Battle design proposal: A new approach

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Battle design proposal: A new approach

Postby Roots » Sat Oct 27, 2007 6:34 pm

On our team, we've been discussing the possibility of a major change in our game's design. This thread is dedicated to the discussion of the two proposed solutions to this problem and in which direction we should take Allacrost at this point.


THE PROBLEM
This proposal was made because our current battle system is very taxing on our artists. The sprites are very large and doing animations with them using traditional 2D methods has proved to be fruitless due to the complexity.

FIRST SOLUTION (Use 3D models)
The first solution proposed to this problem was to bring a 3D modeler/animator on the team to create models for the character's battle sprites, animate them, and then capture stills of those animations into 2D images that the pixel artists can then tweak and polish as needed. The hope is that this method will greatly lower the strain on our artists for producing battle content.

SECOND SOLUTION (Move battles onto maps)
This solution involves removing our battle sprites and battle background images entirely. In their place, we would use the map sprites for characters and enemies in the battle, and the map environments would be used as the battle backdrop.


There's been a lot (a lot) of debate about these two solutions and the pros/cons associated with each. I expect this thread will soon become populated with arguments for one or the other. We would appreciate it if you could give your own thoughts about which system you like better.
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Postby Gallivan » Sat Oct 27, 2007 6:44 pm

From what I've seen (in this project and previous ones) you are going to be in for a rough time with the first solution.

Finding good volunteer 2D artists overall is a task in itself, much less finding good volunteer 3D artists. I think the best bet is to use the second solution, not only because it's easier - but because I think it will actually be moreappeasing overall.
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Postby Jetryl » Sat Oct 27, 2007 7:11 pm

Obviously, option 2 would have a lot of sprites custom-made for the battles themselves; weapon use and such. We're not proposing that we just have the current sprites attack each other with their walking animations. If you're wondering, it would basically work a lot like Chrono Trigger. Combat sprites would look like this:

[img:64:64]http://www.allacrost.org/staff/user/jetryl/PCs/claudius-bob-s.gif[/img] [img:64:64]http://www.allacrost.org/staff/user/jetryl/PCs/claudius-attack-s2.gif[/img]


I don't think our first solution will ever be feasible, even with a modeler. Even with a modeler, it's an enormous amount of work. Our current battle mode is very still, and stilted. It would take a herculean effort to cure that, and I question the wisdom of doing so (since we've already got a few other herculean efforts needed over in the rest of the art department).

I'm putting some major work into making the second one possible, and expect to have significant results in a few months. I would love to have help (here's looking at you, Safir-Kreuz, MindFlayer). I imagine that it's probably going to play out like this - I'm going to actually get major things done on solution 2, and solution 1 is probably going to sit there and rot, like it has for the last 3 years. :( When I'm mostly done, we can decide what we want to go with; it should be self-evident then, though. I really don't think any luck or serendipity will make solution one work - even if we got someone really good and dedicated to the work, it's just too much work to do. This is why I'm starting now; waiting will just leave us in our current unfinished state, longer.



Obvious question: What happens to the existing battle art?!
- The still images of the monsters, especially safir's, make excellent portraits for those monsters. I'll make map sprites of all those designs, and we should preferably have map sprites of them regardless of which solution we go with.
- The 1-2 images we have for background scene graphics would make great introductory/chapter images, or images for entry into a location; they're currently shared, graphically, with the location bar images anyways.
- Claudius's single idle animation and base image get discarded. Laila's WIP base image gets discarded. Not a big loss.
- all of the interface images for battle mode stay, because battle-mode's interface isn't changing at all.
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Postby MindFlayer » Sat Oct 27, 2007 7:37 pm

My vote goes for the second idea as well.

Personally, I don't think that the artists would be able to create the kind of art required for this game using the first method. Granted, I don't know much of the creative process but I strongly believe that it'd just be a waste of time. The biggest troubles I'd see in this would be that:

    - Good animators & modelers are almost impossible to find.

    - I don't think they'd like the idea that their artwork would be replaced (or overdrawn) with another artist's ideas.

