Saturday, 15 June 2019

Favourite Female Video Game Protagonists (Part One)




As a writer (yes I do that alongside the art sometimes!), I feel it's important when writing characters in any media to make them compelling and interesting. Trouble seems to arise however when that character is female (for some unknown mythical reason...). It's often a roulette wheel of extremes, where we either get a damsel in distress or a one-woman army badass (with the latter often getting turned into former), and nothing in between.

It seems as though female protagonists can't be 'characters', but have to be some kind of common trope to dangle like a carrot in front of representation-starved audiences with no further thought put into them. This results in flaccid, dull and repetitive characters, and while arguably many male protagonists are just as stale, there's quite the discrepancy in numbers of female to male main characters in pretty much all media, so it's much more noticeable in the former.

However, there are some writers who've come up with varied and interesting characters who so happen to be women. So in this post I want to talk about ten female video game protagonists who really appealed to me. They might not be amazingly deep or be the best role models, but I still adore them, and am very glad they exist.

I am limiting myself to only video games I've played (so no Terra Branford from Final Fantasy VI or Aya Brea from Parasite Eve, sorry). The one criteria I have is that the character in question HAS to be the protagonist of their game (not a side character).

1. Skye (Darkened Skye)


 

This game has a very poor reputation, mocked for its premise of promoting Skittles (product placement at its finest?) and the fact that the game itself is quite buggy and glitchy. But I adore protagonist Skye and the tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaking humour the game sports.

So, what does our leading lady have to show for herself?

Skye is a lowly 'dwentil' (read: kind of fantasy sheep) herder, who carries with her a mysterious amulet given by her mother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Wishing for a more interesting pursuit and to find the answers to her missing parents and who she really is, she comes across a Skittle (yes, I know, bear with me here), which unlocks her magic potential. Along with wise-cracking gargoyle companion Draak, she sets out to restore magic to the land, defeat the dark evil, and discover her true destiny.

So, on the superficial level, Skye definitely fits the 'badass female protagonist' and doesn't have the most original set up (with her missing parents backstory and her wanting self realisation), but she does show some nuance. To start with, she has various flaws, such as how she is not confident in her abilities (an in game quote reflects how she can't even keep her eyes open when jumping!), shows genuine fear at times, and can miss the obvious. She also sports a lovely sarcastic sense of humour which (particularly at the time) was rare to see in a female character as it was more akin to the 'male rogue' archetypes.

On the downside, she doesn't really show or get much development (apart from her skill set), nor does she show much emotion outside of her sarcasm (then again that could just be a coping mechanism). She also ends up with a love interest (but oddly enough it's flipped such that he's the supporting male who doesn't overtake or overshadow, and in fact he himself needs rescuing, which is a refreshing switch of roles!).

Despite that, she remains one of my favourite characters, and it's a shame not more people know about her.

2. Zanthia (Legend of Kyrandia 2)


 

Another PC game protagonist, Zanthia is the lead character in the second of the Legend of Kyrandia series. I played this without playing the first one (who stars a male protagonist called Brandon), but they're sort of stand-alone enough that I didn't really miss much apart from some backstory context.

Zanthia is a member of the Magic Council of Kyrandia. After the events of the first game, pieces of the kingdom start randomly disappearing, and she is selected to go on a journey to the centre of the world to get an Anchor Stone to stop this. Zanthia is a master with potions and portal magic, but when she returns home to make a teleportation brew, she finds her equipment stolen and destroyed. Thus she has to go on her journey the hard way by foot and prevent Kyrandia from vanishing forever.

Zanthia did appear in the first game as a minor character, but I'm going to focus on how she acts in this one. She is generally confident in her abilities, is fairly intelligent and cunning (she is able to trick guards letting her through a gate by baiting them with their favourite food, sandwiches), but she does come across as kinda lazy, not really wanting to go on this quest and not really seeking adventure. She also gets many humorous moments where she gets fed up as every problem she solves is soon replaced by three more, but her resolve never breaks. One of my favourite moments is towards the endgame- she has a mechanic where she changes her outfit in every new area she enters, and at the end she changes into a Rambo-esque getup with combat trousers and red bandana, as now she means business!


