Life, Fantasy, The Supernatural, and Some of the Most Stunning Art I Have Seen

For the past few weeks I have been posting about various works I recommend (should really get around to recommending some games, but that is for latter). These Recommendations have had a lose theme based on medium. Today the “theme” is a specific artist/author: Stjepan Šejić (and no. I will not attempt to help you figure out how to pronounce that).

So first off I will go into a small bit of personal history: How I found this artist. Years ago I was browsing Deviant Art, and I found a creator that had some cool things. This was Stjepan’s main account and included a bunch of the work he did for some major comic publishers (such as some Witchblade covers and panels, funny non-cannon things he did with various DC characters, and Harlee Quin concept art he would later pitch and have made into a graphic novel). I really liked all this art, but it is not where I became entranced with his work. Following a few of the pages favorited pieces I found another creator, Shiniez, and a silly strip they were making (more on that latter). I was hooked. Not just because of the content (Not going to lie, it was hot) but because of the characters and the ways they interacted. And that highlights a piece of what makes Stjepan such an amazing story teller: you show up for the plot (or “plot” as the case may sometimes be), but you stay for, nay get hooked on, the characters. As you may have put together the Shiniez account was also owned by Stjepan, but he tried to hide this. I had my suspicions for a while (the art style was just too similar to be a case of similar or copied style) but one day he reveled this truth and I began following his work. These are some of those works I recommend.

Death Vigil
Welcome to the Death Vigil. Our job is to stop the eldritch abominations from the other side of the veil from crossing over into our world and turning it into a buffet. Every member of the Vigil has three things in common. Firstly, they all died. But, secondly, they all got the attention of a being known as Bernadette, affectionately called Bernie, also known as The Reaper, complete with giant scythe. She gave these people a chance to be reborn and help defend the world. To help accomplish this each member of the vigil gets a Veilripper, a powerful artifact and one of the only things capable of actually harming the beings from beyond the veil. But on the other side from the vigil are the Necromancers. Poor fools that have lost, and have been promised by those from beyond the veil that their power can bring those the necromancer lost back…
Lots of action, lots of found family themes, and more than a few winding plots intersecting. The first few chapters can be found on Stjepan’s deviant art page, and he is in the process of making the next volume. For more on that, see his Patreon page for updates and early releases of all his independent work.

The Queen and the Woodborn
To be fair, I have not read as much of this story as the others. But it is just as beautiful as the others and has a great set up so…
In this world of medieval fantasy, a Queen recently lost her son and travels into the woods in her grief. These woods are ancient, magical, and forbidden for any that trespass belong to the Woodborn. But the Queen does not care, here lies some faint chance of seeing her dead son. And she thinks she has found it, until the Woodborn shows up and saves the queen from the being that had tricked her and tried to devour her. But now that she is in the woods she is bound in service to the Woodborn, and they come to an agreement: the queen will server the Woodborn until her dyeing breath. At which point it is revealed that the Queen was already dyeing and promptly breaths her dyeing breath. But that is not the end of our story, for death is not an end here, but just the beginning of our tale of mythical beings, gods, and the queen who stumbled into it all.

Anyone familiar with Stjepan’s work was waiting for me to bring this one up. And I don’t think there is a better way to introduce this work that the words of one of the main characters at the start of the story:
“Dear reader, this is the story of how I met the love of my life. That one person that compl–
Good. That got your attention…
You bunch of pervs…
But that’s alright. You see, I’mma let you in on a little secret
We are all a bit pervy in our own ways…”
So yeah, this is a love story played out between a pair of women who are into BDSM as a submissive and dominant respectively and the various people around them. Don’t get this confused with 50 Shades of Abuse or any other sadist porn. A very large point is made in the story about needing trust, cooperation, and consent between all parties so that everyone can get what they are looking for… and more or less paints the BDSM community as a bunch of sexual geeks that put more effort into the act and like things a bit spicier than “normal”. This is a story about pleasure, love, trauma, jealousy, miscommunication, and drop dead gorgeous art. And yes, to address the elephant in the room, there are sex scenes in this story. There is full frontal nudity in this story. And every time it happened I was either too enraptured by the character’s inner monologues or too impatient to get back to the story to care.
And yes. This is the story I found on Stjepan’s alt account that got me hooked… or at least… it kind of is. You see how this story came about is a fun story in and of itself. Told in comic form at the end of the physical copy of volume 1. Stjepan was suffering from burnout. To help combat this he created an alt account to post some silly one-shot style work, and chose the theme of the account to be: fetishistic erotic imagery. Just some random pin ups so he could get the creative juices going again, nothing serious, and obviously nothing with a storyline too it… as you can imagine that idea spiraled down the drain as the creativity spiraled out of control. Pretty soon he had characters, he had relationships, the characters were getting arcs, and he had a story that needed to be told. But all he had were loosely connected pinups and a few small comic pages. So he re-wrote it to be the story it is today.

