Monthly Archives: May 2015

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of May 25, 2015

Today’s post seems ripe for a good, bad, and unknown format!

The Good

First up are these area name intro frames from Flora (click for full size):





These will pop up with the name of an area when entering it, such as the Natsuki Crater Forest! Or at very least something like them will pop up. Originally I meant to have these frames drawn in traditional art and then converted to pixel art later, but the more I see them the more I consider using them the way they are… especially since if I don’t use these, then the only traditional art seen in Dreamblazers would be the dialogue portraits and the title screen, so it could create a slightly disjointed effect. I’ll think about it some more, but either way these already look great. : D

Speaking of great, let’s have a look at some pixel art from Alex. =) Here’s Jelia’s sprite sheet—well, minus one thing. ;P

Dreamblazers - Jelia Sprite Sheet Triple Size No Spoilers

Considering Jelia’s character design, I thought she would be nearly impossible to pull off in pixel art, but this turned out to be a great depiction! Wait a minute, though… is still art what everyone wants to see?

Dreamblazers - Jelia Walking Triple Size Dreamblazers - Jelia Laughing Triple Size Dreamblazers - Jelia Emoting Triple Size

Dreamblazers - Leaf Walking Triple Size Dreamblazers - Leaf Magic Triple Size Dreamblazers - Leaf Looking Triple Size

Wow, Jelia, just look at your hair go. ♥ And look at her ribbons fly up when she’s surprised! Those kinds of little touches bring the characters to life and add a lot of charm. =) Hope everyone else likes them as much as I do! I actually could have shown off the ones for Leaf last week if I had been thinking about it, by the way, but somehow it slipped my mind.

You know what else slipped my mind? A couple more of Jig’s dialogue portraits that were also affected by missing gloves:

Dreamblazers - Jig Dialogue Portraits Updated

I might not have brought up these two portraits on their own, but Jig being involved reminded me to post a reminder on this weekly Monday blog to those of you not reading my Twitter to also check out the Dialogue page that’s updated weekly on Tuesday and gives glimpses into the cast’s personalities and a little bit of teasing about story and setting. Jig and Leaf were the most recent characters to showcase some lines!

What else is good this week? The big tough situations from last week were finally resolved without a hitch as of Thursday. While everything turned out alright and actually at no monetary expense to me, make no mistake—this could easily have gone awry to the tune of $2500+ and another week of time (in addition to the phone calls, emails, scans, and so on that I did need to make).

Boy oh boy, that’s a lot of good news this week.

…gotta build that up before I bring on the bad. ;P

The Bad

First of all, there’s no way I make my July goal for a playable demo at this point—I’ve come to terms with that. To be honest, it’s kind of liberating to say that because I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure to make an unrealistic goal and that won’t be a problem anymore. But why the change of heart? Well, two main reasons.

For one thing, I severely underestimated the role of being a “project manager,” so to speak. Flora can be fast, Becca can be fast, Alex can be fast, and whoever the next pixel artists are could also be fast, but ultimately I’m still at the center being in touch with everybody while also trying and often failing to do what I need to do: designing, writing, and so on. If I could hire a programmer then it would be one thing, but when I’m taking on that role in addition to being a “manager,” there’s a lot of drain and getting sidetracked as many things all demand my attention.

The other is software-oriented. You may notice that I’ve shared animated sprites on a flat background instead of using Becca’s pixel art as background—or, better yet, showing actual footage of the game. That’s because getting graphics to do what I want them to do has been by far the most surprisingly difficult part of this entire game development venture. Like I said last week, some of my stuff more or less exploded when I upgraded to Unity 5. Just as a test I tried starting from scratch to see what happen, but even that threw challenges and brand new error messages at me.

Now, theoretically nothing stops me from going to Kickstarter without a playable demo. I’ve backed dozens and dozens of projects that don’t have one—not only big-budget stuff like the latest Metroidvania, but even stuff like Sealark, which raised nearly $60,000 despite having nothing to show except pixel art, concepts, and one piece of music and came from (as far as I can tell) a previously unknown developer.

…but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Am I dumb? Am I crazy? Should I just do it? To be honest, maybe. But right now I won’t.

Which brings me to the second piece of bad news: I’m going to take that part-time job offer. Because of my indeterminate timeframe for so many things, even a slight boost to stability would be a huge boon and I’m hoping that the 20 hours won’t hit too hard.

