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Graphic design for dynamic weapon/armor on sprite

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So I made a little test game with some pretty simple graphics and animations, it's a 2D platformer. But I wanted to extend it a little further. On my sprite I wanted to display different armors and weapons that are picked up on the character the player is controlling. The problem with this is the attack/jump/etc. animations. The way I understand it is I create a series of frames, then play through those frames, then I get the desired attacking/whatever animation. The problem with this, is that creating different animations for each armor/weapon combination is completely unreasonable. So my question is, is this frame-by-frame animation the way it's normally done? In something like MapleStory, they have a large selection of clothing and weapons to choose from, and the characters are far from stiff. Do they simply have different frames for weapons and animate each clothing line then do some tricky stuff with layers? Or are they doing something more advanced?
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http://esotericsoftware.com/

This is an animation program specifically made for 2D sprite animation. It is very reasonably priced at $60. The easiest solution to your problem, and probably very close to what Maple Story does from the sound of ti.

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With a paperdoll system, the weapon and armor are on a separate layer than the character base.  (So are hair, eyes, tattoos, anything customizable gets its own layer of spritesheet.)  Each time the player changes equipment you programatically merge the layers into a single-layer spritesheet to display.  ImageMagick is one such program that is used to do this.  But yes, each weapon does need to have it's own animated sprite.  If it's just an pivot animation (e.g. facing right and swinging a sword up and down) or a slide animation (e.g. facing right and poking a sword forward), that's quite simple, but sideways or diagonal attacks are more of an animation challenge.

Edited by sunandshadow
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