Anodyne 2 Musical Influences: an incomplete list

I’m indebted to countless musical artists for Anodyne 2’s OST, but in particular I have to primarily highlight Susumu Hirasawa and Rei Harakami, and then all the Videogame OSTs on here. Then comes all the other songs. This is most of the songs I remember actively listening to during the game’s development, it doesn’t include things that are more ‘permanent’ influences (like romantic-era piano composers, shostakovich string quartets, etc…). If I dig through my Youtube playlists I can probably find more, but 70-80 or so artists and their albums/songs seems like enough for now!

As a side note, I don’t use streaming services. How I’ll find music is either searching for references for a given song, random browsing through my Soundcloud feed or peoples’ likes, Bandcamp articles/browsing, or by chance from friends on Discord or Twitter. Then if it’s useful I’ll have it on rotation with a few other songs until I think I’ve understood it well enough, then I might buy it and put it in my mp3s folder.

(Spoilers for Anodyne 2): Some of these songs I referenced heavily (Kelly Chen’s song for the groove in “Fashion Storm”, Pleasure System’s song for “Thousand Thousand Layer…”, 33EMYBW’s song for the Nanobot fight, Antimonesia for the Attic level, Tempura Kidz for “sparkle sparkle..”, Perfect Blue song for the Gargoyle Chase, Rei Harakami’s “Pone” for the chords in Dustbound Village, probably more).

Anyways, enjoy, please research these artists and give them your money!! (And give me money too, via bandcamp, maybe.. https://htch.bandcamp.com/album/anodyne-2-return-to-dust )

Also… a note on music influences – sometimes one of these might sound like a song in a game but actually I listened to the song after writing the Anodyne 2 song. Music is odd…

Susumu Hirasawa – pretty much everything, esp: Tamashii no Furusato (i borrowed the idea of blending pentatonic melodies with regular scales), Garden where the Solutions are Found (listened to this one a LOT), Gemini 2, Solar Ray 2, Millenium Actress OST, Parade, Technique of Relief, Philosopher’s Propeller, Hansen 108,Siren,  Holy Delay (one of the best loops, before the vocals kick in), Paranoia Agent OST, “Indra”, work as “Shun”, Landscapes #1

Kaku P Model, esp antimonesia, kai = kai

Rei Harakami – Lust (one of my favorite albums), “Pone”

Mondo Grosso – “Hello Do You Copy”, “Labyrinth”, “Solitary”, “Late night blue”

33EMYBW – Golem“Ship of Theseus” (I recommend this artist and the label this was published on, lots of interesting club music)

Kelly Chen – Hua Hua Yu Zou

Sega Bodega – 3310

Wednesday Campanella – “Aladdin”, “Gala” (KOM-I? Kenmochi Hidefumi reading this? Want to have a song in a video game? Contact me hello@analgesic.productions )

Utada Hikaru – Fantome track 1 4 9 10

Kirby Super Star, Dream Land 3 OST

Joe Hisaishi – Kaiju no kodomo OST

Pleasure Systems – “heirloom

Teruo Nakano – “現象界パレット”, “eardrum”

Kaiba OST

Perfect Blue OST , esp “Uchida’s Theme”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Dy0Zfw6Qs

999 OST – “Digital Root”, “senary game

magicalmushie – “musica universalis”

Nicolo Telesca – Lucah OST

Toe – “two moons”

Phantasy Star III Main Theme (LIVE, 1990)

包美聖 – 小茉莉Little Jasmine (by Mei-Sheng Bao)

Sean Han Tani (…that’s me!)

no. 9 – “left the wind’, “tomorrow land”, “Will”, most of their work etc

Forever Kingdom OST – “forgotten valley”

yukari – “marginal man”

P-model: “colors”, “eisei alone”, big body, “Chevron”, much more.. (Eisei alone I listened to a LOT)

“every other beat missing” music meme

Opoona OST – at tokione

Travis Bickle  – “Get a Job”

SMT Soul Hackers OST – Tenkai Airport (Reality)

Travis Strikes Again OST – Seeming Sad

Jun Miyake – “Para Media”

Kikuo – “red moon”, “Blue cave’, “Yume miru kikai ningyo’ (i recommend all of kikuo’s work)

sparite – “exoticism

SMT IV OST, esp: Kagome Tower, Naraku Dungeon, Tokyo Overworld, Blasted Tokyo

Breath of Fire V OST, esp “Power Supply Building” and “Lifeline”

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Flora 1987

Maple Story OST (First few years)

Daoko – “Iya”, some other songs off that album

Rimi Natsukawa – 島唄 (shima uta)

Kinesthetiac – “Rat Park”, “Tomb”

Meytel – “Kireinakisetsu”, “わたしのみらいに関係ない

Lamp – “Symphony

kuchiroro – 00-00-00

neotenomie – ‘other‘, prism stalker OST , other songs..

ilkae/zebra – “Clocks”

Tempura kidz/pc music – I like it

serpentwithfeet – “bless ur heart”

Kohl – “The inquisition”

Family Basik – “music for absentees”

Parks Burton – Pare (highly recommended, I also did a remix for htis)

dj girl – “Fast Track

Sword of Mana OST (GBA)

Contact OST (NDS)

A.G. Cook in general

Threads of Fate OST

Saga Frontier II OST (Masashi Hamauzu more generally)

Tatsuyuki Maeda, Tatsuya Kousaki – Astal OST – “Crystal Palace”

Fryd: “hellbeast” (I can’t find this one anymore)

Gazelle Twin 

Rook 

Sayohimebou – “RGB”

Dragon Quest II Symphonic Suite – “Endless World”, various other songs from Dragon Quest, like 8’s overworld

SMT Nocturne OST – Shinjuku Medical Center (Post Conception)

Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Placeblumenthal and other songs

ThommazK – Dandara OST

June Chikuma – Les Archives (Bomberman Hero composer!)

