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Pulchritudinous Paint Animation

Yes, I have side projects.   Since we switched to the new Project Zomboid sprite system and rendered my beautiful Costume Editor entirely useless (boo!), I decided it would be a shame to let all that code go to waste. So I decided to rework it into a more general purpose pixel animation tool. As...

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Why I’m not (yet) excited by the Oculus Rift

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games, Stuff | Posted on 11-08-2014

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Let’s forget about the Facebook acquisition – that one aspect is enough to make me not want to buy one – but for the purposes of this blog, “Oculus Rift” is short-hand for any VR headset.

I have a spinal condition which makes it difficult to walk and to move generally. Basically, imagine that your central spine and hips have been replaced by an inflexible metal pole, and that’s essentially what it’s like. It doesn’t affect my life at all – obviously mobility issues have an effect, but I mean that it’s not something which bothers me which is why I almost never actually talk about it.

VR is tremendously exciting – the idea of actually putting yourself in a game world and experience it in a tangible way (Richard Cobbett has written an excellent post about the Oculus DK2 covering exactly this and more) has long been a dream of gaming.

However, playing Elite:Dangerous right now – I’m using an X52 Pro joystick – I can look around the cockpit with a simple flick of my thumb. Swapping between in-game control screens is quick and easy. Plug me into an Oculus, however… My neck’s ‘pitch’ control limits me to about 2 degrees up and about 5 degrees down. ‘Yaw’ I have about 15 degrees left and 2 degrees right. I have no ability to perform ‘roll’. And for that range of motion, what I definitely can’t do is turn with any kind of speed unless I want it to hurt. While I could continue using the joystick thumb stick for cockpit looking, this is quite likely to trigger nausea with a fully immersive headset so, more likely, I’d just have to put up with a limited range of head-look in-game.

As I said, in the real-world this doesn’t bother me particularly. But in a VR environment I’m pretty sure it would. I think I’d feel considerably more frustrated by my (lack of) mobility plugged into a device which, unlike in the real world, cannot recognise that I am primarily using eye direction to determine what I’m looking at.

It’s possible that these are empty fears, that the 3D effect alone will be sufficient to squash any frustrations. But never more so than with technological advances like these has something made me feel a little sad about a physical disability that up until now, had never bothered me. :(

A handy guide to clarity

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Useless Advice | Posted on 29-07-2014

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Definitions of “very clear” seem to vary. I have therefore produced this handy guide.

Extremely Unclear

Very Unclear

Explanation requires clicking “read more” in the description.

Somewhat Unclear

Explanation (“in association with…” etc) does not require clicking “read more” in the description.

Murky

Explanation (“sponsored by…” etc) does not require clicking “read more” in the description.

Somewhat Clear

“Sponsored by…” written onscreen at the end of the video.
Explanation (“sponsored by…” etc) does not require clicking “read more” in the description.

Very Clear

“Sponsored by…” written onscreen at the start of the video.
“Sponsored by…” written onscreen at the end of the video.
Explanation (“sponsored by…” etc) does not require clicking “read more” in the description and occupies its own paragraph.

Extremely Clear

Explanation (“sponsored by…” etc) written in full onscreen, in large bold text – no other flashy attention-grabbing text/imagery onscreen to distract from this message, message is held for minimum of 5 seconds.

Binky’s Top Five Unreleased or Yet to be Fully-Funded Indie Games

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games | Posted on 21-07-2014

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Everyone loves lists, yeah? That fad didn’t get old, like, five years ago did it? No-one can accuse me of not having a cutting-edge blog.

Anyway, I’ve done enough blog posts where I whinge or rant so I figured it was time for some loveliness. Here are, therefore, the five indie games which make me go “wooo!” and “blimey!” and “I wish I’d thought of that!”

