We’ve put up a new store with two new items, including a Panda Excess coffee mug, and the mousepad you see here! Definitely had fun designing this over the weekend and I hope to do more with the idea as time goes on.
Archive for ‘General News’
The last week hasn’t been much fun, to be honest. The combination of not being skilled at server management, and continuing to have decent enough traffic to make it an issue, spiraled into a complete meltdown without a contingency plan. It was only through the efforts of our resident web assistant, Holden, and our new friend Damien from Icy Veins that we were able to fix the problem on our current server enough to allow us to continue operating here, while we set up shop on a more stable host and take the opportunity to fix a few things while we have the time.
If you’ve been following our Facebook or Twitter accounts, you might guess that I’ve been a bit stressed about this. We’re moving to a new server in order to keep up with our traffic *and* keep things simple enough to manage any future problems. Like everything else, it always comes down to compromising on solutions in order to not die of exhaustion. There are so many things that I would like to do over the next few months and have actual plans for, but I have yet to find someone who can fulfill my need for a cloning machine. It’s a catch-22: If I could do A, B, and C, I could build this into a project capable of supporting a serious operation. However, in order to do A, B, and C, it needs to already be a 40 hour job. It’s a gap that can be scary, and it’s the question that I always ask when I get to meet other content creators: How did you make that leap?
The Donation Question
When our web issues first started, people quickly offered to donate money to support a more expensive server. At the time, I held off so that I could first investigate whether the problem was genuinely solvable if we were willing to upgrade, or just me not being an idiot anymore. It wouldn’t sit right with me to blast out calls for Paypal donations when we weren’t actually raising the hosting budget. While this whole experience has taught me a few things (and exposed my need to learn more) about server management, our bill *is* going up a non-trivial amount, and I’m looking at adding a CDN to the mix to make for an even faster page load. We’ve already had some *really* generous people come out of the woodwork in the last few days, so if you wish to join their ranks, please feel free… the link is on the front page of our site.
Also: I’m looking more and more at how I can reward people that contribute, or at least give a public nod without turning Twitter into a constant stream of “THANK YOU FOR DONATIONS” style panhandling. I love what Scott Johnson’s done with allowing people or guilds to sponsor episodes of his podcast in exchange for a shoutout. Would something along those lines interest people? Give donors wallpaper-sized versions of our strip? If you have any thoughts, PLEASE leave a comment and share!
Today’s strip might seem a bit vague since we haven’t had a chance to speak about it much, but Mike’s service in the United States Navy kicks into high gear tomorrow, and he’ll be shipping out for six months at sea. Many jokes have been made between the two of us about the conspiracy involved in Mike’s deployment date being the day MoP releases, and the billions of dollars of equipment on his ship being converted into the world’s most expensive wi-fi hotspot, but the sad reality is that there are more important things afoot and I’ll be on my own until approximately next spring.
I have made promises not to run this comic strip into the ground while he’s gone. If you can help me in this regard, you will have both our thanks.
(There is a lot of text to read below, but the important thing is this: The Star Wars webseries Pink Five is in its last week for a Kickstarter to fund post-production on the final chapter, and I want everyone to donate! If you’re curious as to why, then please keep reading! -Chris)
Yes, that’s me in the Vader suit (sans helmet). There’s a lot going on in this photo that I’d like to share with you today. Much of what is going on there, and the reason I’m writing about it, is in some way my fault.
Before The Daily Blink, and my day job as a designer, I lived the life of a starving artist in Hollywood, making my trade as a filmmaker and effects artist. The most notable project that I worked on was the Pink Five series – a Star Wars parody that can be summed up as a cross between the Original Trilogy, Legally Blonde, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. (No, seriously, look it up, it’s a damn good play.) The series followed the journeys of Stacey, a valley-girl type whose naive charm and oblivious existence led her to forever stand in the peripheral vision of the Star Wars universe. The first chapter won the grand prize in the Official Star Wars Fanfilm awards (handpicked by Lucas himself), and I came aboard as a visual effects artist and crew member for the sequel, Pink Five Strikes Back. We won the Audience Choice Award in the same contest the following year, and it was an obvious and unspoken assumption that the third and final film would be around the corner soon.