Of course I’m completely aware that I just said I’m already juggling too many different things, but I mean that in the light of trying to get everything together more quickly than is reasonable. If I relax a bit and give myself more leeway, that’s a different story. I’m now aiming for a demo this year, which is loads more realistic regardless of taking on a job or not.

The Unknown

Now back to interesting stuff. First off, what are the implications of everything I’ve just said? Since I was aiming for a demo by July, I’ve been minimalistic with the assets I’ve paid for. But now…

Do I want more dialogue portraits? Flora’s busy for the next couple months, so I don’t mean this would be coming immediately, but until now I’ve only commissioned portraits for characters who I would definitely need for the demo or thought I might need. With a longer time frame, there’s at least an option to do more. Probably the most notable reason to do it is for the sake of an entire humanoid species with an alien appearance that I haven’t shown off in the character designs yet because all of the notable characters wear the standard Imperial uniform. One of them in particular, Flute (named in tribute to Piccolo from Dragonball), is a mentor character to Sakura with a substantial role in the story.

Do I want more pixel art? There’s already a little more coming, but I was going to hold off with additional tile sets like towns until after the demo. Again, I’m no longer constrained by that in a longer time frame.

Remember this image?

Character Profiles Second Draft

Believe it or not, there are actually still six characters where even their outfits aren’t designed yet (and one of those six is even a guy!)—and that’s without counting animals and fantasy creatures. Cotelle’s teaser line about the Avenging Angels refers to a group that’s missing more of its members than not right now. Want a teaser for one? A kickboxing elven cheerleader who has one pom-pom that, uh… let’s just say it’s not standard issue! So do I want more character designs?

Let’s even put all that aside. Recently I was looking at this old post for some reason where I say that Dreamblazers I’m making is exactly the Dreamblazers I’d make if I had a hundred million dollars except that I’d have an anime intro and a musical mode. But is that still true? Mostly yes, but I wonder…

This probably seems like the most obvious thing ever, but much like I somehow didn’t think of posting animated sprites of Leaf last week until Alex suggested it, somehow I didn’t even consider a visual fashion system until a couple days ago. Should I do that since I’ll have a new source of money available to me soon? And if I do, then in pixel art or traditional art?

Even amidst some bad news this week, I hope I’m ending this post by conveying open-ended questions that I’m facing right now. Like I said earlier, it’s liberating in a way—a more open destiny, if you will.

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of May 18, 2015

I’ve got many things going on right now, each probably worthy of its own post, but the super-simplified version is this:

  • Character pixel art is underway
  • UI concepts are underway
  • I upgraded from Unity 4.6 or so to Unity 5 and that kinda broke a lot more of my 2D stuff than I expected, so I’m facing some setbacks there on the programming/design front. D: Either I figure out what’s wrong soon or I’ll just rebuild with better knowledge than I had before. (Thankfully ORK Framework is completely untouched, which makes sense since the fact that the latest versions of it will no longer supports older versions of Unity is exactly why I upgraded.)
  • A little bit more environment pixel art is on the way
  • Got just a couple more dialogue portraits to share after all!
  • My job offer outside of game dev is still open for consideration, but no commitment either way yet
  • And I’m facing some tough situations involving my house. Without going into details, the expenses could be a little more than enough to force my hand on the job offer, but nothing is certain until tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that both good and bad events have made this a slightly overwhelming time for me! But are you interested in that? Well, even if you are, I don’t think a 3000-word post would be beneficial nor can I afford to put that many resources into such a post with everything I’m trying to juggle. So here are some pretty pictures instead!

Leaf Sprite Sheet Triple Size

Here’s Alex’s pixel art of Leaf, the Dreamblazers name-dropper! These are blown up to triple size for visibility’s sake. We considered three possible sizes for character sprites, but I took a quick poll of just a few carefully selected people (Flora because she’s an artist who doesn’t game much, another friend who games a lot but isn’t an artist, a third friend who games and is an artist, and of course Alex as the pixel artist got input) and this size ended up winning.

Shown here are all of Leaf’s sprites except for identical versions that don’t wear her sword, but for future characters I won’t necessarily be able to show all sprites for spoiler reasons, just like I hid some dialogue portraits. =) More characters coming in the following weeks!

