The rubber is really starting to meet the road and we are starting to run into some serious problems with the development of our game. Ok, “problems” might be a little bit extreme but we are having a few setbacks that I am going to elaborate on.
As previously stated, in part 1 and part 2, we have a very small team working on our game. In total we have 4 people actively working on the project with a few friends who have volunteered to play test our early builds to provide valuable feedback as well as to help look for bugs. I would expect development to be slow going with a team this size but our issue is even worse than I expected.
Every member of the team has other responsibilities, like jobs to pay for those pesky bills. My personal situation is even more complicated as I am a single parent and I currently have two jobs (not counting Caps N’ Coins and this video game). With our current schedules the team can only meet up 1 day a week, 2 at most, to work. To complicate matters further our character designer and graphics artist, Aaron, lives 800KM away, in the Ottawa area, which has created some problems with generating art assets and keeping him motivated to work on it regularly.
With our current ratio, of 2 programmers and 2 artists, we have been able to keep development moving forward. I am proud to say that the overwhelming majority of the programming is complete. We have a few features to add here and there, and debugging to do, but all of the core mechanics of the game are finished and working as we intended them to. To be able to say that we have achieved this milestone feels really good. Currently we are now, mostly, waiting for art assets to be finished so we can slowly replace the stock Unity assets with our own custom art.
I was aware that creating all of the sprites for a game took a lot of work, but I am blown away at the difference in workloads between the programmers and the artists. If I had to do this all over again, with the current amount of staff we have, the ratio would probably need to be 3 artists to each programmer so that the team would never be waiting idly for the other side to be finished. Thankfully everyone is willing to help out wherever they can, and we are all picking up the slack and trying to find shortcuts.
We were originally going to hand draw all of the sprites for frame of animation, which, in retrospect, was going to be an insane amount of work, but that is no longer the case. Thanks to this thread on reddit we learned about a technique, called “Modular Animation”, that will save us a lot of time and effort. The best way to describe it is, instead of drawing dozens of different frames for an animation, the artist takes each moving part and draws it as a separate sprite. These sprites are assembled and animated in a separate application that can export a sprite sheet to be used with the game engine of your choice, like Unity3d. From my, admittedly very quick, research into the topic, there are two popular applications for 2D animation with this technique, Spriter, and Spine. Spine seems to be the more professional tool, and it comes with a higher price point of $300. Spriter has a free tier and a $60 pro tier with features that put it close to Spine.
In an ironic twist, it turned out that I had already purchased the pro version of Spriter in a Humble Bundle. So I told Aaron about this animation tool, and he was able to pivot and support this new animation technique. He would send us concepts of monsters or enemies that he would like to draw, and after we approved the design he would re-draw all of the movable parts and send them to us. Dave continues to digitize the art, and I have been importing it into Spriter to animate the completed sprites, and we are ending with results that we like.
This whole project would completely fall apart if the 4 members of our team were not talented and willing to put in real effort to become multidisciplinary. I am still afraid of what will happen when it comes time to do sound effects and music. That skill is so completely foreign to me that I am still afraid to even write about music for this site. I hope to be back to talk about this some more very soon.