These days, it feels like one has seen every way a video game can look. It can be hard, even with access to next-generation tech, to impress. And yet, I couldn’t help but stare in awe at The Collage Atlas, a new puzzle game on Apple Arcade today, with its gorgeous hand-drawn artwork. The whole dang thing is drawn by hand, a statement that really only makes sense when you see the game in action and realize it’s a sketchbook brought to life.
The Collage Atlas has been kicking around since early 2016, starting as an experiment to see what it would be like to walk around a 3D environment with hand-drawn trees. It was never supposed to be more than a little thing designer John Evelyn was dinking around with, but after public reception to his playable toy suggested there was something there, he started the long journey into bringing The Collage Atlas to life. That day has finally arrived.
Every piece of art in The Collage Atlas was originally drawn by Evelyn with a 0.03mm fine-liner pens on 300gsm watercolour paper. (GSM means “grams per square meter,” and the higher the number, the heavier the paper. Regular printer paper is 80 gsm, for reference.) Even the entire soundtrack, with the exception of some vocals, was composed by Evelyn. It’s been a painstaking endeavour that explains the game’s lengthy development, one that almost vanished at various points in the process.
I recently had a chance to speak with Evelyn about making The Collage Atlas, where we dug into his desire to make a video game feel intimate not strictly through a story that appeals to the heart, but by creating a direct connection between this artwork and the person playing.
VICE Games: You’re specific to use the term “hand-illustrated” when describing the approach. Can you talk about what that means, and how that differentiates from, say, the art in other games?
John Evelyn: The hand-drawn aspect of the project is important to me for a number of reasons that are more or less intertwined. There is the immediacy of expression, which is liberating given my years of working in digital graphic design, and then there’s the implicit values in that approach.
The things we say and do are ultimately framed by our intentions. I personally find that intent is often most readily gleaned from the asides, the incidental details, the imperfections. I suppose these unguarded aspects of communication are what interest me most. In that way, over the years with my personal illustrations I’ve tended to draw with ink straight to paper, without prior line work or pencil guides. To let things be, as unfiltered as I can.
It naturally followed that I wanted that sense to be palpable throughout the whole game—so I drew the world straight to paper, with pen. Every shrub, cloud, and blade of grass—complete with quirks, mistakes, and asides. Ultimately I hope the cumulative effect of that will be felt as much as seen.
Why did you start drawing in the first place?
I drew endlessly as a kid but by the time I had left school I had been drained of any love for it. The insistence by curriculum of mimicking peoples’ style really ground me down—I’m really not a very flexible illustrator. I just kind of draw how I draw. So since I was unable to turn my hand to other people’s styles, I was left feeling like I shouldn’t be drawing at all.
Fast forward through years and years of growing up listening to punk and hardcore and I think I started to realise that the authenticity I really valued in that music, was the very same reason I liked the films, books and art that I liked. To see someone just naturally be is tremendously satisfying after all. And I had found myself working in media agencies, mainly doing code and graphic design—once again working to someone else’s style, again slowly building up that frustration.
I wanted to just find space to be myself—so I started to draw in my notebooks on lunch breaks and commutes. And though the drawings were pretty shoddy, the relief was immediate. I set myself a challenge of drawing a picture book (“_Asleep As The Breeze_”)—which I wrote with my face smooshed against the glass of the Piccadilly line every morning. I self-published that, there’s still a box of copies around here somewhere.
But once that was done, it was like a starting gun had been fired in my head. I needed to make more things, and make up for lost time.
I’m not an artist, game designer, or programmer, but claiming you’re going to completely hand draw a game seems like a lot of work. How much work is it?
Oh my gosh. Turns out, it’s a lot of work. If someone asked me to work the hours I worked over the last four years I would have run a mile…or maybe a few hundred miles. And I would never in a million years ask it of someone else. But this project has been a product of feeling compelled to do something. I can’t really explain why but I just felt like I had to do it, I had a real fever to do it—silly as that will sound. It’s only a small little game after all, but the ideas in it just really got their teeth into me—so I just pushed ahead and pushed ahead. Even when I felt like I was physically and mentally running on empty.
