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Iterating like a BOSS

I’m a big fan of iteration. I love letting some time pass and then revisiting something. The problem with iterating, is that takes too much time. Sometimes you have to do the same thing two or three times.

In this sense,  ideally you want to do it right the first time. Of course, you can’t plan on doing it right the first time. You can try, but it’s very unlikely that you will have it right at first.

Time is another huge factor. Sometimes, you just want to see your work in game. Seeing things implemented, even when it’s a draft, can help a lot to give you an idea of how it will look and feel in the game. Context is important.

This week, I will show you the difference between the first and second versions of a character. I think that a few of these tips are useful not just in pixel art, but in almost every creative field.

The important part: If you are not extremely happy with your result, do it again!

 

Now, the example:

The last weeks, we’ve been showing you the Shield Bearer, an Ares warrior who takes cover behind a giant shield.

ShieldBearer

This is the original enemy design. If the character is looking forward, the only way to attack him is from behind, and vice versa if he is looking back. He always moves and attacks behind the shield, so you have to sneak from behind. We can start from here.

 

Idle Animation:

shieldBearer_idle1

IDLE – Old Version

 

shieldBearer_idle2

IDLE – New Version

As you can see, the base gesture is not horrible, but it doesn’t suggest action, and the stance is kind of boring because he is just standing there. The new version is much more dynamic. It has the same number of frames, but you can see that he is waiting for action! Also, you can see some shoulder deformation, almost like a hunchback. This was unintentional, but I thought that it added personality, so I left it.

 

Attacking Animation:

shieldBearer_ataca1

ATTACK – Old Version

shieldBearer_ataca2

ATTACK – New Version

The new Attacking Animation preserves the same stance from the new idle animation. This version adds an extra frame, and that gives a little more momentum prior to the attack. Also, I reworked the cape, because the previous one was awful.

 

Running Animation:

shieldBearer_corre1

RUNNING – Old

shieldBearer_corre2

RUNNING – New

This animation also derives from the idle stance.  Like in the other cases, there wasn’t much I could use from the former animation, and I had to redraw a lot.

 

Turn Animation:

shieldBearer_daVuelta1

TURN – Old

shieldBearer_daVuelta2

TURN – New

The turn animation had the same problem as the idle one. It lacked action. Using the idle animation as a base, we could do something much more dynamic. Also, we added a subtle movement in the foots, that helped.

 

Back Animations:

__comparativaAtrasVieja

RUN / ATTACK – Old

__comparativaAtrasNueva

RUN / ATTACK – New

Back animations are a pain. A real pain. They are awful to do. They don’t look good, and that was a perfect excuse to stop doing them for the mob units.

In some enemies, we still have to do it. This was the case of the Shield Bearer. The back animations are as important as the front ones, so we had to add some love to them. Also, with the new animations, it’s much easier to read where he is facing at.

 

Animating these enemies is a completely different task than animating the mob units. I’ve learned a thing or two animating these giants: It really helps drawing some guidelines on top of your character, and not to think so much about reusing every part. You might need to redraw an arm, or the torso for a particular pose, but that will give some life to your animations.

DraftAnimation

 

The little blue cross you see below the character is a small mark I do to know the absolute position the frame must have in the .psd file, since each frame will be automatically exported into .png.

The blue / red thing is to have a better reading of what’s happening. You might need that when you are trying to understand a couple of strokes in a 50px canvas.

 

So that’s pretty much it for this week. It’s a bummer to have to redo some things but, in the end, it’s usually worth it.

 

Also, this week makes the debut of our new comment system with Disqus. Feel free to leave a comment to test it!

 

 

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Sparta, Take Two

Last week, we talked about our “outside the box” solution to a particular problem with the Y displacement.  It wasn’t perfect, but we are almost proud of it (we don’t actually know what being proud is, but we read about it).

Before that, we had started talking about Sparta,  the new world we are working on. We showed a few bits of Sparta, and this week we will continue presenting new stuff!

CartelSparta

 

Another one of the new enemies introduced in Sparta is the Rock Thrower Cyclops. He will throw rocks at you (I bet you didn’t see that coming). He may not be as tough as the armored cyclops or giants, but his rocks can do a lot of damage to the units.

