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Sometimes, You Got to Make Your Own Lucky

by Hugh Welsh on 06/19/13 12:12:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


For Kim Allen's first week on the job, she had no use for the technologies that are a mainstay of 3D graphic arts. She didn't need a computer, tablet or creative software. All she needed was a pencil and a pad of paper.

"It actually saves time for me to plan out everything by hand before sitting down at a computer," says Allen, who completed her first sketch when she was 1 year old.

When she was in elementary school, Allen sought commissions from classmates, swapping art for stickers or Skittles. "Instead of a lemonade stand, I had my drawing stand," she says.

Allen's initial charge at Pocket Cake was to capture the look and feel of Lucky, LavaCat's protagonist, and place him in his environment. Her first sketch, in black and white, shows the backside of a cat as it ponders its next move in a cavernous space riddled with stalactites, bottomless crevasses and a river of lava.

"You have to have a character that belongs in the environment," Allen says. "Characters can’t be alienated from the environment or look like they don’t belong.”

From there, Allen filled a notebook with every feline variation she could fathom: true-to-life cats, cartoon cats, Pokemon-inspired cats, smirky cats, cockeyed cats and straight-laced cats. Some are seated or standing, while others are stretching or prowling.

"I wanted to draw every cat I could think of in every pose I could think of," Allen says. "I wanted something that was interesting to look at that could work for the game."

Lucky, in all his forms, occupies much of the wall space at Pocket Cake. One of Lucky's depictions -- an affable fur ball -- was discarded early in the process for its difficulty to implement in the game. Each 2D sketch was accompanied with a polygonal model, giving Allen some inkling as to whether a design is feasible.

"The polygons tell me how dense it would be in 3D," Allen says.

Later, full-color versions of the sketches included palette dots that display all color information, including the eyes, highlights and lowlights. Some of Lucky's portrayals had as many as 12 different colors in an array of patterns from tabby to tortoiseshell to calico. In the end, Lucky is primarily white, tipped with red or yellow on his paws, head and ears.

"There wasn't any point in adding color that wouldn't be noticeable while you're playing the game on a small screen," says Allen, who also had to account for Lucky's appearance when lit against a red backdrop: "we didn't want him to seem pink to somebody playing the game on their smartphone."

Lucky's tail is no longer lopped, as in early concept art, but roping and tapered at the end, colored "like a flame," Allen says.

The flame wasn't LavaCat's only "Easter egg" -- jargon for the hidden meanings developers sprinkle throughout their games. Lucky has two birthmarks that imply his name.

"I originally turned to Chinese mythology for symbols -- such as a lucky cat feng shui bell," Allen says. "We decided to go a more conspicuous route."

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