The right platform

Sasha looks so innocent, but is she really harmless? Somehow I doubt it

First of all a quick update about Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel. I am currently working on the game GUI and began scripting the first part of the story, since the editor has already checked it. You see a screenshot above of one of the first scenes with Sasha.

Now about today’s post: since from time to time I get email/messages from people who want to start making games, this will be a post about the games market in general, not only related to my games. I am just sharing my thoughts/experiences, everything is my personal opinion of course!

What is the “right platform”

What do I mean by the “right platform”? I recently had my games ported to consoles and the result was good. However, I regularly chat with other devs, and they had very different experiences. My idea is: every platform has advantages/disadvantages that can impact a game’s success more or less depending on the genre.

I’ll make some examples: complex games that are best played with a keyboard and a mouse are of course going to work much better on a PC than any console. I tried playing the console port of several PC hits, like Frostpunk or Stellaris. They did a great job, and they play relatively well, BUT if I could choose, I’d always play them on a PC with keyboard!

For other genres instead, the consoles are clearly well suited. Platformers, racing, FPS, adventures, etc. So maybe you could have better results on console for those genres because that market is way less crowded than PC/Steam and in general the games price didn’t collapse (no bundles on consoles!) as much as the PC market in recent years. It’s true that on Xbox there’s the gamepass, but so far it didn’t seem to impact much non-gamepass games from what I know.

Too much offer, not enough demand

Of course, how a game plays well on a device is just a part of the equation: as already said above, a very big factor is also if a platform is crowded or not. That’s why I’d be wary when you hear stuff like “on that new platform XYZ my game sold 100 times Steam!”. Yes, when there are like other 10 games, sure. But after a while? So it also depends WHEN you release a game. I was lucky enough to release one of my best games (Loren) very early on Steam. But I made more games later that could have been on same level or close, but the market was already crowded so much that I could never repeat that success.

Mobile decline

Mobile is also very good for certain kind of games (like visual novels), or better it WAS. I feel now the “gatekeepers” did a great job in destroying that market, which is now full only of MMO and clones, with a few exceptions as premium games (but with the various “gamepasses” things not sure how much that will last). Personally I now consider mobile the worst possible market to be, because of a lot of factors: low perceived value/price, difficulty of developing (especially for iOS but even Android is rather unfriendly now), censorship, and last but not least all the income is concentrated on a super tiny fraction of the market and you need to spend a lot of money to “acquire users”. So overall I’d say the situation is much worse than what happens on Steam/consoles.

Yes, because another “bonus” of the game market is that it’s constantly changing – a platform that was good back in 2014-15 now could earn you next to zero (happened to me when got banned from Google Play!).

Plain luck

I know many people won’t agree with this, but sometimes (recently, it’s happening a lot to me!) you as developer have NO CLUE AT ALL why a game did well, or bad! As a joke, while talking with other indies privately (some of them much more successful than me) I made up the idea of the “Steam lottery”. In practice, while when I sell on itch.io or I run crowdfunding campaigns more or less I have an idea of how a game could do (based on past data/games and my true fans), on Steam every time I launch a new game is like buying a lottery ticket!

I really never had so varying results as with Steam. Excluding the first year, when there was no competition so all the data was screwed, in the next years I really had crazy results. Even talking with other indies, two visual novels (maybe even sharing same artist!) had really different results. Sure, different prices, different topic, writing skills. Different launch dates, competition on same genre/niche. There are so many variables that’s honestly impossible to know what’s going to happen.

So, in my view, it’s a sort lottery and you definitely need a good amount of luck to make a hit. Or maybe, a game that would have been an “OK” game, by luck turned into a hit, and vice-versa. I know it seems a silly thing, but I really believe it. And there’s nothing you can do about that, except trying to do your best.

Conclusions

I think that if you can, using a cross-development tool to create your game is always a good idea: however in the end, finding the right platform for your game genre is probably the single most important thing you can do to achieve success, or in most cases, to just stay afloat.

And last but not least, remember that the only way to know if something works, is to try. What didn’t work for me at all, for you could be a life-changing choice! Work hard and keep trying!

