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Coming soon: Rainbow Runner

Blade Blade's Avatar

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Apr 1, 2022, 06:10 AM
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Lightbulb Coming soon: Rainbow Runner

Hello friends,

I have been meticulously toiling away with my new JJ2 tileset "Rainbow Runner" since the beginning of January and I am finally able to share a sneak peek of it with everyone.

Rainbow Runner is a tileset of splashing colors, happiness and abrupt quirkiness. In this tileset, Jazz, Spaz, and Lori will find themselves in an environment of dreamy pastel colors, running around on undulating rainbow highways while stumbling upon more eccentric stuff such as unicorns and balloons which, for some reason, keep foreground clouds airborne. At the core, Rainbow Runner consists of three environments, which can of course be mixed together in all sorts of ways. These environments are the clouds (heavily Rayman 1 inspired), the rainbows, and the bluish ground realm. All of them will have a massive amount of tiles for your perusal.

Rainbow Runner has by far the most animated tiles I have ever had in a tileset of mine. It will have all sorts of eyecandy animations (the crown jewel being a running unicorn with the dimensions of 7x4 tiles), but also more practical ones such as disappearing platforms and necessity animations for conveyor belts and warp events. In fact, a cornerstone of Rainbow Runner development has been the fact that most or all gameplay modifiers and environment objects will be supported alongside with some palette events (I will be focusing on the pinball events).

In the beginning, I envisioned Rainbow Runner as a tileset for making race levels. Keeping in line with that vision, I will ship Rainbow Runner on Jazz2Online with at least one race level. That will be a new one for me, for sure

Rainbow Runner has seen all sorts of development branches during these three months and I have already abandoned quite a bit of nice art as I ultimately deemed them incompatible with my vision. Additionally, I made this process needlessly complicated for myself with genius moves like sketching a plan for the tileset after a month of tileset development and not planning on any sort of color budget. Anticipating a complicated drawing process, I have actually maintained a version history of sorts for the tileset. I have a j2l's and j2t's for all development days of this tileset and if you, my JJ2 friends, have interest for it, it will be very easy to share the entire cavalcade of development levels and tilesets with you on J2O.

I am aiming to release Rainbow Runner at Jazz2Online by the end of May, but I am not completely confident about that timeframe yet. A lot of drawing still needs to be done, such as nearly all of the eye candy tiles.

So, without further rambling, I am pleased to share a work-in-progress screenshot of "Rainbow Runner" with you:

Upcoming Blade tileset Rainbow Runner

I will be glad to answer any questions you might have regarding the tileset.

Have a great weekend everyone,
Cheers, Blade
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Blade's blog on creating the new tileset (Fortress, that is)

Last edited by Blade; Apr 1, 2022 at 06:50 AM. Reason: Try to fix image
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Apr 6, 2022, 07:52 AM
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This looks so cool!
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Apr 6, 2022, 02:44 PM
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I love the cloud tiles, and how they are inspired by Rayman... it is such a great game.
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Apr 6, 2022, 02:55 PM
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Band Land meets Rainbow Road! Nice to see you're still interested in drawing tilesets. It looks like this'll be one of your more gimmicky sets yet, such a diversion from Aztec 2 but I'll enjoy it nevertheless.
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Apr 6, 2022, 07:25 PM
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I'm digging the big fat hamster tubes, and the alternate colors of grass! There are parts that feel very satisfyingly old-school, like a Waz set or something, but the clouds and birds really set it apart from everything else.
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May 26, 2022, 10:20 AM
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Smile

Hello all,

Thanks for all the kind words regarding Rainbow Runner. so far. Your support is important to me <3

I am here to share some news on the tileset development process. The tileset is well on its way, and Rainbow Runner has seen a lot of development since the beginning of April. This has been a monumental task for me. So far I have logged over 300 hours into planning, drawing, and playing around in my test level. I have had scores of cool ideas, then added them to the tileset, only to decide later that the tileset has no place for such tiles. Rainbow Runner is going to be my largest tileset yet and one mammoth of a tileset, as I am uncomfortably close to the maximum tile amount of 4096. I am not holding back with Rainbow Runner. That is to say, the tileset is teeming with animations: as of today, the tileset has about 60 different animations, with over 200 tiles for the animation content. There are all sorts of tile space hoarders, one of which is prominently shown in the screenshot of the day:

The upcoming Blade tileset Rainbow Runner, update 2

This screenshot is quite indicative how the tileset is and how it has progressed from a few cloud tiles to thousands of tiles. With Rainbow Runner I feel that I have pushed the boundaries of my pixel artist skills to new directions. I have tasked myself with drawing things I have never attempted before. For example, this large hot air balloon took multiple evenings of work to reach this state.

