Ryokan Construction

I’ve spent today remaking the Ryokan which I designed before as a mock-up in Photoshop. I already had the main wooden structure, made from this small set of tiles:

A lot of the objects which I previously mocked up have stayed pretty much the same, but in some cases I’ve re-sized, simplified and re-coloured objects to match the colour scheme and for better proportions.

In this screenshot you can see that I’ve remodelled the bunk-beds again so that the tiles work without having to have an outer frame, and recoloured décor like the curtains and light shade. You can probably also tell that I’ve simplified the wall pattern hugely, as I felt it looked messy and didn’t give the right impression of a smooth surface. The floor upstairs has been carpeted, and the decorative beams at the top of the wall on the floor below have been pushed further apart to draw less attention.
Although its small and fairly illegible, the symbol on the lantern-style light shade is a low-res version of the Japanese kanji for “Sakura”, consisting of a combination of the symbols for tree, decoration and woman.

I filled in the rest of the building without the use of too many more tiles. This example shows the bare building, before any of the objects or furniture has been placed:

There are some quite odd looking dark bits which are supposed to show shadows and depth, however I think I made these a little too dark! After making this I brightened these squares a little. This image came together from this expanding set of tiles:

After finishing the main building, I started to think about the sort of objects you would find in a Japanese Ryokan, especially one consisting of Western and traditional Japanese floors. I already have a lot of the furniture, now made and remodelled, but the rooms needed filling up more. I wrote a list which I split into decorative and Japanese items and guest convenience items.


  • Bowl Decoration
  • Orb Decoration
  • Vase Decoration
  • Fan Decoration
  • Tea Pots
  • Tea Cups

  • Phone
  • Computer
  • Microwave
  • Kettle
  • TV & DVD Player

Kitchen white good or anything bathroom related. It is a well known fact that game-characters never need to eat, sleep or use a toilet in order to survive. In many games these things are beneficial, but not essential.

Bearing in mind the colour scheme, I added some of these things to my tileset, although it wasn’t until I applied them to the building that I realised how strange some of the items had been scaled! Hopefully from the image you can see what I was getting at with some of a stranger items on the list…

From this I was also able to create the outside of the building, using similar tiles. I tried to keep the shape exactly the same, so that when the character enters the building, the transition gives the illusion of the building being chopped in half for the player to see inside! I got some of the corners in the wrong place, as you can probably see if you look close enough!

With this nearly complete tileset, I was able to reconstruct the building in Game Maker. I saved the set as it was as a PNG to retain transparencies. This was then imported to Game Maker as a background. GM gives you the option for any background image to become a set of tiles, you simply set the size of the tiles and the program breaks the whole image for you:

And here are the tiles reconstructed into a building in the room editor:

Whole tiles can be snapped into a 16×16 grid, which made applying the lowest layer very easy! It was easier to turn snapping off for smaller objects that had to reason to align. It was important to un-check the “delete underlying” box so that some tiles could be placed on top of each other!

Tilesets From Roof Tiles

I’ve been doing a little research into Japanese roof design! It’s amazing what you can find on the internet, for example articles like this one explaining the history of the Japanese roof. Originally, the Japanese got the idea for roof tiles from the Koreans. However, these tiles consisted not only of flat tiles, but tubular tiles too and were fairly expensive. They were placed mainly on top of important buildings and shrines etc. This later devolved into the wave shaped tiles which are a common site in Japan, being much cheaper but almost as nice to look at. I’m not sure what the practicalities are of having waved tiles rather than flat ones, but if I was given the opportunity to have a roof that nearly resembled that of a Japanese temple I guess I wouldn’t pass it up. The image below is of a more ornate example, although there are obviously those that are more simple and others that are much more complex.

For my Ryokan roof, I originally fancied the original roof (as demonstrated at the top of this post!) But not only is it unlikely that a B&B would have such an ornate roof, it doesn’t seem to come out well in 2D form. Despite my gradient-effect efforts, the tile simply appeared to be flat.

