Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Borderlands on a Budget: Part 2 of the Budget Cosplay Series

Full-length view of Handsome Jack
My blog post from this past April, Bioshock on a Budget, focused on assembling a cosplay for under $50.  The article was so well-received that I recently decided to do a follow-on project.  This time I chose Handsome Jack, a character from one of my other favorite games, Borderlands. I thought this cosplay would be a great fit for my husband to accompany my Mad Moxxi cosplay, in anticipation of Baltimore Comic Con last weekend.  And, looking at the elements of Handsome Jack's outfit, I thought it would be realistic for me to put together the cosplay for under $50.  Was I successful?  Read on to find out!

This close-up screen shot of Handsome Jack shows the facial
detail and several of the accessories I would need to
construct to make an accurate cosplay.
For those unfamiliar with the character Handsome Jack from Borderlands, he's the bad guy.  In fact, he's the biggest jerk in all of Pandora.  That being said, his look is pretty awesome and distinctive enough to make a great cosplay.  It also has a lot of elements that I thought I could realistically find at the thrift store and modify for the cosplay--much like my Elizabeth and Booker cosplays from Bioshock Infinite.  The main structural elements of Handsome Jack's outfit are a gray blazer, white collared shirt, orange crew-neck shirt, and dark pants with sneakers.  But you can see from the photos that there's a lot of small accessories, including the digital "mask" pieces on his artificial face.  So really, the devil is in the details on this one, and I spent a majority of my time working on those details to make a convincing cosplay. 
Knowing that the accessories would be the biggest time sink, I started with those. Most supplies I needed came from the local crafts store (Michael's) and items were primarily constructed of foam board or balsa wood. Both materials are fairly easy to work with (scissors for foam, exacto knife for balsa wood) so you don't need a ton a crafty skills to do this.

This is the wood facing  glued on the face of a 
standard silver belt buckle. The wood was later
painted silver.

The start of the belt buckle, a
2x3 flat wood piece with details made from
fancy construction paper and some
fabric-coated wire.
First I made the belt buckle and Jack's aqua-colored light array on his lapel.  I used a 2x3" flat wood piece from Michaels (sold as a set of 5 for $1.99) and glued it onto a standard silver belt buckle.  for the front details, I cut a small circle out of some sparkly aqua-colored paper and glued it to the wood.  I used a small piece of fabric-covered wire around the edge of the paper to give it a more finished look. 
For Jack's lapel light array, I used balsa wood.  I traced a hexagonal shape onto the wood, and carved it out using an Exacto knife.  Then I just used some regular sand paper to smooth out the edges.  Later, this wood shape was painted with silver acrylic paint and the circular center was painted with an aqua-colored paint.  I added in the line details with a slightly darker color paint. 

The start of the light array on Handsome
Jack's lapel, carved out of balsa wood with
an Exacto knife. I traced the shape outline
on the wood with pencil before cutting,
then sanded down the edges after cutting.
Next, I focused on creating the digital facial attachments, necklace, bracelets, vest buckles.  I went to Amazon and was lucky enough to find inexpensive options for the bracelets (two for $6) which were black, but I painted the exterior with silver paint.  I bought the plastic buckles from Michael's for $2.99, and painted them each a slightly different color using a combination of brown, orange, silver and aqua acrylic paints (each $0.99 at craft store).  

The foam board pieces that would
eventually be used as Jack's digital
facial pieces.  I painted them with
silver paint and added acqua paint
for accents to give it a more digital
look, and used dark grey to add
details that mimicked metal hinges
and screws.

 For the facial attachments to create the basis of Jack's "mask," I cut out foam board pieces, glued them together and painted to resemble small electronic components.  These are lightweight enough to be attached to the cosplayer's face using eyelash adhesive.

Here's what the necklace looked
like once buttons were strung
and painted.
Jack's necklace was a bit tricky as I needed to inexpensively construct something with square, metallic-looking pieces, but could not find any right-shaped beads or jewelry at the craft store. I ended up buying a cheap bag of nean-colored square buttons, and painting them dark gray/silver. I then used some plastic stretch cord to connect the buttons.  It wasn't the sturdiest construction ever, but it got the job done!

Next, I did a few little detail items for Jack's blazer: a patch on the right sleeve (which you can see in the screen shot above) and some other electronic component pieces for the shoulder boards on the blazer.  I just used bright orange paint on a scrap piece of brown fabric from another project, and later sewed the patch on the blazer. For the shoulder boards, I crafted the electronic component pieces the same way I made the previously mentioned facial "mask" pieces...silver and aqua paint on foam board.

