It’s been about a month since the last maps update. I’ve made incremental progress, but from here on it’s the sort of thing you’ll mostly need to zoom in to see. To be honest, this project has been mostly sidelined by a new work opportunity that arose unexpectedly. (More info on that in time…)

Here’s a zoomed-out view of the whole thing.

Might as well say now: my intention is to sell these maps as posters, along with Braid-related images and my old comics. Back when I was doing A Lesson Is Learned with Dale Beran, we sold prints of those comics. I printed, packaged and shipped each one myself. As much fun as it was to share the work with an audience in a physical way, it ate up a lot of time and we didn’t charge enough to make a worthwhile profit. So I’ve been looking for another way to do this.

At the moment, my favorite option is imagekind, literally the CafePress of art. You create an account, upload your art files, set your profit margin by percentage or flat amount (the base price is predetermined), and prints are made on demand. I’ve ordered their sample booklet and the prints are high quality. One of the paper options is the same as what I used to print myself from home (Epson Photo Luster). They even print on canvas.

On the plus side, I can offer a range of images and see what people like without incurring any up-front risk on a big order. Over time, I could even offer the entire back catalog of A Lesson Is Learned. (Each image requires some preparation, so this would not happen instantly.) So it allows a lot of choice for customers.

Also, because everything is handled by imagekind, I don’t have to do anything! I can keep my hands alien-smooth and customers can expect quick turn-around.

On the minus side, artists don’t have great control over what kinds of prints they offer and how they set their prices. Imagekind offers a dizzying range of paper options, and there’s no way to limit that. Maybe that’s a good thing for certain customers, but I’m a little concerned it could be confusing and deter some. (I’ll probably just indicate my recommendation and people can make up their own minds.)

Another issue is pricing. Each type of paper has its own base price, and I determine the markup (either as a percentage or a flat sum). The markup is controlled per image, not by paper/size. This makes it tricky to not charge too little or too much at one end of the paper spectrum. So the prices will probably seem a little high at the lowest end, and a little bit cheap at the highest end.

However, from a customer’s viewpoint, if you keep in mind that these are not cheapo things that you want to stick to your bedroom wall with rolls of Scotch tape, but really high quality archival art prints that you can frame, the prices will be reasonable.

Because I’m still mulling this over, I thought I’d share this with you in case you have any knowledge to share.

  • Anybody have experience with imagekind?
  • Know of any good alternatives to imagekind?
  • What images would you personally consider purchasing? (Braid, A Lesson Is Learned, maps, other)
  • What size print would you ideally want? (imagekind prints up to 60×60″!)
  • What is the most you are willing to pay for timeless beauty?

Thanks!

(By the way, some people have asked for wallpaper images for the puzzle paintings Tim assembles in Braid. I don’t plan to offer these as posters. The main reason, which may or may not amuse anyone, is that some things really belong in a certain context. Those images were made to exist in the game, and derive their meaning from that context. They are rewards for thinking through Braid’s challenges. I don’t think they are as good outside of the game. Also I don’t want to contribute to de-mystification of things that are better when you earn them. To the small extent of my influence, I don’t want those images out there to be seen by people who haven’t yet played the game. The secondary reason, also known as the convenient technical problem, is that they were painted at a resolution too low for printing. Sorry to those who’ve requested these!)

Form and Content

August 4th, 2008

Chris Dahlen at Save the Robot blogged yesterday about Jonathan Blow’s recent lecture at the Games:EDU conference. There are other places to get the full content of the lecture (GameSetWatch or Jonathan Blow himself), but basically, Jon is talking about the frequent dissonance in games between story and gameplay. Often, the story will suggest one thing, but the actual rules of play will express a conflicting idea.

Bioshock, one of last year’s commercial and critical smash hits, offers a perfect example. There’s a kind of character called a “little sister” that you meet repeatedly. Each time, you’re offered an explicit choice between freeing her and “harvesting” her for a resource that powers you up and makes the game easier. The audio-visual presentation tugs on your sympathies by vividly depicting the little sister’s vulnerability: she cowers, and covers her face with pale little hands. But it turns out that if you free the little sister, you still can power up from alternative sources. So the choice between power and compassion is not supported by the game system.

Is it a nihilistic message that no matter how you treat defenseless children, your life will proceed unchanged as long as you can banish your guilt? Or material reassurance to those tempted towards violence that they can have everything they want without harming anyone? Bioshock leaves the impression of a fumbled idea, that the story and game system were seen to serve distinct, non-overlapping functions. There was this “moral choice” thing introduced through the graphics and audio, but to ensure that all players had a smooth and not-frustrating experience, the sharp implications of the choice, that should have been born out in the gameplay, were shaved down to nothing.

Surely there’s expressive potential in purposeful contradiction – one element of a work saying one thing while another element says something different – but I think Jon is right that sensitivity to this kind of technique in games remains generally underdeveloped, and conflicts of this sort are usually haphazard.

Anyway, there’s been plenty of discussion about this elsewhere. The reason I’m posting is that Chris opened the article with part of an episode of A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible. It was a very appropriate choice, but Chris didn’t comment on why. So I thought I would butt in and explain!

(Click for full size.)

Back when I was doing A Lesson Is Learned…, I’d often try to reflect the core idea of Dale’s script in the layout of the comic itself. I believe this is one of the more successful attempts. The story here is about a sleepless little girl, Caroline’s doppelganger, being comforted by her father. Her anxiety is that she is not loved as much as the disappeared original Caroline – another little girl her parents had before her. She fears her doppelganger status makes her forever a shadow of the real girl. Worse, she believes Caroline is still living in the house, watching her from the window across the courtyard.

The layout of the comic reflects the doppelganger theme, first, by being divided in two. The panels on the left side of the comic are in the shape of a house, with peaked roof and a window – a motif repeated and confirmed in explicit depiction on the right side. Each side has the same peaked roof over a window with someone looking out, towards us. But the differences are as important as the similarities. The left side is warm with inner illumination. The house is a set of panels revealing an intimate moment between father and daughter. The thoughts and feelings of these characters are shared with us. In contrast, the right side shows a chilly facade. We do not know what lies behind that wall, whether Caroline truly lives in the darkness of that window, looking back at us. In fact, it’s deliberately ambiguous whether we are looking out from the doppelganger’s window, sharing her view, or looking back at her from the other side, inhabiting the perspective of the supposed Caroline. The left side reveals as much as possible, while the right side lets on nothing, forcing the reader to remain with the mystery for nearly half a page – a panel that overwhelms and haunts the first half, outlasting the brief and incomplete comfort with the expansiveness of a watchful night.

(I talked about this in a lecture last year.)

Content expressed through form – the overall form of the comic, its layout – was an explicit goal of this design, making it an appropriate compliment to the ideas in Jon’s lecture.

Here’s a blast from the past for you baby boomers: an old interview with Dale Beran and me about our comic, A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible.

Here’s a choice quote:

What does the title of your comic mean to you? Are these your prescient last words?

David: The title refers to a persistent desire to understand and cope with life’s hardships, as well as the realization of our limits to enact change upon our ultimately flawed human existence.

Whoa, slow down there, younger-David, you sound like a straining undergrad! Highlights also include Dale getting wasted and trashing other web comics.

The great big whole interview is here.

Here’s a talk I gave to Tom Chalkley’s class at Johns Hopkins University about A Lesson Is Learned on April 15, 2007.

This was a concept for “Labyrinth Isle,” the everlasting “next” episode of A Lesson Is Learned.

This year A Lesson Is Learned took home three awards from the WCCA! Thanks everybody!