Sunday, January 03, 2016

Devblog: Crawling Through Vents, Fighting With Words and Taking Stock

I haven't really done any work on this game since Fallout 4 came out back in November. Fallout 4 took up most of my free-time throughout November and December, with the rest being taken up by all the shopping and parties and dinners and general-get-togethers that Christmas brings with it. It's been a fun couple of months (some random bouts of nausea aside, but I'm taking medication for that now!) but it's really time that I start working on this project again. Not that I don't find working on this game fun, it's just that I've really saddled myself with a lot of tedious tasks to do. In any case, I really want to get this project finished by the end of this year. It's been going on for far too long now, it's actually kinda ridiculous!

Crawling Through Vents

People who actively follow the "Whatchu Workin' On?" thread will remember that I was working on the vent-crawling minigame back at the start of November. These sections are handled in a style similar to the dungeons in the first Phantasy Star game, in that you're shown a first-person view of what's immediately in front of you and then get to choose which direction you want to travel in. It's really easy to get lost in these areas, so it's really up to the player to keep careful track of where they're going so that they don't end up going in circles, and that's where the challenge in these sections comes from. Hopefully people aren't too put-off by what is a fairly old-school approach to labyrinthine puzzle design, but I've always liked dungeons that are set up in this kind of manner.

What I've basically done is update the graphics for the vent-crawling minigame so that it has an overlay like all the other minigames do. This means that I don't need a message-box based tutorial, since those are kinda boring and also feel pretty damn cheap. I also needed to tweak how the images were displayed because the wait-time between them was far too long, and I've also updated how the vents look since they were pretty ugly previously. It was never going to be something that would take a long time but I'm happy that it's done. Here's are some images that I hope is self-explanatory, with the second image showing an example of a new sewer-tunnel minigame that works in exactly the same manner:

Fighting With Words

Another thing that I've been doing is bringing the "convobattles" (which are basically rock-paper-scissors in how they work) in line with the aesthetic applied to all the other minigames. This actually entailed a lot of work, more than I was originally expecting when I set out to make these improvements. When the "convobattles" were first implemented, only dialogue from the opponent that continued the "convobattle" was shown as an image. All other text was shown using a normal message box, including all instances of Cheska's speech during these "convobattles". This meant that each "convobattle" only needed 3-5 images producing. When I started updating the graphics, I quickly decided that all the dialogue should be shown in speech bubbles so that the same aesthetic was maintained throughout the course of the whole "convobattle", which meant that loads of new images needed to be created. It ended up being pretty tedious work, but I'm happy with the results!

I'm also happy to say that all the "convobattles" in the game have now been updated, which was something I only just finished doing on New Year's Day. The ability to avoid combat by getting these minigames right is going to play a big role in how different players end up experiencing this game, because many battles can be avoided if you get the associated "convobattle" right. I'm not currently planning to have your success rate in "convobattles" have an affect on the ending, but it's something that has come to mind in the past. Definitely something for me to think about as I come to implement the closing scenes of the game!

Taking Stock

All the blog posts I've made since starting to work on development of this game again have been about updating things that were already implemented. Whether that meant replacing minigames with whole new minigames, updating graphics or simply adding more instances of under-utilised minigames, I've essentially done a lot of work without getting any closer to finishing this game. But that's okay! Why? Because this game is a hell of a lot better now than it was when I came back to developing it!

I'm pretty happy with where the project stands at the moment, but my next target is probably my most important since my next target is the battle-system. Frankly, the "interaction" system I've implemented needs to work a hell of a lot smoother and I'm sure that it can. It seems a long time ago that I was updating all the battle-animations, but I'm pretty damn happy with them and there's definitely nothing wrong with how the battle-system works from a traditional RPG stand-point. It's just that the "interaction" mechanic is the one mechanic that's meant to differentiate Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl from other RPGs with turn-based battle-systems. It's supposed to reward you for being inquisitive a lot more than it currently does. The mechanic is severely under-utilised and, if I'm being perfectly honest, it's implemented in a very cheap manner. Simply put...


