• Periodic Welcome Post, August 2016

    Hey, hey! Every once in a random period, I put up a little post welcoming my new readers and keeping everyone abreast of what’s coming up!

    Welcome New Readers!

    <3 <3 <3

    …Not a lot more to say about that, actually. Got questions? Comments? Suggestions? I’d love to hear ’em, in the comments or via e-mail (thegneech at gmail dot com)! I’d also love to know how you came to be here. Suburban Jungle? Are you a Twitter follower? WHOOOO ARRRRRE YOOOOU?

    Suburban Jungle Issue Five!

    The cover is up! I’m going start drawing pages this week, with my current plan being for the issue to begin running September 5. I’m not going to set that date into stone yet tho, just in case things randomly go pear-shaped, as they have a tendency to do around here.

    Sky Pirates of Calypsitania and NaNoWriMo

    There is some hopeful activity on the novel front! Alas, I can say no more for fear of jinxing it, but I am excited and hope it works out! In the meantime, I am working on an outline for a sequel novel, under the working title of Eternal Promises, with an eye towards writing the actual manuscript (or at least large chunks of it) over the course of NaNoWriMo. (Which means, among other things, I need to get as much of issue five done as possible by the end of October!) Eternal Promises will finally bring the intended-but-never-produced first story from Arclight Adventures to the light of day, which makes me happy.

    Overwatch Play of the Game Badges and Videos

    There are only a few badge commissions left, but I do have a complete “Victory Poses Plus Badges” group commission that I will be trying to finish over August and September. (Because let’s face it, I won’t be drawing enough, right? Β¬.Β¬ ) I only have footage for one more Learning Not to Suck at Overwatch video right now, which will probably go up sometime this week, but I imagine that series will be going for a bit longer. I’d love to know what (if anything) people think of it, beyond the obvious “There’s a watermark on the video and your microphone is wonky.” Think of those elements as… uh… charmingly kitschy? I don’t have the budget to fix them at the moment. πŸ˜‰

    Convention Schedule

    My next convention will be Midwest Furfest in December, where you should be able to find me in the Artist Alley most of the time. Due to budget constraints, I am currently trying to find someone to take over my Dragon*Con room; if that doesn’t happen, it’s entirely possible I’ll end up going to that as well, even though I really can’t afford it, on the grounds that the money is committed so I might as well enjoy it.

    So that’s the State of the Gneech at the moment. Busy, busy, busy, but creating a lot of stuff that I hope you’ll check out and enjoy. Life is good.

    -The Gneech

    Share
  • Play of the Game Badges!

    From the “Ideas I Wish I’d Had a Month Before AnthroCon Instead of Two Days” Department…

    Play of the Game Badges Flyer

    Yeah, so, Overwatch has been eating my brain. ^.^’ What can I say, it’s an awesome game! So I want an excuse to do art related to it. πŸ˜‰ Badges! Who doesn’t love badges?

    But yeah, the flyer pretty much says it all. $30 gets a glossy photo-quality printed badge in holder mailed anywhere in the U.S., or $25 gets a high-res file so you can print out your own. And if you’re one of my Patreon supporters you get $10 off!

    To claim one, you can leave a comment here, or you can e-mail me via thegneech at gmail dot com. Gamsa!

    -The Gneech

    Share
  • Someone to Overwatch Over Me


    DVaGneech and TracerBlitz by the-gneech on DeviantArt

    Taking a little break from Ghostbusters [1] to get into Overwatch. This is a fun action-oriented online game from Blizzard (makers of World of Warcraft [2]) which is being described as a “hero shooter.”

    What’s a “hero shooter”? I have to admit I barely understand the term myself. The shooter part is easy– the controls and interface are standard FPS. The “hero” part apparently refers to the fact that instead of controlling a single player avatar or character, you choose from a variety of characters depending on the needs of the team and the situation. So if your team needs a damage dealer to lead an assault, you might choose the jetpack-boosting soldier, but if they need to defend a point you might choose the sniping archer.

    Overwatch has 21 characters currently, broadly grouped into “offense,” “defense,” and “support,” with subcategories of “tank,” “builder,” and “sniper.” Gameplay is fast and woolly: you are grouped up with five other players (either friends you’ve pre-grouped with or randomly-selected players of a similar level/rank) and tossed into an arena against a team of six other randomly-selected players (or AI foes of choosable difficulty). There are basically two missions currently: conquer waypoints, or escort/deny a moving payload.

    I’m told it’s somewhat like Team Fortress 2, but as I’ve never played that, I can’t address it.