#5 Immune Defense

 

Now I’ve got to be honest, I know next-to-nothing about this game. Maybe it won’t work at all, maybe it’ll be awesome. Who knows? So then why have I picked it in my top five? It’s not because of what it is because, as I’ve said, I don’t actually know that. It’s because of the concept behind it. To quote from the developer’s webpage:

Our goals are to keep ourselves in business and to increase general knowledge of molecular behavior. Proteins, lipids, drugs, allergens, vaccines, degradable plastic, ocean acidification, heath: molecules are the key to understanding many important concepts. We will accomplish our goals by creating games that take place in the molecular world and making them available to as wide an audience as possible.

Well, I’m sold. At this point, I don’t really care what the game is, I just want something – anything – to exist from a set of people with this as their raison d’être.

Edit: Further information about this has now been added to their game page :)

#4 TerraTech

 

  • Genre: Physics-and-construction-based real-time strategy type thingy
  • Developer: Payload Studios
  • Status: Unreleased

This is a hard one to easily describe and I’ve probably horrendously under-sold it with my woeful attempt at a “genre” above, so I suggest you check out the in-depth information on their Kickstarter page. Essentially, imagine the cool modular creative aspects of Spore except with vehicles, plonk them onto a swanky planet, and battle other modular vehicles while attempting to harvest resources and– oh, for heaven’s sake, just click that link I provided and see for yourself.

There’s only 6 days remaining which is cutting things awfully fine – but it’s a great example of how to produce a Kickstarter pitch and, as with all great pitches, there’s a demo you can try out right now and then consider pledging!

#3 Sheltered

 

  • Genre: Post-Apocalypse Survival… em-Up
  • Developer: Unicube
  • Status: Unreleased, due August-ish

Okay, so the Kickstarter period for this is over. And it was successful, so it’s ultimately not too important that I didn’t write this blog post a month ago. Because I’m sure the project would have really benefited from the three hits this blog may have generated. Anyway, the game.

It sort of reminds me of Papers, Please! not because of the gameplay style but because of the element of protecting your family. Larger issues in play other than that of simply being a lone survivor in the apocalypse. It’s the kind of moral choices this would present and the narrative you construct while playing which makes this game sound so enticing.

So if you missed the opportunity to be involved in the Kickstarter campaign, do keep this on your radar.

#2 Crypt of the Necrodancer

 

  • Genre: Roguelike Dance-em-Up
  • Developer: Brace Yourself Games
  • Status: Unreleased, Early Access release due 30th July

Out of all of the games I’ve listed here, this is the one I wish I’d made. At heart, it’s your typical roguelike with its sprawling dungeons, array of monsters, powerups, equipment, all that jazz. But it’s been fundamentally fused with a rhythm game in a way that’s too far beyond charmingly brilliant to describe in words, so I’ll just show the trailer.

How has no-one had this idea before? Have they? They must have! No?

Pop it on your wishlist, from the Steam Store page.

#1 Mighty Tactical Shooter

 

  • Genre: Turn-based Shoot-em-Up
  • Developer: SockThuggery
  • Status: 60% funded, 10 days remaining – Kickstarter

Wow, there’s a surprise right? I totally haven’t pimped this at every possible opportunity. Now let me get something out of the way and, if you’re reading this SockThuggery, I mean this in the nicest possible way: The graphics aren’t, like, particularly amazing. I’m sorry, I really am and, let’s face it, that’s a criticism you can level at Project Zomboid too.

The important thing is, though, that they do the job – they don’t get in the way of the action and, in my opinion, suit the style of game rather nicely. I’ve seen better pixel art in my time BUT (and it is a big ‘but’) the game’s got class – it does a terrific job with what it’s got. I mean, look at this:

Classy!

That’s the gameplay in a nutshell. It’s cool, it’s clever, it’s unique. It’s the most interesting gameplay concept I’ve seen since Fract OSC. All it needs to do now, is reach its Kickstarter goal. Click here to check it out, try the demo, and consider pledging!

Some Short Musings on Game Prices

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games, Rants | Posted on 19-07-2014

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In the past, I’ve written quite a lot about how much i dislike the free-to-play model for games. As I’ve said, I think it harms the design of a game to be thinking in terms of revenue and not enjoyment. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t design a free-to-play game that is both designed in terms of fun and that happens to then do rather nicely from in-app sales. The most obvious way to do this is with purely cosmetic purchasable items.

