Author Archives: Jeff Hebert

The AFD in AFD Studios

For those who don’t know, the company name I’ve operated under for however many years is “AFD Studios”, which stands for “April Fool’s Day”. Why? Because that’s the day fourteen years ago that my father passed away from an aneurysm, a complication of the asbestosis that had robbed him of most of his lung capacity. I was there when it happened, which I still think about every few days even all this time later.

We always joked, my six siblings and I, that when our father died we’d all inherit one seventh of his debt, but as it turned out he was able to leave us each a little bit. It was enough, anyway, for me to take a year off to work on what became HeroMachine 2. Thus the company is named in his honor, as he helped make it possible.

I wrote the following article back in 2006, and it still sums up my feelings pretty well. I wanted to share it with you folks, who have made the time since so much fun and so fulfilling. This is the guy we owe part of the success of HeroMachine to. Thanks, Pop. Rest easy.

Today, April 1, is the anniversary of my father’s death. I’ve put together some thoughts about him and me below the fold … it’s pretty raw and heavy, so don’t click on the button unless you’re ready for that. The short version is that I miss him more now than I did while he was alive, and appreciate the fact that he raised seven great kids and greatly contributed to his community. I also mourned and came to peace with the fact that my idea of what I needed as a father died long before his body did.

My relationship with James L. C. Hebert was complicated while he was alive, and has only gotten moreso since his passing. Now that I am the same age he was when I was born, I realize how difficult life must have been for him and Mom. Seven children by the age of 36, and him without a college degree or a steady job. Yearning for the freedom of the open road and no obligations, even while overloaded with them. Driven by the loss of his own father while forced to be a dad for seven little ones. Destroying his body with alcohol and cigarettes while unknowingly being eaten from the inside out by asbestosis.

Of course I knew nothing of that as a child. Children, like animals, aren’t terribly interested in your burdens or your demons, in what happened to you when you were younger or in how hard your life has been. Children need love and security, and I got little of either from Dad growing up.

Dad was less a person while I was growing up than a kind of elemental force of angry nature. Life as a child for me was spent figuring out how to avoid his rage. My most vivid early memories of him are of yelling — at me, at my siblings, at my mother, at people on the phone. I remember a birthday party of mine (maybe I was seven?) when I was apparently acting like a brat, whining and sullen. I don’t remember why I was being rotten, but I am pretty sure I was.

I do remember Dad hauling me inside the little entry to our house while the other kids were outside playing Red Rover. He started spanking me, yelling at me to shape up. I remember it hurting, but it was probably more from the emotional trauma than that the blows were terribly hard. He spanked me into a corner and I was crying so hard I peed in my pants. At my own birthday party. I had to go change and then wipe my eyes and pretend that I was happy to be there.

That was probably the lowest moment.

There were good memories too, of course, but honestly, not very many. Most center around him bringing stacks of comic books home … maybe that’s why I love super-heroes so much. The idea of a person with amazing powers, able to escape whatever mundane troubles plagued their secret identities to become a crusader for justice and righting wrongs. Plus it was about the only thing Dad and I could share, so that made it even more special.

He and Mom took my sister Donna and I to Dogpatch, USA, which was fun mostly for the scene of him in a centrifugal force ride. It spun so fast his toupee flew off his head and stuck to the wall. That was pretty priceless.

I still think of his lessons about road manners. He spent a lot of time travelling as a salesman for one thing or another, and had good insights about how you should act on the road. I still thank him whenever I flash my lights at a semi to let him know that he can move over safely.

It’s tempting, when talking about someone who’s died, to suppress the bad and emphasize the good, to end on a positive note and wrap things up in a nice neat bundle with ribbons and good cheer. But life’s more complicated than that. When he died I didn’t really mourn. I didn’t have crying jags, or get terribly depressed, and I couldn’t understand why.

I finally came to realize that the father I had needed and longed for as a child had died long before in my mind. In fact, in some ways he’d never been allowed to exist. The hugs and the love weren’t there when I needed them, as a scared and lonely little boy, convinced his father despised him and yearning for approval that was never to come. When I was no longer a child, I had already buried that idea of a Dad.

What replaced it was respect for a man who did the best he could, and who (all things considered) did pretty damn well. Along with Mom he helped raise seven great kids, who have all gone on to success and happiness. He helped hundreds of drug and alcohol addicts recover and move on with their lives. He brought happiness and love to his siblings and his mother and his grandchildren.

