Archives for posts with tag: design

First thing’s first, I know I missed the January devblog. I’m sorry it wont happen again. But… it’s here now, and it’s a new year, which means this is the first devblog for 2019! This is going to be a big year for Kana Quest as this is the year we are going to release! Knowing the end is in sight is a strange feeling as I’ve been working on Kana Quest for the last two years of my life. But I hope you all will be there with me as we run headlong down this final stretch!

So what does this “final stretch” look like in terms of development? Well for me personally that means making all the levels. I had spent most of 2018 finishing the art and making all the visual assets, but in terms of gameplay, very little was being made. But now that I’ve finished all the visual assets and Reuben my programmer has finished programming in each mechanic, I am able to churn out levels very quickly. How quickly is that? Well since last month’s devblog, world 5, 6, and 7 now have all their levels made. Of course these levels still need play testing before they are 100% good to go, but they are playable, and reasonably balanced.

So, seeing as levels are all I have been doing this past month, I’m gonna tell you how I have been making them. And some of the weird things I have to pay attention to when I’m making levels.

The first thing I do when I start making a level is I figure out, how hard I want this level to be, and what kana I want the player to see.

flowchannel

Sorry if this is a bit too game design 101 here buuut… This is the flow channel. Flow is that feeling where you are in the zone. But getting the player into the zone requires very careful balance from the game designer. So something I’m sure you will notice when you play Kana Quest is that every three to five levels will build in difficulty, only to drop back a bit and then continue ramping up in difficulty.  The reason you do this, is that it’s just more fun for the player.

In Kana Quest there are a few different ways you can control the difficulty of any given level. They are:

  • The amount of Kana in a level
  • Size of the level.
  • Potential board state permutations
  • Number of potential solutions
  • Complexity of solution.

So lets go through each of them. And first up is the amount of Kana. So in my experience, you have a hard cap of about 14 -16 different Kana in a level. Why is this? This is because past this number, there is too much information for the player to comprehend. And personally, even I can’t process levels with this many Kana. It’s also a difficulty that isn’t a lot of fun for the player. Solving the puzzles is fun, recognising kana… not so much.

The size of the level like the amount of kana, also has a hard cap. This time its not so much about overwhelming the player though. The largest you can make a level in Kana Quest is 7×4. This is simply because if you make the level any bigger, it will not fit on the screen. I know that sounds silly, but due to the way pixel art works, there is no easy way to just “zoom out” without also causing a lot of pixels to bunch and stretch. But honestly, most of the time this is plenty to work with. If you are smart about how you construct things this is not actually as bigger constraint as one might think it is.

What I mean by “potential board state permutations” is how many possible unique configurations can be made in any given level. So for example.

These two levels have the same kana, and the same starting positions but the first level is significantly easier than the second because the number of possible configurations of kana has been significantly reduced. Forgive me if my maths is wrong but the level on the left has only 120 unique board positions, whereas the level on the right has 362880 unique board positions. And while an advanced player can see through all the unnecessary information in the second level, it doesn’t actually make the puzzle any more fun for the advanced player because in both scenarios, the solution only requires two moves. So while you are giving advanced players a disappointing level, you are giving new players a level that is so information dense they will almost always solve the level by brute forcing the solution. What I’m trying to convey here is that when designing puzzles you need to control the amount of possible states so that you can guide the player to the solution. Now for more advanced levels its fine to offer levels that are more open ended, but you do need to be very sparing with how you do so.

Next up is the number of potential solutions. This category is a tricky one as personally I feel as though levels with multiple solutions make the level harder, not easier. Why you might ask? Well because it means that your players are less guided towards the optimal solution. It means they are more likely to get caught on unintentional red herrings. It also means that if the player wants to get a gold medal for a level, but they have only ever completed the level using an alternate solution that is more move intensive than the planned solution, they could spend way too long trying variations on the “wrong” solution. Really this is a side effect of having too many potential board state permutations, but every now and again its fun to have levels that offer multiple answers. Lots of levels in Kana Quest only have one solution, and lots of levels have multiple, the important thing is using this technique intentionally.

