Every anime that has multiple female characters eventually finds a reason to put those characters into an onsen, or hot spring. It's fan service and a cheap (but typically effective) way to get more eyeballs on the show. I thought I might try the same with Musume, so I had the above image commissioned and drawn by Fiverr.com artist satya_rizqy (Twitter: @RizqySatya). Beautiful art, three pretty girls, just enough skin to generate some excitement. Perfect recipe for success, right?
I posted the picture on Twitter yesterday, and unlike the "selfie" pic (see previous post), this pic got no reaction at all. Two likes, that's it. I pinned it for a little while, but then took it down. It wasn't doing the game any favors.
My timing was pretty bad, too. Yesterday was International Women's Day (I had no idea, although as the creator of an all-female action game I really should have known), so I couldn't have picked a worse time to post a pic that objectifies women to sell a product.
In truth, however, I shouldn't have created this image at all. My all-female cast isn't a marketing gimmick; my most interesting characters just happen to be female, and it made more sense to make a game starring them. Using them in this way was a bad idea, and it's a mistake that I won't be repeating.
I've started gathering the resources necessary to create the first level of Musume. The English dialogue for the first cutscene has been recorded (working on the Japanese version now. I have the character art for the level's three playable characters (Suzu, Mayu, and Tsurune, pictured above. Moon Raccoon has composed some great music for the level, and I'm now working on both crafting enemies (because the ladies need someone to fight) and the actual environment art. But you probably didn't care about too much of that, because you're too busy staring at the beautiful image above.
This selfie, drawn by Fiverr.com artist satya_rizqy (Twitter: @RizqySatya) isn't concept art. It's the picture the heroines will take after they complete their first mission together. Suzu (left) and Mayu (middle) look fine because they're both combat veterans and this is just another day at the office for them. Tsurune, on the other hand, looks a little freaked out because this is her first real fight and it gets far crazier than she expected. The first level will end shortly after this image pops up.
You've noticed that treasure hunter Mara Kimbry isn't in the picture. She'll make an appearance at the end of the level, but she won't be playable until level two. At this point, she isn't friends with the trio above.
You've also no doubt noticed that there's no background. That's because I plan to insert a background myself after finalizing the first level's art. Keeping the background out for now gives me more flexibility as to how to create the level.
There's still a long way to go, but the game is beginning to shape up, piece by piece.
On January 31, Musume officially stopped being a collection of concept art and became an honest-to-goodness functional video game. Well, game is a bit of a stretch: there is only one room right now, there are no enemies to fight, and there is no way to score points or complete quests. But the game is playable:
First, a little explanation.
After a ton of behind-the-scenes work, I was finally able to find an artist who could re-create the four heroines of Musume in a style that works for my animation process (Spine 2D, for anyone who's wondering). After getting the art, I had to separate her body parts by hand, then re-assemble her into a fully poseable doll. The final step in the process was animating her and then making her move inside the game environment. These thirteen seconds of video represent a whole lot of unseen labor, which is how it goes in game development.
So why did I record it via phone? I typically use a program called screen-to-gif to create videos, but with this video, screen-to-gif was creating ugly, choppy footage. It wasn't doing the animation justice. So, with no other handy options, I grabbed my phone and hit record.
There are a few screen recording programs out there, and I'm going to check them out to see which one is right for recording Musume. Future videos will have much better quality. But I wanted to post this, because I wanted to show the real progress that is happening on the dev side. Is this just one room? Yes. However, it's also validation of the workflow that I'm using. Now that I know it works, I can build bigger and better levels.
More characters are on their way, too. The in-game art for axe-wielder Mayu Suzuki should be done soon, and I hope to have her animated by the middle of February. Archer Tsurune and treasure hunter Mara should be done in March.
As you can probably tell, I'm very happy about this. Game dev is hard, but when it clicks there's nothing like it.
Over the past few weeks, I've been contacted by a lot of voice actress interested in working on Musume. That's not surprising; there are a lot of characters and all of them (so far) are female, which means there are a lot of parts up for grabs. What was surprising, at least for me, was the sheer amount of talent out there.
The first to contact me was Australian voice actress Aimee Smith. She was a perfect fit as the English voice of treasure hunter Mara Kimbry, the only one of the four main characters who isn't Japanese.
