It’s been quite the journey, and now it’s time for Floor Kids to launch on Xbox One. And to mark this occasion I wanted to write a personal note about this amazing experience and everyone I got to work with and learn from.
I’m JonJon, the animator and creator of the eight original characters in the game. To me, these characters represent me and my friends from a time when this world was my entire life. But they can also easily represent yourself and your friends in this current era, or from an era long ago. These characters shout out to the legends of the break scene that created all these movements as part of a rich and storied culture. The Floor Kids characters can come off as regular kids, but also possess the strength and stamina of super hero dance warriors of a funky animated world.
So, I want to share what I enjoyed most about this project and the people I’ve been collaborating with:
Our lead producer. The glue. She stood up for Floor Kids as a brand, from the inception, and at every turn, and protected our potential to go far. We were able to stay confident in ourselves, and patient, and kept Floor Kids as an artist-driven project for many, many years. She’s been the glue and stabilizing energy on the team. For something like a super long-term project like ours, even dating back to the first animated promo clip from over 10 years ago, keeping steady is no easy task.
Leader of Hololabs. My favorite part was watching him connect the sprites of my b-boy drawings manually, frame by frame, and getting involved in the decision making of what inputs would be needed at every branch in the animation system. Because in our philosophy, we opted to not have a generic transition system that makes use of an idle state or idle animation, because in breaking, that’s bad. True to the nature of this dance, I wanted to animate each transition uniquely between each move, between each step. Because that’s how it is in real life.
It was fun to see him really try to wrap his mind around break dance logic, which is vast and intricate, and understand the body physics taking place in each drawing, and figuring out programmable models and playback systems to describe attributes like momentum, flow, acceleration and slow motion strobing. Together we broke things down into categories that made sense to both the break logic and the coder logic. Programs and systems like to do things the same way every time. B-boys and B-girls want to do things differently every time.
Inherent in this, is a great challenge. How to program a game that represents an artform that is steeped in creativity, and originality. Seeing him ask questions like, “Can this frame stop?” Or, “Does this movement go continuously?” “Is this reversible or not reversible?” It was a thing of magic to see it gradually take form. There were so many fun tests and prototypes that we did, to see what controls would work and be fun. I’m proud of what we accomplished together.
Our game designer for things like unlocking, progression, and figuring out a points system. He tackled the huge challenge of scoring. The challenge was that games need to present a clear goal. But in our case, there are multiple goals, and you get to choose which ones to tackle at any time. There’s freedom and skill required. He designed a fantastic and in-depth scoring system based off the real international five-point judging standard for break competitions.
The real-life system has five strategies to pay attention to and we flipped it for our game to make it Funk, Flavor, Flow, Fire, and Flyness. Each points system is simple enough to pick up on its own but factoring them all together requires mastery. I also traveled a lot with Phil to the game conventions. He was always down for road trips in a rental car, throwing the gear in the back seat. Spreading the game at every development stage to each new person one by one.
Our game designer for controls and rhythm. She tackled the controls originally slated for touch and then adapted for buttons and joysticks. Her controls were always tied to rhythm but also incorporating directionality. Finding the metaphors between the finger movements and the animation on screen. She was also a b-girl under the name of Feisty, with years of teaching under her belt. It was so fun working with her on this because the subject matter is so personal to us, and it was a way to revisit those memories.
An early developer at Hololabs, taught me to open my mind to the concept of variable frame rates. As an animator from film my mind kept thinking in 24fps, but for this project we had to think in BPM (beats per minute). So, they taught me to let go of a rigid frame rate approach and to open myself up to a system that would tie my animation to the beat, whatever speed that would end up being. And it was really liberating to my animating process to be able to think this way.
Our lead engineer. Respect to the architect! He came up with a super powerful idea. Rather than connecting the frames by hand, he laid the foundation for an animation fetch and play system that would locate the quickest path into a move. This was an exciting development which allowed me to decide many intricate things through the animation, on how moves would transition into one another, how many frames each move needed to be, where the hold poses were, where the in and out points would be.
The programmers and designers could focus on other important things, trusting me to deliver an animation move tree for each character that would leave room for player creativity, and wouldn’t crash the system. And so I opted to make as many unique transitions as possible, and to have enough of them in and out of each move to allow for player response time to feel right… bringing the drawing count up to the tens of thousands. Which nearly broke the system many times. By the end of the project, Amesh was learning to get down in the studio and six-step.
Our junior engineer and programming spark plug. When he writes code, he talks out loud. So, we could all hear him play-by-play commentate on himself catching and zapping bugs in the system. I also witnessed Roger perfect the rhythm section at the Peace Summit, the hardest level in the game, on a first try – when we thought that would be impossible.
Last but not least, DJ Kid Koala. Through his music and shows around the world, he’s kept the dream of Floor Kids alive all these years until the right opportunities hit. His brilliance is not just in the music and sound, but his vision, his jokes, and his wit. One of my favorite things in the game is the story — it’s a poem. Eric wrote something to be funny, and it came in at the last minute, in a flash of inspiration. It was written with cadence and wit. It speaks in a legendary yet playful tone but is also dropping hints about how the scoring system works. Each chapter of the story incorporates the theme of the location and describes a lesson for one of Funk, Flavor, Flow, Fire, and Flyness. Funny thing is that these lessons could also apply to our real lives.
He read it out loud and everyone was laughing, but what I heard, was something deeply meaningful, as I realized his story touched on the sentiment of everything I had drawn and tried to create.
So, he sends me all the story music tracks, and they were so goofy and silly, I laughed so hard because they sounded hilarious, and I knew what he was thinking… but I was like “A’ight. I’m going to try this other idea that I have.”
So, I came back with story panels for a huge journey traveler adventure drama, a serious quest through the city. Eric laughed at how epic the story panels had become. And he changed the whole music of the story sequence to make it super vast and intense. In the end, we laughed our heads off at the combination.
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