Did you ever want desperately to do something, and you thought you’d be pretty awesome at it, only to give it a first try and realize that you’re not some sort of prodigy? Or worse, to discover that you’re COMPLETE GARBAGE at it?
When i bought my wife a knitting class for her birthday years ago, i picked her up after the session and she was in tears. She thought she’d be a total pro, but her project looked like someone had had a grand mal seizure while playing cat’s cradle.
My whole life, i’ve adored the work of Jim Henson, to the point of changing my middle name to “Henson” (while on the run from Colombian authorities during my tomb-raiding escapades searching for the legendary South American jewel of Toh-Tallei). i finally had my chance to try it out during a workshop with the Nanalan’ / Mr. Meaty puppet troupe The Grogs, only to find that my arthritis and inflexibility kept me from lifting the puppets far enough over my head. It never dawned on me what a physically demanding job puppeteering was. Acting, puppet construction, improv – i could handle all that. But lifting my arm and keeping it straight? Impossible. Another dream crushed.
Down but not Out
Another dream of mine is to create a video game that uses physical, photographed objects as graphics. i want to either make some kind of game from clay, or to build a graphic adventure-style POV game (think MYST) where the whole set it made of physical stuff, and i just drop a camera inside the set and take pictures that serve as the graphics. The player would feel as if he’s inside a dollhouse, i think. i dunno. i haven’t done it yet. Maybe it would just stink?
i’ve also been burning to do a game in clay. “Like, Claymation?” everyone asks. No – not exactly. Stop-motion animation is incredibly time consuming. i just want the look of clay. i need a game with static graphics that are programmatically animated. That way, i can build the elements in clay and simply photograph still shots – no animation needed.
i got my chance a few weeks ago while building a game for the Chumby. It’s a simple card game, and all the cards have symbols on them. Why not build the cards and their symbols in clay? i could scratch the itch in the course of a weekend!
My family was taking a trip away, and i had a bachelor Saturday ahead of my, so i siezed my chance. i ordered a pizza, turned on Goodfellas, and set up the camera and tripod. i took a little desk light from my office and shone it on a white piece of paper – that was the extent of my set. Then i modelled nine little shapes and photographed them all. In a few hours, i was able to knock out all the backgrounds and lay the pngs down in my Flash game.
Here, friends, is the assy result:
It’s embarrassingly bad. Like really, really horribly awfully bad. And bad, bad, bad. Just – just no. Just a failure. A horrible, horrible embarrassingly bad failure. But i decided to write a post about it, warts and all, in the hope that some readers would offer advice, or that i’d encourage someone else who was facing the same challenges.
Here’s a short list of things that went wrong:
- a poor workman blames his tools, but my camera – particularly with its macro focus – is not that stellar
- i don’t know a thing about lighting.
- the shadow cast by the yellow clay shape was also yellow, which made it very tough to separate it from the background. i somehow expected a grey shadow (?) Clearly, my scientological understanding of optics is flawed.
- i’m not the best hand at Photoshop. Whenever i tried to change the colour of the shapes, they’d lose all the wonderful texturing that made them look like clay (that’s why all the shapes are yellow. They’re actually supposed to be different colours)
Ply, ply again
Unlike puppetry, knitting, and championship weiner-eating, i’m determined to keep at this until i get it right. i think my main stumbling block is the photography. If you have any advice or tales from the trenches, speak up! Meanwhile, enjoy a few screenshots from some games made out of clay:
The Neverhood. A flawed (but visually brilliant) game by Christian game designer Doug TenNapel, who also created Earthworm Jim at Shiny.
Skullmonkeys, a spiritual successor to The Neverhood.
Clay Fighter was a mix of claymation and CG backgrounds.
Platypus, another absolutely stunning game made from clay.