    - Textures? Getting a texture artist and texturing the model is a whole another task. *or* if the model is textured pixel-by-pixel by another artist, I think the work process would be almost the same, if not bigger, because of the issues with synchronizing people's works.

    - It might generate more sterile graphics. I think the current pixel-art is nearly perfect for the game's "look and feel" (SNES-style) and I think most of the staff agrees with me on this.


So, #2 it is for me.
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Postby prophile » Sat Oct 27, 2007 7:39 pm

Number 2.
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Postby Disto » Sat Oct 27, 2007 10:31 pm

Finding someone with the appropriate skills and time would be impossible, depending on the standard your looking at, it really depends on how much detail you want in it, and how much diversity.

If you wanted the same thing but practically cloned the 3D artist could make hundreds of charecters and just change the appearance and details, using basic colours instead of properly texturing it and all the sprite artists would have to do is purely colour them in. They'd have the lighting etc all sorted out by the 3D artist. Using a basic animated model and adding the detail to it would be possible, making individually animated models of each charecter would be a huge amount of work. And to be honest, anyone who is skilled enough to animate nicely, model accurately and constitently which keeping the human proportions believeable will be in very high demand and probably be on a project of their own. There is a reason why 3D fps games often have the enemy cloned throughout their levels. It wouldn't be as hard work making something for a truely 3D commercial project but they would have a huge amount to do.

I say you have the resources to be able to do 2) so I can't see any problem with that.
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Postby Drakkoon » Sun Oct 28, 2007 6:08 am

I'd vote for #2.

I think it's easier to find pixel artists that are able to do small map mode sprites then big detailed sprite à la Street Fighter. Smaller sprites have less pixels to animate, but are harder to make look good.

I don't know how many people are able to do this, but I'm sure that it would be easier for Jetryl to just touch up the work of someone else than create an animation all by himself.
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Postby prophile » Sun Oct 28, 2007 3:28 pm

I've just had a really interesting idea about how to do dynamic lighting on the 2D images with normal maps.
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Postby Black Knight » Mon Oct 29, 2007 8:11 am

I vote for #2 too as it is more dynamic and i guess it will be less work than capturing 2d images of 3d animations.
Also it will be possible to run away from battle or add more enemies to battle use the map to your advantage with ranged weapons etc.
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Postby Steu » Mon Oct 29, 2007 3:20 pm

I really like having a separate battle view like we currently have, and (seems like Roots and I are the only ones) would like to keep it the way it is. In terms of something we can actually complete, it really depends on whether we can get a 3d animator and how hard it is to make the 3d models and then the 2d shots from it.
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Postby ChopperDave » Mon Oct 29, 2007 4:47 pm

I also like the way battle mode is currently set up, but I also like the new approach as well. It's pretty much going to boil down to whether or not we can find an animator, which is probably not going to happen. 3D projects have a hard time as it is finding one, so trying to find one willing to do 3D anims solely so we can make 2D sprites from them is going to be impossible to find. Not only that, but we would need anims for all enemies and characters, something I'm fairly sure would require more than one animator. Plus, a lot of people who played the past demos complained that battle mode was too slow, so they might appreciate a full-action approach like Chrono Trigger more than the current system.

If we can't decide, we can always try both ways and see what the players like more, but I have a feeling that #2 is going to be the favored approach.
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Postby Roots » Mon Oct 29, 2007 5:40 pm

I'm glad I made this thread as its been much easier to gauge the opinions of everyone as a whole than through our IRC meeting the other day. I'll come out and say that I'm in favor of #1, because I really do think that we're going to have to do major design changes in battles by going to #2 (despite those that claim otherwise). I've been thinking about this topic all weekend and I think I may have a solution that is a compromise of the two.


The whole reason we have come to this debate in the first place is because it is just too difficult to continue creating these battle sprites. My proposed solution #3 is very simple: replace the current battle sprites with map sprites that are enlarged 2x. That is it. Nothing else changes. No major code changes, no having to redefine our battle system or layout, nothing like that at all. We still use battle backdrops. We still have our good guys on the left and the bad guys on the right. All our current design decisions and those that we are still planning to do are perfectly valid.


