The Krogan are a hulking reptilian species; warriors born and bred who revel in their own aggression. They once threatened to conquer the galaxy but were thwarted when a biological weapon crippled their birth-rate. Through the Krogan battlemaster Urdnot Wrex and his clan, Shepard may discover that there is more to this race than first meets the eye.

kroganbatfaceStanding seven feet tall and weighing a tonne in armour, Krogan are by far the largest and strongest species in Shepard’s crew. Ideas came from several members of the animal kingdom, particularly rhinos (hence their charging attack) and ancient reptiles. Faces were inspired by line drawings of bats. Early concept sketches were of primitive beings with long, ape-like arms, later changed to avoid animation problems. Each Krogan’s solid headplate is formed by the fusion of small, supple bones like a newborn’s skull. This plate often comes in handy as their debates are typically resolved with a headbutt to the face.

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Besides brutishness, Krogan biology suggests survival. Thick hides protect their bodies and humps preserve nourishment due to scare food and water supplies, not unlike a desert camel. Flat teeth imply they were originally herbivores, even if they are shown cooking rats on their barren homeworld. The placement of their eyes is indicative of a prey species rather than a predator. A better field of vision would help Krogan spot attackers; practical, given that Tuchanka is home to dangerous fauna including thresher maws. Their short gestation period – unusual for large beings of long lifespan – also indicates heavy predation during evolution. Or in Wrex’s words “You haven’t seen how fast we can pop them out.”

Grunt: Rockin' the Citadel!

Grunt: Rockin’ the Citadel. This is why we love him!

To many, the Krogan are thugs who must be suppressed for the safety of others; understandable given the Krogan Rebellions and the fact that they do enjoy violence. However, this need not be the last word on their race. Wrex is level headed with a hearty sense of humour (the only subject that provokes his wrath is the Genophage virus, which threatens to drive his people to extinction.) Grunt will “act out” in Mass Effect 2 yet he’s tempered when he gains a sense of purpose and belonging. Finally in Mass Effect 3, “Eve” tells of the quiet suffering and suicidal tendencies of the infertile females – a stark contrast to the furious chest-beating of the males. Ultimately, the true nature and fate of the Krogan is decided by the player.

Note: Personally, I love the Krogan! Wrex was my bro in the first game and I promised myself I’d do anything I could to cure the Genophage. As an extra, here’s an artist’s impression of a krogan baby.

Altogether now - D'awww!

Altogether now – D’awww!

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It’s my first day back at work after the Easter holidays and my stomach is growling away at me. Either it’s punishing me for overloading it with chocolate or it’s demanding more. (Speaking of chocolate, travellinginmybookcase has set me a chocolatey-book-related challenge that I will get on with very soon!) For now, here’s a sketch of Frank the Rabbit from the film Donnie Darko. Because bunnies!

Frank: "Wake up"

Frank: “Wake up”

This was taken from the poster art rather than the mask itself. As you can see, it’s composed of various faces and iconic images from the film so it was fun to go through and try to spot what each one was. I’ve seen both the theatrical and director’s cut multiple times and I still make a new connection or come up with a new idea every time I watch. Likewise, I was just compelled to draw this… I guess you could say, they made me do it. 

Happy belated Easter everyone!

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The Asari

Asari are a mono gendered species resembling human females with blue skin. They are credited as superior intellects, possessors of natural telekinetic (or “biotic”) abilities and the first living race to discover interstellar travel. Shepard’s trusted ally, the Asari scientist and archaeologist Dr Liara T’Soni, sheds light on the past in the hope of preserving the future.

asaricommandoThe Asari are the closest species to humans physically as the race was fashioned with a potential love interest in mind. They can wear human armour and possess the most homo sapien faces (Liara’s particular features were based on the model Jillian Murray). However their relatability is balanced with their otherworldliness. In place of hair, Asari have tentacles. Skin tones range from teal to purple and emit a subtle glow. Facial markings create distinctions between individuals as can minor traits of that particular asari’s “father”, who may belong to any alien species.

There is a strong aquatic influence in the Asari design, most obvious in their blue colouring. In myth and folklore, water is a symbol of feminine energy, beauty and mystery as depicted in mermaids, sirens and water nymphs. The Asari scalp crest, which is shaped like a wave, was based on the image of a woman emerging from a pool with her hair slicked back. Up close fine, fish-like scales are visible on an asari’s skin. The motif extends beyond aesthetics as the fluidity and grace of their movement is also likened to water.

asari

The Asari are an abstract, almost idealised version of femininity. Though not technically female they use feminine pronouns, worship female deities and their life stages – maiden, matron and matriarch – echo the three phases of pagan womanhood. The inclusion of “blue space-babes” may sound cheap but it could be argued that Bioware were harking back to traditional iconography rather than conforming to cliché. Concept art shows the Asari in strong or contemplative poses, their allure coming from their inner power rather than their bodies. True, we see them dancing in seedier locales yet we’re just as likely to meet Asari diplomats, armoured commandos and, of course, Liara in her lab coat.

