Let’s Draw: A Desktop Background Featuring A Bunch of OCs, Part 1

(Above background image is Xenoblade Chronicles concept art.)

OK, the stream from yesterday is up! It’s 4 hours, 48 minutes of my 2D creative process from the essential messing-with-the-OS step to the concept, layout, sketch, and base colors. I’ll be doing another of these very soon:

This video was done by hooking my laptop to my Elgato Game Capture HD; I did it this way because I wanted to depict the complete experience of using the Puppy Linux OS and Krita to draw an image.

The operating system is capable of running entirely from RAM; it loads up a save file on startup (up to 4GB in size, at least how I have it configured) and saves to it every 30 minutes or so. It’s often used as a stopgap OS to recover files from computers with inoperable OS partitions, or to make old computers useful again for low-impact tasks like word processing or web browsing (since modern OSes are so bloated). And while it’s useful for breathing life into older PCs (I have a Toshiba NB505 from 2010 this runs well on), I decided to try to use it to make a portable creativity environment. It works pretty well for this, it turns out! Krita runs great, as depicted in the video; my initial tests in Blender have been promising as well. The resulting stick can be booted into from my desktop, laptop, and netbook without disrupting the contents of the attached computer’s built-in hard drive in any way. Instructions on how I did it are after the break.

THIS IS HOW I DID IT:

REQUIREMENTS: A computer capable of running Windows with 2 empty USB ports, and 2 USB flash drives (one at least 1GB, which we’ll be calling the “install drive”, the other one however large you want your new OS partition to be. Beware, all files on both flash drives at the start will be lost in the process of doing this.)

  1. Download a .iso file of your desired most recent version of Puppy Linux (I used bionicpup64)
  2. Use a program to flash the install drive with the .iso you just downloaded (I used balenaEtcher)
  3. Reboot, enter the BIOS settings of your PC, and boot from the USB stick you just flashed
  4. You should be in Puppy Linux now; check to make sure the basic stuff works (mouse, keyboard, wifi). In my case, my laptop’s wifi and trackpad didn’t work; I had to connect a mouse, then run the wifi configuration wizard, then run the Puppy Updates application from the menu, after which everything worked as expected.
  5. Insert the second USB stick, run StickPup from the applications menu, and use it to install the same ISO from earlier onto that. MAKE SURE you select the correct drive here
  6. Shut your PC down, remove the install drive, and start it up again, now booting into the second USB stick
  7. Customize to your heart’s content; make sure to shut your PC down whenever you’re done using it (instead of pressing the power button)TIPS & TRICKS:
  • This is a pared-down version of Linux; while it can be used to test the OS out, and is itself capable of all kinds of tasks, it’s not fully representative of what a full install of an OS like Linux Mint (which is installed on my desktop and laptop PCs) can do. Many programs require Puppy-specific versions (distributed via the package manager or through ’.pet’ files) to run correctly. Firefox was one of those for me; the one from the Ubuntu repository didn’t play web audio, the one from the Puppy repository did.
  • The 4GB size limit can be mostly overcome by keeping your portable applications and personal files on the USB stick outside of the Linux install folder. I say “mostly” because non-portable applications still take up disk space within the save file.
  • Some .deb application installer files work, some require 32-bit compatibility files. These can be found in the Quickpet program in the application menu; Quickpet acts as a short list of non-essential applications that aren’t included in Puppy distros by default.
  • If you use the USB stick install and don’t want your save file filled up immediately, set your web browser to limit the size of the cache (my personal limit is 50MB; in Firefox I had to manually edit the browser.cache.disk.smart.size.enabled and browser.cache.disk.capacity values in about:config to get it to stick).
  • Krita is distributed in the .appimage format; some appimages can be run just by double-clicking them, but Krita needs some extra work; it can be run from the terminal through the command LD_LIBRARY_PATH= “./krita-4.1.7-x86_64.appimage” from whichever directory it’s placed, or by creating a shell script that runs that command and placing it in Krita’s directory.
  • If you use a Wacom tablet, pressure sensitivity is built into the Linux kernel (this is one of the reasons I switched to Linux a year ago in the first place); some distros have button mapping built into the GUI, but with others (Puppy included) you need to use the xsetwacom terminal command. Comprehensive instructions for how to use this are online; I personally manually run this shell script through a desktop shortcut whenever I connect my tablet and I’m good to go.
  • My Intel graphics card on my laptop (an Acer Aspire E5-573G) presented screen tearing issues; I stopped them by creating a file in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d called “20-intel.conf” with this text.
  • If this looks intimidating (and I don’t blame you if it does) – I promise you, all the above information was retrieved using standard websearching methods; I’d personally say the only limiting factors for whether someone interested in trying this for themself ‘should’ give this a shot are time and patience, but I also realize those are in short supply for a lot of people. Use your best judgment.

