Eskil Steenberg not only built the gorgeous MMO LOVE by himself, he built all of the tools that he used to build the game as well. And now he's giving those tools away to anyone and everyone, for absolutely nothing. Last Friday, he released the animator program he built to ease the process of designing animations for his game. Source code is included and there's absolutely no restrictions on how you modify the code or use the tool. We sat down with Eskil to find out more about the tool, how indie developers can use it to easily improve their game's animations, and why he decided to give it away.
During our time spent with Steenberg at the PC Gamer compound and conventions during the past year, we've gotten to see just how slick all of the tools he's build (including the animator) really are--as an artist, Eskil's crafted programs are as elegant in their simplistic design as they are easy to use. You can always download the latest version of the animator tool here , and be sure to follow Eskil Steenberg on Twitter to get the latest updates on when the tool, and LOVE, are updated.
PCG: What can players do with the animator tool you're giving away?
Eskil Steenberg: First of all, it's a fun toy to play around with, and it gives you an idea of how the animation in LOVE works. But it's also a tool for other game developers--who don't have access to a lot of animators or motion capture tools [like large, corporate developer studios do]--to create fully-animated characters in their games.
PCG: How many hours have you put into designing and tweaking the animator tool?
Steenberg: I wrote the majority of it while traveling in California (and visiting PC Gamer) earlier this year. And after that I took another week to clean it up, so all in all about 2 - 3 weeks of work.
PCG: Did you make all of LOVE's animations with this tool?
Steenberg: LOVE's animation system is based on a library called "Confuse" that handles all animation [in the game]. It is specialized for games because it can do most of the animation automatically, such as finding places to plant a character's feet when it's walking dynamically, depending on terrain. It can also take a simple pose like aiming a gun and then modify that pose if you're aiming in another direction. It also handles things like picking up and putting back weapons and tools that you carry on different parts of the body. In games, characters often need to be able to do many things at once--like walking, aiming a gun and pressing a button all at the same time--and this animation system can figure out how to blend the different animations to do [all of those actions at the same time without designing multiple specific animations].
The animation editor was built to edit the data of this animation system so that you can do more advanced animations more easily than typing in numbers by hand.
PCG: Is the animator tool that's being released a stripped down version of the one you use, or the full version?
Steenberg: It's the full vesion. And the release even includes source code for the tool and the Confuse library, so that you can modify or port it, or use it in your own projects license-free.
PCG: After making such a useful animator tool, what made you decide to give it away for free?
Steenberg: This year at the graphics conference Siggraph [ link ] someone asked Ed Catmull--who is the President of Pixar and the inventor of texture mapping among other things--how Pixar decides what to show publicly and what they keep secret for competitive advantage. Ed answered that most of the things they don't show publicly, they keep secret not for competitive advantage, but because they are so embarrased about them. Giving something to the public is a very good way to ensure that you don't do a hack job. If you know that others will see or use [the tool you're making] then you will fix more bugs then you otherwise would, and in the long run, that turns out to be very good for you too. I have given away almost all tools I've made and it has proven to be very good.
PCG: While we have you, can you share any plans you have for animations in LOVE in the near future?
Steenberg: In the past, the tribes [camps of NPCs located around the world] in LOVE have mostly only fought you, and that required them to be able to aim a gun and not much more. But now I'm writing a much more advanced version of the AI that you can become friends with. The AI can now befriend you, help you, follow you, show you things, sell stuff and much more, and that requires the AI to be far more expressive then it has been before. Some of the friendly AI behavior is already in the game but the players still usually end up shooting the AI, simply because the AI are unable to express its intentions.