It seems every time we turn a corner in the building of this game, we run into something that people devote their lives to. Animation, pixel art, web design, etc etc.
So we’ve attempted a few different methods of asset production trying to find something that was both possible for us to do and cool looking. I think we’ve finally found something that works, but it might be a little too early to tell. Before we got here, we tried a few things that didn’t really work.
Our first notion was to attempt a cut-out style. The idea was to cut our hero and mobs out of construction paper, shrink them down in Photoshop, and profit. Matt had the idea to paint the paper with various washes and come up with a really cool textured look. This was probably our least successful method. We ended up doing so much editing at the final size (32px), that we figured we should just give up and draw our assets at pixel level.
I ended up drawing this little guy:
He took a long time, but the final product wasn’t bad. When we started pulling it into the engine and playing with different backgrounds, we realized we had a long road ahead of us. Making animations was slow and it took a considerable effort to make Thorn look cool, iconic, and apparent against our textures. In short, we would simply need to take the time and learn pixel art. A process that would take god-knows-how-long.
I was having a beer with a buddy and mentioned the work I was doing. He said he did a lot of pixel art as a kid and wanted to take a stab at drawing Thorn. And so, Vithiet Kak’s Thorn was born:
Vithiet obviously had more talent with this. Our immediate concern was that we hadn’t ever defined a vision for him. We’d skipped the whole ‘concept art’ stage of video game production. I think all I told him that it should be a mean viking. As far as that goes, he nailed it. It was definitely unsurprising that he didn’t draw the character exactly as he appeared in Matt’s brain.
We decided to take a step back from pixel art and try another method, something that we could produce on our own and manage the vision of what Thorn should be. We went back to the world of cutout and attempted a cutout method in Photoshop.
And thus, our little minotaur was born:
OK, so this method had a lot of things going for it. First of all, it was fun to make. I just spent a few hours hunting down royalty-free source images and hacking them together into a mob. The Frankensteining was fun. Secondly, it had character. With a stance like Michael Palin, and some big goofy feet, he definitely looked cool.
Unfortunately, some problems arose as well. Sure, we could make a mob with this style, but how could we make a hero character? And more importantly, this thing was a nightmare to animate. Whether I moved individual limbs in PS or tried stretching the whole thing in After Effects, it was just un-fun to animate. And if it’s not at all fun, it’s not worth doing.
It was at this point that we made perhaps the smartest move yet w/r/t asset production: we backed up. We realized we hadn’t truly hashed out and shared our shared vision for the hero and monsters. Over the next couple of weeks, we left our laptop lids closed and stuck to pencil and paper. One sketchbook later, I had a pretty good idea of what Thorn should look like. I also remembered how to draw, which was nice.
Now that we have solid illustrations of Thorn (the hero) and the monsters, every road looks open to us. Pixel art would now be possible, Illustration (a la Paper Moon) would be possible, and if we hired an artist, we would actually have something to show them.
So there’s a good lesson: paper first, computer second.