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”!

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    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…