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Morning all, hope you had a restful break over the holidays. But unfortunately it is the new year and that means getting back to it. And for me that means writing more devblogs.

So welcome to the Kana Quest devblog for January 2020.

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If you’re new here, Kana Quest the game that I’m making. It’s a cross between dominoes and a match-3 puzzle game… but it teaches you how to read the Japanese alphabet. I designed over 300 levels for this game and because of that I feel as though I have some idea of what I’m doing when it comes to designing puzzles. So for this month’s devblog I am going to go over my Top 4 favourite bits of puzzle design advice.

4. Learn How to Manage Complexity

So within any game you are going to have complexity. Traditional game design says that you want to keep the game’s difficulty within the “flow channel”. Basically, don’t let the game be too easy or too hard, difficulty trends upwards as the player gets better, but you do have fluctuations of difficulty over time. I mostly use the word complexity over difficulty here because I find it is complexity that produces difficulty. However, there are different types of complexity to consider. The three main types of complexity are:

  • Complexity of given information
  • Complexity of “solution” or “win state”
  • Complexity of execution

Lets quickly define these in a bit more detail.

Complexity of given information, is the amount of information the player has to process. For an example. If you are playing Magic or Hearthstone, if your opponent has a 1/1 creature, no cards in hand, no trap effects and they have 1 life left. And then you have a spell in your hand that deals 1 damage to anything, you have very little complexity of given information. In this example, you have two possible actions. One will win you the game, the other postpones the end of the game. Its very easy process all the information. And as a result, that is not a very difficult game state. But if we gave both players a full board of creatures each that have different effects and both players have full hands and full life… now there is so much for information that the player has to parse. This makes the game harder.

Complexity of “solution” is based off how hard it is for the player to figure out what their “win state” looks like. Many games have very clear and consistent win states. For example, a platforming game your win state is to get to the end of the level. It’s very clearly defined for the player. Puzzle games are somewhat unique because often the player does not know what the “win state” is when they are going in. Part of the fun is figuring out what the win state is. For example, if you sat down and started a crossword and you knew all the answers, it would not be fun. However sometimes, especially in puzzle games you need to be able to figure out what some elements of the end state look like in order to progress. If your “solution” is so complicated that it is near impossible to figure out what the end state looks like, then that often means a puzzle is way too hard.

Finally Complexity of execution. This is how difficult it is to execute the actions the player needs to do in order to win. For example, in a Souls-like game, you can often see what you need to do quite well, but executing that plan is often where the difficulty comes in. In puzzle games, how complex the specific order of actions must take to win, determines the complexity of execution.

Here are some diagrams on the breakdowns on the different types of complexities between genres

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So, you might have noticed that for Kana Quest, the complexity of information is maxed out. This is because each game piece is a Japanese letter, and the player has to remember what each letter is in order to match the sounds between letters. Because of this, the average player has to mentally track what letter is what. What this means is that I cannot use complexity of information to up the game’s difficulty. If I were to try increase it, players simply would not be able to process what is going on in a given level. Because of this most of the time, when I am trying to make a more challenging level in Kana Quest, I usually increase the complexity of execution. Of course these complexity levels will fluctuate within a given game (turn 1 hearthstone has basically no complexity on any vector, but that ramps up significantly over a match).

The reason I’m bringing complexity up is that to make a good puzzle game, you need to know what vectors your game has a lot of naturally. And of course every puzzle game is different so you need to have a good understanding of the different types of complexity in order to properly manage it in your game. Puzzle games especially have the reputation of making the player feel stupid, if your players feel stupid, you probably haven’t properly managed complexity. And hopefully understanding these vectors will give you a better idea of where to start changing things.

 

3. Avoid Red Herrings

This tip is related to Number 4, but do not include red herrings. What I mean by red herring is that you include an element within a puzzle that confuses the player of the solution. Red herrings massively increase the amount of solution complexity. The reason is that they stop the player from being able to understand what the end state is.  If you include a element, it needs to be clear to the player what function that element is supposed to do. Lets look at some examples from Kana Quest.

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First Iteration of World 5 Level 5 in Kana Quest

So lets break down whats going on here. In Kana Quest you match sounds between letters, when all the Kana are connected, that’s when the level is complete. In this level there are Slime Kana (The green ones). They cannot match, but they can change the vowel sound of any movable Kana (So not the Stone Kana). So here the player has to use slime kana to make two chains of three Kana that connect to stone Kana. One of the core “questions” of this level is that you have to figure out how to the Slime Kana next to the Stone Kana. Do you use them on the top row, or the bottom row? Pretty simple right? But, in playtesting we found that players correctly used the two い (i) correctly, but used the え (e) wrong and it was causing frustration. The problem was that because the く(ku) was immediately above え (e). For some reason, player’s kept interpreting it as, oh going up is correct because they are next to each other (but somehow ignored the な (na) that was also next to the え (e)) Our solution?

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We just moved the く(ku) over one spot.  It keeps the “question” of the level in tact, but it removed the “red herring”. The red herring in this situation is using the え (e)on the く(ku).

It is incredibly easy to make a red herring by accident, and the only real way to catch them is to playtest and see where players get hung up. And of course, maybe you have a puzzle game that is about getting lost or being obtuse then maybe you can be a bit more forgiving of red herrings. But if you leave them in make sure your players don’t feel like they wasted their time for following a red herring.

2. Try to distil a puzzle into a single element.

I mentioned this briefly when I was talking about red herrings. But you should be able to distil a level down to a singe element or “question”. Lets look at some levels to see what I mean.

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World 1 Level 3

This is one of first levels that stumps players. This level asks the player “can you correctly order these three Kana, while positioning them in a way that connects to the Stone Kana”.

 

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World 3 Level 15

This level asks the player “can you figure out the correct order you need to move the three normal Kana on the top into the four One Way Kana on the bottom”.

 

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World 8 Level 6

The core question of this level is “which one of these three Kana do you slime with う?”

So, the reason I think this is helpful is that it allows you as the designer to hone in to what is important to the level. If you find a level has LOTS of red herrings, properly understanding what you are trying to ask your players in a given level will allow you to get rid of unneeded information, and ask the question you are asking in a more easily understood manner.

Now of course, you don’t need to have only “one” core question in a level. You will often offer the player two core questions, especially as levels get more complex. But when you are introducing new mechanics, or introducing new ways to use old mechanics it is really important to hone in on one very clearly asked question and cut all unneeded information. In other words; only include the information complexity you need, and cut all that you don’t.

