More Gaming Style Artwork I Am Creating

You may have recently read my blog post on creating game art — or really digital artwork that could be used for in-game title screen, transition sections within games (in-game), box cover art for games (or even books and music albums), or as simply cocept art. Because I started doing game reviews for TouchArcade recently (here is my review of Super Hydorah — a similar game to some of the images you will see below in concept or theory), I got indoired to start creating some game art again as well as continue my skills with vector work. Thus, on my free time one of the things I continue doing is improving my graphic design skills. I love to work on a combination of apps or programs and there are benefits and downfalls to this approach.

I really enjoy using a photo or an asset I drew either with a physical pencil or on my iPad using a stylus and either Artstudio Pro or Procreate and importing the drawing i to Illustrator on my Mac. Then, I will sketch or trace the drawing using software within Illustrator to vectorise it thene expand it (this is a thing expanding artwork in Illustrator). That way, I can edit the individual lines or paths and even turn the object into a live trace then color i dividual sections.

Anyway, I started out with this photograph I took on my iPad of a face in water here in Warsaw:

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Then I did all sorts of things with the face after tracing it and vectorizing it into Illustrstor. Before you start nagging that the images I show here are rasterised (bitmap files), they probably are due to me right now uploading them from iPad after I turned them into PNG images or took screenshots. I may upload some pure vector assets soon (I ended up uploading PDF/PNG files of a high-fidelity quality with vector trace to the bottom of this post). I also rasterised some of these images on purpose, in order to upload them to my mobile devices so that I can showcase them on Instagram. Also, I like to use bitmap backgrounds to add into Illustrator while having the objects or foreground (top layers) vector. However, as you can see with pdf file on bottom of this post, I can simply trace and vectorize bitmap backgrounds anyway.

Here is a graphic up close from above, which I created turning the head photo via skews and effects and my own use of tools (such as the pen tool) and into a boss (in terms of video game bad guys or bosses) or a high-level being of sorts. In fact, I already have many ideas for machine learning or AI art in using this asset. I also think that this would work well for either game box art for something like Gradius or Super Hydorah (or something similar) or a concept art for a schmup:

Here is just something wild I did with the graphic or asset or object in terms of context and my own imagination going wild — by the way, the two graphics below were not part of the karge set above at all:

I am still working on additional ideas using this asset and have more I have not uploaded just yet. I can also use any of these assets i to other ideas you may have or concepts for work you may need. Contaat me and we can do something cool and creative — whether in raster/bitmap, or pure vecotor or a combination of raster background inserted into illustrator and saved as a pdf or png or something at 300 PPI (if PNG file, which I also made some, although PDF I believe is as high as it gets anyway for printing or other purposes).

I am flexible and would love to have some clients right now. Game art, dover art for games or books or music albums, concept art, or anything else — I am interested. Hope you enjoyed my artwork and strange ways of thinking outside the box. Feel free to contact for assignments or projects, or we can work out using my existing work for your brand or having me add text as well.

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By the way, I have been using the same face asset for previous work as well in case you missed it here is my previous post showcasing some of the other stuff I’ve done with it.

Lastly, after writing all this I created something else from these assets I wanted to add:
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Here are some files imported straight from Illustrator and the head was traced in using the sketched art preset and set as black and white. The first and second files are in PDF format and should be pure vector work. The second, I uploaded as a high-fidelity and high-resolution PNG file at 300 PPI. I am not sure if PNG keeps the pure vector format, but the quality is good (WordPress also let me embed it into the post unlike PDF files):

Sample 1

Sample 2

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Personal Account of London’s Biggest Gaming Expo EGX Rezzed

C86773A9-0817-4F1F-8DD7-74137ABA5453As many of you know, gaming is now a mainstream hobby and activity that spans across devices, operating systems, virtual and augmented realities and more. It is enjoyed by millions of people world wide. There are gaming shows happening around the world, although arguably the most well-known occur in Japan and the U.S. (particularly E3). However, Europe has a huge gaming scene as well and the UK arguably made gaming in terms of many of the original developers started out from garages in the UK (think Jeff Minter). Games now considered retro classics that were developed decades ago and for computers and gaming systems such as the ZX Spectrum and Amiga, really survived based off the UK fanbase at the time and thrived. This was when much of the rest of the world, inlcuding the U.S., gamed on the Commodore 64, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and IBM PC (via DOS and later Windows).

Well the UK is still a very strong region when it comes to gaming, both classic and modern. The country also has a show that takes place annually called EGX Rezzed and it used to be referred to as the Eurogamer Expo. The expo took place April 13-15 at the Tobacco Dock in London and the next EGX show will occur Sept. 20-23 in Birmingham, UK. I never knew about the show until my recent and coincedental visit to London as a tourist. I will mention my experience at the expo as well as a bit of background how I ran into the show (Also, be sure to check out what Eurogamer had to say about the recent EGX).

The show was all about indies, and across platforms and genres. It offered much more, but if you are an indy gamer it was pure heaven. There were indy offerings from developers that are known and onces barely on paper who had titles not even announced (or at least announced outside of their countries of origin).1D326B16-27EF-48E5-BA76-C410DD19795B

If you are a frequent visitor to this site and a reader of my blog, you may have already noticed my previous story, which included an interview, mentioning the show briefly, but mostly focusing on two mobile games showcased (Vandals and Homo Machina).  The reason I wrote that post so promptly and only focused on mobile was because that is my bread and butter or how I started my writing carrer (hence the original focus of this site being the iPad, iPad gaming and most of my content is still produced and shot with the iPad as was EGX) . I am thinking of getting into gaming journalism  with mobile being a good entry point to pitch websites and editors because of my previous focus and content.

