sephyka | Video game & Animation design » NINDASH – The Art behind the Ninja

Hi there.

I would like to make a POST-MORTEM about my ‘NINDASH‘ mobile game.
As I’m French, apologize my conventional English.

NINDASH game - Main Illustration.


Adrien Bariau, young game-designer almost at the end of his contract, decided to show his student game prototype METEOR DASH to Tot, the ANKAMA’s Boss. He requests advices to Loïc Roger, an Ankama veteran who recently created a small game development cell in the studio and initiated some cool mobile games as KING TONGUE and DRAG’n’BOOM. Loïc told Adrien his prototype wasn’t very “sexy” and would needed some visual assets to take the boss fancy. He spoke about me, as I’m also a Ankama veteran, with more than 10 years of work as game artist/illustrator.


METEOR DASH gameplay was pretty simple.



NINDASH game - The Nindash Team.

We had the green light and full liberty of our game content. The only constraint was to create the game with a team of 3 in only 3 months. The team was:

– Adrien Bariau: Game-design/Level-design
– Thomas Baron: Develpment
– Romain Pergod (me): Art direction

We also have the support of a Sylvain Guerrero, a great Technical/FX artist. Same thing for Sound-design with and Music with.


What NINDASH is ? NINDASH, it’s:

– 1 Demon door,
– 2 Ninjas heroes,
– 3 months of production,
– 6 environments,
– 3×2 BOSS,
– 6 various end mini-games,
– 9 musics,
– 11 Skull enemies,
– 13 characters/creatures illustrations,
– 30+ characters skins,
– 60+ sounds,
– 90+ game levels,
– 100+ background assets,
– 270 gold shurikens to collect,


For my first mobile game experience, I wanted to create a world easily accessible to everybody!

↓ My first steps were to define ground patterns.
It’s a good way to start: think about first colors, moods and shapes.
NINDASH game - Background. 00: Ground Patterns.
↓ I wanted to create a stylized, colorful and efficient art direction. I focused on the first environment: I defined backgrounds assets like plants, trees, walls or other video game basics.
NINDASH game - Background. 01: Light Meadows
↓ As I’m a clever boy, I decided the second one will be an evolution of the first one.
However it’s not magic and was still long to change all previous assets.
NINDASH game - Background. 02: Dark Meadows
↓ I created 6 different worlds, each of them represented between 15-25 background assets; that is more than one hundred for the entire game.
NINDASH game - Background. 03: Marshy Cemetery
↓ I’m used to use the Adobe Photoshop software to design my graphics, even if it looks like vector art (legacy of my past years in ANKAMA studio). I use basic selections and layer styles (Stroke, Glow, Shadow…). Then, I exported all in .PNG format.
NINDASH game - Background. 04: Bamboo desert (asset Photoshop tutorial)NINDASH game - Background. 05: Final den (asset Photoshop tutorial)

One of my main reference was Zelda Minish Cap, even if I never played the game.


↓ From the very beginning, I wanted to create two main characters: a male and a female. I started by re-work the shitty ninja of our prototype : I enlarged the size of the head and add white dots eyes for a better readability in small on mobile devices.
NINDASH game - Character-design: Heroes first sprites.
↓ Then, I defined character actions in accordance with the gameplay. DASH (1 frame), STAND, SKID & STRIKE (3 frames). I chose efficient and ‘cut’ animation style, with a minimum of frames.
NINDASH game - Character-design: Heroes SpriteSheet
↓ .
NINDASH game - Character-design: Heroes JA.
↓ .
NINDASH game - Character-design: Heroes NIN.

• Creatures:

• Animation:

NINDASH game - Background/FX: Demon door.NINDASH game - Background/FX: Demon door (Unity timeline).

• User Interface:

• Gameplay:


NINDASH game - NINDASH game - Sephy at work

• What went wrong:
It’s been more than 10 years I tried to create a small video game next to my work, it always failed for various reasons. NINDASH was published so it’s for me like a victory!!
Creating a video game is always about to solve what went wrong, it’s about constant adaptability.

Nothing were dramatically wrong!!

• What went right:
– Our vision of the game was good: we didn’t discard a lot of things of our work.
Team alchemy. Each member of the team has his own specialty and we respected the part of everyone. However, we were very exigent and often discuted on some global aspects, like game-design or User experience.

