Kanji Recognition, Visual Effects, and a New Game Mode

We’re on track to finish our second Sprint this coming Wednesday. Everyone is on track, though we don’t have much in game to show for it. Most of the work thus far has been concept art and programming fixes, so even though my team has done a great deal of work, we don’t have much in the build yet that showcases it. I’m hoping we can get the Kanji recognition system up to snuff and solid visual feedback in before myself and our lead artist, Maddie, attend the Game Developer’s Conference in a couple of weeks. It would be ideal to have a build to show off to potential employers.

Our lead programmer Eric has a pretty big challenge ahead of him in accounting for various player inputs. He’s already made it so players can make a few mistakes when they draw the Kanji. For example, if players draw a line a node or two off or they draw the Kanji bigger or smaller than the template they will still be counted correct, provided the Kanji is proportional. We had planned on allowing players to draw the Kanji in any stroke order they wanted as well, but if we did that there would be no way to inform the player how well they were doing through visual feedback until they finished writing the entire Kanji. There would be no way for the game to know which stroke they were intending to draw, so therefore we could not incorporate all the visual effects we want to showcase when players make a mistake, and we want those visual effects. Eric created two modes of input: one requiring stroke order and one not. I went with him to QA last week to see which mode players prefer and we were glad that players felt the same way Eric and I did: Players will be forced to write the Kanji in stroke order but in return they will be rewarded with greater visual feedback and effects.

Even with stroke order back in, the input system will still be far more fair than it was last semester. Here are the errors in inputs the programming team is going to account for:

  • Allow players to combine strokes
  • Allow players to break up strokes
  • Allow players to go in any direction
  • Highlight node players should start on.
    • In easiest level perhaps it should be like a connect the dots
  • Let squares (boxes)  be one continuous stroke in any direction and broken up
    • Such as in the Kanji ‘right’

As the programmers work on our input system, the artists have been working mostly on concept ideas for the grid and visual feedback. We have decided to make the grid itself react in response to the player’s touch. We have changed the nodes to sakura buds that will bloom when the player traces over them. Once players get the stroke correct, their stroke will ‘lock in’, showcased by a sword slashing through the sakura flowers so only a stylized black stroke of ink remains. In contrast, ink splotches will appear on screen if players start to go too far in their stroke lengths. We have also decided to indicate to the player which node to start on by having it glow or making it a distinctly different flower bud.

A challenge lies in finding work for everyone to do while the kinks with the Kanji recognition system are being worked out. Our second programmer, Mary, has had to put off on building the scoring system for the Kanji until the recognition system is complete, but soon we’ll have an additional game mode that she can work on that won’t be dependent on the Kanji recognition system. I’ve asked our designer, Luca, to work on planning out a new game mode that will better aid players in remembering the meaning behind the Kanjis. This mode will not be focused on drawing the Kanji, but rather matching the English word to the Kanji characters. This mode is intended to really drive home the meaning behind each Kanji, as numerous QA testers have noted they aren’t really learning what the Kanji mean but only how to draw them. We’ve decided this mode will work as a bridge between levels. This mode was initially thought up by our other designer, Connor, but Luca will be investing further design time into it as Connor has become our dedicated sound designer and if we want sound effects for each Kanji, I’ve calculated he must do 6 per week in order to finish by the end of the semester. I’ve worked out a similar schedule for the art that relates to each Kanji: Each of the four artists will have to draw about 2 Kanjis per week starting next Wednesday if we intend to have matching imagery for each Kanji in time for senior show.
The project plan has been worked out and all seems possible. We even have a few extra weeks where the plan looks sparse to account for any impediments that arise during the next few months of development. I am feeling tentatively confident.

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