Dev Blog

BrackenSack: a Dashkin™ Game

Category: Art Updates

BrackenSack Early Access Launch

Posted on December 22, 2017  in Art Updates

Well here we are. I’m writing this on the eve of launching the very first full Brackenwood game and I am pretty excited.


The two of us have spent the past 12 months working hard in weekly sprints. As well as talking constantly every day over Discord, each week invariably begins with a video call and screenshare where Kirk and I do a retrospective analysis of the previous week’s achievements/failures and then plan the week ahead. It’s also in these meetings where we raise new ideas, discard shitty ones and lock in any good ones. Whether we stick to the current plan, or decide to switch things up or adjust the schedule, I’m proud to say that the communication, planning and decision making has been fully documented and absolutely consistent. I like to think I’m very well-organised in my work but Kirk’s organisational skills are god tier. That’s why tomorrow, we’re releasing a game we’re proud of and I’m not here writing some delay apology/excuse.


Tomorrow, as per my usual weekend schedule, I’ll be live streaming on Twitch. We’ll be asking our viewers to register their interest for game codes. From there Kirk will be sending them out to the lucky chosen players. Once you have a code, you’ll be able to install the game and play immediately with options for solo practice, multiplayer against bots, set up your own server for your friends to join directly, or play on our dedicated servers in USA, Europe and Australia.


For us, the hard work starts after tomorrow, because this Early Access launch will be followed by a few months of fortnightly updates, including bug fixes, improvements, new levels and character progression. Kirk has also set up telemetry tracking everything that happens on the servers. If any alarms go off he’ll be alerted.


What’s kind of cool is that we’ve managed to get this far with me working full time (I’m an assistant director on Bob’s Burgers) during the week, then doing around 35-40 hours of game work on top. There are times when I feel a little burned out but the second half of this project has seen cool new feature added after cool new feature and it’s just amazing to watch it come together. I can also look back on the mountain of art I’ve created in the past 12 months, not to mention the new software and skills I’ve learned along the way, including Photoshop, Maya, ZBrush, Substance Painter, UE4 materials and lighting. I mean holy shit I can even write HTML and CSS now! Whaaaat??


OK I gotta go do some more illustrations, ball animation and marketing. See you tomorrow!


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Category: Art Updates

The Problem with Fatsack

Posted on November 30, 2017  in Art Updates

Bitey is an opportunist, stealing food, dominating smaller creatures and treating them as playthings. It’s not that he’s really a bully; he simply has no sense of empathy because he has grown up alone and wild. Some of the most entertaining moments in his story are when he is punished for this behaviour – Bitey of Brackenwood, Prowlies at the River, LittleFoot, Waterlollies all have this karmic thread ending in satisfying retribution. To most of us it’s a little sad watching him be cruel to little creatures.


So in BrackenSack we have a problem. You play as Dashkin, beating the shit out of a poor innocent creature who is obviously alive and making efforts to escape. But there’s no consequences. Without payback it’s just cruelty.


I wrestled with some story ideas and justifications for using a live creature as a ball. There’s one where I thought maybe fatsack creatures require hard impacts to reproduce. With such impact they release spores into the air which are inhaled by female fatsacks, leading to fertilisation! Genius huh?


Well as much as I like that idea (it may even be the justification for a mini-game in the single player) I finally settled on this origin story:

The Origin of the Ball

Originally it was played with waterlollies which break after a few heavy impacts. The game rules were simple – hit the ball until it breaks. Whoever breaks the ball is rewarded with a refreshing explosion of water. Game over.

The Viccans love the spectacle of Dashkin games; they were thoroughly delighted by the acrobatic skill and speed of play. In order to prolong games, they crafted a new, more durable game ball for the Dashkin and called it a BrackenSack. With a durable ball, the game rules evolved to include goals, generally hollows in trees or simple woven hoops. This added ball control and accuracy to an already thrilling game. Taking it even further, the Viccans even imbued the occasional ball with a wild, unpredictable magical force, causing it to wobble through the air, altering its trajectory and requiring an extra level of skill to control.


