Hi all, welcome to the Kana Quest Devblog. This week I’ve been working on making Kana Quest a new logo. Now I’m not going to show the new logo here until it’s 100% done and its been submitted for its trademark application. But I am going to talk about some of the issues I’ve had with the original logo, why pixel art logos are so hard to make, and some of the visual language I’ve learned this week.

Original Logo Issues:

So, lets have a quick look at the original Kana Quest logo. And go over why I’ve concluded this isn’t a very effective logo.

KanaQuestTitleScreenImg

  1. It doesn’t have a clear and readable silhouette. English speakers are strange as most of our ability to quickly identify words come from a word’s silhouette. Because this does not have a clearly visible shape, it is really hard to read at a distance. Give it a try now, stand back from your computer or phone and try read this logo. You probably can’t it all just appears as a blob of different colors.
  2. It is massive in terms of pixel usage. This logo is not small. and it is not scale-able to smaller sizes. The problem with this is that many store fronts have strict specifications of how big your logo can be. And quite simply, the old logo will not fit those specifications. Not matter how hard I try I will never get this logo to fit into a 231×87 pixel image (the smallest image size used in Steam). Also the fact that the logo is less readable than the “press any key” sign under it is all the more damning seeing as how many more pixels it was given to work with.
  3. You need to speak Japanese to read the full title. Seriously, you would think I would have picked up on that problem when I made this but hey.
  4. Contains very little Japanese visual language elements. I’m not talking about the letters here, I’m talking about the visual features and bits of visual language that are often utilized in Japanese logo making. If I had used these elements then they would infer to the viewer that this game has something to do with Japan even before they see the Japanese written.
  5. Very little contrast to guide the viewers eye. So generally speaking we will focus on the part of an image that has the most contrast in value. If you don’t know “value” is how light or dark a color is.  Look at the greyscale version of the image, there is more contrast in the background that there is on the actual logo. So you spend most of your time looking at the wrong thing.logogreyscale

Things to Do/Not Do When Making Pixel Art Logos:

So, the original logo is bad. Really bad. But if you were thinking making your own Pixel Art Logo what are some things should you do and look out for?

  • This is an obvious one, but I genuinely didn’t do it when I made the first logo; Look at lots of other logos. Find logos with the same the feeling that you want to evoke in your viewer. What are the common elements between those logos? What’s different? How do those differences affect the feeling you get from the logo? Once you’ve done that borrow those common elements and use them in your own work.
  • Draw a bunch of logo’s on paper before you start. I made the first Kana Quest logo going straight into pixel art. This was a mistake. Its really hard to effectively try out ideas when you are drawing within the a constraints of pixel art. Below is a logo I made sketching straight into pixel art within Photoshop. While it is better than the original logo, its honestly half as good as some of the warm up sketches I did in paper this last week. If you find it easier to sketch digitally than physically then do that instead, but do some non-pixel art sketches first.

AnimatedLogo1Gif

  • Beware of overlapping shapes (for example overlapping letters). This is less dire if you have more pixels to work with, but overlapping shapes require a lot of defining so the viewer can easily process what’s on top and what’s underneath. And if you are using pixel art, you might not have the pixels to do this. This isn’t a “avoid at all costs” rule, but it is something to be careful of while you are sketching (Also you might notice that I have overlapping letters in the original logo, and it just makes things harder to read).
  • Check that your logo looks good on many different backgrounds. Its fine to have a background color that makes your logo “pop” the most, but if it looks bad on flat black, white or grey there is a good chance you’ve made a mistake.
  • Don’t go with your first design. Seriously, don’t I don’t know why I decided I thought it was a good idea to do so for the first Kana Quest logo, but it was a terrible idea. Don’t fall into that trap.

 

Japanese Logo Visual Language:

So while I was doing research for my logo this week I wanted to figure out what were  the most commonly used pieces of visual language used in Japanese game logos. And I ended up identifying three common elements (all of which I’ve utilized in my new logo). And of course, not all Japanese game logos use these elements, but a very large amount do. And they use these elements more often than western games.

To this end, look at the Japanese logos for Pokemon Sun and Moon. These logos are great for demonstrating three aspects of design that are common across a large amount of Japanese game logos.

JapaneseGameLogos.jpg

So the common elements are as follows.