    Now normally this isn’t the sort of thing I would expect to get into, being pretty much all action and no plot. The “payload” being delivered or blocked isn’t even identified beyond being a thing on a truck (it looks vaguely like a giant electromagnet). And I couldn’t tell you what made me interested in checking it out, other than a vague hole in my nerdery where LotRO and Borderlands used to be. But once I decided I wanted to play it, I found myself going on a long and painful journey into the underworld, by which I mean Windows gaming.

    The Exciting Adventure of Gneech vs. His Computer

    My gaming PC was quite beefy once upon a time. Specifically, around 2008 or so when I bought it to be an awesome platform for playing Lord of the Rings Online. It served me well in that capacity for a long time, and it never had the slightest problem with Borderlands 2, so I fully expected it to be capable of running Overwatch.

    Ha, ha, silly me. How was I to know that Microsoft and/or NVidia had imposed mandatory retirement on my video card? (In fairness, the card design is 10+ years old, which is a very long time in the world of computers. But the thing still works! Assuming the fan motor stayed good it’d probably keep on working for 10 more years if the software would support it.) After much wailing and gnashing of teeth about not being able to afford a contemporary gaming rig, I finally took a gamble and bought a new card, basically a 2014-ish version of the same card. Any better/more powerful? Not really, as far as I can see, but it has DirectX 12 drivers, which the old one doesn’t, and that’s what was required for Overwatch to work.

    However, the new card and the old system don’t really get along very well. Windows keeps polling the card like the guy in Smooth Criminal: “Video are you okay, are you okay, are you okay video? Video are you okay, are you okay, are you okay video?” But the video card, trying valiantly to render things the game is throwing at it, doesn’t answer quickly enough, so Windows decides, “Oh, the video card must have crashed, let’s reset it.” Which kills the driver, and by extension, kills the game. Usually about 10-30 seconds before the end of the match I’m currently in. -.-

    Now this PC (currently on Win 7) is eligible for an upgrade to Windows 10, so I thought that might fix it. I tried to upgrade to 10 before, only to have it keep crashing on the old card, which was not supported by Windows 10 because reasons. I figured, “New card! Specifically states compatible with Windows 10 on the box! Maybe this will fix everything!”

    Ha, ha, silly me. So I upgraded to Windows 10… which absolutely refused to acknowledge that there was any graphics card at all other than “Generic Display Adapter.” And you know what Generic Display Adapters don’t do very well? Render 3D objects. So, while I did eventually get Overwatch up and running under Windows 10, it was completely unplayable.

    So… finally… I rolled back to Windows 7, and I’m living with a 40% chance that any given match will cause my computer to crash. πŸ˜› The (relatively) good news is that if it’s going to crash, it usually does it early on. If I can get past five minutes in the game, it’ll probably be stable until the end of the session.

    I have had a fan very generously offer to build me a new machine and bring it to BronyCon in July, for which I’m super-grateful! Let’s face it, if the worst thing about the whole situation is that I have to wait a little over a month to reliably play the most current video game, I have it pretty damn good.

    The Exciting Adventure of Tracer’s Butt

    Although the gameplay is fun and engaging in a pure-action kind of way, it’s really the art and character design that appeals to me about Overwatch, as evidenced by the pic at the top of my buddy Inkblitzer and me rendered as D.Va and Tracer, respectively.

    And honestly, even then it’s only a few of the characters who stand out. Certainly none of the male ones: with the exception of Winston (who is still basically Beast from the X-Men) they’re all the same tired old tropes of “Weary Soldier,” “Sheriff Shooty McCowboy,” “Wangsty Grim Samurai,” “Cackling NOT-the-Joker With a Bomb” and so on. But Tracer, the game’s mascot, is a Peter Pan-style gadfly who teleports around poking her enemies with sticks (well, bullets, but still). D.Va, my particular fave, is a Korean gamer girl with a bunny on her chest and a giant pink mech who flings herself into crowds of enemies like an enormous bowling ball, knocking them all for a loop. Finally there’s Zarya, who is basically a Rule 63 version of The Heavy from Team Fortress, who deadlifts her giant plasma gun in character introduction screens and regularly invites everyone to the gun show.

    The prominence of female characters in the game (and quite probably the fact that they’re way more interesting than the male characters) has of course led to all sorts of internetty nonsense about it all, most famously about a victory pose for Tracer that people decried as being too much about showing off her butt when the character generally isn’t sexualized otherwise. Given that Widowmaker (super-cliche femme fatale sniper in a skintight bodysuit) is all about her catwalk strut, and that Mercy (the healer who literally has wings and a halo) is all “tender goddess,” the complaint was basically “Can we have one female character who is not primarily rendered in terms of the male gaze for a change?”