The final technique that I can use to control the difficulty for the player is probably the most important one. And that is complexity of solution. If the solution only requires two or three moves, its not a particularly complex solution. This usually means that the level isn’t super difficult. However, completion critical moves increase the complexity. A completion critical move is a move that if not made, the level cannot be completed.  Of coarse this can then be balanced with previous techniques. For example.example3

This is a level from world 1. And is in my opinion one of the best levels in that world. This has a very low complexity of solution, but in contrast to the all the levels before it, it has a slightly higher difficulty. But that difficulty comes from a larger number of potential configurations, multiple solutions, and a larger level size. The result is a level that isn’t too difficult, but does force the player to stop and think about the solution. But as the game ramps up in difficulty, ramping up the complexity of the solution is usually the safest way of doing so. Why is that? Well, it means you can control the amount of information you throw at the player to a far greater extent. Remember, you don’t want to overload the player with information, if they do they just start brute forcing the puzzles and have a bad time.  So an example of a good level made by giving the player a complex solution is this level.examplesolution

The reason this level is good is because it requires a good amount of moves to complete, and there are only two completion critical moves required (using the Slime Kana on the correct Kana), and those moves can be executed by the player at any point. Whereas, here is a level that has gone way too far on the complexity of solution.example3

This level is way too hard and is to date the most difficult level I have made. And the reason is, that every singe move in this level is a completion critical move that requires being done in the exact right order. If you make one wrong move, you cannot complete this level. The fact that this level has a relatively constrained number of possible configurations is its only saving grace. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I remove, or rework this level before the launch of the game.

I think the real take away from this blog if you are making, or thinking of making your own game is; What are the different vectors for making a game difficult? Are there enough? Are there too many? What are the implications of using one of those vectors? What are the implications of using multiple of those vectors at once? How far can one push any and all of those vectors before a game becomes impossible? And most importantly, at any point in a game, what vectors of difficulty does the situation call for?

Anyway, these are the things that I’ve been thinking about for the last month or so. I’ll see you next month. If you have any questions about game difficulty or you disagree and you want to start a discussion, feel free to leave me a comment and we can have a chat. Until next month, take care.

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Hi all and welcome back to the Kana Quest devblog!

This last month was a busy month for Kana Quest development because for the first time, we’ve had to deliver to an “official” deadline. There have been unofficial deadlines before, like PAX and AVCon last year, but those deadlines were a bit fuzzier. They were more “make sure your game is in a presentable state by this time” sort of a deal. This deadline was much more concrete.

So what was this deadline? Well as a part of receiving funding from Film Victoria I have to complete milestone reports to prove to them that their money is being well spent and that I am on track to completion. For this milestone I said I would have the game’s art complete, and the game’s mechanics complete. And… we got there. All that remains at this point in time is bug fixing, level design, tutorials and balancing. That’s actually still quite a lot of things but lets not focus on that. Let’s focus on fun stuff. Like the full list of all the different kinds of Kana in the game!

STONE KANA: These poor kana have been turned to stone, and thus cannot move.

CtStoneHa

 

MYSTERY KANA: Look at these shifty looking Kana. They’re hiding something… Oh wait they’re hiding their true face! Pay attention to what they do and do not match with to discover their true identity.

mystery

 

ONE DIRECTION KANA: These Kana can only be moved in one direction. They have a big arrow on their head showing which way that is.

OneD

 

ICE KANA: These Kana have been encased in super slippery ice. They will keep moving until they can’t. Getting them to go where you want can be challenging.

IceDemo

 

GHOST KANA: These kana have lingering regrets. Mostly not wanting to pass onto the other side. But that’s no problem, you can bring them back to life if there’s enough friendship to go around. Make a chain of Kana the length of the number on a Ghost Kana’s head and they’ll come back!

GhostKana.gif

 

SLIME KANA: These gooey Kana don’t like to make friends. But they do like helping other Kana! Attach one of these Kana to any other to change their vowel sound!

SlimeKana

PARALYSIS KANA: These Kana are sick! You can move them once before they turn to stone!

Paralysis

 

BLUE SLIME KANA: These Slime Kana are a bit picky in which Kana they help. They will only help Kana with an “i” sound. But once they are attached the affected Kana will have two different vowels to match with other Kana. This mimics how the “y” sounding letters in Japanese attach to “i” ending kana to create blended sounds.

Eg. (yo) よ + (ki) き = (kyo)きょ (as in Tokyo)

YaSlimeKana

 

SHAPE-SHIFTER KANA: These Kana can become anything! Whatever you need them to be, they can be it!

Transform

 

EVIL SLIME KANA: These Slime Kana nice like the others. They are angry and will stop you from completing a level unless they are attached to another Kana. But they make it harder for you to match with other Kana. This mimics the tenten and maru symbols in Japanese. You attach these symbols to letters to change the consonant. E.g. a (ta) た becomes a だ when you attach those two dots called tenten to it.

MaruKana

 

JERK KANA: This kana is called “n”. “n” for “n”obody likes them, because they are a jerk. They’re mean, they call the other kana names. They are so unpleasant that other kana cannot be happy if there is one near them. Fortunately there is a way to get rid of them. Move a jerk kana into this little portal thing and they will GO AWAY. Where do they go? Don’t worry about it.

 

And that is all the Kana! Its been a long road getting all of these in the game, and I can’t wait for you to figure out all the puzzles they are going to make.