One last thing before we move on. When you use this technique to introduce a new element or question I find following a three act structure is helpful.

  1. Introduce the question in its most basic form
  2. Ask the same question in a more complex form
  3. Ask the same question but with a curve-ball this time.

Number 2 is pretty heavily inspired by two episodes of the game maker’s toolkit. Please give them a watch as they explain what I’m talking about VERY well.

1. Give Your Players Small Wins

We are going to finish with something I wish I thought about more at early stages of Kana Quest. And unfortunately for me its a little too late for me to go back and solve this now. But why is this important?

  • It allows you to make more complex levels as the small wins can guide the player to the solution in way that doesn’t feel like giving them the answer.
  • When you make longer levels, it helps your motivate your players.
  • It stops your players getting bored.

Now I did add a mechanic that attempted so solve this problem: Ghost Kana. Lets go over why they work and why they don’t, so you can learn from my failures.

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World 6 Level 10

So Ghost Kana are immovable, and They always have a number on their head. When the player creates a chain of Kana the length of the number on their head they come back from the dead and the player can move them as per normal. Sometimes they come back as blank tiles (if they have green flames) sometimes they come back as actual Kana (blue flames). So the attempt with this mechanic was to allow the players to have some small victories along the way. Like “hey you get a chain of three kana!! Good job, have a cookie” type thing. The problem is that while Ghost Kana do a good job of guiding the player down the correct path they don’t feel like much of an achievement. They don’t make the player go “yes, one down one to go”. Instead they make the player go well crap now I have more Kana to worry about.

A good “small victory” mechanic I think signals to the player that the level has just gotten a little bit easier, and they did good (even if it is an incredibly small victory). And you want to know what game is the undisputed KING of this idea? I already gave you a hint but writing the dev’s name…

Its Candy Crush.

Simply making a move in that game feels like a small win. It makes you want to keep going. But a lot of the more advanced mechanics are just more “small win” mechanics. The locked squares that become unlocked when you match something next to them are great small win mechanics because when you unlock them, it feels like an achievement AND it makes the level just a tinier bit more easy. I know it’s not the answer you wanted to hear, but you can learn SO much from Candy Crush and any aspiring puzzle designer would be a fool to ignore the lessons you can learn from it. Like think about it, the most common criticism levelled at puzzle games as a genre is they make the player feel stupid. Candy Crush is a puzzle game and no one has ever accused it of making you feel dumb, and it a widespread mainstream hit in a genre that often is seen as niche. And I feel like a lot of its success comes from this principle of giving the player lots of small incremental victories on the path to beating a level. I wish I payed more attention to this because while I think Kana Quest is a great puzzle game… if I had learned this lesson it could have been an amazing puzzle game.

 

Wrapping Up

So that’s the devblog for this month. I hope you liked it and that maybe you learned a thing or two along the way. If you did like this, please consider giving me a like or subscribing to the Kana Quest mailing list at http://www.kanaquestgame.com to get all the Kana Quest devblogs when they come out.

If you think Kana Quest is neat, you can wishlist it now at: https://store.steampowered.com/app/725850/Kana_Quest/

Or you can follow the social medias at

Until next time, take care and have a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi all, welcome to the Kana Quest devblog. For those who don’t know Kana Quest is the game I’m making. It’s an educational puzzle game that teaches Japanese. And because to be making a game about learning Japanese, I do need to be reasonably proficient at you know… speaking Japanese.

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And so a few folks have asked me what my top tips for studying Japanese are (excluding Kana Quest of course). So, today we going to go over my top 5 tips for learning Japanese.

And just a quick run down about my experience with speaking Japanese. I studied Japanese during high school, and did it in my graduating year. From there I studied it at university. And then I went and lived in Japan for a year as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). In terms of JLPT, I’ve only done 4 (second lowest). But these days I would put myself somewhere in between JLPT2 and JLPT3. My vocab and Kanji being the things that are probably JLPT 3. But my speaking, listening and grammar are closer to JLPT2. So if you are JLPT2 or higher, maybe take everything I have to say with a grain of salt.

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5. Know Your Resources

The first bit of advice I would give you is to have a good knowledge of the resources available to you. But beyond knowing what resources are out there, when and how to use them. So some resources you will absolutely want to know are…

  • jisho.org – Jisho literally means dictionary in Japanese. It’s probably the best Japanese-English dictionary available to you online. It has lots of alternate translations for most words you search. But it also often has example sentences. Example sentences are so valuable, so pay attention to them whenever you can.
  • Google Translate – This is a little controversial, but if you are using this exclusively to look up one word, usually its pretty good. Not as good as jishi.org, but it is faster. So if you’re trying to remember a word you’ve already learned, or check the kanji for a word you know, its great. Just be aware that google translate can mess up, and can easily lead you astray especially if you are in unfamiliar territory.
  • Kodansha’s Essential Kanji Dictionary – If you are studying Kanji… this is going to be your best friend. I got mine in high school and I love it dearly. This probably isn’t something you want to get if you are a complete beginner. But if you are starting to read more manga or light novels and you don’t know a character and it doesn’t have Furigana, this will save your butt.
  • Dogen’s Patreon Series – This is here for one function and one function alone. If you want to improve your pronunciation, there is no better place to go. I do have some caveats. Dogen emphasises studying exclusively pronunciation above all else. I personally do not recommend this. I personally think you need to study grammar, speech patterns, vocab as well as pronunciation. And becoming aware of the nuances of Japanese pronunciation when you start learning is much better than after you’ve picked up a bunch of bad habits.
  • Textbooks – Personally I only really have experience with the Genki Textbook series. Personally I really liked it, I think it does a good job of explaining Japanese grammar. But I really like studying grammar patterns a lot, so if you don’t… your mileage may vary.
  • Japanese Ammo with Misa – If you hate textbooks, give this youtube channel a go. She covers a lot of the basic grammar very well, as well as vocab. Though she certainly more focused towards beginners than more advanced learners. She also does a good job covering a lot of common beginner mistakes.
  • Nihongo no Mori – Another youtube channel. This one is much better for learners who are comfortable with listening to Japanese with very limited English. They also do excellent grammar, kanji and vocab recap video’s to help you prepare for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). If you are an intermediate or advanced learner, I cannot recommend this one enough.
  • AnkiApp – Sooner or later you’re gonna have to do a flashcard. Anki is probably the best flashcard app. So why not use it? It’s free, its really flexible and it does a good job of tracking your progress. But just be aware that flashcards are only really good at getting a thing in your brain. Not how to use it. Make sure you give yourself the chance to apply the words you use with the flash cards.

