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Author: Josh Grilli

Character Iteration

Character Iteration

Working on Spherakill has taught me a lot about game design and has helped me refine my process so much. The biggest thing I’ve learned over the past year of development is hugely important though. Iteration. This is a word that if you only typically participate in game jams never usually comes up. Which was definitely where I was before starting work on Spherakill last year. From characters, stage design, and UI. Iteration is a key component to problem solving and the creative process.

As the artist in my two person team it’s a large component to all the work I’ve done moving forward. To kind of keep this post more focused I will stick to character design. Characters will play a large role in the world of Spherakill, they all have their own specific abilities and attributes which will affect gameplay. There’s also aesthetic which is something players will want to connect to that also plays a role. I want to create characters that people will want to play by both design and functionality. As of writing this, functionality is not quite finalized in any sort of capacity.

Our character Kit-Tan has gone through some massive changes since her inception in a game that was not Spherakill but a cancelled project tentatively titled Dungeon Gangstas. Back
then I did not take into account character silhouette or personality too much. Dungeon Gangstas was a 2D pixel art based sprite arena battle game in the same vein as the later
released Nuclear Throne. Her design was quite simple and to be honest not much thought was put into it. I was making characters left and right with no real aim. A lot of those characters
have not made the transition over to Spherakill without a lot of changes. Kit-Tan’s current design may not even be final either. Things will probably change when it comes to animating
characters too. The characters are all 2D in Spherakill so having very complex designs is almost a no-go, because that would just be art overload.
Kit-Tan’s design started very similarly to her pixel art iteration when making the transition over to Spherakill. Keeping her signature sailor outfit and her color palette. I soon noticed she didn’t
exactly fit the style and her features we much too subtle for players to call her out from a distance. Heavy outlines were an important step to the next iteration, and also a big part of the
aesthetic that Spherakill has in its art design.
Then I started looking towards other games for some help. During early development I started playing Overwatch a lot and looking at a lot of the design that went into the characters of those
games. You can tell a lot about a character just by looking at the shape of them. You can also tell exactly who they are. That was something I wanted to explore more for Kit Tan so I started
rethinking her whole design.
This was the silhouette I had ended up with. I went and exaggerated features and made some changes to existing ones so they really stuck out.
This is where I went in and added line art to the shadowy shapes. This is the big reveal. I unfortunately don’t have all the other in-between changes I made to shapes of things and
modifications but in her current design she stands out much, much more than she did before. Giving her larger ears and a much more recognizable tail shape helped a lot. I kept a lot of the
details of her clothing just because that was a large part of her design in the first place. She’s always been an idol pop star so the outfit worked besides a few modifications to the shoes and
gloves. Her hair now has a much more recognizable shape as well, instead of the braided hair that would have went behind her back. Lastly I messed around with color and ended up with
this. Which I think definitely brought everything together.
I did end up cleaning this up even more and ended up with her final design. Well as far as we are right now. I changed some of the colors a tiny bit and simplified a bunch of elements
like removing the shoe laces and making her the tiniest bit stockier. And that’s pretty much the journey so far.
It’s entirely possible that this and many other things will change over time. It’s a great skill to have though and as long as you have time for it I would say it’s definitely something you should
practice on your own projects. Especially if you are working on a project where you are actively getting feedback. For me it has greatly helped my design sensibilities and all of my character
design work in general. This skill can be applied to everything in a game project though.
Josh Grilli is an artist for Spacetronaut, a game studio in Louisville, KY. He has been a part of the Louisville Makes Games community for over a year. You can follow him on social media @JoshGrilli. Look for more updates on @Spherakill!