Planet Stronghold 2 is out on Steam and future RPGs

The game has been out since a while on my site and a few days on Steam:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/857200/Planet_Stronghold_2/

Before I go on with the bad news, I want to be clear: the game isn’t doing bad, indeed is more or less in line with my other RPGs, but it’s definitely way below my expectations. It’s still early days of course, but I can already see a bit the future trend since launch week is the most important in a game and you can already see the long term outcome. And it’s not just Steam, even sales on my own sites during past months weren’t what I expected, but I was hoping that maybe most people were waiting to get it on Steam.

Now I’ve tried to understand why, since considering the amount of effort, I expected much much more. I thought about the setting (sci-fi will ALWAYS lose against fantasy, no matter what your opinion is about it) or the fact that was a sequel, or the bad release timing due to global pandemic or top AAA titles… the reality is that it could be all of those or none.

As I said, it’s not like the game “flopped”, also because it’s too early to say. It could just be “the new normal”, since talking with other indies they all had really terrible launches recently (something that after taxes and Steam cut, aren’t even enough for minimum wage!).

Future RPGs (the bad news for some)

this scene with Milo was some kind of prophecy? πŸ™‚

In any case, even if maybe it’s just a bad moment and in future sales might pick up again, I realized that I simply cannot do such a thing anymore. I mean, embark on the journey of making such a big game. I’m not talking about “all RPG” in general, but the combination of big cast, long story and RPG gameplay. Of course, this means for example a game like Loren 2 is on permanent hiatus until further notice.

Doing this game really wore me out, both physically and emotionally and it’s pretty clear that I need to change. No worries I’ll still be making games: visual novels, maybe with some simple gameplay (card games or adventure or puzzle or things like this), but much “shorter” ones, and this time for real (they’ll still probably be much longer than the average though!). And maybe I’ll start exploring other game genres as well.

This doesn’t mean will slow down the releases, on the opposite once I recover from this burn out I might actually be increasing them (still trying to keep a good quality, because short doesn’t mean bad). Volleyball Heaven should be out in a couple of months max (last parts are being scripted right now). I expect maybe Summer In Trigue to be out too later this year.

But big long and complex games? Curse Of Mantras will likely be the LAST big game I’ll ever make (seriously 10 love interests!). Since I already started working on it and spent already a lot of money, I don’t want to give up (plus I really enjoy card games myself).

However, other RPGs like… Roger Steel? That one is canceled, sadly. I offered the rights back to the original writer so maybe he’ll still be able to make something out of it and I wish him luck. There’s a lot of art, so maybe I’ll see if I can put together a simple game (match3 or something) for cheap so people can see them and maybe I can recoup the costs a bit. But in any case, such big games are no longer in my immediate plans, for two simple reasons.

First, I fear doing such games it’s not economically feasible anymore in this climate/market. Cursed Lands did very well but it was 2 years ago (and it had “only” 6 love interests, not 10!!!), and 2 years is a lot of time in this business. But even if was economically possible…

It’s too draining (you might not believe it, but it is). It requires an insane effort on my side, and when I’m done, I am completely stressed and burned out. I kept doing it after Loren because I saw that fans seemed to like them, but I need also to think about my health. I’m not as young as before, and I noticed I get tired much easily. And this is of course bad for business. If I get burned out like this, means that other games will get delayed too. Thank God Volleyball Heaven was almost done beside some scripting. If I had to write it myself, or just the storyboard, I would be KO for months.

Also doing VN/RPG means people will judge both the writing and the gameplay. It’s much harder to please people with both things. If you make a game with a good story, like Heirs & Graces, it will have great ratings on Steam. If you make a game with gameplay too, people might love the story but not gameplay. Thumbs down. People might like gameplay but hate the story. Thumbs down. Etc etc you got what I mean.

Conclusions and future

In conclusion I’m sad for those who liked my big huge RPGs, but from now on I can’t possibly see myself doing another. Maybe I’ll change my mind in future but if this happens will be in YEARS. Not next year, not in two years. For real.

On the positive side (because I’m an optimist and I like to always look at the bright side) those who liked my more “simple” games will be happy since that’s what I’ll do next. And it doesn’t mean only games like Bionic Heart, C14 Dating, Nicole, Roommates. Also fantasy games. Because even if I don’t want to do insanely big games anymore, I can still make fantasy VNs set in Aravorn! And I can mix in some strategy or adventure or other gameplay elements. Just something that won’t require me to code 150 skills, draw 50 isometric maps, design 120+ enemies, playtest 100 encounters, etc etc πŸ˜›

I have already some story ideas in mind. Stay tuned.