Pretty sure I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes – I want BrackenSack to have various ball types for different game modes – including waterlollies. SPLOOOOSH FX. I like animating water.


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Category: Art Updates

Bitey Lighty

Posted on May 21, 2017  in Art Updates

Anyone who knows Brackenwood knows that lighting is very important to me. In the Brackenwood movies, almost every colour has at least one tone variant. Grass for example generally has 2-3 colours – a base green, with a darker green for shadow tone and/or a lighter green for highlight.  Of course this also goes for characters; in “Prowlies at the River”, Bitey’s main colours (hair, skin, horn) each have base and tone. Lighting got a little crazy in “Waterlollies” and “The Last of the Dashkin“, where characters had 3-5 colour variations for each base (light, dark, reflect, highlight, line).



The past couple of weeks have seen me working on lighting for Dashkin characters. Painting colour directly onto the character would mean the same lighting direction in every environment. But what if I want Bitey to be lit from the front as he runs toward a sunrise? How about a cavern level where he’s underlit from glowing mushrooms? Would I create a separate hand-painted set of Bitey animation states for each of those situations? Well no, that’s out of the question for pretty obvious reasons.


Unlike the movies, lighting in Dashkin is dynamic, which means that the character is lit by whatever lights are in the level. In the open grasslands this would probably be sunlight or moonlight, but in forests and caverns, there are more varied and movable light sources such as low light (sunset, sunrise), back-lighting, dappled shadows, light beams, glowing creatures and under-lighting.


I’m creating character light maps using Toon Boom Harmony’s light shading, then hooking them up in Unreal. It is a pretty tedious, sometimes painful process but the results speak for themselves. As you can see below, we have variable lighting on the character. In this test scene I’m using a particularly strong, white spotlight to accentuate the effect of the light map.





Category: Art Updates

Prototype art tasks

Posted on May 7, 2017  in Art Updates

For a lone developer, there’s no need to spend time on graphics and animation for the game prototype. In Jonathan Blow’s 2007 IGF talk about his game Braid, he said that the prototype “didn’t need production values for people to play it and enjoy it.” In other words, Braid was playable and fun long before it had pretty graphics, indicating to him that he was on the right track and maybe even had a potential success on his hands.


For a solo developer it’s efficient to quickly prototype using placeholder assets. But we’re two people working full time; the tech guy and the art guy working concurrently, albeit on opposite sides of the world. So while Kirk is laying the code foundations, it makes sense for me to lay the animation foundations.


For this reason the Dashkin prototype doesn’t have your typical placeholder sprites. Even though they look like rough pencil sketches as you can see in this throw state, there’s lots of drawings and smooth movement. As an experienced frame-by-frame animator familiar with my own characters, I can nail this rough movement pretty quickly, and when it comes time to clean up all of this rough animation I’ll have a head start on it.



With so much animation complete, my current tasks are all about backgrounds. Backgrounds aren’t entirely necessary for a playable prototype, but these are in preparation for the latest phase; the “beautiful corner”.


The term is new to me. According to Kirk it is the stage of a project where you begin to define the visuals of the game in their final state. The beautiful corner itself is a short section of a playable level, arranged like a diorama of elements in their finished style. In this game, I’ve started working on our beautiful corner with some fully rendered skies, mountains, forests, terrain, the player character, some creatures and even an animated waterfall. This past weekend I’ve begun arranging these final assets in the prototype level.


The process is very similar to how I’d be doing it in one of my Brackenwood movies. Sky at the back, mountains, then forests, all the way forward to the character and foreground foliage elements.



From the beginning I’ve been anticipating this stage of the project where art and code come together to form what looks and feels like an actual game. Up until now there’s been a pile of code over here and a stack of art assets over there, but last week we saw things become an actual playable experience. Even though there are still a ton of rough assets, and lots of tweaks and polish to come, we can now build levels and run through them, overcoming obstacles, platforming and dashing. AND, thanks to the way Kirk has set things up, we can do that as any character, so it’s totally within the realm of possibility that we can play as fatsack, a prowlie or even the Yuyu cloud. Fatsack Exploration Adventure anyone?