The most left red tile is my attempt at the tube tile, abandoned fairly on for the wave tile which just works brilliantly. You can imagine the tile sloping at a 45 degree angle, even from a straight on perspective like this one. Being tiles, they repeat effortlessly. All I had to ensure was that they aligned evenly.
The colour of the roof has changed from blue to pinky-red, this is due to the out-doors colours scheme I’m currently conjuring. For the first level of the game at least, I want to use a lot of pinks and reds- similar colours to the Sakura blossom object. This is my way of saying “you’re in Sakura country now, Player1!” Plus, I want the outdoor world of Hanami to accurately represent a Japanese spring time.

After applying the new red tiles to the roof, I re-worked the wooden frame of the building using a new set of flexible tiles. Wood is a traditional building material which can still be seen today, especially in Kyoto which used to be the capital of Japan. They tend not to exist these days in many urban and even in rural areas, however I’ve chosen to create a tileset for wooden houses because it is a symbol of something that is traditionally Japanese.

I haven’t tried to accurately represent the layout of wood in a wooden Japanese house with my tiles, but give an impression of a wooden structure which has been cross-sectioned for the inside view of the Ryokan. To give you an idea of the scale of the building, I’ve placed Hana in the middle of this newly constructed space:

Kyoto Machiya.com is a great resource for images of traditional Machiya (Japanese wooden house), specifically Kyomachia which are Machiya located in Kyoto! The site’s galleries include photos of inside and outside various famous Machiya, which will be useful for the next step of the Ryokan construction, which will be to build its walls and inside!

Japanese Accommodation

Apart from perhaps a short opening sequence consisting of images or a short animations, Hanami begins in a small country bed & breakfast style building in a small village somewhere in Japan. These types of accommodation are called Ryokan. They are usually situated in more rural areas rather than large cities, and provide a cheap place to stay for travellers. Cons of cheap accommodation mean that rooms and facilities must be shared with other guests, but at the same time this opens up opportunities to meet people and share a truly Japanese living experience. Personally I prefer “private”, but beggars can’t be choosers!

I refer to a stay at a Ryokan as a “truly Japanese living experience” because one common characteristic of the Ryokan is its traditional Japanese features. The owners of this sort of establishment encourage guests to turn Japanese during their stay, by sleeping on futons, sitting at low tables, and usually eating the provided Japanese meals.

A traditional style Japanese breakfast:

Features of a traditional Style Japanese room or Washitsu:

Tatami Floors
These a woven floor coverings, aligned as a series of mats.

Shoji Sliding Doors
These structures, made from wood and paper, act as room dividers but slide to become doors.

This is a small alcoved area where hanging scrolls and decorative items are placed. This areas is not entered, but enjoyed.

Flat cushions (sometimes with a back-rest) placed on the floor around a low Japanese table.

For my Ryokan, I’ve taken most of these elements and aspects from other traveller’s hostels. Cheap hostels are similar to Ryokan, but not as traditional. To make better use of space for example, hostels will often house guests in shared rooms with bunk-beds. In the most extreme circumstances, guests stay in their own tiny capsule, consisting of a bed, shelf and TV! These are much more common in urban areas.

In terms of 2D tile creation, bunk-beds make a lot more sense that low, flat futons! So I’ve built my Ryokan on three floors. The hotel has a Western-style bunkbed room at the top, and gets progressively more Japanese as it goes down. Bear in mind that this is a test mock-up, I can hardly even call this finished! I’m still trying to work out some of the tile issues.

If you click on the image above, you can start to get a feel for the real scale of the game. At the moment, I’m thinking of up-scaling the game to 300% during play, although this is something I haven’t decided for sure yet.

Roof Tiles

One thing I haven’t quite worked out yet is how to cross-section a Japanese roof to create a 2D tile. The blue around the edges of the image are supposed to be blue roof tiles, but these aren’t quite finished yet. The wooden part underneath is representative of traditional ceiling beams, although I’m not sure how well this comes across in cross-section form either…

You can probably tell from the image that I’ve also had a few problems rotating my roof tiles, and there are plenty of inconsistencies to be found…

Guest Room

I’ve resized the bunk-beds from before so that they are more human sized, and cleverly pushed two together so that the obscene length doesn’t seem out of place! The bunk-bed tiles probably won’t need too much attention from now on, as there isn’t much to them and not much that can be changed. The window is a set of four tiles, which can be lengthened width-ways if I should need to! I’m fairly happy with the result of the window, I just know I should be cautious with frame outside the four-square area. The little draws are just one tile, and can be stacked or duplicated length ways easily. I’ve tried to keep all wood-colours consistent.

