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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Character Design: Jenny

Jet-Girl Jenny

There are extremely good reasons why 8-bit graphics are still around and it's taken me a long time to work myself from the higher resolutions down to 320x240 (which is still a bit higher than SNES/NES resolution), but now that I'm down here I'm having a blast. Especially with character design.

The limited resources have a habit of guiding your decisions. If your character doesn't immediately pop then you're going to know it right away.

I think I read somewhere that the reason Mario was given a hat and moustache was to distinguish the pixels from each other. The moustache was to show that Mario had a nose and the hat just worked better than black hair.

Anyways, lots of pictures up ahead if you want to see my amateur version of the creative process up close.

First, sketches. Not good ones, either, like they have for major companies. I'm talking about shitty sketches. The shittier, the better.

In the bottom right you can see one of the earliest ideas. Jenny originally sported a sort of four-piece cloak. I like the idea of fabric (sci-fi fabric in this case), but I'm not as wild about the animating part.

(Oh yeah. In case you're wondering what the hell this crap is, I'm working on a low-res game that's switches between top-down vertical shooter and overhead-isometric walk-around shooter. The main character, Jenny, can transform into a spaceship. Yeah, I've played that game, too. A lot).

Yeah, helmet gone, but I still think a helmet might be a cool idea.

There is something terribly embarrassing about showing off your crap sketches. I prefer not to show any of my work unless it's completely finished. Maybe this will make me more self-conscious when doodling.
Probably not.

The finished Jenny has huge hips and chicken legs, but in this image you can see where I was still figuring out the proper perspective for the character. Jenny also used to have white hair, which is probably something that carried over from my last extreme-blonde-in-armor character design. White definitely pops, but carrot orange works better with the other colors (and I originally had flat hair, but a mad-scientist mess looked more appropriate).

To give you an idea of how much my preferred resolution has shrunk over the years I've included Jenny and a morg berserker (from MAL, a game I worked on about ten years ago). MAL was 640x480. Jet-Girl is 320x240.

The good side to working with low-res is that you can get work done faster. There's simply less to draw.

The drawback is that you have less breathing room to add/remove details, so you need every pixel to look just right for your animations to turn out okay.

I'll be moving her arms in the finished animations

So here's the math:
1 character.
8 directions.
5 directions that need to be animated (I can just flip the sprite for 3 of the 8 directions).
6 frames for the walk animation.
6 frames for the run animation.
12 movement frames * 5 directions = 60 frames

That's not too bad, but I'm going to allow the player to shoot in any direction they want (with the second analog stick) and I want the animations to back it up, so that means that for every one of these 60 frames Jenny needs to be able to do a normal movement animation and also be able to point her gun (those over-sized bracers) in any direction the player pleases. That's 5 frames total for every frame of movement.

5 aiming-while-moving poses * 60 movement frames = 300 frames.

And 300 is only for the moving-while-aiming frames. Moving alone will be another 60 and then there's the flying, sliding, damage, special animations and crap like that.

It'll look pretty cool when I'm done.


  1. Maybe you could do like in Quake 3 and have the top and bottom of the character independant. Or at the very least that might be your starting point for the 300 frames. Just for comparison, in a similar game design I decided that the character can't twist (gun vs. feet) more than 45 degrees or so, which means that in order to shoot left while running right, the character has to be moving backwards, which is a movement penalty. This would mean that I would only have to draw 3 * 60 = 180 frames instead of 300.

    I was going to say Jet-Girl isn't sexy enough, but no, instead I shall applaud your choice for a non-sexist design.

  2. I really don't want to split up the legs and torso but I might have to (for the sake of my sanity).

    Drawbacks to splitting:

    - the animations potentially won't look as good (of course, if it's a fraction of the work-load then maybe it'll turn out better if I cut corners).

    - I can't outline her. What I mean by this is: I was going to have a separate texture that would just be her outline, which is cool if you want a glow or shields or something like that.

    The fact that I haven't gotten around to working on her animations after all these months should be a sign that I'm troubled by just how many animations I'm forcing myself to do.