Midori Moods

Midori is the Japanese word for Green, and Hamani’s level 4 is certainly that…

Ao Iro Mood Board

Aoi things from Japan:)

I feel so blue now!

Daidai Iro Mood Board

More inspirational colour-themed images from Japan in preparation for creating my new orange coloured level!

Hanami’s Quick Guide To Sushi

As everyone knows, sushi has healing powers. Most types of sushi will restore 1 hit point when eaten.

Nigiri にぎり

An oblong shaped slab of sushi rice topped with certain types of fish or egg laid neatly over the base. Sometimes nigiri is held together with a strip or “nori” seaweed.

Maki まき

Maki refers to rolled sushi, either with an outer layer of sushi rice or wrapped in nori. The filling runs through the centre of the rice, and can consist of many things from raw fish or meat to bean curd.

Gunkan Maki ぐんかんまき

A roll of nori filled with sushi rice and usually topped with fish eggs.

Temaki てまき

Hand rolled sushi wrapped in a cone of nori, with the filling of fish or fish eggs popping out of the top!

Onigiri おにぎり
(strictly not actually sushi…)

Onigiri refers to Japanese rice balls, often shaped in triangles and wrapped in nori. I’ve included this here because like sushi, onigiri is a food that looks distinctly Japanese!

Staying “Retro”

Things have changed.
The way we buy and play games has evolved and old aspects of gaming have been replaced by their modern equivalents. With the recent retro resurgence, things have changed again. Incorporating “retro” into games doesn’t mean that games are purchased from shops on cartridges as they once were, it’s more about implying retro through audio/visual aspects.

One of my objectives for this project is to recreate other aspects of “retro” as well as the graphical style I have chosen to use. I’ve mentioned this in my learning agreement but haven’t talked about how I’m going to do this much yet, so firstly here’s a little look into why

What I loved about old games…
…back when they were new games, of course!

1. Cover Art
The cover art of a game was often a selling point for me. Games were placed cover forward in shops and if a cover caught my eye, I would read the synopsis on the back of the case. I was always a fan of Japanese RPGs, so any anime character on a game box would usually get me interested… So, take Breath of Fire IV for Playstation as an example. This game had used a very striking anime art style on the cover to represent the game.

This image told the viewer a lot about what to expect from the game, even if they hadn’t played any of the previous Breath of Fire instalments (I hadn’t at the time!). But obviously, this said nothing about the actual in-game graphics, except that the characters were based on a similar anime style. The point of the “art” on the box was to sell the game in a way that the actual graphics couldn’t.

With the help of box art, I think developers could give a better impression of how they saw the game.

2. Game Manuals
I confess, I LOVE game manuals. When I was younger, I would read the entire manual before playing most games, simply because I loved getting to know the game world and back-story in a way that was often summarised in the manual. This seemed to shorten the length of time between Saturday shopping with my parents and finally getting home and actually playing the game!

As well as game info and instructions, the manual was normally very well designed and stylised, and also included bits of concept art. The Final Fantasy series was particularly good at showcasing its art, worlds and characters in the manual.

I especially loved reading pointless information about each character, including birthdays (which I remember marking on my calendar at one point :S), age and height. This sort of stuff was never mentioned in the game- probably because if was completely irrelevant… It just seemed like a bonus chunk of knowledge. Obviously, the main point of the manual was to relay instructions on how to play the game, which was obviously very useful…

3. The Game Disk
Or whatever storage your game happened to be on. I started gaming on PC and moved to console gaming via Playstation and didn’t actually acquire my SNES until after the PS2 was out! So to me, games generally came on CDs or the occasional floppy. In any case, the storage device containing the game was another piece of artwork…generally. And even if it wasn’t, the hard copy of the game to me was a testament to how much pride I had in owning a game. If I liked a game enough to part with my hard-earned pocket-money for it, it was worth keeping in good condition. This applied to the case and manual too. If I loved a game, I would keep it pristine. It was like a pet or a younger sibling, I felt a responsibility to make sure it was always comfortable.

