Thursday, June 30, 2022

Painting Massive Darkness 2: Druids, Bards, and Tinkerers

It's time for the second part of my Massive Darkness 2 painting series. In Part 1, I showed the heroes from the base set. Today, I'll share the heroes and Darkbringer accouterments from the Druids and Bards & Tinkerers packs. Let's jump in with the druids!

Berko (front)

Berko (back)

Berko the Cursed is where I started painting, and this was hands down the worst experience of the set. Looking at the card art, I was concerned about the care it would take to freehand the tiger stripes. Looking at the sculpt, I was shocked to see that the stripes are actually molded into the figure. This has the effect of making it look striped while unpainted, which is kind of nice for non-painters I suppose, but painted, it just looks goofy. Tigers' stripes are not raised. Further, because they are raised, you're locked in as a painter to follow those lines even though they're not very good as tiger stripes go. It was tempting to shave them all off. Adding another layer of badness is the necklace decoration. He is leaning forward, and in the card art, his necklace decorations appropriately dangle in front of his chest. The sculpt keeps the pose but presses the decorations against his chest because they could not be easily cast any other way. It struck me as an oddly amateurish move from a company named for Cool Minis. 

Still, the idea of playing a tiger-guy is kind of neat, and everyone likes green magic flame.

Zuri (front)

Zuri (back)

The other druid is Zuri. She was fun to paint although the twiggy cape was kind of uninteresting. I could have dressed it up with some different tones, but I decided to just take a simple approach. It wasn't until writing this that I realized the photo doesn't clearly show the nice triangle patterns on the front of her outfit, but you can see that better in the image below.

The Druid hero box comes with three animal tokens, but the Kickstarter Darkbringer pack upgrades these to miniatures. I pulled those out and included them in the set, like I did for the base set Shaman's Fire and Ice spirits.
Bear (front)

Bear (back)

The bear was a pretty quick paint job inspired by Sorastro's wookie video, which I'm sure I've mentioned and linked before. I wet-blended the areas of highlight and shade, used a wash over the whole thing to bring out the shadows and merge the colors, and then did some selective drybrushing and washes to get better highlights and shadows.
Eagle (front)

Eagle (back)

I had to start the eagle twice. The first time through, I just didn't have the right hues and contrast, and a drybrushing left it looking pretty bad. The second time through, I laid down a bit more highlights and shadows in the lighter feathers and then used a few applications of thin washes to get shadows. A few highlights were then painted in. I am sure someone could really take this model to town if they wanted to make it a show piece, but I was happy just getting it looking good on the table.

Raccoon (front)

Raccoon (back)

The raccoon was an easy and fun paint job. Once again, the great texture on the model meant I could be pretty loose with the first layer and then rely on a wash to do the work.

I realized after photographing the models separately that they are vastly different sizes, but that can be hard to tell from the close-ups. Here's a group shot of the druids and their animal forms.
Druids and Animal Forms

Next up are the Tinkerers.

Kaylee (front)

Kaylee (back)

Kaylee was a pretty straightforward blonde female in a green jumpsuit with a red cloak. Honestly, I don't really like engineers in my fantasy: that feels to me less like chocolate and peanut butter and more like yogurt and pork chops. Still, the tinkerer abilities sound like fun to play. Massive Darkness was created as an excuse to chuck dice, not to compete with Tolkien, so I think it will be fine.

Jebediah (front)

Jebediah (rear)

Jebediah was kind of fun to paint due to the mix of textures: not only does he have the standard skin and cloth on expects of a hero, but also wood and multiple kinds of metal. I think he turned out pretty good. I do think it's a bit goofy, though. Somehow, his rocket chair gives him extra movement points. I've only been in a few ruins, and I've never been in a dungeon Hellscape, but the ones I've seen are not very accessible. I found myself wondering how he would pick up a treasure off the floor, but I guess that's what the giant wrench is for. 

