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Hansel & Gretel: Coven Kill

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The Brief

Paramount

2013

Hansel & Gretel: Coven Kill is a twitch-based Flash game based on the 2013 Paramount movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, an altogether more violent and darker take on the classic fairytale. This was my first major project as a full-time freelancer, and was completed as part of a two-man production team with Isambard Poulson for Soho-based agency Ichi.

With the aesthetic and game premise already signed off, it was my responsibility to bring the game to life. My role encompassed the character illustration, background art, character animation, UI and HUD design, intro animation and VFX. I was also involved in gameplay decisions and suggestions due to my experience of working on Flash games in previous roles.

Development

This was a hugely enjoyable but consistently challenging project to work on. My first tasks when hired by Ichi were to tighten up the initial pitch designs into a workable UI. This involved some simplification of the proposed idea - initially Hansel and Gretel were to have separate health and score meters, but we revised this as one set of health and one score, to save confusion. The ammo gauges were also moved; positioned centrally beneath the characters, to help reinforce what they were representing. Each time the characters are flipped with the spacebar, the ammo gauges flip too. With a pared-down colour palette, we finally settled on an austere UI throughout, moving away from an early design I produced that was a little more brash and gaudy, to reflect the almost slapstick levels of gore we spied in the trailer.

An early UI design, with bolder, brasher colours and blood splatters.

The final UI design, using a much more austere palette and design.

With designs for the menus and UI designs settled on early, I was free to concentrate on the bulk of the work - the creation of the assets for the game itself, and the animations. I constructed a number of different 'plates' in Illustrator which contained various levels of the background, incorporating grass, plants, mushrooms and trees, fading back into lighter shades of grey. In early tests, these were used in original vector form to save file size, but it quickly became apparent that the level of detail in the vectors was going to cause a problem, because the gameplay zooms in on the characters as time goes on, raising the difficulty.

This caused the processor to chug quite badly, so early intentions of subtle parallax, multiple layers and lots of light effects needed to compromised in order to make the game run at a solid frame rate. With a game like this, playability became the prime factor. You can see in the animation/zoom tests below how the various levels of detail affected the processor. This wasn't helped by a rain effect that was created using ActionScript.

Character illustration and animation was a tricky challenge too, mainly because I needed to convey the personality and look of the film characters, but only through silhouettes. Hansel and Gretel are identifiable by their weapons and comparative size, but several witch prototypes, based closely on costumes from the film, began to look more like aliens than witches in silhouette form, so we defaulted to the simpler bald witch for our fireball thrower, the evolution of which you can see in the animation tests below.

With the background layers being amalgamated into one image, and lightened considerably to ensure the game was easier to play (the heavy vignette in early prototypes meant the witches were almost impossible to see!), I needed to add some atmosphere in the VFX. To this effect, I used After Effects to render out the rain, and added some grain over the top. I also used it to add the disintegration of the witches when they are hit, as well as the shower of blood. The fireballs and explosions were created in After Effects too, as was the the muzzle flash and smoke of Hansel's shotgun blast, with the shrapnel added in in Flash to indicate the area of effect of the weapon.

These extra flourishes brought some real polish to the game without sacrificing frame rate or playability. This in turn made for a simple but incredibly addictive game to while away a lunch hour on.

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Coven Kill animation test with randomly exploding witch, viewable only with Flash Player.

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Early fireball witches, viewable only with Flash Player.

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Final fireball witch complete with VFX, viewable only with Flash Player.

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