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2D Action Game Sprites : Paper doll equipment or custom characters with unchanging appearance?


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#1 Stupice   Members   -  Reputation: 104

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 01:00 AM

I'm doing research for a 2D Action-RPG game project that uses 2d top-down sprites (think SNES and GBA Zelda, the Mana series, etc). I've already decided that I want the player to have different graphics for different weapons displayed in the main character's animations and I was looking at the possibility of adding a "paper doll" function to the game sprites. This would mean the clothes and appearance of the sprite would change as they put on or took off clothing/armor/accessories. I'm looking to the future and trying to conceptualize for a game with customizable graphics (like the skin-packs in games like Minecraft or Terraria), but in order to do that the game's sprites would have to be "standardized." By this I mean that the player's character sprite would have to always remain the same size and shape. For example...

I create a human character with close to 60 frames of animation (which is as small as I can go) in a 18x30 pixel area for all of his actions/movements.

I create a standard "cloth tunic" item that has to have 60 frames of animation to match each of the character's frames. (Which will be over-laid like a shirt on a paper doll.)

I then create a dwarf character with the same 60 frames of animation. The cloth tunic will not over-lay on the dwarf correctly, appearing on his face because of the difference in size and shape. I then have to either lock certain items to certain character types or make 60 additional frames of animation for every character type who is wearing the same item (this would be insane).

The point here is that I have a choice to make when it comes to player-made graphics and content. I either have a game with 1-2 "standard" character types (probably male and female human) that are generic in form and very easy to sprite for, or I can say no to paper doll equipment and that opens the door for a wide variety of custom characters whose appearance doesn't change, but their body types can be anything that fits within the character's hit box and matches the 60 frames of animation (and weapon animations). Or I could POSSIBLY decide to split the difference and make standard characters that will allow paper-doll animations and non-standard characters who can equip items, but will not display them.

I'm a game artist so this question really hits home for me. Keep in mind that creating these custom animations and characters wouldn't necessarily be done in-game. Most likely it would apply only to the content created specifically for the game and then be an option for modders to take up in customizing the game (again, like Terraria and Minecraft).

The big question, put simply, is this; do people want completey custom characters with no change in appearance based on equipment or just 2 characters with thousands of different "looks" based on equipment combinations?

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#2 Rld_   Members   -  Reputation: 1515

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 01:50 AM

I think this is a question of personal preference in some way, but also depends a bit on the context of your game, the time you can/will/are allowed to spent on creating the sprites.

With one side, you can create a lot of diversity if you can see every re-equip of different armor/weapons, but can drive you away from the image you might want to create for your character(s), with games like zelda, secret of mana, golden sun you always keep the same armor so you can always identify your hero (at least, sometimes only minor changes).

On the other hand, if you're not really looking into creating a "standardized" character so to say, and you want the player to be able to uniquely look according to what he can find in equipment. I think it is important however to ask yourself this question "in the end, will the characters be wearing the best thing only and still look the same most of the game?" and if that would be a yes, a lot of work in creating different costumes might not pay off.

So I think it really depends on what your aim is, what you want to achieve with the game.

#3 n00b0dy   Members   -  Reputation: 103

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 02:18 AM

1) 60 frames of animation is a lot. Personaly in my video game i use 6-9 animation frames (top, bot, left)x2 or x3.

2)

I then create a dwarf character with the same 60 frames of animation. The cloth tunic will not over-lay on the dwarf correctly, appearing on his face because of the difference in size and shape

Thats a bug in your imagination. Ask a programmer to combine them procedually when the game starts.
A) Base sprite (each base sprite has its own unique coordinates for the center of every body part (where things will be overlayed), you can add Size Bounds to them if you want to resize cloth if it is too big)
b) Cloth : add it in center of "body part".
C) other accessories, hats, boots, etc.

#4 Stupice   Members   -  Reputation: 104

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 03:18 AM

1) 60 frames of animation is a lot. Personaly in my video game i use 6-9 animation frames (top, bot, left)x2 or x3.

2)


I then create a dwarf character with the same 60 frames of animation. The cloth tunic will not over-lay on the dwarf correctly, appearing on his face because of the difference in size and shape

Thats a bug in your imagination. Ask a programmer to combine them procedually when the game starts.
A) Base sprite (each base sprite has its own unique coordinates for the center of every body part (where things will be overlayed), you can add Size Bounds to them if you want to resize cloth if it is too big)
b) Cloth : add it in center of "body part".
C) other accessories, hats, boots, etc.


1. I suggest you look up a sprite sheet for any of the games I mentioned. Keep in mind that a frame is a single static image. I think what you're referring to are animation cycles or "loops." Here's how it breaks down if you eliminate duplicates through "mirroring" animations ( so walking left and right use the same frames, but flipped)...

Idle = 4 frames
Walk = 3 Directions (plus 1 mirrored) x 4 frames (at a minimum) = 12 frames
Run = The same, 12 frames
Knockdown/Get Up = 6 frames
Sleep = 2 Frames
Attack With Sword = 3 directions x 3 frames = 9 frames
Attack With Axe/Club like weapon = 9 frames
Attack With Whip/Chain weapon = 9 frames
Etc.