Just for fun, I'll tell you what I came up with when I asked myself, "How would I include an amputee in Massive Darkness?" My mind does not go to rocket technology and giant wrenches but rather to magic. The wheelchair is a means to an end, allowing him to move around, while also being the product of his hard work. Imagine now Jebediah as a sorcerer, levitating on a scintillating ball of magic, reaching out tendrils of otherworldly power to bash enemies and to smash open doors. He could move around the Dungeon Hellscape and impress his allies with his sorcery. I think it would make a great model to paint as well!

The four extra Tinkerer models were batch-painted since they used all the same colors. I started by overbrushing each one with Vallejo Model Air Steel, and I made heavy use of my P3 Armor Wash. The darker metals are Vallejo Model Air Gunmetal mixed with black. Several of them have an "inner fire" effect on the card art. I put down multiple layers of Vallejo Foundation White to get a solid background, and then I layered in VMC Yellow Fluorescent and Vallejo Mecha Color Orange Fluorescent on top of that. This and the smoke effects were inspired by Sorastro's Marvel: Crisis Protocol series, particularly the Deadpool episode. I had tried these fluorescent paints a while ago on other models and was very unhappy with them, but this time, I think they filled the bill; I am not sure what the difference was.

Like the eagle above, many of these could be real showstoppers if someone wanted to come in and do some non-metallic metals or reflective hues.

Guard (front)

Guard (back)
Sentry (front)

Sentry (back)

Guard (front)

Guard (back)

Exo-Armor (front)

Exo-Armor (back)

Here they are all together, in part to show the scale.

Tinkerers, Constructs, and Exo-Armor

As I was wrapping up the constructs and exo-armor, my Red Grass Games Wet Palette arrived. I backed the Kickstarter after hearing positive things about wet palettes over the years. One of the things that turned me off from them was that they seemed wasteful, but I liked that Red Grass promised a reusable membrane. Given that the two bards have almost identical color schemes, I figured this would be a good opportunity to try it out. 

I painted the bards in about four sessions across three days. After my first session, I was kind of unhappy with the palette. I had a hard time getting the right consistency from my paints: too thick is never good, but adding water made it run across the palette. I also wasn't sure how much paint to use, since my usual method of eyeballing is (perhaps more than I realized) bound up in the simple white plastic palette I use. When I decided to add a little glaze medium, my green got super runny on the palette, while the edges of it seemed completely dried out. I wondered if I didn't have enough water in the wet palette, so I added some more and put the lid on. A day later, I sat to continue the project and was amazed to find the paints still usable. Yes, some of the green had dried at the edges, but everything else was basically fresh. Some of the paints separated slightly and needed to be mixed again, but I have to say, the Red Grass palette did exactly what it said it would do.

Wet Palette after having finished the bards

I think I need to look more at the technique of using the wet palette. I have a pretty good system for getting decent transitions using two-brush blending, a well palette, and glaze medium. Two-brush blending in particular seemed redundant with the wet palette, but I kept using it because it is my standard approach. The few times I have watched painters use wet palettes, they seem to spread out the blends across more physical space. I was hesitant to do this because I had very little sense of how much surface area I would need for these figures. My conclusion is that I am interested in using the wet palette again, but I think I need to have a good purpose for it: either something with complicated transitions or a time when I know I need to keep a color for more than one session.

Incidentally, I rinsed off the membrane, and while it's slightly discolored, it is still clearly reusable. There is some dried green in the corner that did not come off, but that is exactly as per the instructions: if you let the paint cure, don't expect it to be removable.

Enough exposition about technology. On to the musicians!

Dylan (front)

Dylan (back)

Here's Dylan, who, with a name like that, I expected to be a short, wiry, melancholic sort. It was a fun model to paint, with bright colors and interesting details. I like that he's a big guy standing on a cask: the whole model shouts personality. One of the challenges I faced is that he has his eyes closed, and I did not expect that to be such a challenge to paint. There's lots of advice for painting eyes; there's less about painting eyelids. I could have painted his eyes open of course, but I think the closed eyes, lost in the song, is a big part of the charm of this figure.

Thalia (front)

Thalia (back)

When I took Thalia out of the packing, I thought that his sword was bent. Then I wondered if perhaps he was wielding some kind of khopesh or curved sword. It wasn't until I looked at the card art that I realized that, of course, it is a bow for his violin-like instrument. This was hard to tell because only the stick is sculpted, not the hair. I got some beading wire, trimmed it to size, and super-glued it in place. This made all the difference in the world in terms of "reading" the figure. Like Dylan, I also think this is a great model: the posture implies a real dynamic motion in a way that makes poor Kaylee above look really bland. 

