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BoZ Dev Diary Entry V – Animation, I.O.U and UI

Box O Zombies animation ui

(The UI was developed by Megan and I through a never ending series of iteration. Something to be expected if we want to get it to function and feel right.)

The first playable demo is rapidly approaching. In a little over a month Creative Proximity and Box O Zombies look to reveal a peek at what is to be expected of the Box O Zombie game. The demo will also provide an opportunity for the art team to review how things are or are not working together visually. The biggest issue thus far is making sure that assets stand out against the ground texture.

Although measures were put in place to avoid visibility issues it turns out more needs to be done. A lot of this is due to the wide range of the camera. The player can zoom out quite a bit. This leads to a loss the simple block detail used in pixel art. There will be some touch ups as well as VFX tricks that will need to be implemented. It is very difficult to let some things go but it is important to create reminders that there will be time for it later and prioritize. I keep notes of issues and potential solutions. An I.O.U to any testers and the art team itself. We will pay back what we owe to the game before it fully ships.

The UI

As an artist I primarily focus on character, props and more recently environments. I greatly appreciate sleek UI design, but working on it can be a tedious process. For starters it is tricky business. The UI needs to sync with the game and when the visuals of the game slowly evolve with the update process it leads to a lot of iteration. The design at this stage has gone through various adjustments and changes. The UI is directly linked to function dictated by design, so that piles on more iterations and adjustments.

In addition, I also have moved to working on animation, icons and miscellaneous environment and clean up tasks. It is a rough road with small development and sometimes to many gear shifts can take it’s toll on the creative process. Early on I could focus primarily on the characters and overall art direction. Now that we are in a semi-crunch, it is more direction and even more production. Early on I felt like Dr. Octopus with the great art team working as extra arms. Now Dr. Octopus doesn’t have quite enough arms to keep Peter Parker from another mid-fight, sassy quote. SHUT UP ALREADY SPIDERMAN!

The Animation

Pushing Pixels: Pixel characters

(The animation team now consist of Eddie Einikis, Sarah Harkey the mid production addition and myself. Unfortunately Vicky Kao took a break to pursue opportunities in comics, her work has been greatly appreciated. The Sprites in this post are a mixture of all our work.)

This is one area that was daunting early on. Animation, especially in isometric, ESPECIALLY with pixel art, is another area of tedium for some. Luckily, the team has picked up to pixel painting quite well. When sitting down to plan production I was concerned with the level of animations requested with the time and small team we had. There was a good amount of dissection and clever production shortcuts that helped make the schedule more reasonable. Solid production techniques, and prioritizing has also been very important. It also helps that although small, the team I work with is very talented. It also helped that despite my experience in certain areas, I overlooked a simple technique shown to be by Larry Pixel of the awesome Moon Intern team (http://www.moonintern.com/)

Animation Demo Pixel Art Box O Zombies

(As the case with many tasks, with time production runs smoother and more quickly. The key is not just improvement through repetition but properly utilizing new techniques, hot key’s and time management. I am very happy with the consistency in look from artist to artist through it all.)

So fast forward a bit to present time and we are in a really good place as far as delivering animations for the demo. There will be a significant amount of fixes and improvements I would like to see that will really push the sense style. For this deadline, we have some solid work keeping the spot in the code warm. Sarah, Eddie and I have been churning out sprite sheets, bringing each character to life.
The next Dev Diary will be the last! It will be a brief overview of the production and feature a look back at the game’s Style Guide. It will be interesting to see the comparison. It also could be very uninteresting. We shall see.
Anthony Sixto, Art Director
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Developer Diary IV: Post C2E2 Things and Character Things

 (This year's C2E2 booth was really amazing, kudos to Kent, Amanda, Shawn, Tim and everyone who made it what it was.)

(This year’s C2E2 booth was really amazing, kudos to Kent, Amanda, Shawn, Tim and everyone who made it what it was.)

C2E2 Sketch Art Boz Box O Zombies

(The booth was also generous this year giving out some toys, an iPad mini and an original sketch seen above. The sketch was done during the course of the final day.)

The dust has cleared, the banners are rolled up and the cardboard Iron Man suites are tucked away in the closet. Money has evacuated pockets. Rooms are decorated with superheroes and villains. C2E2 is in the rear view mirror, but there is still much work to be done for Box O Zombies.