Preview of new fantasy games with Loren cast

After my initial blog post a few months ago, people still had some doubts. I answered them in the comments but of course people could have been missed them. Since in this post I wanted to offer a preview of what’s to come I thought was the best place to also clarify a few things.

First of all, the 4 games will be treated as completely independent stories. There can be reference to other events, of course (but this happened in all my other fantasy games too). Each story will be about a specific topic, and we tried to pick the cast based on how well they would fit the story and the theme.

Character creation and customization

the outfits available are really cool!

Like the first game, you’ll be able to play as Saren or Elenor, but this time you’ll have more customization choices. The appearance can be changed completely – right now, if you want to have a mage wearing plate mail, you can. I might change this if during beta people complain/don’t like that. And yes, you can play as mage. Other games might unlock new classes. I haven’t made my mind yet, but in general the two base classes: Warrior and Thief, will always be available, while other bonus classes like Mage or Healer or something else will vary on each game (also to offer some variety).

How it will work for romances and past choices?

Since I make visual novels the best interpretation of how this work is parallel universes. In one universe, at end of Loren someone died. In another, nobody died. In another one … I’ll stop here just in case someone didn’t play the game yet! Same thing for the romances. In order to offer such variety of choices and ending, you need to think about them as stories that could ALL have happened at once, at the same time, in parallel universes!

So there isn’t a right or wrong ending/story/branching. However, of course, to avoid going insane, I’m going to assume certain events, and a specific ending to the first Loren. I won’t write it for spoiler reasons, but suffice to say that each of the four stories will assume the same identical endings to Loren’s story (nobody dies!).

In each game, you’ll be able to make a choice: pick a starting romance from 2 old love interests, or start without romance and pursue one of the 2 new love interests. In the first game, you’ll be able to play as Elenor and continue Rei romance, or start single and pursue Nathir. As Saren, you’ll be able to continue Myrth romance or pursue Lydia. In the screenshot below I was playing as Elenor, that’s why Saren’s choice are greyed out. Also, I’m aware of some different coloring style, we’ll recolor them to match better (Myrth and Lydia in particular).

for the first time I had to code a “romance screen” explaining in details the various possibilities!

Why this choice? Why I am not doing like Planet Stronghold 2 which had more freedom? Well, because offering the possibility to start with a romance, break up, and pursue someone new was cool but at same time, players would miss scenes or get confusing.

Example from PS2: I start with Cliff romance and halfway I wanted to pursue Shiler (assuming a bisex Joshua protagonist). I could do it, but I’d have missed all the early scenes with Shiler! And since you can always play my games in visual novel mode, where replaying the story to see the different paths is super quick and easy, really doesn’t make sense to offer this choice which will delay the game production by months (making everything fit the story is crazy, trust me).

So it’s because of that if I don’t offer this possibility, it feels wasted time when 99% of players of PS2 just replayed the game from start if they wanted to pursue a specific romance!

The four stories sneak peek!

As said, each story will feature: 2 old romances and 2 new romances. But there can still be cameos or other characters appearing as NPC/party members of course. The 4 games will be released in chronological order, but as said are 4 independent stories, even if there could be some references between them.

I’m just going to refer to game A,B,C,D since I didn’t make my mind about names, and I’ll be a bit vague since we’re still brainstorming stuff, so nothing is 100% final, but it’s a good indication of what we’re thinking to do:

Game A
old: Rei (GxB) & Myrth (BxG)
new: Lydia (BxG) & Nathir (GXB)
Theme: an elven marriage that goes terribly wrong. I know, this game has no homosexual romances and it’s the first time for my fantasy series. But since is the only one, and all the other 3 have more homosexual romances than straight ones, I hope people will forgive me !

Game B
old: Draco (BxB) & Mesphit (GxB, BxB)
new: Breza (GxG) & Jul (GxB, GxG)
Theme: the demons are on the offensive again, but this time they’re also using their brain beside brute force. And this time, Loren won’t be able to help… (suspense!)

