It seems to me that pixel art has made its stand in recent times not simply as a ‘cool retro look’ or a bit of nostalgia but as a full fledged style of visual presentation. But I have to admit that wasn’t really the reason I chose to go with that kind of look. Mostly it was to save time.
Working by myself requires me to maximize my efforts and while I find it challenging and fun to do more traditional hand-drawn animations, my skills simply aren’t up to par with my desires. In order to get reasonably good results in a reasonably short time I decided that pixel art was the way to go. I find it has the strange effect of replacing the skill of physically executing the drawing with the skill of decision making. Instead of focusing on wrist action, line quality, and shaky hands – I can simply decide what color, what intensity, and how much of it within a very small area. Another nice property is that I can save a lot of space in memory using such small images. And that is good considering that I am targeting mobile platforms like Android as well as the traditional PC, Mac, and Linux.
So, just to give a small example of the process of this ‘decision making’ here are a few clips from one of my first attempts at one of the playable characters, Nyx. As my first attempt I made a very conscious effort to make it as small and simple as possible. I just wanted to see what I could get away with. Surprisingly I sat with this sprite for a while as I tested various other systems like character controllers, physics, and networking. Sometimes you have to ‘live with’ your art for a while before you can decide if you like it or not.
Eventually I decided to up the ante. This game is action oriented and I wanted to provide a little more sense of the physicality of the characters – which is hard to do when their limbs are only one pixel wide! First thing I did was simply re-size the original sprite and simply make the limbs bigger (if you look closely you can tell it really is the same motion) I tried a more trendy hairdo as well.
This incarnation of Nyx has survived that last few months until I started finding it annoying. The hair seems to look more like a helmet and the motion of the arms doesn’t sync with the legs quite right either.
Eventually I scrapped the whole thing and started over and the result was well worth it. One big change right off the bat is that she’s a little taller so that her head doesn’t appear too big. I also fixed the timing of the arms. Originally the bobbing motion was done in-game using transformation animations but doing it in the pixel art makes it look more natural and weighted. Her posture is more forward-leaning to make her appear as though she is really making an effort. And finally, I went back to the pony tail hair style because it gave a better silhouette and provided more cues to the bobbing motion.
Then I spotted a problem… she kinda looked like another famous, space-exploring, female, video game character. Whoops. Luckily a little palette swap did the trick for that.
Around the same time that I was making the second version of Nyx I also made Argos – Another playable character. Again, if you look closely you can actually see that I basically just drew him right over top of Nyx because the animation is exactly the same. Beefier arms, darker skin, and some cool olive drabs hide it well though. The hat was a touch I added later on to avoid the ‘block head’ look I was getting. It also gave him a little more bounce and a better silhouette.
But when I re-drew Nxy I had to do the same with Argos. I changed the gait and gave him a similar bobbing motion. Making him taller was actually quite useful as it gave me more room to add a beard (something i was playing with in my sketchbook). Unfortunately the olive green drabs combined with the hat, dark skin, and beard made him look like a famous certain someone too. I suppose the cigar was out of the question at this point so I decided a palette swap was in order again. I dunno if the purple will stay but for now I want to keep the color as different from Nyx as possible.
Well, that’s all I’m showing for now. Next time I might show a few UI elements and some background art until I get to the point where I feel I can really start presenting a complete idea.