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Branching games and canon endings

Today I want to talk about a very particular topic for people like me making very complex, branching games with multiple endings.

As you know if you ever played any of my games (or of other developers making branching games) the story changes greatly based on your choices and usually ends in many different ways.

Now if the only point was the ending, things wouldn’t be even too bad. In path A, you become a King. In path B, you are a traveling merchant. And so on. The main issue is when the choices you take on a path don’t impact only your own character, but other recurring characters or worse, the entire world!!

one of the MANY different scenes in Planet Stronghold 2 based on your choices

Planet Stronghold 2 was particularly difficult to write (I’d say it was frakking hard!) because while the first title had only one possible ending, as I was writing the sequel I still had to take into account not just “who your romanced”, but who you sided with as well.

This is not a spoiler since it happens in the first game which was out… 9 years ago! In summary you could remain loyal to empire or become a rebel and side with the aliens. This, as you can imagine, changes everything. In every single scene you write, you need to be careful. You cannot for example write “I took refuge in an alien camp” if you were loyal to the empire. Or you can’t write “our aliens allies”. And so on.

So when an ending of a game reflects also a series of game-changing choices, things become really really complex. Thank god I don’t have to worry about Planet Stronghold 3 for now (and maybe it will never happen) but in that case, I would simply need to pick a “canon ending”.

Canon ending isn’t necessarily the only ending

I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. Unless it’s about the game world, in that case yes (otherwise would be impossible to write the story) if it’s about single characters romances/relationship, then all it’s possible.

Going more into details: as you know, you can romance many people in my games, let’s take for example Loren. If you play as Elenor, at the same time you could have romanced Karen, or Amukiki, or Mesphit, or any other love interest. Those romances/characters have no big impact to the game world (Karen was the Queen yes, but Loren would replace her no matter what happens in the end).

So, only because you played with a specific romance, doens’t mean that it was the only outcome possible! In Planet Stronghold 2 I offered different starting points for Tom and Michelle, depending on which faction you sided with (Empire/Rebels) in the first game. If you were a Rebel, Michelle goes away to work as bartender in some Marada settlement (but she’ll be back for you! <3) while if you were loyal to Empire she stays with you at the colony. And the opposite is true for Tom, going to colony Zero-Two if you were loyal and staying with you if you were rebel.

Both things are true at the same time, because this is the nature of branching stories. In a way it’s like the parallel universes theory: all paths exists, overlapping each other. In my case, as long as they don’t break irremediably the story!

Conclusions

In summary all my ramblings are to make a simple point: if in one ending out of 10 or more, a secondary character dies, or you romance someone or any other minor non-world breaking event happens, it doens’t mean that it’s true for all possible different paths.

At the same time it’s extremely hard to write sequels for such games unless you pick a “canon ending”, and it’s even more difficult if you want to allow players to tweak the starting conditions (like I did with Planet Stronghold 2!). Because of this, I am probably not going to do it again anymore, it’s really too complex and can lead to easy plot holes! So I’m definitely going to pick an ending and go with the canon ending in future, PS2 was an exception, but it turned out to be a much bigger effort than I could ever have imagined.

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When less is better

First of all PSA: in case you missed the news in social media and newsletter, the beta of Planet Stronghold 2 is finally out (with all the content). To know more, visit this page: https://www.winterwolves.com/planetstronghold2.htm

Lana and Kayla’s interactions are always conflicting but rather funny

I had started coding this game long time ago. I made first a sort of prototype of a volleyball match (of course, within Ren’Py capabilities so no animated characters on screen or anything complex!). Then a scheduler, training, etc.

Then the writing of the story began, and after it was done, I resumed putting things together. But simply, they wouldn’t work. As I was playing it, I kept skipping the volleyball part, and I found the training/scheduler more an annoyance than something fun.

I thought: well, I already planned a “Visual Novel Mode” like in my RPGs, so worse case people would play like that. The point though was that – I really think nobody would ever want to play the “simulation part” because simply wasn’t fun!

The reasons

With this becoming clearer and clearer in my mind, I started to think about the reasons. Surely, having done the gameplay myself and then hired a writer to do the story wasn’t a brilliant move (and that’s why all future games with gameplay need to be written by me first) but the thing is that in this specific case, even without a story, the gameplay part was just not that interesting to play!