Monday, November 02, 2015

Devblog: Squashed Some Bugs, Altered Some Dungeons

I've uploaded a new version of my game, Engalia: The Wager, that aims to broaden the experience a little whilst also squashing some bugs. There are three reasons for releasing this new version of the game:
  • The first reason is to fix a big that was preventing enemies from using skills that buff their stats. I'd forgotten to set those skills up properly (because of a bug in the RM2K3engine, they need to be set up a certain way), which made it so that enemies wouldn't ever consider using them over their other skills. This bug should now be fixed, I hope.
  • The second reason was to update the mapping so that the caves looked less square and had a little bit more depth. This basically meant adding more "diagonal" sections to the maps. I've also added new tiles to the chipsets that allow the "outside" parts of the caves to appear as if they're fading to black, which adds a little bit more depth and realism to the mapping.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I've extended the size of the caves in order to give the player more exploration to do. This is based on criticism offered in Cashmere's review. Chests will now be something that you need to be more proactive about looking for, and the caves should feel less linear to explore as a result.
Enjoy :)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Devblog: Frog, The Update No One Asked For


What The Hell Is This Update?

This game came out way back in 2009 and there's basically been two updates since then. One was when I cut down the soundtrack because the download was far too large for such a simple arcade game, and the other was an update to make sure the RTP was included with the game so that it would be easier for people who aren't unfamiliar with RM2K3 to play it. This update isn't like either of those updates, because this update is a pretty big overhaul of the graphics and sound present in the game.

For a long time I've wanted this game to move away from using ripped graphics towards something that, whilst still very much styled around games like Frogger and Pacman, uses graphics that I could call my own. I also wanted to move away from using a soundtrack that contained licensed music towards something available under a creative commons license, whilst also moving towards music that would fit the arcade feel I was going for better than what I originally used. The thing is that I've never really had much drive to make those changes, but now that I have I'm pretty happy with the results:

They're not the best in the world, but at least they're not rips any more! I mean, think they look better than they did before, but I'd obviously think that since I'm the one who made them!

In addition to wanting the game to use graphics that I could call my own, people with a very good memory will realise that I've made a conscious effort to address the criticisms that Halibabica had in his very old review of the game. This is why I've made the addition of road-markings to the highway, and the addition of "a big nasty *SQUISH* noise" when Frog gets run over by a vehicle. I thought that both of those comments were very astute observations for Halibabica to make and I should've probably addressed them much sooner than this.

Why Are You Doing This Now?

Like I said, I've been wanting to make these changes for a long time, but I've never really had the drive to do it. Why do I have that drive now? Let's just say I've had an idea for a sequel to this game, and so that's what's driven me to make the updates that I have. I don't want to feel guilty for continuing to use blatant rips if (and I say "if" because it might never happen) I decide to make said sequel.

Additionally, although I was always quite pleased with how this game turned out given that it was originally a throwaway project based around a minigame present in Sore Losers, it would be slightly sad if I didn't try to make it as good as I think it can be. That isn't to say that I now think it's super-awesome-amazing and that it should be getting 5-star reviews from everyone, but it's definitely a more cohesive product than it was before.


Not much has changed about the gameplay, but I do think the graphical tweaks help make the game much more fun to play and that the sound changes make the game more entertaining than it was before. And if not "more entertaining", they certainly make the style more consistent.

I don't expect boatloads of people to be downloading this since it never had that many downloads in the first place, but thanks for reading and I hope that anyone who does play enjoys the updates :)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Sunken Spire

Title: Sunken Spire
Developers: Indra, Fomar0153, MakioKuta and Rachael.
Genre: JRPG
Program: RPGMaker VX

Sunken Spire is a light-hearted RPG where you start out as a pair of royal investigators traipsing around an abandoned laboratory. They're attempting to find out what the laboratories were being used for before their inhabitants seemingly high-tailed it, but they don't come across a great deal of answers. What they do come across is a slime, as in the common enemy trope, which seems to have been important to the research being performed. They decide to take the slime with them, ostensibly because they want to make sure it isn't dangerous, but it quickly becomes more like a pet. Their actions also somehow cause the titular spire to appear, seemingly out of nowhere, close to a nearby town. The two investigators, along with their "pet" slime, head to the spire to try to find out what its link to the laboratory is; as well as to attempt the rescue of the townspeople whose curiosity got the better of them!

