The Fabled Canadas

datetime January 25, 2020 11:52 PM

Observation: Spud has not blogged in 3 months.

Plausible Hypotheses: Spud has died. Or is having family drama. Or doesn’t like Space Men anymore. Or was kidnapped by Swedish terrorists. Or– and bear with me here– has died.

Actual Explanation:

Three-panel comic. Panel 1. Off-screen voice: You should really do that thing you have to do. Melodramatic crow: aaaaaaaa. Panel 2. Off-screen voice: It would only take a minute. Melodramatic crow: AAAAAA. Panel 3. Off-screen voice: This really doesn't have to be hard. Melodramatic crow: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
Credit: Incendavery

UUUUUUGH FINE I’LL BLOG SOMETHING. >_<

Over the past few years, I’ve been trying out different experiments with the Infinity tournaments I run in my area, to see whether one approach or another has any significant impact on attendance. We get functional numbers at our events (typically 8-12), but this is in a region with 60+ active players, so it’s a persistent puzzle to try to figure out if there’s any magical ingredient that will cause torpid players to stand up and leave their houses in a coordinated pattern.

I’ve tried a bunch of different approaches; in 2018, I ran events where players racked up achievements to win bonus prizes– mostly starter boxes, mercenaries, and LE models. In 2019, I rewarded people for painting (giving out tickets for being fully painted, having newly-painted stuff, and if other people like your army, and then drawing tickets for prizes), again giving away a pile of extra models at every event out of my own pocket just to see if that sort of thing might motivate turnout.

Aaaaaaand… mostly nope! Regardless of what I’ve done with the event themes or the prizing, roughly the same players turn out from one event to the next. My region’s players greet expanded prize pools mostly with a shrug, and while people have seemingly enjoyed the special themes at events they were going to attend anyway, I’ve seen little evidence of anyone turning out just to participate in whatever nonsense I bolted onto the tournament.

After two years of caring a lot and trying very hard, this year I decided to take a different approach: screw other people, let’s make Spud happy instead. 😛

First off, I decided that every ITS event I run this year will have a list-building restriction attached to it. Why? Because I personally love list-building restrictions in miniature and card games. 😛 I like having an excuse to look at my pool of options in a new light and pick lists that there would be no reason to play otherwise. This type of approach has kept tons of games fresh for me over my gaming career long after the vanilla play experience would normally have gotten stale, but I’ve been nervous to try anything similar for my Infinity events for fear that it would chill turnout. However, given my conclusion that the people who are going to show up are going to do so regardless of what I actually run, I figure it might not actually hurt to go outside the box for a little while, at least until N4 hits. 🙂

Next, since nobody seems to care much about about prizes, I’ve dropped my model giveaways this year in favour of a prize idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a few years now: a custom event patch with a fun cartoon character on it. 😀 I’ve wanted to try making one of those since I first saw the Furor Teutonicus event patch a few years back:

This annual German event got local artist Florian Stitz to transform the game’s most prominent German unit (the Teutonic Knight) into an adorable chibi character, and then slapped him onto embroidered patches that were given away to attendees. I don’t typically care about velcro patches (I don’t really have anything to attach them to, as my army boxes are made of wood), and yet, I’ve desperately wanted to make my own twist on this idea ever since I saw this enchanted disc scroll past on my Facebook feed. <3

I held off on the idea for a while because I imagined they would be expensive (spoiler: they aren’t really) and my prize budget was already being allocated to models and other gizmos. However, with the advent of The Year of No F**ks Left to Give, I decided to finally knuckle down and pump out my own unique cartoon patches to give away.

Now, Canada has not yet been blessed with a canonical Infinity unit, but I filled that gap on my own years ago:

My main army is a NeoTerra force themed around NeoCanada, with its primary infantry core being formed out of Space Mounties. These modified Bolts always get a laugh out of people, so I decided that they were a good candidate for a regional mascot.

However, I wasn’t quite satisfied with just putting a Mountie Bolt on a patch– I wanted to add one more wrinkle. See, my objective with these patches was both to make myself giggle and to try to create an incentive for people who wouldn’t otherwise do so, to come out to at least one event during the year. But even if that’s successful, it’s a one-time deal– once they have a patch, the incentive goes away and I’ll never see them again. So what if the patch design changed on an annual basis, with a new cartoon drawing pressed onto patches each year to refresh people’s interest? Besides just being fun, I might be able to leverage that precious FOMO wiring to pull people off their couches to play Space Men.

The specific concept for the rotating theme was really obvious: every year would be the Year of Some Canadian Animal. The first year would be a Canada Goose, while the second could be a bear, moose, beaver, or whatever else I feel like scribbling. I would draw a cartoon picture of my Mountie Bolt fighting alongside that year’s majestic beast, and then churn out a set of patches emblazoned with that inspiring seal. And then, we’ll just give them away to anyone who attends an event.

Will this finally prove to be the correct flavour of bribery to make people go to tournaments? Who the hell knows! But either way, the patches will be fun to make and cool to have, so whatever, I’m doing them. 😛

Alrighty, that’s the “Why” all nice and settled. Time for the “How”!

To start out, I sketched out the characters that I wanted to include. There are all sorts of different body proportions you can use for chibi illustrations; the Toy Story alien I made last year was about 2.5 heads tall, but of late I’ve been drifting toward a structure where the head is literally half the character’s total height, as shown on this whiteboard scribble I made at work one day when the Internet was out:

It’s a bit ridiculous-looking, but I like how it lets me emphasize the fun parts– facial expressions– and minimize the boring stuff like legs.

Pfft. Legs!

Who needs ’em!

