No Closure. Not Yet.

The game will have fully reached beta stage by the end of this week, and I hope to start recording a final playthrough video and shorter “trailer” video that can be shown on the internet/at the critique in a couple of weeks time. I apologise for the lack of videos I’ve posted towards the end of the project, but I’ve had yet more problems with codec compatibility with the Vcap dll I had been using for a while. I’ve got time now, so I’m going to sort out the problem once and for all.

Things are gradually getting crossed of my to do list, and I’m trying to do things in an order of priority. Today I drew up that last two “slides” for the game’s perfect ending, so there’s now very little that I actually need to make or add. These final images don’t really provide closure, because I think if the player has struggled through finding every single blossom throughout the game then the last thing they’ll want is a simple “…and everyone lived happily ever after.” The intention was that the player gets this from the regular ending.

This time, Hana returns to the shrine where she placed the Kokeshi doll only to find that the doll and the cherry blossoms are missing. This could lead to two opposite conclusions- either the mischievous spirit has escaped and will continue to wreak havoc, or she has gone away and left the world to get on with life without disturbance. I haven’t really placed any clues as to which one it is, I think the player can decide this for themselves.

The next slide could be the decider, however. This shows Zashiki Warashi next to the Maneki Neko. I personally intended this image to look as though the spirit has given into her childish nature and taken on the more playful characteristics of a child, but again this is up to the player to decide. It’s a good or bad ending, but either way, the game ends here and there is nothing more to do.

I’ve also been busy finishing a full-scale mock-up prototype of my packaging design, which I’m happy to say works very well. For the mock-up, I’ve used thin black cardboard for the case, which I’ve painstakingly measured and cut by hand to make sure all the dimensions add up. The manual is printed onto glossy photo paper, which is a bit thick for its purpose but gives it a nice shiny finish! I’ve only printed the cover for now, which actually ended up going a little wrong as I forgot to print the logo onto the back. In the photos I’ve used the manual cover for the box cover, which just means you get the words “instruction manual” on the front of the box. I printed the disc art onto normal printer paper and stuck it onto the CD with paper glue!

Boss Stage

Today I’ve been planning out and creating parts for the final level of Hanami which is essentially an extended “Boss Stage”. There are no more items to collect, simply a path to unlock to the final boss.

This morning I sketched out some ideas on how the building in this level differs from the buildings throughout the rest of the game. I’d already planned the scale of the building, which was already larger than anything else I’ve made so far. The building in level 4 is the abandoned home of the Zashiki Warashi spirit, so my main focus was on making it look run down. I scribbled over the top of my building plans to work out interesting vine and weed formations, and work out where there would be cracks and blemishes on the building.

The result makes the overall picture look a lot less messy due to the distortion of all my straight lines! In this case however I’m happy for the image to look a little rough… I haven’t really worked on the background or decided on a background colour yet, I’ve been concentrating on the foreground for now!

Inside, the building looks a lot less derelict, but it is much more empty that most of the other buildings in the game. Because there are no items to collect in this level and exploration could be pretty boring, I’m planning on having a locked door which can only be opened when a key is acquired. The key is in an upstairs room, behind a door that will only open if a certain amount of blossoms are found (as a placeholder door I’ve decided that the player should have 80 blossoms, but I’ll probably reduce this if I come to code for this part of the game). Inside the building there are three upstairs rooms. The first can be entered under all circumstances, the middle door can only be opened if the specified amount of blossoms are found and the final door is sealed.

As a teaser and to prompt the player to collect more flowers if they haven’t already, all of the upstairs rooms are part of the same space, so by entering one door you can see into all of the rooms. By entering the first door you can see that you must enter the second door to acquire the key in the third room, accessible by a hole in the top of the wall.

The locked door leads to the last area in the game, where the boss battle will commence! I’ve designed this to have a small flat stage where Za-chan runs around, and two “safe areas” either side where the player can temporarily avoid attacks. I’ve drawn up a couple of new assets for this level, including a new version of the Sakura Tree which I might now use as a background element for earlier levels. This is simply a re-vamp of one of my previous designs, where I’ve made the branches a little more curvy and reduced the size of the blossoms growing on it. It looks a lot less cluttered than my previous designs, and will hopefully fit in better one the proper background is in place.