Portrait Collection Update

Extra portraits! How did Flora catch that Jig’s gloves were missing before I did? How did I not have a singing portrait for Tango, the bard? How did Evelyn not have a serious face, the second most crucial behind only a normal smile? And as for her other face and its fairly mysterious nature (keeping in mind that she already has two other less ambiguous blushing faces), well, you’ll have to wait for the game to see when she uses it! =P

Not pictured is an additional new face that’s lumped into spoiler territory. There are now six characters (but not necessarily only six portraits!) with some unrevealed faces behind the scenes. : D

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of May 11, 2015 (Timeline Edition)

(Note: if you’re only interested in this week’s news, then scroll down to the bottom, but I think this entire timeline is all relevant to explain how things have come full circle as well.)

March 2002

This appears to be the the last date when I was still updating my old dream RPG design documents. Two of them have minor updates in August and October, but from what I can tell this is around when my indie game developer dream died.

While I can’t be sure, it makes sense to me. The original main heroine of my RPG was based on one of my friends, but in April that year she severed all ties with me due to a colossally selfish and screwed-up act on my part—an event that would scar me for years—and I assume that I couldn’t look at my files the same way anymore. (I’m being vague on purpose, but I assure you that someone probably wouldn’t figure out what happened even in twenty guesses.)

At any rate, this was the end of my junior year of high school. 2003 would be my graduation and then it would be off to college, where I had to be “serious” about considering my talents and abilities and deciding my future path. The idea of becoming an indie developer was just a silly thought to be thrown away…

April 2006

Over the next few years, characters who were once fantasy RPG heroes transformed into real-world incarnations during creative writing classes that I took in college and for a little while afterward—up to 2008 when I was still dabbling in hobby writing.

Maybe it could be said that my characters had settled for the mundane, just like me—but the light can only be hidden for so long. One girl told me that when she read one of my stories she kept visualizing it as an anime because of Celty and her green hair. A more middle-aged lady told me the same thing, surprisingly enough, and added that if the narrator said my characters were angels living secretly among humans then she’d totally buy into it.

Haruhi Suzumiya - God Knows

The anime version of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had released in April 2006. I loved it and yet I shook my head at it; Haruhi was a better version of who I had made my real-world incarnation of Celty to be when I’d written her in 2005. Bold, blunt, fearless, unapologetic, and most importantly always seeking something bigger and more interesting than the world had to offer—those were the characteristics I appreciated. Haruhi wanted aliens and time travelers. My Celty wanted superheroes. Even in her fantasy incarnation, when she can use magic and fight at light speed, she still does.

And so do I.

(Don’t misunderstand; I’m speaking metaphorically. I don’t want superheroes specifically, like a transhumanist would; I mean that I want things even more absurd, if I can call them that. I want love, beauty, truth, meaning, individuality, and philosophy. Whether I was an agnostic in times past or a follower of Christ now, I’ve always chased after these strange realities—strange because they’re immaterial and yet are more tangible than anything we can touch and feel.)

September 2009

I got my first serious job offer, a stable job that would be available for years if I wanted it. I accepted it with a smile at the office, but during my drive home I started crying without fully understanding why. I only had in mind the vague sense that I should have been able to come up with something “better,” something more than what the average person does for a living.

But I had largely forgotten about my game design documents; I hadn’t touched them in years nor thought about them aside from a couple instances when my grandma had asked if I still wanted to make a game. I had dismissed the idea each time—too expensive and unworkable.

October 2009

One of my online friends shared her initial demo of an RPG Maker game with me. The wheels started spinning… As I’d later write on this site, she shook me back into hope.

Inspired by her, I went through my old design documents and started converting them into something greater than my high school self had imagined. I actually have a November chat log with her saved as I went through my dozens and dozens of characters, filtering out the junk and getting laughter and joy as I rediscovered some of my old ideas. (I might post bits of that conversation on here one day with her name removed.)

For the next couple of years I’d continue updating those documents as a fun diversion that took my mind off work, but I didn’t take it fully seriously. After all, where would I ever afford a programmer and how? To say nothing of a composer and artists…

March 2012

I was at a very low point in my life—maybe the lowest. Even while going through the process of closing on a house, I was disgusted with myself and my low-paying dead end job. On many days I could barely look at myself in the mirror. This was not my place. This was the wrong direction for my life. I had known it for months, so my depression was palpable. I had cut off friends. My family could see I wasn’t myself.

