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House of Chavez update

In this first month of 2024 I’ve been working hard on House of Chavez, obviously. Some good news: I’m at very good point. I am also really enjoying working on the game, since it’s refreshing coding all the new mechanics and coming up, once again, with new ways to use Ren’Py! By the way I made a vlog about the devlopment of the game if you’re interested in the game design / technical side:

And now, a little bad news: I’ve already gone over the budget by a good amount lol

As I think I’ve already explained in the past, the amount I ask on Kickstarter it’s just the amount I need to (hopefully) break even on launch day. In reality, in the vast majority of the cases, I go over that amount (and I don’t even count my own time…!). Then I hope that the regular sales will cover the rest, and in the following months/years will bring me some earnings.

Problem is that this time I’m doing a game that’s very different from everything I’ve done in the past so it’s all new to me. I honestly didn’t think it would take so long, but in an adventure game, you can’t “describe a puzzle”. You have to have icons for the items, design the mechanics, test them, adjust difficulty, and so on.

Many things that in a visual novel can be described by words, in a more visual game like a point’n’click adventure, need to have a visual counterpart. And all of those things takes time and money.

A possible solution

In any case, don’t worry: the project will be finished in time as promised. The only compromise I might have to make, is this: in one of the stretch goals, there was the possibility to have a naked version of all CG in the game, even the one not regarding the love scenes. Like this one below for example:

To keep things realistic, the naked version of those pictures would be unlockable in the gallery, by playing a simple puzzle game.

Now I might not make a naked version of just two images: one where Dolores and Adriana eat an ice cream together which I posted a while ago, and the other one is a scene where Silke and Adriana watch an horror movie, which you can see below:

I haven’t made my mind yet but to avoid going too much over budget I could do this. I need to see what happens at the end of the month, when I should have all the remaining art finished! In any case I don’t think it will be a big deal, since there is still a lot of other content in this game – there’ll be over 22 CGs, many of them with many variations, so even with just two love interests this game has as similar amount of scenes as, for example An Elven Marriage, which is crazy!

Conclusions

Regarding the game, as I’m testing it, you can of course replay it both romancing Dolores and Silke, so that should already give some good replayability. As I already posted, the minigames will be skippable the second time you play, or if you fail them too many times, so even replaying a game like this full of gameplay shouldn’t be an issue for those used to visual novels only.

There are also some optional things to discover, that won’t prevent you to reach the ending, but can shed some light on the characters of the story, and will be tied to specific achievements.

In summary, considering this is my first attempt at something like this, I am moderately satisfied with the result. If money and time wasn’t a problem, I’d probably also have liked to voice the entire game, since I think it’s common in adventure games to have the voiceovers.

If you’re interested in the game, please wishlist it here!

New Year Goals

And so the 2024 begins! Let’s see what are my goals for this year.

Personally, I’ll likely need to do the surgery to the other eye (last year I did only one) early this year, depending when I find the time, so there might be a month of delay or so while I recover. But if it goes like past year, maybe even less.

House of Chaves

Needless to say, this will be the first game to be out, as I’ve already worked on it during the last few months of 2023. I’d say that if everything goes according to plan, a Q1 release could definitely be possible ! Just don’t expect it in February, more like March!

ToA: Thieves of Dingirra

This is a game that was “on hold” by 3-4 years, but this year I really want to try finishing it. It’s basically a game telling the story of the events happening in Dingirra after Seasons of The Wolf story, and it should feature a very different gameplay, a sort of strategy/simulation game (maybe with a bit of RPG).

At the time of writing this, I coded a random NPC generator and designed several gameplay elements, but I still need to find a way to code the main gameplay loop in a way that’s hopefully fun.

I have already ideas written, but actually implementing them, balancing, testing, etc it’s a whole different thing. Anyway, I hope to do the crowdfunding for this game, probably Q2 and then try to release it in early Q4 (I definitely want to avoid the crazy sales/fests period this time).

I plan to make more posts in the next months to introduce the setting, the characters, love interests, etc!

TFTU: Lilith

Sadly this game won’t likely be out this year. I am at good point, I wrote a long draft of about 2/3 of the story, but that needs to be reviewed and tweaked a lot. The preliminary art is also taking a looong time because artist is working on other projects as well (so just enjoy Lilith, the main character for now). In summary, I really don’t think will be out this year. Maybe, I’ll be able to do the crowdfunding, but not the final release.

Other secret games in the works

I have a few other games that could decide to try finishing this year, but following my new rule of “never talk about a game unless it’s at good point” I won’t make any names. But like the past year with Save the World, there could be some surprises (of course, smaller titles, nothing big since Thieves of Dingirra is already a BIG game!).

Happy New Year to everyone!

Good Riddance 2023

Not going to lie, 2023 sucked for me, mostly for personal reasons (so not related to business). It was also an average year for business, but I had worse years for sure.

Earlier this year had to deal with an eye surgery (and I’ll likely do another in the early months of next year!). I lost Tofu, my beloved pet in August. It was a stressing year overall for many other private reasons, so I hope 2024 will be a better year!