During this time, the director, Trey Stokes, grew past being the filmmaker that got me occasional work, and had become my full-fledged mentor. I hadn’t been in Los Angeles that long when I started working on Trey’s projects, and he trusted me with more responsibilities and creative input than any other project I found myself on. While working as a barista during the day, I was learning my trade at night- rotoscoping sabers, working as an extra set of hands on a film shoot, holding a smoke machine just out of shot, or simply imitating a sponge and soaking in whatever information I could. When it came time for Trey to write Return of Pink Five, I somehow ended up graduating in a big way – I was going to wear the hat of Visual Effects Supervisor for the project, and Trey was inviting me to co-write the script with him. I still have no memory of how that conversation went or how clueless I was as to what I’d signed up for, and it’s one of the bigger regrets I still carry to this day.
We wrote non-stop for three or four days – taking turns behind the keyboard while the other talked, a copy of Return of the Jedi constantly being stopped and restarted in the background as reference. The writing process felt like solving a puzzle, attempting to simultaneously A) insert a major character (Stacey) into the Star Wars universe, B) have Stacey provide a major influence on the outcome of the story, and all while C) doing nothing that would change Return of the Jedi in any way. Oh, and it has to make sense, and it has to be funny, and it can’t be too expensive to film, but still has to look like an incredibly big budget sci-fi film that EVERYONE knows exactly how it should look. Aaaaaand GO. I laughed more than any other time in memory, and when the first draft was done, it was a momentous occasion – I even printed out the script and made Trey sign it to commemorate it.
Elation turned to dread after our producer was handed the script, though not because he didn’t like it. Trey and I had put everything in, confident that anything we weren’t capable of due to budget or complexity would be spotted during this crucial period of iteration and review. The producer’s reaction? “Well, we have to do all of this.”
At that moment, I instantly shed the hat of co-writer and donned the hat of Visual Effects Supervisor, and gulped at what I’d just signed myself up for. I knew how to do what was required – in theory, at best. When we’d brainstorm a shot and discuss how the effects would work, I could give a straighforward answer, but it was often something I’d never done myself. All of this was terrifying. In Hollywood, the mantra is ‘Fake it ’til you Make it’. I had just made it, but that meant delivering.
The stress was crushing. I put on a brave face, studied like crazy, kept my ears open, and tried to avoid holding up a huge sign over my head saying “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING”. I’d have as much of a game plan as I could before going on set. I did constant reference measurements, answered every question asked of me, and made sure that what we were filming wouldn’t be a waste. But after awhile, I started to feel out of my depth. While setting up a more complex sequence, I cracked under my breath to a crew member, “This is ridiculous. We’re hacking this shot together and I have no idea if it’s going to work.” Instead of immediately crapping his pants, he replied, “Congratulations, this is exactly how all of Hollywood works. Nobody knows anything, you just go with it and do your best.” A comforting thought, though not one that helped me do my job.
Before long, my confidence was cracked. I hadn’t always recorded the reference I needed, some shots were proving more difficult than I expected, and I was behind on sequences I needed to deliver while simultaneously needing to be on set. We were bringing in another VFX supervisor, Mark Kochinski, for a sequence where I had to be inside the Vader Suit for saber stunts (another long dormant skillset of mine), and he was incredibly experienced and adept at his job. It didn’t matter that I liked and respected him, or that he was in no way trying to show me up- He was going to stride onto set and everyone would realize just how much better he was at my job.
The night before, during our final fight rehearsal, I was a total wreck. In between exercises, I would be slashing my saber prop like crazy at nothing in particular, in some desperate bid to relieve the stress. While nobody would ever bring it up to me, I would find out later that there were some quiet worries, and justifiably so, that my head was clearly somewhere else and that I wasn’t ready for the shoot. Going to bed that night, and failing to fall asleep, I thought about how much time, money, and manpower had gone into this project so far, and that I was on the verge of damaging all of it. While failing is never a fun experience, it’s much worse when you’re the first one to see the failure coming. The fear of humiliation was secondary to the fear of disappointing Trey, and making him look foolish for trusting me with the job. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep.
