Between all of our tasks we of course also had to have a regular exchange of ideas. We employed modern technology like screen sharing, video conferences and of course the good old telephone. But by far the best were our actual meetings: discussion, testing and then a tasty business lunch. ;-)).
And now it’s finally time: The Highland Sheep Games are done! Suitable for players age six and up because they are without bloodshed and stress-free to play. You need a little dexterity, concentration and a taste for 2D comic-style graphics. If you like sheep and scottish landscapes, that’s a plus..
A reminder: If you’re interested in the whole story of Conner MacSheep in English please visit your bookshop or follow the links on the book-pages at this homepage. Thank you!
At our first meeting we began to develop game concepts. Soon it became clear that the Highland Sheep Games from the book would be best suited for us. Now everything depended on the possibilities for digital implementation and enjoyable gameplay.
We assigned the tasks: Vera, a trained game designer, assumed the organisation and project management, programming and game design. Me, an author and illustrator, was responsible for writing, art and sound and music. Both of us were full of ideas, energy and motivation and in hindsight I can attest to our persistence and incredible teamwork skills – always a challenge when personal and professional relationships overlap.
Four disciplines emerged during the design process: Jump for Height, Press o’War, Hillrace and Biting Patterns, a very sheep oriented event that eventually had to be reworked during development into Puzzeling Patterns. The foundations had been laid.
It all started on a summer evening out walking in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands. We – my husband, daughter and I – enjoyed the spicy evening air. The sky was clear and adorned with a sensationally bright full moon. Silence. The silhouette of a large deciduous tree loomed against the horizon. Suddenly – a friendly Bähähä and another and another …
A whole flock of sheep greeted us. In my head came a picture that was firmly anchored in my head: a moon-addicted sheep stands on a hill and bluffs the moon with its pink ears upright, a kind of sheep.
I liked this idea so much that it became „The Legend of Conner MacSheep“. And because the images in my head were so vivid, the story was also created as a graphic novel. That could have been enough, but the sheep were still static.
Until now! My daughter and I breathed life into the sheep. I painted it. She digitally taught her to walk.
Mom with whiny lamb – static
Mom with whiny lamb – moving
Over the next few days we will tell the story of how the game was created, something different every day. We hope you enjoy reading!
I started working on the character design. My way was paved by countless more or less successful sketches of sheep. It is unbelievable how many sheep-themed franchises there are, e.g. Sheepworld, Shaun the Sheep etc.
Since we were planning our game to be 2D, a comic-like interpretation of actors and landscape seemed appropriate. I had little issues with imagining a start screen since my favourite place for Conner MacSheep was and still is a real castle ruin in the Scottish Highlands. So in no time flat I made:
Great! But these were all just pencil sketches. These can’t just be put into a video game like that. That was the beginning of my adventures in digital painting with a graphics tablet. Drawing on a black board and seeing the matching picture take shape on my monitor took some getting used to.
My hand-eye coordination improved after some scrawly and undimensioned attempts enough that I could start to appreciate the advantages of digital drawing. A ‘back’ button is truly a remarkable invention! I also enjoyed working with multiple layers: if, for example, I wasn’t sure if a detail would fit the image, I could simply put it on a new layer and move, transform and dye it as I pleased… Simply amazing!
Another big learning experience were animations. My part in making our animated sheep was still relatively simple. I just had to draw the animal in various poses whereby the principal parts had to stay in the same place or the animal would jitter or jump unintentionally.
After some initial insecurities where to begin and what component I should build first (Everything is connected! Each element is dependent on other elements that also don’t yet exist!) I learned …
to better think abstractly and could begin properly. Ultimately, in hindsight, nothing was particularly difficult. The choice and concept of our project proved to be fantastic since the strategy of having separated minigames worked out great for me. It enabled me to essentially build five projects in one, four games and the surrounding application that connects them together.
Today I can excitingly see my own progress from one game to the next. This comes with the minor disadvantage of me wishing to go back and fix up the parts I build first. But since they work well from the players perspective I simply enjoy knowing I wouldn’t write the same spaghetti code today..
An insight I didn’t expect was how little I enjoy building animations. Specifically animations for four-legged creatures. Sheep have a weird running style. Have you ever checked youtube in search of sheep running videos and then watched it twenty times? I’m really grateful that people even upload that kind of stuff. If you were ever wondering about the purpose of clips like that, this is at least one possible answer.
Animation Jump for Height, the first game we made
Animation Hillrace, the last game
The real breakthrough for our animation quality was discovering Anima2D. This is a plugin for Unity3D which allowed me to build bone-based 2D animations, a technology that is usually reserved for the third dimension. These days Unity ships with its own version of this technology.
Now I could make our sheep move a lot more fluid, bend their knees and necks and have neck and back actually bend and stretch. It made them so much more lively and expressive that I just had to use it.
