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Animation and Art for 2D RPG

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Hello all, I've been working on my 2D RPG and I've been thinking about the most efficient way to handle artwork and animations. It seems pretty daunting as we all know there is so much artwork involved in full-scale RPGs. I drew all the main images for the main character and all the images for the walking animation for him facing each direction. It flows really smooth and looks nice, BUT, my question is, is there any possible way I could, say, add a sword or a peice of armor to him WITHOUT having a whole serperate spritesheet with him and his new gear? What are some of your thoughts on handling this? I dont mind spending a few hours drawing up sprites for the game, but its extremely overwhelming to think that I would have to draw every possible combination of him and each different item he can hold (armor, sheilds, bows, arrows, swords, boots, helmets, etc.). A friend of mine suggested that I somehow split up the character into body parts, and render stuff on that way? I couldn't understand him, he doesn't speak good english. Haha. But if anyone has some suggestions or adive that'd be great. Thanks in advance!

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I don't think splitting up the character is necessary however the equipment might be a good idea.

Let’s say this is Photoshop and everything is done in layers. Take particular animation frame and have it as the bottom layer. Create a new layer for each piece or set of equipment and draw on top of the animation frame. Create a new sprite sheet for the item only. Select the layer of the worn item and copy and paste it into same index position as animation frame. While in the game, render the character's sprite sheet first then all the separate equipment sprite sheets in the order of feet going up. That way something like a cape gets rendered on top of boots.

The problem with this is the armor and equipment is specific to the character. This is not a problem if the main character is the only character. Unless all the characters are the same size and have identical movements, you could possibly reuse the equipment animation. Otherwise, repeat the process for all the other characters.

Edit:
I'm slow at typing :P
JTippetts explained it better. Edited by Neometron

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