ARIA The FOOTBALL was a game that fused the anime/manga series Aria together with Rocket League. Two water-guide companies, Aria and Himeya, row gondolas and try to hit a cat, President Aria, into the opponent's goal. The game was made in Unity and supports 1v1 and 2v2.
ARIA The FOOTBALL started off as a personal project I wanted to do with a few select friends that knew about the series. This series, Aria, is a heart warming, slice-of-life anime that's had a huge impact on me since I watched it in high school. It's weird, because normally I don't like slice-of-life/episodic series at all, but for some reason I was able to tolerate Aria. Nothing's really given me a similar sensation since.
Describing Aria is a bit strange, but I'll try and do my best. Aria follows the life of Akari Mizunashi, an undine in training. Undine are gondola rowers that give tours around a city, a practice one can imagine originating from Venice. But Aria does not take place in Venice, instead it happens on Aqua, the name given to the current terraformed Mars. The center of events focus in Neo-Venezia, a city replica of Venice. The story walks through Akari's many adventures in the city and captures all the various interactions with friends, cats, and a lot of cats along the way.
It's a really cute, fluffy, feel good anime, all of which are genres that I don't particularly like. I'm just someone that really hates moe shows and, shots fired, pointless shows like those, but somehow, somewhere I just really enjoyed Aria. I guess I related and connected really with the characters or something, but it was an incredibly relaxing and, in ways, life changing experience watching the series. I think after finishing it, I've become a mellow, humbler person overall.
If you're looking for something calming and uplifting to watch day by day, this fits pretty well for that. I can understand if it's not everyone's cup of tea, however. It's a slow paced series that doesn't have any blood pumping action or drama. Funnily enough, it wasn't actually until my second try at the series that I really came to love the show. My first viewing was clouded by trying to marathon it too quickly and not liking how old the show looked. The show definitely shows its age as it over 10 years old, but the quality does improve through the seasons.
The main reason I wanted to make a game for Aria was because very soon an OVA was going to release for the series, with a completely new cast and original story. This OVA celebrated the anime's 10 year anniversary, and I wanted to contribute in my own way. I decided to host a game jam over the summer and get my friends on board to work on an Aria game.
I should probably take a moment to talk about a strange period in my past where I actually worked on another Aria project. I wouldn't call this a full project per se, but nevertheless, I spent something like a couple months working on it. Victor, a friend that's been in a number of projects with me, was a fan of the show as well, one of the few shows that we actually both genuinely like together. He was one of the specific people in mind I wanted to work on this new project with, but he couldn't make it.
So in the past, as a motivation for myself as an artist and as a gift to him, I cut him a pretty weird deal, something I've since dubbed a reverse commission. The deal was that I'd draw an Aria themed illustration for him. The twist, however, was that if I finished by a certain date, he'd pay me $5, and if I failed to make the deadline, I'd pay him $5. He gave me $1 starting off as pity money and off I went.
In the end, I was late by a month or something and painfully paid my $5. It took me an incredibly long time to draw and color everything, even working quite diligently daily. Looking back now, I'm not even happy with the end result. The perspective is incredibly janky, the words look so weird and out of place, everything's flat, and the contrast is awful. Jesus. 2012 was a bad year I don't want to remember. Let's just leave it at that.
Back to the new game jam, the timing for this jam was unfortunately not very good. People had semester and quarter system conflicts, and in my case I was working an internship at Blizzard until very late into the summer. That meant I couldn't host a jam until the end of summer when I got back to NorCal, and by then a lot of people were unavailable or back in school.
A lot of the usual members that have been on my past projects were unable to make it, but this time around I was able to work with a few new faces. Nina and Ben were friends of mine back in UCI that I've worked previously with from VGDC. I've been recently trying to make it a regular thing to ask anyone I've worked with where they're from, solely because of these game jams. Nina and Ben were two people I had a chance to talk with that I found out both lived in the area and were interested in getting together for a local jam.
The only other person to come besides these two was Vince, who's had an incredibly bad record of showing up and doing work. By now he basically came just for kicks and giggles, so I expected very little from him. Funnily enough though, he actually did some work this time around and actually stayed quite a while this time. This definitely surprised me, but hey, I'm not going to complain. This was the only time out of every single game jam we've had that I remember him doing anything significant.
But that was the entire team for this project: Nina, Ben, Vince, and me. Not a very large group. Usually I feel safest with about half a dozen, but I guess we could have been fewer, so I'm thankful for everyone showing up. The problem with this group, however, was that none of these guys have seen Aria before.
I think Nina watched an episode or two, and Vince may have been forced to watch a couple with me, but Ben was completely clueless. I was the only to finish the entire thing and also have this grandiose appreciation for the series. You can imagine how this affected the overall progress of the group. The team wasn't as much invested into it, and we didn't have a clear direction of how to make the project.
