Weekend Update #3

Some More Character Designs subject to change and/or disposal


These characters are complete rip-offs of a few of the characters from 51 Japanese Characters, so are subject to name and feature changes in the future to avoid being a total copy-cat. While most of the inhabitants of the places in Hanami are effected by the so-called Hanami Crisis, I’ve picked out a few personality types who could have avoided the crisis in various ways. These characters will play very minor roles in the game, they will appear at most once per level, and simply hand over a blossom they have found, or something similar. Everyone’s doing their bit to help!
Left Character: avoided the crisis because he is a monk. Protected by spiritual powers etc.
Middle Character: avoided the crisis because he was stuck inside a Panda costume.
Right Character: avoided the crisis because he fell asleep under a table in a cafe. Details on the “crisis” are still a little vague, so I don’t know how this would have helped him, but it did. Kirainet, the predecessor to A Geek In Japan, has dedicated plenty of its Blog-space to photos of people sleeping everywhere and everywhere in Japan, it seems perfectly acceptable to just fall asleep where ever you’re standing.


I’ll be converting these characters to pixel form soon!

Character Animations
I’ve been plodding along with walking animations for the last week, but found I was taking leaps and bounds this weekend! I scanned through as many TIGsource Forum threads as I could a couple of evenings ago to find good examples of walking cycles that were a similar size and shape to my character sprites. Ultimately, I could only find things vaguely similar enough to help, but while this didn’t provide a pure reference, I was glad to see that I was on to something original. My current cycle too has a few frames which are similar to others I found, but I had to tween using my own initiative for most of the process. Here is my current Hana sprite:

I gave it a go applying this same animation to Za-chan, although it wasn’t always clear how to go because she wears a long dress and you can’t see most of her legs! I will probably tweak this if I have to use it in the game. At the moment, it’s more of a practice in applying one animation to varying sprites:

For the rest of my character animations, I will hopefully be roping in some volunteers to perform for me so that I have photo-references of people doing various actions. Finding examples of various walk-cycles wasn’t necessarily a difficult task, but unfortunately I’m going to need more than that…

Level Design
I’m currently still set on using the Kanji basis for my level design. Over the weekend I just had to grab a pen and piece of paper and get down all my thoughts on the level, what it should consist of and how it should look. It’s slightly more decipherable than previous attempts, although some of the designs cross-over quite confusingly! I tried to draw out the entire level in the bottom half of the page:

According to Peter McClory’s level design technique, the next step would be to draw this out to scale on squared paper. However, I decided to use Photoshop instead, so that the level was easier to edit! Once it’s done I’ll print and trace it as if it were drawn on squared paper. The design currently lacks detail and is not finished, but it’s given my a huge insight into the scaling of the level, which in places in completely different to how I imagined it. Here is a rough idea of the level so far:

My Plan for the rest of the week now is definitely to get this mocked up and playable in Game Maker, possibly before tracing in the details. I still haven’t settled for any particular character physics within the Grandma Engine, so I will have to make sure that the character feels natural to handle whilst working their way around this specific level. Once the layout is finalised, I’ll fill in some detail, but this is a secondary objective to getting a playable level right now.

Some thoughts on sound…
I started to play around with a piece of music creation software called PXTone. It’s a development from Daisuke Amaya, creator of Cave Story, and it sounds as though he uses this himself to make the music for his games. It’s default instruments are all very synthy, but you can combine classic chip-tune instruments with midi-sounding instruments to create something generally retro sounding, yet something original. There are a vast amount of starting instruments, which makes this program easier to get started with than other chiptune software I’ve previously used where you must create your own instruments :S So far I’ve just had a play around to see if it would be appropriate for this project, although I’m still not sure what my music source will be yet. Original music would be a huge bonus, so this is definitely on the list.

Heroes & Villains

The Heroine
I’m now much closer to a version of Hana that I’m really happy with. I’ve moved away from focusing on “Western” or “foreign” characteristics, and started to think about the properties of the average tourist! Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to be a tourist for a few years now, so I’ve conjured up the ultimate tourist image using the guidelines of the internet…

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Shirt
  • Johnny Depp
  • Camera
  • Watch
  • Bag (big)
  • Shorts
  • Sandals
  • Google image search suggests that only overweight people can be tourists
  • Also, the stereotypical tourist only visits warm countries
  • I haven’t managed to apply all these to my final character design, considering the difficulties of converting small details into low-res pixel art (the character sprite will be 32 pixels tall at most). However, it would be interesting to factor some of these aspects into the inventory system- for example when she opens up her bag there could be a camera, sunglasses and a passport, which serve no purpose in the game but show that she is enjoying a sunny holiday in Japan. To apply these characteristics, I started off with a female-shaped template, which I can now use as a basis for any female character within the game. I’ve tried to put her in a few poses in order to create a little personality!

    I used the three of these images to play around with a few minor alternatives, like “shorts or jeans?” “T-shirt or jacket?” and “messenger bag or backpack?”

    (You can also see that I finally realised if I turn the brightness down to about -20 on my scanner then my scans come out a lot nicer!)
    Combine the best aspects of these ideas with the original characteristics of Western Otaku and you have my final* character design:

    *Note that I’m still toying with the idea of adding head-wear. Personally I’m a huge fan of hats, and feel I would definitely wear one on a Japanese holiday!

