Sunday, February 3, 2013

Re: Art Rework

So the response to the new art isn't as positive as we had hoped. I'd like to sit down and talk about our reasons for the art change and our reasons for the new art. This way we can get a conversation going, and make more educated choices for the future of Magicmaker's development.


Before we have this discussion, I want to be super clear about what our resources and skills here are:  none of us are artists. None of us have any training or background. We don't have the financials to hire an artist. We're a programmer, a designer, a designer/musician, and a factory worker with some cool ideas. We just started making a game and halfway through we realized people were gonna have to look at it.

And a tiny note of terror rang out in our hearts when we realized the only person who had the time or will to create our art assets, in addition to his other duties, was the programmer.

Even though the original art assets were originally intended to be final, the kindest thing anybody could say about them was something to the tune "it wouldn't hurt the game if they were changed". Even I didn't like 'em.  I repeatedly described them with the word "serviceable".  Nobody really liked looking at them.

The change was a result of two big problems: the color scheme and the animation.

Color Scheme

The last time I drew something before Magicmaker was an Art class when I was a freshman in high school.  The teacher lazily began a lecture about the color wheel, the relationships and meanings of all the colors.  I scoffed.

"I don't need to know this," I said under my breath, "I just need to know how to draw anime."

I was a very stupid child.

The same stupid child made a large number of terrible decisions when picking colors for Magicmaker. For reference, I have included a screenshot of the forest level with some keen insights into my thought processes:

My internal monologue is in all caps and I can't turn it off.

And if that doesn't convince you, making the screenshot black and white produces a gross, samey mess that doesn't communicate anything at all:

all i can tell from this screenshot is that those light rays are probably pretty important??!

Giving the same treatment to yesterday's screenshot shows us something with a lot more variety.  This variety creates visual interest.


I used to be confused whenever an artist said "visual interest", but I recently learned it just means "looks cool"
The things that jump out are the things player interacts with:  the breakable ice, the spikes, the ground, and the falling icicles.  The rest, the unimportant bits that just make it look cave-y, all move to the background.

Magicmaker's colors were a problem and had to be redone.  I figured if I had to go and redo every asset, I'd rather just rebuild them from the ground up.

Animation

Another key goal was something we can animate easily and effectively.  We tried frame-by frame and it always ended in failure.  The player's walk animation is eight frames of oscillating up and down while his legs wiggle.

Disney, here I come!
That took me a day and a half to produce.

What was less frustrating to create was a kind of paper doll system, where an entity was made from several pieces whose motion was controlled by a little bit of script or code.  A lot of the bosses are made up like this already.

I didn't like it. I had flashbacks to all those poorly tweened flash cartoons we all watched in the early '00s. Animation was easily our weak point.

When working on a project you have to be aware of your constraints.  What your strengths and weaknesses are.  Valve talks about this a lot and its a big part of their process. Use your strengths, move around your weaknesses.  And if you can, use a weak point to your advantage.

So I figured, we can make it look like a paper diorama.  It would be ok that everything was made out of static pieces because they're paper cutouts layered together.  Now we can embrace the paper-doll animation style.
I had to re-record this three times because I kept forgetting to turn off the space jam theme song and fraps apparently picks that up?

These animations are still a little rough but I'm much happier with them.  I mean, his hat bounces as he walks!  That is quantifiably adorable.

Magicmaker needs an art rework, and the paper cutout style is something we can really execute on. Even if we don't go with the diorama style, something needed to be done about the game's visuals.

Now you know our rationale and reasons behind this big change.  This is tough problem to solve, and I'd really like to hear your opinions and together we can figure something out.

-Laddo D

25 comments:

  1. I'll head this off with a summary: Do whatever you want with the art. MagicMaker is yours. I believe most people will be able to accept your choices, though we will still give advice.

    Now, on to the splurge/rant/whatthehellamIdoingwithmytimeIshouldbestudying:

    I actually found the old art style quite endearing. So many games focus on flashy art and sparkles, but it's really quite refreshing when you find something that can stand on its feet rather than the crutch it's made out of graphical quality. MagicMaker is one of those games that doesn't cripple itself.

    When examining the old art style, there are many little positives and negatives that never occurred to me. The goblins do blend in with the trees, making the game fractionally harder, but at the same time that feels... Right. Goblins are sneaky blighters, no matter what world I find them in. It seems like they should blend in. I don't know what goblins would look like in this new style, but from what I've seen they may well stand out very clearly. And that would seem wrong.

    The leaves on trees look a bit like someone's taken a can of paint and dumped the treetops in it. Nothing much to say about that, it doesn't trouble me. Only thing I can think of it colour-blind people. I know people who can't tell the difference between red and green, could make finding your character difficult in the middle of play.

    At the same time,the new art style is also worthy of approval. Main point to make about the new art: you're right, the bobbing hat is absolutely adorable. :D I just haven't seen enough of it to say much about it. Suffice to say that from what we've been shown people are unlikely to complain about background and foreground blending.

    People are spoiled by big game companies spending thousands to make games look pretty. Do your best, do what you want, what you think looks good, what you'll enjoy. There's a quote I quite like that may fit here.
    "Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter."
    People will complain about your art, no matter how you do it. It's just in their nature.

