Tag - Contra

‘Contra with Friends’ Post Mortem

Been a while since I updated! Of course I fell behind on the next short, which I address in the above video.

Since we don’t really do the podcast anymore, I decided to do a bit of a video postmortem about the last short. I thought this was going to be a 10 minute video and I ended up rambling for nearly 20! If you enjoyed this and would like to see more videos like this after I wrap up shorts, let me know.

Of course I thought this would be a quick video to put together. I actually put it together a few nights ago, but I had a bunch of encoding issues on the off screen footage I recorded. It turned out to be a big hassle, but at least I know what to do now.

Old episodes & other odds and ends

Been meaning to update the blog on several different occasions over the last few weeks and never got around to it. The result is an entry that is a bit of a hodgepodge of info, so here we go. First up, I added some old Shamoozal episodes to YouTube that have been missing from the site for a while.

Above is a video for Guitar Zero, Shelved, and Stroopid Test. There is about a three minute intro before the episodes where I fill everyone in on a brief history of them. From the YouTube comments, it seems like maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I thought it would be a fun test to offer some insight into these old shorts. I’m thinking of doing some other videos similar to this one, for example, I want to do post-mortem on my shorts. I was actually thinking of putting a Contra one together this weekend, just discussing what went into the short, and how I felt about the end product. I want to try and update the YT channel more often, so I’m trying to come up with some other supplemental material while I make progress on the cartoons.

Also, this weekend I got to head over to the Newgrounds offices in PA and meet the Newgrounds staff as well as a bunch of their top artists. I have briefly met Tom Fulp before in the past, but it was nice to get the chance to meet him again. I have met Egoraptor a handful of times as well, but Saturday was the first time we were actually able to spend a good deal of time together. It was also nice to meet guys like Happy Harry, OneyNG, Rubberninja, Jazza, AfroNinja, and The Swain. There is something so weird about meeting people whose work you’re familiar with. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s a surreal experience every time. The NG offices were awesome, it seriously looks like one of the coolest places to work at. At one point the lot of us invaded a retro gaming store that was in walking distance from the office which was great. I ended up buying a copy of The Legend of Zelda for the Famicom Disk system. Getting to meet all those dudes, hanging with some old friends, stuffing my face with food and drink, and buying Zelda easily made for one of the better weekends I’ve had recently!

Back to reality though, the shorts! So I’ve been working on my latest one which is about Ghosts N’ Goblins. I have most of the extremely rough animation done. I should be wrapping that up in the next few days. After that, it’s onto clean up (which will probably be a bit sloppy in order to get this thing actually done), coloring, and of course backgrounds. So, lots of work to be done yet. What I can say about this short is that it’s going to be pretty much joke free. I want to do something a bit different with this one. I don’t want to say this short is “serious” and “dark”, just more that I want to tell a story. I mean, I guess it’s serious, but well, as serious as I’m willing to let it get, if that makes sense. I just always make cartoons with humor behind them and I’m always trying to think of funny endings. This time I just wanted to make something that just tells a simple story, and honestly, just see if I’m capable of pulling off something different. So we’ll see how that goes. I think GnG fans will appreciate it, and I hope to make some really nice looking scenes. So, we’ll see! I’ll start sharing some of that stuff as it gets to a more finished state.

So there you have it. Until next time!

This Contra background was my enemy

contra_decent-bg

I come down hard on myself a lot, but you know, sometimes that’s a good thing. Take for instance this background I’ve been working on for the Contra ROM that I’ve been working on for… I don’t know, on and off for almost a year.

So I started Contra right after Howard & Nester (which is getting close to being a year old, ouch) and I was able to do boards, and a scene that involved a heavy amount of animation work. I decided to do that scene first since it was the most involved one. After that I was trying to tackle the main background. This background would be used greatly during the duration of the (probably) 30 second short. I struggled with that freaking background so much that it essentially derailed me from working on this short. Now it’s not fully responsible, but it was enough to make me question what the hell I was doing.

