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I want to create a simple Flash game. Let's say, it's about soccer hooligans. I would need the characters to walk around the isometric landscape, drink, fight or whatever it is they do.

Now, how do I create those characters? I imagine it could be possible just to draw a separate movie clip for every action for 8 different directions (will 8 be enough?). But this seems like a little bit of work, to say the least.

Some people recommend creating and animating the models in some 3D editor (3DS Max, for instance). This looks better. But, how do I use them? There's no 'native' 3D in Flash (yet). And I don't really feel like being involved with one of the flash 3D engines (some have overly sophisticated APIs, others have bugs, the rest are not maintained anymore).

I could pre-render the animations to frame sequences and then just download them, right? But that makes a HUGE chunk of data.

Any thoughts or advices?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I would definitely go for the 3D modeling and pre-rendering. Even drawing your Sprites from 4 sides is going to be a lot of work and if you have several similar looking characters, you'll probably do that work multiple times.

When using a 3D modeling tool, it's going to take some time to get that base-model done, but after that you can easily create multiple characters from the same base-model by changing textures or add an item like a "hat" or other accessories.

I don't know if your sprites are animated, but if yes, that will also be easier when using 3D.

As for the workflow, I suggest you animate your character in a 3D tool and place (orthographic) cameras for all directions. Then you render the animation with every camera.

Once you got the rendered frames, you can combine them to a sprite-sheet using this technique:

I don't know about your file-size constraints, but these sprite-sheets shouldn't get very large in terms of file-size. If they do, you could still render the animations with less frames (chunky movement) or change them to a indexed-palette (works best if your background tiles all have roughly the same color).

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Is this a true isometric game? If so I question the value of using real 3D models since the idea of isometric engines is to create the illusion of 3D without it being proper 3D. Or by 3D models did you mean just the appearance of 3D? In that case 4 different directions should be enough (up, down, left, right) which is not too much work. You could maybe look at reusing some of the animations by scaling them with the Flash IDE transformation tools (so scale the down animation into the left animation, but they will look like flat pieces of paper which you may not want). I would avoid pre-rendering the animations as frame sequences unless you could really keep the size down to something reasonable.

However, maybe you meant a 3D game with the camera aligned in the sky facing down towards the ground (like with SC2). In that case you will need to use one of the 3D engines out there. Papervision has a nice API and plenty of documentation. Some footage of the next gen 3D apis for Flash have been released recently and look promising

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Yes, this is not really a 3D game. I just thought it will be easier to create 3D model (and animations) once and then pre-render them as I see fit. I had very positive experience with pre-rendering 2D vector movie clips. However, I did that on client side during startup. And I have a feeling that I won't be able to do that with 3D. Will it make sense (or is it even possible) to use 3D engine only for models and draw environment as tiled bitmaps, for example? – Sergio Tulentsev Oct 27 '10 at 6:43
I think it will be much easier to pre-render (unless you are a vgood animator) but will come at a cost of filesize and less flexibility at code time since they are bitmaps (although pre rendering will be easier to make changes). Choice is up to you :) – Allan Oct 27 '10 at 8:28
That's what I thought, thanks :-) – Sergio Tulentsev Oct 27 '10 at 8:52

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