Intelligent Thoughts


To begin designs for user interface, I’ve started up the style I want for graphical elements with these speech bubble text boxes. These simple square boxes are designed to float above the character speaking or thinking, and display mainly images depending on what it is that they need to communicate. The idea is to keep dialogue to a minimum- due to the communication problems associated with foreign languages. I was mainly inspired to use speech bubbles in this way by the anime short Cat Soup, which uses a lot of visual techniques to represent dialogue.


This isn’t the first time a similar technique has been used in a game. The hand-drawn Indie game Machinarium doesn’t have a single line of dialogue, and uses images and animations in speech and though bubbles to provide the player with gameplay hints and set the story.



I was initially thinking of using a very simple square design, but at the last minute came up with the swirly square design based on the “auspicious cloud” design. The design sort of evolved as I worked out what worked best in a small space with the swirl in the corner.


In Game Maker, I can use one image as a parent object for all “dialogue”, and simply change the content of the box using a sequence of sprites which appear to be inside the box. I tested this on the pacing cat I created yesterday, making sure the box followed the cat. This was simply done with one piece of code with makes the x value of the box the same as the x value of the cat:

x=obj_maneki_neko.x;

I then incorporated a timing system to time the image in and out based on a set time, so that the cat periodically thinks about fish- as long as he pacing and not following the player.

I’ve also created another example of a very small dialogue sequence for the newly placed character-the Shinto Priest. This polite character stands outside the Ryokan and bows as the player passes by. When the player gets within a certain distance, the speech bubble appears displaying the objective and the amount of blossoms needed for progression, although I’m not sure how effective this is as a method of instructing the player in the initial level.


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”!

    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.