to the size you want it to be.  Then go image >fit canvas to layer to shrink the canvas to fit the new smaller size.

Now select the area you want to fill with screen tone by selecting it with the magic wand tool.  Next, use the paint bucket and set it to ‘Pattern Fill’ (click the image of the current pattern to be given more choices).  Choose the pattern you want and then click the selected area on your doodle to fill it.  Repeat until you have filled in all the areas you want with screen tone.

Some things to remember when filling in with screen tone:

  • Don’t over do it!  Use the already available white space to your advantage and don’t fill every space with tone.
  • If more than one area is supposed to be the same color, use the same tone to convey this.  I.E, Wonder Woman’s top, boots and star on her crown are all supposed to be red, so I used the same tone for that.
  • Try to use different types of tone to keep things from running together.  I always use a dot tone for the hair (manga influence?) but like to use the noise tones for solid colors in the clothing.  I think it gives a nice contrast.
  • If you’re trying to fill in a space but the magic wand is selecting more than you want, check your lines.  If the space isn’t closed in completely, do touch up with a black paintbrush to close off the area.
  • The patterns I used are default to gimp, but if you want to find more just google “download gimp patterns”.  Deviant art has many good manga/comic screen tones you can use to add more tone to your art.

 

Looking good! Now make sure to save your work.  Here’s our original, uncleaned raw next to the cleaned and toned finished pieces:

Note that when I cleaned the raw, I removed the smile (decided I didn’t like it) and touched up many areas where the ink had gone over the line.

And that’s all there is to it!  Happy doodling :D

Look what I found after 11 years!

Good night, sweet chick, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! (who knew you had to actually FEED it every day??)

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I originally played Harvest Moon N64 back in about 2001, when I was around 10 years old.  The first time I played it I played co-op with my brother and sister (so our single chicken ended up in the animal grave yard due to negligence and we somehow made enemies of the entire town, but we had fun!).   A couple years later, I replayed the game myself again though I didn’t finish it all the way.

And a couple of years later, I played it again, and again didn’t finish it all the way…

And that happened on and off for the past 11 years.  Finally, I am now in my second spring and halfway through to finishing the game which I am determined to do.  But while looking through some old, old walk throughs on the web I found reference to…the Harvest Sprite’s house.

Now, I have played this game for years.  I thought I knew all of it’s secrets!  But I had never heard of nor seen a Harvest Sprite house.  The only Harvest Sprite I knew of in the game was the solitary Sprite that wanders around the cave behind the Carpenter’s house.  Intrigued, I went on a full on search, pressing A like a maniac at every wall, nook and cranny but to no avail.  I started to wonder if the person who wrote the walk through had gotten the N64 game mixed up with the PS1 game (as they are extremely similar) and I know for a fact there is a Harvest Sprite house in that game.  I googled “harvest moon n64 sprite house” images to see if I could find a screen shot of this mythical area.  And lo and behold!

The image was definitely from the N64 game, which meant that there HAD to be this room somewhere in my game!

So with renewed vigor I once again went through…google (because I hadn’t been able to find ANYTHING in my game and was getting frustrated) and I found somebody mention in another walk through that the entrance to the Harvest Sprite house was somewhere in the cave where the Harvest Sprite I knew of always wandered.  Half an hour later I found out that if you press A against the wall next to this certain dark mark, you enter the house!  And yes, I am elated with my find, lol.  More so that even after having this game for a decade, I found something new about it.  That’s why these older games are so great; they always seem to have so much extra stuff hidden in their pixly graphics and seemingly straight forwards game play than the modern games do with their polished art and detailed strategy guides.

This isn’t, however, the fist new thing I’ve found in the Harvest Moon 64 game over the years.  After I played Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland (for PS2, the Harvest Moon game every one forgets existed), I became familiar with the Harvest Goddess who was a pivotal part of the plot for that game.  Curious, I went back to Harvest Moon: Back to Nature and Harvest Moon N64 and yep, both games had a suspiciously prominent pond.  A few farm-grown crops tossed in confirmed my haunch; both games had the Harvest Goddess character!  But without any direct guide to her, I had never thought to toss a crop into the pond which is what is needed to awaken her.

Besides the Harvest Goddess, there are plenty of other things in Harvest Moon N64 that are still new to me, especially the subplots with the brides and your rival for each one.  It was also only recently I learned that if you befriend the rivals, they too will get married and have children.  This provides a lot of new cut-scenes to hunt out.   In fact, I’m a little stunned at how much extra interaction there is between the game’s characters.  Since starting the game a few weeks ago I’ve been working on befriending all the villagers and not just the bride I intend to marry which is my normal strategy.  My reward has been many new scenes, secrets, recipes and information about the characters and the game that I never knew existed!  While Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is probably always going to be my official favorite Harvest Moon game, the N64 version is currently ranking in at 2nd place now for all the amazing work, detail and enjoyable game play.

The Venetian Princess – Womanizer Geek Parody

This is one of my favs by her! ;)

Humor for Star Wars Geeks <3

Via Chuck & Beans at the Shoebox Blog.  I love their stuff ^.^

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

So the other day I downloaded OoT on the Wii’s Virtual Console and last night started playing.  This isn’t the first Zelda game I’ve played; I’ve played some of The Phantom Hourglass and also watched my brothers playing The Twilight Princess.  However, I’m going to count this as the first real Zelda game I’ve played (because it’s a console game and it’s the oldest Zelda game I’ve tried) ((Okay so hand held games do count but not as much)).

