Monthly Archives: March 2015

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of March 30, 2015

Before I get to something colorful and interesting toward the end of this post…

Friends, I have to level with you. For posterity’s sake, for people who will look back on my development history, for personal growth, and maybe other benefits I’m forgetting, this is my honesty. I have no promised Seaside Slime Cove layout this week. While it’s partly to do with a nearly-got-this-website-permanently-suspended incident involving spambots creating over 228,000 accounts and way overloading my allotted email capacity, which took me a few days to undo, that’s not the big reason. The big reason is this:

Pixel art is serious business.
And pixel art level design is even more serious business.

Going in, I didn’t give this endeavor the proper respect. It’s been far more challenging than I imagined.


The Miharu overworld layout only took me a couple of weeks. Since that was one of my first tries, I assumed I’d be faster the second time around. And besides, the continent of Miharu is technically larger in size than the Seaside Slime Cove, so it would definitely be easier.

Assumption Flaw 1:

In theory, I believed that a continent and a cave would be roughly the same level of difficulty. Practice flipped my expectations on their head: a continent is much easier because of the camera perspective. Dotting a birds’-eye-view landscape with flowers and trees is simple, but creating a damp water-soaked corner in a cave is intricate—and intricate is challenging.

Assumption Flaw 2:

I’ve been using very simplistic placeholders that conform almost universally to a strict 16×16 grid. For my real art, I asked to break from the grid with lots of curves and diagonals to create a more natural visual appeal for the player. The downside is that it’s also far less intuitive for me as a creator. The best comparison I can make is that it’s like figuring out how to piece together a puzzle except that A) there’s no box showing the final image and B) all of the pieces physically fit together even if they won’t always look right.

If I had more readers right now, I’d probably post the tile set right now and dare people to download Tiled and try to recreate Becca’s mockup with it. For a 20×16 grid of 48×48 tiles (she blew them up to triple size), it took me hours upon hours to figure out how she turned a set of tiles (“puzzle pieces”) into something beautiful. By contrast, it would be easy to recreate my placeholder Miharu since I didn’t do anything particularly special.

…which brings me to my last point.

Assumption Flaw 3:

It’s one thing to be able to match up to your own skill level, but another to compete with somebody else. I’d be done by now if I was only putting together a Seaside Slime Cove that lived up to what I did with placeholder Miharu, but in reality I’m living up to Becca’s mockup. Posting it for a third time (and final time) as a reminder of how nice it looks:

…and now bear in mind that I have to exceed this! I had the placeholder layouts months ago—and I’m talking about skeleton drafts here—but in the final layouts I have to be better on small details. Yes, really and truly, better than this example from Becca! Partly for personal satisfaction, but also because, hey, if I can’t beat this then maybe I shouldn’t be the one handling level design.

And that is a real possibility that I’m not overlooking. The fact is that I’m pretty sure I’ve hit what others call a mental block. Being that annoying straight-A-student-who-didn’t-even-have-to-try type, I’ve never experienced this before, not even the infamous writer’s block; I may procrastinate on writing at times, but when it flows it flows beautifully and for a long while.

But in between writing Dreamblazers‘ story, whenever I open up Tiled and get back to putting my cave together, I feel profoundly inadequate, as if I don’t have the skill set to be doing it—no, even that’s an understatement. Lacking the skill set has never been an issue.

Not knowing what I’m doing has never mattered because I have the drive to go in and learn. If anything is astonishing and wonderful about being a game designer, it’s finding out how far you can go just by doing it—by rushing in and embracing it wholeheartedly, the power of passion can surprise you even without a plan.

And yet I’m just not feeling it on the level design front. Maybe it’s just different strokes for different folks; I remember speaking with someone on Twitter who was showing off his world design and talking about how he dreaded when he’d had to balance enemies, but for me it’s the opposite. So if I really can’t get over this hurdle, then I’ll need to find somebody else to handle it. There’s no shame in that, of course, but maybe a twinge of disappointment if I have to go that route—I definitely believed that level design was something I could do for my own game.