The other two new assets are stone statues which guard the “safe areas” by dissolving attacks on collision. The first Guardian is a Tanuki statue, which is commonly seen around Japan in restaurants, temples and homes. The Tanuki is seen as a sign of good luck similar to the Maneki Neko Lucky Cat, and is generally loved for being tubby and smiley! Statues are often colourful and remind me a little of garden gnomes, like this:

My statue is a carved stone statue, and looks more like this:

The second guardian of the safe zone is a Kitsune statue, a fox which is believed to have supernatural powers and immense intelligence. Both the Tanuki and Kitsune were once believed to have shape-shifting powers, and were almost worshipped for the powers they possessed. Kitsune statues vary in style, but are usually a similar shape of a fox sat upright:

And my carved stone Kitsune statue:

Like the other screenshots of this level, there are a lot of background elements missing! Here’s what it looks like so far:

The final change I have made is to Za-chan’s attack object, which was previously a piece of sushi. I’ve changed this to a small ball of light, however I’m not currently sure whether I’ll keep this or try to think of something more relevant later.

Boss Battle

I went back to the GDD this morning and tweaked little bits of information that have “evolved” during the development of Hanami. I took a look at the list of events that I wrote right at the beginning of this project, to try to work out how to conclude the game. So far, motivations for playing the game have been about progression, so I finally needed to realise a result of the player’s hard efforts!

The best way I could think to conclude the game was to have a Boss Battle, which was something I wasn’t originally planning but feel that the player would be let down if the game ended without one final challenge. So, the final door that is opened will lead to a “battle” with the Zashiki Warashi spirit, resulting in the spirit transforming back into her Kokeshi doll form. This essentially solves the “Hanami crisis”, and the player will be able to roam the world obstacle free in order to collect the remaining blossoms. There shouldn’t be many left (about 10 or so?), but only be collecting EVERY SINGLE LAST BLOSSOM will the game truly end.

The terms “Boss” and “Battle” are strong words, but it’s the best way to describe this glorified final obstacle! I haven’t introduced any new techniques to the battle, the Zashiki Warashi spirit can be de defeated in the same way as the Deceitful Blossom, by jumping on the enemy’s head. The main difference is that this enemy has a 5 health points and a projectile attack! The battle is really based on the sort of sub-boss battles you’d fight in old Super Mario games, where jumping three times on a Koopa’s head will let you pass to the next stage. I’ll record a video to show what I mean if I get the time!

EDIT: Here you are, Boss fight footage recorded exclusively recorded for this Blog:

For this stage, I’ve created three new game assets. The first is the Za-chan object, which controls everything that the enemy does. She works with three alarms, one which instigates “attack 1”, another which instigates “attack 2” and a final alarm which determines how long she is static for when hit. She has her own health counter, which is shown by my second new asset which aligns with original HUD:

The third new asset I have (half) created is an object called obj_attack. At the moment, this object is represented by my Gunkan Sushi sprite, as I haven’t actually drawn anything to go here yet… So, when the enemy shoots her attack towards at player, she is currently shooting sushi. This has been fun to test, and I will almost be sad to see it changed! This has been the easiest to program, as it’s only job is to move steadily towards the player. If the player is hit, then the projectile is destroyed, to avoid being hit twice by the same attack.

This is by far the most complex AI controlled NPC character I’ve created so far. The character moves in relation to two objects, the player and a “block” object, which keeps the enemy within a certain space. Za-chan moves slightly slower than the player, so it is possible to catch up and jump on her head! If the player is quite far from the enemy, the enemy will move towards the player. If the player is very close to the enemy, the enemy will move away in evasion. As well as this, there is a certain distance from the player that Za-chan will simply stand still and spam the player with attacks, however this will only happen if the player is also standing completely still. This system works well enough to keep the enemy moving about, but I noticed that it was possible to defeat her too easily by trapping her in a corner. So, I’ve added a final line of code that states that the enemy must move towards the player if she gets too close to the “block” object, even if this means a collision with the player. Colliding with the enemy actually causes player damage, so this in itself acts as a sort of attack mechanism.