Wall Ties
These were looking very plain and boring, so I tried to add a certain amount of texture to them. I’m worried that now they border on the messy side, and will hopefully be tweaking these.

Sofa Area

This is part of the shared “communal floor”. The proportions seem like less of a problem on this floor, I’ve created a sofa from two tiles and halved the draws to create an end-table which is only half a tile high (the red strip on top represents the place the Maneki Neko likes to sit!). The chairs to the right of this screenshot are the same height as the sofa, although I’ve made sure that this emphasises the lowness of the table.

You can also see from this screenshot where I’ve tried to add shading under the roof tiles using “floating” semi-transparent tiles which adjust the tiles beneath them.

With this sort of perspective, drawing staircases are a bit of an issue. I’m not sure Ryokan even have first or second floors, but I think it would be understandable in this kind of situation to have to climb a ladder! In my opinion, this doesn’t look out of place, but if I make a successful staircase then I will replace the ladder.


Here you can see all the traditional aspects of a Japanese Washitsu that I’ve just mentioned, although I still have some not-quite-aligning elements which may need re-scaling in order to fit better into the grid. I’m also not sure I’m happy with the wood-strip detail on the wall. I think it detracts from the room’s important details.

Tatami Floor
The ground floor tiles are supposed to look like Tatami, although I’m not sure they really do. It somehow doesn’t look much like a floor at all, probably because it is too square and therefore quite similar to the sliding doors above it. In fact, the sliding doors and the floor could do with a better indication of depth, to separate themselves from each other.

At the moment, the image covers a few layers in a Photoshop document. What I need to concentrate on, is creating a tile set rather than a flat image that looks like it has been made from tiles!

Three Games I Played Yesterday…

One of the great advantages of using Game Maker is having access to a whole community of amateur game developers, through discussion forums and Yoyo Games’ Sandbox site, where developers can publish their games for free. Yesterday, I had a browse through the adventure and platform games available on the site, and picked out a few to diagnose.

Nea’s Adventure

This game was created as a Christmas present! It’s a really short 2D Platformer with no serious side whatsoever. There are a lot of graphical references, such as the background tiles which are very similar to the Kirby’s Adventure tiles… and some original aspects, such as the health bar made of tessellated triangles which disappear when the character is hit by an enemy. The game simply plays from left to right in most cases, although there are a few hidden areas and a final “boss fight” to break up the monotony.

Good Points
Fast-paced and simple gameplay
Infinite Lives (character returns to start of the level on “death”)
Character becomes a fish underwater!

Bad Points
Moving underwater seems unnatural
Combo jump-attack is sometimes unwanted
Too short!

You can download Neas Adventure here.

The Adventure of Young Glubber

I decided to play this game base on its aesthetics (it had me at Gameboy Green), but I was happy to discover that its objectives are fairly similar to the game I’m in the process of creating. The “thing” in TAoYG must collect torches in order to unlock doors, some torches harder to attain than others. The character has a certain amount of hit points, which are deducted when the character is hit by an environment hazard.

Good Points
Torches animate when the character is near
No enemy NPCs
Skill and brains required

Bad Points
Physics feel a little unnatural at times, especially when jumping
Spike objects can damage the character from the smooth side

You can download the Adventure of Young Glubber here.


I picked this game to play as the preview images looked to be high quality. It would be incredibly harsh to call this a bas game, as it excells far beyond a lot that you find on the Yoyo site! But I was disappointed, mainly by graphical elements such as the GUI, dialogue boxes and 4:3 aspect ratio. Normal for these retro sort of game 4:3 wouldn’t be an issue, but I feel the quality of the larger sprites in this game should have been reflected in the rest of the game’s specs. As I say, I don’t want to sound harsh- at least this game uses original assets and sprites.

Good Points
Easy to control weapon system
Original Characters

Bad Points
Text boxes cover a large portion of the screen
Movement, especially triple wall-jumping seems VERY unnatural and difficult to handle
Graphically very boring at times

You can download 98-X here.