2. Nothing about this makes sense to me. "Combine them procedurally when the game starts." What does the "game start" have to do with anything?

A) B) C)...

We're taking about individual pixels here, not high-resolution textures applied to 3d models. Centering the image, adding "size bounds" and resizing pixels are not really options. What you're proposing would be like making the clothing transparent and applying the same texture underneath for each character body type in all 60 frames. Look at a left/right walk cycle animation of a 2D character in 18x30 pixels and tell me how this would work. Say I put a red dot on the character's elbow. Now I animate the four frames of the character's arm swinging left and right as it walks. How does the computer know where that character's elbow is? Does it know where to put the red dot? No. It's not possible, or if it is possible, making it work would take so much effort for so little gain that you'd be insane to do it.

If you read through my post you'll see that the goal is to make modding easy for players if they wish to do so. With the paper doll system modders can download a single image that contains all 60 frames of cloth tunic and just paint over it with Microsoft paint if they wish to do so. This is infinitely easier than what you proposed and requires no complex understanding of art or computers on the part of the player.

#5 Stupice   Members   -  Reputation: 104

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 03:47 AM

I think this is a question of personal preference in some way, but also depends a bit on the context of your game, the time you can/will/are allowed to spent on creating the sprites.

With one side, you can create a lot of diversity if you can see every re-equip of different armor/weapons, but can drive you away from the image you might want to create for your character(s), with games like zelda, secret of mana, golden sun you always keep the same armor so you can always identify your hero (at least, sometimes only minor changes).

On the other hand, if you're not really looking into creating a "standardized" character so to say, and you want the player to be able to uniquely look according to what he can find in equipment. I think it is important however to ask yourself this question "in the end, will the characters be wearing the best thing only and still look the same most of the game?" and if that would be a yes, a lot of work in creating different costumes might not pay off.

So I think it really depends on what your aim is, what you want to achieve with the game.


None of this matters at all in terms of gameplay. If I choose the paper doll method I would probably include a "vanity slot" for the items (just like in Terraria :D) that let you appear in one set of equipment while a whole other set was dedicated to your stats. I could also let items degrade and break so you wouldn't care what you were wearing if you're in a dungeon, your pants break, and you find a fresh pair in a chest :D. There are lots of options like that that don't really matter to me right at the moment.

I'm personally 50/50 on the whole thing. Completely custom characters or generic characters with changing graphics both sound cool, but implementing both for the project I'm looking at would be a pain. I have to choose one and then I can develop further. In that way I'm going to have to say that my question is context-free. If you know nothing about the gameplay other than the fact that it's a Zelda-like 2D action adventure game, what would you want? What's most important is what people ACTUALLY want more than anything. I should rephrase my question to say "forget what gamers THINK they want, what would they ACTUALLY find more interesting 5 hours into the game?"

You're helping me think of a way of putting the question into simpler terms. That's really valuable to me as I don't quite have a full understanding of the problem myself. Thanks for the response!

#6 Stupice   Members   -  Reputation: 104

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 04:01 AM

Thanks to Reloaded_ I've made a few more constraints and come up with a more focused version of my question.

Note: There's a strong possibility that this will have an online option. You won't just be changing your character for your own amusement.

Method 1: Paper Doll

You can dress up your character in anything as anything, but the human character underneath never changes. You can also continue to change your appearance as the game progresses. (There's also the possibility that equipment's appearance will signify to other players what kind of stats you have.)

Method 2: Custom Character

You can make your character any kind of shape, size, style, you want, but you're stuck with that one character (unless you mod/re-mod the game to change the model) as they appear, no matter what equipment you find.

Keep in mind that these are VERY simple graphics, but done well enough that they stand out as a feature. Any insight you guys can give me into what a gaming audience (particularly a PC gaming audience) would prefer is greatly appreciated.

#7 Rld_   Members   -  Reputation: 1515

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 04:54 AM

In that case, generally I see that more people want some way of customizing their characters, might not be of uttermost importance in single player games, but if there is going to be a multi player component in the game, the feel of needing to distinguish yourself from other arises, even if it is a minor change. This can also of course be the case in single player games where people want to compare their character to one another, but it is probably less likely to happen compared against single player. (this is what I observe and there is nothing that backs me up on this! Keep that in mind.)

You can also take the middle way, how diablo 3 does it. You have different classes with each class their own set. You start of with some basic stuff and depending on the item you equip, you get dressed, but this is more or less specific to the class you're playing.

If you want actual data to back you up, try creating a survey of some sort that asks specific questions that can lead you to a proper answer on what people want.

#8 Stupice   Members   -  Reputation: 104

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 05:07 AM

In that case, generally I see that more people want some way of customizing their characters, might not be of uttermost importance in single player games, but if there is going to be a multi player component in the game, the feel of needing to distinguish yourself from other arises, even if it is a minor change. This can also of course be the case in single player games where people want to compare their character to one another, but it is probably less likely to happen compared against single player. (this is what I observe and there is nothing that backs me up on this! Keep that in mind.)

