Kokeshi kikō

Kokeshi Kikō is a stylized exploration game. It tells the story of the player's journey climbing a mountain as to reach a hotspring at the summit.

This is a unique game where the characters are all Japanese Kokeshi dolls and the environment is made to match.

~ Developed from Jan 2021 - Apr 2021.

~ Solo Project.

~ Using Unity, Yarn Spinner, Maya, Adobe CC and Substance Painter.

~ Programmed in C#.


Kokeshi Kikō - Dev Log

Exhibited at the V&A Design Museum Dundee and in Slessor Gardens, Kokeshi Kikō was created as part of my final year Honours Project at Abertay University. Developed based on the research I did for my Dissertation, this project is a partial adaptation of Bashō’s ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’. It tells the story of the player climbing a mountain to reach an Onsen at the summit.

The game features and unique art style of having all the players being wooden Kokeshi Doll’s, and the environment has been made to match.


A GIF that shows a Japanese Haiku fading in before the game's logo.

The Honours Project

Some pieces of Japanese media and arts could be described as being inherently magical. Repeatedly Japanese creators have managed to capture something wonderous or even divine within their work. The aim of this project was to take a deeper look into Japanese creatives, not just from games, but from film, fashion, folk art and more with the hopes of understanding why these creators have such a sensitivity and proficiency to creating products with an aura of every day magic.

Specifically for this project, research was conducted into looking at how the native religious practice of Shinto has shaped Japanese designer’s and granted them this aptitude for magical design.

The core research of this project was gaining a better understanding of Shintoism, analysing where its influence can be found in Japanese media, and creating a framework for magical design based on this research. This framework was then taken and applied to develop a game prototype: Kokeshi Kikō



The Design

The game told the story about climbing a mountain to reach an Onsen in Norther Japan. Traditionally, at Norther Japanese Onsen they sell Kokeshi dolls as souvenirs so it seemed like they would be the perfect tool to help me tell my story.

These dolls follow strict regional designs, and as a foreigner I wanted to ensure I wouldn’t be creating work that misrepresented or poorly represented the ancient Japanese craft of Kokeshi making. I did heavy amounts of research into the dolls and even consulted a Master-craftsman from Togatta before building my Kokeshi.

My attention to detail was so great that for the patterns I even painted them on paper with authentic brushes and inks, before scanning the patterns in and applying them digitally.


The Controller

I wanted my dolls to look correct, but I wanted them to feel like real wooden dolls too. I spent weeks perfecting a custom character controller that would move and behave as if one was playing with a doll. My favourite but most challenging part of this project was getting the physics to work just right, so that the doll would topple over in the same way a real one would.

This controller was made using C# and was created entirely from scratch.

A gif that shows the evolution of the custom doll movement.

The World

A final aspect of note about the visual design was the environments that were created for my game. Like everything else these were entirely self-made, however this time I had no source material to follow. Kokeshi dolls have only ever existed as dolls, there has never been someone who has crafted set pieces or landscapes to accompany them.

To this end it was up to me to craft a world where the dolls felt like they belonged and doing so that required a method involving a lot of informed improvisation and experimentation. Overall, I’m very pleased with the environments and they are always the most highly praised aspect of my game.


The Haiku

Preserving the influence of the source material, I decided to have the gameplay segments interspersed with readings of the original Haiku from Bashō. I coordinated my favourite and most fitting Haiku before hiring a native Japanese voice actress, Chizuko Nakamura, to recite them.
It was important that I was collaborating with Japanese creators along every step of this project, and I think it was most important here. The Haiku are such an important aspect, so getting them presented just right was vital. You can hear an example of one of the Haiku in this trailer.


What I learned

This project was a learning process at every step. It was a large-scale research project culminating in an 8,000 word Dissertation and high-quality game. I was working with- and telling the story of a foreign culture so I had to ensure I was well researched and valid in my assertions at every step of the way. The project was also done entirely in isolation during the global pandemic where I had nothing but my own motivation to keep me on track. Bust best of all it taught me about working on a project I am fully invested in and passionate about. I’m proud to have this as the crown of my portfolio!