The second was Aika Intong, who has done work both as an actress and a casting director. She took a twelve-line monologue that I wrote for the game's trailer and absolutely nailed it.
The third was @bagelruru011, who was one of the actresses Aika recommended for Suzu's Japanese voice. @bagelruru011 (I don't want to use her real name since she doesn't have it in her Twitter profile) also crushed a four-line test.
The Press Kit page lists all the currently announced characters and their voice actresses. However, more characters are coming, which means there will be more parts, both English and Japanese. For any voice actresses reading this, don't hesitate to get in touch. A game like this needs a lot of voices.
Oh, and there will be male parts (eventually), but it will take a long time for those to get announced. My focus right now is to get the primary four characters right.
Let's welcome the latest member of the cast, and the final of the four main characters to make her debut: Mayu Suzuki.
Her name is Mayu Suzuki, and she is Suzu's best friend and battle partner. She provides the heavy counterpunch to Suzu's incredible speed. It's going to be a lot of fun animating her and smashing things with that gigantic axe.
Mayu was drawn by Fiverr.com artist panpan_pratama, who has a real knack for taking minimal instructions and turning them into memorable characters. She drew Tsurune and one of Suzu's concept drawings. Her art will become the official concept art of the game. More of her art is coming soon!
So far, I've introduced two of Musume's main characters: teenage swordsgirl/sorceress Suzu Aoyama and treasure hunter Mara Kimbry. It's time to welcome the latest member of the cast, Tsurune Matsuzaka:
Tsurune is an archer and sniper. She doesn't have Suzu's speed or close-combat skills, but she makes up for it by being able to hit her opponents from a long, long distance away.
Hardcore anime fans may recognize her name, because "Tsurune" is the name of an anime about an archery club. I haven't watched the anime yet, but I like the ring of the word "tsurune" so I thought it would work really well as a name for a female archer.
The last major character to be introduced will be Suzu's best friend, Mayu Suzuki. Her concept art is in the works, and you can expect to see her as soon as the end of next week.
I have four different Suzu models, and I want to try them all to see which is the best fit for the in-game graphics. Today, I completed the first test, using Suzu version 1:
I used an art program called Clip Studio Pro (formerly Manga Studio) to cut up the image into individual body parts. I then imported those parts into an animation program called Spine in order to create a poseable model:
Not bad so far. Sure, it looks a little rough - it's a cut and paste job, after all - but a lot of these flaws disappear when you reduce the character down to a height of ninety-six pixels, which is about as tall as I want the in-game character to be.
I next reduced the image size and imported it into a playable area in Gamemaker Studio 2 to see how it looks against my test background:
This flat-out doesn't work. For this model to work, she would have to be a lot bigger in terms of pixels. Unfortunately, ninety-six pixels is already a lot. I can't make her too big, because if I do, she'll eat up a huge chunk of the playing area. I'm already pushing it at 96. It's now time to try a different model - specifically, this one:
This is a much different image - more squat, more cartoony - but check out how it looks against the same background:
She fits perfectly and looks like she belongs in the scene. I can make her bigger or smaller and she would still fit. Her proportions are just right. Therefore, she will be the next one to go under the knife.
This version of Suzu is a late entry but I'm happy I commissioned it. I'll post again when her puppet is done.
For my first blog post, I'd like to explain how Musume's main character, Suzu Aoyama, came to be.
She started life as a character in an RPG Maker MV character pack:
But as much as I like the design of this character, I knew I needed something original for my game. Enter an artist named Xesxus from Fiverr.com, who created the following two images:
Two amazing pieces of art, but I still felt like her battle suit could use some tweaking.
Enter @JunP, an anime artist on Twitter, who created this image:
I love this picture. It's simple, dynamic, and - most importantly - easy to animate.
So what's the next step? Simple: make her move. I basically need to separate this image into distinct body parts, assemble her in Spine, and animate her. Once that's done, I can start building the rest of the game around her.
The current goal is to have her moving around in a mockup of her dorm room by the end of January:
I plan on making the computer interactive: standing in front of it and clicking the action button will play one of @MsMoonraccoon's songs. I also plan on putting one of Moon Raccon's album covers on the back wall as a poster - a neat little easter egg in plain sight.
There's a lot of work to be done still but it's going to be done in baby steps. And the next step is to get Suzu to move. More posts as it happens.