The day of the shoot was turned on its head when Mark arrived on the set. To this day, I have no idea what Trey told him, how aware he was of my mental state, or what his goals were when he arrived, but Mark gave me the golden opportunity to watch and learn as he worked, and made sure to answer my questions and give advice while not standing in front of the entire crew. Trey brought me in for conversations that he had with Mark, made sure I stayed in the loop. Mark even brought new tracking markers that put the red pieces of tape I’d been using to shame, and they stayed for the remainder of the entire production. Instead of feeling ashamed of my lack of experience, I went back right into sponge mode, like I should have from the onset.
The good spirits I’d found that morning only got better when I put on the Vader suit. If you are a Star Wars fan, there is literally no better feeling than getting to be in a movie-accurate costume like that. Between Mark’s advice and getting into character, whatever was gnawing at my self-confidence was wiped away. I was able even to exhale and relax a bit, and enjoy the shoot. I did my job, did it well, and resolved to take that attitude until the film was done.
Throughout all of filming and post-production, Trey was supportive, patient, and understanding. He had a movie to make, and didn’t tolerate incompetence or failing to deliver what was promised, but I could always go to him if I was struggling with something. The most amusing thing about our working relationship is when he would correct my answers to the questions he had just asked. Example:
“So, we need to be able to move this camera and have the digital elements track throughout the entire shot. Is that doable?”
“Yeah, Trey, I think that should be pretty simple.”
“No, your answer to that and every VFX inquiry I make should be, ‘That is the craziest thing you’ve ever asked me and I’ll have to get back to you on just how difficult it is to do.'” Trey’s point was that nothing is ever simple or easy, because it’s the one little thing you weren’t prepared for that screws everything up. From then on, I rarely promised anything without a long discussion or making sure that he knew exactly what I needed from him to keep the shot manageable.
When it comes to my career and my craft, I owe Trey just as much, if not more, than anyone else I’ve ever worked with. When I needed to put more time into the project, Trey gave me a place to stay rent-free so I could focus on Pink Five full time. And when a group of seasoned filmmakers stand in a group trying to solve a difficult problem, there is no opiate more euphoric than having the smartest of the bunch turn directly to you and say “What do you think?” and then watching everyone jump into action after your idea has been given his approval. A good leader relies and trusts his followers, and because of that, they’ll continue to follow him just about anywhere.
To this day, Pink Five has yet to be finished. Scrapped together with rough effects, incomplete sequences, and entire scenes missing and in need of filming, a rough demo of the final episode STILL earned a great reaction at Celebration IV. After that, real life reared its head and many of us went our separate ways. Years later, Trey’s announcement of a Kickstarter to fund the final push towards completion brings back an avalanche of memories and emotions from the multiple years I spent working as a soldier in that army.
My request to you: If you’re a fan of this comic, or of any of my work, consider throwing in a few bucks towards this Kickstarter. Pink Five was my baby for a long time, and it would be an incredibly satisfying feeling to see the series given the conclusion it, like, totally deserves.
Titan has started to reach a point where the two crucial ingredients for mass psychosis have reached an apex: The need amongst the hardcore that Titan will be the greatest game ever, and the duration of time since we’ve learned anything of substance about it. We’re entering something similar to what sports writer Bill Simmons calls the “Tyson Zone”, so named because the boxing personality is so crazy that there is nothing you could make up about him that someone would react to with skepticism. Post on a random Blizzard forum about how you heard from a friend whose cousin works in the cafeteria on Blizzard Campus that Titan is a reboot of the Cooking Mama franchise, and I think you still have a 10% chance of getting a front page article on a collection of websites.
Multiple rumors have come and gone where each was scrutinized and given an air of legitimacy, no matter how crazy. I personally think this was because there was nothing else to speculate about, so why throw out the only substance that we have to chew on? Let’s talk ourselves into a crazy postulate until someone points out the bare ridiculousness of it, the figurative cry that Slayers_Boxer has no clothes. If you are to believe those who live in the weird duality of hating Blizzard while primarily spending time on their message boards, WoW is dying and Diablo 3 was a cruel attempt by Bashiok to test our faith. Why *not* move on and pin our hopes on a game we literally know nothing about except for a working title and genre? The less you know, the more it can fill in the crevices in your mind outlining the life-changing experience that surely Titan will deliver.