But that didn’t mean I was able to figure out a plan to change my circumstances.

RPG Maker VX Ace released worldwide in March. I bought it, but then ran into its limitations again and again while trying to make something worthwhile. Was there truly no way forward? Was my dream impossible? Maybe I’d just write about games. I could do it satirically or I could do it seriously—so I started a blog. I needed a name… Something silly and lighthearted to communicate who I am and, more importantly, who I’m not. I riffed on a famous Final Fantasy IV line:

Final Fantasy IV - You Spoony Bard

Spoony bards and jelly paladins: they’re all part of the wacky world of RPGs.

July, August, and September 2012

I backed a Kickstarter project for the first time in July. How had I never heard of it before, I asked myself—what an amazing idea! Maybe there was a path to creating games, or in other words funding them. I continued checking out Kickstarters and learned about Unity, a well-known game development engine that supposedly made game development accessible to the masses. I downloaded it straight away; I had gained minimal programming skills from my job, at the very least, but not enough to understand what I was doing even with this “easy” software.

Okashi RPG Kit

…and then in August I discovered the Okashi RPG Kit, an asset (tool) that works with Unity—the version 1 predecessor of the current-day ORK Framework. I bought it and found that here was everything I had wanted RPG Maker to be: flexible, powerful, and able to adapt even to the craziest ideas that I’d had when I was seventeen. Like comparing Excel to Notepad, the learning curve was much steeper, but finally I began to see how everything would come together.

“I’m making my game and nothing is going to stop me.” I said that to my friend in September (the one who had pushed me back into hope), but the truth is that I still didn’t know what it would take—not how much money, not how much time, not how I’d find a composer, or anything else. But I knew it was possible, somehow, no matter how long it took me. I decided that the best first step would be to get an artist. If I could see my characters come to life, they’d inspire me to keep going through all the struggles of learning Unity. I picked Flora out from the masses of artists who were drawing for Kickstarter games and, naturally, Jelly the Paladin was my first priority!

Jelly Wink

The timeline of my past ends here. The job I was in went under, but I rebounded and had a new one by January 2013. I then plugged away at Unity off and on until February 2014, when I finally decided that I’d had enough of working and committed to go full indie—and that’s where the devlogs begin, so for that history you can simply go back through them! But that takes us to today…

May 11, 2015

It’s been over fifteen months since I had a job. Yes, I’ve been going that long purely on savings—just me on my own with no second income and not even so much as a part-time job, but only a house rented out. Between software and assets, I’ve spent over $13,000 on Dreamblazers and my savings overall have dwindled by $23,000 in that time frame, living as frugally as possible.

I mentioned three months ago that I could hope for $32,985.99 on average based on the types of Kickstarters I back—but an average isn’t a guarantee, of course, and I’ve actually been concerned about this ever since.

With that in mind, this past week an opportunity came up out of nowhere for part-time work at a significant hourly rate. Looking back at my timeline, the obvious gut reaction answer should be “no, of course I’m never getting on that hamster wheel again.” At the same time, from a more objective standpoint, it’s a testament to the value of having an income that I have been able to go along for fifteen months on savings.

I also see that a big contributing factor in my darkest hours was the uncertainty: the fact that I had money but didn’t know what I could do with it because a programmer was out of range and I didn’t know about Unity yet (nor did it have the many features back then that it does today). I was making money for money’s own sake, which is a terrible existence, but if I were to take on part-time work today then I’d have my ultimate goal in mind.

At the same time, taking this on even in a part-time capacity would certainly slow down my development. I don’t believe it would be right to sign up for a job and then leave it behind three months later for my still-intended goal of a July campaign, nor do I believe that I could run a campaign as well as I’d like to while having a part-time job.

I backed multiple failed Kickstarters in 2012 whose owners said that they’d eventually return—and in fact I do still follow their Twitters and see them plugging away slowly, struggling to balance their resources of time and money. I certainly don’t want to get stuck in endless development that way and I feel sorry for them when I see their challenges. Not that it’s unique to them, of course—we were supposed to have flying cars and hoverboards by now here in the futuristic world of 2015—but I still don’t like the idea of delaying my own potential.

