Changes to level design

New Design

Parts of the level design simply just needed re-thinking. The second cave (Cave 2, as I have named it) took up a lot less space than it could have done, so I drew out an outline and tried filled in the gaps by hand, thinking about the level from a visual perspective more than a play perspective. This did mean I had to make changes to the design, marked by scribbles and notes, but this way I got thinking more about the aesthetics of the level. It gets very dull using black squares!

I also started thinking about hazards whilst jotting down ideas, and have come up with three types of basic “enemy”.
1. Sits motionless on the ground
2. Swings from a ledge
3. Moves along the ground/through the air.
Details to follow!

Test-Based Adjustments
Where the level only needed adjusting rather than redesigning, it was easier to make changes in Game Maker’s room editor, where blocks could easily be moved and tested and quick succession! I used this technique at the end of the level to test jump distances and spread platforms apart:

Game Maker Test

Adjustments added to Level Mockup

New Level Design
The overall size of the level hasn’t changed, but I’ve managed to use more of the available space to create a more playable level:

What I can do now is add the structure to a Game Maker project to create a playable level made of placeholder objects (in a similar way to before!) Only this time, I intend to use all the assets I have currently created, including tiles, characters and lights. More graphics can be added as I make them, so by the end of the week I’ll have something visually more finalised as well as in terms of gameplay. Today I started to block in the ryokan tiles and create platforms around them, making sure that all dimensions were perfect! I’ll be adding the character and some lighting tomorrow.


Objective: Play

My objective for this week is to have a playable prototype level ready. While this will not be an accurate representation of the final game in any way, it will:

  • include all graphical features currently made–sprites and tiles
  • show an accurate level layout, mainly using placeholder graphics
  • have accurate game physics (mainly character physics)
  • include a points system when items are collected

So far today I’ve carried on working on my initial mock-up design for the first level of Hanami. Today I’ve been really concentrating on background and decorative parts of the level, finishing off the look of the level as a whole. It gets confusing in places because I mainly used one colour, so when I get the time I’m going to use varying shades of grey to determine depth and which items you can walk in front of.

Dark Grey: Buildings
Light Grey: Inside Caves
Green: People
Pink: Sakura Blossoms
Red(ish): Red Blossoms
Blue: Water
Half-Blocks: Jump-through platforms (mainly ladders!)

If you look hard enough you can almost see how I’ve based this around the original Kanji, although admittedly it becomes very obscured…

桃色 Pink ~ Momoiro

To test out how the level plays, I reconstructed the Photoshop mock-up in Game Maker using an arrangement of solid block objects. I didn’t worry about wasting my time with large filled in areas, all I needed was a frame for the character to play on.

Apologies for the pink. I was just trying to stay topical.

For the first time I also applied my animated character sprite to the game! I worked out animation speed settings in the character preview, but keep changing my mind as she occasionally looks as though she is walking backwards in game. The pink background was actually an attempt to separate her leg colour from the background colour and show leg movement more obviously.
It’s probably important to point out a slight oversight at this point. The level design is snapped to a 16×16 grid, so some gaps between solid blocks are only 16 pixels high. When I added an extra pixel to my character height, I accidentally designed a flawed character who couldn’t fit into these spaces. Luckily with Game Maker, not all of the character has to be solid. I’ve set the character’s collision mask to allow for a non-solid edge which will not collide with solid objects!

Through a process of trial and error, I’ve settled for these settings so far. I’ve tried to keep movement slow enough to be realistic, and kept jump distances low to make obstacles less easy to avoid. As the game has only environmental obstacles, if they were too easily avoided then the game would have no element of challenge!

S_GRAVITY: 0.3 //a fairly standard gravity setting
S_RUN_ACCEL: 0.3 //a fairly slow acceleration speed
S_RUN_FRIC: 0.6 //slightly high level of friction.
S_AIR_ACCEL: 0.1 //a very low setting, attempting to avoid too much air control
S_AIR_FRIC: 5 //a very high setting, attempting to avoid too much air control
S_JUMP_SPEED: -5.5 // just high enough to reach a platform triple the height of the character
S_DJUMP_SPEED: (N/A really as I am disabling double jump)
S_MAX_H: 1.5 //a low setting, but perfect for walking pace
S_MAX_V: 4 //a decent falling speed!
S_SLOPE_SLOW (not yet tested as I don’t have any slopes!)