  1. Letter Stroke Border:  So most logo’s will have some form of border around the title text of the game. These borders have a large amount of variation depending on the type of game. The width, the roundness/sharpness, the color and shading of the border are all important of communicating the game’s identity. The reason I bring this up as a feature of Japanese visual design is that it is far more common for there to be no border around the letters in a western game’s logo. For example the logo of Skyrim has just the plain text and no border. Or you could look at Dark Souls: A Japanese game that has a deliberately western looking logo by omitting the letter border.
  2. Subheading: While not as commonly used as the letter border, this is a far more commonly used aspect of design than in western games. The most common use of the subheading is to write the name of the game again in a more easily readable text. Often games with a name written in Kanji or English will have the name written out in subheading in Katakana or Hiragana for this very purpose. Another common use is a brief description of the game or as a visual ” : “. The main variations between subheadings are the placement, and font differentiation. Also subheadings are way more likely to forgo a Letter Border than the main logo.
  3. Visual Flourishes:  These are the least distinctive to Japanese logo design when compared to the first two, but they are an important part of the design. These flourishes are often incorporated into the Title’s letters and often use something emblematic of the game (see the pokeball and the Lunala/Solgleo symbol in the Pokemon Sun/Moon logo).

 

Anyway, that’s all there is for this week. I look forward to being able to show you the new logo when its safe for me to do so, but until then have a great week!

 

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Hi all, welcome to the Kana Quest Dev Blog, after two weeks of forgetting that this is something I do I’m back. Truly I am the most consistent of self marketers.

Self deprecation aside, what are we talking about today? We are going to talk about the background art for world 4 got made, and what I learned along the way.

So before I started work on Kana Quest I had never worked with Pixel Art before. Not because I didn’t like it, just because I’d never given it a go. As you can expect this caused me to have quite the learning curve. I didn’t know about many of the common techniques, hell I didn’t even realize you were only supposed to use as few colors as possible (The first world is really bad for breaking this rule). But each world I’ve done, I’ve gotten a little bit better at it.

So what did I do differently for this world? Well for a start I used much fewer colors in sky. All previous worlds I had five colors making up the sky colors (most of which I would not reuse). This time I condensed that down to three (not including the purple at the top there as that has to stay consistent between worlds now for GUI reasons). And all three of those colors would be reused in the rest of the scene.

world4wip1

At this point this image only contains 8 colors, much fewer than my previous worlds.

Here you can see me start to reuse the colors already, the city buildings used the fuchsia at the bottom of the sky, and the roofs of the foreground buildings used the icy blue from the top of the sky. Speaking of reusing things, I got to reuse those foreground buildings. Copy pasted straight from world 2, scaled down, and recolored.

 

world4wip2

And with the station, the number of colors total is 14.

For the train station I used a lot of reference photos of other pixel artists to help get the effect I wanted. I know its nothing to be ashamed of (using reference photos) but I always try to do it without even when I shouldn’t. This is more for me than anyone else but, Always use reference photos, it makes life so much easier.

A couple of small details to look out for in the train station. The train shelter has my name written on it (テオ = Teo, basically the closest you’ll get to “Theo” in Japanese). The vending machine says うまい (umai) which means yummy, and the train station says 竹田 (Takeda). Which is the name of one of the towns in the area of Japan that I lived. I would have put down 朝来 (Asago, which is the name of the area I lived) or 和田山 (Wadayama the town I actually lived in), but I couldn’t write either with the number of pixels I had available.

World4Finished.gif

The finished background art. Total of 16 colors.

The final thing I added was some more frost on the train tracks and some clouds. I added one new color for the shading of the clouds and let that color have a pretty high contrast to the rest of the clouds. Something I’m still getting the hang of with pixel art is the need for higher amounts of contrast in the area I want people to focus on. I know its a pretty basic compositional thing to forget, but its something I frequently forget to do. So from now on I’m going to try keep it in mind more often.

Anyway, that’s all for this week. Making this background was a bit of a level up moment for me, so if you’ve had any level up moments in pixel art, design or anything really I’d love to hear them! Until then, take care.

The devblog is back! Sorry for such a long hiatus, but we are here and a lot has happened!

But today we are talking about World 3. Just before Christmas I finished making the background art and the one direction tiles so I would be ready to make some levels!

World3Level1

All the levels for World 3 are now complete! Something I might do every time I finish making the levels for a world I might “review” the mechanic deployed therein. I’m going to judge a mechanic on a few different criteria. Most of these are normal things to consider for all game design, but the last is relevant specifically to Kana Quest.

