My favorite aspect of this project is seeing the different perspectives each artist takes on their individual level. Thats what makes The Adventures of Dash so unique, is the fact that every level is "owned" by a different artist and their unique style. A new Dash, a New World, and a whole new set of enemies in every dream.
I wanted to take some time today to dive into just how much work goes into creating one of these levels, from hand drawing every piece of detail in the environment, to hand animating each frame of a characters run and attack cycles. Our artist, George Alexopoulos, takes us through his process of creating his version of Dash, and the RPG inspired Black and White dream we'll be playing in:
George first sketches out the entire animation cycle for Dash. Since he is starting from scratch with each frame, it's important to capture a unified look and continuous posture from one frame to the next. HE does this by sketching out every frame of the run or attack cycle next to each other and then painstakingly detailing each frame for animation.
Once he's finished an entire cycle, we'll scan each frame of animation and put it in gameplay engine so we can see how it all looks in motion.
George will repeat this cycle for every action the play can have Dash do in the dream. Running, walking, jumping, ducking, rolling, interacting, and of course attacking.
Once the animation is in-engine, we'll evaluate it and determine if we need to extend or tweak the animation cycle. More frames = smoother movement. Any changes mean back to the drawing board (literally) to create additional frames and movements by hand and scan them in to add to the in-game animations.
The same level of detail applies not only to the characters of the dream world, but the entire environment as well. Every leaf, rock, cobblestone road, and building needs to be created from scratch on paper first and then scanned in for the level designers to build out the dream world.
The big challenge with hand drawn art in level design is flexibility. For a number of reasons, we can't just scan in a large or long, hand drawn scene as is and expect it to work for gameplay or technical reasons. For one, to keep frame rate high and gameplay smooth on screen, we can't load every asset of the level in at once. The file size would be too long and slow down the action. Plus, you have to often change around a level for gameplay reasons. Enemy placement, platforming challenge, story telling. Therefore, its not feasible to expect the artist to go back and re do an entire scene every time we want to move a rock or platform a few inches to the left or right. Therefore, we have to approach the level design in a modular fashion. Hand drawing every piece of background, foreground, and playable space in a way that can be easily adjusted and iterated on by the designer to get that perfect mixture of fun and challenge for the player.
Now that we've got our hero, our kingdom, and our attacks. It's time to design some enemies to use them against and start the process all over again...