Progress Update! + My thoughts on SoR4

Hey. Jonathan again. It's been a while, but I'm still working on Tough Guy. Quietly.

I've been busy the past few weeks with summer social life type stuff, so work on Tough Guy has been very part time and experimental. I tried to get past that stage but I hit a major snag in the art pipeline I wanted to iron out first, which I'll get into now.

You may wonder why I haven't gotten into coding the game yet, but that's because I wanted to give the art side of the game a bit of a head start development wise, as, looking at the full scale of the project written out before me, I know the art will continue long after the coding has finished. Meaning for now, it takes priority. Once the art production is off to a smooth enough start, I'll jump straight into prototyping or even bring a developer on board. Either or. That point should only be about one or two months away at this point. No longer than two months.

I now have the opportunity to return to regular work on my personal projects, including this game, on a daily basis. August was just a particularly busy month for me. I won't get into it but it was an enjoyable time, certainly left me with a renewed energy for my work.

Upon revisiting where I left off, I have made multiple attempts at re-drawing the main character, Guy Tough's, first frame of animation. That is the default "idle" frame of his "base" sprite layer. This soon made me realise that the animation pipeline I had conceived for the game wasn't going to work, it was too slow and cumbersome. I'm very hung up on this first frame of animation as obviously it will determine the art style and production pipeline for the rest of the game going forward, future frames beyond this will be churned out very quickly.

Originally the idea was to draw in pencil on paper, then scan that in, and make HD vector artwork directly over the pencil drawing. However I've now realised that every time I scan the pencil drawing in, and get partway through vectorising it, there is something so off with the underlying pencil drawing that I'd either have to paint over it digitally before trying to vectorise it again, or start again with a whole new pencil drawing on a new piece of paper.

Issues would come up like the feet not being properly grounded. I have made a proportion and perspective guide to lie underneath the paper as I'm drawing so the pencil sketch matches the game's perspective. This is very hard to see clearly without a lightbox, though, and I can't work staring at a lightbox for a long time as obviously that would damage my eyesight, and the only lightbox I have is stuck to one brightness setting with no dimmer switch. It's very annoying to work with.

But there are also problems inherent to sketching the animation on paper, and scanning it in, instead of doing the preliminary animation in a digital format. Even if I had the right kind of lightbox to work with. Mainly I can't mirror the image to catch any mistakes and correct them, which is something I do constantly when working digitally, otherwise my drawings end up wonky or floaty. This ability lets me create solid, correct-looking drawings fairly quickly.

I also realised it's better to sketch the animation in a lower resolution than the game's final one. Because the game's final highest resolution option will be 12K (so that can be downsampled to 8K for a smooth anti-aliasing effect, not that aliasing is noticeable at 8k). It would obviously be impractical to draw each animation to a 12K level of detail, because I'd lose sight of the overall picture and get caught up in minute details way too early on. So it's best to save details until the finalisation of the sprite artwork.

Animation sketching will now be done digitally as "oekaki" style black and white pixel art, on a grey background. With black lines and white fill. The lines will be a uniform 1 pixel width, so that in the game's 12K art resolution the lines will be a uniform 6 pixels wide after vectorisation. Then, when scaled all the way down to 720p, the lowest resolution the game will support, lines will appear 0.66 width, downsampled from 1080p's 1 pixel line width. Which is the thinnest they can be while still being clearly visible.

Now that I've figured out this crucial early part of the animation pipeline, to make it quick and easy for me and any additional artists I bring on board down the line, I can move forward with cranking out some preliminary sprite animations for the game. Which is something I needed to figure out before I could start prototyping the game properly. On that note, I think I'm going to prototype the game in the Godot Engine before developing the game in SDL2, just to try out some design ideas and experiment with playability of the game's core concept.

Tough Guy won't be a basic rehash of older generation beat 'em ups, it will actually be a modernisation of the genre. While still retaining a 2D graphical style, the genre's features and quirks will be translated from the 1980's arcade machine context, to the next generation home console, mobile and PC contexts of today. Making full use of modern controllers, for example, while still functioning just as well on modern "fight stick" type controllers.

This brings me to my thoughts on the recently announced Streets Of Rage 4.

