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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Unicorn Quest Concept Art

     Concept art is a good place to start when explaining Unicorn Quest because it's all I have done at this point in development as far as "showable" things go. I have the basic idea of the game and it's mechanics in a word document, but I'm trying to do this organically and just add things as I go. My goal for the first few weeks is getting some basic art going. I want to have base sprites for everything I'd need to make a vertical slice demonstration.

     The first thing I did for this project was design the main character. After that I experimented with art styles until I came up with what was shown yesterday. Find the full story of how these pixels came to be beyond the page break.

     Those familiar with the 2010 reboot of My Little Pony will know about Clover the Clever, pupil of Starswirl the bearded who this game's protagonist is based on. I found a vector of the character on Google and used that as reference for drawing my own version.

I tried making a sprite based on the open source files
provided by Urimas Ebonheart on deviantART
      I ran into problems with scaling the body and searched for pony sprites to have a template for a base sprite. I was going to made a perfectly sized sprite in MS Paint then trace over it in Gimp to give it a vector outline to make it look more like the image of Clover the Clever. When making the hooded unicorn in the image above I couldn't shake off the uncanny valley vibes I was getting. I tried altering colors, changing the base sprite reference, and changing how much of her was covered by the cloak. I even broke out some scrap paper and doodled unicorns with exaggerated features in an attempt to find something that suited my game. Nothing felt just right so I decided to just stick with what I had and try making vectored versions of it until a better idea came to me.

      The day after I finished the pre-vector version of Clover I saw an image on Equestria Daily made by cmaggot on deviantART that completely changed my mind. I didn't even consider making the ponies 8-bit. That's when my mind surged with ideas of making every thing in simple, colorful pixel art. It was a thousand times more feasible than drawing everything with Gimp and with white outlines around the game's characters, game objects would be much easier to see on a small screen.

     Cutting out the pony sprite and adding subtle shading on it's edges didn't look much better than the Urimas based sprites I made and neither did shrinking cmaggot's image and changing the pixel alignment and colors. That's when I made a base sprite from cmaggot's image by matching the pixel alignment for the concept pose one dot at a time. Then I multiplied my sprite's size by 3 and it matched the size of the pre-vector sprite perfectly. It was almost the same size as cmaggot's image too. That's when I experimented with colors and settled on a combination of white fur and a red mane. A tribute to the alicorn pony often used to represent Lauren Faust, creator of the 2010 MLP reboot that inspired this game and many others like it. 

     After my version of cmaggot's sprite had it's color I outlined it with a 2 pixel wide line by drawing a solid line around the sprite's perimeter with a 1 pixel space between the two and coloring in the gap with the bucket tool. The image looked perfect. I finally knew for sure what I wanted the game to look like and moved on from there.
     I added a cape to the sprite and changed the hair to better suit the swooshing crescent style I pictured my interpretation of Clover having. The result made my day and make Unicorn Quest seem less like a dream and more like a reality. I can see myself making every sprite for the game in this style and it'd be quicker than doing it any other way. I just make tiny sprites, grow them to 300% size, then give them a white outline if they're characters. 

     I tried different colors for the cloak, but found myself attached to the humble brown anfd other medieval colors. Blues and purples looked out of place but warm colors suited Clover well. When messing with the hues in Gimp I got the idea of having multiple costumes like Link does in A Link to the Past. Cloak upgrades you can buy in shops for a ridiculous price that double your HP. You can go from Humble Brown to Mage Green to Archmage Claret.

     I kept the cloakless base so I could alter it again to make NPCs. I even made a bald version in order to experiment with wacky hairstyles and define features on the pony's body that are normally covered up.

     I also made the pixie character Parax based on the parasprites in cmaggot's image. I pictured Parax being like Navi from Zelda but with eyes and cmaggot's image hit the nail on the head. Since he's basically just a circle with ovals, animating his flapping wings and blinking eyes should be simple enough.

      Parax and Clover are the only two character sprites I have done as of today. This week I'll be making basic animations for the two and dropping them into Unity so that I can try getting Clover to walk around and have the camera follow her smoothly. I think I'll begin drawing ideas for enemies on paper after that works. It'll be fun making all sorts of pixel monsters to blast into oblivion. 

      Everything else that existed on my mock-up collage was either picked for reference (for potential enemy & boss ideas), used for size comparison, or reused from an old project of mine. I even drafted the mock-up interface a few times here before settling on the one shown yesterday. 

      Having something to look at really spurs on development. The game feels real to me now. Something I can touch up on and move around. I'll have dedicated posts in the future showing off specific sprites and sprite sheets as I make them. 

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