See, not only do I suck at backgrounds, but I also suck at perspective drawing (which is probably why I suck at backgrounds), and I’m not really great at painting with Photoshop either. Take a look at most of our shorts and you’ll see that the backgrounds probably aren’t the greatest, and if there is a good one, my brother probably made it. There is something about perspective drawing in which my brain just sort of shuts off, I don’t really know how to explain it. I also get frustrated somewhat easily, so when I have to deal with these hurdles, I try my hardest for a bit, and I eventually just give into me “sucking.”

The Contra background started out like this in the original storyboards I made, which I’ve posted before back in May of ’11.

When I originally sat down to make it, I ended up coming up with this retched pile of shit. Like, absolute fucking garbage. Just look at it.

There is a lot wrong with this. The perspective is absolutely abysmal. I’m almost embarrassed to show this, but you know, sometimes you have to show the bad in order to learn anything from it. So, yeah, the drawing is just “wrong.” Maybe for some reason, like someone that doesn’t know much about drawing, would think this is acceptable, but believe me, it is not. Also, look at my amazing fucking logic at work. I was thinking about how the bad guys enter this unit thingy and I thought “Well maybe I’ll put a ladder on the side, that’s how they climb it.” Of course I decide this after I made this giant piece of shit hanging off the side of it. I realized how shitty that was, so I thought “Okay, maybe the shit piece can have a hatch, that’s how they get to the ladder.” The ladder that no one uses once during this whole short. Also, those wires are the ugliest fucking things I’ve seen.

Second, the colors and “painting” is just garbage. I just don’t know what I’m doing with colors half the time. Color theory was one of my weaker classes in college. So for this I used the colors directly from Contra as my pallet in order to keep it looking like the game. I gotta hand it to Konami because their machine that’s made up of like 5 colors blows away the look I came up with here. Ugly painting for an ugly drawing. I mean, FUCK. The worst part? I spent hours doing this, and this isn’t even my first attempt. I have one where I wasn’t using flat colors and was going for a more digital painting look. Believe me when I tell you that it was worse than this thing.

So when I came back to this short last month I knew I had to rethink this fucking background, because I hated it and it just wasn’t working. I redid the boards for the entire short (still need to tweak a few frames at the end of it actually) and I came up with this.

This image is looking nicer, but it’s still got some bad perspective. Actually, I didn’t even bother created a two point perspective because that’s when my mind really goes out to lunch, so this was all free hand. My intention here was not to use this background as a final image, just to get the feeling for how I wanted it to look, I knew I’d have to tackle the perspective thing afterward. I gave myself a crash course in perspective drawing a few nights ago, even took out the ‘ol physical sketch pad, and did some small mock ups. I still wasn’t quite getting where I wanted to get with it.

I ended up showing my brother, Frank, the above image. He drew some helpful lines over the original art, sort of “righting” the perspective. He of course eye balled it too… I guess he’s a much better eye baller than I am. Regardless, it was a nice help and it gave me a good starting point for getting this thing together. I spent a good chunk of this week redrawing it and coloring it, and I’ve finally come up with this.

Perspective has been entirely eye balled here. I’d hate to put down some actual guides and see how off everything is, so I won’t be doing that to save myself some sanity.

I’m not positive that I “love” this, but at the moment it is acceptable for my needs. I could change my mind when looking at it again tomorrow and start from scratch. I’m not ruling that possibility out in the least. Anyway, I fooled around with colors and look for hours. I kept going for the green from the NES hue, but it was so ugly that I needed to rethink it a bit. I decided to focus on the gold and the blue, but I still wanted a bit of the green in there. The only blue used in the NES game is for the panels behind the unit. I didn’t want this to be pitch black, so I decided to make the background blue. I think it helps make the gold pop. Not sure I’m feeling the green, but I was happier with choosing an off color for the areas I did instead of just going darker with the gold, where essentially the thing would look like a giant poop when all would be said and done if I did that. There are still some things that are glaringly bad here to me, but I think this background has come a long way. I look at it, and I don’t hate it. At least not yet.

