Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Art of GMing (2/5)

The first thing a good GM has to do is prepare, which is similar to all the pre-production necessary for a film. A GM has to have a good "script," whether it is a published adventure/mission or something he wrote himself. He needs to be really familiar with the story, the characters, and the sequence of events, because no player wants to sit around at the table and wait for the GM to read through things to figure out what is supposed to happen next. A good GM will have read through the adventure beforehand, most likely making notes to himself, highlighting or underlining important areas. He will also have player hand-outs ready, battle maps prepared, and even have a selection of props and other visual-aids to enhance the experience for players. Personally, I like using 3D-printed miniatures, hot-wheels cars, lego starships, and other fun toys for props when running Solar Echoes games. I even used to sculpt, bake, and paint clay figures of my own design for unique creature encounters!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Art of GMing (1/5)

A GM, or "game master," is the person who runs a role-playing game session for other players. In Solar Echoes, we call the GM an MC, or "Mission Controller." The role of a GM in any RPG is to tell a story, make sure game rules are followed, act out any of the characters that players encounter during the game, and manage all game challenges, such as combat or hacking. Being a GM can be a very demanding challenge, but if you like telling stories and presenting exciting encounters to players, it can be more fun than being a player, in my opinion. If you've ever wondered what it might be like to be a movie director, GMing an RPG is a similar experience (I've directed several short films, and there are a lot of parallels.) But what does it take to be a good GM?...

Friday, January 27, 2017

Sneak-peek at New Art!

Sneak peek at new art being done by artist John Fell! The fight between the Archaeloid and Omul is almost finished--think of the Archaeloid in this battle as a samurai and the Omul as a ninja. We worked really hard to get the Omul stance right. It's so difficult to make a formless creature like the Omul appear asymmetrical with movements full of kinetic energy, but I think we got it in this instance. We looked at a lot of martial artists fighting, especially kendo masters, to get ideas on form. I'm very happy with how this is turning out!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Behind the Scenes: 3D Starship Miniature

I've been working with a new 3D-sculpting artist, Charles Oines, on design plans for 3D-printed Solar Echoes starship miniatures. We decided to start with the Reln Voidrunner, based on Jay Darnell's original starship artwork from the Player's Guide. Here is a comparison, showing the black & white artwork superimposed over the CG render of the progress on the 3D model so far. The miniature will be small, about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. In Solar Echoes starship combat, distances are abstracted so starship size doesn't matter (personally, I use big lego ships), but to keep printing costs down, I'm trying to keep the models small. However, I may also include a larger version of the starships for those that want to pay the money to print a big model! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Colorization Project

I've recently tried colorizing some of the black&white art I have from various Solar Echoes artists. The upcoming Explorer's Guide will feature some of this, and future products may as well. It is a long process--I need to "stay within the lines" so to speak, but when using Photoshop, I'm able to keep the original shading by the artist with the new color additions. Below is an example of something I'm currently working on. I'm still undecided on the color of the Krissethi's shirt--what do you think would go well with his purple pants and green skin? Purple is typically a color of royalty or wealth, so it makes sense that the status-oriented Krissethi would wear it (and lots of bling) in an ostentatious display. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Ethical Machine (part 2)

Some scientists involved in the move to bring self-driving cars to our streets complain that progress could be stalled if cars must be equipped with an ethical engine. One scientist, from the Virginia Tech Transportation Research Council, states that cars are already programmed to make choices, such as slowing down and leaving space after detecting a bicyclist. This is considered “risk management” instead of ethical consideration. Driverless cars currently aren't able to determine the age of a pedestrian or the number of occupants in a car, so MIT's Moral Machine consensus information is  considered redundant regarding driverless car development.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Ethical Machine