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4. Avoid “Learning by Anime”

This is not a hard and fast rule, but 95% of the time, when I see/hear someone say I’m going to learn via anime, it usually ends with them either A. not really learning any Japanese, or B. learning to speak “Anime Japanese”. Both are problematic. This is not to say you can’t use anime as a learning tool. But like all tools you have to know how to use it.

If you want to include anime as a part of your study regime, good! Do it. But operative word there is “part”. It can’t be your only method of study. And remember, while it is probably more enjoyable than normal study. It is should still be study.

So lets go over how you actually use anime to study. The first thing you need to do is pick a show. And there is a wrong answer to what show you pick. Do not pick something that doesn’t depict daily life or lots of average conversations. That means you should avoid most shonen anime. The reason is, a lot of shonen anime involves a lot of fight scenes and magical terminology. This results in a lot of characters using language you just will not use in real life. For example in almost any shonen anime, someone will use the word “kisama”. Which kinda means bastard. But you do not use that in real life. Even if you wanted to insult someone, you would not use kisama. You would use “temee”. Which you still wouldn’t use because you don’t want to lose all your friends. You see my point here right. Often times anime uses highly stylised language to add to the drama, this is great for theatrics… but terrible for you learning. So stick to anime that focus’ on daily life interactions. Or better yet, drop the whole anime thing and just watch Terrace House. It’s basically ALL daily life interactions and you get a much better idea of how people ACTUALLY talk in Japan.

So now you’ve found a suitable show, you are going to want to turn off your English subtitles. You heard me. There have been quite a lot of studies based off watching TV and movies if foreign languages, and if you have subtitles in your native language turned on, you’re going to learn basically nothing. Instead, you want to turn on Japanese subtitles. This will give you a visual, as well as audio ques to each word you are listening to. Another reason Terrace House is amazing is that because it’s on Netflix, you can turn on Japanese subtitles REALLY EASILY. Finding Japanese subtitles on CrunchyRoll or Anime Lab is just not going to happen.

Now… Finally you have a show, you have Japanese subtitles turned on. You can finally start watching. Wait did I say watching? I meant studying. You are going to listen to each and every sentence being said, and you are going to stop every time someone says a word or a sentence you don’t understand. You are going to write down each word you don’t know, find out the meaning, re-watch the sentence again and again, until you get what is being said. I also recommend parroting back one characters lines as you do this. Try to copy their inflections and speech patterns as much as possible. This is good for your pronunciation, as well as your ability to understand. Turns out the brain picks up language faster if you speak it out. Keep doing this till the episode ends.  When you start doing this, a 24 minute episode will have taken you about an hour. You will get faster the more you do it, but this is not clean uninterrupted viewing. You’re not going to be able to binge watch a show because you’re concentration is going to be shot by the end of one ep.

And remember, this is not a beginner friendly study method (in my opinion). So if you’re struggling with it, maybe give this another go when you have a bit more practice up your sleeve.

And sides….

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3. Why Watch Anime, When You Have JPOP?

Seriously though, this is my secret technique for getting better at Japanese. You do everything I just explained for anime, but you do it for a song. And its so much better for a bunch of reasons.

  1. Songs are way shorter and require much less of a time and energy commitment.
  2. You can find kid’s songs that are way more beginner friendly than most anime. And even if you found a kid’s anime that was at a beginner level, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it. But you can find some Japanese kid’s songs that are honestly really listenable.
  3. Music helps you memorise things better, especially if you are an audio learner.
  4. Singing along is lots of fun, and when you go Karaoke, you get to impress people by the fact that you can sing in Japanese.
  5. Because the language in songs is poetic by its very nature, it exposes you to non typical sentence structure. This is good because it allows you to comprehend and parse more complex ideas, and grammar structures when you encounter them outside of the song.
  6. Finding the Japanese lyrics is way easier than finding Japanese subtitles for an anime.
  7. WAAAAAY more choice of stuff you can listen to that will suit your taste. If you watch anime, you are basically forced to watch stuff that focuses on daily life. And if that isn’t your cup of tea that sucks. But with music you can listen to whatever genre you like.
  8. You can listen to music on the way to work/school so you can listen to it and revise things while just listening to music.

The main drawback from listening to music is that you can’t expect to use phrases you learn in song in daily conversation. But I promise you it will help in so many other ways.

But as much I’m raving about using music as a study tool, once again. It is one thing you should do as a part of a good study regimen. And while you can use it to practice many key language skills (Vocab, grammar, pronunciation, listening) and adapt it for whatever you’re weak at. You do still need to spend time speaking, reading and writing in addition.

 

2. Find a Way to Speak Japanese

I mean, I know this is a bit of a no brainier. But the ability to speak with other people in Japanese will help so much. But finding a place to speak can sometimes be challenging. So here are some ideas of places to look for a conversation group.

  • At a local university. I know my uni has a Japan Club and they do a weekly conversation meet up. From my experience of university clubs, they usually don’t care if you don’t attend the university. They mostly care that you pay a membership fee which is once per semester. While I can’t tell you how much every club would charge, but at mine it was $20 per semester.
  • Try to find people in your area who want to practice. This option I would usually only recommend for folks who are more experienced because non native speakers can’t correct your speaking like a native can. So you will pick up bad habits if you do this too early. But if you’re an intermediate learner this can absolutely be a valuable tool to help you improve.
  • Conversation Classes. This is an option that is only really available if you have the cash to do it, but it is a really good thing to do. Even going once every two months is better than never speaking at all.

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1. Consistency is Key

Yeah, yeah I know this is an obvious one but get over it because you need to hear it again. Doing 5 minutes of study a day is better than 35 minutes of study once a week. Yeah that 35 minute study session would be good too, but consistently getting your brain to process the language you want to learn is the most important thing you can do.

And that word, process is the important thing to remember. Often you hear folks say “Oh you need to immerse yourself in a language to truly learn it”. But honestly immersion is overrated. When I was living in Japan I didn’t have time or the energy to listen in and process everything that was being said around me. So I didn’t improve all that much. Certainly my speaking got better, but my vocabulary and the grammar patterns I knew, stayed mostly the same. Whereas when I was consistently processing new words and grammar patterns and then applying them back in Australia, I improved a lot more. Maybe you’re lucky and you can pick up meanings and grammar from context really well… But that ain’t me.