Now, let me tell you how I ended up at this game expo before I tell you how surprised I was the way it turned out to be one of the best expos or shows overall related to tech or gaming in general. I was in London just visiting and site seeing the city before I even found out that EGX was happening. It was already Sunday and I flipped through this guide about London and what is worth checking out in the city during this time or 2018 in general and saw virtual reality displayed along with a game expo mentioned.8DFA8857-1A39-4D81-AFB5-1776DC5975D0

I kind of paid this no attention for a day as I assumed it was just one of those VR-focused shows that really is only British in scope and will feature just the run-of-the-mill games, or companies showcasing their games, that have already been covered to death. However, as I realized the show was happening not far from the London Tower, where I happened to visit the following day, I figured if there were still tickets available I would check it out. Mind, this was already Sunday so the last day to see the show.

I walked by the harbor renting one of those London bicycles that cost 2 euros per half-hour and as I rode by this long and wide building that looked like an old factory, I first didn’t think there was a show happening there at all. It wasn’t until I reached further into the side that I saw an opening with what looked like an event happening. However, until I rode by looking for places to park my bicycle and I saw the front entrance, I still doubted this was the place that EGX was happening at.

I then realized that if I was to purchase a ticket I should do it right away before they run out, as this was the last day of the show after all. So I contacted the EGX staff from their website contact section and I got a very prompt response from Tom Champion, who is the manager of the event, and he replied promptly with information about the show and availability of ticket88714763-B077-406E-BC2C-383E774C0784

I ended up going and being surprised about how robust and feature-rich the show was. There were all sorts of games on showcase including the latest titles, games yet to be released, titles barely announced or in pre-alpha phrase of development, indy games and retro titles.

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When I first walked into the show floor I noticed how it had multiple levels or a staircase that took you to the bottom floor and various sections on both levels. There was also a divide in the middle walkway on topthat divided the left side of the Dock from the right and eachs ection had rooms with different themes of games showcased, which included multiple monitors or TV sets in each room and multiple publishers present.

2DCDBC65-ED7E-4061-BDB0-1F5509137532I then walked inside one section or space and noticed a couple big-hit titles in this section, such as the highl-anticipated and longed-for below, a slasher game called Sinner, and this awesome-looking Freespace type of exploration shooter called Sinner, which I unfortunately did not get a chance to examine too closely as there were so many other titles grabbing at my attention. As I walked by the many isles in the first room I ended up walking into on right hand of the first or upper floor of the Dock, I couldn’t help but be captivated by a game that was showcased across numerous monitors. It also had an active gathering of gamers trying it. This game, which isn’t released yet, was State of Mind, which I actually never heard of before the show but came away impressed and captivated by its art direction and interesting ideas it brings to the table.BF00C809-0EBC-4F5F-8B15-4CF673C01A38

I actually ended up interviewing the marketing and publishing team behind it, Lisa Mallory who is the community manager at Daedalic Entertsinment based out of Hamburg, Germany and Mounir Aouina, the marketing assistant who was at the show as well. Thus, if anyone is interested in the storyline or the game in greater detail and about the origins of the title and the sort or psychological and pop-culture message it offers, let me know. In a nutshell, it focuses on a man namd Richard, who is antagonist to technology running people’s lives and becoming more part of mainstream. Mind you, this game takes place in th future, so technology is even mote prevalent and part of people’s lives than in our reality. Richard also happens to be a teacher, which makes such an approach interesting to say the least. Mallory promised, however, thst there will be other characters playable further into the story.

The graphics and aesthetics seemed real interesting snd gave me a very Max Payne and Blade Runner type of feeling. Mallory told me that the game shares adventure game elements with older point-and-click PC titles, but isn’t a strict adventure game in terms of structure or genre because it offers much different puzzles and implementsiton in terms of narrative. The graphics were pretty awesome and the storyline seemed pretty unique as well with people resisting or accepting texhnology in different ways in a not too-distant future and there is a lot of room in there for good storytelling. It will be interesting to see how it turns out when it gets released this upcoming August. Here is a gameplay section I shot of someone playing Richard (via my Youtube channel under Mike Lata).

As I kept walking a couple of isles down the hall, to the left and perpendicular to most of the other games showcased, I then noticed a game playing in its own booth section that seemed to have a very akingdom Hearts and Dragon Ball Z aesthetic and felt intrigued. The game was Oniria The Land Of The Three Z and at first glance gave off a type of mix, in terms gameplay, of Kingdom Hearts and Super Mario Sunshine. It looked like a platformer with collecting elements the game’s title sounds almost as strange as the concept behind the game. It is a 3D platformer with heavy collect elements because it ties into the aspect of having a dreamcatcher to fill as enemies become captured when they perish. New paths are also opened within the various worlds that the development team plans to implement. New abilities are gained as enemies get captured and the player advances.

I talked to Pablo Martin Alvarez, who is a co-founders of the studio behind the game (D-RealmS) and an active developer in the title, as well as Maria mercedes garcia muñoz, who was an active Spanish-to-English translator for Alvarez and was part of the team at EGX showcasing the game. Pablo described the game as an action adventure title as well as a 3D platformer all at the same time. Judging the mis of weapon handling and platforming he seemes to have described it well.

At one point Pablo pressed a keyboard shortcut for the development version of the game and the main character started flying in mid air to the point in the map that Pablo wanted to demonstrate for me (the later boss fight occured there you will see in the video below). He told me this was a (keyboard) shortcut intended for developers to be able to not have to actually tackle away at the game to get further, but fly straight to the point of what they want to assess.

Here is him explaning some of the mechanics of the game while showing off a boss battle (via my Youtube Channel under Mike Lata):

(If anyone is interested in having me write a story for your publication I have a whole interview with Pablo and more info about the game.)