Liara T'Soni - "The doctor will pwn you now."

Liara T’Soni – “The doctor will pwn you now.”

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Many thanks to Table for Glasses for the nomination! Basically, this is a nice way to discover and promote new blogs and those with smaller groups of followers and to get us all talking a little about what we’re doing here and why we love doing it.

1. What made you want to do your blog? Might sound obvious, but because I love to write! I never feel quite right without a draft deadline and a word count (you can tell I was an English major!) After graduating I did the odd article for a friend and it soon became a fully-fledged hobby. I posted articles and reviews here, there and all over the place. Then, after a major hard drive disaster along with the discovery that several of my old links were defunct, I thought I’d be sensible and create my own blog to pull it all together.

2. Are you as inspired to write it as the time you began it? I’m inspired now more than ever before. In fact, I’ve branched out a bit by sharing videos and artwork as well as things I’ve written. There may be another blog for creative writing – we’ll see how that goes.

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3. If you could pick an album and a film to have on a desert island, what would they be? For films, I’d either go a musical or music-themed title (Empire Records, Little Shop of Horrors, Scott Pilgrim versus the World, Repo! etc) or a movie I can watch many times in a row and spot something different (Fight Club, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Donnie Darko, these lists go on!) The key here is re-watch value and I find music or head-buggery keeps me going back. For albums, one I still haven’t got sick of is the soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy, plus I’d be on a desert island so I could totally bust out some sweet Starlord moves! I’d also be happy with any Manic Street Preachers album that’s not Lifeblood.

4. The Beatles or The Stones or Rush? The Stones? Hell yeah, I’d pick the Rolling Stones! When I was much younger I loved music and was learning the guitar but there wasn’t much on the radio I enjoyed (the UK in the early nineties was a musical dead zone). Then my dad broke out the old Stones records and I became an instant fan. Some nice if unintentional parenting teamwork went on there – my mum taught me to play guitar and my dad introduced me to Keith Richards. Still got a lot of love for the Beatles too, particularly George Harrison’s contributions. When my dad gave me his records, there were a good few Beatles albums among them, including a copy of The White Album with tea spilled on the cover, which I suppose is now technically The Beige Album.

5. If you had to pick a song for me to write about on my blog, what would it be? Let’s get some Manics on there. So much to pick from though – Old or new? Anthem? Cover version? Here’s one for each (I like to give options); Old – Roses in the Hospital, New – Let’s Go To War, Anthem – Design For Life, Cover – Been A Son (Nirvana.)

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6. Aliens are invading the Earth and have evil intentions – what weapon do you use to defend yourself? A board with a nail in it… what? It worked on The Simpsons! I guess there’s always the Spectre Gear sniper rifle from Mass Effect – nailed thousands of aliens with those and at a nice safe distance too.

7. Is this the best film ever?

Actually, this looks amazing! I might have to check it out for the crotch-grenade scene alone.

8. What is your favourite colour? Blue… no, yel-AAAAARRRGH!!!

bridgeofdeath

Sorry – I can’t resist obvious Monty Python gags! Truthfully, my favourite colour is purple.

9. Is Vocaloid awesome? (yes, it is)

I cannot lie… this is kind of adorable! Is this to do with the Hatsune Miku games? I’ve seen my flatmate play those. I haven’t myself but I do enjoy rhythm games from time to time, like Gitaroo Man and Um Jammer Lammy. (Note to self – consider Lammy for future blog post.)

eevee10. Which Pokemon would you choose if Professor Oak gave you the option, bearing in mind you can have any Pokemon you want (apart from the legendary Pokemon)? Hurry, because Team Rocket are hiding around the corner!! I’d probably take Eevee – it’s got bags of potential and it’s just so darn cute! I know there are bigger, stronger Pokemon out there but I like the idea of one I can raise as a loyal companion as well as a badass. How would I evolve it? Probably to Umbreon (I like dark types), maybe Vaporeon if I wanted to go surfing. Most of the generation 1 fire types are cool too – I’d be really happy to get a Vulpix or a Growlithe. Meowth sounds like a good idea too. Short on cash? Teach it Pay Day!

Sidenote: Am I the only one missing Team Rocket from the games?

The following was my contribution to a book on art in games. Unfortunately the project folded before it could be published.