Category: Art Updates

Dashkin states

Posted on April 14, 2017  in Art Updates

The past few weeks have seen steady progress in both technical and art sides of the project.

Completed tasks

In preparation for the prototype, I’ve been making rough assets, including fatsack and Bitey animation. Not only is a lot of animation layer/node organisation required, but designing that organisation – that is, deciding how best to lay things out so it’s readable/usable – took half a day and still evolves with use. In the image below, there are two main sections. Leftstates that happen on the spotRight: states that happen at speed. The red areas below those contain finished states, the states in progress are in the centre.

state nodes

Except for the top two, each red block contains several individual animation states. Each state consists of a 5 main nodes. At the top of each is the animation itself – a grouped hierarchy of embedded layers, including separate head, eyes, arms, deformer curves and collision rigging. Underneath that main group are two composite nodes and two display nodes. These are for working and exporting, respectively. In this screenshot, there are almost 50 states. I would estimate there’s at least another 50 to do. It’s also worth noting that this is only Bitey’s animation. This will need do be done for every creature and character in the game.

Current tasks

As anyone who watched my Twitch streams would know, I initially found it frustrating to rig fatsack and Bitey, struggling along slowly adding collision shapes to each state. Additionally, due to the frame-by-frame nature of this game, many animated states require splitting into various sub-states.

For example, the jump animation consists of 5 sub-states: spring, rise, hang, fall, land (see below). Having these all separate on their own layers (instead of all together in one sequence) makes it difficult for me to see the animation working as a whole action. It’s something I can get used to over time and I’ve developed a workflow but it hasn’t come easily. That said, this is the first character (the main player character no less) and once these initial teething problems iron themselves out and things will move more smoothly for the other creatures.

Upcoming tasks

Rough animation is a very fast process for me and most of what you see above was animated in a couple of days. There’s plenty more to come yet so if you’re interested in seeing it take shape, you can find me working live most weekends on my Twitch channel. Once Bitey is done, I’ll be creating some very rough collision and terrain assets and looking further ahead, more creature animation.

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Category: Art Updates

This is no joke

Posted on March 31, 2017  in Art Updates

Here we are! A few weeks ago on 12th March I announced live on my Twitch channel that Dashkin, a new game from the ground up, is in full time development. This neatly coincided with me landing a partnership with Twitch so they gave me some front-page time for the announcement which was a huge boost for us. Dashkin developer Kirk Sexton (ambientenergy101) was in the chat answering questions while I demonstrated our tools and process. He’s also the guy who set up all the sites here so he’s behind the scenes making everything work. You’ll see him around the place answering technical questions but we’re also compiling a FAQ on the Wiki.


current tasks

The week after announcement, I continued my work on story, which I’ve split into five acts. By the time you read this I hope to be finalising Act 4. It has certainly been a challenge; telling story through game play is very limiting and games often use cut scenes to help drive the story forward. I need to avoid too many story-based cut scenes though, partly because it slows the game down (not good when our game has a “high speed” theme) but also because animation is a lot of work and I doubt I’ll have time to animate more than a minute or two of cinematics for this project.

upcoming tasks

I’ve also been working on rigging up sprites with collision geometry and exporting sprite normals from Harmony. This makes all my 2D animation ready to import into Unreal as flipbooks. So in this weekend’s streams I’ll be doing more animation and testing some stuff in Unreal. Drop in and say hi!

Sprite lighting with normal map generated in Harmony

completed tasks

This past week was our websites week, with this blog and community sites. Kirk set everything up, I’m still working on customisations. So come check it all out! Join the forum, customise your profile, click around, explore, find broken things, ask questions, request features and tell your friends. We’ll be posting weekly updates from here on in and making any big announcements here first.



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