Throughout our travels on the Internet, it’s not uncommon for us to find cool new sites and web comics. We’ve seen a lot of different themes and stories in our time, but we always give new comics a chance. Hey, they are out there trying to entertain us for free, and considering that is what we try and do here at g33kWatch, we like to show support for newer creators and authors. Enter Ben Bainton, creator of Escape From Lowresia, who we met during Mass Effect Marathon 2. For the last five months, Ben has been working on showing his love and appreciation for classic 8-bit RPG games, in a web comic form.
Lowresia is interesting because it’s not your typical artwork style. The entire comic uses 8-Bit sprites that Ben has created in differing styles. Some of the characters are from an abandoned Fantasy RPG game, others from a more modern style game. These characters that were originally designed for 8-Bit games, have all been lost in this odd world. The characters are desperately trying to pave their own way and to escape the limbo state that they have been imprisoned in.
It’s funny, it invokes an older art aesthic that a lot of our generation can identify with, and it’s updated all the time. We really wanted to shine the spotlight on this up and coming web comic, and hopefully show our viewers a great new thing to read on the Internet. It also shows that Marty McFly had it right. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!
g33k of the w33k
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Escape From Lowresia
What exactly is Escape From Lowresia?
Ben Bainton: Escape from Lowresia is a webcomic. Its main characters are sprites (in the computer graphics sense of the word) that were intended for games that never got made. Now they’ve found themselves in a strange world that’s apparently inside the computer of the programmer who created them, dubbed Lowresia (the name’s a play on words, obviously). They’re on a quest to find a way out of this realm, into the great wide (and less pixelated) world that they believe awaits them outside the computer. But there are complications, of course. A mysterious villain, his horde of monsters (well, three goblins, anyway), zombies, and hangovers, just to name a few…
It’s mostly targeted at fellow gamers, and has lots of game (and other geeky) references in it. It’s a pretty simple, little comic strip, really. Not the next Girl Genius or anything, just a bit of geeky fun. And it’s entirely non-commercial (at least for the time being). Making some geek out there smile is motivation enough.
When did the web comic begin, and what inspired you to take on the project?
Ben Bainton: You know, I’d kinda like to know what inspired me myself, ’cause I have no clue where the idea really came from. Maybe there are other cool ideas lurking in the same place… Anyway, I started doing the comic fairly recently, in August 2011, but you could say its history goes back a lot further. I’ve always been interested in computers (though never quite enough to make a career out of it). Over the years I’ve started many little programming projects, just for the fun of it, but never really completed anything worthwhile. One of these was a game inspired by Japanese console RPG’s. This was, like, a decade ago, or more. The project never went very far, but I did manage to do a handful of sprites and stuff for it.
I’ve always been a fan of comics too, but, frankly, I pretty much suck at drawing. Really. Then one day, for some reason or other, I got to thinking about that old game project of mind. And I had the idea that maybe I could do something with those old sprites that was less time consuming than either programming a game or learning to draw properly. This all happened pretty spontaneously. Within just a few days I’d created the first few strips and was putting up a simple website. The characters were somewhat based on what I remembered of my plans for that original game project, but they quickly took on a life of their own.
What kind of older games inspired the characters that are in Lowresia?
Ben Bainton: The main inspiration is classic JRPG’s, and especially the Final Fantasy series. The visual style of the characters is modelled particularly on NES/SNES era FF’s. (I actually used sprites from those games as a model for the first sprites I created, to figure out how to make a neat looking character with a very limited number of pixels.) There are lots of obvious FF references in the comic, too. But I draw influence from many other geeky sources as well, of course.
What tools do you use to make the web comic and how long does it take to produce a comic?
Ben Bainton: The original sprites I use as the basis of the comic were actually created with a custom tool I programmed myself in QuickBasic. Yup, I was doing things real oldschool back in those days. The comic itself is put together in Inkscape, a free vector graphics application. (I’m a big believer in the Free Software ideology, and strive to use only open source software whenever possible.)
Since I mostly build the strips from ready made sprites, putting one together is actually pretty fast. It’s mostly copy-pasting and positioning and scaling and stuff. It’s coming up with ideas that’s the hardest part. Sometimes I might have a great idea when I sit down at my computer, and then I can throw a strip together in, like, 15 minutes. But sometimes the words just don’t flow, and it may take considerably longer. Punchlines are bloody hard.
