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Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Good news, bad news

Our lead animator just accepted a job with Electronic Arts. So that’s good news for him, but bad news for us… because now we need a new animator! Anyone know anyone?

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Nothing Escapes the Watchful Gaze of Hawkeye

The Old Prospector Picks His Nose When No One's Looking

If you hadn’t already guessed from the two images above, we’re making great progress on the animation front. These two characters are the work of Ron Jensen, our newest animator. Whattaya think?

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The middle one is just right...

The poll results are in, and the verdict is a tie! Half of you were on “Team Big Jake,” and the other half were on “Team Small Jake.” So the winner is… “Medium-sized Jake.”  I think it’s a good compromise between the two looks. Credit goes to my lovely wife for suggesting this rather obvious (to her, anyway) solution.

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Which size sprite do you like best?

The current Jake sprite (above left) is about 200 pixels tall. I’ve been thinking about increasing it to about 250 pixels (above right). I think it will make each scene feel more intimate, although it could also have the unwanted side effect of making the screen seem too claustrophobic.

All our animations are originally rendered in Flash, so resizing him at this point is still pretty easy. Which version do you prefer?

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Here’s a sneak peek at Rise of the Hidden Sun‘s very first in-game animation sequence: ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake arriving at the crossroads, wiping his brow, and checking the old treasure map to make sure he’s in the right place. For anyone curious about the technical aspects, we’re producing all of the animations at 16 frames per second. This particular arrival sequence is about 14 seconds long.

UPDATE: Watch the rough cut of this animation here.

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The man, the myth, the legend himself… ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson!

Character sprite by Wyatt Miles of Flash Potatoes, LLC, based on a concept by Josh Roberts and an initial sketch by David Perry.

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When last we spoke—waaaaay back in the coda to my Adventure Architect series—I wrote, “The next time you hear from me—maybe a month from now, maybe next year, maybe five years from now—it’ll be because the first act of the game is done and ready to download.”

Sorry, gang. I lied.

I know, I know. Annoying, right? Episode one still isn’t done, yet here I am again anyway. One thing I didn’t lie about, though, was the fact that I’d continue working on Rise of the Hidden Sun. Working quite diligently, actually. Which brings me to the reason why I’ve decided to claw my way back to the light of day: I wanted to reward those of you who’ve been following this crazy little project since day one with an exclusive new two-minute cinematic prologue.

Think of it as a trailer for what’s to come.

See, as I said way back in one of the earliest installments of Adventure Architect, I’ve always believed that adventure games have to start with the story and characters above all else. In the case of Rise of the Hidden Sun, that story begins with the game’s hero, ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson, coming into possession of a treasure map and running afoul of the mysterious Brotherhood of the Hidden Sun.

I’d always known that the game’s action would begin with Jake arriving at a crossroads, map in hand, to begin his search for the fabled Lost City of Cibola. But I also wanted to give the players some context as to how Jake got the map and what the larger story would be about. This prologue, which will play at the start of the game before handing control of Jake over to the player, tries to dole out that background information as deftly as possible while also being an entertaining little scene in and of itself.

The animation work was done by Wyatt Miles of Oregon-based Flash Potatoes, who’s also doing some character sprite work on the game as well. It’s based on a script I wrote way back in 2003.

So, without further ado, here it is: The official prologue to Rise of the Hidden Sun: A ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson Adventure!

It’s been great to have the opportunity to share this animated short as a sort of post-script to my Adventure Architect articles for AdventureGamers.com. Now that my column is really and truly over (for real this time!), anyone wanting to keep tabs on the game’s development can do so by bookmarking my Adventure Game Studio design thread and my Adventure Gamers design thread, both of which I update now and then with new artwork and progress reports.

This blog post originally appeared at Adventure Gamers.

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Later this month, I’ll be releasing a two-minute cinematic prologue for Rise of the Hidden Sun: A ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson Adventure. It’s the opening sequence that sets the stage for the game by explaining how Jake comes into possession of the treasure map that leads to the fabled Lost City of Cibola. It doubles as a trailer for the game, too.

To whet your appetite, here are a few images from the movie:

Look for the whole thing on or around July 20.

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So, where were we? Oh, that’s right: Animation. This month, I’ll discuss the use of in-game animated sequences to add richness to your adventure game world and—

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Two years? TWO YEARS?!? Has it really been TWO YEARS since my last Adventure Architect installment? Yikes. Okay, I guess it has been a while.

In my defense, I’ve been busy. I bought a house, became a dad, and lost a kidney (in that order). But you don’t care, do you? Some of you are reading this because you want to know what’s up with Rise of the Hidden Sun. The rest of you are probably like, “What the hell is Rise of the Hidden Sun?”

I get it. This article—this cautionary tale, I should say—is for both kinds of readers.

A re-introduction

When I first announced that I was developing a game called Rise of the Hidden Sun, I had visions of it being the next Fate of Atlantis or Monkey Island. I was practically raised on those games in the ’80s and ’90s and had wanted to make one of my own for as long as I could remember. As a kid I designed countless text adventures using the programming language BASIC, and I always thought that some day I’d move to California and go work for Sierra On-Line, which at the time was the definitive adventure game publisher.

Unfortunately, Sierra stopped making adventures at basically the same time that I graduated from college—so there was to be no “Adventure Game Designer” job title in my future. That is, until I discovered Adventure Game Studio, a do-it-yourself game design program that was both free and easy to use.

So back in 2003 I decided to put my spare time into the creation of my own game, and I settled on a Wild West setting, an Indiana Jones-like hero, an epic treasure hunt, and a largely comedic backdrop. I spent about eight months hammering out the plot, the dialogue, the characters, and the puzzles in what is to this day probably the best and most polished work of creative writing I’ve ever completed.