So for the end of studying consistently, find the study that you enjoy most. If you like reading, buy some Japanese novels on your phone or kindle. And use that as your study tool. I’ve told you the study tool that I like the most: Music. But that’s only the tool I like the most because its the tool I can engage with most consistently.

Maybe the thing that gets you going is performing. If that’s the case, maybe doing speech contests (a lot of Japanese embassies have annual speech contests) could be the thing that motivates you. Maybe you like drawing a bunch. Then you can do calligraphy to learn kanji as a tool to motivate you. Or you could order some Japanese art magazines (and boy howdy do they have some amazing art magazines) and the desire to learn new techniques is what pushes you to translate each page. My point is, find the thing that allows you to practice as often as possible, that you enjoy, and use that to keep you going.

And it is with this principle in mind, that I made Kana Quest (That’s right we are bring it home). I know a lot of folk hate learning the Hiragana and Katakana because the only way to really learn it at the moment is a lot of rote learning. Which is boring and hard to do consistently over a long time. So I figured, what if I made something that people could do consistently until they knew Hiragana and Katakana, and that way they can start doing these other forms of study which while are way more fun and interesting… are also not beginner friendly.

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A drawing of the shrine entrance next door to where I lived in Japan. (Kanji says Yanagihara)

Wrapping Up

Anyway, that’s this month’s devblog. I hope you enjoyed it. If you found these tips helpful, please share the devblog and wishlist Kana Quest on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/725850/Kana_Quest/

Here are all the relevant social media links if you feel like following.

Until next time, hope you have a great month. Happy holidays, and a wonderful new year.

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Welcome back to the Kana Quest devblog! If you’re new here, welcome! I’m Theo, lead dev of Kana Quest. This is where I give you some insight into the process of making Kana Quest and things that I’ve learned along the way.

We took last month off due to us exhibiting at PAX Australia, but we are back! And this month we are going to be looking at PAX as the topic for this month. We are going to break it down into two chunks: How PAX went for Kana Quest, and secondly what is the process and logistics of attending PAX like?

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How Did PAX Aus Go?

Well it started off a two weeks before PAX. Reuben (programmer) and I were trying to get the game running on iPad because we have access to two iPads. But alas no matter how hard we tried, we could not get the damn thing to build. See the problem for us was that we don’t have a mac. And you need one to build to iOS. And unfortunately for us, the mac we borrowed for the explicit purpose of building the iOS build was too old to update to the newest version of XCode. Basically this meant that we had to change plans on what hardware we would be bringing. So instead of two iPads, one Android tablet and a PC, we ended up going with three PCs and an android tablet.

Now we were setting up on the Thursday (night before pax), then Reuben and I get a message on the group discord from Julian one of our composers. He had been boldering and fractured his ankle. He was going to be coming down to help us exhibit, but alas that was no longer happening. So we had to frantically search for people to cover his shifts. Luckily I have good friends who rose to the occasion and I was able to cover the shifts pretty easily.

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Once the actual convention started things went pretty well, people seemed to really like the game. We had lots of compliments on the art, and the actual gameplay. We had one nine year old girl play the game and she declared it “the best game ever” so I’ll count that as a win. I also had quite a few Japanese speakers enjoy the game too. I always love it when Japanese speakers enjoy the game because it means that the game part of Kana Quest stands on its own without needing any of the educational elements.

Another thing we did just before PAX was we finally got the Steam store for Kana Quest up. Valve has started putting games that are showing at big conventions at the front of the Steam store page, and we got a pretty good amount of wishlists over the course of the weekend. Speaking of which….. (shameless plug incoming)

https://store.steampowered.com/app/725850/Kana_Quest/

You can now wishlist Kana Quest on Steam. Please do if you like the look of it! (Ok shameless plug over)

And of course by the end of the weekend we were all completely dead on our feet and were very glad to go home and get some rest.

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All of us getting desert on Sunday. Completely and utterly dead on our feet

What are the logistics of attending PAX Aus?

So, now we are going to get into the nitty gritty of what exhibiting involves and what you should you expect should you go.

The first thing you should know is it isn’t cheap. If you live in Australia and you haven’t done a convention before, I would not recommend PAX. I would recommend doing ACCon in Adelaide to get an idea of what you are in for first, but also to get feedback from people. If you have the following things, then PAX Aus is probably worth your time.

  • Have $2000+ that you can spend on publicity.
  • Have done a convention before.
  • Have a team of at least 5-6 people who can help you exhibit.
  • Your game looks polished, presentable and is mostly stable.

If you tick these boxes, then what you want to do is apply for the PAX Aus Indie Rising section once applications are opened. You will be asked to supply a build, a short video demonstrating gameplay, a summary of your game, and some screenshots. You will then, be likely receive a call or email from someone at ReedPop the organisers of PAX Australia. They will ask you some questions about your game like “is there nudity or high levels of violence in your game?”. If its a no on both counts, they should offer you a spot. You will then receive an invoice and you are on your way to PAX! Of course this is all under the assumption you get in before all the booths are sold. I did not get to exhibit in 2018 because I was too slow on applying.

Costs (everything here is in AUD)

Now let’s get into cost of things. The cost of your indie pod booth is about 1700$. This comes with two chairs, two exhibitor passes, booth art, and that is it.  You need to bring your own screens, decorations, and furniture. I would also recommend getting at least one additional exhibitor pass ($125) just to allow the logistics of having people be on shift (we will get to the running of the booth later). Personally I don’t think you need to get additional furniture, unless you have a premium booth. So the cost of additional passes and the booth will come to a little under two grand. Not exactly pocket change.

But another thing you need to remember is that you will be spending money on food over the course of the weekend. And you will need to spend money on booth essentials (which I’ll talk about later). From experience this adds another $100-$300 depending on your needs.

So how can you, make these costs less painful?

Now if you are based in Victoria, Creative Victoria does offer a grant for $750 to help you show your game at PAX. If you live in Victoria, please apply for this. Having the cost of attending reduced by a third is such a big deal.

If you you don’t live in Victoria, the best thing you can do to reduce the cost of PAX is our next topic: Merch

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Merchandise

Merch is probably going to be how you actually pay for your booth. In fact if you have good enough merch, you can end up making money at PAX. I heard on the grapevine that multiple games sold out of their merch, which resulted in PAX paying for its self. This is your goal with merch. Here are some good ideas for different types of merch.

  • Clothing
  • Pins (high quality enamel)
  • Plush toys

Types of merch you don’t want to do.

