Pixel-Pushers

Greetings and salutations! Been playing doctor to a sick girlfriend all weekend, but now it’s Sunday and I have time to blog for you, my faithful reader(s).

tools

The hardest thing about making the backgrounds I shared last week has been the tools I use to make them. I’ve tried almost every Mac-friendly pixel program that I don’t have to shell out money for and I was screaming at the computer over it a couple weeks ago. I mean, I was ready to kill people. Had to talk to my shrink about it and everything.

I understand that limiting myself only to freeware programs is kind of a bullshitty way to go about things (you know, you get what you pay for), but all I need is a program that can do basic raster art. I was building a game in Adventure Game Studio a couple years go when my PC laptop (aka “the craptop”) was still working, and I built all the art in MSPaint. While I’d like a program that has a few modern conveniences (layering and unlimited colors), the cost of most art programs is well over $50 if we’re lucky. That’s not terribly affordable on an AmeriCorps stipend.

But beyond that, given the problems I’ve had with a lot of these programs, I don’t want to shell out money for something that’s going to be just as unintuitive as what I’ve been using already. Reviews are unreliable; far too many people seem to think Photoshop is a sensible art program for raster art. Photoshop is the most cumbersome and unintuitive program I think I’ve ever used; yes, if you’re willing to read through a 400 page manual just to place a few pixel, when placing pixels is the basis of every single art program ever, then it’s rational, and if you’re intending to do a lot of graphic design and photo manipulation as well than Photoshop makes sense. The reason I don’t want Photoshop is the same reason why we’re not using Unity anymore: 90% of its functionality doesn’t apply to us, and the 10% that does involves a lot of tweaking and digging into the advanced preferences. Can’t learn just my 10%, gotta learn the whole thing.

To drive home the point that basic tools shouldn’t require expert knowledge, here’s Ze Frank.

ANYWAY!

programs I’ve used (fuck fuck shitting fucky fuck)

On paper my absolute favorite pixel art program is Pixen3. Completely intuitive Flash-like interface, infinite layering, unlimited palette (plus easy palette-making and it automatically adds any color in a file you’ve opened to the palette), ability to save as almost any file including PSD’s, on/off grid, picture-as-background function (great for rotoscoping), and (most importantly) an animation program that can save as both animated GIF and spritesheet. Plus it’s Open Source. It was perfect; all the preliminary art for One-Eyed Monsters was done in Pixen3; it’s the program I used to figure out the looks of the characters.

Sadly, Pixen3 is probably the buggiest program I’ve ever used.The Open Sword team hasn’t patched or updated it in 4 years. It seems each time I install an OSX update something new stops working in Pixen, and seeing as it was built before Intel chips were the norm, it’s become almost unusable.

My favorite glitch? When you resize the canvas, no matter where you tell it to place the image it places it in the same place: 30 pixels up from where it used to be.

Before:

After:

So I switched to Paintbrush, an MSPaint knockoff with a few added features and ported to the Mac. I used an older version of Paintbrush on the old computer (prior to this winter’s rash of Computer Bubonic Plague that cost me my desktop and laptop within months of each other), but it’s since been updated. It lacks an animation program and the layering leaves a bit to be desired, but it seemed at least functional enough to work with.

But on delving deeper, it seems to be missing a lot of standard features, like keeping track of the dimensions of your file. Problems with the paste function as well. And it’s got bugs of its own as well, like with the line tool.

Draw a line from left to right, no problem:

Draw a line from right to left, problem:

Always always always, the stray origin pixel. Similarly, you can draw a straight line going down but not going up.

The big break in both programs (and I’m wondering if this is a problem with my computer since it’s in both programs) is when you use the eyedropper, the color it gives you is always slightly darker than the color selected. The HSB values are accurate, and if you go into the HSB sliders and just hit Return it’ll give you the right color, but it always selects just slightly wrong on the greyscale. This is pretty critical considering I’ll be tweaking a lot of existing art and taking art from Loren, Ryan, and (I hope) many other people down the line.

settling

After flitting through a bunch of different programs and demos of pay programs. Pencil and Pixel both proved inadequate, and for some reason The Gimp won’t install on my computer; I’ve redownloaded and reinstalled three or four times now and it simply won’t open, I dunno if it’s something wrong with X11 or if I have to wait for a Gimp patch because my compy is brand new (it says it’s functional on OSX 10.6.1…).

But I settled on a nice little program called Seashore. It too is Open Source and seems to be based around MS Paint as well. To steal from the website, “it is based around the GIMP’s technology and uses the same native file format. However, unlike the GIMP, Seashore only aims to serve the basic image editing needs of most computer users…”

The only odd thing so far is that there’s no Line Tool; lines must be drawn by holding shift and clicking the pencil on two points; straight lines in 45-degree increments require you to hold shift and control. I can’t see how that’s more effective than just throwing in a common tool, but hardly a dealbreaker. It seems lovely and, thankfully, I haven’t found any bugs yet. It is mercifully pared down. It’s also got a lot of nice selection effects, including contrast control, a nice little Photoshop feature that I will gladly kiss the designer’s dung-stained boots over.

Only downside is that it doesn’t do animation, so I may have to keep using Pixen for at least that much until it sputters completely to death. If there’s anyone familiar with Cocoa that wants to do me a solid and fix the damn thing, be my guest. I’ll love you for a million years.

What pixel programs to you use? Got any suggestions?

belated

I realize I never posted sent a link to this:

variable height test

That’s not a pre-scripted path! The characters are bound to the floor and adjust their Y position based on the shape of the ground. Fareed, as you can imagine, is a master.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, new backgrounds coming soon.

misc

Daria comes out on DVD this week. So does Steam for the Mac, which means The Orange Box. I may be a little… distracted.

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