A polished, fully playable demo of the game is in sights. This is impressive considering the team is a mix of professionals and students with most of us working on it part time. This makes production and deadline setting extremely tricky. As noted in earlier entries, flexibility and keeping a finger on the pulse is key. So far so good as the game is now taking shape before our eyes.

The game is ever changing and will continue to evolve. We have a UI in place, but it is almost sure to go through a transformation. Buildings are adjusted and characters are stepping off of the concept sheet into the pixel world. Below are some of the art updates since the latest entries. This includes the complete survivor roster and a couple last second Zombie editions.

Survivors pixel and concept art for boz box o zombies

(More characters are joining the team, all serving a specific purpose in keeping the community alive. The pixel art was created by Vicky Kao.)

This is the complete rosters of the game’s survivors, all of which will be key factors to your…survival. Behind all those furrowed brows (would you not furrow a brow during an apocalypse?), there are unique abilities that will prove valuable whether you need to destroy, manage, defend or construct. The cast of characters not only serve different elements of combat and narrative, they each come with a specialty, calling for you to properly implement them when planning the best way to not end up between awful smelling zombie teeth. For example, Nathaniel Tinkerton (farthest to the left) is an engineer. Upgrading and protecting him will be important in advancing your camps infrastructure and recovering lost technologies. Where as Mindy Gupta is the team’s doctor, maintaining health, emergency care and day to day medicine will depend on her progression.

New Zombies pixel art and concept art boz box o zombies

(A couple new zombies join the group. This time I took a crack at the pixel versions so the team can focus on animation.)

The exploding zombie was a smooth process, which was good because I needed to turn these concepts around quickly. The idea was to create a bloated zombie that would explode onto people. Something that isn’t a new concept to the genre. As always, I wanted to figure out a way to bring something new to these old concepts and create a universe that feels a little different. So as I developed the silhouettes with a standard approach of a big, bulbous form, I started to play around with how human the zombie looked.

I pushed it to the point where it look less like a zombie and more of a alien/monster. It went too far, but helped establish some interesting ideas. What came about was developing it on the border of zombie and monster. I started to give it an amphibious feel. I wanted to convey this idea of pressure building internally and over all sliminess. So what better inspiration than a frog like form that inflates and is often moist. The zombie started to transform from standard exploding zombie, to monster and now into a frog like zombie, with touches of the creature of the black lagoon in it’s face

Tank zombie Evolved concept art character boz box o zombies

(Time was tight, but I am getting a little better at knocking out iterations in a short amount of time.)

Originally, I imagined the wrestler was attacked in his gym across from a construction yard. Upon turning, he chased out his apprentice into the construction yard where they battled and he picked up his extreme damage. Completely believable.
Although the story is absolutely plausible…The Luchador makes him a little too much of an individual for a character that needs to be duplicated through out the game. So upon the return to the drawing board a new story arose that complimented the design and function better.

I now started to develop him as a garbage man. I imagined him en route when he was bombarded by a hoard. Unable to fight them off, he was infected. In an attempt to avoid the life of a zombie he hurled himself into his truck as it was compacting. Unfortunately he turned while before being fully crushed and with his now mysterious zombies strength, crawled out to unleash smelly doom. The gives better support to the body damage as well as explains why you might see more than one of these guys hanging around.
So initial disappointment lead to more iteration and the strengthening of a character. This version suits the hopefully iconic elements better than before without pinning them down to an individual. The Luchador is definitely a character that will be revisited, and because of this process of cutting and rebuilding, that design will find itself stronger when its day comes.

In review both concepts could use some better rendering of the forms and surface textures. It would have also been nice to have a little more time to push the design further and refine elements to make the execution of the design a little more solid. I am getting better with poses but still have work to do in regards to making them feel a little more lose and fluid.

I’m done now.