My objectives for this week are to “design and prototype.” I want to start getting level design down, sort out game physics and build levels, even if for now these levels consist of the Grandma Engine’s default blocks! These games have given me little bits to think about, like the sort of physics that feel natural to handle and nice graphical touches like collectable objects that react when you get near them. This week I am going to spend a LOT of time looking through images of Japanese country landscapes and specifically building design in order to create a good set of tiles.

I discovered this video from the 2010 8GB tour, featuring the Tokyo Blip Festival, which is an annual chiptune music festival. The video shows a journey through various parts of Japan, although what I love about it is the contrast between the bright lights of the busy cities at night and the calm atmosphere of a visit to the Shinto Shrine. This is the side of Japan which will be most frequently reflected in Hanami.

Weekend Update #2

Just a recap of the goals for the week just gone:

Continue to create and gather any conceptual work including a Game Design Document (GDD). Experiment with the Grandma Engine in order to configure it for the game. Research software add-ons and extensions which will be useful.

So…how am I doing?
I’ve managed to write and maintain my GDD pretty successfully, but “conceptual work” is currently mainly limited to character designs. Over the coming week I’ll hopefully work up a good amount of level & item designs to being some game assets, as well as continuing to work on the in-game characters. I’ve experimented with the engine to a degree, however I still haven’t worked out things like my physics settings which must be arranged soon before I start any real level design! I don’t want to design any immense jumps only to have a character who can’t reach them… As for add-ons, I’ve previously researched things like lighting engines and sound dlls, which will come in useful, however I can’t say this for sure yet! I’ll have to re-schedule this research for next week.

So what have I been doing?
Whilst avoiding doing any really ambitious game development, I’ve been working on a few more character designs. I started off by thinking about a template for male in-game characters, as so far my character-cast is looking very feminine…

The guy on the left is my “generic man” character. He probably won’t appear in the game, but is the “standard model” for all male characters to be made to (The kanji symbol means “man”). After drawing him, he got me thinking about Japanese hairstyles. In photos, you can probably tell Japanese guys from Western guys just from the tops of their hair. Japanese styles tend to be longer and frame the face, whereas the normal Western man tends to avoid this, probably because it looks quite feminine. The epitome of androgynous hairstyles is demonstrated by Japanese pop/rock-star Gackt, who inspired the hairstyle in the top right. But as well as long, straight styles, I’ve noticed that Japanese males pull off spiky styles really well! This is either the symptom or the cause of many spiky-haired anime characters, famously including Akira Toriyama’s Goku from the Dragon Ball series. However, the first example of epic spiky hair that popped into mind was Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. Although not a real person, there is no match in the competition for awesome spiky hair.

From this short study on hairstyles, I moved onto my first male character…who has no hair. His working title name is Kannushi, based on the name of Japanese Shinto Priests. I’ve tried to write an extremely brief bio on all my characters in the GDD, mainly explaining why they didn’t suffer the same fate as the village locals (although details of this incident are a little hazy at best. I’m thinking of changing my original idea…) For my final GDD I’m hoping to write up a bit more on the characters, including useless information like favourite food etc.

a Shinto priest who was immune to the curse, and prompts Hana on her journey.

He’s dressed in a traditional Kariginu, with traditional hat and ceremonial wand at the ready. Although he acts as Hana’s main guide throughout the game, I want him to be a silent and mysterious character, who appears and vanishes without warning. On top of this, one of my objectives is to create indecipherable dialogue between all characters, as Western and Eastern characters naturally have language restraints…

The second character I started to work on was a Maneki Neko or Lucky Cat character. I think I originally said that Hana would have a pet cat, as I didn’t want her to be entirely alone. I realised this was silly, as you probably wouldn’t take your cat on this sort of “holiday”. So the cat’s ownership has changed. Maneki Neko now belongs to the owner of the hostel which Hana temporarily stays at. Another mysterious character, at the very start of the game Maneki Neko resembles a Lucky Cat figurine. It isn’t until the “Hanami Crisis” that the cat jumps to action and leads Hana to Kannushi. Whilst not saving the villagers, Maneki Neko enjoys snoozing and dreaming of fish.