Sonsofu – “Overlapping Particles”

OH HEEJUNG – Yop

FFX OST (The remastered is good too)

FFXIII, FFXIII-2 OST

Mitsuto Suzuki – Neurovision

Fumie Kumatani – PSO 2 OST – Jungle

Interview – The Body and Spirit in Anodyne 2

This interview of me originally appeared on Ludica mag. I answered in English and the interview was translated to Italian. https://www.ludicamag.com/il-corpo-e-lo-spirito-in-anodyne-2-return-to-dust/

I’ve reproduced my original English answers below.

Ludica Mag: The first Anodyne was a Zelda-like RPG (being it based on puzzle-solving) a bit extrovert (like Undertale) and a bit weird (like Lisa). (Do you agree with this description?) Anodyne 2 is a very different game: how did you work to expand the original concept in this direction?

Sean: I think Anodyne 1 is a game that, despite its flaws, has a very unique atmosphere that very few games have come close to replicating. What we borrowed from Anodyne 1 was symbolism through the dust, a generally fantastical and at times tense atmosphere, and the general surreal juxtaposition of the game’s levels. In Anodyne 2, we combined this surrealism with a story conceit: the areas are so vastly different, because they are the interiors of characters. We aimed to keep that surreal, whimsical feel, but make the game far more communicative with the player on a narrative level.

L: Playing Anodyne 2, I find it a very original gaming experience. How did you ‘give birth’ to this story about the dust, the vacuum cleaner, a 3D world that contains 2D worlds that sometimes contains other 2D lower-res worlds? It’s something at the same time viscerally bodily (since Nova physically enters the 3D bodies to access the 2D worlds), powerfully metaphorical (everybody has its interior life) and very speculative, as imagining other dimensions can be (from the 2D world of Flatland to the 26 dimensions of the Bosonic String Theory!).

S: Marina had a prototype of a platformer where you shifted between 3 sizes. Dust came from Anodyne 1, Vacuum Cleaner came from an ‘evolution’ of Anodyne 1’s broom. We generally like to find some sort of ‘traditional’ game mechanic that makes the game interesting enough in a tactile way to pull the player through the game’s story, and vacuuming/sucking worked (a bit inspired by Kirby.)

From there we brainstormed certain ideas we wanted to explore with the Anodyne series’ surreal landscapes – eventually we came to the idea of putting the ‘action’ into 2D and the exploration into 3D – thus taking advantages of the efficiencies of both visual formats. 3D is easier to quickly make a vast feeling world, 2D is easier to create little one-off action sequences or dungeons.

At the same time, we came up with the story themes we were interested in – the trappings of religious or familial structure, the power of communities, and used that to build the core story of The Center and Nova, exploring the island, etc. The ‘shrinking’ idea ended up being a great way not only to tie the process of ‘cleaning’ into the main story, but a fun way to create self-contained substories that were also interesting on their own.

LM: There’s lot of existential /metaphysical /religious (C Psalmist!) references in this game. Many NPCs wonder about their place in the world, their past lives, and their destiny. I’d like to hear more on this topic.

S: For the NPCs you clean we generally started with the thematic framework of: early NPCs would have very ‘straightforward’ cleanings, though they wouldn’t quite be fixed of their problems. Blue Vale NPCs would be more complicated… cleaning wouldn’t change much of anything. As the game goes on we wanted to draw more complications with the idea that ‘fixing’ someone can be something that’s straightforward.

The general existential tone and quirky NPCs is a tonal choice we use for the Anodyne series – it fits into the vastly diverse landscapes and levels.

The religious ideas mainly come from Marina, partly from her background of being raised Christian, the various literature she read growing up, and extensive experience with the Bible. Generally Anodyne 2 deals a lot with considering how to deal with your life under certain social structures, and ‘religion’ is a common one to think about. There’s also the general notion of control with The Center, or corporate working life with C Visionary.

L: The 3D world has a graphic that reminds me of the first PlayStation games. This is interesting (on Ludica there’s an old article that invites the developers to keep exploring the aesthetic of polygons in the first 3D games, comparing them to the brutalist architecture and its exposure of structural elements), so I’d like to ask a) the reason of this choice and b) how you designed the world (also with which development tools) and c) if you were inspired by any particular game.

S: a) We think it looks good, and it’s also faster to make. It also works well with the surreal setting we have – it’s easier to convince people they’re in a fantastical place, as their brain has to do the job of filling in some details. It’s like how a visual novel screen can be really, really tense and immersive… just with words and a single image! Other reasons: art and level design workflows with HD art quickly become too hard for small teams, and also, it’s a lot easier to make a visually unique game with ‘lo-fi’ art.

b) The world was designed based on the story’s needs – as Nova becomes more complicated of a character, the world and levels almost seem to fall apart and break logic in the Outer Sands. Cleaning becomes a much more morally dubious affair. Earlier in the story, when Nova has a simple mission and thought process, the levels are almost too straightforward (Cenote).

For making them, Unity and Blender. 3D worlds I’d sometimes block out in Unity, or sketch on paper, then Marina would create the final 3D area using tools or whatever, adding decoration. Same with 2D areas, but using tilemap systems. We’d always have visual moodboards/discussion of the area before Marina created final art or I created music.

c) We were inspired by many games for small aspects (e.g. some visual ideas borrowed from Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shadow of the Colossus. Some game ideas from 2D zeldas, Kirby. Story tone ideas from Nier, LUCAH), but of course for the more innovative ideas (streamlining a game across a 3D world, designing how exactly 2D/3D works) we had to innovate and figure that out ourselves. Our inspirations list is quite large and spans not just film, literature or games, but also experiences in real life communities or friend groups, etc. So, I would say there isn’t one influence that takes precedence over the other. We tend to use influences more like moodboards, vs. worshipping/paying homage to one platonic ideal game.

