Category Archives: Cursed lands

Cursed Lands postmortem

One of the many endings / epilogues of the game. This one is not a big spoiler since we know already about Loren and Breza from Loren first game!

As promised, here is the postmortem of my latest RPG Cursed Lands. The game was released in May this year after about 3 years of development. Personally I was involved in coding and writing it from past year, starting around April/May until May this year, so I spent about one year of work on it (not always full time though, since February to May was mostly bugfixing).

The gameplay

For the gameplay, I reused my RPG engine with the changes done for Queen Of Thieves, of which the biggest were:

– no front/back row and no position swap during fights
– possibility to damage target’s defense to increase damage done and hit/miss chances reducing normal damage done
– portraits showing on the map when you can talk to a character
– non lethal battles

but at the same time I also introduced several new gameplay elements:

– “first person view” with the possibility to have bigger enemy sprites and monsters of varying sizes
– the social talent system with a series of new things like enemies attacking each other, fleeing battle, giving items to player
– the deteriorating defense system, so that over time the defense would go down as target takes hits, to avoid the battles dragging out too long
– skill checks outside the battle
– items with associated skills (like a magic book casting a spell, usable even by non magic users)

now I admit that some changes were mostly cosmetic, like the “first person view” of the combat, but I think it looks really better than before. In a way it’s like my first RPG Planet Stronghold in which you could see the enemies fully, and not just portraits. I know that some people disliked it (not this change in particular but the removal of front/back rows).

I agree that from the tactical point of view removing the front/back row is a step down, and I will probably re-introduce it in Loren 2. I’ll also try at same time to have a nice visual, so perhaps still “first person view” like in Cursed Lands, but with the enemies placed in a front/back row, and the party as well. The screen will be a bit crowded though ๐Ÿ˜‰ Anyway, there’s time to think about this.

The numbers

Cursed Lands numbers are very impressive:

– a plot of over 300,000 words with a lot of branching paths
– character creation system with over 1 million possible combos
– over 100 unique item designs (not 500 as I erroneously posted on twitter a while ago)
– if we consider color variations, over 250 different items (this means I reused same icon design but tweaked the colors to create a new item)
– a soundtrack of 21 tracks + theme song
– 5 love interests for each gender (though 4 bisex characters, the nagas, Nuala and Vaeril)

it is hands down the biggest game I’ve ever made: biggest story, soundtrack, items. SOTW has more combat and enemy variants, while Loren had more love interests, but overall this one was the biggest.

Bigger is not always better

That’s what they say, right? Well, in this case of course some people liked it a lot, others were neutral, and another group disliked it. But they are just people’s opinions, what interests me mostly are the hard facts, the statistics/figures, so let’s see some numbers:

– during the first week on Steam, Cursed Lands sold twice the amount of SOTW
– during the first 3 months, Cursed Lands sold more than Queen Of Thieves in 2 years
– during its first month of direct sales, Cursed Lands sold slightly more than Loren

I don’t think comparing it to Loren is fair though, since those were really different times. Indeed Loren sold about the same amount each month for longer, while nowadays after the launch month, it’s really rare for a full price game to keep selling the same amount for many consecutive months.

So it was a success? Yes, I think it was, especially considering the big “indieapocalypse situation” and for my modest standards of course. I know other indies that made twice the money with simple porn yuri dating sims of not even 1/5 of the size of my game and, of course, zero gameplay and complex coding. I love doing RPGs so I’m a special case, but if you’re after the money I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing one!

Anyway, I am personally satisfied of the job I’ve done with the help of the various collaborators and I’d like to think that maybe one day I’ll be remembered by the RPGs gameplay and not just by nice art/sexy contents.

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™‚

Cursed Lands is finally out!

Yes! As the title says, Cursed Lands, my new RPG, is finally out. The game official page is here: http://winterwolves.com/cursedlands.htm

Like my other games, even Cursed Lands will also be available for mobile and Steam: I only need a bit of time to optimize the game (whenever possible) for mobile, and to do the Steam setup (achievements, trading cards, etc). To be honest I also need a small break haha, but you can still expect mobile/Steam to be available shortly.

And now, I asked the game’s lead writer to write a “guest post”, so here it is. You’ll laugh like me reading the part about “a smaller game” ๐Ÿ˜€

Hey, I’m Justin Kuiper, lead writer on Cursed Lands. It’s been quite a journey, starting way back in 2015. Celso Riva was considering creating another game in the Aravorn fantasy setting, and I happened to have several ideas for a high fantasy story, including the concept for an “alignment” system based on the four temperaments and using social talents to avoid or escape combat. We decided that these ideas would be a good fit for a game in the Aravorn setting, and I began working on Cursed Lands, a story set before the events of Loren: The Amazon Princess.

I recently went back and read the initial email exchange, and noticed that one of his messages contained this sentence:

“I’d like this to be a smaller game (the others are huge, over 180k words of texts)”

I had to chuckle when reading this message with hindsight, because at over 300k words, Cursed Lands is the LONGEST Winter Wolves game to date! So much for this being a “smaller game,” a game that I originally expected to be done in under a year ended up taking three years to complete. That being said, I’m really glad that we took the time to include all of the story and content that got added, and despite the fact that this game is over 300k words, I don’t feel like there is any “filler:” everything that’s included in the game is there because it serves an important purpose to the story or the characters.

