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Fansite Item Contest - how to design an item? (English Version)

polska wersja

 

INTRO

In the course of years, more and more of Tibian fansites join the official support program. Most of you probably know that to honor often the long-year service, each one of official fansites has the right to choose an item to represent it in game. Who can create such item? Practically anyone who’s not a stranger to Tibia. It can be a fansite admin who suddenly found his artistic soul within or anyone chosen by him. The most popular way to get the right project is to organize a contest that everyone can join! By winning such contest we are aligned to pass the copyrights to Cipsoft and the graphics of our item will forever become a part of the game. That’s why these events are invariably popular among Tibia players and fans.

„How to create a fansite item?” – I hear such question more and more often. Some people ask them out of curiosity while others would like to try their chances, but they don’t really know where to start. Let’s specify one matter – I don’t consider myself an authority when it comes to sprites creation. With every contest I take part in, I have the chance to confront my projects with others, often much better than mine. That is the reason, I’m not going to present you with any kind of tutorial. With this article, I aim to give you a concrete feel of what the pixel art really is, share my own experience, and encourage you to try it yourself.

 PIXEL ART

Tibia is a land made of pixels. 2D graphic style may seem a bit obsolete and not very advanced, but it greatly contributes to the game’s unique atmosphere. There is nothing unusual in Cipsoft’s decision to stick to this kind of style for more than 20 years. Plenty of various shapes, objects, items, and monsters that we can see after logging in to the game have been made using the technique known as pixel art. The key concept of the technique is to create graphics at the individual pixel editing level.

An artist who strictly holds on to tradition could be a little upset right now, but inherently the pixel art is just putting pixel by pixel and use the manual antialiasing. All filters and "enhancements" offered by graphics programs are not allowed by definition. However, taking into consideration the development of this kind of art and more gently approach to many issues, let’s stick to this terminology!

Graphics which were created with pixel art method should only be saved in PNG format or in case of animations – GIF format. If you save the sprite in JPG format, its quality will be decreased.

You can make pixel art graphics by using many programs, such as Paint Shop Pro, GIMP, or Photoshop. You can even create good quality items with a simple tool as MS Paint! Unfortunately, in this case, there is no possibility to split the image into separate layers, so animating it later can be a tough challenge.

You can find lots of guides on the Internet, which can take you step by step into the world of pixel art and familiarize you with the precise rules to be followed. One of the most detailed ones can be found here!

CONTEST REQUIREMENTS AND BASIC MISTAKES

Let’s now take a look at the basic requirements which our project has to complete to be even taken into consideration during the contests. According to my observations, bolded points on the list below are usually the most problematic. Let’s go over them.

REQUIREMENTS

Technical details:

size: 32 x 32 pixel,
• it can be animated, but may contain 64 frames at most,
each frame can have a different exposure time (which is usually AT around 100 to 200 ms per frame),
• if you want pauses within the animation, do not include the same frame multiple times In a row, but instead increase the exposure time for this specific frame,
• it needs to be on transparent background (1-bit transparenty only),
• if it is animated, you only need to supply an animated GIF of the item,
• otherwise it needs to be saved as a 24bit PNG file.

Content requirements:

it needs to fit into Tibia’s setting,
• it should not contain any direct references to a country, e.g. a Polish flag,
it’s a deco or fun item only, it will not change any character skills or stats,
• it needs to be a takable item, for example it cannot be a solid furniture, but a bedside lamp would be alright.

Graphical style:

it needs to have dark outlines,
it shouldn’t be too different from other Tibia items,
• CipSoft’s content team reserves the right to revise the item.

SIZE - 32x32 PIXELS

Tibia is made of blocks each having the 32x32 pixels size.

Bigger objects usually resemble puzzles, as they’re created from multiple 32x32 chunks. Monsters are separate graphics with more varied sizes: 32x32, 32x64, 64x32, or 64x64, there are also items that we can take and put into our backpack and their size is relatively small, as they have to fit the 32x32 size. We cannot exceed these limits!

„(…) but then, if I make it smaller, it breaks down”

I’ve heard it many times while talking with my friends about their attempts to design an item. They managed to create great graphics on work areas which they were familiar with, but then they reduced their size to 32x32 and disappointed by the results abandoned any further attempts. Our work area has to be a before-mentioned frame with a size of 32x32 pixels, zoomed up to allow comfortable work. By creating an item in higher resolution, we risk that the graphics will lose its planned shape after the size reduction, all outlines will disappear, and the effect will not meet our expectations.

FRAMES EXPOSURE TIME

Let’s face it, practically all fansite items being made nowadays have animation. It doesn’t matter if it activates right after using the item or it’s permanent – it adds to the charm of graphics and may become its great advantage. Unfortunately, it’s easy to ruin it with a basic mistake, by choosing incorrect exposure time for individual frames. This seemingly not very important step may work wonders or ruin the overall effect.

By speeding up the frame exposure time to 100 ms, we can make the animation smoother. In order for our item not to be "hyperactive" we can use pauses of 1000 or even 3000 ms, however, it’s better to not duplicate the same frame to extend the exposure time of the image.