  1. Complexity of the mechanic. (How long does it take for the player to figure out how it works? How much mental strain does it cause the player?)
  2. Design Space of the mechanic. (This is another way of saying how deep is the mechanic? How many interesting scenario’s can it be used in? Does it interact in interesting ways with other mechanics?)
  3. Fun Factor of the mechanic. (Just simply, how fun is it)
  4. Ability to help teach Hiragana. (Does the mechanic play help the player to remember what a Kana is or learn new Kana?)

So how did one direction tiles do? Very very well, they have a very low complexity so much so that a tutorial is often not needed for play testers, and it has a large design space! The fun factor is a bit subjective, but personally I find it quite fun. The only strike against one direction tiles; they don’t really teach Hiragana very well. They don’t work against that goal, but they aren’t any more useful than a normal Kana tile.

The only other problem with one directional tiles is they require a large level to be interesting. World3Level20.jpg

Due to a bunch of mistakes that I made when setting the game’s camera up, I have a hard upper limit to how big a level can be. On the whole this isn’t too bad as it forces me to keep the complexity down but it does mean that for mechanics like the one direction tile, I can’t use it to its fullest extent.

But on the whole I give one direction tiles a B+. Its a good mechanic that can be used to make interesting levels.

Before I leave you today, I just want to share my personal favorite level from World 3.

World3Level16.jpg

This what the first of a series of levels that I made where the player has to figure out the correct place to start matching the Kana. In each row there is usually only one Kana that will match with the row above or below it. Thus making the physical size of the level and the positioning of the tiles crucial to being able to complete the level.

World3Level16Complete.jpg

Anyway, I hope you all have a great week, and I will be back posting regular devblogs again from here on out! I will try for once a week, but if I’ve just been squashing bugs that are not very interesting then it will probably get pushed back.

Imagine the following conversation. You’re 16, at a gathering with family members you haven’t seen in years and uncomfortable. Inevitably the topic of your interests come up. You gingerly mention that you enjoy to partake in what is colloquially known as “video games”. Your now slightly sloshed uncle proceeds to say one or more of the following lines; “video games are just murder simulators” “video games are incapable of being art” “A video game will never be able to make you CRY“.

To like video games, you have to be insecure about liking video games. Conversations like the one above have made sure of that. And if you weren’t aware, your drunken uncle’s arguments made to belittle became  a “to do list”.

Things to do in order to legitimize games.

  • Make a non violent game
  • Make a game that is #ART
  • Make a game that will people CRY
  • Make the Citizen Kane of games.

Non-violent games have existed for as long as there have been games so *pfff* who actually cares? #ART is subjective, but according to a very ugly toilet in an art gallery: As long as I say my game is #ART it is… Soooo DADAAAAA… *Jazz Hands*. “The Citizen Kane of Games” this is the Holy Grail of this list. But how does one achieve it? It’s such a nebulous concept. If ONLY there was some tangible goalpost one could use to figure out if a game was eligible for the title of “The Citizen Kane of Games”. Oh wait look at the third item. All a game has to do in order to be considered as “The Citizen Kane of Games” is make people cry.

And so to this day Game Developers will subconsciously use this list as their Game Design Documents. There is nothing wrong with artistic, non-violent and tear jerking games. Papers Please, To the Moon, Firewatch fit this mold but are genuine masterpieces. But we need to burn the list. Or at least we need to feed the list to RUMU.

RUMU is the reason this essay exists as these are the RUMUnations that were inspired by playing the game. Its a well made point and click adventure game made in Sydney (#goAussieGameDevs) about a sentient robotic vacuum that can only feel love. RUMU cleans the house for their humans David and Cecily (even though they always seem to be out whenever RUMU is cleaning), but spends most of their time talking to Sabrina the sentient house management AI.

Before the criticism comes, if you are interested in it, go get RUMU and support Indie Devs (Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/723270/Rumu/ ). And if you care about spoilers, stop reading now.

RUMU is a game that ignored the most interesting aspects of its own premise because it was too busy looking at the damn list. It doesn’t take long for you to know something is up. Sabrina always talks as if she is hiding something e.g. “David and Cecily are… out again today RUMU…”.