I mean, one match was OK, even fun. Maybe, two, three. But after the fourth or fifth match, I had already enough! Something I couldn’t say about my RPGs for example (I kept playing PS2 fights over and over, I think overall during my testing phase I played over 100 battles!!). So in this case, this was the real issue: the gameplay itself.

And that’s OK. I mean, you can’t know if something is going to be fun until you try it. For established genres, like RPGs, but even more simpler games like match 3, you already know more or less how it’s going to be. But for different gameplay types, there’s no other way to know than to build a prototype and then play with it. That’s what I did with the volleyball match sim and it didn’t work out.

I have many indie friends, and one of them is a very successful one, with multi million hits behind his name. When talking with him privately, he always told me that he does a lot of prototypes first. He spends months doing prototypes until he finds one that works. It’s normal, it’s not wasted time, it’s part of the process of making a game.

In my case, I think a fun way would be to have an actual beach volley game to play, in an arcade mode style, but of course that’s definitely outside the scope of this game (and probably even outside of Ren’py capabilities!!). But a simulation is just not going to work.

Conclusions

So that’s why I decided to remove completely the gameplay part from the game. On the negative side, I spent time and some money (I made several short volley animations sequences to be used in the match) but on the positive side, it means that the game testing should be shorter and we also won’t need to worry much about some reflections of the match to the story, which is now determined by the overall team alchemy/relationships.

This is how I replaced the match sim. Simple, but effective!

It’s of course a very simple system, but it still gives players a reason to keep the relationship with the four players as high as they want (if you want to win all matches!) and while in the first stages is rather easy, in the latter pats of the story becomes hard (there won’t be a game over anyway even if you lose all matches!).

I’m sorry for those who wanted to play the sim part (though not sure how many there were out there!). In future, beside established genres like RPGs, I will be carefully doing prototypes before announcing that a game would have certain features. Because if I have to add something to a story based game, it needs to be interesting, fun to play, and mix well with the story. Otherwise it’s better to just keep it a pure visual novel game!

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New Year Goals!

Here we are! Woohoo, 2020 has just started, and like all years, I’m going to write down some goals which I’ll inevitabily fail to reach through the year lol

It seems a joke, but when I look back at my post in the beginning of 2019, I was saying about Planet Stronghold 2 and Volleyball Heaven: “I think it’s safe to say that unless I get hit by a bus or something, both games should be finished this year. Of course I’m also going to finish Corona Borealis since we’re at very good point.”

And guess what? Of those 3 the only one to be released was Corona Borealis haha! However, as I posted already in previous blog, PS2 at least is done, with only proofread and testing left to do, and considering the game size it’s not a small thing.

This year’s goals

So, this time is really safe to say that I’ll finish both Planet Stronghold 2 and Volleyball Heaven. This time for real, it would be crazy if I didn’t, since the first one is done, and the second at very good point too. But what else? Let’s see. This time, I’ll be much more careful when predicting when I’ll finish them since clearly every time something unexpected happens to delay everything!!

The Curse Of Mantras (previously known as Undead Lily) – I’ll begin working on this game (I actually have already started working on it during past month) and as I already posted the biggest obstacle will be the gameplay, but even writing it will take time. It won’t have a big complex plot like PS2, that’s sure. But will still probably end up being at least 200k words long, with so many characters and romances! Prediction: game will be content complete before end of 2020, with beta next year

Secret Yuri Game – This is a particular case, since the game story is at very good point but I need to find a good artist for this game. I think I found it, but there are a lot of images to do so will take a while. It’s a simple VN (no stat raising) with a very original cast and optional more erotic content vs my past games Prediction: game will be out towards the end of the year

I have some other projects going on, but as I said, I’m not going to announce anything until it’s in a very advanced status. So in summary the 2020 might be something like:

Q1-Q2 2020: Planet Stronghold 2 and Volleyball Heaven release
Q3-Q4 2020: Secret Yuri Game release and Curse Of Mantras beta (but very likely this last one will slide to 2021 because of its size)

Beside the first two titles, if I managed to do a 3rd would be already a good year I think!!

Crowdfunding and blog

Something I also plan to start using this year is crowdfunding. I never tried it before, but I feel now it’s the time to do it. You know, spending one year on a game without a clue if your product will earn enough for a minimum wage might not be the ideal working conditions anymore, especially for someone anxious as me! I’ll probably talk about it in a future blog post.

