Aeon of Sands

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The Desert and You

On the proper ways to address strangers in the desert.

One would assume that there were none, as in a desert, there should be nobody to address. But if you find yourself there, a desert ceases to be deserted, and it unmistakably follows that there should be an etiquette and a protocol to addressing strangers. Because everything goes so much smoother when you have protocols, right?

That is at least what Setrani, the main character in the story of “Aeon of Sands – the trail” told himself when was ushered out of town and faced the desert for the first time.

Barely before he thought “Let me back in!” and at the same time of “There must be some kind of error!”

There was also the conflicting thought: “No please, I don’t want to die!”; but his habit of trying to be inconspicuous, which he acquired early in his life, won that friendly bid.

Whether the concept of less resistance path would serve him during the course of our story, that’s a matter for another day, but it will serve me now to describe the (probably not) happy encounters a traveler might have in this (really not) merry land.

So welcome to “Strangers in the Distance and You”.

You come from a domed city, a society clustered on the colossal body and limbs of a tree, all covered by a glass dome, sheltering people and vegetation from the brunt of the suns and the cruelty of the winds. You know that there are other cities like yours, by hearsay: you’ve never been to one and you personally know noone who has.

But even if they exist, your city is probably in a state of war with them too, as it is with the desert.

So, even if the chance is very little, those strangers you see there in the distance could be from another city, they could be every little bit as scared of the blinding emptiness around them as you are. Would they set aside their inbred hostility to foreigners, because of this common trait you have? You would, right?

Hah, like you could!

Well… Not easily anyway. Maybe you should listen to your empty belly, though, and let it dictate a protocol to barter some food, while letting them know you still are better than them. Is there a protocol for that?

Of course, they seem to be traveling in a group, while you are alone. However, your moral superiority must surely be evident, even to them!

But now that you are getting closer, you are not so sure that you should think of them as other citizens at all. Those bright colors and… plumes of some bird? They don’t look like proper and respectable townsfolk of a foreign, detested city at all.

Maybe… Are they nomads instead?

Could they be the bandits roaming freely through the desert, in slow migrations? Those who, from time to time, get closer to your town, in raiding parties, attacking the less guarded entrance, robbing what they can in the hovels and plazas nearest to it, taking things and people alike, scavenging for food and for slaves, before making a run for the sands?

Could those approaching be men so unafraid of this terrifying waste, that no badge of honor, true or made up, could sway them from the intention to kill you, capture you and eat you alive, and probably all of the three at the same time?

If they are nomads, you surely better start running. Not that you could outrun a bolt of lighting or the sand storms that a nomad warlock commands. But let’s just hope they have no warlock.

Ahhh… you are raving. It’s probably the heat. You are not used to its full violence.

In fact, let’s not be too hasty: the strangers don’t seem to quicken their pace. Actually, it seems like the distance between you and them has not decreased.

Is that possible at all? This damn creamy hot haze… Making it difficult to judge distances and appearances.

Your stomach closes further. What if they aren’t men at all?

What if they are some creatures just human looking, but not human at all? A bug, walking upright, a sand threader, something you have not seen before! Not that you have seen anything non human before, except the rotten and dried husks of some small animal sold at the markets in town, from the grim and outlandish people who dare travel the surroundings of their city, trapping, hunting.

But you never doubted that they existed, alive and skittering in the deep of the desert.

Therefore, these creatures must be certainly them, running in a frenzy, and getting close to you by the minute!

No… No. Bind your imagination! They cannot be that. Bugs exist. You could even encounter them if you are unlucky, but for sure they are not so calm and upright. All of this doubting is making you sick and feverish. “C’mon then! Come show me what you are made of, you will not have an easy feast of me!”

But then you are ashamed of your sudden outburst. They are still far, but not out of ear! All movement has stopped. They seem frozen in the haze. Precious sweat falls on your eyes and quickly evaporates.

What if they are the worst possible thing imaginable,

something of magic and of savagery that you have no name for, not one that you would chance to utter.

Magic. You have magic, everybody has it, it’s common where you come from. It’s natural in this wrecked nature. The only thing that can keep what human life there is on the land.

Sure, your people work with their hands, they tend sheltered farms and manufacture the tools they use. They build their homes, they suspend the bridges between the limbs of the sacred Kinami tree. But to keep the tree alive, to bend its wood and the glass blown in the furnaces to create the dome that guards you… Magic! A natural magic.

But there is a different magic. One so perverted and dangerous that any practitioner would be killed on sight by anybody, from old man to children, in town and outside…

You never saw it, but you heard from one who knew, that a traveler once told him, to have a cousin who was sure to…

What if that ahead is a group of magicians, with their green plumes and brown masks?

What if… What if… You are trembling, feverishly.

That’s it! Surely their magic is already killing you! You try to find your balance, but you cannot but stumble on; wiping your brow from your copious sweat does nothing to help you see. But you are getting closer to them now, they are for sure luring you with a charm! They are getting larger and larger… Monsters! It’s the end! The end…


“ARGH! Help! I’m killed! I’m killed!”

But the killing blow doesn’t come, as you wait for it, in a fetal position on the floor, eyes shut and covered from the sting of the evil magic.