Game C
old: Loren (GxB,GxG) & Karen (GxG)
new: Odurat (BxB,GxB) & Nook (BxB)
Theme: the newly introduced slavery laws cause unrest at the Amazons Citadel. For this game we might also add some kingdom management sim or something, I still need to decide!

Game D
old: Chambara (BxG, GxG) & Amukiki (GxB, BxB)
new: Selith (BxG, GxG) & Samaras (GxB, BxB)
Theme: with the split of the Empire, the witch hunt is back and the witches of the Unforgiving Swamps will need to fight for survival. This is the biggest game, with all bisex romances + many cameos etc. I left this as last so hopefully I’ll be in full strength again when I’ll do it !

Conclusions

I know, I know that not everyone will be happy with how we split it. I also don’t like that the first game has no gay romances. About this, I recently asked on twitter/forums if you’d be OK if I used another artist to make the missing CG to make those two characters bisex: https://www.winterwolves.net/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=4218

And seems that people like the idea. I’m not sure yet if I’ll do it (the result needs to be decent!) but if I manage to do that I’ll let you know of course!

Also remember that we had to consider for each game how well a character would fit the theme. Chambara for example was obviously going to be in the witches game, while Karen would need to go in the game about the Amazons, and so on. But that’s not all: we also needed to have a balanced party. If you look carefully, each story indeed has 1 member of the four roles: tank, thief, healer and hybrid/support.

While I’m not sure exactly how the RPG gameplay will work, I still wanted to keep my options open (even in the case I ended up not doing RPG gameplay, like in the game C for example). In any case though, the RPG will have max 6 party members and not like my past games with 8 or more (sorry but can’t make such big games anymore).

So that’s it! I have no clue about release dates, but for sure I won’t be able to do more than one every year (or maybe 2 years). And I still plan to release other simpler games alongside them. Considering I also have Curse Of Mantras to do, I think the first game might be out either next year or in 2022, and the other ones every 18-24 months.

Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel Kickstarter

the game official trailer

I’m happy to announce that I launched my first Kickstarter:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/winterwolves/tales-from-the-under-realm-hazel

Since it was the first time for me, I decided to pick a “small game” (remember that small for me means medium-sized for almost everyone else!). I did this on purpose since I didn’t want to stress myself too much as first attempt!

Anyways, it’s going rather well (I picked a very low base goal since wasn’t sure exactly how much to ask). But what is this game about?

It was born by an idea of making a series of “dark fantasy” games, having a common denominator: they are narrated by the Nameless God, who rules the Under-Realm (this idea was mentioned briefly in the other Aravorn games, but never explored so much).

This first “episode” (but they’re all disconnected from each other, so no recurring characters) will see the witch Hazel who was captured and imprisoned.

from her outfit you’d never guess she’s a witch, right??

In the same room, she’ll meet with the first love interest, the beautiful assassin Sasha:

she’s cute, but deadly

And the second and last love interest is the paladin Tori:

who said that paladins don’t wear mini-skirts?

And if you think the outfits are too unrealistic, don’t worry: in the game you’ll be able to pick all the options, like a full plate armor for Tori.

You can find even more info in the Kickstarter page. It’s a bit weird I know, since this game’s story actually takes place AFTER all the four Loren spin-off games I’m going to do in the next years, but the base idea (that Hazel is one of the last witches remaining, and there’s this order hunting down witches) can work only in this specific point of the Aravorn’s timeline. A bit of a spoiler maybe, but I think people will forgive me!

Final considerations

As you see I tried to put a very unusual starting situation, also because, I forgot to say, at the beginning of the story you (Hazel, the main protagonist) are dead! But… how that happened? And there’s a way to cheat death? You’ll revive the last days of life of Hazel with the Nameless God powers and find out !

who’s dead? you’re dead!

The game will have as usual a very deep story and the characters will gradually reveal more of their background, motivations and in some cases even show surprising change of heart. There will be some darker scenes but nothing “extreme” like torture or rape, so don’t worry about that!

I also made sure to include happy endings so that all the romance plots will end in a satisfying manner (even more important considering it’s a LGBT game).