Apogee Model Postmortem

Lots of positive feedback received about the Apogee model I made last month! Here are some scattered thoughts on the experience of making it:

– The model was made for a Windows game: THUG Pro, a community-made mod for Tony Hawk’s Underground 2; you might have seen the Monster Factory episodes about it. While Apogee is for my partner Phen’s exclusive use only, there are tons of custom models and levels available for you to try at your leisure. THUG Pro requires that you own a copy of the PC version of THUG 2, which I wouldn’t recommend playing by itself — everything about its story and aesthetic represents the tiresome attitude of young-lad MTV culture in the mid-aughts, to the point where I suspect even Mr. Hawk himself was reticent to participate. THUG Pro redeems it almost completely; the base game still has Viva La Bam characters in it as hidden skaters, but those can be replaced manually with minimal effort.

– This was done entirely in secret. The most I revealed to Phen until it was playable ingame was “Oh, I’m doing Blender tutorials.” I had the idea for the gift several months ago, in response to Phen’s tendency to fire up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 when they needed something to occupy their hands with while winding down for bed. I started work on it on December 15th and gave it to Phen on the 27th, reserving no personal time for anything else during the two-week period.

– The Blender tutorials I took were from Andrew Price’s, Daniel Kreuter’s, and Cherylynn Lima‘s YouTube channels. I also benefited from this PolyCount page on low-poly limb topology and this tutorial about modeling and texturing a low-poly T-Rex. The THUG Pro tutorials I used were out-of-date, so I’m not linking them here; websearch “Blender Custom Skaters” and look for the io_thps_scene Blender plugin, and you should find what you need.

– The model was built to conform to the limitations of the Tony Hawk’s Underground animation armature. Apogee’s proportions were taken from the C.O.D. Soldier skater model downloaded from models-resource.com — I screencapped a flat turnaround of the model in Blender and traced over it in Krita. The final Apogee model is 3,418 triangles, and contains eleven 512×512 textures; it’s far higher in texture fidelity than the pack-in models were, but the polycount is spot-on, I think.

– As far as developing the mod and supporting the software are concerned, THUG Pro’s culture and community are top-notch. The game industry as a whole did them dirty by sorely neglecting one of the few AAA genres that didn’t revolve around war and violence, so they’re out there doing it for themselves and doing a pretty amazing job of it.

– The process of creating custom content for the game could stand to be a little more well-documented, however! I chose not to ask for support (on the off-chance one of the most active THPS communities might have an Apogee fan somewhere in there), which meant I was reliant on bespoke tutorials and forum posts, which were themselves often written in stream-of-consciousness format. Not the best for my purposes, especially given my reading comprehension skills; I missed a few steps near the end, which resulted in 1) Apogee first appearing ingame as an animationless T-pose* and 2) Apogee then showing up as a cluster of shambling vertices with a coherent head and tail.**

– Despite my being an artist, and significantly attached to the owner of this character, I hadn’t drawn Apogee at all prior to this project. For reference material I decided to scour the Apogee Westwood Twitter account, but not the Media or Mentions tab, which meant the references I’d put together were from a variety of commissions from different angles.