Now she's really mad!

Like Skye, she also has a male supporting character, Marko, but in a world where real magic exists, he's just like a real-world magician, only able to perform tricks and illusions. He's also quite bumbling in an endearing way, and the more he helps, the more he hinders! Again it's a refreshing reversal, but Marko gets his moment at the end where he helps Zanthia (note helps, not saves) defeat the real threat, showing that he is good for something, at least.

Zanthia does get a small amount of development, realising that her laziness can work against her, but she doesn't really undergo any significant change. I'm not sure if she appears in the third Kyrandia game, but I thoroughly enjoyed her in this one.

3. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)


 

Ah, the iconic gaming heroine of a generation! Lara Croft is instantly recognisable and is a household name, particularly at a time when there was perhaps only one or two other female leads that well-known (Samus from the Metroid series comes to mind). She has had two main iterations- her original form back when the first Tomb Raider games were released, and her current iteration following the 2013 'reboot' series which takes a much more serious and grittier tone. While I've played both series, I will be focusing on her reboot character, as it's quite different and arguably more interesting.

The new games focus more on the survival element rather than simple adventure, and as this series is supposed to 'prequel' the older games, it's showing how Lara develops into the Tomb Raider heroine of her later years.

Lara starts off as a intuitive but somewhat naive researcher, somewhat burdened by the tarnished reputation of her father, but determined to prove herself. Once she ends up shipwrecked on the island of Yamatai, however, she's forced into deadly situations where it's kill or be killed. Lara thus has to come to terms with fighting for her own survival, even if it comes at the cost of the lives of others, and has to learn to open her mind to the supernatural forces that exist in these ancient places.


Becoming the legendary Tomb Raider...

Lara has great development in the first two games, steadily maturing, growing confident in her skills and deductive ability, but her obsession with answers and the truth pushes her away from her friends and allies. The third game sadly doesn't quite execute on this as a thrilling conclusion, mostly due to poor pacing and a weak villain, but the themes are still there, with Lara finally learning that answers aren't all there is to life and she learns to take life less seriously.

Lara as a character is also not stuck within her gendered role- apart from one 'implied rape' scene near the start of the first game (where a male villain approaches a tied-up Lara in a suggestive fashion) there's nothing that specifically happens to her on account of being a woman. She has a close male friend called Jonah, but they're not forced into a romantic relationship, and do enjoy a genuine friendship. This is so very rare to see in any media so kudos to the writers for implementing this (well, until they dropped the ball quite badly with the third game and tried to shovel in some companionship moments that came across as too forced for me).

While many fans of the old games don't like Lara's newer more serious incarnation, I personally adore it. It shows proper development, Lara isn't overly sexualised (well, not as much as in her older games at least), and she can just...be, without being defined by her gender.

4. Bayonetta (Bayonetta)


 

A potentially controversial entry! There have been many who have complained about the overt sexual nature of Bayonetta, but look a little deeper and there's more to her than that. You also have to see her in the greater context- while it may be an issue as there are not a huge amount of female protagonists, there are still others out there who are different, and so having a diverse female cast, where one can flaunt her sexual nature so confidently, is no bad thing. A little like the original Lara Croft...

Bayonetta herself is a very fun character. She's playful by nature, flirtatious, and can look after herself thank you very much. A stark contrast in personality to reboot!Lara, and this is part of what makes her so enjoyable. She is also confident in herself and her abilities, and doesn't end up tethered to a love interest, either. She doesn't care what others think of her or what she does, yet still retains an alluring charm.

While she doesn't undergo much in the way of development (the rather over-the-top flamboyant plot doesn't really cater for such in-depth character arcs), it's her confidence, determination and playful tongue-in-cheek humour that make her stand out. She is also willing to overcome her lack of willingness to take responsibility for others (for example, she initially is reluctant to take care of the young girl Cereza, but does act to keep her safe regardless). Bayonetta certainly isn't your selfless heroine, but she still chooses do the right thing when called for.

