Animation ‘sheets’

In the test RND project, there were a fair amount of sprites used for the player character which featured variations that depicted a separate facing direction from the move direction.

In CITIZEN there are additions such as drawn weapon of a certain size, pose changes (standing, crouched), and speed. All of these combine into a huge animation sprite ‘sheet’.

I use ‘sheet’ to mean a series of sprites meant to be organised together. Much of the work has been how to organise the sheets in such a way as to easily reference them.

Organisation

The animation hierarchy looks something like this.

  • For every direction (8 directions)
    • (For every direction) A weapon state: unarmed, armed small, armed medium
      • (For every weapon state) A pose: stand, crouch.
        • (For every pose) An intended movement: idle, walk, run, weapon in, weapon out, shoot.

Due to the resulting number of images, I had decided against implementing a separate facing and moving direction, since this would somewhat triple the amount of frames.

In C2, the interface to manipulate sprites is not production-friendly, so the lesser number of Animation folders used the better. Therefore, I decided to arrange the animation by the last element in the hierarchy, which is the intended movement. This grouping was also closest to how it was being rendered in 3d, so the transfer of the sprites to C2 was simpler.

Animations grouped by ‘intended action’.

For the record, ‘wf‘ is ‘walk forward’, ‘rf‘ is ‘run forward’, ‘cf‘ is ‘crouch forward’, ‘wepio‘ is a combination of ‘weapon in’ and ‘weapon out’, and the rest are self-explanatory. ‘wepio‘ has been put together in one group because the frames used in ‘weapon in’ is the reverse of ‘weapon out’, and also the limited frame meant that another animation folder was unnecessary.

Inside any of these folders are the large number of sprites which depict the intended action (eg wf) in stand and crouch, and for each of that, in unarmed, armed small, and armed medium variations, and for each of those variations, all 8 directions.

It is organised as the hierarchy above indicates. Eg in the folder ‘wf’, the first number cycle of frames depict Direction 0, Unarmed, Stand, Walk forward. The second depicts Direction 1, Unarmed, Stand, Walk foward, etc.

Animation map

In order to to retrieve the sprite frame or sequence to play, an animation map had to be created in order for the C2 events to locate the frame and folder.

The animation map consisted of simple directives. Here’s an example:

# IDLE --------------------------------------
u upi anim:idle
u upi is_seq:0-0@5,0-3@3,4-5@3,6-7@2,7-5@2,5-0@2
u upi num_frames:8
u upi prev_frames:0

as upi anim:idle
as upi is_seq:0-0@5,0-3@2,3-6@2,3-0@2
as upi num_frames:7
as upi prev_frames:8

am upi anim:idle
am upi is_seq:0-0@5,0-3@.15,3-0@2,4-7@2,7-4@10
am upi num_frames:8
am upi prev_frames:15

Left of the colon ‘:’ is the directive, and at the right is the value.

The directive is in this template: <wep> <pose&action><key>.

<wep> can be ‘u‘, ‘as‘, ‘am‘.

<pose&action> is a combination of the pose and intended action. ‘pose‘ can either be ‘up‘ or ‘dn‘. ‘action’ can be ‘i‘ (idle), ‘wf‘ (walk forward), ‘rf‘ (run forward), ‘cf‘ (crouch forward), ‘s‘ (shoot), ‘wepi‘ (weapon in), and ‘wepo‘ (weapon out).

Then back in C2, a lookup string is constructed based on the state variables, and this is used to find the directive name, eg ‘u dni’, which means unarmed, crouched, idle.

The ‘key’ is the attribute of a particular animation. ‘anim‘ refers to the C2 animation folder that this animation will use. ‘is_seq‘ is a string that tells the system to play a sequence in a particular order, including a wait time. The syntax for is_seq is as follows.

<startframe>-<endframe>@<wait_time>

Note that the startframe and endframe tokens are relative to the sequence being looked up.

The ‘num_frames‘ key specifies the number of animation frames this sequence is supposed to have. This is used to find the proper offsets.

The ‘prev_frames‘ key specifies the number of total offset frames from the beginning of this animation folder. Note in the example above, notice how the next ‘prev_frames‘ value is the sum of the ‘num_frames‘ and ‘prev_frames’ of the previous entry. It is definitely easier to create the animation map in the order in which they are currently arranged in the 3d renders, so that the specification of offsets in the file is just a matter of adding on top of the previous.

(There are also two other keys that bear mentioning. One is ‘next_anim‘ and ‘endsignal‘. ‘next_anim‘ is used so that a specific animation be explicitly told to move to another animation after the sequence is finished. Currently, this is used to automatically move to the ‘idle’ animation after drawing or hiding the weapon. ‘endsignal’ is a text that is specifically used to trigger some action/event in C2. For example, this is used to signal that a weapon has completed being drawn or holstered. So in the YML file, the endsignal of wepin, is ‘wepin’, and in C2, an “AnimationEndSignal” function is used to look for that specific signal string. When it encounters it, it changes the weapon status variable.)

