The Heart of Cherry’s Sky

I’ve developed some strange habit of writing a blog entry to completion, finding myself content with organizing my thoughts, and then never pushing Publish… So, let this be the post to break this odd streak:

Three years in and on the tail end of Cherry in the Sky’s creation, it’s only occurred to me how even more amazing certain games I look back fondly on are.


Almost 3 years to reach a playable World 5, but I made it!

With the greater majority of the levels built, I’ve had to think in a few circles to get down what exactly would constitute higher-level play in Cherry’s game, a 100% run, and it’s brought me to an even greater appreciation of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which I think I’ll consider my favorite platforming game of all time.

Yoshi's Island Neutral Pic
The older I get, the more I love this crayon aesthetic.

When attempting a perfect run of anything demanding, there tends to be a natural process: x seconds into challenge > minor perfection ending error > pause > restart. I can’t find any specific praise for how Yoshi’s Island avoids this. The game approaches it a lot like hitting a wrong note while playing a song on guitar: you improvise based off the error and continue jaunting to the end of your solo without anyone noticing, or you’re so talented that what constitutes a mistake to the trained ear, can’t be heard by most. Is that still “perfection”? Perhaps “excellence” would be a better phrase here: “What constitutes player excellence”.

Yoshi's Island Scoreboard
Making the grade in Yoshi’s Island.

When Yoshi takes a hit, Mario is lost, and your stars function as your timer to return him to your possession before a game over–basically, stars are effectively subtracted when you’re hit. So while the coins and flowers prompt full exploration of the nooks, crannies, and nuances of each world, stars kind of do, but double as your lifebar, which prompts perfect play, a no hit run–however, after being hit and recovering Baby Mario, you could potentially find more stars; obtain a second chance by scavenging to find a “?” cloud filled with them, pound a stake into the ground and find stars underneath, peel and poke at the level in hopes of finding more stars–assuming you can catch the stars once they’re released–assuming you haven’t exhausted all available in the level–assuming you’ll be able to find them if any are still present–assuming you don’t get hit again in the process–this anxious thought process can go on for awhile…

Yoshi's Island Baby Mario Lost and Stars
Baby Mario lost, timer counting down, and loose stars at the same time. A wonderful chaos you can only blame on yourself.

There’s this wonderful, massive gray area over the idea of an ideal run which softens the proposition of perfect play while still retaining the tension. There’s a greater uncertainty than what a standard lifebar can provide, as the difficulty of the situation you lose the baby in can determine how much recovery is necessary, if not resulting in an outright game over, and the further you are into your exploration, the more minimal the errors need to be; playing a song on guitar, you hit a wrong note, but were still in the proper scale, so you swing back into the main melody to work yourself back in line. As long as you put out an excellent performance, you’re golden.


There’s a substantial exhaustive drama to that, a natural excitement. Quick restarts work well in games of frustration (Super Meat Boy being a standout example), but in something slow-paced with lengthier, exploratory sessions like Yoshi’s Island, this is a far more accommodating way of handling “perfection”, one that I’m using as a guide while implementing judgement for player excellence in Cherry in the Sky. I want to take a different approach overall–the verb I’ve been using to describe perfect playthroughs of a Cherry level is “graceful”, while Yoshi’s Island is more “thorough and careful”, like a good parent to Baby Mario, but I do want to gear perfect playthroughs towards “excellence” rather than “perfection”.

A Perfect score in Cherry is currently considered “Breathtaking” instead of “Perfect”.

While I feel close to my final system, I realize the way all this is implemented in Yoshi’s Island really reflects the childcare theme, the anxiety caring for a yougin’. So, perhaps the last bits I need to figure out involve diving in deeply into the emotional themes of Cherry in the Sky, honing in on what makes sense for Cherry Sundae as a character–what exactly should constitute excellence for a graceful, hardworking, sky-fruit picking, umbrella-flying farm girl? What sort of judgement would align the player with her goals, opposed to causing dissonance. That’ll probably clear the clouds in front of the answer.

We’ll figure it out, Cherry Sundae. We got this.



