In the end, this is going to be a fully-polished little animation loop, to get a better idea of what the final quality will be like and get a sense for the intricacies of the entire workflow - to that same extent I'll be redoing the background along with the animation. So far though, this is the first rough pass, which has most of the frames I'll use, but not much in terms of detail.
Animating is hard, but also surprisingly addictive.
I'm getting a fairly clear idea of the kind of setting that would work well with this aesthetic and, so far, I've a pretty good image of the protagonist in my head. In the end, there may end up being more than one playable character, but for the first release I'm looking at something that's really quite short, so chances are she's the only one that will be around at the start.
As big a challenge as the art will, of course, be the process of creating the engine and toolset. Moreso the latter than the former, I think - in terms of the rendering pipeline, the setup will be relatively simple. However, I'll need to orchestrate complicated sequences of sprite-based animation in 3D, set up interaction, events, puzzles and dialogues. As such, I think, the main initial push will mostly be focused on features and less so on content.
In the meantime though, I'm still working on the initial proof of concept renders. First off, I've come up with a draft character sheet for the protagonist:
The end result is still a bit too baroque, I think, to use as the end result of frame-by-frame animation, but I think the best course of action will be to work her through a few draft animations and let the style evolve naturally. The black outline in the colour version is meant to be evocative of a paper cut-out. I don't like white edges on cut-out characters, so this one's drawn on black paper, simple as that. Will have to see how it ends up looking though.
I've also finished compositing the Photoshop scene in 3ds Max, although working with Max on a laptop is a pain, so the end result is even shoddier than before. Still, I think it's a nice first result and gives a good feel for the kind of atmosphere and style the engine would be capable of.
More recently, I've finally properly had time to be inspired and begin serious thought about the game idea. It is, perhaps, a bit odd to base design entirely around the aesthetic of the game first and foremost, but I don't see anything especially problematic about that. The aesthetic in this case will inform the structure and layout of the engine and, in turn, the way in which the player interacts with the game - so I feel it's important to keep both the appearance and the gameplay in mind together during these early stages.
My biggest worry in starting this project has been animation. This is something I have incredibly little experience with and, in spite of artistic ability, not something I've ever tried much. As such, my first exercise was a simple walking animation, which ended up developing a bit more over the course of a sleepless night. Overall, as a first attempt, I'm pretty happy with the result, though I need to look into simpler ways of setting up animation in Photoshop - having to fiddle with both layers and frames is just too, well, fiddly.
Next up, I went with trying out a simple background. The idea here for me has been to create the flat background layer-by-layer in Photoshop and import these as textures into 3ds Max. What happens then is that I can cut geometry into flat planes that display the texture and manipulate their depth. Finally, I can bake VRay lighting into the finished diorama, which gives it a much more realistic 'papercrafty' look, much like the original Palais Garnier dioramas.
I didn't have a lot of time, so this mock-up came out pretty sloppy in the end. My original intention to keep all of it painterly like the originals was soon scrapped in favour of keeping it more visually interesting and less time-consuming to produce, so I went back to Photoshop tricks of using textures and photo collages:
I've been floundering for a very long time on what to do with this blog, as I've just not had the time I needed to dedicate it to a serious, deep discussion of Games and Art and the Games Industry that I would have absolutely loved to turn it into. That's slowly changing, partly as I've finished my degree, so I'm suddenly spending a lot less time writing serious, deep stuff about metaphysics.
For now, then, I've decided to put it to its initially secondary use of documenting progress on my side-projects. This kind of content will always be interesting to have around, whether the project gets completed or not, and unlike my previous attempts to write posts, hopefully I won't be cringing at the garbage I wrote the day before and immediately tearing it down.
So at the moment I'm in the planning and proof-of-concept stage for a game idea that I've been gestating on for a few months now. The main inspiration for it was a trip to Paris in March, where I visited the Palais Garnier, perhaps more popularly known as the opera house that Phantom of the Opera is set in. The part I liked most about the museum exhibit in its halls, was a display of set-design sketches, which the artists had made small dioramas out of. Each sketch was lit up by itself and paper cut-outs interleaving with each other would describe the layers of scenery for the final opera production.
Here's the photos I took of them:
It struck me that this style would make for a very interesting game aesthetic - certainly for a more traditional adventure game perhaps, where the player character mostly moves around similar static 'screens'. It would also look fantastic on a budget: there are very few polygons to render and very little necessary to be done in terms of shader work, so it could run well and look fantastic on a mobile device without many compromises. Most of the geometry would just need to be alpha-mapped flat planes, after all.
As in the last photo, the character would quite naturally have to be little cardboard cut-outs themselves, and be animated. This might be the biggest problem for me, as I've never (successfully) tried my hand at 2D animation - and it might well be the biggest development bottleneck.
Overall though, I'm pretty excited by the possibilities and my next post deals with exploring the concept and doing some quick and dirty mock-ups.