Planet Stronghold 2 alpha demo

In the screenshot above: like the old times, fighting malfunctioning Roboant in the tutorial battle!

Time for an update on the RPG I’m currently working on (personally, I have other writers working on other games right now, like Volleyball Heaven and other “secret stuff”).

Last month I ran a short alpha-testing in my forums (though it was open, everyone could try the prototype) to get some early feedback on the combat. It was very useful since I already added some tweaks/features. In case you missed it, you can still try the prototype here: https://www.winterwolves.net/viewtopic.php?f=37&t=4153

It’s slightly outdated since I’ve changed a few things on my side already, but of course if you find more bugs or have suggestions feel free to let me know.

I think in general the RPG part of the game it’s at good point, of course I’ll do a lot of tweaks and updates like I did for my past RPGs during beta, however the base/core system is there. Now my goal is to get the isometric map working so that I can playtest myself all the missions (and side-missions) of the whole first chapter.

Currently the plan is to have the game divided into 4 chapters (not all of same length!) and have the game demo end at the end of 1st chapter with one of my usual cliffhanger scenes ๐Ÿ˜‰

The main difficulty is that I’ll have to deal with a lot of things plot-wise:

  • the fact that you can begin the game either as loyal or rebel
  • the possibility to continue an existing romance, or start a new one (either with old/new characters)
  • using the non-combat skills to solve the missions in various/different ways
  • and last but not least, some more branching scenes depending on the choices

while the RPG part of this game is complex, I’d say that the plot part is not easy either! So I am first planning everything before I jump into writing scenes that maybe I have to discard later on, because I didn’t consider this path or this variable or this plot hole and so on. Maybe it doesn’t seem, and you probably won’t even notice while playing the final game, but it can be really complex and drive you nuts, believe me!

Once I have the first draft of the plot finished I’ll then start scripting the game and at the same time also code the various battles and quests, and probably add a few more along the way since I always get an inspiration to write new sidequests as I code the main game. My goal is also to have personal quests for each character, since it’s also a classic of RPG (and almost all my RPGs had this personal quest feature).

I still don’t think I’ll have the game beta finished before end of year, also because I hope to be “distracted” from working on this because I need to publish Corona Borealis and Volleyball Heaven since I know many people are waiting for those games as well ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in beta demo, development screenshot, general, planet stronghold 2, roleplay games | Leave a comment

Using different artists in a game

A complaint I heard (not too often to be honest) about Cursed Lands, was that some CG look different. Indeed, another artist did them, so that’s the reason.

When writing the game, the original content was much less (in truth it’s hilarious to say this, considering it was still around 200,000 words!!!). In case you don’t know, I added about 30-33% more content myself, in particular “extra romance scenes”. I felt the original script while was good telling the main story and characters backgrounds, didn’t go deep enough in the romances, and especially the “after”. In many games (including mine) the romance subpath ends when you make love/kiss/unlock the final scene with the love interest.

In Cursed Lands (and I plan to do the same also in future games) I wanted to break this system, since I also think romance scenes in which you’re already engaged or in a deep relationship with the love interest could be a nice bonus.

However, I faced a problem: the art was made by the same artist as Loren, who unfortunately doesn’t work for me anymore (luckily I managed to ask him all the art for Loren sequel and several more NPC/character art before he left). So the only option was to find a replacement artist for these new CGs. I think she did a good job, even if she clearly draws females better than males. Sylrissa and Nuala extra CGs in particular looks very good, while I think for example Jasper’s could have been better.

I think overall I made the right call, since from the feedback I got, the vast majority of players didn’t mind to have a different art in exchange of more content for the game. I could have just written the scenes without art, but would have been worse in my opinion.

More outfits, please!

A different situation instead is when you only add more outfit/poses to existing characters, and that’s what I’m doing with Planet Stronghold 2. I’ve already posted in the social media some images of character with new outfits (like Damien finally in a proper uniform suit).