Assuming this is basically out of the way, the second biggest hurdle of this short has now been cleared. Hooray. This is actually a mostly simple short (I think) so having something like this finished feels pretty good. Maybe I’ll start making some real progress with this thing after all.

The lesson here? It’s healthy to be hard on yourself sometimes. If I wasn’t, I would have thought that original background would have been acceptable, and I wouldn’t have put in the time in trying to get it right.

Happy Thanksgiving

So I know it’s not quite Thanksgiving yet (we still have a few days) but since this is the only time I’m going to update the blog for a while, I figured I might as well say happy Thanksgiving… so… yeah, Happy Thanksgiving!

Since my latest post I’ve done a bit of work on the Zelda short. It’s not a crazy amount of work mind you, just some really loose roughs for two of the more complicated shots. Of course as I’m working on these shots I realize the flow of the storyboards isn’t quite right, so I have some rethinking to do on some of the scenes.

Speaking of rethinking, I also haven’t forgotten the Contra short. It still pops up in my mind from time to time and I think I’ve actually come up with a solution for it. The day I thought of the solution I almost considering jumping back onto it to wrap it up, but that would be too much bouncing around. My goal is to hopefully see this Zelda thing through. I’d LOVE to have it done by early January. I’d have to kick it into high gear (and with the holidays coming it’ll be busy!) but I might have some nights and days where I’ll really be able to give it my all. The week before Christmas I’ll have the place to myself for a few nights, so I totally plan on banging out a lot of work then. Assuming I have enough PTO at the 9 to 5, I also plan on taking off Christmas week. Sure I’ll spend some of those days with my girls, but I’ll ship them off to the baby sitter so I can really put a lot of effort into the Zelda short. I am *thinking* those few days will really make quite the difference. I’ll hopefully have most of my roughs done before those days, so it’ll be lots of clean up animation and all that good stuff.

In the meantime, the gang plans on getting together this Friday (this Black Friday) to record what could be a final episode of the Shamoozal Radio Podcast. We haven’t done one of these since the summer, and quite frankly SRP just really isn’t part of the big picture anymore. In my letting go of most things Shamoozal, SRP is pretty much part of that. I don’t want to say it’ll be gone for good, but I will say I don’t really have any intentions of doing more past this one. Things could change though.

If you like hearing me talk though, you can still catch me on the Elder-Geek Game Club, the podcast that was formerly known as the Shamoozal Game Club. It’s a biweekly show where Steve (of SRP and this site in general), and EG.com’s Randy talk about a game chosen by the audience for an extended period of time. The show has been going well in it’s transition to Elder-Geek, and I hope some of you folk had an easy time making the transition. We still like to try and talk about the games we’re playing on our very own forums, so it still has very strong ties to the Shamoozal.

I have also begun writing reviews for Elder-Geek.com. I enjoy writing game reviews, and since I’ve cut the idea from the Nerdlog, I asked Randy if it were cool to continue doing some writing over there. Thankfully he was fine with it, so I’ll be doing the occasional review over there. I don’t get a heck of a lot of new releases these days, so my reviews probably won’t be coming at a very steady pace. You can already catch my reviews for Where Is My Heart (PS3) and Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) over on the site. I’ll also be reviewing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the site, but that’s going to be a bit far out there yet. In fact, I very may likely end up doing lots of Nintendo stuff over there, so it’ll be fun!

Anyway, just wanted to fill everyone in on what’s been going on. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

ROM Contra Put On Hold, ROM Zelda Bumped

ROM Zelda Character Roughs - Link and Aquamentis

ROM Zelda Character Roughs - Link and Aquamentis

If you follow us on Facebook, a few days ago I casually mentioned that the next Read Only Memory short about Contra was being put on hold. In it’s place, I’ll be picking up production on a new Legend of Zelda related short.

