Lessons learned and ideas for Loren 2

I know that Planet Stronghold 2 is not out yet, and it’s definitely too early to do a postmortem. But as I am coding Planet Stronghold 2 I am learning a lot, and it was really a good thing that I did it before embarking on the odyssey that will be making Loren 2.

Too many romances!

Planet Stronghold 2 romance graph. Notice how foolishly hoped to have it done by Q1 2013! lol

If you ask a player, there’s no thing as too many romances! But if you ask me, or any other developer who cares to bring good characters and realistic romance routes to life, they’ll shake their head and say “yes”.

While writing Planet Stronghold 2, I realized how complex is a game that offers a lot of romance options AND also the possibility to continue a previous romance. I will explain better with some examples, because I understand that for players some details aren’t immediately noticeable, but for people like me who are behind the planning and coding, it’s a nightmare!

Let’s not talk about the fact that for each single romance combo (male/female and straight/homosexual) I had a different starting scene in PS2, in that case even if you were loyal or rebel there were different variations (for example, Michelle moved away if you were Rebel).

So that aside, for each scene in PS2, I had text variants depending if the character was in a romance or not. For example, if Rebecca saw Joshua looking at other girls and you were in a starting romance with her, a jealousy scene would follow. Which of course would make no sense if you were NOT in a starting romance with her! And so on. There are a lot of those variants thorough the whole game, and they take time and effort since they must merge with the story well.

A small parenthesis: this is one of the main reasons why I didn’t use an external writer for this game, because either that writer knew very well how Ren’Py / branching games work, or would have been a mess to explain what to do.

But that’s not even the worst – the worst is, that since I offered the option to “change your mind” and break the current romance to pursue a new character, for each starting love interest I had a “break up scene”. Then, for each character I also had an “engagement scene” which would “set” your love interest in chapter 3 and until the end of the story. Phew!

Even for Cursed Lands there was a lot of effort but at least there, all the romances except Leena and Jasper were bisex, removing several problems. And you had no starting romances. Here there are all the previous romances: Rebecca, Tom, Michelle, Rumi, Cliff and Damien, plus the new entries: Milo, Lakadema, Shiler and Avae!

To use a technical term, this amount of work behind the game romances is fucking insane. Lol, jokes apart, at least for the new entries I had “only” to write the engagement scenes since you couldn’t start in a romance with them.

Talking about Loren 2

As I was saying, this experience with Planet Stronghold 2 made me realize once more that all the romances of Loren 2 was a totally reckless decision and I don’t think I can possibly do a good job as it’s currently planned.

My idea (which is not set in stone of course) is to have a full experience with the new romances, I mean like the first game, so that each character has a long, satisfying romance arc. And then, maybe a sort of smaller story or something for the existing romances. It could still be done in form of a DLC, but what I want people to understand is that I simply cannot have both games of same length, also because it’s hard to find new ideas for the existing romances (there’s already 240-250,000 words of texts of the first game after all!).

But beside length consideration, even for Loren 2 I simply cannot have all the combo of Planet Stronghold 2, so probably I will have either a starting romance that will be the same for the whole story (with no possibility to change) or starting with no romance, and then you could romance the new characters only.

Already the change described above would cut a lot of work, making the story much easier to write and I wouldn’t need to have 500 variants of the same scene depending on the starting romances!

In summary right now my idea is that at beginning of the game, the choices would be two: 1) start as “new”, with no pre-exisiting relationship and possibility to engage with the new characters only 2) start with an existing relationship from Loren 1 and keep it until end of the story (this probably would be done as DLC to be released later)

Anyway, there’s time, since after Planet Stronghold 2 I plan to “take a break” and work on Undead Lily since that’s also another game delayed for too long (and that has too many romances problem as well! haha). I’ll also be releasing other “regular” VN/dating sim games along the way since taking 1 year between each release is really too much time and bad for business.

