The Bane of My Existence

While it was a great year for AJC, the final quarter of 2013 brought me some exciting outside developments as well. In October I was lucky enough to be invited to do the art for the highly anticipated Battle Group 2, sequel to Bane Games’ hit mobile game from 2011.

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On a cold winter’s eve at the weekly Colorado Independent Game Developers Association meeting I made the acquaintance of one The Dylan Jones – a staggeringly tall young designer with a staggeringly loud voice. And that’s coming from a 6’2″ loudmouth. You may know Dylan from the RGB beta, a cool little puzzle game in which tuning your retro TV to different color settings changes the layout of each level. He’s got some serious design chops, and he loves stark, dramatic, depressing games where the only way to win is suicide. Nice.

The D had been concepting new game prototypes with Bane Games, an Australian indie developer run by Alistair Doulin – Unity ace and all-around programming prodigy, mate. Dylan liked what I’d done with Wyv and Keep and asked me to do some concepts for a new tactical space-combat game. Tactics? Combat? SPACE!? I didn’t take much convincing.

I quickly did a few different pieces but here’s the one that clinched the job for me:

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They haven’t released many details about that game yet, so I won’t spoil them here either, but it suffices to say we think it’ll be fucking revolutionary. Luckily Al did show off another little concept I did of how I envisioned some of the gameplay over on his blog, so I’ll throw that up here too:

big_hi_hf_01We started initial work on the game in August/September and things were going great – Dylan’s energy is infectious, Al’s a freaking wizard on the keyboard, and both have incredible work ethic – I could tell I would enjoy working with Bane. Shortly into development however, we got some more exciting news from publisher Right Pedal Studios.

They wanted to give us money!

More accurately, they wanted us to accelerate a certain sequel for them. The original investor for Bane’s 2010 hit Battle Group (apparently the game still gets 500 downloads a day – not too shabby) had been chomping at the bit for a follow-up, and was now ready to plunk down some cash for one. I was having a blast designing spaceships so it was a shame to put that game on hiatus, but new projects are always exciting, and I was totally on board. Hey, actually getting paid for making a game sounded pretty good.

The original game’s hard as balls too – always a plus in my book.

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We’ve been working pretty much nonstop since November, so the project’s well underway. At the top of this article is the main promotional art, a piece I completed just a couple weeks ago that took way longer than it should have because, well, I’ve never drawn a boat in my life. It’ll be used for header art, banners, etc. and the focal point at the center is also the icon for the game. I don’t take all the credit for the composition though, as the original concept comes from my favorite piece of art from the original game.

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The perspective on the incredible Iowa Battleship is really cool, and the explosion really catches your eye. I just updated them and made some of my own additions.

Jesse’s Revised Rules for Modern Icon Development, v.1.01:

  1. Colossal battleship ✓
  2. Huge explosion ✓
  3. Iconic multibillion dollar Tetris block shaped bomber ✓

And no those may not actually be bombs, but… shut up. Going to have to go back and retroactively change that number on the original’s hull, though.

With my mostly cartoon background I figured the simple, boldly-outlined style of the first would be a cinch to replicate and polish up to be sequel-esque. Then Alistair promptly told me he wanted to go much more detailed and realistic for the sequel. Not necessarily my forté. But the prospect of doing something totally new always tightens my pants, and it’s been a blast developing the style.

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Left you have the original Cyclone-class patrol boat from BG1. Center is my first update, completed back in November, with much more shading, detail, and slightly thinner outlines. And right is the second pass, likely the final model for the soft launch. Ultimately we ended up going quite realistic, with lower saturation, just very thin low opacity outlines and quite a high level of detail.

Updating the art has been a ton of fun, as well as a challenge, with things like modern icon development and Unity particle systems being completely new to me. I’ll have lots more to say about that stuff later, but for now, check out the old vs. new in two quick videos. The BG1 video is the launch trailer. The BG2 video is pre-alpha footage from a few weeks ago.

Oh yeah, they’re not really the bane of my existence. Quite the opposite. Had to say it, though. Also:

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Enter My Domain…

So about two months ago Beau (co-founder of AJC and partner-in-crime) came home from Copenhagen for a vacation during the winter holidays. Once he was done visiting with his family and kid, he got to the important stuff: hanging out with yours truly. There was much drinking of bad beer, eating of bad Mexican food, playing of Twisted Metal 2 and Super Mario Brothers 3 and Skyrim (he’s working on a shield bash build – hilarious), and general merriment for all.

And there was also this:

What in the world is this, you ask? Why, this is the lovely Beau deeply entrenched in a fierce game of “Domain: Lords of Ether”, the new card game being developed by A Jolly Corpse!

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Give the Gift of Life

When it comes time to animate your character there’s likely a sort of standard animation set you think about. Those animations that are normally required for the gameplay to function properly. Let’s look at a platformer, for example. For pretty much any character, be they player or enemy, you’ll need an idle, a horizontal movement, a vertical movement, and some sort of action. For a humanoid player character these most commonly come in the forms of standing, walking/running, jumping/falling, and likely an attack. And there may be a few others you think of, such as crouching and crawling and climbing and pushing. The original Mega Man’s a good example of this simple setup:

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SmashBox Art

From an unexpected upcoming title from A Jolly Corpse and Fallen Angel Industries. This is the (nearly) finished box art for SmashBox. Character design was done by myself and David, whose ludicrous demands had me working until 3am on the color of his gloves. But he turned out pretty fun. I take credit for the hair.

This is the first time I’ve used SAI from beginning to end on a piece of art. Was actually quite impressed with its painting tools. May continue to use it over Photoshop.

Watch for the game very soon on XBLIG and then later on PC, Mac, and Linux!

Easy Paint Tool SAI

One invaluable program in my repertoire is a strange little painting tool from the land of holographic pop idols and gameshows that hit guys in the balls: Japan. Unlike American comics, which take their time inking with heavy, shapely lines and large pools of black and color panels to make pictures readable, Japanese manga is generally done in black&white and is hundreds of panels long, and since no color will be applied requires a very fine attention to creating thin, perfectly readable line art quickly. Drawing these lines is an incredibly difficult and arduous process – one that aspiring artists go to school to master and then do for years tracing over a manga artist’s sketches before ever dreaming of drawing something of their own. Sound like fun? Nope. In comes Easy Paint Tool SAI, an awesome line art tool from tiny developer Systemax, who apparently still exist, but you could be fooled by their website. It may not compare to the professional hand-drawn techniques used by manga artists and their tireless teams of assistants, but thanks to a few ingenious tools, it can provide editable, pixel perfect line art quite quickly and much more easily than other vector-based art programs.

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