What’s changed since then…

1. Cover Art
Obviously, games still have cover art. They still try to catch customers’ attention in shop displays etc. However, game graphics have improved immensely since I bought Breath of Fire IV. Not only game graphics, but the ability to create high quality 3D models in general has resulted in CG being used more and more in cover art on games. The point of the cover seems to emphasise the technological achievement of the game, rather than represent it through a piece of “art”. This is the game’s selling point, the game’s attention grabber.

Take Uncharted 3 as an example, which I bought last year. The cover art consists of a CG representation of a scene from the game. This scene was used as the main promotional image for the game as it separated this instalment from previous Uncharted titles, and emphasised its differences as well as a few similarities. It’s a good showcase of the in-game graphics and shows the potential buyer a little of what to expect from the game, but it’s not art. I rarely get excited because I may have found the next greatest undiscovered Japanese RPG when I see box art.

2. Game Manuals
It’s a common belief that the instruction manual has been replaced by lengthy tutorial levels in game. The player learns by doing, rather than reading through pages and pages and later trying to relate what they’ve learned to the game, so I guess this is understandable. People don’t expect to have to read instructions for games any more, and as a result, the instruction manual for most games has shrunk and decreased. One franchise notorious for its painstaking tutorial levels is the Call of Duty series. Here’s a section of a page of the CoD: Black Ops instruction manual (which is the most recent instalment that I’ve actually played…)

I haven’t cut anything off- the rest of the page is blank. There are no images, no extra bits of information… Nothing but instructions. It’s straight and to the point, but so, so very boring.

3. The Game Disk
Obviously, game distribution has been infinitely easier for developers as digital copies of games can be purchased via the internet. I’m not complaining about this at all, as this means that gamers have access to hundreds of game whenever they want them. If I am to be distributing my game, it will be digitally, as its convenient for me and whoever decides to download it. But this method of distributing and purchasing games means that none of the physical aspects mentioned above apply any more. At least this eliminates the possibility of poor design!

What can be done to stay true

1. Paper made of PDF…
When I looked into recent awesome game Out There Somewhere which keeps cropping up in my blog posts, I noticed that a lot of effort was put into portraying the game through digital artwork. This can be seen throughout the game’s Devlog and on the MiniBoss website.

Not only does the game contain a lot of assets based on digital concept art, but the same style has been used to create a retro cover for the game. The game will be distributed digitally only (as far as I’m aware), and so the cover is not necessary but is a nice finishing touch. The game uses a pixel-art style, and the cover gives the player a good impression of what is represented by the tiny pixel sprites. Little homages to retro have been dotted around, like the cover’s similarity to the box art for old Sega Master System games…

The pre-order version of the game also comes with a PDF hint manual, which to me sounds very intriguing!

2. Paper made of…paper
My old favourite Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP has recently re-marketed its soundtrack (and in a way, the game itself) by releasing a range of goodies for buyers. The soundtrack can be purchased digitally through Bandcamp, but buyers now have the option to also purchase a vinyl and cassette version of OST, in keeping with retro formats.

This to me is the ultimate revival of everything I loved about old games. It includes obsolete formats which need to be taken good care of and beautifully designed cover art and inlays, as well as a bonus poster designed by Pendleton Ward! Although the game itself has no cover art, manual or hard copy as it downloaded only, this is the perfect accompaniment for fans of the game and fans of “retro”. It’s something you can hold in your hand and love- something which just can’t be said about games any more.

“Momoiru” Mood Board

A mood board of all things pink and Japanese! A little inspiration for creating a pink level….

Setting The Tone

I think an important part of creating an identity for a game is ensuring that it makes the player feel a certain way whilst playing it. This can be achieved through the visual and audio tone of the game, and in the continuity of this tone throughout (unless you want the mood to change, of course!)


Coma is a 2D flash-based platformer played in browser-you can play it here at Newgrounds. The game begins in a dark house with lengthy shadows, and the character progresses outside to a dim, desaturated world where everything seems misty and suspicious. During this game, the player is constantly reminded that something is amiss, through subtle quirks in the level design, even in seemingly regular landscapes.