Driverless cars have recently brought artificial intelligence considerations to the public. MIT researchers have put up a website called the Moral Machine where you can take a survey and decide who should live and who should die in a car accident scenario. The idea behind this survey is that the consensus will then become part of an automated car's AI program, calculating the "best" outcome in a car accident situation where someone is going to die. The brakes are out, should the car veer left into a homeless man, or right, into a pregnant woman? Interestingly, most voters have chosen the car occupant's death over that of anyone outside the vehicle--but the voters also indicated they would never get in such a car!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Exploring new worlds (5/5)

Art is expensive, and it takes more time than anything else. I like to put as much art as possible into products to help catalyze the imagination, so I've spent some time learning to use Photoshop. I always hire talented artists like John Fell to produce art for things I know I can't do myself, like the lifeforms and character art. For instance, I'm decent at sketching ideas (see the original Explorer's Pack lifeform art) but I don't have the level of skill to really give things that professional polish, nor am I capable at much of anything beyond black and white; I have no training in color theory. However, I have taught myself some tricks using Photoshop, and I talked with space-artist Matthew Hannum about planet art. Matthew did the art for the planets in the original Explorer's Pack. I may not be quite at his level yet, but I think you'll be surprised with how the planet and wilderness-scapes look in the upcoming Explorer's Guide. I also drew sketches for the two new weapons included in the Guide, and embellished some existing art as well (such as using John Fell's lifeform art and placing it in a forest, giving it some camouflage ability to blend in with surrounding trees.) I've colorized some black & white art from other artists, and used the map tiles designed by John Fell to help me start building a wilderness battle-map for the mission included with the Guide. I hope you feel that the Explorer's Guide is a big improvement over the original—I can't wait to hear your comments after its release!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Exploring new worlds (4/5)

The Explorer's Guide includes a lot of material for GM's. There is a system for "Hunter Fame," details about a few unusual entrees and the effects of eating them, and there are even two new unique weapons introduced to the game. Stat information is included for a few NPC types, fees are given for hunting licenses and life insurance plans, and of course, there are lots of mission seed ideas for developing your own missions. Speaking of missions, there is even a short mission featuring an encounter with a new deadly alien lifeform, a creature that is fully illustrated in color with art by John Fell. I've even included 3 new full color map icons to use with the mission. Finally, as I mentioned earlier this week, I'm hoping to add in a full-color map to use with the included mission. There's a lot of GM content included in the Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Exploring new worlds (3/5)

Although this Explorer's Guide is designed from the perspective of the Solar Echoes universe, it is compatible with any scifi game system. I chose to focus this Explorer's Guide on a planet in Krissethi territory, a world known as "Sa'mesh." Imagine a giant nature preserve relatively undeveloped and unmarred by technology, filled with exotic alien lifeforms. You've only just begun to understand what Sa'mesh really is, though. Sa'mesh has the highest concentration of deadly alien lifeforms in the known universe, and it's not exactly the "preserve" you first thought it was--it's a commercialized hunting ground. Krissethi visit this planet to hunt, to compete, and to make a name for themselves. An entire industry has developed around these Krissethi hunters, and the ruling clans promote it shamelessly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Exploring new worlds (2/5)

I talked to a few GM's to get their feedback about this product, which I'm calling an Explorer's Guide. Did they prefer another Explorer's Pack, which would include less detail but have more planets? Or would they prefer the release to have lots of info about one world only? The consensus was obviously for the second option, and I'm glad this is what they wanted because it allowed me to focus and design a lot of different aspects of the new world. It also set the standard for future Explorer's Guides that I'll design, and I'm sure that feedback on this guide will help me even further in giving GM's the tools and ideas they want. Planet technical details? Check. Economic details? Check. Cultural details? Check. These are the things you'd expect upfront, but there is a lot more...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Exploring new worlds (1/5)