Haha the image above shows one of the most fun bugs (though for some it might be a feature…lol) that is using a wrong variable to set the outfit of a character! Anyway, the nice underwear Lisa is wearing is one of the many new outfits added by another artist to the existing characters. Also a bit harder to notice, but even Rebecca’s pose is new: the old characters only had one pose, holding his gun in one hand. This one with both her hands on her hips is a new one.

They’re small details and maybe not immediately noticeable (well apart in specific situations like above haha) but they all add variety and if you can find an artist who has a very similarย  coloring style (like in this case) the result is always going to be worth it!

Conclusions

In an ideal world, you would first write all the story, and then commission the art. However, during my career so far, I found out that this is a risky approach if you want to be able to release at least a game a year. Artists can disappear, or take long time. So maybe you wait 1 year for the big 150,000+ words script to be finished. Then, once it’s done, you commission an artist, who can take another 6 months or more (depending on how much art is needed of course). As you can see while it can work, it will delay the release, instead of using the approach to produce the art in parallel or almost with the writing (even if this has other problems too).

And it’s not uncommon to find yourself adding more content to the game as you write/code it. It happened to me for example in my old game Spirited Heart, in which to be honest the different art styles shows clearly too much (it was one of my first games though…).

Personally I’m not sure what is the best method. Whenever I found a good artist I commissioned him/her a lot of art, and then adapted the story to the existing art (I had already a basic plot planned though). After all, that’s what we did with Loren and it has worked well it seems ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in Cursed lands, development screenshot, development tricks, general, indie life, planet stronghold 2, postmortem, roleplay games | 4 Comments

Perceived vs real success

I want to talk about an aspect of indie development/business which is very often ignored, but in my opinion is important: the perceived vs real success of a game.

Recently I released two games, Cursed Lands and Love Bites. As always I got some positive reviews but also negative ones (it’s inevitable). Beside some obvious troll-reviews, one thing that always amuses me is when a player decides if a past game was successful or not depending on his/her own tastes or perceived success.

For example: I like sci-fi, so if you make a game that is not sci-fi, I could say “you should do another game like Bionic Heart which had really an original plot, was popular, etc etc”. If I like card games, I could say “instead of making a new RPG you should do another card game because clearly did better” and so on. Assuming results that are real only in the mind of the person who is writing it ๐Ÿ˜›

A popular game is not always the best selling one

This seems strange, but it happened to me in the past, and I also know of other indies who had the same experience. A game could be popular, meaning that has a big following, many people tried the demo, people and review sites talk about it, youtubers do let’s play, but… it’s not as successful as you might think. Maybe a smaller, hidden niche game has made definitely more money than the other, for a variety of reasons (game price, bundles, platform, time of release, piracy, luck).

I could make some examples with my own games: my game Bionic Heart was definitely more popular than Heileen (the first game of 2008). It appeared in some japanese sites, many bundles, has more Steam reviews…Yet, Heileen sold almost double its amount!

Another case is when a game, for some unknown reason (really, sometimes we developers have no clue ourselves!!) sells very well on a specific platform, that screws up perception. Loren did well both direct and on Steam. But if we exclude Steam and consider only direct and mobile, Roommates did better than Loren. So as you can see it’s really hard for the users to know how a game really did simply because only the developers have the whole picture.

Steam reviews are also very misleading, since people assume that a high rating means it’s a better game, or a game that sold more. It’s true in many cases, but also not true in many others. Personally I think that rating is high if the product meet people’s expectations. That’s why you see many short, super linear, but erotic VN with 90% positive: people know what it is, they buy it, they like it and leave a positive review. If you start to add gameplay, non linear plot (or, an ACTUAL PLOT haha), allow to choose the gender, have many romances, the score will decrease. It’s ironic but making simpler and shorter games will be rewarded much more on Steam (and that’s why most of other indies I know doing VN follows that system).

