translating Neko Atsume

Neko Atsume (Kitty Collector) is a mobile game with fairly simple gameplay. The game is a virtual yard, where you can periodically leave food and toys in order to attract cats, who will thank you with silver and gold fish, which in turn act as a currency to allow you to buy more food and toys to attract more cats. There are many different cats that show up, each with a unique name, look, and personality (including favorite toys and food). Whenever a new cat is at the yard as you open the game, its face appears in your “catbook”.

As the title suggests, the main goal of the game is to collect all cats in your catbook. You can also collect all toys, or all yard expansions (to change the look of your yard), or all cat mementos (random objects that cats gift you as they become “regulars” in your yard — basically, once you’ve earned their trust). And that’s about it. Compared to your average mobile game, bursting in color and movement, Neko Atsume has a very simple art and animation style — and that’s the appeal. It’s the type of game you open up when you’re overwhelmed during a study session and need a break. You say to yourself, “I wonder how Snowball’s doing,” and see her playing with a red ball, and watch and smile for a second before getting back to the real world.

When thinking about how to translate that into a physical form, my mind immediately went to advent calendars. I was given a Polly Pocket advent calendar as a child, before I knew what they were. I opened every little compartment on the first day, since no one told me how it was supposed to work. For those who also don’t know — from my (still limited) understanding, an advent calendar counts the days from December 1st until the 25th, but gamifies it by adding things like chocolate treats, or Polly Pocket accessories, that you open on each day to add some extra joy to the countdown until Christmas. My physical Neko Atsume wouldn’t have anything to do with Christmas, or counting down days even. The thought just helped me connect to the idea of a box with slots where surprise treats show up.

In this case, I imagined a box with two compartments: the top, being the yard, and the bottom, being closed off “storage” with a drawer or something of the sort. You would buy the box and any collection of cats you want, and then insert the cats into the drawer. The cats (as 3D figurines, maybe encased in snow globe-type domes so they have the same shape regardless of their pose) pop up to the yard section of the box through the round slots.

My first sketch

To include the food component, I imagined a food slot — either weight sensitive, or able to recognize the shape of the food token — which would make it more likely for cats to pop up when food is present. The slot would slowly rotates or lowers the food down to storage, so eventually you’d have to pick it up again in order for the cats to come back. To incorporate another aspect of the game (the higher quality food attracts more cats, or rarer cats), each food token could be a different weight or shape in order to be recognized and computed by the game.

The biggest struggle in translating this game was toys. On mobile, a plurality (if not majority) of toys go underneath the cat — pillows, cushions, cat trees, and so on. If my cats are popping up from below, the ground has to be clear, which limits the design possibilities for the toys. The only other option I could think of was to sell specific cat figurines with toys attached, but I wasn’t very happy with that idea.

To build the prototype, I found .pngs of different cats and food cans from the game, and had them printed in heavyweight card stock at Staples. Since I wanted to also build the box with that card stock, but planned to draw it in pencil, I also printed three extra empty sheets. I cut out the cats and food, with little flaps so I could prop them at an angle, then cut two boxes (one of which I drew on as my yard, and one which would be the storage compartment). I used the scrap paper to draw my toys, keeping the limited toy selection: a scratching post, a red ball, and a butterfly chase toy.

carnaval crown mask

Our craft exercise involved creating a mask that changes how its user interacts with something — in our class Mural board, some examples of masks throughout history included Venetian Carnevale masks, which were the inspiration for my craft.

I wanted to use a Brazilian Carnaval mask — while the Venetian type is worn during our Carnaval, the official parades tend to feature feather or sequin crowns moreso than masks, framing the dancer’s face rather than hiding it. Thinking about what Carnaval 2021 might entail, I wondered how to make such a delicate facial adornment that also covers the nose and mouth — changing the way the dancer interacts with the environment by reducing their potential COVID spread.

Below are some reference pictures I found on Google, and a crude (trackpad) sketch of the anatomy of the mask-crown:

I imagined the lavender layer would be a thin sequin covering, with a filter layer around the nose and mouth. To keep it in place, the nose would probably have to be glued on — not very comfortable, but from what I know a pretty standard practice in these official parades. The yellow part would be a crown-like shape, as the third reference picture shows; in pink are the feathers, which should probably be a wider layer than I drew (my fingers were just hurting by that point since I forgot to bring my mouse).