Thalia's card art has even more wonderful details that I chose not to paint simply so I could wrap up the bards and move on to other things. I don't imagine I'll ever come back to it, though it's tempting. That's a case where the wet palette could be useful, too: keeping the green around long enough to cover up the inevitable mistakes that come from freehanding designs over billowing fabric.

That's all for this installment of Painting Massive Darkness 2. I hope you'll come back next time for more.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Speaking at GDEX

A week ago, I woke up extra early and drove to Columbus, Ohio, to speak at GDEX. I have known about this event for some time, and I have friends who have spoken at it, but I had never attended before. Shortly after the speaker submission window opened, I proposed to give a short introduction to game programming with Godot Engine. The proposal was accepted, and so I made my travel plans.

GDEX is co-located with Origins Game Fair. I had been to Origins in the early 2000s but had not been back since. We get down to GenCon fairly recently since it is right in Indianapolis, but friends have told me that Origins is a better event for playing games. From my first pass through the exhibit hall, I was struck by how on one hand, it was a lot like being at GenCon, and on the other hand, it wasn't shoulder-to-shoulder people. Indeed, I could see myself going back and taking the family.

Everyone I met at GDEX/Origins was friendly and helpful, starting right from registration. I was able to find my room shortly before another speaker began his talk. I sat through the first third of it until he turned into more Unity-specific details. Then I decided to stretch my legs and clear my head before my own talk. When I returned, I had a chance to meet the speaker and get set up. Only three people had reserved spaces for my presentation, but seven or eight people showed up. That's kind of a small crowd, but the truth is that it's more people than I've spoken to for some peer-reviewed and published academic papers, so I was happy to see them. The online description for my talk clearly asked people to bring laptops, but it seems some of the attendees either did not read that or disregarded it. Only one attendee had a laptop, so my talk ended up being more of a demonstration than a workshop. I think that actually turned out OK. One of the challenges of speaking at a public event is the wide range of backgrounds of attendees. I got the impression, which was strengthened by post-presentation discussion, that some of the folks had done a little programming, some were active developers in other languages, and some were just curious.

Based on this experience, if I were to present again, I would probably go with something more like a guest lecture. Really, many of the kinds of topics from GDC would not be out of place here, just with a smaller (and more amateur) crowd.

There really wasn't anything at GDEX that bound it together. A badge for GDEX was a badge for Origins. Anyone with those badges could attend a GDEX talk. The GDEX exhibit area was one part of the larger hall where Origins booths were. This is to say that it doesn't feel like a separate event but like a single one. Even the Thursday night speakers' mixer, which I mistakenly thought was GDEX-specific, was for anyone running any event at GDEX or Origins. This meant that the majority of my networking time was in the exhibit hall.

There were about two dozen GDEX presenters in the exhibit hall. Three were from higher education, a few were from small independent teams, and several tables were staffed by individuals pursuing side-projects. I talked to devs from Michigan and all over Ohio. When I asked about their local development scenes, I was surprised that none of these had any. They had the Internet of course, but I expected more of them to come out of local development groups. This was a little disheartening: if the five-person VR team reports that they don't know anyone else in Cleveland doing this kind of work, what hope do I have of building a game developer community in Muncie?

It was definitely a worthwhile trip, and it helped me build expectations of how I or my students might participate in future years.

In closing, I will share here some quick notes and links for some of the nice folks I spoke with.

  • The Boundary Condition is a fascinating demo of a game involving slicing a 3D space into cross-sections.
  • three times sixty is an interesting physics game
  • McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies at Ohio University have a game development program in a college of communications.
  • Shawnee State University is a small institution in southern Ohio with a highly-ranked game design program.
  • I met a nice team of college students who partnered with the US Forest Service to make an education game... but the swag they gave me doesn't give the game name nor their school's name, and now I cannot find it. I believe they were from a regional art school.
  • Charmakards is making a non-religious collectible card game inspired by the Bible
And, with nothing to do with higher education or game development per se, I talked to some nice folks from Creature Caster about the incredible miniatures they make. They are lovely. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Family Painting: Arcadia Quest Pets

For Christmas, I bought for the family the final Arcadia Quest expansion (not counting Inferno) that we lacked: Pets! Honestly, I knew nothing else about it except that it was more AQ stuff and would be fun to paint together. Here's hoping the rules and campaign are good. 

