Archives for posts with tag: Japan

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. 

712px-Sakura.song

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. 

W3Done

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. 

world11WIP.png

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

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Good morning everyone! This month’s blog is a little sideways turn from our usual venture… written by Julian AKA ‘Zorsy’, one of the composers for Kana Quest. This is so Theo gets a good rest, and so he can tell us more exciting developments behind the scenes hehe. 

It’s been an amazing venture so far being contributing to some of the music for the game alongside the talented Leina https://twitter.com/rein_bel

One very fun challenge composing for the game has definitely been realising the worlds that Theo has created through various forms of traditional music. We’ve swayed through Enka, Ghibli, to more recent JPop. All of which have provided their own unique challenges in relation to soundscapes, samples and the cohesion between traditional Japanese genres, a chip-tune canvas and the individual flares of both myself and Leina! 

I think embarking on the project, neither of us were quite sure where we would end up, but with the majority of the music completed by the time of writing, i’m definitely quite happy with where we’ve ended up! I’ve written a list of some of the more fulfilling challenges to overcome.

 

Background Research

Coming in fairly recently to the project, It’s been awesome to be part of Theo’s vision, as the idea of utilising the tutelage of hiragana/katakana within a Bejewelled Puzzler type of game really appealed to me as i loved problem solving games and am currently studying Japanese myself (Which reminds me after this blog…). However that did involve a lot of research into the game and world that was to be created, and I often found myself delving into some older Japanese styles that I hadn’t been quite familiar with: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvvXOfLs-ng

Here was one of the examples of styles Theo was looking at. Whilst the musical brain within me was quite familiar with harmonies and melodies and the ability to recreate them on the piano, I was not initially familiar with traditional Japanese instruments such as the Shamisen/Koto/Shakuhachi at least from the angle of a composer to utilise them! Early on me and Leina had decided that more of these traditional sounds might best be best approached by her, especially for intricate articulations. Here’s an example of some of Leina’s beautiful music: 

Within this challenge, I think there have been many instances where I’ve been faced with a problem such as “this chip-tune element sounds too out of place amongst the traditional instruments” or “how do i make that percussion sound not too aggressive?” as well as “how do I make that percussion sound more aggressive” and the next thing you know, some of the most simple of tasks takes a very long time or the complete opposite! 

Some of my favourite contributions to the soundtrack so far have definitely involved a very large track listing, so one of the best skills I’ve picked up so far has been efficiency in how you layout your workflow!

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bz_vC9JBiM0/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

 

Cohesion

We’ve taken a progressive approach to the soundtrack in which the worlds take a (for the most part) chronological approach to it’s production. So we start from Traditional and Enka music, to eventual heavier more AMV OP Japanese Pop music. Whilst throughout every piece will always feature touches from both composers, you can see the early part of the soundtrack composed by Leina, which morphs into a more modern production style composed by me! It’s been really great to see how our styles have all matched with future stages adopting little callbacks to traditional Japanese instrumentation but retaining it’s energy receptive to the world it accompanies. 

WORLD 9 Music

https://www.instagram.com/p/B0SEOodgPqg/

I think where we are now, one of the amazing parts of how it’s been composed is that you can hear both of our styles fusing together, and in fact I’ve definitely learnt a lot from having Leina next to me composing on the game! 

Mobile Composing

This applies to all of us to some degree, but I know one of the biggest challenges especially on my behalf has been composing whilst travelling! Upon starting this soundtrack, I was in Japan myself, but travelling for the majority of May – July definitely was a challenge! As a methodology, most of the time I compose with a piano, and write on the piano, but there were many instances where I’ve written by singing/by hand/by computer or if luggage permits me, travelling with this miniature buddy of mine:

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bz9cCk_ABsh/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Based on methodologies prior to taking on the project, this has been a very enlightening endeavour limiting myself to barely working from my nicer studio back home! Whilst majority of the mixing is still done on my speakers back home, it’s been really inspiring writing whilst i’m on the go, and I do believe some of what I’ve been able to conjure wasn’t possible whilst being in Australia. Creating limitations has always allowed me to grow in another area, and so far I’ve composed from the comfort (or discomfort) of:

  • A couple of friends houses
  • On the plane
  • On the train
  • In my hostel
  • In my bed
  • In my Capsule hotel even. (yes don’t tell Theo) 

*Theo here, Julian. You know I read this right :P* 

There’s still some music left to go, and whilst on my end the composing side of the music making is very close to done, it’s awesome hearing the whole soundtrack come together as well as hearing it get pieced together is a really satisfying experience! 