The music is quiet and generally calming, but it’s very noticeable when the music stops and is replaced by an ambient silence. As can be expected, after completing a series of weird but altogether normal tasks the story twists around and takes the player into a secret underground layer where the player’s suspicions are confirmed. The game is uncomfortable to play at times, but is juxtaposed with some really beautiful imagery. The tone here is brilliantly placed.

Nevermore 3

Another browser-based flash game, Nevermore 3 creates a similarly mysterious and eerier atmosphere. Throughout the series, the player is brought into an abandoned world that you would expect from a post-apocalyptic title. The scenery suggests that there once was life, but that it has somehow been removed. I haven’t played much of the previous 2 titles, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an explanation for all this. The gameplay mechanics are obvious, but the player is constantly left asking “why?”

In this third instalment, you find yourself in a much more rural area, confronted with these sorts of run-down buildings and ant-eater like creatures- again with no real explanation as to why. The mysterious tone of the game allows the player to accept that this is just the way things are, rather than getting caught up in trying to work out why, which in the end is completely irrelevant.

In Hanami, I hope to be able to create a similarly convincing atmosphere or mystery and suspicion, which leaves the player looking for answer but not questioning its reality. The tone will be similarly dreary and lonely, and will hopefully include a very mellow, ambient soundtrack.

EMP Countdown 7- Last Words…


Nitrome is a London-based games development company who specialise in free pixel-art browser games for the casual player. They release short games frequently, designed to provide short bursts of play. As a result, the company has ended up with an archive of over 100 individual games each utilising graphical style slightly differently, and showcasing a huge range of game types. To quote weird, artsy indie dev Pippinbarr;

even within pixelly looks there are different approaches.

So what’s helpful about a company like Nitrome is it’s insight into all these styles which they’ve showcased over the last few years, from the very refined contemporary look to the rough, jagged classic look. I’ve picked out these specific game for their divers approaches to pixel art:

Nitrome Must Die - The 100th Game

This style is probably most common amongst Nitrome games. Foreground sprites are set apart from the background with black outlines, while irrelevant background objects are less-contrasting in comparison. The level is made up of tiles and blocky objects which are strictly aligned to a grid.


This isn’t the greatest example of isometric pixel art, but it is simple enough to see what is going on! The isometric approach is often applied to game backgrounds and is a popular choice for the artist eboy. The map here is laid out at a 45 degree angle, so that the player always sees three faces of any block as opposed to the one you would normally see when playing a 2D game.

The Bucket

In contrast, this style looks a lot more classic that the outlined style. Objects are made of basic shapes, with no outline. Detail is avoided to avoid shapes becoming lost within each other, and the bright colours used contrast each other to determine separate objects.

Super Treadmill

This example uses the traditional non-outlined approach, although in this case the artist has added unusual vertical lines to the imagery. At first I thought they may have been put there to represent scanlines, except that they run the wrong way… So to me they just give a corrugated card effect.

Looking at a broader perspective, Nitrome have a job page which describes their perfect game artist. For me, this acts as a pretty good check-list for qualities I feel I should have.

By the end of the project, I hope I can say that I fit the criteria quite well! I’ll be keeping track of my progress.

EMP Countdown 6 – 2 More Days…

Interestingly enough, over 50% of my chosen Indie heroes are Canadian. Today I’m broadening my world a little by focusing on Daisuke Amaya, the Japanese creative genius behind Cave Story.

Cave Story has been brought to the attention of the masses in the last year, gaining a make-over for the Wiiware and Steam versions of the game, and a complete conversion to 3D for the upcoming 3DS release. But years before all of this, Cave Story was a simple 2D shooter which gained appreciation from a small cult audience. It was this audience who created an English translation patch for the game, gradually spreading the phenomenon worldwide.

And this all happened way before the whole retro pixel-art movement really took off (in the Western world at least!). The chosen graphical style was an echo of the game’s genre and functions- ultimately the player is required to traverse a 2D world acquiring weapon upgrades in order to shoot and gain experience from anything in the way, very reminiscent of early Metroid games. There is a story to follow, and if the player wishes, gameplay can be quite linear. However, if the player decides to backtrack at certain times, progress can twist and turn and secrets can be revealed. It has an exploration undertone which adds a layer of enjoyability to the game.