Za-chan’s two “attacks” are thrown when each of the first two alarms go off, and this code simply resets each one so the enemy constantly attacks at an even rate. Attack 1 throws one sushi, and attack two which is less regular throws 2 sushi!

I’ve used almost exactly the same code as the Deceitful Blossom to program what happens when Za-chan is jumped on. I’ve simply changed the squashed flower sprite to a new sprite, and ensured that during this time she can neither deal or receive damage, and she cannot move! I thought it would be appropriate to make a new sprite animation where she sits down and rubs her poorly head after having an full grown woman jump on top of it…

Once she has been defeated, I’ve also created a new “transformation” animation which turns her from spirit form to Kokeshi form. To do this, I created a cloud which passes over her to reveal the doll underneath. I’ve made this in the same style as my previous “auspicious clouds”, and drew out the animation first to make sure the swirls moved bout fluidly:

And here is the final result:

At the moment, I’ve set the battle out in the most final stage I have made, even though this is currently far from finished. The aim for the rest of this week is to finish the inside of the building and build a proper “Boss Stage” level for the battle to be held in. I’ve recorded a video of the battle so far, although I think I still need to make some tweaks to the rapidity and speed of attacks. I’ll probably have to get back onto SunVox too to create some epic Boss Battle music!

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.


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.

Xin Nian Kuai Le

Unless I’m horribly wrong and the internet has lied to me again, I may have just wished you a happy new year in Mandarin. Today’s fortune cookie told me I would make a name for myself, which is a fairly decent omen for the upcoming year of the Dragon. As a bonus, I’m up to date on my development timeline (which I will probably post soon so you know I’m not lying!) This week: Gather! (as in collecting my concept images and research, I think) and Experiment!


I’ve spent most of today researching my little wrong-doer Zashiki-warashi to make sure its an appropriate choice for an antagonist. Its characteristics differ depending on the source, but there are a few constant characteristics which seem consistent in all accounts:

Zashiki-warashi takes the form of a child, boy or girl, between the ages of 3 and 12.
It prefers to live in large, old Japanese houses, and its presence is recognised from its little acts of mischief.
While it inhabits a home, the residing family receive great fortune.
Occasionally, a family member (normally a small child) will be able to see the Zashiki-warashi, but according to at least one account, only when it is about to leave.
Once the Zashiki-warashi has left, the family fall to ruin.

The Zashiki-warashi will not necessarily be placed in shrines, but I found this cute little Garden Statue which represents one! It’s though that you can attract a Zashiki-warashi by recognising its presence, so keeping one of these statues may help bring you luck. Due to the variations on the image of this spirit being, there are few visual sources on the internet, although the Hello Kitty at the top of the post is another representation!

For my Zashiki-warashi character, I’ve chosen a girl-ghost as a good adversary for my girl-hero. That way there’s no breach of male-female etiquette when it comes to conflict and in a way, they can relate to each other. Also, by coincidence the majority of the characters currently in working progress have turned out to be male, so this helps balance things out a little! I’ve tried to portray her as a good-natured being with a childish sense of mischief.

I’ve made sure to block out the eyes, as I’ve noticed in Jizou statues there’s never any eye detail. I attempted to convert my design into statue form in the top right hand corner, based on the photo of the statue I found. I somehow managed to make my drawing look more like a Kokeshi Doll than a statue, so I went with this for my colour version. The majority of Kokeshi dolls seem to have much less smiley disposition, so I used the opportunity to create something a little more sinister!
The article in the link suggests that originally the kokeshi dolls represented a “wish for a healthy child”, so my final design may well be a little wooden figure rather than a stone statue. But one with less wonky eyes and fewer graphite smudges:

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”!