Outside, on the top floor and between the two sections of rooms and secrions, there were refreshments and food available for purchase. There were also some stands inside one of the sections or rooms that had gaming accessories, art, and other things available for purchase. One of them fewtured a lot of old retro, particularly game boy, games and modified game boys with various lighting and display additions not available in the orignal Game Boy or GBC hardware (possibly some sort of save state functionality or other modifications).

Paper Rock Shotgun (RPS), a quality and popular gaming website and network, had a big presence at the show with a room dedicated to it that had various games showcased inside from varied publishers, but all based on comedy or games that were just hilarious in nature. Some of them had weird controllers, for instance, or featured a battle royal against friends with much laughter involved. PRS also has a nice and very in-depth analysis of the show and what it offered available here.

Nintendo’s Switch console was not forgotten and had a pretty large presence at the show, which surprised me a bit due to Nintendo generally focusing on its own periodic livestream show, called Nintendo Direct. There were various games showcased in an arc or circular set up where eager marketing and publishing teams were literally throwing joycons at potential players to try out their games. Some or these titles had multiple people with joycons playing co op, others focused on single player action. Most were indy or retro in appearance.

They included the famous PSP-era puzzler Lumines, but remastered for the Switch (thus named Lumines Remastered), a multiplayer fighting game with retro and pixelated graphics, called Pocket Rumble, and more. The Switch seems to have a surprisingly (to me) thriving indy scene as Nintendo is finally getting on track with its online gaming distribution platform and besides having a system with a high adoption rate, The Kyoto-based company seems to be giving indies some breathing space and freedom this time around.

I was also pleasantly surprised that there were some big, although could also be considered indy, hitters displayed for Nintendo’s console-tablet-handheld hybrid to try out. The latest and upcoming title in Suda 51’s No More Heroes franchise, a series that started life on the original Wii, was showcased and available for gamers to try out. It will be called Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. Shaq Fu had a section all of its own to the side of the main Switch-only circular arc with posters advertising it.ac847fe7-9b12-4772-9dab-353ae1e10ae1

Because I only went on the last day of the show, which was a Sunday, I missed out on a lot of what the whole event had to offer. Even though, as you may have noticed, I got a great taste of the awesomeness of what such shows bring and the types of gaming experiences they can unveil people may not have access to or try out on their own.

7691B5BC-5DCD-44BF-9427-90D26F397D7AThere were various VR set ups, for instance, and always a line to try out those Oculus Rift or Cive headsets. There were also gaming talks and seminars in a seperate section on how to work inside the gaming industry with big time developers or heads speaking about their experiences and giving advice on how to break into the industry. There were even various submissions for indies to get their presence at the show, for instance the Leftfield Collection and RPS gives some details here on how submissions worked, as from what I saw it was heavily tailored for that independent and creative spirit.

What was truly bizarre and interesting was this set up I saw on the bottom floor of the show. It was a multi-legged robotic machine that had multiple retro-looking CRT TV sets connected to it that gamers played Steel Rats on. There were eyes on top of the CRT TV sers in their own TV sets that looked into the viewers. This dystopian and almost Mad Max in-appearance set up included various metallic pipes and even what looked like scrapmetal and stereo speakers fused together. I felt a huge steampunk vibe from checking out the robot and it was an awesome set up that truly fit right in with Steel Rat’s gameplay.

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Steel Rats is a dieselpunk and 2.5D motorcycle action game that has you spinning your wheels at high speeds while fighting robots with what looked like destructive or highly-combustive environments. Geek has described it as a “high-octane motorcycle action game,” which I think fits the bill with a retro-futuristic art style.

“Steel Rats takes place in a “Dieselpunk” world inspired by 1940’s and 50’s Americana. The game’s heroes are the titular Steel Rats, who are defending their hometown of Coastal City against an invading army of automatons called junkbots.”

I did not get a chance to play the title or try it out, but saw others playing and the mechanics of it explained. However, it definitely is one to watch for. Here is what I recorded of the behemoth in action (from my Youtube channel under Mike Lata) from the top floor of the Tobacco Dock:

Here is actual gameplay of Steel Rats being played on the robotic bhemoth (via my Instagram under Stirolak or Mike Lata):

There was also this game that was showcased or playing on a circular display that was being powered by a projector and it fit the type of genre it represented nicely. This was a surreal and artistic type of game from the quick look I had of it running and being demonstrated. The game was Stereopolis and it seemed to rely on some sort of environmental manipulation and almost a tunnel-runner type of gameplay. Here is a brief gameplay video I shot (from my Youtube channel under Mike Lata):

The Retro gallery downstairs offered an awesome section for the type of gamer I am. The titles showcase brought me back to the 90s and really the high era of my life in terms of gaming: the time I discovered online gaming with the original Starcraft or my Doom marathons when I discovered wads or modifications it offered turning the vainall doom game (with a download) into a completely different game — now we refer to these as modifications or mods. Well, Doom, Starfox and even the original half-Life were all available at the Retro section that gamers could play on PCs as originally the games were released on and in my opinion gaming of this era that these games came out was the cream of the crop of PC gaming.

Retro gaming can be a whole new topic here but I have such fond memories of the games thst I saw at EGX that I can really write some awesome ancedotes about it. I am currently mostly a retro gamer who loves portable and movile gaming as well as some marathons of PC gaming. But because ai do not have the latest and greatest rig in terms of Pc gaming, in fact I rely on my Bootcamped iMac mostly, I still mostly play games like Team Fortress 2 or Starcraft 2, which are getting up there in age. I also am big into my iPad and Nintendo 3DS, in fact I love on going on night runs and jogs up the stairs in the park newr me and take breaks trying to complete Super Mario 3D Land, which has been my evening program lately here in Warsaw.

img_6903As you can see, EGX was an awesome show with a lot of fun stuff in terms of gaming and beyond that any gamer if given a chance should check out. There were titles in all genres and across various systems, set ups and budgets available to try out. If given a chance,I will try to make the next show as well and this time not just on the last day. Apparently EGX’s popularity has transcended beyond London with Berlin being a destination in the near future. Berlin is not far from me here in Warsaw, so I may check this upcoming one out. I recommend that you do as well if you enjoy gaming at all.