We’ll see how I feel with the overworld, though, which is in the works right now! What I’ve seen so far looks like an easier tile set to work with than the cave, but maybe I’ll be blown away with another amazing mockup that forces me to either step up my game (literally) or get out!

Now with all of that out of the way, moving on…

To the return of pictures!

Portrait Collection Cecille

This is Cecille Reyes! Despite not appearing on the characters page since she wears a standardized Imperial uniform, she gets this entire post to herself. (…albeit mostly because I’m still deciding on Tango’s eye style. =P)

Cecille is one of the three hand-to-hand combat specialists along with Celty and her (Cecille’s) mentor Sakura! Of these three, Celty is an evasive speedster who dodges all inbound attacks, Sakura has healing powers to support her friends, and Cecille is the best at taking damage without going down. Personality-wise she’s friendly and somewhat naive but also a stickler for rules and propriety, hence her limited range of expressions right now. She’ll likely get a few more, though, as will most other characters in the coming weeks.

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of March 23, 2015

The layout of the Seaside Slime Cove will be posted next week! …that’s all I’ve got for now. =P

(Yes, really. Without conceding any side of the “are games art?” debate, it certainly can’t be argued that they contain art—and it’s so much more challenging to work with real pixel art assets than placeholders that I had no emotional investment in. It’s one thing to put together the basic layout of an area to test and see if everything is even functional. It’s another thing to make real beauty with it, designing and redesigning…

…and then it’s still a third thing when it hits you that not only have you moved past placeholder pixel art, but you’ve moved past placeholder layouts—that here and now you’re making something final and lasting. The little details matter. Everything matters. Gold and platinum aren’t good enough; give me diamond or bust.

To be honest, I don’t know how Flora and Becca do it: how actual artists can ever feel truly satisfied with their creations. I’m not even drawing per se, but piecing together areas with the building blocks that have been provided for me, and it’s still nerve-wracking. I almost understand why many indie developers opt for procedural generation (random world creation handled by the computer with formulas and algorithms) instead of manually creating areas. I’m not sure that there’s a “right answer” with how to design a cave—or a forest or anything else—so I mostly tweak continually until I hit upon a “right feeling.”)

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of March 16, 2015

I wavered on whether or not to post this week; it was a bit of downtime with a midweek crisis, so I can legitimately say I don’t have anything interesting to show for Dreamblazers this time. I’m also at an awkward place where, because I’m mostly plugging away at story elements, progress feels a lot less tangible to me as a gamer and I also can’t say much about it publicly without giving spoilers.

Still, I’ve been posting these consistently for over a year, so I might as well keep up the tradition!

Financial stuff:

My tenant moved out, so that’s going to eat into my savings to the tune of another $700 per month until I get a new one—and this isn’t even what I was alluding to last week when saying that I’d been thinking about a time crunch. This doesn’t pose any real threat, so no worries there, but maybe tax season will bring me some good news on the financial front.

Game stuff:

Just for fun, let me go ahead and toss out more trivia this week! Since not all of the characters will be getting face portraits until after a successful Kickstarter campaign, I can say a little about them. While my Celty predates the Celty Sturluson from Durarara and isn’t even remotely related to her, some of my characters are tributes.

My Minori, Minori Tsukimiya, was initially conceived as a tribute to Minori Kushieda from Toradora!, an eccentric genki girl athlete. After finally starting to watch My Little Pony I wound up concluding that Minori Kushieda and Pinkie Pie are pretty much the same character living in different universes and sets of physics, so I also incorporated some of those elements into my Minori’s character. At one point I was going to have my Minori’s stage name be Pink Kamen—a takeoff of Tuxedo Kamen from Sailor Moon that also visually looks like “Pinkamena,” Pinkie’s full name, she’d come out in a pink tuxedo and top hat to perform at the coliseum.

And speaking of things that are pink, Star is based on Kirby: a cutesy character in pink who can adapt to any type of fighting and changes outfits when she changes styles.

And speaking of Kirby, my mascot Jelly’s coloring is based on Pitch from Kirby’s Dream Land 3!

