Finding a style
Defining a style isn’t the easiest thing to do. A lot of artists are for example drawing for years, but still haven’t found their own particular drawing style yet. However, having a recognisable illustration can be crucial for a game. An appealing design can attract more people - especially at the beginning, when you are still struggling to build a community. If your art style stands out, it’s even better because it helps people to recognise your game.
At the beginning we didn’t really know how our game should look like, with exception that we wanted to keep it clean, which automatically led to vector art. Then we started to assign a geometrical object to each level and colour coded them as well. So, we thought of a circle theme for the plant level to name just one example. There was only one problem: due to the geometrical specification, we felt way too much limited in our creativity as well as in terms of the options to create the level’s diversified and exciting.
Thus, geometrical forms were thrown over-board and replaced by a generally more organic looking style. Finally, we agreed on still colour coded levels and a clean style, that is nevertheless artsy. The result may be described as a modern twist on East Asian traditional line Art.
Since we have Art with clear outlines, they can be used to show the player the difference between background and playable layer. This way, it becomes clear where the character can walk.
Outlines and filling should be in contrast to each other, so most of the time we used extreme colour gradients (from very bright to super dark) for the outlines and softer gradients as filling.
Our characters always have black outlines to stand out from the environment.
After all, we hope having found a style, that stands out and is loved by the gamers, who are going to explore the worlds, we are creating, in the shoes of our little Star Spirit.
There are so many different types of animation and with regards to our education that was mainly focussed on 3D design, we most of all worked with 3DsMax. Of course we also had some (few) 2D projects which were done with AfterEffects. Additionally, we had been repeatedly reminded of THE golden rule: Never use frame by frame animation, as this is the most time-consuming way to animate. Well, we remembered this golden rule very well when we discussed the kind of animation for our game and OF COURSE we agreed on exactly what was kind of forbidden during studies. Maybe this was just a rebelling act of naughty us. With that rule already abandoned, we decided to go for a 2D game in general instead of 3D. All in all, we obviously felt the need for new challenges.
Doing frame by frame animation is indeed very special. The hard work that is connected with it as well as the love for details is clearly perceptible. In games it conjures up this typical retro feeling which is perfect - especially for jump and run games. In spite of all nostalgia, we didn’t want to go full retro, which is one reason why we decided against pixel Art.
As we draw digital, we often only animate the part that is moving or animate the moving parts separately to stay flexible.
If a certain part of multiple layers has to be moved, it is just safer to have them on their own layers. This way the whole group of layers can be moved.
If this was a school essay, the teacher would have drawn red circles around the word layer and added the less kind remark „word repetition“. At the same time, the fact that this word was used three times in the last two sentences, shows that there are really a lot of layers involved for which an organised system is crucial, because one does end up combining them with each other in various ways. That all of them have a different animation speed, is a further challenge on top.
It has to be mentioned, that Anja has quite an “artistic” idea of how organisation has to be done. If being asked, she would tell you that everything is indeed well structured – at least for those, who are able understand the hidden organisation of her system – that simple. As far as the layer organisation is concerned, she gave her best and decided to use frame charts and colour coded each frame after saving. However, so many layers can nevertheless be confusing … especially if mistakes have to be found afterwards. (Picture below)
All in all we are happy about our small animations but ended up with PSD files with a ton of layers plus a lot of paper with frame charts on them.
At the very beginning, there’s a general idea for the game as step 1 – based on this, a concept and later the game design document is done. This is what we have been taught at school. Well, so much for theory.
In our case, everything was a bit different. Before we had an idea for our first game, we had already agreed on specifications – for example: let’s go for a 2D Jump n Run, we need a gaming time of about 3 – 4 hours, it should be possible to get the game developed within one year by just the two of us, our target group is between 10 and 40 years old etc. Only step one was still missing.
Later at one night, whilst looking up to the stars, we finally picked the basic idea for our game from the sky and started brainstorming about how our hero and his world should look like, which game mechanics should be implemented and in which style we would love to design the game.
All these points were quickly written down in some keywords, then sorted and finally evaluated. With regards to the question which levels and game mechanics we had best use, we often asked ourselves: Does this or that idea fit to our main theme? Is the guiding thread still recognisable? Will we actually be able to realise our ideas with regards to our accomplishments? Do we address the target group, we have in mind?
As our conception phase took place just during the Corona lockdown end of 2020, we had no chance to meet as regularly as wanted. Thus, our phones literally ran hot. All and everything had to be discussed at the phone and with help of small sketches and collages.
Without spending much time for a detailed Game Design Document, we directly started to develop the prototype and still stand behind this decision up to today. Why?
Well, a well done GDD does make sense and even is needed as a guideline, if many, many busy bees have to work hand in hand in a hive. However, we are just the two of us and can keep each other up to date easily. Furthermore, the workload coming along with a GDD may not be underestimated and the more complex it is, the more difficult it becomes to modify it if needed … and there are always amendments to be done in the development phase. (Recently we have concept version No. 20). Another aspect is that we are Artists and no programming experts. This means, we have anyway to check game mechanics first, in order to figure out if and how we get them realised.
Now one may claim that a concept is as well unnecessary, but this is a fallacy. After we had finished our conception phase some time ago, we sometimes ask ourselves „what exactly did we agree on in terms of this or that?“ … or „how did we want to solve problem XYZ?“ In such moments it is utmost helpful to simply open the concept file and check the details.