So regardless of how much I’ve whinged about it, that doesn’t mean I regard it as black and white – as if all free-to-play games are evil because they’re free-to-play, and all traditionally priced games are not. It all rather depends on the game, and the motivation of the developers/publishers responsible.

So this article got me thinking – in part because it does rather talk about things in these binary terms, but mostly because of this:

First though we have to accept a universal truth. Just because we put effort in to our game doesn’t mean it’s worth a given amount of money. Your game is worth what people are prepared to part with to obtain it.

Hmm. I think this section neatly clarifies exactly why I have such strong feelings about game prices and monetisation. Because I don’t believe this at all. No, my game is not worth what you decide it is, it’s worth what I decide it’s worth. You are, of course, free to disagree with my determination – regard a game as under-priced or over-priced depending on how you feel about it. It might be worth more or less to you than it is to me and if sufficient number of people share your opinion, that would certainly make me reconsider my own – but it’s still up to me whether or not I reduce the game’s price to reflect that.

I mean, that concept of “it’s worth what people are prepared to pay” is true in some contexts. Like an auction, for example. A painting. Some rusty old junk that somebody eventually realises is of historical value. But digitally downloaded games with infinite supply? No, I beg to differ.

So perhaps it’s purely this that makes me annoyed so much by weird pricing. £200 for alpha-access, you say? So you judge the worth of your alpha (despite the fact that alphas are hugely feature-incomplete, often incompatible, and buggy messes) to be £200? Crickey. Your choice, but wow. Frankly, no massively incomplete, buggy, and potentially incompatible game could possibly be worth that much, so I can only assume that most of that price is the value attached to allowing the consumer access to your development process.

Okay, fair enough – there’s definitely value in that, especially if the game is high-profile and exciting, spear-headed by a chap many of us would like a chat with over a cuppa. But what about the value the consumers bring to the table? How does that factor into the price? They are, after all, providing feedback, bug reports, compatibility information and all that jazz which’d be expensive were you to use a QA company.

So anyway, if that’s what was done – determine the value of access to the alpha, the forums, the ability to speak to the developers then add on the value of the alpha build provided, and subtract a bit for the value the consumers bring to the table – and if the figure arrived at was £200… then I’m not sure I would have a problem with that. It would still strike me as awfully expensive but if that’s what they decided, that’s their decision. Instead, though, the same old argument is trotted out: “The intent was actually to keep the number of players down.” This, I do not buy.

Staggeringly High Alpha/Beta Prices

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games, Rants | Posted on 11-07-2014

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Source article, on Eurogamer

Please Note: I don’t want this to sound like a bash of David Braben – he’s still the guy who co-wrote arguably the most important videogame in history and spear-headed the Raspberry Pi and I don’t believe that this pricing is a cynical financially-motivated manoever, so he’s still in credit in my book ;)

I’ve also singled out Elite because it was in the news but it’s not the first game to set alpha/beta access at this sort of price *glares at Planetary Annihilation and Galactic Civilizations III*

 

Ever since Minecraft did it, the alpha-funded model has been a pretty popular way to get a game off the ground. You charge very little for very little, and the price raises over time to reflect the level of completion of the game. It’s a tremendously fair system – you reward those who believe in your project with a low price and those who are on the fence don’t need to make an immediate decision. They can wait a bit, see how the game develops, and join in later and still get the game for a lower price than release. The price reflects the state of the game as it is right this second. You’re never paying for content yet to be made – at least, in theory.

Then came Kickstarter. In theory, Kickstarter is a really great way to achieve similar results – albeit one designed for a short window of high exposure rather than a slow burning build of momentum. The “all-or-nothing” approach rather gamifies the process of getting your game off the ground, but I can’t deny it has yielded some terrific games which may never have seen the light of day otherwise.