On the other hand, we can spoil even a very good design with the "stutter" effect. This happens because of too long exposure time. It’s even worse if the time is the same for each frame. The result is the animation stopping at regular intervals and working very mechanically which deprives graphics of natural movement, and the quality.

IT’S JUST A DECORATION

Every item representing Tibian fansite has a decorative character. It cannot boost the player’s stats and skills in any way. At first glance, this rule appears straightforward, but I decided to quickly go through it, as it may unnecessarily limit our imagination.

The fact that the items have to be decorative doesn’t mean that it cannot be a shield, sword, helmet, or backpack. We can reduce the stats of weapons and armors to zero. The backpack, on the other hand, can be just a graphics, analogic to other backpacks known in Tibia, but deprived of the possibility to store any items inside.

Adamant Shield (fansite item of TibiaLife.com.br) is a good example. It can be equipped in the shield slot, but its stats got reduced.

You see an adamant shield (Def:0).

It weighs 91.00 oz.

It was forged with magical diamonds collected during the journey of a true Tibian. Awarded by TibiaLife.com.br.

Another shield among the Tibian fansite items is the Majestic Shield (it represents Guildstats.eu), which cannot be equipped in the shield slot, but it can be hung on the wall. It is treated rather as a wall decoration and doesn’t even have the defence factor reduced.

You see a majestic shield.

It weighs 150.00 oz.

This wonderful shield was designed for GuildStats.eu, to honour all guilds in Tibia.

ITEM HAS TO FIT THE TIBIAN STYLE

The item which we plan to design may possibly be implemented to the game, that’s why it has to strictly suit the game. In many ways. Let’s take the arrangement of the object, lighting, outlines, as well as compliance with the game style as good examples.

Position

The sprites can be grouped into isometric and non-isometric. These first, don’t exist in Tibia at all. The game is presented in an oblique projection, which means that the angle of deviation of the z-axis from the x-axis is 135˚.

The following items were designed in that way:

Sprites in the shape of non-isometric pictures (for example top, side, front, and bottom views) are the most common graphics which we can find among the lightweight items of Tibia. Dolls also apply to that category. They are really appreciated by the community and became one of the most popular kinds of items representing various fansites.

Lighting

In Tibia, our hypothetical light source never changes and it is placed in the top-left corner. It’s presented very well, by the simple and widely known item – Gold Token:

The location of the light source depends on how to shade the object, to make it look natural.

The graphics below presents the difference between the so-called pillow-shading, so shading the object without taking into account the light source (on the left), and shading correct in the context of our game (on the right):

Here is another comparison, presented on a bit more difficult graphics as shown in a before-mentioned guide on PixelJoint:

pillow shading

correct shading, including the light source in the top-left corner

Outlines

The line art of the finished project has to be as clear and transparent as possible. Any reproduction of adjacent pixels simply looks just bad. Take a look at the difference presented below:

According to the contest rules, the outlines have to be dark. Sometimes, I also came across the phrase "black". While in the first case it is difficult to disagree, but the 100% black requirement is not necessarily true. The outlines don’t have to be black! Depending on the theme colour of our item it can be either dark brown, very dark navy blue, etc. The outlines of our graphics should be just visibly darker than the rest of our art. It’s not wrong to choose the black colour, but in my opinion, it often makes too much contrast. Personally, I prefer darker shades of various colours.

By using too bright colours to contour the object, we can make the impression of low quality or lack of clarity of our picture.

Dark outlines don’t apply to various types of effects, such as smokes, flashes, flames, sparks, etc.

In the enlargement of one of my projects below, you can notice that the outline of the blade is in the dark grey colour, the golden emblem – dark brown, the flame, however, doesn’t have the outline and the red on the edges is quite bright.

The atmosphere of Tibia + theme of given Tibian fansite

Swords, armors, dragons, demons, beer, and magic…all in pixels! That’s what we love Tibia for! While creating the item, which can be potentially implemented to game, we have to remember to retain the unique spirit within it.

Items, which don’t fit Tibia with their style, have no chance of winning the contest, even if they would be perfectly designed. Contest organized by the NabBot is a good example, as many of the entries submitted by users depicted… robots. Unfortunately, these works had no chance to win, from the beginning, because robotics doesn’t exist in Tibia. Monsters like Worker Golem, Glooth Golem, or Metal Gargoyle are creatures being half magic, half mechanic ("mago-mechanics").

Another reason, which deprives ourselves of chances to win is not matching the theme of the site and/or smuggling your own style to the design. I failed at this not just once! Most of the fansites create their content sticking to the specific context. Some of them are the source of general Tibian knowledge in the form of an encyclopaedia, another focus on Rookgaard gameplay, etc. Our design absolutely has to reference the main theme of the fansite. Forget about our favorite colours, that the item will reflect our style or match the decoration of our house. We have to remember that the design we are working on is not for us. It’s dedicated to a specific site.

LET'S DO THIS!