I've been working on a new project for the last month and, except for one final element, it's ready for release! In fact, I could release it right now, it's totally finished, but I wanted to add in one more feature: a full-color battle-map. If my artist, John Fell, is able to have the art assets ready in a few days, I can put together a full-color map to include with the product. What is this new product? It is essentially a new Explorer's pack, but, unlike its predecessor (which included 4 different planets and 4 different alien lifeforms) this will focus on a single planet with details about one new alien lifeform. It sounds like less, but believe me, it's a LOT more--I crammed a lot of information and art into this product. I think GM's will find that this booklet is full of ideas and info that will help them make this one planet a place for many, many exciting adventures for their players!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Since I've been featuring the other miniatures from the collection this week, I'm going to re-feature the Erwani, comparing the artwork by John Fell to the sculpt by Jeremy Gosser, painted by Thomas (in France) and Saejin Park, respectively. Both of these sculpts are the high-detail sculpts of the Erwani, printed at Shapeways.

The picture below first features the Archaeloid from Jay Darnell's artwork on the cover of the Solar Echoes Player's Guide, and then the artwork by John Fell of the energy-sword wielding Archaeloid. Jeremy Gosser worked from both pieces of artwork to produce the final 3D sculpt, which was 3D-printed at Shapeways and then painted by Thomas (in France) and Saejin Park, respectively:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Here is the 3D-printed Chiraktis, painted by Saejin Park, compared with John Fell's artwork. The sculpt was done by Jeremy Gosser at Time Portal Games and 3D printed at Shapeways. Unlike John Fell's art, I changed the spiked gauntlets to Chiraktis wrist-blades, a very wicked weapon originally conceived by Jay Darnell in his artwork for the Chiraktis in the Solar Echoes Player's Guide. Also, note that Chiraktis soldier drones like to paint themselves with war paint for intimidation (and the fumes of the paint actually cause the Chiraktis to inflict or ignore additional damage.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Here is the 3D-printed "Harmless Reln," painted by Saejin Park, compared with John Fell's artwork. The sculpt was done by Jeremy Gosser at Time Portal Games and 3D printed at Shapeways. If you'd like to have your own friendly Reln, the low-detail sculpt is only $6.29, but I'm running a promotion on Twitter: if the Tweet is retweeted 5 times by Friday, I'll temporarily drop the price to $4.29 for 1 day: https://twitter.com/SolarEchoesRPG

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Here's a glimpse of a piece of artwork that will be included in the upcoming release of a Solar Echoes supplement. This booklet will be along the lines of the Explorer's Pack, but will focus on a single planet. The planet is the Krissethi world known as Sa'mesh, which is a wildlife preserve full of deadly lifeforms that the Krissethi use for hunting sports and competitions. The booklet will include several NPC's and information on the planet economy, people, two new weapons, culture, food, and other details, plus, it will include a new lifeform with full-color art by John Fell and a short mission involving the new lifeform. Things are coming together and I'm on schedule for a January release.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Here is the 3D-printed Human, painted by Saejin Park, compared with Jay Darnell's artwork from the cover of the Player's Guide. The sculpt was done by Jeremy Gosser at Time Portal Games and 3D printed at Shapeways. If you'd like to have your own sci-fi Human, the low-detail sculpt is only $6.58, but I'm running a promotion on Twitter: if the Tweet is retweeted 10 times by tomorrow, I'll temporarily drop the price to $4.58 for 1 day: https://twitter.com/SolarEchoesRPG

Friday, January 6, 2017

New Painted Krissethi 3D Printed Figure!

Just got my high-detail 3D printed figures back from Saejin Park, who painted each of them for me. Here is the Krissethi, compared with John Fell's artwork. The sculpt was done by Jeremy Gosser at Time Portal Games and 3D printed at Shapeways. If you'd like to have your own Krissethi, the low-detail sculpt is only $6.70, but for expert painters, I'd recommend the high-detail sculpt for sharper edges and extra detail.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Future for Hollywood Actors (4/4)

