The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #39: Gymnastics and Acrobatics in The Thirteenth Hour

Episode #39: Gymnastics and Acrobatics

Today’s episode is all about flipping!  Although it’s pretty common to see acrobatics on TV and in video games today, at the time The Thirteenth Hour was written (1998), the whole extreme martial arts tricking community was still in its infancy, and it hadn’t really permeated popular culture to quite the same degree yet.  There were a few exceptions – video games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Tomb Raider (plus its many clones) that came out around then had flipping protagonists.  And there were Jackie Chan movies, plenty of older kung fu classics, and Gymkata showings on late night TBS.  But if you wanted to see traditional gymnastics, you generally had to wait four years for the Olympics.

I wanted Logan and the other Imperial Rangers from The Thirteenth Hour to learn acrobatics not only because of my own personal interest but because I thought it would make them more agile and help them push their limits.  In the book, they grumble about it a lot, but it’s hard to ignore the element of danger in learning movements that turn you upside down and occasionally have you landing on your rear, head, or neck if you’re not careful.  And although it’s totally anecdotal, I think finding your personal limits and working through the fear translates into better focus and confidence in yourself.

Here’s a representative excerpt from the novel:

“…That’s how we ended up in the tall, airy room that’d been built to train the Army’s special soldiers. The large room with mirrored walls was carpeted with thick, vaguely carpet–like mats. On those mats we were taught how to transfer the momentum of a fall to a roll without getting hurt, how to stand on our hands, and how to spring from our hands to our feet and back again. We were also taught how to flip in the air and how to run up a wall, flip backwards, and land on our feet. In the process, we were introduced to a new language, one born of bodies in motion.

So, it was awkward at first, but exhilarating in a way, and looking back, a lot of it had to do with conquering fear, so in that sense, it really was essential to our training. After several months of trying, I was able to fling myself over backwards and kind of land on all fours with all the grace of a drunken ape. And then one day, I succeeded in landing without putting my hands down on the floor …”

Logan flip

Sketched animation of one of the Imperial Rangers doing a front flip – note he gets plenty of air and does not bust his ass on the floor (that happens a lot, though).


Pixelart animation of Logan doing a backflip.  This was from The Thirteenth Hour game that didn’t get finished.

As always, thanks for listening!  Next week, part 2, focusing more on martial arts.


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Now Available! Thirteenth Hour Throwing Cards – Instructional Kit and Handmade Training Cards

Now you, too, can throw playing cards like you favorite superpowered mutant.  Like I mentioned in this previous post, it’s not hard to learn to throw playing cards like Logan does in The Thirteenth Hour.  But it does help to know a little about the technique and have the right cards.

Wait no longer.  Thirteenth Hour throwing cards are now here.  You throw heavier, more rigid cards first in order to get the technique down, then work your way down to lighter cards until you;re throwing regular playing cards.  This kit is essentially a pair of “training wheels” to jump start your throwing while keeping your confidence up and frustration low.  They’re handmade and contain pictures from The Thirteenth Hour and come in different weights:

1.) laminated cards with Thirteenth Hour illustrations (weigh 5 g each) x 2
2.) unlaminated cards with Thirteenth Hour illustrations (weigh 3 g each) x 3
3.) regular playing cards (weigh 1 g each) x 3

2016-02-12 01.48.36

So you start with #1, then go to #2 when you have the throw down, then go to #3 when #2 is too easy.  At that point, you’ll be able to use a regular deck of playing cards you can find anywhere.

Comes with a set of instructions showing the basic throw and grip variations.

You can get them on the eBay store here or on my Square online store here.

UPDATE (2/15/16): Well, the first time I posted these on eBay, they were removed since eBay doesn’t allow weapons to be sold, and I guess “throwing cards” were flagged as potential implements of destruction.  It probably goes without staying, but I’ll paraphrase what’s said on the packaging on the cards themselves:

These aren’t intended as weapons!  Even in the book, Logan uses them as a distraction.  The idea that could you could seriously injure someone from thrown paper playing cards is not without its legends (see the original post for a book by magician Ricky Jay about it), but if you have any doubts, check out this Mythbusters episode where the myth of the lethal throwing card gets busted.  Ricky Jay actually makes a cameo as well).  However, you should still exercise caution, since if you get really good, you can cause small paper cuts, and walls and doors may get chipped.  That said, these are primarily novelty items.  If you’re seriously looking at them as a way of defending yourself, I wish I could say different, but there are many, many more effective ways!!  Throwing cards for self defense is probably best left in the realm of fantasy unless done for distraction, like Logan did in the book.  Of course, a handful or dirt or some coins to the face would do the same with much less practice, too.

