Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of June 29, 2015

[Original post first]

Temporary placeholder: somehow I didn’t wake up until 4:00 PM today and I had a couple more (and longer) phone calls to make than usual for my non-gamedev job, so I’ll find the time to update this into a real post on Tuesday, but for now just enjoy this pixel art of Ardis! (I’ll also be able to show her animated tomorrow.)

Dreamblazers - Ardis Sprite Sheet Triple Size

[Updated post starts now]

Alrighty, this took… a bit longer than expected. x_x And I don’t even have animations to show just yet! The ones I’ve put up in the past actually take me a good 30 minutes each to play with, so it’s a little difficult to find the time now even though that’s certainly better for presentation purposes. I’ll have her on Monday for sure. What I do have to share are some extra sprites for the tilesets from Becca!

Dreamblazers - Miscellaneous Objects Triple Size

Up to this point I haven’t shared the environmental pixel art because just showing off tilesets makes no sense at all from a presentation standpoint, yet at the same time I don’t want to give full spoilers of dungeon layouts. When the rest of the overworld tiles are completed then I can share something for real, but for now, these are standalone objects that can be used in a variety of locations! More furniture and other objects will be coming in the future, but these were a good starting point, so enjoy. :D

Other news…

Battle System

Much like when I was testing the EarthBound-style HP counters a few months back, I haven’t been able to make the multi-turns battle system feel quite as intuitive as I’d like for what I’m aiming to do. It basically degenerates battles into a lot of micromanaging and tracking turn numbers, which is something I occasionally enjoy in games like the Etrian Odyssey series, but doesn’t even slightly fit the lighthearted universe and old-school feel of Dreamblazers. Great system, but in the end I can’t go with it.

Fashion System

After all the previous time spent figuring out what to do with fashion bonuses, I’ve settled on making enemies stronger overall and making fashion bonuses slightly tougher to obtain. Stronger enemies was an easy call, but fashion bonuses not so much. My main issue in the current setup was that just in my imagination alone it seemed really weird to me what kind of results I was getting.

If I could illustrate this with a dress up Flash game right now then I would, but in lieu of that I’ll go with the closest thing. Let’s take Celty…

Dreamblazers - Celty Character Design

Right now you could put double nail polish in her two empty accessory slots and a pair of transparent stockings on her legs and she’d immediately earn a Girly Girl bonus. Note that I said transparent stockings, so basically nothing about her design changes in this hypothetical except the color of her nails.

While this works from a standpoint of internally-consistent logic—her hat grants 1 Girly Girl point, each set of nail polish grants 1 Girly Girl point, and stockings grant 1 Girly Girl point, so she hits the required 4—it doesn’t feel right, at least not to me. It doesn’t feel earned.

If that’s not a good enough example, I’ll give one more with Hikaru…

Hikaru Character Design Art

Right now you could put a headband on her, put a martial arts belt on her, swap her bracelets out for sweat bands, and swap her boots for sneakers and she’d qualify for a Sporty bonus. Again, this doesn’t feel quite right.

So the bottom line is that I’m tweaking the system to require more fashion points total while also adjusting the number of points that clothes give. Star isn’t a character who I’m testing right now because she won’t be needed for the initial demo or quite a while after it, but taking her left dress as an example for the future…

Star, Mina, and Misty

…her hair pieces could give 2 Girly Girl points, her dress could give 4, her bracelets could give 1, her sash could give 3, and her boots could give 2. Or at least that’s the current idea! Giving different levels of importance to different pieces of clothing makes the distribution feel more believable from an in-universe perspective instead of pure number manipulation.

(Actually, now I’m brainstorming mid-blog-post! most of my characters have fairly mix-and-match fashions by default, but I just realized that Star goes 100% all in on a girly theme. Maybe there’s something to be said for that having its own bonus, racking up points for being ultra dedicated to a theme. 7 points is the current threshold to hit the initial bonus, but maybe 10+ points could give something extra.)

Upgrade Fear

Welp, here’s the big one. A month and a half ago I finally got around to upgrading to Unity 5, but now my various plugins are pushing me into upgrading to Unity 5.1 sooner than later. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m dreading this one, to say the least. The previous upgrade already set me back weeks and the specific reason I have to upgrade is because of some old features being updated or removed, so I just know it’s going to happen again.

