Amber’s Magic Shop postmortem

The light/dark system was one of the most appreciated innovations of Amber’s VN part

First of all, the usual Steam Summer Sale has started and my games are on sale with discounts from 30% to 50%. You can check them out here.

What I learned from making Amber’s Magic Shop

About two months have passed since Amber’s Magic Shop was officially out. The game performed well, as expected, however I want to talk about a specific topic in this post-mortem: the gameplay.

Reading reviews on Steam it’s always enlightening. Apart the usual joke reviews like “Sadly, no.” and a thumb down (ROFL that one was epic) in general you get a good idea why people liked your game or not.

Now in this case, reviews can basically be divided in two: those who played the game mainly for the story, and those who approached the game more for the crafting/sim gameplay. The first group has mostly positive reviews, the second mostly negative 😀

First of all, I think it was obvious that I wasn’t so arrogant to think to be able to make a game as good as the Atelier series! Fun fact: I started this game, back in 2011, because I noticed that on PC it was missing a crafting/dating sim game like one those.  Then, had the usual issues with writers and the game got GREATLY delayed. By Murphy’s law, exactly 2-3 months before Amber was ready, finally the Atelier series appeared on Steam! Perfect timing as always, right? 😉

But apart this “bad luck”, my goal was to make a more casual/accessible crafting sim. I was the first to admit that I wasn’t satisfied with the gameplay, and that in future games I will think carefully before adding gameplay.

Of course, don’t get me wrong, there are people who played/liked it. Just last week an user in forums reached level 30… so clearly played the crafting sim a lot! 🙂

Sometimes, less is better

Sometimes even just a map, and story that changes based on the order in which you do things, it’s enough to make a game fun (from Bionic Heart)

I came to this consideration: sometimes, doing less is not necessarily worse, more like the opposite. In future games, either I’ll be very confident about the gameplay I’m going to add to the game or … I wouldn’t even add it! It’s better to have a “plain dating sim” (it’s not a bad thing, really) than spend 3-4 months extra on something that: people who are playing the game only for the story won’t even touch, people who were interested in the gameplay mostly won’t appreciate/like because it’s not “good enough”.

At that point would be better to save my time, and release the game faster and maybe if possible at cheaper price, no? since after all I didn’t have to spend all the time/money to design/code/build a gameplay part.

I still want to have gameplay though

At the times of making it, Spirited Heart gameplay was very complex for a Ren’Py game. Luckily now it’s much easier to do sim games!

When I first started, I always wanted to have a story mixed with gameplay whenever possible. Sometimes the result was good, other times less. But while I want to offer a “VN Mode” for all future games, one of my goals will still be to try to provide some interesting gameplay as well.

Another conclusion I came to recently (not related to Amber but in general), is that unless the writer knows very well the gaming world (and luckily a few of my writers are also players), giving them too much freedom doesn’t always work well. It’s better if I write my own games and then ask an editor to do some heavy editing to turn my mediocre English into a decent prose 😉

I believe that this way the end result will be better, with the story more integrated into gameplay (because I can code while I write the story). Also, since I would be writing my own games, once the story is done the only delay would be due to the editing, but luckily that’s a quicker process (the editor doesn’t need to come up with the story, the characters or think how to write a sentence so that makes sense in the gameplay context etc etc).

This is something I want to try too, but of course once I have finished all the current games in progress, and are really many: including the unannounced ones, I have 14 games in progress! Time to trim that number down I think 🙂

Posted in amber's magic shop, game design, indie life, life simulation | 8 Comments

Choose Your Own Portrait

First of all, public service announcement: Amber’s Magic Shop is out on Steam! If you bought it directly, you can as always redeem the free Steam keys from this site: http://www.bestanimegames.com/steam/

About this blog: I know I said I would announce a new yuri only dating sim today, but I decided to wait a bit more. The game is going well but I realized that even if I had all the assets (writing, art, music) ready TODAY (and that’s not the case), it would still take me at least 2 months to have the first beta version. For this reason, I decided to wait a bit more, even if the writing it’s at very good point. Also because while I’m not a superstitious person, announcing the games early didn’t really work well in the past, didn’t it? 😀

Cursed Lands character creation

This is what I’m working right now. I’ve finished the intro part of the game, where you’re recruited by the Human Empire, just before the big “open world” part which will be hard to code but also fun. For sure was fun to code the character creation so far!

The eternal 2D dilemma

Originally, this game was supposed to not have the protagonist displayed, seen in first person view. This because in a 2D game, you can’t have both character customization and romance CG scenes! Just imagine how many variants of each CG the artist should draw if the protagonist was displayed. So far I didn’t do this in all my games, but this was limiting the choice a lot. In Loren, SOTW, Queen Of Thieves you started with predefined characters. You could change their stats/skills but not their appearances. In Queen Of Thieves you could at least change their outfits (and it was a very popular option!).

A randomized head using the new character creation system. I think I was lucky!

In Cursed Lands, I decided to at least have the portrait of your protagonist shown, as you can see in the screenshot above 🙂 It will be displayed in the battles and inventory/character screen of course, not in the game scenes which will still be seen in first person (including the romance CGs).