As well as this, I’ve done a little bit of graphics development, just trying to figure out how to make tiles that work. I haven’t really started any official research into Japanese buildings, but just from the research I’ve been doing so far I’m starting to get a feel for them! I made this small little Photoshop mock-up of a Japanese hostel room strictly using tiles only. It doesn’t work as a room as it has no access and no space for movement, but it only uses repeated tiles so I’ve made minor progress here.

It has however brought to my attention more proportion issues. These bunk-beds for example are 64 pixels long, which is 4x as long as my character sprites, so this little tester probably wouldn’t be suitable for a game asset.

“Elderly Platforming”

I’ve already mentioned that for this project I will be using Matt Thorson’s Grandma Engine for Game Maker, to give the game code a head-start. I’ve listed some of the advantages to working this way below.

Character Sprite Testing
The engine provides a default character sprite, which is a 16x16px red square. This can be swapped for any sprite of any size, although in my case I don’t need to make too many changes to the sprite size! All movement codes and physics are pre-determined, which presents a great opportunity to test character sprites and animations etc. without having to provide basic code before hand. I don’t currently have any sprite animations ready enough for testing, but I swapped the red square with my Hana sprite in order to get a feel for size and proportions. You may notice in the video that I’ve edited the sprite slightly again, because I felt that the sprite’s colour scheme should match the scheme used by the flowers more closely. I don’t know if this will stick yet.

Physics Testing
The grandma engine has cleverly listed all physics-defining code as one list of custom variables, which can be easily changed by anyone who isn’t familiar with GML or game coding. This is useful for defining your own game-specific physics, and can be swiftly changed and tested in the Grandma Engine before being applied elsewhere!
From playing around with the default settings, I think it’s fair to say that the movement is perhaps a little too fast and the jump distance probably unnecessarily high. This is good for initially experimenting with the engine, but I will eventually slow everything down a little.

Level Design Testing
The engine comes with essential default level design assets, in the form of blocks and slopes which join together to make the platforms of platform games! As well as the standard solid blocks which prevent the player from an infinite drop, the engine provides jump-through platforms, which the player can access by jumping up from underneath but will not drop back through. This is useful for a range of platform types, and something I regret not using in previous developments. I placed flowers around the preset level build to get a sense of how the size of the flowers felt in comparison to the block sizes, and to my surprise they don’t look bad at 16×16. This may all change when the blocks become actual tiles.

Extra Functions Test
There are a couple of nice but unnecessary things that the Grandma Engine provides for you. Things like an optional double jump, which can be turned on and off easily. A more useful function is a warp square, which transports the character from the square to a specific location in any room in any part of the game. This is useful for doors between rooms, rather than using the default scroll room transition.

Exploring Colour

It’s been a difficult task trying to figure out the exact shade of a typical Cherry Blossom, because there just isn’t one. I’ve had to come to the conclusion that most shades of pink work.

I picked this close-up photo (believe it or not it’s from an old myspace layout!) to be my official blossom reference. I can’t guarantee its authenticity, but it does show a promising contrast in colour from its very pale pastel tips to its desaturated centre. And the colours aren’t affected by any other sources, such as vibrant lights or contrasting backgrounds. I found a really great site called Color Explorer which rips colours straight from images and creates a colour palette for you, complete with RGB values. Here’s what it made of this photo:

It’s just as I was hoping really, you’ve almost got a completely smooth gradient from light to dark, without too many anomalous colours in between! I won’t need all of these colours for one very low-res flower, but the full colour palette can now be used for anything to create some consistency. I haven’t put much thought into my User Interface yet, but I would assume this would be a good application of this particular palette!

I made myself a little colour card to reference the flower colours, from the dark centre to the light petals. For each colour, I picked a slightly darker shade and a slightly lighter shade to act as shadows and highlights:

This is the result when applied to a 16×16 Cherry Blossom:

The shape of the flower was fairly difficult to apply to such a small image, however I’ve tried to give the impression of some depth as the original flower is far from 2D. Obviously at this stage, the flower is roughly the same size as the character, throwing away any hope of proportion! The flower object will work at half this size, although a lot of the detail is lost.