L: What about the choice to insert some meta content in the form of commentaries and prototypes?

S: It’s good for developers to be transparent about how games are made, so I always look for nice ways to fit unused content into a game. The way some developers want to create this perfect, 1 hour condensed experience with no flaws is a little odd to me – games are imperfect and a sort of taped-together medium… I think it’s important to reveal how humans are behind each game.

In our case, Metaclean framework also gave an opportunity to enhance the story ideas of C Visionary and motivation. I also want to explore the idea of ‘canon’ existing in works like games… to suggest the idea of there being a ‘grey canon’ where certain parts of the game are both true and not true. A bit of the extra areas like no such scene goes into this – the idea that you can choose to read some of the extra areas as ‘canon’, or not. While obviously I want to include a ‘canon’ story, I do think there are interesting thematic things you can do by including story elements that don’t cleanly fit in, leaving some room for interpretation. I don’t always like doing that with games, but it does work in some cases like Anodyne 2. A game is a bizarre, bizarre thing. There are so many aspects that are never explained or make sense in games. Why can Nova double jump? Where do those coins go? So it feels natural to extend those questions to the written story itself.

L: The meta game content also refers to the need to contain the budget, and now I’m dreaming of what this game – which is really great as it is – would have been if you had unlimited funds. There’s something important that you could not develop?

S: Something I think about a lot is my philosophy of releasing games. Is it better to release two games in a decade, or 10? I believe it’s 10. Or 20. I think art that takes forever to come out is inherently flawed, it presupposes that there are fixed truths to the world that can be spoken at any point in time and hold power, if the developer only spends enough time and money on it. A game that takes 5 years to come out – certainly it might be ‘good’, but there will be an inherent mismatch between the social situation of its release period, and its development. That is, if the developer is even thinking about these things, which often they are not.

Er, that is to say: If we hire a person, they can 1. help us make the game bigger in the same amount of time. Or, they can 2. help us make the same-sized game faster. I don’t think #1 makes sense. Anodyne 2 would overstay its welcome. If the game had a structure/pacing which was longer, maybe #1 would make sense. But I like 8-10 hour games.

#2 is a valid use. If we had unlimited funds, surely we could make Anodyne 2 sized games faster. Yet… they would be fundamentally different, shifted by the bigger team of 3 or 4. Of course, Marina and I could completely direct this new team member, but it feels better to let them contribute equally. There’s also a danger with more labor, and it’s that you won’t be making as many interesting design compromises or simplifications. A lot of our game’s unique identities come from us working as two and needing to simplify and strip things down, vs. just ‘okay’-ing everything because you have the labor to do it.

So, I think that potentially I might one day entertain working with 3 or 4 people, but not soon. We don’t have the money, and seeking funding makes life just a bit more complicated than I’d like. It creates higher sales goals, too, which compromise the decisions we can make with the game. I’m happy if people can make interesting games with teams of 3 or 4 or more, but it doesn’t seem the right path for us now.

L: The soundtrack is beautiful and is perfect for the scenarios it accompanies: how did you work on the music of Anodyne 2?

S: I made it with Ableton Live. I usually use Ableton’s built-in synthesizers to create my own instruments, or sample manipulation, which is how I achieve a unique sound. There’s a lot of factors I consider when making a song, but generally I think about what aspects of the visuals, the story, the gameplay – of a certain level – that I can enhance with the music. Then I draw upon my knowledge of music to try and find reference songs that have aspects of them that would fit my goals, and I borrow from those references and mix them and come up with a new idea. Sometimes this is as little as a 4-second percussion sound in a song, or sometimes it’s as big as a chord progression… what can be useful is often unexpected, so it’s important to listen to a lot more music than just Chrono Trigger, haha. I try to draw in a lot of influences. I think fans understand that, but my music rarely gets praised via awards or blog posts or whatever, even though it’s better than a lot of music that does win awards! Oh well, that’s okay – I’ll just keep making good music… hahaha!

“Persona”: splitting myself into two on Twitter

“Are you writing those tweets?”

This was roughly a question someone asked me the other day about my @sean_htch twitter account (where you may have clicked through to this essay). And it’s a good question – if you have met me in person, you’ll know that the stuff I tweet on ‘main’ (@sean_htch) feels a bit distant from talking to me in person. The part of me represented there, perhaps, feels

  • Obsessed with Zelda, especially Link’s Awakening? Does Sean continuously play Link’s Awakening?
  • Wow, this person really loves the PSX, N64, etc
  • Can’t stop talking about their upcoming game Anodyne 2.
  • They are always positive!

Now, of course, that’s very much an exaggeration of some facets of my personality. I enjoy Zelda games as well as old 3D games, but they’re just one of many interests. They just happen to be the best way to immediately convey some of the appeal of Anodyne 2/Anodyne. I do care about Anodyne 2 a lot, as it’s my job, but I care about other things as well. I experience a wide range of emotions. (That was a weird sentence to write.)

If you’ve followed @sean_htch for over a year, you may have noticed that tweets are far less frequent, but when I do tweet, there’s a lot of engagement. That’s all intentional! Here’s why.

This is a graph of my follower count from Feb 2016 to March 2019. The graph continues to the left. In fact, if you follow it to Feb. 2014, followers are at 1700, meaning, more or less, follower count was flat or gently sloping for many years.

I worked on the game Even the Ocean for 3.5 years from 2013 to 2016, so you can see how that corresponds with a nearly flat line on the graph! In the middle of 2018, I decided “something needs to change” about how I approach Twitter. It’s a useful tool for promoting my work and I felt I wasn’t using it optimally. So I changed things and, happily, have had some positive results!

Splitting the Self

Ah… dramatic subheading…

Last year, I asked myself: do my followers, likely who know me through my games, need to hear every little opinion or life thing about me, like that the grocery store near me hasn’t restocked on cookie dough in a month, and that the price of a chicken rice plate at my favorite fast casual restaurant went up $0.50 and it’s ridiculous to charge more money for rice than for a pita wrap?