It gets easier, with each anniversary of his death, to concentrate on those things and not on the father I needed, but never had, as a child. I feel sorrow for the people I love who miss him, and I hope against hope that he is in a better place now, free from the burdens and pain that dogged him throughout his life, able at last to hit the open road with a clear conscience and a happy heart.

Friend of HeroMachine author Ian Thomas Healy still needs to hear from you winners so he can get your prizes to you! He says:

Related to the Jackrabbit contest from last month: Okay, the contest is closed and the trailer is finished! You can see the final product at http://youtu.be/kQ4eWr9S86o. I used pictures from Keric, Melmo44, Mr. Nobody, and RobM, but since I had so few entries, I’ll send ebooks to HerrD and Calvary_Red as well. Send me an email with your format of choice (Kindle, EPUB, or PDF) so I can send you the ebook. ian AT ianthealy DOT com.

Mr. Nobody’s picture made me laugh out loud when I saw it. Great job! You win the signed ARC. When you email me, include your mailing address. Thanks for playing, everyone!”

HM2 Changes (ads)

Hi folks, if you visit HeroMachine 2 today, you might notice that I’ve reverted to the old version with the controls on the right and the ad integrated into the app. The ads, however, are now being served by Media.net as a test, since they don’t mind this layout and they’re not Google AdSense. I’ll leave it like this for a week or so as a test, and will make some decisions based on the results at that time.

Subscriptions

After one work week, the new ad layout has proven to be a disaster, financially. That means two things in all likelihood:

  1. I’m going to have to go back to the old layout with the ad integrated, hoping that Google really only objected to the drop down menu covering the top ad and not the one in the app;
  2. The implementation of some sort of paid model.

I very much want to hear your thoughts on both of these but I imagine it’s the second that’s going to cause the most angst.

I should say at the outset that this is not set in stone. As always, your opinion matters very much to me. I’m just spitballing here; just like when I created HeroMachine, I’m trying to involve the community in coming up with solutions.

First, why am I considering this? The answer is simply that Google’s new layout has cost me 75% of ad revenue. I can’t live on that. And if I can’t live on that it means I can’t continue to host HeroMachine any more either. So something has to be done.

Second, I’m thinking that initially at least, all HM versions will continue to be free just as they are now, but that I’ll add a “Premium Members” area to the site in exchange for some subscription fee. What would you get for that fee? Two things, mainly — no ads at all on the page, and the ability to make the app window as big as your browser will allow. If you have a monitor that’s 2400 pixels wide, you get HeroMachine 2400 pixels wide. You could do HUGE screen shots, see all the controls and items in crisp, crystal clear detail, and have an enormous palette to work with. All with no ads.

Does that seem like something worthwhile? More to the point, is it something you could see yourself paying for? And if so, what would be reasonable? My gut instinct is a dollar per month. That’s $12 for a year, which doesn’t seem like much since I used to charge $20 for a CD.

Alternatively, I could do what I used to in the CD days, and make it so the free version had only the “Standard” set of items. Anything else you tried to load would give you a “This set of items is available only for Premium members” sort of message. Is that better or worse?

Look, we’d all like to be able to continue in the current mode of it all being totally free for you to use. But that depends on Google ads which, as we’ve seen, isn’t necessarily sustainable. It might be that there’s no longer enough support out there to keep the site going on a paid model either, but I won’t know until I try.

Again, this isn’t set in stone by any means. I encourage and welcome your feedback, though as always I do ask that we be respectful towards each other.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-set-fully-editable-vintage-premium-quality-labels-woodcut-style-eps-vector-illustration-image29732770

HM2 Printing

In moving around the controls for HM2, I accidentally broke printing. But I have now un-broken it, so print away!

New Layout Now Live!

106888
I’ve just updated HeroMachine.com with a new layout in response to the problems Google AdSense reported. Had I not made these changes, Google would have shut down my account and quite simply, I’d have had to close the site. There should be no effect on your character saves though, as always, hopefully you have text and/or image backups just in case. I confirmed this by loading previously saved characters using the new file.

I tried to make a virtue out of necessity, always keeping in mind while redesigning both the site and the apps what the best user experience would be and not just what would make Google happy. I hope on that front things are actually better now. Here are the major changes:

  • I removed the integrated 300×250 ad unit from all HeroMachine versions. The upshot is that you should have more space available to see your character, and you can now capture the screen in landscape mode without the ad being visible.
  • I also moved the controls in both HM2 and HM3 from the right side to the left. Partly this is to avoid having any clickable controls too near the ad in the right column, and partly it’s because it always seemed like that was a more natural place for them to be. I only had them where they were to make the ad more prominent (that was decided by UGO back in the day).
  • The page is now 1080 pixels wide, which along with rearranging the apps should result in keeping the work area the same as it was when there was only a single column in the narrower layout. The standard site-wide side bar is also now present on the character creation pages.
  • Finally, the forums now have the standard site-wide side bar. Hopefully that will help integrate the blog and forums more closely to foster cross-discussion and visibility of things like contests.

