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Can you explain your art production process from the beginning? It can be detailed if possible, because I think people would be very interested to know. For instance, concept art exists -- is it then done in Photoshop, or do you have your own type of programs you use? Or, for animation, do you use a 3D model that you map 2D sprites onto?
GK: The very basic process begins with me messing around with whatever I like, then coming up with a screen visual and building the game around that.
How does the process of creating one full animated sprite work? What is the progression?
GK: There is a proprietary character editor that we use in the studio, a package that took about a year to develop into its current state. The editor's largely based off Flash and other well-known packages, so it doesn't have a major learning curve for most people.
With KOF, the artists make a 3D model for the animation and draw art on top of it. Do you do things like that, or do you just draw it dot-by-dot from a storyboard or something like that?
GK: I take the more traditional approach like that, yes, starting with a basic rough character sheet and working from there. It's a process of gradual refinement. I create a set of basic poses for the character, standing poses and so forth, and I hand that off to the animator/designers and tell them to make it look as "cool" as possible.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
The animation style on the larger enemies is very consistent across Vanillaware games. It does feel a bit Flash-like at times. I'm wondering if that's a conscious style you've chosen, or if it's just because of the tools you use.
GK: Certainly, part of it is because the toolset that produces the graphics is heavily inspired by Flash. Some of the enemies we create look 3D, but are actually all handmade. We call it tebineri, or hand-shaping.
Why does Vanillawave have such a commitment to stick to 2D?
GK: Well, because we like it.
It's nice that you can actually make that happen. 3D keeps advancing and getting more beautiful, but 3D still can't match high-quality 2D in terms of detail. But people are still afraid to do it, so it's nice that you can.
GK: Thank you very much. However, when you're talking about realism, that's one area that 2D couldn't hope to match 3D in.
What I've been waiting for is for someone to push 2D even further. Even now, Muramasa and KOF -- they're on the top-end of 2D games, but it seems like it's possible to get even more layers of detail and get true hi-res 2D at this point. I was wondering if you think that's possible.
GK: I would like to try and make that happen, certainly.
Do you have any current plans to move into hi-res as a company?
GK: We do. We're in the experimental stage on that right now.
What, for you, are the major difficult points of these experiments?
GK: The most difficult issue to deal with is the fact that current platforms aren't developed with 2D image generation in mind. They're geared toward automatic 3D generation, so we're coming up with ideas to figure out how to facilitate that process. They may not come to fruition immediately, though.
When you're creating hi-res 2D, it seems very high-risk, because if you decide you need to throw something away, then you've lost many months of work. If something doesn't work, you've lost a lot of time, while with 3D you can probably reuse it somewhere.
GK: Certainly. It depends on your development path, too, of course. We're definitely aware of those and other risks involved with the process, and we're always thinking about how to streamline our development to be as efficient as possible.
It seems like you have to be very clear about what you're going to do; you have to determine a plan and stick with it. It doesn't give you as much opportunity to experiment with different ideas.
GK: Indeed, you're always going to go through something of a trial-and-error process whenever you're trying to create something new. That's unavoidable. You have to balance this trial-and-error stage with actual development progress, or else you're simply throwing money down the drain. Of course, if we didn't experiment at all and just went with what we knew, our fanbase would get bored pretty quickly. We wouldn't evolve at all.