Anthony Sixto, Box O Zombies Art Director

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Dev Diary-Creating a Universe, One Shack At A Time

Narrative Through Environment
(Featuring the pixel art of Eddie Einikis)
 
     Something as minor as a Latrine says a lot about a community. How much spare time it has, what materials are available, how much they value privacy, how clean things are kept. These things only begin to skim the surface (seriously, no pun intended). In order to build a successful universe, for even the smallest details, levels of thought and practicality need to be applied. So yes, even a Latrine has to make sense and has the ability to break a piece of the universe. Leaving it floating there in still waters (…This is a very serious analysis).
      When constructing the buildings of this makeshift community, there has been and continues to be a lot of tweaking and revisiting. Partially due to new design information, but also due to the art team’s determination to really push the level of informative detail. Sometimes we put too much in, over building objects and making them a little to advance for the initial levels of the game.
thoughtprocess
(I was excited about Eddie’s first iterations, but it was pushing the construction a little too far for level 1. I asked for something a bit simpler and primitive, we ended up with something that better fit the level of advancement found in the first level of the game. The old asset is kept on ice, ready to be used for later levels if needed.)
     We just don’t want to create your typical post apocalyptic shanty town, we want it to feel unique and representative of a world that is a little different than the norm. In the first level things are pretty straight forward, but as the levels roll out more and more twists will be revealed. Revealing more and more of the malleable character that is the survivor camp grounds.
      Not only do we want the buildings to actively and interestingly inform the player of the game’s universe, we want them to seem practical. We want each phase of upgrades to make sense and not feel like a magic button turned wood into bricks. They need to exist on the border of disbelief in order to create a sense of discovery and wonder. So there may be a moment of disbelief, but through design we can bring the audience back in and have them rationalize what they are seeing. The way we went about this was establishing a style guide early and the process deconstruction.
 steps

    In a way we stumbled upon our approach. One of the first buildings we made was on target but a bit too advanced. So in order to make sure things didn’t get out of hand we worked backwards. Stripping the building down to make the lower levels. This helped create a nice blueprint. So even if future buildings were built up the chain of levels, it established a mindset on how to make the buildings feel natural and connected.

Visual Hierarchies and Handles

We also need the buildings to serve the game functions as well as the platform. The primary platform at the moment is the iPad and iPhone. The assets are a low resolution art style on a high resolution platform, they need to be designed to make the leap. The buildings need to read clearly, in regards to their function, status and position on the map. The player has the option to zoom in and out a good amount. So players will want to keep tabs on all the game elements at once. This creates problems with even more details lost at the most zoomed out state. We approached this with a few layers of detail, hue and saturation coding. I was also told this can be referred to as a visual hierarchy so now I’m saying it’s that thing. VISUAL HIERARCHY (credit to Matthew Board, professor at Columbia College for the additional vocabulary).

BuildingDetails(The logos for cooking and hunting will probably change. After so many generations of games, player’s develop a preconceived notion for certain icons. Looking at those logos makes me think, archery and potion. We may also push the color saturation to make that distinction pop more.)
     The base layer is saturation in context. So the ground detail, like rocks, grass and dirt, are a little less saturated than the buildings (not seen here as the ground is under construction). This provides a foundation that will help with the initial pop of detail. The next tier of identifiable detail is color and familiarity. There are a series of tents that serve different functions. In order to translate that they serve a similar purpose in a larger context, (perform fundamental functions for running a community), we made them share a general structural design, but varied them a bit. So they don’t look exactly the same, but are familiar, maintaining uniqueness within the larger context. Similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers or Swedish people.
     On top of that, each tent is color coded providing a player sort of a visual handle bar. So rather than trying to remember what the Lumber Mill looks like or it’s location, there eyes can scan the screen and grab onto the color. This has been a bit of a tricky process so far, color balance against the colors of the environment poses some challenges. An additional UI icon system is being developed to further assist with this system.
     The third tier, serving as an accent, is key items with in the tents. We tried to design and layout specific items that pop visually from the other tent details. This not only helps create uniquness amongst similar tents, but also helps clearly and quickly translate the different levels. Again, it is kind of like another handle for players to grasp. The more handles, the easier it is to…….HANDLE.

Artist of the Week

This weeks artist was inevitable considering the entries topic, Eddie Einikis. He is an extremely talented concept artist with some tools in the 3D realm as well. His adaptation to pixel art has been incredible, producing high quality, unique art in a short amount of time. He works as our primary environment/structure pixel artist.

HighlightsBuilding(Some early iterations of buildings. These are not to scale and are sized for presentation purposes.)