RockThrower

Here he is, grabbing a rock to throw. Ah, the Rock Thrower.

 

Besides adding more enemies, there were a few things we tweaked in Sparta.

In the previous world, Delphi, you could find a lot of shops in the city, like a meat shop, a fruit shop, and so on. In Sparta, being a much more “war friendly” zone, you will be more likely to find war-related stuff . Which meant that, in addition to a change of materials and textures, there were lots of structural changes in the buildings.

For instance, instead of a meat shop, you will have an Archery Range.

Archer

Needs an awful amount of work, but you get the idea.

And the buildings were just a small part in the process. You can push a little further the idea of a heavy armed city with props.  For instance, having some training dummies around. It really suggests that the people there are constantly training.

dummys

Breakable dummies everywhere!

 

Also, to have a heavily armed city, you need lots of weapons.

montonDeArmas

You can feel like Neo here.

 

And finally, we used the directional light to change a little the mood and the time of day.

luces

Well, that’s pretty much it for this week, and probably for Sparta. Next week we’ll be introducing a new world! (maybe)

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Introducing Sparta!

These past weeks, we’ve been working on Sparta, a brand new world for Okhlos.

We decided to work on a new world, despite not having finished Delphi, because we thought that introducing more levels will give us a better idea of how the game as a whole will be .

 

So, in Sparta you will find:

Enemies!

Lots of enemies. Most of them, cyclops. Also, some of these cyclops will attack constantly the mob’s leader, so you will have to try and dodge them while controlling the mob.

ciclopes

A new kind of enemy will be the Shield Bearer (not a bear), which can only be attacked from the back (and that meant doing back sprites again… which is a pain).

ShieldBearer

Ares

The main boss in Sparta is Ares, the god of war. He will spawn in a sort of Colosseum, and the battle with him will be very melee oriented.

arena

arenaEditor

Also, he will spawn with his sons, Phobos & Deimos.

Phobos is the personification of fear (the word phobia comes from him), particularly, the fear in battle. So his powers will affect the mob morale and cohesion.

Deimos, on the other hand, is the personification of terror. It’s something a little more abstract, so that’s why we went with a more mystical approach for him

phobosYDeimosConcept

 

This was the original concept art. Deimos in the left, Phobos int the right. Below is the pixel art version. As you can see, lots of changes happen when we translate from concept to pixel art.

 

PhobosYDeimos

 

Also, Phobos and Deimos are (appropriately) the names of Mars’ (which is the Roman name for Ares) two satellites. All of this makes searching for them a little more annoying (luckily, is not even remote as annoying as Electra).

Sparta

We wanted to re use a lot of assets to be able to test it quickly, but we made some new things in order to give Sparta a distinctive look. We changed the terrain, we made new buildings, and we changed the roads.

sparta

buildings

We still have lots to do in Sparta, but this will give us enough to test the new world and see how it feels!

 

That’s all for this week! Let us know what you think!

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More heroes!

These past few weeks, we’ve been working on lots of new stuff. Among them, there are new levels, enemies, and heroes! But since we were already in the tpoic of heroes, in this update, we will be introducing the rest of the heroes we have been working on.

 

Andromeda is a very interesting character. She was held to a cliff to feed some monster, but Perseus ruined the day. At least for the monster.

In Okhlos, Andromeda will boost the mob’s overall hp.

At first, I drew her with green hair, as a very obvious nod to a certain character also representing Andromeda, but it was way too obvious.

The cool thing about Antigone, is that she hasn’t been much explored  in popular culture. It’s not one of the classic characters you find in every Greek-mythology-based thing. Also, it’s amazing she didn’t came out plain stupid, because of her mother and grandmother were the same person.

In Okhlos, Antigone will give the mob more cohesion.

In this screenshot, you can see how more or less cohesion will affect your mob.

So far, the Dioscury, are the only hero that are technically two. They were guest stars in a lot of myths, like the Calydonian boar hunt, and the Argonauts expeditions.

In Okhlos, they will boost the overall attack of the mob.