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Mass Effect: Designing an Alien Race

After their success with the Star Wars based Knights of the Old Republic Bioware created Mass Effect – an original science fiction universe tailored to an action-RPG premise.

Set over a century into the future, the trilogy follows Commander Shepard’s mission to save organic life from the threat of the Reapers. The term “organic” applies to many advanced beings besides humans, each with their own history and culture. Members of these races join Shepard to become allies, friends and even romantic interests.

Alien designs were based on archetypes, visual metaphors and familiar forms. The majority were inspired by at least one real life species, for example the Salarian took cues from amphibians and the Hanar from jellyfish. Non-playable characters could take virtually any shape but game mechanics required the combatants to use firearms, have humanoid skeletal structures (symmetrical, bipedal etc) and no appendages that would obstruct movement. Shepard’s teammates needed to emote during conversations, which created the need for recognisable facial features. Even with these criteria in place and with so many real-world influences, the alien designs are still unique and varied. Additionally, there was a push to give each character an iconic silhouette for the Squad Selection screen.

In the first game, Shepard is joined aboard the Normandy by four aliens; a Turian, an Asari, a Krogan and a Quarian.

 

turian.heads

The Turian

When designing a galaxy on the brink of war we must ask what its ultimate military power would be like. With the Turian, Mass Effect delivered a regimental society renowned for their forcefulness and discipline. Despite past conflicts and bad blood between their respective races, Shepard forms a close bond with the Turian agent Garrus Vakarian.

turian.conceptBirds of prey, particularly eagles, inspired the Turian appearance. The pointed chin and mouth mandibles form a beak shape while a cartilage-based “head fringe” resembles feathers. Most notable are the sharp, beady eyes. Their hands and talons are like avian feet but with opposable thumbs. Turian biology wasn’t solely inspired by birds however; the exoskeleton that provides their natural armour is typically found on insects and crustaceans. It succeeds in making them appear both tougher and more “alien”. As a finishing touch, the war paint on their faces reinforces their militant heritage.

The eagle is symbolic of pride, honour and patriotism, particularly in the United States. Likewise, the Turian are a proud race and duty-bound to their people, placing great importance on civic duty and the greater good. They operate on strict codes of honour, to the degree that it is rumoured they physically cannot lie. The phrase “eagle eyed” can be applied both literally and figuratively as no minor detail escapes a Turian’s attention.  History names them as the race that secured galactic peace and so they work tirelessly to maintain order, dedicating their talents to administrative duties.

GarrusHis race may be mired in bureaucracy, but Garrus shows us the deadly hunter the Turian was evolved to be. The monocular visor he wears shows an affinity with his weapon of choice – the sniper rifle – which channels his natural precision into a lethal art. He also exemplifies the ideals of the militia and the justice system, being wise and compassionate as well as a force to be reckoned with. Garrus abandons his career as a law enforcer to join Shepard but his goal of protecting the innocent remains the same. The difference is that his notion of the greater good extends far beyond his own race.

Yep, it was only going to be a matter of time before I drew something Mass Effect related! Here’s one of my favourite faces (in a manner of speaking) from the Normandy crew – Quarian engineer, Tali’Zorah.

Keelah se'lai! Tali'Zorah - armed and dangerous.

Keelah se’lai! Tali’Zorah – armed and dangerous.

What can I say, except that I love this character and her background. Tali is intelligent and loyal with a real desire to prove herself. When she first encounters Commander Shepard, she’s on a rite of passage known as the Pilgrimage for which she left her birth ship to explore the galaxy and bring back something that will benefit her people. As the Quarian lost their home world Rannoch, they live about a Migrant Fleet of ships and, thanks to their weakened immune systems, they’re forced to wear protective masks and full body suits.

This was challenging to draw, thanks to all the textures in Tali’s suit. The Quarian race are all about salvage and pride themselves on their ability to mend and make use of items that other races would throw away. To reflect this, their suits appear to be constructed from various fabrics, possibly scrap materials. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a character without a face either – I waited till the pencil went blunt to try and get the opaque look for the mask. Interestingly, the suit gives us an indication of Tali’s status and the timeline point of the Mass Effect series. The one I’ve sketched belongs to Tali’Zorah vas Neema or Tali’Zorah vas Normandy – the names she uses during Mass Effect 2 and 3. In the first game, her suit is a little more basic in style and she’s known as Tali’Zorah naar Rayya.

So, what’s with all the surnames? Well, “naar” indicates a Quarian who has not yet completed the Pilgrimmage and the Rayya is the name of the ship on which Tali was born. The ascent to Quarian adulthood is marked with the move to a new ship. By the time she meets Shepard in Mass Effect 2, she has adopted the name “vas Neema”, meaning that her Pilgrimmage was successful and earned her a position aboard a new ship called “Neema” as well as permission to modify her suit and veil as she wishes. Finally, Tali changes her name to “vas Normandy” to indicate that Shepard’s ship has become her home and that the Normandy crew are considered family. Aww!