What do you guys think of solution #3? It would eliminate the high content creation requirements of solution #1, and the high cost of code development and design considerations of solution #2. Here's a pro(+)/con(-) list that I can think of for the 3 solutions:


Solution #1
+ High quality, detailed sprites
+ No need for changes in code or battle system design
- High artwork development cost

Solution #2
+ Simple sprites, low artwork cost
+ Able to re-use sprite animations between map and battle
- Require significant changes in code and battle system design
- No more battle backgrounds; some features will have to be seriously re-thought

Solution #3
+ Simple sprites, low artwork cost
+ No need for changes in code or battle system design
+/- Still only using left/right frames for battle; not as much animation re-use as solution #2
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Postby Jetryl » Mon Oct 29, 2007 7:11 pm

Roots wrote:What do you guys think of solution #3?


As a stopgap measure, to unify our content-creation and make our intervening demos look better, it would be excellent. It's a great way to deprecate our current "intended content" so that people don't work on something that's going to get tossed. There's the additional bonus that our current map sprites are precisely 50% of the dimensions of the existing battle images, so it should just be a matter of dropping them in.


:approve: So, let's move ahead with #3 for now, and my first code work will be on factoring out "stats-related" battle code, which would be a good move for either #2 or #3 (or #1).



I'm still going to work on #2, because:
- backgrounds are very hard to draw, and are again a one-trick-pony. (I, for one, actually can't draw backgrounds like we have, yet - I'm terrible at landscapes, so that leaves us with Safir, alone, to do them).
- for special battle scenes it would be cool to, like in chrono trigger, actually integrate them into the map art; such that players can walk around on them and scenes can happen in them. Think of the courtroom in CT (guardia castle), or the cavern in which the players encounter giga gaia and rescue melchior, or the room in which the mammon machine is situated in Zeal.
- I think it's the only solution that will make our game suitably interesting, and I think it's the only solution that will make a number of battle features either possible or 'not boring'. It would be extremely cool to have a battle mode where combatants' position actually matters in two dimensions, and that really isn't possible in our current design, because it's ... one dimensional. Likewise, taking terrain into effect really can't be done in the current plan. Also, it would allow for having much larger battles with more combatants.

#2 would eliminate all the humdrum "regular battle backgrounds"; we would only need to draw backgrounds for the scenes in the game where they'd actually matter; scenes that would need unique art anyways. And in doing so, we'd kill 2 birds with one stone, because the map art for that scene would also be done. It is, again, a huge savings of art resources.

I'm not convinced that the code for this is going to be forbiddingly hard, and I know it's only going to enhance our current battle features, rather than breaking them in any way (esp since I wanted the sprites to be larger in #2, as well; so MAPS will work just fine). Those are the only reasons not to do this. Besides, I would really enjoy this challenge.
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Postby Roots » Tue Oct 30, 2007 4:51 pm

If anyone has any more solutions to propose, please do so within the next day or so. I want to add a poll to this thread so we can get a better idea of which route is the most popular to take.
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Postby Roots » Tue Oct 30, 2007 5:17 pm

I have a possible addition to solution #3. How about we keep separate battle sprites for enemies, but use the map sprites for characters? This is pretty much what they did in Final Fantasy VI:

http://www.siliconera.com/news/0611/ff6ar1.jpg <<< FFVI battle screen

There's a couple benefits from doing this:

> No need to animate enemies
> Can keep damage blending feature for enemy sprites
> Our current battle sprites (which look damn nice) don't need to be removed from the game


Thoughts?
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Postby Steu » Tue Oct 30, 2007 6:02 pm

I like it, should be interesting to see it in action.
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Postby Jetryl » Tue Oct 30, 2007 6:03 pm

We'll call this #4:

Roots wrote:There's a couple benefits from doing this:

> No need to animate enemies


That is not a benefit, that's a severe downside. That has always looked like crap. Quit trying to cop out on this feature, and aim for a design that doesn't look like an amateur, indie-game mess. You need animation. Period.

Roots wrote:> Can keep damage blending feature for enemy sprites


There's a clever way to do this in both suggestion #2 and suggestion #3. Normally, units will be engaged in their "bob" animation, or something to that effect. When they're significantly hurt, they'll instead switch to a still frame "hurt" position, which could likely get reused in a "getting hurt" animation. This, exceptionally, doesn't need much animation (1-2) frames, since wounded creatures generally aren't very lively in appearance.