If anyone is interested in more content, including a lot of interviews and multimedia I have and may not have had the space or time to divulge here (there is at least one interview or game I covered, which I ommited), do not hesitate to contact me. I can also go a lot further nto the individual games that I covered here, such as State of Mind and more about the gameplay and message behind the game (and other titles as well). So if any publication, media or gaming/tech site wants such content or likes my work and would not mind having me work with them or freelance for them, please also let me know. This also goes for gaming studios that can use someone like me on their team as either a media publicist, game writer, PR, marketing guy, graphic designer/video editor or more (some of my skills showcased here in terms of art and writing for game narrative). Thank you and I look forward to the next EGX show.

I Created a Basic Infographic About Machine Learning from Scratch

Anyone who is into infographics or visual depictions of data and information, should check out what I created out of basically all of my own assets. I started trying to think of a background layer that is unique in nature and will provide interesting infographic canvas. I also realized an infographic should be in the dimensions of 600×1800 although it doesn’t always have to be.

So what I did was first create this background layer in these dimensions out of a mixture of my own photography I took on an iPad, graphic design I created from scratch, filters to existing assets I had, and general playfulness.

The first images are filtered and changed (by me) images of a face through visual design that I orignally photographed of a statue of sorts here in Warsaw. It is a face thst was siting in water, which I photographed. Below is what I sid with it through filtere wnd grwphic design, thn I i ported it into the infographic.

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Next I decided to use a brick wall and a tower from photographs I also took. The brick wall is an a very important brick and landmark in Warsaw and offers a great background texture to be used for the info text or data of the infographic, or that was my initial intention until I realized how dark and vivid it is.

Then I decided to add a bunch of filters, paint brush strokes and eraser action to top it off. And I ended up with this concept of machine learning. Thus here is the bery basic and simple infographic. I will continue to create infographics and make more elaborate ones in the future — possibly in different dimensions or offering more of my assets or new graphic design designed from scratch.

I actually just started experimenting with different image assets I had and tried to turn something i to this format in terms of pixel dimensions and it was not thoughht out or planned. I only decided to turn it into an AI infographic after I realized the face at the bottom could be used for such a metaphor or signify AI used for different aspects  — from enterprise to consumer machine learning and from manufacturing to IoT devices.

Here was the original idea I started out with and may continue working with as it has almost like a maze-design for where I wanted to input the data and key phrases:

 

And after considering the different options and designs, I’ve decided to keep working on the idea into different forms you can see below:

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As some of you may also recall, I briefly touched upon the history of infographics or one of the founders of the modern concept of an infographic, Fritz Kahl, in my recent interview with a representstive of the mobile game studio Arte, a studio publishing the upcoming Homo Machina game.

Infographics are a huge fad right now and an impressive revenue steam for anyone who can create them from scratch and can do both the visuals and find the right data for them — or either or. This is because many start ups and co panies are leveraging them across websites and social media to showcase their brands and products — as well as differenciste what they offer from competition. I hope to work more on such creative works and be commissioned if anyone is interested on further ideas.

I previously was commissioned finding the data and research for an infographic by an infographic company called Visual.ly. I would not mind working further with this company on either thwt aspect of infographic design and creation or any other of the infographic process. It is a bit difficult however when they do not reply to your e-maila and the previous person you worked under has moved on — even though you were never paid or had a chance to cash in on the initial check for the work that was compelted. Either way, that full infographic is available on my portfolio or can be accessed here (yes it is much more elaborate, but also done with multiple people over a much longer time span):

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EGX Show in London Had Some Interesting Games Displayed Including Mobile Titles

1A8F14C1-79B9-4859-8580-93F521BCCFC0During my recent visit to London’s largest annual game convention, EGX REZZED, at the Tobacco Docs, I had a chance to talk to a number of notable developers as well as publishers in the game industry. Some of them happened to be focusing or working on mobile titles and showcased them at the expo. One of these companies happened to be Arte, the publishers of the recently-released hit Vandals on iOS and Android.

This surprised stealth-graffiti mishmash has been receiving some pretty good critical reception as of late. The game is about escaping detection, tagging walls and creating unique tags from scratch, as well as an overall colorful and eye-catchy aesthetic style.

I spoke to Vincent Dondaine at the show, who was in charge of Arte’s show floor demos that included two games that gamers had a chance to try out on iPads. These two Arte-published titles include Vandals and an upcoming title called Homo Machina.

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The two games cannot be more different from each other in gameplay and appearance, but they do share some core ideas, innovation, a charming aesthetic as well as good overall production values. Oh, and both happen to be puzzlers as well, although in much different categories of the genre.

Vandals is a stealth game with graffiti thrown in for good measure, where players can tag walls with their own custom tags and escape police officers, police dogs and even flying holicopter in an almost Hitman Go style. Meanwhile, Homo Machina a journey inside the human body where players will have to solve puzzles inside a factory where a man sleeps and his body is being worked on.

Although Vandals may appear brutish or anti authority in nature due to its type of gameplay, it actually has very laid-back, family-friendly and peaceful style to it.

“There is no guns or killing in the game,” Dondaine said. “It is a peaceful game. when you are discovered by the police, they just stop you and you have to try again and start the level over.”

It has very artistic and almost steampunk type of aesthetics as the game has you sneaking across 6 levels across five cities around the world ranging from Tokyo to New York.

When asked if Arte has any future plans for the recently-released Vandals, Dondaine said that it will depend on the community reception. If it sells, more content will come and thus far he has been satisfied with the results.