Bone-based animation (Overview)
Same sheep in action
It was a lot more work intensive than the simple, more puppet-like animation in Jump for Height. Still, the end result was totally worth it and I have developed a lot of respect for this profession. Especially animating something with a different physical build and movement patterns which can’t be recreated with your own body.
Of course my work also included repeatedly going back and fixing bugs, an unavoidable part of software development. I would like to thank our testers who by now also know the Highland Sheep Games by heart and whose help and information was critical to make the game enjoyable for everyone. Now hopefully all bugs have been splatted, the sheep groomed and the lawn mowed so that the Highland Sheep Games can be officially opened.
At first we had to consider from which part of the book we would be able to make a fun game.
How big should the project be? – Just a smaller promotional game.
What do we want to accomplish with it? – Mainly sell the book and make the franchise more popular.
Which skills can we bring to the table? – Pretty much all we need, provided we applied enough creative problem solving.
Which skills can we bring to the table? – Pretty much all we need, provided we applied enough creative problem solving.
Finally, we had the skills, but they were untested under real-world conditions. I have a diploma in game design from the Games Academy, but …
Unity 3D Engine
… it only came with the very beginner basics in programming. So far, I had only been able to apply these skills in school projects and online classes.
For those unfamiliar with game production: a game designer develops the concept, rules and most of the time also story or setting of a game. There’s lots of flowcharts involved. It also means planning the progression of the game as well as building levels and environments. But for this the designer usually gets a ready made kit from a programmer. That was me now, too.
Additionally I had another responsibility that is a lot more common for a game designer: organizing the team. In bigger productions this can become a specialized job for a project manager, with smaller ones it falls to the game designer. My education had prepared me for this part of my work. The most unusual aspect here was that my team was just my mother and myself.
The switching between roles was one of the biggest challenges during this project for me. Especially switching between management and production came with a surprising mental barrier since both roles have somewhat opposing interests.
Among other ideas our planning had shown that the best setting for our purposes and abilities would be the chapter (in Conner MacSheep) about the Highland Sheep Games.
It was easy to imagine the various disciplines as individual minigames. Although we had to adapt a few of the sports to make enjoyable games the concept almost wrote itself.
First drawing idea
Ready to start
The ‘Biting Patterns’ from the book for example reasonably did not work very well as a game since the sheep eat artistic patterns into the lawn. Changing it to ‘Puzzling Patterns’ where the player has to assemble a pattern from a template allowed us to add time and number of attempts to calculate a score.
Puzzling Patterns Tutorial
Another advantage of planning out the whole game as a compilation of minigames was that the resulting disconnection from a production viewpoint meant we could essentially ‘start over’ four times and have a reset where we could apply our learnings from the previous minigame. The short and fun nature of a minigame compilation also fit the format of a promotional game quite well.
We decided to start out with Jump for Height as our first minigame. I started programming and Elfi began drawing sheep to find a fitting artstyle for our game. Next the drawings had to be fit to the technical requirements of our animations.
Far more difficult to me was a different drawing technique. Painting small elements like grass or flowers as a tilesheet that could be repeated infinitely without showing recognizable patterns.
Our program of choice was Pyxel Edit and it required several tutorials and practice-tiles. But a great technique to build large -several screens large- landscapes.
drawin small parts and put them together
Later I also learned to animate tiles with it, especially water be it in a trough, creek, lake, waterfall as well as falling stones or crumbling platforms.
step by step pictures in Pyxel Edit
After long drawing sessions came the sounds or rather the search for sounds. Sheep bleat, Water rushes. But who could have thought that there are so many more sounds needed to convey atmosphere and movement. Vera wrote me a looong list with requirements for each game.
For the sheep sounds I visited the local hobby shepherd. With a small digital recorder that had to be equipped with a windbreaker after several failed attempts I recorded single and groups of sheep while bleating. Also while eating and slurping. Oftentimes I wandered around in the forest and along the creek. Last but not least a lot of household items had to be employed as musical instruments.
Digital recorder with windbreaker
As background music I composed one melody myself. The others are Scottish traditionals that I arranged with help of the Ludwig3 software. All new to me but I made it!
Installation note: During installation, Windows asks if you really want to install because the app is from an „unknown manufacturer“. This is because we are brand new – that is, for the first time – on the market. Simply select „Install anyway“. We promise that the game contains only the game!
If you want to uninstall the game again (which we think would be a shame): Right click on the game button, open the file path; Click Uninstaller – and it will uninstall itself. Single games or tournament mode If you select a game using the corresponding rock button, you have several attempts to solve each level; very practical for practicing!
If you choose tournament mode, you will be guided through all games, but you will only have one attempt per level. BUT: In the end a nice surprise is waiting for you!