The model and textures were made exclusively using free software and tutorials (even almost entirely on Linux, save for exporting and testing). The 3D modeling was done in Blender, and all textures were hand-drawn using Krita. The one online friend I showed the work-in-progress screenshot to (who graduated art school, including 3D classes) asked me afterward how much Blender costs, which was a great experience in itself. I bring this up only to say, no shade on myself: If what I’ve made looks good to you, all the software I used is $0 and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and I’m confident that you’re capable of using it to make something that looks even better.

– This is the very first 3D model I’ve textured, rigged, and deployed in any “finished” capacity, and while I’m very proud of the work I’ve done here, there are topology and texture aspects I had to set down and declare finished even though they’re not how I’d prefer them; there’s so much more I have to learn before I can feel truly confident in my capacity to deliver as a 3D artist. (I am sure I’ll eventually get there in future models, but the act of comparing this work to even the hobbyists in the THUG Pro community has been humbling, to say the least.)

– Here’s how unveiling it to Phen went: I handed them a USB stick which housed a video file and a directory named “WATCH THE VIDEO FIRST” (containing the installation instructions and model files). The video file (which I’ve personally rewatched dozens of times since its creation) is the exact one that was posted on Apogee’s Twitter account. Phen was speechless for the first fifteen seconds, then spent the rest repeatedly shouting “OH MY GOD” in escalating levels of intensity.

– After Phen started playing and taking screenshots, I noticed a few minor details that needed tweaking: the fingers weren’t animating quite right, the hands were too small compared to the feet (1), the shirt occasionally clipped through the jacket, and the seam between Apogee’s jacket and shorts would open way the hell up in certain animations, revealing his hollow interior (2). Phen was insistent that I’d done a great job, but I decided to spruce things up a bit by altering geometry, textures, and vertex weights across the model until I could reasonably call this project “finished”. This took way longer than I’d anticipated, but judging from the ingame tricks I was able to pull off with my limited knowledge of THUG 2’s moveset, the use cases where the model looks satisfactory encompass 99% of the animations you’ll encounter in Free Skate mode (rather than the previous 90%). This is what happens when you undertake a form of creativity that requires an order of magnitude more work than previous efforts, but the end result pays the effort back in versatility and long-term value.

– If you’re interested in these games at all (even if you’re not interested in playing them yourself), I recommend watching the Summer Games Done Quick 2016 speedrun of Tony Hawk’s Underground by Fivves if you’re into speedruns (it’s just a really good 45 minutes of video content).

* Fixed by selecting “export as THUG2 model” in the io_thps_scene Blender plugin
** Fixed by selecting “Normalize All” in Blender’s weight paint panel (which makes sure each vertex’s weight values added up to 1.0).

January 2019 Life Update

(CW: medical/neurology, mental health)

Hey, everyone, it’s 2019! Here’s the current state of affairs:

– I spent the majority of the last three months of 2018 awaiting results from a neuropsychological diagnosis exam. The results ended up being unsurprising in more ways than not: generalized anxiety disorder and an unspecified depressive disorder (which I knew I had), but also an unspecified neurodevelopmental disorder, due to a few testing areas in which I did astoundingly poorly (verbal recall and processing time); it explains why I’ve been having trouble communicating or keeping ideas in order, as well as the discomfort I’ve felt on the occasions where I’ve had to speak in a professional persona (rather than as my authentic self). I’ve been referred to get a neurological workup done to find out whether it’s the result of a treatable medical problem, so I’ll be doing that ASAP. If the tests come clear, I’m going to assume the problems that have come up recently are side-effects of my antidepressants, and I’ll be speaking with my doctor to figure out alternative options.

– The exam was a grueling 16 combined hours of unpacking my life circumstances and doing menial tests; since I’ve got anxiety, the wait for results was a hard one, and it seemed to me once the testing was over like I wasn’t going to get a clear path forward from this approach, so I looked for other options to improve my mental health and stay productive. I was able to come up with a morning routine I’ve been following daily, which involves 45 minutes of blue light therapy from a seasonal affective lamp and my partner helping me get motivated to exercycle as often as they do. This started in early December and has been going strong ever since; it feels at times like I’m a slave to my schedule, and moving between tasks can take a while, but I’d still call what I’ve got a major improvement over where I was at a few months ago.

