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  • Student Postmortem: Gesundheit!

    - Matt Hammill

  • 3. Using 3D software for 2D animation.

    I've described how I made my character art with a combination of scratchboard artwork and Photoshop, but for the animation I actually used a 3D program. Why use 3D software for 2D animation?

    For some reason, I had become obsessed with the idea that all my characters needed to have really smooth joint bends (for example, knees and elbows) and this would be difficult in the 2D software I knew. But I thought I could make it work in a 3D program using bones. Using Anim8or (a freeware 3D program), I mapped my character art onto flat 2D polygon silhouettes of the characters, as if I were applying paint to a paper cutout. Then I built skeletons for my characters, animated them (keeping everything flat on the X-Y plane) and rendered out the animation frames from an orthographic camera. Those frames were taken back into Photoshop where they were resized and formatted for the game, and outputted once more.

    Why did I go to all that trouble? Don't ask me! If I could do it again, I would have just done all my animation in After Effects or ImageReady. Going through a 3D program was a huge hassle, and since the final sprites are only something like 30 pixels tall (with elbows only a few pixels wide) the smoothness of the bends is sadly not one of the most notable features of the game.

    4. Late playtesting.

    Being the shy fellow I am, I was hesitant at first to let strangers play my game before it was done. I didn't mind showing classmates my work in progress, but most of them weren't gamers. Even those who were into video games seemed hesitant to critique the gameplay -- they were too kind to hurt my feelings.

    By the time the game was ready for the fresh eyes of play testers, I was so close to being finished that I didn't want to wait and get really thorough feedback. The handful of AGS play testers I had gave great advice, but there were a few big things, such as the lack of keyboard controls or an aiming aid, that drove some people mad once I posted it online. As I was working on the game, I had become really good at playing it, and I didn't even notice how cruel the game was for new players. I should have gotten a broader sample of testers to give feedback earlier in the process.

    I was able to add and improve some features in subsequent versions, but if I'd considered these issues early on, they could have been much easier to implement and incorporate into the rest of the game script. And I don't think it would have been hard to find testers -- my experience with the indie gaming scene is that everybody's only too willing to offer feedback.

    5. Didn't research engine enough.

    At the start, I was so eager to jump right into development that I didn't spend much time researching my engine. The version of AGS I used (2.72) was great, but there are Mac ports for older AGS versions that I could have taken advantage of if I'd looked into it first.

    And that's only AGS. I often wonder what the game could have been like if I'd used another engine altogether. Online play? A level editor? When I started the game I never considered anything besides AGS, and realistically, features like that would probably have only bogged me down. Regardless, it would have been nice to have those options for future versions.

    Good Health To You!

    A lot of the problems I encountered while working on Gesundheit! are probably the most common and obvious mistakes a newbie can make, and I'm sure the game could have been done better if I'd had someone with game experience guiding me. Yet, stumbling through the process was part of the fun, so it's hard to view any of it with regret.

    Doing the game for an art course was very liberating, and having an experienced illustrator give me feedback helped me push the graphics much further than I would have on my own. And it was quite a treat at the end of term to show off my own video game to the rest of the class on the school's digital projector.

    Making Gesundheit! was probably the most fun I've had on a solo project. Learning stuff is cool, and I did nothing but learn the whole way through. My inner control freak loved working out everything from the scripting to the snot stains, and I'm better at the recorder than I've ever been before. As an aside, Gesundheit! was my first serious attempt at character animation. I ended up enjoying that part so much that I took a postgraduate course in the subject. I start my first job at an animation studio next week, so I guess I owe a lot to my little green pig and his smoothly bending elbows.

     Game Data


    School: Sheridan College, Ontario, Canada

    Development Time: 4 months in school plus 3 months part time before release

    Team Size: 1 

    Hardware Used: Laptop PC, Wacom tablet, USB audio mixer, instruments and art stuff

    Game Engine: Adventure Game Studio

    Software Used: Photoshop, Anim8tor, Cubase, MS Paint

    Total Lines of Code: About 6,000

    Final Project Grade: A



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