The Kickstarter is about to end, and while I put as estimate release June next year, if everything goes as planned, I think that is very likely that the game will be out much sooner than that! Stay tuned!

Volleyball Heaven officially out and some more news

the game official trailer

As you probably already know by now, Volleyball Heaven is officially out. You can get it either on itchio: https://winter-wolves.itch.io/volleyball-heaven

Or Steam (you need to have adult content enabled to see it): https://store.steampowered.com/app/618010/Volleyball_Heaven/

Sadly we couldn’t make it censored+DLC patch on Steam, since they told us that the game was too explicit even in texts (I think it also depends on who of Steam staff reviews it). Anyways after resubmitting twice, I decided was pointless to try to censor it when it was a game clearly made to be adult only.

What’s Next?

You might wonder what I’m working on now. As usual I am doing many projects at once, some announced and some not, so let’s see.

Curse Of Mantras (ex Undead Lily)

the various heroes “homes” and the castle of Mantras in all their splendor!

I finished doing the storyboards of almost all Curse Of Mantras characters, and it wasn’t an easy task believe me! Because each story has two different endings with a plot twist, and without spoiling it too much, one is the bad one (default) and another is the good one which can also unlock some extra stuff. The romance scenes will always trigger towards the end of each route instead.

Of course the storyboards are just the first step! Then there’s the rough draft and then the final polished text. Still LOONG way to go (obviously since it’s still one of those super-huge games!). At this point I hope to have it out next year, since this year will be clearly impossible.

Roger Steel remake

Even if the gameplay won’t be like Puzzle Quest anymore, I still plan to make it simple

Last month I also hoped to announce Roger Steel “remake”, which was supposed to feature a match3/Puzzle Quest gameplay but just before announcing it we found a lot of crazy bugs, so I decided to give up with that system. Probably doing such a game in Ren’Py wasn’t the smartest idea…!

I still plan to do the game though, but I’ll need to find a valid gameplay replacement, either some new card system or even reusing the RPG gameplay, but this game had a fixed amount of battles and each fight should have been more like a puzzle with minimal grinding. Anyway it’s just paused for now, but I still plan to do it.

Summer In Trigue

Just a close-up detail of Mia-Sybil romance CG using new art style

Summer In Trigue rewrite is at good point too, and all the romance CGs are done. I decided to try and use a different artist for the CGs, and early feedback seems to indicate that it was a good move.

I don’t have an estimate release ready but it’s very likely that this could be the next game to be out! It has changed quite a bit vs the first versions of the game but I think overall should be more in line with what my players now expect. It will have both censored/uncensored versions of CGs and texts.

Many secret projects!

Personally I’m writing/storyboarding more “secret games”, but still too early to announce them. For those who don’t know, I am going to announce officially a new game only when I’m sure it will be done in a few months, not before. I want to give a hint of what they are about though:

  • a fantasy story about escaping in a land devastated by a civil war
  • a dark fantasy story about a witch, a thief and a paladin
  • a modern/slice of life yuri game
  • one of the four ex-Loren 2 games (still early stages!)
  • a new horror VN mixed with point’n’click adventure gameplay

All those games are following my new anti-burnout rules, that is plot not too long and/or gameplay not too complex. Many of them are going to be VN only indeed.

My games on consoles!

I am finally free to talk about this (before I couldn’t do it due to NDA). We’ve partnered with Ratalaika games to port my games to consoles (PS4, Switch & Xbox). The first one is Nicole, but we’re planning to port more or less all of them in the following weeks/months (obviously the RPGs will take a long time to port since are very complex and needs careful testing).

I’m very happy of course, and it’s funny – only last year more or less in this period I was writing a blog post about Google Play banning my games, and in general mobile was really doing badly. And now I’m announcing this. I’d say that overall it went for the best since at the moment the console market is much better than the terrible mobile market!

Conclusions

As you see I have a lot of things/projects going on. I think I could maybe have Summer In Trigue done, and perhaps one of the other secret games in beta before end of year. Next year Curse Of Mantras (at least the beta) and maybe some more minor games and then finally in 2022 the first of the four Loren spin-off/episode games. Of course this is just my guess, we’ll see what actually happens!