Well, the answer is no. It didn’t feel healthy to have thousands of people hearing my frivolous tweets. It’s good to have tweets less people see, it’s also good to have parts of you that only offline friends see.

Also, my follower count was more or less flatlined for years, and if I want to stay in this business, I need to stop letting my personal life weigh down my professional work. So as a compromise between locked accounts and mains, I made a ‘sub’. (I know a few other game developers who have done this.)

It’s at @han_tani, and it’s just me using Twitter as a non-professional, i.e. how I’d use twitter if I wasn’t working in games.

Splitting myself into two lets me be more focused.

On my main, I can make decisions that are good for my career as a game designer – I can hyperfocus on making tweets that I know fans of my work will enjoy seeing and sharing. I can tweet important news about my work like console ports. I can share posts like this with a larger audience.

And, I can still do this while having the pleasure of complaining about Tide Pods smelling too strongly on my sub account.

Be a Nintendo

Around August or September last year I started working with The Indie Bros. for assistance with promoting and outreach with Anodyne 2. One useful advice I got was on “being a Nintendo” on Twitter.

Essentially, a “Nintendo” will keep their tweets hyperfocused on getting fans interested in their current work. If there are ever memes or jokes, they always relate to the game. No threads, no arguments, etc. Hearing this sentence made it clear the idea of keeping my main’s presence “all signal, no noise”. Now, I don’t tweet anything unless it contributes to the goal of

  • Promoting Anodyne 2 or something I’m working on
  • Promoting something that helps my company’s stability (console ports, etc)

I will occasionally retweet friends’ work, but I do it less than I wish I could! (FWIW, I do retweet lots of stuff on my sub).

Another counterpoint I always was thinking was “what about using my platform for promoting good things (social justice, etc!)” and that is a fair point! But there are various people with accounts that do a great job at this, and it’s their account’s focus. I feel if I want to do concrete justice actions, I’m better off doing something local – donating to local orgs, or joining a political community, etc.

That is to say, I feel that using Twitter for a career means you need to have a single focus – something the account is known for. And it’s hard for that to be “being yourself,” as everyone is multifaceted.

Being Yourself

As an indie dev, you have a unique advantage, and that is, you can still keep your account as being ‘you’ (in the sense that my main Twitter is Sean, not my company Analgesic Productions). I still think that accounts that are a single person are more attractive than a company, which feels impersonal. (this is basically a fact, given how many fast food twitters now act like they’re a person).

Of course, running a main that’s ‘yourself’, there’s a temptation to tweet more ‘normal’ stuff about your life – but again, that’s what the sub account is for! If you’re a smaller indie, don’t fall into the temptation of trying to show your cool game *and* your cool lunch, no matter how delicious.

The 10-year question

Something I like to think about with curating my online self is – will this curated self successfully age? What should my strategy with Twitter be *now* so that I can still get engagement in 10 years? I asked myself this because near the end of Even the Ocean’s development, I was barely getting much interest in the game itself.

Other questions: how can I frame my tweets so that they’re both appealing but also there’s obviously enough of a weird/experimental edge so that when I make a less commercial game (think All Our Asias), I can still get people interested? Those are all things worth thinking about if you are going to use Twitter for the purposes of a career. I’d like for Marina Kittaka and I to be able to stay in games and work together!

Well, those questions are too complicated for me to fully finish by my 11 AM deadline, so I’ll stop here. I also want to talk about composing tweets that people like to interact with, visual hooks, various strategies with tweets, and how tweeting is essentially grinding out visibility and increasing the chances of ‘lucky tweets’ or journalists/video makers seeing your game, etc, but that’ll be another day.

“Sequel”

For the better part of a year I’ve been developing “Anodyne 2: Return to Dust” with Marina Kittaka.

5 or so years ago, I did an interview about Anodyne 1. I said there wouldn’t be a sequel. Well, now it’s 2018 and, last I checked, I’m sure making a game called “Anodyne 2”. Did something change?

Back then, I was against making a traditional sequel, where we would do mostly the same thing but with new levels. That’s why, instead of just being “Anodyne 1 but different levels,” Anodyne 2 is more the next installment in the “Anodyne Franchise”, like Final Fantasy or Zelda games. Kind of like Nier: Automata, Anodyne 2 is a standalone game, and differs in some ways from the original, but has its commonalities, some narrative continuity, and can be understood more deeply if you’re familiar with the original.

Why didn’t we do a traditional sequel, like Pokemon Gold, Banjo-Tooie, Spyro 2, Dark Souls 2, or most other corporate game sequels?

In this life, we only live so many years. There are certain skills – like making 3D games – that I want to hone and learn, and if a game is entirely just Anodyne 1 again but some additional content and new dungeons, I don’t think that’s the best way to spend my time.

Plus, an “Anodyne 1-2” would be weird. There’s not a great way to create a sequel that incorporates Young. For the most part, Anodyne 1’s story was one and done. Of course, maybe in 5 years I’ll be making Anodyne 1-2 and eating my words. Time changes odd things.

Eh, also, trying to replicate the experience of Anodyne would just lead to it being overshadowed. If you really want Anodyne again… I understand where you’re coming from, but your dream of having a new experience that makes you feel exactly what Anodyne did, is, sadly, impossible. Even if we made the best game ever that was really similar to Anodyne, it would be overshadowed. Anodyne 2 will be a good, memorable time, but it’ll be different.

Some things in life just happen once. In transience is beauty… something, something. Different flavors are good. Spice of life. Etc.

I can’t just keep making more of the same – this world can’t keep doing more of the same.

