E. Darwin Hartshorn: //Boilerplate

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Devgame Internship progress journal #1: Momentum

For the one of you out there who is following my project progress (hi mom!), Bestiary has been back-burnered because I have an opportunity to work an internship as part of my Devgame class. So w00t.

I started strong, but at the beginning of February, I stalled out.  Here is a list of reasons. The difference between reasons and excuses is that reasons result in solutions.

  •  I decided to rework the character model to make his proportions more readable and rework the the walk animation to convey the right attitude.  This amounted to extra work on a character that was already approved.  This added up to burnout on that character. Moreover, I should have sent the proposed changes to my designer for approval, and did not. Solution: I use 3D-rendered rotoscopes for the dwarf. Get those rendered and approved so my programmer has something to work with that functions exactly like final art, even if it is not, in fact, final art.  Submit the changes to the designer for approval. Make something else for the game.
  • Git is not accepting my submissions to the main branch, despite the fact that my programmer wants things done that way on the theory that our changes will never intersect. Several days of trying to sweet-talk git into doing things the ‘right way’ killed my momentum entirely. Solution: Document the problem, use a workaround (a dedicated art branch), and Get Something Done (more on this later).
  • Half my family and friends were born in February, and there’s a family event on Leap Day, so there were a lot of interruptions. Solution: Time travel to March. Mission Accomplished.

Now on regaining momentum. I have found that there are three things that lead to increasing and maintaining momentum.

The first is to brainstorm up the smallest possible task I can do and do that. Small motion begets larger motion.

The second is to show my work. I’m an artist. I’m egotistical. I welcome the incoming adulation. (And no, I don’t require you to provide said adulation. I selected my wife for just that purpose.)

(But if you feel like adulating, don’t let me stop you. Oh, and as a result of the most recent class, I’ve thrown up a portfolio here.)

Edit: Oh. Forgot the third thing. The third thing is inspiration. No, that doesn’t mean waiting for the muse to strike. That means mugging the muse. Specifically, that means watching movies, reading books, and playing games that get me thinking about dwarves, orcs, caves, and stealth.

Enough talk! Pics or it didn’t happen!

Here’s a couple of frames from the dwarf walking. The originals have long since vanished.

Mockup Test

Problems:

  1. The characters’ arm swing looked footloose and fancy-free. I wanted to convey a mix of tension and badassery.  Solution: Change the animation.
  2. The animated form had a lot of jitter (it’s where details jump around in a distracting fashion). In traditional animation, the lead animator draws the extreme awesome poses, the new guy draws the in-between frames, and the intern traces everything and gets rid of jitter. Lucky me: I’m the lead, the new guy, and the intern! Solution: Eliminate details.

I went and altered the walk cycle so that the arms swung less and the stance was more aggressive. Our Hero, Big McLargeHuge, may, in fact, be terrified. But if so, he’s expressing that through murderous rage. Stealthy murderous rage. Okay, how about quiet determination?

Here are a pair of animations showing the new walk cycle:

swmockup

Problems:

  1. Jitter is pronounced in the Southwest form.
  2. He looks like he’s peddling rather than walking.
  3. His arms motion looks like he’s use ski poles or a rail.

Now this is likely the point where a producer would step in and say “good enough!” But no. I had to make it better or worse. For science.

I altered the dwarf’s proportions to make him more distinct. I also altered the animation so he doesn’t really swing his arms at all. This is a reasonable thing: I practiced stomping around in a furious pose just to see how the arms actually swing.

The result was these two pics:

idleturn

valk

That second is the 3D model I use for reference. If I were doing a side-scrolling game like, oh, say, a Karateka clone, I would create the character entirely by hand — it’s hard to make rotoscoped 2D art look good. (Although, if I recall correctly, Karateka used good-looking rotoscoped 2D art…)  But with eight directions of top-down, I needed reference to make sure I got the proportions correct.

In both of the new walk animations, the definition of the character’s muscle has been greatly reduced, to reduce opportunities for jitter.  The unshaded sprite will eventually be shaded — it’s essential to maintain the brooding cavern atmosphere — but for now I’m going to render out a bunch of terrible 3D model animations, like the bottom one, and send that to my programmer for future use. Whether the proportions or the animation itself are approved or not, the overall image size and framerate is final, so I should be able to just swap final pics in.

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