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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.

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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.

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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/

Hoi! This is Leina, aka Reina (@rein_bel), because in the wonderful world of Hiragana we have a kana (れ) that does both. I am one of the two composers for Kana Quest.

Though I don’t come from a strictly musical background like Julian, I am a native Japanese speaker who grew up in Japan, listening to the kind of traditional and modern music  that inspires Kana Quest’s soundtrack. 

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What makes a song ‘Japanese’? (And how do we stop being stereotypical?)

Let’s talk about Enka. 

Enka is a type of Japanese ballad music. Modern enka developed in postwar Japan, and enjoyed a revival in the 70s that still continues to this day. Enka is characterised by its sentimental lyrics, use of traditional musical scales, and slow rhythm – often a single syllable can stretch for several notes!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwKIvbOqqcc

(This is the singer Sachiko Kobayashi performing Enka. Remember her now.) 

Most people’s image of Japanese music may default to traditional Japanese folk music. Koto glissandos, taiko drums, that sort of thing. Have you heard of ‘Sakura Sakura’? It’s a well-known folk song that’s been popular since the Meiji period, and most kids are taught it at some point in their lives. 

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The song is in In scale, a musical scale used in Koto and Shamisen music. Coupled with the song literally being about cherry blossoms, it’s about as Japanese-y as you can get.

Then there’s also everyone’s favourite J-pop and J-rock, which evolved from the global 1960s pop and rock music phenomenon. The Beatles were explosively popular in Japan as they were everywhere else, and J-rock evolved from these influences well into the 70s, 80s, 90s and today. Nowadays Jpop is well-known for its peppy, upbeat energy and their prevalence in anime productions and pop culture. 

So what does this have to do with Enka

During the earlier stages of this project, Theo and I joked that most pop-culture depictions of Japan fell into two camps: ‘Samurai Drama’ and ‘Anime Girls’. Both of us had spent long periods of time living in Japan, and wanted to showcase the other facets of the culture that folks might not be as familiar with. Enka, with its roots in traditional Japanese music and western ballad music, is a perfect example of how modern music evolved into something distinctly recognisable to locals… but might not be as widely known elsewhere. 

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Japanese Instruments

Two instruments I used frequently in Kana Quest’s soundtrack are the Shamisen and Shakuhachi

The Shamisen is a three-stringed instrument that originated in China via Okinawa. In particular, the Tsugaru Shamisen style is known for its percussive quality. Depending on how the strings are plucked with the Bachi (plectrum), different tones can be produced. A hard downwards pluck creates a distinctive snap or twanging sound, which often becomes the rhythmic backbone of Shamisen solos. A gentle up stroke produces a clean, almost Koto-like tone. 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EnwMv7fNOoZlkcEd_wOzQ5E4Dr6Pu0uz/view?usp=sharing

The Shakuhachi is a bamboo flute known for its variable tone and breathy sound quality. In Japan, it’s known as an instrument played by Zen Buddhists as part of their meditation. 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=133Cyrif5SxGdHEptwCJM4hcNCY4DIWf0

 

Production Process

As mentioned by Julian in the previous dev blog update, both of us have a hand in every track. For some of the earlier levels, Julian writes the backing track and sends it over to me. I then write the melody, and send it back for the final mix. On other tracks, the reverse is true– I write the majority of the track, but leave the keyboard and mixing to Julian’s mastery. 

With so much back and forth between our two vastly different workflows and composing styles, it seemed like a bit of a risk jumping into the project– but it’s been anything but, and the final tracks are a beautiful fusion of traditional and modern that we’ve been looking for. 

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Conclusion

Now we’re seeing popularity in Japanese folk rock songs that reintroduce traditional Japanese instruments to modern music. Wagakki Band incorporate Shamisen, Shakuhachi and Wadaiko to their songs, and they came into the spotlight in the 2010’s through the power of the internet. Various independent Vocaloid producers have also begun using traditional Japanese instruments in their songs.

…Which brings us back to Sachiko Kobayashi, the Enka singer. 