Miscellaneous stuff:

MLP season 5 starts in a little over two weeks and I’m thinking about doing blind episode commentaries for YouTube; if I’m going to be watching the episodes anyway, then maybe I can get even more out of my time than just entertainment—things like an audience! I’m a little tentative about the idea since I have a kind of on-again off-again lisp that I can’t hear when I speak and only sometimes comes out when I talk, so I might not go through with this, but I do believe it’s probably worth it.

This isn’t only tangentially related to my game, by the way, but something I’ve very seriously considered. I have a list of over 300 websites, blogs, and YouTubers covering indie games, but until I have a playable demo, which requires a lot more art assets, I (justifiably) can’t get any exposure from them. The speed of assets is out of my control and in the hands of pixel artists, so it’s a legitimate question what I can do if I want to earn any kind of following before any of that stuff is done.

That’s not to say this is the correct route, but only that my line of thought about this is another entry in the series of questions I’ve been facing recently.

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of March 9, 2015 (Crossroads Edition)

Slightly delayed post, but I wanted to wait for these faces!

Portrait Collection 3

Shown are Sakura Park, Summer, and Telia Evenway! Although it’s not visible on a white background, Summer has a faint white glow around her. Not much trivia this week; Telia’s original 2000-2001 name was Jeria, but in Japanese katakana that’s indistinguishable from Jelia, so it had to change. I’m definitely hoping to one day be able to release Dreamblazers in Japanese; if a bunch of people throw money at me to have it in Spanish or any other language then of course I’ll do that too for the sake of catering to my own audience, but speaking personally, I’d love to give back to the country responsible for ~95% of my favorite RPGs.

Anyway, the first reason I wanted to wait for these portraits is that I want to keep posting faces while I still can. As crazy as it might seem since I’ve only been putting up Flora’s portraits for a few weeks, we’re almost at the end of new characters getting faces. More faces will be filled in and posted in the weeks to come—for example, seeing Telia’s wide range of faces makes me want to give some similar ones to Celty—but in terms of characters who have no faces at all yet, there are only a tiny handful more. Out of all my (finished) characters, Cotelle, Minori, Berry, Star, Hikaru, Misty, Mina, Faray, Kylie, Eris, Autumn, and Winter aren’t needed at this time since I only want a minimum to put out my playable demo as a proof of concept.

…and that’s also the second reason I wanted to wait since everything I’ve said is a perfect segue to my next point!

When I first decided on this crazy journey for my life in 2012 after learning about the existence of Kickstarter, I initially wanted to put out a pretty massive demo to the tune of two or three hours long—a demo encompassing all of Miharu, the entire first continent of Dreamblazers. My instinct was that since I’m an unknown and technically unproven developer, I needed to deliver a ton of value up front. It would be like the archaic shareware days and that’s how I grew up: playing the very meaty demos of Spiderweb Software’s Exile series (later remade as the Avernum series).

Besides, the adventure on Miharu happens to conclude with a really nice teaser—not a cliffhanger, but a cool thread of narration that’s the verbal equivalent of the title image in terms of making people excited for everything to come. So as long as people actually played through the demo, they’d really want to fund it to completion. ;P

To put into perspective how many locations all of Miharu would require, I’ll take a look at my placeholder version. Note that these are free tiles from OpenGameArt, not Becca’s sure-to-be-far-more-professional tiles, and since they’re just placeholders I don’t always have the applicable art; as one example, the big cluster of houses in the northwest is just my stand-in for a pixel art castle that I don’t have yet. Also, the scale and shape of the continent are going to change for the larger.

Miharu Very Initial Overview

(Click for full size.) Places circled in black are fairly big, places circled in red are very small (e.g. one house in the middle of nowhere instead of a town), and places with an X are suspicious-looking areas that were never going to be possible to enter even from the beginning. Small locations are vital, by the way!