The story of Cursed Lands takes place across several lunar cycles, and the player is tasked with defeating undead that can only be confronted at night, with major story events coinciding with the full moon. The fact that the game’s major story events consist of investigating a castle and battling vampires and various ghouls gives the story a distinct gothic horror feel, but I’d say that Cursed Lands treats gothic horror more as an aesthetic than a genre. Cursed Lands is, at its core, a high fantasy story about traveling the continent and forming a group of allies to do battle against a powerful evil. The characters you recruit and the relationships that you form what I consider to be the real heart of Cursed Lands, whether that means romance or just forming bonds with your companions through conversation and shared experiences. Of course, there’s no better test of friendship than going on a vampire-slaying mission together.

One of the things we decided early on was that Cursed Lands would be a cast of mostly original characters. Karen and Apolimesho appear in the story (along with a cameo appearance by a young Princess Loren and a few other familiar faces along the way), but all of the party members are new original characters. This gave me a lot of freedom to write the story without having to worry about how the personalities and experiences of the characters would affect the Aravorn canon. For example, it wouldn’t make sense if a certain character had visited Castle N’Mar during the events of Cursed Lands, then later appeared in Loren: The Amazon Princess and had no memory of the events from the prequel; creating a new cast allowed us to avoid these potential issues, and also provided me with a lot of latitude in writing the game’s various endings. Having a fresh cast of characters also gave me a lot of freedom to come up with original backstories and personalities for each of the characters, which allowed me to try out lots of different ideas and give each cast member their own little quirks and unique traits.

At the same time, one of the fun parts of working on Cursed Lands was getting to familiarize myself with the lore of Aravorn. While the characters are new, many of the places you meet them are locations you might already be familiar with from other games in the Aravorn universe. You can travel to Hammerhands and do business with the dwarves, or go to the Great Forest and consort with the elves. Having an original cast of characters also made it possible to explore new facets of those areas, moving away from the populated areas of the Great Forest and traveling off the beaten path to discover where the outcasts live, and to explore some of the corrupt aristocrats that form the ruling class of Hammerhands. I think each of the game’s settings represents a mix of familiar and new, taking fresh ideas and enmeshing them with the rich lore of the series.

If you’ve never played a game set in Aravorn, welcome! I think you’ll find Cursed Lands to be a good entry point into the franchise. And if you’re a long-time fan of the series, I hope you enjoy this fresh take on the setting you already know and love.

Happy gaming,

Justin Kuiper

Corona Borealis: Lacey

This is my favorite character of the game… no particular reason ๐Ÿ˜‰ Haha, once again Deji skills impressed me, I really like both the look and the outfits (because seriously, they’re just incredibly cute!)

In case you forgot, this game is more “tame” compared to my most recent titles, to be clear you can expect a yuri route similar to the “secret” one of C14 Dating, more on the cute/friendship/romantic side.

And now here’s Lacey character’s introduction directly from the writer:

The overly friendly cashier and dining room attendant. Incredibly optimistic, it seems nothing can put a damper on her good mood. She immediately takes an interest in June and goes out of her way to make her feel welcome. She loves to talk about her fiancรฉ, Mason.

Update on other games

Good news: the Cursed Lands beta testing is proceeding very well, so much that I decided to put the game in “soft release mode”. It means that it’s feature complete, all the content of the final game it’s there, and I feel it’s reasonably stable! While there might be some bugs left, they’re very well hidden (this usually is when I get max 1-2 bug reports a week, instead of 10/day! lol).

Regarding Love Bites, the story is 99% done, the writer just finished both Nadia paths, so once the scripter sends the files to me, I’ll proceed with testing myself the final romance route of this game and then begin the public beta. I think should be towards end of month or early next month! ๐Ÿ™‚

My 2018 Goals

Political intrigue! Hot milfs! Cursed Lands has it all!

First of all, Happy New Year! Let’s see what I hope to achieve this year.

Considering how went in the past years, this time I’ll try to be more realistic. Of course two games already in progress (Love Bites and Cursed Lands) should really be finished this year, plus some more possibilities:

Cursed Lands – I don’t know exactly when it will be out, because with RPGs is really hard to set a good estimate release. Let’s say I get all the writing by June (just a worse-case scenario). The game should be finished by Fall of this year, even considering long time to do balancing, etc. Of course as soon as I finish the second act/full moon, I’ll update the current beta version.

Love Bites – Even in this case I can’t say exactly when it will be out, but since it’s not a RPG, once I have all the writing should be a matter of weeks. I want to be a bit more optimistic and say Spring in this case.

Volleyball Heaven – like above, in this case while the writing is basically done, there’s still a lot of art to draw, and do the scripting of the whole story. So it depends on those two things mainly, plus some extra coding required. I think that Summer could be a good estimate.

Anyway just looking at the last title above, I hope you understand why I’m done announcing games: even if VBH writing was 99% finished when I announced it, it was last Summer! And the estimate release is this Summer. One year. For an almost finished game. And it’s honestly nobody’s fault, everyone involved worked hard on it, just a series of bad luck happened.

That’s why I won’t talk about the current games in progress and it was a mistake doing it in the past.

I can also say that I have a few ideas for some SHORT GAMES ™ that I could write myself with an editor’s help. Of course for my standards “short game” will probably mean at least 70-80k words lol

And then there’s Planet Stronghold 2, I didn’t include it in this year of possible releases only because I honestly don’t think I’ll manage to finish it. After all I am already doing another RPG this year, and after I finish it I’ll probably need a few months to recover. So an early next year release it’s a more likely outcome for PS2. But you never know what’s going to happen ๐Ÿ™‚

That’s all, and Happy New Year again!