Anyway, I’ll see you in the new year! Have a happy and safe holiday season, and from me and the Kana “明けましておめでとう” (Happy new year in Japanese)trailerWIP2

 

Hi all, welcome back to the Kana Quest Devblog!

A whole lotta stuff has been happening for Kana Quest this month so lets get to it!

Firstly is THE NEWS. There is only one really big piece of news and it came at the end of Melbourne International Games Week last month. Now I had known about this for a while, but I am now officially allowed to talk about it. Kana Quest was successful in receiving Film Victoria Funding in the most recent funding round! I’m really proud of myself for getting this funding, there were a lot of awesome games asking for funding in this round and I was one of the lucky ones to get through.

Here’s a link to the official announcement: http://gamesweek.melbourne/film-victoria-games-investment-greenlights-14-new-projects/

But enough tooting my own horn, onto the new stuff! And as of this month, I can say that Kana Quest’s background art is now 100% complete. Last month there were two more worlds needing to be completed. Well, they’re done now!

world12Complete.gif

So this is world 12 in the game, showing off the parallax effect. So the idea behind the last three worlds was a three part story of a Kaiju (Godzilla type monster) coming to Japan, getting into a fight with a big Mech, and then the aftermath. World 12 is the the fight with the Mech. A couple of small details with this piece. The buildings in the background are the same buildings that appear in World 9 which were based of the main street in Akihabara. These buildings though were scaled down, had their colour changed and had a bunch of bits torn out of them to show the impact the fight was having on them. Also the Mech has a カ on its chest with is the Katakana for “ka” and the Kanji for power (Chikara). I was also going to give the Mech and the Kaiju simple idle animations, but the animation for them and nothing else looked weird. I also chose this colour pallet to make this world feel dangerous and scary. A lot of villains from TV shows have a purple and green colour pallet so I decided to lean into that. Also this world is the first time I’ve used outlines in Kana Quest’s backgrounds. Choosing if you are going to outline in pixel art is one of the biggest stylistic choices you can make, and I decided pretty early on that I wouldn’t use them for the majority of the backgrounds. But As I wanted to draw attention to the Mech and the Kaiju in this world I broke my usual rule.

world13ProcessGif.gif

world13wipBorderOff.png

And here we have, THE FINAL WORLD. So the conclusion to the three world “story arc” is that the Mech has defeated the Kaiju and stands victorious looking to the sun. But in the foreground we see the destruction that the fight has caused. A couple of notes, this scene was definitely inspired by FLCL and the scene where Haruhara Haruko leaves at the end of the series. It had everything I wanted from the final world, it had dramatic imagery and it was used to close one of my personal favourite shows (don’t watch the second season though, its awful).  I also decided to change the sky for this world. Every previous world has had a gradient for their sky. And that gradient was achieved with dithering so I could keep my colour count low. But for this final world I went with a flat off white with a bright red sun in the middle of it so that it would look extra unsettling next to the other worlds, but also to mimic the Japanese flag. I also talked briefly about how I have generally avoided outlines in the backgrounds. In this world I deliberately broke that rule to further hammer home that this world is not like the others. The final little detail that I put in here is the dog at the front. He is my actual real life dog. He always looks very dramatic so I thought he would fit right at home in this world.

Next up is how the game is progressing in terms of Mechanics. And I can say, now that Reuben has been working on the game for a month, very very well! Since coming on board he has cleaned up a bunch of code behind the scenes, added in FIVE mechanics into the game. This brings us up to 9 out 13 mechanics in the space of a month! And now that the world art is done I have even started making art for some of these mechanics.

GhostKanaDemo

This is a Ghost Kana. Ghost Kana, cannot move or match with other Kana. Also you might have noticed, they don’t have a Hiragana/Katakana on their head. This is because once you make a group of Kana with a size equal to a Ghost Kana’s number, they will come back to life as a normal Kana. This is got some great play to it especially when you add in some of the other mechanics. Once all the levels for this mechanic’s world are done I’ll do a break down of this mechanic on how it can be used and how much depth it adds to the game.

So anyway, that’s basically all I have for this month. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Until next time, take care of yourselves and have a good month!

 

 

 

Hi all, this week I finished illustrating the art for World 7 in Kana Quest. And I’m pretty pleased with the end result. So I thought I would go through each of the “work in progress” images and talk about the things I did.

