Japanese Interior Design

It’s nearly the end of the week, so my plan for today is to write up a first draft of my Game Design Document for this project. This will help get all my scatted ideas in one place!
Once that’s done, or probably if there’s nothing on TV at lunch time, I’m going to start reading my new book A Geek In Japan” which arrived in the post yesterday ^_^. The book is based on the content on Kirainet, a blog written by a Spanish guy living in Japan. It’s aimed at Otaku like me to give a really good insight into his new Japanese lifestyle with a slightly nerdy twist. His Blog is based around a lot of good quality photography, so I hope this is reflected in the book too!

I’m still unsettled on the graphical style I want to use for the game, but before I get comfortable with a definitive style I’ve carried on practising with tilesets inspired by Japanese interior design. Luckily for me, typical Japanese interior is very minimalist and easy to convert to square tiles!

I used the image as a basis for the tiles I wanted to create. It looks slightly pixelated because I actually scaled it down until the 16×16 pixel grid fit quite well. You can already see at this stage that all the objects in the photo are very angular, if not completely square atleast all the corners are rightangles! Basing tiles on this image also helped pick out colours with the colour picker. The colours I used would not have been my first choice if I had created this from scratch.

On a separate layer in Photoshop, I used the pencil tool to re-draw a part of the image to the grid.

By this point, you can already start to see some repetition of tiles in the cupboards, the vents and the frame of the cupboard. Obviously, the tiles were incredibly basic and boring, so I continued to use the pencil tool at a size of 1pixel to draw in some detail. For highlights and shadows I chose my own colours, based on the original colours that I had picked from the photo.

Using colours slightly lighter and slightly darker than the original, it was easy to add texture and depth. In addition to my tiles, I also picked out some misc objects which didn’t align to the grid, but which could be repeated and placed on shelves etc.

Once this was all done, it was time to put my tiles to the test. The point of a tileset is that each tile can be rearranged to create a completely new layout. A good tileset would have allowed me to do this seamlessly, but this experimental process helped me see where my tiles were slightly flawed. To rearrange my tiles, I cut out each unique tiles and placed it in the corner of my grid. This is what the “tileset” refers to- often when you see a tileset it is simply a group of squares which don’t correspond to each other until they are arranged by a designer. The squares are closely pushed together simply to make good use of space.

Example of a Mario game tileset

My Shelving Tileset:

Now, my traditional Japanese Shelving unit is transformed into a contemporary Swedish storage space:

Although, you can definitely see here where my tiles are less than perfect, especially in the corners and funny little places where I used half the tile for the cupboard frame etc. All in all, this new image was created without any editing to the original tiles, so most of the tiles here would be suitable to use for game backgrounds.
In addition to the shelf, I continued to recreate the room from the photo using tiles that aligned to my grid. The result is an image which represents just some distinct aspects of Japanese interior design which I would definitely like to use in my game!

With Grid

Without Grid

“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.


If my last post has left you going “Wait…Hanami…What?” (and I hope it has!) then here is a little insight into Hanami. I can’t remember quite how I discovered it, but as I often have Otaku tendencies it managed to come up in some routine internet browsing recently. I love all things Japanese. Originally introduced through video games and cartoons, I’ve extended my knowledge of Japanese culture to pretty much every aspect, and I even speak a little bit too ^_^. I’d love to visit some day, and experience the culture and lifestyle first-hand.

Hanami literally means flower viewing, but generally refers to watching cherry blossoms or ume blossoms. It has become a custom in Japan, where cherry blossoms bloom and fall within a short one or two week period around the end of March or early April. People go outside for parties and picnics, simply to enjoy the short period when the blossoms are on the trees. Japan-Guide.com states:

Hanami can be just a stroll in the park, but it traditionally also involves a picnic party under the blooming trees. Hanami parties have been held in Japan for many centuries, and today are held in public and private gardens and parks across the country. Famous cherry blossom spots can get very crowded, and the best picnic spots are fought after.

After reading about this for a while, I started to wonder what happens at the end of Hanami, if there is such a thing as the end. My imagination immediately flashed up images of parks and streets void of people, where everyone has simply retreated back inside. I imagined a world where the blossoms just drifted on the wind and sat on the ground before eventually completely disappearing. At first, I assumed it might be quite a calm and peaceful scene, but after thinking about it a little more I thought “perhaps it would be lonely.”

I’ve never been to Japan, but I’ve seen enough photos to realise how beautiful it can be. This sense of beauty comes across well in anime set in Japan, where backgrounds are typically exaggerated. In 5 centimetres per Second, the falling blossoms are compared to falling snow, and are placed floating around ordinary objects to make them appear nice than they really are!

I think this kind of imagery would work well within a game, immediately any object can be stylised with the addition of a slightly pink hue and an array of blossoms! There are plenty of other typical Japanese objects which could be applied to give any game world a far-Eastern feel, without having to recreate actual Japan.
This video is a compilation of photos after a man’s one year stay in Japan. It helps give a good, personal sense of what makes Japan different to anywhere else in the world, and with a little help from the music suggests an sense of calmness and serenity. There’s a huge difference between Japan’s big cities and rural areas, but these are often brought closer together with the help of things like Sakura blossoms in urban areas.

I don’t think Japan is really a lonely place, which is why it might be so poignant to portray it as deserted and eerily quiet. The objective of a game set in such a place would probably be dispel its loneliness…