I think a ‘sequel’ or series installment succeeds when it reflects upon the components that made its predecessor good, and then responds to that material in an interesting way. Nier is a great response to Ocarina of Time. Anodyne is a great response to Link’s Awakening. Likewise, Anodyne 2 is a response to Anodyne. We learn from it, tweak some mechanics, add some new gameplay, remove some gameplay, and incorporate the current narrative ideas and themes and stories that we currently really care about.

As another similarity, the high-level game structure of Anodyne 2 has similarities to Anodyne, but 3D gameplay replaces some of the 2D areas.

The reason Anodyne 2 isn’t just a new IP is because well, the 2D levels play like Anodyne, NPCs are designed with Anodyne’s style in mind, you won’t be able to predict where you’ll go next, etc. The plot is overall clearer but it’s very much still a surreal, dreamy fantasy. Cards and Dust make a return but with different uses. There’s shared elements, just like in a Final Fantasy or Zelda installment. So, it’s called Anodyne 2.

Names

I should mention, we were considering calling it “Anodyne: Return to Dust” or “Anodynia” or something like that. Perhaps one of those choices would show more integrity as to what “Anodyne 2” really is?

But, you have to also look at it from the perspective of us not being Square Enix or Nintendo: it’s going to be far, far more confusing if we don’t put the 2 in there. As an indie, someone might perceive “Anodyne: Return to Dust” as a DLC package! If we use “Anodynia”, that won’t get eyes as fast as “Anodyne 2”. With the ‘2’, it’s obvious that it’s

  • Related to Anodyne
  • A separate game

The ability to call something “Series Name: New Subtitle” and become popular relies on being a series entrenched into culture. We don’t have that clout. So yes, to an extent it is a branding decision, but I hope that makes sense given our hope to continue past Analgesic Productions’ 7th birthday.

Even with this disclaimer, I can predict the exact wording of some negative reviews due to us ‘veering too much off course!’. Well, if that future reviewer is out there, well, I hope you like being screenshotted and used as a joke 3 years from now.

Anyways, I’ll end with this:

We’re the people who made Anodyne 1, Even the Ocean, All Our Asias. We’re dedicated to making excellent work.

Would you really expect us to just make the same damn thing a second time? I hope not!

8 Ways To Not Spatially Organize Your Game (Banjo-Kazooie: Part 2)

In light of Super Mario Odyssey’s release, I realized there’s a timely angle to look at BK with. Rather than summarize the levels like with Part 1, I’ll go over some of the major causes of getting lost/confused in BK. By no means do I suggest these are bad things to do, but they may be counterproductive to your goals in a 3D game, especially if you are doing something with ‘box-garden’ design like BK (or Mario 64, etc.)

Maybe this will make your Mario Odyssey playthrough more interesting, given that it is a semi-box-garden style design? Let’s see… at number one…

1. Mismatch of Interior Size to Exterior Visual Size

See TVTropes’ “Bigger on the Inside” page.

At least BK is consistent with this! Nearly every interior space in BK is much bigger than the exterior would suggest. This is something you might *Want* to do in a 3D game. Say you have a central castle in a level that you also need to navigate the exterior grounds of. It feels better for that castle to not be huge and boring to walk around. But if the castle’s interior is proportionately small, then it might not be as exciting or interesting, unless you are working in the style of Dark Souls or similar ‘realistic’ architecture games.

The “bigger on the inside” trope, can often make areas easier to navigate (take small pokemon starting towns). But, when a particular structure that is “Bigger on the Inside” is in 3D and has too many entrances, it can become confusing.

Example: In level 7, Mad Monster Mansion,  the exterior  is realistically sized, to make it easier to navigate around and see, but then the inside is far larger, to make it more fun to move around in.

One problem here is you can enter the mansion through a front door or a window to the left. Though these two entrances are only a few feet apart, they lead to entirely different spaces – respectively, a gigantic dining room, and some smaller  alcove. To make matters worse, the alcove should technically be inside the dining room.

This makes it harder to make a mental map of the overall level. We don’t just have to remember that these two spaces connect. We also have to remember the additional information that the two spaces are related in an non-physically-realistic manner. This mostly matters in box-garden-style games, where you progressively consume and make a map of the level. In a more linear game, it may not matter as much. I do the “larger on the inside” thing a few times in All Our Asias. The difference with AOA, is that remembering the specific connections between spaces is not as important, thus it’s less likely to result in being lost. Though there still may be a sense of disorientation – which may be good!

2. poorly-signed, screen-transition-connected subareas

Poorly-signed means an entrance to an area is not very distinct – it’s hard to identify where the entrance is going.

A screen-transition-connected area is when you go from one subarea of a level to another and the screen fades to black, or there’s  a loading screen, etc. E.g.: Mansion to mansion exterior in the above example.

Most games need screen transitions. It is worth mentioning that the more ‘screen fades’ you have in a 3D level, the harder it will be to remember how to navigate it. How many times have you left some new building in real life, and not been sure which way to turn? The same thing happens in games. A screen transition breaks the sense of spatial continuity and causes disorientation. This becomes more of an issue the larger an environment grows.

Generally a 3D game might fix the disorientation problem with a minimap or some kind of map – something to help you get your bearings when entering a new space. But… over-reliance on a map will reduce how well a player picks up on landmarks and really learns how to navigate a space. Or the game can make the inside/outside relatively clear and with few entrances. E.g., the sandcastle puzzle in Treasure Trove Cove is a very iconic building, and so it’s easy to know where it goes from looking at it. Again, in a more linear game, this is not as big of a problem, because you can generally emphasize that the place you are *leaving* is not as important as where you’re going. But in something with a box-garden design you need to be more careful.

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This issue compounds with the interior/exterior size mismatch problem.

The worst textbook example of this, which BK does not have, is straight up teleporting you to another place without any sense of logical spatial connection. Think teleport mazes in puzzle or RPG games.

BK has this issue in a few places.