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Your feedback is welcome

PSCD is probably one of the games where I listened more to the feedback

Haha sorry for the odd blog post title! Anyway, the basic concept is this one: any feedback from you is welcome. You, who bought and played my games. You who never bought any of my games and pirated them all. You who have somehow played my games and think they’re awesome and the very likely few of you (really, just a minority, I’m sure of it!) who think they are bad ! 😛

Jokes apart, I always welcomed feedback, even when it was made in a somewhat arrogant/presumptuous way, like “why have you done XYZ when clearly nobody likes that?” and often I laughed looking at the statistics in my possession saying exactly the opposite.

Tastes are tastes, but stats don’t lie

Doesn’t matter if what you think is “right” or “wrong” (also because we can’t really say that, it’s all about personal tastes), I am interested in hearing it. If you follow me I know that I always try to reply whenever I can, explaining why I do what I do, even if ultimately the main reason of all my choices is that I run a business and I need to make money.

For example, I already said a while ago that I won’t make any more yaoi only games, but this doesn’t mean that there won’t be anymore yaoi romances in my games, especially RPGs. It means simply that there won’t be another Heirs & Graces game, with 4 love interests, all gay. This is not about personal tastes (even if I personally like more yuri) but based on the statistics in my possession. It’s better for me to do a game with two romance combos or even all romances, maybe with fewer love interests or with all characters bisex (like Love Bites) instead.

Anyway, sorry for derailing! But if you have any comment/suggestion to make, feel free to do it, here in the blog, in my forums, on my discord server (even if I sadly I don’t check it often) or in the social networks. Even if I mostly base my decisions on my data/stats, many times suggestion also helped me come up with new game ideas, gameplay or other thing. Small details, big changes.

Indeed, several times I made choices based on people’s suggestions! For example I have:

  • named a main character (Nicole)
  • tried making a game in a new genre (PSCD, Amber)
  • changed an ending/epilogue (Cursed Lands)
  • made a game more “hot/explicit” (PSCD, Roommates)
  • named a game (Heirs & Graces, Amber)

and the list goes on. So as you can see, I take them seriously into consideration! Then maybe of 10 suggestions only 1 gets implemented, but doesn’t mean I don’t care about them or that I don’t read them.

Some examples

PSCD is a good example of features implemented based on suggestions. The manga art update, which increased sales by 300% and showed me to never make again a game with non manga art. Or for the same game, the “quick match” option in the main menu. At first I was reluctant but in the end was probably a week of work more to implement it, and people definitely liked it.

Or for those who beta-tested Cursed Lands and participated in my forums, I changed the epilogue of the game after talking with people and Loren’s original writer to remain faithful to a certain character (I won’t go in more details since is a spoiler).

The only case in which I definitely don’t implement something, is if the idea itself requires an insane amount of extra money or work and I simply cannot afford to do it. If you haven’t, check a post I made a while ago about feature creep and vocal minority.

Keep the suggestions coming and even if I don’t have time to reply to all of them, I swear I read them all!

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Planet Stronghold 2 update

Shiler apologizing to you? this isn’t something you see every day!

So, we’re already at the end of August!

Work on Planet Stronghold 2 is progressing nicely. In case you don’t know, it’s taking me so long to update the beta version simply because I decided to release both the last two chapters, the 3 and 4 at once. While the last chapter has a shorter main storyline, it has all the romance scenes and personal quests, so it’s definitely important!

Getting personal…

The personal quests are optional (you’ll be able to refuse them if you want), but still need to be written and tested. Also, for EACH quest, there’s going to be two variants depending on your alignment with that character (loyal/rival).

What happens if you’re neutral? There will be another choice in the quest itself that will force you to be either Loyal or Rival. So we have two different fights, and then also different texts.

The main reward (usually a powerful item usable only by that specific character) will always unlock, while the variant will provide extra different bonuses (money, epic items, grenade/medikits, special items, etc).