The size I use will have to depend on which looks better in the game. The flowers needs to be conspicuous enough to stand out as collectable objects, but subtle enough to add an aspect of challenge. As it’s an important part of the game, I don’t think its colossal size will seem out of place, but aesthetics may prove otherwise.

To make the game a little less samey, I’ve been considering varying shapes and shades of flowers. This example is a very “standard” flower, with no irregularities. I was particular inspired to do a little palette-swapping by this image, which I included in my previous mood board:

This photo shows the Sakura Blossom in a completely different light (I’m being serious, no pun intended!) Color Explorer mainly picked out shades of blue from this example of the same flower (although it could be argued that this image had a lot more background influence…)

I especially like the silhouette in this image, which is kind of recognised as the official shape of the flower. It inspired me to recreate it in simplified vector form in Illustrator, which may well be transformed into a game asset later.

Sakura Mood Board

It’s not a real mood board, but this was easier than cutting and sticking! These are some of my favourite Google image search results from the keywords Sakura Blossom (Japanese name for Cherry Blossom.) The results are interesting because, although you’d generally associate the blossoms with the colour pink, the shades seem to vary infinitely throughout every image. This could partly be down to varying camera settings, but at times they are definitely represented as a very pale, fragile mass against a blue sky, and other times they are shown as a vibrant, luscious blossom.

The main point of this selection of images is to get a feel for the colour schemes of the flowers. They seem to have a huge impact on the areas around them, as if they emit their own colours against any background. I especially like the high contrast between the trees and the blue sky, although I similarly like the combination of browns and traditional Japanese reds.

In Hanami, I will probably be using tree sprites as background imagery, but most importantly, I must create a flower object which is collectable by the player!

A Day of Walk Cycles

In home-made games, I often find myself judging the quality of the game on the quality of the character animations, specifically on the walk cycle. To me, a game character without a natural-feeling walk animation is a character made with no real love or attention, and shows poor effort. Despite this, I would like to point out that games like One Chance can be redeemed by mind-blowing gameplay. This may look basic, but trust me it makes your brain work up a sweat.


I have yet to memorise the standard human walk-cycle, or even find an example that I use every time I animated a human character. In this situation, I usually turn to Google for new examples to follow. I quite liked this example, provided by a digital animation student from Falmouth. It’s accompanied by a video of an actual human being walking, and the student’s drawn interpretation based on the key cycle points. In my opinion, this is alot more helpful than cartoon examples or stick-figure tutorials.

I tried to adapt this into the little biro sketch above, which I tried to make to the same proportions as my pixel sprite. The inconsistency between drawn characters is exactly why I am not an animator! I used the frame-based animation tool in Photoshop to get a feel for my first-try walk-sequence:

The arms are a little erratic at best, but I was surprised at how well the legs flowed! Normally in my first go, I forget which leg is which and they end up merging in the middle. The problem from here was translating this infinitely high dpi image into a tiny game sprite with legs 3 pixels high (as I reminded myself in the image just in case.) If you look back at the original sprite, the legs were going to be 2 pixel high, but I decided this probably wouldn’t help a natural walk cycle. Just to update you on the few changes I have already made to the design, here’s this morning’s sprite:

I think the only noticeable differences are that I made the legs slightly longer and the head less wide, although I can’t say for sure without comparing the two for hours. I spent a lot of time today rearranging pixels until they looked right, rather than concentrating on little bits.
To avoid getting Hana’s legs mixed up in the process of animating, I worked on each leg individually to begin with. I then placed the two images on top of each other to reveal the full Hana, although it was very difficult to predict the outcome this way! What I’ve ended up with is a sort of over-exaggerated run, partly due to the lack of pixels making very harsh shapes out of the legs:

Individual Leg Animations in Graphics Gale

I added the arms later, trying to avoid the flailing motions of the test animation. The result still doesn’t seem perfect, and definitely isn’t a natural motion! In an effort to improve this, I’ve been working on another sequence, which concentrates on the character twisting slightly to put emphasis on the particular leg which is taking the step. This seems to provide smoother arm movement, as the body twists as the arms move. It’s based on this little strip I quickly drew up (but don’t think I really finished):

I haven’t managed to animate the legs for this sequence yet, but the rest seems to working. This can especially be said for the shifting eyes, which just give the whole animation a sense of direction!
This was really easily applied to Za-chan, who is the exact same shape and size as Hana. I hope this second take is going somewhere, as it seems a lot neater than the previous attempt.

