Bioware, do you need a nap?
So I've been asked a few times now for a year to do a guide for behaviors.
I've made about 200 'behaviors' for commerical(90)/noncommerical(110+) games now. That's single cells, not full 'animations' or cycles themselves.
Before I did a tutorial showcasing the simplest one, recall in restaff the tutorial of the imprisoned characters in crystal; with an example in DS style. Now with MV we have much more room and ability to work with, and it's time to step things up a bit.
Not only will I be using sprite sheets, but I'll be splicing in animation through PS and
MV as well. As long as the player sees movement, you've succeeded. It doesn't need to
be pretty or perfect. It just needs to look like movement. Take a look at some quick examples from my kobolds/Orcs/Mushrooms sprites from DS. They don't need to be complex.
The actor, or paper doll is a figure. And when they move it's their ability to move in a range of motion, or articulation(anatomy not speech) that allows the figure to move.
So the first example is a sprite that Avery designed for me back for a contest of a vampire in the POP! Horror City style. POP! Horror Style by Vex Engima.
Here it's a frontal sprite only, stepping movement to appear floating. A 'step' cycle, but not a walking cycle.
Without editing pixels I can take this into PS and use a small blur filter, making it appear like the vampire is warping out or dashing. Since this is a multiframe of more than 3, or 4 cells. It calls for the animation tool in MV to incorporate since the test giff cannot be used.
Here we get tricky. I only need the first cell, so that will go into an animation template. Then I will create an animation as normal selecting the single sprite on the sheet, and place that as my first cell. I'll gradually set down the opacity from cells 2-10 till it's nearly transparent and move it along the x axis (right positive). Here I will not use a batch set to move the sprite, since that will move all cell as discussed in my previous animation tutorial.
I used a flash alongside the movement as he fades to make the player break focus enough for the opaque sprite seem to disappear suddenly rather than gradually. That way I don't need to make the opacity fade sooner and the vampire looks like it melts away.
Now it's ready for in game incorporation. You can also add a second sheet for a gradient effect or use the exiting animation to add SEs. This should be done each 3 -10 cells as not to clutter the ears with multiple sounds.
This is the cheapest of the advanced behavior gimmicks are requires no sprite editing or work. Perfect for contests when you need something fancy or are just pressed for time. Had I more time, I'd have used mist or a bat swarm/bat animation alongside it for the contest.
Now we can go deeper. No more single cells, let's explore animating a 3 cell step from a normal walk cycle. For our examples I'll be using the Time Fantasy Style. It's large enough that most behaviors and movement can be done and seen well enough without much work. It's perfect for new sprite artists, and enjoyable to use. No assets will be shared here.
1,4,7,10 are resting cells. They hold no movement for the character and are considered relaxed/standing. They may not seems special, but they are the fundamentals of learning how a behavior is done.
So a normal walk cycle happens like this: cell 1, cell 2, cell 1, cell 3. Standing, left, standing, right. This repeats which creates the illusion of movements because the sprite on left and right cells are 1 measurement unit lower than the standing cell.
That's a walking down 'behavior', but since it's a normal cycle it's a fundamental sprite. Left, Right, Up are done the same way.
Now you probably know the flip trick. This doesn't always work due to the fact people have different hair styles what works for one character, will not work for every character.
She does the intended movement, but you can see I was lazy and flipped cell 2 to make cell 3, and the part of her hair is asymetrical causing that jump. While you may not notice it the first time, as I didn't, it's still something to bear in mind. Since this was overlooked I never changed it. A special piece of advice: You are the artist. No one will know it's wrong unless you tell them it's wrong. Only other artists will.
Now let's take a standing sprite.
From here we segement.
We have two arms, a face, hair, eyes, possibility of a mouth, minor feet movement. (Side view is better for kicking and other such leg oriented movement) Never forget the shadow is a point of articulation too! Characters fly, fall, and can land on other characters.
Her top hair looks like it's being cut off. The old selection tool betrayed us, so we need to do a little more work refining the highlights and shades of her hair to make the top of her hair move due to the way it's parted.
In the interests of saving time I took out a highlight from the hair, and added a unit of highlight to the band since her head is in constant motion. Again it needn't be perfect, but it must be fluid; and the transition back to the original sprite needs to be seamless. Since her legs and hands never move in this pose, the main eye focus is her head. This is one point of articulation.
Again here the sides of the hair must be edited even after the template is followed.
I covered up the side views of the stray pixels to keep the movement fluid, and keep it seamless.
Each sprite presents it's own challenge. Never assume the work is done following an example. Observation is key. You won't always get it right the first time. Experiment!
We can do so much with a single cell, and edit it to whatever movement we want. Standing Down Cell 1 can become Nodding, Shaking Head, Laughing, Shock, Casting, and Instrument playing with minimal effort.
Since the face and hands are moving, this is considered two parts of articulation.
Here is another example.
Because of the nonhuman head, it requires more work to do. This why even in simple projects people default to just having humans in a fantasy setting. It's less work and gets the job done faster.
