Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ya Gotta' Have Style

Before I spill my thoughts about game development all over you, I should let you know that the first build of the game is online for people to try out. This is mostly just a technical test to see what the engine can do. So, enjoy...

Now that we have that out of the way, today I wanted to talk about something that is incredibly important for INDIE games to think about... style. As an indie dev, you are working on an extremely constrained budget compared to modern AAA games. For instance, I can usually afford to front a few thousand dollars for everything I need to make a game that I can't do myself. This is nothing compared to the millions of dollars spent making modern AAA games. So, how is it possible to still compete in this situation? The answer is to chose an interesting style for you game which makes it appealing and beautiful but much cheaper to create than modern super realistic 3d graphics.

Coming up with a game style can take a great deal of creativity. There are many examples of how this has been done extremely well over the past years. A couple that come to mind are "Limbo" and "Braid" which both did an amazing job of creating a compelling world on indie budgets (though their budgets were still reasonably larger than mine).

After making "Legends of Descent" I learned a few lessons about the important of the style that you pick for your game. Legends used environment tiles which I would then arrange in a way to produce a dungeon. The first set of tiles that I used for development I borrowed from a game called "Tibia" and then later had an artist make original ones for me. I then took free character sprites from the web to use for my character and the enemies. This kind of worked out ok, but to be honest, the styles of the two clashed quite a bit. Also I ran into issues because the character sprites that I used were so large that they used a lot of memory. Furthermore, the character sprites were pretty expensive to get done by an artist, which limited how many enemy types I could put in the game. In the end, style is one of the things that I regret most about Legends.

Tiles being used to create a dungeon level in "Legends of Descent"

So, what are the important things that you should consider when deciding on your games style. Here are a few that I can think of...
  1. Will the style of all of the elements of your game flow together or feel disjointed?
  2. Is the style original or creative making it pleasing to view?
  3. How expensive will each asset cost to be made?
  4. How reusable are the assets? Can you easily tweak them to make many variations?
  5. Do the assets need to be created in several different angles (if 2d)? How many?
With those in mind, I have picked a much different style for my current game. First off, I will have it be top down instead of orthographic (from an angle). This allows me to rotate the sprites around 360 degrees instead of having to have many sprites drawn for each angel. Secondly, instead of using many drawn frames for the characters, I am instead going to break them up into pieces which I will animate by moving. This is similar to the game "Rayman" and will allow me to create lots of interesting animations with minimal art assets. Lastly, I am going to go for a more cartoony style that is probably inline with the SNES generation of games. I think that this is going to allow me to create a really large amount of content without being constrained severely by my small budget.

I found an awesome blog post about creating top down art here. You will notice that I have used his sprites with some slight modifications for version 0.1 of my game.

In the first build which is linked at the top of this post you can go try out the game and get an idea for how it will look. All of these graphics are either made by me or borrowed from free art sites. So, they give you an idea of how it will feel, but none of them are final. Once I am sure that this is the way I want to go I will bring on an artist to start doing the real ones. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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