The problem comes down to the tier rewards, which are marvellous within the context of a Kickstarter but the problems set in when a Kickstarter project slams into another system – say Steam Early Access, for example. Suddenly, those tier rewards start to make less sense. A high level tier granting access to alpha or beta builds which otherwise would remain closed works, but come the point that you release on Early Access you can’t suddenly offer that same access for a reasonable Early Access price without pissing all over your Kickstarter backers. So you’re stuck in a quandary – you either skip Early Access entirely, or you’re somewhat forced to reflect that KS tier price in your Early Access price.

So what do you do, when you find yourself in this situation?

This is where you need Captain Hindsight to remind you, “maybe you should have thought about this before you decided to make ‘alpha and beta access’ a high level reward tier, eh?”. Because using reward tiers in this way is like this:

“Hey there, poor person. Thanks for the £20 which might represent your ENTIRE game budget for this month or so, which you’ve chosen to spend on a currently non-existent game that you crave, but you’re £80 short of sufficient PASSION to be involved in the alpha process.”

“But the important thing for the alpha is, for it to be a genuine alpha, we didn’t want huge numbers. Maybe we shouldn’t have restricted it by price but it seemed like a logical thing to do. It seemed like a fair thing to do.”

David Braben

Now, Mr. Braben. You’re a flupping intelligent chap. I know that because you co-wrote Elite. I cannot believe that you honestly consider this to be “fair” or “logical” – not in a general sense, at least.

But let’s take him at his word – he genuinely wants to restrict numbers. Are we saying, then, that the co-developer of one of the most ground-breaking technical achievements in gaming history is unable to think of a fairer way to restrict numbers than simply slapping an enormous price-tag on access?

“We could have thought more carefully about that. The intent was actually to keep the number of players down. But it looks like a terribly capitalist way of doing it. That’s the trouble. I mean it in the nicest possible way. It’s when you think about it you think, oh yes, that does look a bit bad. But it’s because what we’ve got is a group of people who really care about it. And that’s been so helpful.

We’ve gone into this not knowing exactly how the process would pan out as well. We were one of the first people to use Kickstarter in the UK. I didn’t know how it would pan out.”

David Braben

It seems not, that by his own admission they didn’t really think too hard about it despite it being really rather important. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to predict that outside the context of Kickstarter, a £100 or £200 price tag for an unfinished game might raise a few eyebrows.

So the question is, then, does it work? Do you get the reduced numbers that you claim to want, and only those people passionate enough to commit to such a price? And is this fair?

Well here’s the thing, you’re not selling some unknown and unproven game, you’re selling Elite - a game which time and time again people have pleaded with you for. “When will we get Elite 4?”, asks everybody whenever they interview you. You’ve teased us about it for over a decade. I went to a GDC session in San Jose in… some time around 2001 when you were making A Dog’s Life and the subject came up during the Q&A. You had a glint in your eye, “we’re working on it”, you hinted. And here it is – finally, after all these years. People will pay any amount for it.

This price tag takes huge advantage of that. Does it restrict access to only people who care? No. Because flupping shit loads of people care – but comparatively few have a couple of hundred quid spare to throw at it. You’re restricting based on income, not on passion. You’re taking advantage of those who can’t afford it, but will pay, because it’s a new flupping Elite game. We criticise those free-to-play games which target the vulnerable too regardless of whether or not that was the intention.

If you really want to restrict access fairly then have a closed alpha/beta - application only. Treat it like a job application.

And don’t charge them a premium for the privilege of HELPING.

 

What other ways are there to advise only the passionate to play your game?

“DayZ Early Access is your chance to experience DayZ as it evolves throughout its development process. Be aware that our Early Access offer is a representation of our core pillars, and the framework we have created around them. It is a work in progress and therefore contains a variety of bugs. We strongly advise you not to buy and play the game at this stage unless you clearly understand what Early Access means and are interested in participating in the ongoing development cycle.

Does this work? Probably not, probably only a few people read that on the Store page. But it’s fair and that should come first.

A smaller rant about F2P

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games | Posted on 07-01-2014

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What is the perfect way to design a game?

Ideally, you either live in Utopia where money no longer exists, you win more money than you ever need in the Lottery, or an eccentric billionaire funds you setting no limitations on what you do. Then… go.