Here’s her performing a cover of the popular Vocaloid song ‘Senbonzakura’, in a virtual live performance in the popular MMO Phantasy Star Online 2. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyf7LvXOT4Y

Because “Folk-ballad singer wearing a mech suit in a virtual sci-fi MMO covers a folk J-rock song originally sung by a fictional anime android as cherry blossom petals swirl on stage” is something you really, really can only get in Japan. 

 

Hi all, Theo here. Please give a big hand to Julian and Leina for writing the last two devblogs! I’ll be writing the the next devblog as usual, but I hope you all enjoyed reading Julian and Leina’s work as a change of pace.

However on the topic of the next Devblog, it will come out a week later that usual as the weekend the next devblog would come out the weekend of PAX Aus. Which, Kana Quest will be showing at this year!! So expect the next devblog on the 19th of October, not the 12th. But until then, have a great month. And if you want to read the devblog as soon as it comes out feel free to sign up to our mailing list at kanaquestgame.com

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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Well its been a month. A whole lot has happened. But most importantly as I’m writing this… I am in Japan. The place where Kana Quest began. So this month we are going to look at my journey through Japan and look at some of the places that Kana Quest drew inspiration.

 

First up is the flight over. Not too much to talk about here, but the first stop in my travels was Cairns. Can’t get to Osaka without going through it. But I had enough time in my lay over to get some work done on Kana Quest, and charge all my devices up again for the next leg.

Speaking of the next leg, I got off at Osaka. Now I don’t mean any disrespect to Osaka. But I am honestly not a huge fan of Osaka. I personally have never really enjoyed myself any time I’ve been there, so I got off my plane. Headed straight to my hotel. Passed out. And got on a train to Kyoto the very next day. Which is good because in Kyoto was one of the main reasons I was in Japan: BitSummit.

IMG-1094So I tried to exhibit at Bitsummit this year, and unfortunately I was not successful. But I did decide that it would be worth heading over there and meeting some new people, playing some sweet new games, and learning some new things. I do want to give a shout out to Andrew (@DigDugpa), Shawn (@auberginenasu) and Lena (@Crowbeak) who took took me under their wing and introduced me to folks. The show was really cool and there were some really sweet games, and there was a surprisingly large amount of Aussie devs there. There was Necrobarista, Unpacking, and Frog Detective. The dev for Rising Dusk; Lukas Stobie was also there.IMG-1095 (1)

But once the show closed on Saturday, it was time for a Bitsummit tradition… The River Party. Devs, volunteers and attendees converge down on the Kyoto riverbank and just chill. Now the photo below is what the river bank usually looks like…IMG-1097

And this is what the riverbank looked like with all of us down on it.

IMG-1099 (1)

It kind of amazes me that we had a group of people this large (most of whom were drinking), and the cops were not called. I mean no one was doing anything awful, but a group of folk that large is going to be loud. And I can only assume that it eventually got annoying for the locals who were just trying to walk along the river bank.

But all good things come to an end, and so did Bitsummit. But I still had a bunch of time in Kyoto. So what did I do? I went to tourist destinations and drew.

Pictured above is Arashiyama. The place where that iconic bamboo grotto is. But I have always loved this view of it, from the outside. There are way less people, and its still just as beautiful.

I also went to Kiyomizudera. Which is the most iconic Buddhist temple in Japan. Unfortunately for me the temple its self was under restoration so it was covered in scaffolding.IMG-1128

But fortunately for me, I actually went there primarily for the sake of seeing all the small little alley ways that lead up to the temple. See Kyoto is one of the few places in Japan where you can still see traditional Japanese buildings still in good condition (you can see them in rural Japan, but they are often a bit run down). And let me tell you, the alley ways leading up to Kiyomizudera are just stunning in their own right.IMG-1123IMG-1125

I mean just look at them, they are gorgeous. I wanted to do a world in Kana Quest that referenced these alleyways, but due to the parralaxing backgrounds it would have been near impossible to execute them in a way that would have looked good.

Once I finished mucking around in Kyoto, it was time to go home. And let me tell you, home had not changed one bit. It was exactly as I remembered it. The clouds were even doing my favourite thing where they covered the tips of the mountains. Of course when I say home I mean where I lived. A small town called Wadayama in the dead centre of Hyogo prefecture. Below are some pics of my neighbourhood.  

