Baseborn was the result of many “firsts” for us. For Jake, this was the first game he ever completely finished, and the first project of this kind he had ever worked on with another person. There were many more firsts for me; too many to count. Since I put together most of what you see and hear in the game, we thought it’d be appropriate for me to write about the experience, the process, the tools, and the thoughts and inspiration behind it all.
I had fiddled around making graphics before, but nothing like what Baseborn would require of me. While I certainly did my fair share of coding, a vast majority of the man hours I put into this project came from the artwork. This was partly due to my inexperience and perfectionism, but mostly because of the seemingly endless amount of art we needed. Paint.NET was my weapon of choice. We became good friends, and shall remain so. I enjoy its balance between simplicity and capability, and its built-in effects were invaluable to much of the art.
My approach to drawing the graphics started out as sloppy trial and error. Chuck some pixels onto the canvas and try to connect the dots until it looks like a thing. It didn’t take too long to develop a real workflow, though, and it went something like this:
- Put on some music that “invokes the essence” of what I want to draw.
- Google Images for reference.
- Using existing images for scale, draw an outline of the basic parts of the vision.
- Choose color palette and fill with basic color.
- Create details and shade with slight deviations from original palette.
There were a few things I came to recognize as crucial to the process of drawing. They’re kind of no-brainers, but I often overlooked them in the beginning:
- USE LAYERS. That is, of course, unless you love to spend hours redrawing the exact same thing except for one or two pixels.
- Use and don’t use a grid. It is very useful to be able to line things up and make sure you’re even and all, but sometimes it can make your drawing feel stale and too mathematical. Be sure to turn off the grid and just free-hand it now and then. I found that it usually resulted in a more natural and emotional drawing.
- Often look at your progress from different distances. When you’re up close and a pixel takes up a third of the screen, you can easily lose perspective. You should zoom out now and again to make sure things are looking the way you think they are.
The first character I made for Baseborn was a little elf thing, which, after some tweaks and color changes, became the Elf Mage enemy.
That drawing was pretty much free-handed. I decided that I needed a better starting point for the rest of the characters. So, I looked up the original Final Fantasy White Mage, analyzed and traced it, shuffled some pixels around, recolored it, and BAM. Our Mage character was born.
By copying the White Mage, I was able to figure out how to shape different body parts and clothing to make them look the way I wanted. From this point on, I loosely based all my characters on my Mage sprite. For some, I referred to other original Final Fantasy characters.
Most of the backdrops were influenced by the music I was listening to while drawing them. Interestingly, the backdrops would go on to influence the music the I created for them. I made good use of Paint.NET’s built-in effects for the backdrops. I used the noise generator frequently, as well as blurring, cloud and flame renderers, and glowing effects. For our firey level backdrop, we actually wound up combining the ideas of a stereotypical “hell” scene and Minecraft’s “Nether”. Since then, we have referred to it as the “Hellther”.
Unfortunately, I was not aware of the various animation assistance plugins available for Paint.NET. Consequently, I wound up spacing everything out by hand, which ate up a ton of time and was a real hassle when we had to tweak frame sizes.
Jake created some awesome animation classes inspired by those found in the Flashpunk framework. I’ll keep code out of this blog post, but you can download and read about Jake’s tools here. Nearly all of the animations were done by eye, without much reference. The key was to test often to make sure it flowed naturally.
When creating the animations for the skeletons, I wanted it to look like they were dragging their feet while having a little bit of a zombie-style, outstretched arm pose. What I ended up with was what looked like some sort of nerve spasm dance. It was funny and all, but I really wanted the foot-dragging. I tweaked it further until I thought it looked good. I go and test it out again, and now the skeleton looks like he’s a DJ, laying down beats and scratching vinyls. Obviously it was meant to stay that way. So it did.
And with that, I bid thee farewell. In another post to come, I’ll talk about the music of Baseborn!