Thursday, September 30, 2010

News Anchor, Spritesheets, and Animation

Ugh, what a crazy week. Luckily, I was able to sit down and design a character that I had envisioned early on in brain storming. I wanted to have a news anchor that pops up in a window in the corner of the screen and mentions new developments. He'll probably have a guest in the studio with him, but I'll reveal them later. During the drawing of the character, I noticed I was having a pretty hard time nailing down the look for him. I guess I never really gave "character design" a fair shake and wasn't as good at it as I would have liked. I found that by looking through photos of actors that I would have play them in a movie, I was able to find a jumping off point and that would carry me through.

Also, I'd like to treat the News Report Window as an homage to the host in Smash TV. I remember really liking the charm and character in that. Its probably going to necessitate a lot of scripting in order to make the window pop up when certain events are taking place. I'll probably animate it like I would in Flash/Toon Boom - recycling mouth shapes and certain body movements to add life to the dialogue. This will keep file sizes smaller and help me achieve that "Lucasarts Cut Scene" look that I so enjoy.

This brought me to my newest problem, how to get XNA to sequence all of those frames of animation for display. Admittedly, I'm still a little fuzzy on how animated sprites are implemented, but I think I figured out how I can transfer Flash or Toonboom's time line into XNA. Of course it won't be a pretty/programming way, but it might be less intimidating than normal. Once I've tested it, I'll probably put a tutorial up so that animators can apply some of the things they already know.

Other than that, I've been brainstorming how to make the score in a game important again. It will make more sense when I've revealed the exact play style, but for now I'll just tease.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Metal Frogs and Post Mortems

First off, the metal frog will not be in the game (no matter how much I love him). Second, he did give me an idea for an interesting mini game to play between levels. Luckily, I think it should be pretty easy to implement once I get the engine up and running.

On an unrelated note, I really like Gamasutra. If you want a crazy specific rundown of the games industry, that is definitely the site you should be reading. It really goes deep on an industry level...having said that, I wish I was smart enough to read it all the time. But when my comprehension level does bob over a fifth grade level, I check out their postmortems. Postmortems are basically a chance for a developer to look back at a game's creation, release, and success (or lack there of). They write their own synopsis of what worked and what didn't and hopefully it imparts some knowledge on to other developers.

I've read a few, but I have to say that I was most impressed with the one by Dan Brainerd, Leo Jaitley, and Ichiro Lambe. The guys at Dejobaan Games crafted a compelling and fun read as they recount their process of creating "Aaaaa! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity". I was most interested in the importance of being able to step back from your project to get a better perspective on its quality, as well as taking better advantage of focus testing. Being the sole creator of my game, I often wonder if I've become so close to my idea that I can't objectively look at my own ideas.

It really is a great read, especially for indie developers, and is worth checking out: article

For more developer postmortems, check out Game Developer Magazine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I'm seeing this posted everywhere, but if you still haven't seen it, here you go. Pretty amazing.

8BITS_hd720 from 8BCREW on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Learn the Faces

Giant Bomb has a nice video up showing all of the PAX 10 entries from this year's show. Interesting to see the people behind the newest wave of indie games. Some of them seam more uncomfortable being interviewed than others, but I'm sure its an awkward situation. Either way, a lot of good games and interesting concepts to be inspired by.

Here is a listing of all of the entries along with their information and websites: PAX 10 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Applying What I Know

Read an interesting article over at the website (article) comparing indie developers with indie film-makers. I think the most relevant comparison is the creativity that comes from direct limitations placed on the creator. Not being able to film the big shoot out at the jewel heist in Reservoir Dogs didn't hurt its impact on the story, and that use of implying the incident seems like an interesting alternative to the filming. Another great example is in "Let The Right One In", but that movie isn't nearly as old so I don't want to spoil it. Needless to say, its another case of what you don't see is scarier than what you do.

I guess the real reason I bring this up is because, since I've started working with After Effects, I've learned that it isn't as important to literally pull off a feat as long as it looks like that's what you're doing. To be clearer, I was thinking about some of the particle effects, force fields, and general effects I want to put into the game, and started to consider what that would take to code. I started to plot out how I might be able to pull these off, and my mind drifted to how easy it would be in After Effects. It dawned on me that I could simply animate these elements in After Effects and import them into the game. I've made the design choice to keep my assets at a low resolution, so the memory use shouldn't be too taxing. I guess its my way of trying to apply what I know to what I'm trying to do. Hopefully it will lead to interesting results.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chapter 13 Finished!

