Better late than never!

ambersmagicshop

In the image mockup above, you see Amber and Vin in Vin’s witch house 🙂

As you probably have guessed by the title, I’m talking about yet another game I started… “a while ago”, that it’s finally getting done! Amber’s Magic Shop was originally announced in this blog post, from 2011. Of those four games, Roommates was done in 2014, Queen Of Thieves is in advanced beta testing right now, and “The Hospital” it’s being worked on but as a side project (without hurry).

I must say that while of course having to wait for 5 years is a long time, I am happy that the game is being done now. Now I have much more experience, and similarly to what happened to Queen Of Thieves, which was supposed to be just a simple dating sim with no combat/RPG part, I’ll be able to add more (optional) gameplay stuff even to Amber’s game.

Go craft yourself!

In particular, one of the aspect I want to put the focus on it’s crafting. If you’ve been playing RPG games recently (but even some simulations or other genres) the “crafting” has become one of the key features for many games.

So, together with Anima (the coder) I’m building up a crafting system, not just for Amber’s game, but even for future titles. I’m building THE ULTIMATE CRAFTING SYSTEM MOUAHAHHA!!! 😀

I’ve commissioned over 150 items to PSCD artist, since he is very good and fast (and he’s only drawing objects this time! hehe). He already finished some items:

ore

This system will be expandable, which means that you (obviously) won’t see the same ingredients or recipes for all games. For fantasy games probably a lot will be in common (since the games also share the same fantasy world) but I could reuse it even for a sci-fi game (allowing people to craft weapons/armors in Planet Stronghold 2 for example) or modern settings (for example a zombie game where you can craft weapons with scrap materials).

As you can see the possibilities are endless. Obviously for Amber this is also a key feature since you play as a young alchemist, so gathering/buying ingredients/materials and crafting will be what you do most of the time 🙂

So as you can see, sometimes it’s better if a game doesn’t come out right away. Because there’s no way that the “myself of 2011” (or even 2012!) could have added such complex system to the gameplay!

Posted in amber's magic shop, general, indie life, life simulation | 10 Comments

Size does it matter!

tofuyawn
In the picture above, my cat Tofu is exhausted by the heat

Regarding the blog post title, I am not referring to what you think! I am talking of course about a game’s size 😉

From time to time, I get asked the usual question “when game XYZ will be out”. It’s because of that if I made a thread in my forums where I TRY (more or less sucessfully!) to keep track of the status of my various projects: http://winterwolves.net/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=3128

The main thing is, that I think I went a bit overboard with some projects. I won’t make names, but projects which have over 6 love interests… and maybe aren’t even normal dating sim, but RPGs!

I often ask for advice and feedback from users. Many times, it is very useful. Sometimes, not. A classic situation is this: I announce a new game, and a list of romances. Inevitably, someone is unhappy and writes the infamous “aww why I can’t romance character X!? sigh sob”. And too many times I changed my plan, to make everyone’s happy. But it was a bad move 🙂

Of course, it’s all my fault. It’s not like the users know what’s behind making a game or anything. They just look at what they will get, and of course they want more, or they want what they like (a specific character, a romance combo, etc).

Anyway, the thing is simple: you can’t think to have a game of over 100,000 words, or with a crazy amount of romances (8 characters or more) and hope to have it done in a year or so. I mean, it’s possible: look at PSCD! Writer made everything in about a year, over 200k words, 16 romances. Or Queen Of Thieves, under 6 months to write 150k words and 12 romances. But those are exceptions, not the rule 🙂

For example, Roommates took about 2 years to write (2 playable characters and 6 romances), Heirs & Graces too (4 romanceable characters, all yaoi), and so on. It’s very rare that a complex game is written in around a year.

The process itself

I’ll try to explain how it works, “behind the scenes”:

  1. I want to write game XYZ. Sometimes I post in forums/social media, other times people come to me with ideas, etc. Anyway, decision is made to start working on game XYZ.
  2. unless the idea was submitted by a writer, I need to look at the various writers submissions/portfolios before deciding who will write it. Once I decide, I can do on step 3.
  3. writer starts to write game XYZ
  4. writer sends me updates as he/she writes. I read it and give feedback. Usually, all it’s OK though
  5. if all goes well: repeat steps 3-4 until the game script it’s done. Might take a long time, since writing is not like coding, you need to gather inspiration, etc. But usually it’s done.
  6. if something goes wrong: here comes the troubles! It can be any reason. Health issues, daily job, etc. Anything, but there’s something that prevents writer from going on. In this case, I need to repeat step 2, until I find a suitable replacement writer.

