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Considerations when making a KiSS set

Choosing a subject

The subject is whatever you like. Bear in mind, though, that there is a glut of
- Sailor Moon dolls
- generic white/anime chicks
- shoddy adult sets

while there are relatively few
- Sailor Moon villain dolls
- non-Caucasian dolls
- male dolls
- non-human sets (animals, machines, puzzles, "playhouse" sets)
- quality adult sets.

Moreover, although the typical KiSS set is an anime/TV show character or an original character created by the artist plus wardrobe, some authors use FKiSS to make sets that are "game" rather than "dress-up"; many dolls on Tigger's page are games where the player has to solve the puzzle of how to undress the dolls, while two game sets I know of, Lander (lander.lzh) and Idiotik Kombat (idiotik.lzh), have no wardrobe at all.

Mental preparation

Aside from FKiSS, the two largest pitfalls for beginning KiSS artists are palette and layering.

The KiSS format allows clothes to have "back" and "front" layers that go behind and in front of the doll, and while it may take a bit of planning to get all the layers in the right order, clothes that only have a front layer can look ugly or unrecognizable when not on the doll. A simple one-layer base doll is easy to draw clothes onto, but looks pretty stiff; a doll in a complicated pose with limbs layered under or over the body, or even with movable limbs, may be hard to make a wardrobe for. An common solution to avoid layering the base doll is to draw the clothes around the parts that should be layered; for instance, a trousered doll with hand on hips may seem to put its hand over the trousers, but the hand area was cut out of the trousers, so when they're dragged off the doll, they look as if they've had a bite taken out of them. It's not a solution I recommend.

The notion of colour numbers in a palette, starting with the transparent colour 0, can be so confusing that artists needlessly use CKiSS or enhanced palette to avoid having to deal with palettes at all, which leads to KiSS sets that are either huge or not viewable on older viewers. It's a good idea to master the art of palette creation before moving onto the wardrobe.

Other things to think about in advance:
- It's not a bad idea to plan the wardrobe in advance. A doll may be abandoned because the artist keeps adding to the wardrobe and gets the idea that the doll will never be finished. Dolls with just a few items (the so-called "three-cel dollies") may not be much to play with, but huge amounts of clothing crammed into the playfield are a nuisance, too.
- Another thing to plan in advance is what material to collect (soundfiles, backgrounds, maybe a template). The material you had in mind might be copyrighted, or very hard to find; it might need hardware (scanner, microphone) that you don't have.
- If you're planning to use FKiSS, make a list the FKiSS effects beforehand, to see if, firstly, they're possible (FKiSS does have its limits) and secondly, they require extra layering or images (for instance, a yawning doll requires separate jaw cels).
- Some platforms allow more choice in KiSS-related software than others, but it's a good idea to choose and collect your software in advance, too. It's annoying to make KiSS art in BMP format and then discover that the tool which changes BMP files to cels is too complicated to use comfortably, while the simple-to-use celling tool only accepts images in GIF format.

Software and source material

Things to collect before making a KiSS doll:
- any source material (scans, soundfiles)
- image-editing software
- a tool to change images into cels
- a KiSS viewer
- optionally, an ASCII editor to edit the cnf file

Tools and viewers can be found on the Web for various platforms, most of them for Windows 9xx. (Be sure to check the hardware requirements.) They are mostly freeware. Image-editing software is rarely free, but the penniless can use demo versions, and most OS's have a simple paint program somewhere. Image-editing software is necessary even when all the art is hand-drawn and then scanned in, because the scans often need to be cleaned up. If the software allows layering, that makes planning layers a lot easier.