  • Stickers
  • Stationary
  • nick-knacks

The reason you don’t want to do stickers is that if someone uses your sticker somewhere in the convention hall, if it is easily traced back to you, the convention hall will fine you for it.  It is not worth losing money over. And you don’t want to do anything too small like stationary or nick-knacks because they are easily lost, but also because of the numbers. You are only going to get so many people who love your game enough to buy merch (unless your merch is good enough on its own), you would rather those people buy something big and substantive that way you recoup your costs faster. Also, it means you can justify making the product of a higher quality. You want to be selling good quality things because you don’t want your potential fans thinking you sold them crap.

For this reason, really cool well made clothing works really well. Samurai Punk consistently has lots of people come and buy their shirts just because their designs are so cool. But you do need to make sure the design is good enough on its own. I did t-shirts in 2017, and they were a complete bust because the design wasn’t high enough quality.

Plush toys are really popular if you are able to get them made, but finding a place to get them made can be tricky. But because so few other games offer them, they stand out more. But if you don’t have any designs that would make a good plush don’t worry about it. We sold Kana Quest plushies in 2017, and they sold extremely well. My only regret is that we didn’t make enough. We sold out on the first day when we were selling them for $15. My sister made all the plushies by hand, so she very graciously made some more over night. Will raised the price to $25 for the rest of the weekend. The price hike slowed sales quite a bit. If we had made more to begin with we would have been able to justify selling them at the lower price throughout the weekend and we would have made way more money. I used a company called Neon Republic for my pins and they had a two month wait between ordering and delivery, so do take those times into consideration when considering pins.

Finally we have pins. I have never done official Pinny Arcade Pins, but from my understanding, if you do, you are gonna make bank. Now you don’t need to go through Penny Arcade to sell pins, but they wont be Pinny Arcade, so you will have to price much lower than the official pins. You also wont attract Pinny Arcade collectors, so you wont sell as many either. But I sold pins this year and we did really well for ourselves. It cost me $350 to have them made. I had two designs, of which I had 50 pins each. One design almost completely sold out, and the other sold about 30. I sold mine for $10 for the simple design, and $15 for the complex design (the cost of pins goes up, the more colours you add). At the end of the event I had made about $700 on the pins. Now one bit of advice I would give is try to use in game art over a logo for your pins. I had one pin of one of the Kana tiles, and one of the Kana Quest logo. Although the logo turned out much nicer, most people wanted the Kana tile because it didn’t specifically look like merch. It was just a cute generic looking pin that folks could put on without them looking like a brand shill.

The final thing to know about merch is that in Australia, you wont make money if you can’t take card. For international readers, a lot of Australia is cashless and a large number of convention goers will not have cash on them. Make sure you have a square space reader or something like that on you in addition to a well stocked lock box. And one small thing on this note, have a sign that says you take card. I forgot and I’m sure I lost sales because folks didn’t know I took card.

 

Booth Essentials

So what are some other things that you’re booth is going to need.

  • Strepsils
  • Gaffa Tape
  • Double sided tape
  • Scissors
  • Cardboard (whatever colour will work with your booth), you will use this to make signs for…
    • Availability on certain platforms, eg steam
    • What merch you have available
    • signs for selling the flavor of your booth
    • any special deals your are offering for your game
  • A pallet of bottled water.
  • Antiseptic Gel
  • Snacks
  • Aspirin
  • A sharpie
  • Any other decorations you think you will need.
  • A card reader
  • Cashbox
  • A keep cup (Epic games has comped the indie section with free barista coffee the last few years. Bring a keep cup so you can make the most use out of Epic’s generosity)
  • Back up controllers/Mouse
  • Business cards (about 400-600 of them from my experience, but if you have a more popular game than mine you might need more)
    • Website
    • Email
    • relevant platform store links (eg. steam store link)
    • Social media accounts

 

Bump In, and Bump Out.

So you will be allowed onto the show floor on Thursday. If you don’t have a high viability vest, you will need to buy one from the PAX people directly. Once you have one, you can enter. Your booth should have a key on the bench, this is what locks and unlocks the cabinet space under your booth. Do no lose it. I recommend getting in nice and early to set up. This means you have the most amount of time to change your mind about presentation, but it also means there probably wont be a long wait for the tag and test. Tag and test can often lead to looong wait times if you go in at the end of the day. I do not recommend.

On the topic of the tag and test. Every piece of electronic equipment that plugs into the power source has to be tagged and tested. If a cable is slightly damaged, it will not pass. They will not allow you to use it. Do not be caught out thinking you can use your laptop, only to find you can’t because a little bit of wiring is poking out. If you have a mouse, or a controller that plugs into a usb slot in your computer, you do not need that to be tagged and tested.

Once the tag and test is done, you can plug everything in. Test that your game build works on all the hardware. Ideally you will have done this a week beforehand but I have seen folks not test things and find they have to fix things when the show opens to the public.

That’s most of the information for bump in and bump out. Do it early, and don’t forget your high vis vest.

72698000_432062614108478_4403278983861370880_n

Manning The Booth

So at the start of this section I said that you need about 5-6 people to help you. This is because you need to give people breaks. Pax is a loud environment in which you will be doing a lot of talking, standing and trying to create an inviting environment for your booth. For this year we had 4 people at the convention centre at all times, two people would man the booth at once, the other two would be on break. The exception being if it gets really really busy, or someone at the booth needs something (eg food). We also worked in 1 and a half hour shifts, changing one person every 45 minutes. I also gave everyone but myself a day in which they did not have to man the booth at all. This is good because it meant that folks got a chance to see the show, but also relax without having to worry about any of that booth stuff.

While you are manning the booth, feel free to ask people if they would like a go. But do read their body language. If they are closed off, don’t bother them. If they look interested go for it. For example I would often say “would you like to learn some Japanese?”. This is a nice easy yes or no question. If they say yes, invite them to play. If they say no, wish them a good day. Don’t push them to play your game. Lots of folks just walk through the indie section, find the games with art they like the look of and save them. They wont stop and play, even for a game they think they’ll love. Do not pressure those folks to play, as you will sour the game to those people by you not respecting their boundaries.

I also find its good to have a handful of business cards on you. People often pass through and will just ask you for a card. I do find a card is better than a pamphlet, as cards slip easily into pockets whereas a pamphlet is has to be put into a show-bag or get scrunched up.

IMG_1839

What to Expect Day to Day

Friday is your quietest day. Because of this the press are most likely to play your game on this day. The press also get let in an hour before the general public. This is why you really should have your booth set up on Thursday. If you are still setting up on Friday, press will pass you by. If a member of the press plays your game they will often come back for a proper interview later. Another thing to remember about Friday is, if there is anything you really want to do on the show floor, today is the day to do it. Do not wait till the weekend. You will have no hope.