And sure enough it turns out David and Cecily are dead. And their death was written to inflict the maximum amount of emotional trauma to Sabrina (and by proxy the player).  David ordered Sabrina not to watch him work in his lab because it made him uncomfortable (and that he was planning on editing her program without Sabrina’s consent) and then accidentally spilled some highly toxic chemicals, forcing the lab into lock down. But Cecily was on the outside of the lab. So she emotionally blackmails Sabrina into letting her into the lab to die with David (“Sabrina if you love me you will let me in” – Cecily). Thus causing Sabrina to deal with PTSD and crippling guilt ALONE for eight years before she chooses to finish construction of RUMU.

The reveal of this moment is teased and built to the entire game. So RUMU does earn the emotional pay off. But at what cost? The core concepts of RUMU are the ethical questions that will arise when we are capable of making sentient AI. What are the ethics of changing/bug-fixing a sentient AI? Is it okay to create an AI simulacrum of people who are no longer in your life? If a sentient AI is suffering do you have a duty of care for them? But the biggest question for me is what do we owe our creations? If we make a sentient being knowing that they will be flawed (and they will suffer for those flaws), is it ethical to make that being to begin with?

Because all the time and energy of game is dedicated to building to that one tear jerk moment at the end, there is little energy left to dig into the rest of the questions that RUMU asks. Because of coarse all #artistic games need to make people cry. This idea prevented RUMU from whole heatedly and confidently tackling the ideas that would have made it something extraordinary and not just good.

And that’s ultimately what this comes down to: moving from insecurity to confidence. The confidence to make games that are earnest, silly, sad, life affirming, funny, horrifying and challenging. And the confidence that items off a check list do not determine the artistic value of our art.

 

And here we are, the end of 2017. In March this year I decided that I should be devoting all my time and effort into finishing Kana Quest. So much has changed over the course of these months and I decided as a way to wrap up this year we would look at how Kana Quest has evolved.

Just a heads up I will likely not get every detail in the chronology perfect. This is just a chance for me to look back and see how much I’ve achieved this year.

March-April 2017:

So here is where we began the year. Kana Quest was something I had worked on every now and again since 2015. And to be honest not much was happening with it. But after taking a long hard think about where I wanted to be professionally in the next 3-4 years I realized Kana Quest was the best way for me to get there.

Below is the closest I have to footage of what the game looked like at the point I started work.

But the big push that got me to work on Kana Quest was AVCon. I had seen a post in the Melbourne IGDA page for devs who were interested in showing off in Adelaide. And I decided, I should do it. So the first thing I started work on was the Sakura background of the first world. I didn’t need to have the whole game done, I just needed the first world or two done so that folk could get an idea of what the game is like.

March was also a big milestone for me as it was the first time I took Kana Quest to the Melbourne IGDA meetup. Where I learned that my puzzles were hard to see, the matching effect was hard to see, and my tutorial was terrible (I’m *never* gonna hear that last piece of feedback *ever* again 😛 ).

About mid April I decided that Kana Quest had very little in the way of character, so I decided to try experimenting with anthropomorphized Kana tiles in an attempt to fix this.

The last thing I started working on before the end of April was a backdrop for each puzzle so that the player could see the important information more easily.

 

May – June:

After making the design for backdrop in late April, May involved me actually implementing it. This meant sectioning each part up so that Unity could create a different sized background based on each level, this honestly proved to be much easier than I thought it was going to be.

Then came the implementation of the Cute Kana. Following a positive response to the experiment I did in May, decided to make all the Kana have cute little faces to give them character.

Of coarse the hard part was managing all these new animations attached to the same prefab. Which led to this nonsense. Actually the current animation tree is even more messed up. Here I only have the normal Kana animations hooked up, not the stone kana, none of the Katakana variants, and none of the other mechanics. Sooooo yeah navigating my animator panel is hell now :/

Late May and early June was where I started putting more effort into my tutorial, rather than just explaining to every person who played it what one earth was going on.

Another massive change in this time period was changing how tiles moved so that they would move with the mouse when they were dragged. This improved the feel and user experience of the game massively.

And I also added a medal system so that players could kind of choose their own difficulty setting. This meant players weren’t punished so harshly for not being able to finish the level in the minimum number of moves.

July – August:

This is the point in time where I knew that I had been accepted into AVCon, and the countdown to that was coming. So I buckled down on making everything look as pretty as I possibly could, by reworking old bits of UI to make them work with Kana Quest’s new look.