Combo master!

However just creating your character, even if will be displayed only in those parts of the game, it’s already a lot of fun! I originally calculated 1080 different combinations but then I let myself go a bit when creating the color variations for hair/eyes, so now the unique combinations is over 10.000 😀 Of course, several hair/eye colors are quite similar, but I’m already proud of what I’ve managed to do, since it also includes the possibility to create characters with darker skin 🙂

Once I have everything working I’ll make a public alpha so people can play with it and reach the end of the intro of the game. Still a long way to go (need to code a LOT of things !) but I’d say that I’m on the right track for this game so far: the character portrait system is very nice, and the in-game character creation (including a sort of personality test after the intro scenes) it’s interesting as well! 🙂

After the initial character creation, a familiar face will ask us a few questions to determine better our personality…

I also spoke with the writer and we’re considering making both Nuala and Vaeril romanceable by both genders to make more options available to the players (as said the romance CG would stay the same but would only change the texts).

Posted in Cursed lands, development screenshot, roleplay games | 24 Comments

Where your money goes: PSCD manga version!

A long time ago (wow, 4 years have passed already!) I made a blog post explaining a bit what I do with the money I earn, and also about the power consumers have and how everyone should try to give back in any way they can. It was called “Where your money goes“.

Now, as I wrote already in that blog, I know I’m not special. I think what I do should be “the norm”, even if sadly it isn’t. I think when you’re so lucky that you do a job you love (and I love it, even if occasionally I get very grumpy especially during beta testing! :D) you should really feel blessed and try to give back to others (animals, people, doesn’t matter, you choose).

I recently setup a Patreon page. It really helped me in the past months due to a sort of mini-crash of the indie market (things are very tough now!) also known as “the indieapocalypse”. But beside funding my living expenses and new games, I always said I was going to use that money also to do “extra stuff”. Things that maybe would have been too risky to do them myself without any support, but that I believe would be appreciated by my fans.

So I’m here to officially announce that I used a good amount of that Patreon money for… the Manga version of PSCD!!!

For those who don’t know it, PSCD (Planet Stronghold: Colonial Defense) is a game I released last year, and while the gameplay and story was well received, let’s say that the art style… wasn’t! Or better, most people didn’t like it (I know well that a minority liked it).

A while ago I contacted Undead Lily’s artist (who did a very good job with that game and I can’t wait to release it) and asked her to redo all the images of the game in manga style. But it’s not just that! As I mentioned in another recent blog post, the vast majority of people seem to want more… spicy stuff 🙂 And who am I to say no?

Because of this, I decided to have the romance CG redone so that the censored version would show underwears, while the uncensored version… you can imagine 😉 I’ll need to change the game rating because of this but I suspect people won’t mind (judging from the early reactions in Patreon they were rather happy about this!).

In summary the game will feature manga art for the characters and hotter romance CGs (for the manga version only obviously). The rest will remain the same. Since I did this with Patreon money I don’t want to charge anything extra (even if some people suggested this, doesn’t feel right to me). This means that once it’s ready, it will be a free update. There will be a button in the game options screen and you’ll be able to switch between the two art-styles instantly!

I don’t know yet exactly when it will be available since the last romance CGs are still being colored, but I guess in the next 2-3 months should be finished.

That’s it for now, next time I’ll publicly announce a secret yuri only game I’ve been working on in the recent months and that’s in a good status. Stay tuned!

Posted in card games, dating sims, development screenshot, general, Planet Stronghold: Colonial Defense, sneak peek, strategy games | 19 Comments

Amber’s Magic Shop officially out!

First of all, public service announcement: after a month of very intensive testing, my dating sim with optional crafting gameplay Amber’s Magic Shop it’s finally out!

You can download a demo and get more info at the game’s official page: http://winterwolves.com/ambersmagicshop.htm

As usual, if you buy from my site you’ll also get a free Steam key once it’s out there (not sure yet when, but should be in the next months). A mobile version is also planned and should be out probably around June on Android, followed by the iOS version later.

Gameplay and prototypes

Today I also wanted to talk a bit about what I’ve learned in the past months. As you know I like to try different things. This lead to two “experiments”: Queen Of Thieves’ randomized missions, and Amber’s Magic Shop crafting simulation.

While I know many people who liked both games gameplay, I am the first to admit that the result was less fun than I originally planned. Talking with people in forums and other devs, I think I found some basic mistakes I have done:

  • First of all, for both games I had the story written BEFORE the gameplay, and that forced me to tweak the gameplay based on the story and not the opposite
  • I didn’t really make any prototype for both games. I did one for the combat of Queen Of Thieves, but not for the whole “robbery missions” thing. Doing prototypes is essential to know if a game is fun or not early during development
  • Last but not least, I don’t enjoy particularly sim games. I mean I like playing them, but I’m not obsessed. My tastes have also changed with age: when I was 20 years old I remember playing very long games with Civilization (can’t remember which version was). Nowadays? I can barely play for a few hours. While for example I played a lot games like Horizons: Zero Dawn, starting the final battle at level 44… 😀

The conclusion I can draw from those observation is simple: if I decide to try again doing a game with more different gameplay, I should really either have a beta prototype to get early feedback from players, or at least code it myself first, and then worry about the story later. Otherwise, the final result it’s never going to be as good as it could have.

