World Debut: The Hanami Game Design Document

This GDD began life as a humble OpenOffice Writer document, and has been abused constantly throughout the project. As a reward for all the help it’s been to me I’ve given the whole thing a makeover and transformed it into this hybrid Game Design Document/Post Game Documentation. The new document groups together the initial plans for the game with a look back on how everything turned out, so it’s been pretty interesting to make. It pretty much summarises everything on this blog!

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For a close look you can find a PDF version here.

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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.

Kannushi:
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.

Character Sprites: Hana & “Za-Chan”

This morning I set myself a goal to finish two sprites for the two game characters I have so far, which initially seemed like an easy task but has consumed most of my day so far. I’ve learned in the past that a good way to create a pixel-art sprite is to draw it by hand first, scan the image and reduce it in size. This blur of pixels normally roughly shapes out a sprite, which can be traced with something like the pencil tool in Photoshop and transformed into some semblance of order. If you try to use this method for a sprite measuring only 16 pixels in height, you kind of end up with a grey square. So that method was pretty much out of the question! Time to rethink.
As a cheeky starting point, I figured I could see what works well by creating a Hana character in the style of existing games. I chose four really different sprites, which have similar measurements but use really different styles.

Top left: Gomez from Fez
Top right: Quote from Cave Story
Bottom left: something from Rogueline (I don’t know much about this game but the art looks really great. Check it out!)
Bottom right: NPC from The Archer
Right: Sylva from Somnium! This was my own project, which acted as my introduction to the world of game design. Obviously, the sprite is double the size of the other examples, I just though I’d throw it in there for fun.

Hana in each of these games:

Surprisingly, I quite like the fat-girl Hana based on my previous character sprite from Somnium, and tried reducing this in size to see if it could work:

My second favourite had to be the Gomez clone, as it resembled the style I used in my original concept art cartoons. The style I chose to draw in was simply a quick way to get a good impression of a character, however the star-shaped figures seem to translate well into the pixel world. I tried to conceptualise what this style would look like in a small, simplified way which I could use to create an original character sprite!

The two characters I currently have are the main character Hana and the antagonist Zashiki-warashi, which I have abbreviated to Za-chan for now until I properly name her! The sprite designs are based on my original drawings, and things I like about my Fez and Somnium character clones. Here is my pixel interpretation of the two:

Both a prone to refinement over the next few days, as I try to animate them etc. Also, if they resemble sprites from other games too much I will have to re-think the design completely.

Yesterday, I added a little bio for Za-chan* to the GDD, which explains a lot about her past and her motives for causing mischief. It’s a little long-winded, but the story is starting to come together at least:

Za-chan chose residence in a large house in the late fifties, and decided to stay permanently due to the welcome of the family and the space and qualities of the old house. The family consisted of a married couple and twin girls, who she frequently played with when they returned from school. Za-chan felt like she was part of the family, and almost forgot her naturally mischievous nature. While Za-chan was around, the family received a hefty income, the ageing house remained in good condition and Sakura always bloomed for long periods in their garden. The parents made a Za-chan kokeshi doll as a gift for their daughters, and a thankyou to the spirit for the bringing of fortune. However, as the girls grew up they forgot their friend and often stayed away from the house for long periods of time while Za-chan started to feel increasingly lonely. One day, Za-chan decided to go outside of the house and climb a Sakura tree to see where the two girls were going. As soon as she left the house, it started to creak and warp very slightly. She continued to leave the house to watch the two girls, jumping from tree to tree and every day getting slightly further away from the house. Every day, the house would start to crumble a little more. Eventually, Za-chan became angry with the girls for leaving and never went back to the house. She stayed in a Sakura tree where she could watch people and feel less lonely, and eventually picked up her mischievous ways once more by throwing things at passers by. Her old house fell to disrepair, and the family moved away. They boarded up the house, leaving the kokeshi doll inside as they considered it a sign of bad luck.
Eventually, bored of annoying pedestrians, and ultimately more lonely than ever, Za-chan conjured up her most mischievous act yet. She burrowed into her Sakura tree and spread her consciousness out among the blossoms. As they began to fell around the crowds of people around the tree, she used the blossoms to kidnap the souls of her new “friends” and bring them to the spirit world where she could satisfy her loneliness.

*In Japan, the suffix chan is applied to the end of the name of a child, or among female friends. I’ve noticed in anime that older characters abbreviate younger characters’ names to the first syllable and add “chan”. Za-chan doesn’t have a particularly nice ring to it, but I’m working on a real name RIGHT NOW.

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…