Stablehand: What is Stablehand? (again)

Despite my valiant attempts to explain what Stablehand is at least twice, it turned out people still didn't get it. So... I had to do it again (:p). Here's my newest explanation, reposted from my tumblr.

What is stablehand? Do you make it?

I do make Stablehand, or, well, will would be a better word than do, because I haven't strictly "made" any of the actual story yet. Though I do already have a whole bunch of things laid out basically in a rough outline of the final format in my mind, the project is still essentially in the planning phase; as it's going to potentially be a ridiculously massive and complicated project, I feel like I need to get a bunch of stuff sorted out pretty well before I begin in order to not have the actual story completely fall apart and/or have to be reworked from the beginning. Both of those things could potentially be really disastrous, as I think will be pretty obvious to you when I explain what the project is.

Stablehand is going to be, as I said on the About page (I'd recommend looking at that page as it explains the influences/central themes for the project pretty well, though it may need a little more revising) kind of a combination gamebook/webcomic. I've also described it as a visual gamebook and a visual text adventure. It seems like people may be having a little difficulty grasping this concept, so I'll stop and explain this a bit more.

Ok. You know Homestuck, right? Homestuck is a webcomic that emulates really old retro games kind of based on text adventures in style. It also has a teeny bit of a 'gamebook tease' element to it, as it gives you "commands", but the story is actually just linear instead of being a branching narrative where you can have different endings. (This really confused me at first to be honest, because not knowing what Homestuck was I was like, are there supposed to be other options? Is this like the impossible quiz, where I'm missing some kind of trick? XD and it took me like forty pages to realise it was really just a plain old webcomic. I was mildly disappointed though the actual story fairly quickly made up for it.)

Anyway, Homestuck tells a story in which there are many characters, timelines, and even universes. Infinite possibilities, right? But, it only tells one of them. It spends a really, really, really long time talking about just one way the characters can interact, develop, and accomplish things.

Ok. That's Homestuck. Now.

Imagine a story that's visual, somewhat like Homestuck, but where instead of just looking at one timeline, you could actually change things. Character's supposed to do X? How about he doesn't do X, or does Y instead. What if instead of slaying the dragon, he befriends it. Or instead of befriending the dragon, he slays it. Maybe there's no obvious route for the character. Maybe nobody including the character has any idea what to do and you just kind of have to pick something and hope it works.

This is Stablehand.

There are 12 characters, and each of them has a different personality, abilities, and background. Each of them might be able to become a whole mess of different things... or they might not, depending mostly on their attunements. They might be the kind of person who's good at strategising and leading (Ariana, Nassak), the kind that just jumps into things (Hughes, Kris), the kind that prefers to solve problems on their own (Kate, Lance, Sleipnir), or the kind that's... well, not a person at all (Yanha, Red, Shadow, Ssivyin/Ssiassi). But the thing is, their basic nature can also change to some extent. Not only can they have any balance of 16 defining attributes, but they can choose to switch to another attribute for every single situation if they want to (or not), which then will feed back into their attributes as statistics; their approach to one particular attribute, called an attitude, may or may not affect the results of this, depending. And attitudes, of course, can change too.

Ok, that was a bunch of terms. What was that all about?

Well, the real point of all that is when characters start archetyping, or developing ability sets and sometimes even new appearances based on their identities. Kris, for instance, is obsessed with the idea of "The Superpower" (an in-universe superhero) and has the ability to take on several different superhero personas based on each attribute. She's a little bit special though, since she has a "Versitotal" attunement. Other characters, like Lance, may have archetypes that are based on multiple attributes, or more on a specific theme not quite related to attributes. And yet other characters with a "Freestyle" attunement may explore a whole lot of different facets of just one attribute with their abilities, or not so much work within the attribute framework at all.

So, unlike Homestuck, you'll get to see, well, if not all of the possibilities, a whole bunch of the possibilities. And they'll probably vary pretty widely from character to character, too—sometimes it may be that most choices, no matter how strange or illogical, will result in a good ending for the character; sometimes (as with poor, poor Nassak), it may be that almost nothing can result in a good ending. This is really exciting for me because unlike with other story formats, I'll get to explore a lot more different facets of each character, as well as play with the idea of what it means to be "in character". When the characters can change their personalities kinda the way people do in real life if a little more quickly and dramatically, suddenly this idea of being "in character" changes a lot. It's no longer this restrictive thing where you can only do certain things with the story because the character description said so, but instead you start to realise that a whole bunch of different things could be "in character" for a given character at a given moment.