I’m quite slow to draw I think, so a tree could take 8 [or] 9 hours. The in-game book has a few dozen illustrations, each of which took around that time, too. Then there’s the 3D objects like the moon and anchors. They were pretty laborious as I would make a 3D model, print off the flattened texture map (UV layout) and then draw in the detail and scan it back in.
Oftentimes I would find it needed some more contrast, or detail to make it work in-game. So it’d be back to the paper again, then another round of scanning. And repeat until it looked okay.
How much game development experience did you have prior to starting on The Collage Atlas ?
As with a ton of folk my age, particularly folk who make games—I started out as a kid making abominations with Klik & Play. Real, full-on garbage. It was great fun. I loved it. Then late in high school I started making games in Flash, teaching myself ActionScript3—-I used to put them out on Newgrounds and stuff. I think some were a bit twee for the time, things like filltheskywithstars and Super Hyberdoze. That led into me being the default person for any game-related stuff when I ended up working in media agencies after university.
Back in the Wii/360/PS3 era, it was super common for console games to have a Flash browser-based game promoting them—and I coded a fair few, including a 2D version of Dark Void (remember that?) complete with level editor.
After a lifelong issue with my hands—that I didn’t know I had—really kicked off, I was left unable to type, play guitar, or draw, for years. After wrangling with that for a number of years my hands were finally working enough to be able to make stuff again so I made a game called _A Skyrocket Story—_a small mobile game, but one that ultimately gave me the confidence to pursue something bigger. Though I initially wasn’t sure what form that would take, after a few missteps and dead-ends, that something bigger turned out to be throwing everything at this project for 4.5 years.
I saw you mention, in announcing the game for Apple Arcade, that Apple has been “keeping the lights on” while you worked on the game. What’s the journey been like making this game? It sounds…long.
Yes, long is a fair assessment! My poor friends, they’ve heard me talk about this incessantly for years!
There wasn’t initially a clear roadmap, just a need to do something. I was originally going to make another picture book, only then I had the idea of making an app to go alongside it. That started as a small experiment back in late March/early April 2016—just to see what it would be like to walk around a 3D space with some hand-drawn trees in.
I added a small pinwheel to it (as those had been a recurring motif in my drawings for some years), and then decided it would be kind of neat if that spun when you looked at it. The resulting sense of having a meaningful presence in the space, rather than it just being passive gallery experience, locked in perfectly with the intent of the text I was writing. So, naturally, I got carried away with the interaction aspect and it grew into the original incarnation of The Collage Atlas, a 10-15min thing.
I was incredibly fortunate to be selected to exhibit as part of the Leftfield Collection at EGX [a UK trade show] that year. During the show people would ask “when is the full game coming out?” At the time I was still working as a freelance graphic designer, but that made me realize maybe there was an appetite for this thing and I should try to find a way to make it work.
I pursued every possible avenue for investment, finally managing to secure a grant from the UK Game Fund—that gave me a few months to feverishly piece together a prototype. Some very scary months later—owing to years of erratic freelance work I had no savings to fall back on—a week before the date I’d marked my calendar as the day to call it quits, I secured investment from the Indie Fund. As time passed it became clear that, doing the game solo, I had woefully underestimated how much work I had set myself. I had to find a publisher and fast—not least because the wonderful folk at the Indie Fund were counting on me to repay their incredible faith in the game.
I spoke to a ton of publishers, and they either told me that there just wasn’t an audience for my game, or they just didn’t really want the game I wanted to make. So much of this is about just having belief in an idea, and you can’t begrudge people if they just don’t really see anything in what you’re doing—much as it’s incredibly disheartening, and very scary!
One of the UK Apple team came across my game and invited me to tell them about it—and that’s what happened, they just kind of asked me about it and listened to me rambling. It was such a relief to talk to folk who didn’t just say: here are the reasons you probably shouldn’t do this. With their backing, I was no longer worried about finding whatever bits of contract work here and there to keep myself fed, I was able to focus all my time on doing this thing as much justice as I’m able.
Even beyond that, I was able to do something I never imagined would be possible—have my game available in loads of languages. It’s just the most magical thing to imagine folk speaking languages I can’t understand, able to play my game, and hopefully make it their own.
All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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