Time to study Japanese… with Kana Quest… 

 

*Theo here again, please give a warm thanks to Julian for this month’s Kana Quest devblog, by following him on twitter – https://twitter.com/ZorsySan and instagram – https://www.instagram.com/zorsysan/ .

Next month we are going to have Leina in and talk us through some of the finer points of working with traditional Japanese elements.

If you are interested in following Kana Quest feel free to sign up to the mailing list at kanaquestgame.com 

Until next time, take care and have a wonderful 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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, 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.

 

Hi all! Welcome to the DevBlog for Kana Quest, where I document what I’ve been working for the week, and what I’ve learned along the way.

This week I did something I’ve never really had to do for Kana Quest before, and that is draw people in pixel art using very limited amounts of pixels. So this week we will go through the things I made and what the process for doing so was.

But firstly let me give you some context on what I’m making this for. So each world in Kana Quest has its own unique layered background art that repeats so that I can make use of parallaxing. I’m currently working on world 8 which is a homage to John Brack’s 5pm Collins St.

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You can see in the original there are two rows of people. I’ve finished the first one, and am up to the second. And this is where this weeks topic comes in. See the people in the second row are going to be much smaller than the ones on the foreground and thus I have way less pixels to work with.

 Each of these people range from 21-39 pixels wide and 61 – 88 pixels tall. In other words they are all way smaller than any of the people at the front. Quick heads up, I’m not going to go over how I arrived at my pallet for these people. I’m going to focus on the drawing aspect for this week.

So where did I start with these? Well I started each with an idea of what the person should look like at the end. I know this sounds silly but just having an idea of what you want them to look like will help. I also made a conscious effort to make sure they would all look different from each other. But once I had an idea of what I wanted I would start with the head.

w8PersonHead

I wouldn’t go for anything super detailed, just a roughly head shaped blob. Then I would figure out what shape the head should be using what I was planning and using reference photos. Always use reference photos, if you are anything like me and have the imagination of a gold fish they will be your best friend. For this blog we are going make a caricature that you will probably recognise from sailor moon: the nerdy schoolboy with massive glasses.

neeeeeerd

Gurio Umino from Sailor Moon

For this character, I figured he would have a pretty large and round head. Which also helped create room for his big glasses. I also gave him a bowl cut to make his head even more ball like. Something that I noticed very quickly making these characters is when you have this few pixels shape is really important. You have to express as much as you can from the rough shape of things. This is why I chose glasses boy here as the example for this blog.

w8PersonHead

Once I had the rough shapes blocked out (the face, hair and glasses) it was just a matter of shading everything to give him depth. Now I am not using hard outlines for these people. You are free to do that for your own pixel art if you like, I’m opting not to because it is not in style for Kana Quest. Another thing to pay attention to while shading is to use your shading to imply shape and texture. For example on the glasses I use shading to show how thick and bulky they are. I also use skin shading to show the curvature of his face.

But of course this is just the face. As I said before, for each of these characters I started with the head and worked my way down. The reason I did this is because by starting with the face I can get a good sense of what sort of personality I want to depict. In the case of this one, I wanted him to be pretty stiff and awkward looking. I also wanted him in the classic Japanese School uniform winter blazer. So what I did is I created a basic shape of his body; in this case a rigid rectangle. Then I placed where the hands and feet would go. It’s always easier to place where you want the hands and feet to be and work back towards the body than the other way round. In this instance the hands and feet were just straight next to his body, so it would have been pretty simple either way. Then I drew in the outline of his blazer and finished with shading. Once again keeping in mind that we need to use shading to help the viewer infer what the shape of everything is.

w8PersonBody

And there we have it! A finished person. Now if you excuse me I have another five of these things to make before I can finish making this world.

Anyway I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s devblog. I unfortunately wont be uploading a devblog next week as I will be exhibiting Kana Quest at this year’s Animaga in Melbourne. If you are coming, please come find me at in the indie game section, say hello and give the game a shot! But until next time, take care and have a great week!

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

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

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

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

world4wip1

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

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

 

world4wip2

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

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

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

World4Finished.gif

The finished background art. Total of 16 colors.

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

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

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.