I was planning to prototype one or two new enemy designs this week, and that’s still on the docket for Wednesday’s video, but on Friday, I got a wild hair and decided it was finally time to kill off any remaining vestiges of the Link sprite from Zelda II.
Going back to last December, I talked a bit about the motivation behind starting with an recognizable player character sprite, and for several weeks, I had a near-exact replica of Link running around in Gunmetal Arcadia. In mid-February, I replaced the Link sprite art with an original design, but I retained the same core animation set, and many frames were still clearly lifted from Zelda II, several being literal paintovers. Of course, these were never intended to be shipping sprites; they were simply another stepping stone along the way to launch.
Recently, I’ve been feeling like the existing animations have been holding me back. I’ve been reluctant to showcase the game extensively while these assets are still around, and and I’ve received a few bits of negative feedback for using clearly derivative placeholder art. So on Friday, I finally decided to come back to this task and completely redo Vireo’s sprite sheet.
One of my first tasks was to get rid of the sword and shield. Vireo doesn’t carry a shield, and he may carry many different types of melee weapons, so baking these into the sprite is not appropriate. There is ample precedent in action platformers for keeping weapons hidden until they are used (notably in the Castlevania series), so I have no qualms about that.
Fortunately, I had done some mockups of what an unarmed player character might look like a few months back when I was figuring out the look of each faction. This became my new idle pose and served as the basis for all other animations.
I did a little bit of work in early April to stub out a six-frame walk cycle, as Link’s odd three-frame cycle has never sat very well with me and I didn’t want Vireo’s walk to be patterned after that one. This was again very placeholder in nature, but it ended up sticking around for five months or so, largely because that was right around the time that I began tinkering with Super Win the Game again, and I’ve been juggling multiple projects ever since.
This is one of the biggest changes from Link’s sprite on account of the fact that Link doesn’t even have a unique jumping animation. His jump is composited from his crouching pose and one frame of his walk cycle. I was starting with a blank canvas. I chose to do a three-frame jump because I had had success with that in the Win the Game series, splitting the animation into clearly defined rise, hang, and fall frames. Likewise, I adapted a few other elements from Super Win, including the shift in the eyes’ gaze to follow the trajectory and leading with the front foot. A major difference from my previous work is that Vireo has arms; Super Win’s Wayfarer typically did not except when an animation required it.
There’s no wind-up here; Vireo doesn’t crouch or shift his weight in preparation for a jump. This is one of those concessions that games often have to make in the interest of responsive feel. As a player, I expect my character to immediately leave the ground as soon as I press the jump button. If there were any wind-up time, the game would feel unresponsive, delayed, or “laggy,” and for many games, especially an action platformer like this one, that would be unacceptable. An exception to this rule is cinematic platformers; these can usually get away with prioritizing animation quality over immediacy of control. Prince of Persia is a classic example; the prince’s actions are temporally offset from the player’s input, but the game compensates for this by giving the player ample opportunity to time their jumps. When quick response is needed, as in the case of combat, the animations tend to fast and have less wind-up.
I’m retaining the Zelda II behavior of using the crouch frame as a landing pose immediately following a jump or fall. It still feels really good, so I don’t see much use in drawing a separate unique landing pose.
Despite what I just said in the previous section, the combat animation does have a wind-up. But it’s a short one, and it only affects the first strike if the button is pressed repeatedly, so it’s not too punishing. (This behavior was carried over from Zelda II; I like the way it feels so I’ve left it alone for now.)
My primary goal for the attack animations was to maintain the weapon heights from Link’s sprite. I’m comfortable with these positions, and they’re tuned well for hitting 16×16-sized blocks or enemies at the character’s head or feet. Beyond that, I had mostly free rein to do whatever I wanted here, and the absence of the shield freed up some space to make this a little more expressive.
Vireo raises his off-hand behind his head whenever he strikes. Besides helping to differentiate his silhouette from Link’s, I like this because it gives him a sort of theatrical swashbuckling presence. Vireo is not a trained swordsman, and I think it’s appropriate that he would adopt some mannerisms just for show.
Although I did preserve the weapon’s height, I altered its range slightly, shifting the attachment point forward two pixels from where it had been before.
The placeholder ladder sprite I had been using for months dates back to the end of last December, when I quickly stubbed in a representation of what Link might look like climbing a ladder, based on his poses facing the camera, as when grabbing an item. This later became a quick paintover to roughly match Vireo’s proportions, but it never looked good or moved correctly, so again, I pretty much had to start this one over from scratch. I looked up a few references for this one and found no real consensus in how ladder climbs are animated. Sometimes the hands are feet stay roughly in sync which each other, sometimes opposite hands and feet reach upward at the same time, sometimes they’re staggered… I ended up keep left and left, right and right more or less in sync. I’m still not super happy with how this turned out, and it’s a contender for a redo later on down the road, but it’s not dragging the whole game down like the old one was.
It’s difficult to say whether this will be the final shipping asset. I’m sure there will be a few bits of cleanup here and there, but otherwise, it’s probably over the “good enough” threshold. The walk cycle feels sort of odd now in comparison to the rest of the sprite; the legs feel a little bit out of proportion with the rest of the body, but it’s also hard to judge it objectively because I’ve been staring at it all weekend. Regardless, it’s exciting to see new types of motion in the game; Vireo is starting to feel like his own character and not just an orange Link knockoff.