…and getting hot!

The romance scenes, since there are 6 love interests, are taking a long time (I have planned 5 romance scenes for each character for a total of 30 !!) and I’m also putting special care in the “final romance scene” with the CG offering two versions, a suggestive/mature version and a more tame/soft version.

This time since with the suggestive option turned on you can see fully naked characters (depending on the pose you might not see some details of course) I decided to make the suggestive text version much more spicier than any other games I’ve done in the past ! While the soft version will have still undressed characters but not fully naked and the text will reflect this.

All of this, as you can imagine, requires more text (both version must be satisfying to read) so for example one of the romance scenes I wrote is almost 3000 words long!! Even if they’ll be of varying length, if we consider an average of 2k words each for 6 love interests, that’s already 12k words just for that scene for all characters!

I’m currently around 250,000 words of story, and as expected (LOL) it’s going to be another SMALL GAME ™. I remember when I finished Cursed Lands and thought about its crazy size of over 300,000 words I said “I won’t make another game as big as this one”. Last famous words…!

Release date

The downside of all this is that the game will probably be ready during the WORST moment of the year to release a new game, that is end of October/November. I will still release it on itch.io of course, but I will probably delay the Steam release until after the holidays, since I think it might be a bad idea. I haven’t made my mind yet, but it’s very likely!

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Volleyball Heaven Update

is Lana seeing a guy? Suspense! Also see, new backgrounds!

It’s about time to give you an update on this game. There have been some unexpected delays due to events out of my (and the writer’s) control but finally things are moving again! Towards the end of 2018 / early this year I had finished scripting the game until the Christmas events.

Now, the final version of the script until Valentine’s Day / Easter is done, I’d say about 2/3 of the total game script is finished. I still need to code it and test of course, so it’s not like 2/3 of the game is FULLY finished. However it’s still a dating sim, not a complex RPG, so nothing compared to Planet Stronghold 2!

Breaking the Curse!

In case you didn’t know, Volleyball Heaven will become my first yuri-only released game. I had already planned another, the “cursed game” aka Nicole yuri but I got exasperated up to a point that I canceled it. I also had another one in the works, Summer In Trigue, which is going to be finished too by the same writer taking care of Volleyball Heaven (that writer will be now known as the ‘Yuri Finisher’ !).

Plus, I’m working on another “secret yuri game” but following my new philosophy of not announcing anything until I am 100% sure that the game is almost ready, I won’t talk about it for now. But even this one is coming along nicely.

In summary I want to break this curse and get forgiven by yuri fans for taking so long to FINALLY release a yuri only game. Thinking that my first (and very likely last) yaoi only game was done back in 2016, already three years ago, yuri fans deserve some justice!

Hot Stuff

I’m also curious to release Volleyball Heaven because it will be my first very “adult oriented” game. In previous games (like Loren) I had already sexy scenes but in this game is different, also the general tone of writing is more “mature”. A bit hard to me to explain. But anyway, I will work with the writer to make a “clean enough” version so that it can appear on Steam listings (which is important since if it’s marked as adult-only, it will be hidden by default, lowering the exposure).

But even the “clean version” will still be rather hot – compared to my previous games of course! Compared to some hentai games I’ve seen on Steam it will still be much tamer!

I know some people might agree (some might even say “finally!”) with my new more “adult oriented direction” while others not, but after the Google play ban, my main market is PC/Steam and on Steam if you don’t have at least a sexy version you could even not bother making a visual novel at all. Of course, unless you’re already famous with millions of followers.

Just a random but interesting data that reinforces my point: after several months Corona Borealis still sold better on my own site/itchio than Steam, and it’s a very clean game. Similarly, other “clean games” like Always Remember Me almost sold same direct vs Steam, and so on. On the other hand, every other game with more sexy content (Roommates, Cursed Lands, PSCD after the manga patch, etc) are selling between x3-x10 times more on Steam. Which is a clear indication about what people want on that platform I think!