  • Mad Monster Mansion: the mansion has many window entrances, that are of course hard to keep track of because they look the same.
  • Rusty Bucket Bay: The level’s outer rim with storehouses/etc have many entrances that are hard to keep track of because of similar appearance. The main boat has many portholes you can enter with similar problems.
  • Gobi’s Valley (Level 6, which I’ll come back to soon), which features pyramids and sphinxes with entrances. What’s on the outside doesn’t always match the inside… and so it’s hard to remember where a particular challenge is. Still, there are relatively few rooms in Gobi’s Valley so it doesn’t become a huge issue.

BK does get it right, though. E.g.:

  • Mumbo’s Mountain has a single anthill. Easy to know where that goes.
  • The big turtle and crocodile in Bubblegloop Swamp. Go to a simple place.
  • Christmas Tree and single ice cave in Freezeezy Peak.

3. Swimming

Swimming in BK is a nightmare, probably its biggest mistake. There’s a short air meter, even *enemies*, sometimes a shark that chases you, and in a later level the water drains your air meter twice as fast. Not to mention, swimming is slowly and unwieldy, and you are expected to collect things underwater.

Why is it disorienting? Well, you are moving in all three dimensions, freely. Water is usually harder to see in, and because you don’t have gravity stabilizing you, and the controls are so bad, it’s super easy to get turned around or confused as to where you are going. 3rd person cameras can be a little tricky in the water. This makes levels like Clanker’s Cavern or parts of Rusty Bucket Bay much harder than they need to be.  Being in water is sort of like throwing static all over a minimap or just negating all the progress you made in trying to remember where you’ve gone in a space. Add in the air meter, and you now have pressure that makes it harder to think clearly.

I’m iffy about water. I would just leave it out of my games, or make it more of some kind of jetpack like control, where the Y-axis movement is not totally free – some way of making it less disorienting for the player. At the least, keeping your ‘water entry areas’ relatively distinct could be a good move (rather than say, a giant lake you could enter from any point on the shore.)

4. Poorly signed / laid out tunnels

It’s hard to keep your sense of direction in tunnels due to the visual uniformity. It’s also difficult to use landmarks to reference where you have come from and where you want to go. All you see is tunnel.

This is made worse by slightly curving tunnels: you can’t try to remember right angles or ‘easy’ directional changes, you can only follow the tunnel and hope you find an exit. Good way to make you feel lost, though! Mixed with a map, this can actually be okay (think the maze-like tunnel dungeons of SMT Nocturne.)

You can make tunnels harder to navigate with by making their entrances and exits discreet. Put lots of tunnels next to each other to make things even worse.

And to top it off, you could even put tunnels in the water!

Example: Navigating the water tunnels in the final leg of the hub world. This has problems: not only are you using the most disorienting mode of movement (Swimming), but you are connecting places with tunnels.

(Left: an underwater tunnel in the hub world. Right: a tunnel entrance, then the tunnel.)

Or, the tunnels in the water in Clanker’s Cavern. The entrances’ similar coloration makes it easy to forget which tunnel you’ve visited.

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5. Lack of Color Variation in Level

Gobi’s Valley: everything is Yellow.

Gobis_Valley_entry

While this at-a-distance picture looks fine, you’re much closer to things in the game’s 3rd person camera, and so even the structural distinctions might get lost amongst the overall Yellow. It’s good that the borders of Gobi’s Valley are brown, at least. Anyways, it follows that if everything is a similar color, it’s harder to tell parts of the level apart.

260px-Banjo-Kazooie_Mumbo's_Mountain_Entrance_and_Lake

Compare Mumbo’s Mountain where paths lead you around and there’s clearer color distinctions with the grass, hills, water, central mountain.

6. Lines of sight to other parts of the level broken by walls

When you can’t see to the rest of a level, you can easily feel lost or boxed in… in some ways this is a less intense ‘tunnel effect’. You aren’t sure where you are going or how you are oriented. Mad Monster Mansion has this problem: the hedge fences are tall, uniformly dark, so it’s really hard to tell what side of the mansion you’re on sometimes.  Click Clock Wood can be tough to remember where you are (at first) because your line of sight to the other side of the level is cut off by the central giant tree.

Compare Rusty Bucket Bay, which has a central boat in a pool, then a perimeter area. You can at least see what side of the boat you are on, so it’s easy to tell where you are overall in the level (though not necessarily easy to get to somewhere due to the water – RBB has its issues.)

BK pretty consistently increases the ‘broken lines of sight’ as the levels get bigger, partially because of more landmarks / more open space. In some ways, BK’s difficulty comes from having to remember more and more of a 3D space in your head. I think spatial organization topic is why Mumbo’s Mountain (Level 1) feels so strong – it’s really easy to get a sense of the level’s scale at a glance.

Level 4, Bubblegloop swamp (mentioned later), breaks lines of sight – but because it organizes its space in a hub-spoke form, it’s not too bad to navigate. I kind of like the hub-spoke structure: put challenges or singular things at the end of a spoke, so people know how to navigate back to the hub to find the next thing they didn’t do or see.

7. Lack of Landmarks

I wanted to throw this one in here, BK actually does this really well. But  if you are designing something in an ‘box-garden’ fashion like BK, you should make sure the sections of the level have some distinct feature to them – a landmark – that can be used for players to navigate with and judge their sense of place. One issue I’ve seen with first-time Unity students is making the terrain tool and creating high, bumpy and indistinct mountains. A good way to make landmarks is to do concept sketches of a level and include distinct sections/buildings/geological forms.

Landmark examples…

  • The termite hill in Mumbo’s Mountain.
  • The central mountain of Treasure Trove Cove.
  • Clanker, in clanker’s cavern.
  • Freezeezy Peak’s Snowman.
  • Click Clock Wood’s mumbo house.