I’m not sure what happened with the Contra project to be quite honest. I was really giving it my all a few months ago, and for whatever reason things fell apart and production has seemingly come to a halt. I’ve attempted several times to pick up where I left off, only becoming frustrated with it. I have one really nice shot that’s mostly done, but I think what happened was that I let that shot get the best of me. However, one nice shot can’t save what is arguably a disaster of a short at the moment. I just feel stuck with it, in very much the same way I was with Pizza Links. I’ve combed through my storyboard boards countless times, completely redoing them multiple times. I’ve tried to paint some important backgrounds only to come away from them not feeling happy about what I produced. I still don’t have an actual script hammered down. Essentially, it’s gotten to the point where I need to distance myself from it, but still need to move on creatively. I’ve spent MONTHS dwelling over it. Months dwelling over a 30 second short isn’t healthy, and it’s not getting me anywhere. I’ve fallen behind on ROM because of this, and now I fear Vol 2 may not even be finished by the years end. It’s a bummer. Like, an absolutely huge fucking bummer.

I still think there’s a good short inside the Contra episode. Like I said, Pizza Links had problems too and look how that turned out in the end (I mean, unless you hated it of course). I can get there with Contra, I just think that maybe I need to switch gears a bit. I need to do something that’s very much different from what I’ve created for ROM before.

So that’s where this new short, tentatively titled Link’s Confidence, comes into play. Early on I decided that I didn’t want to revisit games I already covered, but I had this idea for what could be a cool Zelda short that I needed to just abandon that rule. I feel pretty good about this idea, and it’s different enough from something like Pizza Links that it’s worth visiting this idea. What I can tell you is that it’s not going to be a comedic short, though that’s not to say it’s going to be completely dead serious. The goal here is to capture a great moment from Zelda that always stuck with me through the years. Being that I want ROM Vol 2 to really focus on that whole “Memory” aspect of this era of gaming, I’m thinking it’s safe to do something that doesn’t quite end with a gag. The short, I think, is going to be very much in line with something like Ninja. Hopefully exciting to watch, but with that bit of Shamoozal charm (at least, I think we have some charm).

Above are some of sketches and designs I’ve done thus far which you can click to get a better view of. Yeah, that’s how early into development this thing is that the only stuff that exists are sketches and ideas I jotted down in a notebook. As you can see, there are a lot of Link poses, and the dragon is the Aquamentis boss from the first Legend of Zelda. I think you can pretty much fill in the blanks from there, and if you can make sense of these sketches probably get an idea for the direction I’m headed with this.

So there it is. I’ll hopefully update this blog with progress as I move forward. I’m really excited about working on this and I’m hoping that excitement lasts and will carry through the duration of this project. Wish me luck!

ROM Update for Contra with Friends

Contra with Friends

Well shit.

Seriously. When I first planned the story boards for “Contra with Friends” I had way too many shots, and on top of that I wanted to include what I thought would be a semi-complicated shot. I knew the shot might end up being more than I could handle, so I went through the boards again and really scaled everything back, and I tried to see where I could get the most out of my assets. I thought I had it all nice and tidy and ready to roll.

Well I’ve been working on the “semi-complicated” shot for well over a month now. That would be “Shot 04″ to be exact. I decided to wanted to do this traditionally, meaning no fancy puppeting with Flash. It’s all straight up drawings the old fashion way. It’s 97 frame long running at 24fps, meaning it’s only about 4 seconds long. Some of it is running on twos, so I don’t actually have to draw all 97 frames… well I sort of do. This shot has three characters involved, all interacting with one another in some way. I of course starting out by roughing out the entire sequence. There was a lot to tweak during that phase, some of which meant that I needed to go back and reanimate some of the frames completely. After that I went through and “cleaned up” (I use this term loosely because my clean up job is yikes) each of the characters. So while it’s 97 frames long, each character is their own symbol, so I need to go through those three symbols separately. Two of the characters are around for half the time, so they’re both around for the same length as the main character. To put it into simple terms, it’s a lot of god damn drawings.

