Today, I’m updating more of the placeholder art to HD. Sadly, I’m not keeping the proportions precise with the 3D models. But that’s almost necessary. To get the project done, I have to abandon speed bumps and do the absolute best I can within the following constraint: only the best I can do and still actually finish the project. “Second best and finished” is better than “first best but only in my head.”
Anyway, I need to get my momentum back. As an artist, there’s two kinds of work I can do: creative work, and busy work. Updating the art to the HD is busy work: all the creative decisions have been made, I merely need to execute on them.
When my momentum is dead, busy work is the best way to get it back. I can do it in the evening when I’m tired. I can do it when my brain has stopped working. I get a peak of maybe one or two hours a day of creativity, but once the creativity has happened, I can spend hours and hours executing on it if necessary. One of the reasons I avoid commissions is I resent selling my single hour of creativity for someone else’s use. I’m no Tolkien or even Lewis. My creative genius is nothing to write home about. But it’s mine, dammit.
My priority is to get an orc up and running, as I have now all the animations needed for the dwarf. I’m hoping to hit the ground running on that Thursday. Any time I have left today for Vargenstone, though is going to be making HD versions of placeholder art, because I can do that.
This last week I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and nothing else (except what was required to keep my family and their animals alive, of course). And what I wanted turned out to be the basis of a platforming sequel to my hit game Candy Raid: the factory.
This gif has a lot of little things worth talking about, but let’s get back to it.
I need to either search for a day job, or else gear up to pay my bills with my projects quickly. Option 2 means running a successful crowdfund ASAP. The only project I have that is close to ready for that is Awesome Moments, my Bible Story book.
Because of my social media fast, the earliest I can run the Kickstarter in question effectively is March. If I choose to work my butt off on Hat Trick, or my bestiary, or on this little Candy Raid platformer, I can hypothetically have either of these projects Kickstarter ready by then. But I have to be 100% committed to the project. And my history of underestimating time to completion on projects leads me to believe I’d need at least two months to get either of those ready. And even a successful Kickstarter wouldn’t disburse funds until April.
Which means I need to hunt for a day job.
Sucks to be me, but I’ve been employed at dead-end day jobs for 15 years, and I’ve done the starving artist thing for 6 months. Being jobless definitely helps my projects, but not by giving me more time, but rather by giving me consistent time. If I can get something with regular hours, I should be able to keep my productivity close to the same.
If not, such is life. So let’s talk about how we are going to change our approaches to Vargenstone and Everything Else as a result.
Vargenstone remains where it was last time I last time I spoke…
…and while I am going to try and get some serious work on it done this week, I’m not going to stress over it while I’m the only guy changing anything.
Meanwhile, I feel like I’m done with the virtual pet for now. Not permanently, but I was doing it to scratch an itch and the itch is scratched. I will probably continue adding pages to the book storyboard at a rate of one or two per week so that I’ve have a huge head start when the project gets the limelight.
The plan has not been panning out at all. But I have not been without progress.
I’ve begun storyboards for a pocket bestiary that meshes with my virtual pet, and gone ahead and mocked up the title page.
It’s designed for Amazon’s tiny 5×8 format, and frankly, I’m half-inclined to make it black and white, even though I’ve gone and colored the title spread.
You can see designs changing in realtime across the pages, and that’s because I added a hatchling stage before my previously existing hatchling stage, because the Digimon virtual pet convinced me that was a good idea. Frankly, my plan for this book is to go one bestiary ahead before finalizing it. That is, book 1 will be the core monsters, mostly represented by this graphic:
This set hits all your fantasy creature needs. You got your basic dragon, your basic orc, your basic rock monster, your basic wizard. It could use some tweaking, but that’s the purpose.
Set 2, and book 2, will fill out the ecosystem somewhat, with plants, bugs, birds, fish, and elementals. Each of the sets interacts with all the others — there will be common evolutions between later monsters and earlier ones. So my thought is: storyboard bestiary 1, storyboard bestiary 2, produce bestiary 1, storyboard bestiary 3, produce bestiary 2, and so forth, so that each bestiary gets a little bit of love from hindsight. And since I have Hat Trick 1 and Awesome Moments 1 storyboarded, that means I’ll likely not produce this book until next year at the earliest. But there you are.
I shall dedicate a future post to the bestiary. My thoughts on it as a product, and so on.