Ugh...I took a beating on this one. Out of all the chapters (so far), this was the most "throw him in the water and he'll learn to swim". There was a lot of background code that just wasn't even alluded to in the text that I had to go in and enter. A lot of it I figured out myself, but a few things (like him adjusting method titles without telling you to) had me searching through the example files on the web site to find out what I had done wrong. A real pain, but it left me with a bit of confidence in that I can see how the program is working and know where to look for these errors.

Sadly, there were a couple things I couldn't get working that I just had to power through. For instance, this chapter dealt with "game states" which is pretty much jumping from title screen to game play and back. Very interesting stuff, but I couldn't get the "game play" background to update to the new one once the game started. Very frustrating, but probably something silly that I just missed. If it remains a problem in the future, I'll revisit the chapter.

Also, if you get the chance, is showing an extremely interesting round table discussion with Ed Boon (Mortal Kombat), Warren Spector (Epic Mickey, Deus X), and Jeremiah Slaczka (Scribblenauts). Week 2's discussion focuses mainly on game design fundamentals and the importance of keeping your failures early in development. I really enjoy watching people in the industry "talk shop" and feel like its a part of games reporting that is missing with most of their discussions used to promote their newest projects.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Finished Design and First Flight Sprite

I finally decided to forgo any type of logo on the chest for a jewel/medallion/crystal that will be referenced in the story. I also thought of a new play mechanic that could be explained through use of it's power.

I also sat down this morning and decided to ink, color, and animate the first flight position in Toonboom and with my Cintiq. I'm still not finished, but I'm pretty close. At first, I tried a more haphazard approach that was inspired by the whole "flag in a windstorm" look of the cape in Superman Returns. In the movie, that thing was kicking all over the place and you got a real sense of speed with it. Sadly, that looked like crap. So I decided to go to a more fluid, "cartoony" look which seemed to work out better. I still need to adjust the part of the cape that curls in, but its almost there. Also, each flight position has two stages: a normal speed and a faster speed that is achieved by flying longer. The faster speed will be signified by the player pushing his fist forward. I know its more to animate, but I feel like the effect will be worth it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chapter 12 Done! and More Sketches

Well, chapter 12 is all finished. I think the most useful thing I took away from it was the creation of "structures", which is basically a way to set up a list of variables that you know you are going to have to enter for a number of the same type of thing. For instance, if I know I have to reference a sprite's texture, location, size, color, etc for every sprite in my game, I can set up a structure that will ask me for those specific things every time. This way, I just have to fill in the answers, rather than write the code for every one. Pretty handy.

At this point, I only have 4 chapters left and am really starting to get the itch to start working directly on the game. I know I'm not anywhere near a full fledged programmer, but the thought of seeing my character start to move around a screen is getting pretty enticing.

I've also been thinking a lot about my game's backgrounds and am starting to get worried about the whole "tile based" building structures. I'm afraid that it will limit me artistically and the overall style that I'm going for will ultimately suffer. Looking at some of the assets that I've created so far, the file sizes are pretty low as it is. I'm just starting to think that fully creating the buildings (or at least large sections of them) might be the way to go. Still pondering.

Also, more character gestures and poses. Really getting comfortable with drawing him now and might blow one of these up and do a more refined version this weekend.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nothing Inspires...

...quite like blue-lined paper. Can't explain it, because I own sketch books/carry sketch pads/admire other people's sketch pads, but I am always happier with stuff I do when I'm doodling on ruled paper. It's probably because its hard for me to schedule time to draw, but when I get the idea for something, a pad is usually near by.

But anyways, got some nasty viruses on my computer and decided to sketch out some character poses. I did this, mostly, to get me used to my character design. I've drawn so much other stuff for the game and really only had one or two sketches I really liked of the player character. I think I pretty much have the design where I want it, but I still need to figure out how I'm going to design the glass on his chest (circle area).

Also, I've been playing with the idea of having the cape and body being two separate elements in the idle animations so that I can pull off a couple of neat tricks. I'd like to get an idea of it now, because one of the lynch pins of the game is based on the layering of art for the character. I could probably do it all with new art per changed instance, but it would mean a lot more work.