One thing that seems a likely future for acting is that actors will begin to license out their image and voice. James Earl Jones, the voice behind Darth Vader in Star Wars, has not indicated yet whether he has made plans for the use of his voice posthumously. But, the technology is able to entirely replicate any actor's voice long after they are gone, though many think it's “not quite there yet” to sound as good as a real actor when re-purposing it for a new script. Some think it still sounds “a bit artificial,” but with steady advances in technology, in a few years it may be possible to make a computer speak like any actor it sampled. Visually, technology is obviously already there with CGI, so what further implications does this have for the acting profession itself? If today's actors and actresses start to see this as a way to leave a legacy to their family through licensing their image and voice for use after death, what will happen to future generations of actors? Will there be room for new favorites, or will some of the popular stars stay popular among future generations? And what if paying licensing fees and CGI costs becomes cheaper than hiring live actors? It most likely will be cheaper someday, and maybe even be easier for directors to “work with” (considering the temperamental behaviors of some in Hollywood!) In my opinion, it's a very good time to be an actor right now. Maybe not so much, though, for actors in future generations?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Future for Hollywood Actors (3/4)

Actor Robin Williams died in 2014, but made sure to legally ban his image from being used for profit until 2039, in addition to terms that block him from being digitally inserted into a movie, TV show, or even a hologram. Why a hologram? Consider the holographic appearance of deceased rapper, Tupac Shakur, at Southern California's Coachella music festival in 2012. This concept isn't a new one, though—Hollywood used holography to place John Coltrane in the movie Vanilla Sky back in 2001. The rock band Gorillaz used holograms of themselves to entertain at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Mariah Carey, Elvis Presley, and others have been displayed as holograms despite their absence. Is placing CGI of an actor in a movie any different than placing a photograph of that actor in an ad? Most would say it is, because CGI can make that actor do and say anything—it involves actions that the deceased actor never had the chance to consider or refuse. Most people would agree that using the image of a deceased actor for advertising is in bad taste. Just look at the outcry on Twitter against Cinnabon for their tweet using an image of Princess Leia (with a cinnamon roll in place of her hair bun) after her recent death; they tweeted, “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll have always have the best buns in the galaxy.” Truly tasteless.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Future for Hollywood Actors (2/4)

Currently, some actors in Hollywood are scrambling to their lawyers trying to prevent the use of their images in films after their death. After all, they no longer would have control if not legally protected, and they might be placed in films they never would have agreed to if given a choice. Some are specifically defining what they are opposed to in their contracts, such as a refusal to posthumous depictions associated with sex and violence or drugs and alcohol. The laws in California already grant heirs control over deceased actors' profits by requiring their permission for any use of their likeness, but is this enough? Licensing out an actor's image is currently being viewed with disdain and fear by a lot of actors, but this concept may an excellent way to benefit families long after the actor's death. For instance, if Disney wants to re-use Carrie Fisher's character in another Star Wars film, it will have to negotiate expensive fees with Fisher's estate. The Actors' Union SAG-AFTRA is currently trying to get all states to provide protections for the posthumous use of actor images. If they are successful, the cost to bring Princess Leia back to the screen could be even higher for Disney, much higher than what it might have paid Fisher's surviving family.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Future for Hollywood Actors (1/4)

Though it has been done before, the recent Star Wars movie, Rogue One, has really brought something to people's attention in a very big way—actors and actresses can appear in films without actually being there, through the magic of computer generated images (CGI) and other special effects. Rogue One SPOILER: The actor that played Governor Tarkin, Peter Cushing, died 23 years ago in 1994, starring in the first (episode 4) Star Wars film back in 1977, yet he had a number of scenes in Rogue One. Carrie Fisher had a brief appearance in Rogue One, appearing as her 21 year-old self from the 1977 film. In the recent Fast and Furious 7 film, actor Paul Walker died halfway through shooting the film, so he was replaced by CGI and body doubles. The 2015 release of Terminator: Genisys featured a young CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger from the original 1984 Terminator film. All of this brings up a lot of questions for actors and actresses in an age where technology can reproduce them convincingly onscreen, and the implications are starting to send shock waves through the acting community in Hollywood...