Character Sprites: Hana & “Za-Chan”

This morning I set myself a goal to finish two sprites for the two game characters I have so far, which initially seemed like an easy task but has consumed most of my day so far. I’ve learned in the past that a good way to create a pixel-art sprite is to draw it by hand first, scan the image and reduce it in size. This blur of pixels normally roughly shapes out a sprite, which can be traced with something like the pencil tool in Photoshop and transformed into some semblance of order. If you try to use this method for a sprite measuring only 16 pixels in height, you kind of end up with a grey square. So that method was pretty much out of the question! Time to rethink.
As a cheeky starting point, I figured I could see what works well by creating a Hana character in the style of existing games. I chose four really different sprites, which have similar measurements but use really different styles.

Top left: Gomez from Fez
Top right: Quote from Cave Story
Bottom left: something from Rogueline (I don’t know much about this game but the art looks really great. Check it out!)
Bottom right: NPC from The Archer
Right: Sylva from Somnium! This was my own project, which acted as my introduction to the world of game design. Obviously, the sprite is double the size of the other examples, I just though I’d throw it in there for fun.

Hana in each of these games:

Surprisingly, I quite like the fat-girl Hana based on my previous character sprite from Somnium, and tried reducing this in size to see if it could work:

My second favourite had to be the Gomez clone, as it resembled the style I used in my original concept art cartoons. The style I chose to draw in was simply a quick way to get a good impression of a character, however the star-shaped figures seem to translate well into the pixel world. I tried to conceptualise what this style would look like in a small, simplified way which I could use to create an original character sprite!

The two characters I currently have are the main character Hana and the antagonist Zashiki-warashi, which I have abbreviated to Za-chan for now until I properly name her! The sprite designs are based on my original drawings, and things I like about my Fez and Somnium character clones. Here is my pixel interpretation of the two:

Both a prone to refinement over the next few days, as I try to animate them etc. Also, if they resemble sprites from other games too much I will have to re-think the design completely.

Yesterday, I added a little bio for Za-chan* to the GDD, which explains a lot about her past and her motives for causing mischief. It’s a little long-winded, but the story is starting to come together at least:

Za-chan chose residence in a large house in the late fifties, and decided to stay permanently due to the welcome of the family and the space and qualities of the old house. The family consisted of a married couple and twin girls, who she frequently played with when they returned from school. Za-chan felt like she was part of the family, and almost forgot her naturally mischievous nature. While Za-chan was around, the family received a hefty income, the ageing house remained in good condition and Sakura always bloomed for long periods in their garden. The parents made a Za-chan kokeshi doll as a gift for their daughters, and a thankyou to the spirit for the bringing of fortune. However, as the girls grew up they forgot their friend and often stayed away from the house for long periods of time while Za-chan started to feel increasingly lonely. One day, Za-chan decided to go outside of the house and climb a Sakura tree to see where the two girls were going. As soon as she left the house, it started to creak and warp very slightly. She continued to leave the house to watch the two girls, jumping from tree to tree and every day getting slightly further away from the house. Every day, the house would start to crumble a little more. Eventually, Za-chan became angry with the girls for leaving and never went back to the house. She stayed in a Sakura tree where she could watch people and feel less lonely, and eventually picked up her mischievous ways once more by throwing things at passers by. Her old house fell to disrepair, and the family moved away. They boarded up the house, leaving the kokeshi doll inside as they considered it a sign of bad luck.
Eventually, bored of annoying pedestrians, and ultimately more lonely than ever, Za-chan conjured up her most mischievous act yet. She burrowed into her Sakura tree and spread her consciousness out among the blossoms. As they began to fell around the crowds of people around the tree, she used the blossoms to kidnap the souls of her new “friends” and bring them to the spirit world where she could satisfy her loneliness.

*In Japan, the suffix chan is applied to the end of the name of a child, or among female friends. I’ve noticed in anime that older characters abbreviate younger characters’ names to the first syllable and add “chan”. Za-chan doesn’t have a particularly nice ring to it, but I’m working on a real name RIGHT NOW.