A gif of the Kokeshi crossing over the bridge, which then falls apart
  • Heavy research project

  • Custom controller

  • Engrossing UX and Visual Style


The Journal of a Lonely Moon

The Journal of a Lonely Moon is a short narrative driven game that features themes of friendship, loss, lonliness and isolation.

This project is constructed of archival scans, published to the public domain by various museums.

~ Developed over two weeks in December 2020

~ Solo Project

~ Using Unity, Yarn Spinner and Adobe CC

~ Programmed in C#.


The Diary of a Lonely Moon - Dev Log

The Journal of a Lonely Moon was a small narrative project I made over the course of a few weeks. This project stemmed from the desire to familiarise myself with the Yarn Spinner tool for Unity as well as write a short story that featured multiple distinct characters. The narrative also tackled themes of isolation, a very topical theme during the midst of national lockdown, as well as friendship and loss.

A gif of texy appearing like a type writter is typing it.

The style

Wanting to make a game that had a heavy focus on narrative and the characters, I wanted something that was visual impressive and a bit unique. However, given I had limited time and resources making everything from scratch was not quite going to work.

Knowing that various museums, including the Natural History Museum, British Museum and the MET to name a few, had begun scanning and uploading historical books and documents online and that these scans were for the public domain, I wanted to see if I could use them to make an interesting visual style.

I topped this off with finding fitting fonts and background images, as well as styling my UI and the flow of the text like an old typewriter (with clicks and dings included).


What I learned

Taking a game from concept to release within a few weeks was quite new to me. I had previously participated in many game jams however these were different as it was usually a few days at a prescribed event. This was a project I created for myself on a time scale I dictated, all while trying to master Yarn Spinner. I came out with a much greater understanding of rapid prototyping as well as knowing how to use Yarn Spinner.

A gif that shows Jupiter and the moon talking while floating in the night sky.
  • Dialogue cues

  • Rapid prototyping

  • Yarn Spinner


Sophist

SOPHIST is a narrative game with puzzle elements that aims to explore the concept of 'What it means to be human' without using traditional story telling techniques like written text or spoken word.

Working with a multi-talented student team, we were able to achieve an aesthetically impressive piece of work. To convey the core of the story and gameplay, silent-film era styled cutscenes were used throughout gameplay.

~ Developed from Jan 2020 - Apr 2020.

~ Team of eight

~ Using UE4, Maya, Adobe CC and Substance Painter.

~ My roles: Lead Designer, UX & UI and Artist


SOPHIST - Dev Log

Working with an industry client, our team was tasked with designing a game that aims to explore the concept of 'What it means to be human' without using traditional story telling techniques like written text or spoken word.

Being in charge of the narrative and game design I spent my time over the holiday before the project began researching this topic that has gripped humans for centuries, from the writings of the ancient Greek Sophists to Isaac Asimov.

A gif showing a rusty robot walking on a giant hamster wheel.

The Research

I split my research into two branches, historic and contemporary. To oversimplify history, the ancients concluded that reason is what makes us human. But their arguments never considered the possibility of synthetic lifeforms – like robots.

The contemporary argument that I found to be the most convincing was that free will is what makes us human, and even if a life form is synthetic, so long as it has free will it can be considered human.

So the narrative I crafted focused on telling the story of a robot that gains free will and help free other robots just like it, so that they may all have a life of their own.

A collage of various book covers and movie posters.

Iterations

How to execute this narrative was iterated heavily during the development. Original concepts saw the story being about how a robot teams up with an organic life form, like a fox or bird, and together they would tackle the story.
Others saw the robot being isolated on a space ship, in charge of a natural garden that it had to maintain.

Finally, it was decided the local would be a factory with other robot workers running the machines, and the factory would be connected to a natural garden to which they could escape. Symbolism was leaned on heavily, like having the player start in a basement garbage room that they had to ascend out of or the yin/yang contrast of the natural garden with the man-made structure.


Telling the story

The most challenging part of this project as a designer was telling a story, one of humanities most deeply discussed topics, all without using traditional forms of communication.

Relying on just environmental story telling was proving difficult, and ensuring the method of delivery was neither clunky or out of style with the game was a problem that boggled me for weeks. After multiple prototypes and iterations, I settled on using simple 1920’s styled silent film cutscenes. These were so well received I was even tasked with styling the UI to fit.