2016-02-12 02.01.51

This clip, posted on Instagram and on the Youtube channel, shows the creation of the drawing used for the label:

UPDATE (2/18/16): There’s now a video showing the cards in action!






Tomb Raider Lara Croft Pixel Art Animation From a Bygone Day

There was a time when my brother and I decided we were going to make video games.  My brother had discovered this graphical game making program called Klik ‘n Play on the internet and a small community of people using it to make a wide range of computer games.  The advantage of it was that it allowed someone without a lot of programming experience to make games fairly quickly.  The developers were in France, I believe, and the program was somewhat hard to find.  But our father managed to find a copy somewhere on the still nascent internet, and my brother went to town.  I was a little late getting on the bandwagon but eventually threw my hat in the ring, too, with my ultimate goal a rendition of The Thirteenth Hour in video game form.  Although that never entirely happened, looking back on what we did ten, no, wait … (does mental calculations) … sixteen years ago is something I hadn’t thought about until I recently found a bunch of old notebooks showing sketches and game play notes.

One of the first games I completed was a Tomb Raider fan project called “Tomb Raider – The Unicorn Quest.”  All the animations were hand drawn, then scanned in.  I have no idea where it is now – possibly still floating around on the internet, but to be honest, that’s probably for the best.  It was my first attempt at making a game, and … I’ll leave it at that!

Some time later (a year or two?), I decided I would use an updated version of the Klik ‘n Play software, called The Games Factory, to make what I envisioned would be a proper 2D Tomb Raider sidescroller, kind of like the ones that came out for the Game Boy Advance a little later.

I progressed pretty far but eventually got stuck with the game play mechanics.  It was hard to make Lara control well consistently.  For a game that required at least some vaguely precise  targeting for shooting and platform jumping, it ended up being more an exercise in frustration than anything.  It probably had a lot to do with my design or maybe the software, which was quirky, not to mention buggy, at times.  In any event, other life events got in the way, and as much as I hated to admit it, I kind of “lost the spark,” to use a phrase my brother coined to describe what happened when people started projects (like games) that never got completed.

However, after rediscovering the notebooks, I located the files that had been sitting, gathering digital dust for all these years and wondered if I should do something with the animations.  Looking at them now, I reckon I must have spent hours on them, and even if the game never came together, I must say that the animations came out not half bad.

Maybe one day, I’ll use them in a little movie along with the cutscene illustrations that I drew and still have (here are a few).

tr2_1 tr2_2 tr2_8 tr2_15

Or, who knows, an updated version of The Games Factory, called Multimedia Fusion, is available on the web, and it’s quite powerful.  I used it to create the animations for The Thirteenth Hour trailer and music video, as well as to touch up the Lara Croft ones which I’ve embedded below.  But I think to use it for game design, I’d need a refresher, since, alas, I’ve basically forgotten most of the programming that I knew.

In any event, if you’re a game developer and are interested in using these animations in a fan game of your own, please feel free to do so (all those below are animated .gifs made on this site using stills from the original game file.  They were saved with an alpha channel so they superimpose easily over things – in other words, the background is transparent).  They’ve sat unused for so long that I feel at least someone should use them.  I only ask that you reference this webpage in your credits and let me know when you’ve done so I can play your game!

Here they are:

Lara breathe animated basic breathing animation

Lara cape breathe animatedsame as above but in a hooded cape – I’d envisioned a level where Lara was running through city rooftops dodging ninjas (yes, very 80s) in the rain, hence the hooded cape getup.

lara runrunning animation

lara run caperunning in the cape

lara shoot standshooting twin pistols – you can’t see the ejected bullet casings since they were a separate animation, though if you kept your finger on the shooting button, a shower of shells would erupt from the guns 🙂

lara run shootrunning while shooting

lara shoot kkick  doing a one arm handstand to shoot down – in real life, she’d be firing into the ground, but I figured for a 2D platformer, the bullets could bend reality a little.

lara auto9 shooting a machine pistol – modeled after Robocop’s auto9

lara smg shoot shooting a submachine gun

lara jump   jumping/falling/climbing

lara side kicksliding sidekick – I wanted Lara to have at least one move to defend herself if she ended up without weapons (since, in the early games, there was usually at least one level where she ended up without weapons).

lara flying side kick  flying sidekick

lara backflip   backflip – saved my favorite for last

In the future, I’ll post more animations like this of other unfinished games, including ones from The Thirteenth Hour.

Thanks to all the developers from Core and Crystal Dynamics for the Tomb Raider games over the years and making Lara Croft do backflips (my favorite part and the main reason I started playing these games in the first place – the flipping has been notably absent lately; please consider bringing the flipping back if you’re reading =)