A few days ago, I release an addon mod for Ruben the Claw troll called Rubens Only, which allows the original mod's encounters to be played through as a single challenge. I released this to coincide with Ruben being featured as the focus of the current Hand of Fate 2 Mod Spotlight.
While I think that playing through the encounters as a normal card chain across seven challenges helps it flow/resonate better, I always had planned to make a version that allowed the story to be replayed and was accessible to streamers, reviewers, and anybody who wanted to experience the story but might not want to play Hand of Fate 2.
With this release, I think I'm done with Ruben for now (unless I spot bugs, have bright ideas on some new/better way of doing something, or have some important memories that crop up that I'd like to add), and I wanted to take some time to show off a bit more of the work that went into making these mods.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT!!!
Including the Rubens Only challenge card, we're looking at over twenty new pieces of card art that I painted for these mods. Some of them I'm more proud of than others, but generally speaking, I'm pretty happy with how they came out.
The first one I painted was the Ruben encounter art (above left). I wanted something that showed off Ruben's face and would be a warm reminder of how happy he was. Since Ruben was inspired by the claw troll cubs seen in the Fallen Treasure encounter card in Hand of Fate 2, I wanted to make sure I tried to capture the same style that Jesse Gillespie used for the game's card art.
While I was working on that, my partner Mim did some sketches of Ruben (below), one of which I ended up basing the Rubens Only challenge card (above right) on.
It took me a little while to arrive at the Ruben encounter card design, but once I found it, I knew what it needed to be - Ruben peering up over a gate with a happy welcoming face (below right). The claw troll cubs seen in the Fallen Treasure encounter don't have much of their lower bodies visible, and I tried a few variations, but mostly they ended up making Ruben look like a teddy bear, with his eyes looking like ears (below left). In the end, I decided that it'd be best to leave it vague and cropped Ruben's lower body out of the encounter card art when it came time to do it.
The Ruben encounter art needed a few variations. When Ruben dies, it didn't make sense to show him in the scene anymore (below middle). Thankfully, I'd painted the cobblestone behind him, and when it came time to remove him, it was just a matter of turning off a layer (and crying a bit). The game automatically applies a special border to blessing card art, and it's a bit less solid than the normal encounter card borders. This lead me to use a version with the edges faded out for the Memories of Ruben blessing (below right).
I wanted to have some interesting variation in the art used in card and wheel gambits. Since I wasn't going to be presenting any combat opportunities, it felt important to use gambits to support the feel of what was going on as much as possible, for example, when Ruben's pulling you around town on a daily walk, the chance card gambit felt like a good fit.
The normal walk chance card gambit shows a hill that Ruben will run up (above left), a path along a river where Ruben will eat somebody picnic food (above middle left), a market place where everybody greets Ruben (above middle right), and a half-eaten pasty (above right). These automatically get borders applied too, but I've included them here to make them a bit easier to look at.
Pasties are a recurring foodstuff in Hand of Fate (to the extent that I often refer to it as Pasty Quest), so having a pasty card felt pretty appropriate. If I'd had more time, I would have liked to have made the pasty card a bit less sketchy and given it some hatching to match the Hand of Fate card style better. Since you don't get to see this one for long, and since it was recognisable, it was an easy one to leave be when I was weighing up what to spend my limited time on.
The bumps on the path in the river card are a bit distracting and make the waves on the river harder to notice. I think if I were redoing this card, I'd consider dots rather than curves for the bumps and fade them out in the foreground maybe.
Another daily activity is sitting on the porch, which is presented as a wheel gambit. You can see what's coming, but it's fast enough that it doesn't feel entirely controllable. These cards show some sunflowers (above left), a rocking chair (above middle left), some distant people (above middle right) and a fruit vendor (above right).
The flowers and the rocking chair are super sketchy, but they communicate what they're meant to be well enough. Drawing people also isn't my strong point, and it took a lot of time/work to take the fruit vendor and mayor cards from my initial sketches (below) into their final forms.
