We're using a combination of Pixelmator and Pixen to make the graphics for our platform game Foxtrot!. The former has a neat little pixel drawing tool with which we use to make the backgrounds for each level and also to rough out the characters. We then switch to Pixen to create the player and character animations. This approach works well for the most part, but we do find the need to go back to Photoshop for one or two small, but important, tasks (cropping, resizing).
The good things about both Pixelmator and Pixen are their low cost and admirable set of features. However, they are Mac only and as we look to work with collaborators we will probably seek out similar tools for both Mac and Windows.
Style & Performance
So why use the pixel-perfect style of 16-bit graphics? Two reasons: aesthetic and performance. We think that 16-bit style graphics suit platform games rather well, and probably appeal to those of us who remember back when they were the default in games. Considering that Foxtrot is quite retro in it's style and sensibilities we think the graphic style is a good fit. However, we are going to some lengths to attempt to avoid cliché and generic pixel art. We are using a very basic tile set for the ground and walls, but each and every level has a bespoke background. Some are more involved than others and this has meant that artwork creation has taken up a lot of our limited development time. But it looks great, which is the important thing.
Originally, Foxtrot! was going to have high resolution graphics, without any pixel-perfect pretensions. The game engine can switch high res graphics intended for retina displays out for low res versions when Foxtrot! is played on an older device. This method avoids memory problems over a range of mobile devices. Unfortunately, as we built the game we ran into major performance problems, especially on Android devices. We'd see significant drops in frame rates, even when there were not many actors on screen at the same time. One of the changes we decided to make was to make the levels much smaller, with a fixed camera showing all the scene. This led to a major performance improvement, but also meant that the game play had massively altered. We then made the decision to switch to pixel perfect graphics that would look good on all device screens and also would suit the 'older skool' gameplay that we introduced.
We're currently designing the last few levels. At the time of writing there will be 26 playable levels in Foxtrot!, including 3 boss fights. When the levels are done, the artwork can be finalised. Then we'll be adding the music and sound effects, followed by a round of testing. While that's being done, we'll be making a short trailer to publicise the game.
So watch this space, yes?
Foxtrot! is a fiendishly charming platform game coming for iOS and Android. For more about the game and the studio who is making it visit http://www.pieandmash.me