Amber’s Magic Shop postmortem

The light/dark system was one of the most appreciated innovations of Amber’s VN part

First of all, the usual Steam Summer Sale has started and my games are on sale with discounts from 30% to 50%. You can check them out here.

What I learned from making Amber’s Magic Shop

About two months have passed since Amber’s Magic Shop was officially out. The game performed well, as expected, however I want to talk about a specific topic in this post-mortem: the gameplay.

Reading reviews on Steam it’s always enlightening. Apart the usual joke reviews like “Sadly, no.” and a thumb down (ROFL that one was epic) in general you get a good idea why people liked your game or not.

Now in this case, reviews can basically be divided in two: those who played the game mainly for the story, and those who approached the game more for the crafting/sim gameplay. The first group has mostly positive reviews, the second mostly negative πŸ˜€

First of all, I think it was obvious that I wasn’t so arrogant to think to be able to make a game as good as the Atelier series! Fun fact: I started this game, back in 2011, because I noticed that on PC it was missing a crafting/dating sim game like one those.Β  Then, had the usual issues with writers and the game got GREATLY delayed. By Murphy’s law, exactly 2-3 months before Amber was ready, finally the Atelier series appeared on Steam! Perfect timing as always, right? πŸ˜‰

But apart this “bad luck”, my goal was to make a more casual/accessible crafting sim. I was the first to admit that I wasn’t satisfied with the gameplay, and that in future games I will think carefully before adding gameplay.

Of course, don’t get me wrong, there are people who played/liked it. Just last week an user in forums reached level 30… so clearly played the crafting sim a lot! πŸ™‚

Sometimes, less is better

Sometimes even just a map, and story that changes based on the order in which you do things, it’s enough to make a game fun (from Bionic Heart)

I came to this consideration: sometimes, doing less is not necessarily worse, more like the opposite. In future games, either I’ll be very confident about the gameplay I’m going to add to the game or … I wouldn’t even add it! It’s better to have a “plain dating sim” (it’s not a bad thing, really) than spend 3-4 months extra on something that: people who are playing the game only for the story won’t even touch, people who were interested in the gameplay mostly won’t appreciate/like because it’s not “good enough”.

At that point would be better to save my time, and release the game faster and maybe if possible at cheaper price, no? since after all I didn’t have to spend all the time/money to design/code/build a gameplay part.

I still want to have gameplay though

At the times of making it, Spirited Heart gameplay was very complex for a Ren’Py game. Luckily now it’s much easier to do sim games!

When I first started, I always wanted to have a story mixed with gameplay whenever possible. Sometimes the result was good, other times less. But while I want to offer a “VN Mode” for all future games, one of my goals will still be to try to provide some interesting gameplay as well.

Another conclusion I came to recently (not related to Amber but in general), is that unless the writer knows very well the gaming world (and luckily a few of my writers are also players), giving them too much freedom doesn’t always work well. It’s better if I write my own games and then ask an editor to do some heavy editing to turn my mediocre English into a decent prose πŸ˜‰

I believe that this way the end result will be better, with the story more integrated into gameplay (because I can code while I write the story). Also, since I would be writing my own games, once the story is done the only delay would be due to the editing, but luckily that’s a quicker process (the editor doesn’t need to come up with the story, the characters or think how to write a sentence so that makes sense in the gameplay context etc etc).

This is something I want to try too, but of course once I have finished all the current games in progress, and are really many: including the unannounced ones, I have 14 games in progress! Time to trim that number down I think πŸ™‚

10 thoughts on “Amber’s Magic Shop postmortem

  1. Callista

    Reading your blog post, I do agree with your points. I haven’t had a chance to play Amber so I can’t comment on that but yeah, if the writer doesn’t really play a lot of games, he/she may not know how to write well for a game, which can lead to problems like wordiness and so forth. I’m excited that you’re going to get back into writing your games. I’m curious if that means that you might hire more editors. ^^

    1. admin Post author

      Yes but not just that – it’s hard, both for me but also for the writer, to write a story without knowing how the gameplay will be (like in Amber’s case). I think the ONLY solution is to write the game as you code it, or if you prefer if you code the game as you write it, like I was doing year ago, like many other devs do (Hanako, etc).
      Amber’s gameplay is not that bad to be clear, many people (probably those with OCD haha) played it a lot. But personally I’m not satisfied, and I keep thinking that I could have done it better with that method of writing myself the story.

