Hey everyone, welcome to another Stonehearth Desktop Tuesday! Alpha 23 has been a pretty full release: we started with a bunch of AI improvements, we added an appeal system so that your hearthlings can appreciate all your decorating efforts, we added a new fine item system for more flexibility in decorating, and finally, we added a bunch of prioritized input and output boxes to improve your workshops and the general flow of goods through your town. To close out Alpha 23, let’s talk about the release’s surprise feature, facial animations! (Plus, actually, a bunch of other animation updates) .
Recap from the video:
We didn’t originally intend facial animations to be a part of Alpha 23, or any near-future Alpha at all. They’re a polish thing, and well, it’s a known part of hearthling culture that hearthlings lie in bed all night pretending to be asleep while being secretly terrified of existential horrors… right?
About a year ago, Artist Malley pointed out that as the game is a community builder, and that the motivation for optimization actually comes from the needs of the people in your town, that hearthlings would actually feel a whole lot more relatable (and less like dolls, or escapees from a horror game) if they had facial expressions. He and Artist Allie experimented with a few things, via concept art in photoshop including ones with some very weird mouths, before community modder Hyrule Symbol posted some experiments with just animated eyes. These were adorable, and we immediately wanted them, but they depended on the eyes’ ability to stretch, shrink and deform themselves. Since our animation system was written from scratch, we didn’t have technology that would allow one part of an entity to scale while the rest of the entity remained the same…
Until months later when the input/output boxes required scaled down materials to appear inside of them so that you could see how many you had at a glance. Engineer Chris added the ability to scale sub-parts of objects, resulting in tiny, offset rocks and logs.
Even so, we wanted to focus on Fine Items, Appeal and other art elements, but Artist Malley came in on nights and weekends and basically secretly added our entire facial animation system. I came in one morning and he showed me a combat test, and I paused the game and said, “Oh, you added eye color!” and he said, “Definitely unpause the game.”
So yes, now hearthlings have eyes with colors, that close when they sleep, and they express happiness, sadness, and anger. From an artist’s perspective, this was actually quite a challenge–the eyes can only get bigger and smaller, and each eye can only rotate as a whole because our models are limited, for performance reasons, to 39 bones, or movable parts. Animating each eye took up the last of them, so Malley looked around for other solutions to express further emotion. Earlier in the year, he’d also asked Engineer Chris whether the cubemitter, our particle system, could spout whole qubicle models instead of just squares, and at some point, we actually got this tech in. Malley used it to augment the facial expressions–adding hearts and hashes and blushes to make it super clear what a hearthling’s eyes were conveying.
While he was working nights and weekends and over the holidays in secret, Malley also touched up a bunch of our combat animations! For a while now, he’s been bothered by the fact that it can be a bit difficult to tell what’s going on in a melee when you’re watching it from a camera angle distant enough to allow you to follow the whole battle, so he used the scale technology to make weapons get just a little big bigger as they swing, so that they pop more. He also tweaked most of the hearthling animations so that each animation better telegraphs itself as it happens.
As you can see in thereally simple combat idle example, with the old animations on the left and the new ones on the right, hearthlings now shift their weight as they move, and lean forward on their toes. The effect is more noticeable on the backhand swing, where the hearthling’s foot comes up to illustrate where his weight is going. Shield block, and dodge have been similarly updated. More dramatic updates appear in the showier attack animations–for example, this forehand swing has been similarly but more dramatically reworked to be easier to read from a distance and from any angle; same with the new two-handed swing. The old parry was a bit hard to read–maybe it was about jamming your opponent’s blade between your sword? and Malley replaced it with a block and riposte. The most dramatic improvement has probably been to the heal animation, which Engineer Yang did as a stopgap when we first introduced the cleric. For a long time, we’ve been frustrated by the fact that it doesn’t show WHO the cleric is healing, so now, the cleric gestures at their target as the effect goes off.
And here it is all put together! As a team, we’re keeping our focus to building, multiplayer, and encounters right now, but since Malley cared enough about this to jam on it in his free time, I’m glad to get to use this time to share his vision for more expressive hearthlings with all of you.
Roadmap Updated!: Finally, we’ve managed to update our Roadmap and Trello board. Apologies for the long delay. You can find the new roadmap on the right side of the stonehearth dev blog –>
Desktop Tuesday: Next week, I am traveling for work again, so there will be no Desktop Tuesday on January 30th. Desktop Tuesday will return on February 6th.
Streaming: We always stream on Thursday at 6:00pm PST on www.twitch.tv/stonehearth. There will also be a Europe-timed stream on Wednesday, February 7th, at 8:30am PST. See you then!