I'll take one pet slime too, please!

From a storyline point-of-view, the two characters that you start with are essentially the only playable characters that matter. One of these characters is Elsa, who is a bratty, rash, violence-loving general who seems incredibly averse to anything that remotely sounds like a reference to her femininity (or lack thereof). The other character is Alma, who is the exact opposite; a serious, logic-loving engineer who has no problem mocking the mannerisms of her partner. These two characters generally stick very well to the archetypes they're trying to represent and, in keeping with the light-hearted nature of the game, the interactions between them are lively and vivacious. 

I suppose you could say that their "pet" slime, the third playable character that you encounter, is also relevant from a dialogue point-of-view, but they embrace an ultra-naive archetype that means they don't really have anything important to say and are mostly there to make comedic interjections. I thought that these scenes usually came at the correct times and, outside of a couple of moments, that they never became too silly or too slapstick. Overall, both the characters and their dialogue fits the tone that the developers were clearly aiming for.

Even the non-playable characters are written in a humorous manner, especially the two main antagonists. Much like the two main protagonists, most of the antagonist's humour stems from the fact that they possess diametrically opposed personalities. It would be easy to believe that their scenes dilute the similar ones between the protagonists, but that isn't the case. Although these sequences are similar in nature, the devil is in the detail and the developers have done a good job of making sure they differentiate the two sets of sequences from one another just enough that they don't end up treading on each other's toes. 

No, really. I'll take one pet slime too, please!

Unfortunately, although the characters are portrayed in an entertaining manner and the dialogue between them is usually amusing, the storyline simply doesn't match up. There was little about the story that really jumped out at me as being significant or unique, because the storyline basically amounts to "thing there, go get!". Although there's nothing really wrong with that in a videogame, and there are certainly plenty of good games that do the very same thing, I think that the depth gifted to the characters caused me to expect a little bit more from this title as far as story development goes.

Nor did the setting interest me all that much, and this is despite the fact that the game definitely tries to get you to invest in both the locales and the lore of the world. To be fair to the developers, I've read that this game is set in the same universe as a bunch of other games (the so-called "Arum Universe"), but I've never played any of those games. This means that there's a chance my lack of investment in the setting is because there are things going on or references being made that are too subtle for someone playing in this universe for the first time. There's obviously no way for me to know whether this is the case, but I'm self-aware enough to know that this is a possible reason why I wasn't really feeling the storyline and the setting.

"person there, go get!"

What I was feeling is the way that the characters aren't just differentiated from one another through their mannerisms; they're also differentiated from one another through their core gameplay mechanics. Each of the three protagonists has a completely different skill system to the others, which applies to both the methods they use to learn new skills and the way those skills are paid for once you get into a battle. This is great because it adds a lot of variety to the game, even if each of the skill systems are fairly simple when taken alone. 

For example, the "research" system that Alma uses is a fairly standard skill system on the face of it; you choose a type of research that you want to her to work on and EXP will be added to that research every time you win a battle. The great thing is that research can do lots of things, from allowing Alma to create equippable items that teach her new skills, to building an autonomous ally that can help you during fights. On the other hand, the "runes" system that Elsa uses allows her to collect four different types of rune based on the skills that she uses in battle. These runes are then used to buy new skills and to craft new items. Notably, this is the only way to obtain Elsa's best defensive equipment, something that the game surprisingly makes you aware of at the very start of the game. One of the more interesting things about this system from a gameplay point of view is that it almost forces you into using skills that you maybe didn't want to use so that you can gather runes faster than you otherwise would do. This means that the game gives you something to aim for other than getting through each random encounter as quickly as possible.