Mind you, I don’t want to overstate my frustrations: of course I know that it would take me probably six years of saving money to afford a programmer and make Dreamblazers “the hard way” rather than using Unity, so it’s still by far the ideal solution for me, but nonetheless there’s still always a slight loss of control when it comes to building a game on frequently-updated third-party software. You can never quite know when your flow is going to be broken and you’ll be sent on a wild detour.

All that said, ultimately updates are always for the best because of the new features they offer me, whether native to Unity or found in third-party assets, so this is also a time of looking forward with the future in mind.

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of June 22, 2015

Alrighty, let’s take some exciting things one by one!

So, somehow, in all the rambling and fretting and pondering I’ve been writing about here for the past couple of months, wondering what I can and can’t afford, crunching numbers on what the kinds of games that I back on Kickstarter make on average, and so on, somehow it never occurred to me to think through all the way to what happens sales-wise after a game is finished and is being sold to the public. Part of the reason why is because Dreamblazers is probably still quite a ways off, but another part is because I wouldn’t have known where to look for those sorts of figures.

Enter the article in the link above telling me exactly where to look. The article refers to 55,000 sales as the “average” for an RPG on Steam, which wouldn’t necessarily be good news, but they later clarified it was actually the median:

I never know who’s reading this blog (other than like 650 spambots per day, but more on that in a moment), so for those not in the know about the difference, here’s an easy illustration: let’s say ten games are for sale and they sell 0, 500, 2500, 5000, 10000, 15000, 17500, 35000, 95500, and 275250. The average here is 45,625, but you can see how misleading it would be to look purely at average when in fact only two of the ten sold that many or more. The median is 12,500, which is more in line with what a person could reasonably expect to sell since five of the ten sold that many and another came very close.

Bottom line: suffice it to say I’m feeling a lot less insane now about my entire indie game developer venture. =P It’s still progressing more slowly than I’d like, but on the other hand it’s 2015 and the entire resources of the world still haven’t figured out flying cars for us, so I can only feel so bad about that.

Now for my second topic… You know who’s arguably progressing more quickly than I’d like? gamingislove, the creator of ORK Framework and Makinom. He’s so on the ball with both of his Unity assets that often I’ve just barely figured out what in the world an update with 10-14 new features does by the time he’s released another one.

Yesterday he released something that I think will let me do very interesting things with turn order in the battle system if I only 1) choose to abandon a traditional turn-based system or ATB system and 2) figure out how exactly the “multi-turns” system works. :P That’s part of why this post was a day late—this really excited me, so I rushed to experiment with it, but I haven’t quite gotten a grasp yet on how it works. Apparently it’s similar to Final Fantasy X, but there’s been a learning curve for me since I haven’t played that. One thing I do know is that now I’m capable of giving a character multiple turns in a row!

…this isn’t quite the same thing as multiple attacks per turn, though (which is what I’d really, really like). For example, Celty’s the fastest playable character in the game, so let’s say she could either attack three times per turn (not possible as far as I know) or could get three turns to every other character’s one (possible). In the first scenario, if she gets hit with the Soaked status effect that covers her in water and makes her weaker against lightning for three turns, then she’ll attack nine times before she dries off, but the enemies will also get two turns. In the second scenario, if she gets Soaked, she’ll take three turns in a row and dry off before the enemies have a chance to zap her.

So I’m not yet sure if I’m sticking with this route, but that’s what I’m looking into.

And then, of course, today gamingislove released the plugin to bridge ORK Framework and Makinom, so I’ve got even more on my plate! It actually feels good to be back in that swing instead of mostly waiting on art assets or sending out feedback about them.

One day, when I crack that median 55,000 sales figure, I’ll have to figure out some way to pay that guy back. Sure, he’s getting hundreds or thousands of customers, but it still boggles my mind that I could either pay an entry-level programmer $65,000 for a year—that’s not so far off from how much money as I’ve made in my life!—or I could have done what I did and make this one-time $100 Unity purchase. For all my struggles and all my amateurity shining through, I wouldn’t trade any of it. In fact, I literally couldn’t ahave.