Miscellaneous accessory components in varying stages of completion (clockwise
from bottom left): Neon buttons used for necklace; balsa wood aqua light array on lapel;
electronic components for blazer and facial attachments; plastic buckles for vest; arm cuffs;
and decorative arm patch for blazer (center).

Here's the brown leather vest (already
in our wardrobe) with plastic buckles attached to
buttons using clear stretch cord, pictured left.

And finally: the actual clothing. I found a gray suit jacket at the thrift store for $8.99.  As cost-saving measures, I decided to just use jeans for the pants  and a pair of existent brown loafers for the shoes.  We were lucky to have a brown vest already in our wardrobe (see my comments at bottom about work-arounds for this).  I also found an orange tee at the thrift store, and some white sheet fabric to make the shirt tail that extends below Jack's blazer.  Both of those cost a total of $5.50.  I had some leftover gray fabric from another project which I used to make a couple embellishment straps on the blazer, and used some of those leftover orange buttons from the craft store to decorate the straps.  I made the shirt tail as an attachable piece for the back of the blazer.
The finished shirt tail,
made of a white sheet
bought at thrift store.
Now I have to admit that since I did my Bioshock on a Budget blog entry in April, I have learned to sew...not well, but good enough to follow some basic patterns and modify pre-made clothing.  So for Jack's white shirt tail, I cut a whale tail shaped piece of fabric, finished the edges with the sewing machine, and pinned the fabric to the blazer.  Sounds pretty easy but it took a lot longer than expected...I was sewing like the wind the night before Baltimore Comic Con!
So Friday night I put everything together, and Saturday morning was spent doing the facial makeup for Handsome Jack.  I used eyelash adhesive for the electronic components, and some light-tone liquid makeup outlined by a brown eyeliner pencil to create the illusion of a mask.  I also made the eyebrows more pointed using the eye pencil. And there you have it!
Breaking down all the supplies and costs, let's see how we did:
Foam Board     $1.99
Me as Mad Moxxi and Jon as Handsome
Jack at Baltimore Comic Con 2013.
Balsa Wood     $3.99
2x3" flat wooden pieces $1.99
Aqua-colored art paper $1.99
Clear stretch cord $2.99
Bag of plastic buttons $1.99
Craft glue $2.49
Plastic buckles (6) $2.99
Plastic bracelets $6.00
Metal belt buckle $0.99
Acrylic Paints (4 used in this project) $4.00
Gray suit jacket $8.99
White fabric for shirt tail $2.99
Orange tee shirt $2.50
Leather scrap fabric  $5.99
Exacto knife $5.99
TOTAL $57.87
So not quite under $50, but pretty close! I must mention that many of the items above were actually purchased for previous craft projects (Exacto knife, craft glue, paints, scrap fabric) and really are multiple use technically I could have omitted them from the shopping list and I would have been under the $50 budget.  But one other caveat is that I did NOT include the brown leather vest in my cost totals, because it was in my husband's wardrobe already and I have no idea how much it cost.  That being said, I priced some similar-looking orange-brown fabric at the fabric store which was $4.99/yd, so you could conceivably make something for under $10.  Alternatively, you could get lucky and find a vest at the thrift store. Even if the color is inaccurate, you could paint the vest or pin some right-colored fabric over the front. This would be the least expensive option but could potentially require a bit more time to find and/or craft.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of the Budget Cosplay series!  Feel free to comment below if you have questions or feedback.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mobile Game Review: Middle Manager of Justice!

Tired of the same old boring office routine at work? Do you want to punch the clock while also punching evil in the face?  Then Double Fine's Middle Manager of Justice might be a great game choice for you!  This iOS/Android game is a bundle of superhero-packed fun, putting you in the manager position at  Justice Corp--perhaps the only office where wearing spandex to work is mandatory.  You're in charge of overseeing professional development, crime fighting, and the general well-being of a band of superheroes that you have recruited.  So really, the fate of your crime-ridden, alien-infested city and its neighboring communities--or even the WORLD--rests in your hands!

