First off, I should admit that I am a big fat hypocrite. In the last post I said I wasn't going to go back and redo my character portraits, and then guess what happened? I learned a better method of doing them and sure enough, I went back and started redoing them all.
Normally, I would frown upon this sort of behavior and ask myself what the heck I was doing, but taking a step back and looking at things objectively, I feel this has been the right decision. The way they looked previously wasn't awful, but there was a lot of room for improvement. If A Golden Wake were freeware, I could have left them as they were with no problems. Since I plan on selling it, I feel I need to raise my own personal bar higher and make them look the best they can within my abilities.
So what exactly did I do? Basically, I adopted the same method I use for my backgrounds, which is to say I draw them at double the size they are in game, then scale them down. Combining this with the methods I was shown about gradient maps really allows for a lot more detail and shading than drawing them at game resolution. A bit of detail is naturally lost when scaling them down, but I feel it's a sacrifice worth making. Another benefit is being able to make portraits based on real people actually look more like those they're meant to portray.
Doing portraits at a higher resolution also meant having to make a tough decision: animate or not? I've always had animated portraits in my games, and even lip sync in the later Ben Jordan games, but unfortunately it's extremely time-consuming to animate higher resolution portraits and make them look good. So in the end, I decided to abandon the animated portraits. I'll still have different facial expressions, but no moving mouths or blinking.
So here now are some examples. Looking at the old versions makes me laugh.