But the most important part of July was AVCon, and it was amazing.

It was the first time I got to see non friends and non game dev people playing my game and it was such a cool experience. And I got to meet Carmine the developer of Icebox: Speed Gunner and quite a few people from Team Cherry; the makers of Hollow Knight.

Shortly after I got back after AVCon I finished implementing Katakana into the game.

Its always been the plan to include Katakana in the final game free of extra charge. Most of Kana Quest’s direct competition all include it as additional DLC or as a sequel and I wanted to offer my players greater value for their money.

But once I had my Katakana in, my count down to PAX truly began. There were three things I needed to get into the game before PAX. A better tutorial, world 2 being implemented, getting it working on Android and sound. As I had been working on world 2 in the lead up to AVCon I decided to get that done first.

And by the end of August I had basically all but finished making world 2. Leaving me two months to work out the sound and tutorial.

September – October

So these were the last months before I would take Kana Quest to the biggest stage it had ever seen. I was stressed beyond belief. Originally I planned on making the music for Kana Quest myself, but a quickly realized that it would take me way too long for me to do. So I decided to employ the amazing Nicole Marie T (https://twitter.com/musicvsartstuff) for the music. Not only did she manage to compose me three different pieces of music within a very tight time window, but she also produced a product of much higher quality than what I could have produced if I did it.

Since I had Nicole on music and I’d managed to get World 2 done pretty quickly I was able to work on porting the game to Android. And let me tell you, there is a reason every indie dev and their dog seems to use Unity. That reason is porting your game is obnoxiously easy. I had it ported within the first week of September.

With three out of four things basically taken care of so early I was thinking, maybe PAX will be fine. After all I just have to fix up the tutorial and I’ll be perfect.

Rule one of game design: never ever think “oh this will be easy”. Because if you do, it wont be.

First thing I changed to make learning the game easier was the completion gauge. The idea being that if the player could see the how close they were to completing the level visually it would help them learn the goal faster.

Even once the gauge was added I didn’t finish reworking the tutorial until the end of September.

Then I made one laaaast minute change that I probably shouldn’t have.

See I have a game reset function in Kana Quest if I want to reset the memory. Thing is I forgot to factor that in with the hint screen so the hint screen would never go away once the memory was reset. This was a problem at PAX as we had to restart the application every time this happened. Fortunately this was the worst bug I encountered during PAX.

November – December:

Honestly not much got done over these last two months. About the only major thing I achieved was finishing the art for world three. The main reason I didn’t get a lot done was I was just burnt out from doing PAX.

Anyway. I look forward to writing for you all in the new year until then take care.

 

Hi, sorry for missing last week’s devblog. Was just working on stuff that wasn’t very interesting to show off, so I decided to leave it be. But this week we have some fun stuff to look at!

First up is World 3 is in the game!World3Animated.gifWell, at least the art assets are in the game. Getting the art in can be a bit arduous. First thing I have to do is position all the sprites so that they line up with the previous world’s sprites, then I have to create a new parallax manager for this world. All this does is it manages the different layers and makes sure they move the right amount. Then I have enter in all the sprites into the correct layer and set the movement modifier for each layer. Its just one of those things that isn’t complicated but just takes more time than you think.

Speaking of things that aren’t complicated but are time consuming: Pallet Swapping. So something I do for each world is I create new color variations on my UI. This is so my UI matches the color of whatever world the player is in.

This is not a complex task, but boy is it ever mundane. Open file, select color, replace color with new color, repeat for remaining colors, save, repeat for the next 80 something UI elements. Doing all the UI recolors took me about 75% of a full day to finish. The evening that I finished doing them I was talking to a friend and realized that if it took me most of a day to do the recolors if I had to repeat that process 15-20 more times that would take up most of a month to do. Not great. So I had an idea, I’m going to spend a day or two making a unity plugin that automates the process for me. You just give Unity all the files you want it to modify, each of the colors in the original sprite, each of the new replacement colors, where everything should be saved, and what naming convention it should apply. And when all is said and done I should even be able to sell it on the Unity Asset Store for a buck or two.

