A different writing style

Rei looks older in black & white, doesn’t he? πŸ˜€

Jokes apart, the image above is a test/mockup I made a few weeks ago to illustrate the kind of “old book style” I wanted to try in a future game.

The images could probably be done in color too, even if personally I don’t mind the black & white style, is quite charming (I was a big fan of comics when I was a teenager).

The biggest doubt I had was about the writing, since in my games is mostly dialogue based, with a few description, “screenplay” style. In this case is more like reading a book, as you can see.

I’m well aware of the “Choice Of Games” company, and that they’re using exactly this style (minus the images, it’s only text). Looking at their games, it seems that like in my case there are more or less successful ones, and it’s mainly about the idea/story/characters, and of course, writing quality. But not writing style.

You might wonder why on Earth I am thinking to do such a game ? well, first of all, to experiment. Loren was an experiment and is one of my best titles after all! πŸ˜‰

Also to try something new. There’s no need to say that even if I make a game like this, and is super-successful, I won’t stop doing my usual VN/dating sim style! Of course not. But I might ALSO do a few games like that.

Regarding some more technical/commercial point of view, using that layout/style would offer some advantages:

  • the writing is like a book, which means the writer I hire wouldn’t need to know about Ren’Py at all. Only about the branching system (and depending on gameplay, variables and such) but no knowledge required. It might seem not much, but I think matters.
  • the art, if is done in black & white, will be less expensive. Which means I could add more images, or make games with a lower price tag. Even if in black and white I would still want to keep the art quality at high levels, as it’s usual for my games :)
  • much less scripting needed. When you play my games, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Every background or image shown on screen is a command in the code. And even if Ren’Py is quite powerful, it’s still a lot of work. For example, scripting PSCD took over a month of time, and the scripter was particularly fast! With that style instead it would just be an image shown on the side.

So you can see why I was considering it, several advantages. Also, possibility to have a more “dynamic” narrative. I don’t know how to explain, with visual novels you often have to imagine things. I cannot draw every single action/pose/situation. In that case I could show a much bigger variety.

Anyway, for now I’m only thinking about it, since I have already enough projects to finish this year. But in future, who knows? Wait until I’ll have the crazy idea to make a 3D visual novel… :)

No, not really. 3D is insanely expensive to get it right, so there’s risk of spending more than 2d to get a worse result!

Posted in development screenshot, game design, general, indie life | 24 Comments

Changing your mind

Before I explain, let’s start with some famous quotes:

β€œThe measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein
β€œThose who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

I agree with them completely, and this applies to game development as well. What I am referring to, exactly?

The “indie freedom”

You probably hearΒ  around the net the story that indies means independent, so are free to do what they want. Well, yes as indie you’re free to do any game you want. However if you want to survive doing commercial games, you CAN’T do what you want πŸ˜‰

I don’t mean that you need to do what some “developers” do, that is looking at the top selling games and cloning them (also because very often this system doesn’t work at all). But I mean listening to your customers’ feedback, and analyzing sales to understand what people want, and not just what maybe a “vocal minority” says.

For example after the past year I clearly understood that what made people love Loren wasn’t the RPG part, but the story/romances. I understood that while SOTW was my best RPG, it wasn’t my best game (or at least the most popular). And so on.

Changing your mind means changing direction, and create the future games adapting to the market and what (the majority of) people want. Obviously, you can also just follow your personal interest and do niche products, as long as they provide enough income to support you (sadly with SOTW wouldn’t have been the case).

Prototyping and testing

This is not really new, but worth repeating for the few people who don’t know about it: an essential process of developing a game is brainstorming, testing the ideas and keep the good ones (at least the one you think are good of course).

For example, I’ve recently resumed coding Queen Of Thieves, in particular the “robbery missions”.

timelimitAs you can see in the screenshot above, I thought to use a very common stealth mechanic: each action would generate noise (even if in the game Joanne will use her magic to reduce it) and so it could increase by triggering traps, or fighting (guards, watchdogs, etc).

The only way to reduce it was to hide and wait, using time. Finally, you would have a certain amount of time to complete the robbery, before morning arrives.

The idea seemed fine: but when I asked for feedback in forums, I had the first doubts. People complained saying that it could lead to a luck-based gameplay, and as a consequence not really funny. I thought that since the mission are randomly generated, it wasn’t a big deal, but decided to make a few tests myself, and I discovered that indeed was a bad idea!

First because of what people said (good/bad luck would have too much weight) and also because the size / amount of rooms of those building won’t be really big. So the “hide and wait” mechanic was also a bit pointless if you could explore the buildings in 10-12 moves πŸ˜€

The result is that I’ve immediately discarded the idea, without even needing to do any public testing. Yes, I’ve changed my mind!

