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.

sample_cover

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!

ceres_overworld

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.

IMG_20160326_143209

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!

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!

Fisher Price: My First Convention Panel

I apologize for the wait between my last post regarding some news on New York Comic-Con, but I’m glad I waited it out because I have an exciting announcement after all! Originally, I had submitted a panel under my county’s library association and while it didn’t get picked by Reed Pop, last week I was asked to fill in for a panelist on a cosplay and libraries panel that did make it in. I usually do game design at my library, but as some of you may know I am a longtime cosplayer, and was more than happy to assist in this amazing opportunity! My first convention panel! The news is still sinking in.

Since the panel is on cosplay, my review on the experience will be at my Etsy blog when the time comes, but I will still link to it for those that are curious.

As of gamedev news, I’m migrating to Scratch for my next crop of game design classes, and when I am able to enter in gamejams again, I’m also considering using it as my engine the next time around. I always wanted to make a word game. I’m a sucker for Text Twist and other scramblers.

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?

Get ye Flash (tutorials)

(I never did quite finish that game back in high school. Brownie points and perhaps actual brownies if you know what I’m referring to.)

So practically six weeks later, here are some good Flash tutorials I’ve been using for my gamedev classes lately for the little kids, as promised. My own tutorials for Angry Birds…well…blew up. Thankfully, the art of Flash has been around long enough where people smarter and more clever than myself have made wonderful tutorials that are good for both learning and implementation.

Whether or not you still use Flash and want to brush up on your skills, or never even used it before, searching for helpful tips and code can be like sailing into a hurricane. Is this AS2 or AS3? Does this go on the main timeline or in its own .as file? Will I ever truly get ye Flash?

Below are two of my favorites that I’ve been using lately, though as I come across more I’ll add to the list. If there are some you also like that you want to highlight, leave a comment below and I can add it to this master list here. I also plan to do something similar for CoronaSDK and Ren’py. I would do one for MarmaladeSDK, but honestly its own documentation is so good that I haven’t been as satisfied by other outside sources when it comes to that type of bare-bones Lua. That’s my own two gold dubloons though.

kirupa

Kirupa is a great tutorial hub for not only Flash, but for anything else webby – CSS, Javascript, so on.

Kirupa is similar to SourceForge, StackOverflow, or Tuts+. (In fact if you’re fairly seasoned with searching for coding tutorials you probably know all of that.) It offers a variety of different tutorials for coding languages, however unlike the other examples, this one is run by Kirupa Chinnathambi, a Program Manager at Microsoft. Aside from his own helpful tutorials (yay pictures!), the forums are also a great treasure trove where other users can pitch in to help out with your questions and coding problems. I’m featuring Kirupa specifically, as opposed to the others, since I was able to find AS2 examples fairly easily, and some have been the best ones I’ve found in a long time. Anyone who still uses AS2 or wants to do something quick in it (regardless of what skill level they are) can vouch for how difficult finding something for it can be.

Emanuele has great visual tutorials on not only Flash, but newer software such as Stencyl.

Emanuele has great visual tutorials on not only Flash, but newer software such as Stencyl.

These days, virtually anyone can set up camp on the Internet and fish out great tutorials, but there are some who are the cream of the crop. Emanuele Feronato, Italian programmer, is one of those fine folk where once you see his work, you’ll scream around the house wondering where he’s been all your life and why you haven’t found him sooner. While the downside for you AS2-ers is that you might be out of luck finding ANYTHING done in that, a great way to learn AS3 is to check out the tutorials here. However, if you happen to be on Team Flash-is-Dead, there’s also tutorials for Stencyl and HTML5. Don’t worry, I won’t pry on why you’re looking at a Flash reference page if you feel that way. Denial is the first step, and is a misspelling of a river that runs through Egypt.

Flash is a great tool whether you want to get into programming, want to do something that’s not just animation, or you’re looking to flex your finger muscles and your mind. If you find other sites that have helped you out in a pinch, comment below. Thanks for reading and good luck!

Coming soon: Flash tutorials!

And not just any tutorials, but an AS2 workshop where I’ll be recreating Angry Birds with third and fourth graders at my library! I admit this will be very beginner or educator friendly so if you were hoping for something more heavy duty I apologize. While the workshop is mostly for fun, it’s a great way to introduce game design basics to the little ones, and I also will be including them here on my blog, source files and all.

Preview of lesson #1, outlining the basics.

Gif of lesson #2 in action!

Currently lesson #3 is almost done but I keep on screwing up my math. (If you need a testimonial on how bad I actually am at math, just ask my D&D group.) There are 6 lessons in total so despite this hiccup, my progress has been amazing, and everything else has been coming along smoothly so I’m confident it will be finished in time.

If the tutorials are helpful I may do more in the future, so feel free to suggest away. HTML5 is also on my list next.

That aside, I’m also participating in a gaming roundtable discussion on Long Island next week. I’m hoping to demo one of my games as well but it seems more mainstream ones will be demonstrated for now, so that’s cool. I will still be attending either way, and will have notes when that happens.