Five Petals

A couple of the new tracks I’ve been working on are sounding pretty close to being finished, although at the moment there is a definite drop in quality from the first track. The “bamboo” track I’ve been trying to make has been taking the longest to finish, as it’s the most different. I’ve also started working on the boss theme, which has been fun. For this piece of music, I’m ignoring most of the rules I’ve read about pentatonic scales and traditional Japanese percussion, and simply tried to keep the themes running through the instruments I’m using and the way I’m using them. The Boss Theme is a little homage to Final Fantasy in a lot of ways, as I’ve taken inspiration from multiple Final Fantasy battle themes for the intro and from the Shinra theme from FFVII for the main drum rhythm.

As the pieces are coming together, I’ve made myself a system in Game Maker to describe which background music to play in which room. Instead of stating the music that should be playing in every single individual room (as I have done for other things…) I’ve started the music playing in each main part of the level, and simply made sure it keeps playing even if buildings and caves are entered. To do this, I’ve made a basic script which is called when the player enters the main stage of each level called soundInit:

This states that if the music is not already playing, the music should play on a continual loop. This script also sets the global variable music from true to false, meaning that the music cannot be changed. When the player leaves the level, I’ve reset the variable to true so that a new piece of music can be played after the previous one has stopped! When this script is called in the level’s creation code, both of the arguments are defined. For example, in the first level the arguments are defined as:

The other thing I’ve been working on today is the game’s petal system. I came up with this idea before I had any idea how to program it, so I’ve left it out until now. I’ve learned a lot from making the game’s menus and inventory systems, and this is basically an addition to the inventory system I’ve made so far. The idea is that each of the game’s characters gives you a petal that they have found, and five petals makes a whole blossom, which is added to the game score. I’ve had a space in the inventory for this for ages, which I’ve recently revamped to make it nicer:

To test the system, I started using the Priest character, as he was the first character I made. I’ve renamed him Bura-san in the GDD. I’ve created two different variables that depict whether or not the character can give the player a petal, shown either as flower_give = true or flower_give = false. If the character’s petal hasn’t yet been added to the itemList DS list, then flower_give is true.

When the player talks to the character by pressing the X button, this activates the petal given by the character and changes the variable to false:

The petal given appears at the top of the screen, and can be seen in the petals section of the inventory.

I’ve created three new global variables called “petalscore” 1, 2 and 3 – one for each level that the player can receive petals. When a petal is received, the petalscore value will increase by one depending on which room the player is in.

This is then drawn into the inventory, so the player will only be able to see their petal progress for the level they are currently in. When the petalscore reaches 5, one blossom will be added to that level’s gamescore, so in order for the player to collect all 30 blossoms, they will also have to collect all five petals in each level. However, the system still needs a lot of work, as my NPC characters currently don’t do very much. Ultimately, I would like to slow the whole process down so that when each character is spoken to, an animation plays where the character takes out a petal and holds it until the player takes it. This way the whole system seems a lot more obvious, as at the moment a petal simply pops up at the top of the screen without any explanation. I’m still working on the AI for most of my current characters too. Bura-san doesn’t move about, so he was easy to try out the system on. “Kaze” who I’ve renamed “Kyo” constantly moves away from the character, but currently gets stuck to walls…

The Panda character that I recently put in runs about frantically, but again sometimes seems to get stuck on uneven terrain. I like this character because there is no way of catching up with him, you have to chance running into him and pressing X at the right moment!

My latest character is called Koto, and is the game’s instrumentalist. She appears in the first three levels, and sits by her koto playing each level’s music. This character was originally going to be male and called Camui after the Japanese singer Camui Gackt, but when I checked on the internet for a character basis it seemed that koto players were generally women. I found a lot of images of koto players dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos, so my koto player is also dressed very traditionally.

And in her pixel form:

All of these characters are placed in all three levels, but I’m hoping to create one unique character for each level to make up for the fifth petal.

Remember Save Points?

What was going to be a relaxed weekend of casual doodling has somehow turned into a few brain-mangling hours of discovering everything that’s wrong with Game Maker’s built in save and load functions. I figured I still haven’t sketched all the characters I’ve planned in the GDD- this is something I want to do, even if some of them don’t make it into the game. The next semi-important character I’d planned was a pervy guy with a camera who will “take a snapshot” of the player and save the game (remember the camera guy in Rayman? A bit like that… I can’t find a decent screenshot online, but it looks like they’ve done the same thing in Rayman Origins which I still haven’t managed to play yet)

I was inspired to design this guy after reading about perverted Japanese guys who like to get close to women on crowded subways etc, and somehow thought “that would make a good save/load system!” Well, I drew a little design of the guy, camera at the ready, and just wasn’t sure if he was right for the tone of the game…

I even got round to making a pixel version, which I might use later on for a less important NPC if I’m stuck for time. It’s difficult to make someone look creepy in such a small space, and more difficult to make a camera that actually looks like a camera, so all round this wasn’t a huge success.

So, back to the drawing board. It seems like these days you can save most games whenever you like, which is certainly convenient. This was pretty much unheard of until the past 10 years or so- up until then you would have to wait until you reached a designated “save point” if you wanted to save your game, and these were elusive and unpredictable little objects a lot of the time. In the harshest scenarios, such as the original Resident Evil, you had to collect items in order to use a save point, so the amount of saves were extremely limited.

My plan for Hanami is to include one save point in each level, which can be used infinitely as long as the player reaches it! The game will also autosave at the beginning of each level, so if the character dies they will either return to the last save point, or the beginning of the level- whichever occurred most recently. Instead of using a character, I tried thinking about more Japanese symbolism that could be used as an emblem of a save point. You can see my ideas in the sketch above, as I’m running out of sketch book pages and I’m trying to conserve paper :S

My first idea was to use a Hanami Dango, which is a special type of mochi on a stick eaten at Hanami. This was actually a coincidental discovery for me, as they popped up in the film Tekken: Blood Vengeance which I watched recently.

I considered placing a Hanami Dango stick on a sort of pedestal to create a sort of Hanami Save Alter, and this is where I got with that. The kanji means “to save”.

I didn’t quite finish this design, as I felt it didn’t really capture what I hoped it would. I don’t like wasting cool little things like this though, so there are plenty of food outlets throughout the world of Hanami that the Dango will probably make their way into! As I’m still trying to capture an overall image of Japan, I tried to find a nice little artefact to use rather than trying to keep within the realms of the Japanese spring time. After all, a lot of traditional save points were random emblems. I mean, what was the save point from FF7 supposed to be??

I had a look on the internet to see if there was anything seriously Japanese that I had missed out, and I found this article about must-have Japanese souvenirs! It includes a lot of imagery that I have already included in the game in some way, such as Maneki Neko, Hand fans, Umbrellas (Wagasa), Lanterns, kokeshi dolls, koinobori… On this list, I rediscovered Furin bells. I thought these would be a nice point at which a player can save their progress, as their inevitably interactive and look nice too 🙂 The bell consists of a domed glass case and a single glass chime running on a rope through the centre. A tag is placed on the end, where little bits can be written (I was considering trying to get a bit of kanji onto this, but haven’t managed to in such a small space yet!) I might yet put a design onto the glass, but for now I’ve settled for a simple Furin bell design:

On contact with this new object, the player can open up a new menu which asks whether or not they would like to save their game. I originally envisaged the object hanging from a rock outcrop or something like this, although I realised from a bit of play-testing that this object is too high up ¬_¬

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.

“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.