WIP Portfolio Site Is Online!


I’ve had a bit of a go at web design and have put everything I’ve managed to conjure up online here at suzikagi.co.uk. The site is just a holding place for recent projects worth showing off, and can be used as my main portfolio from now on.

Check it out now and in future, as the whole thing is a work in progress and still needs a little work, not to mention the addition of a few missing images… I’ll be putting major updates there about ongoing projects too, like some of the changes I’ve been making to the new and improved version of Hanami (more about that later!)

Thanks to everyone who has helped me along through the Hanami project so far and to those who have taken the time to read any of this blog. You’re awesome.

Weekend Update #5

My new time plan seems to be working pretty efficiently- I’m almost ahead of where I expected to be, although a couple of the things I’ve crossed off the list are works in progress and will still take some time. I’m still making and placing NPCs into the levels so that five petals can be collected in each level.

One of the characters I’ve worked on is the Monk character who I “pixelised” quite a while ago. I’ve given him a walk animation so that he can pace around. The interesting thing about animating this character was getting the timing of the staff right, although I’m still not sure how I feel about it!

I’ve also re-made the “nap” character I created a while ago, based on Japan’s casual outlook on sleeping anywhere and everywhere! Before, this guy stood up and looked sleepy, but I’ve remade him to sit down with his head against a table. When the player walks past he will stir, but take little notice and continue sleeping.


In terms of the petal system, I’m still currently looking at ways that I can improve this by adding extra animations and stopping all keyboard input to create a dialogue “cutscene” sort of scenario. I will hopefully finish the system in the coming week, as well as working on the game’s physical elements such as disc and box art and the inclusion of the all important game manual.

I’ve purposely left out a lot of instruction throughout the game in order to encourage the use of a physical game manual, and it’s become very apparent to me how vague the objectives of the game are to a player who has had no introduction. So the game manual has two purposes: one is to set the scene of the game in terms of back story and character bios, and the other is to inform the player how to actually play the game, what to look for and how to achieve goals. I haven’t started any designs yet, but I’ve come up with the table of contents:

    1. What I’ve referred to as “boring but essential” info- technical stuff and system requirements etc.
    2. Story Synopsis- briefly setting the story of the game.
    3. Hana and Zashiki Warashi character bios and backstories- I want this to be a double page spread so that the characters are seen side by side. This will take the story further to concentrate on the back-story for each character. None of this is touched on in the game.
    4. NPC bios- this will be very brief, mainly displaying a portrait and name info for all of the NPCs.
    5. How To play- this will be split into these sections:
      5a. Controls – including diagrams with controls for keyboard and controller
      5b. Menu Navigation
      5c. Understanding the HUD
    6. Game Items- a list of items, what they do and how to use them
    7 Hints and Tips
    8. Credits and thankyous

In terms of art style for imagery in the manual, I am considering continuing to use pixel art instead of using higher definition imagery. I’ve started working on some images that I can potentially use in the game as stills, but could easily adapt these for print. I’ve been thinking of clarifying the setting at the beginning of the game, and introducing Zashiki Warashi early on. I drew this kokeshi-style Za-chan so that the player knows what they’re up against:


I’ve also been working on some still images of events that happen in the hours preceding the game in a similar style. I’m not sure if I will use these, but if I do they will appear as a slideshow when the player starts a new game. None of these images are finished, but I’ve compiled some of the new images of Hana from these here:

Palette Swap Tactics

Palette Swapping is a cheeky little technique used by game developers in order to recycle assets. It involves taking an asset previously made and changing its colour scheme, sometimes (but not often) giving that asset a completely different look. Using a little Photoshop magic, I’ve quickly and easily turned my pink/red tileset into an orange/yellow one!



Obviously, not everything here is usable like this! I’ve kept a lot of wood and neutral colours from my original set and combined it with some of the elements from this colourised set like roof tiles and furniture. Testing is really easy in game maker because you can swap tilesets out for new ones. To see how this looked in the game, I simply swapped out my old tileset temporarily for this one and all the tiles were already in place! Here’s how it looked at a quick glance:



The level design for “Daidai Iro” is now complete, so I’ll be constructing this in Game Maker over the next week, whilst working on some of the things that still need a little sorting out from before, including the implementation of NPC characters and with that the new petal system which I still need to make!


Music Creation for Games

I’ve tried a couple of programs in the run up to trying to make some good game music, mostly software designed for making great chiptune pieces. In previous projects, I’ve used a program called Famitracker, which produces 8-bit music based on the sounds of the Famicom or Nintendo Entertainment System.