Her bravado does also conceal a deeper part of her, given her relatively lonely existence as one of the only witches left alive and that fact she doesn't want to let anyone close, as she'll outlive the human companions she's made. Not to mention the complicated relationship she has with her father...

Regardless, Bayonetta is definitely on the fun side of the spectrum, and contrasts nicely to...

5. Alexandra Roivas (Eternal Darkness)


 

Perhaps not as well known as some of the others on my list, but Alex Roivas is a great character. Granted she is only one of two female characters of the twelve character roster, but she is the protagonist, and is able to carry on the work of her late grandfather as he delved into the dark mysteries of the old family mansion. She is intelligent, somewhat reserved, brave and level-headed, which makes her well suited to her task. She doesn't fall for the same tricks as her predecessors, and as a result is able to win victory against Pious Augustus, the antagonist.


Don't let him get to you, Alex!

We don't know much about Alex, other than she was brought up by her grandfather after her parents died in an accident. However Alex has lived away from home for a while, having to fly back to the family mansion on learning about her grandfather's death. While clearly upset by events, it only serves to drive her determination for answers. She even dismisses the attempts at flirting by the detective on the case, her goal and purpose set.

Alex thus falls onto the more serious side of the character spectrum, and again doesn't have much development (I'm seeing a bit of a theme here...). She also arguably doesn't show much of a personality, as she is mostly alone for the duration of the game with no other characters to bounce off. Of course that's part of the horror of the game, being isolated and alone (though it takes the efforts of twelve chosen throughout history working together to win the fight), but even so, Alex can come across as little more than a player avatar, as her own personal choices don't really affect the story or reveal much about herself. But her sharp wits, strength of will and courage do make her likeable, and it's always gratifying to watch her finally defeat Augustus at the end of the game and get the revenge her grandfather deserved.

That ends part one, stay tuned for part two where I go through the next five female protagonists (and thanks to some newer games, they're not from the same tiny pool I had to draw from before!)

Who are your favourite female protagonists? I'd love to know!

Saturday, 8 June 2019

New Redbubble bird designs!

Hello everyone, I've been updating my RedBubble page with some new birds, so head on over there if you want one of my beautiful feathered friends on various items such as T-shirts, mugs, notepads and more!

Here is the link to the store!

Here are the new designs:














Saturday, 1 June 2019

How to Draw a Bird Art Tutorial

Hello all, I'm back again, this time with an art tutorial! As may already be quite obvious, I love drawing birds, and with an infinite number of species to choose from, you could spend a lifetime drawing and never draw them all!

Nonetheless, they can be tricky to capture on paper (or Fire Alpaca in my case), so I thought I'd do a little tutorial that may help. Note that I'll be focusing on the drawing aspect, not the colouring, though if you'd also like a tutorial on my colouring process I'd be happy to do one!

I am by no means an expert on drawing, I'm just a hobbyist sharing my work process, so if you don't feel this style suits you, then don't worry! There are many other art resources out there- you can click on my 'art resources page' to get started.

So, without further ago, here are my tips for how to draw a bird...

STEP ONE- FINDING A GOOD REFERENCE

This is the most important step, as it will act as main guide. In the example I'll be using, I wanted to draw a goaway bird, so I found a some photos with a pose I liked:



You can tweak them as you need until you find a composition you're happy with.

STEP TWO- BREAKING IT DOWN

This is a useful tip for drawing anything. In order to understand the form, you need to break it down. You can initially break it down into 2D shapes, like circles, but then try to make them more 3D (I admit this latter step I still struggle with!). This helps you know the main shapes to capture, and stops you getting bogged down in detail.


The head, body, tail and legs can be simplified into shapes

You may also want to measure- some artists do this with a ruler, but something less technical and a bit more flexible is to use an aspect of the reference photo as a measurement. I typically use the bird's head, and measure the body/ tail/ legs in 'heads'. This gives you a good estimate of the position of the features, and ensures you don't elongate or shorten things that make the proportions look off.