You’d be designing your game completely free from any financial concerns. The objective would simply be to make something fun, exciting, personal, whatever. All design decisions you ever make during development would be utterly untainted by subconscious financial motivations.

That, obviously, is not a particularly likely scenario. Games, generally, need to make money – someone has to pay for development and it’s fairly reasonable to say that someone should be those who play them.

But that means that unless you’re a robot, you’re going to be affected – albeit often subconsciously – by that knowledge, regardless of whether you’re EA or one person in an attic. Given that the best way to design a game would be utterly free from financial concerns then my argument is merely that the more we limit referencing or thinking about money during a game’s design, the better the design will be on average.

So. Make a game, think only about the game, finish, then spend however much time you want contemplating price-point. This is a better way to design a game, as far as I’m concerned, than designing one where the design itself necessitates financial decisions such that there isn’t even a single page in the design document which doesn’t have the word “money” or “cash” or “gems” or “stars” or “marketplace” in it. Unless you’re a robot, that’s going to affect your design decisions whether you like it or not.

THAT is why I’m not a fan of free to play games.

It doesn’t mean they can’t be good. Can’t be great. Can’t be mind-blowingly terrific. But I don’t want to make one or play one.

Top Tips: How much should you sell an Alpha-Funded game for?

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Useless Advice | Posted on 23-10-2013

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Question 1:

How much is your game worth RIGHT THIS SECOND?

 

Take that number and subtract a bit. Easy.

 

Alpha-Funded Development

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 09-10-2013

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The term “alpha” is pointless. It serves no purpose. What does it mean? The whole point of any term is to add clarity to something and “alpha” absolutely does not do that. Well it did, but now it doesn’t.

Here is a diagram of a traditional game development process:

GameDev01

Nice and straight-forward. The “Alpha” is the bit before the “Beta”, so we can intuitively expect the game to be a bit more crashy and incomplete but still very much towards the end of development – so you’d be getting a really decent feel for the game at this point regardless of whether or not some of the textures and models aren’t quite finished.

Let’s contrast that to something that’s Alpha-Funded:

GameDev02

Hmm… Yes. See, there’s the problem. If all of that red stuff is called “Alpha”, then there’s absolutely no way to know intuitively whether that means the game is barely functional, practically complete, or at any point in-between. In other words, if you’re having to explain why your alpha is so considerably less developed than somebody else’s alpha, that’s a good sign that the word “Alpha” is woefully insufficient for your purposes.

You may as well just swap the word “Alpha” for “Fundamentally broken in many key areas”, although while it gets points for clarity I agree that it’s not quite so marketable.

For me, Alpha-Funded games should use the term “pre-Alpha” for significantly longer and keep the term “Alpha” for that bit towards the end which then correlates to the equivalent builds in traditionally developed games. Keep these terms consistent in order to retain any meaning to them what-so-ever.

Because if we break down a game’s development into its component pieces, what we end up with is something like this:

GameDev03

In other words, certain features of your game (for example combat, NPC behaviours, whatever) may be at an alpha-level before other features, but on the whole the game itself could not be said to be in Alpha, until all of the key features (with a bit of wiggle room) have been fairly well developed.

That makes much more sense, if you ask me.

Game prices, whinging about prices, whinging in general

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff, Useless Advice | Posted on 08-07-2013

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Up there on the list of, “statements which annoy me” nestling amongst, “game development – it’s just a job” (bullshit) and, “free to play is good for games design” (LOL) is this old chestnut:

My game’s, like, $10 – that’s less than the price of a couple of beers! What on Earth are you whinging about?

The reason it annoys me is the very blinkered approach to game purchasing it takes. It’s true that if you took any one game in complete isolation and did some sort of “hours played / total cost” calculation, you’d almost always come up with a stupendously good value number. Certainly if you compared it to going to the cinema. And doubly so if what you were going to see was Prometheus.

But other games exist aside from your own, and people buy many, many games. Since nobody’s disposable income is infinite, there are always going to be many many more games that you don’t buy than games which you do. You have to pick and choose – and try to ensure that you choose wisely. So if one of those games turns out to be a turkey, the thing that makes buying it disappointing is that it has effectively booted out a better game from that set of games you buy in a year. Unless you spend more on games that year. Which would, in itself, be annoying.