On Vargenstone… Eh.
I did do final quality work on the south-facing standing and walking torso and head.
I’ve discovered I need to double the size of the source graphic and use the GDQuest pencil to achieve the line quality I want. No big deal. And I can occupy myself for hours polishing the graphics up to this level if I choose. But I haven’t been able to get momentum going on it.
I haven’t followed the plan at all. I suppose I could still ‘redeem’ the plan by spending all day today and a hefty chunk of tomorrow solely on Vargenstone, but I’m not deeply interested in in trying to retrieve failed plans. I’m more interested in the question of “why did it fail, is there something I can do that wouldn’t fail, and am I willing to do that?”
This week instead of taking Sunday and Wednesday off, and working on my own projects on my days off, I aim to take a different route:
Sunday day of total rest.
Monday through Wednesday, Vargenstone
Thursday through Saturday, Therian VPet.
Today, unfortunately, I’ve misspent my peak creative hours. So, rather than trying to do the theoretically optimal thing (build an orc animation), I’m going to switch over to a task that requires skill rather than creativity: creating final-quality versions of the dwarf animations that exist thus far. Tomorrow, I aim to be back on the “Minimum Viable Product” train, working to bring the Orc to life. Assuming that goes well, Wednesday’s task will be to master alternate costumes for the Dwarf.
Thursday morning or Wednesday evening, we will change gears, examining how well we did on Vargenstone, and laying out our objectives for Theria.
For the first two days of the week, we were 100% on track.
On Wednesday, I took a break to work on my own project, as is my wont…
…and then the national news became extremely distracting.
This is a poor excuse. Coups, counter-coups, and political posturing shouldn’t keep a man from his work, especially when it’s going on 1500 miles away and the man can neither affect it nor further attenuate its effect on him. But here we are.
Part of this is worry over things I need not worry about. Part of it is I refused to abandon my virtual with a feature 1/4th implemented. On the one hand, I ought to say, “well, the vpet is the lower priority, so it’ll have to be back-burnered to avoid distraction.” On the other hand, I refuse to do that. This stupid vpet is a lifelong ambition finally falling into place, and I am overly fond of it.
I’m thinking of splitting my workweek into two 3-day legs, and focusing one leg on Vargenstone, and the other on the pet from here forward. In fact, so let it be written, so let it be done.
Now we come to the drama that inspired all this hullaballoo.
In Wolfenstein, the player is able to walk 8 directions, while aiming his gun 8 directions.
In Vargenstone, the player is supposed to walk 8 directions, while aiming his gun 8 directions.
That is 64 versions of each animation involving the weapon. 64 walks. 64 idles. 64 attacks. Even keeping the framerate low, to 5 or 6 frames, and at the low quality where I spend 20 minutes on an animation, that’s… a bit of work. When you consider I have to make a separate version for when the dwarf is disguised and armored, it’s 192 versions of each animation.
Now it’s not quite that bad. One of those elements (aiming or walking) but not both can be mirrored for all the left- and right-facing animations. So that reduces us to 40 instead of 64, or 120 instead of 192 versions of each animation. But that’s still one full time week per animation per character. Except I need to spend more than 20 minutes per animation.
And if we set aside my complaining about work, that’s a lot of graphics data to try and store in a game that’s meant to run in your web browser.
Wolfenstein solves this by not solving this.
Your body can animate going four directions, but because of the low possible fidelity, they are almost indistinguishable. Your gun can point in, IIRC, 5 directions per hand, and be in either hand.
Enter the Gungeon solves this by animating your character in four-directions: the diagonals.
That reduces the number of character animations to 2 sets which can be flipped. Since both sets are facing to the side, they then attach your gun to the side, and rotate the gun sprite in code, giving them 180 degrees of rotation on each side.
Again, they are able to get away with this in part because of the look of their graphics. If I were to make Vargonstone work this way, I’d have to redesign the graphics from the ground up, and then get approval from the designer, who has already approved the concept work I did 4 years ago.
Now, I could probably get away with doing one of each animation in each direction. E.g. if you aim southwest and move north, the southwest walking animation plays. This kind of shenanigan is done in games all the time. Even in big-budget, AAA, 5 to 10 year dev cycle games.
But I’ve chosen to split the torso off from the legs because I’ve decided to make the work I had previously done work. Which brings us to where we are today.
