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August 4, 2008

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Such is the life of an indie developer, or at least it seems to be when it comes to character animation.

So far, the experiment with our student animators has gone...well, slowly. With five students on board, things were bound to take extra time. It's tough to move forward while making sure everyone is on the same page, setting up their model skeletons the same way, making sure their model heirarchy is consistent for exporting to Torque format, and so on. There was also the added delay in moving our models from 3DS Max to Maya, which introduced a whole variety of issues. As I've learned, there is a long lead-in period when starting with a new modeling program making sure your models play nice with Torque. Add to that a group of students who are new to the models and new to Torque, not to mention the fact that it's summertime, and you've got a recipe better suited to a slow cooker than a short-order grill.

Still, this week we reached a small milestone, when we finally got our first character set up properly in Maya with the right skeleton, the right textures, and the right object heirarchy for proper Torque export. The character is set in his correct "root" pose, and the exported model imports properly into the game engine. Now all we need to do is set up a facial skeleton for expressions and lip sync, and the model should be ready for animation.

The nice part about that is that we can easily apply these advances to our other models, so a few more character models should be animation-ready within a short time, I expect.

Nevertheless, as these things go, it's not all sunshine and butterflies.

One of the student animators never really made any progress with his character, and something always came up preventing him from attending any of our weekly meetings. As his communications became fewer and fewer, I recognized the telltale signs of yet another animator silently heading for the exit doors. After bringing it up with him, he did finally admit to being overcommitted, so now we're back down to four animators.

Which is still good, of course. Four is a good number to have, and right now most are working together nicely as a team. We're still in the slow stages, but I think we've reached the point where things will start picking up again.

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