It might not be a perfect likeness but I’ll wager that more effort went into this picture than the one of Tali’s face in Mass Effect 3. A poorly Photoshopped stock image? C’mon!

kirby-draws-terry-2Goodbye Mr Pratchett. Goodbye to the warm, funny and altogether brilliant mind that brought us Discworld – a book series that’s as old as I am.

But this wasn’t the first thing that rushed to my mind when I heard the sad news. For me, he’ll forever be remembered as the author of a wonderful series of children’s novels, often known as “The Bromeliad” or “The Nome Trilogy.”

Truckers – along with its sequels Diggers and Wings – follows a race of small, humanoid beings (“Nomes”) as they journey through our world. Their quest takes them through countryside, a department store, quarries and airports, ultimately looking towards outer space. It’s a big adventure with some big ideas about society, religion and the human condition.

Much of Pratchett’s distinctive humour comes from the Nomes’ worldly interpretations as they hold a mirror to our strange human ways. Many live beneath the floors of a department store and worship its founder “Arnold Bros Est. 1905” as a deity. In-store slogans are taken literally and spouted as religious dogma by those in power. When Masklin and his band of country dwellers arrive off a lorry, many outright deny their existence, quoting the Word of Arnold:

All Things Under One Roof. Therefore there can be NO outside. Therefore you people are NOT from it!”

This doesn’t bode well with the “Thing” (the Nomes’ black box recorder and supercomputer), who intercepts a message announcing the store’s impending demolition.

How can Masklin persuade the Nomes to evacuate when they believe that nothing exists beyond their five-storey utopia? And even if he does convince them, can he get them to stop grumbling long enough so that they might actually work together?

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Stories about little folk have been told before; in Gulliver’s Travels, The Borrowers and even by Pratchett himself in The Carpet People. But it’s done so perfectly in the Nome trilogy, as the titular beings observe human life through their own special lens and ultimately ask “why are we here?” They develop a sense of purpose through exploration, technology (particularly vehicles) and books, all of which guide them to the place they truly belong. Or, to be more accurate, a place that truly belongs to the Nomes.

What I loved as a kid (and still do) is how silly characters behave when confronted with any challenge to the status quo. The presence of “Outsiders” sparks tantrums from authority figures, while others pretend they can’t see them at all. Eventually the Stationeri – essentially the store’s Vatican – are convinced of the impending doom and must reconcile their crises of faith to battle for their species’ survival. They’re also challenged by an Outsider named Grimma, who refutes the accepted notion that “women can’t read“ because ”their brains get too hot.” She proves them wrong, eventually becoming the most avid reader in the tribe. Guess who my favourite character is!

masklinIt was through Cosgrove Hall’s stop motion adaptation of that I first discovered the series Terry Pratchett’s Truckers (between this, Knightmare and Bad Influence I was a CITV kid and proud!) It’s a faithful adaptation, lovingly animated with great voice acting. It also features one of the best examples of dark humour ever televised; Nome funeral rites, complete with pointy hats and ceremonial fishing rods. Fun fact – I noticed on IMDB that the voice of the Abbott (Michael Horden) also did some voice work on some of my other childhood favourites – Labyrinth and Watership Down. Funny how it all seems to tie together! The full series of Truckers is available on DVD and I can heartily recommend it to absolutely anyone.

Another fun fact – Pratchett’s BBC News obituary might have pinpointed the inspiration for the Nome stories:

“He [Terry] vividly recalled a visit to London in 1954 when his mother took him to the Gamages department store in Holborn.

The small boy was overcome by the bright lights and vast range of toys. “Lots of my future writing started to happen on that day,” he later said.”

truckers1I have very fond memories of watching Truckers with my little sister at my Gran’s, who bought me the series on video because I loved it so much (thanks Gran – say hi to Terry for me!) Afterwards I read the books, which were even better, and waited patiently for the next TV series, which sadly never came. Such a pity, especially as the second book Diggers is mainly Grimma’s story. I’d love to hear her make the speech where she explains her fascination with the bromeliad flowers – an idea that changes her entire world view and provides the analogy that is the namesake of the whole series.

Great fiction like this makes us ask these questions ourselves. Will we be like the frogs living life inside one giant flower? Or will we venture beyond the petals and explore all the wonders the universe has to offer?

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Thank you Terry Pratchett for sharing your worlds, your ideas and your marvellous humour with us all. But in the wise words of Arnold Bros Est. 1905, “Everything Must Go.”

Rest in peace Lx