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gamesbusiness SpriteStudio article

Nov 2nd, 2018
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  1. The smartphone application from Bandai Namco Entertainment, "The iDOLM@STER Million Live! Theater Days" (henceforth Mirishita), is an Idol Live and Produce games featuring beautiful 3D models moving around in real time.
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  3. The training and the card animations are in 2D, and the development of this section involves the animation tool "OPTPiX Sprite Studio", which has had a massive contribution to reducing the amount of work hours.
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  5. In this interview, I discuss with the development team over at Bandai Namco Studios the effectiveness and the appeal of SpriteStudio in the development of this game.
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  7. Do note, however, that this game was developed using version 5.8.3.6625 of SpriteStudio, which may have differences with the current version of SpriteStudio (ver. 6.2).
  8.  
  9. Interviewer: Head-high Corporation, Takaaki Ichijo
  10. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  11. The application of Flash engineers, and the impetus for SpriteStudio
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  13. - First of all, please introduce yourselves.
  14.  
  15. Ikeda: Bandai Namco Studios, Engineering Division, my name is Hayato Ikeda. I'm the client engineers' leader in Mirishita.
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  17. I was in charge of using the Client portion of Unity, but instead of the coding, I was in charge of progress management and deciding which direction the development team should go. Essentially, I'm the support in case the development team is stuck or troubled.
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  19. Hoshino: Also in the Engineering Division, my name is Masanobu Hoshino. I was in charge of SpriteStudio, a built-in part of Unity SDK, as well as expanding its functions. Alongside implementing it, I also participated in authoring work using SpriteStudio tools.
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  21. Okada: Veteran Affairs Supervision Division, you may call me Masaharu Okada. I participated as a visual artist in Mirishita. I am in charge of the interface design as well as the 2D animations. I'm also in charge of creating data using SpriteStudio.
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  23.  
  24. - How does Mirishita make use of SpriteStudio?
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  26. Ikeda: It's used mostly for the 2D animation parts. For example, during full screen animations, like when the character has a cut-in, effects and the movements of the big artworks.
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  28. I think the first thing people would see are the animations of the stamp during the Login Bonus. We also develop SpriteStudio for various animations, such as the Lesson Success animation, the animation of the card during Awakening, as well as the Rank Up animation. Also, for the Gacha sequence animation, its also SpriteStudio, with a script running on the Unity side.
  29.  
  30. Aside from the 3D Live scenes, SpriteStudio is also used in a lot of ways.
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  32.  
  33. - This time, please tell me your introduction and background with SpriteStudio.
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  35. Ikeda: Truth is, this is the first time I've introduced SpriteStudio to our team. When the project began, we had to use many tools to do various verifications on the 2D portions.
  36.  
  37. There were many designers in our company who were familiar with Flash, so we had originally considered taking advantage of that in our project, and make Flash the base for our game. So, I bought the Flash Importer and Conversion Tool to try it out.
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  39. However, as for the results of our verification, regarding Flash's conversion tools, in truth it was insufficient for what we wanted; I was worried about to what extent we were able to support it if we tried that extension, and whether we were able to conform to the latest version of Unity. Upon further examination, there was another big problem when it came to converting the servers, and that was the fact that the queries were in English.
  40.  
  41. Due to those circumstances, I wondered if there was an alternative for using Flash, especially one where it would be easy to get support locally, and so I discussed it with Okada.
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  43. Okada: Around that time, I remembered SpriteStudio. Around then, I had only heard the name, but then I decided to begin my own investigation into it.
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  45. When I first got a feel for it, turns out it was a very easy interface to learn for Flash users. The tool itself was very simply organized all around, and for someone who's familiar with Flash, you get the feeling that you'd only need 2-3 days minimum in order to produce something that meets the minimum work requirement, which is why I proposed this alternative option.
  46.  
  47. - Did you consider the various animation functions in Unity?
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  49. Ikeda: From the artists, I came to a decision that the threshold for getting a feel of Unity's animation expansions was too high.
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  51. Hoshino: Around the time we began our project, Unity had just released its Timeline function, and it was quite unstable, so we had to use Mecanim as a base, and it became obvious that the system we were trying to make was very complex.
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  53. Something necessary for the Gacha, we needed a way to produce and combine multiple different animations in chronological order, and putting Mecanim to use as a state management system was an impossible task.
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  55. Also, there's a part in the timeline UI that is touched on by the artists' side, and you'd need an editor to work on each frame of the animation. With Unity alone, there will inevitably be a conflict work-wise with the engineering team. By introducing SpriteStudio however, we can run the performance development alongside the work done on the Unity side, and that's a definite plus.
  56.  
