Join Grant Skinner for an in-depth discussion in this video In depth: Bardbarian, part of The Creative Spark: Grant Skinner, Interactive Developer.
So, Sean and I started making a game on the side for fun. We were both very passionate about making games and we got a little bit in, and Grant seemed like he would be interested in working with us. So Sean pitched him, forming a company together, and we ended up calling it Tree Fortress. And our first game will be Bardbarian through that title. Sean: It's built for mobile. It's our first real attempts at creating our own product. Lately I think we've just been getting the itch to, to sort of do our own thing and, and break out of the restraints of client work. be able to fully put our own character and humor into things and not, not be held back or, or have the client change things.
And so, I sort of, came to Grant with this idea of, of letting us try this approach. Mike: One of the crucial parts of this was building a character that people like. And something they can relate to. I came up with Brad, who's a character that would rather play music than fight people anymore. Sean: And he's forced into this battle, where his town's under attack. Rather than picking up his axe, he grabs his guitar and he runs out into the field. And he'll do some power solos, and summon some of his buddies to come help him fight.
Mike: And they will head out of the town and fight for you, so you don't have to. Sean: So you have speed attack and defense boosts. And then the idea is that as the waves go on you'll get new, new bosses, you know fire golems, and trolls, dragons. It started off as something simple that we could do in a couple months, and we're now on our fifth month of developing it. We're just coming up with new ideas and new things we want to prototype, and more characters and more bosses, so it's just growing and growing in complexity.
Mike: When reading up on character design I read that the flaws and the things that are wrong with the character is actually what people like most. With Brad, I found that the first time I designed him, he felt flat, he didn't feel relatable, and he didn't have too much character about him. So I redid him, Brad was born into a family of barbarians and he's expected to be this big massive fighter. And he could win, like he could end this war instantly if he wanted to but he chooses to play music rather than fight anymore. So, with everything, all my characters will start as a sketch.
So, here's one I'm working on right now for a necromancer type character. they just start off as doodles they're really rough, I, I don't Have any intentions on bringing the (INAUDIBLE) to the finish line. I just try to get my ideas across first and try to sell Sean on them, and if they're good, I'll run with them. And then in Photoshop, I, I build my character modular, just each piece individually. After I've exported the assets from Photoshop, Spriter's able to pick them up from the folder. In which case I bring all these assets in, piece by piece, and, and rebuild my character.
Sean: The Spriter was on Kickstarter about six months ago and that's how it got our attention so we became early backers on it. And now we're actually pretty active, pushing them, cause we're already trying to use it as a product before it's out. So, we're in their forums pushing them to fix bugs and that sort of thing. And so the next thing about Spriter, not only does it save on texture size you know, we can create retina level graphics without having a huge number of spreadsheets. But it also lets us create virtually an unlimited length of animation. And so we can go crazy, we can have like five minute idle animations.
That would just be totally impossible if reading like traditional key-framed animation. Mike: And with the work flow of the Spriter, it's so simple and so intuitive that it just kind of makes sense to use. literally you're just clicking and dragging parts along a timeline, where you need things to be and when. Sean: We still can use flash for a lot of our animations. the thing about these, Spriter ones, that they're a bit expensive. Because each piece of the body is actually a sprite, rather than the character being one sprite, he's 8 or 9 or 12. so, for our smaller units, we still do have some keyframe based animations that came from flash, and we're mixing those with the more featured items that come from Spriter. So, it gives us a good mix of, sort of, traditional that has it's benefits, and then, Spriter, which has it's benefits, and we can mix and match. So, essentially what happens is he does these animations here, this program kicks sort of XML file.
That basically has the X and Y and rotation of every piece. And I wrote a little library for Sterling that just reads that XML file and basically just tweaks things from keyframe to keyframe. So, you can think of it like a puppet where each piece is independent and moving independently but then it all comes together as a smooth animation running at 60 frames a second too, which is really cool. You can't do that with key framed animations, because you'd run out of spreadsheet space in like 2 seconds of animation.
Whereas we can only have minutes and it adds just kilobytes to our file size, so it's pretty cool. Mike: So in a few minutes, I was easily, like, I mean, it's not a finished quality product, but I was able to whip up a rough, run animation just from moving parts around really quickly in the timeline. Sean: And what comes out the other end is just a text file. And you can see it has a list of, of sort of all the different pieces, and it's just key frames. And so, the next step for us was just to write a little importer that takes a script, matches up the pings to images at Sterling, and then starts moving everything around at an API like play, stop, pause. And then we added a bunch of other cool stuff on top of it, so we can swap pieces out at any point in animation, so we can make a guy blink. No matter what he's doing, he's always blinking.
So we have our, our blinking code going. we can do things like, like swap our hand states, and that's how we get the strumming and the picking. As an example of the silly stuff we can do, because we don't have a limitation, we have like 6 different death animations that just randomly play and are each 2 to 3 seconds long. And that's free for us, where that would be like a whole massive spreadsheet of assets and we probably not do it, because it just wouldn't make sense. So, there's this animation which we were trying. So, we might actually have him live tweet some stuff in the game.
Mike: So, that's the thing about Spriter and the fun thing about this is that, because there's no cost to me having extra animation, I can give more character to my characters. And that, when you gets an achievement, he stops, and he starts tweeting about the boss he just killed, or something like that. And I think these little touches are what make games fun. Sean: Yeah, we're, we're definitely having a lot of fun with just sort of putting our own humor everywhere in this game. And I think that's, that's part of what makes indie games great, (LAUGH) and so we're embracing that fully. So, when this is all wrapped we're going to deploy it to IOS first, and see how it goes.
a couple weeks later we'll probably bring it to Android and then hopefully if, if it's successful and it start selling some units we're going to spend a lot of time adding new content to it and supporting it. we really believe in, in sort of supporting your successes and building on your franchises. So, best case scenario is this does really good, and we can just spend a whole bunch more time on Barbarian adding new characters, adding new bosses, and then bringing it to new platforms. So, Oolia is really exciting to us right now. We just love the idea of playing things with controllers our own games, it's like mind blowing. and then Steam is probably next on the list.
Then probably we're looking at sort of the secondary markets, so Amazon Blackberry 10 maybe Nook that sort of thing. so when it comes out we will be talking all about it at TreeFortress.com. we have a Twitter handle @Tree_Fortress. you can find us on Facebook, on Google+, so basically anywhere that you might be, we should be there too. so yeah, we hope you check out our blog.
As the CEO of gskinner.com, a rich interactive design firm based in Alberta, Canada, he loves playing with technology in a research and development role. It was his passion for exploring new frontiers that led him to the Internet, where he began building content that no one had seen before.
Grant first rose to prominence as a notable Flash developer while his growing company delivered projects for agencies, startups, and corporate clients including Adobe, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. He found the opportunity to challenge himself again with HTML5. Grant builds demos to show where the technology could go, and source tools such as CreateJS that enable others to push the boundaries of HTML5. By creating and sharing tools that empower the digital community, he facilitates the spread of creative content around the world.