So for the last week and a half I’ve been coloring these cleaned up frames. I’m currently halfway through only one of the characters. Each colored frame (as seen above) takes me about 20 minutes to do. I’m probably doing it ass backwards, but the colors are on three layers. The flat color is its own, the shadows/highlights are another, and the black clean line is on top. I average around 3 – 4 frames each night I work on it. At this rate, I’m going to be here for a long while. In an effort to shave off a few minutes, I actually ditched the highlights on Bill’s pants moving forward. I went as far as to erase the ones I put in on some of the previous ones too (they just so happened to still be there on the first frame when I grabbed that still).

This is leading me to possibly rethink the rest of the short. I obviously can’t continue the rest of the short like this, I’ll just never get it done, and to be honest, it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m currently in the process of maybe further changing the pacing of the short and the actual story and jokes. If I do that, the short won’t be called “Contra with Friends” anymore. I had thought maybe I could get this whole short done by the end of May, hoping I could have it out before I leave on vacation. I’ll be lucky to have Shot 04 done by the end of May. It still needs all the character animation, then it needs some slight effects work, a background, and finally some camera work. The end of June is looking the MOST likely. What the fuck was I thinking?

So of course I need to make it all worth it, which is why I’m rethinking most of how this short is going to play out. I may leave it as is, but I guess the silver lining of this particular shot is that I can rebuild around it. This shot isn’t telling any kind of joke or anything, I just want to capture the essence of Contra.

Anyway, yeah I wish I could go back in time and tell myself I was crazy for even thinking this was a good idea.

‘Contra with Friends’ begins production

Contra with Friends concept art

Contra with Friends concept art

I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but the next episode of Read Only Memory, tentatively titled “Contra with Friends”, has begun production. I suppose the surprising part is that it took so long for production to begin, I mean, Howard & Nester & Metroid has been out for weeks now! Well, I took a week off, and then last week got a bit nuts personally and also with preparing for the Full Hearts Marathon. Would you believe it took me longer to set up Thursday night than the time I actually spent playing games the following night? Computers. They suck.

So anyway, Contra with Friends. I’m kind of excited to make this one, because it’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for ages now. In fact it goes all the way back to “How to Hook Up the NES.” I’ve said in the past that GFG#5 was actually cut in half when I realized just how much work it would be. After Jacquo finally hooked up the NES, a SECOND Jacquo (another throwback to the old Goofy shorts where multiple Goofy’s would be walking around) would enter the scene and they’d begin to play Contra together, hence the reason it was the featured game in the short. The narrator was going to sort of do a play by play type thing as the Jacquos played Contra and eventually rung each others necks and both passed out. ‘Contra with Friends’ obviously won’t be that way, nor will it feature bunny version of Lance and Bill, but it will explore some of the ideas I had there. It’s nice sort of being able to complete something, even though it’s so far removed from where it originally ended up.

That’s sort of the fun of the creative process, pulling bad ideas, saving the good ones, refining them for use later, and so on. Heck, Howard & Nester & Metroid was actually two ideas combined into one. Howard & Nester was going to be its own thing, and the whole bit with Samus being “Metroid” was another short I had planned, but the two ideas worked better together.

Anyway, the above shot is a sketch from a series of sketches I did in an effort to help get a feel for how the characters will look in the short. I decided to make Lance and Bill look like identical twins instead of one looking like Arnold and the other Sly. I figure I’ll do it the legit NES way and make the only difference between them be the color of their pants (and hair I guess).

I’ve written up a script but it’s a bit complicated. I’ll hopefully have boards done by the end of the week, and it’s during that process where I’ll start to find out exactly what needs to be cut and/or changed. It’s always kind of grueling, but once I’m done with that I usually find it much easier to fall into my working groove. Wish me luck!