So that’s fair enough to whinge about, isn’t it? It’s not about the $10, or $5, or however much the stupid game is. It’s about the other game which is also $10, or $5, or however much that they didn’t buy which might have been better – or the two games, each for half that price, which each might have been better.

There’s not a day which goes by which at some point I don’t honestly consider that maaaaybe we’re rather under-selling our own game. It is, after all, a sandbox game with potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay in it. And the price will almost certainly go up at some point since it’s been the same price for about two years now and it’s got quite a lot more in it now than it did. And I think that’s fair – particularly to those who bought in early, that they should end up with the game for a cheaper price. But at the same time it’s important to be in that impulse buy zone – that’s the zone in which you get the least amount of price whinging (aside from free stuff, obv) since those kinds of games tend to fall into the ‘games you pick up in addition to your list of games to buy’ category, in the same way that games which appear on the Steam sales, for peanuts, do.

Since managing to price your game at the perfect point for content and experience is practically impossible, it’s always better to err on the side of under-selling and over-delivering since doing the opposite is pretty disastrous.

Alternatively, you could price your game higher (flirting dangerously with the other side of that perfect zenith) and pick up that massive spike of impulse buys during a sale – having your cake and eating it too. In which case, kindly shut up when people whinge about the price of your game – whatever it costs ;)

Pulchritudinous Paint Animation

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Pulchritudinous Paint Animation | Posted on 06-07-2013

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Yes, I have side projects.

 

Since we switched to the new Project Zomboid sprite system and rendered my beautiful Costume Editor entirely useless (boo!), I decided it would be a shame to let all that code go to waste. So I decided to rework it into a more general purpose pixel animation tool.

As anyone who reads my blog will know, I’m a bit of a fanboy of Deluxe Paint Animation and so what I basically want is that, plus layer support, in a swanky Windows environment. Excitingly, as it turns out, Deluxe Paint Animation files (*.ANM) are bafflingly incomprehensible. However, after some trial and error and lots and lots of corrupted rubbish appearing on the screen I eventually got them loading… more or less. Every now and then one will break horribly which I think has got something to do with ‘Spare Pages’ in the file but since Deluxe Paint conveniently has a ‘Delete Spare Page’ menu option, I’ve decided not to worry too much about that and pretend it’s all fiiiiiine.

Anyway so without further ado, here’s where I’m at so far…

PPaint_thumbClick for Enlargulation

Supported Features (so far)

  • Load Deluxe Paint Animation (*.ANM) files
  • Transparency
  • Full proper 8-bit style palette (as in, change the palette colour, screen pixels of that palette colour update)
  • Flexible palette (drag palette entries around to reorganise it without cocking up your animation)
  • Photoshop-style layers
  • Windows style Undo/Redo (multiple undos, basically, instead of DPA’s single undo)
  • Save & Load palettes to Photoshop (and others) compatible (*.PAL) files
  • Grab regions to store as named sprite animations (as in the ‘Dance’ bunny in the pic above)
  • Saving & Loading of Pulchritudinous Paint Animation (*.PPA) files, retaining layers / palette organisation / etc)
  • Add frames / remove frames / remove frame ranges / standard stuff like that
  • Pretty damn slick, even if I say so myself (Look, ma! I optimised the screen draw routines!)

Future Features

  • Grabbing regions to custom brushes (almost supported)
  • Grabbing regions to custom animated brushes (almost almost supported)
  • Various brush sizes (*cough*, yeah, I’ve not done that yet)
  • Saving of named sprite animation regions into PPA files
  • Exporting of named sprite animation regions to single sprite sheets
  • Additional drawing tools – Lines, Circles, Rectangles, all the normal stuff
  • Gradients maybe? Deluxe Paint Animation could do them, can’t say I used them much though
  • And various other things

Once it’s in a fairly usable state, I’ll release the tool for free because, hey, pixel art tool innit.