In relation to sorting renders out predictably, 3d renders are appended with a prefix that enables them to be alphabetically sorted in a predictable way. So, for example, if the ‘wf’ (walk forward) animation folder, the ‘u’ sequences go first, followed by ‘as’, then ‘am’. That sorting is enforced by prefixing 3d renders of ‘u’ by ‘a_’, ‘as’ by ‘b_’, and ‘am’ by ‘c_’. In addition to this, the direction angle (eg 0, 45, 90, 180, etc) are written with 3-digit padding (eg 000, 045, 090, 180). With these two modifications to the 3d render filename, this will always yield an correct sort. These naming conventions are incorporated into Janus configurations so there’s no need to do them manually.

The point is: renders need to be sorted right from the time they are rendered, so that when cropped and copied over, C2SpriteMan can rename them in the proper order they will appear finally in the animation sheet.

Primer on animation workflow

Now that the animation aspects being developed in C2 is becoming closer to how renders are named, the following information bears putting down.

First there are several applications involved in making character animation in C2 in CITIZEN: Maya (using Sandline for cache export), LightWave3D, Imagemagick, and C2SpriteMan. The following information is the workflow of data and formats leading up to the final graphics put into C2.

Maya animation

The animation workflow starts assuming that all characters have been modelled; texturing is done separately from animation. In Maya, the characters are rigged.

The organisation of the Maya scenes are such that only one scene file is used for all animation.

Because the Maya workflow uses Sandline, which uses namespaces in order to organise the cache files in the file system, multiple references of the character are brought in. (While I admit that this is an overhead, it is negligible because of the minimalist assets used in the game). These multiple references refer to the animation that the rig is intended to be. For example, the walk animation will have the PWALK (Player Walk) namespace, and the run animation is called PRUN. These referenced rigs will be animated as such, and then they are exported via Sandline, the cache folders they will reside in will be according to their namespace: /PWALK, and /PRUN. This makes it easier to identify the animation in the file system.

Furthermore, the animation timeline in Maya starts at frame 1. Each referenced rig, each with their own assigned animation, starts at frame 1 and animate for as long as necessary, as long it is no more than 100 frames long, which is the defined limit for this workflow.

Orientation of the character is +Z. Animation is only for one direction, too, since the multiple directions are rendered automatically using Janus in LW.

Once the cache files are exported it goes into LW to be set up.

LightWave rendering

There are too many steps that describe this workflow, but the main idea, is that the relationship between the animation done in Maya is related back to LW in several methods.

Animation ranges

It must also be noted that while in Maya, all animations started in frame 1, in LW, the animation is blocked out in discrete 100-frame chunks. For example, the walk animation (eg /PWALK) is assigned frames 1-100, the run animation (/PRUN) frames 101-200, the crouch (/PCROUCH) animation frames 201-300; the idle animation (PIDLE) is assigned frames 901-1000, etc.

A nodal network in LW is created that assigns each cache file to the appropriate geometry. It also offsets each cache (which starts at frame 1) to their corresponding mapped chunk as described above.

Janus

Once the cache files are assigned, the geometries are parented to nulls that enable it to rotate to 8 directions. Then Janus comes in where it is responsible for breaking out the master scene file into the varied animations.

There are two ‘map’ files configuring Janus to do this.

Timeframe definition

Actually called ‘CDEMO_timeframe_definition.txt’, this text file maps out the the entire duration for all animations.

For example, it defines where in the timeline you can find the ‘unarmed walk forward’. Basically, Janus uses this file to set the start and end frames (and frame step parameter) depending on the intended breakout.

The intended breakout, on the other hand, is defined in Janus’s FORFILEs.

FORFILE

Without getting into too specific with Janus, FORFILEs is a Janus capability to iterate through a text file and populate aspects of the breakout by the contents of the file.

In this usage, the FORFILE lists all the breakouts that need to happen. For example, the FORFILE lists that for every 8-direction angle, a ‘unarmed walk forward’ animation is exported. In Janus, it reads the tokens and then through its configuration it reads the timeframe definition (described above) and looks up the appropriate time frames to render.

It’s also in this FORFILE that all the specific naming conventions are applied to the final image output.

Workflow: Interaction triggers

In the RND test project one of the most important systems I developed was the interaction trigger system.

This system is simply a method of binding an action (ie “Interact”) and a specifier, and then wrapped to make a ‘broadcast signal’.

This broadcast signal is then sent. Because the broadcast signal can optionally contain a ‘target’, only those matching the target description can be made to respond to the signal.

The importance of a system like this is the ability to make level-specific scripts. I’ll give a test case from the RND project.

