As of today, we have completed 78 of 104 new or altered animations and transitions for our heroine. Some of these are simple refinements, but most of them are related to some major changes we're making to our core gameplay. For reference, our previous heroine sprite sheets had 30 animations and transitions, totaling 139 unique frames. With about 25% left to finish, our new sprite sheet is already at 345 unique frames.
So why make these changes? After our game's poor showing, we decided the gameplay needed additional polish in order to stand out. Our core loop was relatively flat, strike > dash > strike > dash > rest and then find the occasional moment to cast a spell. To increase the speed, texture and crunch of the core loop, we decided to implement some of our stretch goals as primary features.
Block and Parry
This is the change that had the broadest impact on our heroine's overall sprite sheet. By switching from having her block by default to having manual blocking with a timing based parry, we had to not only change almost every existing animation, we had to nearly double our traversal animations in order to have guarded and unguarded versions that felt right and grounded.
Our previous build included a sandstorm dash which covered a significant distance, had invincibility frames, allowed the heroine to pass through certain barriers and hazards, and caused damage to any enemies she hit along the way. To balance the power and versatility of this maneuver, it had a prohibitive cool down and stamina cost which limited its usability in combat. So, we decided we needed a more standard dodge maneuver that was more narrowly focused as a defensive move. To add a bit of character, we went with a spinning dodge rather than the more common dodge roll.
After the KickStarter failed, we said we would revisit our attack animations and implement different attacks for different weapon classes. However, once we got to animating, we decided to take a different approach and are instead implementing attack combos featuring directional light, heavy and guarded attacks. We have finished the light and heavy attacks, and are now wrapping up the much simpler guarded attacks. Our attack animations were also quite static, so in order to make them more dynamic, we have added forward motion to many of the light and heavy attacks.
Mobile Spell Casting
Recognizing that the animation changes to our movement and attacks would increase the pace of combat, we decided spell casting had to be more mobile in order to keep up with that pace. These changes come next after we wrap up our guarded attacks, but most of them will be relatively simple tweaks to existing animations, along with an array of transition frames to make everything flow together well.
We should be wrapping up these changes to our heroine's sprite sheet template this weekend, and moving on to implementation next week. We've also put off implementation of our new tile-sets, so this will all be done as part of a sweeping overhaul to many of our core systems. Once we've finished implementing the penultimate template sprite sheet, we will identify any gaps in our transitions which we hadn't anticipated and double back to make sure every animation connects as smoothly as possible.
Isn't This Going to Be A Lot of Work?
Yes! All told, we're expecting her final sprite sheet template to contain around 430 frames. That is a much bigger number than 139! The changes to our gameplay will also require us to completely rebuild our heroine's animator and our controls. Adding dynamic motion to our attack animations and including the new spin dodge will also require significant changes to our Actor and Actor : Heroine scripts.
In terms of re-skinning our heroine's sprite sheets to create new outfits, we've constructed and layered our template document in a way that facilitates a relatively quick process. By identifying recurring arm, torso and leg poses, we can quickly copy and paste these components from previously drawn frames and then tweak them to ensure fluid and consistent movement. Taking that into account, we think that adding new armor skins using this template will take just under twice as long as with the old template, rather than four times as long.
However, we are highly confident that these changes will be the foundation for a game that will look better and play better than what we brought out before.
Next week we hope we'll be talking about progress on implementing our new tilesets and rebuilding our heroine's animator.