2D Artist wanted – details and specification

Thanks to the recent success of the Kickstarter, Rocket Jump Technology is looking for a freelance artist to take on some commissions to contribute to the in-game artwork of King under the Mountain. If you’re not already aware,  King under the Mountain is a simulation-based settlement-building strategy/management game set in a fantasy world. The gameplay is inspired by Dwarf Fortress, The Settlers, Dungeon Keeper and others, and the visual style is inspired by Prison Architect and Rimworld. Here’s the latest trailer to give you a feel of where the game is up to:

The graphics in King under the Mountain are pretty simple – the game is effectively top-down 2D though the visual style has a cartoony side-on and slightly above perspective for most of the assets. Rather than a pixel art style, it is more of a flash/vector-based style (it’s up to you if you’d prefer to work in a raster or vector graphics format). The in-game map is a grid of tiles which are stored as 64×64 pixel images, and the characters and items in the game are also stored and rendered at this resolution, scaled up or down depending on how the camera is zoomed in or out.

Dwarf character examples
Example of items related to farming


Sprites in the game are made up of one or more layers. Most of these layers are stored in greyscale (or something close to it) so that they can be multiplied by a different colour by the game engine to represent different colours for skin, hair, wood and so on. Other layers/images are stored in true colour as they’re not re-coloured by the game engine, such as clothing in the following example of how the different layers are combined together (note that the eyes and eyebrows are at very much the wrong scale):

The other thing of note are the different orientations (or directions) that characters and items in the game can face towards. Rather than the simple up/down/left/right 4 orthogonal directions, the game uses up/up-right/down-right/down/down-left/up-left for 6 different orientations as this seemed to work best with the art style.

Example of orientations

At least some of the assets used in different orientations are an X or Y-flipped copy of the original, so most of the left-facing assets are usually the same asset as the right-facing ones flipped along the X axis by the game engine. Sometimes the down-right orientation is used as the up-left asset, and vice-versa, as in these wooden planks which are shown when carried by a character (so there are only 2 unique images stored and used):

Example of mirroring for wooden planks


It’s worth knowing that King under the Mountain generates bump-mapped “normals” of the sprites to use for directional lighting in the game engine. These are mostly auto-generated by tools and not something you need to worry about as an artist.

Example of directional lighting on characters


Finally, while the sprites are stored in the game as separate images (one image file for each layer for each sprite) as PNGs, they are combined by the game engine into a spritesheet automatically.

Spritesheet example


That’s most of what you need to know when creating assets for King under the Mountain. When delivering assets for use, it’s best to supply them as 64×64 pixel (or larger where necessary) PNGs rather than trimming the image to just the non-transparent section as this should also be handled by the game engine (it’s currently done by hand), so that the developer(s) can tell how they’re supposed to stack on top of each other (as in, where they are positioned relative to each other). Additionally, you might prefer to work in a higher resolution (such as using a “tile size” of 128×128 pixels), and if so it is nice to have the assets delivered in this scale as well as the final 64×64 px scale in case the team or a user wants to support a high resolution mod.

With all that out of the way – we’re looking for a freelance 2D artist to take on packages of work which will usually involve a group of related assets/sprites, which might need drawing in several orientations as described, and might additionally be made up of several layers each. Ideally we’d prefer to commission artwork based on an estimated price per asset or image, having been burnt by a couple of artists charging per hour with an estimate of 1-2 hours for a piece then charging around 20 hours for a small piece of work. Still, we’re open to working with an hourly rate, and even with a per-asset pricing adjusting the rate as you discover hidden problems or complexities with some of the pieces of work.

If you’re interested, please email me (Ross) at ross@rocketjump.technology with (ideally) a link to your portfolio, and most importantly, your hourly rate or examples of quotes for jobs you’ve done in the past.  I won’t try to haggle down your rate (everyone should be paid what they feel they’re worth), and in return please be open with what you charge for this kind of work on the basis that (hopefully) I’ll have much more for you to do in the near future.

I tend not to have any hard deadlines (instead aiming to get artwork created well in advance of when it will be implemented into the game) so you can work on commissions as and when suits you best, rather than me demanding certain things be done in a few days or weeks (though I’ll start to worry if I don’t hear anything at all for weeks or months!). That’s all for now, but please email me (ross@rocketjump.technology) if you’ve any questions at all!


