First I want to say that I am not an artist, and I intend to work with an artist to complete my project. I'm looking for the solution that makes it the easiest to work with the artist and create the best final product.
I also want to clarify what my two choices are, in case I've used imprecise language.
1) Sprite sheets. By this, I mean that each frame of animation is a complete picture, as shown on the right-hand side of this image.
2) Animating pieces with keyframes. By this I mean each piece of the character is a separate sprite as shown on the left-hand side of the same image. In this case, the developer must specify keyframes and the engine interpolates between them to create a smooth animation.
Here are some pros and cons of each as I see it.
- Each frame looks better, more connected and whole
- Less work for the developer, just drop it in as a new animation
- Potentially choppy animations (an artist isn't likely to draw 60 frames per second of animation)
- A lot of work for the artist if the character has to move in lots of different ways
- Difficult to communicate ideas about exactly how the character should move
- Smooth animation
- Very dynamic, the character can move in an infinite number of ways without requiring more assets to be produced
- Less work for the artist (this is good for the developer too because you can have faster iteration and create new assets easier)
- Potential for wonky looking characters (joints moving in weird ways or not looking fully connected)
- More work for the developer (must animate everything themselves)
If it helps, I have two main use-cases. The first game that I want to make is an infinite runner style game which should be pretty simple, the character only moves in one direction with limited actions. The second is a more complex story-based platformer. Here the characters will move in all four directions, jump, shoot, shoot while jumping, shoot forward while running backwards, etc.
However in either case, I can see these questions being relevant. Even when there is very little animation, is it better to go for flexibility and smoothness, or for good detail?
I think Mark of the Ninja showcases what I'm looking for very well, even knowing that I probably can't hit that level of production quality with one developer and one artist. For that game, it looks like each animation frame is completely drawn, but it's so smooth and dynamic that it's hard to tell.
So which method is better given the output that I'd like? Or would it be better to do a hybrid in some way?