There exists in game development a question we all see being discussed constantly, that I myself am asked directly fairly often, and whose resolution seems to continually elude us. That question is “How in the name of the Greek god Hades can I stay motivated?” Wording and religious context may differ, but it’s an Alundra-esque conundrum with which nearly all of us struggle. Game development is one of the most involved and protracted creative processes out there. It’s especially daunting for tiny independent devs, who are generally tasked with such a huge amount of work it makes constructing the Death Star seem feasible.
Okay! So last time we talked about how to select which features in a subject need to be emphasized in order for it to read well in the miniature, and saw that these attributes had to be overemphasized in order to make this happen. Now let’s get into the dirty of it, and make the damn things!
Beginning the Sprite: Painting
One of the common methods for beginning spriters is to start with an outline and then go from there, much as we do with a basic drawing. This is because these days a lot more of us grow up doodling with pencil and paper in classrooms and in sketchbooks much more than we paint.
For larger sprites, this is a perfectly fine method. You can see this quick pixeled outline of the larger Keep is reading fine, and we could go on from here filling in, shading, highlighting, and anti-aliasing. But when it comes to the smaller, actual sprite on the right, it’s clear that we’re going to have a massively tough time doing this. The hair and face are still mostly present, but pretty much everything else is just a mess, and we can’t tell what’s outlining what, or where color should go, or… well really anything. So it’s unlikely you’d want to even attempt to start from here when working in the miniature.
Welcome back! Last time we looked at the problems in trying to draw small sprites. So this time let’s dive right in and start looking at how to solve ‘em!
The first important step, I found, in doing especially tiny sprites, and what I’d been unsuccessful in doing the first time around, is deciding what it is that really needs to be emphasized in the art. When you have a lot of pixels to work with, it’s easy to add as much detail as you want. But when you have a severely limited space, you must decide which details you can live without, and which you need to exaggerate in order to keep the overall look, and more importantly, the overall feel of the sprite.
A tutorial from A Jolly Corpse’s website last year finally gets a proper home:
The most challenging part of creating small sprites for retro games, and what makes it an extremely difficult skill to master (I’m still working on it constantly…), is that you have a very limited area in which to work, and are forced to convey details within a tiiiiny space. It necessitates looking at things in a whole new way, and deciding what it is really that you need to communicate in a particular work. It requires extreme patience, and a sharp eye for “pixel pushing”. Pain in the ass? Well.. sure. But small sprites are still used just about everywhere, so it’s an excellent thing to practice, and one that’ll help in all your art, big and small.