Just recently we’ve noticed a cropping up of more Titan fansites, some being powered by writers we like and respect, and so we have to give pause and consider what this means given the complete lack of facts to write about. As a former editor of TheForce.Net back during the Star Wars prequel days, I know a thing or two about witnessing just how weird the bar gets when it comes to deciding what to print and what to dismiss, especially when you risk your competition running the stuff you discard and being made to look like you got ‘scooped’. The signal to noise ratio, especially over the next year or two, is likely to be very painful for those trying to make a serious and journalistic foray into writing about The Game That Shall Not Be Named. I sincerely wish them well, but I definitely do not envy their job.
TL;DR: If you always want a single click to get to the latest strip, bookmark http://www.thedailyblink.com/?latestcomic – If you’re still curious about the new site, please keep reading.
Now that Holden and I have had a chance to get a few hours to sleep, fix a few bugs, and get some more feedback, I wanted to take people through some of the new features of the site: Stuff we have up, stuff we’re still putting into practice, and some things that run behind the scenes the drive the decisions we make about design.
First, it’s very easy to say that the website just needed a fresh coat of paint and that we wanted it to look nicer. Of course, that’s 100% true. However, there were several reader requests and internal needs that we wanted to address when doing this redesign. Here are those needs, along with how we took them on:
- The strip itself hampers presenting other info to readers, and simultaneously needs more space so we can make it wider
Our strip, for a webcomic, is an awkward shape. It has no vertical limit (I mean, take a look at this bad boy), it was an awful 525px wide because I was apparently on some controlled substances when I was working on the initial strips and thought an ODD NUMBER was a great dimension to build a layout around, and as a design element is just wide enough and certainly tall enough to prevent being able to offer anything of substance to readers in a position that anyone will find without taking on a monumental level of effort to find (read: Scrolling down).
I knew from the very start that it would be an unpopular move with some of our readers to take the strip off the front page and have people click through for the latest comic — a practice that PvP, Penny Arcade, and Looking For Group have either always done or made the transition to. It was pointed out on our forums that this wasn’t that useful a move as compared to, say, Penny Arcade because we didn’t have nearly as much non-comic content to share. My response to that is to say that this is backwards – it is precisely because so few find our non-comic content that we’ve never felt moved to produce it. This new design allows us to offer more of ourselves and know that more eyeballs will come across it. We intend to share more, promote more non-comic content, and put more effort into making repeated visits worthwhile.
Conversely, our strip can now expand much more into horizontal space, which will hopefully assist with keeping it from extending past the 2500px tall behemoths that it has been known to flirt with from time to time. (I’m sorry, we like words. We’re seeing a doctor about it, there’s injections involved, we don’t like talking about it.)
- We have very few search features to find the strip you’re looking for if you want to dig through the archives
This is a project that is ongoing, but we’ve enabled the ability to use tags and transcripts in a way that’s useful without being a space-monger. You’ll notice down at the bottom of our strips we’ve added tabs so that comments, transcripts, and “notes” (more on that later) all inhabit the same real estate. Eventually, when you search for a strip, it’ll utilize all of the keywords and dialogue available. This is something that will take some time (and we’re looking at implementing ways for eager readers to help fill this information in if they so choose), but it’s worth it and it’s definitely something that multiple people have asked for.
Also, we programmed a whole new feature for readers: The comic navigation now has sub-navigation bars for major strip categories. Just wanna see our movie poster parodies? You can skim through them easily with our new system. Same goes for our “Meanwhile at Blizzard HQ” strips, or strips focused on a specific class, or a few other categories we’ve already built into the site. We’re adding more of those as time goes on, as well as a menu to offer this browsing method as a starting point, rather than just something you’ll stumble upon as you browse.
- Our reluctance to release a blog post with every strip means sharing information other than the strip itself isn’t really supported
As mentioned before, we’ve added the ability to add a director’s commentary of sorts to strips, if we have more to say on the subject presented or just want to share a funny or informative anecdote about how a strip was made. This is something we won’t inform people about ahead of time: You’ll just want to keep an eye on the archives as we add more to the database.