First off, I love the old school retro gaming feel.  I’m very partial to N64 games, everything from the soundtracks to the chunkier graphics.  OoT reminds me of some of my favorite N64 games such as Donkey Kong and Banjo & Tooie, but unlike those games, OoT is much more of an RPG.  It’s also more complex compared to the more cartoony games I’m used to with the N64.  I’m not much of the typical Dungeons and Dragons RPG player (more for lack of opportunity than desire) so I’m not really used to playing games where you continuously switch between different weapons and fighting strategies.  Only an hour into the game and I’ve already acquired 5 different types of weapons.  Also the colorings in the game so far are much more subtle and muted than my other favorite N64 games.  It feels like you’re playing a movie or novel rather than playing a video game.

One of the biggest cons of the game so far hasn’t been with the game itself, but playing it on the Virtual Console and using the classic controller, which is missing the C buttons that are used to hold extra weapons and talk to Navi.  I finally figured out that the left thumbstick is used instead and once I got the hang of it I was fine, though it took nearly an hour to figure it out, lol.   I’m getting into the swing of the game now though, and so far I’m very pleased with it.

My Batman and Batgirl Doodle

My future brother-in-law (aka, the guy my sister is marrying in July) is pleasingly geeky in his own way.  He’s a big fan of Batman, TMNT and video games (though his preference for xbox goes against my preference for Nintendo).  He recently had his 26th birthday, and so I doodled this up for him:

It was only after I was cleaning it in gimp did I realize a few things:

1. I forgot to draw in the bat symbol on his chest

2. I forgot to give him a cape

3. What is supposed to be Batgirl’s hair looks like an out of place cape

So, I’ll probably go back and fix it a bit, but as I realized these things I was already nearly done with it in gimp so finished it up anyway, lol.   This is really the first superhero character I’ve drawn (well, I did end up drawing superheroes in crayons with kids at a church event not too long ago but that wasn’t exactly art) and as Batman is one of my favorite superheroes, I want to make it look good!  Also I should mention now that while I think I’ve seen every single DC superhero TV show made, I haven’t actually read any of the comics…I might one day, but there are just so many, I would have no idea where to start @_@  I love the DC characters though, Wonder Woman is the best ;)

How to quickly fix a Nintendo 64 AV cable with a bad connection

I am waist deep in Harvest Moon N64, having recently just started my first winter.  However my N64 is old and cranky and since I dragged it out of the dark comfort of it’s storage box, it’s been throwing a fit whenever I move it around too much.  The problem is with the AV cable connecting to the console – the connection is shaky because of the old cable and unless the cable is wiggled just right, I don’t get any video or audio on the screen.  First couple of times it went out on me I was able to patiently sit by it, slowly wiggling the cable until the connection was finally made.  But day before yesterday I did a good cleaning of the TV stand (you know, the annual dust bunny hunt) and moved the N64.  The cable lost it’s delicate connection and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get it to reconnect.

Enter my ever resourceful dad, who happened to see me trying to get the cable to work.  After I explained the problem, he went to the bathroom, grabbed the can of Vaseline and – after assuring me it wouldn’t hurt my console or cause it to rust – smeared a bit on the inside of the AV cable head (the part that plugs into the N64).  He plugged it back in, turned it on and voila!  The screen was alive with the wonderful sight and sound of Harvest Moon!  And I have yet to have any problems with it.

If you’re wondering how that fixed the problem, the Vaseline acts like an extender to the plug, letting the…prongs…wires, whatever you would call them, connect properly once more.  My dad has assured me it won’t bother my N64 though I’m sure it will probably collect dirt eventually and be hard if not impossible to clean.  But as a quick fix instead of having to hunt down a new cable online, it’s a good solution that seems to be working well.

Star Wars Desktop Backgrounds!

What better day to freshen up your computer with some snazzy new backgrounds? Click the image to go to the original source and get these for your desktop.

All the movies, all the characters…my only complaint is that Luke, Leia and Han should have WAY bigger pictures!

For fans of the good old Originals (as I like to call them, when muppet aliens were good enough for us) (I <3 Muppet Yoda)

Beautiful and basic, what more do you need?

Han Solo, that’s what else you need.

MAY THE 4TH BE WITH YOU

Happy Star Wars day my fellow geeks!  Today is the official day to celebrate all that is Star Wars, so in honor of the day I’ve changed up the header a bit – to Leia in her infamous Slave Outfit.

To get the day off right, check out StarWars.com’s news and info about all the special things taking place, from free e-cards to deals on fan gear to previews to events and challenges!   Seriously, check it out!

Also, Amazon is having some of their gold box deals on Star Wars goods today – in about 4 hours they’ll have a deal on the The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force (Vault Edition).  So keep your eyes peeled for that (no, I won’t be splurging on that today as I’m broke but I’m going to get it eventually, lol).

And if you have a member of the iPod family, the game Star Wars Pit Droids is available through May 6th for free! So hurry up and go grab that before it ends.

And finally, make sure you ‘like’ Star Wars on facebook for updates and more info!

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