The difficulty with Famitracker is creating the “instruments” or the sounds that the blips make. The image above shows the various settings which can be changed to create unique instruments, and a handy little virtual piano to preview your created sounds. This is where I’ve struggled before. You can just import instruments from other sources, but it is then implementing other people’s instruments into your track that proves difficult.


It would be nice if the virtual piano could be used to lay down the track, but it’s not the end of the world using the keyboard keys instead. In the main window of this image you can see the track visually. It is made up of beats which align horizontally, and channels which are displayed in columns and allow different instrument types to be played at once. The letters and numbers in each space depict the notes or sounds being played, and correlate to a specific instrument. This track is a chiptune version of Welcome Home by Coheed & Cambria which I started to write. In the Square 1 channel I’ve put the main melody. I would usually use Square 2 for harmonies, but haven’t placed any here. The Triangle channel plays a much softer note, and I’ve used this for my base line. The Noise channel plays white noise-like tones which can make a drum beat if programmed well, and I’ve attempted to make one here (although it’s not perfect just yet!) The letters obviously refer to notes, and the number refer to the octave that the note is played it. When you play the track back, it plays from top to bottom. You can hear a little tune I wrote in Famitracker here. This was a piece I used for some motion graphics a while ago.

Another program that I was really excited to acquire was PXTone by Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, creator of Cave Story. I’ve mentioned this before, because it creates the music that Amaya uses in his games, and everything he makes is just exceptional quality.


This is where you customise the instruments you wish to use. While it’s possible to add effects to instruments, most of the instruments the software uses come in a file with the program. Most of them are short blips and electronic sounds, which aren’t based on the sounds of any specific console but have a chiptune feel to them!


This is a visual representation of when each instrument makes a sound. The beats are spaced vertically this time, with the track playing from left to right. Here I’ve made a melody and a harmony using a similar blip instrument, and a simple drum beat using a drum sample. Most of the programming in PXTone is done visually rather than using letters and numbers, which takes a while to get used to but is nice for those who aren’t familiar with music theory.


Each horizontal line in the image above can be expanded to see the tones that are played. For reference, keyboard keys are displayed on the left hand side of the screen. These correlate to the orange blocks, which represent the tone and timing of the note being played. This track is an experimental track which I worked on for a while to get myself into the software. I originally tried to create something using a pentatonic scale, but found myself making something that sounded like a piece from a Daisuke Amaya game! The best examples of PXTone tracks have to be from Cave Story, so here’s the Cave Story theme to help you get an idea of the type of sound produced:


The software I’ve had most success with so far is one that I’ve only recently discovered. SunVox was recommended to me as a great chiptune creation program, but is also just a very user-friendly sequencer that can be used to create tracks using any sound or sample.


To get familiar with the program, I start to create my own synthesised version of Joe Hisaishi’s Kaze no Toorimichi from My Neighbour Totoro (although it still needs alot of work because the timing is really weird). At the top you have a similar layout to Famitracker, where rows represent beats and columns represent layers of instruments. The tones are similarly represented by letters for notes and numbers for octaves, although in this case notes can be added using the virtual piano in the row below. This just makes life so much easier! I often find myself making mistakes whilst trying to remember which note belongs to which keyboard key, although this input method is still available.


The “02” next to each note shows which instrument is being played. The instruments are shown visually here. You can see that “02” is a sampler instrument, in this case a midi piano sound. By experimenting with the program I noticed that the high notes of this particular instrument sound a little like a Japanese plucked string instrument, with a little imagination! Most of my instruments are samples, although the generator is what really makes the chiptune-like elements of the track. In this example, each instrument is connected directly to the output, but filter and effect modules can easily be placed between the two to change the sound of the instrument.


This makes a very weird sound! You can see the levels here in each instrument and the output as the track is playing. The track plays from left to right in the bottom window, where the little patterned blocks are aligned. Each block represents a segment of the music which can be layered, copied and pasted and changed by moving blocks around. I haven’t done it here, but you can customise the patterns to have more meaning! Repeated patterns show places where I have repeated parts of the track, which is very useful for creating drum tracks and base lines.

I had a go at using some of the Japanese music theory I’d learned to create a track in SunVox which used a broken pentatonic scale as a basis. I’ve carried on using the suspicious piano instrument and a flute sample to create a melody. This is written in E flat major, but has quite a dark, serious tone to it. I didn’t take it much further as I hoped to create something a little lighter. I have screencap issues so please forgive the audio only!