World7Wip

So here we have stage one. I wanted this world to be based around yellows and reds but then balancing it with light blues as the contrast colours. I also try to centre each world around something different, and I hadn’t done Japanese shops yet so I started with the central theme of the world from there. A couple of small details I put in here is the convenience store says Konbi 2. The word for 2 in Japanese is “ni” and “konbi” doesn’t actually mean anything. But if you add them together to make “konbini”, you get the word for convenience store. And on the billboard above, it says “Wayward Strand Coming 2019”, along with a QR Code to their website. I’m putting in a reference to this game because the Art Director (Goldie Bartlett @GhostTownGoldie) helped me out a bunch when I first started working on Kana Quest, and I wanted to acknowledge the help she gave me beyond the credits. The final little detail here is the drive through restaurant is called Zukina and is blatantly ripping off Sukiya a popular Donburi chain in Japan.

 

World7Wip2

Here’s the next stage. The biggest change here is the massive change of the colour pallet. I mentioned earlier that I wanted to have the yellows and blues contrasting, but the yellows I was previously using were too green, and thus they ended being complimentary with the blue. So I redid the pallet, grounding the shading with a nice warm purple which gives everything a beautiful looking away from a sunset sorta feel. Apart from a couple of small alterations these colours stayed the same until the end. And I feel as though, you should be fine with deciding to change your colour pallet if the current one isn’t working. Every time I’ve done so has resulted in much more striking scenes. Of course if you have too many colours doing so might be a bit tricky, so maybe stick to a few colours to start  with, then change them as needed until you are happy and then use as many intermediary colours as you like.

 

World7Wip3

Once I was happy with the foreground shops, and colour pallet I moved onto making the background buildings. I have a fair bit of trouble with things that are not in the foreground because you need include less detail, but because it’s pixel art, you need enough detail to properly convey what it is. And to be honest I don’t think I’ve mastered this yet. I probably included too much detail on these background buildings. Also a small quirk about how I make these scenes, because each layer is parallaxing (foreground layers scroll faster than background layers) I have to make sure that the art for the background buildings extends to the lowest point in the foreground shops, otherwise there will holes. But the result is a bunch of artwork that just isn’t seen 80% of the time.

 

World7Wip4

Next up was completing the shading on the background buildings. There’s not a whole lot to say about this stage, its just a slightly more developed version of the previous image. Except that in this one, I’ve repeated the background buildings so they take up the whole screen. I do this to get a better idea of how it will look in game.

 

World7Wip5

Next up is the foreground. This is the first time I’ve had an actual person in the foreground. I had people in the stalls in World 5 and some students in World 6. But noting this front and centre. The main reason is lack of courage. I started learning pixel art specifically for Kana Quest. But I finally stopped putting it off and did it. My process was as follows. Create a rough sketch of the outline of the character. Then clean up the lines so everything looks nice and neat. Then block in large areas of colour going over the previously created line art. Finally add in small areas of shading and detailing.

 

World7Wip6

Last one! There are only two main changes here. Firstly I finished the sky to have the same dither effect used in all the other worlds, and then I gave my young boy a baseball cap. What team is it for you ask? Why, it’s a cap for the Hanshin Tigers: the team of choice in my area of Japan. I decided to give him the cap because he looked like a kid who’s a part of the baseball club at school, and thus would totally be all about his local team.

Fun fact about the Hanshin Tigers, they haven’t won in decades and its all because they got cursed by Colonel Sanders. And no, I’m not making this up. When they last won the championship, their supporters threw a Colonel Sanders statue into the river next to the stadium. Why? Because they thought it would be fun to find lookalikes of team members in the crowd, and then throwing them in the river in celebration. But the Hanshin Tigers had one American player. And they couldn’t find another westerner, so they just threw in a Colonel Sanders statue in instead of a fan. But the following years they went from being the champions to 18 years of ending in last or second last place. So years later they went in and pulled up the statue. But they only found the top half, and the Colonel’s hand was missing. But their performance improved a bit. So a few years later they went looking for the other half, and found it. Once again the team’s performance improved again. And they were now one of the better teams but they kept getting unlucky losses towards the end of the season. So there is a huge bounty on finding the missing left hand, but alas they are yet to find it. The found parts of the statue actually now rest inside KFC Japan’s headquarters.

1200px-Curse_of_the_Colonel_DSCN7774_20090921

Look upon the destroyer of Hanshin Tiger’s fan’s hopes and dreams.

 

Anyway, that’s all I got for this week. Until next time take care and have a great week!

Hi all, welcome to this week’s Kana Quest Devblog. This week I started work on World 7 in Kana Quest, and as a result I have been looking at a LOT of reference images. And looking at my references, made me start breaking down the different stylistic patterns I was seeing. Then in turn I started thinking about how those patterns affect the feel of a piece. So today we are going to look at a two different techniques/styles in pixel art, and what feelings they convey.

The first technique I want to talk about is the use of outlines. A lot of character art will have strong lines around the character as well as components of the character it’s self. Compare these two pieces of character art.