- We have a lot of people who really enjoy the strip and want to be more involved but we’ve done a (frankly) crappy job of giving people that opportunity
This is where I apologize to members of Deeps More Deeping for not giving the guild the attention it really deserves. We still want to allow readers to interact with each other and enjoy a place where people can be friendly and socialize without putting up with Barrens Chat-style behavior, and so we’ve built a forum that we believe is worth a damn. The key difference here is that the comments for every strip exist as a thread on the forum, and vice versa- so each of the main preferences for our readers exist. It also means if you want to strike up a convo about some of our older content, you can without lamenting the fact that nobody will see your insightful question about content from 2010. The forum gives it a chance to be seen and to have a conversation begin. We’ve also taken some steps since the redesign launched to not have the new system be too restrictive as compared to the old comments — we’ve added Twitter and OpenID login options, and we’ll continue to stay open to more ways to not have this design turn away people who otherwise want to interact.
Lastly, for you design wonks: While it’s a huge departure from the original design, I do want to state that this site still runs on WordPress using the Comicpress theme and plugin, but will soon be making a full transition over to Comic Easel, a plugin developed by Philip M. “Frumph” Hofer, who also is the current sole developer supporting Comicpress and keeping it compatible with WP updates as they’ve been released. We’ve had a great relationship with Frumph over the last few months and Holden and I are going to be working with him on Comic Easel and other software projects he’s interested in working on and expanding.
As always, much of this redesign is built around making this website easier for you to use and get value out of, so please continue sharing your feelings and experiences in the comments. If there’s a feature we’ve neglected, or would like to see, or is already here but you don’t care for or would like to see tweaked, let us know so that we can keep looking and improve on what we got. This website is pointless without visitors and so we’d be silly to ignore what you think on the subject.
Greetings, and welcome to our new digs. I have a lot more to say on this but it’s 5AM and I’m about to pass out. Please take a look around, mind the last minute additions we’re still making, and let us know what you think.
For now, I sleep. Goodnight.
Chris here. I’ve got a very busy and exciting weekend in store and I wanted to share three different pieces of news with readers before I jumped into it. Here they are as follows:
We’re far enough long that I feel like I can start telling people about the new Dailyblink.com website that we’re working on. Holden Hill, a gifted programmer (and good friend) has been working with me through some late nights to take a brand new design and get it up and running with some new features and a *BADLY* needed coat of paint. We also have taken lots of reader feedback from the life of the current site and used it to make sure that a lot of the suggestions that readers have made are being addressed.
To be clear, this is something that’s been at the top of my list since October of 2010. I looked at paying designers to rebuild the site, designing it myself and giving it to a programmer to finish, or simply doing the whole thing myself. During all of this I also went through one of the worst streaks of creative blockage I’ve ever experienced as I just could not pinpoint what the site needed to look like. It wasn’t until recent events like the Blink Bonanza and other milestones (holy crap, 6,000 Twitter followers!) that we realized that I was going to have to force the issue. Holden’s been doing a fantastic job shaping the more complex aspects of the site and we’ve already upgraded our server to handle the increased traffic we’ve been experiencing through 2012.
I can’t promise an ETA for the new site, or give you a preview, but we’re starting to get over the bigger hurdles and I can’t wait to start showing it off.
Related, but deserves its own mention: We depend on Comicpress to help run our site. Simply put, it’s the best WordPress plugin/theme package available for publishing webcomics. It’s also been a bit of a quiet project as of late, due to there being only one developer left on the project, Phil “Frumph” Hofer. When we began working on the new site we started talking about the features we’d want to add, and sought to track down Phil to discuss them, but we didn’t have any luck. Starting to think the project was completely dead, Holden and I began sketching out a plan to branch Comicpress into a whole new dev project to ensure it stayed updated and had places for people to find support for the plugin.
However, right as we started giving the idea serious consideration, Frumph resurfaced and we discovered that he was back from his hiatus. Due to his stated commitment to keep the software updated (and our own realization that more than one giant side project at a time is probably a slow suicide), we’re standing down on this idea and focusing work on our own site. However, as a thank you to the huge amount of work that Frumph does for us and everyone else running on Comicpress, we’ll be working with him to see about the features we develop being added as standard to future releases.