You can also take the middle way, how diablo 3 does it. You have different classes with each class their own set. You start of with some basic stuff and depending on the item you equip, you get dressed, but this is more or less specific to the class you're playing.

If you want actual data to back you up, try creating a survey of some sort that asks specific questions that can lead you to a proper answer on what people want.


Thanks again for the advice!

#9 Bearhugger   Members   -  Reputation: 567

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 10:29 AM

I find that using paperdoll for 2D sprites doesn't work well for armor and clothes. Usually you'll have characters with different builds and some being male others female, so when it comes to things that cover the body, you just can't reuse the same paperdoll art for different character. Also, since clothes are deformable, you have to animate it for every sprite. It just seems less complicated and more flexible to draw a new sprite for everything your character can wear.

For weapons and rigid stuff though, the paperdoll works well. And you probably want to implement that as a paperdoll if you have a lot of weapon and allow characters to dual-wield weapons, otherwise the different combinations will get overwhelming.

If it helps, what I'm doing in my game is that each player character has different spritesheets, one for each kind of armor the character may wear. For example, the typical character has a spritesheet for normal armor, mage armor, heavy armor, etc. I love it so far, because I can adapt the armor to the kind of character. (For example, a more "knightly" character wearing plate armor is all covered in shinny armor, while the same armor worn by a barbarian is less shiny and has gabs showing his muscles.) Combined with the good old "palette swap" technique, I can create variations of color among items from a same armor class so each piece of armor is unique visually.

#10 Stupice   Members   -  Reputation: 104

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 11:29 AM

I find that using paperdoll for 2D sprites doesn't work well for armor and clothes. Usually you'll have characters with different builds and some being male others female, so when it comes to things that cover the body, you just can't reuse the same paperdoll art for different character. Also, since clothes are deformable, you have to animate it for every sprite. It just seems less complicated and more flexible to draw a new sprite for everything your character can wear.

For weapons and rigid stuff though, the paperdoll works well. And you probably want to implement that as a paperdoll if you have a lot of weapon and allow characters to dual-wield weapons, otherwise the different combinations will get overwhelming.

If it helps, what I'm doing in my game is that each player character has different spritesheets, one for each kind of armor the character may wear. For example, the typical character has a spritesheet for normal armor, mage armor, heavy armor, etc. I love it so far, because I can adapt the armor to the kind of character. (For example, a more "knightly" character wearing plate armor is all covered in shinny armor, while the same armor worn by a barbarian is less shiny and has gabs showing his muscles.) Combined with the good old "palette swap" technique, I can create variations of color among items from a same armor class so each piece of armor is unique visually.


My system wouldn't be too hard! A modder would start with a sprite sheet (meaning a single PNG image) for a "cloth tunic" that would essentially look like 60 floating shirts in all different directions. All they would have to do to add new items is manually edit each of those 25 pixels that make up the shirt. For a non-artist player this could be very interesting and fun. Pros could come out with their own custom packs of items and equipment that would look gorgeous. As I said up above, the paper doll system would only have two character models, male and female. This would make it easy as most of the items would paper-doll fine over both (helmets, boots, necklaces...).

I agree about the weapons. It's not mentioned in this post because it's a forgone conclusion for me!

It sounds like in your game the armor only comes in full sets with no combinations of helmets/pants/etc. from different sets allowed. What I'm proposing would (once again) be a lot like Terraria or Minecraft (shame...) where your appearance varies based on what equipment you can find/make/buy at the moment. Your character can have a golden helmet and shoes made out of bacon, if you like. Is that how your game works? Only full sets of armor? Thanks for the comment!

#11 Bearhugger   Members   -  Reputation: 567

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 11:35 PM

Yeah, that's correct. In my game, you have one armor slot and it represents the whole body, so you equip an armor and it changes the whole body art, not just the chest. Except the helm which is a different piece, but I decided to not show it. (Personal preference: for the good guys, I prefer to see my characters' head.)

About how to have every piece of a 2D sprite customizable, that's a very good question.

It's certainly possible to make a paperdoll where you can change parts of the body. Blizzard did it incredibly well in Diablo II. For example, look at the sprite of those corrupted girls from Diablo 2 in the first act. From memory, they have 3 types of lower body (one normal, one corrupted/naked and one with demon legs) then two types of shoulders (normal and with a horn), 3 types of head (long hairs, bald, demon head) and different weapons. And it's like that for most humanoid monsters as far as I know. (The game generates two sprites to be used by all monsters of a same type so you have to reload the game to see different variations.)

Those generated paperdoll sprites blend perfectly into a new sprite and have no glitches, so it really looks good. However, those were generated by a 3D package, not hand-crafted by a 2D artist.

If you're going to use pre-rendered sprites with a 3D package, then you should be able to pull that off. Could require some blender scripts to setup the rendering process, but it seems that scripting is hardly a challenge for those that frequent these boards. For 2D artists though, it could be challenging to make so many paperdoll sprites where every combination blends perfectly. I'm not exactly the best pixel artist out there, to me it is more work then I care for.

#12 Dwapook   Members   -  Reputation: 102

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 09:04 PM

Another option is 2D skeletal/bone animations..

Just saw this the other day http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/539087245/spriter
Could be promising..




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