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Graphics Introduction

I wish to point out that my specialty is not graphics, it is game design and story writing. I've had to learn about graphics because I'm very selective about how my game will look, and don't feel that anyone else would be able to translate what my  inner idea of the game looks like into actual graphics as well as I would be able to do. So my advice here will likely seem naive and amateur to someone with real graphics talent. I've enlisted the help of others (Harlock, Charbile) in writing parts of this part of the article.

Graphics are the first thing someone sees about your game. This is because we are a very visual species. If dogs made games, they would focus on games that had really good sounds and smells, because their sense of smell and sense of hearing are more important to them than their sense of sight. Since we are humans, a game's graphics are what attract our attention.

In addition, you can't really make a game without graphics. Even text-based games (as UberSteve once pointed out) rely on text, which is graphical (visual). The graphics are not the 'content' of a game, but they are the most important interface between the content and the player. Graphics create fantasy. When you see a drawing of a bear attack a drawing of the person you play as in the game, you don't think: "hey, there is a drawing of a bear attacking a drawing of a person representing me!" you think "hey, there is a BEAR attacking me!". Chris Crawford, author of the first book on game design, believes that the entire point of a game is to create a fantasy in a person's mind. And the graphics are the starting point of this. When you look at a scene from a game, you get, all at once, a sensation of that scene. If you have to read a text-based description of that scene, the image of the scene would not come all at once, and wouldn't be as strong, unless you're a very fast visual reader.

(Of course, if you want to try to make an audio-only game, this entire area of the article is moot. Think of those old audio-only radio shows. It would be interesting to see a game that is totally audio... and you would interact with it using only your voice through a microphone... wouldn't need a title 'screen' but a title 'sound'... you wouldn't see your enemies, but know them by their voices... you would recognize enemies by their distinct monster-sounds... and allies by their voices... but this is off the subject, except to show what a game without graphics would be like, and how different from what we are used to.)

Let's say you don't have much graphic making experience, and can't draw a stick-figure. There are three options, make poor graphics, find someone who will make graphics for you, or learn. I suggest the last of these. There are various tutorials online, various books on it, and, most importantly, you can learn how to draw graphics through your own experimentation. The reason one should make one's game's own graphics is that only the author has the actual idea of the game in them, and only they will know when something looks right or doesn't look right. If you invent a creature or character in your head, and have someone else draw it, it may not look like how you pictured it.

By the way, this part of the article assumes you have the basics of how the Ohrrpgce handles graphics. It assumes you know that sprites have 16 colors chosen from your palette of 256 (see Neo's article on changing the default 256 colors). It assumes you know what I mean by 4-bit (16 colors), 8-bit (256 colors) and 24-bit (16.7 million colors) color depths. It assumes you know the sizes of the things you need to import (320x200 pixels for backdrops and full maptile sets, 20x20 for npcs, maptiles, and weapon graphics, 50x50 for attacks, 40x32 for heroes, various sizes for small, medium, and large enemies, etc.). If you're designing an Ohrrpgce game, you should have all that memorized already anyway.

A word about the order here. I present the different graphical elements in the order that makes intuitive sense to me. Maptiles first, then walkabouts, and then battle graphics and battle backgrouds. The idea is to first make somewhere to explore (maps), make the things that are in that place of exploration (npcs), and then make what happens in those places (the battles), and finally make the title screen and the cutscenes and special full-screen backdrops. But before you start drawing, you need to get your graphics programs, and decide what you are going to use to make each part of your graphics.

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Graphics Programs

A lot of people make all their graphics (except their battle backgrounds and backdrops) in the Ohrrpgce editor (which, if you use, use the keyboard, not the mouse). Some people make them in the Ohr editor, export them, and then do special effects on them in more advanced graphics programs, and then re-import them. Some people make everything outside of the editor and then import everything. It's a matter of direction style. Personally, I make the npcs and the battle hero graphics in the editor, and everything else (maptiles, attack animations, and enemy graphics) outside of the editor, in various programs (using the 256-color palette I use for that specific game). In particular, I use Paint Shop Pro (various versions, usually v3 or v5), Adobe Photoshop (v5), and some other minor paint programs for special effects which I will not go into due to their relative unimportance. 

Jasc Paint Shop Pro & Adobe Photoshop - Both of these are pretty similar, especially on the high end level. They use filters and layers and have various specialty functions, most of which are confusing to learn. Don't fall into using filters too heavily... the basic included Photoshop filters are usually easily recognizable and tend to be annoying to people who see them all over the place... for example, the Working Designs team use them a lot in their instruction manual designs. But if used correctly, filters are an excellent way to make attack graphics. For example, draw a basic circle, and start using various filters on it... the circle will distort, fade, shatter, split apart, and so on. Choose three frames of this in sequence, and you have an attack animation, ready for import into the Ohrrpgce. In fact, you may want to collect filters (which can be imported into Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop) with the sole intent of creating new types of attack animations. That's how I make mine (examples seen in the below section on attack gfx). Shareware/trial  versions of these available. Paint Shop Pro is at www.jasc.com and Adobe Photoshop is at www.adobe.com.

Hand drawing and scanning - this technique is good (almost indispensable) for cutscenes, and can be useful even for large enemies. Most of the enemies in Ends of the Earth 1 and Ends of the Earth 2 (by Valkayrie) were made by drawing the enemy on a piece of paper, scanning it, coloring it, and importing it into the Ohrrpgce. All you need for this is a hand, a drawing, and a scanner.

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Placeholder Graphics

The idea of placeholder graphics is that these are 'graphics' which can be as crude as you want (as long as they are recognizable to you) which you plan to replace later and which enable you to make the game first, and the graphics later. This is an easy way for you to work on the game without needing to draw all of the graphics before you work on the other aspects of it. There are gains and losses here.

The gains: Firstly, you can work on gameplay (maps, battle system, attacks, test battles, etc.) and story (put in textboxes, plotscript scenes, etc.) without spending the huge amount of time that making good graphics requires of you. Secondly, when you do complete the game (sans graphics), you will know exactly what graphics you need to make to finish the game (as opposed to doing the graphics first, when you have to guess about what you're going to need). Thirdly, doing it this way allows you to give the game to someone else who is more experienced in graphics work, and have them replace your placeholders with the final graphics.

The losses: Firstly, your maptile placeholders have to have all the shading tiles and animating tiles and all the other tiles that the final maptile graphics will have (so you need to know something about how the final maptiles will look like as you make the placeholders). Secondly, there is a loss of 'atmosphere' as you are making the game... it doesn't really have the same feel of your final game if all of the graphics are rudimentary blockish figures and colored shapes, resembling an Atari 2600 game. Thirdly, what you are basically doing is making all of the graphics twice, which may take more time time than just doing them all at once in the beginning (although the first set will of course not take very long if you make them very rudimentary).

I recommend that the larger the game (the more graphics you need to make before you can get to work on gameplay and story), the more likely it is that you using placeholder graphics (which work as a sort of 'first draft' of the graphics) will save you time. For games which take a long while to make (and which you are learning pixel art as you go), you may even want to make more than two sets, each being a different draft of the graphics, similar to multiple revisions of text stories. Only when they feel unimprovable (or close to it) will they be 'done'.

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