If you were wondering where the first four worlds of Kana Quest came from, this is where they came from. While they don’t look exactly like the real world inspiration, what was more important to me was that the worlds made me feel like I was back here.

But then we have the cherry on top of my nostalgia sundae. The shitty box I lived in for a year. Now the pics just below don’t look that bad… that’s because the moment I moved out. They gutted the insides, repainted the outside and landscaped the surrounding area. Because let me tell you, when I first got there, there was mould everywhere, there were spider webs in my stove top grill, there was a large plastic bucket where a shower should have been (actually that one never got fixed while I was there), and the fridge that I had been left was not working…. And yet… god it was good to be back home.

Also, see that car parked in the third picture? That’s where I used to park my car. But something you cant see so easily is that there is a full two feet drop on the left hand side of that car. So driving into that thing was terrifying because if you messed up… your car was gonna end up on its roof.

IMG-1257

I also decided to do a drawing of the little park next to my home. When I moved in one of my coworkers asked me if being next to the shrine bothered me. She didn’t understand me when I said that I quite liked it because she thought it was scary. Still to this day I think I was very lucky to have something so beautiful next to where I lived.

Now this is starting to get a bit long so I might start wrapping it up. But before I do we are gonna do a few last rapid fire pics and what they are and why they are important.

IMG-1333

My fav Pokemon gets its very first official plushie from the Pokemon Centre, and I am so stoked.

IMG-1328

The Hiroshima Genbaku Dome. I was planning on drawing this one, but when I got there I found it a bit too upsetting to draw. Especially when you look at the pictures of the immediate aftermath and you can see the landscape around you as being nothing but complete devastation, I just found it a bit too much.

IMG-1303

The neighbouring prefecture to my Hyogo to the north west is Tottori prefecture. Which has the honor of being the least populous prefecture in all of Japan. What does it have? Honestly not a lot apart from a lot of natural beauty and sand. Seriously look at these sand sculptures at the Tottori sand museum!

Finally, I have actually been getting some work done while I’ve been over here (I know it doesn’t look like it). Unfortunately most of it isn’t ideal for showing off. But the art for the final mechanic in Kana Quest is now finally implemented. KanaVeyorBeltFinished

In terms of other Kana Quest news, our composers Julian and Leina are working damn hard on the music and I cannot wait to share it with you. And I might get them to write a devblog in the future about what they were trying to achieve with their music.

And with that, that’s all I got for this month. We are going to keep working hard on Kana Quest as we get ready for release later this year. I’ve had a few folk ask me if there is anything they can do to help the game leading up to release. And the answer is pretty simple, tell your friends about Kana Quest. You telling your mates to get excited for this game will do more than anything I do here on this devblog.

Until next time. Take care all!

 

 

Hi all, another month and another Devblog is here.

Sorry it is a day late, but I was volunteering during the Australian Federal Election yesterday and did not have time to write a post. And on that topic, all I will say is I am deeply disappointed with the results for a myriad of reasons. You might be happy with the results and that’s fine, but know and respect that this was a big loss for the Australian game development scene. If the election had have swung the other way, Labor would have reintroduced the Interactive Games Fund. This would have provided the industry with an additional 25 million per year. Now, of course, we will survive. But I really hoped this could have been an opportunity to do more than just survive.

Now onto the main thrust of this month’s devblog. This has been a bit of a weird month for the development of Kana Quest because all the major things have more or less been done. So we are in the fix up phase of things. Lots of small little boring things. For example…

W6L15.png

Before

newLevel2

After

This was a pretty small change, and I don’t blame you if you missed it. In the darker worlds the text displaying the number of medals becomes unreadable. So I added a backing to the medal counter to stop this.

I also finally got round to making some sprites for the final mechanic in Kana Quest. KanaveyorBelts.gif

These are Kana-veyor belts, they move all Kana in a row or column along one spot. Up till now we have just been using place holder assets. Still haven’t fully implemented them yet. That’s Monday’s job.