From a business standpoint, I do worry that the new layout will not pay out nearly as well as the original. If that’s the case I will have to try other ways to monetize the site so I can keep it going. That might include different ad placements, but it might also mean more radical changes like some sort of premium area based on a subscription model where no ads are served and the apps are full-screen, or making downloads available for sale, or even (as a last resort) going back to the pre-UGO days when there was a crippled version of the apps available for free and only paid users got the full slate of items. I’d rather not do that, but I have to pay the bills, you know?

Anyway, hopefully everything will work out fine and I won’t need to make any more changes.

If you run into any problems with the new layout or the new app versions, or if you’d like to let me know what you think of the changes (hopefully without too much cursing!), please let me know in the comments section.

Let me know what you think about a new layout

As I mentioned earlier, I have to redesign the way the site is laid out to avoid getting the Google Hammer dropped on me. Basically the ads are too close to the content in the current layout.

The good news is, the app itself has also gone under the knife, and I think there are a few good bits in there for you, the intrepid HeroMachine creator. Here’s a screen capture of what I’m proposing:

hmnewad-screencap

And the stuff I hope you’ll like about it?

  • The Google ad will no longer be present in widescreen mode, so you can once again do screen captures without having to crop. Hooray!
  • The character canvas is larger than in the current layout letting you see more of your creation.
  • I’m proposing to swap the tool buttons over to the left side, which always felt more natural to me.

None of this is set in stone, of course. I’ll be continuing to make tweaks to the design over the weekend, so please let me know any thoughts you have on the new layout.

Changes coming 'round

I got a notice today from Google that the HeroMachine apps are in violation of their placement policies. Apparently they require 150 pixels between any Flash content and their ads. As a result, I’m going to have to make some major changes to the HM layouts. I only have three business days to get into compliance, so you’re going to see some weirdness over the next few days. I apologize in advance for any frustration you run into.

Electrium vs. Surge

I worked with Brad Carter on another illustration of his characters, this time featuring the speedsters Electrium and Surge. He gave me the following writeup of what he wanted:

I want another battle scene but this time instead of 2 powerhouses it is 2 speedsters Surge and Electrium.

Surge’s powers: Runs at the speed of light (fastest human alive) a skilled combatant snd get generate and manipulate positive lightning (lightning that comes from the sky) he can also utilize electronics byusing his lightning powers. his suit is made out of pure energy (no spandex) in the concepts you will see lighting bolts on his costume those glow with lightning energy running through them. Surge stand at 6’11 about 185lbs of athletic ness he’s not muscle bound like titan but he is not skinny either he is the perfect build for an athletic speed runner

Electrium’s powers: electrium is basically the reverse surge he has the same exact powers and capabilities the only difference is electrium can control negative lightning (which comes from the ground) and is more devastating then positive lightning his suit is also made out of energy the same way so no spandex the basically have energy based armor suits kinda like the green lanterns suit is made out of energy so around that concept. elstrium is the same size and build as surge.

basically the battle will be on the ground and they will be running side by side with lightning coming off of them symbolizing how fast they are going I want electrium to be running kinda leaned back ready to throw a lightning fist at surge and have surge in front of electrium as if he got a few steps ahead of him and jumped in the air while running to hit electrium with a lighting fist as well however if you think of a better idea we can do that as well have like a blured building in the background or something to make it look like they are running super fast I will send you the concepts of them

Brad also provided the following HM reference photos:

With that as our starting point, we were off to the races! So to speak. Ahem. I don’t have the process photos to show you but the final result turned out pretty well. I ended up doing the coloring in Photoshop, which is a bit of a new approach for me.

Brad-Carter-Speedsters-web

Exporting in Chrome Broken Again

Chrome has apparently auto updated again and once more they’ve broken something, so the Export function isn’t working in that browser at the moment. This happened once before and within a few days they updated again and it started working. I don’t know what it is they break and I don’t know how they fix it, but unfortunately all I can do is wait on them. In the meantime, Firefox continues to work properly, so if you don’t want to do screen captures, that’s your best bet.