    Blizzard, to their credit, said, “it’s a fair cop” and changed the victory pose, but by then the dweeby fanboys had latched onto the whole business of butts, which can make looking for Overwatch fan art an exercise in eye-rolling as you encounter one “Durr hurr hurr!” Tracer’s Butt piece after another. :-` It’s a minor nuisance, but still causes side-eyes around a character who is otherwise fun and engaging.

    Still! It’s a minor issue at best and doesn’t really impact gameplay. So far everyone I’ve encountered actually in the game has been either typically uncommunicative (it’s hard to type in the team channel and shoot at the same time) or has been very nice, with few or no dickweeds encountered so far. While the basics of the game are simple, actually going up against live players is incredibly challenging– I finally had my first victory last night, and it was very satisfying to finally feel like I was getting somewhere after my first attempts were so sad. The game rewards study and perseverance, and that’s a nice feeling I’ve been lacking for some time.

    Will I still be playing in six months? I have no idea. Will anyone? It depends on where the game goes, if indeed it goes anywhere. People have been playing Team Fortress 2 for something like a decade now with no signs of stopping. With no single-player story to “beat,” the only way to play the game is in matches with other players, which can be a blessing and a curse. There is no real finish to the game, which means you don’t get people going through the single-player, being “done,” and wandering off. On the other hand, if it gets to the point where players become scarce and every match is made up of one or two humans and a bunch of AI foes, it could become a ghost town real quick.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out! And it’s nice to be in on something new for a change. πŸ˜‰

    -The Gneech

    [1] Sort of. The first draft is actually finished and I’ll keep posting about it in a day or two.

    [2] Can you believe there’s a movie coming out for that? XD It actually looks pretty entertaining in its own schlocky way.

    Share
  • Zootopia and 7-Point Structure

    So sometime last week Matt Trepal (creator of Fight Cast or Evade) pointed me at a writing technique called “7-Point Structure.” It’s not that far removed from the Snowflake Method/Five Act Structure I’ve already been using, but it is different enough that it can give you new insights on a story.

    The best breakdown of it I’ve found comes from the person who first popularized it, Dan Wells, and you can see that here:

    In order to sort of teach myself the ins and outs of it, I decided to make a 7-point breakdown of Zootopia, as that’s fresh in my mind and a remarkably-tight story considering the “toss everything out and start again” way it came together. I mentioned it on Twitter and had several folks express interest, so I’ve decided to post it here, because I love you.

    WARNING! ZOOTOPIA SPOILERS AHEAD! BECAUSE DUH.

    This discussion assumes you already have the gist of 7-point structure. If not, go watch those videos and come back. πŸ˜‰ Also, Zootopia (in italics) refers to the story/movie, while Zootopia (not in italics) refers to the city itself.

    As John Lasseter so aptly put it, Zootopia‘s real subject is bias, both how it effects people and how they deal with it. As I started dissecting Zootopia I rapidly came to the conclusion that it has three major arcs, to wit Judy Hopps’ arc, Nick Wilde’s arc, and an overall Zootopia’s Promise arc. They are all connected by bias: Judy’s having to cope with bias against the idea of a bunny cop as well as her own bias on the subject of foxes, Nick having internalized the bias against foxes as well as his own bias on the subject of Zootopia’s failure to live up to its own ideals, and all of Zootopia’s struggle with the messy intersection of its stated ideals and the reality of life.

    In light of that, the true plot points of Zootopia aren’t necessarily a simple list of “A happened, then B happened, then C happened” but of the characters’ progression. Zootopia is a character-based story, not an event-based one. And here’s how it falls out:

    Starting Point Hopps: Hopps is discounted as a police officer (by Bogo and Nick)
    Nick: Nick is convinced there’s no point to being anything but “a shifty fox”
    Zootopia: Zootopia claims to be “where anybody can be anything” but is far from that in reality

     

    Plot Turn 1 Hopps and Nick: Hopps recruits Nick to help her search for Emmet
    Zootopia: 14 animals are missing

     

    Pinch 1 Hopps and Nick: Captured by Mr. Big
    Zootopia: Manches goes savage

     

    Midpoint Hopps: Nick stands up to Bogo for Hopps
    Nick: Hopps saves Nick’s life during the Manches chase and shows him respect and compassion
    Zootopia: Lionheart is arrested, revealing that all the missing animals are predators turned savage

     

    Pinch 2 Hopps: Hopps resigns from ZPD in despair
    Nick: Nick feels betrayed and breaks off his friendship w/ Hopps
    Zootopia: Zootopia is violent and full of prejudice

     

    Plot Turn 2 Hopps: Hopps figures out the mystery
    Nick: Nick realizes Hopps truly values his friendship and forgives her
    Zootopia: Bellweather’s plot is revealed

     

    Resolution Hopps and Nick: They become respected police and equal partners
    Zootopia: Zootopia lives up to its promise, even though “life is messy”

     
    The way the 7-point structure works is that you start with your desired end state and from there you make the start the opposite of that. Thus, if the end state is “Judy and Nick are partners and Zootopia is making progress on its ideals” then the beginning has to be “Judy and Nick are enemies and Zootopia is failing or actively working against its ideals.” In this particular case, it’s Bellweather who’s actively working against Zootopia’s ideals, but she wouldn’t be able to succeed if the rest of the city didn’t already have the underlying tensions that she exploits.