Also, back in 2014 or even earlier, releasing a game on Steam automatically meant a LOT of exposure. Right now things have changed completely. So a better game released now could perform much worse than an average game released back then. As you see, there are many things to consider.

The morale is…

The morale of this story is that if a developer says something like “from now on I’ll only make yuri games” (no, don’t worry it’s not my case…yet) there is a reason. Maybe that developer saw that the 90% of the top selling VN games on Steam are yuri, and this for sure had an impact when planning their new game(s).

Or if the public clearly want content of a specific type. It’s no secret at all that more sexy/erotic contents in VN does better. Like, a magnitude of order better. I think that nowadays if you make a VN that doesn’t at least have a sexy component, you could save your efforts (obviously exlcuding already famous indies) since it will be wasted time. Luckily, in this case I can solve it “simply” by having suggestive content on/off in options screen, so it’s not something drastic as deciding to have only a specific romance type.

Of course everyone has their own favorite games or themes, settings, romance types and it’s normal to support your own ideas, you should totally do it. But ultimately, since this is a business, the choices are made usually thinking about profit.

So far, I moderately ignored the “profit factor” when making games. Spending 10 months making SOTW RPG part, or all the time doing Amber’s crafting without a clue if was worth it or not (spoiler: it wasn’t). Making a yaoi only game (Heirs & Graces) when every dev I knew told me that was a bad idea (and from profit point of view, it definitely was!). Trying ot make BIG games with a lot of love interests and protagonist gender choice, when almost every other developer is making much more money doing MUCH shorter games with just one gender and less romances and erotic content.

All of these choices nowadays make little sense from a business point of view, but I honestly hope to be able to keep going like this thanks to the generosity of people supporting me in various ways, buying the games full price, being patrons on Patreon, leaving positive Steam reviews even if they’re not completely happy about the game, and so on.

We’ll see how it goes in future, but remember, very rarely the decisions of an indie (serious ones doing it for a living) are taken because of personal tastes or randomly. When players think of an indie as truly independent artist, I laugh. Maybe in the beginning we were, but right now if you don’t obey to the market’s laws you won’t stay in business for long.

Posted in development tricks, general, indie life, marketing tips | 12 Comments

Doing sequels is a good or bad idea?

First of all, a small announcement: like all years I’m doing a Summer Sale! Here are the links:

https://itch.io/s/11532/summer-sale-older-games 75% off for older games
https://itch.io/s/11536/summer-sale-newer-games 50% off for games released in last 2 years

Back to the post topic: as you know I’m working right now on Planet Stronghold 2, a sci-fi RPG sequel of my first RPG released back in 2011 (you can see a video showing some alpha gameplay above). I often asked myself if doing sequels is a good or bad thing, and this is my experience so far.

Why is a good thing

The most obvious thing is, if your first game did well and got a following, it’s worth doing it just because people who liked the first game, would probably like the second too, as long as the gameplay/story remains more or less the same.

I did this with Heileen (3 games) and Bionic Heart. For Heileen, it worked more or less well. The games are different (also because they were made over the course of several years and the last one wasn’t written by me directly) but the setting and main characters are the same.

For Bionic Heart instead, it didn’t work as well because while the setting is obviously the same (sci-fi) the general mood of the game is different. The first game had more humor and insisted more on the robotic-love fetish, while the second had more sci-fi elements and mature settings (murder, mass murder, grim/dark world, etc).

Of course it’s not a strict rule that you MUST make all games in a series using exactly the same mood/setting/characters/whatever but personally I believe it’s probably better.

Oh, and don’t make the mistake to plan a series without knowing before if your first title (basically the idea, a sort of equivalent of the “pilot” episode of tv series) will be liked by enough people. I did this back in 2010 with Vera Blanc:ย  I started working on the second episode even before the first was out, and the first sold terribly but I was already halfway through the second that I just had to finish it even if as you can imagine my motivations were zero…

Why is a bad thing

Apart the case above (doing a sequel without knowing how the first title does) there are also other problems. First of all, if you have a game with romances, or tough choices, what happens? do you let player choose at the beginning of the new game who they romanced and what choices they made? if you allow this, you already know that writing the story is going to be a pain. Both in Heileen and Bionic Heart I just picked a “canon ending” and no romance would continue. I was smart.