Unfortunately (as I am currently using Hypercam…) I can’t guarantee that the speed of this video is anything like the speed of gameplay. You will just have to trust me that the speed is not an issue!

After playing through the level a little, I realised that a lot of the platforms are too close together to act as a challenging level. I will probably add fall damage when I give the character a health bar, so calculating jump distances is vital to play. At the moment, it’s almost impossible to fall in some places, and in other it’s almost impossible to move. I will try to resolve this by spreading the level out. This video actually plays from the beginning to the end of the level, but obviously in order to collect items, the player must play through the rest of the level beneath. I’m not yet sure whether I want to stretch out the width and length of the level too, to increase play time. This may simply come with spreading out platforms.
Just as well. I still haven’t managed to pick up any tracing paper :/

Edit: I worked out that the illusion of “backwards moving legs” is caused by the similarity in foot and block colour. The problem is resolved mainly by changing the colour of the platforms.

Weekend Update #3

Some More Character Designs subject to change and/or disposal

These characters are complete rip-offs of a few of the characters from 51 Japanese Characters, so are subject to name and feature changes in the future to avoid being a total copy-cat. While most of the inhabitants of the places in Hanami are effected by the so-called Hanami Crisis, I’ve picked out a few personality types who could have avoided the crisis in various ways. These characters will play very minor roles in the game, they will appear at most once per level, and simply hand over a blossom they have found, or something similar. Everyone’s doing their bit to help!
Left Character: avoided the crisis because he is a monk. Protected by spiritual powers etc.
Middle Character: avoided the crisis because he was stuck inside a Panda costume.
Right Character: avoided the crisis because he fell asleep under a table in a cafe. Details on the “crisis” are still a little vague, so I don’t know how this would have helped him, but it did. Kirainet, the predecessor to A Geek In Japan, has dedicated plenty of its Blog-space to photos of people sleeping everywhere and everywhere in Japan, it seems perfectly acceptable to just fall asleep where ever you’re standing.

I’ll be converting these characters to pixel form soon!

Character Animations
I’ve been plodding along with walking animations for the last week, but found I was taking leaps and bounds this weekend! I scanned through as many TIGsource Forum threads as I could a couple of evenings ago to find good examples of walking cycles that were a similar size and shape to my character sprites. Ultimately, I could only find things vaguely similar enough to help, but while this didn’t provide a pure reference, I was glad to see that I was on to something original. My current cycle too has a few frames which are similar to others I found, but I had to tween using my own initiative for most of the process. Here is my current Hana sprite:

I gave it a go applying this same animation to Za-chan, although it wasn’t always clear how to go because she wears a long dress and you can’t see most of her legs! I will probably tweak this if I have to use it in the game. At the moment, it’s more of a practice in applying one animation to varying sprites:

For the rest of my character animations, I will hopefully be roping in some volunteers to perform for me so that I have photo-references of people doing various actions. Finding examples of various walk-cycles wasn’t necessarily a difficult task, but unfortunately I’m going to need more than that…

Level Design
I’m currently still set on using the Kanji basis for my level design. Over the weekend I just had to grab a pen and piece of paper and get down all my thoughts on the level, what it should consist of and how it should look. It’s slightly more decipherable than previous attempts, although some of the designs cross-over quite confusingly! I tried to draw out the entire level in the bottom half of the page:

According to Peter McClory’s level design technique, the next step would be to draw this out to scale on squared paper. However, I decided to use Photoshop instead, so that the level was easier to edit! Once it’s done I’ll print and trace it as if it were drawn on squared paper. The design currently lacks detail and is not finished, but it’s given my a huge insight into the scaling of the level, which in places in completely different to how I imagined it. Here is a rough idea of the level so far:

My Plan for the rest of the week now is definitely to get this mocked up and playable in Game Maker, possibly before tracing in the details. I still haven’t settled for any particular character physics within the Grandma Engine, so I will have to make sure that the character feels natural to handle whilst working their way around this specific level. Once the layout is finalised, I’ll fill in some detail, but this is a secondary objective to getting a playable level right now.