Weekend Catch Up!

Tying up some loose ends…

New Characters
Here are rough designs for three more characters, all with specific roles (should they make it into the game!) I’ve tried to create one unique character for each of the game’s levels, as well as recurring characters who will appear throughout restoring health and saving the game.

The idea for the purpose of Most of the characters is that they will give Hana a flower petal, which can be combined with other petals to create one flower. Five characters in each level will give Hana a petal each, which will then make a whole. I really hope I can get this to work, otherwise they will simple have to give her a whole flower that they have found (to make it easier on my lack of coding knowledge).


Left: a guy who wears a face mask to protect himself from germs, or possibly to protect others from himself. Apparently, the lovely Japanese people wear a mask when they are ill to protect others from catching the bug.

Middle: a resident of the “pink” village- the game’s first level. He is based on Tsukimi from 51 Japanese Characters, and prefers watching the moon (“tsuki”) to the flowers. He sits high up in the mountains at the end of the level.

Right: I think this guy will appear in the next level. He is found in a hot spring, hence the lack of clothing!

Old Characters
While I’ve been working mainly on level design, I’ve also been doing character pixel-art for the characters I created a while ago.

Priesty


Monky


Panda


Sleepy


I’ll give each of these characters walking and fidgety animations so that they can move. They’re all a very similar size and shape so that I can apply similar animations to all of them.

Level Developments
I’ve started jotting down ideas for the next level I’m going to create, which revolves around Japanese forest rather than the current emphasis on mountains. The colours scheme is orange, so I have a new Kanji to work with! There isn’t so much a structure as individual features at the moment.

Weekend Update #4


Finished it! Only it covers two pages of A4 paper and won’t fit in my scanner until I bring myself to un-tape it. Next week I’ll start designing level 2.

Other than that, this weekend has been slow. I watched the Japanese Ring 2 last night and still can’t help looking at building details, although this had more of an urban setting which doesn’t apply to my building style! A couple of observations were to do with the space in front of buildings, like porches and balconies. I’ve kinda designed some roofing for these sorts of things, but haven’t come up with a good way to represent them in 2D! I’m going to carry on watching Japanese films throughout this project, but hopefully the next Japanese film I watch won’t be so horrible…

Affordable Housing (and fast food)

I’ve redesigned a few of my existing building tiles to suit non-commercial private homes that don’t need to look quite as extravagant as a B&B or a cafe. I’ve been using this photo as a starting point as I like it humble approach to home-design:


It includes similar looking features to the tiles I already have, my main changes have been to wooden-plank tiles and windows. I drew up this compare and contrast 2D version to work out which tiles to reuse and which to recreate:

Another building I’ve thought up is a mobile noodle/sushi stand. It’s based around small noodle stands that are common to Japan. However in this case I’ve combined the concept of a small noodle bar with a temporary food stall, similar to ones you would find at festivals or special outdoor events. This is mainly so it takes up little space, as its placement in the game is more for decoration than anything else. It won’t be an building that can be entered like the Ryokan or any of the homes throughout the levels. Here’s the kind of thing that gave me the idea:


And a quick sketch up of a design idea. This also combines features from various photos of dumpling stands that I’ve scanned through on flickr:

Building & Environmental Tiles
So, I’ve made good progress with the new building tiles. I haven’t made that many, but it seems that a lot can be pulled over from the set I already have! I’ve combined these here with the old tiles, although I’m not sure how clear my intentions are for their use yet as I haven’t constructed anything from them yet. I’ll probably do this straight in the engine over the top of the old tiles.

I’ve also tried to work on some environmental tiles more, especially after finishing up the level sketch. The most important point about creating these tiles is to make sure they’re not boring, as these are going to be repeated A LOT throughout the level. I used color explorer again to get some good ground colours, based on a Japanese mountainous setting (obviously, Fuji was the first mountain to come to mind at this point…)

My rock colour has ended up being that greyish-purple on the bottom row. It doesn’t seem to clash with the current wood colours and pinky-reds, although I’m toying with the idea of having coloured grass which matches the colour scheme of the level. This may change when I combine all the elements together, I’m not sure if pink grass is a little too much… I’ll be working on this much more over the next week, so expect drastic changes all round!

Weekend Update #1

1. Started Reading A Geek In Japan
I originally figured I’d read this from cover to cover so that I didn’t miss anything, but decided to stop this sequence after about page 12 to look at the pictures throughout the book! Then, as my focus this weekend has been on character design, I stopped at the section titled “Japan Today” which details the daily lives of typical Japanese people.