(I think it will actually be easier for me to write a story this way than the traditional way, to be honest, because when I wrote stories that way it was often hard for me to look at two or three different actions and ask myself which one fit the character better (but... but... the character could do any of those things and they'd all be in character! and they're equally awesome too! what do I do???). Now, I can finally eat my cake and have it too. And throw it out the window and stomp on it. And offer it to some friends. And make it into cake pudding. And so on...)

To make things even more concrete, here is a very rough cartoon of what the story format is going to be like (the character shown is Ssivyin/Ssiassi, but I just made up the scenario on the spot rather than this being anything I had planned for the story):


Like I said: you pick various attributes, it affects the characters and story. Right now I'm thinking I'll also sometimes present other choices that aren't as attribute-related, like which direction to go or something, in the same format but not using the attribute icons of course (:p). I'll probably make other stock icons for those.

Having said all that, now I hope you can see why I said "you'll have to be careful and try to see the big picture in order to get a good ending". I can already tell this is going to be a really complicated thing for me to create, let alone for my poor audience to figure out. XD

(I'd like to add though that while I'm making the story sound like it's really unintuitive, it's not really supposed to be unintuitive per se. I'd say that it's already more intuitive than Homestuck in some ways, particularly the attunement/attribute system. In my eyes the Homestuck Classpect system is a nightmare, and part of the reason I made the attribute system—though it was kind of a subconscious reason more than something I did deliberately—was actually to make something that was actually understandable and usable and wasn't a goddamn slurry of mixed-up tea leaves where you have to go off fan interpretations, who knows what kind of weird pocket of extradimensional space they were pulled out of 'cause I sure don't, to have any hope of understanding it. Whenever my friends talk about Classpects and try to fit themselves to them I actually get slightly angry just because in my mind I'm like, oh my god guys that system is too vague and badly-designed it's useless to even try to understand it much less fit into it why are you even trying! Urrgh. And the funniest thing is, it's not even like I'm jealous of the thing I "copied" being better or I wish they'd use attributes instead. Systems I can't work with just frustrate me. :p

...Sorry for the rather spontaneous rant about Classpects. XD)

Along with the main (gamebook) story and this idea of the characters and who they are and what they can do and become that will be explored in it, I'm also just generally goofing around and building a bunch of other random stuff around the idea/universe too.

One is this kind of... "anime retrolark musical/opera" thing, where I'm just writing a bunch of songs for each character and a number of other things in-universe. The songs are one good example of how I'm kind of just... creating whatever comes to mind, not really aiming for any consistent style. I want to write a silly narrative country folk song? Great, write it. I want to write something that's in Japanese and sounds like an anime opening theme? Great, write it. I want to write a heavy metal song? Great, write it. I want to write songs that sound a bit like the kind of thing you'd find in Disney movies? Great, write them. In a way I think it's accurate to call Stablehand kind of a collage of different genres and artistic media because while I do have an overarching "style genre" for it I call retrolark (in brief, basically take "fantasy steampunk", swap "1800s" for "1980s", and throw in some genuine surrealism), I'm kind of going crazy with the rather large diversity of the things I'm actually making for it.

Another thing I'm doing is modelling some of the various beasts in 3D, ostensibly for making animations for the songs or some kind of cutscenes or something, but in practice mostly just for the hell of it. And I'm also programming cool... erm, "side attractions", for my website like a random OC generator and a "life compendium" that will be... vaguely like a Stablehand Pokédex I guess (:p). I'm kind of aiming for this to be made for people to fanwork, to some extent.

Oh, and on that topic, as you probably already know, I've made both the main story and all the side stuff "libre", meaning that unlike most animation, games, books, etc. out there, you're actually explicitly allowed to make fanworks of them and even outright "steal" stuff from them, in the case of my licence as long as you attribute me and allow everybody else to do the same to what you made. I'm a huge fan of open source software, and I've always wished we could do the same thing with general culture more instead of getting caught up in petty arguments about whose whatsit is whose and what's "stealing". I've already made some fairly intelligible ramblings about copyright and libre stuff elsewhere, so I think that's all I'll say about that right now.

