Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Speccies - ZX Spectrum The creation process - Part 1

The Speccies - ZX Spectrum

The creation process - Part 1

Last week, the game I was working on "The Speccies" was released. It was released as a free digital download for the ZX Spectrum and was also available as a limited cassette copy.

You get more details about the game, including the download, from the Tardis Remakes website. Go download it now! I'll go into how I went about creating the physical copies of this game in a separate article.

When I was first asked to do the graphics for this game away back in February, I knew nothing of the game it was based on - The Brainies/Tiny Skweeks, which was released on just about every format other than the ZX Spectrum - and at this point "our" version was still going to be called "The Brainies". I was keen to work on another Spectrum game that would actually be released, having been involved in a few others that just faded away.

I looked at the graphics from the DOS version that were sent to me and Søren, the coder of the coder of the game, may now be surprised to know that my heart sank when I saw those graphics. I still had no idea how the game played and I thought the DOS graphics were terrible. Having a look online, the SNES and Amiga versions weren't much better.

Now, top-down graphics can be quite difficult to do, but when you are limited to 2 colours and 16x16 pixels, things start to get a little tricky. Doing a top-down graphic of a Brainie walking wouldn't be very exciting both visually to the player and to me, the person creating the graphic. I decided that I'd have the Brainie roll. Yeah, roll. That'd be fun to do! The number of frames to animate a sprite on a ZX Spectrum can be limited due to the small amount of memory available. 4 frames would be no good, but if I could use 8 frames, then I thought it'd look good. Thankfully, I was told, "Sure, 8 frames is no problem. It could make things easier if everything had 8 frames." I'm paraphrasing, of course.

Off I went, to create a sprite that I was determined to have something of my design....and this is what I came up with.
I know, pretty rubbish, right? Not only was the character itself pretty uninspiring, but the frames for the rolling just weren't right either. I took a step back from the computer and went about sketching each frame on paper using pencil and then I'd film it using the Vine app on my iPhone. I would kill some time on a Friday night, at least.
Not only was this an exercise in getting each of the 8 frames needed for rolling, but also to try out an slightly new design fora Brainie. When I create a character, it's all about proportion and I felt I now had that right. I still felt that there wasn't enough on the Brainie itself, so when it came to creating the character in pixels, I highlighted it's face. This was also a way of showing that it was rolling rather than it's eyes and feet looking like they are spinning.

And after only 3 iterations (the 2nd displayed up there and the 1st is almost identical to the 2nd other than having no "brow") I got the character design right and it never changed.

I had the sprites for moving down only, though, therefore looked into frames for it turning around - couldn't manage it due to the 16x16 pixel limit - always facing down but rolling backwards when going up and always facing but rolling sideways left and right - again the 16x16 pixel limit proved this impossible. I even considered making the character smaller by 1 pixel an all sides, but then it actually lost character, so quickly abandoned that idea. In the end, we compromised. When he was static, he always faced you and selecting which way to move, he'd face that direction and roll.
I'd add more facial expressions and movements to it later on in development, but I was feeling good. I was also starting to get into the game, especially since it was similar to a game I'd just been played and loved on my iPhone, "Squarescape". I had got, what I thought, was an aces animated character that really looked like it was rolling properly and I assumed the difficult part was over. There wasn't much else to be animated and surely the other sprites/tiles would be relatively easy. How wrong was I! It turns out this graphic was one of the easiest.

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