Baddie Parade in the Sky

I’m really just sharing this because I’m proud:

Pi Composite

A very large part of me (my brain, my heart?) was convinced that I would never be able to 3D model a dragon, but here he is after less than a year of learning, tie, monocle and everything. Feels great.

I’m pretty proud of my other dragon too, but there’s still some work left to do on him:sports-composite1


3D modeling is just playing with shapes. Sure, it can get quite sophisticated, but I’ve managed to stay well within my abilities.

My botanical knowledge of flying flowers, and the giant angry lava flowers from the same family, has assisted me greatly with Flo and Mega Flo:

Flo ConceptsFlo Concepts - 3D

And that natural love for similar/palette swap enemies (from older, more memory limited games) has been great for reducing the workload for a lone developer:

Gorbos Composite 2

Plus it just helps that I like silly things. Silly things are easy to draw and easy to model:

Gupper & Guppi 2

…and easy for me to come up with. Left un-managed, my brain makes cuddly angel/devil ghosts anyway:

Halo Grimmy & Grim Grimmy

Hopefully I’ll have your heart by next year. Progress is sailing along quite well. The heroine of Cherry in the Sky, Cherry Sundae, and her little sister Chime are definitely eager:

Chime and Cherry Look - Final

The Visual Question

I draw like a five-year-old with a decent grasp of color and composition. That grasp is led by unrefined feelings delight and disgust at whatever comes out on the paper. Though, that’s mostly because I haven’t picked up a pencil to do anything but write for last twenty years of my life.

Engagement? Conflict? Good Baddies?
And the magic of 3D modeling helps disguise my infantile hand…

Though, things are kind of nice in that way. I think that’s a large part of the appeal that has me so obsessed with working on Cherry in the Sky. Making your own game seems like the fullest expression I could possibly imagine, pooling all strengths and weakness into one place.

It’s brought me to think a lot about sensory appeal lately.

I exist in a very analytical, very symbolic, very meaning-rich head space that can be a task to put into words. Though, I’m beginning to realize that visual appeal can be difficult to verbalize as well. The “deep” can be shallow if you spend all your time at the bottom, never coming up for air; it’s a deprived position if you can’t rise up to appreciate simple beauty. Contrast is needed.


Above, a decent iPhone picture during my most recent day at the beach. Where, sure, I spent plenty of time in my head, plenty of time hashing out Cherry in the Sky on draft paper, plenty of time appreciating the yarn-like texture in the sullied water of the California coast, the confused off-white of the clouds escaping the smog out to sea, the sun that couldn’t quite burn an evening glow through the thick presence of Los Angeles–

The simple experience spurned a great deal of thought… but it also touched the senses very gently, leaving a sort of physical glow in my mind. A sensory massage that English doesn’t seem to have direct, sufficient nouns for, thus florid language. It feels so roundabout sometimes.

Games might be a better place to bridge that perceived gap between raw sensory appeal and deep, non-verbal experience.

Something visually stimulating but rich in feeling. The abstraction in the concrete; the concrete in the abstract.

That bridge might, very literally, be the gap where you can convert a non-player into a player.

The first page of your novel is supposed to be your hook, right? I mean, typically, you pick up a book and somebody dies on the first page, or the opening line of dialogue is a swear to try to imbue a sense of gravity into the initial experience–the masters are capable of opening up with something far more gentle and subtle than that–What’s the equivalent for a game?

The first level?

Maybe so for a player, but that’s once the controller is already in their hands.

Incredibly incomplete, flawed, but visually curious?
Cherry in the Sky, incomplete, flawed, but visually curious already?

At a glance, your game needs to spur curiosity, maybe–inviting curiosity that would bring someone to watch, that would intrigue them to discover more. To create questions that can only be answered by playing it. For a medium with such potential for raw sensory appeal, there’s plenty of room to “show” this without trying to “tell” people why your game’s awesome.

My art’s still rough, I’m still in a phase of heavy design, really neglecting the visuals, and I’ll probably get a little help with it later on, but when people do see it, I’m actually managing to get that curious response… it’s pretty fantastic.

