Before I get to something colorful and interesting toward the end of this post…
Friends, I have to level with you. For posterity’s sake, for people who will look back on my development history, for personal growth, and maybe other benefits I’m forgetting, this is my honesty. I have no promised Seaside Slime Cove layout this week. While it’s partly to do with a nearly-got-this-website-permanently-suspended incident involving spambots creating over 228,000 accounts and way overloading my allotted email capacity, which took me a few days to undo, that’s not the big reason. The big reason is this:
Pixel art is serious business.
And pixel art level design is even more serious business.
Going in, I didn’t give this endeavor the proper respect. It’s been far more challenging than I imagined.
The Miharu overworld layout only took me a couple of weeks. Since that was one of my first tries, I assumed I’d be faster the second time around. And besides, the continent of Miharu is technically larger in size than the Seaside Slime Cove, so it would definitely be easier.
Assumption Flaw 1:
In theory, I believed that a continent and a cave would be roughly the same level of difficulty. Practice flipped my expectations on their head: a continent is much easier because of the camera perspective. Dotting a birds’-eye-view landscape with flowers and trees is simple, but creating a damp water-soaked corner in a cave is intricate—and intricate is challenging.
Assumption Flaw 2:
I’ve been using very simplistic placeholders that conform almost universally to a strict 16×16 grid. For my real art, I asked to break from the grid with lots of curves and diagonals to create a more natural visual appeal for the player. The downside is that it’s also far less intuitive for me as a creator. The best comparison I can make is that it’s like figuring out how to piece together a puzzle except that A) there’s no box showing the final image and B) all of the pieces physically fit together even if they won’t always look right.
If I had more readers right now, I’d probably post the tile set right now and dare people to download Tiled and try to recreate Becca’s mockup with it. For a 20×16 grid of 48×48 tiles (she blew them up to triple size), it took me hours upon hours to figure out how she turned a set of tiles (“puzzle pieces”) into something beautiful. By contrast, it would be easy to recreate my placeholder Miharu since I didn’t do anything particularly special.
…which brings me to my last point.
Assumption Flaw 3:
It’s one thing to be able to match up to your own skill level, but another to compete with somebody else. I’d be done by now if I was only putting together a Seaside Slime Cove that lived up to what I did with placeholder Miharu, but in reality I’m living up to Becca’s mockup. Posting it for a third time (and final time) as a reminder of how nice it looks:
— Becca Bair (@TupelosHoney) March 2, 2015
…and now bear in mind that I have to exceed this! I had the placeholder layouts months ago—and I’m talking about skeleton drafts here—but in the final layouts I have to be better on small details. Yes, really and truly, better than this example from Becca! Partly for personal satisfaction, but also because, hey, if I can’t beat this then maybe I shouldn’t be the one handling level design.
And that is a real possibility that I’m not overlooking. The fact is that I’m pretty sure I’ve hit what others call a mental block. Being that annoying straight-A-student-who-didn’t-even-have-to-try type, I’ve never experienced this before, not even the infamous writer’s block; I may procrastinate on writing at times, but when it flows it flows beautifully and for a long while.
But in between writing Dreamblazers‘ story, whenever I open up Tiled and get back to putting my cave together, I feel profoundly inadequate, as if I don’t have the skill set to be doing it—no, even that’s an understatement. Lacking the skill set has never been an issue.
Tonight's lesson: I may only know 20% of what I'm doing, but sometimes people who know 50% are missing my 20% in their knowledge base.
— Jelly Paladin (@JellyPaladin) March 24, 2014
Not knowing what I’m doing has never mattered because I have the drive to go in and learn. If anything is astonishing and wonderful about being a game designer, it’s finding out how far you can go just by doing it—by rushing in and embracing it wholeheartedly, the power of passion can surprise you even without a plan.
And yet I’m just not feeling it on the level design front. Maybe it’s just different strokes for different folks; I remember speaking with someone on Twitter who was showing off his world design and talking about how he dreaded when he’d had to balance enemies, but for me it’s the opposite. So if I really can’t get over this hurdle, then I’ll need to find somebody else to handle it. There’s no shame in that, of course, but maybe a twinge of disappointment if I have to go that route—I definitely believed that level design was something I could do for my own game.
We’ll see how I feel with the overworld, though, which is in the works right now! What I’ve seen so far looks like an easier tile set to work with than the cave, but maybe I’ll be blown away with another amazing mockup that forces me to either step up my game (literally) or get out!
Now with all of that out of the way, moving on…
To the return of pictures!
This is Cecille Reyes! Despite not appearing on the characters page since she wears a standardized Imperial uniform, she gets this entire post to herself. (…albeit mostly because I’m still deciding on Tango’s eye style. =P)
Cecille is one of the three hand-to-hand combat specialists along with Celty and her (Cecille’s) mentor Sakura! Of these three, Celty is an evasive speedster who dodges all inbound attacks, Sakura has healing powers to support her friends, and Cecille is the best at taking damage without going down. Personality-wise she’s friendly and somewhat naive but also a stickler for rules and propriety, hence her limited range of expressions right now. She’ll likely get a few more, though, as will most other characters in the coming weeks.