Volleyball Heaven Update

is Lana seeing a guy? Suspense! Also see, new backgrounds!

It’s about time to give you an update on this game. There have been some unexpected delays due to events out of my (and the writer’s) control but finally things are moving again! Towards the end of 2018 / early this year I had finished scripting the game until the Christmas events.

Now, the final version of the script until Valentine’s Day / Easter is done, I’d say about 2/3 of the total game script is finished. I still need to code it and test of course, so it’s not like 2/3 of the game is FULLY finished. However it’s still a dating sim, not a complex RPG, so nothing compared to Planet Stronghold 2!

Breaking the Curse!

In case you didn’t know, Volleyball Heaven will become my first yuri-only released game. I had already planned another, the “cursed game” aka Nicole yuri but I got exasperated up to a point that I canceled it. I also had another one in the works, Summer In Trigue, which is going to be finished too by the same writer taking care of Volleyball Heaven (that writer will be now known as the ‘Yuri Finisher’ !).

Plus, I’m working on another “secret yuri game” but following my new philosophy of not announcing anything until I am 100% sure that the game is almost ready, I won’t talk about it for now. But even this one is coming along nicely.

In summary I want to break this curse and get forgiven by yuri fans for taking so long to FINALLY release a yuri only game. Thinking that my first (and very likely last) yaoi only game was done back in 2016, already three years ago, yuri fans deserve some justice!

Hot Stuff

I’m also curious to release Volleyball Heaven because it will be my first very “adult oriented” game. In previous games (like Loren) I had already sexy scenes but in this game is different, also the general tone of writing is more “mature”. A bit hard to me to explain. But anyway, I will work with the writer to make a “clean enough” version so that it can appear on Steam listings (which is important since if it’s marked as adult-only, it will be hidden by default, lowering the exposure).

But even the “clean version” will still be rather hot – compared to my previous games of course! Compared to some hentai games I’ve seen on Steam it will still be much tamer!

I know some people might agree (some might even say “finally!”) with my new more “adult oriented direction” while others not, but after the Google play ban, my main market is PC/Steam and on Steam if you don’t have at least a sexy version you could even not bother making a visual novel at all. Of course, unless you’re already famous with millions of followers.

Just a random but interesting data that reinforces my point: after several months Corona Borealis still sold better on my own site/itchio than Steam, and it’s a very clean game. Similarly, other “clean games” like Always Remember Me almost sold same direct vs Steam, and so on. On the other hand, every other game with more sexy content (Roommates, Cursed Lands, PSCD after the manga patch, etc) are selling between x3-x10 times more on Steam. Which is a clear indication about what people want on that platform I think!

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Future mobile games

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” – Mark Twain

As you can imagine today I’ll be talking about the future of my mobile games and… it’s not a bright one. First of all: I always made the mobile versions more to please my fans, and even if Google+Apple+Amazon together were bringing in some nice extra revenues, all of them combined still weren’t more than desktop sales (Steam+Itch.io).

However, as you can imagine making builds for 3 different platforms was a lot of work, and if I compare the time spent with money made, probably not worth it. First adapting to mobile, then testing. Every time I wanted to build an app, it was taking several minutes, which for someone used to Ren’Py instant run on desktop is a lot. Then, problems with various devices, very difficult to debug and fix bugs, having to use an external coder for iOS, people losing access codes, and so on. You got the idea.

Developing games cross-platform is good, but only if your games are big sellers. Mine obviously aren’t, so instead of a benefit, it was becoming a burden.

The censors are here!

Now for those who don’t know what happened, in the last weeks Google Play suspended my account. I can’t access my developer panel, I can’t check sales, I can’t do anything anymore. All is gone. Why? Because of repeated violation of their “sexually explicit content” policy.

Now before we go on, I’m all for protecting children against adult content. Smart companies like Valve just made an “adult only section” of their store and restricted the content, so everyone can enjoy what they want without censorship. But the thing is, my games on mobile were already censored (by myself) by removing the most suggestive images. So what were they complaining about?

If I understood correctly, beside the app content, even the store listing imagery had to be “suitable for a general audience or removed from your store listing”. Below there are some pictures that are considered not suitable for a general audience. It might be a cultural difference because I live in Europe but you can see much more explicit images on perfume ads everywhere in Europe…or just by going to the beach.

I could understand if they removed it for the crazy eyes, but… that cleavage? seriously?
This was the game icon, I had to redo it for the cleavage on the left
this whole scene was even described in a funny/comedic way, but still wasn’t OK

When I got the suspension I made an appeal and it was rejected, but at least in that email was listed exactly which ones of these various suspensions were the ones that triggered the deletion of my whole account (because I didn’t know at all). The real issue was with some images in Bionic Heart 1 & 2. They’re below:

a love scene between Helen and Tom
in this case was still Helen’s bikini and probably the pose

Are they right or not? For someone living in Europe, even the last two pictures are nothing so explicit, but I guess depends on the country/culture. If you search for “perfume ads” images you’ll see much worse stuff that appeared on TV, magazines, billboards, etc. When you grow up and seeing naked human body is normal, it’s hard to even only understand what you’re doing wrong!