– As a holiday gift for my partner Phen, I put together a 3D model of their fursuit character: ’90s punk skater Apogee Westwood, for Phen’s exclusive use in the community-built fangame/mod THUG PRO. This was built from the ground up to conform to the proportions and limitations of the Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 animation armature, resulting in a character with 100% hand-painted textures that looks pretty decent ingame. It was implemented with very little testing, however, which meant all sorts of small issues cropped up in the media Phen put out in the excitement of the days that followed. So, over the next week I’ll be fixing the vertex weights and tweaking a few other things, and I’ll post a detailed postmortem here afterward.

– Following that, Apogee seems like a good test case for expanding my horizons in 3D modeling (actually finishing models). The positive feedback I ended up getting from the intro video and screenshots was a welcome confidence boost, and it relieved my worries that I wouldn’t be able to render appealing-looking characters in 3D.

– My last update (back in March of last year, wow!) made it clear that I wanted to make 3D models of my characters that’d fit in alongside the finest in anime-styled videogames, and that ambition has not changed in the slightest. The models following Apogee will be different; since they’ll be made for my own renders of artwork done in Blender itself, their look will be more driven by materials and built-in polygonal details than by lighting baked into texture data, which should allow them to look in place in all sorts of renders. At the same time, this is a clear recipe for perfectionism to take hold, so I’ll have to keep that in mind to make it possible bring future models to a finished state.

– For fun (not for profit, I promise), I also started streaming video games a bit more often on my Mixer channel. This started in early December with a full playthrough of a modded copy of EarthBound, and continues in January with the start of a full playthrough of NieR Gestalt. I think future streams are going to be of even more media I’m already familiar with, since I’ve reached that wonderful age where I get to introduce the things I’m most fond of to an audience of adults ten years (or more) younger than I am.

– Finally, I’ve made a Trello board of current and queued-up projects and personal goals. I’ve been checking and updating it daily, and I find it’s a pretty good method of keeping track of past victories and current priorities. It’s public, so feel free to check in on it to see how I’m doing and what I’ve currently got going on.

That’s it for now! I’d like to resume doing these monthly, though I must insist that my creative efforts are not dependent on patron income in the slightest. Additionally, since this is a cumulative update, future monthly updates will probably be shorter. As always, feel free to adjust or drop your pledges as necessary; thank you all for your friendship and support.

Monogame Test: Text Formatting

Depicted here: A series of rapid-fire test cases for my MonoGame script interpreter’s message box; written on Linux, captured on Windows. Effects include:

  • Multiple spritefonts per-line
  • Multiple colors per-line
  • Movement effects: jitter, sine wave
  • Color effects: “Spooky”, “Rainbow”
  • Cues to speed-up/slow-down
  • Icons/emojis inserted alongside text
  • Numerous effects can be combined!

(The color effects will be used in non-HtM visual novel projects; all future versions of HtM will still be in 1-bit, or a close approximation thereof. It looks like I’ll have to manually write the shaders to make it happen and look nice, though.)

7/24/2017: Quick HtM Update

Progress has been slow going (I’ve had commissions and other comic projects that needed to be taken care of first), but I’ve had my nose to the grindstone learning C# and XNA for Hit The Motherlode’s MonoGame port over the last week or so. I’ve decided all forthcoming versions of HtM – as well as all other game projects, for the foreseeable future – will be in 960×540 resolution, as opposed to the demo’s 720×400. Pictured above is a quick mockup I made to prove to myself that the added screen real estate wouldn’t be ultimately harmful to the game’s presentation; nothing in it is final, save for the fonts and buttons.

I have a bunch of other things planned for the port (which will still have the same amount of content as the demo, just with a bit of polish), but I figure I should save them for when I have footage of the new build in motion. Additionally, the quote in the lorem ipsum Omicron’s belting out here is from the first prose book I had on hand, and I only now realized that the date quoted is the same day of the year as today. How ominous!


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