They both utilise an anime an anime-esque aesthetic but the end result and feel from the two is massive. And the pattern that I’ve noticed is that the lack of borders make a piece of pixel art feel more mysterious. While the inclusion of borders make the piece more concrete.  The piece that really illustrated this to me though was this one.

I love this piece. The reason this piece is so evocative for me is the incredible use of both bordered and border less pixel art. The silhouettes of all the creatures is clearly defined by the borders but the shading is done without. This creates a wonderful push and pull of between the known and unknown. Of course the use of mono directional dithering (seen in the clouds and the antelope monsters fur) further adds to this feeling.

 

Which brings me to the topic of dithering in general. Depending on how you use dithering it can change the feel of a piece dramatically. In this piece the use of irregular dithering makes the scene even more surreal and mysterious.

 

 

 

 

mossy_robo_by_sky_burial-d9u76yl

Source: https://sky-burial.deviantart.com/art/Mossy-Robo-594919677

And yet, dithering can also cause a piece to be almost “too real”.

db8c9a9259fa221c720fb700c77fcc92

I tried to find the source of this one, but I couldn’t find it. If you know the source please let me know so I can edit it in!

And I think it all comes down to the type of dithering being used, and the extent that its implemented. What I mean by “the type of dithering” is if the dithering follows a consistent linear progression (as seen in the second image) or if its irregular (seen in the first). Also you can see that in the first image, the use of dithering is far more restrained, whereas the second image uses it basically everywhere. When I first started doing my art for Kana Quest I was definitely using dithering way too much. And I’ve come round to the view that your dithering should be used to create the texture of the piece. In the case of the mossy robot the dithering makes the texture feel kinda chunky and bumpy.

Anyway, while writing this I realised that everything I talked about has a consistent theme. Each of these techniques creates a tension between what is “realistic” and what is “abstract”. Using dithering over flat colours; more abstract (usually). Using outlines and borders makes pixel art more abstract, but more easy to define. And I think something that I want to be more conscientious about going forward is how abstract I’m willing to push the art of Kana Quest.

But before I go check out the progress on the art for  World 7 in Kana Quest. Its coming along nicely so far, though there are a few things I think I’ll have to fix up. I’ve also had a blast hiding as many little references into this one as possible. See if you can find them all. There are three so far. Anyway, until next time have a great weekend!

World7Wip

 

 

 

 

Hi all, and welcome to the Kana Quest Dev-Blog for this week. This week I am going to show you a small part of Kana Quest’s pipeline. Specifically, the process I have to go through to add new world art onto the previous world. Which, full disclosure, is terrible. When I was making my parallax system I did not consider the fact that someone would have to use said system. And that someone would ultimately be me. How that slipped my mind as a solo game dev, I don’t know but here we are.

With that said, what do I mean specifically when I say I am adding the new world art onto the previous? Well a few weeks ago I talked at length about the process for creating the background art for the 6th world in Kana Quest. Isn’t it nice? But unfortunately I now have to get this art from Photoshop, into Unity.

World6WIP3

Legit, still really chuffed with how this art turned out. I would give myself a pat on the back if it weren’t for the horror I am about to inflict on myself.

And then once into Unity, get it to connect onto the previous world’s art. You would think this is easy. And it should be. But then you know… my coding exists sooo guess we can’t have nice things.

w5wip

I remember when I thought getting this world to connect was going to be easy.

See I can’t make them connect by putting the two finished images side by side and creating some transitional artwork. Because of one thing. All these environments use a parallax effect, so the point in which each part of the world will end in different places. And the only way for me to know exactly where that is, is to make a world’s art, implement it, then figure out where the end of that world will be, and finally create an end point for the art. But then we have to start worrying about the game objects that handle the parallax effect for the art, as well as trying to make the transition seamless by making transitional art. Like I said before, this is not a great pipeline. But on the bright side Franz Kafka is incredibly proud of me.

So let’s look at what everything looks like at the start of this “process”. This is the level select scene before I add any of world 6’s art.

5thWrldScene

As you can see in the first image the foreground images extend way further than the sky does. This is to compensate for the parallax effect moving these images faster than the ones in the background.

World5Gif

As you can see in game, everything lines up and looks nice, unlike how it does in their initial placement. Remember, as long as the player doesn’t see your garbage fire you can just pretend it doesn’t exist.

 

So the first job I need to do is figure out the point that the transitional art will start. This is pretty easily figured out by scrolling to the end of the world and seeing roughly where the camera ends.

5thWrldScene2

The arrow is pointing to the effective end of world 5 because it is the point where the last level button appears to the player. So everything beyond this point will be used to transition to the next world.