In the future, I hope to experiment a bit more with the visuals as well, like using more backgrounds and stuff (thus far it’s mostly been characters on a white background). And of course coming up with fresh ideas is likely to come progressively harder. But the simplicity of the core concept was an important factor when I started doing the comic. I’m obviously not doing this for a living or anything, it’s just a hobby, so I don’t want it to take up too much of my time.
What is your favorite 8-Bit game?
Ben Bainton: Tough one! When I was a kid, actually living the 8-bit era, I was probably mostly playing Super Mario Bros. 1-3, and a few others, like DuckTales. My favourite 8-bit music is probably from the Castlevania games, although I never really played the NES era ones much (they’re just kinda… hard). But as for my current favourite… I might actually pick The Legend of Zelda. I owned it as a kid (still do), but never really got very far into it then. But I’ve come back to it as an adult (and I use the word mostly to refer to my size, rather than maturity), and it’s stood the test of time remarkably well, I think. And of course it was a huge influence on all the action/adventure/rpg games that have come along since.
Is there an old gaming convention or trend that isn’t present in modern games that you miss?
Ben Bainton: There is a certain… shall I say intensity to retro games that doesn’t always come over as clearly in modern games. It’s hard to really put my finger on it. I’m not just talking about difficulty, rather a sort of presence and intimacy that kinda gets a little lost in all the infinite detail and long cutscenes of modern games.
And of course it would be cool to see some 2D games of a more traditional vein that really made use of modern technology. Just because we can make use of a third dimension in gameplay and graphics shouldn’t mean 2D is automatically outdated and inferior somehow. There’s some cool 2D games coming from the indie sector, of course, but just think about what someone with a real budget could make with modern tools and processing power.
The one thing from older games that you DON’T miss is?
Ben Bainton: Difficulty. Definitely the difficulty. Frankly, as much as I love games, I kinda suck. Especially at action games, anything that requires reflexes and split second timing. And I have a limited supply of patience. I like to actually feel like I’m progressing in a game, not just repeating a level over and over again, you know?
What was your greatest gaming moment ever?
Ben Bainton: I think my “greatest gaming moments ever” (and even favourite geek moments overall) might actually be from the world of tabletop gaming rather than video games. There’s a magic that happens when a bunch of creative people get together and unleash their imaginations that the best of technology can’t really replicate. As a game master I’ve done some crazy experiments, though the one that stands out is perhaps the time I ran a musical session of my fantasy RPG campaign. Yup, you read right. I wrote a number of songs and performed them at appropriate points of the narrative. And the positive feedback from my friends simply floored me. Even though it was a pretty intimate thing, done for just half a dozen of my good friends, I take a lot of pride in that moment, maybe even more than I take in doing something like Escape from Lowresia.
As for video games, it’s pretty damn hard to pick specific moments from so many. Beating FFV for the first time was a big thing. That was the first FF I ever played and it introduced me to the wonderful world of JRPG’s. (I got into the genre a little late, never really played them on the original 8/16-bit consoles, but went straight to emulation and PlayStation versions.) Later Metal Gear Solid 2 was a similar revelation that, after a while of playing RPG’s almost exclusively, reintroduced me to action games. It’s still one of my favourite games of all time, as are many of the FF titles.
What kind of advice would you give to those who want to start their own web comic?
Ben Bainton: That’s a tricky question, because everyone obviously has very different methods and approaches. And also I’m still pretty new to the field myself. But yeah, be realistic. Don’t expect to get big overnight, ’cause you won’t. There are tons of comics already out there, after all. It’s not easy to stand out. Try not to bite off more than you can chew. It’s easy to get demotivated if you put a huge amount of work into something that then goes all but unnoticed. It might be a good idea to have a “buffer” of ready comics (unless it’s heavily based on current events or something), so you can work on it when you actually feel like it, not just to meet some deadline. Most importantly, have FUN doing it. This can’t be stressed enough. Don’t do it for fame and fortune. Do it for yourself, and for your friends, who’ll likely be the first to see your work. If you and your friends like it, and you start getting the word out, then with a bit of luck new followers will slowly start trickling in.