We struggled quite a bit in the beginning thinking of how to make a game based around boats and cats. I wanted to do something very relaxing and slow paced in the same vein of the series, maybe something with a visual novel aspect to it or some kind of calm, boat simulator. One of the challenges I was thinking of when planning this project was to make a game that didn't feel very action gamey. Not a lot of action goes on the series, so I wanted to try and make something as slow and simple as possible.
But to the rest of the team, this wasn't something that seemed particularly fun or exciting, so we made some compromises. For the first day, we couldn't think of a core, central idea at all, but we did start working on some individual sections. We decided at the very least we would include something with boats, maybe something with racing or picking up obstacles around the map. The gameplay could be decided later.
Ben started working on the physics code for boats. This actually took a while to properly get down since there were a lot of small things to consider like drifting. Nina did what miscellaneous tasks she could in the mean time, mainly UI, menus, and spawning. Later, when we properly had an idea, she would be able to contribute more.
Vince was kind of stuck in a weird spot. We decided to use Unity since that was something Ben and Nina had plenty of experience with. Vince, however, never used the game engine before, so he mainly watched over the other two work and pair programmed a bit here and there. I didn't have that much experience with Unity either, but my efforts were focused on art.
I had a very specific art style I wanted to do. Originally, when I was thinking about the game, I thought of doing something akin to the Pokemon overworld: small pixelated sprites moving around an environment. Ben suggested I take a look at some Pokemon water maps for inspiration, and I did reference those. Most of my artwork was just adaptations of Aria settings and characters.
I started off with the characters. Naturally, it was straightforward to start with the main character of the series, Akari. Later, I would consider making Aika, and if I had time after that, Alice and maybe others. I then moved onto the boats and rowing animations. Planning and making these were a little strange, but I think the end product looks okay.
The main difficulty was that it was weird to show boat turning. The boat itself would be in a top down view that simply rotated along where you turned. The boat rower, however, would be an animating sprite that needed to be adjusted properly. Because it wasn't 3D, we couldn't just simply rotate the rower along with the boat. So what we had to do was switch the direction of the sprite as the boat rotated.
The perspective doesn't make a lot of sense, but it wasn't game breaking. Sometimes, you can see the rower's oar cut into the boat image, but we would let this pass. Now that I think about it though, even the boat being top down doesn't make a lot of sense because the rest of the world was in the Pokemon profile view.
Actually drawing the character was somewhat difficult. Pixel art is pretty tedious, and it's not something I have much practice with. To be honest, I don't think the final product looks that good. The characters seem too small, and it's hard to make out some details. Some of this was caused by Unity rendering. I believe there was some anti-aliasing involved that made the images more blurry.
The obvious question then is, why didn't we just turn anti-alias off then? I'm not exactly sure, but I think I did try that, and after playing around with it just found that the anti-alias version looked better. It was obvious to do anti-aliasing on the boat since it was rotating around so much, but even the characters, buildings, and everything else looked smoother with the blur effect. Maybe the original art looked a bit too jarring.
Fast forward a bit in time, and it wouldn't be until noon of the second day that we would finally agree on a game idea. This was kind of our final ultimatum to decide on what to do since we were going to run out of time. So over lunch we listed out all of our current limitations, assets, and previous ideas and tried to settle on something to do.
We tossed out anything slow paced and tried to hone in on a faster, more interactive game. Racing was brought up again, mainly thought up by Ben, and we considered that an option. We had another game idea based around collecting cats, where cats would spawn around the map, and the objective was to pick up as many of them as you could. But finally, I think it was at that lunch too, I brought up a new idea that we eventually settled on.
Boats and Rocket League. I suggested a game about hitting a middle obstacle, probably Aria the president, with ours boats and trying to score him into a goal. We could tie in competition between water-guide companies, similar to the rivalry between Aria, Himeya, and Orange.
As objectively as I could view the options, I think this was the most concrete idea out of the three, but we were still a bit wishy-washy about what idea to choose. I didn't want to run this down to a mere 3 person vote, so I raised some counterpoints to the other games. The other games required a lot more work and additional components. We needed to make specially designed levels and possibly add in power ups and items to spice up the game.
With Aria and Rocket League, we had a very simple game already planned out, and half our work was already finished. We would only need one soccer-field-like level to worry about and some simple game logic to control goals and a timer. I think after bringing this up, the rest of the team felt this was probably our easiest and clearest choice, so we went with it. I also thought of the title at this point, ARIA The FOOTBALL, referring to President Aria.
I continued to work on art for pretty much the rest of the jam. I first made a second rower, Aika, to contrast with Akari. She was a little easier to make since I had the first one to reference off of, but if I wanted to make an adjustment on one character, this required changing both because they were so similar.
And then I worked on environments. Water was kind of tricky to get right. I took a page out of Pokemon to help me and referenced one of their water tiles to make mine. I wouldn't say it looks the best, but it's not too harsh to the eye nor too noticeable, so I'm fairly okay with it. I also made four water current animations that Vince worked with, but the currents never got put into the game due to time issues.
