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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Inchworm Animation

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game site has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with Bob Sabiston and about his DSiWare animation app, Inchworm Animation.

What's your game called, and what's it about?
Inchworm Animation. It's about $5. It's an overly ambitious paint and animation program on Nintendo DSiWare. It was just released on April 25, in the USA only for now.

Do you feel like you're making the game you always wanted to play?
It's not really a game, but yeah it is exactly the kind of thing I would have loved growing up. And I would probably love it now, were I not utterly burned out and sick of it!

How did Inchworm Animation come about?
I've spent 25 years writing paint/animation programs and have been playing video games even longer. When the DS came out, I thought "that thing would make the perfect handheld animation system." It was like a little Wacom Cintiq tablet. So back in 2005 I wrote to Nintendo and asked them if I could be a developer. Inchworm is pretty much a general paint and animation system. But originally the inspiration was to make more of a game-development tool. Specifically, I thought it would be cool to be able to use a DS to make those little sprite animations you see in the Fire Emblem games. I just love how they combine pixel art with the actual timing of the frames -- it makes them so much more dramatic.

What are you proudest of about your game?
I'm proudest of the fact that I actually got it finished. But feature wise, there are several things I am happy are in there. The stop-motion and time-lapse camera stuff integrates really well with the use of layers. You can take video material like that and then scratch holes in it, put animated layers on top of it, etc.

I had to strip out a bunch of ambitious stuff that was working, like keyframing, a scrolling timeline, sound-effects and audio recording.

There's a feature called "underdraw" which lets you paint from the top down, so that new brush strokes fall underneath what you have done so far. This is something we use a lot when we're doing animation at Flat Black Films, and I am happy to have that in there.

Finally one of the coolest things is that you can create a group of blank frames, start playing them in a loop, and then draw on them as they play. You can create some pretty trippy visuals that way. I have a piece of desktop software built around that idea, and I was glad to be able to get a little bit of it into Inchworm.

What took so long?
I originally approached Nintendo to publish it first party, but that didn't pan out. I approached some other publishers, but most of them were leery of the fact that it is "not a game". I kept working on it and we took it to GDC in 2008 hoping to find an interested publisher. We did get a few bites, and Disney Interactive eventually offered me a contract. But they were going to turn it into this Mickey Mouse thing, literally. I had put so much work into it that I just couldn't see it dumbed-down and turned into a kids' game. It sat around for about a year, and then I went to the Nintendo technical conference where they announced DSiWare. It seemed like a perfect fit. I could self-publish and do it the way I wanted. So that began a year of refitting it for the DSi and then another year of actually getting it polished enough to be published.

Flipnote Studio has wireless saving to the web. Why doesn't Inchworm?
WiFi was part of the original plan, especially since on the DS there's no other way to get the data off the device. But we were unable to get permission to use the WiFi to save to our servers. But I am extremely happy that we are able to write to the SD card. As long as you can get your work off of the device, I'm happy. The Inchworm website was developed by my friend Alan Watts, of fame -- it's Users can upload and show off work that they've created with Inchworm. If people get into it, we'll do contests and stuff like that. I'm looking forward to seeing what people do with it.

Are you planning to release this for iPhone and iPad as well?
No, I don't think so. There are a lot of animation programs out there already, and also I don't like drawing with my finger at all. Though I did see that Wacom announced a capacitive stylus. Until it's pixel-specific I probably won't get into that kind of art on the iPad. However, I am totally into iOS for other stuff -- I've got two apps, Headspace and Voxel. Headspace is a 3D mind-mapping app, and Voxel is a 3D pixel editor, kind of like Legos. Right now I am really getting into expanding Voxel to do sprite and camera animation. Minecraft fans might like it.

How did you or your company get started?
I've been writing software since my first computer in 7th grade -- a TRS-80. I got an Apple II+ in high school and wrote a bunch of stuff for it. I went to the MIT Media Lab and got into animation, had some shorts at Siggraph and then on MTV. Eventually I ended up writing this rotoscoping software that led to the movies Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. We still do animation, but in the past couple of years I've really gotten heavily into graphics programming for devices. Hence Inchworm Animation and the iOS apps.

What's next?
I'm going to try to get the European DSiWare release out there. And people are asking a lot about a 3DS version, and I would love to do a 3DS native version. Last summer, in order to get practical and get this thing out there, I had to strip out a bunch of ambitious stuff that was working, like keyframing, a scrolling timeline, sound-effects and audio recording. Obviously it would be nice to restore those and the wireless features if possible. So we'll see, if I find the time and energy to continue with it I would love to have an "Inchworm 3D" out there.

Want to create your own masterpiece with Inchworm Animation? Look for it on the DSiWare store.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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