The section opens with an explanation of the many meanings of the word Otaku, which is commonly used throughout the world to refer to someone who is “a fan of Japanese Culture”, especially those who love manga and anime. However, in Japan it is used to describe someone who is obsessed with a certain hobby, sometimes to the point of shutting themselves away from the world to spend more time doing the things they love. I don’t think introducing yourself as Otaku in Japan would go down too well!

2. Wrote the Game Design Document First Draft
This is still in a vague state, but the gaps are starting to get filled in. I’ve worked on the game story a little, as well as the setting and game characters. I will hopefully be splitting the game into four short levels, which each represent a different aspect of rural Japan. I’ve also imagined up about 10 NPC characters, who will make brief appearances in the game (time-permitting). The characters are based on character types from A Geek In Japan and the personality stereotypes from 51 Japanese Characters. I’ve got a fairly good backstory drafted up, although this may change depending on the events that occur in the game:

Hana is an arts university graduate who became depressed by the state of the economy and the lack of employment opportunities for young people. She has always been indecisive and a little unmotivated, and is confused about where to take her life after uni. She spends a year working and saving every last penny to fund a trip to Asia, in an attempt to discover what she wants from life and who she wants to be.
Hana starts he travels in Japan, where she stays in various hostels and cheap hotels. She enjoys the atmosphere of Japan and decides that she might stay a little longer and look for work. While she still has money to spare, she decides to spend early spring in a small mountain village where she can enjoy the rural country-side before travelling to the city to seek employment. She arrives at a time when the local residents are outside, enjoying the falling cherry blossoms. The owner of the hostel tells her that the custom is called “Hanami”. Hana spends a day outside, taking photographs and enjoying the pleasant sights, but goes back to the hostel early as she feels a little uncomfortable with spending long nights out in new places. She is woken up the next morning by the owner’s concerned cat, who has taken a liking to her. She tries to find the hostel’s owner, but seems to be on her own. She takes a look outside and finds that there is no one about at all. The cherry blossoms have just started to fall…

3. Continued Playing With Tiles
I haven’t made any more original tiles, instead I’ve been stealing tiles from screenshots of other people’s games and rearranging them to test their flexibility. This has especially helped me to consider things like diagonal tiles which only take up half the space, and what I’m going to refer to as “floating tiles”, which are partly transparent and add small details or effects to the tiles below. Out of respect for the original artists, I’m not going to post up any of my rearranged images without permission, but I will say that I’ve had a lot of fun doing this!

Tileset example from The Archer

4. Continued Character Development
I’m starting to understand my main character Hana a little better now, so I’ve been using the weekend to just casually scribble down trait updates. It’s somehow easier to create characters based on Japanese stereotypes than Western ones, as I know that stereotypes don’t really exist!

At first, I tried to base the character on a stereotypical Western Otaku/Nerd/Girl Gamer, but just couldn’t find a perfect representation. As a protagonist, Hana doesn’t excel in bad-ass-ness, but she’s not a fragile little flower either (no pun intended). The baseball T is there to show that she has a tom-boy side, and I’ve tried to avoid anything which be better suited to a Japanese character (like long socks!)

5. I went to the farmer’s market for the first time, but that’s irrelevant…

Hanami Idea Explosion!

I guess this is a little like brainstorming, only it’s more of an explosion of words. I can’t think of a better name for it, especially one that sounds as exciting!
I got this idea from Gabriel Verdon at the beginning of his Devlog for The Archer. He begins development with a quick introduction to the concepts behind the game, and his objectives for the finished result. As a quick introduction to the characters and settings for the game, he takes a simple statement and pulls apart separate words to explain further details. With the ideas I’ve got at the moment, I guess my opening statement would be:

A lone girl travels empty streets collecting cherry blossoms.

To make the statement a little more specific, I thought I would expand it to:

A long girl travels through the empty streets of Japan collecting Cherry Blossom after Hanami.


It’s still quite a vague overview, but I’ve left room for improvement ^_^.

Notes:

-Hanami- Gameplay is based around environmental obstacles. The player must find blossoms in hard-to-find or hard-to-reach locations, although I’m not sure yet whether this will be with the aid of special abilities or if the challenges will be fairly similar the whole way through. This will ultimately depend on what I manage to program.

-Feel of the game- There will be a conflicting sense of both loneliness and serenity throughout, achieved through lack of player communication and a peaceful setting.