My first intention, was to make her clothes red. That was obvious and inaccurate, so I turned into more research. Finding reference images of Electra was very annoying because of  the saturation of other Electras (And trust me, Google images is FULL of pics of them).

Electra has bad reputation because of Freud (technically, Magneto), but it has nothing to do with the original myths. As Antigone, which is the daughter of Oedipus, a hero already in Okhlos, she is the daughter of Agamemnon.

In Okhlos, she will make the mob move and attack faster.

Finally, Helen played a fundamental role in the Trojan war. Also, she is one of the first characters of the Trojan war we introduce! The Trojan war it’s likely to be a real conflict, with some poetic licenses, triggered by her running away with Legolas.

Also, she is the sister of the Disocury, so this week, we introduced a lot of family members in the game.

In Okhlos, she will raise up all the attack stats in the mob, BUT also will reduce your cohesion a lot!

 

So that’s it for this week! Next week, we will show you our first steps into the new levels!

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Indie game, indie trailer

Showing your work is incredibly important in this industry. A trailer can be your calling card. Putting together a nice-looking trailer can help showing the features of a game, without the need of having the game finished. Because of this, we wanted to to set up a trailer for Okhlos.

We had already made a few videos, but we wanted something fancy for our first “official trailer”. It ended up being much more work than we expected. However, we feel that we learned a lot, and that it might be a good idea to share some tips based on the insight we gained while making a gameplay trailer.

First of all, a little disclaimer. I’m no pro at video editing, so this probably will be totally useless for anyone who has some experience in the subject. These tips are aimed mainly at anyone with no professional experience who wants to make a trailer, much like our case.

Disclaimer aside, here we go. At first, you might think that making a gameplay trailer is easy, because you only  have to show gameplay, but trust me on this one, it’s not so simple.

 

Planning

One of the things we learned, is that carefully planning what you want to show will save you lots of time. We established which were the cool parts that we wanted to show to the world, and we made a list out of them.

Well, any kind of list is good enough.

Then, you have to set up the narrative of the trailer, and the order in which each segment will be shown. That will take you some time but it’s important to have the pace and climax of the trailer clearly lined out.

Setting the pace was kind of easy, because we had the track made by @ashellinthepit, so we could work having the course set by the track. It was a good kind of restriction, because it gave us a very solid structure.

 

Footage, footage, and some more footage

You might think that recording a few play sessions is enough, but you need LOTS of footage.

We knew which things we wanted to show, but in order to have some variety (keep in mind that at the moment of making the trailer we only had the first level completed) we had to take multiple captures of each feature throughout different playthroughs. Changing the how the level looks and having a different mob also helped to make each segment feel different.

So,  be ready to record A LOT of footage. We made 61 video captures. We had 20gb or 10 minutes worth of videos JUST for this trailer. We knew the length of the trailer (45 secs approximately) because of the track. And I think having footage worth 10 times the length you are aiming for, is a good ratio.

Morale of the story, you need to make multiple recordings of each feature. You will need them in the editing room.

 

Embrace the editor

Having drafts of each segment, we noticed that there were a few things that we didn’t have implemented at the time. Also, assembling different kinds of mobs we wanted to show would have taken too much time if we did it playing the game. In this context, using Unity really helped us a lot. We could simply threw out things in the scene and capture them on video.

This is an unnecessary wide screenshot, but is cool to show the behind the scenes.

So, being able to edit the game in whatever way we needed, on runtime, was really helpful while making the trailer.

The only problem was that, as of version 3.5.7, Unity doesn’t allow you to display the editor view in fullscreen. So, all the footage we captured this way, had to be scaled in the video editor. For this, I recommend recording always with the window at the exactly same size, and in the same position, so when you apply the cut, you can save the numbers and do it automatically.