Because the skill systems are so well put together, it's a shame that that the normal battles are incredibly trivial. There are plenty of interesting systems in place that mean the game would have so much depth to it if the enemies were more threatening than they currently are, but this game is ultimately a cakewalk from a combat perspective. There's absolutely no challenge whatsoever to any of the random encounters you'll encounter throughout the titular spire, and even boss enemies will rarely do anything other than scratch your armour. This is made even worse by the predictability of some of the enemies that you'll encounter; there's normally an argument to be made that enemies being somewhat predictable is good because it allows you to make informed, strategic choices, but this argument doesn't work when the enemies you encounter don't pose any threat to you! 

I didn't heal once in this boss battle, so this represents all of the damage that one of the bosses did to me throughout the whole of their lifespan. Pitiable.

Another annoying thing about the battles is that there isn't any real indication as to the current status of the enemies. As far as I could tell, there was no way of knowing what status-effects were currently applied to any of the enemies that I fought. I didn't even see a single "miss" come up when I used a status-effect, which meant that I had no way of knowing whether or not my skills were even working. The existence of enemies that use "Reflect" makes this especially annoying because how the fuck is the player supposed to know when an enemy is capable of having spells cast at them again if you don't let the player see that enemy's status-effects? Finally, it's really jarring not to see damage indicators when enemies are poisoned; it makes poisoning enemies very unsatisfying if I don't know how much damage the poison is doing and whether or not it's still in effect. All of these things are pretty big oversights in my opinion, and they would be a massive problem if the enemies were even remotely challenging.

Speaking of status-effects, one thing that's nice about the enemies is that they're certainly not afraid to use them! The way that status-effects stack is also interesting because healing items are normally capable of healing several "stacks" of a given status-effect at once. This means that you might not always be getting the most out of your healing items if you use them immediately, which adds a little bit of extra thought to how you should approach healing your characters. Another interesting thing is the way that being stunned grants a few turns of stun resistance, which is a novel solution to the problem of stun-locks being easily one of the most annoying (or overpowered!) things that can be present in an RPG. So not everything about the battle system is bad, but this does come with the proviso that the enemies being pathetic overrules everything that the battle system does well.

I really can't stress just how incorrect this line of dialogue is.

The out-of-battle gameplay is varied well, consisting of a decent mix of both puzzles and exploration. On the exploration side of things, most of the maps are laid out in an intricate manner that makes them non-trivial to traverse, with full examination of each area being encouraged by there being plenty of treasure to find and lots of townspeople to rescue. On the puzzle side of things, there are definitely some straight-up puzzles that need to be solved before you can progress through certain areas of the spire and, although none of them are particularly difficult, they're usually entertaining. My favourite was a puzzle involving a band of skeletons, who want you to work out how their song should be played based on riddle-like clues. There are also a lot of puzzle-esque gimmicks, such damage tiles that move around or turn on-and-off so that your full attention is required if you're going to dodge them, and ice-sliding puzzles that need to be solved if you're going to get to the other side of a given room. These factors mean that you're usually required to pay attention whilst wandering around the maps, and that you're not just walking from battle-to-battle as you explore the spire. 

I must admit that it did occasionally feel like the developer ran out of ideas and this led to some areas falling below the standard that the others had set, but this didn't happen all that often. An honourable mention goes to the forest sections that appear before you reach the spire itself, because they struck me as being very well made. A dishonourable mention goes to the option to turn off dashing because why would I ever need to do that!?

Everyone likes ice-sliding puzzles, right?

Concerning exploration, I liked the way that "hint arrows" were used to make hidden treasure and useful objects apparent to the player. The game will display an arrow over anything that can be interacted with in the environment but, instead of having useful items shown up at all times, the arrows only show up once you get close to the object in question. This isn't exactly a unique system but, because of how the maps in this game are laid out, this system's use ensures that people explore the maps thoroughly in order to find those arrows.

Imagine having to search all those bookcases one-by-one to find the hidden switch!

I didn't really notice anything particularly special about the music, so I guess the most I can say is that it wasn't annoying? What I will say about the aesthetics is that this is an incredibly charming game from a graphical point-of-view. The character sprites are really well-drawn, and I also really liked the character portraits. Most of the mapping is spot-on as far as the aesthetics go, and even the weaker maps are only average at worst.

