Archives for posts with tag: Japanese

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!

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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.

Hi all and welcome back to the Kana Quest devblog!

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

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

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

CtStoneHa

 

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

mystery

 

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

OneD

 

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

IceDemo

 

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

GhostKana.gif

 

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

SlimeKana

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

Paralysis

 

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

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

YaSlimeKana

 

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

Transform

 

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

MaruKana

 

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

 

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

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

 

Hi all, welcome back to the Kana Quest Devblog!

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

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

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

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

world12Complete.gif

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

world13ProcessGif.gif

world13wipBorderOff.png

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

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

GhostKanaDemo

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0277

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

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

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

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

World8pogoCat.gif

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

World8-9Transition.gif

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

world10.gif

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

world11.gif

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

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

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

KanaQuestLogoGifBorder

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

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

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

 

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

Original Logo Issues:

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

KanaQuestTitleScreenImg

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

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

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

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

AnimatedLogo1Gif

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

 

Japanese Logo Visual Language:

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

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

JapaneseGameLogos.jpg

So the common elements are as follows.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

world4wip1

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

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

 

world4wip2

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

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

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

World4Finished.gif

The finished background art. Total of 16 colors.

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

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

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

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

World3Level1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World3Level16.jpg

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

World3Level16Complete.jpg

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

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.