A clarification about Loren 2

Today I wanted to clarify since many people wondered about Loren 2’s fate. Yes, Loren 2 will not exist anymore as originally intended: a single, huge, impossible to write and code game with 16 love interests (seriously, what I was thinking when I planned it?). But I got an idea, so keep reading and don’t worry.

don’t worry ladies, Rei will be back!

Remember that Planet Stronghold 2 took me one full year (working full time on it, while I usually work on 2-3 games at same time) and it has 10 love interests. Loren 2 originally had 16 planned, so even 6 more than PS2!!

Even if I already thought to split the game in two parts, in the end everything had still to match together, since they both were still part of a single story. So I had to pay attention to plot-holes, branching, romances, etc.

Planet Stronghold 2 has some of the best reviews and overall review rating of ALL my games. And yet, it wasn’t worth it from a commercial point of view (which sadly, since I cannot pay bills with “review score” is important lol). Market change, “high” price, sci-fi setting curse or simply bad luck: one day I’ll do a full postmortem about that game, including the super-weird Steam traffic graph which might have completely broken the release exposure. Yes, you heard it well, it might have been just “bad luck”.

Whatever the reasons, the conclusion is: I cannot risk doing this again, last but not least for mental/physical reasons – after finishing PS2 I was completely burned out, in a way that it never happened before to me. To be honest, I’m still a bit burned out even right now, 3 months after the game release. Think that I even thought about quitting making games after 15 years! Yeah, definitely not an experience I want to repeat !

When you see the credits of those big branching RPGs like Bioware, you see there are like 10-20 writers (in addition to all the coders). I am alone just using some part-time external collaborators. It’s just crazy to think about it already. I cannot be so cocky to think that I can do what 10 people do and not get burned out…!

But wait! Not all is lost!

This doesn’t mean though, that I can’t make more “normal games” with the same characters! I recently spoke with Aleema (Loren’s original writer), and we brainstormed the possibility to split the old+new cast into 4 games with 4 love interests each. It’s a much better solution under all aspects, since will let us make a better job with each character and give them the space they deserve.

Yes, because even if I’m doing it mainly because after Planet Stronghold 2 burn-out and stress I know I wouldn’t want to do it again for my own health, in the end it will be even better for players because they’ll be able to finally get their games, and the smaller cast will reduce the time I need to spend making sure there are no plot holes, and at the same time give each character more scenes than they would get if was a single big game.

Indeed not having to worry about a huge cast will make development easier, since I don’t need to remember what character X said to character Y or the current world situation, etc etc. so I can focus my efforts on creating content instead of worrying about breaking existing storylines (PS2 was really crazy under that aspect!!).

A fair treatment for everyone

Just think for example that while Karen was listed in the romances, already in the draft of the original sequel story her “screen time” was considerably shorter than others. It was hard to justify her presence for longer parts in the story when I had SO MANY MORE CHARACTERS, old and new to deal with 😉 Now instead? She’ll be part on a specific new story with 3 other romances and she’ll get same treatment, as a true TOP MILF like her clearly deserves!!!!! Lol jokes apart, it’s really better even for each single romance route.

Last but not least, only because there will be 4 romances each game, doesn’t mean the other characters cannot be present in the story: they can be, but they will appear as secondary characters. Of course as always I’ll make sure to indicate clearly on each game which romances are available in the game page description.

One of those 4 games will still be about the demons’ threat and will feature Jul of course. I will be able to reuse a good amount of texts already written for the main story originally done for Loren 2. The others? They will be about different topics/settings but still feature a good mix of some old characters and the new ones.

Conclusions

I know that probably some of you won’t like this, but really, it was either this way or I was ready to cancel the game. It’s not about what I want to do or not, but is about my mental/physical health and it’s not something to take lightly, trust me.

Of course we’re still talking a few years in future because first I need to finish Curse of Mantras, but after that one I will start to work on one of those games. And this time won’t take me many years to finish and it won’t drive me crazy because they’re too big for me to do them alone! 🙂