A Tofu Tail Game Mechanics Deep Dive – A New Friend

alchemedium —  December 17, 2014 — 2 Comments

There is a huge world of creatures, spirits, demons, and god-like kami sprinkled throughout Japanese folklore and history – many of which we see in various places throughout the games that we play. Like Tengu Man in the Mega Man series, Pokemon’s Meowth, and Super Mario 3’s Tanooki suit, to name a few.

But what creature could be a good firm friend to our lovable but lonely Mr. Tofu? Let’s try and figure that out!

1 - mr tofu has no friends

With the decision to abandon many of our original gameplay mods (designed before we even had a narrative and aesthetic decided for ATT), we were presented with an opportunity that we hadn’t had for a long while: designing completely new game mechanics. Oh, how we have been missed this!

And though we now had an opportunity to put on that creativity hat once more, we certainly had more constraints than existed at the start of the project. We knew that whatever we came up with had to fit thematically with the level art and the Japanese fairy tale motif. The functionality of this new… thing – be it character, item, or object – also had to enhance the color-change mechanic in a different way than the three new mechanics that had already been re-designed.

We now had:

  • Mr. Tengu – a somewhat passive movement modifier
  • Mr. Oni – a very active movement blocker that could be “tricked” in a way
  • The soul split – a player-controlled constraint on movement


Our approach here was to research some of the more common creatures in Japanese folklore, and brainstorm some possible functions that they could play in the story and gameplay.

The top contenders here were:

  • Tanuki
    • Similar powers to kitsune in Japanese lore (change their form, possess humans, shapeshift objects and people)
    • Maybe the tanuki can make tiles appear, disappear
    • Tanuki could change the form of tofu, other characters in some way when interacted with?
  • Kappa
    • Kappa are small river imps that are also mischievous tricksters
    • We possibly could build a puzzle element with the bowl of water in their head
    • Leave them paralyzed until water is brought to them
  • Yurei
    • These spirits are the Japanese equivalent of Western ghosts, or spirits that have moved back into the physical world
    • We could have these spirits fade in and out per player movement
    • Allow movement through when ethereal, and block movement to that space when not
  • Jorogumo
    • A spider spirit with magical abilities
    • Could we possibly do something with webs and hindering movement?
    • Movement hindering could interact well with the Oni movements and multiple tofu being controlled
  • Maneki-neko
    • Traditionally (in folklore) considered to bring luck to those around them, beckoning customers into businesses and such
    • Just an initial thought – had no real ideas for this one >.>


In the end, it was Mr. Kappa and his quirkiness that won the battle!

This creature in Japanese myth generally plays tricks on humans that cross paths with him, while still being quite the courteous kappa – always returning a respectful bow to those who do the same for him. This causes a major problem for Mr. Kappa, however, for as the water contained within the bowl on his head pours out, he is left rather dried up and paralyzed. Only by replacing the wayward water will he regain his composure – becoming eternally grateful to whomever is so helpful.

2 - mr kappa is sad as well

After some deliberation on the potential roles of our bundle of prospective creatures, we had devised a function for the kappa in which he was paralyzed and blocking a tile from being traversed until the player brings him water for his head-bowl. In his appreciation, he allows the player to pass over his previously blocked tile.

3 - bffs

This worked well with the new puzzle mechanics that had already been designed – an additional constraint on movement, this time non-player-controlled. It was different, still adhered to our design plan – no additional controls, enhances the color-maze gameplay – and could fit well into the narrative. The Volcano Realm was one of the few worlds left without a new puzzle mechanic (aside from the Spacetime and Celestial Realms, neither of which would work here), and with the water / dried-up aspect of the kappa, it fit.

4 - kappa in the lava

We had briefly considered a few other modifications to the kappa character, such as: different colored bowls and kappa that tied together, bowing to take water from other kappa, and even having kappa hold items until water is supplied to them. None of these were really deemed necessary in the end – desiring to stick with simplicity.

With the design challenge that we had for this particular puzzle mechanic, we definitely feel confident that we had succeeded in sticking to our goals and creating something to further the challenges (and quirkiness) in A Tofu Tail. It was exciting to wear the “creativity hat” again; lighting a fire to push us harder to complete this game and move on to even more crazy game-making!

So now that you all have met the new Mr. Kappa, let’s next time take a look at our final puzzle mechanic – the wormhole! Things are gonna get all topsy-turvy now!

Until then, let us know below in the comments of your thoughts on this new piece of the puzzle! Are there any creatures that you think would have made for interesting gameplay?




Indie game developers from Pittsburgh, PA. We are dedicated to bringing you unique audio, visual, and gameplay experiences. Currently developing the story-driven puzzle game "A Tofu Tail" .

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. A Tofu Tail Game Mechanics Deep Dive – A Journey Through Space and Time « alchemedium - January 14, 2015

    […] remain for him to conquer? He has trumped the Tengu, overcome the Oni, found companions with the Kappa, and survived having his soul separated from his body. Now it looks like he will have to work his […]

  2. ATT Progress Update; How Do You Design Puzzles? « alchemedium - December 30, 2014

    […] the beginning sections of the game, built around the supporting characters: Mr. Tengu, Mr. Oni, and Mr. Kappa. Granted, most of them need playtested, but it is refreshing to see our production of the levels […]

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