But money is a legitimate concern. And, besides that, I wouldn’t have even considered this option except that I’m at a point where a decently large portion of the work is dependent on pixel artists instead of me.

Am I communicating how I’ve wavered back and forth on this? I can make a very strong case either way.

Whatever I decide, though, one thing remains true: Dreamblazers is my first priority and anything I do will be in service of that. The exact details of my schedule may change, but my overall plan won’t. It hasn’t truly changed since 1997, after all—I just got into a state of denial from 2002 to 2009.

On a Positive Note

Got a character artist! Still deciding on what style Alex and I will go with, but otherwise I seriously look forward to sharing those in coming weeks. : D

Still some stuff coming up to show off Becca’s tilesets, which I’m fully aware I haven’t shared yet aside from her Seaside Slime Cove preview…

Other than that, just the usual balancing and story tweaking this past week!

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of May 4, 2015

Pixel Artists

The call to arms is out for pixel artists along with the help wanted page earlier this week! So exciting times are ahead on that front as we’ll see who applies and what comes of it all. Actually, as I type this I already have a handful of applicants, all interesting… one in particular has a very, very nice FFVI-style character.

I’ll give it at least a couple days to fully consider my options, though!

Battling in Style

On the development side, lots of spreadsheet-based insanity over the past week after I discovered that my power scale had gotten out of whack. I didn’t mention this over the past few months because art was more visually interesting to post, but when I explained on the Dreamblazers main page that wearing certain outfit styles will boost stats, I only had that idea as recently as February or March. After all, back in November even I didn’t know the ultimate purpose of the fashion system.

After I implemented the outfit bonuses, though, I hadn’t put them through the ringer of playtesting battles until recently. I was happy with battle balance ten months ago since that was the first thing I did—and with formulas based on Pokémon but on a weakened scale, how could I possibly screw it up just with some minor bonuses? It’s not like Pokémon items such as the Life Orb or Soft Sand fundamentally change the game.

But, well, I screwed it up anyway. =P

The bonuses I gave were just too strong, especially three-style bonuses and barefoot fashions for hand-to-hand combatants (and I have several hand-to-hand combatants because martial arts are for girls).

Regarding barefoot fashions, this was basically the same dilemma that many RPGs face with monks who can use weapons but also don’t need them. If you make their bare hands too powerful then why bother with the option of weapons (Final Fantasy style), but if you make weapons too powerful then why bother with a unique ability to fight with their bare hands (Etrian Odyssey III style)?

Dreamblazers doesn’t have swappable weapons, so I used shoes for a similar effect and wound up with the first option: shoes just weren’t worth wearing. In the end, though, this dilemma was pretty easy to resolve once I saw it in action and did the math.

Regarding three-style bonuses, this was and still is a more complex dilemma about stacking. It’s significantly more difficult to get a girl into three styles than only two, so I wanted a three-style bonus to be noticeably stronger than a two-style bonus… but having a three-style bonus also usually means having three other two-style bonuses.

To illustrate, let’s say you’re a player and you believe there might be three-style bonuses for Dancer+Formal+GirlyGirl or for Cool+Speedy+Sporty. (I’m not going to say whether there are!) While assembling these outfits, you’d also naturally be assembling Dancer+Formal, Dancer+GirlyGirl, Formal+GirlyGirl, Cool+Speedy, Cool+Sporty, and Speedy+Sporty, which could have their own bonuses! So potentially you’re getting up to four total bonuses from a triple combo, not just the one.

I still haven’t quite hit the mark on balancing out this power, so that work continues for now. I want players to explore and to feel rewarded for exploring the outfit system because it’s certainly unlike anything I’ve seen in an RPG, but I do have to keep it from getting out of control.

Veteran Characters

I noticed that these past few weeks of devlogs have been mostly business, so I’ll end with the return of some trivia—in a sense! One thing I appreciated about the most recent Super Smash Bros. was the All-Star mode that grouped characters according to their years of creation to give a sense of history, so I’ll follow suit with my own characters.

Portrait Collection Dates

These are only the characters who have finished dialogue portraits, so each of these groupings of years will expand in the future to include some characters you can see on the Characters page and a few who aren’t visible anywhere yet! =)

(Flora, if you’re reading this: when I look at this I’m reminded to say thank you again, thank you still, and thank you always for teaming up with me and bringing my characters to life. Some of them have been waiting on me for a long, long time! )