For VN/RPGs the thing is different, since you can tweak the battles as you play/read the story, that’s what I did both with Loren and SOTW, and both games are the ones which got more praises for gameplay. Same thing for PSCD, which probably has the best gameplay of all my games (unless you really hate card games…!).

In summary any kind of game that has a story mixed with combat/fights at certain key point of the story it’s safe to do for me. For other kind of games, I really need to try a different approach, to have a better final result 🙂

Last but not least, Love Bites coding/playtesting is progressing well. Below you see a fun scene where Brandon tries to invite Viktor to dance 🙂

Posted in amber's magic shop, dating sims, development tricks, general, life simulation | 7 Comments

Love Bites & Cursed Lands update

In the image above, the usual “character selection screen” from Love Bites! Yes I’m starting to work on this game now, coding the various gameplay parts. First of all, yes there will be a scheduler but there won’t be any stat raising!

See, I listen to what you tell me 😉 I’m not against stat raising games of course, but they need to be very integrated with the story or the gameplay mechanics. Skill checks to pass, and that change the events of the story for example. I agree that if all the stats have to do is just make the gameplay a grind to reach the required value, it’s better to not have stats at all! And that’s why I decided to not have them in Love Bites to unlock the endings.

However, there will still be a scheduler and a few variabls, which together with the in-story choices, will unlock some endings or variants. The current plan is:

  • each love interest has a job to offer to the protagonist. Depending which jobs you take, you’ll unlock more scenes and advance the romance with the love interest.
  • each weekend (Saturday/Sunday) there will be the chance to have a date with one of the love interests
  • in the visual novel scenes, there won’t be anymore a “right or wrong” choice, leading to an increase of relationship. Instead, each choice will alter some hidden variables which will lead to endings variations. I’m not sure if I’ll keep those variables hidden or even show the effects on the choice text itself, have yet to decide it.
  • the only variable in the scheduler will be Energy, Money and another one which I’m not revealing for now (could be called “Stress”). They can influence the game ending and even lead to a sudden game over (don’t worry, it’s not easy to “lose” in this game) and relative achievement, which will be fun 🙂

Love Bites beta should begin this Summer or early September, though not sure yet when exactly.

Cursed Lands news

Good news: the script of Cursed Lands (in the screenshot above, the game main menu) it’s at very good point, and should be completed this year. Of course this doesn’t mean that the GAME will be out this year! 😉

Currently the story is already over 150,000 words, so it’s likely that the final story will be close to the 200,000 word range. Yes, I managed to make another “small game” ™!

Jokes apart, I think for a RPG with a good story, recruitment missions, loyalty/relationship/friendship/romance paths, male / female main character, side missions etc… 200,000 words are needed.

This game, without any spoilers, consists in 3 phases: the intro, where the player is “hired” for an important mission regarding N’Mar. A central phase where player must explore the world and recruit new party members to help with the main goal. A third phase where the “final battles” is played and everything it’s resolved.

In the image above you see a prototype of the central phase, where players will spend most of the time. Yes it’s similar to Amber’s, but the similarities ends with the left GUI 🙂

What about the gameplay? For now I can tell you a few things about the RPG/combat:

  • you can use special skills (Talents) against normal enemies and, with reduced effects, against bosses. Your playing character possess those talents which can lead to interesting results. For example let’s pick the following talent: Bluff – May cause enemy to flee and drop an item. Obviously, with normal/regular enemies this will work (of course during testing I’ll limit certain talents to once in a battle, and also will depend on the target level, etc) but with bosses not (otherwise there won’t be combat lol).
  • if you remember the very old announcement post, I posted a screenshot of the love interest, 6 in total. However, you can recruit MORE people to help with your quest! There are two dwarves, Dasyra and Galan, which are each one the opposite personality/class (Dasyra is a healer, Galan a berserker) and we also decided to allow some secondary side mission which will enable the player to recover also characters that maybe were abandoned in the first mission (where a choice is forced). A total of 10 characters can be recruited in total, and with all of them you can increase your relationship and unlock a “friendship bonus”.
  • because of previous point, to avoid micro-management madness, I’ve decided that each character will have 4 or maximum 5 inventory slots: main/off hand, ranged, armor, jewelry/accessories. I think I might reuse SOTW system with randomized items but for sure have unique items that will be more powerful than anything else.
  • same for the skills: I prefer to have less skills but designed better, so 5 skills for each character, for a total of 50 different skills (enemies might have others though). I haven’t made my mind about the attributes yet, could use same system as SOTW since it’s already well tested.

As you can see, this is definitely NOT a small game by any means even for the complexity of gameplay. The script should be finished towards end of this year, so I might even be able to release this game next year. I know this is a game I started only recently, but as I’ve said many times, I cannot control how slow/fast writers work, so it can happen that games started not long ago are finished sooner than games in the works since years.

Well, at least means a new RPG will be out relatively “soon”, right? 🙂

Posted in Cursed lands, dating sims, general, love bites, roleplay games | 11 Comments