I really love the structure of Bubblegloop Swamp – while I think its color choices can be a bit uniform and confusing, it has a central location with different branches, and each branch has clear landmarks to let you know what the branch is. My one complaint is the maze in the bottom left, which is hard to see from the center, and thus, hard to remember that there’s a Mumbo hut there (a place you need to go to transform into an alligator.)

banjo-kazooie_bubble_gloop_swamp_notes

8. Excessive + confusing vertical layering

This relates a little to how swimming can get confusing, with having too much freedom of movement in 3D space. When a level starts to build tons of vertical layers, it gets harder to remember where you are – you aren’t just thinking about your flat, X-Z plane position, but also the vertical Y position.

In BK, most clear is the sense of place you lose when climbing up the giant tree in Click Clock Wood (see 2:35 on here). While you can sort of remember where you generally are on the spiral path, it’s hard to remember what is all the way below you.

Treasure Trove Cove initially feels daunting because you have both the ground-level paths and the rocky-raised-structure paths.

This is also why a lot of early 2D platformers can be confusing – too much vertical layering, and the camera is very close to the player so it’s hard to see what’s around you.  (Watch Toy Story 2 for a while.) Maybe this is also why Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid feature minimaps. This is partially why Even the Ocean featured mostly linear levels.

It’s not like you can’t vertically layer spaces or have vertical variation – but it might be good to keep the vertically layered space linear (like the timed challenge in Bubblegloop Swamp – see 1:34).

Now compare that to say, the scaffolding of an apartment building construction site, with intersecting scaffolding – that could get confusing, fast, depending on the level design!

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That’s all for Banjo-Kazooie – it’s a nice game to check out if you haven’t, at least for the first 2 levels !

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I’m Sean Han Tani and I worked on Anodyne and Even the Ocean. I write a lot of music and also teach music and game design at SAIC in Chicago. Now, I’m working on a 3D game coming out this year, All Our Asias.

You can check out more of my writing here.

Walk Geometry and Perfect

Even the Ocean took a Long Time to make. Preliminary development was from March to July 2013, really kicking in around August of that year, not ending until November 2016. A lot happened in between, and I wanted to talk about a few art projects that popped up for me.

Walk Geometry / 散歩幾何学 (February 2015 to August 2015, roughly)

More info

Walk Geometry was a project inspired by how much I enjoyed walking and progressing through Dark Souls 1. It consisted of a series of vlog-style videos recorded with my phone from a first-person perspective, narrated by me and sometimes other people I was with. It is structurally similar to the one-take vlog – the videos record my entire progression and activities within a space, sometimes pausing for inappropriate social contexts to record in. However, the narration of the video focuses on how the spaces made me feel, sort of like as if I was ‘playing’ these spaces like the popular  walk-and-look-primacy games (also known as ‘walking simulators’). This style of walking is a little different from just being observant, as you feel a pressure to think of ‘interesting things’ to say about what you are experiencing, sort of like creating a Let’s Play (a video where you record playing a video game and talk about it.)

Though I still enjoy recording live video in this format from time to time, the bulk of it happened from feb to aug of 2015. For example, shopping at a trader joes, walking down an apartment staircase, going to my apartment’s roof, driving to and shopping at a super target(!), etc. There have been other videos, like “standing on a street corner” and so on.

It’s not a particularly ‘brave’ sort of video making (though it might have looked weird at certain moments…), but looking back at this playlist (and the other videos on my YouTube which fall under the category), it’s interesting how easily we can categorize these pretty menial things – walking to a store, walking to the train station, taking a bus, and how we usually consider them as being under the general umbrella of ‘mediocre experiences’, yet really are something unique each time, evidenced by the title.

Back to the Dark Souls reference, what I really liked Dark Souls is how the levels were just small enough, and you moved just slow enough and with repetition (due to difficulty being killed by enemies) that you intimately learned the ‘geometry’, or shape and layout, of the levels, such as castles, woods, swamps, caves. The combat required you to be extra-aware of the ground and obstacles, too.

Anyways, I encourage anyone interested to try out this style of video-making, if possible! Clearly there are dimensions of one’s appearance and language and context that come into play, possibly eliminating one’s ability to safely video-make. If you can’t do it in real life, doing it in the context of your favorite game may reveal aspects about the game’s design you hadn’t seen before, as I did with the short-lived Walk Souls series.

Walk Souls (Feb-Apr 2015)

Around the same time as the above project I did a project called “Walk Souls”, which as you might imagine, was a Let’s Play series of Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne (Both unfinished) which focused more on observing how the experience of being in the game’s spaces changes over time.

So a normal video would consist of : first clearing away all the enemies beforehand, then recording walking around and discussing the area. In retrospect, enemies are an important part of the Dark Souls landscape, so it’s debatable whether or not I should have eliminated them before recording. Observations usually consisted of how environmental objects or shapes changed how tense or open or familiar a place felt, how an area’s location in juxtaposition to other areas can change one’s perception of the place.

These two projects had some value in helping with the 2nd half of Joni Kittaka and I’s Nov-2016 game Even the Ocean‘s development – at that point, mostly thinking about how to lay out levels and construct Power Plants. However, I didn’t really get the chance to synthesize these ideas into new games until 2016.

Aside: Photography

These things about Dark Souls and Walking did get me interested in photography, and I wrote a few essays about photography and games at the end of 2015/start of 2016, as well as reading about photographers and making a bigger effort on phone-photography. It’s a latent interest that has made playing games and walking and generally observing feel more valuable. Anyways, these ideas led into Perfect.

Perfect (Feb-July 2016)

Inspired by a short story of the same name (and similar themes), Perfect was a HaxeFlixel “Software/Game” I worked on in between Even the Ocean and other stuff in the first half of 2016. It’s an adventure game about the reaction of a community to the aftermath of a disaster in an future Taiwanese immigrant community in the US, set in a sci-fi setting (a gigantic supermarket where people now inhabit). Some of the themes were about the future of labor automation (such as how it may not lead us to leisure, but lots of people basically feeding machine learning algorithms – or manually filtering bad content from Youtube/Facebook.)