Roots wrote:> Our current battle sprites (which look damn nice) don't need to be removed from the game


But they're still unanimated, which leads us back to the problem that caused this whole discussion. :bash:


Besides the fact, I'm basically going to make the map sprites _from_ the existing battle sprites.
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Postby Roots » Tue Oct 30, 2007 7:24 pm

Jetryl wrote:
Roots wrote:There's a couple benefits from doing this:

> No need to animate enemies


That is not a benefit, that's a severe downside. That has always looked like crap. Quit trying to cop out on this feature, and aim for a design that doesn't look like an amateur, indie-game mess. You need animation. Period.


Okay, I guess every Final Fantasy game released for the SNES is an amateur, indie-game mess then by your logic. It IS a benefit in terms of lowering artwork cost, which is really our primary motivation in this thread. How do we lower artwork cost while maximizing experience? I don't think having little bobbing/walking animations for each enemy will add much, and if you were intent on further doing an animation for attacking/defending/dying, well that's just insanity.


So basically we have one of two choices with regards to this sub-topic:

1) Use custom enemy battle sprites that are large, detailed, have damage blending frames, but do not have any animation (but may have pseudo-animation through the use of shaking/coloring/etc)

2) Use map sprites for enemies in battle that have a small amount of animations, no damage blending, and are 2X enlarged


#1 is lower in terms of artwork cost I. Animations are rather tough to do (for me at least), but doing damage blending frames is very easy and very quick. Easy enough that even I have been able to create them pretty well for some of our current sprites. I am hands-down for having awesome looking, detailed battle sprites with damage frames then smaller ones with only a small handful of animations.



I'm not sure exactly what you are thinking in terms of how many animations you expect these battle sprites to have, Jetryl. Can you elaborate on this?

Jetryl wrote:
Roots wrote:> Can keep damage blending feature for enemy sprites


There's a clever way to do this in both suggestion #2 and suggestion #3. Normally, units will be engaged in their "bob" animation, or something to that effect. When they're significantly hurt, they'll instead switch to a still frame "hurt" position, which could likely get reused in a "getting hurt" animation. This, exceptionally, doesn't need much animation (1-2) frames, since wounded creatures generally aren't very lively in appearance.


So wait, the enemy is only animated when it has at least XX% HP, and then after that we just draw our normal un-animated animated frames? There's no transition there then. The sprite would go from looking perfectly healthy and active to instantly injured and still. I think that would look kind of awkward. :|

Jetryl wrote:
Roots wrote:> Our current battle sprites (which look damn nice) don't need to be removed from the game


But they're still unanimated, which leads us back to the problem that caused this whole discussion. :bash:


Woah, hold up there. I was under the impression (before we began discussing this topic) that we all knew that enemy sprites in our old system would NOT be animated, only the character sprites were (and that alone proved too difficult for 2D artists to do unaided). The problem which caused this whole discussion was the animation of the character sprites, not the enemy sprites.

In my mind, enemies in Allacrost battles would never need to be animated (except maybe in a rare case for a certain scripted scene). Why?

A) Artwork cost is too high, especially considering that we potentially want >100 of enemies in the final game

B) Many of the classic RPGs that Allacrost emulates from did not have animated enemies, so there is already an established acceptance of this compromise in the minds of the core audience that this game intends to address

C) Unless you plan to make motion/position an element in the battle system design, it really doesn't add much (and our battle system is already pretty loaded with features).
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Postby Steu » Tue Oct 30, 2007 7:41 pm

I really think adding a shake or a flash to the enemies in BattleMode (making it like old style FF games) would add alot to battle mode, and using map sprites for the characters would remove a lot of strain for art for battle mode.
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Postby Roots » Tue Oct 30, 2007 8:04 pm

Steu wrote:I really think adding a shake or a flash to the enemies in BattleMode (making it like old style FF games) would add alot to battle mode, and using map sprites for the characters would remove a lot of strain for art for battle mode.


In other words, you are my ally. :angel:
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