Also found a whole bunch of very strange and niche bugs.SlimeAnimationBug

For example here if you go to slime a Kana, then pull back to the first frame of the animation, and then let go of the mouse. It will cause the slime Kana to break and be unusable.

IceNNandBinDontRegisterMove.gif

Or how about, if you have an Ice “n” Kana and you move it into a removal tile from an adjacent position you don’t use a move.

Ice+YaYuYoBug.gif

Reuben (Kana Quest’s lead programmer) has had fun the last few weeks squashing this bug. So the problem was that when you used a ya, yu, yo Slime Kana on an Ice Kana and then undid any subsequent moves, the Ice Kana would become whatever was the last Kana it moved with. The cause of this problem was being caused by the fact that we had not set up the Ice + Ya/Yu/Yo animations yet. See, all the Kana faces are handled by Unity’s animator system. And the animator will change the animation according to each tile object’s hiraganaNumber variable. This a variable that is stored on the back end so the player never sees it, but it is vital to the function of the game. But when you add the Slime Kana to an Ice Kana, this changes the hiraganaNumber . However because there was no animation that corresponding to the new hiraganaNumber the animator just says “I’ll just keep playing whatever animation I was playing last”. However because of another weird quirk of how Kana Quest has been built, when you undo a move, you aren’t actually moving the Kana to their original positions. You are swapping all the data being stored between the two Kana involved in the move. So for a brief moment, the Ice Kana would have the hiraganaNumber of whatever you moved it with. This is normally impossible to see, but because of this bug this causes the Kana to display the wrong image.

But I hear you ask, why did it take Reuben a few weeks to fix this up? Well the first thing is that Reuben only works on Kana Quest two days a week, and secondly is that whole animator system I glossed over earlier. See, because all the Kana are just different instances of the same object, each of them have over 300 different animations that could be playing at any given time. And each of those animations need to have the logic behind them properly added. This results in a job that is both time consuming and impossibly dull. Oh and because we are using an old version of Unity for this, we can’t zoom out of the animation tree. So poor Reuben was stuck looking at this monstrosity for hours.

fuckedAnimationTree.png

Also note that this image is from about a year ago. There are now more animation states. So lets all tip our cap to the incredible job Reuben did with enduring this system this month. Also I feel its important to clarify that the janky-ness of these systems are my fault not Reuben’s. As I made them well before he was involved in the project.

Ok, one last weird bug before I sign off for the week.TileSlideMidMoveBug.gif

So if you moved a Kana on or off of a Kana-veyor belt while it is moving itself, it caused the whole system to have a bit of a melt down. This gif here its pretty tame as it just causes the わ to appear where the blank Kana was at the start of the level when the undo button is pressed. But in other times when I was trying to replicate this bug I had multiple Kana going “nope” and just translating off the screen and then glitching in and out of view if you tried to move anything around them.

There have been a bunch of other small little changes that have been going, but most of them aren’t easy to show visually or are just exceedingly boring to write about. So I’m sorry if this month was a bit light on the ground. Next month however I will be in Japan for Bitsummit. Unfortunately I wont be exhibiting there, but I will be around. But the long and short of it, is that next month I think we will do a tour of the places that inspired a lot of the art in Kana Quest.

Until then, take care.

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, its another month and that means its time for another Kana Quest DevBlog!!

Like last month I have just been working on levels. But the big difference between this month and last month is that I am now SO CLOSE to finishing all the levels in the game! There are 13 worlds in a Kana Quest, I have finished making levels for 11/13, and the 12th world is more than two thirds complete. So we are in the home stretch here folks.