Saturday: pray to whatever deity your worship, and hope you receive mercy. I’m being dramatic, but this is going to the busiest day. There are going to be SO many people. Stay hydrated. Take your breaks. And pace yourself.

Sunday is busier than Friday, but its not as out of control as Saturday. Often press will come back to you to record interviews on this day. Things will also close a bit sooner so you can bump out. The last thing is, on Sunday evening there is Megadev. It is the game developer mega party at the end of Melbourne International Games Week. If you want to go, ask around the other game devs in the indie section to see if they are going. If they are, ask them for the code. They will only give it to you if you are a game dev. Once you have it you can purchase at ticket on the Megadev trybooking page. It does cost a bit of money though, and I think you only get 1 drink token from memory. I personally don’t enjoy it as by this point in time, I am done with loud, crowded spaces from PAX. But if you want to get sloshed with a bunch of game devs, this is where you want to do it.

Monday: TAKE THE DAY OFF. Take the week off. I’m not kidding, taking the week off is a good idea. You will be absolutely wrecked afterwards. Now is the time for self care. You will also probably get sick here, so have fun with that.

Wrapping Up

That’s basically all the information I’ve learned over the course of doing this thing two times now. I hope this was informative. If you have exhibited at PAX Aus, feel free to drop your handy hints in the comments.

And if you like the look of Kana Quest, or you felt this blog was useful to you please consider …

Wishlisting the game on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/725850/Kana_Quest/

Following the Official Kana Quest Twitter: https://twitter.com/KanaQuest

Or liking Kana Quest on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KanaQuest/

Good morning all, welcome to another edition of the Kana Quest devblog. Now last time I said we would have a blog written by the composers to talk about their process. As they are still working hard on making all the music right now we are going to postpone that one for an upcoming month. But is still happening.

And one more bit of news… Kana Quest will be coming to PAX Aus this year!!! So if you’ve been wanting to give the game a go, come on down, say hi, play the game, and find a handful of bugs as I freak out that there are still bugs in this thing. It shall be a swell time.

Now, onto this month’s topic…

Top 5 Dumbest Things That Theo Coded/Implemented Into Kana Quest.

So I was talking to my programmer Reuben this week and we got chatting about some of the frankly stupid things I’ve programmed since I started Kana Quest. And to be honest, most of these things are funny. So for the sake of entertainment, I am going to curate the finest pieces of coding idiocy my brain has produced. And hopefully this will explain to my relatives what I mean when I say that Game Designer is not a Programmer.

5. Stupid As Hell Names

So this one is relatively harmless on the “Theo, oh god what were you thinking” scale. It just meant that every now and again I would get a bewildered Reuben going “Theooooo, what does _______ do”. So lets look at some of the stupidest names for variables or function names that exist in Kana Quest shall we?

DumbCodingPart1

Because nothing says “Always give your variables descriptive names” like asdf.

I mean who hasn’t had been in a situation where they are too lazy to come up with a proper name for something. And this function is a pretty minor one so who cares riiight?

DumbCodingPart2

I mean at least this time the silly name explains what the script does… it moves shit… and it checks if shit has been moved. Simple. I can’t see any problems with the documentation here what so ever. Except for… you know… what is the actual shit is this script is moving.

DumbCodingPart3

This script is a completely different script from the last one

In a similar vein… “heyLookAtThisShitImHolding4U” is just flawlessly named. It perfectly sums up what the script does. It sits there holding level button data and doesn’t do anything else whatsoever. 10/10 flawless coding.

DumbCodingPart4

Unlike the previous scripts, if you got rid of this one you would get horrible visual glitches. Lot of pressure to place on monkeys, but they do the job.

Fun fact, if you have infinite monkeys sitting at infinite computers running Unity, they will eventually end up with an exact copy of Kana Quest. Really puts my coding ability into perspective.

DumbCodingPart5

And now we reach the pinnacle of both comedy and stupid names… Star Wars puns. 

The name here isn’t the funniest thing. Its the conversation with myself that happened afterwards in the comments. I forgot multiple times that I had written this stuff and each time I’d add another comment. I can’t really add any more on because I remember that I wrote all of this now, but its a fun little bit of stupidity. And it makes a good closing point on the category of dumb names.

4. The Hierarchy of the Parallax Objects.

So for those of you who have never used Unity or Unreal Engine. Every level (the technical name is a scene in Unity) has a hierarchy of all the objects within it. A normal person’s hierarchy might look something like this.DumbCodingPart6

See that window to the left? That’s this level’s hierarchy. Each object on that list is an object in the level. And if there is an arrow next to the object it means there are objects attached to it (the technical term is the object has children). This is what you are supposed to do. This way you don’t have to scroll down a massive list every time you want to change something. So you would think, that because I did it correctly here, in one of the levels, I would have done it consistently correctly across the whole game…

Ha no.

See in the level select screen, the background parallaxes. What that means is that the 2D images in the foreground move faster than the background images. This creates the illusion of depth. And it allows me to make pretty gifs like this.

World8-9Transition

So what does this have to do with the hierarchy? Well because of the silly way that I coded the parallax system. It can’t handle having objects having children like shown above. So now the level select scene’s hierarchy looks like this.DumbCodingPart7.gif

The eagle eyed amongst you can notice that there are some objects that do have children in this hierarchy. That’s because some objects are ok for me to give children, while there are others that is isn’t ok. The line is if I don’t want to be able to move the child objects with the parallaxer. Doesn’t excuse the stupidity of doing it this way but at least I get to turn it into that sweet #content.

3. The Way Movement of Kana Coded.

Hey Kids! Do you like repeating the same bit of very long complex code 4 times with with very small and minor variations that are very easy to miss? Then you would have LOVED the way I had originally coded Kana Movement. Unfortunately (fortunately) I can’t show you what this one looks like as Reuben mercifully has fixed it to function in a much better way.

See the problem was when I first coded the movement I didn’t know about all your highfalutin coding terms like *structs* and *enums*. So the way I tracked the direction the player was moving was with an integer value. And it would run four different versions of *THE SAME CODE* four different times just gated off with if statements to get the effect that I wanted. It worked, and according to Reuben my logic within that chunk of code wasn’t even that bad. But it did mean that it would take me 4 times as long to add in a new mechanic or edit the movement code as I had to repeat all the changes I made to one part of it an additional three times. One of the first things Reuben did when he got the job of programming was changing this.