    Each plot turn or pinch, therefore, is a stepping stone from the starting point to the resolution. An interesting thing to note is that a lot of scenes or moments that stand out about Zootopia do not actually register in terms of plot: the character of Flash for instance, while an awesome piece of set dressing, doesn’t really impact the story at all except as a plot device to burn up some of Judy’s timer and add dramatic tension to the “Nick stands up to Bogo” moment. The character of Gazelle, despite her incredibly catchy song, is not important to the plot at all except as a sort of mouthpiece for the ideals that Zootopia is failing to live up to.

    This kind of analysis can show you hidden things about your story, such as empowerment issues. For instance, if you have a story full of “strong women,” but all of the plot points are driven by male characters, guess what? You still have a patriarchal story. (Not a problem in the case of Zootopia, but one I did find in another piece I applied this method to.) It can also help you boil down your story to the most essential elements, and show you where things need to be stronger.

    For instance, if your resolution is “Luke becomes a fully trained Jedi” and your starting point is “Luke is a mostly-trained Jedi,” this is gonna be a pretty weaksauce arc. On the other hand, if your resolution is “Luke becomes a fully trained Jedi” and your starting point is “Luke is a powerless nobody in the middle of nowhere,” you’ve got a lot more to work with!

    In the case of Zootopia, they did a really good job intertwining the characters’ arcs with the thematic (“Zootopia’s Promise”) arc. Judy and Nick have to be friends and equals at the end: therefore they have to be enemies and socially-disparate at the beginning. But the reason they are enemies is because Zootopia isn’t living up to its ideals.

    Dude. That’s some tight plotting.

    This, more than any adorable furry critters or catchy songs, is why Zootopia works. It’s just damn well written!

    -The Gneech

    Share
  • Zootopia is Legit Furry Literature

    Not gonna lie: I felt kinda gut-punched by the initial appearance and marketing of Zootopia. When I first came onto the furry scene, I had friends working at Disney who lived in constant fear they would be “outed” as furries and get fired. So now, 15 years later, to have Disney release a movie that is clearly aimed at furries but still didn’t want to name them as such (remember the “What Is Anthropomorphic” trailer), about a fox and a rabbit teaming up? Tell me that doesn’t sound like The Lion King : Kimba :: Zootopia : Kevin and Kell.

    And then to see a promo poster with a big ol’ pair of furry faces and the caption “WELCOME TO THE URBAN JUNGLE”? It was real hard not to take that personal. It felt like Disney saw furry conventions bringing piles of money in to convention hosting cities and charity auctions and thought, “Hey, why isn’t that money coming to us instead?” It also felt like people like Bill Holbrook, Uncle Kage, and me had spent years working to de-stigmatize the furry genre, only to have Disney swoop in and reap the rewards.

    But the movie received out of this world reviews, even for the usual softball of a Disney movie, and everyone I knew who saw it loved it. I knew that I was going to end up seeing it eventually anyway, so I went ahead and did on Saturday.

    Well, I’m pleased to announce that I was wrong. This is not “furry being co-opted.” This is, “furry has arrived.”

    Zootopia, from the train with separated compartments based on passenger size, to the themes of speciesism, to the surprisingly biting social commentary, is legit furry literature of the best kind. The filmmakers didn’t just take someone else’s work and throw a billion dollars at making it pretty, they took the furry premise and made something new, original, and beautifully realized.

    So, all objections withdrawn. Go see it! In the meantime, I’ll just leave this here for you to consider (beware spoilers).

    -The Gneech

    Share
  • MFF! I Will Be In You!

    …That didn’t sound right. Β¬.Β¬

    Anyway! I’ll be at Midwest Furfest starting tomorrow! My plan is to get into the Artist Alley whenever I can, where I’ll be doing badges and sketches and have a smattering of books and buttons (mainly what I can carry with me to and from every day, up to what they’ll allow).

    Come see me! Get some art! We’ll chat, we’ll schmooze, I’ll have my people call your people. It’s all good.

    -The Gneech 😎

    Share