Today, my goal is to draw a single frame of the upper torso aiming forward, for each of the five directions I need to animate in. Then rig it up in Unity in my little “art playground” scene so you can aim in 8 directions and walk in 8 directions.
The key will be the difference between the direction you aim and the direction you walk. I am convinced I can choose a rotation of up to 45° without it looking bad. So, if you are facing South, aiming south, southwest, or southeast are all acceptable to just play on the upper torso. I think a 90° twist that only manifests itself in the dwarf’s tiny, obscured gut is too unrealistic. My intended solution there is to turn his legs one notch toward his aim, so if he’s walking south and aiming east, the south east walking animation will be playing with the legs. And then for the remaining possibilities, I intend to play the walking animations backwards.
Timestamp 5:50. The leg animations took me 25ish minutes to do 6 frames, so we’ll say I have the two additional directions by 7.
Once again, I’m struck by how stupid I was to center a six-frame walk cycle on the crossover poses rather than the heelstrikes.
Done properly, this could have been easily three or four times as readable. Thank God it’s workably readable.
6:28. Same song, second verse.
So that’s all the legs we’ll ever need, until it’s time to remaster them at final resolution.
“What about the orcs?”
I’m hoping to convince everyone that the orcs can turn their whole body to face their target each time they want to shoot, so I can avoid animating their legs and bodies separately. But if it is deemed needful to animate the orcs in pieces to be true to the original game design (and I half expect that to be the decision), at least I will be able to explain how much longer it will take and why, so that the tradeoff is intentional.
Let’s get the dwarf his upper body, and assemble our work in Spriter!
Upper body done, timestamp 7:02.
Rough Spriter Animations done, timestamp 7:15. Now the trick is showing it off in Unity. And here’s where the fact that I’m an artist who can code, rather than a coder who can draw, is going to bite me. I’m not super familiar with the math needed to pick our facing.
We’ll hack something together. After all, while figuring out the precise angle might be needful in case someone is using a gamepad or joystick in a final game, this is a test demo, and it will be enough to pick the diagonals if multiple arrows are pressed.
Boom: Timestamp 8:00.
Right. It’s time to take a break, do farm chores, feed my kin. That sort of thing.
Our next step will be aiming and shooting which is the whole reason we separated the parts like this.
Yesterday, being the Lord’s day, and therefore a day on which I do as I like, I made progress on my virtual pet. Said progress report can be found at the bottom of this post, but I’m quite enthused with it so far. Can’t wait ’til Wednesday to work on it again.
For my new readers, “Captain’s Log” posts are regular project update posts. They occur at four times: the first day I work on a new project, the day I finish the current leg of a project, and every Monday and Friday for the duration. On Monday, I call my shot for the week, and on Friday I analyze whether I made my shot and try to adjust my plans and expectations accordingly.
Krag Vargenstone marks the first time since I formed this blog that I couldn’t reasonably be described as the ‘captain’. Which is fine — I have neither need nor want to be “in charge” of this project — but I titled the category without considering I might work on a team at some point. I may, therefore goof around with the titles.
I’m unsatisfied with the “HD” graphics used for the upper body in the south-facing walk. For one, his nose grows two sizes when he starts walking. For another, the linework is kind of terrible. But the time for me to perfect my process for the final artwork is after I deliver useable art for my programmer.
My days off are Sunday and Wednesday. Here are my plans for the remaining five days in order:
Northeast and Southeast idle and walking animations.
Aiming and shooting animations
Orc 8-direction move and idle
Dwarf alternate costumes (cloaked and armored)
If I get ahead of the curve, I can go in and figure out the art quality.
I also got a recurring weekly art commission from my church, and I intend to do that Monday of each week. But I providentially have the option to set aside a separate block of time for that.
When we left off, we had made ourselves some leg animations.
Don’t worry about the fact that they’re low quality. They’re supposed to be draft one. I hope by the end of the day I have enough time to polish one direction, so I can justify the process with the end result, but my magic 8-ball has expressed… reservations.
We need to make some torso animations and then, go into Unity and combine them. I’m leery of this since I’ll be jumping the existing project forward by a solid four years worth of Unity updates and something is liable to break. I have some small skill, but I don’t know whether it will suffice to fix anything that breaks.
But I’m borrowing trouble. If my skill is not up to the task, we can always roll back the repo in git. ONWARD!