I found Middle Manager of Justice to be extremely addictive and entertaining, with clever dialogue and colorful characters--certainly enough to get me through four long flights over the Labor Day weekend.  Your middle manager is initially afforded the opportunity to recruit one superhero for Justice Corp, which gets you through the tutorial phase of the game.  As your new hero fights crime and wins the favor of the surrounding neighborhoods, your Justice Corp branch begins to earn money and superium, the latter allowing you to recruit additional superheroes.  But sending your heroes out to battle and earning cash isn't enough to get through the game: opponents get progressively harder (go figure), and your middle manager must ensure that the superheroes are, well...managed--that is, they receive additional training, morale-boosting, and rest as needed!  So you must distribute finances to effectively expand your Justice Corps facilities and buy new gear for your heroes so they can keep fighting evil for another day.
Snapshot of the Justice Corp branch office screen, showing the various facility
upgrades that can be purchased throughout the game.
There are only a few main screens to navigate in the game.  The first one is your Justice Corp branch office, where you assign tasks to your middle manager and superheroes, upgrade facilities, and purchase new items.  Certain rooms are needed at the Justice Corp office pretty early in the game, such as a gym to train up your heroes and a bedroom to get them rested for the next fight; but other facility upgrades can be bought later, such as a lab to research new equipment, or extra cubicles where heroes can do desk work to increase the office profit when they're not out fighting.  All this activity probably doesn't sound really complex, and it's not... until you start juggling the activities of three or four superheroes.  Suddenly all those multi-tasking skills come in handy!  But don't worry, you won't have to deal with paperwork like most middle managers do.  Phew.
The second main screen you will navigate is your city status screen, which allows you to view outstanding crime activity--where your heroes can engage in battle--and the level of satisfaction each district has with your crime-fighting activities.  Districts where you dispense justice quickly will be more satisfied, and therefore yield more money for your branch.  You also get more money for responding to potential engagements as quickly as possible.  Each battle icon displays a clock countdown which determines how much experience and money you will get from succeeding in that battle.
This is a yak that you can buy for your
office, which dispenses unlimited warm
yak milk for your heroes during battle.
The third and final screen is your battle mode screen.  From here, you will manage your heroes during an engagement, provide them with helpful consumable items as needed, and utilize their special powers as available.  It should be noted that you will have the option to "delegate" battles, which allows you to skip the battle mode screen and go about doing other things while your heroes are fighting.  This should only be used if you are fairly confident that your heroes can manage the battle without assistance (you'll get to see a % chance of success when you select your heroes for a given battle),  but the delegation option can be immensely helpful in saving time when you're trying to simultaneously manage activities of a larger group of heroes.

Sample of the battle mode screen with the Masked
Mummy and Captain Premium dispensing justice.

Overall, the interface works well and allows you to move along quickly.  While there is some funny dialogue that I personally enjoyed reading (one plot section involves a displaced Canadian dragon), it's very easy to click through all of that if you just want to get through the game.  I think a player could complete the main game mission with three heroes, so there's not a ton of incentive to recruit more than that. Having more than three makes the game more challenging because you have more people to manage.  I found the various heroes available for recruitment entertaining and wanted to see the different special powers of characters like Surge Protector, @Man, and the Masked Mummy, so I ended up with a total of six heroes by the end of the game.  My play-through inevitably took longer because I was sharing my resources amongst six people, but it was worth it!

This is Sweet Justice, my first hero
recruit. Isn't he cute in his lil' mask?
While the main gameplay screens are fairly easy to navigate, later in the game it was somewhat cumbersome to locate, cycle through, and assign tasks to all six of my heroes from the Justice Corp branch office screen.  You can only have four active heroes at any given time, so you have to continually jump to another screen to toggle on/off characters.  Sometimes the swapping-out changes wouldn't take, necessitating repeat attempts to cycle characters.  This can be frustrating when you are trying to move quickly amongst characters to deal with a battle or get them rested up for the next fight.  I think there is probably a better way to integrate this function with the office screen.
Overall the game was very engaging, but the mundane "office" tasks (such as sending heroes to rest or boost morale) just became tedious after a while. But you still have to do those tasks to level-up your heroes enough to beat the next bad-guy boss.  There are premium options available that will allow you to move things along faster--you can use real money to buy more superium, which allows you to expedite training of your heroes, recruit more heroes, etc.--so I imagine the theory is that players will pay that money to get through the game faster.  Still, if you want to play MMOJ as a completely free-play game, it's a tolerable level of monotony given the other positive traits of the game.
Middle Manger of Justice is a mobile game well worth your time--approximately 10-12 hours of your time, based on my play-through this past holiday weekend.  It encompasses all the little fun details of artistry, dialogue and quirkiness we have come to love and expect from Double Fine Productions.  So get out there and use your thumbs of justice to fight some evil, middle manager!