Finally I got the bare-bones of the next mechanic into the game. OneDirectionTilesVer1GIF

These are One Direction Kana. They can only move in one direction… also they love Harry Styles. They are “functionally” complete in that you can’t make any invalid moves with them but the game currently lets drag the Kana in the direction of an invalid move, it just then pops it back to where it began because it was an invalid move. I’m also not completely sold on the visuals of the mechanic yet, but hey its a placeholder so it will change soon enough. Anyway I decided to make this mechanic the next mechanic because its a pretty simple mechanic for the player, and it doesn’t have a requirement of learning more Kana to make the mechanic work (unlike the Mystery Kana). This is important as the start of Kana Quest has a really high learning curve, and I need to give the player a breather and some time to revise the Kana they’ve seen.

So before I head off, next week (23rd/24th) will be the LAST Dev Blog for 2017 (as the following Saturday will be my birthday and the day after that is new year’s). So what we’re going to do is, take a look at what’s changed with Kana Quest since I’ve been working on it full time. Just to see how far we’ve come.

Anyway, until then, Have a great weekend and Happy Holidays!

Good morning all. Sorry I missed last week. I was mostly still working on the new logo still and I didn’t want to publish the final finished version until I had bought my trademark for it.

But this week I’ve started work on the next world for Kana Quest. w3WIP2

So this week we are gonna look at some of the techniques I use when making these background, the way I set these things out and the inspiration for this one.

So right off the bat you will notice the biiig blank space in the second half of the picture. why is that there and what am I using it for? Well the backgrounds in Kana Quest have to repeat seamlessly. But they also have to transition nicely from the previous world. So what I’ve done here is I’ve drawn the connective tissue first but leaving a lot of room in the document so I can then draw the repeating part of the art.

Another thing about the setup of this image that you cannot see is the layer structure. Because the backgrounds will be parralaxing I need to choose what part of the background goes on which layer. And then work from the furthest back to the closest. The reason I do this is so that if there are any variations in a foreground layer’s height I can make sure the background layers still have stuff there so we don’t get a big gaping hole.

So now onto the techniques I use to make this a lot faster than hand placing every pixel. Whenever you are doing dithering (the process of creating a dot pattern to create the illusion of shading) in photoshop the paint bucket is your best fried. Let’s say we were going to make a bunch of autumn trees like in the background.

pixelart demo1

The first thing we would do is jut get some flat base colors like this. Looks pretty nasty right? But once we add some shading everything will look great. The only problem is no one wants to sit around and place all those pixels by hand.  So what we are going to do is select the areas we want shaded and use the hue saturation adjustment layer to alter those selected areas. Then we fiddle around till we have a shading color that we like. And we get this.

pixelart demo2

Then we will make a selection were we want the “in-between” of the two tones to be. I like to select the shade color with the magic wand and go to Select –> Modify –> Expand and expand an appropriate amount.

Then once we have that selection I go to my paint bucket and switch the mode from Foreground to Pattern. Also make sure you define a dither pattern beforehand (this is done in basically the same way you define a new paintbrush). Then just fill with your bucket and it will look like…. trash. But that’s ok.

Untitled-1

What we are going to do with this is use it to create a selection that will allow us to immediately fill up the black pixels with the chosen shade color and then delete the white pixels leaving us with a perfect dither pattern. Like so.

pixelart demo4

This is great because we get to have dithering in our piece without having to do any of the laborious pixel by pixel shading. Then for the final step we just repeat the previous steps for the highlights and we get this.

pixelart demo5

Seeing as these are supposed to be trees I would recommend adding some irregularity to the shading. But adding that is much faster when you have a good guide ready to go.

Finally I’m going to talk about the inspiration for the art for world three.

I wanted the first four worlds to follow a full year season cycle to begin with. The world one starts with spring and the world two is summer, so world three is of course autumn. What this means for the art is there needed to have Japan’s stunning autumn colors on display. But I also wanted to shift the perspective of the art. Spring and summer are both warm and optimistic times. Autumn is a shift, so while the color pallet is still very warm but I wanted it to be more introspective by bringing the focus to the foreground. As a result I have the brilliant red of the Japanese Maple trees the closest thing to the player. This way when we transition to world four when the mise en scene is even more cramped it wont be as much of a visual jump.

Anyway, there is still a lot of work to be done on the background before it’s finished but I’m sure I’ll get to show you the finished thing soon!

Till then, take care and have a great day!

I decided that whenever I finish a game I’m going to do a quick and dirty analysis of those games. Basically what works, what doesn’t, and what’s interesting.

First up is Mages of Mystralia. A game made in Canada, yet named itself after Australia for some reason. You play as an apprentice mage called Zia who looks at the sky one night and accidentally awakened her magic and blew up her house and family.

