I’ve been pretty unhappy with my old dialogue system for a while for two main reasons. The first is that it didn’t actually work very well. The best I could manage was a square to appear as the player passed by a non-playable character which contained the character’s “dialogue”, as I didn’t manage to figure out how to stop the player so that a proper dialogue situation could be initiated. The second reason I wasn’t happy with the system was that it was potentially detrimental to the game itself because it was fairly resource heavy.

The idea was to use a system where the player could get the gist of what NPCs had to say, but without the NPC using words. The reason for this is for the player to get the feel of language barriers faced by people in foreign countries. You can talk all you want, but it’s mostly gestures that will allow communication between two languages. This is why I had decided to use images instead of strings of text. A similar but less vague system is used in Machinarium. In this game developed by a Czech team, images and short move clips are used in speech/thought bubbles to depict dialogue. I’d imagine this was one of the keys to the game’s success abroad, because a minimal amount of translation would have been involved to export the game!

To make a system like this in game maker requires a lot of resources. I’d already made two simple “text box” objects that could be used universally throughout, but the content would have to unique for every instance. This requires a different sprite for each talking character, and some with several sub-images if the images scroll or are animated. This also takes a lot of my time as I was drawing new images for every time a character spoke! So I’d already decided that I would change the way this works, in the interest of my time and the performance and size of the game!

To help me really refine the system and create something that actually worked well, I went to the Game Maker Community forums and found a downloadable example similar to the one in this video.

The basics for a decent system are all here, including stopping the character when dialogue is initiated, scrolling text that progresses as if the character is talking and NPC interactions. I managed to adapt the code to create a very similar yet customised system so that when the player chooses to interact with a character, dialogue is initiated inside a text box and the player must sit through everything the character has to say before they can move on. I tested the system with a basic white text box and black text to make sure it ran smoothly.

The first thing I did after checking everything through was create a new larger text box sprite to replace the abominable white square I had made. I’ve made sure the box keeps the themes of the GUI and to make it similar to the previous text box, however I’ve flipped it over so that it always sits below the character who is talking. This way, it shouldn’t ever cover up anything important on the screen.

The next thing to change was the language. I figured instead of presenting the player with decipherable images, it would be even more convoluted to present them with a written language that they couldn’t understand. This is the real deal, as if they were really in a foreign country where everything that the people said was simply a jumble of sounds (or in this case letters!) The first complication with trying to achieve this is that it’s not easy to display the Japanese alphabet(s) in Game Maker. Although Windows comes equipped with fonts designed for displaying Japanese characters, Game Maker doesn’t seem to recognise the characters as letters. In the editor, the “unknown” box appears as a substitute, which is translated in the game as a series of question marks…

So I’ve had to think of a clever way around this. Instead of using the Japanese character glyphs from romanised typefaces, I’ve found this font which displays roman letters as Japanese characters. It’s actually a replica of the typeface used in the original GameBoy versions of the Pokemon games, which comes with English, katakana and hiragana versions. Unfortunately the letters don’t seem to be in any logical order, so I’ve had to spend some time working out which qwerty key results in which Hiragana character! For example:

& = は “ha”
% = な “na”
0 = み “mi”

So if I wanted to write “Hanami is Great”, I would do so like this:

English: Hanami is great
Japanese Romaji: hanami wa sugoi desu
Japanese Hiragana: はなみはすごいです
PokeFont: &%0 & 5c* d5

I’ve written some VERY basic lines of dialogue for each character, which I’m pretty confident in translating without too much worry. With the system I’m using, each character can have three lines of dialogue which are scrolled through by pressing X on the keyboard or A on the controller. The strings for the first character are written like this:

But in-game, they appear like this:

This is Bura-san saying hello! I will still need some indicators of the objectives of the game somewhere, however I’m considering using things like sign-posts instead of direction from non-playable characters. As I’ve mentioned before, in the first conversation with Bura-san the Zashiki Warashi character is also introduced. This currently involves the screen being covered with an overlay of the large Za-chan image I made before, so the game being set fairly well from the beginning now.

By the way “wakarimasen” means “I don’t understand”, which I thought would be an appropriate blog title 😛

EMP Countdown 3 (5 Days To Go…)

Today’s inspirational indie hero is Dan Fornace, creator of games like Super Smash Land and Blackfoot (among others!).

I discovered Fornace after the release of Super Smash Land a “demake” of the Super Smash Bros series made for Nintendo systems. The Smash bros games take characters from Nintendo games and allow the player to battle them in cross-game setups. Fornace’s game does this in a similar way, however instead of creating state-of-the-art 3D graphics, Fornace decided to use a retro style for his “demake”.

Super Smash Bros Brawl, the latest instalment of the series available on Nintendo Wii.

Super Smash Land by Dan Fornace, available for PC.

The green/grey low-resolution setup is reminiscent of the dot-matrix display from the original black and white Gameboy and various other handheld devices. This gameboy allowed 4 shades of “grey” to define colours, although in reality these were very green and has resulted in this green pixel style. What amazes me (but does not necessarily surprise me) about this game is its ability to appeal to players as well as the original Nintendo series, whilst incorporating this pixel style which is incredibly simplistic. The graphics are inspired by 3D graphics, not the original low-resolution games that the characters are taken from. This is useful to me when thinking about how to convert large concept images into very small low-res images. This example has just handled this wonderfully.

Wikipedia says this about these so-called game demakes:

Although remakes typically aim to adapt a game from a more limited platform to a more advanced one, a rising interest in older platforms has inspired some to do the opposite, adapting modern games to the standards of older platforms, sometimes even programming them for dead hardware.

As well as this backwards development process, Dan Fornace manages to apply some very advanced GUI into his games (generally created using Game Maker software…) which a lot of bedroom-coded games fail to do so successfully. His menu systems work well and are graphically well-designed. Blackfoot, a side-scrolling platformer about weasels, uses this menu to demonstrate level and character progress within the game:

GUI (Graphical User Interface) and HUD (Heads Up Display) design were pretty non-existent in my last project, but I would definitely like to apply them more efficiently from now on as a way of using some of the graphic design skills I’ve picked up over the last couple of years. It’s always beneficial to the player to see important info as they are playing and to be able to change settings etc. by accessing a pause menu.
Dan Fornace has made a selection of really great pixel-art games, but Blackfoot is one of my favourites as the concept is just so weird. You can check out the stuff he does at his website here.

links for Dan Fornace:
Fornace’s online Portfolio & Website
Fornace’s Yoyo Games Profile
Official Super Smash Land Website
Super Smash Land on IndieGames The Weblog