After relooking over my water tiles again, I think it's worth giving myself some credit for doing a great job overlapping normal and current tiles properly. You can see in the above picture how the tiles seamlessly flow into one another regardless of direction. I just used the entire sprite sheet for each current direction above, but when animating, you can see the current flow from one end to another. It's a really cool effect that I'm kind of disappointed never made it into the final build.
I spent a considerable amount of time drawing the title. It was a direct rip off of the various Aria title cards. Making it was pretty simple, though a bit tedious. I basically threw the Aria logo into Photoshop and traced over it as closely as I could. Then, it was just a matter of adding the appropriate text on the bottom. I'd say I'm pretty proud of my work.
Of course I can't forget the ball of our game, President Aria. In the Aria series, water-guide companies are mascotted by a blue eyed cat. The Aria Company's signature cat is President Aria, a chubby, cute white cat with some sick style. I love this little dude so much; he's probably the sole reason why I started liking kitties and cats in the first place. His being trapped in a bowl was a reference to his circumstances in the first episode of the series.
Then the rest of my work was structures. The Aria and Himeya Company buildings were the top priority. Making pixel art buildings was very tedious, especially when adding in a lot of details. I wanted to closely reflect Aria and Himeya as much as I could. Even the miscellaneous buildings that just sat around took a long time to complete. I referenced some Venice buildings and screenshots of the anime for inspiration.
I also made a few more general structures like dock platforms, stakes, and grass. All the structures were all placed manually into the game, specifically in the game screen to line the borders of the map. Ben was the one responsible for all the placing. We also added in Boat Moo in here, the infamous creation of Nina.
In addition to placing structures, Ben continued to refine the boat movement. He also handled collision and took care of hitting physics. The screen shaking and particle effects that popped up during goals was also done by him. Nina put in the animations and continued to work on menus/UI. With a more concrete idea now, she had a better idea what to put in the scenes. When finished, everyone worked on fixing up the game logic code and balancing.
Vince stepped in randomly here or there. For the most part he just stood by the side and offered a second opinion, but he didn't write much code for the project. I'm pretty sure the only thing he did himself was making the currents, but those never ended up in the game.
What affected us quite a bit negatively was strangely enough sleep. At very few points of the jam did all 4 of us actually work together. Our sleeping patterns just all conflicted. I usually woke up in the middle of the night, so I was up very early. The next to come would usually be Nina in the early morning. Then Ben would come closer to morning/noon. And well into the afternoon Vince would wake up and come over. Soon after that, I would go to bed, and we'd disperse after that one by one.
It's actually kind of funny, but I missed the end of the game jam, which I'm pretty sad about. I put my head down in the evening or something, and by the time I woke up, everyone was already gone and it was some odd hour in the morning. I was telling myself that I would take a short nap, and I may have even set an alarm, but somehow I slept through everything. By the time I woke up, the game was pretty much finished.
At the end of the jam, the game was pretty much as you see now. I made a few adjustments here and there but most of it was left unchanged. The biggest addition I did was add in a soundtrack in the background. I chose the instrumental for Undine. Undine is one of my favorite songs, probably of all time. The Aria soundtrack overall is absolutely amazing, if not the best part about the series. I was considering jamming a variety of Aria songs into the game, but I didn't want to bloat the build.
Then I made some very basic UI changes to make things a little more consistent, and that's pretty much it. I think if we had more time, we should have definitely looked at more gameplay issues. Adding in currents would make the game a lot more interesting, and there were a lot of things we needed to address still for balance.
Namely, the boats needed to be tweaked a lot more. Their motions all look fine, but actually rowing them inside the game feels pretty awkward. Turning and moving around was intentionally made pretty difficult, but for a fast-paced game like this, we probably should make it a fair degree easier. There are also some pretty unfair scenarios in the game where you can block President Aria into the corner and stall indefinitely for time.
Overall, I'd say we did alright on the project. The atmosphere was somewhat uncomfortable in the group due to a variety of factors. I think number 1 was me trying to force a game idea down everyone's throat when they didn't really know the Aria source material that well. It's difficult for the others to give meaningful suggestions without understanding what I imagined the project to be.
We were also very quiet, much different than how these local jams usually go. I was going to invite Alex, the rowdiest one of my friends, but our schedules conflicted, and I chose to work with these new UCI buddies rather than with just Alex alone. I think this team was a bit disappointed we only had so few people show up, but I don't know there was much I could do considering schedules and late planning.
On the good sides, we didn't run into any big arguments or conflicts. Everyone was civil and docile, and they carried their weight in the project. Well, Vince was a special case so I'll excuse him. For the future, I'll make sure to do a better job planning and making sure I don't suffocate discussions and ideas.
That about sums it up. This was my personal contribution to celebrating the Aria 10 year anniversary. We could have fixed more things up, but the game's working and functional, so I can't be too sad about that. Big thanks for everyone coming. It means a lot to me to be able to work in these pick up game jam groups and have a swell time.