    The Villain
    At first I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted a “villain” in my game, or whether it would be a sort of natural phenomenon which causes disturbance. With the help of A Geek In Japan and a quick look into Japanese mythology, I’ve realised that I can pretty much combine villain and natural phenomenon together to create my “antagonist” (villain sounds too criminal for what I’m aiming for!).

    In times past, the Japanese believed that Gods lived inside Sakura trees, and just before the rice-sowing season offerings were made under the trees.

    From A Geek In Japan

    With little knowledge about the majority of Japanese mythical beings, I turned to what I knew from anime.

    In Cat Soup, the main character Nyatta travels to the land of the dead to reclaim the half of the soul of his sister, which was taken away by a Jizou. The start of the film shows that the sister Nyako is dying, and the Jizou comes to claim the soul. The soul is split in two when Nyatta tries to pull it back.

    The Jizuo in Cat Soup has a creepy fixed smile. Although it doesn’t have the appearance of a being able to deal real harm to anyone, it seems to be fairly content about its soul-stealing nature. I thought perhaps I could use a similar being for Hanami, however when I researched these beings I realised that they are not regarded as villainous. In fact, in Cat Soup he is simply doing his duty by collecting the soul of a dead child (read the Wikipedia article for more details!). In Japan, statues can be found everywhere. People place children’s hats and bibs onto the statues to provide a blessing to their children.

    A Jizuo statue is also seen in My Neighbour Totoro, when the two girls step into a shrine to protect themselves from the rain.

    While the Jizuo could be considered the main “villain” in Cat Soup, in actual fact he is not a villainous character. In Totoro, the Jizuo statue acts as protection rather than hindrance. I started to think about how I could create a similar scenario, inspired by the idea if Gods living in trees, and spirits who reside in shrines and statues. I wrote up this villain criteria list:

  • Based on, but not identical to, an existing Japanese “creature” from mythology/legend/folklore
  • A being who resides in Sakura trees, but who is recognised with a Shrine elsewhere
  • Not a representation of something “evil”, but perhaps something “forgotten” or “misunderstood” (especially going along with themes of loneliness etc.)
  • Perhaps the act of disturbance is a cry for help, or a punishment for forsaken rituals
  • Whilst researching possible candidates, I discovered the story of Zashiki-warashi, a child-like being who has the power to provide and take away good-fortune. Its child-like nature means that its statues look quite similar to the Jizuo, who is often portrayed as having child-like features. It has a mischievous nature, which could lead to the “disturbance” of Hanami. I haven’t figured out details yet, but for now I’m going to carry on with character design for my “villain”!

    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…

    Japanese Interior Design


    It’s nearly the end of the week, so my plan for today is to write up a first draft of my Game Design Document for this project. This will help get all my scatted ideas in one place!
    Once that’s done, or probably if there’s nothing on TV at lunch time, I’m going to start reading my new book A Geek In Japan” which arrived in the post yesterday ^_^. The book is based on the content on Kirainet, a blog written by a Spanish guy living in Japan. It’s aimed at Otaku like me to give a really good insight into his new Japanese lifestyle with a slightly nerdy twist. His Blog is based around a lot of good quality photography, so I hope this is reflected in the book too!

    I’m still unsettled on the graphical style I want to use for the game, but before I get comfortable with a definitive style I’ve carried on practising with tilesets inspired by Japanese interior design. Luckily for me, typical Japanese interior is very minimalist and easy to convert to square tiles!

    I used the image as a basis for the tiles I wanted to create. It looks slightly pixelated because I actually scaled it down until the 16×16 pixel grid fit quite well. You can already see at this stage that all the objects in the photo are very angular, if not completely square atleast all the corners are rightangles! Basing tiles on this image also helped pick out colours with the colour picker. The colours I used would not have been my first choice if I had created this from scratch.

    On a separate layer in Photoshop, I used the pencil tool to re-draw a part of the image to the grid.


    By this point, you can already start to see some repetition of tiles in the cupboards, the vents and the frame of the cupboard. Obviously, the tiles were incredibly basic and boring, so I continued to use the pencil tool at a size of 1pixel to draw in some detail. For highlights and shadows I chose my own colours, based on the original colours that I had picked from the photo.

    Using colours slightly lighter and slightly darker than the original, it was easy to add texture and depth. In addition to my tiles, I also picked out some misc objects which didn’t align to the grid, but which could be repeated and placed on shelves etc.

    Once this was all done, it was time to put my tiles to the test. The point of a tileset is that each tile can be rearranged to create a completely new layout. A good tileset would have allowed me to do this seamlessly, but this experimental process helped me see where my tiles were slightly flawed. To rearrange my tiles, I cut out each unique tiles and placed it in the corner of my grid. This is what the “tileset” refers to- often when you see a tileset it is simply a group of squares which don’t correspond to each other until they are arranged by a designer. The squares are closely pushed together simply to make good use of space.

    Example of a Mario game tileset


    My Shelving Tileset:

    Now, my traditional Japanese Shelving unit is transformed into a contemporary Swedish storage space:

    Although, you can definitely see here where my tiles are less than perfect, especially in the corners and funny little places where I used half the tile for the cupboard frame etc. All in all, this new image was created without any editing to the original tiles, so most of the tiles here would be suitable to use for game backgrounds.
    In addition to the shelf, I continued to recreate the room from the photo using tiles that aligned to my grid. The result is an image which represents just some distinct aspects of Japanese interior design which I would definitely like to use in my game!

    With Grid

    Without Grid