The raw, sensory, second-hand experience, it brings out a question. Maybe that question is, “what does this feel like?” The only answer to that question, is to play–and hopefully, if everything is done just right, there’s a connection that’ll be made, and you can pull people into something deep.

Shoot for the senses to provoke curiosity? Is curiosity the way to the heart?

I have no idea.

Novel Design

I’ve finally completed a novel that I don’t just feel proud of, but feel fairly confident in; “Anyone who wants to read the kind of book I want to read will want to read my book” (once it’s proofed and has final edits, of course). 

In order to reach this point of, I guess, confidence, I labeled a lot of other interests as hobbies for the past decade; I threw myself completely into novel writing as my sole goal. It’s been a rewarding and enriching journey so far, but I could never shake this strange feeling anytime I sat down at the keyboard, a strange mild depression.

Specialization is a terrifying thing.

We live in a world of a specialization, right? Well, at least to my American, Californian experience, and it’s a scary, scary world when you consider how quickly life changes as we surf through the Digital Age. “I do one thing very, very well, and I will do this for the rest of my life. I place all my pride and identity in this” and then nobody needs a typewriter repairman anymore.

Or maybe nobody needs a lady in a pink suit.

I’d somehow allowed this mindset to define me creatively. Latching to the idea of being a writer and attempting to funnel all else towards that… but taking up game design on the side… the multimedia nature of the craft has been very eye-opening in terms of what I’m capable of.

Mostly thanks to how much easier the shift in technology has made things, I’ve been able to use many free programs to teach myself a number of things; my practice project is becoming a game I can feel just as proud of as anything I write.

I’ve learned that coding is writing, essentially. It’s a language of communication. It’s used to convey direction, suggestion, and perspective to a machine. It’s far more rigid and logical than speaking English, perhaps closer to simply grammar itself, but computers can’t make inferences unless human beings program them to; they feel what you tell them to feel. Thanks to Unity and some excellent tutorials, I’m now comfortable saying I can script. It really just comes down to three things:

 1.) I want to do X.

2.) Can the program I’m working with do X?

 3.) If the program can do X, am I going to be able to figure out how? 

The possibilities can seem endless, but substantially easier to navigate when contrasted with a novel; it seems like easy mode in comparison. If someone had spelled it out to me in these three steps years ago, and didn’t just mark my papers with red ink any time I didn’t excel at mathematical thinking, I might have given my logical potential more credit.

Cherry Sundae here is the main character of my practice project turned earnest pursuit, “Cherry in the Sky”.

I gave up drawing when I decided to take writing seriously. I completely threw it out the window. I was, like, twelve or something.  All the little comics I made as a kid, my simple love for perspective, and all of that Sonic the Hedgehog fan art would never be touched again to place narrow focus on “the path”. It’s nice to know I can still throw together something appealing enough, at least in the sense of conveying an idea.

Even better than that, I found myself with Blender open, realizing that 3D modeling (and all art really), is just playing with shapes. It’s building. It’s like tangrams from my Elementary days, except you’re using seven thousand of them instead of just seven. It’s still just a program that helps you put together shapes though, and if you want to learn how to use it, a basic YouTube search will answer most of your questions.

Far from master class modeling, but not bad for a first try.
Far from master class modeling, but not bad for a first try.

Most importantly though, game design is an awful lot like making a convincing narrative.

It’s about having a strong concept, picking the right pieces, and setting them up correctly. A good story, properly contrasted characters that create natural conflict, an interesting setting–a good story will tell itself. The actual design of the game is really that part of novel writing. If your core concept is strong and fun, everything else is just building and extrapolating, as long as you don’t build too wide from your base, your construction should stand just fine. End of the day, both practices are really after the same thing:


Much like you want someone to pick up your novel and never put it down, you want some to play your game and never stop, I would think.

Writing might be my favorite way to convey an idea, but when I make a game, it feels like I don’t have to leave anything behind. I’m growing fairly confident that I have the strength to carry everything with me.

But the only way for me to tell if I’m right about any of this is to have my projects complete and public. In soon time. In soon time.