At this point I have had a chance to work with all the mechanics in the game and I thought it would be fun to talk about each in depth about the positive and negative elements of each.

mystery

And oh how the mighty have fallen. This is a Mystery Kana, and they were the first mechanic I made for Kana Quest, and I was so proud of it at the time. And I still think its a valuable thing to have in the game, but the more I used it the more utterly irritated I got when I play-tested any level with them in it. So why did I make them? Why are they important? And why are they so irritating? So I made Mystery Kana because I was having a very specific problem, players weren’t flipping over the Kana to learn the pronunciation to complete the levels in the first world. This is problematic because it would render the entire function of Kana Quest meaningless. So I needed a way to effectively force the player to look at them. Mystery Kana do that very well. They just also irritate the player at the same time. The way these things work is they cannot move, but can match. The player needs to keep track of what each Mystery Kana, does and does not match with. Then using that information, figuring out what the Kana’s true identity is. The biggest problem with Mystery Kana is they just simply break the flow of the game and force you make non optimal moves to figure them out, and then you can complete the level. The end result is they start to become a nuisance after a while, and its for this reason they get phased out after world 4.

OneD

The One Directional Kana have been a solid work horse throughout development. There are so many things about this mechanic that are excellent from a designer’s perspective. 1st is they are easy to understand from a player’s perspective. The arrow shows you what they do; they only move in one direction. 2nd is they have a huge amount of design space. Design Space is a design term for talking about how many different interesting configurations a mechanic can be used in. And these Kana allow for so many interesting levels to be made. I am still finding new and interesting ways to use these things even in the 12th world. They are also very flexible in how they can be used. If you want to build an entire level around them, you can and it will probably be a really fun level. But you can also just throw one of these into a level to help guide the player towards the solution. I suspect once I have finished making levels, and I’m in the polishing stage I will end up adding a lot of One Directional Kana for this exact reason. What’s more is they also have interesting interactions with basically every other mechanic. The only complaint I have against them is they can be very punishing of mistakes. The reason for this is if you move one spot too far and then make a bunch of other moves, you end up spamming the undo button more than is ideal.

IceDemo

The fourth world’s mechanic is the Ice Kana. These Kana will keep sliding in the direction you move them until they make an invalid move. These Kana are a good mechanic, but no where near as easy to work with as the One Directional Kana. They have a large amount of design space, they have interesting interactions with most other mechanics, and they can make some very fun levels. But the problem is that you can’t just through one of these into a level. Even if the Ice Kana is supposed to be a minor element to a level, you have to build the entire level around the Ice Kana to accommodate it.  This is not a bad thing as it allows you to create a nice change of pace for the player at points, its just something that needs to be treated with care. Another small problem is they tend to demand levels be a fair bit larger than a similar level without them would be. Other than that, I think Ice Kana are great.

SlimeKana

The Slime Kana are another mechanic in a similar vein of the Mystery Kana as they both play around the sound matching aspect of the game. And so what they do is they will change the vowel sound of any kana you use them with. However unlike the Mystery Kana, these do not get highly irritating after a while. The main reason for this is that they often feel like they are helping you, rather than getting in your way. And because of this is they can just be plugged into a bunch of levels to add a little bit extra. But the biggest weakness of them is that they struggle being the core element of a level. Where the Ice Kana can’t help but be a diva, the Slime Kana struggle with it. Another problem with the Slime Kana is that because the Kana that appear on them can only be Slime Kana it does mean that the Kana on them just get seen less than every other Kana. But the gameplay of them is still solid enough that I made two variants of them.

 

GhostKana

This is a Ghost Kana. Ghost Kana, cannot move and cannot match. But they will come back from the dead once the player has made a group of Kana equal or greater than the number on their head. This is a tricky mechanic. And honestly they represent the biggest disparity between what its like to work with them, compared to what its like to play with them. Because playing with them is honestly pretty good. They make interesting scenarios, and force you to think about the level in a different way. But from a designer’s perspective these things are so hard to work with. You have to engineer levels so carefully around these to make them fun for the player. They have very limited amounts of design space too, so I honestly struggled to finish the world where these were introduced. And what’s worse there are some mechanics that this straight up does not work with.