In the end though, it’s their store and they can do what they want. If tomorrow they wake up and only games in black and white are allowed, we must obey. If they decide that visual novel as genre must be banned, they can do it. Is it right, is it not? In the end, doesn’t matter.

The future

Even if both Apple and Amazon (they have an Android appstore) never bothered me with any of this, also because it’s really not clear and depends on interpretations, it might be just a matter of time. Indeed this whole thing taught me a lesson, that I cannot really trust 3rd party companies which have a monopoly over a platform/device.

I mean, with desktop games in the worst case I can still sell them myself on itch.io or other sites (even if Steam is much more friendly now). But mobile? If Google Play was my only source of income, today I would be writing a blog post “sorry I’m quitting indie dev” 😛

Anyway, for now I haven’t made my mind on what to do. I started building the APKs to put them on itchio, but talking with many other devs they confirmed my fear, that basically nobody buys anything outside the official appstores. This is real, behind the scenes, data. Not what you could read in forums or posted by some marketing guys “this game XYZ in our custom Android store made a million!” yeah sure. Then when you talk to the actual devs who are free to speak anonymously, the truth comes out.

Add to this that sales on appstores were on decline already, the extra support and work to strip them down from the IAP features and so on, this made me think that for now I better use my time to work on my next games.

I don’t know what will happen in future yet, but the only sure thing is that if you’re looking to play Planet Stronghold 2, or any of the upcoming games, your best bet is to get them on desktop devices.

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Good, fast and cheap

since some people complained about Cursed Lands’ enemies lack of personality, I’m adding several talks with them like Cullen in this case

There’s this famous saying about a product (or even a service) that uses the three keywords: good, fast and cheap and says “pick two”.

Applied to a game, we could say that I could produce a cheap game, quickly (fast) but that is not good, because I would need to hurry, and if the game is sold cheap I couldn’t spend a lot of money on assets or even myself. Or another variant could be: a good game and release it fast, but not cheaply, since I would need to hire the best team possible who could draw/write/code all at once to produce a good result in a short time.

Those are just random examples (in real life even if you have the money to pay a team of professionals, it’s hard to coordinate everything anyway!) but I am talking about this to introduce the topic of this post: future games.

Future games (unannounced ones)

This regards only future games of course, not the ones already announced or that are already in the works. In practice the thing is – after Loren, and its insane amount of romances (and since the game was very popular) I thought it was possible to repeat that. It is possible for sure but it’s extremely hard. Even if Cursed Lands did very well, it was really difficult to finish it and I’m not sure if doing such games is still commercially viable, or even if I can still make them without going insane lol.

I’ll try to explain better, since it’s of course something seen from the point of view of the developer, but also of the players. Doing a game which has a big gameplay part (like a RPG) AND also has a big number of love interests (I consider big anything over 4-5 love interests) it’s a HUGE amount of work as you can imagine.

It’s really hard to write, and there’s the risk of getting burned out, maybe making some of the romance path unsatisfying (even if so far almost everyone loved Cursed Lands and I hope the same is for Planet Stronghold 2). And even if everything it’s done properly, it will take a LOONG time. When things take a long time it’s bad since I don’t see any money until the game is out, and all sort of bad things can happen like writers dropping in middle of the development and so on. A long project is inherently riskier.

this main menu image was ready back in 2014 and still the game is far from being finished

If Loren 2 didn’t had so many love interests, it would probably have been already finished 3-4 years ago. It’s too late to change anything now, but for sure having so many romances planned was a TOTALLY FOOLISH idea. I don’t need to sell dreams like many people on Kickstarter do, to get the money immediately and then maybe not even deliver a product after years. Indeed I don’t want people’s money until I have at least a beta version. So if I announce something I want to keep the promise and deliver the best product I can.

But when I did, somehow I made a mistake and I hadn’t clear exactly what I was doing – if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have done this again for sure! And believe me I even thought to cancel it, but I have spent already so much time and money on it, that I really can’t.

I will still do my best of course, but from now on, I will NEVER make a game with more than 4-5 love interest. Never. Because it’s not going to work, even if you have 50 love interest there’ll be always someone who complains about something. It’s much better to have “only” 4-5 love interest but with well done, satisfying romance paths instead.

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Challenge accepted

the new Fatigue system I introduced on Planet Stronghold 2 beta

When making my RPGs, I always found myself asking the question: do people play only for the romances, or also for the RPG gameplay part ?

Initially, I thought the most requested feature was romances, and I still think it’s one of the most important things people look for in my RPGs. After all, there are plenty of other RPGs with much better gameplay, but not many with also a good amount of romances (or like in Planet Stronghold 2, SIX love interest for each playable gender!).

However, as time passed by, I also noticed that there’s a good amount of people who play also for the roleplay element. I’m not saying they only play for that, but beside a good story and romances they’re also looking for a challenge. This was especially obvious during Seasons Of The Wolf development, with people who replayed the game like… 10 times!

