I could talk about many different things this week, but one stands above the rest. During the pixel art reference gathering process, I was comparing Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and a bit of Lufia II and somehow reached an existential crisis.
I had always envisioned that Dreamblazers would resemble FFVI but with a Pokémon-esque color palette to kick up the appeal. For me there’s always been a certain charm to obviously grid-based pixel art like in FFVI and Lufia II. I also believe that it serves the gameplay; I remember when Pokémon Black and White finally created the illusion of a “broken” grid and I suddenly had occasional trouble judging whether a strip of water-to-ground edge tiles could be walked across or were merely there for visual credibility.
Grid-based pixel art, though arguably worse in terms of visual appeal (but only arguably), does come with precision for an intuitive feel.
Up until now, every decision I’ve made has been firmly in the interest of gameplay with no regard to anything else. That would make it obvious that I should stick with the grid.
Only one problem: one thing is even more crucial than gameplay and that’s financial viability. With all my tax stuff coming in week by week recently, I took stock of my spending and found that I’d put nearly $5,000 into Dreamblazers in 2014. And this isn’t even counting the hidden opportunity costs of having no part-time job, no contract work, and absolutely nothing else except a tenant in a rental house.
This isn’t worrying in and of itself—and by that I mean I freaked out for a couple of days and wondered if I was the craziest idiot on the planet. How could a game that I intend to sell for $15 or less (probably less) recoup all the money I’ve sunk in, never mind the pixel art costs that I’m about to run into?
…but then I consulted my spreadsheets. Years ago I crunched the numbers of Kickstarter projects that I’ve backed and I’m still crunching them today. After taking away outliers that skewed the numbers upward like insane media hype, known franchises, famous developers, re-releases, and multiple games in one project, taking away outliers that skewed the numbers downward like very small-scale projects that raised $2000 or less, and taking away successful things that were game-related but weren’t games, the average Kickstarter project I back raises $64,317.78. That might seem a bit high, so if I factor out all six-figure success stories and all four-figure success stories, that still yields an average of $32,985.99—more than enough to justify everything I’m doing.
That figure is only the average, though. In my ideal world I’m better than average, but the worst-case scenario is missing even the average mark. So what would make me more likely to be considered above average? What make me less likely to be considered below average? These were the questions that faced me while I had a picture of the FFVI overworld and the CT overworld open next to each other.
Philosophically speaking, it’s not true that perception is reality. In fact, one way of defining reality is that which is true regardless of whether anyone perceives it—but that’s philosophy. In the world of economics, perception is consumer behavior and consumer behavior is reality.
I’ve watched more than enough indie RPG projects to know that obvious-grid pixel art tends to draw criticism about an RPG Maker look—and that’s the “reality” even if the game is made with Unity, Cocos2D, Moai, anything else out there, or just created from scratch in C++. There’s also a pretty big glut of C-level 16-bit-style RPGs flooding mobile devices, which is another type of “guilt by association” that I don’t want to deal with.
So there I sat, pondering whether I should trust my gameplay preference as I always have or whether this was the one situation where I had to draw a line and make a call about what tiles should and shouldn’t look like for financial reasons.
And you know what the answer is?
I’m now leaning toward the Chrono Trigger style, but ultimately I’ll wait for one tile set (or at least some sample tiles) and go from there. I need to judge as I go—because the target audience is me. The target audience is people with tastes similar to mine, AKA the people who back the same Kickstarter projects that I back and provide all the numbers that I’ve been using for my assumptions in the first place.
Shockingly enough, I might just for this once be a great judge of how to progress with my own life.
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