DumbCodingPart8

What I should have done in the beginning

When Reuben finished cleaning this up, he was able to delete a whole 2000 lines of code. And adding in new mechanics became infinitely easier as a result. Good times.

*somewhere Reuben’s eye starts twitching*

2. All The undo Function Information.

On a running theme of not knowing how structs work when I made it the undo function. See there is only one thing more complicated that moving Kana in this game: Undoing Kana. See the problem is that when I first made the undo function I decided that rather than swapping the game objects back to their original positions I decided that I would just swap all the data held on the objects that got moved.

This was fine when there were no strange and unusual mechanics. But the moment I started adding new mechanics I had to start adding new variables to track if one of the objects was one of these new mechanics. This would have been ok… if I tied all those variables together under one struct, it would have been fine. Also for those who don’t know what a struct is. Basically you get to determine the boundaries of a new variable type. And because of this you can make an array or list of that new variable type. This is important is it would allow me when making the undo function to ensure that the many different undo variables don’t get out of position. But that’s not what I did. So instead we have a tangled mess of a metric fucktonne of different list variables that we just have to hope and prey don’t get out of position and work as they are supposed to. Reuben took one look at this script and just said “nope” and decided he wouldn’t refactor the system.

DumbCodingPart10

You can see Reuben’s opinion of this system in the comments up the top

DumbCodingPart9

And these are all the other variables being used to manage the undo function. 

And you might have noticed if you were paying attention, that there is a variable in there called “movementType”, with the comment “//0 is up, 1 is down, 2 is left, 3 is right”. That does mean exactly what you think it means. The issue that I told you about as the number 3 dumbest thing that I coded into Kana Quest… it is present in the undo function. And because the undo function is such a mess, it never got cleaned up.

DumbCodingPart11.gif

Everything is fine. Say it with me now, EVERYTHING IS FINE

 

1. The Animation System

And here we have, the biggest, baddest most horrible monstrosity my sick, twisted mind thought was a good idea at one point. The animation system. “Why is the animation system such a problem? Surely your game doesn’t use that many animations” I hear you ask. Well think again because if I have an opportunity to make something bloody hard for myself I am going to take that opportunity.

And it alllll comes back to the fact that I decided I wanted the Kana in Kana Quest to look like this.

 

See how cute the Kana are? What could possibly go wrong? Well it all comes down to the numbers of it all. See this game teaches you how to read Hiragana and Katakana right? Well there are 45 base Hiragana, and 45 base Katakana. So that means that I will need 90 animations to cover each Kana. And as long as I just load up the correct animator object that has the correct animation attached this will be fine. Riiiight?

Wrong, because I decided in all my infinite wisdom to attach EVERY SINGLE ANIMATION to the one animator object. But then I hear you ask, but it’s only 90 animations, surely that’s not too bad right?

WRONG

Before I said there are 45 base Hiragana and 45 base Katakana. There are ways to alter the sounds of Kana. For example き(ki)+や(ya)=きゃ(kya). There are an additional 21 animations for both Hiragana and Katakana for all the ways you can modify a Kana’s sound. So there are 132 animations.

But like a bad infomercial…

BUT

WAIT

THERE’S

MORE!!!

Because this is just for the normal Kana. There are Stone Kana, Ice Kana, and Ghost Kana that all have their own unique animations. There are an additional 132 animations for both Stone and Ice Kana. Which brings us up to 396 animations. There are 20 animations for all the Ghost Kana, so that brings us up to 416 animations, all attached to the one animator. There are a couple of other unique one off animations that I am excluding here for the sake of brevity, but suffice to say there are a lot of the fucking things. The end result is an animator window that looks like this.

DumbCodingPart12.gif

But, the best thing about all of this is that the version of Unity I am using is 3.1.6f. Which is long before they added a zoom function to the animator window. Which means I’m stuck panning manually like this if I need to edit, ANYTHING. And of course it also means that I can’t mass edit the transition logic. So Reuben and I have had to edit, EACH, AND, EVERY, ONE, by hand. Which leaves a lot of room for human error. Together we have probably spend a full working week of time, just editing and navigating around this thing.

Ah, fun times.

Wrapping Up

I hope this has been a fun look at my own stupidity and inexperience. We will be back next month for another Kana Quest devblog. Hopefully it will be with our composers but I’m sure I will be able to find something to talk about if they can’t do it next month either. Here are the relevant social medias for Kana Quest

And until next time, have a great month!

Hi all,

It’s the second Saturday of the month which means its time for a now Kana Quest Devblog! Last time I said we were going to unpack several choice levels from the game, and what makes them good levels. And that’s exactly what we are gonna do. So

Now if you’re new here, Kana Quest is a cross between dominoes and a match-3 game that teaches you to read Japanese. You match sounds between letters, and when all letters are connected the level is complete.

GoodLevel1.png

This is the fourth level in Kana Quest and is the first level that consistently stumps players. Up to this point levels have been made to get the player used to moving Kana around, and understanding that stone Kana can’t move. This is the first level that actually tests the player’s understanding of how Kana match. So, how is this achieved? It is achieved by asking the player two simple questions; “In what order do the three movable letters need to be in so they all match?” and “Now that I have the order of the three movable Kana, how do I position them so that the one stone Kana also matches?”. These might seem like very simple questions, but there are a few factors that make them a lot harder than you might suspect. The first thing is that, this is the first time the player has had to order 3 Kana. Second is that all of the Kana have been deliberately placed so that the player has no matches, this means they are effectively starting from scratch. Thirdly the number of potential configurations is way higher than all levels up to this point. Finally, because the stone Kana is placed in the centre of the board, it means there are a total of 4 different correct solutions. But it doesn’t guide the player to any of those solutions in of its self. This forces the player to pay attention to the sounds of each Kana, and use that information to solve the level. Not use the shape of the level to tell them the solution. This is not to say that using the shape of the level to guide the player is a bad thing. It usually is a great thing to do, especially for more complex levels. But the purpose of this level is to test the player’s understanding of how Kana match.

 

GoodLevel2

The next level I want to look at is the final level of world 3. So where the previous level was testing the players understanding of how kana match, this level is testing the players understanding of one directional kana. One directional kana, are a lot of fun to play with because of how the restrict the number of potential arrangements of the kana. This is useful because it can be used to signal to the player the shape of the solution.