For Planet Stronghold 2 and Loren 2 instead the plan is to let the player decide the starting romance/events. For example in PS2 you can choose if you sided with Rebels or The Empire, and the story will be different based on this choice (not completely different but many scenes will change).

So this already increases production costs and potential headaches by a LOT!

But it’s not just that. There’s also players’ expectations. For PS2, I am confident enough I can do a good job since the first game is really old, done in times where my English was much worse than it is now (I will use an editor of course) and I didn’t know well what my players wanted. But in any case, when people play a game and they like it, they build a sort of fondess to its memory. You forget about all the problems a game had and you only remember the best things. I know this happened to me with the old games I played when was younger. Then recently I tried to replay some of those games (back to C64 and Amiga times) and… they were unplayable! I wouldn’t even bother playing them for more than 5 minutes now! Still, I remember about those times with great pleasure.

All this rambling to say that probably for Loren 2, no matter if I’ll do a good job with it (I don’t know yet, but I’ll try my best as always) it’s completely sure that a big amount of people who played the original won’t like it, saying various things like “it’s not bad, but the original…” or “I liked the first one better…” and so on. This is basically inevitable. It’s a no-win situation ๐Ÿ˜›

Conclusions

Even if in certain cases doing sequels is a good thing, personally I’m almost sure that I’ll never make a sequel to a game anymore. Especially reusing same characters, and especially RPGs.

Doing other games in the same world/setting/lore? Sure, why not! That’s what I already did with my various fantasy games set in Aravorn. Doing cameos is also fun. But full sequels to existing games… no, because the cons greatly outweight the pros.

Posted in development tricks, game design, general, indie life | 16 Comments

Mid-Year Point of Situation


Planet Stronghold 2 character creation: pick custom skills

We’re mid-way through this 2018 and I wanted to make the point of situation. As you’re well aware if you already follow me, this year I managed to release two games already: Cursed Lands and Love Bites.

So, what’s next ? Let’s see!

Planet Stronghold 2

This is the game I’m working on mainly right now. It’s another RPG, and I’m just at the beginning (you can see a screenshot of the character creation) so don’t expect this to be out this year (but should definitely be out next).

I’m having fun so far, even if I’ll need to rewrite a good amount of code to follow the new rules (different shot types for example). The game story is currently at 50,000 words, with a general plot outline andย a few character scenes done, but I’m still tweaking it.

While this game won’t be another 300,000 words game like Cursed Lands, it won’t be a small one either (I don’t know yet but probably still around 200,000 words).

So as you can see there’s still a lot of work left to do, both coding and story-wise!

Corona Borealis

This will become my first really TRUE small game in a while ๐Ÿ™‚ However I’ve asked the writer to add a few more texts to develop the characters personalities more and get to know them better.

I don’t know yet how long will take to finish this but I think it could be out before end of year.

Volleyball Heaven

In this case the romance CGs are taking longer than expected, but as you can see from the close-up preview above (yes that’s zoomed in, despite the quality, the image is much bigger) the final result will be worth the wait ๐Ÿ˜‰ also in light of recent events, we’re going to have the game playable both in censored/uncensored mode. Before we didn’t think to provide a censored / tame mode, but in the end it’s probably better to do this so will reach a broader audience.

To do this we need to do some minor adjustments both to the CGs (provide a “covered version”) and texts.

The game scripting should also start very shortly and I’ll be posting some screenshot previews as usual on the social media when I start testing it myself!

Posted in corona borealis, dating sims, general, planet stronghold 2, roleplay games, volleyball heaven | 4 Comments