At EGX REZZED, Homo Machine was shown to the public for the second time overall. Gamers at the show had a chance to work out a patient’s health and stabilize him as various machines and medical workers walked around a body and monitored its overall health.

This is a tribute game to Fritz Kahn, a German doctor from the 19th century. He is regarded as one of the founders of the modern concept of an infographic. The infographics Kahn created were very elaborate and full of vivid imagery. They mapped the human body as a very functioning and effective industrial palace or factory.

“He was teaching at the time visually how the body works,” Dondaine said. “When we saw that as game designers, we realized that it was design for a game. That was the inspiration.”

The game allows players to work out a patient’s health throughout one whole day spread across multiple levels and involving various puzzles and solutions. The patient or person is laying inside an alternative reality factory with physicians walking around and various machines operating around the laid-out figure. At the end of the day the patient goes on a nice date. So the goal is to keep him healthy and steady to finish one whole day of his life so he can make it to this date.

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“The game is basically a factory of your body,” Dondaine said. “When you wake up you are inside your brain and thats where the factory boss is.”

You can check out the infographic that inspired Darjeeling, the developers of Homo Machina, here. It was originally published inside Kahn’s 1926 book about the human body as an industry, called “Der Mensch als Industriepalast.”

Players will be tapping on various icons to either direct the workers in the factory or on directly controlling aspects of the respiratory or anatomic system of the man. The puzzles will b varied and involve a wide use of logic to solve. The game also has really nice and vivid graphics as you see workers walking around and doing things as you tap on the display where you or the patient is laying down.

Dordaine promises the story is worth following along and it will be a touching tale to behold when the game releases sometime next month. It has been in development for around two-and-a-half years.

Here is a bit of gameplay shown or demonstrated to me by Dondaine:

Updated My Avernun 7 Storyline Idea & Creating Game Art

I have decided to rescan and try maybe continuing to work on my story idea for the beginning of a new indy game, possibly Avernun 7. I have previously tried to take pictures of the old hand-written stuff I came up with one afternoon on a whim for a game idea and the scanning, or images created from the notes, didn’t turn out well. However, I highlighted some of the key ideas along with some art and marketing writing for such games, particularly Spiderweb Software’s, in this blog post.

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Taken from SpiderwebSoftware.com

As many of you know who have been reading this blog, I am a huge fan of Jeff Vogel’s Spiderweb Software and its games, particularly Avernun: Escape from the Pit. This game has a strong message behind it that I would summarize with the nouns exile, anguish, survival, rebellion, and above all else, triumph.

I originally played this game on an iPad Mini on a plane ride and trip to Poland from the U.S. and got hooked. It felt like the true WRPG or CRPG that the iPad at the time lacked and had no alternatives (even Baldurs Gate Enhanced Edition hasn’t come out back then on iOS or mobile). So it reminded me of one of my favorite genres of games: titles like Divine Divinity, Diablo and the Infnite Engine games (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and Planetscape Torment).

 

 

Images are taken from Spiderweb Software’s website and based on in-game art 

Although I have not played any of the proceeding games in the series — the latest remake series now offers three of them already released although Avernun 3has not been released for iPad yet — I have read, researched and analyzed them. I have read many of the latest reviews of Avernun 3 and it, along with the initial Exile 3 release back in the 90s, seems to be the most ambitious title in the series. I have also been following Jeff Vogel’s recent interviews and he said that in his youth when Exile 3 came out he had many crazy ideas he liked to implement in his game design, and he recreated the title faithfully with the latest remake.

I was not able to complete my initial Avernun Escape from the Pit game run due to my iPad Mini being stolen along with the save data being wiped. This is why I have decided to replay it before purchasing both Avernun 2 and 3when it is released on the iPad (hopefully soon). I actually got almost to the end, or where I had different paths I could have taken like chose to fight the guardian dragon and escape to the surface. However, due to my saved data being wiped, I never got to properly see any of the possible endings.

Right now I am about a half way through the game now and enjoying it immersely. It is a living, breahting world, full of wonders and surprises. There are caves to esplore, huge number of towns to navigate as well as various quests to complete; There are magical orbs that spak to you in the game to find, various artifacts, weapons and items to salvage; and a variety of ways to upgrade the characters in your party. The Avernun series are a complete RPG package and you can play them co fortably on any of the iPad’s touchscreens.

This brings me back to my initial point I wrote this blog post about. I wanted to showcase my ideas for Avernun 7, or a similar game in that veil of storytelling. Thus, I have decided to rescan my hand-written pages I used to started the introduction. This is because the previously taken with my iPad camera pages did not show up very defined, as any readers of my previous blog post may attest.

So here is the latest scan using HP Scan software from my printer. The HP scanning software (HP Smart) seems to work a lot better than Adobe Scan app (I previously tried this as well) or just using my iPad camera, which is interesting that HP has such good scanning software that can use that same camera and make more light of what it scans).

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Screenshots:

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As you see, this is just an idea and gave me an ides to continue with descriptive writing because it is fun and creative. I would love to work for a game company or an indy dev studio on such writing ideas, marketing ads, or even do some artwork and visual design (or concept art as I prefer to work with scenes or landscapes rather than people). I may continue on this idea and refine it further by also typing it up.

Speaking of which, here is some digital art I created that could be used for scenery, or in-game title screens or even intro art to indy RPG titles where you enter a nee location for instance.

 

 

 

All my images, visuals or art added on here or anywhere on this site is my copyright and if you want to work with me, commission me or hire me for additional work or to use any of my work — whether wrt, graphics or writing — we can work together. I can also create multimedia content for your brand by combining my writing, art, marketing or video productions into something interesting.