You can read it about all that in the previous thirteen installments of this column, but the gist is that this game wasn’t going to feel like an amateur game. No, no. This was going to have professional production values from the writing and music to the background art and animation.

For a while, everything went according to plan. Using this column as a recruiting vehicle, I was able to bring in some top-notch talent from the Underground adventure game community to work on the game. I acted as the lead writer, project coordinator, and de facto art director, making sure that everything met a certain standard and had a consistent “feel” to it from artist to artist.

The biggest problem with any project like this, though, is attrition. People who volunteer their time over the Internet just don’t stick around to finish what they’ve started. (Just ask the nice folks here at Adventure Gamers, who’ve been waiting for this very article for a couple years now!) There are exceptions, of course, but they’re just that—exceptions to the rule.

About two years ago, at roughly the time that I stopped writing this column on a regular basis, I made the decision to start paying people to work on Rise of the Hidden Sun. I couldn’t pay much—I had always planned on it being freeware—but I paid what I could, and did my best to keep costs down wherever possible.

Obviously using my own money to fund a freeware game wasn’t a good business model, but that’s why I’d named my design studio after the U.S. bankruptcy laws: I’d probably go broke running Chapter 11 Studios the way I was running it, but I was determined to make Rise of the Hidden Sun the best damn freeware adventure game ever made.

Animation is the game killer

It’s fitting that I never got around to discussing animation before now, because the one thing I’ve learned in the past two years is that animation can be a game killer. If I’d set out to make a less ambitious game with low-res art or more amateurish production values—as, to be honest, I probably should have—it would have been relatively easy to find some pixel pushers to help with the animation, or even do it myself. I’m decent enough with Photoshop.

But no, I wanted the best. I wanted a Disney-quality production. So I held out. I searched freelance art forums. I contacted art schools. I looked all over for a traditionally trained animator or animators who’d be willing to work for what I could afford to pay. I was always pretty good at finding background artists and painters to match the style I’d established for this game, but finding an animator was a different story.

I thought I’d finally solved the problem for good last June when I began working with a professionally trained animator out of Savannah, Georgia. Not only was he willing to work for short money, but his work was good. Damn good. He was fast, willing to listen to my suggestions, and responsive to my emails. Together we made more progress on the animation front in two months than I had in the previous year and a half. It was a revelation. The characters in Rise of the Hidden Sun were coming to life before my very eyes. After years of searching, I’d found my animator!

Or not. Because this animator, like the ones before him, eventually stopped producing. Progress updates became less and less frequent. The quality of the work dropped significantly when he did get around to sending me something. Eventually we parted ways, and I was left to wonder (not for the first time) if I’d just bitten off more than I could chew. Could I ever get Rise of the Hidden Sun made as a freeware game?

If I really wanted it to be professional quality, it seemed, the only way to make sure that happened was to adopt a more professional approach—and that meant a for-profit model that would make it an actual business. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I could embrace the do-it-all-myself approach and be the game’s chief artist and animator, which would ensure that it would get done—but would it even feel like the same game by the time I finished it?

So there I was, standing at a crossroads in the game’s development, and I had no idea which road to take.

Back to the drawing board… literally

I’m a few months removed from the shock of losing my last animator, and I’m still committed to making Rise of the Hidden Sun a freeware game. Truth is, I already have a career that I enjoy and don’t want a second one working on a for-profit adventure game. I don’t need the hassle of deadlines, either.

So for now, I continue to chip away at my to-do list whenever I can. A background screen here. A sound effect there. Here a new line of dialogue, there a tweak to a puzzle. The first of the game’s four acts is almost completely done, except for a few outstanding character animations. And, I’ve contracted a new and promising animator to take a shot at touching up the unfinished work left by my previous animator. Hope springs eternal.

Will I ever finish the game? Yes. Will it be soon? No, not so much. And that’s why I’m planning to “disappear” until I have something new to report. The next time you hear from me—maybe a month from now, maybe next year, maybe five years from now—it’ll be because the first act of the game is done and ready to download.

Kids, don’t try this at home

Me, I don’t really have any regrets. I’m creating this game my way, and while it is taking forever and costing me a small fortune, I know the end product will be personally satisfying. The fact that it’ll still be freeware will make it doubly so.

That said, if there’s one thing you should learn from my experiences, it’s this: don’t follow my example. When people say start small—do it. Finish a few little games before setting your sights on something bigger. Prove yourself before you try recruiting a team to build something more ambitious. That’s the right way to do it. That’s the only way to do it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go disregard my own advice.

This blog post originally appeared at AdventureGamers.

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You didn’t think we’d abandonned this project, did you? Here’s where we’re at:

  • The newest version of the game engine we’re using to code Rise of the Hidden Sun, Adventure Game Studio, has been upgraded. The maximum resolution is now 1024×768 pixels, up from 800×600. To take advantage of this, we’re upgrading as well—by retouching and re-sizing many of the original screens we worked on several years ago. This is going very quickly, and has been outsourced to a wonderful and enthusiastic artist in Poland.
  • The re-painting is happening simultaneously with the work by our new animation lead, Wyatt Miles of Flash Potatoes, LLC. Many of you will have seen his work on Dave Gilbert’s Emerald City Confidential. Wyatt and his team are nearly done with the first two-minute cinematic cutscene, an animated movie that opens the game and will also serve as a trailer. I expect it to be completion in April.
  • Wyatt has also replaced Jim Peebles as the lead animator for our in-game sprites.

In summary: Work continues, it’s going really well, but no, I’m not yet ready to announce a release date. Sorry!

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