      This concept process is usually through description, reference photos, conversation and iteration. Most of the time I give him the designer’s description as well as my interpretation, sometimes with a few specific details I would like to see, and he get’s to work. He has done a stellar job at not only building assets but also contributing effective ideas for visuals and production pipelines. In short, he is good and a artist who I imagine will continue to create really cool stuff. Below is a bit of what he has to say about the process.
“I was not familiar with pixel art when I first joined the BoZ project, but I’m glad to have experienced and learned it. I’ve enjoyed creating buildings with function and personality, and it’s cool to see them implemented in mockups and early builds of the game.”
For more updates from Anthony Sixto, stay tuned!
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Dev Diary – New Life for the Undead

SantaHeader

  The next phase of the Box O Zombies line involves taking the art style and narratives in new, fresh directions. Rather than starting from scratch, we are playing off the first run in order to really expand the sense of discovery and unpredictability. We are starting this new universe with the iOS game and a new line of toys focusing on survivors. The two will interact with each other in a very cool way. The narrative of the game and the new art direction, really help us contribute to the genre with diverse characters that begin to feel a little different from the norm. As we begin to roll the world out, it will open up to more possibilities and unexpected turns. Hopefully, the plan will be executed in a manner that people can appreciate.

The Road to C2E2

The path has been set since late October. C2E2 is down long stretch of road. A production plan has been roughly blocked out. New toys and a game must be ready for the masses roaming the maze of pop culture t-shirts, comics, action figures and if we are as lucky as last year, Bubble Man! (or was that wizard world in which he graced us with a booth?). It is at C2E2 where the Box O Zombies game, and how it works with the new toys, will be demonstrated. The new line will not only be cool little sculpts, they will be game pieces. So scanning a figure into the game using NFC data, will unlock a character and some special abilities.

Now with that made clear, new challenges are presented for art direction. On top of an overall update and improvement on the art style based on what we have learned, the art direction has to walk a fine line, pleasing two mediums. It has to create a feel and temperature for the universe while working for a pixel art game. On top of that it has to make sense for a 3″ printed figure. This has been a challenge but incredibly fun. The concepts have to be consistent, meaning that they characters can’t feel dramatically different as pixel art, concept art or a sculpture. Otherwise the sense of connection to the characters across the mediums will be lost. So there is a fine balance of creating interesting detail that builds a character history and design, while still being able to translate key details with simple pixels and more complex sculptures. Where as too fine of detail, will lead to quite a bit being lost in the two different conversions.
AbeandNat
(Early concepts of some survivors along side early pixel conversions. Both have since been updated to find the a better balance. This includes updating the pixels to match details, replacing Able’s rifle with a flashlight and giving Nathanial a cast. It also includes bouncing back to the concepts and injecting a bolder color design. Illustrator Vicky Kao has done a great job bringing character’s to life through pixel art and animation.)

This time around the characters are pushed towards a more stylized, painterly feel. This was a case where it served an artistic and practical purpose. Now characters can be given more energy and interest with harder edges, simple strokes and pushed proportions. So if we encounter a character who may seem pretty plain in description (Nathaniel for example), we can ramp up his appeal with the art style. It also is easier to convert to pixel form, due to some key components are already exaggerated. A good example of this is Abe’s lanky figure, round buckle and over-sized hat (get it, it’s an over-sized hat). The simplicity also lends itself to manufacturing, if characters can be strongly and uniquely defined with a less detail, it makes them cheaper to produce. It took awhile to fully develop the new art direction, but eventually we found a nice harmony amongst the many variables of the project.

Production is at full steam, but it is still a bit too early to reveal game details. The next entry will begin to pull the curtain back ever so slightly, so if you close one eye and look through the slightest of cracks;  you will sneak a peek at what will be shown at C2E2. This includes more concepts, pixel art and introductions to new team members.Over the coming entries the blog will flesh out the overall art direction of the game. Don’t stop looking at words yet! More words below!

Featured Artist: Vicky Kao

CharPixels(Pixel Art done by Vicky Kao)

The developer Diary will introduce a member of the art team with each entry. It is a small group of young artists, some still students. However, it is an incredibly talented team worth highlighting. They all have great abilities and provide lessons to any artist through their work.

This week we have Vicky Kao, an illustrator on her way to graduating from Columbia College’s Art and Design Department. She has a great range of anime style illustrations that bleeds into more surreal imagery. She modestly is hesitant with animation, but has a great sense of movement and the ability to capture a character’s energy. She is definitely an artist to follow and you can do so by clicking letters, that reference some code that makes your computer show you lot’s of cool things. Click the letters below.

http://thek40.darkfolio.com/

http://scruballz.deviantart.com/

For more updates from Anthony Sixto, stay tuned!