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What makes a good game?

Yesterday the sky was particularly good looking!

First of all: Happy New Year! I am writing this blog when in some places is just a few hours after midnight 🙂

The tradition as the first blog post of the year is to list the possible releases. But I just did that in the previous blog post, and since in the last years when I did it, it didn’t really bring much luck, I’m happy to write about something different this time!

During the holidays I took time to think and read some users comments. Some complained about my potential interest towards making more shorter/smaller sized games. Other said a good story must have some crazy elements to it, others mentioned Roommates as a great example of a good dating sim story. Some people complained about specific characters of specific games or praised for the same reason other characters.

So I asked myself this question: what makes a good VN/dating sim/story based game?

The base idea

The first thing I do when I decide to make a new game, is think about the base idea behind it. Sometimes, I have a scene/character in my mind, and I base everything around it or use it as starting point to get inspiration. Bionic Heart for example: I had this crazy thought “what if somehow a sexy android entered forcefully your life, and your girlfriend didn’t know about it? and if one evening your partner was going to have a romantic dinner in your apartment, where your sexy android is hiding?”.

I thought the idea had a lot of potential, both hilarious, sexy and rather unique. Then I started to think about the rest of the story.

So, while in general there can be even stories based on the classic “college dating sim”, I think the starting idea is one of the most important things when creating a new story for a game.

The characters

Then of course, the characters. As many pointed out, Loren’s setting was nothing particularly original. It was also my first game set in Aravorn, and I hadn’t yet done any research/world building. Everything was a bit rough 🙂 Still, the characters were rather memorable (Draco, Mesphit, Chambara, Loren herself, Karen, Rei… the list goes on) and made that game one of the most popular I made.

SOTW, while focused more on the gameplay, was appreciated too for the characters. Rowinda and the volcano joke will remain forever in my head… 😀

PSCD, while is not yet out at the time of writing this blog, has really some great characters. A great character is not only someone with special powers (Graciela) or particularly good looking (Charlotte/Rigel) but also a “cool” and “pro” like Galina, or a rebel like Kaden 🙂

My conclusion is that even if you can’t find a very original idea, you can still create something good by building interesting characters.

And last but not least, the writing!

Even if is still in beta, PSCD is getting already a lot of praise for its writing!

The writing of course is another very important aspect. Roommates is a dating sim set in college. Original? Not really. The characters are the classic archetypes: there’s the shy girl with glasses (Anne), the nerd/serious guy (Dominic), the hot latina (Isabella), the crazy artist (Rakesh), and so on.

Yet, it’s my most popular dating sim so far! Why? because of the excellent writing. Don’t get me wrong, even many other of my games have good writing! I’m just using this as example because it is really the best combination of classic/unoriginal setting with awesome writing. Already a game like Nicole had a more original setting/plot setup that this one 😀

Of course, other aspects matter too

I have been talking about the writing but of course art, music and gameplay are very important too. But here I wanted to focus mainly on the story-part of the games.

Of the games that will be (hopefully) out this year, I can say that I’m quite enthusiast of all of them, because one way or another (great characters or original idea or good writing) should be a worthwhile addition to every VN/dating sim/story-based game fan 🙂

So, onward to 2016! My new year’s resolution will be to release at least 3 games. Considering both PSCD and C14 Dating are at such good point, I think this time I should make it 🙂

What’s next?

I was quite busy this week working both on Heileen 3 and Bionic Heart 2 (you see a new video of it above), so this post will be mostly an attempt in having a sort of “planned release schedule”.

December 2012

As you probably know already, I really hope to release Heileen 3 sometimes during December (hopefully in time for Christmas!). The beta testing will begin soon for sure, but the final game release is still unknown (depends how many bugs people find in the beta!). Anyway, all that’s left beside 10 more “random events” is for the simulation parts: 21 chibis, some small artwork, a few texts, some more balancing. I believe it’s just a week or two of work.

In December I should also have one of my first games on the new Monkeycoder engine, so available also on iOS/web.

January/March 2013

Between those months, I’m surely going to release the yuri version of Heileen 3 (which I really wanted to release at same time as the main game this time, but alas because of problems with the original writer I couldn’t). Also, Bionic Heart 2. The background art for that game is all done, the plot is finished, but there are still some sprite images that needs to be colored.

April/June 2013

Here things gets more difficult to judge. My goal would be to start Planet Stronghold 2 beta in early April, but you know, with RPGs is hard to know since they’re so hard to make 😉 I might just have one of my other games in a good advancement state and release it. Possible candidates are Roommates and Nicole.

Late 2013

Anything is possible! I really hope to have finished Planet Stronghold 2 by that date, and one of the other games. Maybe even Spirited Heart 2 or Amber’s Magic Shop. But is very likely that at least one of those two games will slip into 2014!

As you can see I’ve got quite a busy schedule ahead. Now excuse me but I need to get back to work 😉

Story based games with multiple point of view

The short video above is the introduction to my upcoming game Bionic Heart 2. What does it have to do with the title? Simple, because is a visual novel game that tells a story from multiple point of views (from now I’ll abbreviate it with PoV).

For those familiar with the first title, this time you’ll be able to play not only as Luke, but also as Tom, Tanya and Tina. If you don’t know the first game, I urge you to find out about it immediately here!

Of course it’s not a new thing. Several other games, movies, comics have used this peculiar form of storytelling. I find it very interesting… at least from my PoV 😉

I had this idea this Spring, when I was playing the game Heavy Rain, which uses this system too. And I thought it would work pretty well for the sequel of one of my early “cult” visual novels, Bionic Heart. Is fun how some games, despite selling much less than other games, can still be popular and have a following of “true fans”. The first game definitely had many true fans!

Back to the topic, I find telling the story from multiple point of view very interesting. Because you can play as different characters and see the events and the various situations from their perspective, which is an interesting thing. Even in real life, how many times you wondered how it would be to be in someone else’s shoes?

From the gameplay point of view, this is also interesting because decisions made with each of the four playable characters will have an impact on the game world and on the story. This really intrigues me, and since you always play in first person (even if you control a different character every time) it doesn’t ruin the immersion.

A step forward could be having the option of choose which character to control in several situations. This is partly what I did on Planet Stronghold with the quests and the skills usage, but of course it was in a very smaller scale (also it was a RPG, so was only during short scenes).

Definitely making a game like that will result in a refreshing and interesting experience for the player, in particular for a game with several mysteries/secrets to unveil (like Bionic Heart 2!) but the effort in writing/planning it must not be underestimated, because is easy to make mistakes like plot holes or wrong chronological order of events.

Building a crafting system

Recently I’m working mostly on the visual novel Heileen 3 but in reality, I always work on 2-3 projects at once. I’ve been thinking about a crafting system, since 3 of my upcoming games (and maybe more!) could use it.

For sure, the simulation game Amber Magic Shop since it’s based to potion making (and maybe will extend that to also items enchanting and some other stuff). But also the RPGs Planet Stronghold 2 and Loren 2 could use a crafting system! And maybe, even Spirited Heart 2 😉

So I’ve been thinking how to do it properly, how to design a Universal Crafting System! (ta-daa!) My main sources of inspiration were Everquest 2, Atelier series, and some general consensus on how the crafting works in general in RPGs 😉

The ingredients

First of all, we need “ingredients” to craft stuff. That’s obvious. Each ingredient is an item. It can be woods, peppermint, quartz, an used power cell, a dead rat, anything! Since the goal is to build a universal crafting system that can be used on any kind of setting (sci-fi, fantasy, modern).

Ingredients will have a quality: they can be common, rare, unique. I’m thinking to use Diablo/Torchlight coloring so the items are immediately recognizable based on their uniqueness.

They also have a Condition value expresse in percentage: when you fail a recipe, I thought would be bad to destroy the ingredients! so maybe, dependings on various variables/difficulty setting, the Condition value could deteriorate a bit (or a lot). Some items, like the unique items, could be immune to deterioration.

The skills

To craft, we need specific skills. There could be a game with a very simple crafting system in which you only need only one skill: Crafting. Then, the various recipes would have only a minimum Crafting value requirement (see below).

However, variety would be more interesting. In fantasy RPGs, is common to have several skills associated with crafting: a mage could have high Alchemy skill, being able to create healing/mana potions. Rangers or elves could be skilled in Fletching, the art of crafting arrows and bows. Dwarves might have a high Blacksmithing skill so they could forge impenetrable armors.

You got the idea. Each skill could be represented by a numeric value, and on each successfully crafted item the value could increase. Or we could extend it even further, allowing “level ups”. You start with Alchemy at level 1 and the equivalent of an XP bar that fills up as you craft new items, until you get to level2 and you have access to new recipes.

In very specific games, like Amber that focus only on Alchemy, we might divide “Alchemy” in several subskills like “Potion Making”, “Item Enchanting”, “Herb Knowledge” and so on.

The recipes

Then, we need to know HOW to use the ingredients! The recipes are divided too in common, rare, unique (might increase the number depending on games, adding maybe “uncommon” too). Player might learn new recipes through random experimentation with the various ingredients and processes, so “ready-made” recipes could be very valuable since they list the exact amount of ingredients and the right procedure to make them. So for high level items, recipes might be worth a fortune!

Each recipe would list the ingredients needed, the amount, and skills required (see above). There could be recipes for Alchemy level 1, which everyone could attempt to do, or level 9, that would be inacessible except for the most skilled Alchemists.

The required skills might even be more than one, for example in Amber we might have a recipe to enchant a medallion that requires Item Enchanting level 3 and Potion Making level 2.

Each recipe should have several statistics, depending how deep the game crafting needs to be. There could be time needed (so you could make only a specific amount every day/turn), success chances (auto-calculated based on the difficulty and player skills) and quantity produced. Some recipes might produce just 1, super item, while other might result in 10 medium healing potions.

The process

This varies on item by item basis, and also how deep you want your crafting to be. In general there will be at leas one step, but there can be also several steps and each one will contribute differently to the end result.

For example, I got an interesting design doc several months ago by a twitter follower (Ariel Hofland) for Amber potion making. Quoting his email:

Players can use a [mortar & pestle] in order to grind down solid ingredients to powder.

Players now have 2 forms of ingredients: Powders and Liquids.

These ingredients have (hidden) properties, which can be discovered in 2 ways: Experimentation or intelligence/learning. The last way can be implemented in multiple ways. You could have wise men in the wider world (found by adventuring of some kind) which can teach you about certain ingredients and potions for a fee. Alternatively (or in addition), an high enough intelligence could be good enough to discover certain properties anyway (If it smells like sulfur, and it tastes like sulfur, you may not want to burn it)

Next step: the [Cauldron]. Players can decide how hot the cauldron and it’s contents should be. When you start, it’s filled with water. While making the potion, players should keep an eye on the water temperature, and add fuel/use bellows to increase it. (This also means the easiest potions work with cold water)

Players can put any ingredients in the cauldron. Dependent on all the properties (Including the hidden ones) – different things may happen. Similar properties will strengthen the effect, while opposite properties neutralize. Overdoing a certain effect (or at least doing this without proper knowledge) will result in failure. Each property has a basic element assigned to it. For example, combining a lot of Fire-type ingredients could lead up to a conflagration or explosion.

This would work perfectly on a turn-based crafting system. We could have some more difficult one by having a semi-realtime crafting, using “counter effect”. This idea is taken from Everquest2.

For example, you start crafting a food item. Then you see a message on screen with the event/problem: “Spice Up” (you need to put more pepper on that soup!) and you need to click the corresponding icon quickly. The result, based on your quickness could be: Minor Flavor Loss, Flavor Loss, Major Flavor Loss, influencing the final Quality result of the produced item (food in this case).

As you can see there are really lots of options. For Amber I’m thinking to use the suggested turn-based approach, while I might try the semi-realtime for Spirited Heart 2.

The final result

Once you finish the crafting process, you’ll have different outcomes. Again, this changes based on each game, but in general I’d say that we can have 3 possible outcomes:

  • good item: success. The item is more or less good (depending on various statistics). A healing skill might not be of top quality so only heal 80% of the supposed max listed in the recipe, but is still a nice healing potion!
  • average item: half success. The item might have counter effects. For example, it might be a healing potions that heals for 50hp, but also slows you down by 25% of your speed for 3 turns. You might still sell/use it, but it’s not ideal…
  • failure! what a delusion! the item might explode completely, or you could end up with some funny (useless) item: a healing potion that poison you for 100hp damage 😀

In case of success: The final quality of the item produced will be influenced by the ingredients level, the skills required level, and (if present) in the player skill during the crafting minigame. There might be also a bit of randomness because like in real life, there are several things outside our control that influence what we do. Obviously, the ingredients will disappear since we successfully crafted the item.

In case of failure: depending how bastard we want to be towards the player (lol) we could destroy the ingredient items completely, or reduce their “Condition”, so they can try again until the items are completely destroyed.


That’s it! I hope you found the reading interesting. By the way, if you have any suggestion on how to improve the crafting idea I wrote, I’m all ears!

Behind the scenes

There’s lots of stuff going on right now behind the scenes at Winter Wolves HQ! 😉

Unfortunately most of it regards games that will be released the next year, so I cannot really post much info about it. I have already posted enough sneak peeks for the upcoming games, that if I post more would be almost spoilers.

So we’re in that planning stage in which writers write new awesome stories, artists draw great new images and I go mad doing game design, a bit of coding, marketing and trying to organize everything so that *something* gets released relatively soon… 😀

Heileen 3 delayed

Speaking of “coming soon”, I can officially say that Heileen 3 won’t be out in October as I hoped 🙁

The fact that I had yet another artist who should have done the missing backgrounds disappear doesn’t matter that much, because I am used to see that happening. So I should have planned more in advance. Well, beside that, there are 60 scenes to code only for the “otome version” (adding the images, variables for gameplay, etc) and I have yet to start coding the simulation part, so simply it’s not possible to finish the game in 1 month only.

Right now, IF I find a faster/more reliable background artist I can hope to release the game by Christmas. I think I already found someone but… you never know.

Manga Bundle extended by one week and Spirited Heart included

The Manga Bundle I’m doing was extended by one week, and if the total number of bundles sold reaches 1,000, everyone (even those who paid $1) will get Spirited Heart! I don’t think you’ll see that game on sale for such a low price for… years (if ever at all). So, spread the word if you can even if you already have the game 😉

Remember that is only the base game, so it doesn’t include the Girl’s Love expansion (including also that would have been too much).

Future RPGs

About the RPGs, we’re still in planning stages for Planet Stronghold 2, while Loren’s sequel art is being made. As I said several times in my forums though, I don’t plan to release more than 1 RPG each year since they’re quite complex to make and time consuming. But rest assured that you’ll see more RPGs from me in future.