Time for another post!!
At this stage in development, I’m going to go into a lot about my decisions regarding Petal Crash’s aesthetics, but before I can do that, I need to talk about another game first: Taito’s 1997 breakout-style versus puzzler, Puchi Carat.
(Images from Ragey’s Puchi Carat page.)
When I went through my arcade puzzler deep-dive, this was the game I became fixated on the most. Not necessarily because of its gameplay - which is fun, but not really mind-blowingly great - but because of its look, its music, and its abnormally well fleshed out characters and story.
Despite being essentially a versus Breakout game that any modern game dev could likely clone in an afternoon, Puchi Carat features an enormous cast of over a dozen characters, all fully animated and dripping with personality - and they all have incredibly detailed backstories, oftentimes interconnected with each other and with the setting’s history. It’s a story about broken families, science versus magic, and the struggle to find love and happiness in a world ruled by the ambitious and powerful.
Part of what pushed me into my puzzle game deep-dive was that I needed some distraction from my own woes about the lukewarm reception of Grapple Force Rena, my last project which took me about five years to make - while it was reviewed favorably and adored by some, it failed to find a wide audience. When I discovered Puchi Carat and read so much about its detailed lore and appealing characters, I could tell that an enormous amount of love and care was put into the project - and also quickly discovered that it had ALSO failed to find a wide audience. I scoured the Internet to find any trace of what might exist of a Puchi Carat fandom, to see people engage with this fascinating world and cast that seemed so ripe for exploration, but found next to nothing other than Ragey’s Puchi Carat page, which was mostly a catalog of all the game’s official materials. The game’s limited release and poor English translation probably didn’t help matters, but it didn’t seem to make a big impact in its home region either.
I got kind of messed up about it! Seeing a project with so much love and care put into it by its developers wind up completely looked over - I was already in kind of a vulnerable place in that regard, so it hit me pretty hard.
I’d continue to look back to Puchi Carat as a source of inspiration throughout the project - the theming of the characters and the ‘gather the magic artifacts to make a wish’ premise were both directly inspired by Puchi Carat, for example. I sort of felt like I wanted to carry forward the spirit of this game that had so much love put into it but still wound up near-forgotten. An unexpected way it inspired me, however, was in the decision to make Petal Crash resemble a Game Boy Color game.
I’d just finished Grapple Force Rena a few months ago at this point, and having to create assets for the game was often enormous bottleneck in my productivity, since I’d chosen such a high resolution and high fidelity aesthetic (by comparison to Petal Crash’s). What I really wanted for Petal Crash was to make it look like a 16-bit or early 32-bit era 2D arcade game:
I knew, however, if I wanted to make a game with this level of production value by myself, it’d take an enormous amount of time and effort - and then probably not even look very good, in the end! I have some talent as a pixel artist, but color, rendering, and shading aren’t my strong suits, and neither are detailed backgrounds.
What came to my rescue, yet again, was inspiration from Puchi Carat. See, Puchi Carat has an arcade version that looks like this:
…but it also has a Game Boy Color version, with the same gameplay and almost all the same content, that looks like this:
Now that, I could do! Why spend my effort making it look like a mediocre arcade game when I could spend my effort making it look like a really advanced Game Boy Color game instead? It was an incredibly good decision in the end - not only did it end up with a unique and memorable look, but by pushing up against the limitations of the aesthetic, it wound up being a very good-looking game in its own right, too. Anyone who plays both Petal Crash and the GBC version of Puchi Carat will be able to recognize the heavy influence of Puchi Carat’s look in Petal Crash’s DNA. I don’t intend to make a secret of where my inspiration came from - in fact, I even thank the staff of Puchi Carat in Petal Crash’s credits!
Once I made the decision to go with a GBC look, I quickly started to scale down the size of my prototype, and wound up taking out the smooth block scrolling - from here, the game started to develop much more rapidly.
This post wound up pretty long, so I’ll go more into the aesthetics of Petal Crash in the next post, including going into a lot of detail about the character sprites - stay tuned!!