In case you're looking for other posts in the series, you can check out how we painted Arcadia Quest, the Beyond the Grave expansion, and the Riders expansion.

I grouped the photos by painter this time, and they are presented here in age order. As usual, we did these in a fairly quick style, completing a mini per session. The elder four of us used our shared Vallejo Model Color paints and two Citadel washes, and the younger two used craft paint and the washes. All the minis were zenithal primed via airbrush. I did not spend a lot of time cleaning up mold lines.

My minis (front)

My minis (back)

I'm the oldest in the household, so I get to go first. I painted Bumble, Oak, Vexia, and Ace. Vexia was certainly the most challenging because of the high-contrast headband and face. Oak was an adventure in earth tones.

Mrs. G's minis (front)

Mrs. G's minis (back)

My wife joined us for most of the painting sessions, and she painted Puff, Greenhood, a Korilla, and Rawr. She did a bang-up job on Greenhood, bringing out some wonderful detail in the cloak. Also, if you look carefully, you can see she modified the figure to be a little more family-friendly: the sculpt actually has a bikini top over anime breasts, but my wife put Greenhood in a more combat-appropriate green shirt. (The card art, unfortunately, remains silly.) Again, to give kudos where they are deserved, the dotting she used to convey Puff's scales are amazing, and the fur on the Korilla looks great.

#1 Son's minis (front)

#1 Son's minis (back)

My eldest son (15) did a great job with these figures. They are Tickles, Newton, Padfeet (a "wolfie"), a Korilla, and a Hedgehornet. The most impressive one here is surely Newton, whose card art has him as a plain green chameleon. My son added all the details and coloration that really makes the miniture shine. For his Korilla, he explored Dr. Faust's stipple-and-ink technique. It looks great, although it's almost too furry for either a koala or a gorilla. Still, as an exploration of technique, it's amazing. The Hedgehornet merits some attention too as it's the first we've seen. This miniature features high contrast, hard-to-paint colors. My son here did a great job on a hard miniature, and as the eldest of the boys, one should expect his to be the sharpest of them.

#2 Son's minis (front)

#2 Son's mins (back)

My second son (12) painted Sheldon, Moonpie, Tallon, and a Hedgehornet. Sheldon was his first, and he did a great job adding texture and detail to the shell. He was concerned about Moonpie, but I think it looks great, especially knowing how white and pink are hard colors to paint. The details on Tallon are excellent, especially considering this was a one-session paint job. The hedgehornet is good too, and I'm mostly just glad I didn't have to paint one.

#3 Son's minis (front)

#3 Son's minis (back)

My third son (10) skipped one painting session to work on a model rocket, which is why he only has these three: Miau, a Hedgehornet, and a Korilla. He tends to come in fairly dark, so I will need to talk to him about finding better starting tones. He also paints flat, and when I asked him about it, he claimed to not know how to highlight or shade. I sat with him this morning and showed him how an overall wash on the Korilla and a spot wash on Miau could get a lot more dynamism without a whole lot more effort. Perhaps I will try switching up our seating order next time we do family painting so I can give him a few more tips.

#4 Son's minis (front)

#4 Son's minis (back)

My youngest son (7) cracks me up. He loves family painting, and he completed a Hedgehornet, Owlbunny, Barnaby, and a Korilla. He knows to get a good coat down, let it dry, and go for the magic of Nuln Oil or Agrax Earthshade. Once again, hedgehornets are hard, and I give him credit for even trying that yellow-black stripe pattern. Notice that he put the reflective white dots in the eyes and how well that draws attention to the face.

That's all for today's episode of Family Painting. Don't worry, I have another set of minis behind me, just waiting to be primed.