This picture sums up Contra Rebirth

contra_rebirth

As a long time Contra fan, it’s kind of hard to not be slightly let down by Konami’s recently released Contra Rebirth for Wii. Sure, nearly everything is in place that makes a Contra game what it is; lightening fast gun fights, cool boss set pieces, and a (somewhat) hard difficulty with lots of one hit deaths. The biggest issue with Rebirth is that it simply lacks soul. It looks and feels like Contra, but it does little to attempt to further the concepts, nor does it ever find an identity of its own. It just kind of exists, there for fans of the series to try out and think to themselves “Oh yeah, I remember this stuff.”

The game features a very brief five stages, that’s short even by Contra standards. On top of that, the game does a bit of hand holding by offering check points throughout stages and infinite continues as well. I would like to think I’m rather good at Contra games, and I was able to blow through the game in less than 2 hours. I checked my Wii total times, and I played for 40 minutes on Monday, and about an hour today (and I had to sort of relearn Stage 2 and 3 since I already forgot). At 10 dollars, the price is a little steep, especially since players can find longer, better, more challenging and cheaper Contra games through Nintendo’s service by means of Super C and Contra 3.

Then again, the length and price wouldn’t matter if the actual product was rock solid. Unfortunately, after seeing what WayForward did with the series with 2007’s Contra 4 on the DS, a game in which the developers were in love with their source material and at the same time made it their own, it makes it harder to swallow Rebirth’s simple retreading of the formula. All the set pieces you know and love are all here, meaning you’ll be shooting giant hearts, scaling walls while being attacked by large monsters, riding on missles, blowing up the defense towers, and the like. We’ve done all of these set pieces before, and better. The wall scaling part I mentioned is straight out of Contra 3, but it lacks the context, the variety of the fight, and bad ass music from its SNES brother.

Speaking of the music, again, it is made up of nothing but themes from previous games in the series (though I didn’t recognize Stage 3’s music), and for whatever reason the composer decided on a Sega Genesis style synth sound that was popular back in later 80s Arcade games. Not only do they reuse music from Contra 3, but it doesn’t even sound as good as it did then. Jake “Virt” Kaufman’s Contra 4 soundtrack this is not.

Even the graphics are boring to look at, making the game feel like it should have been a free Flash download off the internet. Yes, the game does push some sprites around in ways the SNES couldn’t dream of (Stage 3 in particular) but the overall look and feel doesn’t impress. While I hate to compare it again, it is nothing compared to what Contra 3 looked like, let alone what WayForward did on the DS. Some of the animation is well done, but aside from that, the game looks about as basic as they come these days. It also doesn’t help that it seems to have a thin layer of Vaseline smeared across it, dulling the pixel work in the process.

Also, what is up with the continual goofiness of the storyline in these games lately? Of course the story in the Contra series was never too serious, and by the time Hard Corps rolled around it sort of had a tongue in cheek humor about itself, but between this and Neo Contra I’m just baffled. While there is never as anything as embarrassing/hilarious as Animal Contra from Neo Contra, the quick cut scenes in between stages here are mind blowingly bad. The image above is of classic Contra character Lance Bean. That seriously happens in the game, and there isn’t much context around that image other than the fact that they threw it in there for shits and giggles. Yeah, I laughed at it, so I guess it worked?

At 1000 Wii Points, it is sort of tough to recommend this game to anyone. For people new to the series, they’re best bet is to hit up the Virtual Console versions (or seek out Contra 4), and for people like me who have played nearly every game in the series, there just isn’t anything here that we haven’t already done before.

Contra used to be the action game back in the day. Before big meat head shooters like Gears of War, we had Contra, and it rocked. It is kind of sad to see Contra has become the butt of its own joke these days. Hopefully Konami will wake up one day and give this series a much deserved next gen make over (see Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) in order to make this series relevant again to people that didn’t grow up during the 2D days.