The body is roughly 4 heads long, the tail about the same length as the body...

For digital drawing, open up a new image (the examples below are from Photoshop Elements as I had already done the linework, but I use Fire Alpaca for the actual drawing of the lines). Put in your reference images [you can copy and paste from the original image], then make a new layer on top [by clicking the 'New Layer' icon at the bottom right, or via Layers-> New Layer in the top menu]. You may also want to make a new layer below and fill with a colour [using the gradient tool- try to avoid pure white as this can be hard on the eyes, so i tend to use cream or grey].

On a clean new layer, you can start building the form of the birds. For digital art, I tend to use an outlandish colour for this (red/ blue) so that it's clear which is the sketch and which is the layer for the proper lines.


Once the base shapes are in place, you can join it up and add smaller details, and make corrections as needed.

You can keep checking back to the reference until you're happy with the base sketch.

If you're using traditional media like pencil and paper, keep the lines light so they can be easily erased later.

STEP THREE- LINES

Now it's time to make the lines! I make a new layer above the sketch layer, and use single, crisp strokes for the lines.

See how I've gone over the red lines and made some corrections...

Now Firealpaca has a lovely feature called a stabilizer- this helps your lines be less jittery, and you can adjust it to how much you want it to 'correct'. But even if you draw traditionally, this same tip applies- try to draw with confident, single strokes, and not multiple stuttered lines. This is fine for the sketch, but for lines to be crisp, they should be fluid. If you're painting digitially, you can try and undo multiple strokes if need be, and using the layers option, you can 'overshoot' lines and erase later. You can also rotate the canvas- curves are easier to draw in different planes so find out which angles are most comfortable for you.


Fire Alpaca has the correction tool as highlighted, and you can also rotate the canvas freely using the arrow keys or the navigator in the top right corner

It's also useful to decrease the opacity of the sketch layer, as if you accidentally draw on the wrong layer you can tell right away. Photoshop in particular has an annoying habit where if you undo a move, it puts you back on the other layer (if you had another layer selected) and it's the most frustrating thing to be half-way done only to find it's all on the wrong layer!

STEP FOUR- DETAILS

Now with the main lines set, you can add the details- such as the webbing on the legs, smaller feathers, etc. You can also add in background elements too. Once you're all happy, delete the sketch layer (or hide it if you prefer) and voila!


And you're done!

And with that, there's the pair of goaway birds lineart finished! They look pretty neat, huh?

I hope you found this run down helpful! And as I've mentioned, there are many ways to draw and paint birds, this is just my method.

Got any tips to share? I'd love to hear!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Dr Sam's Birds of the World: A Colouring Book for Adults now LIVE!


Hey everyone, good news! After a lot of back and forth with the Amazon KDP powers that be, my colouring book is at last published and ready to go!

You can find the links as follows:

Amazon.com:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1095029495

Amazon.co.uk:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1095029495





I hope you enjoy the content and you can look forward to several more volumes if you develop a taste to colour more birds of the world!

Want a free page to download? Then click the blue jaw below!

 Click here to download the PDF of this blue jay to print and colour!



Thursday, 9 May 2019

Delay of Dr Sam's Birds of the World: A Colouring Book for Adults


Hey everyone, I have a bit of disappointing news. Due to technical issues with Amazon, my colouring book will not be available today as planned. I am hoping they will fix their issue within the next couple of days, so once the book is available I will let you know as soon as possible.

In the meantime, however, I am putting up a PDF of one of the birds that you can download and print to use for a taster! This is the blue jay, click on the picture or the link below to download the high resolution PDF:
 Click here to download the PDF of this blue jay to print and colour!

Hopefully the full book will be available soon!

Saturday, 27 April 2019

New project announcement: Dr Sam's Birds of the World!

So, over the last few months I have been working on a brand new project! Inspired by the positive reception of my bird artwork, I decided to put them in a form that means even more people can enjoy my beautiful feathered friends!

And so... *drum roll*

I am delighted to announce the first of my new colouring book series, Dr Sam's Birds of the World!