 

How to record

To capture video we use Fraps, which is a super cool program to do it. It’s proved to be really helpful but there other things you should know while capturing video:

  • Keep in mind that recording video is a very intensive task for your machine, so try to do it in the more powerful machine you could find. We captured the video in my computer, which is the most powerful computer we have in the office.
  • Ideally you want to have two HDDs. One, were the SO and the game are, and another in which you output the data recorded. Fraps its not so good when it’s reading and writing the same HDD
  • Something very importante, is taking the time to carefully rename each segment you record. When you have 60+ videos called Okhlos2014-[...].avi, you don’t want to have to decipher the thumbnail, or having to open each video to see what’s in there. Rename every capture you take, with a declarative name, like why you recorded that segment.
  • Also, try to keep the segments short . It’s better to have thousands of little files, than two or three incredible large files. You will have to edit the clip on the editing software anyways, but if you are editing and find out that you will definitely not use a clip, its easier to erase it.

Aside from this, an amazing thing I found out, (a little late maybe), is that the awesome VLC, not only is an awesome player, but also EDITS videos! This was an amazing finding, because it allowed me to remove long movies from the video project and instead use smaller ones.

You have to enable advanced controls, and there you have it! You can transform larger videos in smaller ones! It looks something like this:

You have to press rec to start recording, and again to stop recording. This will generate a video in “My documents” folder (I didn’t spend much time trying to change the output folder).

So, in short, using VLC will save you lots of time, and a more malleable video project.

 

The Software

Finally, a few notes on the software I used to edit the video.

As I’m no video editor professional, I went for the easier choice, which is to use Adobe Premiere. It’s pretty straightforward, and once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy to manage clips. I can imagine that there are more professional software for this, but Premiere gives you all the tools you might need for an indie trailer.

Having a multiple monitors setup, really helps previewing the work, while arranging the timeline, or your files.

Another thing I learned using premiere is that pressing Enter really improves the fps of the preview window. What it does is still a mystery to me, it has something to do with a render, and it will take a lot of space from your HDD. My educated guess is that renders everything in the preview size, for better handling.

On a final note on the software issue, something that really helped me a lot is to have some configuration guidelines for youtube videos.

So, here you are. The important parts are H.264 in format. VBR on Bitrate, and the target resolution to be 1920×1080 (at least for 1080p on Youtube). Previously, Youtube didn’t support more than 30fps, but as for now, they can reproduce 60fps. Also, it’s very likely that you will be making more than one video, so save these settings into a preset for future projects.

 

Audio

As I said before, the audio was made by Gordon, who is our musician and sfx guy. At first we thought that the track alone would be enough for our first trailer, and it was an invaluable aid to set the timing, but once we had the trailer, Gordon offered to add some SFX.

Adding sound effects really boosted the experience of the trailer. You can really notice the difference between one and another. So, if you have a musician, don’t hesitate on using him/her for the trailer.

Now, If you don’t have one yet, but you want to show your work, you can always search for a creative commons track. Besides that, is important to turn off any music (final or placeholders) that you might have in the game. If you have sfx integrated, try to capture the video with the audio, and lower the audio volume of the clips.

 

Now, do it again

What might be absurd in any other context, in art it’s a very common thing.  Iterate.

The thing that most helped the trailer, was to do it twice. I made an early version of the trailer, from which I learned a lot, but I did it very quickly. I finished the first trailer in almost a day.

This is how the first version looked . We changed the name for Gameplay video because it was no trailer. Also, we uploaded the video, but we didn’t share it, or make fuzz about it. Once I had the video, I shared it with a few acquaintances. This provided me lots of feedback for the final version, but what I found more interesting was seeing what each person thought was the most important part in Okhlos. Some wanted to show large mobs, others absurdly non practical camera zooms. Every person had a different view of what Okhlos was, and thanks to the trailer, we could explore some of those requests and boost expectation of the viewers on some weird psychological level. [Dubious][Citation needed]

With all this feedback, I remade the trailer. I captured everything I needed again, and we made a lot of changes from the original idea.

Remaking the trailer from scratch might sound dumb, but in this day and age, a good trailer is your packaging. So spend all the time you might need working on it. If you are more organized than I am, you might not need to recapture video, but you will most definitely have to make more than a version of your trailer and iterate on it.

 

Taking all that into consideration, here is a look at our new trailer. You might not think it is the best trailer the industry had seen, but all the advice given will definitely help you show your work in a cooler way.

 

 

 

 

 

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