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A few days late for the journal update

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Whoops, I've several days late with my weekly update to the journal. This is mostly because I haven't got anything too exciting to post. Over the last week or so I've had a lot of Ph.D. work to focus on. I've also been the victim of a universal conspiracy to sap me of all my energy, via constant hot temperatures, illness and a constant stream of trucks reversing in the early hours of the morning. Consequently I've had to spend the few hours of sanity I have each day on Ph.D. work, leaving the unproductive period of fatigued madness to work on "Project Jack". This was not conductive to staying on task, so I've tended to spend a bit too long on sketching concept art, trying to think of abstract game ideas and backstory, and playing around on my keyboard hunting for good "dungeon" music rather than on designing the software architecture, which is what I've been meaning to do.

Getting back on task: My first milestone for "Project Jack" is a demo of an animation system. After scribbling down a few game ideas for Jack and for other projects, I've found that a universal problem I need solved is a good way to animate hand-drawn sprites in unique sort of way that will both give my games my own special look and will save on art dev time. What I'm trying to devise is a sort of 2D variant of the skeletal animation system; where I can draw individual body parts in different poses and then display the relevant bits for each character pose, similar to those felt shapes that kindergarteners play with. I'm sure there must be a name for this technique, or I could explain it better, but unfortunately I've got a mental block on this at the moment.

My main problem at the moment is figuring out a good way for this to work. This is partly what all the penciled concept art is for: I've been trying to get a good feel for ways of making expressive character animation using only simple shapes. I might have been going a bit too far: I'm still not sure if my characters should have mouths, or arms and legs (i.e. the Rayman look). It's a lot easier to animate hands and feet in this way if they don't have to be attached to the rest of the figure.

I'm also having second thoughts about making "Project Jack" a side-scroller instead of a top-down dungeon explorer, mainly for the art reasons. With my experiments with drawing character poses at different directions I've found it very hard to accurately draw the figure in eight different directions. Even if I mirror across the y-axis, I'll still have to draw four. But with the side-scroller, there's only two directions to worry about (or even just one if you use mirroring). It might also be more appropriate to do my Rogue-like level building tests in a side-scroller environment, as my goal is to move away from the standard random maps of just slapping rooms full of enemies next to other, and move a bit more towards randomly generating intelligent puzzle based level design.

Admittedly, the idea for making "Jack" a side-scroller has come from free side-scroller "Cave Story" (which Battagline's huge list of games reminded me of, thanks!), which I've just started trialling (I've been using my game playing time to sample a whole bunch of freebie and indie games over the last month for ideas). The animation in that is simple but superb. It also reminded me of the old game "Zeliard" which I used to love, which is one of the many, many games I was basing the design of "Project Jack" on, so I figure I might as well consider going fully side-scroller. I guess my main gripe about "Cave Story" at the moment is that I was intending to put intelligent rabbity creatures in my game (honestly!), and now it will just come off as a shameless rip-off [smile].

My coffee's just starting to kick in, so I'd better get back to proper work now. Once I get this research paper under control, I can start spending a bit more time on "Project Jack" with a clear conscience. I'm sure if I can spend a couple of hours with a clear head on the animation algorithm problem I can start to see a solution.

As usual, any advice or comments are welcome!
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