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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.

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 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, 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.

 

Hey all, This week we are going to do a review of the Ice Kana mechanic. We’ve done one of these reviews before for the One Direction Kana. Basically what we are going to do is discuss how the mechanic works, how difficult it was to implement, how it plays, and how much design space it has.

So how do Ice Kana work? Ice Kana can be moved in any direction freely but will keep moving the direction they were moved until they hit a non-moving Kana, a blank space, or the end of the level.IceTileDemo2.gif

Ice Kana cannot be moved with each other as if they could there would be situations where tiles would move forever. Also whenever an Ice Kana is moved, regardless of how far they move it is counted as only one move.

 

So how hard was it to implement Ice Kana into the game? The initial implementing wasn’t too bad. The debugging was the killer for this one. They way the game handles Ice Kana is by checking if either of the two moved Kana are Ice Kana, then if there is an Ice Kana it iterates the “move Kana” script until the Ice Kana makes an invalid move. This was pretty easy to do as it relied on preexisting logic that was solid. The hard part was managing the undo function.  The undo button will log each step of an Ice Kana’s movement as individual moves so I have to tell script at what points an Ice Kana is moved so It can group each of those moves together and undo them all at once. This part of implementation was a nightmare. The last point that was a hassle was the animations. See because I have the Kana faces animated, whenever I want a different set of images for a different mechanic I am forced to make new animations for them. But I hear you saying “Isn’t that a LOT of individual animations?”. Why yes it is. There are 46 base Hiragana, but I have to double that number for each Katakana. Okay so there are 92 animations? Nope, because I have that many animations for EACH mechanic that uses the animation system. So far that is normal kana, stone kana, ice kana, paralysis kana and slime kana. Now slime kana only actually has 16 animations because it is only applies to あ、い、う、え、お、や、ゆ、and よ (I’ll go into why when we review slime kana). But even if we take that into account we still have 384 individual animations. And let me tell you Unity is NOT DESIGNED to have that many animations going on at once. TryingToAddNewAnimations

See this clip is how you add a new animation into Unity. You have to scroll down the list of existing animations until you get to the bottom where you can select the “Create New Animation” button. It is one of the most infuriating experiences I have as a game developer.

 

Anyway, but I don’t have to worry about implementing it anymore! How does it play? Actually pretty good, it can make some really interesting levels. However Ice Kana are certainly the hardest mechanic in the game for the player. Which I’m fine with. The first three worlds are pretty easy and its good to have a mechanic that can really challenge the player. Personally I enjoy solving these puzzles but what I enjoy and players enjoy are often two different things. So I will still have to do a bunch of testing to make sure the world 4 levels aren’t too difficult. I know for sure that the last two levels of world 4 are by far the hardest in the game.

IceTileDemo3.gif

But I think if I can get the difficulty correct I think players will really like Ice Kana. It will just take a bit of tweaking and balancing to get there.

Finally, how much design space does the mechanic have? Well, LOADS this was one of the first times I finished making a world’s levels and thought “I could probably make another ten interesting levels here”. They interact with One Direction Kana wonderfully, and I am certain they will work really well with future mechanics yet to come. So I am really happy with how they’ve turned out. My one biggest concern is just how difficult players find them.

Wrapping up. I think Ice Kana are a great mechanic that I will probably end up using liberally in future levels, but I do need to be careful of the difficulty. Having some levels be a challenge is fine, but not if players find their brains melting. And while debugging them was a royal pain, I am very happy with where they have ended up.

What do you think of the Ice Tiles? Let me know in the comments! But until next time, have a great week!

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Hey. Welcome to this week’s Kana Quest DevBlog.

So what have I been doing this past week? I’ve been trying to implement some the changes to the tutorial that I talked about last week. NewTutorial.gif

So above is a new tutorial level that I made this week. There are a few new things here. First is the friendship gauge has been changed to show the size of the largest friendship group. This way it conveys information a bit better. Second I’ve changed the click image to a hand. In play tests with tablets and phones people have been confused by the old mouse. Thirdly is the English text bubbles above the Kana.  I’m doing this so that the player can see the connection between the Kana. Hopefully it will convey the idea that they game is about matching sounds.

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The most exciting addition to Kana Quest this week is that of SOUND!!! I recorded my voice actress Aki Nemoto to perform all the Kana tiles this week.  Here is a photo of my dad (a sound engineer) setting up the microphone with Aki. She did a great job, I got the exact quality to the voice that I wanted. Of coarse I do want to say a big thank you to Dad here for helping me record!

Once the recording was done, I downloaded all the files and implemented them into the game. As of the most recent build, if you double click a Kana it will say its name.

 

KanaQuestMusicManagerBut that’s not all the sound work that got done this week! I also commissioned Nicole Marie T to compose some music for Kana Quest. So far she has finished work on the Kana Quest Theme Song and has done a great job! She is now currently working on the background theme for world one and world two. But in preparation for those assets I have made a music manager. This script will fade the music in and out when changing between worlds and the title screen.

That’s about all I can show you for this week. I’m hoping to get some more play tests done on the new tutorial asap so I can further refine it. Anyway, hope you have a good week and I’ll see you next week.