“What are you waiting for? I will not beg! (Unless… Would I beg… Would it save my life? I’m an important person you know?)”

But still no answer comes, from cruel lips.

Slowly, you remove one hand from your eyes, and then the other, extending your arms slowly in the space between you and the unknown, your eyes still closed.

You touch a leg. Whoever he is, he’s toying with you. This is undignified!

Shaking, you inhale a lungful of hot air, so that you can face death at least a bit more calmly.

Then you open your eyes, to see the rarest creatures on the land. The brown mask stands there. Scaly and covered with green plumes.

You are looking at the green and brown face of a palm tree.

Developer Diary: NPC creation and animation

Dear reader,

If you just found about this blog, you might want to check out the website of our soon to be released game too: Aeon of Sands (AoS from now on).


I actually got to almost complete an introduction post here, full of (arguably) interesting stuff on the reasons behind the whole design of AoS, but it got (not really) accidentally deleted in the name of cosmic balance.

So, it’s ok if you find yourself here for the first time, while we delve in the intricacies of the NPCs and opponent creation and animation, and you catastrophically missed all our previous installments, as there’s actually no previous installment.

But just let’s agree that if there were, you would have for sure read them voraciously, printed multiple copies of them, and shared them with random strangers on your way to the groceries. That’s how much you would have liked them. Blame Karma.

So, welcome back!

NPCs and opponents creation of the world of AEON

Take a look at the image at the top of this post. Today we discuss NPCs and opponents creation of the pseudo 3D world of AoS. This is a scene you will encounter in the course of the adventure, that depending on your choices, can take you to drastically different consequences. On some of these paths, you will then be able – or forced – to explore the surrounding area by yourself, and probably encounter desert nomads such as those in the scene above.


Nomads are a heterogeneous group of people, anarchic to an outsider’s eye, rigidly structured when you get to live the guts of a nomad caravan. So, I’ll let you in a secret, they do have roles and functions, jobs that define them and their stations: curiously they are not the bunch of illiterate crap-throwing sandworm lovers that you would not invite in the shade of your tree, like, ever.

The Camp Guard

In any case, among them, one of such functions is the camp guard.
Job description lists a bulky constitution, above the norm aim in throwing crap, a stern visage to discourage tourists.
These guys, standing under the suns more than a healthy time, don their rebreather masks most of the day and nights, and never leave their makeshift hovels without their mantles. Around here, they take seriously the concept of moisturized skin.

So with this in mind, I sketch a bit, coming out with these.

Of those, given time, maybe four whole NPC animation would happen, but considering each takes roughly one week, I would be happy with two. As game encounters, their most important purposes are to be interesting and effective.

That approved by Florian, I started drawing the different in-game positions.

NPC animation

Our NPCs have ten frames of animation each, two simulating walking for each side; the two that show the NPC turned towards the player are also recycled as in-place movement for when the character is standing facing the party, like moving one’s weight from one leg to the other. Plus two frames for the attack, one preparing it, one having it resolved.

Full disclosure here: I’m no pixel artist. Let me rephrase: I’m not a pixel artist at all.
I cannot do an in-game 1:1 animation or character design. The closest thing to that I do here is creating the explorable environments: walls, floors etc; that’s 1:1 – as it doesn’t require any resizing work – but it’s still drawing freely.

So to do this part of the job, the first step is to draw each position as I would draw a figure illustration, starting from its skeleton, making that coherent with its other frames, place all the ten of them on the same imaginary floor, and of course perspective and dimensions. All of this, I do at a resolution roughly 4 times the one the final character will end up with.

The animation doll

Second step is to actually draw our character, from tattered cowl to fancy designer boots. This is line art only, I need it to know what’s what, with some exactness.

Line art


NPC shading

The next step is more pleasant to do to me, as I can loose a bit, and sculpt a bit the figure, shade it, and it’s also the last fun I’ll have for a while, as what comes afterward is all about carefulness.


At this point, a close review of the work done is needed, because afterward I will reduce the whole animation to the size we would use in the game, so there would be no back step possible if something was amiss, if not really a painful one.

NPC resizing

To reduce the image, no available resize algorithm is any good, because of artifaction or information loss; I have to use layers with the different products of such algorithms, sometimes posterize them, and adjust some part manually: sadly for me, here pixel art comes in the process.



NPC pixelart

Then it’s time to color! Here I apply the color with the character separated from the rest of the game, to all frames, obviously using the same palette. When that’s done, I import one of them on its intended background and modify its color via correction layers, if possible, or noting what I have to change in the coloration itself. I go back to my animation and apply the modifications.

Now, there’s a problem to solve, caused by the reduction and coloring: each frame will most assuredly have unpleasant aliasing. So, using a contrasting colored background, I manually cut away the unneeded contour, or I add it where I need it.

NPC ingame

Last step! I simply have to import each of the frames in my huge wallset file.

Only remains to fix the NPC shadowing on the floor, rinse and repeat for all NPC and opponents in the game…

Thank you for reading, even more so if you are still here reading this!

See you next time for more tidbits of our creative process!


Marco Pedrana, slacker half of Two Bits Kid, artist.