Walls, how do they work?

In this post I’m going to explain how walls work in King under the Mountain. Not in the gameplay sense of them blocking movement (and light sources!) but in the technical sense of how the art assets are put together and handled.

First of all, no, this isn’t the monthly dev update to signify that development has kicked back into full swing *just* yet. Instead I’m trying to lay out some groundwork and guidelines to hopefully get some help with the project as well as a sort of technical primer for anyone interested.

It’s no secret that King under the Mountain‘s visuals are heavily inspired by Ryan Sumo’s work on Prison Architect by Introversion. Much like the floor tiles, the walls need to seamlessly tessellate with each other and may end up forming many different shapes, such as differently aligned corners and T-sections of walls.

Walls in different arrangements in the current build

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Refer-a-friend and win a free copy of the game!

Today we’re unveiling our plan to launch a Kickstarter in early 2017 to make King under the Mountain a reality. The rest of the development effort for this year is aimed at building a small slice as a proof of concept for the game and to have something concrete and actually playable to back up the crowd funding effort. If successful, this will allow us to massively ramp up development efforts and bring in more talented creators to build the content and gameplay required.


To do this, we’re going to need your help!

Our one-shot mailing list is going to let you know when the Kickstarter launches so you don’t miss out. Subscribe once, and we’ll email you once and no more (no spam from us!). What we really need though, is your help to spread the word to your friends that you think would be interested in this game we’re making. To add a little incentive, everyone who refers a backer to the signup form will be entered with a 1 in 10 chance of winning a free copy of the game! So if you haven’t already, send your friends on over to http://kingunderthemounta.in/download/ and this could be you 🙂

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Modding in King under the Mountain

In this article I’m going to talk a bit about the design decisions and goals when it comes to modding in King under the Mountain. Please excuse the poor programmer art!

modding example

A bit too long ago when I was studying at university, dreaming of being a game developer, I read the first few entries in the Game Programming Gems series. The very first chapter in the first volume stuck in my mind and stayed there, it was titled “The Magic of Data-Driven Design” by Steve Rabin. Here’s a decent article (from the same time period) by Kyle Wilson on the subject (and here’s a good stack overflow post), but it can be summed up as not having any game-specific data hard-coded into the game engine, instead it is all pulled in from external data files. All the weapons, enemies, levels, AI and anything else is driven by easily modifiable data files so that additions and changes can be made easily without needing a single line of code to be changed. Internally for a team of game developers, this lets artists and designers plug their assets or variables/scripts into the game they’re working on without needing a programmer to make any code changes, speeding up the development process considerably. There’s a potentially even bigger win for game devs however, in that this also opens up your game to the modding community, who often come up with weird and wonderful additions that the original devs wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have managed on their own.

Having as much as possible in the game open to modding is one of the architectural design goals of King under the Mountain. Not only does this make new content easier to add as the game developer, modding communities tend to extend the life and enjoyment factor of a game massively. Despite some complicated algorithms going on under the hood (such as the lighting algorithms and figuring out which wall tiles to draw), I wanted the data-driven side of the game to be as easy and accessible as possible. I decided to use JSON as the data format of choice (here’s an intro for non-programmers by Scott Lowe) because it’s a fairly compact text format, easy for humans to read and edit, and has good support in terms of coding tools and libraries.  Next I’ll show you some examples of how this is being used under the hood.

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Begin at the beginning

So I thought it was about time I started to build up a web presence for King under the Mountain, and to start a dev blog to keep myself organised and motivated. Although I’m writing this in March 2016, the source code repository was started almost exactly a year ago and early designs for the game came much before that.

I’ve created a page to explain what the game is and how it’s intended to play, so I thought I’d share my inspiration and goals here. Too many years ago (nearly 20!), one of my favourite games of all time was Dungeon Keeper (and later it’s sequel). Not only was it a lot of fun playing “the bad guy” (albeit a slightly cartoonish one), I loved the mechanics of tunnelling your own dungeon out of the rock – creating a dungeon and infesting it with monsters, rather than playing as the goody-goody heroes exploring a dungeon someone else had created. Planning what to build and where in addition to caring for and training minions. I loved the whole thing.

Dungeon Keeper 2, a worthy sequel in my opinion

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