Dr Sam's Birds of the World Colouring Book

This volume contains 20 of my bird illustrations, now in beautiful black and white with impressively detailed hand-drawn backgrounds, for you to colour however you see fit...


Dr Sam's Birds of the World Colouring Book: Bald Eagle
The majestic bald eagle!

These 20 bird species are all native to North America, and future volumes will cover the other continents...


Dr Sam's Birds of the World Colouring Book- Painted Buntings
A pair of painted buntings!

This volume will be released on 9th May 2019, available from Amazon worldwide. Watch this space as I will update with links to purchase the book directly once it's published, as well as a full downloadable preview of one of the birds.


Dr Sam's Birds of the World Colouring Book: Blue Jay
A blue jay

I'm really excited about this, and I hope you'll also be looking forward to some birds to colour very soon!

Friday, 12 April 2019

My Art Journey (Part 2)

Welcome to Part Two of my Art Journey! I strongly recommend reading Part one first, so you can see how I got here!

Last time I was enjoying myself in fanart and dabbling in digital media, but then my life was about to change...

Phase 4: Trying my own- Zodiac Hunters!

So, as I alluded in my last post, there was a game I played that inspired me so thoroughly I decided to make my own original character. That game was Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube, and I was so impressed with its immaculate writing, worldwide spanning plot and scope that it was enough to make me go 'right, I can have a go at an original idea too!'.

I decided to draw my original character first, before I had any idea about name, or who they were, or anything. So I did.


My first original character, Nick!
Tada!

Once I knew what he looked like, I went in for the other details. I named him Nick, and he was a sorceror (I was quite into the anime Sorcerorous Stabber Orphen at the time- I told you that tidbit would come into play again!).

I drew him a few more times, then gave him a companion named Seth, a treasure hunter, and then another called Midnight, who was a thief.


My first drawing of the three of them together!


...and a much improved version later as I refined my designs!

A few more refinements and changes and these became the main characters of my first original story idea, the Zodiac Hunters. I also designed my majestic 'Zodiac Beasts' who were an integral part of that story.


My Zodiac Beasts! Unfortunately this image has been repeatedly stolen, hence the rather obtuse watermark.

In between this, though, I continued with various fanart, drifting away from anime and sticking more to games such as Final Fantasy VIII, Skies of Arcadia, Prince of Persia and Tales of the Abyss. This continued well after I started university and medical school, and it was there that the game Fire Emblem's beautiful art style caught my eye. I loved the semi-realistic faces and intricate fantasy costumes (that weren't overblown to surrealism like in Final Fantasy), and I delved into that. Being in medical school also helped my anatomy and proportions, as I was learning it at the same time.


Some Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn fanart, featuring my favourite character Sothe (with the white scarf) and Tibarn (the guy with the eagle wings!)

And it was from here that I jumped right into my next phase...

Phase 5: A New Era of Azaria

Unfortunately, try as I might, Zodiac Hunters never got much off the ground. It was far too ambitious, complex and beyond my current skill-level as a writer, as I discovered once I joined a writer's group called Authonomy.

I became good friends with Lisa Wiedmeier, author of the Timeless series, and for fun drew a lot of her characters as it was a chance to get away from the manga-style and try something more realistic. This proved extremely challenging however (and it still is!). My early attempts were quite horrifying, smack in the middle of the uncanny valley! Luckily Lisa was very patient and not too brutal, and in fact helped me decide to give up on Zodiac and try a new story.


Callon, one of Lisa's characters from her Timeless series, drawn with permission of the author

I thence came up with the concept for The Binding, and accordingly designed my characters too. This time I knew my characters' names and roles beforehand, and soon enough I had a visual idea of what they would look like, too:


Eliza Bryant, heroine of my novel 'The Binding'

Initially I stuck to my usual anime style, until I discovered a wonderful deviantart tutorial called 'Manga to Realistic'...

Phase 6: From Manga to Realistic

This tutorial was life-changing, as it finally gave me a basis to transition to a more realistic art style. Sadly the author appears to have deleted it, so I won't repost the original as I don't have their permission, but you can view it here. This was a series of tutorials that went over the differences between manga-style art and realism, and set out how to draw facial features separately.