So. Basically, Stablehand is a gamebook, an open universe, and a bunch of random randomness based on the other two things. I'd called it a "comic" in [my tumblr] tag mainly because that's a word I felt like a lot of people would look at and immediately understand, even though it doesn't perfectly describe what Stablehand actually is. Awesomely enough I just found a tag replacer though, so from now on the tag will be "retrolark fantasy stablehand", which is the full title.

Stablehand: Portent Rider

Ok, before I say anything else, let me get one thing absolutely straight: I didn't create this song, nor did anybody purposefully create it for me. The title isn't just a coincidence either; it had a different title, but that's my new nickname for it now.

Now, with that out of the way, I present Portent Rider. It was created by DavidKBD (source here), and I'm now reposting it places under the CC-BY-SA, because remix culture is a beautiful thing.

Portent Rider, along with a handful of others, is basically a historical figure in the Stablehand universe. But there's a bit of a twist as far as Portent Rider himself is concerned—unlike the others, I recently decided that he actually came from the future. Other than that I still need to work out his story, but one thing I've decided on is that he rides some kind of odd mechanical horse-ATV hybrid that's somehow as fast and smooth as a motorcycle. (Initially it was just going to be a mechanical horse, but when I heard this song it immediately evoked "motorcycle" so... :p)

I love this song. I mean, it's just the perfect theme for this guy. First it has that ominous buildup, and then those oddly dissonant sax chords as the main melody, and then it just slips into some silly kind-of-retro-sounding randomness that oddly fits with the general style of Stablehand and particularly these past guys' story. All in all, I don't think anything could possibly fit better.

Stablehand: Carp concurrent

Well, here are the Carp concurrent finally. If you hadn't noticed, I'd always just been scribbling vaguely fish-shaped blobs where they were supposed to go because I was for some reason dreading actually trying to make them look like fish.

But, if you hadn't known, April 1st is "Fish Day" for me. I don't really play pranks on people, so on that day I either submit something that's just kind of weird and silly or... in this case, actually related to fish. And so, I got up off my butt and actually tried to draw these guys seriously for once.

I'm not totally happy with the way these turned out (the bottom one looks weird, and... whoa how did I never notice I left the hind fins off the top one XD) but the theme I chose, where quadrilaterals are a big part of their design to match the Unity symbol, is likely staying.

Stablehand: Shikunbao

Well, this is the Shikunbao. Like I said, my brain literally just kind of synaesthetically pulled it out of this song—as my handwritten note on the page just a little bit sloppily describes, "the song conjured up this exact body plan in my mind".

Shortly after "designing" it, I decided—again kind of subconsciously—that it would make the most sense as a mountain animal in an area either in or around Hinotoria because of its snow leopard-like spots. So, I thought about it a bit and decided that since a lot of Chinese names for animals are kind of just randomish but descriptive phrases, this thing would be called the "rock fist leopard", or Shiqianbao. In Hinotorian syllables that translated to Shjkjwnbaw, or Shikunbao. So... that's where its name comes from.

I also later got this idea that the Shikunbao would be somewhat self-aware and since the Hinotorians are associated with Unity, they would have somehow made some kind of agreement with them such that the Shikunbao are really willing to help them out, especially when they need to get through their rough, rocky habitat (but are still just about as cold and hostile as they were before to everybody else). I figured, Unity is a weird attribute and it needs some kind of wacky perks that go with it. Like having freaky yetimonsters at your command. :p

Stablehand: Holey Yanha and Swooshy Yanha

Ok, now that our patchwork roleplay has fallen apart (see this post), I think everybody deserves an explanation of what these two forms of Yanha actually were.

The "holey" one at top was Nothing!Yanha, or Nullified!Yanha to be more precise (Nullified means Lost-Nothing; there are going to be adjectives like that for every attribute-attitude combination, but as I'm still figuring out what to call some of them I haven't posted them yet). Due to... well, an accident (you know what happened if you were in the RP, but if not, I'll leave it at that), it ended up losing part of itself, and that shows as visible holes literally missing out of it. At first it didn't really know what to do and was just kind of suffering, moving and acting somewhat aimlessly. That's pretty much what the Lost attitude is—you just surrender to an Undirected attribute or try to ignore it and suffer.

A bit later on, Nullified!Yanha kind of started conquering its newly-gained nothingness, which allowed it to be way more durable and kind of be everywhere at once. At that point it was more Hardened-Nothing, which I sadly don't have an adjective for yet. But anyway that's basically what the Hardened attitude means, it's where you take an Undirected attribute that would otherwise be a disadvantage to you and turn it around to where it's an advantage.