So now that we have our end point we have to start making transitional art. I start with the sky because we want it to the first to change. The sky moves the slowest and thus will be the last to finish switching over to the new pallet (even with a head start). Making the transitional art is also really easy as it just involves dithering between the original colours to the new colours, like so. It’s vital to give yourself easy goals to score. This will lull yourself into a false sense of security, and get you thinking “Surely its not as bad as I remember”.

W5SkyEnd

5thWrldScene3

As you can see here, the transitional sky image cuts a little bit into world 5. 

Then we repeat this process for each layer in the world. So for this world we do it for the buildings, the park, the stalls, the lanterns and finally the ground. Each layer should be staggered a little bit so that the final result should look something like this.

5thWrldScene4

You can see how the off screen starting point for the transition art is staggered so that the foreground images start further away. But by the time the player scrolls past they will all line up and look great. Remember, as long as the player doesn’t see your garbage fire you can just pretend it doesn’t exist. 

But this is just for the transitional art. Once we have the transitional art in place we have to position the world 6 art to line up properly. But because the parallax effect is handled by different objects for each world, you can’t line up the images in the inspector and call it a day. I have to figure out where those images have to be so that once moved by the parallax script in game, they line up. But in the scene viewer, the final positions overlap and look pretty awful. This step is the most time consuming and irritating as its like putting together a jigsaw puzzle except all the pieces are moving and you don’t get to see their true position when you want to place a piece. But at least the result is a nice clean transition. Remember, as long as the player doesn’t see your garbage fire you can just pretend it doesn’t exist.World6ImplementedGIF.gif

So how would I improve this pipeline? Well I would start by improving the parallax script. If I had designed the parallax script to handle all the worlds at once, a lot of this irritation would be improved. Because then I could simply place the transition images where they need to be in the Scene Window and not have to switch between running the game to figure out the placement and then back to the Scene Window to position things correctly.

Secondly if I had fixed world lengths for each world I would be able to standardise the interval between each world’s images and thus be able to immediately place new world images by entering that interval into the Transform component’s X value.

Thirdly I could make the parallax script run in editor so that wherever the Scene window is looking at, the script will get that X value and parallax as if the camera was in that position. But once again this relies on there only object that handles the parallaxing.

Anyway I hope this this been an “fun” look at Kana Quest’s pipeline and hopefully it inspires you think about your pipeline and the inefficiencies built within it before you start production. Because that is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made with Kana Quest. Ensuring quick and easy implementation of things is something worth spending a fair amount of time to work out. If you don’t get it sorted it can and will cost you days, weeks and even months of development time. And if you are really careless, you could end up writing a Dev-Blog about “The World’s Most Irritating Jigsaw”.

Until next time, have a great week.

Hi all, there’s not going to be a proper Kana Quest Dev Blog today as upon completion of my funding submission, my computer decided that it was time to call in sick. I’ve backed everything up, so you don’t have to worry about me losing Kana Quest, but it has put me out of commission this week. But thankfully the video game gods were smiling on me this week and gave me something relevant to talk about: Pokémon.

Yes, a new Pokémon game is coming. And as someone who has played every generation since gold/silver, I am very excited. But from the trailer we can see that they are planning on making some pretty big changes to the core formula of the game. And this has gotten me thinking about some of the core aspects of Pokémon. Aspects that people often overlook, but are vitally important. So we are gonna do a deep dive into things that Pokémon has gotten right for so many years, and some of the challenges Game Freak might have with “Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee”.

And we begin with the most iconic part of any Pokémon game, your starter Pokémon. Do you choose, grass, fire or water? This is a really small detail but it’s so important. By limiting your choice to only three types Pokémon avoids overloading the player with too many choices. This also allows Pokémon to introduce the player to the rock papers scissors gameplay that Pokémon types have without any tutorial. If the starting types were Flying > Fighting > Rock, in terms of gameplay they would be near identical. But no one is going to instantly know what beats what having never played before.

Now of course the Let’s Go games will give the player a choice of Eevee (Normal Type) or Pikachu (Electric Type). Having these two as your starter removes that instant tutorial aspect. However at this point in time, not explaining how types work, is not the end of the world. But this does create a challenge for the designers of these games in terms of balance both in early and late game.

See Pokemon’s early game is balanced around the player having one of the three starting types. The moment you can no longer rely on this, early gym challenges and wild Pokemon encounters can become incredibly difficult. Both Eevee and Pikachu have huge type disadvantages against the first gym: Brock a Rock Type user. Now this isn’t as big a deal for Pikachu because the second gym is Misty a Water Type user. But for Eevee, at no point in the game will it have a type advantage.  Regardless, both starters face the problem that new players (And there will be new players because it is being marketed as an introduction to “core” Pokemon games for Pokemon Go fans) will get their starter, head into Brock’s gym, and bash their head against a wall. Not exactly the best introduction.  There are ways Gamefreak could resolve this, they could let both starters learn a low power fighting type move by the time they reach Pewter City. Mach Punch (40 Power, 100 Acc, and Attacks First) would be a good candidate as it’s low power and high utility, and its power falls of towards the mid game.