Other works of Stjepan’s to look out for:
Achilles Shieldmaidens: Women in giant mechs fighting as part of a final resistance against aliens in giant mechs. Still in production, but from what I have seen so far I am HYPE for it to see the light of day.
Fine Print: Think Sunstone had too little sex and demons? Well half the main cast of this story are succubi/incubi. And somehow it is just as character driven as Sunstone.
Harleen: Stjepan’s take on the origin story of Harley Quinn. Amazing art (as always) and a fresh take on the story. Unlikely to get a follow up as Stjepan’s independent work is making him more than his contracted work did.

Tutorial or No Tutorial?

For a while I thought my game would need a tutorial, for two simple reasons. Firstly just the simple fact that most games today have some form of tutorial. And secondly because when I tell people “I am making a game based on lights out” they tend to not know what I am talking about. And even when they get the game in their hands it takes them a while to actually understand the mechanics. So the answer is obvious right? Make a tutorial.

Except… making a tutorial is no where near as simple as some people will have you think. I making my tutorial I had to basically recreate all the systems in my game in a… disassembled form, so that I could disable and enable various parts based on how far through the tutorial the player was. I never got it fully functioning, mostly because before I had it “finished” I re-did all the UI. And since I wanted the tutorial to mirror the main UI (while also slowly phasing in UI elements as needed) that meant the entire tutorial would have to be re-made (including most of the programming).

Now starting near, if not at, square one on a tutorial level I asked myself “Is this really necessary? Do I really need a tutorial?” and the answer I came to was: no. And again there were two simple reasons for this. Firstly, I looked at other “Lights Out” games. And none of the ones I found had a tutorial. At most a similar game had a screen of pictures and text that explained the mechanics (Badly. That game needed to be seen “in motion” to be understood.), and that lead to realization number two: I already had a tutorial built in. Yep, from the start I did the same thing as all the other Lights Out games did with there first few levels, I made them super simple 1-2 move “puzzles” that served to show how the game works, served to show what pushing the buttons did and what certain common patterns looked like. The more I thought about it the more sense it made, my testers got better at solving puzzles as time went on, meaning they were learning how to play… except when they were “making a pattern” or otherwise just playing around with it.

So, did I need a tutorial? Yes and no. I do need a way to instruct the player on how to play, but I was stuck on this idea of “what a tutorial is supposed to be” and not seeing what I already had. As with most games, mine needs a tutorial. But also as with most games that tutorial does not need to be a ham fisted “Hey player! THIS is how you do thing.” It can be more organic and integrated into the game itself.

Comments Comments Comments

For those that don’t know, in programing comments are a piece of text that is ignored when the program is run (had to rewrite that about 3 times to avoid using words like “compiler”. If you don’t know what a comment is, a compiler would just confuse you more.). Now you might think: Why write stuff that just gets ignored? Two reasons, both very simple. The first is that you might temporarily comment out a piece of code so that it stops running, useful when you want to disable something without deleting it. And the second reason is: documentation.

Now I am a one man development team, that means I have written all the code (except the base systems unity provides) that goes into my game. As such, I can remember why I wrote a piece of code a specific way fairly easily, taking only a minute or two to re-read a few of the functions. This however means I am a bit… lazy when it comes to adding comments about what things do.

