Wednesday, March 14, 2007

HeroMachine 3: A New Beginning

Since I launched the full version of HeroMachine 2 June of 2004 I haven't wanted to touch the core program at all. I was just exhausted with it mentally and creatively. Yes, I've worked on custom versions for various people, but the program itself has lain fallow for the last two and a half years. I couldn't bear the thought of dealing with it again, and had zero interest in a completely new version.

Finally, two weeks ago I felt the creative fires start to smolder once more.

I emailed the HeroMachine Yahoo Discussion Group about what they'd like to see in a next generation product, and as usual they came through with some stellar ideas that have really gotten me pumped up. For someone who fancies himself a self-sufficient hermit, I'm constantly humbled by how truly creative and innovative people out there can be.

Overwhelmingly, people want more poses and more body styles. It's hard to create a team when all of the characters stand in exactly the same way and have the same build. You're stuck with just the stock bodies I provide, so if you wanted to create a teen or youthful hero, for instance, or a fat or short one, you were out of luck. The constraint on creating more of that has always simply been time -- it takes forever to hand draw each item for each new figure, and it's boring to boot. The fun part is drawing it the first time, the necessity of re-drawing it five times over to get it on all the other body styles is dreadful, mind-numbing stuff. I hate it.

But I think there might be a way around that -- pawn off the body design and posting on the user! I love making other people do my work for me, it's one of the great pleasures in life, and I think I've figured out how to do that with HeroMachine.

I've posted the first test of that concept here (feel free to play around with it, but be warned -- it's very rudimentary), and I'm pretty excited by the possibilities I can see even in this very crude, slapdash effort. I think I'm going to be able to create just one basic body, allowing the user to swap discrete sections of that body in and out to get male or female base figures, humans or robots, that kind of thing. Plus you'll be able to mix and match, so you might have a human torso with robot arms and dinosaur legs or somesuch, each with fitted clothing and items to go on it. I'll still have to redraw items multiple times, at least each one will be different -- a glove on a robot arm looks different than one on a human one.

Add in to that the ability for the user to scale and position body sections, and the possibilities should be pretty amazing. You can suddenly create more realistic dwarf figures, for instance, because you can squash the torso while leaving the arms disproportionately long and beefy, with smaller, stouter legs and a large head.

I created the HeroMachine so that anyone could bring their imagination to life in a character drawing that looked like it was custom-commissioned from a professional illustrator. The constraints of having to fit all of the items into the right place on the figure really cut into that freedom, substituting my judgment and layout for the user's. Finally I can see a way to reduce those limits to almost nil, giving the user virtually complete freedom to pose and construct their illustrations however they want.

I'm getting really, really excited about the prospects for this next generation of HeroMachine. After almost three years, it's nice to have that feeling back again.

8 comments:

jimmymac said...

That's great. I can see where you're going & that will be an awesome upgrade. I'm already thinking of a shrunken head team - not too bright, but always funny.

Jeff Hebert said...

And that team's name? "The Heberts!" Luckily we each have an additional power called "Back Pat" that inflates our heads (and egos) through the magic of self-congratulation so we can operate with regular-sized craniums for a few minutes a day ...

The Evil DM said...

Pirates, Banditos, Space Dwarves,
Barbarian hordes- a Special Legends of Steel "World of Erisa" expansion set complete with Chainmail Bikinis and big-ass Battleaxes! I can't wait!

David M said...

Woohoo! I love new toys from Jeff.
I know zero about programming and even less about programming in whatever you're using to create Heromachine, but is it possible to create some sort of test that matches the scale of one object to another? For example, putting a large bow in a small hand and then pressing the magic "scale match" button and having the bow resize to small?
Would that save any time on redrawing items?

Jeff Hebert said...

I don't think there's an easy way to do that while I'm creating everything, no. However, it's looking like I'm going to be leaving a lot of that up to the user, the testing I'm doing with the resizing of body parts in the test file I mentioned in the post seem to show that it's pretty straightforward to have the user size and position things themselves. That'll take quite a load off.

Denise said...

um.... exactly what body parts can we enlarge and shrink... just asking as a female who occasionally has hormonal spikes...

alex8man said...

Sounds good, I loved hero machine 2.0, but will you be able to create the effect of, for example chrouching, or that kind of thing?

Jeff Hebert said...

You could probably do a reasonable facsimile of crouching by foreshortening the upper leg quite a bit and moving the shin and foot up a layer. It will probably look a little weird, though.