The intention was to use a lot of these ideas about spaces and games, photography – and create a “Music Album Game” which consisted of a bunch of screens with wireframe art, connected by ‘links’ (underlined in blue). More details. The method of exploration was inspired by early point and click adventures and how they always give a single fixed camera angle of a space, with no camera panning. By using this and lots of abstract shapes to construct the spaces, I could try and conjure a ‘decaying remembrance’ aesthetic for the game, as Perfect was a story of someone in 2100 or so, ‘experiencing’ the recorded memory of a journalist from ~2070, as the journalist went around interviewing people.

The graphics were very simple, done by rendering wireframe meshes using scaled 1×1 pixel sprites. You could easily do something similar in Unity! The “mountain” effects were done by using hidden shapes to determine ‘forces’ on the sprites.

Of interest to me was the website-like interface. Rather than moving in real time, you only get ‘photographs’ of an area, and move from shot to shot. At times you were supposed to find ‘interviews’ of people, and listen to the game’s music while reading the interviews. Music-wise, it was an experimental way to try to foreground a game’s music and writing rather than its ‘gameplay’, and I thought of this project as a ‘software’ more than a game. But it looks like a game to me, now!

Instead of a game driving the music… I was trying to get the music to define spaces within a game world, and help define what narratives would appear. Example, a song called ‘club’ would take place in a ‘club’ and you would interview a club-goer about what he thought about the disaster. But that sort of just feels like an (interesting) game to me. Either way I was interested in different was to approach music-making for games, in terms of the planning stages influencing what the music would be.

I had split the game into three sets of themes (kind of like how we divided Even the Ocean) – Physical, Digital and Algorithm. As you progressed through the game you would reach more Digital and then Algorithm areas. Physical were things like: Balcony, Exterior, Desert, Club, Lake. Digital, like Shopping Carts, Desktop. Algorithm – Random, Vector, ACK, Governance, etc.

In practice, the themes and structure of the game were too nebulous for me to really grasp in a consistent way, and I found it hard to find time to work in between Even the Ocean and travel, so I abandoned the project around July last year. Moreover I was iffy about structuring a game around a terrorist event for a country (Taiwan) which historically has been very well off in the USA due to immigration policies for its country.

In retrospect, I should have laid off the race themes and focused on the labor automation ideas, rather than trying to difficultly address race ideas in a future setting, which is prone to Many Problems. However there is much sci-fi and research being done on automation already, so I’m not sure how much I could have contributed.

However, I did get a lot of neat music out of working on the project! And the wireframe style is still a neat idea I now have as a ‘tool’ in creating game spaces.

Either way, a lot of teaching happened (I teach at SAIC now), and releasing Even the Ocean happened. I’m quite excited to have found enough free time in the past months to really start working on a game project I (naively?) believe I will be able to finish.

Next time(s)…

  • A discussion of my current (codename) game ‘Project Shiho’ and its relation to the projects mentioned in this essay
  • A discussion of “over the clover” by Hiroshi Yoshimura and my remix of it
  • Something about SMT Nocturne?
  • Thinking about live music, or game music..
  • Something else?

4 Good Songs of 2016

This is a pretty incomplete list… I will keep better track in 2017. Anyways. Here are four songs I really liked. These songs all do great jobs of evoking interesting digital spaces.

Bryant Canelo – all this water you cannot drink

BUY BRYANT’S MUSIC

The song develops in the way you might peel back the world surrounding us to uncover, slowly, more about it. I would call it ‘realistic’ in the sense it sort of jumps out at you and asks you to recontextualize your surroundings.

The skittering trill throughout the whole song always has an unsteady feeling, both from the mechanical nature of trills in general, as well as its pitch changing (or a filter envelope moving around, not sure). Further contributing to this are occasional one-off percussion giving the impression of ‘did I hear that or not?, ‘dissonant’ midi-guitar-like plucks, and further percussive and choral layers.

 

 

ella guro / Liz Ryerson – (untitled sitting in the rain track)

BUY LIZ’S MUSIC

I heard this song without knowing it also was in Robert Yang’s game, No Stars, Only Constellations. I’m particularly fond of the gently delayed, overlapping guitar sounds, especially around 1:19 when a single sequence of notes is played in different rhythms. I enjoy the layering of vinyl-ish static sounds in the song as well to give an impression of ‘recollecting’ a memory.

Liz’s music is important, especially in the context of games, where it is actively contributing and help push existing boundaries on what music for games (and music in general) can be.

emamouse – STP

BUY EMAMOUSE’S MUSIC

See this song in a different context, with emamouse’s visual work: (6:20) http://psalm.us/mousewasher.html

emamouse puts out a lot of music, I was glad to be able to meet her at a show in Tokyo last August. A lot of emamouse’s songs have a lot of motion going on a lot – I think everywhere in this song, some synth, somewhere, maybe more subdued at times, is always doing some sort of scale-like run up and down. It’s something I’d like to do more of but is pretty hard to pull off! It’s interesting to zoom in on parts of the song and uncover new layers. Passively listening sort of gives you this kind of murky and dark flavor for the song, but like exploring an area in a game, you understand more of it and see new things over time.

That, and the hook at the start is really catchy, using a vocal sample which is characteristic to some of her other work.

Gazelle Twin – Outer Body

Buy gazelle twin’s music here

I heard this some point last year – and it’s really catchy. It’s has this repeating percussive bit reminiscient of times in AAA games where you’re approaching or waiting for action to happen. To that end it would be neat to see Gazelle’s music within the context of a game!

The vocal samples partway through the song add another interesting layer to the mix. The “ambient” aspects of music are fun when the artist drops in different parts, creating a panorama of sorts of a musical space. In this song, bass clips pop in, reversed percussion samples, processed vocals, etc. Looking forward to more music by Gazelle Twin.