Last thing for the day! The Steam article from earlier did make mention of PR being important, so at some point I have to step up in that department. For some reason there’s been a sudden massive upswing in spam comments here over the past ten days to the tune of about 1000 per day, which is another reason this post is a day late, but that’s obviously not quite the same as drawing in new eyes. :P

Not too concerned about it just yet, but finding a monster artist should bring me really close. I don’t think I necessarily need stuff like music or even special effects in battle before I can put out the most basic of basic demos, but obviously I’ll have to be able to show off monsters for the main characters to fight.

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of June 15, 2015

Because of my divided time, progress has understandably slowed down a bit. Not only that, but I’m now learning about Makinom since that’s going to be useful rather than continuing to build on the established stuff in ORK Framework and 2D Toolkit. So I didn’t really have anything to report this week and I had to ask myself whether it was still worth posting a devlog. These posts themselves take important time too, of course, so ultimately I decided the answer was no—thus no post on Monday.

But I’ve reconsidered. These posts are my development history and, for better or worse, I’m going to keep up weekly posts even if they’re smaller in scope than they used to be.

So rather than talking about what I did, which isn’t much in terms of tangible progress, I’ll talk about where my mindset’s at. =)

You know what’s pretty inconceivable? In the Princess Bride sense, I mean, not the literal sense? The amount of money in my bank account going up rather than down for the first time in sixteen months! This radical notion of no longer running on financial fumes has made me ask myself questions about the scope of what I can pay for.

Right now Becca is already making some overworld tiles that I forgot on our first go-around and also expanding the Seaside Slime Cove tiles with some new ideas that she and I had. If not for the job-out-of-nowhere, the Seaside Slime Cove tiles are something that I probably wouldn’t have commissioned pre-Kickstarter—one way or another, new money needed to come in before I would go for it.

But there are other things I could pay for. Other than pixel art, just a few weeks ago I briefly mentioned the possibility of a full-blown visual fashion system like those online doll programs you see people make in Flash.

Or how about this? Games like Phantasy Star IV and Fire Emblem have used illustrated sequences to portray key scenes:

Phantasy Star IV - No Match

Fire Emblem - Introducing Florina

(For more of those Fire Emblem examples, see here: Fire Emblem cut scenes)

I say “key scenes” because they didn’t illustrate every scene. Every scene would be the domain of games like Phoenix Wright, visual novels, or visual novel hybrids like Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (one of my favorite games).

I can’t remember if I’ve discussed this on the blog, but I’ve definitely mentioned my approach to writing the story on Twitter:

Virtually every character gets to have at least one shining scene (or sometimes two characters at once if they’re fighting against or with each other), so maybe I could spice those up.

These are all brainstorms, of course, but the Kickstarter audience tends to want to know about developers’ ambitions—things that they’d like to do and things that they have to leave on the cutting room floor but could revisit later if circumstances allow.

…oh yeah! Speaking of the cutting room floor, I meant to link to this blog post over on my musings section from a couple weeks back.

While it’s still a big part of the game that you can “keep the characters you like and kick out the ones you don’t”, my original conception of Dreamblazers included the option to go even further than that—I wanted players to be able to switch character parties. Don’t agree with the dreams that Leaf and Celty chase? Then ignore those two and go play as Sakura and Evelyn instead. Sakura and Evelyn are about to battle against Kelly and Jun and you think Kelly and Jun make a convincing case that they’re in the right? Then switch to playing them at literally the last moment.

Of course, if Sakura and Evelyn were defeated then the story would have to end, but I liked the idea—it reminded me of the New Game+ option in Chrono Trigger where, at any given point in the story, the heroes can abandon whatever they’re doing and go beat up the final boss, leaving the timeline in total disarry.

A design philosophy like this is part of why I modeled the stat growth formulas and damage formulas after Pokémon: I wanted a player-vs.-player feel where the “antagonists” were designed in the same mold rather than being on totally different scales. In most RPGs, enemies have ten times or even a hundred times or even a thousand times as much HP as the playable characters, but the playable characters do more damage to compensate. This always make for awkward scenarios when a former antagonist joins up with the good guys and suddenly they’re no longer the imposing, indestructible force that you once battled against. Dreamblazers was meant, at least initially, for the player to be able to switch “allegiances.”

