For a game I keep saying is my ‘top active project’, I sure don’t talk about
or work on it any. I wind up taking large breaks while Hawk toils away in the salt mines, shifting all the walls. What this game visually is has changed a great deal since the start, and ended up landing at dioramas.
So to start, our tiles are weird, did you notice? They’re isometric from the top on two planes, but also cubes so they have to be drawn a very specific way to line up. It took me a little bit to get accustomed to it, but it gives the game this.. unique feel to it. It’s the same style of maptile that we used in Magical Unicorn Adventure, so my adjustment time really wasn’t unlike riding a bike. MUA being a depthless-sidescroller meant that I built those levels and tiles very differently, and they fit in a lot less for that style of game. I achieved more character and sense of place from the backgrounds in that game than from the tiles or level design. Chaos Eater on the other hand I think of as a series of little dioramas because I get to flesh out Z-axis this time as opposed to just the X and Y. Hawk has made a pretty great little editor that isn’t lacking in features for this cause either. It’s very impressive to me that he even found a way to make editing a map with these unique maptiles simple. I don’t give him the proper praise for his ideas sometimes, but he usually has his finger on the pulse of ‘what I need’ to get work done long before I even realize it. (the worst is when he asks if I’d like X or Y to be added and I say ‘no why would I nee that’ only to realize a few days or weeks later that ‘shit how do I make this look like it was my idea’)
My mind was thinking of building everything as tiles, cube-by-cube, and it worked out fine for a bit when the majority of a scenario was taking place indoors. I ran into some issues trying to make out-doors feel as lively and not like a ‘box floating in space that just ends for no reason’. I can fix this with backgrounds to an extent by adding in objects to block the way such as trees, which is where I started. Initially I began building the trees with them in mind as being tiles that would raise up on the Y-axis a bit before sprawling out on the Z and X-axes. I have tons and tons of sketches (needlessly) of this process on post-it notes and in my sketch book trying to figure out how big I could afford to make the tops of the trees, how they would look on the right side of the cube that we can see, and where cut the blend from the tree bark to the leaves. And I got it working, and it made me feel smart?
Using the tiles in unique ways to fool the player into thinking they are seeing something new when they aren’t, or that they’re seeing something 3d that’s just a tile illusion is a great feeling. It’s things like this tweet by Derek Yu that I’m talking about. I’m not sure if this is a common artist trap, some sort of OCD or practical-perfectionism thing, or if it’s mostly unique to me. Using art in an unexpected, reusable way has always been one of the big appeals to me when it comes to doing art for games. It makes me feel as though I’m giving something less than significant a chance to impress you or take you by surprise.
In this case though it was overkill, unpractical, and the effect was going to be really difficult to maintain after the fact. Even with Hawk’s fancy editor tools, I’d be up a creek if one of those top leaf maptiles was off, and rebuilding it would be a pain. So I was forced to sacrifice “feeling smart”, my drug, to “being practical”, which is actually smarter. Because as with any problem I have, Hawk’s already given me the solution years ago in ‘decorations’, which are full sized sprites that I can animate and change and do whatever with. They tile properly with the rest of the maptiles and their anchor points on the maptile can be adjusted to different faces for say, a clock or painting on the wall or a rug or chair on the ground. He’d mentioned these several times in the past, and would sometimes remind me of them passively in a “did you do that with decorations” kind of way. I’m stubborn and couldn’t at the time think of any benefit I’d have to using a decoration over just using a tile. I mean, if I’m making a rug, it’s just as easy to make it on the maptile itself, right? The answer is sort of, it depends, but it definitely doesn’t make trees easier.