The only thing that I would criticise about the graphics are the in-battle character sprites. They come across as very strange, but not because they're badly made in-and-of themselves. The reason they come across as strange is because the in-battle backgrounds are made using the same tilesets as the area maps, which makes the difference between the in-battle and out-of-battle character sprites very stark. I would've preferred if the battle backgrounds were made in a style more befitting of the in-battle character sprites, or if the out-of-battle character sprites were also used in-battle, because the way it is at the moment is quite jarring and comes across as incredibly sloppy.

Out-of-battle those trees are twice as high as my characters, but in battle they're the same height?

This game has a lot of good things going for it. Exploration is well-worked, the graphics are cute, the characters are entertaining and the skill-systems are interesting. Unfortunately, although I can overlook the storyline being somewhat shallow, I can't overlook how mind-numbingly boring the battles are. They really do make this game a right chore to slog through! 5/10.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Devblog: What Inspired Your Game..?

So, I posted this in the "What Inspired Your Game" topic over on the forums, but I figure I’ll post it here as well since I think it says a lot about both this project and its sequel, Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl.

I guess I can talk about the two Sore Losers games a bit…
Both Sore Losers and Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl have a setting that is heavily inspired by the movie Escape From New York, in that all criminals have been sent to a locked-down urban area to fend for themselves as opposed to the state maintaining proper prisons. Secondary inspirations for the setting include Final Fantasy 7 and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter because both of these games have dystopian societies where slums feature prominently, although in those two games the slums aren’t there for the sake of criminals. Another inspiration would be the Streets of Rage games, a game that is referenced heavily in the original Sore Losers in homage to how much I love that series(1).
That the original Sore Losers has lots of "one-off" minigames (sniping, chase sequences, helicopter flying, a Frogger minigame(2) and others) is inspired by the three PS1 Final Fantasy games (7, 8 and 9). All of those titles contained plenty of "one-off" minigames that broke up the standard JRPG gameplay. FF7 was especially great at integrating those segments into the storyline (snowboarding, motorcycling, marching, the hypothermia section etc.) and so that’s what I sought to emulate with Sore Losers. I think the result was hit-and-miss based on reviews, but I’m going to try to take those criticisms and use them to create better "one-off" minigames for Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl, which will follow in the same tradition.
Both Sore Losers and Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl also focus quite heavily on "recurring" mini-games (lockpicking, hacking, hotwiring, smashing and others(3)) and this was largely inspired by the minigames seen in Fallout 3, where lockpicking and hacking also feature prominently(4). My original concept for the hacking minigame in Sore Losers was actually a complete rip-off of the hacking minigame in Fallout 3, which based on reviews might have been a better choice than the maths-based minigame I ended up with! Fortunately for you guys, the hacking minigame in Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl will be vastly different based on the those same reviews!
Graphically, I’d say that the original Sore Losers was mostly inspired by another RPGMaker game, The Burning Grail. The credits sequence at the end of Sore Losers is an homage to the excellent, excellent opening sequence contained within that game. You could also say that the movement system in Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl is inspired by The Burning Grail, although it probably owes more to multiple point-and-click adventure titles (without the actual point-and-click because RM2K3). The graphics used in Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl aren’t inspired by anything other than my wish to make the game look more "cyberpunk" than Sore Losers did; I never really got across the "cyberpunk" stylings I wanted in the original Sore Losers, something deftly pointed out by Darken in his review of the game.
(1) Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl was originally thought-up as being a cross between a JRPG and a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, but it somehow ended up as a cross between a JRPG and a point-and-click adventure game. Probably because I wanted to use RM2K3 and the idea of making a side-scrolling beat ‘em up in RM2K3 scares the pants off me. It is still something I’d like to do though!
(2) The "Frogger" minigame in the original Sore Losers eventually evolved into Frog, The Collector, which is one of my other titles. That game also takes inspiration from Pacman and similar arcade classics.
(3) Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl is actually going to have loads more "recurring" minigames thanSore Losers.
(4) Did you know that the Bethesda Fallout games were originally going to have a surgery minigame for healing crippled limbs? Imagine Surgeon Simulator but via a Pipboy. It was cut to help the pacing of battles, which was probably the correct decision.