Talking Shop with Soren Nielsen, Creator of Spine

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February 1, 2013 by solomonlutze

SpineSpine is an upcoming 2D animation system from games studio Esoteric Software. GamerCheese had the opportunity to speak with creator Soren Nielsen.

Solomon Lutze: As a developer of a 2d title in Unity who uses Blender for character animation, can you tell me what advantages will Spine provide over Blender? How do you think Spine stands out over free software like Blender?

Søren Nielsen: Blender is a large, complex set of tools for 3D. Using it for 2D skeletal animation will require a workflow that avoids using many Blender features. Without a good workflow many things suffer: content quality, creation speed, organization, etc. Beyond workflow, custom scripts need to be written to export the data from Blender and your own runtime needs to be developed to make use of the data in your games. These are timesinks that steal your time away from completing your games.

SL: If I replace Blender with Spine, what will the end-to-end process for getting character designs animated in Unity look like?

Søren Nielsen: Spine is used to design the skeleton and animations, which are then exported to data files and a spritesheet. These are simply loaded in Unity and drawn where appropriate. The animations will play back exactly as they did in Spine.

SL: How do you envision Spine working with Mecanim in Unity 4? Do you intend for Spine to be used in conjunction with Mecanim?

Søren Nielsen: We don’t think that Spine will have any integration with Mecanim.

SL: What sorts of games do you want to make with Spine?

Søren Nielsen: We want to leverage Spine in a number of small projects. It’s important to us to finish our projects, so we are being careful to choose those where we think we can keep the scope under control. We have many ideas for some relatively simple, casual mobile games, but we haven’t chosen which game we’ll start on first. Lately just responding to everyone interested in Spine has proven more than a full time job. We won’t switch over to building our own games until we finish implementing everything we promised for the Kickstarter, so it may be some time.

SL: What kind of Spine-powered games do you want to see/play?

Søren Nielsen: Spine is great for any kind of 2D animation, so the possibilities are endless. Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends are fantastic games that make extensive use of skeletal animation. Seeing something like that built with Spine would make us very proud.

SL: Compared to a lot of development software, Spine seems very affordable. What market are you hoping to capture with it?

Søren Nielsen: We want Spine to be the best choice viable for 2D animation in any game, for any platform. Even games that aren’t 2D typically have logos and GUIs that could benefit from Spine. By setting the price low, we hope that Spine sees more use and raises the bar both for professional and indie games.

SL: Where do you think game development is headed in the next few years? How do you see tools like Spine affecting that course? Any of the microconsoles seem particularly attractive to you?

Søren Nielsen: The mobile market is absolutely massive and has caused an explosion of indie developers. It’s hard to succeed with so much competition, but there is still a lot of room in the market. Steam has been a huge success and is a great path for indie developers. We have really high hopes for Valve’s Steam Box, which could be huge.

The more crowded the gaming market becomes, the more developers need to do to really stand out. Clever use of Spine can bring something special to your games and make them prettier and more appealing to users.

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