Main Menu & Intro

I’ve made some changes to the main menu screen already. The background colour that I had chosen was supposed to represent an old paper colour, but after placing the screen in the game I felt that it definitely had to be the same as the menu colours I’ve been using throughout. I’ve also added a flashing “press start” icon which prompts the player to bring up the actual menu, which is something that no game is complete without!


When “start” or “enter” on the keyboard is pressed, the menu box appears. I’ve actually used almost an exact clone of the pause menu for this, with a little added transparency to take away the harsh contrast in colour. Obviously, I’ve changed the options to New Game, Load Game or Quit.


I’m not currently sure about the placement of the menu, however at the moment it rests in the dead centre of the screen, and moving it around makes it seem really oddly positioned! If anything, I’ll move it slightly to the right.

If the player selects “quit”, the game will shut itself down. If the player selects “load game”, the most recent save will automatically be loaded . I didn’t really see any reason to give the player the option to load previous saves or from a list of multiple saves, as the game only really takes between 10 and 20 minutes to play. If the player has not yet started the game but selects to load, a default save will be loaded which takes the player to the beginning of the game. If the player selects “new game”, instead of being taken straight into the game like previously, the player will be shown a slideshow of still images which act as the introduction to the game. These have taken me a few days to draw, as they involve higher resolution characters instead of the smaller sprites and tiles. The point of the images is to tell a brief account of the events that occur just before the game begins, hopefully these are fairly self explanatory:

1. Hana leaves the Hanami celebrations


2. Hana goes to the Ryokan


3. Hana goes to bed


I’m not sure how finished these are, but if I change anything much it will be the last slide. The story was originally that the Ryokan’s lucky cat comes to life to tell Hana about the “Hanami crisis” (in cat noises, as cats do…) I wanted to show a cat’s shadow on the floor as the cat approaches the sleeping Hana, but didn’t manage to draw anything that accurately represented this. My other option is to draw another slide where the cat wakes Hana up, but there’s something nicely concise about having three slides! I’ll get some feedback on these and work out how much more information is needed. A lot of the game is open to interpretation as it is!

A Day of Walk Cycles


In home-made games, I often find myself judging the quality of the game on the quality of the character animations, specifically on the walk cycle. To me, a game character without a natural-feeling walk animation is a character made with no real love or attention, and shows poor effort. Despite this, I would like to point out that games like One Chance can be redeemed by mind-blowing gameplay. This may look basic, but trust me it makes your brain work up a sweat.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT.

I have yet to memorise the standard human walk-cycle, or even find an example that I use every time I animated a human character. In this situation, I usually turn to Google for new examples to follow. I quite liked this example, provided by a digital animation student from Falmouth. It’s accompanied by a video of an actual human being walking, and the student’s drawn interpretation based on the key cycle points. In my opinion, this is alot more helpful than cartoon examples or stick-figure tutorials.

I tried to adapt this into the little biro sketch above, which I tried to make to the same proportions as my pixel sprite. The inconsistency between drawn characters is exactly why I am not an animator! I used the frame-based animation tool in Photoshop to get a feel for my first-try walk-sequence:

The arms are a little erratic at best, but I was surprised at how well the legs flowed! Normally in my first go, I forget which leg is which and they end up merging in the middle. The problem from here was translating this infinitely high dpi image into a tiny game sprite with legs 3 pixels high (as I reminded myself in the image just in case.) If you look back at the original sprite, the legs were going to be 2 pixel high, but I decided this probably wouldn’t help a natural walk cycle. Just to update you on the few changes I have already made to the design, here’s this morning’s sprite:

I think the only noticeable differences are that I made the legs slightly longer and the head less wide, although I can’t say for sure without comparing the two for hours. I spent a lot of time today rearranging pixels until they looked right, rather than concentrating on little bits.
To avoid getting Hana’s legs mixed up in the process of animating, I worked on each leg individually to begin with. I then placed the two images on top of each other to reveal the full Hana, although it was very difficult to predict the outcome this way! What I’ve ended up with is a sort of over-exaggerated run, partly due to the lack of pixels making very harsh shapes out of the legs:

Individual Leg Animations in Graphics Gale



I added the arms later, trying to avoid the flailing motions of the test animation. The result still doesn’t seem perfect, and definitely isn’t a natural motion! In an effort to improve this, I’ve been working on another sequence, which concentrates on the character twisting slightly to put emphasis on the particular leg which is taking the step. This seems to provide smoother arm movement, as the body twists as the arms move. It’s based on this little strip I quickly drew up (but don’t think I really finished):

I haven’t managed to animate the legs for this sequence yet, but the rest seems to working. This can especially be said for the shifting eyes, which just give the whole animation a sense of direction!
This was really easily applied to Za-chan, who is the exact same shape and size as Hana. I hope this second take is going somewhere, as it seems a lot neater than the previous attempt.

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.

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…