    Wish I could say more, but I'm probably wasting enough of your time as is.

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    1. I like the idea of a camouflaged enemy but the goblins were never meant to fit that role. The goblins and the fairies are intended to be more like dumb fodder for the first level of the game. Something that we're talking about is adding more enemy types for higher levels of difficulty and a camo-stealth type seems appropriate for higher forest levels.

      Also I can't believe I forgot about color-blindness. Usually I'm the one that brings that up during internal meetings. Thanks for pointing that out.

      -Laddo D

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  2. I completely agree with Jordan Bl.
    After seeing the video i can say that the art style really does fit in with the animation and looks very good, i can tell a lot of time was applied.

    And i can start to see that this game is evolving from a project with so much potential into something that fulfills that potential.
    The game has a quirky, witty attitude and i think this art style will fit in with that attitude.

    So to summarize, i still believe MagicMaker will always be that hidden gem to me, that has a world that portrays me perfectly and an overall amazing vibe to it, and one of the biggest factors to the environment of the game for me is definitely the music so please never change the music :D (Big thanks to the musician, you have an awesome talent).

    If theres one thing i would say to change it would be to remove the mouth of our armless protagonist, that is what i instantly noticed and disliked about the new art style. (I have no idea why but it just doesn't feel like he is the same character).

    Thanks for your time, you are all doing an amazing job, keep up the excellent work!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yeah I just pulled his mouth off and I think I like him better without it.

      And I don't think we'll ever change the music. The quality of Whoa Constrictor's work is something we're always impressed with.

      -Laddo D

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    2. Glad to hear it!

      Looking forward to the next screenshot saturday.

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  3. And as the shortest, least rationalized comment, I think you guys are going in the right direction. Also, what they ^ said.

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  4. I actually like the paper art style! It gives your game a very arts-and-craft kind of feeling that reminds me of Kirby's Epic Yarn, Paper Mario and games of that nature. I think you should update the HUD to match up with the rest of the art, though, because it really seems to be clashing.

    (Also the paper art style kinda has a double meaning when you think about it. In a game where to take pieces of magic parts of various colors and shapes and glue them together to make a spell? Genius.)

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    1. Yeah the HUD needs to be reworked badly. Unfortunately UI work is difficult and mind-numbingly boring, so its really easy to put off. We'll get around to it before the next update though, I hope!

      -Laddo D

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  5. I like the new visuals, and I think it is cool that you are trying something new. I do think the new main character looks a little creepy, with the pale skin mostly...

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    1. Just had a thought: what about something final-fantasy-black-mage like, where you can only see the eyes?

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    2. But then they couldn't have the black mage in Dorwal. D:

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    3. Could you imagine showing up to wizardding college wearing the same robe as someone else? I would die of embarrassment!

      -Laddo D

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  6. Just a suggestion with the new character design.
    (More) Character customization, such as instead of a wizard hat, a hood, or green instead of red robes.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. We're all big fans of visual customization, but its a low priority until we finish the main content. It might be a few months but we have every intention of adding it eventually.

      -Laddo D

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  7. As an additional thought, I do really like the rest of the changed art style, but I find the main character repulsive.

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    1. Anything you don't like about it in particular?

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  8. I love the new art style, and the animations on the main character especially! The only thing that bothers me is that especially in the surrounds portrayed in your screenshots, he looks pretty much exactly like a snowman, and I have great difficulty not seeing him as such.

    Still, it's a minor problem, and I think the new art style is definitely a good direction for you to go in. I know that I often had issues while playing in the old forest, where if I played too long my eyes would start to water. I'll be interested in seeing if the same happens in the rework.

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    1. Snowman thing shouldn't be much of a problem because I think you were primed by the snow/ice environment. In a normal play situation the player will have plenty of time with the character before the ice cave.

      Sometime in Beta I want to add color customization for the player character, including the skin color.

      -Laddo D

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  9. I am a fan of the new style. I also like the sound of character customisation; robe colour, skin colour, hat style, eye/mouth etc.

    One thing I don't like is the new main charatcer. I think it may be the eyes, the reflective/flare white out part specifically.

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    1. Yeah i agree with the eye part.

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    2. I'm still tweaking the player art, and I've since toned down the eye glare. I think it looks a bit better now.

      -Laddo D

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  10. I don't have any problem with the new art style, aside from the main character design.
    I really like the simple, slender, mouthless character, and I honestly think keeping the game looking simple would be great, as too much more could start to seem cluttered and overwhelming. You could always tweak it and make it look better.
    I'm not a fan of the whole papercrafty art style, but I have no major qualms against it.
    Please take into consideration my comment on the character design.

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    1. Yeah, overburdening the player with a bunch of visual noise is something we're very weary of.

      -Laddo D

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  11. I've realised something about this new character; he's wearing a hat. Where am I going to put my tophat with a hat already on my head? D:

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    1. The new character animation system actually makes it easier to implement the ability swap out pieces of the player character likes hats, robes, boots, and even stuff like his eyes and his face.

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