Words: Biting Off More of the Puppet Head Than I Can Draw?

As part of this month’s Make Game pageant on “One Hit Wonders” (or, rather, games based on songs) I’ve been struggling away on a game based on the (free!) live version of the They Might Be Giants song Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head (YouTube). The main reason I even started was because it was my unexpected honour to pick the pageant’s theme and so it seemed bad form to not have a go at making something. Still, it’s the 29th of the month now and I have very little, so rest assured I won’t finish on time.

Anyway, making this game has been teaching me things, mostly about aesthetics, and mostly about crushing my soul. You see, after enjoying moving away from “pixelly graphics” with a game like Get X Avoid Y, I’ve wanted to continue making games that look different. So I decided that the Puppet Head game would be drawn in the software I usually use for comics/drawings called Manga Studio, and that it would have a palette of only four colours (black, white, orange, and blue), because: reach for the stars and even if you fail you’ll at least something something.

BUT, it’s all been pretty brutal. Except I did this one drawing that I really liked, basically of the title:

Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head

Except of course now I learn a hard lesson about visuals and consistency: it hard. When you’re doing “pixelly graphics” it’s relatively easy to maintain a consistent style and palette across your whole game because there’s just not very much to work with. It’s pretty easy to draw a car “in the style of” Atari 2600 chunky graphics, say, because it’s super restricted and there are, in the end, not that many car-like things in the search space of those block shapes. But when we’re talking about actual drawings? Drawn with a tablet? In four different colours? Well it’s possible to do one nice drawing (as above, in my humble etc.), but to do two that actually relate to each other and look like they belong in the same game? It hard. The palette restriction helps, but somehow capturing the approach to the shapes and their level of detail, the little detail lines (e.g. on the knuckles), the relative frequencies of different colours and the blocking out of colours. ET CETERA. Wow. (And then, holy crap, bear in mind that this stuff has to be interactive and that moving, interactive stuff is basically like saying here, ruin all my drawings unless you “get it right” and the interactions are all part of this wonderful illustration that never breaks – which some people can do.)

“I did an illustration for the New York Times”, I tell myself, as I wallow in misery and stupid, helpless anger. That may be, but that doesn’t make me an illustrator, and now I am facing up to the problems of illustration as I haven’t before. It’s “good” because it’s a learning experience and presumably I’ll come out the other end with some better understanding of how all this works and how to do better next time. It’s “bad” because I feel incapable of ever abandoning a project (as I would like to abandon this one) which means I’m going to have to put out something that doesn’t look “right”. It may look like a jumble of crap, dear reader.

So, anyway, I just want to register that drawing things is really hard and when you see that someone else has drawn something, and particularly if they have drawn two things that look like they belong in the same universe, then you should be impressed. Clap that person on the back and buy them a coffee or something. Because it hard. It real hard.

29 July 2014
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