But back to business, let’s see what happened in 2023. But first, a little PSA: as usual I’m having the Winter sale both on itchio and Steam:

Itchio: https://winter-wolves.itch.io/

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/pub/winterwolves

How 2023 went ?

I started the year with my usual blog post, stating that I wanted to finish The Beastmaster Princess, ToA: An Elven Marriage, and hopefully a smaller VN. Well, that happened!

The Beastmaster Princess game was already at good point when I started the year, I was mostly waiting for missing art, editor, and doing some testing/bugfixes. But being a regular VN, that didn’t took long. The game did OK, art was a bit divisive (some liked it, others didn’t), but all this considered was happy with the results.

Then it was the turn of Save The World, a small sci-fi “Black Mirror” style visual novel. This went pretty well, all things considered. Tried a new artist, a new kind of story / setting, etc. A lot of people complained about the story but considering the theme I definitely expected that (you can’t have such a controversial story and hope you get no complaints). It was funny to read comments like “the dev is clearly a communist” though, like if we were still in Cold War era !

And then finally, 11 year after Loren, I managed to release the first spin-off, ToA: An Elven Marriage. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about (shame!) they’re a VN/RPG hybrid series following the events of my first fantasy RPG, Loren The Amazon Princess. This went well, all things considered! I underestimated some factors when relasing it on Steam (the fact that during a Steam Fest you get ZERO exposure… ugh, learned it the hard way) so in retrospect it did even rather well. Just think that Cursed Lands got like… 30 times the visibility of this game, and it didn’t sell 30 times more! (well also that was 2018 so a very different world).

Last but not least, the Yuri psychological horror House of Chavez, the title I’m working on right now had a very successful Kickstarter which let me add a lot of more content than originally planned (two love interests, a lot of CGs, etc). This is one of those “gameplay hybrid” games I was talking about in the previous blog posts.

Conclusions

Just a couple of months before writing this blog post, I was in bad mood. For the personal things that happened, for sure. But also because I thought I had mediocre results this year.

Then, I started to talk with other devs, read reports online and get a reality check – if literally everyone you know is having a big decrease of revenues, if many publishers are cutting funds to already started projects, if the saturation of the market is so big that’s hard to sell games full price… if with all that, you’re still in business, you’re not doing too bad!

And so I realized that what I thought were bad results, they weren’t bad at all. This is a mistake I’ve seen doing by many indies, who maybe release a game every 2-3 years, thinking that things won’t change. Here’s a thing: 2-3 years in this business is literally an eternity! Lot of things change meanwhile.

In hard times, like when the economy is not doing well or there’s trouble in a certain market, it’s really important to look at your business results from an global perspective. This helps you see how well you’re doing, all things considered. Always remember this!

Wishing everyone a joyful holiday season and a Happy New Year! Personally, I hope to have a nice 2024, especially in my private life. Business-wise, with the great fans I have, the crowdfunding, and all that I believe I can keep going like this and have a decent career.

Plan for the next years

Recently I tweeted about the challenges of making pure visual novels and I want to share more insights on this topic. Let me be honest: pure visual novels are one of the easiest types of games to make, as long as you have access to a good artist (or you are one) and a good writer (or you can write well!).

Indies! Explore the world like Dolores; don’t just churn out games continuously! 😉

At the time of writing this post, there are almost 9000 (yes you read it well) games with the “Visual Novel” tag on Steam…!

The art and the writing are the main components of a visual novel. Once you have them, you have done most of the work. Music is also important, but… unfortunately for musicians (this is not just my opinion) it is easier to find good music and it is not as crucial as art (which attracts people to your game page) and writing (which determines the quality of your story). Having good music is like a bonus, but I never heard “I’m going to buy that visual novels only because I like the music”.

Of course, there are some visual novels that sell well on Steam. But usually, they are made by people who already have a fanbase (either in the gaming industry or elsewhere), or they make adult games (which have a higher demand than normal visual novels) or they get lucky on Steam (but that’s very rare nowadays).

So what happens now?

As a full-time indie developer, I want to keep making games until I retire. So I’m planning to move to Bali and cut my living expenses by two-thirds… haha just joking (but I would love to go there someday!).

Seriously though, I’m going to experiment with different things. I’ll still make the usual visual novels because I still think that releasing only one big game a year is not a good strategy. But I’ll also try to mix some gameplay elements with the visual novel format. Not only RPGs, but other genres as well. A good example is the adventure gameplay and minigames I’m adding to House of Chavez.

the “rotate tiles” minigame. A friend commented saying that looks like a complex Captcha LOL!