The evolving design of the tileset can be explained through the Eva statue. When I first started with Rainbow Runner, I was aiming for a surreal, almost dadaist feel. In these surreal veins, Rainbow Runner was supposed to have tiles for card houses. Surely enough, at one point Rainbow Runner did have card houses with Jazz Jackrabbit themed face cards in them. I am sorry to say, but the card house complex is not making appearance in the final tileset. However, the face card designs survive: I decided that instead of ditching the artwork for the king (Jazz), queen (Eva), jack (Spaz and Lori) and joker (Devan) cards, they will be present as statues in the tileset.

So when can we expect this thing to get released? At this time, I am hoping I can finish Rainbow Runner and release it with its levels by the mid-July.

Take care everyone, thank you for your time, share the love and have a nice day.

Yours, Blade
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Blade's blog on creating the new tileset (Fortress, that is)

Last edited by Blade; Jun 1, 2022 at 05:20 AM. Reason: lori face card mention
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May 27, 2022, 03:30 PM
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Very cool tileset!
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Oct 2, 2022, 12:28 PM
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Lightbulb A Rainbow Runner Retrospective

Hi friend, I managed to get Rainbow Runner out of the door on 15 September 2022 (available on J2O: https://www.jazz2online.com/download...ainbow-runner/). This thing here is a long look back into Rainbow Runner development.

A Rainbow Runner Retrospective

Rainbow Runner was a gigantic effort from me, taking more than 500 hours to develop the tileset, to create the example levels and to draw up the instructional images. It is by far the largest tileset I have made for Jazz Jackrabbit 2 and one of the most time-consuming pieces of art I have ever created. Most of everything you see in the tileset went through multiple development phases and during the development I discarded a lot of art assets that I deemed not essential for the main theme of the tileset. Rainbow Runner contains more animations than any of my tilesets until Aztec 2 had tiles. At 1131 animation tiles, Rainbow Runner is probably one of the most animated Jazz Jackrabbit 2 tilesets ever.

Even though Rainbow Runner is a record breaker tileset for me and a huge opportunity to learn more about all kinds of things, I consider Rainbow Runner's development process quite arduous and convoluted. Most of the time there was minimal planning so I was making up everything as I went. In this post, I will share some of my thoughts about the development of Rainbow Runner post mortem style accompanied by development time screenshots of the tileset.

I have lots of material from the Rainbow Runner development process. In fact, I made sure to archive a version of the tileset for most of the days that I worked on the tileset. This amounted to 174 consecutive versions of Rainbow Runner. This also means that I could gather some of the nicest discarded Rainbow Runner art into an appendix tileset. If there is interest for a Rainbow Runner making-of and an appendix tileset, I am more than equipped to make those happen.

Beginnings

I most probably got the idea for Rainbow Runner already in the spring of 2018. I was searching for suitable music for Aztec 2 in my tracker music library, a bunch of songs I have had at least since the year 2000. I did not find anything suitable for Aztec 2 but I revisited Norfair and Nighthawk's "Rainbow Runner", a track that always managed to elevate my mood greatly. Almost straight away I wanted to create a tileset that would match the feelings of elation, freedom and motion that the song invoked in me.

Right from the start I knew that a tileset that uses "Rainbow Runner" as its song can't be a static one. At that time, I thought I was making a tileset where the rainbows would be suspended in space, with colorful animated rotating stars rushing past the screen in the background layers. Think of the surroundings of the original Nyan Cat meme. In the same vein, I thought that a tileset like this would work well with race levels and I made a mental note to remember this aspect. In my first draft for Rainbow Runner, made in August 2019, I only had a few ground tiles and a first attempt to create an animation of a rotating star. That super clunky star animation would pinpoint my largest challenges for Rainbow Runner: it was a rare occasion when I managed to get a tile or an animation right from the get-go.