I had been looking for a tutorial like this for ages, and I was delighted to get practising ASAP. My Azaria characters were the beneficiaries, and in months I made good progress. I even dabbled in some fanart as well, marvelling at the difference in quality. I had always been stuck at this transition for so very long, and it was amazing to see that I finally had the tools to knock down the wall I'd been staring at for years!


I re-did a drawing of Squall, the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII. The difference is quite staggering!


And a redraw of my Azaria characters, Eliza and Ryan

At last I was heading in the direction I wanted to. My art was becoming more realistic, my own characters were coming out closer to how I saw them in my head...

And then...

Phase 7: Year of the Dragon Age

On the recommendation of a close friend I picked up the game Dragon Age: Origins, as she felt the themes and setting were up my alley. Admittedly I was reluctant, but when I saw the game for £2.50 for my Playstation 3 I thought 'why not'. It turned out to be a great investment, as I fell in love with the franchise and its characters!

I was very late to this particular party (the game came out in 2009 and I played it for the first time in 2016) but I didn't mind. The characters and setting were intriguing, the setup unusual (this was the first Western RPG I'd ever played), and of course it inspired my art. It had been a long time since I'd drawn fanart, having focused on my Azaria characters for the most part, but this brought me back.

And so I had to draw my Grey Warden, which is a self-made player character with a specific background:


My Grey Warden, Elissa Hannah Cousland

It wasn't long until I picked up the other two sequels and this became my new obsession. Given that Dragon Age was a much more realistic-in-design game (compared to the JRPGs before it), it helped me further progress.


My Grey Warden and Leliana, a companion character

That same friend also started getting massively into Overwatch, and while I personally am not interested in multiplayer only games, I did and still do admire the character designs. Once again this helped push me towards a more realistic style, as did the discovery of some Youtube critique channels and looking at more tutorials that I'd not thought to search for.


This is my reality...Symmetra from Overwatch!

Alas, despite the heaps of progress I'd made, I hit another wall. That final step to complete realism just seemed to elude me, no matter how much I practised or referenced or looked at various tutorials. This became extremely frustrating, especially when I'd improved so much in a short space of time. My love affair with Dragon Age also seemed to dry up overnight, as I lost the passion for it I once had, and my inspiration started to wane.

Seeing as I was getting no-where, I thought to myself, perhaps a break was due. After finishing my RCGP exam (final GP training exam) in 2016, I now had the time to draw more than ever, but I was perhaps overdoing it.

So I looked back to when I started, to the nature art that had captivated me as a child. And I realised, for some time I had been harbouring a desire to draw birds. Every time I saw majestic photographs, or saw them on holiday, it had stirred a desire to draw, one that I hadn't even realised.

Thus this was the ideal time to take a break from my fanart and characters, and try something new...

Phase 9: Era of the Bird

This was one of the best decisions I made. It took a whole new part of my brain to draw birds rather than people, and suddenly the inspiration was back. It has got to the point where if I see a species I have not seen before and it captivates me with its beauty, I will drop whatever I am doing to draw it. I have never had this feeling with art before, and I absolutely adore this new drive to create!


 

With a near-infinite species list to choose from, I could draw any bird of any colour, size, shape and more, and learn to improve my skills at drawing from reference. It has also helped me draw much faster and more regularly, which are only beneficial. It has helped me with colour and values, with lighting and shading, how to create softer feather textures, and much more.

And so this is where I am today! I am still practising at people in the background, slowly but surely, but for the moment I thoroughly enjoy my birds and they will continue to be my mainstay for the time being.

I also have an exclusive bird-art only instagram account, so if you'd like to follow please find me @maddoctorartist

Whew, what a journey! From my humble school art, to anime, then games and now back to the natural beauty of birds!  Who knows what the next 22 years will hold for my art journey? I'm excited to find out!

What was your art journey like, if you too are an artist? I'd love to know!