The first is the fact that I can't have little people playing football until I have little people. I'm not a terrible artist but nor am I particularly adept with the human form, so after much frustration I finally got this lot done.
As you can see, they aren't the best looking animation frames in the world. For a start, they're far too exaggerated so I've got some freakish loon waving his arms all over the place when he so much as attempts a light jog. And I'm pretty sure he'd actually break his legs if he ever tried to run with that. But still, they're functional so it gives me something half decent to work from.
Once I got the little chaps done, my next task was to get him running about. I've created a rather simplistic animation system, which I'll no doubt build upon as I go along (the same can also be said for the tilemap system, which will be updated with animation and transparency features as time goes on). I did a little bit of research and found that professional runners tend to run at about 180 steps per minute, essentially meaning three steps per second. So each frame lasts for a ninth of a second, and this was pretty easy to do. The game's physics engine (rudimentary though it may be) already had code to ensure it updates every 60th of a second, so the same code was used in the animation system to keep things ticking along.
A running man, and not an Austrian in sight. Now what he needs is a football, and the ability to run with it.
I've played a fair amount of football games in my time, and having recently upgraded my PSP to a PS1-emulation supporting firmware, I indulged in yet more online spending to grab myself another six. Across all the games, it seems that the representation of dribbling ability falls into one of four camps.
- The ball sticks to the player's feet. All the time. In other words, I can't actually see what the difference is between a good dribbler and a bad dribbler. Sample games: Actua Soccer, FIFA 98, Viva Football
- The ball sticks to the player's feet for a period of time. During this period the player has full control over movement, however when the time elapses he can no longer change the ball's direction. Thus, a better dribbler can keep control for longer. Sample game: Sensible World of Soccer
- The ball sticks to the player's feet, but he moves much slower than his normal running rate. The better his dribbling ability, the faster he can move whilst maintaining this level of control. Sample game: New Star Soccer 3
- The player nudges the ball along as he moves, just as you would in real life. The player can therefore only change direction when he's close enough to the ball to alter its direction accordingly. Better dribblers don't knock the ball as far as the poorer ones. Sample games: FIFA 07, Kick Off, Pro Evolution Soccer 6
The last two have their good and bad points, and it's hard to split them. It can be argued that they're both differing implementations of the same basic idea - where Pro Evolution Soccer's players knock the ball further so that they don't trip over their own feet, NSS3's little guys just take their time to achieve the same thing. Of course, if you delve deeper into Pro Evo's control system you'll find that you can slow yourself right down and maintain tighter control of the ball, while with NSS3 you can nudge the ball out from under your own feet to run at a quicker pace.
For now, I've gone with the fourth system. In addition to being a fairly fine representation of how dribbling is, it also plays a part in goalkeeping - my own position in the field. When an opponent is bearing down on your goal and you feel like rushing off your line to smother at his feet, you need to time your advance with his own dribbling. When he nudges the ball further still, you need to be quick off the blocks to close down the angle before he can do anything else. This also applies to defenders, who will be looking to nick the ball away from a player when it's vulnerable. When the ball is stuck to a dribbler's foot, you lose these facets of the game.
Whether or not this lasts depends on how it holds up in gameplay. There's no swanky 3D engine to get a closer look, and the players are sprite based which greatly limits the animations available. Yesterday I finally got a player to run with the ball in a manner that satisfies me, but until opposition stand in the way it'll be impossible to know for sure. One irksome problem is the game's perspective - when you're running towards the goal at the top of the screen, the ball is often obscured by your player. If you can't see the ball too well, how will it affect gameplay?