Sprite Tutorial


Following the recent project relaunch, Carl-Johan continued working on his Tibet scenario, and released a new version of the story draft. One of the major characters that are being introduced in this scenario is Max Schreck, the right hand and chief henchman of Indy's adversary, the fanatic Nazi von Roth.

Project designs describe Schreck as "something between Ben from Full Throttle and Jaws from James Bond", which is obviously not much to work with. One might assume this would have given me a lot of freedom to do anything I want, but it actually only made my work more difficult!

In this article I'll talk about how I came up with the design of the final Schreck sprite and how certain limitations posed by the low resolution/color depth were overcome. This article isn't really a tutorial but rather an overview of how I created the sprite.

Schreck Numero Uno

This was my first suggestion for the character. I wanted him to appear big and menacing, slightly hunched forth - towering well over a head over Indy, with a dopey expression on his face. I also wanted to make him bald, as a characteristic of a devout and ruthless Nazi soldier. Basically, this version was more or less modeled after Arnold, the singing Nazi (who met a rather tragic death in Fate of Atlantis). From the comments I got, I gathered this wasn't what the others wanted. So it was back to the drawing board for me...

Just for laughs, here are a couple of "special" variations I cooked up:

Regarding the right one -- you can see that he already has some similarity to the final sprite.

Drawing the Sprite

Following are some details on how the final sprite was created. For reference, I looked up Jaws and Ben on the internet:

I then decided on which colors I'd use. There's no need to use any extra colors for this sprite (i.e., borrow from background image or replace unused sprite indices), so the most obvious choice was the blue sweater & grey pants (as with the previous version).

A thing that I have to be very careful about when choosing colors is to make sure I don't try to use any colors that will be changed for another sprite (e.g., use pink when another sprite replaces pink palette indices with green, so all pink becomes green!), or use the colors of the Indy sprite (which constantly change as Indy walks from light to dark and vice versa). The available palette for Schreck is displayed to the right, the dithered indices are unusable.

To paint the sprite I used a Windows program. I used to use Deluxe Paint, but it's too much of a fuss and doesn't even support multiple undo. I recommend Paint Shop Pro, which does the job nicely and has good support for 256-color PCX files. You can find a trial version at www.Jasc.com. Deluxe Paint, or a similar MCGA drawing program, is useful for previewing or putting the final touches on your sprites. If you can find a DOS paint program and can get it to run, then keep it around because it will definitely come in handy.

All that aside, we can get down to do some painting. I usually start with a sketch. Depending on my mood at the time it can be a simple gesture drawing on paper/hi-res or a (difficult!) low-res sketch in PSP. For Schreck I did a low-res one (ouch).

Not particularly pretty or detailed, but it gave me a fair idea of how things could be. Yes, I know he's a blubbery blob of fat, and that's how he was supposed to be — strong & big in a different sense (as I told you, it was intended to be a joke at first!)

Then I gave him a face. Actually, this head was in the works from before — it was one of the several heads I was trying on the first Schreck. With some slight modifications it would fit nicely on a large body. Drawing heads is easy: start with a sphere, give it a chin and fill it with color. Then give it two eyes in the direction of the chin. the nose is either a single pixel protruding from the face or two lighter pixels between and under the eyes. I gave him a long and bushy brow - IMO makes him look a bit dim-witted. Hair more or less like that of Jaws.

Then came the body. This guy is one head taller than Indy, like so:

Schreck II.

To produce the second (and final) version of the sprite, I decided to go about it the right way and get myself some reference...

In the process of redesigning Schreck, I realized that.. well, I don't remember seeing any FAT (very little to do with "File Allocation Table") villains in any of the Indy movies/games!

So up came a fat version of Schreck, which was initially meant as a joke, by the way. Calvin loved it, though, and so we kept it!

The final version of Schreck.
Sexy, isn't he? ;)

Painting, and which pixel/color goes where is a whole science of its own, which can be broken down to mathematical formulae (yes, I'm serious!) and would take an article of its own to explain. For now, let's just say the only way to do it right is practice, practice, practice!

And that is how Schreck came to be.