In the previous article, I talked about how the Hero-U art process had changed from flat perspective 2D to full 3D while retaining the lush graphics style of our concept art.

Now I will show how the animation process has evolved as the game progresses.

The Dire Rat

The Dire Rat is like a rat crossed with Tasmanian Devil – bad tempered, fast, and with really sharp teeth. It is not only meaner than your ordinary sewer rat – it eats rats for breakfast.

The local residents of Caligari, Sardonia call them “Drats.”

The first design sketches of the Drats looked like this, and went well with the original cartoony character designs:

Early Drat Design


Initial Sketches by Eric Varnes

When JP painted the Wine Cellar, he made the Drats look sleeker and much more dangerous.

Wine Cellar Drat


Painting Detail by John Paul Selwood

Then, Terry Robinson took the Drat monster to the next level of design in this detailed sketch:

Parts of a Drat


Sketch by Terry Robinson

2D or not 2D

Sierra On-Line had a very sophisticated animation program to create their games. We were starting from scratch. After looking at several different animation tools for Hero-U, we settled on a program that used a “Puppet” approach to animation. The images were broken apart and then the parts could be moved separately like a puppet on a string.

This shows how many pieces it took to make a Drat move with the Puppet system:

Parts of a Drat


Parts of a Drat

Here’s a screenshot of the puppet Drats strolling across a room:

Puppet Drats Walking


Puppet Drats Walking

On the whole, they look too cartoony and not very scary. At the time, it was what we had to work with.

A Change in Plans

When we released our first demo for the game, there were comments that the hero looked stiff and moved poorly. Now you can see why the characters moved so stiffly. It took a lot of work to do this puppet animation in the game, even with the professional animator we had hired. Even with his skill and traditional animation background, the characters still moved like puppets on strings.

Then our lead animator was made an offer he couldn’t refuse – a big game company wanted to pay him a real salary for his work (unlike the peanuts and popcorn and evental fame and fortune that we offered). Alas, he was tired of eating popcorn for breakfast and was lured away from us.

We were left with a hokey-looking animation system and no animator.

The Coming of CAH

Last year about the time our lead animator left the team, Corey and I were asked to talk at a small game conference. One of the exhibitors was Concept Art House, who did character designs for games like “League of Legends.” When we spoke with them, they were very interested in working with us.

However, their artists and animators worked in 3D.

Real vs. Memorex

Frankly, we didn’t like the look of the last game we did in 3D. We didn’t have a team who was used to working with 3D. Most of the art team did not want to work with 3D.

But we liked what we saw from CAH, so we gave them a chance to change our minds about 3D animation. We had them take one of our designs and turn it into a 3D model.

We sent them this:

Dire Rat Model Sheet


Dire Rat Model Sheet

They sent us back this:

Poly Drat


Dire Rat Polygons

And then this:

Dire Rat Textured


Dire Rat Textured

Now our Drats look like this:

Dire Rat 3D


Dire Rat 3D

Now this is what I call a scary Drat.

It’s even scarier when you squash and skin them:

Drat Texture


Dire Rat Unwrapped

This is how the 3D artist creates the textures that will be placed upon the 3D wire frames. This is why 3D artists make the big bucks in the game industry. It takes a good imagination to figure out how to paint three dimensional objects with two dimensional tools.

CAH managed to convince us that they could give us a better-looking and moving Drat than we had with the 2D Puppet engine despite our initial concerns. We asked them to redo all of our character art in 3D, and we are very pleased with the results.

Doing Whatever It Takes

Working with a new team and unfamiliar tools, flexibility is essential. Hero-U started out with cartoony, flat characters in a chessboard-like top-down environment. We then tried the Sierra look with flat characters on an isometric “stage”. Either could have worked, but did not look good enough by 21st Century graphics standards.

Our new look uses 3D environments, both 2D and 3D props, and 3D characters with full animation. Hero-U is not the game we started out to make; it is going to look much better than we dreamed it could.

Equally important to getting a game out, we now have all of the basic character design and animation complete. This has required us to stretch the budget with personal funds, but we are convinced it was the only way to go for this game. Making this decision almost a year into development has also added months to the schedule, but realistically we could not have done any better in 2D with the people and resources we had.

We are now on track to make a game that is new, original, and beautiful. Like we did with Quest for Glory, we are making Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption to be a game we can be proud of 20 years from now.