12
Jan
10

/Interview/ How is built: www.scarygirl.com

It’s been hailed as the best Flash game ever. Illustrator Nathan Jurevicius, producer Sophie Byrne and developer/designers Tarwin Stroh-Spijer and Tony Polinelli explain how they pushed the platform to the limits with Scarygirl

.net: How did the online game project come about?

NJ: Scarygirl as a brand had been in existence for a number of years prior to the game. Toys, a graphic novel and various art shows based on the main characters had been released to the public. The original concept before all of this, though, was to have Scarygirl as a small online interactive where a player guides this lonely girl through various simple missions to win friends.

SB: An online project was something that Nathan had previously wanted to do, so when the opportunity came up for us to pitch the concept to Film Victoria, we jumped at it. Given the drawn-out process of developing the feature film, this project enabled us to produce an online ‘experience’ that expanded on the existing Scarygirl worlds and characters and introduced her to a much larger audience.
.net: How did you turn the concept into 16 playable levels?

NJ: Initially, I roughly thumbnailed an overall concept for levels and a site map to show the flow of the story. Touch My Pixel was also given various pages from my graphic novel and a general back story. From here, TMP created detailed working dummy levels and then gave these to me to draw over the top and create the artwork.
.net: How much did it cost and how was it funded?

SB: The game was primarily funded by the Film Victoria Digital Media Fund and partially funded by Passion Pictures Australia. All of the team also invested substantial amounts of ‘in kind’ time to push it over the line and to achieve the end result we all desired. It’s difficult to ascertain what the actual cost of the project was, but the Film Victoria Digital Media Fund invested AUD$250K.
.net: How did Touch My Pixel get involved?

SB: We were aware of Suren’s animation and knew that we wanted him to do the in-game animation (under the initial direction of Chris Hauge from Halo Pictures) and he suggested we speak to Tony and Tarwin, who later formed Touch My Pixel.
.net: What part did animation studio Renmotion play?

RM: Renmotion played its role by taking Nathan’s original vector art and animating them in their different roles required for the game. This included Scarygirl’s required actions throughout the game as well as her enemies’ movements, and background characters’ animations.
.net: How did you prepare the detailed artwork for the game and how did you manage to squash it into the Flash platform?

TS: Nathan prepared most of the illustrations in Illustrator as per his normal workflow. For a lot of his work recently though he’d been using Photoshop to add extra colours, glows and noise. To make sure the game was a small size (and ran faster) we had to work out ways of taking his raw vector artwork and getting Flash to duplicate what he was doing in Photoshop. We really think this helped to make the game stand out of the crowd of other Flash games out there. A similar process was completed for the animated characters, some having noise added, others a glow, and all pre-cached in memory for fast access.
.net: Why did you go for Flash in the first place and make the game browser-based?

NJ/SB: We were looking at a way to get an in-depth online presence happening for Scarygirl that allowed us to control content and not be exclusive or have to own a particular console/handheld device. Flash was an easy, cost-effective method of creating the game.
.net: What was the main technical challenge you encountered?

TS: Getting the game to run fast. When we first got the background images in it slowed down to a few frames-per-second. When we got animated characters in there it went down to 2FPS, if we were lucky. We worked out ways of caching animations and tiled backgrounds that let us get speeds over the maximum of 120FPS on some machines!
.net: Why did you use open source code editor FlashDevelop?

TS: We wouldn’t have been able to create this game without it, or a similar tool. The code editor inside the Flash IDE is just so primitive that it’s just not suited to large projects. Using FlashDevelop changed the way we worked with our assets. Originally we’d be compiling all our graphics each and every time we’d test the game. As the game grew we found it worked a lot better to pre-compile the assets into libraries using stub-classes that were overridden by the actual code. This is something we could have done just using the Flash IDE but probably wouldn’t have thought of if we were stuck in that environment.

FlashDevelop was also used to program in the haXe language, which we used to create the collectible mini-games. HaXe is a language with many similarities to ActionScript 3, but has a lot of features that makes it more powerful to work with. It also doesn’t need the Flash IDE to compile, doing it up to 10 times faster, which is great when you want to make tweaks and test quickly. We might have made the whole game using haXe if we’d had more experience in it earlier.
.net: How did you test the game?

TP: We’d be testing it all day. Add something, test it. Fix a platform, test it. Being able to compile relatively quickly – external assets helped here – was a boon. One of the great moments was when we finally put a timer in our Rocket Bike Riding mini-game and got our studio mates to test it out – hours later they were still playing it, yelling their lower and lower times out to each other, we knew we had a winner with that one.
.net: Have you got any further plans for the game?

NJ: Sophie and I hope to complete the game with a big final level that takes the player into Dr Maybee’s maze-like lab. We are already talking to some potential partners for multi-platform versions and, of course, we intend to develop further game narratives across various platforms alongside the feature film development.

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