After decades of different studios fighting over, gaining, and losing the rights to develop this long awaited sequel, the buck was finally passed to the studio behind the Wonder Boy remaster. Bringing with it a similar art style for Streets Of Rage 4. This has been a sticking point for many fans of the series, while others have embraced the new art direction.

Personally, I grew up playing Streets Of Rage on the Mega Drive (or, Genesis). It's the game that inspired me to create Tough Guy, but Tough Guy will borrow influences from a very broad spectrum of classic beat 'em up games, staying within the beltscroller genre.

Tough Guy isn't my idea of what a Streets Of Rage 4 should look like, I think that was the mentality behind another indie beat 'em up, The Take Over. Tough Guy is simply the result of hundreds upon hundreds of pages of notes I wrote for another beat 'em up project in my youth, one which had a martial arts theme to it, and will be referred to in Tough Guy as a bit of an in-joke for myself.

Tough Guy is, in essence, my reinterpretation of the beltscroller game format from the ground up. Primarily thinking what I would do differently or add in compared to beltscroller games of old, especially given the technological advancements of today.

I actually wrestled with the decision as to whether to make the game in 2D, or go 3D for some added animation conveniences. However I remembered not liking the in-game aesthetic of Double Dragon: Neon (360/PS3) or The Warriors (PS2/Xbox). So that put me off a bit. I want the characters in Tough Guy to feel alive and hand-drawn, full of personality, but still sleek and modern with solid, consistent drawing. Also, in a way that fits my potential development budget, which meant, for me, 2D was the way to go.

I can't say that the developers of Streets Of Rage 4 have put as much thought into their decision to go 2D, however. If I could describe the aesthetics of this game I would honestly describe them as lazy, or phoned in. Many SEGA fans have wondered what it would have been like to see Sonic Mania's art style translated to Streets Of Rage 4, for example. But I wouldn't have gone in that direction either, if I were handling that project.

My Streets Of Rage 4 would have been called "Streets Of Rage: The Revenge Of Mr. X", as a callback to the Golden Axe game "The Revenge Of Death Adder", as we know Golden Axe was made with the same code framework as Streets Of Rage.

Aesthetically, I would have made the decision to go 3D and cel-shaded for that game, much in the style of Guilty Gear Xrd. I also would have embued the game with voice acting and fully animated cutscenes, to modernise it and give it a mainstream appeal. Also because Streets Of Rage 3 was very heavy on storytelling and talking scenes, but with still shots and text. Why not have that amount of storytelling with the means to tell the story in an engaging way?

I wouldn't have made it a sequel, either. I feel the plot of Streets Of Rage 3 wrapped the whole situation up pretty conclusively. Mr. X was not going to come back, his brain was destroyed after being resurrected so many times before. His entire gang were either arrested or dead by that point. The city, of which the name escapes me, was definitely safe beyond that point. The streets would rage no longer.

I doubt much thought has been put into the plot of Streets Of Rage 4, certainly not in regards to continuing the plot of Streets Of Rage 3. I feel the events and implications of that plot will go largely ignored, as we can already tell by the absence of Adam, Max, Skate, Roo or Dr. Zan in the trailer. Who knows what part those characters will play in the game, if any.

It's starting to look less like a worthy successor to a classic trilogy, and more like a cheap Flash game. Sorry to say it. I'm sure it'll be an enjoyable Flash game, with lots of fun in-jokes, easter eggs and references. But will it have the challenging, precise gameplay of the original three games? Will the plot take itself seriously? Will the game have extra features that weren't present in the original games? I highly doubt it. Which is a real shame considering how long it has been since the third entry.

I'll certainly buy Streets Of Rage 4 when it comes out, with modest expectations. But I won't expect it to be an evolution of Streets Of Rage 3. Just a low budget rehash of Streets Of Rage 1. Which, again, is a shame. As I really don't see a Streets Of Rage 5 coming around the corner after that, or the next-gen AAA Streets Of Rage franchise reboot fans deserve. So long as it was handled respectfully, of course.

I'll be back sooner than you think with some sketchy preliminary animations for Tough Guy, and start explaining how my game will actually work, and how it will build upon the Beltscroller formula, as I begin prototyping and preliminary character sprite animation. Thanks for reading.

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