In class, I cut the paper, doing the feathers first, then the frontal half of the crown (the paper wasn’t big enough to wrap around my head). Since the lavender layer was a lot larger, and with so many rounded shapes, it didn’t work very well on paper; but I cut it along the nose to mimic it somewhat. Tragically, because I used double-sided tape and put the two pieces in my backpack, they glued together and I couldn’t pull them apart without ripping off the feathers beyond repair. Here’s the front and back, hopefully enough to give an idea:

Because of this mishap, plus the busy-ness of moving apartments and working on my 50 renderings, I didn’t keep working on this version of the mask. But if I had the tools and materials, and knew how to sew, I would love to make this in actual fabric, sequin, and feathers.

50 (and a half?) keys

I chose a key for this project because it seemed like a very recognizable object, which could withstand a lot of weird iterations and still be legible — it’s symbolic in that way. It also felt symbolic in a different way, since this is the key I’m about to hand off to my landlord on Wednesday as I finally move out of my apartment (so I also didn’t have to worry too much about showing it in high detail).

In composing the 50 renderings, I ended up creating some logical groups which weren’t planned from the start. I did plan some renderings ahead of time, though, to make sure I had the materials in the correct apartment as I started moving into the new one. This is a more or less chronological list of the groupings:

From left to right: (1) outline, (2) detailed, (3) free hand, (4) one line

I started with pencil drawings. (1) was a quick outline while holding the key onto the paper. With (2), I did the same, but then carefully added details and shading. (3) was how I would usually draw something free hand, starting with a basic shape sketch and then adding in more details. With (4), I didn’t take the pencil tip off the paper; I drew it like an etch-a-sketch, almost.

From left to right: (5) simple sketch, (6) simplest shapes, (7) vertical lines only, (8) horizontal lines only

(5) took some detail out, and (6) went further; I tried to see how bare I could get while still being recognizable (I did poll some friends without letting them know what this was, and they all got it right). (7) and (8) were exercises in shape, I guess, and you can see the second one looks a lot better (or more proportional, at least) than the first — I think both because I had more practice, and because my horizontal lines tend to be straighter than my vertical ones.

From left to right: (9) eyes closed, (10) left hand, (11) eyes away, peripheral

The last round of pencil sketches got a little funky and is my favorite. For (9), I put the pencil down and then closed my eyes. I think it sort of looks like South America, which amused me. (10) looked better than I expected from my left hand, but very bulky and childlike. For (11), I set the pencil down and then looked away, at the corner of the paper, so I could vaguely see but not really. I like that the shape is still a little weird, but the lines are more confident.

The next groups follow similar patterns, but using different pens:

From left to right: (12) ballpoint outline, (13) ballpoint free hand, (14) ballpoint back print, (15) ballpoint simple sketch

(12), (13), and (15) are pretty self explanatory. With (14), I put the key behind the paper and pressed the pen as I felt the edges, and went back a second time to shade it. Not sure if it’s fully recognizable as a key, since I didn’t want to ask my friends a second time (it’d sort of defeat the purpose since by now they knew).

From left to right: (16) sharpie outline, (17) sharpie free hand, (18) sharpie back print, (19) and (19.5) sharpie bleed

(16), (17), and (18) followed the same principles as the ballpoint examples (the back print is even less recognizable, I think). With (19) and (19.5), I was trying to slowly draw it with two papers on top of each other, so that one would bleed into the other; I went over the same lines several times, but you can see it wasn’t successful (hence the half point).

From left to right: (20) photograph, (21) vector, (22) phone sketch

This is the “phone/vector” group. I took the picture first as a base for the Illustrator vector, so it felt right to group them together. (22) also was rendered via phone, by sketching with my finger onto my Notes app.

From left to right: (23) magazine cutout, (24) packing tape cutout, (25) paper cutout, (26) 3D pen realistic, (27) 3D pen simplified

For (23), I tried to pick a nice silver-y color with a cool pattern from a magazine, cut with an x-acto knife — (25) also was cut with the x-acto, using the construction paper given in class last week. (24) was a few rolled up pieces of packing tape cut with generic scissors. (25) and (26) made use of a 3D pen I have an almost never use — maybe you’ll be able to tell from how messy they are. I did the simplified one first, to test it out, then made the second version resting on top of the actual key as a mold.

From left to right: (28) pencil brush (29) charcoal, (30) marker brush

Onto the digital art groups, I started with a detailed sketch, as close as I could get while still freehand (not using rulers or pasting a reference image). (29) and (30) use different digital brushes, so I played around with the shape to fit the “character” of the brush (rougher or smoother).

From left to right: (31) wet brush + mask, (32) inker, (33) halftone

(31) made use of a nice feature of digital art: masking. I painted the wet brush blob, and then created a layer mask and “erased” the outline that forms the actual key. With (32), I went detailed but in a more cartoony style, doing some simple shading while not super worried about the fidelity. (33) used a halftone brush with a lot of detail itself, so I had to simplify the shape again to keep it recognizable.

From left to right: (34) trackpad, (35) right finger, (36) left finger

With these last digital renderings, I tried to play with “tools.” Instead of using my stylus, I tried my trackpad with (34); it’s not a great result, but you may notice the straight lines are a lot better than the shape of the word “trackpad” itself. (35) is a lot smoother, and I kind of expected (36) to be similarly smooth for some reason and was surprised. I think in my mind, the difference in dexterity wouldn’t be so large as it was with the pencil, because I was only using my index finger; clearly that wasn’t the case.

From left to right: (37) finger painting, left (38) finger painting, right, (39) paint imprint, (40) paint imprint, detailed

I then recreated the left and right finger comparison with actual paint on paper; I think the difference in these is still there (it certainly felt smoother to draw a circle with my right index than the left), but not as pronounced as it was on my touch laptop, maybe because this was a simplified painting to begin with. For (39) and (40), I painted the actual key and pressed onto the paper; the first time, I left it was it was, and the second time I went over the straight lines and ridges with a brush to add more detail.

For the next two groups, I did the same paint, but using two different brushes:

From left to right: (41) thin brush full, (42) thin brush outline, (43) thin brush simplified, (44) thin brush single stylized
From left to right: (45) thick brush full, (46) thick brush outline, (47) thick brush simplified, (48) thick brush stylized

The thin brush had a round tip, while the thick brush was square; It was neat to see how that changed my techniques in painting them. For the full examples, the square was better because the sides of the brush created strong lines; I just had to press the brush down. For the outlines, the thinner brush let me do a lot more detail. For the simplified and stylized versions, the shape of the brush instructed the shape of the drawing. (48) in particular seems a bit 3D as a result of trying to paint a round key with a square brush.

From left to right: (49) cross stitch plan, (50) cross stitch

Last but certainly not least, my favorite renderings were the cross stitched ones. I’ve gotten into cross stitching very recently, and could gush about it at length. I love the mix of planning ahead while also improvising, and using both brain and hands at the same time (constantly keeping track of left and right, top and bottom, but also constantly paying attention to your fingers and whether your floss is tangling). I made a very tiny stitch, about an inch square, to conserve my fabric, and used some red floss I had leftover from a different project. But before I started stitching, I had to plan it out — and I realized after I finished that this was a rendering in itself. Notice the eraser marks from alterations, when I made the top of the key a little bigger, or when I realized I needed to mirror the back of the image so that the key ridges would be on the left side from the front. The stitch planning has a few more details too: my counts to and from the center stitches, to help me keep track.

It took me about 50min to both plan and stitch my key, which I did in the IDM floor while waiting for my creative coding class last Wednesday (so this was actually one of the first renderings I made). To finish off the post, here’s a short timelapse of that, to give you a better scale of the stitch — kind of just looks like I’m stitching my own nails.

endangered animal: boto-cor-de-rosa

When I saw our week 2 assignment, I knew I wanted to represent a Brazilian animal. Sadly, there’s no shortage of endangered animals in our rich fauna — but I chose the boto rosa because it was a unique, reasonably replicable animal, with fun cylindrical shapes and rich lore behind it.

There are so many fun facts about the boto rosa, but I’ll start with etymology. Boto (pronounce boe-to) comes from the Late Latin word buttis, meaning cask or barrel. It’s a standard Portuguese word for dolphins, and particularly (but not necessarily) freshwater dolphins. The boto-cor-de-rosa (“pink-colored-boto”) has several amusing name variations: boto-vermelho (red-boto), boto-rosa (pink-boto), boto-malhado (spotted-boto), boto-branco (white-boto), costa-quadrada (square-back), cabeça-de-balde (bucket-head), and uiara (from the native Tupi language word ï’yara, meaning “lady of the water”). For simplicity’s sake, I’ll keep calling it boto rosa, because it’s the shortest term and I’m not crazy about the hyphen.