In summary, my goal in the next years will be:

  • every year: release a regular VN game (for example, I want to do the third and final game of the Tales From The Under-Realm series, though that might happen only in 2025)
  • every year: release a VN/gameplay hybrid game. Not necessarily a big game. I could reuse the card-framework in a different way, or come up with something new. Town sim, management sim, raising sim, etc. some gameplay but still more in a “casual” way, nothing too complex
  • every 2-3 years: release a VN/RPG, at least until I finish the 4 loren spin-offs. As posted already, some of those spin-offs might also be one of those gameplay hybrids so they’ll get done quicker. For sure the 2nd game, Reign of War, will be a RPG, though I might also want to do a mix between a map with armies and a RPG, could be interesting. But Reign of Peace (the 3rd spin-off) could well be just a simulation, running the Amazon empire, etc.

Visually representing the plan for the next 2 years could be:

Of course, the year I’ll release the big game (like Loren spin-offs) I will probably only have the strength to do a plain VN the same year; nothing is set in stone yet, since with gamedev there are always unexpected events / delays.

However I think that with such plan, I should avoid burn-out (doing a big game every 2-3 years) and also keep myself motivated by doing new gameplay experiments which could even be funny to design and code. For example, I’m having a lot of fun designing and coding the House of Chavez adventure part and minigames.

Remember that I’ll also do later this month my usual blog post reviewing the year that is ending, and to make you best wishes! So see you later this month in this blog.

Welcome to House of Chavez

Those following me on social media already know about the new game I’m working on, but for everyone else, I’m doing right now a Kickstarter for a new project called House of Chavez.

I’m not going to repeat here the info you can already find in the Kickstarter page. Instead I’ll explain better the kind of gameplay. It will be a visual novel mixed with adventure gameplay.

I already tried something like this back in 2009 with Bionic Heart, that mixed some old-school adventure sequences with the main story. In that case though, you had buttons at the bottom of the screen to move, another series of buttons with the actions and so on.

an example of point’n’click system and using the inventory

This time, we’re going for a modern point-and-click adventure system, complete with an inventory, a clue system, and a map for navigation. You can click directly on highlighted objects on the screen or use items from your inventory to interact with them.

But that’s not all – we’re spicing it up with various mini-games that unlock special scenes or lead to different endings. These mini-games will range from composing a song (see below) to cracking a safe or using a flashlight in a dark forest, and more.

What about romance?

I bet this will be the first question that comes to mind to my usual players! Initially, I planned to go with just Silke, the blonde girl from the trailer. However, thanks to the outstanding success of the crowdfunding campaign (one of the most impressive initial surges ever), I’ve decided to include Dolores, a wonderfully charming curvy Latina, as well.

Silke was the original only love interest

This complicates things slightly since the initial draft had only Silke as love interest. Anyway, I am already at work to change this. Which means that now you can finish the game in two different ways, depending who you romance (and who remains alive… remember it’s a horror game!).

Dolores for the fan of the more curvy girls

And in case isn’t obvious this is a yuri-only game (you can’t date Bruno, it’s your brother! lol). I decided to go with this since commercially is less risky. If the game does well I could do more adventure-like VN with different romance combos. Since it’s a new type of game I didn’t want to start with something too big (also because I have other projects I want to start / resume next year).

Here’s a short introduction for the main characters of the cast:

Adriana – She’s pretty open about her sexuality, however she often behaves like a shy person. Mostly because her brain stops working in presence of cute girls. She plays the guitar and sings, and she is a pretty independent girl, not afraid to speak her mind. She had problems with alcohol when her parents passed away, and her big brother Bruno worries a lot about her. They argue sometimes, but they support and motivate each other.

Silke – She comes from Germany and works as a waitress in a local pub. Not much is known about her background. What’s special to Adriana is that she was there for Adriana’s grandma, Maria, during her last days. She’s familiar with the House of Chavez. Silke keeps her true self hidden because of the close-minded people in Sombromar (the city’s name), but she’s been flirting with Adriana from their very first meeting. She appears extra careful and cautious, as if she’s concerned about something happening in town.

Dolores – A beautiful curvy Latina, Dolores is vacationing in Sombromar and enjoying the peaceful, off-peak beaches. She loves the beach and shopping. Beneath her seemingly surface-level persona, she’s a confident, independent woman who knows her mind and takes charge in everyday situations and relationships. She’s managed to accumulate significant wealth, allowing her to travel without working. But such a lifestyle can be lonely sometimes, so when she meets Adriana, she asks her out to have some company.

Bruno – Adriana’s older brother, albeit only for a couple of years, can sometimes come off as less mature than his younger sister. He was the first person Adriana came out to, and he values the trust she places in him. At times, he can be overly protective, and he occasionally feels a tad envious of how Adriana seems to get the attention of all the attractive ladies around them, as if it’s a sort of competition. Bruno is into amateur boxing and has a passion for motorbikes.

Adult content

Since this is not just a VN, I want to make sure anyone can play it, so it will have both a censored and an uncensored version. In practice the story will be the same, but in the uncensored version certain scenes will offer nudity:

And there’ll be some extra adult only CGs that won’t appear in the base censored game.

Estimate release

To relax after the effort of ToA: An Elven Marriage, I’ll be working mainly on this game in the next months. So it’s not unlikely that it might be ready around Q1 2024 ! Stay tuned for more news, and check the Kickstarter page if you haven’t already.