-Symbols- Japanese written characters (Kanji) will appear throughout, as well as traditional Japanese symbolism such as the Sakura blossoms themselves, which are an ephemeral symbol of mortality.

-Music- I would like the music to sound like a typical “game soundtrack” (repetitive, electronic, catchy yet annoying.) But I also want to base it one traditional Japanese tunes, to help the game feel authentic. Throughout the project I will be listening to a lot of Gackt and Nobuo Uematsu for inspiration, but no changes there really!

-Movie Influences- Studio Ghibli’s so-called “Blue Sky, Green Grass” films- Laputa, Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service… but also My Neighbours the Yamadas for a little insight into Japanese life, and anime like Angel’s Egg and Cat Soup for the sense of journeying through strange, lonely worlds (these second films also add a sense of darkness, which is something I’m currently toying with.)

-Game Influences- The Archer for its incredible use of Game Maker and beautiful concept and asset artwork, Ninja Senki for its Japanese themes and simple graphical style which create a great example of everything a platformer should be, and Nevermore 3 for its representations of isolation and loneliness in a beautiful world.

-One thing I really want to get across is problems with communication in a foreign place, and a lack of understanding of signs and symbols. I want there to be minimal dialogue throughout the game AT BEST, the player will have to rely on their own interpretation of symbols, imagery and gestures in order to get through the game. Some will be more complex than others!

-Verdon goes into a lot of details on his post about the inventory system, and how it acts as a means of providing higher-resolution details of items and characters which don’t appear very detailed in the actual game. This is definitely something I will consider! There will be items and pick-ups to help the character along, however I’m not sure what these will be yet.

“What About Japan Inspires You?”


Be Bamboo My Friend
Japan is a great source of inspiration for creatives, geeks, gamers and dreamers (among others!). When I first got my Playstation, I could see that there was a difference between Japanese and Western games. The Western games I played, including Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, were all very fun and had me playing for hours. But it was games like Final Fantasy VII and Tekken 2 that I started to get really immersed into. I felt connected to the characters and in tune with their back-stories, and noticed how relevant narrative was in gaming. Graphically, Japanese games seemed to concentrate a lot more on small background details in order to define the setting of the game. The graphics in FFVII didn’t push the limits of the hardware by any means, but as a player you could tell that each background detail had been individually placed in order to tell a story about its location. And while the game-world was set in a fantasy location, to me it had a unique feel which set it apart from games based on Western fantasy.

The insight into Japanese gaming led to a little insight into Japanese culture. Which over the years has become an understanding of Japanese culture, and a real appreciation for how it has affected Japanese games, films and other media. One of my sincerest dreams is to visit there- I’ve already planned out a few of the locations I would visit including the Square Enix store which sells Final Fantasy merchandise, the Studio Ghibli museum and the island of Izu Oshima which is famous for its volcano suicides and played a huge role in the Japanese novel Ring. For me, I think creating a game set in a Japan-inspired location is a way of bringing the locations and culture a little closer. Games create a virtual reality which the player immerses themselves into by taking control of a character within that virtual world.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been scribbling down little character ideas as and when they come to me, but as I’m still not sure how the game will look or feel, I never settled for anything. Because my game setting was inspired by Japan, I looked to Japanese character design in games and manga for a design solution.

I tried to think what a Japanese character might look like, and chose a female protagonist based on the slightly feminine game concept. The Chibi style is simply a Japanese drawing technique which doesn’t involve placing a lot of detail, so for initial designs I thought it was very appropriate.
However, in a real lightbulb moment of inspiration, I realised that this was no appropriate at all. I would like to keep a female protagonist as the main playable character in my game- as a developer I would like to reach out to female players. It occurred to me that the main character should be an outsider, someone who is unfamiliar with the environment, the customs of the people and their lifestyle. This makes the character more relatable to the player, who is also immersing themselves into the unfamiliar setting. The thoughts and feelings of the character should reflect the feelings of a tourist, slightly confused and nervous, but willing to step into an unknown world. It’s also one step closer for anyone who has ever wanted to experience what it’s like to visit Japan ^_^

At the beginning of his Lessons From Bamboo presentation, Garr Reynolds asks “What about Japan inspires you?” I discovered this slideshow on another blog, and immediately felt peaceful while scrolling through the amazing photography. This is just one side of Japan, in contrast to its big city lights, but its one which I hope to represent as well as I possibly can, down to the smallest detail.

You can watch the video of the presentation here, which makes explains a nice little metaphor about bamboo!

be flexible, tough, adaptable and able to recover with even more strength, like bamboo.