The Fatigue System

And this brings me to the post title and to the new feature I recently added to my game Planet Stronghold 2 (still in beta/development): the ‘fatigue system’.

In short: while testing the game last year, I had a “deteriorating armor system”, which meant the armor wasn’t regenerating after each fight. Since armor is very important in this game, it would force the player to go back to the colony after several fights.

I was then forced to remove that system since was messing up with the items (I should have each single armor have a defense value that could go down… sort of “condition” of items, but that was a bit too much). The result was that during the beta, I had some player clear the first three quests of chapter 1 in a single day.

This clearly wasn’t working anymore as it should: if you design a game so that there’s a deadline and you must run against time to finish it (if you don’t finish the quests, it’s not a game over), and then people can complete all quests in a single day, then they have 7-10 days to fill in which they do nothing but clicking “End Day”.

A similar problem happened to Cursed Lands, but that was more due to how the plot structure was made. In this case, the gameplay mechanic was broken. So I sort of re-introduced a similar feature to the deteriorating armor called “Fatigue system”. In practice each party member has a Fatigue counter that increases as they fight, and the counter reduces the HP/PP of the character in percentage. It cannot go above 30%, but already 30% less makes a lot of difference especially when playing in Hard difficulty.

It’s a medium-impact change, because it doesn’t make the battles themselves harder, indeed if you go back to the colony you can rest and recover fully. So if there’s a difficult battle you can simply rest and try later. But it makes the whole experience more challenging and at the same time more immersive: it was really jarring to read the story in which clearly the player’s colony was short on resources, there was a war going on, desperate situation, etc and then… the protagonist could kill everyone and solve all quests in a single day ! lol

Conclusions

In conclusion, I think this addition was a good idea, since people who are interested only in the story, can play the game in the Visual Novel Mode or even the full RPG experience but in Easy mode, which makes most battles really trivial! I tested it and I could win 90% of the fights just upgrading equipment and using auto-combat without any use of the party skills or items!

Those instead who want a challenge, with Hard/Nightmare difficulty and this new addition will find it.

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Mid-Year Update

“many enemies much honor” or as Philipp would say “many enemies much target practice”

We’re about halfway through 2019! Of my initial “new year goals”, I’m happy to have relased Corona Borealis and being already in beta testing with Planet Stronghold 2! As I wrote in the beginning of the year, I noticed that if I can both write and code at same time I can make progress very quickly on the RPGs, and indeed I’m about halfway with PS2 content (of course I have worked on it more beside what’s already in the beta version).

As for Volleyball Heaven, there isn’t much left to do, but honestly I also took a break from it to focus on the RPG. As you can imagine, there are many things going on behind the scenes, so for example sometimes I have real-life things happening that prevent me from working while other times I know I’ll have stuff happening on month X, so that I want to focus on coding/writing a RPG when I know I’ll have the time and necessary peace of mind. This is basically what happened.

The good news is that the same writer is also working on finally finishing Summer In Trigue as well, so this means that I’ll relase two yuri-exclusive games between this year and the next. Finally, I’d say! 🙂

Other games and various ramblings

I have already talked about this in the past, basically I love doing my kind of games (visual novels, dating sims and VN/RPGs). However as player I also like other kind of games, and besides it’s not easy to always write new stories. So basically I’m here again thinking about which other kind of games I could do, because as artist/creative person I want to explore new ideas/territories as I already did in the past.

A very early work in progress of Undead Lily the card game

One of those “different games” (different compared to my usual ones) for sure will be the card game of Undead Lily, which will have the name changed but for now I refer to that game like this. I already hinted about this in forums but what I’m going to do is have a separate story-mode vs campaign. How this will work?

In practice the regular campaign will be mainly gameplay-focused. There will be a story yes, but it will be short. Like cut-scenes between battles and such: everything is still a work in progress of course so I haven’t made my mind on the details but for sure on the kind of writing involved. So a full experience BUT with less story and more gameplay.

The story mode instead will be mainly focused on the story (obviously lol) and relationships/romances, with the possibility to play the game as “pure visual novel” (a choice you won’t have in the campaign mode).

I think this way it will work much better, because people who want to see the story can play the “story mode”, while the others can just dive straight into the gameplay with some short story around it.

I made this decision based on feedback I got from PSCD (usual card games players aren’t necessarily fan of long stories) and also for another reason: this way I will be able to release the beta testing of the campaign sooner and independently from the main story, since like with PS2 I will be coding/writing it at same time and in general there will be much less writing needed!

Conclusions

Assuming everything goes super smoothly (which has never happened before!) ideally I’d be finishing PS2 this year, and maybe Volleyball Heaven. Then next year Summer In Trigue and the “card game version” of Undead Lily, and finally begin the work on Loren 2 to finish it probably in 2021 or something. One day I’ll talk about why was such a bad move to do that sequel with so many characters…!

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