My advice for using scanned images: if they're going to have transparent areas, draw only the outline, scan it and clean it (trim off all the light pixels, they may have a nice line-smoothing effect on light backgrounds but a dark background shows them up horribly) and do the shading and colouring with the image editor. Unless they're converted to CKiSS cels, an image editor is also needed to make sure they share a common palette. CKiSS is rarely necessary: something like a photographic background image, which will probably have a colour depth of the full 16 million colours (most of those unused), can have its colour depth decreased quite drastically to 256 or even 16 colours with no visible quality loss, or only a slight graininess to show for it. The secret is, if the editing software has that option, "Error diffusion"; this will mix pixels of different colours to suggest other colours. Never use error diffusion for cels with transparent areas, though, as the transparent section may become mottled as a result.

When using other people's material, to avoid copyright issues, state clearly what material was taken from whom (this also applies to templates) and when in doubt, leave well alone. It would be sad if KiSS artists quit because others steal their work, or had to fear prosecution for making fan appreciation KiSS sets of copyrighted characters.

File formats

Image files:

The very best format for image files is GIF: firstly, because it has lossless compression (unlike a JPG image, which degrades every time you save it, so don't use that!) and secondly, because it allows a maximum colour depth of 256 colours, so you'll never be making CKiSS cels by accident. Thirdly, but this applies only to GIF89, it has a transparent colour 0, so you can check the transparency of the image in a WWW browser before celling. The second-best format is BMP, which can have any colour depth, is fairly portable, and is the format used by most celling tools for the PC. Other possibilities are PCX, and PSD for making CKiSS cels in Photoshop with the PSD2CEL plugin.

Sound files:

Traditionally, PC viewers played WAV files and Unix/Mac viewers played AU files, so any multiplatform set had to include a WAV and an AU version of each sound. Modern Unix viewers play WAV, so AU may now be considered obsolete.

The best compromise between size and quality of a WAV file is 8-bit, 22Mhz; 16-bit WAVs are huge, while a sampling rate of 11Mhz or less can be painful to the ears unless the recording is completely noise-free. Compressed WAVs are smaller, but often sound awful, if the viewer can play them at all.

Any viewer that recognizes the music() command can play midi files (MID, RMI). They can be several minutes long and still have a small file size, so they're often used for background music. On soundcards with low-quality FM synthesis chip, they can sound very tinny.

Two suggested formats for future viewers are PNG image files (good compression, internal palettes) instead of cel files, and MP3 instead of WAV. Unfortunately, MP3 is currently associated with copyright infringement, and some ISPs may not allow members to put up KiSS sets containing MP3 files.



Early KiSS dolls were made for a resolution of 640x480. Most computers these days use resolutions of 800x600 or 1024x786. At 800x600, graphics look elongated; at 1024x768, individual pixels can't be seen. However, most viewers have a zoom-in feature, while a set whose playfield is larger than the screen's resolution (say, a set of 700 by 500 pixels on a 640x480 screen) may scroll annoyingly while the player tries to drag cels. So, when in doubt, it's better to make the playfield too small than too big.

Data set:

The first KiSS data sets were around 30 KB, and very old viewers may not accept anything bigger. Modern viewers impose no limit on filesize or number of cels, but for people who, like me, download stuff at work and bring it home on floppy, a set larger than 1.44 MB is a pain. Large sets also generate more bandwidth when downloaded, so people who host them on webpages may get in trouble with their ISP for exceeding their bandwidth limit.

Things that swell a KiSS data set are:
- WAV/AU soundfiles (especially when two versions of the same sound are included)
- CKiSS cels
- a huge .cnf file (although it's rare for cnf size to make a difference)
- files that don't belong in the set but were accidentally compressed into the archive.

To prevent the latter happening, I compress sets under DOS with a batch file which only packs files with the right extensions.


In these days of >32MB RAM it doesn't matter so much, but when a KiSS set is opened, all cels are loaded into RAM (Random Acces Memory). If a cel is used in more than one object, one copy is loaded into RAM for every object which uses that cel. So a set which uses one cel for a lot of objects is small in terms of filesize, but very big in terms of memory used, and in an older computer with little RAM, this can make a set very slow.

Still in progress... To be continued.

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