  • In Tiled, a marker is created with a name. This is the trigger name, which can be anything as long as it can be uniquely identified.
  • In C2, a ‘On GridMove reach target’ action is bound so that it wraps the reaching of the tile with the trigger name of the marker it has reached.
  • On reach target, the trigger is sent to a BroadcastTrigger function, which accepts the trigger name, and the intended target of the trigger, if any. The target is comma-delimited, so multiple targets can be specified.
  • The BroadcastTrigger function looks at the targets, tokenises them, and then applies the ‘receivedtrigger’ variable of each of the instances that are able to accept triggers. It applies them only to the targets specified, or all instances if no target was specified.
  • Note that a family called f_trigger_receiver was made and the receivedtrigger variable is called ‘f_receivedtrigger’ in order that BroadcastTrigger can efficiently send it to those concerned.
  • In the level-specific script, the intended target is waiting for its specific f_receivedtrigger to change. BroadcastTrigger would have changed it.
  • When it does, it fires off the events there.

In addition to the trigger, level-specific behaviours are specified, and can override the default AI of any object. This is why this is important, because the scripting is done in a separate event sheet (ie logic) and not predefined in the main logic.

Now, other actions are bound, as needed, to the BroadcastTrigger. For example, in the RND project, the On reach target trigger condition was the first one I implemented. But quickly afterwards, it was easy enough to bind the TalkToNPC function, or the InteractWithNPC function to the broadcast.

Of course, the trigger name changed. In the TalkToNPC trigger, the trigger name was "talk "&cmover.name in which the ‘talk’ keyword was appended by the actual variable name of the NPC that was talked to. The name of the NPC talked to was embedded in the signal and no target was specified because the logic was that either the player or the game world was the receiver. But, it is also possible, or even more beneficial if indeed the recipient of the ‘talk’ action was put in to the trigger target, as I did with the next implementation.

I implemented an ‘InteractWithNPC’ action in the same way, but included the recipient of the ‘interact’ action as the target. In the level script it was intended to add to the accomps to keep track who had been interacted with.

The BroadcastTrigger concept is just a concept, but seems to be a very flexible one, as I am using it currently to design a generic kind of interaction behaviour between a single ‘Useitem’ action to a host of different possible objects, each with their varying results. It’s this reason why BroadcastTrigger is useful, because behaviours are defined in the event sheet, and can be contextual as well as part of the main logic.

 

Workflow: Diagonal movement across edges

The basic problem is that when moving diagonally, the edges are ignored because edges only exist at the sides of the square, and not at the corners.

Moving across diagonally travels across the corner of the logical square, which do not have any edges.

The solution to this was to query both the start tile (slg.PreTileUID) and the target tile (slg.TileUID) and from there, determine the GridMove/Board direction index that the current path was taking.

Using the principal direction (let’s assume it was a diagonal value of 6 (as demonstrated in the above image), the two other directions flanking the main one was also queried.

In the above image, the movement from the start tile is at direction 6. Direction 2 and 3 were derived from this by a lookup that defined two flanking direction for any given direction.

Then the target tile was also queried, but this time, the principal direction was the reverse of the start tile (computing for the reverse tile was made simpler by using a lookup, although a simple modulus would have done it, too). In other words, 4 is the direction. Using the same lookup, 0 and 1 were looked up as the flanking reverse directions.

Then a check is made against existing edges: are there any edges on the 2 and 3 directions of the start tile? If so, movement cost is BLOCKING. If not, then check the target tile’s 0 and 1 direction edges if they exist. And if they do block the movement.

The method used in determining the principal direction was simply comparing the logical X and Y positions of the start and end tiles.

 

Gotcha: SLG, moving across edge issue

There is a gotcha with using SLG movement and edges which relates to cache cost (a parameter in SLG movement).

The image above describes how a movement from tile [1,13] to [1,12] should yield a path that comes around. However if the cache cost parameter is set to Yes then it will refuse to yield a path at all.

Setting it to No will solve the issue.

Not sure what this is about, but noting it down for future reference.

Workflow: Z-Sorting by Y

In the RND test project, I ran into performance issues with ZSorter due to the high number of instances I was using. I’ve easily re-implemented the C2 ‘native’ action of z sorting and the performance is much better.

However there is a gotcha.

The native version, despite what seems to be a vague reference of layering behaviour in the manual (search for Sort Z ordermoves instances which might have been in other layers to layer that had been sorted last. If the sorting is done per tick, there is no way to force a particular instance to another layer and expect that to render accordingly. (For example, I created a ghost clone over my main sprite. The ghost sits on a top layer, but is an instance of that sprite. Because the ghost belongs to the same sort family in which I base the sort, the ghost also gets sorted. And because the action moves the ghost into the same layer as the other instances, it loses its layer blending purpose.

The solution looks more like a hack: in cases like the above, where instances need to be separated, the sort reference variable (the variable that the action uses as a basis for a sort), should be overridden. In the case above, the ghost instance’s sort reference variable had an extremely large value so that the sort engine will always have to place it on top.