The "swooshy" one at the bottom was Unified!Yanha, that is, Empowered-Unity!Yanha. (The Empowered attitude means the same thing as Directed did before; I renamed it just to avoid confusion between Directed attributes and the Directed attitude.) When one of the characters decided to sing a song to H-Nothing!Yanha, I realised that it could kind of use the song to fill in its holes, and that would make it Unity because I see rhythmic music, particularly trance music, as being kind of a Unity thing thanks to this faction called the technotranscendents I added to the project pretty early. If you hadn't figured it out, the holes filled in as black swooshes just to make Yanha look more like a taijitu (original, I know :p). It was also supposed to look slightly like Amaterasu but I don't think that showed through much.

Unified!Yanha still kept some of the abilities of H-Nothing!Yanha because they kind of applied to Unity too. It also gained new abilities, such as the ability to just kind of transform into any shape it needed to (it only got to transform into a boat but it probably could have assumed other shapes too). This is basically what Empowered means: you harness a Directed attribute to gain new abilities.

I think it's likely I'll use a similar design for Unified!Yanha in the actual story, though I don't know for sure.

Stablehand scrap update: 2/19~4/20

Ok, this is kind of a big one. We're talking practically two months, so there's a lot of stuff that happened in that time.

A bunch of this stuff is also kind of both scraps and good stuff at the same time, too, so I'll make separate posts to further explain things where that applies.

My friends and I had for a short while had a patchwork roleplay over Skype, which I made a number of doodles for. Anyway, this was one in which I drew two different forms Yanha assumed in the roleplay. More info about them here!

The Shikunbao! A pretty spontaneous addition to Stablehand, which my brain synaesthetically pulled out of this song. More about it here.

Some symbols for the main characters (embarrassingly, the only ones I have in a finished state). When I posted this picture I didn't really know how many main characters there were going to be, but now I'm fairly sure there will be 12, so this is about a third of the symbols done. A few slightly more peripheral characters like Knight Cat will probably also get symbols though, so maybe a little less than a third.

The reindeer, aka the colour-changing camo antelope

And then there are the griffins

It's like they have quadrupedal pterosaur wings but they're also bird wings with legs on them and I don't even...?

I kinda want to work that weird anatomy into some kind of leijonœrn subgroup to be honest.

These obviously aren't things I drew, but I thought they were worth putting here as a reminder to myself to make counterparts to these things in Stablehand. (I already have the Blazondeer, but the camo-antelope could easily be a real counterpart to it the way hexarts are to the Hlardraho.)

This is going to be the TOC for the fauna section in the guidebook, basically. Before this, I created an XML file to store the tree in and made the tree in XML, then I made a javascript to turn the tree into a nested HTML list (the code shown is the HTML) and used CSS generated content to create the lines.

I know this is kind of a quirky way to do things, but it has one really big advantage—I can retheme the presentation really drastically if I want to without having to rewrite/restructure the data itself, and since I can alter it at the HTML level I have more control than even with CSS. It's also really easy for me to just add a creature/clade to the tree by putting a tag for it into the XML file and have it look great immediately, way easier than it'd be to try to wade around in all those confusingly similar ul's and li's every time. [...]

*incomprehensible programming nerd babble*

Oh yeah, I'm working on this too. I hadn't been saying much about it because it's nowhere near a finished, presentable state, but eventually there's going to be a "life compendium" for Stablehand so you have all the important information about the creatures in one place.

Carp concurrent for Fish Day! More about them here.

First design for Ariana as made with the selfy generator (see this post for Lance, Kate, Kris, and white!JF). [Actually, I just added them in here this time. :p]

The scarf should be light golden brown but since it and the shirt were one item, 'tacky red it is!'. :p

I also decided while making this she would have an inexplicable fondness for silly-looking slacks. Plaid, polka-dot, spirals, stars... anything flamboyant and silly.

Also, she's a slightly different ethnicity from Nassak and JF, who are Hinotorian. It might be the one from this place near Hinotoria I've had a vague concept for and was tentatively calling Tulmashania.

(I've been thinking about it and I think Tulmashania may end up butting out my ideas for "Volitia" while also kind of absorbing part of them. How funny would it be to have this place that's like, from a sort of Mongol-type nomadic tradition but then they wiped out this really Western, European sort of a place and then just started acting like they knew their culture perfectly and yup, we are so totally the Spanish lion kingdom over here look at us we are so cool. But to everyone else they just come off as weird because they don't get it, and like, the only way they can get anywhere is still just taking places over so they kind of aren't making any progress at least as far as spreading their culture and ideas and are kind of jealous of Hinotoria for being so good at that compared to them.)

