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Animal Well's haunting style owes much to procedural animation

In a Game Developer interview last year, creator Billy Basso discussed his animation process and use of creative coding to build Animal Well's unique aesthetic.

Danielle Riendeau, Editor-in-Chief

May 23, 2024

2 Min Read
Haunting pixel animals against a dark backdrop
Via bigmode

Animal Well launched earlier this month to great critical praise: the mysterious pixel art metroidvania has turned heads for its puzzle-oriented gameplay and pulsating pixel stylings. In 2022, we interviewed solo creator Billy Basso about the game, building its very unique style and fresh take on a beloved genre, and the appealing power of pixel art.

"Limitations encourage creativity"

"I view pixel art as a style that is sort of native to the medium of video games," Blasso said in the interview. "Most screens are fundamentally made up of a grid of pixels, and you have to do a lot of extra work to hide that fact. Pixel art embraces it instead. A lot of people think the main point of modern pixel art is to create nostalgia for older games, and Animal Well certainly has some of that. But I think there are also a lot of other good timeless qualities about it. In the same way people appreciate tile mosaics, it is satisfying seeing a form be abstracted, and more open to interpretation. I think limitations encourage creativity."

He noted that he created the particularly disturbing (or entrancing!) animations with "creative coding," with techniques developed alongside the game's engine. They include "functionality for particle effects and procedurally drawing geometry," and represent a desire to push past what folks might expect from a game evoking a retro style.

"As far as pushing into uncharted territory, I've been trying to use techniques that wouldn't work well for pixel art in other engines. I have a fluid sim that is constantly running on a layer for water and smoke effects. I can draw sprites into it the same way I draw anything else. I'm using normal maps for the background art along with a ton of dynamic lighting stuff. Early on, the game truly did look like an NES game, but I've been layering on more and more rendering systems over time."

Read the full interview for more insight on Animal Well's creation, including the philosophy behind its world design and emphasis on secrets and mystery.

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About the Author(s)

Danielle Riendeau

Editor-in-Chief, GameDeveloper.com

Danielle is the editor-in-chief of Game Developer, with previous editorial posts at Fanbyte, VICE, and Polygon. She’s also a lecturer in game design at the Berklee College of Music, and a hobbyist game developer in her spare time.

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