Creating these clips I put a very high amount of detail into creating an authentic old film feel, not just adding a filter, but ensuring that the colour, tones and noise grains were all authentic to real film footage. I am very proud of the work I did for this segment of the project.

A gif showing the silent era style cutscenes.

Game Design Document

Working with a high-profile client it was important that a rigorous design document was kept. Not just for the client, but this way I could ensure our artists and programmers were on the same page, for example in segments talking about setting up distinct unit sizes for climbable objects and the like.

All pages of the design doc that I personally authored are signed with my student number ‘1704020’ at the bottom left hand corner.


What I learned

This was a project where our team was hired by a prolific industry client, so the focal point of learning for this project was all about dealing with a client and their expectations. This project also was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the team to quickly have to switch to online working to deliver the final project. It tested us at every mile but we made something that both us and the client was pleased with.

A gif of the rusty robot in the trash compactor.
  • New ways to tell story

  • UX and UI

  • Github


Breaking Wheel

Breaking Wheel is a comedy 3D puzzel platformer featuring pickups that alter the gameplay.

This quirky game is available to purchase on Steam or IOS.

~ Developed from Sept 2016 - Apr 2017

~ Team of six

~ Using Unreal Engine 4

~ My roles: Lead Level Designer, Designer and Producer


Breaking Wheel - Dev Log

Breaking Wheel began as a collaborative project between amateur mod makers. At the time I was a successful modder for Skyrim and Fallout, with over 100,000 downloads on my mods to date, and was asked to join a team of like-minded individuals who wanted to no longer make content for an existing game but rather make our own.

Being an original core member, this was my first time experiencing the full project lifecycle of a game, from first concept to final release.

A gif of a cheese wheel bouncing through the lava fortress.

What I learned

Our team was based all over the world, so the most valuable experience I could take away from this was learning how to work on a project that requires not only a large amount of self-motivation but also still being able to work coherently with others. From Steam Greenlight to IOS release, the team stuck through it all and created a solid game we can all be proud of.

A gif of the menu with various options being selected.
  • Full project lifecycle

  • Adapting to unforeseen

  • Remote working


Summer Fruits

This game does not currently support mobile play.
Please use a Desktop.

Summer Fruits is a WebGL game that pays homage to some early flash drink mixing games. The goal of this project was all about making a visually appealing and responsive UI.

Feel free to play this game here on my website or at one of the links below.

~ Developed in five days

~ Solo project

~ Using Unity


Summer Fruits - Dev Log

Paying tribute to some of my favourite flash games that I played growing up, Summer Fruits is a small and charming browser game that lets you mix yourself a delightful fruit juice made with fresh summer fruits.

This was a project that I set out for myself, I wanted to try learning something new within the limits of a five day period.

A gif showing the main menu, where fruit dance around infront of the logo.

What I learned

Summer Fruits had a simple core value, create a UI that was fun to use as well as being visually pleasing. I had heard of using Tweening to create animations in Unity before but had not had a chance to try this on a project.

I also wanted to try and enhance my skills with Adobe Illustraitor as well as try my hand at developing for WebGL. All these goals were able to be realised in a small game I am quite proud of.

A gif of gameplay showing ice getting put in a drink before it is drank.
  • Lean Tween

  • Adobe Illustraitor

  • WebGL


A PNG of my CV

The best way to describe myself would be as a diverse individual. Coming from a multicultural background and having lived all over the world, I have been able to gain the most important quality for any designer – life experience.

My skillset is equally varied, having fulfilled many roles through the range of projects I have contributed to. My personal area of expertise however is creating engaging and accessible experiences. Heavily inspired by Nintendo’s design philosophy, I strive to create simple yet fun games that have a deep sense of style, aesthetics and polish.

I believe games are a powerful contemporary tool for education and cross-cultural communication. During my final year of University I wrote my Dissertation on the ability games and other creative media have when it comes to sharing Japanese culture. I am working on gaining my N2 language proficiency in Japanese so I can one-day transition to working at a Japanese studio.