I don't know if I've posted any avatar generator things on this blog before since they're kinda nonlibre, but here they are, since they're probably going to inspire my final designs for the main characters to some extent.

Also the thing about "Tulmashania" is pretty well decided now. It's definitely going to be a thing, and there's likely going to be a ruler named Guillaume, a prince named Pantéras, and somebody like "Ravenna" from my previous designs too, with everyone's personalities and appearances reworked just a little. I'm tentatively calling the country um... group? (I dunno what you call a nomadic civilisation okay :p) as well as one of its previous rulers Kskenghra.

Hinotorian ideographs, again. I already posted these a while back, but this is the same picture properly scanned.

This is really old and pretty outdated now (it was a little outdated even when I made the thing, as I was just kind of experimenting around with ideas anyway), but it was an attempt to make a timeline for the world. Back then I only had two main countries + one tentative one so... yeah. Hinotoria is probably going to be about the same shape though.

In this picture I was trying to design an appearance for one of the main technotranscendents (I think it was supposed to be Rotator Phoenix but I'm not sure). To the right, I was trying to design an appearance for a people in a faction called the "Qarismata" who basically thought they could perform miracles thanks to the blessing of Patriarch. I'm... not sure whether I'll be keeping them or not; the technotranscendents are here to stay though.

Here I was attempting to draw Stolen Heart and Arkturuse in a less derpy way than I had initially, and also design a wyvern (which is now called nycopteryx) and a way to present character pages for the human characters.

This is the Retrolark. The idea was that it would be Kate's rôle object (I haven't used that term for a while, have I?), and be able to at least look backward in time a ways. I don't think I ever meant for her to actually be able to change anything with it though. So... I guess it's kind of like the Pensieve.

It's a pun because retrolark is the style for Stablehand but this is literally a retro-looking lark robot that can... retrogress. (Way to explain the joke, Takumi. :p)

Early archetypes for Kris.

Kris, for instance, is obsessed with the idea of "The Superpower" (an in-universe superhero) and has the ability to take on several different superhero personas based on each attribute. She [...] has a "Versitotal" attunement.

I... think that's all I need to say other than I'm probably going to redo all of them at least somewhat except The Chatoyant and The Reticulated. Oh, and the one I marked "Fantasy?" is probably going to be the one of Eternity called "The Sceptred" and, well, have a sceptre.

This was an experiment to turn an earlier parody character into a more serious character, because I made the mistake of actually giving him a cool design (this is the same place Nassak came from, if in name only, incidentally).

On the other page I was trying to design a handprint for the flag of "Hexartia", a country almost solely made of humanoid hexarts. (Hexartia is probably still staying in the final story, actually.) Also, my very first attempts to arrange the attributes on a cube. I think I've showed you wips of trying to turn the cube into a vector diagram already.

Aaaand the lightray eels. These are another creature I somewhat synaesthetically created from listening to a song. I'm not totally sure whether I'll use them but if I do, they'll be MBs, and it's not unlikely.

(It's funny, "lightray eels" was just something I made up on the spot when I had to give the picture a name on my hard drive but then suddenly as I was typing it I realised it was actually a pretty decent pun. So... I guess that name's here to stay.)

A page where I was just experimenting with logo design and then suddenly I got the idea for the votsal's appearance and had to draw it immediately, explaining why the thing is crammed into such a small space (:p).

a page where I doodled Portent Rider's horse (which I'm thinking will have a different appearance now), an alternate form for Ikazuchi (Tyrian, not Stablehand), and a doodle where I was quickly recording a couple of slogan ideas for SH's organisation (it may be hard to read but the idea is there's like a big picture of him with a quote under it, the way a company sometimes does when it wants to be 'motivational', but the quote just says "do your job" :p)


A recent attempt to revamp Wyvera/the squamæopard.

I dunno... I tried, but I still don't think it looked as good as my very first drawing.

Aaand that's about it. Whew, that was really a lot. I need to stop letting my drawing folder get so full of unfinished drawings.

(Seriously, Blogger actually isn't going to let me have more labels than this in a post so I've gotta start posting more often, or abandon labels entirely. -_-)