Now down poses will not be covered here since they are not animated, but they are still good to use. Single cell behaviors have their place, and can be coupled with other things to make them effective.
Alignment counts in sprite work so misaligned sprite cells will look awful. They will often be the most common mistake if you are not working with a template. Stray pixels are the next most common error. These can take days to spot if you don't have people observing your work.
You must understand the difference between row movement and column movement.
Row movement like a walk cycle: Cell 1, 2, 1, 3 repeat
is different from Column Movement cycle: Cells 1, 4, 7, 10 which is also different from
Complex behavior movement cycle form standard: Stepping On (So cycle 1,2,1,3 is repeating) Cells, 1,4,7,10 are not only being switched but also cycling their left and right adjacent cells, AND have a wait between them allowing the cycle to complete.
Custom>Move Route in the sprite window OR Set Move Route in the event menu brings up the needed commands.
Confusing? Let's see how that is done in editor:
Using Set Route properly takes practice and patience. I recomend using a dummy map you can access easily to test things in game. What happens is you will need to fast edit, test, and fast edit.
Here I placed an overlay gradient. the gradient is slightly pulled in each cell so that even though it's just four positions it looks like a full spin. That requires more cells, and is beyond the scope of this tutorial.
NOTE: Why 3? Why not 60? With wait per frame, we are humoring the human eye, not the computer's perception. The human eye can only detect things so quickly. Portrait by Maki Kuta.
Calm down Stacy.
Most behaviors don't need longer than 5 wait per cell, 15 slows things down and allows you to time further movement or transitions into other sprites.
Conversely, 1 second per cell is FAR TOO LONG to watch a small cycle like stepping between three adjacent cells. 1 second is an extremely long time that can fit 14 cells into making a full animated second. This is too difficult to do for most game devs, and will not be covered in this tutorial.
Boring, it takes 4 seconds for a full cycle.
Now watch again.
More fluid at .8 seconds per cycle.
Do not flash the screen when a behavior plays unless it is a single cell transition like a down sprite. Flashing the screen affects the eye badly. It's meant to distort and shake the player's focus.
When testing an animation or cycle in PS before importing it into MV editor always make sure your time between cell is .2 or lower. .2 is a perfect walk cycle, .1 for faster animations like an electrocution. Rapid frequency(NOT SPEED) is necessary for some, but not all behaviors.
Simulating a behavior is done by increasing frequency(rate of frame change), NOT SPEED(rate of sprite's distance between two points). Speed is moving the sprite through X and Y coordinates, and not by adjusting a cell's appearance. Velocity and Frequency are not the same thing in the physical world, why would they be in the editor?
This clam can't go anywhere, but it is moving 1 point of articulation. To keep it still, or keep it from changing it's direction we need a special command.
Know when to use the "Direction Fix Command". This will lock you into the same three cell cycle, meaning you can move in the other three directions but only this cycle will be used making it awkward unless it's something you intended. It can be turned on and off at anytime. This means you can exploit a behavior on a single row, and change to another behavior cycle without having to change sprite sheets.
Some behaviors work better with variation. You can cycle through single cell behaviors to make them more interesting like down sprites and show tumbling or falling to be more engaging. (Shadows help here a lot!)
Here I took four downed sprites and turned them into a rotation. While the character is spinning I move them to appear floting, and then return them to the original sprite touching down on the player's level for the scene.
To add the illusion I put another sprite in the same motion alongside it so that the player's eye keeps moving. The more you keep the player's eyes from stationary(bored), the longer they play. That goes in and out of battle.
Simply spinning a character in directions or making them jump is not a behavior, it's lazy. You can do better. If you make a character spin while doing something more complex or jump to their feet from a downed sprite, then it's more interesting. If after the spin they transform or turn into something else or it's accompanied by a true animation over the character then it becomes engaging.
Make custom balloon emotes. Never settle for standard. The personality and style of the game is reflected in your resources.
If you use a behavior in a scene, pair it with an emote bubble. This not only draws the player's eye it will make sure your work is noticed. Time a SE to play alongside it, now there are visual and auditory cues. Using busts distracts players until they are familiar with characters, so don't do complex behaviors while dialogue is being displayed, keep them inbetween and also have them taken with the (WAIT) command when you set route to display them.
Use Change opacity when leaving a scene or walking out of bounds. Don't abruptly disappear from the screen with a sprite unless they actively dodge or are moved by something else that causes abrupt movement. Quickly fading a sprite can have a variety of uses. You can change a sprite to a ghost with a quick edit in PS by coloring the hue green or blue, and then using a lower opacity makes the effect better suited for etheral movement.
Characters that fly cast shadows. If you leave shadows out, we cannot tell the depth or height of the character from the ground. A smaller shadow means higher up, while a bigger shadow/size of the sprite's width means closer to the ground, or on the ground.
By having behaviors in your arsenal, you convey emotions better and allow scenes to devlop. Characters will gain more communication through body language, and you begin to realize why they are called "actors".
Secrets: Look at the odds and even numbered cells. You will see a small pattern forming in normal sprites.
Characters don't need to walk to have movement observed.