As time went on, I realized that if I gave away the first two or three hours, then it would be boring for people to play the final version and play those identical scenarios again. Theoretically I could just make save data carry over, but I don’t want to count on that compatibility, so I decided to trim some stuff:

Miharu Later Initial Overview

The areas in blue used to be part of the concept but would now be cut. I’d just toss up a fun fourth wall dialogue box like “For no particular reason (other than this only being a demo), Celty and company decided not to enter this town for now.”

As it currently stands, that leaves a total of eight areas still in play, but I’m considering cutting still a couple more. Why? Two main things have put me at a crossroads. How much do I need to do? And why am I doing it? These are the questions I face because of some thought-provoking stuff that happened to me last week—so let me go ahead and zoom in on those two main things.

1. A lot of the reason for a massive demo is obsolete now.

I always told myself that I’d have great pixel art, great art, great music, and great everything and that I wouldn’t settle for less. It’s one thing to hold these beliefs and another to see them come to fruition before my eyes. I don’t have a composer yet, mind you, but as I see Becca’s pixel art…

…and as I see Flora’s title image…

Dreamblazers Title Image

…I realize that as my game has grown, so have I. Of course the 2012 amateur who had never done or spent a single game-related thing outside of Word and Excel would feel a need to put out a huge demo—I had so much more of myself to prove. If I said “I’m absolutely going to finish Dreamblazers” in 2012, no one would have any reason to buy into that. In fact, the most important detractor who I had to convince might well have been myself.

But now I’ve coded some game scripts (actually coded, not just tweaked settings in ORK Framework or 2D Toolkit), I’ve put in over a year of time, I’ve assembled a wonderful team (and one that’s still to grow!), and I’ve spent a little over $10,000. Without even realizing it, I just so happened to fake it ’til I made it, trusting without any preceding evidence to go on that every dollar spent would pay off for me and everything would come together. And I’m not on my own anymore. I’ve gathered professionals; both Flora and Becca have created art for other games as well.

When I say “I’m absolutely going to finish Dreamblazers” in 2015, it carries weight. I don’t need a three-hour demo to back that up. It would still be great, no doubt about that! But maybe a one-hour demo will suffice.

That’s a decision I’m facing. I haven’t made the call, but those are my thoughts going in. (Make no mistake, though: there will be a demo. I’ve backed dozens of games based on concept alone and I’ve even been burned two or three times by it, but I want to hold myself to a higher standard.)

2. The time factor is creeping up on me.

If I’m being honest, I should have gone after pixel artists months and months ago. Not doing so is by far my biggest blunder throughout this game dev process—and it’s not like there was no competition among my blunders.

I put off the quest for pixel art because I wanted to do everything that I could on my end for the gameplay and story fronts, but I inadvertently created a bottleneck this way. Right now it’s a trifle for me to add the gameplay of as many areas of Miharu as I feel like, so I can go as big and bold as I could ever want; the story is a bit more difficult, but not at all an issue by my soft deadline of July. As for music, I could probably get by with only having three pieces for towns, dangerous areas, and the overworld, then fill out the rest later.

The trouble is that the more caves, forests, or mountains I include, the more pixel art environments I’ll need and the more pixel art enemies I’ll need. Money-wise this is no issue, but time-wise it’s getting increasingly uncomfortable to push up against a deadline (soft or not). This is more psychological than tangible, I suppose, but I’m definitely feeling a crunch now and I don’t see any way to take shortcuts here. Because nothing is and nothing will ever be more important to me than gameplay, I’d much rather cut an entire area than put it out there with a third as many enemy types as it should have.

Thankfully the indie-supporting community is very generous, including myself, and always throws the famous Shigeru Miyamoto line at developers who are apologizing for the inevitable 3-8 delays they’ve hit…

A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad. -Shigeru Miyamoto

…but it’s one thing to see another person having to delay and another much tougher thing to be the person doing it. And I’m not even at that point! I don’t have to delay yet! I’m just facing the fear that it could happen depending on my choices going forward.

I’ll wrap this post up here. What’s the scope I should aim for? Why? How? After overcoming almost all of the gameplay-related obstacles (AKA understanding-how-stuff-works-in-Unity obstacles), these are the new challenges I’m facing and this is the snapshot of where I’m at in the process.