It would be appropriate to present here some kind of "instructions" on how to create a sprite, but I’m afraid it’s impossible. As I mentioned in the introduction, I’m not really experienced and I think that tutorials should be made by competent people. Apart from that, probably everyone has their own ideas and habits, that determine the creation process of their items. Used graphics program is also of great importance. Well, in my case it’s the simplest MS Paint.

I have to make up for its limitations with extra time and imagination. Working on layers in GIMP or Photoshop probably looks completely different.

The only thing I can share here (in the form of trivia) to inspire you is, already presented above, the old sprite from 2016 – Yeti doll, for which I saved all the creation steps:

At first, I start with the outlines, as they are needed to approximately determine the shape of my future item. After making the outlines a little more accurate I fill it with uniform colour and proceed to shading, using a wider range of colours.

Single sprite creation takes me a few hours at most. Unfortunately, fansite items are often characterized by quite detailed animations and effects, so they can stand out if compared with other items. This, in turn, requires creating the same object in many different positions, therefore extending the "fun" even up to several days. The overall experience also matters. Just like any other field of art - you need to practice, practice, and practice again! This is the only way to achieve better results.

As an example – this is my first sprite ever, from 2014:

These, on the other hand, I made in 2020:

I think that progress can be noticed, even though I only created about 20 sprites throughout the years. It’s actually not that much.

MATTER OF TASTE

It is said that there is no accounting for taste, but in that case, it’s impossible to just skip this matter. The choice of 3 best items is always controversial. Unsupported accusations about the contest being rigged due to the fact that the best entries were omitted often occur.

But is it really?

I think that choosing someone’s poor item "for old times’ sake", while also having beautiful and really unique entries to be chosen from, misses the point. Fansites’ administrators care about their representative items to look as good as possible!

So, why „the best ones” don’t always win?

It’s been so many times when I had my own favorites among all entries and I made myself bets about which one will get which place. I’m sure that I’m not the only one. 🙂 To my great surprise, my favorite items didn’t make it to the top 3! Unfortunately, that just happens sometimes. It’s a matter of taste. It can be that the administrator of given fansite focused on some other criteria than me. Some, choose all 3 items based on appearance and quality, while others evaluating the whole would pick the best one according to themselves and choose the other two based on the creative idea at the same time turning the blind eye to overall quality.

PLAGIARISM

Plagiarism is an inseparable companion of fansite item competitions. I perfectly understand how easy it is to get lost in all of these. When I started my adventure with item creation I thought it was normal to use some parts of sprites already known in Tibia – all in all, the copyrights will be taken of by Cipsoft, so what could be wrong? Once, I even submitted such partly copied entry to the contest, which I’m ashamed of up to this day. I’ve changed my mind when my friend strongly criticized me. He was right! I understood that it was going the easy way, while the purpose is to create something unique and the most important – MY OWN.

Recently, even 30% of submissions of fansite item contests can be partially copied. While copying and recolouring existing Tibian sprites indicates only the lack of experience and/or skills, downloading graphics from the Internet can lead us into trouble.

In order not to be groundless, I will give you an example taken from the contest organized by CasalTibiano (the entry was of course disqualified):

People creating 32x32 sprites as a hobby often knows Tibia well and are up to date with the items being implemented. I imagine they would not be delighted to see their work with slightly changed colours, signed with someone else's nick. Anyway, I don’t have to imagine it, as it happened to me. While browsing through submissions of other contest participants I stumbled across copied part of one of my designs in someone’s entry. It’s worth mentioning that even though, it was not disqualified.

Unfortunately, the rules of such contests don’t really explain where is the line between the plagiarism and acceptable use of someone else's graphics.

From a practical point of view, I think that we can safely use parts of sprites belonging to Cipsoft to make our designs resemble some items already existing in Tibia. If the backpack’s shape in game stays always the same, we shouldn’t look for the other ideas by force. Let's use the shape itself while creating the rest based on our own imagination!

If we can specify which effect (flash, smoke, etc.) will appear after using the item we are working on, it seems reasonable to also copy it and apply directly to your graphics, while changing its colour, for example to better match the colour pattern.

SOURCES:

https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel_art

https://tibiopedia.pl/featured/2013-11

https://www.tibia.com/news/?subtopic=newsarchive&id=2590&fbegind=7&fbeginm=9&fbeginy=2013&fendd=6&fendm=12&fendy=2013&flist=01011111

https://pixeljoint.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=11299

https://onimille.tumblr.com/

https://casaltibiano.forumeiros.com/t153p25-submissoes-submissions

https://society6.com/paxjah

Special thanks to Williams for translating the article to English.

Nice tutorial, I started drawing these pixelarts 2 months ago, when I participated on the Rookie contest, I learned a lot there, these was my firsts drawings, and slowly I guess i can do it better, this tutorial is very useful, Thanks.

From Valendrop.

Quote from Valendrop on 9 July 2020, 17:18

Nice tutorial, I started drawing these pixelarts 2 months ago, when I participated on the Rookie contest, I learned a lot there, these was my firsts drawings, and slowly I guess i can do it better, this tutorial is very useful, Thanks.

From Valendrop.

I'm glad you like it! 😀

Your first graphics and 2nd place... that's a really great job. Keep it going! 🙂

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