This proved to be way, way, way too ambitious, though, so it’s no longer an option. Rather than multiple concurrent stories, right now my goal is alternating stories in the vein of games like Dragon Quest IV and Mother 3: play as one group of characters for a bit, then a different group, then check back in on the previous group, and so on.

Can I even pull this off? I honestly don’t know:

But that’s my current thought process and I’ve found that being able to use this technique is really helpful whenever I hit a wall in the writing process and don’t know where a specific group of characters should go next. Instead of throwing them into filler situations, why not write in a time skip without actually skipping time by leaving some characters behind to check out what other characters are doing elsewhere?

Huh! For a post that I was reluctant to write because I thought I wouldn’t have enough to say, this turned out pretty enriching. =) At any rate, talk to you all again at the more usual time of Monday in just a few days!

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of June 8, 2015

First up, sprites of Recca!

Dreamblazers - Recca Sprite Sheet Triple Size No Spoilers

Dreamblazers - Recca Walking Triple Size

Second up, the creator of ORK Framework (which I’m relying on for Dreamblazers) is putting out a new product called Makinom soon that will eventually be able to integrate with ORK and could have interesting implications on making scripting easier for me as the person who’s occupying the programmer position without actually being a programmer. Definitely looking forward to how that one turns out since it could have a positive impact on everything I’m doing that doesn’t involve ORK nor 2D Toolkit.

Third and last up: as I’ve still been balancing bonuses from the fashion system, it’s just become too inefficient to repeatedly change multiple bonuses during testing because I have hundreds of them. This leaves me with a few options in descending order of preference:

  • Pump up enemy stats, therefore ditching the idea that players should be reasonably able to beat the game with each character wearing her canon outfit. With the possible exception of Pokémon, every RPG ever requires the player to frequently tweak their equipment—and I’m even aiming to make that process a lot more fun than normal, so would it really be a bad thing if people have to play with it? Rather than balancing so that a casual player can beat the game without changing clothes, maybe I should balance so that a hardcore player can beat the game without changing clothes: it could be a self-imposed challenge, which is what those players (and I’m including myself) are all about anyway. There are more fashions than there will be monsters even in the final game, so this would be a faster solution.
  • Make fashion bonuses harder to obtain. Right now a player has to rack up four points in the same style, which isn’t too difficult given ten outfit slots and with most pieces of clothing giving points to at least three styles. Even making it five points would actually be significant—it would mean half the slots need to be used for a bonus.
  • Universally reduce the strength of fashion bonuses even further. This would technically work, but the thing I don’t like about it is that if they don’t give at least a 10% bonus for mixing two styles then it wouldn’t feel like coordinating outfits is even worth the time.

So that’s where I’m at!

Dreamblazers Devlog: Week of June 1, 2015

Well, let it never be said that I make tons of progress every week: stuff related to my new job ate up time on Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday was dedicated to a wild three-city search for Amiibos, and a close family member announced out of nowhere on Saturday that she’ll be getting married later this year.

Actually, don’t tell Twitter, but I got even more Amiibos than this! Everything in the picture is what I’m keeping or trying to trade, but I’ll be using others for giveaways when it comes time to promote Dreamblazers more fully! :D

But truth be told, mostly I just wanted to unwind and take a week off after all the recent stress of the near-disaster and weighty financial decisions, so that’s exactly what I did. No more waking up twice and going back to sleep before waking up for real, but actually sleeping well again.

Not to leave you all empty-handed, though!

Dreamblazers - Celty Sprite Sheet Triple Size No Spoilers

Dreamblazers - Celty Walking Triple Size Dreamblazers - Celty Battle Triple Size Dreamblazers - Celty Jump Triple Size

Go go Celty sprites! That third one is her jumping down, e.g. jumping down a cliff or off a tree.

Celty has sprite variations for wearing her sneakers or not because of an early optional tutorial about the outfit system and flashback purposes, but I don’t know yet if I’ll work that into the game as an on-the-fly visible outfit change. None of the other characters have such a minor variation, so if I do put in then it’ll just be for her—which would still be fine since she has the most screen time.