This level is set up so that there are only 5 possible positions for each row that could be the correct position. This helps the player start with a very strong sense of how to solve the level. But there are two curve balls in this level. The first is the one normal Kana (の) at the top of the level. Because this kana could potentially go anywhere in the level, the player has figure out how to best utilise it. The second is the one directional す on the right of the level. This says to the player that one of the three rows to the left of it need to be all the way over to the right, but you need to figure out which it is. When these two elements are mixed with each other they create an ideal puzzle. A puzzle where the player has a strong idea of their goal, but they still have to work for it. One last small detail from this level that I like is the blank one directional kana. These serve to prevent the player from trying red herring solutions. Red herring solutions are fine to have, but each red herring still needs to lead the player towards the solution. If a red herring just leads the player down the wrong path and leaves them at a dead end, you need to get rid of it, as it will only aggravate your player.

 

GoodLevel3.png

So for the last level that I want to talk about today is from the ninth world. If the first is an example of a good introductory level, and the second was a good intermediate level. This is a good hard level. So what makes this a good hard level? Well, honestly the same thing that’s made the previous two good; You know what your goal is, but you don’t know how to get there. This level achieves this with the り in the centre of the level. Because it is central, and it cannot move because it is a stone kana, the first thing the player will do is look for the other kana that match with it. In this level there is the transform kana (the rainbow coloured one), the ice ろ, and the paralysis ひ. The paralysis ひ has to end up to the right of the り because it can only be moved once before turning to stone. This leaves three spots left for the ice ろ. This puts the player on a strong starting direction for the level. But the thing that makes this level so challenging is that because of how ice, paralysis and one direction kana work, if the player makes moves carelessly they will trap themselves and be unable to complete the level. Once again, the needed end state is easy to determine, but how to get there is the challenge. The only real difference between these three levels is that they make the “how to get there” part more complicated.

Anyway, that’s the Devblog for this month. Hope you enjoyed. I’ll be back next month on the second Saturday of the month. I haven’t figured out what the topic is gonna be, but ill figure something out. Until then, take care!

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, I’m Theo, the lead designer of Kana Quest. I’d like to introduce/reintroduce you to the Kana Quest DevBlog.

Why do I say “introduce/reintroduce”? Well the answer is this is the first Devblog I’ve done for Kana Quest in a while. And Secondly this will be the first Devblog that I will be sending it to everyone who has signed up to the Kana Quest mailing list. Which is something I am going to be doing from now on. And because I am going to be sending these blogs out on the mailing list, I am going to be making a few changes. Mostly being that I am not going to be posting these weekly like I used to. I don’t want to spam the inbox’s of people, and doing one a week was too much for me. So from now on, there will be a new Kana Quest devblog on the second Saturday of each month.

So for those who are new here, what can you expect in these devblogs? You can expect updates on how the game is coming along. Bits of news, interesting things that I’ve learned from making this thing, new features, and my general process.

So I’d like to start with the news. Lets get the bad news done with first, unfortunately Kana Quest will not be exhibiting at PAX Aus this year. Which to be honest is really bumming me out. What happened was that I was waiting for an inflow of cash before I booked a booth this year. And by the time the money came in, all the spots had been taken. If any of you were looking forward to playing the game there, I’m so sorry to have let you down.

But with the bad must come the good! And the good is that Kana Quest is no longer a solo project! I have my team member to come onto the project and I couldn’t be happier. As of this week the wonderful Reuben Covington is now the lead programmer for Kana Quest.

IMG_0277

Here’s Reuben helping me set up for AVCon (Anime Vid Con in Adelaide) earlier this year.

Reuben is an incredibly talented designer and programmer whospecialises in Collectable Card Game designs (and is also currently working on Infinity Heroes which you can check out here –> https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/elphie/infinity-heroes-competitive-card-game-for-mobile-p ). The reason why I think was my choice was because he has an incredible knack for bottom up design work. This is the sort of design that starts with a mechanic and iterates onto it to create great gameplay for the player. Whereas I am a Top Down designer. I start with a desired end goal and create mechanics to achieve the desired end goal (e.g. Wanting a puzzle game that teaches Hiragana/Katakana without any rote learning or pop quizzes). Both of these approaches I believe are super important, but they both have their drawbacks and strengths. Because of this, I am certain Kana Quest will be a better game with Reuben’s input. And hopefully, with his help, Kana Quest will hopefully be finished far sooner than later.

Speaking of Kana Quest being finished, when is that going to be? Well I know at PAX Aus last year I said that it would be in 2018. Sorry that’s not going to happen. But I wasn’t far off. The plan is to essentially finish the game in the first quarter of 2019. And now with Reuben’s help, I’m more than confident we can bring the game to you then!

What makes me so sure I hear you ask? Well for one thing, in terms of art assets, the game is a little over 80% complete! And for me, the most time consuming art assets to produce are by far the world art that go behind the puzzles. As of this week I have finished 11 out of 13. At my current estimates I am planning to have finished all the art by the end of October, or by early November at the latest. Speaking of art, here’s the world art for worlds 8-11.

World8pogoCat.gif

This one, was inspired by John Brack’s Collins St, 5pm. And you know… rush hour in Japanese train stations.

World8-9Transition.gif

Oh and this one is of the main street in Akihabara (The nerd capital in Japan). Along with some not so subtle Vaporwave jokes.

world10.gif

This one I mostly wanted to capture the feel of how lights reflect at night in big Japanese cities.

world11.gif

And this one is the obligatory reference to Hokusai. Fun fact, all games set in Japan by law legally have to include some reference to the Great Wave. *previously stated “fun fact” is in fact a fabrication*

I’m really proud of all the art that I’ve made for Kana Quest so far and I feel like I’ve come a LONG way as a pixel artist since I started. And I can’t wait to show you all the last two worlds. I am going all out for them.

But speaking of my pixel art coming along a long way since I started. For some of you who might have seen Kana Quest at PAX last year you might not have seen that I have changed the logo. Why is this? To those of you who’ve seen the game at an event this year, this will be the same logo that you’re used to. And if that’s the case, no I’m not going to upload the old logo because I don’t like it, and I like this new one much more.

KanaQuestLogoGifBorder

See, isn’t it pretty? I know I should be humble, but this logo was a lot of work and revision and I’m still kinda amazed I made something this cool.

This basically all I wanted to share with you all today. If you have a question about anything to do with the development of Kana Quest, please feel free to ask about it. I’d love to answer your questions. If you’d like to see more regular updates, you can follow the development on these social media channels:

Until next time, take care and have a wonderful day.

 

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!