Step 6 though can be much harder than it seems. Maybe the new writer is OK with what the other/previous writer did. Or maybe not, so he/she wants to rewrite it from scratch, because is faster, or because the style is too different, etc.

We all know the infamous legend of THE CURSED GAME (which shall not be named). In practice, for that game I repeated the first 4 steps, and then the 6th, for THREE TIMES already. For three times the story was started and then abandoned. And the new writer(s) decided to start from scratch every time… And if steps 1-4 could take 3-4 months each, you can see how it’s easy to “waste” already one year, without making any real progress!

What’s the solution?

Recently I started to think about a way to avoid this. Because it’s becoming a real problem, especially for some bigger games. And I think I got a possible solution: go back to make storyboards myself.

In the past, I used to spend quite some time making a sort of storyboard/draft of the story. In practice a sort of guideline of what happens in each scene. They would look something like this (remember this is my bad writing!):

##SCENE 02 ##
#Time: morning, ice cream shop. Amy is helping Lawrence since she can’t find inspiration to write poetry, besides today seems a very busy day. They’re working, when a customer behaves badly. It can be anything, either he refuses to pay pretending the ice cream is bad, or something else. Should be a petty excuse for not paying. Amy starts arguing with him saying that he must pay, when the man wants to leave, and pushes Amy out of the way. She almost falls down, and is furious. Lawrence runs there, and apologizes for Amy’s behavior and tells the guy that he can go now. The man leaves with a grin.
#CHOICES

 (yes it’s an excerpt from Never Forget Me storyboard!).

With a clear storyboard, detailing what happens in each scene, even if I have to switch/replace the writer mid way, it should be possible to keep what has been already written, maybe just review the texts, but not discard everything and start from scratch like happened too many times in the past!

I’ll need to spend a bit of my time doing this (Never Forget Me storyboard took me about a month to make) but probably in the long run it will save me a lot of time!

Of course, even using this system, if a game has a lot of romances or two playable genders, it will still take a lot of time to make. There’s no shortcut to write a long AND good story 🙂

Posted in development tricks, game design, general, indie life | 20 Comments

So, what’s next?

2016sofar

This year, so far I finished three games, with the fourth (Queen Of Thieves) already in a good state for a beta. So, what’s next? 🙂

First half of 2016

First of all, we’re halfway through 2016. I’m not going to lie, things have changed A LOT for the indie business. For the first time I heard other indies quitting or taking contract work to pay the bills. It’s scary. I am fine, since I live very frugally (my biggest expense is cat food! haha) but still, I cannot deny that I’m a bit worried too!

Early this year I released PSCD, which underperformed despite great writing and good gameplay design (not my biased opinion, it has 100% positive ratings on Steam!). I didn’t know why at first, but soon I understood the main reason: the art. The next games, C14 Dating and Heirs & Graces, did as expected, or even better than I thought.  Queen Of Thieves is in beta and in preorder since a week so it’s a bit early, but so far the impression is very positive.

In summary, all is good! I only hope the artist finishes the main plot CGs soon… I might need to use my motivational whip to speed things up! 😉

So, what’s next?

Going back to the original question: a few weeks ago I talked about burnout, and the risk of ignoring it. So I’m well aware of it, and indeed I’m taking frequent breaks from work. In practice instead of long holidays, I work every day (even weekends!), but less hours than I used to. Thanks to that, I am not really burned out or tired right now, and I’m planning what to do in the next months.

As already posted in the past, I am thinking to do some “other games“: games in which the gameplay is more important, without a plot or with a smaller plot. This because honestly, writing a good story of 120k+ words (like all my recent games, in some cases even double that amount!) is going to take time. And I don’t want to rush writers, because if the story of a story-based game is bad… yeah, you get it! So, an alternative is to work on something else on the side, while I wait for them to finish.

They could be pure-gameplay, or mixed with a story, but one thing is to write a story of 120k words, another thing is to write a story 30-40k words long (which is more than enough if a game is not strictly story-based!).

I made a small poll in my forums asking what kind of gameplay people would like to see mixed with visual novel/story: http://www.winterwolves.net/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=3885

At the moment of writing this, “simulation” seems to be the most popular. Which is good, since it’s one of my favorite game genres and one I think I’m skilled enough (my early games were all simulations). This means that maybe I’ll try to add a more complex/detailed simulation part in my upcoming game Amber’s Magic Shop!

This is what I’m planning to do in the remaining months this year: some gameplay experiment/prototypes. I might post them in public and ask for feedback and then decide if they’re ideas worth pursuing or not.

Of course, the “regular games” will have the precedence. I’ll do those experiments while I wait for my collaborators to send me updates and make progresses 🙂

Posted in beta demo, game design, indie life, iPhone & iPad, other games, postmortem | 22 Comments