Developing a Sci-Fi Game: Pixel Art & Animation
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Developing a Sci-Fi Game: Pixel Art & Animation
30 August, 2019
Gameplay
Interview

Mike Garn shared the details of his indie sci-fi project under development Three of June and talked about the idea, visuals, animation, and more.

Introduction

My name is Mike Garn, I come from a concept art background, and I’m self-taught. I’ve worked on a variety of projects, and I’ve concepted a lot of stuff for the past few Call of Duty games. I’m also a self-taught musician and programmer. I find myself fascinated with the way things work and are built, so I’m always learning new skills.

Now I’m building my own game studio and its first game is called Three of June. After a year of building the game, the first gameplay trailer was recently released!

(Concept Art by Jose Borges)

Game Concept

In Three of June, there’s a toy bear, he’s a defective children’s toy robot, and his name is Robby Bear. He’s just another unpopular toy, defective and thrown out with the rest of the defects. Robby spends most of his little robot existence alone until he meets a little girl who needs him as much as he needs her. Her name is June. For the first time, Robby is doing everything a normal toy bear is programmed to do. Tea parties, blanket forts, bedtime stories, making gifts, checking for monsters in suspicious places… you know, robot teddy bear stuff.

Things were wonderful until the day when June and the rest of her human colony were taken deep under the ground. Robby doesn’t understand or really even care why this has happened, what matters is that he makes his way back to June. The way to June is lined with killer machines in a vicious world. Robby, being a toy bear, isn’t designed to overcome this but he’s not a quitter, he never quits. He’ll just have to find something more dangerous than anything in his way. He reprograms an old war robot, unit ID number 3-1920… actually let’s just call the robot Three.

Concept Art by Mike Garn

3D base

How the Game Appeared

The idea for the game came from an image I did out of the blue one day: it was of a robot holding a teddy bear. As I created the image so many ideas were coming to my mind of what these characters could mean and what they were doing together. I stopped developing the idea when the image was finished. Six months later I found myself shelving a different game idea I was building but I needed a simpler game idea that a smaller team could build. Then, I remembered the image of the bear and the robot and how compelling it all was to work on. I sat on the idea for a month, thinking about its potential and meaning, and then I committed to it.

Concept Art by Mike Garn

The art style has been inspired by a lot of things I liked as a kid, a lot of my favorite things from the late 80s and early 90s. I was trying to capture a matured version of those feelings in Three of June. So, a modern approach to 32-bit art basically summoned itself for the project.

Pixel Art Tools & Principles

I use an old version of Photoshop – I use it for concept art and I continue to use it for pixel art. Is it the best? I’m not sure, but it works for me. I’ve heard Aseprite and GIMP are great inexpensive/free alternatives to use. I also use a Wacom tablet which really helps.

I use all the same principles I use in concept art for pixel art. Outside of fundamentals, a very important principle I have is that I’m in no way an art purest. I will use any method to get information on a canvas, I’ll use 3D models as paintover reference, I’ll use photos, down-res them and paint over that. At the end of the day this is about building a game as quickly as possible, so I’ve brought all my concept art tricks with me.

I was kind of surprised with just how many rules there are in pixel art. A lot of times you’re fighting the squares. They’re pointy and let’s be real, pretty gross zoomed into. So it’s important to find patterns and rhythms in which the silhouette feels as smooth as possible. You want those pointy ends to flow between each other. I’d say that’s rule number one, pixel rhythm.

Lighting

There’s some outside the box thinking going into lighting design for the game. The game is not quite 2D, and not quite 3D. So we call it 2.5D. In practice, that means the art is 2D unless used for parallaxing, but the lighting is 3D. In Three of June, the end result has this diorama effect, and I LOVE dioramas.

Animation

To start with, sprite animation works like an old cartoon. It’s a sequence of images that when viewed quickly in succession appear to move. Now, I have two approaches to the animation in my game.

Cyborg low poly to pixel art:

For simple animations, small robots, screens that animate, or even some of the little animals I do the animation by hand frame by frame. It comes down to a lot of practice visualizing objects at different angles and as always gathering reference.

More complex animations are a whole other thing. For example, for a run animation I will start with a lot of references. I’ll download videos of people running or film myself running or whatever the animation might be, then I’ll bring the videos into a video editing software, study and make notes until I understand it enough to replicate it. It’s not over yet. Next, I’ll build a low poly 3D model of the character and recreate the run animation in 3D. It doesn’t have to be perfect because the image sequence renders from that animation will be down-resed in Photoshop and meticulously painted over to clean up the pixels and find good pixel rhythm. It’s hands down the hardest most time-consuming part of the project.

Color Palette

Concept Art by Jose Borges

I did some rough color palette concepts in Photoshop before approaching the forest scenes. For whatever reason, I always gravitate towards teal mixed with warmer colors. It comes across as intriguing and unsettling at the same time, kind of a mysterious feeling to me. I typically will use photo reference and concept art for inspiration for this kind of stuff.

Future Plans

I’m working hard towards releasing a playable demo of the game by the end of this year, and a full game release in mid to late 2020. I want the game on everything it can be on, but I’m focusing mostly on a PC and Nintendo Switch release. The Playstation and XBOX release should follow soon after.

If you’d like to stay up to date with the game follow its progress on:

For anyone who likes sci-fi games about robot teddy bears and cyborgs, any bit of support following, liking and especially sharing goes a long way towards helping the completion of the game!

Mike GarnThree of June Developer

Interview conducted by Daria Loginova

Hard-Surface Height/Alpha Vol.2 by Jonas Ronnegard is a Sci-Fi brush and alpha set for Substance Painter, ZBrush, Quixel DDO and more. There are 390 alphas (Tiff, PSD, Jpeg, ABR) and 6 Trim sample brushes for ZBrush.

Check the full description

Contact Jonas Ronnegard

 

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