Weekend Update #4


Finished it! Only it covers two pages of A4 paper and won’t fit in my scanner until I bring myself to un-tape it. Next week I’ll start designing level 2.

Other than that, this weekend has been slow. I watched the Japanese Ring 2 last night and still can’t help looking at building details, although this had more of an urban setting which doesn’t apply to my building style! A couple of observations were to do with the space in front of buildings, like porches and balconies. I’ve kinda designed some roofing for these sorts of things, but haven’t come up with a good way to represent them in 2D! I’m going to carry on watching Japanese films throughout this project, but hopefully the next Japanese film I watch won’t be so horrible…

Affordable Housing (and fast food)

I’ve redesigned a few of my existing building tiles to suit non-commercial private homes that don’t need to look quite as extravagant as a B&B or a cafe. I’ve been using this photo as a starting point as I like it humble approach to home-design:


It includes similar looking features to the tiles I already have, my main changes have been to wooden-plank tiles and windows. I drew up this compare and contrast 2D version to work out which tiles to reuse and which to recreate:

Another building I’ve thought up is a mobile noodle/sushi stand. It’s based around small noodle stands that are common to Japan. However in this case I’ve combined the concept of a small noodle bar with a temporary food stall, similar to ones you would find at festivals or special outdoor events. This is mainly so it takes up little space, as its placement in the game is more for decoration than anything else. It won’t be an building that can be entered like the Ryokan or any of the homes throughout the levels. Here’s the kind of thing that gave me the idea:


And a quick sketch up of a design idea. This also combines features from various photos of dumpling stands that I’ve scanned through on flickr:

Building & Environmental Tiles
So, I’ve made good progress with the new building tiles. I haven’t made that many, but it seems that a lot can be pulled over from the set I already have! I’ve combined these here with the old tiles, although I’m not sure how clear my intentions are for their use yet as I haven’t constructed anything from them yet. I’ll probably do this straight in the engine over the top of the old tiles.

I’ve also tried to work on some environmental tiles more, especially after finishing up the level sketch. The most important point about creating these tiles is to make sure they’re not boring, as these are going to be repeated A LOT throughout the level. I used color explorer again to get some good ground colours, based on a Japanese mountainous setting (obviously, Fuji was the first mountain to come to mind at this point…)

My rock colour has ended up being that greyish-purple on the bottom row. It doesn’t seem to clash with the current wood colours and pinky-reds, although I’m toying with the idea of having coloured grass which matches the colour scheme of the level. This may change when I combine all the elements together, I’m not sure if pink grass is a little too much… I’ll be working on this much more over the next week, so expect drastic changes all round!

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.

“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.