From these you can see how Cave Story adheres to traditional development, therefore appealing to the player’s sense of nostalgia….
1. Indoor shots contain the player in a small space, surrounded by a black screen.
2. Outdoor shots show a full-screen world. Text boxes showing dialogue appear at the bottom of the screen. If a non-playable character is speaking, then quite often a character portrait would appear next to the text. Noticeable in this example: the HUD disappears while a message is displayed.
3. Powerups appear as capsules and health pickups appear as hearts. It’s just tradition. The HUD here allows the player to scroll through each weapon, and also displays weapon progress and player health stats.
4. The inventory menu allows the player to scroll through carried items and weapons, displaying information on each.

Rumour has it that Cave Story took years for Amaya to finish as he took on every production role personally. The game was then released as PC freeware, which I think is because Amaya creates for love not money. As fortune would have it, his game went to gain huge commercial success… And it’s success is probably due to its nature. It is a very traditionally made game, with all the features of a traditional side-scrolling shooter, however it surprises the player with unpredictable additions, which occur if the player chooses to play non-linearly.

Links for Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya:
Amaya’s Online Development Log
English Cave Story Fan Site
Official Japanese Cave Story Website
Cave Story+ on Steam

EMP Countdown 5! 3 More Days…

Apologies for the inconsistent post titles, I can’t ever remember what I used before and nothing seems to sound right.

Day #5: Jonathan Lavigne (& a bit of Paul Robertson too)

Jonathan Lavigne or Pixeltao is a devoted developer/pixel artist who is responsible for the great look of several awesome games. Despite my fondness for exciting, experimental, rule-breaking, risky indie developments, I love Lavigne’s game making rhetoric. On his blog he says:

I love every aspect of the process involved in making video games: pixel art, coding, game design and drawing. I don’t have any pretentions about being original or experimental. What I’m really into is creating simple, fun and well designed games.

Ninja Senki was the first of Lavigne’s games I came to discover, drawn in by its strikingly colourful pixel-art and and subtle retro-references. Just as he describes, there’s nothing unpredictable about this game- the player really knows what to expect. It’s just a rehash which plays like a multitude of enjoyable games. Which makes it successful!

Lavigne’s next big creation was Wizorb, another retro rehash. Wizorb just takes elements from all over the place, from classic RPGs to action and adventure games, and combines them with a classic “block breaking” style main campaign. Lavigne points his potential players towards games they may have played in their past such as Breakout and Arkanoid. Personally, I had a clone of something like this on an early Windows PC! The twist on this clone is that there is a story plot set in a fantasy world, and as well as playing in this breakout style, the player can use items they’ve gained whilst playing to purchase new skills etc. which breaks away from the arcade-style high score objective. In my opinion, by remaking a collection of old games and merging them together, Lavigne has actually created something quite new and exciting.

Lavigne’s biggest success has to be his work on Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Videogame, where his ability to clone really comes to light. The game takes the style of a Streets of Rage style beat ’em up, including many of the same gaming cliches which are common amongst this genre. The game is the perfect accompaniment to the comic series and the motion picture, which use a lot of retro videogaming themes and throw in references all over the place. The game includes the character art and animation of Paul Robertson, an anime inspired pixel-artist with some… strange tastes. Robertson uses frame-based animation to create his 2D game-sprite like animations, however the game itself is not made in a completely traditional way, evident in elements such as the large non-tiled background images.

One of Robertson’s few animations non-obscene animations, depicting the film Attack The Block. Most of Robertson’s images/animations either directly or indirectly reference retro videogames in some way!

Links For Jonathan Lavigne:
Official Pixeltao Blog
About Scott Pilgrim on the PixelDrip Gallery

Links For Paul Robertson:
Paul Robertson on Livejournal
Scott Pilgrim Sprites on Game Set Watch