Now I could make excuses about the process being iterative and not wanting to write out an explanation for a line of code that is likely to either change or go away. But the truth is that during the coding process I just forget to write the comments and after I get it working I just move on to the next thing.

That brings us to the solutions for this. The first immediate one is that every now and then I go back in and add comments to my code. A long annoying process that will have to do until I can develop the habit of commenting as I go. The other solution is having other people to work with that can and will look over my code. I know myself, doing something for myself? Sloppy and it just needs to work. Doing something for someone else? Detail oriented, dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s. That extra pair of eyes will force me to develop the good habit of commenting as I go. But that is not going to be a quick process, so for now? Back to adding comments to everything… all at once.

A Few More Webcomics

So I have SO MANY Webcomics I can recommend, a lot of them are a bit… hard to explain. Mostly this is because they have evolved over time (for instance going from one-shot gag comics to a full blown world spanning storyline) and some of them, when I think about how I would describe them, just don’t sound interesting. Then there are the more than a few on hiatus and so I don’t really want to recommend while they aren’t updating… but otherwise totally would. All that out of the way, here are today’s recommendations:

First off we have a weird one:
Widdershins by Kate Ashwin
First page:
Current page:
Magic, Bounty Hunters, Spirits, Wizards, Victorian sensibilities, and Magicians (and yes, those are different from wizards, one of them uses “real” magic). All this and more combine in this strange multi part story. The first of these stories involves a wizard drop out getting captured by one of Britain’s most famous bounty hunters… after he accidentally became the king of thieves. As this and the other stories unfold a generation spanning plot is slowly reveled as more equally weird characters are introduced. And all that is just the first 7 books, the story is still going even after all that gets resolved.

Next up we have another fantastical story:
Skin Deep by Kory Bing
First page:
Current page:
Michelle Jocasta is just a normal girl going away for college. She gets paired with a outgoing roommate and quickly falls in with her friend group. Until one day she gets a weird amulet from a mysterious stranger and everything goes sideways. Turns out, she’s a sphinx, she appeared human because of ancient magic that the amulet broke (don’t worry, she can change back). All her new friends? Also various mythical beings with amulets of their own that allow them to pass for human. And just to make things a bit more complicated, the thing about sphinxes? They are supposed to be extinct.

And finally we have the first webtoon I am putting on one of these lists:
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
Archive page: (note, if this is the first time you are visiting the webtoons site today, it may reroute you to the webtoons home page. Either search for Lore Olympus from there or come back here and try the link again. No I don’t know why this happens.)
Welcome to yet another retelling of the story of Hades and Persephone. WAIT! Don’t leave yet. First let me tell you what sets this one apart. Firstly there is the setting. The mortal world is pretty much what you expect from the ancient world, but Olympus? modern tech, styles, and fashion. And that is where most of the story takes place. This is not your usual retelling of the story. So far Hades has never once kidnaped Persephone. The young Goddess is given much more agency than usual (even if she is reluctant to exercise that agency). And many, MANY, other stories and plots are woven into this tale (mythology buffs are going to freak when they read the name of a specific mortal. Knowing almost exactly how that is going to go). For example, woven into this story is a re-telling of the story of Eros and Psyche. Many of the gods are just as… flawed, as we knew them to be (cough, cough, Zeus, Cough) and a few are broken in new ways. Come and see how this old story unfolds this time.
WARNING: This comic discuses some very heavy topics, including rape. Each episode has warnings at the top for these topics. You have been warned.

Book Recommendations

Last week I presented some recommendations for free webcomics. And I do have more… oh so many more… but today I would like to recommend some of my favorite books.

First up is one of my favorite series of all time:
The Callahan’s Series by Spider Robinson
Welcome to Callahan’s bar where all the drinks are a dollar, you smash your glass in the fireplace (after giving a toast), the puns are plentiful, the company is great, and every now and then a time traveler or alien walks in for a drink.
The first few books of the Callahan’s series (collected in the omnibus: The Callahan Chronicles) are collections of short stories told from the perspective of one of the bar’s regulars: Jake Stonebender. Each story introduces some new problem for our fun loving bar flies to contend with, ranging from an alien that needs them to stop him from destroying the Earth, to a time traveler trying to save the woman he loves, to (in a latter book) an Irish Spirit that loves nothing more than getting drunk on Irish spirits (almost closed the bar single handed). Not to say all the problems they deal with are supernatural or otherworldly, but it does make for the most memorable ones.