Once the mid game ends Gamefreak will have to account for the late game. They have stated that the starter Pikachu, or Eevee will be able to evolve. But even if they did, Raichu and most Eeveelutions do not pack the same late game punch as a traditional starter Pokemon. Starter Pokemon are great because they are always just a little bit above the curve in terms of power, and so the correct play is to use them throughout your game. As a result, over the course of the game you form an emotional bond to your starter. Gamefreak has to find a way to make Pikachu and Eevee good in the late game. Failure to do so will make them dead weight, and players will come to resent them. Making new fans hate your two biggest mascots; not the greatest idea. Gamefreak has made efforts to make both better in the late game before. Pikachu’s Light Bulb and Eevee’s Z-Move are examples of this. But both are problematic as they don’t grant that much of a power boost, and they lock the player into only ever using one item on their starter. Eevee’s Z-Move is especially problematic as I doubt they will want to include Z-Moves into an introductory game. One solution I can see working is actually one of the features they have shown off. That’s right, fashion accessories. What if certain costumes granted your starters bonuses. This way you could give players much more options for self expression both visually and mechanically. As someone who spent most of 6th and 7th generation buying ALL THE CLOTHES, being able to do this for my starter as well as my Player Character, is something I am very much looking forward to.

Now I can see one more change that they have made that could cause problems with the difficulty: Wild Pokemon. This could be the biggest mechanical difference between the Let’s Go games and every other Pokemon game. You no longer battle wild Pokemon (only capture them) and you can see the wild Pokemon roaming around. The reason this is so big is that players can now avoid wild Pokemon better than ever before. This is problematic as Pokemon games are balanced so that if you fight every wild Pokemon and every trainer you see on a route, you will usually be properly leveled for the next gym. This change means that Gamefreak will likely have to revamp the amount of experience the player receives from trainers. This is something that I expect them to get right, and we the players wont even notice how much work went into it in the final project. But I guarantee you that it will be multiple designer’s jobs to re-balance the XP distribution throughout the entire game. Naturally this job will be made harder as first gen games were the most grindy. Once again the fact that these are introductory games comes up. A massive grind-fest is not something you want to give to new players.

That’s basically all I really had to say about Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee. I am certain that Gamefreak will find a way to solve these problems, but I just thought it would be interesting to look at the changes they have made and really think about the implications. Because the reality is I love Pokemon, and I love how they consistently make small iterations on these games and how these changes ripple out and effect the rest of the design. Anyway, until next time hope you have a good week, and hopefully my computer will be back and running so we can do Kana Quest content again.

 

 

This was another week of working on funding applications so I don’t have a lot to share when it comes to Kana Quest. So instead I just wanted to talk about a design tool that I use to analyse new games when I play them. Just a heads up, this is just a lens to use when looking at video games. Just because a game looks bad with this lens, it doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have redeeming qualities and vice versa. This is just a way of looking at games that will allow you to see different strengths and weaknesses within games.

So what is this technique? I call it Game-Player Relationship Analysis. Basically, imagine the game you are looking at is a person. And what does the relationship that you have with this person (game) like? For example, the relationship you have a Pinball machine is similar to the one you have with a street performer. They entertain you for a few minutes and you give them a little bit of your spare change. Whereas a claw machine in your local shopping mall is closer to a shady figure playing a cup and ball game. They promise you a fair game of skill, but the reality is you are never going to win. The relationship you have exists entirely to con you out of your money.

In both the examples above I use this Game-Player Relationship Analysis to contextualize the differences of two outwardly very similar games. And more specifically how the two games try to obtain the player’s money. But how money is exchanged is only one type of relationship a game can have with its players.

  • Money Exchange Relationship
  • Time Exchange Relationship
  • Mid Interaction Relationship
  • User Defined Relationship

The Money Exchange Relationship as discussed before, is about personifying how a game goes about obtaining the player’s money. They can be like street performers who ask for a few minutes and a few cents. They can be like conman with the cup and ball game. They can be like a drug dealer who gives you your first hit for free, but then expects you to keep paying up to get your fix. They can be like your favorite worker at your local bookstore; you pay them 20-60 bucks and they give a book for you to read, consume, discard and repeat the process.