• What could be better (or different):
3 months is a really short deadline for a video game project.
At the middle of the production, we decided to reduce spectre of our ambitions and we cutted a few things:

– We have gone from 7 environnments to 6… but 3×2 is still goood yeah!

– We stopped to work on the ENDLESS mode. It would be a great mode but it could be a full-blown apart game which needed so much time and settings to be really interesting and well-balanced. We chose to focus on the STORY mode.

We reduced the number of Bosses from 6 to 3. To design properly a good BOSS, it needs at least two weeks of work: design, animations, integration, gameplay, patterns, test, debug, additional feedbacks, spells and FXs, test/debug, balance, test/debug, etc. The main regret was to give up the Final BOSS. It was literally impossible to spend time on it during the final rush. We preferred to polish the game and the current Bosses than to add a Final sucked Boss!

– One other (very) important thing we sacrified is : scenario. :'(
At the beginning, I had a nice idea about the narrative aspect of the game, I wanted to create a cinematic which explains the role of the main characters, using 5 illustrations. I drew the first, then a piece of the second. Then I didn’t found time to finish it, overworked by the requirements of the core-game. It wasn’t conceivable to spend 2 weeks (1/6 of the production) only on a skipable cinematic, which would have not even represented 30 seconds in the game. I also had cool ideas for the penultimate and final bosses. But as I said previously, we have to skip this part. « Nothing is lost but everything is transformed » : we finally used the illustration I done for the ending cinematic, which we integrated at the very last moment.

• What I didn’t expect:

– I animated all small skull units with Adobe Flash, exported in image sequences which were re-imported in Unity. A technical issue has arised when I drew the first Boss: his big size did not allow to use this technique (the generated spritesheet would have been so big). Finally, I designed a ‘puppet’ of the Boss. Then, I learnt in one day how to create efficient and dynamic animations directly on Unity.

To spend a third of the production time only on the User Interface design and feedbacks.
I always known that User Interface would need time. In NINDASH, there aren’t a lot of interface: HOME, MINIMAP, COLLECTION, In-game HUD. However, we had to add a lot of pop-ups at the last time as the RATE pop-up, the STARTER PACK pop-up, the RELOAD Shop pop-up, the Apple LEADERBOARD pop-up, Gwaaaaaaaaah !

– The most difficult part was to switch all the time between 16:9 (mobile) to 4:3 (iPad) format. It was problematic because we have to choose what format to prioritize, at the expense of the other. We choose the mobile format. It was particularly difficult for User Interface design. Sometimes it was well-polished on 16:9, sometimes better on 4:3. We have to do some compromises.

– The iPhone X was released a few days before the soft-launch of our game. iPhone X is a very particular device with a more panoramic screen and a notch on the top of it. We had luck because one of our early tester has this new iPhone. He told us that part of User Interface were cropped and the game didn’t work very well on this new device. It was problematic because we wanted to be highlighed by Apple.

– About ‘FEEDBACKS‘, if you are working on a small video games with a small team, it’s certainly the word you are hearing the most. The Boss will attacks, feedback! The Boss is stunned, feedback! The skull died, feedback! Player position on the level, feedback! End of the level, feedback! Button was released, feedback! Player collected 10 souls, feedback! There are feedbacks everywhere!! The second most-used word is ‘REWARD‘. It’s a perfect Combo, reward (reward is a feedback :p)! The player won a new skin, reward! The player unlocked a new environment, reward! The player finished the level with 3 stars, reward!

– I spent one entire week to work only on the game icon and stores pictures!

NINDASH game - App Store Pictures.

• What went hot:
– We have integrated the final Splashscreen and the ending cinematic in the last two days.
– At the last moment, Thomas did a critical Unity update, inescapable to add Apple stickers app’. It wasn’t a good idea because all the game graphics crashed. Fortunately, he quickly found a solution.


July-october: Game production
10th November: Apple validation of the game.

Soft launch
• Soft launch:
REDIGER le retour d’expérience du Soft Launch (novembre-décembre)
• Release:
REDIGER le retour d’expérience de la sortie (janvier)

First testers: