Updates and new game specs

Finally, my downtime spent on adjusting game docs and plot charts will finally pay off! I will soon be ready to code the demo, and art assets will be under way next. In this post, I will outline more details about the game, including a better summary and a final title: Astral Knights GAIDEN! How exciting! I’m usually terrible with titles, but as more of the planning stages were completed, it became easier for something to click in.

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Rough chapter cover sketch that was never used.

 

Last time, I had a basic summary and the general art direction for the game. For the most part, that still remains true, with some adjustments and additions:

  • up to 34 character units available in the game (combination of playable and support)
  • up to 18 playable classes
  • no permadeath (units can be revived)
  • 30 main chapters planned, spanning 3 arcs (books)
  • painterly art style (i.e. Vanillaware) chosen as dominant look, but will feature watercolors instead. Some parts of the game may even adopt a pencil or cell-shaded feel, depending on the scenario.
  • square grid will be utilized

(Keep in mind these specs are for the full version of the game and subject to change. Obviously the demo will have fewer and limited features.)

The largest change compared to my last big post was the game’s summary. I knew I wanted the story to have a comedic edge, but then I also began thinking of the crazy situations and interactions from my past D&D and Pathfinder campaigns as well. How much fun I had participating in them, and how spontaneous everything felt. This game definitely has become a project that does not take itself too seriously, and I hope when the demo is done, players will have as much fun as I did making it!

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First draft of the overworld map. Many names and locations will be scrapped or changed.

Two best friends have finally fulfilled their dream of becoming Royal Knights to the Queen, when suddenly hoards of undead start causing havoc all over the land! It’s now up to charismatic Dorian (who can’t seem to get that “carry-the-one” math concept) and sharp-witted Gwendolyn (who really is the brains behind the party) to get down to the bottom of things. Just their luck, the only help they seem to get are from a variety of colorful and eccentric band of misfits brave (and possibly insane) enough to get the job done. Will this flying circus be taken seriously and become… the ASTRAL KNIGHTS?

I would love to advertise token catchphrases and b.s. marketing lines, like “this game is nothing like you’ve ever played!”, but at this point I’m more like “you know what, I just want to make something that I would like to play, and maybe other people might like to play too”. It puts less stress on myself from setting the bar too high on my expectations for the reception of the game, but still keeps me motivated to really see this project to the end.

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Concept sketches of the main character, Gwendolyn, and her dragon, Bryndis.

As you can see, I started on concept art for the project, using my past art for the characters from a book I wrote in high school. Many have heavy changes, and of course there are newcomers or characters I made after the fact but never got to use in its universe.

I also am up to selecting the musical style for the game’s soundtrack, which was even more of a question mark than the art style. A few friends who have been collaborating with me for ideas have been very helpful in this step, and I also have a few contacts who have done soundtracks for indie games in the past.

I really appreciate the support I got for the visual novel and I apologize that the project has been folded into this one instead. Those who expressed interest are still more than welcome to be on board for this one when the time comes for it. Otherwise, to make things easier I will most likely reach out to those contacts instead. Feel free to inquire anyway!

Thank you and Happy Easter!

Getting out of my rut

Like the humble and chubby groundhog, I too have emerged this February to bring forth exciting updates! Sadly, it took a while to gather enough worthy of posting (them work deadlines!), but finally today I can start announcing some things. I’ve continued to work on my next project (the tactical RPG on Unity2D) during my downtime, cooperative muse permitting. Lately this winter I’ve hit a bit of a coding rut, so I focused more of my dev time to other parts of asset management (like the river of stat spreadsheets I mentioned last time, and of course flowcharting/scripting).

I apologize for the lack of activity here since the last post, but I plan to be a little more active once more assets are created and the coding process finally gets under way. I even plan to do another livestream of my gamedev as well! It was a long while since I did one last and I kind of miss it. It was a great way to connect with fellow indies and followers/supporters alike.

Anyway, flowcharting is going along extremely well, though I’m a little embarrassed to admit I temporarily have abandoned Trelby for Microsoft Word for the sake of simplicity. But I do plan to have a tidier script on Trelby after the one for the demo is finalized. Whatever works, right?

That aside, I also encountered exciting news regarding Unity development available for Nintendo 3DS! This is incredibly far of a stretch, but it would be a fun possibility for this game to be ported to the console, aside from good old PC. I’ll have to look into the numbers. I always wanted to learn how to build for dual screens too. So while no promises (I have enough on my hands!), it would be a fun pursuit no less.

Until next time, stay warm and dry this winter! Spring will be early, don’t worry!

Developers Cagematch! Round 2: Corona vs. Marmalade

After the surprising success of the first Developers Cagematch!, for a while I had planned to do another round with a different set of programs, and then of course life happened. Today, I’m proud to announce that the second set of this series is finally here, and we’ll be looking at two popular and powerful Lua-based programs, Corona and Marmalade.

I was introduced to Lua during my graduate studies, as an alternative to coding for mobile games. For a strange reason, my courses were very invested into Flash and ActionScript despite its criticisms even at its time. While I still prefer it for animations and light games, even in its heyday, for anything else that Flash was used for, I heavily disliked it. I’m sorry, but Flash websites are not practical, not secure, and are a sign of its time. However, if you still want to get your feet wet and want to practice OOP, especially in games, I won’t stop you whether or not you want to use AS2 or 3.

But, if you want to start playing outside of the little leagues, Lua is a good place to start. As a simplified C language, it is cross-platform and a simple way to really look at how most modern applications, games, and other software are structured. Unfortunately, while I have only really used it for prototypes, I still do advise it as a good way to build your prototype, in case you’re really not keen on using something like HTML5 (which I really recommend as the king of simple prototyping, but again this is all preference).

However, don’t let this learning curve stop you. Lua is also capable of making powerful apps and games, and while by itself can make simple and fun apps, it works best with other languages talking to it. (Hence it is cross-platform, so no figure you will also see some C languages thrown in to help boost up Lua. Think of it like the Megazord from Power Rangers.) For the sake of this cagematch, while I will point to this fact, I’ll only be referring to Lua itself, plain and tall.

CORONA (http://www.coronalabs.com)

Corona is a lightweight SDK suitable for the mobile and tablet environment, and a program that was released for Android builds on PC right around when I entered my graduate courses, so it felt incredibly exciting to use such a cutting-edge software. The interface for Corona is very simple, and the tutorials and documentation demonstrate the program’s ability to tap into the features of smartphones and tablets. The program also has access to third-party API’s, enabling even more customization and other bells and whistles you can put into your projects.

Programming in Corona however, is a little different compared to using other means to code Lua. Some of the functions are library-specific to the software only, so if you were to do the same function in Marmalade or another program for example, check with the documentation for how it needs to be coded or else you will get errors. This is something to keep in mind if you plan to use an alternative Lua program in the future, but if your heart is set on Corona for life, you have nothing to worry. (Unlike AS2/3, the differences are minor in comparison and is only a matter of semantics, not the actual coding structure.)

You’re probably wondering why Corona would do such a thing, and until you realize how certain functions behave in other versions of Lua software versus Corona, you’ll realize in the long-run, Corona is more organized in terms of how the programmer can execute their code to do what they want to be done. As any programmer knows, organized code is efficient code, and will hog less resources on the device being used. (This isn’t to say Marmalade is not an efficient program, just that it’s a bit of another animal, but I will explain soon.)

At the time of writing this, the licenses have changed from what I had used originally. CoronaSDK formerly was split into two different types of licenses (one for Mac, one for PC), and could only output to those respective device families, for an annual fee. Now the SDK can output to both OS regardless of which you have, and can output to all types of devices, whether they’re iOS, Kindle, or Android. They also have monthly fees which follow the Unity model – Free, Small Business for $79/month, (mainly for revenues up to $500k), and Enterprise for $129/month (no revenue limit).

MARMALADE (www.madewithmarmalade.com)

As you may have figured, whereas Corona originated in the States, Marmalade is from the UK. It’s also an award-winning program, and while this was outputting to a variety of platforms earlier than Corona was, it also has a level of sophistication that enables it to implement a wider variety of API’s built-in, including support to Objective C and OpenGL, and even includes a plug-in for use with Autodesk 3DS Max and Maya. If Lua is a language meant to be played with others, this is practically the playground that comes with it.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. For the average joe programmer getting into Lua, Marmalade has a higher learning curve than Corona does, and it can be overwhelming if you’re not used to seeing or working around all of these functionalities. (I know I was.) While Marmalade’s tutorials and documentation are fantastic, and its interface dazzling and dashing, there were many times I would stare at my screen and grumble to myself “can’t I just code?”. Maybe I was too used to Corona’s handholding and simplicity of things, but while more experience programmers would wet their pants over the oodles of goodies Marmalade has to offer, I just want what’s needed to work, and I want it to work well. The more I worked with Marmalade, the more I felt like a resource manager and not a programmer.

However, if you’re a person of greater talents than myself and want the extra mile, Marmalade has reasonable pricing, with the higher bills obviously meant for larger companies needing multiple licenses. Average joe programmer can easily get away with a Free license with no trouble, or for $15/month upgrade to Community for a little more customization. Everything else from Indie onward ($499 annual and up) open up even more platform and other treats to enjoy. Unlike Corona, Marmalade from the get-go can be used for developing for Windows Phone/Store/10, Tizen, and Blackberry, so keep that in mind if you’re looking to do more outside of good old iOS/Android.

THE WINNER…IT’S A TIE

Sorry, folks. The answer is as subjective as my experiences using these programs. Both hold many strengths and weaknesses, but simply picking one over the other is like choosing apples over oranges. (Both of them are fruit, which means they’re delicious and good for you!)

If you want to just get started and code, Corona is what you’re looking for. Now with the ability to export to iOS and Android, coupled with an efficient library, and hundreds of API’s out of the box, it’s just a no-brainer.

However, if you wanna be with the big boys (and girls), dive right into some Marmalade. Not only would you be able to export to a variety of mobile and tablet platforms, if you upgrade to an Indie license you can basically put yourself all over the digital map! If you’re not afraid to learn a few new languages all in one go, and want the challenge, you will be rewarded generously.

While Lua is taking a backseat in the current atmosphere of mobile/tablets, with its cousin C languages and others such as Java and native taking reign, it’s still a lovely language to learn, especially for beginner/intermediate coders. Compared to others, it feels more intuitive thanks to its lighter syntax, which means you will see results quickly, but keep in mind that similar to Python and AS3, cAsE sEnSiTiViTy is an issue so be careful! Both programs host fantastic documentation and tutorials from other helpful developers, so if you’re in a bind usually you will be able to find yourself out of that jam soon enough.

Happy coding, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Switching gears (aka Help I’ve Fallen Into Excel Spreadsheets and I Can’t Get Up!)

Now that October is drawing to its exciting close to a busy month, I can sit down and explain some exciting progress going on in between work and play. Earlier last month you may have recalled me mentioning my first convention panel at New York Comic-Con 2015, and the review about it can be seen at my Etsy blog. That aside, I’ve been busy being good friends with Microsoft Excel and typing up numerous spreadsheets (with more on the way! My head hurts from all this math but it will be worth the work!). Why, you ask?

Well, it’s not for my visual novel. Actually, that project has now folded into its sister project, and together the two will finally see their revamped adaptations into video game form! Many, many years ago (11 to be exact), I had a webcomic. It was around characters my friends and I created, doing random stuff, and maybe only had a total readership of 10 fans but it was fun while it lasted. Towards the end we decided to take our fun into fantasy RPG form, and while its novel is a disaster, it was a way for us to develop worlds and characters. Looking back now, it is a guilty read. It’s so bad that it’s good! You may have seen some of my art for it on my deviantArt way back.

As I was working more on the visual novel, things just did not make sense, and as I was fitting pieces back into this other story, the more I wanted to return to this other world and really put some TLC in it. So here we are now, a strategy RPG to be built in Unity2D! Since a ton of past material already was provided in the books, it was only a matter of updating the characters and available classes the player can use, and the rest of the mechanics fell into place. Much of the story is intact, but just some things polished and tightened up. Yes, the game will have an official name soon too! I’m in the process of weeding through possible titles to see what is best (and hasn’t been claimed yet so it will pop up easier on a Google search).

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Concept sketch of the original intro from 2008.

“In the land of Ceres, the kingdom is on the brink of disaster from relentless waves of undead monsters, led by a mysterious man and his group of bandits. A young girl named Gwendolyn steps up as a new commander, driven to take back her country – but she’ll soon learn that not everything is as it seems. Travel the land, encounter a variety of colorful characters and heroes, and discover the secrets of Ceres.”

I’ll have a jazzier description in the future, don’t worry. Gameplay will be similar to Fire Emblem and Chrono Trigger, with RPG roots akin with Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. The mechanics will be simplified so even beginner players in the genre can get into it easily, which will leave room for lots of customizations for your characters. Despite the serious undertones to the story, there will be a lot of humor thrown in too, especially as your party really is just a bunch of misfits trying to do their part. So aside from strategy there is emphasis of teamwork within your crew. (Which any leader knows goes hand-in-hand in any project or mission.)

Development-wise, I aim to have a demo level completed within the next couple of months. I’m still pondering if I do want voiceovers or not, or just have them for the intro sequence. As of art direction, I keep going back to more of a painterly, lineless look, which Vanillaware is famous for (as seen in Odin Sphere, GrimGrimoire). This new project’s look may not be as sharp and glossy, but I want this game to have as much whimsy as the characters in it. Retro pixel art has been done so much that it’s almost become old again, and anything too cell-shaded would be too harsh on the eyes, considering a lot of information will be laid out on the grid. That aside, the artwork will be the same as previously planned.

Despite Odin Sphere nearing almost 10 years old now, thanks to its mechanics, story, and art style, it hasn’t aged a day.

Outside of upcoming game progress, I’ve noticed lately that my blog post on Construct2 vs. Ren’py is getting pageviews again, and now that I’ve worked enough in Corona and Marmalade, I think it’s time I start on my next Developers Cagematch entry on that. I’m happy a lot of people have found the other post so useful! It means a lot to me.

Until then, have a Happy Halloween and brush your teeth after eating all that candy!

Updated download links for my games

I realized the links I was using originally for my games are no longer active (they pointed to the gamejams I entered them in). Since the blog posts and post-mortems usually are the first things people see here, I went ahead and put in the links on those. For quick reference, here is Compendium (Quest is required to play) and This Game is Not a Dating Sim (installer package).

UPDATE 8/29/16: My Dropbox got hacked so I had to delete the account. However, the game files are now on Google Drive and the links can be found on those pages above ^.

Thanks and have fun!

Scratch it Up!

Hello everyone! I have a few updates worth mentioning, though I can’t run an actual announcement of one for a little while longer since details are still being worked on. I am happy to say however, that my game design classes at my library have been going very well, and this Fall we’re switching over to Scratch for a change! I was surprised by how well the kids took on Flash, but it’s a program that’s not without its faults, especially its usage and criticism by other developers and web browsers the past few years. Seeing that Scratch adapts better to the modern web, and also has an incredibly simple and fun interface (complete with neat documentation), I decided it was time to make the switch too.

I went ahead and did a test project last night to also brush up on my skills, and it was so much fun that I plan to do more cute little animations in the future. I used to do some with Flash in the past, but this was way simpler to set up and get going. Hopefully the kids enjoy it too!

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As you can see, I’m excited about Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer towards the end of the month.

As of the visual novel, a lot of things are in the works of being switched around again, the biggest thing not only being the plot and its source, but also the game engine I want to use. Until things can be ironed out, I ask that any inquiries on collaborations be put on hold. Thank you!

Visual Novel Book I available on PDF!

Well, sort-of the visual novel. It’s the first book on the series I will be adapting towards the project, so if you’re curious on some backstory or are looking for more info to help your decision on collaborating, the PDF is now available on Dropbox(link updated as of 10/6/15) Feel free to share the link but please follow the disclaimer in the beginning! Otherwise, happy reading!

Book II and the light novel chapters will also be next. III was never put on my deviantArt in the first place, so there won’t be a PDF of that. (Honestly it also had no conclusive ending, so…)

In the mean time, I might have an exciting announcement next week regarding New York Comic-Con. Just waiting on some news to get back to me. If anything else, I will at least have some post-con coverage of LI-Con2 since I’m returning there again this year to sell some goodies. My inventory has changed around so please look at my Etsy so you have a good idea of what will be offered! Thanks!

Have a happy (and early) 4th!

Decided to pop in another minor update since I realized I never mentioned it the other day when I posted. The visual novel’s script has undergone a small revision, but otherwise it will remain the final one it looks like. (Knock on wood! This thing only had to be fixed 5 times now haha!) I also went ahead to finalize my game design document for it as well, which really is only a list of the order of events and how the puzzle mechanics work. Sacrificing quality of the story for the sake of adding more interaction was what led to so many revisions the last time, so this time I planned for simpler mechanics that can be realistically programmed, that way you fine folks can enjoy the story and follow along better without too many jumps.

Now that the story spans between two generations and will pop in flashbacks several times, I want to have things explained coherently. Despite the fact that I’m not fond of its battle system, I keep recalling how Final Fantasy VIII handles this since the story will also behave similarly. (Minus the spiritual body possession oddity) In VIII technically there are two protagonists you play through – Squall Leonhart and Laguna Loire, the latter’s events taking place a generation prior to the other. By the story jumping back and forth to explain the story of the game, you get a better understanding of the characters’ world and what has to be done to make things right. Since my books were written in third-person, the narration will simply just switch to whichever character you’re guiding next, and there will be cues to hint this (audio, visual, or both). Like the puzzles in the game’s story, the characters themselves are also puzzles.

Besides all of that, as announced from my deviantArt back in May, I am still in the process of moving the books to Dropbox as .pdf files, since I’ll be closing my account there once the move is complete. Unfortunately, copying text over screwed up its formatting, and saving everything out to the site’s default bare-bones HTML honestly made everything look worse. I am happy to say that Book I is almost done at least, and formatting has helped to cut down the total number of pages as well. I also am in the process of printing them as book draft copies for bookkeeping purposes, as well as physical reference. At most there will only be 10 copies for the print runs, and they will only be loaned to individuals who are involved with the project.

I’m gonna cut off here since I feel like I’m just rambling at this point. Stay safe and have a Happy 4th of July!

Achievement Unlocked! “Fix it, Fix it, Fix it!”

With the amount of revisions and backburning this poor visual novel project has been getting since day 1 (it doesn’t even have a title still yikes!), I’m so glad that this game barely has the hype for me to get heckled and shanked over with all these changes. I do apologize for the patient and wonderful people who already have approached me to collaborate on it though; there aren’t enough words to express my gratitude. My projects, gamedev or not, are barely ever like this, so to be stuck doing 4 revisions of scripts, plot changes, what have you, honestly even gets on my nerves. I just want this done right, aside from the fact that I look at my creations as if they were my children. Planning this game has been the equivalent of going prom dress shopping with your daughter – “You are NOT wearing that! And not with those shoes! “.

Art style has been down to a happy medium fortunately, but the other half of the battle has been working up enough content that not only would hold the interest of the player, but would also avoid me just having to write another novel instead. (And not just from how it’s written, but also since this game is based on books I wrote in college.)

Ultimately, I realized that while I do have good character development down for much of the cast, there simply is not enough content for its own standalone game, something that I had feared since starting on it. I got tired of writing in filler content for the sake of adding gameplay mechanics to keep things interesting. The more I worked things out, the more I realized this whole game can honestly just fit into one flashback chapter in a bigger game, and better yet can be chopped into scattered mini chapters so it’s easier for the player to absorb.

Also, I kept on thinking back to how it would tie in to the books, since much of that material is old, riddled with tropes, and just generally needs some mending. So since I already have the content (a trilogy of it, actually), why not just sprinkle this current project into the older stuff and make something new of it?

So currently that is my new plan. Despite the fact that much of the content will now include the book materials, it will still be a visual novel with point-and-click puzzle mechanics, with some thriller/suspense elements. If I had an awesome team of devs and a sweet studio to boot, this would totally be an action/RPG with aircraft simulation but I’m not a miracle worker. (Or rich.)

If you want an idea of what the world setting and the additional cast of characters will be like, feel free to prod into my books on deviantArt. Whether or not you do is fine, but if you choose to do so you’re a very brave soul because a lot of that writing is lousy even in my standards now, so I apologize beforehand. If you also would like to help out, please by all means contact me! Aside from voicework, I especially will need help with more mechanical artwork (aircraft specifically). I won’t have any material to give you to work with immediately, but I’ve been collecting a list of contacts for those interested, so it doesn’t hurt to give a shout!

I hope to have more exciting news within the next couple of weeks. Thanks and take care!

Switched to Trelby!

Also known as “Developers Cagematch II: I’m Finally Using an Actual Screenwriting Editor”!

Everyone has had their fair share of battles with Microsoft Word, myself included. It’s fantastic for essays and basic stuff, but anything requiring some type of formatting and you’re out of luck. While the thought of using it for dialogue scripting might make some of you scream and rip your hair out (and then wonder why on earth I used it for as long as I did), scripting for games factors in a little more than that. There technically is no industry standard for scripting for games. Some brave individuals stick to Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, etc., and tough it out because they see no fuss in getting a separate program just for writing scripts. Others like to follow the television and movie model, and settle down to such a commitment for the sake of focusing on writing and not readjusting the format every other minute so things are still legible.

Even in that school, others give basic descriptions of what’s going on in the scene and prefer to focus strictly on their characters (this is very true for if you have voice actors, as they won’t really care much for your cute field notes). And then others pretty much write the equivalent of a novel a-la Alan Moore, and that’s when I come knocking at their house and scream “JUST MAKE IT A BOOK JEEZ” while I furiously shake them but hey I won’t judge that’s totally cool too.

Since my scripts also have developer notes for changing assets and effects within the game, my stuff gets messy real fast. For my visual novel, since I’ll be asking for the help of others to voice some characters, this was not gonna fly. I needed something to help keep things nice and formatted so others can read what pertained to them, while allowing me to add in my notes so I didn’t have to write two separate scripts and waste more time.

Adobe offers a newer software to its critically-acclaimed repertoire called Adobe Story, but it requires a subscription (surprise!). I’m not necessarily a professional screenwriter, so I’m not sure on the justifications of paying for it since it seems to do things other screenwriting software have already. So my alternative was open-source, Trelby in specific.

Bottom line: Trelby is amazing, and now you know why this wasn’t a Developer’s Cagematch article (my heavy bias aside). For those new to Trelby, let alone to the world of screenwriting, this neat editor not only keeps things tidy and automatically paginates, it exports to PDF in a breeze, recommends a legible Courier typeface and why, compares other versions and rewrites of your scripts, and has a name database of over 200,000 names from various countries all over the world. The latter is nifty for giving poor NPC #16 an actual name, for example.

Also for you Mac devs out there, Trelby is still looking for someone to help out with porting the software for that OS. So if you love Trelby and want to pitch in, help a brother out!

Nerding aside, I’ve continued with the script for my game, and am about a thirdway into the prologue/tutorial level. I’m always on the lookout for voice actors, so contact me if you’d be interested! I’m also considering running a small e-mail “newsletter” for updates to anyone who wants to help out, so that way you’d be the first to know on project updates (especially if they’re not large enough to go to press here). I figure it would be helpful for people who have contacted me outside of my network circle specifically, and don’t want to be left hanging. I haven’t forgotten, don’t worry!

For you gamedevs out there, what do you use for writing your scripts?