So here is the hook of the game, you are an apprentice. Which means you have to learn your craft. You start with four basic spells. A close range attack, a fireball, a spell to make terrain, and a shield/movement spell. But with each of these spells they have lots of different runes that can be attached to your spells which will change how your spells behave. This is the best part of the game by far. As a filthy a smashed avo eating millennial, I like my Harry Potter. And every kid who read Harry Potter has at one point wanted to go to Hogwarts, study magic, and make my own spells. Most games, you have a set list of spells that you unlock when you level up. Mages of Mystrafrica is probably the closest any game has come to that fantasy with its mechanics.

But the other spell tome has to drop eventually,  Mages of Mystrermany decided that rather than focusing on the best part of the game it would focus on combat; The part of the game that makes most of the magic system’s depth, redundant. See there is no value in crafting the perfect spell for any given combat scenario because its most effective to mash your fireball until all the goblins are dead (at least until you unlock the rain augment, then you spam rain with fire instead).

Now there are parts of the game that do reward you for exploring the depth of the magic system, but this is all side content. You have to go out of your way to experience this stuff, and usually with a lot of backtracking. For example you will find puzzles that you have to come back to later because you just haven’t found the correct spell augments yet. The result is a structure such that shepherds you along the critical path, despite the side content being the most engaging part.

So roundup time. There is an amazing game at the heart of Mages of Mystrundepants, but they forgot to focus in on and execute on that core fantasy. If you are ever planning on including magic in your game, a similar system of having different combine-able spell effects is a really good idea and you should look into it, just remember to tighten up your controls and don’t throw countless waves of boring mobs at the player.

AAAAAAAAAND I’m BACK!

So, to start with Not Dead Design’s Not Dead Designer is still NOT DEAD! I know, truly remarkable! Despite going through a full week of being well and truly outside my comfort zone I got through it, and I would like to think with a few more friends on the other side!

My week started with GCAP (Games Connect Asia Pacific), which is the Australian equivalent of GDC. And following the rules of Australian equivalent of x thing that exists in America; GCAP is much smaller than the American version, but personally I see that as a plus as too many people can be too overwhelming. But that said, this year’s GCAP WAS HUUUUGE! I went a few years back as a student when I had no clue what I was doing, and the attendance this year was at least two times larger.

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I had a pretty good time at GCAP, I made some cool new friends. Watched some really informative talks on a whole bunch of stuff. This year I was gravitating towards the business/marketing panels the most because of me wanting to learn how to best promote Kana Quest. And I feel as though I got my moneys worth out of the conference which I don’t know I did the last time I went. That’s not a statement of the quality of the conference last time, but just me saying that I didn’t know how to utilize the knowledge I received last time. I also saw one talk given by one of my old university lecturers. Though the most memorable talk was probably the one given by Rami Ismal from Vlambeer and Teddy Dief. Here’s a video clip from it. I think you can figure out why it was so memorable.

Fortunately I only made a complete ass of myself one during the whole time at GCAP. Which is always nice. Oh and I got invited to go get dumplings after the second day of GCAP with a bunch of other cool folk. So that was awesome.

Then Thursday arrived. And I had to bump into the convention center. Walking into that hall and seeing my game art next to so many other amazing games was so much more amazing that I could have ever hoped it to be. It just felt incredible. And that was before I had my TV, my tablets, my signs, my merch, my lights. I’m pretty sure I had a big goofy grin on my face the whole time.

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Well I did until my hire company was late turning up. A full two hours late. Everything was fine to be honest, but I’m the sort of person who will always assume I’ve messed something up. So the whole time I was certain that I fallen for a scam, or that I mis-typed my bank details. One unfortunate result of the rental folk being late was that I couldn’t go out and buy some small supplies for my booth. So by the time they did turn up I was running a bit behind schedule and that resulted in me missing the Freeplay Parallels exhibition that evening, which was sad because there were some games there that I really wanted to see in action. Wayward Strand, and Unnamed Goose Game were the two I really wanted to see, but couldn’t so that was disappointing.

But then before I knew it, it was Friday and PAX was upon me. PAX opened for press at 9:00 am for press. I got to meet quite a few really cool media folk, including Meghann O’Neill who writes for PCPP (PC Power Play). I mention her specifically because I used to read PCPP regularly and her opinion pieces were basically the first critical thought applied to games I was ever exposed to. And basically got me thinking critically about games myself. Which in term resulted in me wanting to make games. So getting to meet her was really exciting.

