Research: influences, inspiration and industry practices for 2d game art Project

Over the last few weeks I have been working on some basic 2d art to go in to Jacobs Game. I’ve done a rough design of the character, a quick mock up in flash, and received the thumbs up, but now I need to decide how I am going to create these animations.

A big decision I am facing is what software to use. I was planning on using a simple bone rig, because that characters are going to be constrained to either a front on or side on perspective. According to my brief our characters are going to be picked up and placed down, like a board game, so I wanted to create a sort of drooping and swinging animation.I also wanted to create a very basic blink to be used in the idle, and a death animation. I have been considering a few different software packages, initially thinking of flash’s bone tool. However I will need to only work on this at home on cs 6 because the cc version has the bone tool stripped out. Flash cs6 also has a sprite exporter included which is how Jacob would prefer to import the animations.

Using flash cs6 will be my back up plan, but I wanted to do more research in to the tools I could use.

I did some research in to current games with art styles that I wanted to take inspiration from. The main games are Rayman Legends and Origins, platformers, and Don’t Starve, and action survival game.

The art styles of these games are strong and distinctive. Both games have been critically recognised. (Wawro, Alex 2014)(French, Michael, 2012)

Don’t Starve was created using a modified version of flash. In a forum post by Kevin (2012) from Keli, he explains the process of using a library of body parts, and the custom Java used to build the animations. Playing that game, watching for animation you can see the symbols the make up the the characters. For example in the chop animation below you can see the little feet bending as the character swings his body weight back. It may be a different symbol or perhaps a warp applied to the symbol that makes up the feet.

https://youtu.be/3GhxYaUur64?t=3m24s

The Animations contain a lot of secondary motion and overlapping action. Its not in scope for me to create animations with this many pieces, and their symbol swapping software is inhouse but the technique could possibly be replicated in a simpler fashion with another software package.

Rayman Origins character animation were created with a bone tool system, Spine. The Video below explains the process they used.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-chi097uV4

This technique appealed to me because of the previously mentioned perspective constraints. I could draw my pieces and animate them using IK, in a more detailed way than was available with flash cs 6’s bone tool. The option of exporting a rigged character in to game engine was also appealing with the possibility of doing something like a ragdoll animation.

http://esotericsoftware.com/

Looking at Spine however I found the feature list of the affordable versions unsuitable. Being able to use Ik was a feature I wanted and was not available in the basic software package. Not being able to save a project in the trial version was also unsuitable, and as a student, the price point of the pro version was out of reach.

I then began looking for competing products. I came a few other option software like toon boom, or Spriter, or a plug in for flash cc called dragon bones. I have not used any of these packages before, so I was unsure of their reputation, all however claimed to be used by industry or indy developers.

https://www.toonboom.com/solutions/games

Toon boom was the most well known for me, being familiar with it from seeing tutorials for it on digital tutors. It’s website promoted is use in games and has some industry user recommendations on their webpages. Several of the features look promising, swapping parts for cutout animation could be useful for blinks. Ik Bone system is a feature I want, and it has a seamless export to unity advertisement on its webpage.  However accessing this software may not be possible. Looking on their website no pricing is listed under either academic or standard  versions. I  have reached out to their sale department enquiring about student or trial versions but at the time of posting this I have not yet received a reply. In my experience if the price isn’t listed it’s going to be expensive and again out of my budget.

Dragon bones is a 3rd party plug in for flash cc.

http://dragonbones.github.io/getting_started_en.html

It runs on actionscript. Looking in to this plugin there are quite a few forum posts from people having issues using it. Since I don’t know any programming languages I think that this will not be the best option. One of the posts actually recommended to use Spriter, the next package I looked in to.

Spriter looks to be the most promising application.

http://www.brashmonkey.com/spriter.htm

The pro version is affordable at $59 and there is a free trial version, with limited functionality. Spriter is the result of a kickstarter campaign. It is designed and written by an animator and games programmer team, and has been created with games design in mind, so I should be able to easily export animations for Jacob. Looking at the feature list the pro version contains ik and fk, onion skins, and basic easing. Its advertised as a modular package with reuseable and swapple character pieces. It is still in development but available through steam early access. My greatest reservation is that this software may be too simplistic for in depth use and that the basic easing may to to simple.

I have also recently seen a video advertising adobes new character animation software.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmPo0_WZyPU

Adobe character animator interesting tool, Its not technically released so there is not a lot of literature on it, and I may not be able to install it yet. Some aspects are very interesting, dynamic linking to illustrator, and photoshop for existing symbols and what looks like an IK character rig system. However it looks like it designed more for  video hobbyists, with at this point in time no options for keyframe animation, or as far as I can see no support for exporting to games.

Over the weekend I plan to install Spriter, if funding permits, I may buy the full version for this project, do some testing and report my results.

References

BrashMonkey (2014) Spriter About. Retrieved from http://www.brashmonkey.com/about.htm

ELTheGeek (2014, 8 January)[Video File] PS4 – Don’t Starve Gameplay Part 1 Chopping Trees and Burning Leaves. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GhxYaUur64

Esoteric Software (2013) spine in depth features Retrieved from http://esotericsoftware.com/spine-in-depth#Features

French, Michael (2012, July 12th) Top Devs honoured at 10 th developer awards Retrieved from

http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/top-devs-honoured-at-10th-develop-awards/099439

HardwareHeaven (2013 31,July) [Video file] How Rayman Legends Is Made Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-chi097uV4

Huang, Peter (n,d) DragonBones Getting Started Guide Retrieved from http://dragonbones.github.io/getting_started_en.html

Kevin, (2012, Devember 3) [Forum Response] Retrieved from  http://gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/44319/what-animation-technique-is-used-in-dont-starve

ToonBoom Software (n,d) Toon boom solutions games retrieved from https://www.toonboom.com/solutions/games

troyhitch (2014)[Forum Post] Dragonbones + Flash CC smooth workflow Retrieved from http://forum.starling-framework.org/topic/dragonbones-flash-cc-smooth-workflow

Wawro, Alex (2014, February 10) Road to the IGF: Klei Entertainment’s Don’t Starve Retrieved from http://gamasutra.com/view/news/210364/Road_to_the_IGF_Klei_Entertainments_Dont_Starve.php

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