The Time Exchange Relationship is basically how the game treats the player’s time. Is the game respectful of the players time? Does a game demand a large time investment on the part of the player to make the relationship work? If yes, how does the game make it up to their players? Does the game send you constant notifications to remind you that it’s still there and that it needs your love and affections non stop throughout the day and throughout the night? Does the game punish you for playing on your own time? Does the game ask you to revolve your entire life around it? As a quick aside, recently a lot of the big publishers as well as free mobile games have been making a push for “live services” for all their games. And the thing that worries me about these games is that the Time Exchange Relationship that these games have are quite toxic. If you had a partner that demanded you spend a third of your day with them, destroyed your things if you didn’t spend time with them, and kept messaging you throughout the day regardless if you wanted alone time or if you wanted to see your friends, you would call that an abusive relationship. But these “live service” games do a lot of these things as standard, without considering the ramifications this can have on the player.

The Mid Interaction Relationship is how the player and the game interact during gameplay. For example Kana Quest was intended to have a Mid Interaction Relationship that mirrors that of a good teacher. A teacher that points out your mistakes but doesn’t punish you for them, and that masks boring rote learning with something more interesting. Of course whether or not I achieved this, is not for me to decide. But some games are like story tellers (Visual Novels) and others are like tour guides (open world games). Some are like strict personal fitness trainers constantly pushing you to get better (Dark Souls). Now technically the Mid Interaction Relationship is separate from the Money Exchange Relationship and the Time Exchange Relationship  but often there is an intersection between these categories. Especially with F2P (free to play) games where the gameplay is interrupted by adds or by running out of energy. And of course if a game is large enough to have a lot of desperate elements, the relationship you have with one of those elements can be different to the relationship you have with another of those elements.

The User Defined Relationship is where things get weird. See much like people, not everyone has the same relationship with the same person. For example the relationship I have with my mother will be very different from the relationship you (the reader) have with me (the author). See the other categories care about personifying the way that games interact with their players. This cares about the inverse. It is about personifying how the players interact with the game. This category is weird not only because everyone’s relationship is slightly different, but because the relationship changes with time. I used to play Pokemon to be taken on a wild adventure with the world’s coolest tour guide, but now I play Pokemon to catch up with an old friend.

So how can we use this for making better games? Well the long and short of it is to try and craft the most effective Game-Player Relationship possible for the game we are making. Have an idea of what sort of person you want your game to act like. Make conscious design and business decisions to achieve this. And of course play test with a lot of people to see if your game is interacting with them in the way you want. Don’t be surprised if play testers make Mid Interaction and User Defined Relationships that you didn’t anticipate. Just make sure that these relationships are positive.

If you find using this technique, your game sounds like an asshole that nobody would want to be around, then its quite likely that your game has a problem. And much like people, it’s okay if your game isn’t perfect. Sometimes business forces you to have a Money Exchange Relationship that’s a bit shitty, but you need to be able to make it up to your players elsewhere. Case in point, one of my personal favorite games is Magic the Gathering. It’s Money Exchange Relationship is awful, but the Time Exchange Relationship, Mid Interaction Relationship, and User Defined Relationships are all so good that for me its worth it.

However if you find yourself in a relationship with a game that constantly tricks you out of your time, and money, only to then not give you an experience worth having for your investment, then its time to dump that game. It doesn’t deserve you, and you deserve better.

 Anyway that’s the Kana Quest Dev Blog for this week. Hopefully by next week I will have finished my funding application and I can show off some new work to you all.  But before I go, have some completely unrelated Steven Universe fan art, because who doesn’t love a pretty picture. Anyway until next time, have a great week.pinkDiamondHighRes

Hi all, this week on the Kana Quest DevBlog we are going to look at the background art for world 5. And how I went about making it, and what I think works and what I think doesn’t.

World5Gif.gif

So something that I did much more diligently for this world was deciding on a color pallet from the start and sticking to it. A good color pallet is the base of all good pixel art and the fact that I’ve been so lax about it is kind of ridiculous. And I think it worked to mixed success in this piece. The background houses and park look great within the pallet, but the focus of the piece; the market stalls are less than stellar. w5wip.jpg

As you can see with my first work in progress picture, the park scene starts off pretty good. There is a pretty limited use of the pallet and it looks pretty swanky.

w5wip2.jpg

Then I moved onto the houses behind the park and still the color pallet held out and kept looking great. And not just great, I felt this world was shaping up to be one of my best ones yet. But things all went downhill when I added the stalls.

w5wip3

I don’t know what it was but I did and redid the stalls so many times and they never turned out quite right. I was using the “correct” colors in the pallet, so why did they look so out of place? Honestly I don’t know all I know is, if I’m going to keep deciding on a color pallet at the start I’m going to need to be more careful with the colors that I pick and start with the highest detail thing and then work towards the lowest detail thing.

If you have any tips and tricks that you use for nailing your color pallet please leave them in the comments! I really want to get better at constraining my color pallets down!

Anyway, its a bit of a short DevBlog this week. Hope you have a great weekend!