Tool-wise, Rainbow Runner marked a drastic change in how I draw tilesets. I had somehow managed to create Aztec 2 in Paint Shop Pro X9, the image manipulation software. PSPX9 has minimal support for 8-bit art and for example, a separate palette editor is a must when creating tilesets with that program. I probably would have used PSPX9 for Rainbow Runner too, but by accident I stumbled on to Pro Motion NG, a proper pixel art software suite.

In December 2020, YouTube recommended me a Game Developers Conference 2016 talk, "8 Bit & '8 Bitish' Graphics-Outside the Box" by the pixel artist Mark Ferrari (https://youtu.be/aMcJ1Jvtef0). This captivating talk really hit home as Ferrari showed some really beautiful pixel art and palette cycling effects he had created. When someone asked Ferrari what would be a good program to create modern pixel art, he namedropped Pro Motion NG (PMNG) by Cosmigo. PMNG is a commercial program you can buy from their website (https://www.cosmigo.com/pixel_animation_software) or from Steam. In Steam, PMNG is regularly 50 % off and therefore a really affordable tool for pixel artists. You can use the software for free, too, but in my opinion the most valuable functionalities (such as "more than four graphic layers", "Realtime halftone drawing" and "anti-aliasing") are not available in the free version.

I bought the software not long after discovering Ferrari's talk and set out to learn the program to specifically create Rainbow Runner on it. Early on in Rainbow Runner development I was really unsure if PMNG was a right fit for me but in the end, 500 hours was a lot of time to get the hang of it I think after one month of Rainbow Runner development I was ready to never return to Paint Shop Pro when considering pixel art. PMNG proved to contain many very useful functionalities for tileset creation, such as some really nice palette manipulation tools, layers, using selections as brushes, shearing and bending of brushes and tile syncing (edit one tile, all edits appear on the identical tiles across the tileset).

One amazing feature to PMNG are the animation tools. Without these tools Rainbow Runner could not have been made and I feel I learned so much piecing all those scores of animations together. For Aztec 2, I made the tileset's most complicated animation – the water splash of the waterfall – in GraphicsGale. I was very satisfied with the result as I was very inexperienced in pixel art animation but I was displeased with GraphicsGale's user interface and absence of layer functionality. It was downright revolutionary for me to use PMNG to create the animations for Rainbow Runner.

The scope of Rainbow Runner

In preparation for this post, I checked my notes for Rainbow Runner from January 2022 and to my amusement I had ruminated on the possibility that Rainbow Runner could be a smaller tileset than Aztec 2. I should have known that with everything I had planned for Rainbow Runner, a small-ish tileset would be simply impossible.

As I mentioned above, motion and compatibility with the race mode have been core aspects of Rainbow Runner since the beginning of the entire concept. As soon as I knew I was preparing for a tileset that could host race levels, I added extensive tileset functionality and palette events to my to-do list. This would be my first time including disappearing platforms, warp animations and conveyor belts to a Blade tileset. Dedicated sucker tube tiles would make a return in a tileset of mine after 22 years (last seen in Beton). Finally, I would be enabling the use of palette events in Rainbow Runner (this too, a first for me). Keeping the race level feasibility in mind, I regarded the pinball events the most important palette events for Rainbow Runner.

On the art side of things, I had no clear goals what I wanted to include in the tileset and what would the overall atmosphere be like. At first, I was approaching the theme of Rainbow Runner from a chaotic perspective: I wanted the tileset to contain all sorts of happy things seasoned with strong surrealistic and trippy vibes. I scoured the internet for image references specifically searching for childrens' book imagery but looked extensively into psychedelic and dadaist art. In my mind Rainbow Runner would be a tileset of crisscrossing rainbows with colorful trees that have CDs and floppy discs as fruit. The sky would be filled with planets with faces, flying animals such as whales and unicorns and a majestic fortress would peek out from between background clouds. A giant paintbrush would function as a possible endpoint for a rainbow and I would draw a lot of tiles of cartoon eyes, noses and mouths which would function like stickers, making everything in the tileset have faces if the level builder chooses so.

I added all sorts of funny and artistically intriguing stuff into Rainbow Runner until June 2022 when I finally had to admit that I was running out of space and that I could not have everything I wanted in the tileset. Some really nice things got removed from the tileset but at the same time this provided much needed constraint and made it faster to release Rainbow Runner.

Creating Rainbow Runner

In this chapter I will approach the development of Rainbow Runner through pictures. These are screenshots from the tileset development process and I took at least one of these images for each day that I worked with the tileset.

Snapshot 1, 7 November 2021

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 1, 7 November 2021)

This is the absolute start point of Rainbow Runner from 7 November 2021 (excluding the early 2019 test) and the first draft of a tileset I made in Pro Motion NG. Here I was goofing off with PMNG features such as gradient fills, custom shape fills and automatic anti-aliasing. The rainbow curve was created from the straight rainbow with the bend feature.

Snapshot 29, 26 January 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 29, 26 January 2022)

At the end of January 2022, I was already more or less finished with the layer 4 cloud and rainbow tiles. I decided that the cloud and rainbow tiles would benefit from actual ground tiles, to literally ground the tileset. I wanted some kind of colourful grass and colourful ground but the problem was what would they look like exactly. I created multiple drafts and I found the final grass shape quite quickly. The ground itself was much more work.

I used this blue background for the first 1.5 months of Rainbow Runner development. I had hard time letting go of this design even though it was never meant to last. I did not immediately like the new (and final) one I created in February and March. It took some weeks for me to get accustomed to it but looking back, the final background design definitely looks more interesting than the first draft.

Originally, I intended the ends of the rainbows to have tailwind and headwind animations. I actually created both, seen in this screenshot. Ultimately, I decided that the tileset would only use tailwind animations.

As you can see, at the early point in the tileset the umbrellas could be used as hooks. I felt that for these umbrellas should not have a platform to stand on AND a hook. My decision at the time was that I would rather have the platform than an umbrella hook.

Snapshot 31a, 28 January 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 31a, 28 January 2022)

Some more ground designs. The feeling of this day was frustration. I had tried so many different types of natural ground that I wanted to test out something completely different. The result was this carnival style ground.

This screenshot shows some of the foreground bicycle and the large paintbrushes for layer 4. These elements were created when I was aiming for a more surrealistic and trippy Rainbow Runner. I removed the bicycle quite early on but maintained hope for a long time that I could keep the paintbrushes. This did not come to pass.

Snapshot 38, 6 February 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 38, 6 February 2022)

In this screenshot we see even more attempts to create nice looking ground platforms and to be sure, on this day I created the first pieces of the final design of the "blueground".

This screenshot includes discarded Rainbow Runner elements, too. Prominently, we have the houses of cards with Jazz Jackrabbit characters as face cards. A level designer was supposed to be able to create houses of cards freely with as large or small houses they wanted. This feature was made possible by Pro Motion NG: I first created all the cards as normal rectangular shapes (as visible top-right) and then used PMNG's shear functionality to make the cards inclined.

Another removed element of Rainbow Runner was the background whale on the left. This was a really fun animation with the whale swimming and blowing water out of its blowhole. In the end, I could not have the animation in the final release as it was about 145 tiles in size.

Snapshot 45, 13 February 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 45, 13 February 2022)

In this screenshot we see some placeholder clouds for the background and some development on the paintbrushes. Additionally, I experimented with Rayman 1 style photo stands. Jazz, Spaz and Lori had their own stands. I liked these designs (especially the Commander Keen one) but I was not completely satisfied with them and for this reason I quickly removed them from the tileset.

Snapshot 72a, 16 March 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 72a, 16 March 2022)

Before I had the idea to draw background trees that grew on their floating platforms, I tried for the longest time to make these castles in the sky work. I almost a month with these structures and here too I was never satisfied enough in my work. I liked the warm colors of the lighting and the overall Monument Valley inspired look of the castles but maybe it all was too monotonous in my taste.

In an attempt to make the proportions of the sky castles more realistic, I downloaded the 3D graphics software Blender and learned some 3D modeling. This was the first time I had modeled anything ever. In the end, I did not recreate any of Rainbow Runner in Blender but I have some 3D donuts and candlesticks in my mega professional modeler portfolio now.