The boto rosa is the largest species of river dolphin, and its pink color is more prominent in males than females. Being such a unique animal, there’s lots of folklore surrounding it. The most famous tale is the one of the encantado, a shapeshifting boto rosa who at night turns into a handsome man to woo girls (and, according to Wikipedia, also impregnate them — I don’t remember that from my childhood stories, but they may have kept them PG at my school), all before going back into the river as a dolphin come morning light.

Recently its biggest threats have been loss of habitat, fishing nets, and to a lesser extent active hunting. However, it’s hard to find data on population trends — I would assume because the region is remote and hard to get around.

Getting to the iteration and prototyping part of the assignment — here were some of the pictures I saved of the boto rosa in its full glory, from a few different angles, as well as my sketches, where I decided to focus on the bust:

Digging through my recycling trash can, the first thing that caught my eye was a big container of protein powder and some (many) cans of White Claw. I thought I’d make the protein powder container the base of the bust, and the cans would be a perfect “nose” (fun fact: apparently this is called a rostrum) — but for that to work, I’d need another cylinder to smooth the edges of the two. Before I could find anything good enough, I found an Absolut vodka bottle at the bottom of the trash can. I decided I’d keep it simple and use just the bottle and one White Claw can (because two together made the rostrum too long in proportion to the head).

I carefully cut up the top of the aluminum can with a box cutter. I figured I’d push the bottom down with a spoon so it’d pop off and be a convex shape, more like a proper rostum. This turned out to be impossible, because the bottom was too hard and the sides of the can were too fragile (I wanted to keep them nice and smooth). So I cut the bottom of a different can, and glued that upside-down on the bottom of this one. I also cut the top of the can once again, this time at a round angle, since the rostrum sits at the bottom of the boto rosa’s head (not the center, as I would’ve thought if I’d sketched it from memory).

The glass bottle didn’t need any cutting (not that I’d have the tools for it), but I really wanted to get rid of the paint label in order to make the glass as smooth as possible. I looked up several tutorials, and eventually found this one which worked best — wrapping the bottle with a paper towel, and soaking it in apple cider vinegar overnight. It worked great, though I did have to scrape some last bits of paint off with my box cutter.

I glued my pieces together and left them to dry in a pretty fragile setup — when I tried to leave it upright, the glue slid off the glass and the bottle cap, standing for the boto rosa’s eye, fell sadly on the floor. Looking at it once it was all glued on, the bottle seemed too narrow for the proportions to be fully realistic, but the rounded edge at the top was exactly what I was looking for (this also happened to be a day after recycling pickup day, so my trash can was emptied out — in my excitement about the bottle, I didn’t think to keep alternatives). I could have also cut the can open to make it thinner, but then the can top would also not be convex anymore, which I really liked. I decided to leave it as it was and say this is a particularly skinny boto rosa.

Last but not least: painting. Once the glue was dry, I mixed some red fabric paint that I already had with some white acrylic paint that my roommate also had. I gave it two coats to get a really opaque covering. While I’m still not fully happy about the proportions, I think the pink helped me see it as the intended animal in a cartoony way.

To finish this project off, here’s an artistic rendition of my boto rosa frolicking with a friend in the Amazon River.

fantasy device

For our first Ideation & Prototyping class, we split into groups to brainstorm a “fantasy device” — something that doesn’t exist, but that we wish existed. My groupmate suggested a device that can open doors without your need to touch them. I’ve seen some tools, especially nowadays, that can open cylindrical doorknobs with a simple hook, so the exercise became more about imagining a device that could open any door — whether its knob is cylindrical, or round, or whether it has a knob at all.

Our rough sketch looked like this:

And my slightly polished sketch:

While holding the round handle, the user can hook the tool around a cylindrical doorknob to pull it; fit the gap around a round knob to twist it; or press on a door without a knob to push it open. Lastly, a keychain loop would be a quick and easy way to keep it safe for when you need it the most.