Some thoughts on sound…
I started to play around with a piece of music creation software called PXTone. It’s a development from Daisuke Amaya, creator of Cave Story, and it sounds as though he uses this himself to make the music for his games. It’s default instruments are all very synthy, but you can combine classic chip-tune instruments with midi-sounding instruments to create something generally retro sounding, yet something original. There are a vast amount of starting instruments, which makes this program easier to get started with than other chiptune software I’ve previously used where you must create your own instruments :S So far I’ve just had a play around to see if it would be appropriate for this project, although I’m still not sure what my music source will be yet. Original music would be a huge bonus, so this is definitely on the list.

First Try 2D Level Design

I started off today by drawing this artist’s impression of the outside of my Ryokan for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to work out what the landscape around the building looked like, and secondly I wanted to try to practice a slightly neater style of drawing that I can use for tidy, accurate level design! As it turned out, the building took up most of the page and I didn’t manage to get many surrounding objects in! But I think my tidy lines worked out much better. I have a tendency to scribble, and my designs are often indecipherable except by me!

I watched the Japanese Ring last night by coincidence. For those who aren’t familiar with the series, half of the story of Ring takes place in a holiday resort in the country called Hakone Pacific Land, which I always imagined was similar to Centre Parcs! In the Japanese film version, there is a big wooden sign at the entrance to the resort, which inspired the wooden sign next to my Ryokan. A little homage to one of my favourite Japanese novels! Whilst watching the film, I couldn’t help but analyse building structures. The film constantly moves about from city apartments to country inns, so there’s a variety of sources to go by. One notable feature of the Hakone Pacific Land cabins were that they were raised from the ground, with steps leading up to the entrance. I’m not sure if this is just a reason to hide a well under one of the buildings or whether this is a typical Japanese feature, but kind of reminded me of the part in My Neighbour Totoro where Mei peers underneath her large country house to look for a small spirit being who is hiding there. Personally, I’ve never had a house that I could look under! And I would be very worried if I could…

The house was actually recreated for the Expo 2005, which will be a really great model to design from for future buildings!

If anything, this morning’s Ryokan sketch got me thinking about the difference between the playable level background and the inactive, distant background. This will probably be mountainous, which is a backdrop which came up in Ring a few times, and makes a good background because it takes up a lot of space, is huge and consists of dull colours which won’t detract from the playable level. There may be a little sky and some clouds too.

To give myself another starting point, I started to think about level shapes. Personally, I think it’s easy to work inside a set space than design random pathways with no real structure. Just as an experiment, I looked at the shapes of some Japanese colour Kanji, as each of my levels will have their own distinct colour schemes.

The colour scheme for the first level is pink, or rose-coloured– “momoiro” in Japanese! I double checked all the kana in case the internet was playing practical jokes, I’ve heard stories of people accidentally getting “soup” tattooed onto themselves when they wanted “dragon” for example! Pink is also sometimes referred to as peach-coloured, but apart from that I think I’m safe to use this symbol.
From this, I tried to build rocky structures with buildings and other features, although I still found it difficult to arrange an entire level off the top of my head. I think my safest bet for now is to keep drawing it and adapting it until it becomes clear. I’ve also found that it’s easier to concentrate on a smaller area at once, so I may split the map into four and work on a corner at a time, starting with the top-left corner where the Ryokan is situated. Here are some of my very early scribbles, you’ll see what I mean about them being fairly difficult to read! I know what they mean though.

This is the first step in level design, according to Peter McClory who posted his really great insight into his design technique on his Blog. This was his initial level design for a game currently in development:

I’m glad to read that he favours the scrap paper approach to initial design! My original Ryokan interior design was drawn on the back of an envelope! I think it’s important to get an idea down on paper before it fades or changes, so sometimes it’s necessary to grab whatever is closest and draw.

With this design down, McClory moved onto squared paper to get a scale and accurate version of the level. He explains how important this is, because it must be designed to the constraints of the character who will be moving through the level.

Once this was complete, McClory moved into tracing paper and drew in the small details of the level, traced from the basic structure on the squared paper. The result is a wonderful pencil sketch, which I could only hope to equal! Tracing paper is currently top of my shopping list.