Making “tough business choices”

Somewhat related to the first point, I also realized in the course of the last two years, about certain choices that had to be done, despite I wasn’t really happy about it. The first one was to reduce the amount of complexity in games, a bit because they weren’t helping sales, but also because I was getting burned out while working on them.

It’s better to release a few more simpler games, than none at all for a year (like past year!). Also, even if you like a particular genre, but it’s hard to make and there’s the risk of getting you burned out, you need to take that into account. That’s why I’ve decided to keep making RPGs, but not so often as in the past.

Another “tough choice” I had to make was to treat people professionally and expect the same in exchange. If someone suddenly stopped responding, or delayed too much a project, in the past was chasing them, trying to understand what was going on, trying to motivate them, etc.

Thinking about it, I was a bit of a fool, and wasted of my own time. If someone that’s being paid to do something behaves that way, it’s his/her problem and not mine. This also led me to do some “selection process”, so the people I’m working with now are much more professional than what was happening in the past, and as a consequence more reliable :)

Posted in development screenshot, development tricks, game design, indie life, queen of thieves, roleplay games | 37 Comments

What makes a good game?

Yesterday the sky was particularly good looking!

First of all: Happy New Year! I am writing this blog when in some places is just a few hours after midnight :)

The tradition as the first blog post of the year is to list the possible releases. But I just did that in the previous blog post, and since in the last years when I did it, it didn’t really bring much luck, I’m happy to write about something different this time!

During the holidays I took time to think and read some users comments. Some complained about my potential interest towards making more shorter/smaller sized games. Other said a good story must have some crazy elements to it, others mentioned Roommates as a great example of a good dating sim story. Some people complained about specific characters of specific games or praised for the same reason other characters.

So I asked myself this question: what makes a good VN/dating sim/story based game?

The base idea

The first thing I do when I decide to make a new game, is think about the base idea behind it. Sometimes, I have a scene/character in my mind, and I base everything around it or use it as starting point to get inspiration. Bionic Heart for example: I had this crazy thought “what if somehow a sexy android entered forcefully your life, and your girlfriend didn’t know about it? and if one evening your partner was going to have a romantic dinner in your apartment, where your sexy android is hiding?”.

I thought the idea had a lot of potential, both hilarious, sexy and rather unique. Then I started to think about the rest of the story.

So, while in general there can be even stories based on the classic “college dating sim”, I think the starting idea is one of the most important things when creating a new story for a game.

The characters

Then of course, the characters. As many pointed out, Loren’s setting was nothing particularly original. It was also my first game set in Aravorn, and I hadn’t yet done any research/world building. Everything was a bit rough :) Still, the characters were rather memorable (Draco, Mesphit, Chambara, Loren herself, Karen, Rei… the list goes on) and made that game one of the most popular I made.

SOTW, while focused more on the gameplay, was appreciated too for the characters. Rowinda and the volcano joke will remain forever in my head… πŸ˜€

PSCD, while is not yet out at the time of writing this blog, has really some great characters. A great character is not only someone with special powers (Graciela) or particularly good looking (Charlotte/Rigel) but also a “cool” and “pro” like Galina, or a rebel like Kaden :)

My conclusion is that even if you can’t find a very original idea, you can still create something good by building interesting characters.

And last but not least, the writing!

Even if is still in beta, PSCD is getting already a lot of praise for its writing!

The writing of course is another very important aspect. Roommates is a dating sim set in college. Original? Not really. The characters are the classic archetypes: there’s the shy girl with glasses (Anne), the nerd/serious guy (Dominic), the hot latina (Isabella), the crazy artist (Rakesh), and so on.

Yet, it’s my most popular dating sim so far! Why? because of the excellent writing. Don’t get me wrong, even many other of my games have good writing! I’m just using this as example because it is really the best combination of classic/unoriginal setting with awesome writing. Already a game like Nicole had a more original setting/plot setup that this one πŸ˜€

Of course, other aspects matter too

I have been talking about the writing but of course art, music and gameplay are very important too. But here I wanted to focus mainly on the story-part of the games.

Of the games that will be (hopefully) out this year, I can say that I’m quite enthusiast of all of them, because one way or another (great characters or original idea or good writing) should be a worthwhile addition to every VN/dating sim/story-based game fan :)

So, onward to 2016! My new year’s resolution will be to release at least 3 games. Considering both PSCD and C14 Dating are at such good point, I think this time I should make it :)

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments