Using Placeholders
June 9, 2022
May 24, 2022

Using Placeholders

Using Placeholders



June 9, 2022

Have you ever made or seen a “I need this thing, otherwise I cannot continue working on my game!” type of request? While I understand that some elements can be crucial to have, there is no reason to have the lack of a resource restrain you from working on your project. In fact, the lack should not affect you at all - for the moment.

Today we are going to talk about placeholders, something most successful devs use, but a topic I don’t see talked about too much.

For this tutorial I will go through different types of placeholders, and to illustrate them, I am going to use two example problems:

My main character, Dier, a blonde long haired mage with yellow eyes, does not have a matching sprite, I want him to be very mature, in robes, with a yellow and green color scheme and if there are metal parts in the clothing, they should be gold or bronze.

Also, the hometown of Dier must have a large statue as centerpiece that features the main goddess of his story, since I want Dier to “recognize” her later and she is a really important overarching figure.

With these two things in mind, there are three main ways of using placeholders in my opinion:

Method one: The hot pink square

Okay, to be fair, you don’t have to go for hot pink, though this is my color of choice. The reason I pick hot pink is simple: I can scroll through the resource folders and easily spot the places in the tilesheet where I have a placeholder.

So for example in this case, I “reserve” sheets or areas on sheets with the correct sizes by filling them in with solid color and when I later find, make or commission the missing piece, I know exactly, where to put it:

As you can see when we have a sheet with multiple placeholders, it can be difficult to remember what the placeholder stood for. Since this is a placeholder, you can simply write onto the area, what it is supposed to be!

For a single SV sheet that is named “Deir_SVBattler” this might not be that useful, but for tilesets it can be crucial, since they might be used across many maps and even have multiple placeholders on them.

Tip: If you have multiple placeholders on one tileset, you might consider different colors for them, especially if they share a border!

As you can see, the subtle hot pink makes it easy to spot the places which still need some adjustment.

For the statue I also simply reserved and marked a 5x5 spot on and empty sheet, and this is how it looks in game:

Not great, right? But it allows you to create the things you need the resources for and move on. While it is possible that you might want to tweak some details on your map once you have the statue (maybe it is larger or smaller than expected) and move on, in fact if your placeholder was the right size you just swap the graphic once you have it and everything works just fine.

So to break down the pros and cons of this method:

  • it is very visible, whenever you playtest or look into the files, you see where you need to change out a file
  • it is very far from the actual thing, making it harder to get a feeling for cutscenes that include… well, squares

I prefer this method for the tiles, as it allows me to continue working on a map without researching or making the needed special tiles and allows me to swap them out afterwards.

Method two: Something, but not really the thing

You have probably seen him too often, but why not keep Reid’s files in place of Dier’s until I have them?

Of course any of the default heroes will do, but what I am saying here is not “well, just use a default hero for your game”, it is: you can actually use a default hero until you have the proper files you want - which could even be the very last day before you release the game, if you worked properly, you could swap the files and share it then!

For the statue here I simply committed heresy and upscaled one of the default ones to the size I am aiming for as stand in. I could’ve also scribbled a sketch or misused a tile of the right size, that was not a statue of a goddess.

But talking about size, here is an issue:

While I intend my statue to be 5x5, this placeholder is smaller, leaving one column of tiles empty. I will now have to watch out that I do not put anything else on these, otherwise they will appear on the map with the placeholder and I will not have the place of the size I intended being “hold”.

If you use this method, I would recommend setting up a text file with reminders, where you have placeholders, as those might not be as clearly visible as the first method.

  • gives off a better feel for the scene, map, whatever you make
  • easier to oversee when wrapping up the game, requires keeping track of your placeholders separately

Method three: Worst case, it can stay

I always think of setting up my characters like casting someone to play the role that I wrote in my head.

Will I be able to get the famous actor I wanted to play my hero in an indie film to play the role? Maybe not. Will I drop the whole project even though I have everything else? Of course not! Will people notice that someone else nearly “played” this character? Probably not.

What do I mean by that: While I gave you a description of Dier’s looks, you as a player would not know about those things if I didn’t tell you. You experience the character as a whole with how he acts and speaks and as long as the looks are not completely off to what he is as a person, it usually works for you.

For characters you can for example either search for a character that looks close enough and apply some recoloring or if you use a newer maker, use the generator to get something that will work:

Doesn’t look too shabby, right? and it is just the default parts and placement.

Is this my perfect Dier? Maybe not. But it would do the job. So I can use those files until I either finish the game or find a good opportunity to swap them out for something even better.

For the statue, I found a nice one in Rhino’s thread here.

While it has a male and a female, I can use it as intended, just tweaking the dialogue around it a little by having the people talk about the goddess and her [mortal love of her life/husband/etc.]. In fact, this gives me the opportunity to expand my lore around her a little, or maybe I already had planned telling a love story involving her, just not at that point?

(I slightly tweaked the statue to fit into my map, but just by adding a little noise and adjusting the contrast, the size was perfect as is)

To sum it up:

  • this is the most work, you need to research and plan to see what works for you and what not, plus a list on things you might wanna swap out comes in handily here as well
  • you could leave them as they are, if you find nothing better, fine, everything works, no one will know
  • You might have to tweak your dialogue and story a little to incorporate these stand ins, but maybe by tweaking it, you even improve it and add more depth and thought to it

So whenever you lack a resource, worry not, implement a placeholder and move on, keeping your eyes open for the possible replacement!

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