More on this closer to the release of the new site.
Last but not least, I’m in the midst of finishing packing up my apartment and moving into a new place with my roommate. The biggest change? I am finally going to have a dedicated office! No more appearing on Legendary with a bed taking up the entire background! Better Twitch streaming setup for both myself and Jasmine, with lighting designed for broadcasting! And most importantly, no more spinning around in my desk chair and banging my shin on nearby furniture because this room is way too small for everything currently in it!
To our readers, I know I speak for myself and Mike when I say THANK YOU for coming back to the site for every new strip. Not only do you help make all of this possible through your support, but you make the effort we put into it completely worth it.
(And with that, I’m going off the grid*. See all of you on Monday!)
*Smartphones don’t count, do they? 😀
I should preface my commentary on the beta by saying this is the first time i’ve ever been in one early enough to really watch the formation of the game i’m playing, and that’s a really interesting process. I’m really looking forward to seeing how what we get to see over the coming months shapes itself into the final product that will be released, in all likelihood, while i’m out on a ship and unable to enjoy it. Let’s start with monks.
Leveling a Monk
Good times! The starting area is ghoooooorgeous. Not all of the monk or male Pandaren animations are in game yet, which made me aware for the first time- as a long time player of a melee main- how important attack animations are to visually understanding what you’re doing. I have a new appreciation for every time my Orc swings impossibly heavy things into the face of his enemies. It’s hard to say much about a class from only experiencing the first 12 levels, but my overall impression was positive. Their resource system is different enough for me that it didn’t feel stale, though i don’t know if rogue/feral players will have the same experience. I chose to spec mistweaver when i hit ten, but the differences in how it plays are pretty minor at that low a level. I do suspect i’m going to agree with some commentary i saw on the forums: that the one heal they get before 17 is going to make healing low level dungeons extremely difficult, particularly since it requires chi and has a cooldown. I won’t know for certain until i try it, though. I only died once in the entire starting area, and that was only because mobs in the heavily overpopulated area were simply spawning on me too fast for me to stay alive. If it takes 16 mobs in a row to take you down, i’d say you’re doing pretty well for yourself. I’ll have more as i start to get into the higher levels and really experience the meat of the class.
New Talent System
On respeccing my warlock, i can really only say this:
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but having had a warlock almost as long as i’ve had my warrior i definitely felt like a fish out of water with the new rotations. I think i kinda maybe sorta had a handle on destruction, but affliction left me completely confused. I might need to level one from scratch just to get my bearings again. As to the talents themselves, what a blast. I really agonized over a few of my choices, and it was nice to know that A: these felt like meaningful, gameplay-affecting decisions and B: if i thought i screwed up i could take 5 seconds to replace the talent in question rather than remapping a 41 point chain. I felt good about this system before the beta, i feel good about it now, and unless it completely changes i’ll continue to do so for the remainder of it’s implementation. I also like how many of them feel like they could be incredibly powerful if used wisely, but would provide less of an advantage to people that don’t know their class or, in the case of pvp, the capabilities of other classes. In the case of my warrior, i saw how i could build up a pretty decent stun-based set of control powers to try and compensate for our historic lack thereof in pvp. I’ve felt this has been a crippling weakness of my class in the arena, particularly in cata. I’m definitely looking forward to testing that theory out once a few more people i know are putzing around Pandaria with me.
Sadly, none of the new content is implemented yet, at least that I can access. Given the scale of the changes made to core gameplay, this isn’t a bad thing. I’m definitely going to need some time to adjust before i try and perform in any kind of mid to end game scenario.
I’m definitely having fun. I think Blizzard has a good chance of breathing a lot of new life into an old game, doing for the actual combat mechanics what cataclysm did for the leveling experience. It’s going to take some adjustment, and i think there will be a lot of forum whining as people suddenly find they don’t know how to play their class half as well as they used to, but what’s the point of a game where the experience never changes? Based on what i’ve seen so far, which bear in mind is a very small slice of the expansion, the devs are well on their way to reminding us what it felt like to start playing the game, and reminding us just how much fun that was.