Next up, in an entirely different direction we have:
The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Welcome to the world of Alera, where Roman like people rule the land with the power of elemental spirits known as furies. These furies come in 6 elements, fire, wind, water, earth, wood, and metal, and bond with a person in childhood for life. But after the First Lord’s heir dies plots begin to form to replace him. As our story begins one such plot begins to unfold and one unlikely young man, the only Aleran to have no furies of his own, will pulled in and forced to try and stop it… or else lose his home and everyone he loves.
The Codex Alera is told from multiple perspectives and almost every chapter ends on a cliffhanger of one kind or another. Excellent world building and creative story telling keep the action interesting. The series was born when Jim Butcher claimed there “was no such thing as a bad writing prompt” and challenged an internet forum to give him a so called “bad writing prompt”. What he got was this: The lost Roman Legion + Pokemon. And somehow he created this series.

And finally for this entry we have a true classic:
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Welcome to the world of Pern. An idyllic agrarian society (with only a small bit of sexism… they are dealing with it). The people are happy in their holds, tilling the land, and serving their Lords… up until the Thread returns. A long thing white organism that rains from the sky sporadically in hundred year on/off cycles, thread eats any organic mater it comes into contact with and rapidly propagates if it reaches fertile soil, spreading its destruction even further. Good thing the brave Dragonriders and their colossal mounts are here to burn the Thread from the sky… or at least that is how it always was. But now Thread has been gone far longer than is normal (around four times as long as normal) and the Dragonriders have fallen into disfavor. In fact most of the Dragonriders disappeared. So now an under maned group of Dragonriders must unite a world that does not yet realize it is in peril before it is too late.
This book is one of the classics. The first book was originally published in 1968 and popularized the idea of “dragons as noble mounts” rather than “dragons as terrifying monster”. The Dragons in this series form life long bonds with their riders upon hatching, along with a psychic link they use to communicate with one another, and have the ability to travel through a space called between, effectively teleporting. Oh! And one more thing. I should mention the series’ genre. One would think with the importance of Dragons and the low tech society this would be a fantasy book… but nope, you fairly quickly realize this is a sci-fi book. And that only gets stronger the more books you read in the series.

Text and the Importance of Font

Something I have known I would need to do, but had been putting off, is to find a new font for my game’s text. I had for most of the development been using a “default” font that came with Unity, perfectly functional and great for experimenting with to learn the ins and outs of TextMeshPro… but that is the only good thing I could say about it. It wasn’t an interesting text.

The first step is one I didn’t consider until I started getting into it: What fonts can I legally use? After some digging I found a few sites that listed if the font was free for commercial use. But digging around a bit more I found what should have been obvious: Google has a repository of free fonts submitted by various people. So that is the source of my font settled, but there is another problem.

But, when it comes to picking artistic styles and the such I don’t have much confidence. As such I asked for some advice on fonts I should use… and got instruction on how many fonts I should grab. And so I sought out 2-3 fonts. The minimum being 2 fonts, one for the buttons (aka the text that the player will directly interact with) and another for instructional text (aka the text that just sits on screen giving information), with an optional third for titles and such. At first I was given to sets of paired fonts to try out, but most of those fonts had hidden issues that made them unsuitable for my game (mostly in the size of line breaks).

These initial text suggestions focused on readability and a “futuristic” feel. But once I started exploring Google’s repository I found another style I was drawn to. A more flowing style that gave a “fantasy” feel. I felt that fit better with the theme of a night sky I had created with the stars. But a new problem arose… this text sacrificed readability for a fancier form. But no problem cannot be overcome. This initial font I found would become my title font and I found two more similar, but much more readable, fonts for both the buttons and instructional text.