How Bitcoin Mining Is Like Going Back to the California Gold Rush

B3A3AB05-7BCA-4410-8E70-D0EE6F273BACYou may be aware of the Bitcoin fad that has been sweeping the digital and worldwide landscape. This current interest has occured as a result of what happened last year during the amazing run the Bitcoin has had with incrdible high oayouts for some who invested early in the cryptocurrency. Ever since people won big and cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, proved to be incredible investments, the topic of Bitcoin mining started to be examined more thoroughtly.

How do Bitcoins come into existence? How are they formed or put into circulation? These are the questions that Bitcoin mining deals with. This is because Bitcoins by themselves are based on computing systems and the Blockhain working across nodes or servers synchroously and without a centralized server or master controllling the Blockchain. This is, in essence, what makes the Bitcoin a free currency — free from restrictions of a centralized bank of government with imposed rules.

I already covered Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies a bit in a previous blog post. I want to reiterate that Bitcoins are limited and mining for them is a huge deal right now. It is a painstaking endeavor, with potentially huge rewards. In fact, it is such a big deal that in Russia, scientists have been caught and apprehended for using government supercomputers for the task.

According to The Independent, several engineers were detained and arrested at a secretive Federal Nuclear Centre that is located in Sarov, western Russia for attempting to use a supercomputer to moin Bitcoins. The supercomouter was available since 2011 and has some pretty incredible capabilities that sure would come in handy in a mining operation.

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“In 2011, the centre launched its new supercomputer with a capacity of 1 petaflop, which can undertake one thousand trillion operations per second,” according to the report. “The computer was not intended to be connected to the internet and when scientists attempted to do so, the centre’s security department were alerted.”

So what did them in and alerted th higher ups of the facility was simply online connectivity. This may seem strange that something that is so ubiquitous in today’s digital and always-connected world, and something Bitcoin mining relies on, would prove to be the thinking minds’ downfall in a top secret research facility. However, the Internet is not something supercomputers from their inception ever relied upon, as they existed for decades before the concept of a Bitcoin came into existence. Thus, it seems in that faculty they were not designed to be connected online — nor now nor ever.

Huge Rewards, High Stakes in Mining

The reward for mining for Bitcoins is that a single Bitcoin mined will mean a single Bitcoin acquired free of charge. With the large purchasing price right now (or really since 2017 when they boomed) of a single Bitcoin being more than $7,000, according to Coindesk, it is no wonder so many people or companies are trying to mine a coin.B26C390A-2986-4301-B15D-03E6081DAE02

Keep in mind that the whole Bitcoin phenomenon has been a bit of a fad and overmarketed endeavor thus far this year — or really ever since the end of last yewr when it started foing down heavily (crashing) and only really fluctuating since. Last year was when people won big, but it seems right now the market has so many uncertainties and so many cryptocurrencies are competing for market share that what the future will hold is still uncertain. I personally invested early this year, and so far have reslly lost money rather than gained any, due to the prices fluctuating back and forth. Investors and the market capitalization shifts everytime there is some news of a further attack on the cryptocurrency market or some overseas commission manuevers unfavory toward the cryptos.

Despite this, the fact is Bitcoins and many cryptos are priced incredibly high for a commodity-and-currency hybrid, not long existing (since 2009) and not backed by anything in the physical sense (gold or even government guarantees). Again, keep in mind that a single Bitcoin is worth more than $7000 today despite all the uncertainties of what the duture holds for cryptos in general. Mining such a coin could be a very nice investment. Mining is also needed for the Bitcoin phenomenon to continue functioning because, as I previously mentioned, Bitcoins are limited in terms of their potential circulation and it is only through further mining that new coins will enter the market and be circulated.

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How Today’s Bitcoin Shares Similarities to California’s Gold Rush of the 19th Century

You may recall, if you are from California or studied history at all, the Gold Rush was a time of upheaval during the Wild Wild West of the mid 1800s, which was a very turbulent history of the United States. This was a time when prospectors and investors, who were not even miners yet officially, would give up their careers, livelihoods and sacrifice themselves for the potential at fortune through the search of gold across rivers and mountainsides.

These people would travel across long and dangerous territory west to California without any assurance of success or failure. In fact, many gave their lives in the painful process of obtaining such fortune while others, literally, struck gold. Potential miners and enterpreneurs would travel with caravans or wagons with their families while wars were taking place, such as the ones with Native Americans, and very poor communications as well as route conditions existed.

However, such was their resolve. And Bitcoins today resemble a modern version of that resolve, with mining them being a painstaking, often very tech-intensive process. It takes a lot of computing power, time, resources and luck to mine the next coin into circulation. The same could be said for the human factor’s toil of gold mining in California during the 1880s.

Investopedia describes the mining process pretty thoroughtly and also compared it to the Gold Rush in California during the mid 1800s:

”entrepreneurial types see mining as pennies from heaven, like California gold prospectors in 1848… Every single one of those Bitcoin came into being because of miners. In the absence of miners, Bitcoin would still exist and be usable, but there would never be any additional Bitcoin. There will come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; per the Bitcoin Protocol, the number of Bitcoin will be capped at 21 million.“

Obviously there are many differences between the two mining operations and we are living in a completely different time. However, the main comparison arises at the enterpreneual spirit and driving force to mine that next coin.

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The rewards can be huge, there is no doubt about it. Investopedia describes the process as more than winning one Bitcoin at a time. In fact, the lucky miner will win a block of these Bitcoins at a time.

“Bitcoin are mined in units called “blocks.” As of the time of writing, the reward for completing a block is 12.5 Bitcoin. At today’s price of about $10,000 per Bitcoin, this means you’d earn (12.5 x 10,000)=$125,000.”

Mining has also changed over time starting from the Bitcoin’s 2009 inception when a mined block would generate 50 BTC to 25 BTC in 2012 and to the current mined block offering 12.5 BTC. So although the reward of mining has gone down in terms of quantity or coins someon can mine, the value has actually gone up due to the price or market capitalziation being so much higher today than it ever was for a single BTC.