Since the morning walk in the fifth Ruben encounter had a lot of poo that needed scooping, I wanted to have a few more cards available than the normal daily walk activity.
We get to see the mayor of Ruddich, who gives you fame for being associated with Ruben (above top left), a lamp post that Ruben will run into (above top middle left), some distant people, reusing card art from the porch cards (above top middle right), an old apple core that Ruben insists on picking up (above top right), a pool of vomit that Ruben tries to eat (above bottom left), a horse (above bottom middle), and a patch of grass that Ruben sniffs (above bottom right).
Of these, the apple core, vomit and horse cards are a bit sketchy and could do with a touch more work. To speed things up, I copied a horse silhouette that I'd previously drawn for one of the stable horses in Robin's Rescue, and painted some highlights on.
The grass card has a spider spinning a web, and some dew hanging from the grass blades. I really like this card, in that it feels generic enough that it could be used in many contexts, but still has enough directed detail to feel interesting.
Last, but not least, there's Ruben's Last Day encounter art (above left), which is re-used in Brimstone form for the Grief curse (above right).
For this card, I wanted to have something that felt simple and lonely. A cross on a hill with a scarf tied around it came to mind pretty quickly, and this card didn't really go any iteration.
It took me a while to wrap my head around how to handle Brimstone variants. There's a Photoshop action for making them that's provided with the card art modding resources, but since I use the Gimp, I needed to work out what to do. I pulled a favour from Charlotte Gore (her games are cool, check them out) to get some screenshots of Photoshop, and grabbed some advice from Defiant's art director Shawn Eustace, and was able to piece together the ins and outs of how to Brimstone (above middle).
The modding documentation talks about several different elements of the brimstone effect, which are good for thinking about/keeping a readable image while working, but in-game, the effect is applied across anything in the blue channel, with the alpha channel determining the intensity of the effect. The dark "ink" ends up being almost (but not quite) entirely transparent. It's #00ff00 (full blue) to be readable when painting, but could also be #ffffff (white) and the effect would be the same. Once I'd wrapped my head around this, I was able to quickly put together what I was after.
Writing the Ruben encounters was a deep dive into a lot of fond memories of Frodo and involved reflecting on and addressing how I feel about him not being around anymore. I think this kind of thing is healthy (I've written about that in more detail over here), but it's also very intense and draining work (compared to say, something like this post, where I can comfortably do it while chatting with friends, multitasking with other work, playing the odd game, doing a bit of housework, etc.).
I tried to pick the most stand-out of Frodo's adventures/misadventures to frame the encounters around, but also wanted to show a lot of the mundanity and everydayness of a pet's presence, and so decided to incorporate a common section that's repeated between cards, with indoor/outdoor alternatives for variety.
Almost everything is based on something real that happened. Frodo really did eat that guy's bait, there was a time when Frodo came back with a tree instead of a stick, he really did do 8 poos before the day started, one time he ran headlong into a wooden door because he was too excited to see that it was closed. He was terrified of thunder and fireworks. He was a local celebrity, and it wasn't uncommon to have people say to me, "Oh! You're Frodo's owner's son."
One thing I didn't quite get to slip into the card chain was something referencing Frodo's football, which as he went from being a young pup to an old dog became increasingly decrepit until all that was left was a few shreds of leather and a burst bladder (he'd run and grab different bits depending on whether you asked, "Where's your football?" or "Where's your bladder?").
Frodo also lived onboard a yacht with my Dad. This is why Ruben 2 has a bunch of beach/water activities. There were a few embellishments, though - I never found a treasure chest while swimming, and we never really watched much more than jellyfish on the pier.
Beyond just presenting my memories of Frodo in the Ruben the Claw Troll mod, I also wanted to do something that mirrored my motivations for writing the story, and would (hopefully) end on a positive note that encouraged players to consider that it's important to make sure that happy memories stand out over sad ones when someone who's important to you is no longer in your life.
Hope that's been an interesting read!