Archives for posts with tag: opinion

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

trailerWIP2

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

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

IMG-1340

5. Know Your Resources

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

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

jjmbt047-img600x450-1511577783c3hafx19895

4. Avoid “Learning by Anime”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And sides….

World8-9Transition

3. Why Watch Anime, When You Have JPOP?

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

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

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

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

 

2. Find a Way to Speak Japanese

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

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

712px-Sakura.song

 

1. Consistency is Key

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

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

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

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

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

IMG-1257

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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

IMG_1835

 

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

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

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

mystery

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

OneD

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

IceDemo

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

SlimeKana

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

 

GhostKana

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

YaSlimeKana

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

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

Transform

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

MaruKana

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

  DickheadKana

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

Bin

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

flowchannel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

mossy_robo_by_sky_burial-d9u76yl

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

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

db8c9a9259fa221c720fb700c77fcc92

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

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

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

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

World7Wip

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine the following conversation. You’re 16, at a gathering with family members you haven’t seen in years and uncomfortable. Inevitably the topic of your interests come up. You gingerly mention that you enjoy to partake in what is colloquially known as “video games”. Your now slightly sloshed uncle proceeds to say one or more of the following lines; “video games are just murder simulators” “video games are incapable of being art” “A video game will never be able to make you CRY“.

To like video games, you have to be insecure about liking video games. Conversations like the one above have made sure of that. And if you weren’t aware, your drunken uncle’s arguments made to belittle became  a “to do list”.

Things to do in order to legitimize games.

  • Make a non violent game
  • Make a game that is #ART
  • Make a game that will people CRY
  • Make the Citizen Kane of games.

Non-violent games have existed for as long as there have been games so *pfff* who actually cares? #ART is subjective, but according to a very ugly toilet in an art gallery: As long as I say my game is #ART it is… Soooo DADAAAAA… *Jazz Hands*. “The Citizen Kane of Games” this is the Holy Grail of this list. But how does one achieve it? It’s such a nebulous concept. If ONLY there was some tangible goalpost one could use to figure out if a game was eligible for the title of “The Citizen Kane of Games”. Oh wait look at the third item. All a game has to do in order to be considered as “The Citizen Kane of Games” is make people cry.

And so to this day Game Developers will subconsciously use this list as their Game Design Documents. There is nothing wrong with artistic, non-violent and tear jerking games. Papers Please, To the Moon, Firewatch fit this mold but are genuine masterpieces. But we need to burn the list. Or at least we need to feed the list to RUMU.

RUMU is the reason this essay exists as these are the RUMUnations that were inspired by playing the game. Its a well made point and click adventure game made in Sydney (#goAussieGameDevs) about a sentient robotic vacuum that can only feel love. RUMU cleans the house for their humans David and Cecily (even though they always seem to be out whenever RUMU is cleaning), but spends most of their time talking to Sabrina the sentient house management AI.

Before the criticism comes, if you are interested in it, go get RUMU and support Indie Devs (Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/723270/Rumu/ ). And if you care about spoilers, stop reading now.

RUMU is a game that ignored the most interesting aspects of its own premise because it was too busy looking at the damn list. It doesn’t take long for you to know something is up. Sabrina always talks as if she is hiding something e.g. “David and Cecily are… out again today RUMU…”.

And sure enough it turns out David and Cecily are dead. And their death was written to inflict the maximum amount of emotional trauma to Sabrina (and by proxy the player).  David ordered Sabrina not to watch him work in his lab because it made him uncomfortable (and that he was planning on editing her program without Sabrina’s consent) and then accidentally spilled some highly toxic chemicals, forcing the lab into lock down. But Cecily was on the outside of the lab. So she emotionally blackmails Sabrina into letting her into the lab to die with David (“Sabrina if you love me you will let me in” – Cecily). Thus causing Sabrina to deal with PTSD and crippling guilt ALONE for eight years before she chooses to finish construction of RUMU.

The reveal of this moment is teased and built to the entire game. So RUMU does earn the emotional pay off. But at what cost? The core concepts of RUMU are the ethical questions that will arise when we are capable of making sentient AI. What are the ethics of changing/bug-fixing a sentient AI? Is it okay to create an AI simulacrum of people who are no longer in your life? If a sentient AI is suffering do you have a duty of care for them? But the biggest question for me is what do we owe our creations? If we make a sentient being knowing that they will be flawed (and they will suffer for those flaws), is it ethical to make that being to begin with?

Because all the time and energy of game is dedicated to building to that one tear jerk moment at the end, there is little energy left to dig into the rest of the questions that RUMU asks. Because of coarse all #artistic games need to make people cry. This idea prevented RUMU from whole heatedly and confidently tackling the ideas that would have made it something extraordinary and not just good.

And that’s ultimately what this comes down to: moving from insecurity to confidence. The confidence to make games that are earnest, silly, sad, life affirming, funny, horrifying and challenging. And the confidence that items off a check list do not determine the artistic value of our art.