Bitcoins are that modern craving for success and for getting lucky simultaneously. They represent chasing that dream through effort and through perserverence. This is not unlike the effort of the California Gold Rush, where nuggets of gold were gained through blood, sweat and sheer luck.

Bitcoins are also an example of where we are heading in the future. They represent a digital, global, and ubiquitous currency free of central banks, governments and other institutions controlling it. The control is in the hands of the computing nodes mining it and the market price that is determined by the free market.

However, as Bitcoins and other cryptos continue to grow, become more recognized by investors, the market and traditional industries such as Wallstreet, regulations and government peddling is unavoidable. It is already occuruing in many countries.

According to another Investopdia article, Titled Why IS South Korea So Important to Bitcoin Prices?, a country like South Korea can have a huge impact on Bitcoin’s market cap and trading price. If a government, such as South Korea’s, cracks down or discourages (if not outright outlaws) trading, it will have ramifications for the global market and prices will fluctuate — hence what has been happening much of esrly 2018. Even a non-action, like mews of potential government meddling, can have impact on the market cap or investor response.

“The bitcoin world’s collective sigh of relief at South Korea’s recent announcement may have cause the uptick in Bitcoin’s price in recent days, just as the precipitous January 2018 downturn was thought to have been partly brought on by the previous anti-Bitcoin statements by the South Korean government.”

As you see, mining for Bitcoins is a very complex, computing-power (hardware)  intensive endeacor that takes lots of resources, time and sheer luck to be able to win big and mine a block of these very highly-valued digital coins. This is not unlike in many ways mining for gold was during California’s Gold Rush. What the future holds for Bitcoins is a bit uncertain — although as I said, I think they represent the future of currency that will be global, always accessible and digital in nature— but the digital currncy and commodity known as the Bitcoin is not slowing down anytime soon. Nor will the demand to mine that next block of coins stop the next crazy idea from occuring —  as using a supercomouter from a nuclear facility in Russia showed.

All artwork included in this article was created by me (Maciej Duraj/Mike Lata) and is copyrighted @ Mike-Lata.com. If you want to use it, contact me for commissions.

Is Wordpress AMP Worth Tapping Into for Faster Web Speeds?

67CF540C-B813-4B4B-AF91-B875E2D2CE00There is a trend right now to create as efficient and feature rich websites, especially for businesses who need to retain page views and page clicks from as many visitors as possible. This is really a huge part of customer retention and business intelligence because the more customers remain on a website and the more pages they visit within a site, the more successful the business’ online presence will be.

I previously covered how Google rankings plays a large part in driving business and keeping a bounce rate low (customers bouncing away from the website after visiting) is important for businesses to continue thriving. Customer retention is needed with a low bounce rate and keeping existing customers interest through additional content or quality Web design is a large part of business revenue. However, attracting new customers is also important for most businesses.

Google has huge power in filtering which websites get put on top of its search rankings and which get buried with the rubble. Things like many inbound links, quality and relevant content, good metadata with relevant and good use of long-tail keywords, as well as an AI algorithm that is constantly changing all play a part. However, page speed, or efficient speeds and set ups for mobile as well as desktop versions of a website, is another indicator a website will be successful and remain on top of Google’s rankings.014B68E2-FC4B-4B0C-8583-9492642BCDCF

Think of it this way, if you are a customer shopping online, would you shop at a slow loading and inefficient Web infrastructure? Or would you opt for the competitor that will load instantly and allow you to seamlessly search through products of your choosing to purchase? The answer should be simple for anyone who does shopping online, particularly from a mobile device where instant gratification is of the utmost importance.

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Google has admitted last year that page speed impacts their ranking system with a statement on its blog:

“People want to be able to find answers to their questions as fast as possible — studies show that people really care about the speed of a page. Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches. Today we’re announcing that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches… The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.“

Thus relvant content may be more important and overall site quality than just page speed, but it still plays a large role in search and you have to keep in mind that it impacts other aspect of a customer’s experince visiting a website. There are various aspects to successful customer retention and further business growth besides having good rankings. Speed, particularly for mobile users, is one aspect that should benefit a business regardless of content.

Once Everything is in Order Work on Page Optimization & Speed

After, having a good platform built and up and running, a website that is frature-rich in content and all the SEO twken care of, you may wonder, what do I do next to drive business? The answer may be more simple than you think. Optimizing your website by leveraging reliable hosting providers as well as using efficient analytics, cloud (SaaS for instance) tools and great CMS are all good ways to go forward. However, page speed is also a great way to remain on top of the game.

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Not only will it be good for customer retention and drive further business, but also impact your overall rankings on Google and bounce rate (the faster the site pages load the lower your bounce rate ill be). This is where the open source Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project comes in.

This is a service that I think may have started out being heavily tailored for mobile site optimization, particularly mobile sites relying on Google’s and WordPress’ services (hence why it has mobile in its name). However, even though the focus may still mostly be mobile, since websites are a bit more limited in content if they want to utilize AMP or Web admins have to make some compromises, it is a Web service that can be leveraged across browsers, operating systems, hosting platforms and CMSs.

You can check out the scope of support by visiting the AMP Project website. Administrators of content platforms such as Yahoo, Bing, Google, LinkedIn and Flipboard can all tap into it; and it supports various CMSs besides WordPress — such as Drupal and Squarespace. 63B18CE0-B294-4317-9668-EA12EFE9D62D

The service is automatic because the host detects the client connecting to a website and decides which version of a website to load: the AMP or non-AMP version. Thus two versions of a website exist for users to  tap into and levarage for different consumers and needs.

And get this. There is even a broser that taps into AMP versions of websites automatically and makes searching for optimized websites seamless. It is called the AMP Browser. You can read more about it and download it here.