YaSlimeKana

So this is the first of two Slime Kana variants. This is a Blue Slime Kana. Blue Slime Kana are different because they only ever attach to Kana that end with an “i” sound… and they add an additional vowel to match with rather than completely changing the vowel. This is because of an actual function in Japanese. See Blue Slimes can only have the following letters や/ゆ/よ. And these letters can attach to other letters to make slurred sounds. For example き(ki)+や(ya) = きゃ(kya). So きゃ will match with “i” ending kana, “a” ending kana and “k” starting kana. This makes the mechanic quite satisfying for the player to use because it opens more doors for them than regular Slime Kana do. And its for this reason that they can be a bit frustrating to design around as a game designer. Another problem with them is they have to attach to a kana that ends with an “i”. This over the course of the game makes “i” ending kana being over represented in comparison to other kana. Whats more is that often you have to design levels in which fully utilise the multiple vowel sounds. But this often leads to further exacerbating the over represented “i” problem. But other than these issues, these kana have all the strengths of regular slime kana. And they allow me to illustrate an important part of reading Japanese.

Paralysis These are the Paralysis Kana. They can be moved once… but after that they turn to stone and cannot be moved. These are probably my second most useful mechanic, just after One Directional Kana. They allow for interesting level design, and they have a good amount of design space to them. Not quite as much as One Directional Kana, but still a large amount. They are also very easy to understand what they do. And they can be the focus of a level, or be used as a back up element. The biggest problem that they have though is they have a hard cap on how difficult they can make a level. This isn’t a bad thing as it does mean it’s basically impossible to make a level that is too difficult with these but it does make them a bit more restrictive as one might like in later levels.

Transform

Transform Kana are pretty straight forward. Then can become any Kana, but they can only be one Kana at a time. This mechanic probably has the least frills of any of my mechanics, and you what that’s ok. It works just fine. They ask a simple question of the player, and that question is “where am I needed, and what do I need to be?”. So the trick to designing around these Kana is making sure there is a spot that can only be connected with a Transform Kana. Which is fine as long as one is careful with the other Kana that are used within the level. If you aren’t careful the player will just plop the transform kana anywhere and not have to think at all. They also suffer the same problem that Slime Kana face in that they struggle to be the focus of a level, but they do slot into lots of levels pretty easily.

MaruKana

Here is the final Slime Kana variant. And this is yet another instance of me basing a mechanic off an actual function in Japanese. There are small added strokes called “tenten” and “maru” for Hirgana and Katakana. These will change the consonant of the letter they are attached to. In the game this often is something that is a disadvantage, not an advantage like the other two Slime Kana. Because of this you cannot finish a level if there are any Purple Slime Kana left in play. This forces the player to find the part of the level that can accommodate losing its consonant sound. Basically everything that applies to the first two applies to this one.

  DickheadKana

This is an “n”. Because they don’t share a consonant or a vowel with any other Kana they cannot match like a normal Kana. So I decided to make them the Unfriendly Kana that all other Kana hate. So for as long as an “n” is in the level, you cannot complete it. So how do you get rid of an “n”? You dump them into a rubbish bin. Which looks like this.

Bin

Once an “n” is moved into a rubbish bin both are removed from play, and the spots they occupied become empty spaces on the board. This mechanic requires a fair bit of set up to get working, but once you set up a level to accommodate them its a solid mechanic that has a solid amount of design space. One unique problem with this mechanic is using effectively uses up twice the amount of space that a regular Kana would. Because of this levels with this mechanic tend to look very cluttered and can be a bit difficult to process. Outside these problems they are a solid mechanic that just needs a bit of preparation to make work.

 

Finally we have Kana Sliders. The art for these is still under way, but what these do is they move every Kana in a row or column down one spot as long as there is an empty spot on the board in that direction. This is a very easy mechanic to design around and offers a lot of design space that had not been available for me for most of the game. Because Kana Sliders care about empty space, it allows them to interact with Slime Kana and Unfriendly Kana that no other mechanic has been able to do so far. The biggest problem with them however is they tend to make levels with ridiculous amount of moves required to complete them. There are levels that require more than 70 moves to complete with this mechanic. This can be problematic especially if the player makes a mistake early on as they will be punished especially hard for that error. Other than that issue, I love working with Kana Sliders.

And with that this weeks Kana Quest Devblog comes to a close. Next time I think I’ll pick out a handful of choice levels, analyse them, talk about how I made them, and talk about why I think they are special.

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.

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.