Speaking of the blog, starting this year I’m going to do it regularly only monthly. First Friday of each month. I need to focus my efforts on making the games, my Patreon and this year for the first time also crowdfunding. Of course I might do some special posts occasionally for example when a new game is out, but otherwise I’m going to post here once a month.

Happy New Year to everyone!

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Happy Holidays (Planet Stronghold 2 is content complete!)

Lisa Nelson from Planet Stronghold 2 wishes you Happy Holidays!

First of all, like in past years my games are discounted for the holidays: https://winter-wolves.itch.io/

Current Planet Stronghold 2 status

It was a long journey, and it’s not over yet (after all this is just the beta) but I’m pleased to announce that at least the game is content complete! This doesn’t mean the beta is ready yet, though.

Yes, because the game final word-count turned out to be the crazy amount of over 350,000 words! And even if the editor is doing her best, and even if over half of those texts have already been checked, there’s still a lot of work left to do.

I don’t know how long this will take, but I suppose in a month it should be ready. As you imagine, I’m not rushing things because I want it to be done well. I’m sure that there’ll still be typos and errors left in any case, with such huge amount of texts! But luckily testers will catch them as it always happened in the past.

This year

This year was a hard one for me. Probably the hardest after 2011, when I lost many pets and my beloved uncle (who was the one to fuel my creativity more than anyone else). It was hard for personal reasons and for business reasons – after all, even if I always tried to minimize it, losing all the Google Play money from a month to the next was a hard blow too.

Yet, despite everything, things business-wise didn’t go too badly. I released only a game this year, Corona Borealis, and it was even a small one. So I expected that my sales would drop considerably. They dropped, but after hearing the experiences from other fellow indies, I definitely cannot complain! Many of my games on Steam went into the magic 80% positive reviews, and I still managed to do well selling directly on itch.io.

There are also some deals which I can’t talk yet, but that hopefully will bring my games in other platforms, where I think they could do pretty well.

Development-wise, most of this year was spent on Planet Stronghold 2. I think I did a very good job but of course the real test will be when it’s released and when people decide if it will be worth their time or not. Just know that I put 100% of myself in it.

I also spent a good amount of time this year to do some tests/experiments, but for this you can read the previous blog post πŸ™‚

The future

I will do a “new year goals” post as usual, but for now I want to talk about what are my future plans in general. As I’m writing this, I’ve already started planning Undead Lily. Yes because this is how you stay in business for 15 years – whenver you finish a game, you already start planning the next.

Of course, it’s holiday season so I’m not working like crazy, but I am still working, despite having just finished the biggest game of my indie career!

I have already in mind how to do Undead Lily from the main flow/writing side, while I will need to do a lot of experiments for the gameplay. The main issue will be adding enough cards to make it fun, and maybe also add some major features (like the heroes being able to use skills, a bit like what happens in Hearthstone). We’ll see how that goes, but I’m excited to be working on a card game again πŸ™‚

Regarding the other games, I still plan to do them of course. The ideal thing would be: a “big game” each year, like PS2, Undead Lily, etc. A big/complex game like a RPG, and then manage to release at least 1 or 2 other “regular” (and easier to code) dating sims. Basically what I did back in 2014 when I released Roommates and Seasons Of The Wolf. That would be the ideal situation. This will be my goal from now on in future.

Conclusions

This was a tough but also kind of enlightening year. I lost my most favorite pet ever. When you spend 14 years with a little furry ball always looking for you, always staying on your side or on your lap when you work, it’s hard to do without. My mom survived a cancer. Many other bad things happened this year, but I always tried to not show it much in public.

However this year I also realized what I want to do next, where I want to go (creatively speaking!) and what I hope to achieve in my life. Because even if I’m only 45 years old, you realize that you might not have the strength to do what you do in 15 years, or you might not be around for much long in this business. I know this sounds a bit pessimistic/extreme, but when you experience deaths or other traumatic events, you realize that while you need to stay positive, big changes can happen overnight. So, I’m not pessimistic, I’m only realistic: I want to make certain games before it’s too late and for any reason I can’t do them anymore.

It’s not a small thing to have cleared my mind. So while 2019 won’t be remembered as one of my favorite years, it will still be remembered for something at least: when I decided what I want to do for the rest of my career.

Happy holidays! And let’s hope 2020 will be a good year for everyone!

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