Snapshot 71, 15 March 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 71, 15 March 2022)

On 14 March I drew the first of these background trees. They felt right from the beginning but I still wanted to see how would they work with the castles. They worked adequately but the trees were too large and I thought that if I had castles in the background, I wanted some on layer 4. There was no space for castles on layer 4 and therefore the background castles had to go for good. These trees I obviously kept, but as half the size. Pro Motion NG shrank the artwork beautifully with a single press of the key H.

Snapshot 86, 14 April 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 86, 14 April 2022)

I had probably the hardest time in the whole tileset with the conveyor belts. I knew from the start that the hamster wheel would power the belts but I created nothing I liked for months. Finally in April I settled on this belt design. Then I had a lot of trouble with the hamster wheel design. In this screenshot I tried to connect the hamster wheel to the belts with these straps (This was meant to be a reference to Sierra-Online's The Incredible Machine (1993), an incredible game). This design didn't look good and was really cumbersome to use. It would take me more than a month to develop the final hamster wheel design (For most of the time I was just avoiding the work ).

Snapshot 101, 11 May 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 101, 11 May 2022)

This screenshot is really like checking out a Rainbow Runner from a different timeline. After scrapping the idea for the card houses, I desperately wanted to find use for the face card art. I regarded the characters as one of the biggest successes in the whole tileset so I really, really did not want to scrap them too. I started to develop the idea for a classical statue park with stone pillars, JJ2 characters and vegetation. At first Rainbow Runner was supposed to have the JJ2 characters and statue versions of them. Then I changed my mind and only had the statue versions in the tileset and after that I had to admit defeat and remove all of the characters. The tree and the bush were my first drafts for the vegetation. I really liked how the tree turned out and I was quite unhappy to scrap it to make room for other eyecandy.

Much of my woes with Rainbow Runner had to do with my choice to have three different types of platforms on layer 4. It did not help matters that the rainbows come in two types themselves and the blueground with three. Even more troublesome was that I wanted to make sure the color of the grass could be changed even when an eyecandy object was on top of them. This could have potentially led to dozens and dozens of tiles just to accommodate different eyecandy connections to the various ground types. This problem was acutely in my mind when I was trying to figure out what to do with any of the eye candy tiles in Rainbow Runner.

For the shortest time, I experimented with "in-door" areas for the blueground tiles. These few tiles can be seen here in the lower left corner.

Snapshot 107, 18 May 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 107, 18 May 2022)

In May, I used a lot of time to see if a Star Control 2 (Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III, 1992) type glimpse into hyperspace would work in Rainbow Runner. I studied how the hyperspace looked in that legendary game and then set out to recreate those elements in Rainbow Runner. The central idea was that the hyperspace would be a window into a different reality like some bizarre 4th dimension clouds. This rupture in space-time would have inverse borders compared to the layer 4 clouds and one could create all sorts of shapes with these tiles. I really liked this unabashed reference to the masterful 90's game but the dark red color did not work with the rest of the tileset and, as a surprise to nobody, I definitely did not have the space for these tiles.

As a direct consequence to the removal of the hyperspace tiles, I based the design of the electric coils (hurt event) on the Androsynth ship from Star Control.

Snapshot 116, 31 May 2022

Rainbow Runner development screenshot (snapshot 116, 31 May 2022)

Rainbow Runner was starting to take its final shape by the beginning of June. In this late May picture, we can still see many objects that did not make it to the final tileset release. During this time, I was experimenting with background layer blimps and hot air balloons but decided against permanently having them. The blimp had a nice rocking animation.

Final thoughts

Hey, friend, thank you for your time! It was important for me to take a look back and share this retrospective with you all. There's still much more to see about Rainbow Runner development but this was definitely a comprehensive summary. I hope you found this post insightful!

And oh, I think I am returning to Jazz Jackrabbit 2 tileset making business again next year. I have a cool plan for this new tileset, too! I am sure this new one will be a pain in the butt, too, but I am already waiting for the days and weeks of the development.

I hid a reference to the new tileset in Rainbow Runner's wooden signposts. I encourage you to go see if you can find the easter egg! ^_^
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Blade's blog on creating the new tileset (Fortress, that is)

Last edited by Blade; Oct 4, 2022 at 03:25 AM. Reason: wrong link fixed
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