  57. Okuda: Performance development is handled by 2 staff members, including myself. It can't be understated that the SpriteStudio tool allowed us to make a turnover with a small number of people. We were able to make all of the game's data within 3-4 months.
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  59. Perhaps, if you were trying to do this with Unity functions alone, you would definitely need a larger team.
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  61. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________
  62. The contributions of SpriteStudio to the improvements in quality of the product
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  64. - In reality, when it was introduced, how did it help development?
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  66. Okuda: Firstly, the tool was easy to use. While the tool does re-iterate many times, it helps that that it is very similar, operation-wise to Flash. It helped save plenty of time, and the division of labor helped deal with the iteration cost.
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  68. Ikeda: During development, when all of the effects were visible at once, usually the "Maybe this effect would work better here" opinions start coming out. Due to this, I could do adjustments and trial-and-error to the Gacha animations until the last minute.
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  70. Okuda: By the way, for Gacha animations, all the patterns were created in SpriteStudio under one project. Under the animation route, including the animations of the SR and SSR parts, it is all controlled from the Unity SDK side.
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  72. Data for the Gacha files are the largest; one file contains about 600 parts. Originally, the animation patterns might have been better arranged under a single production, but it's good to divide labor, so the fact that we have artists on hand to confirm the flow definitely wins in the convenience factor.
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  74. When it comes to the combinations of the parts and patterns on the Unity side, I have to ask the engineers "Please place them here" quite often.
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  76. Hoshino: Since there are many parts inside one file, I have to do a lot of work on SpriteStudioPlayer. For any card that appears, we want to able to dynamically modify them. For example, the function to replace the texture parts in the "cell" dynamically.
  77. (Note: SpriteStudioPlater is an extension of SpriteStudio, found on github.)
  78.  
  79. After that, I make use of ActionScript, a function within Flash.
  80.  
  81. The SpriteStudio tool has a region where you can embed "User Data" as well as "Stop here", "Jump" here" and "Play sound effects" commands to help control.
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  83. Ikeda: The support for this tool was extraordinarily helpful. The development team was mostly looking at the parts regarding performance improvement.
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  85. Okuda: I feel that SpriteStudio is a tool that is built on the premise that it will be inserted into the execution environment, so it is necessary to incorporate an atlas when raising performance. However, the performance part is generally postponed, so we tend to search for a solution after optimization is done.
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  87. Ikeda: At the beginning, the emphasis was on whether or not the picture would display properly on the actual machine. During development, it was about lightening loads and speeding up. However, I thought it best to have discussions before we got into trouble, so I listened to what the SpriteStudio development team had to say. I got information on how to efficiently summarize data, as well as reducing the load.
  88. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  89. What they look for in SpriteStudio's future
  90.  
  91. - Is there anything that you look forward to in SpriteStudio's future?
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  93. Okuda: I'd like to perform frame control by beginning playback with the Enter key! When you used Flash, the frame playback was mapped to the Enter key.
  94.  
  95. I think a function to create a folder for data structures is also good. Since they're shared by layers, I think it'd be good if we can classify in a form that does not affect the output data. Right now, they are classified by NULL parts, which is OK for now, but the garbage data does pile up.
  96.  
  97. Hoshino: Regarding tools, I want to rename the labels by double-clicking. Right now, I use right-clicks to do it, but doing it too often will definitely by troublesome.
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  99. In a project, the label is very important, and since control within SpriteStudio is not completed during the processing part, it falls to the label to direct control. "Play this animation when an SR card appears" is such an example of a jump part.
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  101. - Lastly, I'd like to hear your thoughts regarding the introduction of SpriteStudio to your project.
  102.  
  103. Ikeda: Since we introduced SpriteStudio, we could create an environment where we could control the production requirements, while being able to easily cycle between iterations. For the so-called Gacha lottery, the animations are very important to these mobile games, it's a very important judging point when selecting the development environment.
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  105. Having any form of Japanese support was a huge relieving factor above all. As a result, in the short period where SpriteStudio was introduced, to the end there were no major troubles, and it helped immensely with our estimated work-hours.
  106.  
  107. Okuda: The usability of the tool was very good. There wasn't anyone in charge who was specially disappointed, and gave the impression "I can do this normally". If you're familiar with Flash, then SpriteStudio would be easy to grasp right away, and you can make the necessary things very quickly.
  108.  
  109. Of course it wasn't completely together, but as something that feels close to Timeline, the sense of incompatibility was very small.
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  111. Hoshino: I'm an active Flasher myself, so it was good that I could use tools familiar to me in order to build this game. For the parts that change dynamically with the game, I created all of those in SpriteStudioPlayer, so I think I'd like to work to evolve those parts in the future.
  112.  
  113. - Thank you very much!
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