This Charming Man: #1 The Rockford Files

So where the hell does charm come from? At what point does the block of code you’ve loaded into memory and its instruction pointer start to become charming? Unsurprisingly, when it’s written by someone with a sense of humour, which is what makes these games stand out.

By the way, the best way to think about how that block of code becomes characterful is to think of it like a flip book that you probably made when you were small (or not, as I still do them for my daughter). You know, you take a bunch of pages (like the bottom corner of your maths exercise book) and draw a character on page 1. Then for every successive page you draw the character in a slightly different position. When you flip them all together at a constant speed you get your own movie.

Like this one:

One of the earliest examples of “character” animation I can think of is the main character Rockford that appears in Peter Liepa’s Boulderdash. Rockford, when he is left idle gets bored. This is what the BCDFF document says on it (
“When Rockford is not moving, he faces forward (out of the screen towards the player). Rockford gets bored; he taps his foot and blinks his eyes. Blinking and tapping are independent of each other; in the C64 implementation, the upper and lower halves of his body are controlled separately.

Animation sequences are eight frames long, and each frame is displayed for two ticks, so it takes 16 ticks (about 0.27 seconds) to complete each animation sequence. At the beginning of each new animation sequence (ie every 0.27 seconds), if Rockford is not currently moving, it is decided whether Rockford will be idle, blink, tap his foot, or blink and tap his foot. There is a 25% (1/4) chance he will blink each animation sequence, and a 6.25% (1/16) chance that he will stop tapping (if he is currently tapping) or start tapping if he isn’t.”

My first question to Peter is to ask where this idea came from, as it totally elevated an already high quality game but also the precision that he used in order to breathe life into his character doesn’t seem random. Did he have a strong sense of giving him personality from the start or was it more serendipitous stemming from something pragmatic like giving the player a visual cue to get a move on (as Boulderdash is a timer based mechanic?) 

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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