      And yes I’ll need to hire editors though I have already 2-3 good ones who’re just waiting to read my stuff πŸ™‚

  2. Franka

    While I always applaud that you’re willing to try new things, I really think it’s important to consider what makes gameplay “fun.”

    Sure, its an unfair comparison, but consider PSCD vs. Amber. PSCD has clear goals, fantastic progression, strict rules, but still a lot of room for completing the goals in different ways through rewarding experimentation with deck building. You also have to actually think to complete some of the stages.

    Amber has very undefined goals, unclear ways to complete them, and has little sense of progression because the end goals start out extremely far away.

    It’s essentially the same issue there was with Queen of Thieves: The basic gameplay is fun for a while, but once you’ve tried everything a couple of times, you’ve had enough. However, to complete the game, you have to do the exact same thing, with barely any variation, another umpteen times. You get gameplay fatigue long before you’re done, because the basic gameplay is really not that fun.

    I know it’s hard to predict what people will find entertaining, as it obviously also depends on personal tastes, but in my opinion, the most entertaining games you’ve made are the ones that have clear short term goals and mostly “hand crafted” encounters. Your most recent games, QoT, with reach a bunch of gold over and over, and Amber, with max out everything, and both giving a few, mostly shallow, and very repetitive ways of doing that have not had the best gameplay.

    While you can say that it might be better if you write the gameplay along with the story, I still think you need to give more thought to what’s fun and what’s too repetitive.

    Still, anything is better than Spirited Heart when it comes to gameplay. πŸ˜›

    1. admin Post author

      Indeed, and the reason those games weren’t fun, is exactly because I didn’t write them myself πŸ™‚
      PSCD was the only exception because it was made as “story missions” so each battle was kind of separate. If I could have written QoT as I coded it, I would have immediately noticed that the gold progression was a bad idea. But instead to speed up things I asked Forsaken to write it several months before I coded it.
      It all originated from starting games, lazy/unreliable writers slowing me down, and then hurrying up to finish them up, ignoring completely the gameplay aspect in some cases. When it’s a dating sim, the “gameplay” is not an issue, but with RPG/simulations I definitely MUST write them myself so I can play the game immediately and understand if it’s fun or not.
      After 150k words are written I can’t do much to fix it πŸ˜›

  3. Bob The Mob

    I would like it to be known that the ONLY reason I didn’t play AMS as a crafting game is because of the poll I took in the forums having me conclude that such wouldn’t be watched on YT.

    I’m thinking once I’ve uploaded everything in terms of all the paths wid (PHILLY-Speak) all the love interests I’ll try that out. πŸ™‚


    “It’s better if I write my own games and then ask an editor to do some heavy editing to turn my mediocre English into a decent prose ?”

    I say this ALL. THE. TIME. Jack–quit beatin yourself up, Brother! Ya do great! πŸ˜€

    Also, hearing that you’ll be writing your own games again, I gotta know–will we ever see something like BH again??? ‘Cause the Dark, noir kinda feel of that game OWNED!!!!! ?

    1. admin Post author

      I like noir/sci-fi setting so it’s very likely I could write something like that indeed πŸ™‚

  4. LindsS.

    I thought the crafting part was fun. But I’ll admit I’ve never really played a crafting-focused game before and most of my crafting experience comes from RPGs that include optional crafting mechanics, so I don’t really have a whole lot to compare it to.

    I was in it mostly for the story, but I can never bring myself to play it in VN mode, it just feels too weird to ignore the gameplay parts completely.

    1. admin Post author

      Cool. As I posted indeed, I know some people who liked it. It’s just that pesonally I’m not completely satisfied with how it turned out πŸ™‚

  5. Lars

    Interestingly, I considered the UI mechanics for crafting really exceptional (and with 300+ Steam games I have seen it all). I mean, how it all works and flows together, that you can look up the recipes right from the crafting screen etc. This could have been executed in so many ways really terrible and tedious.

    What I hated about the crafting aspect was the balancing and randomness. Looking for resources is so useless, it could have been eliminated completey. The same goes for those “you get a good price for jewelry” events. So what, you do crafting quests anyway, because their reward is just soo much better. Then you spend in-game-weeks just to find the right or decent tool, if you are out of luck. …

    (And what I hate about most games these days is that you work through it for hours and then get a 4 second “Yay, you won” ending.)

    1. admin Post author

      Yes the crafting in itself was OK, I even dare say good. The problem is everything else, as I posted several times there should have been maybe a RPG part where you obtain resources looting enemies for example. But… yeah, another 2+ years of development needed and in today’s indie market would have been a commercial suicide πŸ™


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