January 3, 2012 6:00 PM | Cassandra Khaw
Like every other fan of the franchise, I'm still anxiously waiting for SkyGoblin to cough up Chapter Two of the Journey Down. Unfortunately, I doubt it'll be coming out soon - the multi-platform HD version needs to be released first. Alas. Still, I'm not going to complain because the HD version looks sweet enough to kill a diabetic. For those in the dark about the game, The Journey Down is a phenomenal little point & click adventure filled with African tribal artwork-inspired aesthetics, silly humor, jazz, reggae and no small amount of awesome. Don't believe me? You can download the original here.
Right. Now that I'm done with the routine evangelism, here's something that may be of interest to those who have tracking the progress of the remake. Theodor Waern, one of the creative minds behind The Journey Down, recently sat down with us for an interview about the changes that The Journey Down have undergone. In this short interview, he provides some insight on the transition from 2D to 3D.
(Note: This was originally intended to be a two part interview. The second part would have discussed the transition from 3D to 2D. Unfortunately, due to real life circumstances, the second bit is on indefinite hold.)
What attracted you to your original medium? With the plethora of possibilities out there, what made you opt for what you did?
In the beginning, I quite simply had no choice but to go with hand-painted 2D elements. Why? Because I paint stuff. At heart, that's what I am. That's what I do. I'm a painter. Animation, on the other hand, is still quite new to me. When I first began exploring the field, it struck me that 2D animation had a friendlier learning curve. The nitty gritty technicalities of 3D animation were things I lacked the competence and the time for.
Do you think people have preconceptions about certain visual styles? For example, RPGMaker-esque graphics seem to make people think of light-hearted JRPGs. What is your stance on this?
I honestly do believe that it's a notch more difficult to keep game design original and fun when working real-time 3D than it is when working with 2D. This has nothing to do with any preconceived ideas, though. It's merely a technical issue. Fun gameplay is something that results from extensive testing and tweaking. The extra dimension that 3D provides also adds an extra headache. It becomes this one extra thing that always needs to work in all situations. Regardless of how small this extra hurdle might be, it's still something that can halt many creative ideas from being implemented.
Of course, real-time 3D also allows for some amazing 'out of the box' ideas that would be impossible to implement in 2D. Both approaches have their individual strengths and flaws.
What precipitated the change from 2D to 3D?
Low frame-rate animations are fine and dandy when you're working on a game that is supposed to have a low-res retro vibe. In fact, if it had been too smooth, things would have looked wrong. However, now that we've raised to resolution to 1280x780, choppy animation was a problem. It lowered the overall visual quality like crazy. Prerendered 3D characters became the obvious choice for us because we had the good fortune of having a full-time 3D animation artist on board. That said, I'm confident that the upcoming HD version would have been equally impressive in 2D if we had had a professional 2D animation artist instead.
Was the transition difficult? What were the most integral differences? Did it change coding? Did it change your methodology? The flow of your game?
Going from 2D to 3D is a big thing. From a technical standpoint, a lot will change. Fortunately for us, going from 2D to pre-rendered 3D is a lot easier than going from 2D to real-time 3D. Only the asset development side of things changed. The actual implementation of the game did not. At least, not in this context. What is worth mentioning here, though, is that assets for pre-rendered 3D and assets for real-time 3D are extremely different.
Real time 3D requires more efficient models and textures. It also sets steep limitations on the actual character rigs and the level of detail that they can be animated in. Conversely, however, they're also capable of acting in a more dynamic fashion and often feel better integrated into the overall game experience. Prerendered 3D, on the other hand, allows for insanely well-detailed animation rigs. It also sets no technical boundaries on the models. Unfortunately, pre-rendered 3D also means less flexible game environments.
What did this new intepretation of space bring to your game?
It helped us add character to the residents of our game world. Without 3D, they would still all be as stiff as sticks. Now, their animation is capable of flowing beautifully. Our main character is now capable of walking around in all of his glorious sixteen walking directions (Can you imagine animating that by hand instead?). And the facial animations of his sidekick as he hands out clues? Priceless.