Character Animations

When we started working on this project, we asked ourselves tons of questions about the graphical side of things. We’d been thinking about moving to 3D for a while because, admittedly, this technique adds a lot of flexibility. Not to mention the fact that our game design needs/wants pushed us very quickly toward 3D environments (remember how the Dimensional Haven scenery moves). So, while the decision to go with 3D environments very quickly turned out to be mandatory, we were still skeptical about characters and wanted to run a few tests. We took a beat and thought very carefully about all that. I don’t think I’ll spoil the surprise by saying that in the end we decided to go with 2D. The game will therefore have 3D environments and 2D characters.

For those tests I mentioned, we worked with our friends at Supamonks Studio, whose work you can see below. The idea was to stick as close as possible to our 2D renders. KROSMAGA fans will recognize the two characters shown in the example. Of course, the render looks quite nice and couldn’t be at that level in a video game, but honestly, we were initially very enthusiastic. Supamonks had portrayed our characters very well, and 3D would have had many advantages – for customization/adding equipment, and especially in my opinion, re-using assets in other potential games. Unlike with 2D, 3D characters can be turned in any direction and re-used fairly easily. However, if we ever wanted to use our 2D characters developed in ISO in a platform game, we wouldn’t be able to recover anything.

 

So, why did we decide against 3D, you ask?
For many reasons.

  • First, costs would go through the roof compared to using the expertise we’ve built up in 2D. We would have had to put together a team of 3D modelers and animators entirely in-house, or otherwise sub-contract all of production to an outside studio.
  • A second, very important, point involves update flexibility. Currently at Ankama, we’re able to deliver a large number of very beautiful animated (2D) sprites in a short amount of time. This “firepower” is important when working on a project with a community around it and a duty to provide regular updates.
  • Re-using assets in our various games. This has been a sweet dream of mine for a few years now. Just like WAKFU, DOFUS, DOFUS TOUCH and KROSMAGA, WAVEN is an ISO game, and even though the art direction changes, we can imagine characters common to all these games. Today, that bridge exists almost exclusively between WAVEN and Krosmaga, but a guy can dream…
  • Keeping production and quality control in-house. Producing a video game is often complicated, and being able to work right next to each other is a real advantage.
  • 2D development expertise. Yes, because our developers have also, over time, created tools that let us optimize our 2D assets. They’ve learned a great deal from producing KROSMAGA in UNITY on the client end, and have even developed their own tools to improve the performance of our 2D animations.
  • Being as close as possible to the imagery in our animated series. This was another huge goal. Sure, when it comes to “background”, you don’t see the difference, but when it comes to characters, 3D, no matter how good, is noticeable. One of our major goals was to be faithful to the renders in our animated series, and this weighed in the balance too.

For all these reasons, and despite the wonderful 3D test, we therefore stuck with what we do well. I still hope to work with the artists at Supa’ one day, but this collaboration might not happen in the Krosmoz universe.
In explaining this decision, I wanted to share our thought process with you.

2D Character Creation in WAVEN

When we create a character in one of our games, there are several steps that must be followed; these steps happen to be fairly similar to those we use in our animation studio. The WAVEN animators and artists have all worked on video games and animated series, and most of them are “old hands” who’ve leveled up over the years. I hope you’ll sense their contribution to this new game.

Here’s a little bonus for those of you who’ve seen WAKFU Season 3. Two of these four sprites are good examples of our efforts to stay close to the renders in our audiovisual productions.

The designers come into play first, producing preliminary character artwork. We started with the IOP class (“same as always”, I can hear you saying) and ended up with this type of preliminary artwork.

Most of this early artwork is really excellent and will certainly be used again later, but we were looking in particular for a “classic” IOP that would be easily identifiable. We therefore went with the lower right drawing and asked Guillaume to freshen it up a bit.

Then, Guillaume refined the artwork with a few poses and started vectoring the baby. Vectoring is a crucial “technical” stage because it then lets the animator play around with different slips – uh, I mean, clips. And of course, it lets us harmonize our designers’ renders/style. For WAVEN, we wanted more dynamic positions for the characters’ poses. This was in part to give the illusion of an attack even when the character is waiting their turn.

List of Various Combat Animations

Before getting to the animations for our Iop friend, we needed to set the style and list the work to be done for each character. Here, too, our “KROSMAGA” experience allowed us to shift gears and experiment with new things. Our animators pressed on with the animations, but we gradually figured out that, after the first impression had been made, the most important thing was animation speed. If we had to do it over, we’d make the animations in KROSMAGA much faster, since resolving damage sometimes takes too much time. It’s more a “feeling” than something you see, but gaining five or six seconds per turn (yours and your opponent’s) on each combat animation adds up, and by the 10th turn, you’ve shaved off one minute. And one minute in a 10-to-12-minute match is huge. In terms of time, yes, but especially, as I said above, in the “feel”.
I’m making you aware of this subject so you understand why we decided to have the characters “dash” or run when moving around in combat.

Thus, the idea is to be more dynamic while still having beautiful animations.

Here are our situational intentions for character movements. And before you comment on the looks of that strange white-headed character in black… That’s a test character – our “crash test dummy” that you’ll never see in the game, like a stunt double for all our characters, who does the grunt work while everyone else is having fun… So please, be kind…

We also wondered quite a bit about bow attacks…


Should they curve…

…or use “heat-seeking” mode?

Now that the stunt doubles have done their job and allowed us to experiment, we can start tailoring some of the animations for our Iop.

NPC Animations and Living Scenery

As I said in the previous post, our goal is also to have a world that feels very alive. The bare minimum would be to animate the NPCs, but we are trying to take things further by involving the terrain in order to clearly mark where you can fight. We’ll use this render in large part for quests and other somewhat unique adventures.


Excerpt from Tot’s blog, October 25, 2017.
Read the original post (in French) in its entirety.

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