“The AMP Browser is an open source web browser based on Chromium, which accelerates web browsing by automatically loading AMP & MIP web pages, saves bandwidth by enabling data compression, and respects privacy by blocking ads and tracking scripts.”

Here is information on how to get started creating an AMP page from scratch. As you may have noticed, it is definitely something worth doing and shouldn’t cost you anything, but your time to invest in. The downside of AMP may be that it may limit some website customization and features, but depnding on the type of business you run, this may be something that won’t even affect you. Theresults should be obvious and it is an open and constsntly evolving service that you should see benefits down the line with as well.

Using Sistrix PageSpeed Insight and Various Analytics to Drive Further Results

Once you have a website that is run efficiently with good Googl rankings, SEO optimization, relevant content and good page load speeds, you should tap into analytics to see your website grow in business and traffic. You can also monitor of follow other top domains to see what works and what doesn’t.

Sistrix is a service that tests various things in terms of Google rankings related to the top domains on the Web. You have to register an account in order to use it, however it is recommended you do if you run a business online. Here is what its current rankings lists as the most relevant and search-friendly websites on the Web right now:

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You may have noticed that the big players with a lot of resources are on top of this game. This is no secret as they have the best optimized SEO, huge number of visitors, and many inbound as well as outbound links.

Here is one of the websites analyzed that is losing tremendously on Google’s Web rankings and overall online presence.

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As you see, the domain’s social media presence as well as SEO are down by a lot, hence this overall low performance on Google rankings. This shows you thst you need a social media presence to keep thos visitors coming and inbound links being generated.

The nice thing about Sistrix besides all these options it offers to check rankings, relevant keywords that work and overall site performance, is it offers a system to keep your website optimized. Here is how this option looks like once you register with Sistrix:

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However, now that we got to the bottom of some of the things that matter in keeping a site optimized, lets look at what websites and businesses need to keep their sites relevant and continuing to provide great customer retention.

You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insight analytics to test your results once applying AMP.  To check an AMP site using these analytics, simply add /amp to the end of the domain’s url.

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I checked TheWrap.com on PageSpeed Tools Insight and it only got a 55/64 then 59/68 second time I checked. When I enabled amp as part of the url thus implementing thewrap.com/amp in the test I still got a poor score of 49/60. Southernliving.com got a score of 42/70 then 57/69 second time I checked. When I checked the amp version with /amp/ at end of url thus southernliving.com/amp/ I got a better score of 74/80 (thus in this case it was a dlear differnce maker). Alternet.org is a funny case because its mobile speed actually got a better score than the desktop. It got 69/52 twice I checked. When I clecked Alternet.org/amp/ it got much higher results of 83/87 with AMP enabled. Again, solidifying the results that AMP inproves speeds.

Accelrated Mobile Pages Offers Low Barriers of Entry

Again, this is where boosting website load speeds will play a crucial role for good rankings and overall customer retention. Page speed is really one of the things that you cannot go wrong with when looking at ways to optimize a site that already has great inbound link presence, social media presence, SEO, and quality as well as relevant content. Again, I want to stress the importance this is particularly for mobile users and particularly for eCommerce websites.

The nice thing about AMP is that it is flexible so both experienced html coders and novice web designers relying on CMSs can twp into it. WordPress has a simple plugin that will do the job for any company running on WordPress’ servers as long as the company or user has a business plan with WordPress. However, WordPress by itself is very limited in terms of creating Web content (relies heavily on themes for one), so this solution isn’t for everyone.

For beginner Web designers, smaller companies without a lot of resources, asmins of already-existing WordPress sites and those who do not need fancy websites or many features, using a WordPress plugin is a smart and asy way to tap into AMP. For everyone else, AMP should be at least considered as both AMP and non-AMP versions of a website can run simultaneously and the service ill automatically run AMP when possible. Here is some insight the way this works from WordPress plugin’s section on AMP:

“With the plugin active, all posts on your site will have dynamically generated AMP-compatible versions, accessible by appending /amp/ to the end your post URLs. For example, if your post URL is http://example.com/2016/01/01/amp-on/, you can access the AMP version at http://example.com/2016/01/01/amp-on/amp/. If you do not have pretty permalinks enabled, you can do the same thing by appending ?amp=1, i.e. http://example.com/?p=123&amp=1”

Keep in mind that websites running an AMP version will need to keep the content the same across both versions of a website as Google eliminates bait-and-switch tactics that are sometimes prevalent on the Web. According to a statement from Google’s blog late last year, the company rolled an updated to AMP addressing this issue:

“Starting Feb 1, 2018, the policy requires that the AMP page content be comparable to the (original) canonical page content…

“In a small number of cases, AMP pages are used as teaser pages which create a particularly bad user experience since they only contain minimal content. In these instances, users have to click twice to get to the real content. Below is an example of how this may look like: a brief text of the main article and then asking the user to click to visit another page to complete reading the article…

“Where we find that an AMP page doesn’t contain the same critical content as its non-AMP equivalent, we will direct our users to the non-AMP page. This does not affect Search ranking. However, these pages will not be considered for Search features that require AMP, such as the Top Stories carousel with AMP.“

Thus, if you want to create two versions of a website, one for AMP users and one for non-AMP users, make sure the two versions are as close as possible content-wise and free of clutter. The AMP version will also be more limited in terms of ads or scripts.

Either way, AMP is something worth tapping into for many Web hosts and will keep gaining adoption across the Web with social media networks, mobile websites and CMS services relying more and more on its presence. Google is backing it and has a lot of saying power with further revisions, thus it isn’t totally independent or open source in terms of freedom. However, that is a price worth paying for in order to get great page speed and high rankings.

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All artwork included in this article was created by me (Maciej Duraj/Mike Lata) and is copyrighted @ Mike-Lata.com. If you want to use it, contact me for commissions.