So I should probably talk about my set up at PAX real quick. So at AVCon (my first Con experience) I was really disappointed in my presentation, and resolved to improve it for PAX. Which I think I did. Well it does help that the base set up for the PAX indie pods look pretty great to begin with. But there were a few big things I changed that had a really positive impact I think. Firstly the game was running on three tablets that I hired out, not just my personal laptop and a friend’s personal laptop. Secondly I bought some LED strip lights ahead of the convention which just looked great. Thirdly, I had a big TV screen that passersby could see some prerecorded footage of the game. I felt this was a really good setup. Finally I had a version of the logo in English as well as the Japanese logo so people knew what the game was called without knowing Japanese. I feel this setup was so much better than what I had at AVCon. It was more inviting, people could tell what the game was about easier, and it attracted attention more effectively.

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I also want to talk about the people who were helping me exhibit. Lise, Chris, Katie, Luke and Reuben. Without question I could not have done PAX without all their help. It was so incredible having a team of people I could rely on to help out and man the booth when I got too tired. I want to specifically thank Lise for taking control of my social media for the weekend. I just want to thank all of them so much, because they are all so amazing and so lovely.

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(Ok soppy stuff over now)

Lol psych! I also want to thank my amazing sister Phoebe for making all of our merch. She hand made every single plushie, and every single t-shirt. She worked so hard. One the first day of PAX we sold out of all our plushies and we had to ask her to make more. And you know what she did? She worked till the wee hours of the morning to allow us to have more plushies to sell the following day. She worked so hard. I cannot thank her enough.

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Ok, now the soppy stuff is actually over, where was I? Oh yeah, Friday and the show floor has just been opened to the public. Something you don’t immediately realize about PAX is how when the flood gates open, not much happens at first. You would think suddenly there’s a sea of people. But its a bit more gradual you have a few stray people walking through and bit by bit more and more people find themselves in the indie section and before you know there a crowd of people watching your game and all three tablets are taken. In fact at times I thought I should have gotten a fourth tablet as there was that many people. In terms of how busy we were, we were surprisingly busy. We were never empty, we always seemed to have at least one or two people playing at all times. We were not as busy as RUMU the game next to us but then again, their game is about a sentient roomba sooooo, its kinda hard to compete.

In terms of the response from the players, it was really good. There were a lot of folk who were legitimately disappointed they couldn’t buy the game there and then. People loved the art style, and they liked the concept. Also the elevator pitch consistently sorta caught people a little off guard in a good way (The elevator pitch is : A puzzle game that’s a cross between Dominoes and a Match-3 game… but it teaches you how to read Japanese). I think giving people the first bit which is kinda unremarkable and then hitting them with the sucker punch of “but it teaches you Japanese” consistently got a lot of people really interested. Another really good piece of feedback actually came from a very small group of players: Native Japanese speakers. I had three native speakers of Japanese (that I personally talked to) come and play the game. And all three could sit down and play the game and enjoy playing the game despite knowing all their Hiragana already. This is really important because it means that the game aspect of Kana Quest is fundamentally a fun game. This has been a fundamental design goal for me from day one.

On the negative side of feedback, quite a few people were a bit disappointed there were no plans for Kanji, vocabulary or grammar in the game. Which I understand completely, but none of those things will work within the game framework itself. This is a very clear drawback to the approach to the design I have taken. I get to have a fun game, and it teaches a very important skill, but anything beyond the scope of that skill is basically impossible to implement in a way that doesn’t break the game. The other piece of feedback was that the actual logo needs a bit more work. While the color scheme looks good and works great, the actual logo doesn’t read very well. So I will likely be doing some more work on my branding in the near future.

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Another thing that happened at PAX was we ran a “win a free copy of the game when it comes out competition”. Basically to participate all folk had to do was draw their own Kana tile face and give me their e-mail and the 5 designs that I liked to most would win. People really liked this, we got a load of entries and it was pretty fun choosing the best designs. Once I chose the winners I animated them as if they were going to be added into the game as I thought it would be cool to see their work come to life. You can see the five winning designs below.

And I think that just about sums up everything that happened at PAX this year. It was an incredible experience and I look forward to doing it all again next year. Anyway thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!