The following is a rough for an attack pose followed by a design for a street criminal/goon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Indie News - Monaco

While I don't have as much time as I'd like to check out games on the indie scene, I do like to keep my toe in their waters. I can't claim to be an authority on that side of gaming, but when I see something interesting, I like to spread the word (at least to the scant few that may read this). The above video is from a Kotaku article posted today showing the game, Monaco. From what I've read, its a 4-player co-op heist game with simplified graphics and different character classes.

I've been extremely curious about this game, but haven't seen too much information on it. I was excited to see the game play video with the updated graphics. What I really like is how the designer, Andy Schatz, hasn't reinvented the wheel, but has combined a lot of fun concepts into an engaging game. I really wish he had some kind of development blog because I'm really curious about his process, but there isn't much to his site. In the Kotaku article he says its coming to PC and at least one console, which I'm guessing is XBLA or the Xbox Indie Channel. Not having played it, I would have to say it looks like Gauntlet meets Commandos. Really excited to get my hands on this one.

If you are looking to learn more about the current indie games scene (which I'm trying to do), you might want to check out these sites:

DIY Gamer

Indie Games

And here is an extremely good developer podcast with Infinite Ammo's, Alec Holowka (designer of Aquaria), interviewing Adam Saltsman (creator of Canabalt):


Asset Creation

Last night I was tinkering around with the idea of all of the people having these bluish "Mortal Kombat" shadows. I had been reading up on 2d shadow creation in XNA and it shouldn't be all that difficult. My only real problem is getting it to cast on certain areas: namely, the platforms. I'll have to go on the forums and ask how to limit where the shadows land. I'll save that for further along in the development.I decided to start creating some textures to use in the game. Thought it might be a fun little side project while I'm learning the program. Hopefully, I'll be able to throw together some building designs quickly in a Sim City-ish, fill in the squares sort of way. In my quest to make things harder than they need to be, I started tinkering with the idea of adding some value transition in the tiles.
I don't think a static tile would be too bad at street level, but when the player is flying (and the camera pulls back) the patterns could get ugly. In the hopes of mixing it up, I tried to add some transitions in the light and dark areas. I'm thinking this will look better when windows and signs are added to the buildings. Also, I'm probably going to go back and make the value differences less drastic. Also, worked on and awning and was hoping to finish some random art (tree, bench, parking meter, etc). I'll post those if I get them done early.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mayor Pixelated

Sitting at home on a cold Sunday morning and felt like tinkering with my Mayor character. Did a quick color job and shrunk it down to see how it would look. Had to eliminate the forehead wrinkles because they were just transforming into a blob. Didn't look good at all. I might sit down here soon and start working on some random background elements just to give the characters something more interesting to stand against then the white backgrounds.
In other game news, I started working on a little back-story that will play into the game. It was kind of fun to put together the legend of these super powers and how that might play into the story. I'll probably try and put together some illustrations and narration too. I found this video of Neil Gaiman's book, "Instructions", and found it really inspiring:

I really love the feel and cadence of this. It sort of harkens back to those old Jim Henson's Storytellers show. Ultimately, I think it will serve the particular section of my story nicely.

UPDATE: Added new Size Chart with make shift background.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mayor and Stuff

Kind of got hit with the drawing but today, and of course it happened at work during lunch. Still haven't figured out the appeal of yellow legal pad, but that's where most of my ideas start. Anyways, had wanted to work on a couple of NPC's (Non Player Characters) and the idea of having a "Mayor" of the city had been floating around in my head for a while. I jotted down a quick design that I'm ultimately pretty happy with, even if he does bare a striking resemblance to Wilford Brimley.
The image of seeing an animated mayor standing at a podium in front of city hall get's me excited to do more with it. I'll probably add a few more city officials, so I should start including them to my design doc before I forget.

On the subject of animation, I've been thinking a lot about the look I've been wanting to achieve and I'd love to emulate the blocky, low-res style of the old Lucasarts adventure games.
I need to start researching exactly how this was done. I assume it was with giant sprites used basically as layers in the animation. I wonder if setting up these scenes would be similar to how a time line would be set up in Adobe Flash. Having different layers designated for separate sprite animations would help the mouth phonemes and eye expressions. It would also maintain the pixelated look I want. My general fear is that the WMV movies that XNA allows would look blurry when blown up, while I would prefer keeping the hard edge.

I'm close to the end of my book, so I'm hoping some of these answers will be settled by then. I wonder if there is a book dedicated solely to 2d sprites?