Once I knew what the characters would look like, I came up with a pose that fit nicely within the circular area of a patch while still leaving room for the border text.

I scanned the sketch into a computer, and then brought it into Photoshop to start refining the drawing. The bird was pretty much perfect in one step, but the Mountie needed some iteration to get right, starting with her general body shape.

Mountie hats have a slightly weird shape on top, so I used the slant of the head to break the hat down into circles and cylinders sitting at the correct angle.

Satisfied with the basic shapes, I drew the clean line art that placed all of the various panels and accessories into the right spots. The manual line art would be discarded by the end, but it was important to establish where everything would sit before I started turning everything into math shapes.

Before I took the drawing any further, I laid down the backdrop for the patch to make sure that I had space for the words.

And finally, I started replacing the hand-drawn art with vector shapes using Photoshop’s pen tool. I know you’re supposed to do this type of thing in Illustrator, but I just prefer the vertex manipulation workflow in Photoshop, so… ehh. :/

I’ve written up a quick explanation of raster vs. vector shapes before in my previous wall art post, so go check that out if you aren’t sure what’s going on here. 😛

The base colours were down, but they were much too flat-looking, so next I started shading and highlighting. To help guide this, I turned the line art back on, which helped me see where a pool of shadow or a bright spot would look appropriate.

I found it hard to figure out the shading directly as vector shapes, so I took my tablet back out and roughed the shades and highlights in with the paintbrush tool. Note that I wasn’t doing both a shade and a highlight on every colour area because I was working within a colour budget– the patch provider I was initially going to use applied a surcharge for every thread colour above 7, so I had to be economical and only use an extra colour where it was really needed. A strategy that I found helpful was to pick a few colours that could be used in more than one swatch– for example, the pink of the goose’s mouth is also the red armour highlight, and the light brown of the hat and feathers would be used a bit later on as a shade for the yellow stripe.

I was really happy with how this was looking, but as I went back to look at the sample patches the embroidery company showed on their website, I realized that I was making the details way too small to stitch.

Realizing that, I went back to the drawing and simplified the highlights into much larger continuous blocks. Keep in mind, at this point I hadn’t actually run the plausibility of the design by the production company yet– I was just looking at other examples of embroidered patches and making my best guess about how small of a line they cold probably make work.

With the level of detail more or less settled, I added all of the shades and highlights with vector shapes, and fired the completed vector Photoshop file off to TheStudio.com to get a quote. I’m going to go ahead and just share all the nitty-gritty details of dealing with the company, because (1) in the end I’m happy with their product and service, and (2) I found it hard to get an idea of the price, timelines, processes, etc. when I was researching this project ahead of time, so I figure the information might be useful to anyone else out there who might be considering ordering their own custom patches.

So, the specs I asked for were:

  • 2.5″ patches (to approximately match standard Infinity unit patches)
  • Full embroidery
  • 8 colours
  • Velcro backs
  • 100 patches

When the quote came back, the designer recommended a few changes– first off, he said the text would never be legible at 2.5″, and recommended bumping up to 3″ patches. He also (once money had changed hands) made some modifications to the design, removing the tiny white highlights (which were too small to reliably stitch) and increasing the font sizes.

I didn’t know what the “running stitch” comment meant at the time, but it basically means they separate the black outlines on the design to a separate layer, and stitch those in a continuous single line of thread rather than a patch of parallel stitches like all the larger flat areas.

I’m glad I was able to provide them a fully vector file to do this with, as the type of changes they were making would have been close to impossible if I only had pixel artwork. 🙂

Finally, they showed me the thread colours that they’d be using to match the ones in my art– the red and blue got a bit darker, but overall everything looks pretty bang-on. 😀

The total for the order, with various phantom discounts applied for reasons I didn’t understand, came to $246 USD, or about $330 in Canadabucks. I originally asked for 100 patches and got a quote of $200 USD, which I was happy enough to pay, but in our discussions, it turned out that doubling the order would only cost 20% more. That would give me more than enough to give away at my year of events, and ALSO give my group hand-outs when we travel to other people’s events, so I went ahead and tossed them another fifty bucks. I’m usually pretty resistant to attempts at an upsale, but in this case it seemed like a no-brainer. 🙂

In total, the schedule looked like this:

  • 4 days of chatting with the designer by e-mail. He would make recommendations and list options, and I hemmed and hawed over which ones to pick. Whenever our discussion led to a change in the selected features or any other aspect of the design, he sent me back an updated quote.
  • Five days later, I got the mockups above with a list of changes they were recommending, and I had to approve them before they could proceed. They have a little online tool to let you view and approve the updates, which I was happy to see since I hate dealing with humans. <3
  • Another six days later, I got an e-mail with a photo of a sample patch, which I also needed to approve:

  • Two weeks passed without any updates (this was over the Christmas break, so I actually kind of forgot about it. 😛 ), and then I got a notice that it was shipping from Shenzen, China (where the US design studio sends things to actually get produced). And because global shipping has been reduced to absurd magic, it was on my doorstep in Canada the next f***ing afternoon.

SO! At the end of all that, what did I get?

Only a g**damn work of art, that’s all.

*sniff*

So, yeah. I’m prepared to call my first foray into patchville a roaring success. 🙂 I have a neat handout to make my events unique, and I got to indulge my absolute most favouritest hobby in the entire world: turning electrical signals in my brain into tangible objects.

Of course, then my locals had to go ahead and ruin it…

“Jean jackets!”, I thought, chuckling mildly. “How silly!”

“I shall humour him in this funny, funny joke! Ha-ha!”

*sigh*

And this is why I can’t have nice things.

-Spud

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