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Future mobile games

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” – Mark Twain

As you can imagine today I’ll be talking about the future of my mobile games and… it’s not a bright one. First of all: I always made the mobile versions more to please my fans, and even if Google+Apple+Amazon together were bringing in some nice extra revenues, all of them combined still weren’t more than desktop sales (Steam+Itch.io).

However, as you can imagine making builds for 3 different platforms was a lot of work, and if I compare the time spent with money made, probably not worth it. First adapting to mobile, then testing. Every time I wanted to build an app, it was taking several minutes, which for someone used to Ren’Py instant run on desktop is a lot. Then, problems with various devices, very difficult to debug and fix bugs, having to use an external coder for iOS, people losing access codes, and so on. You got the idea.

Developing games cross-platform is good, but only if your games are big sellers. Mine obviously aren’t, so instead of a benefit, it was becoming a burden.

The censors are here!

Now for those who don’t know what happened, in the last weeks Google Play suspended my account. I can’t access my developer panel, I can’t check sales, I can’t do anything anymore. All is gone. Why? Because of repeated violation of their “sexually explicit content” policy.

Now before we go on, I’m all for protecting children against adult content. Smart companies like Valve just made an “adult only section” of their store and restricted the content, so everyone can enjoy what they want without censorship. But the thing is, my games on mobile were already censored (by myself) by removing the most suggestive images. So what were they complaining about?

If I understood correctly, beside the app content, even the store listing imagery had to be “suitable for a general audience or removed from your store listing”. Below there are some pictures that are considered not suitable for a general audience. It might be a cultural difference because I live in Europe but you can see much more explicit images on perfume ads everywhere in Europe…or just by going to the beach.

I could understand if they removed it for the crazy eyes, but… that cleavage? seriously?
This was the game icon, I had to redo it for the cleavage on the left
this whole scene was even described in a funny/comedic way, but still wasn’t OK

When I got the suspension I made an appeal and it was rejected, but at least in that email was listed exactly which ones of these various suspensions were the ones that triggered the deletion of my whole account (because I didn’t know at all). The real issue was with some images in Bionic Heart 1 & 2. They’re below:

a love scene between Helen and Tom
in this case was still Helen’s bikini and probably the pose

Are they right or not? For someone living in Europe, even the last two pictures are nothing so explicit, but I guess depends on the country/culture. If you search for “perfume ads” images you’ll see much worse stuff that appeared on TV, magazines, billboards, etc. When you grow up and seeing naked human body is normal, it’s hard to even only understand what you’re doing wrong!

In the end though, it’s their store and they can do what they want. If tomorrow they wake up and only games in black and white are allowed, we must obey. If they decide that visual novel as genre must be banned, they can do it. Is it right, is it not? In the end, doesn’t matter.

The future

Even if both Apple and Amazon (they have an Android appstore) never bothered me with any of this, also because it’s really not clear and depends on interpretations, it might be just a matter of time. Indeed this whole thing taught me a lesson, that I cannot really trust 3rd party companies which have a monopoly over a platform/device.

I mean, with desktop games in the worst case I can still sell them myself on itch.io or other sites (even if Steam is much more friendly now). But mobile? If Google Play was my only source of income, today I would be writing a blog post “sorry I’m quitting indie dev” 😛

Anyway, for now I haven’t made my mind on what to do. I started building the APKs to put them on itchio, but talking with many other devs they confirmed my fear, that basically nobody buys anything outside the official appstores. This is real, behind the scenes, data. Not what you could read in forums or posted by some marketing guys “this game XYZ in our custom Android store made a million!” yeah sure. Then when you talk to the actual devs who are free to speak anonymously, the truth comes out.

Add to this that sales on appstores were on decline already, the extra support and work to strip them down from the IAP features and so on, this made me think that for now I better use my time to work on my next games.

I don’t know what will happen in future yet, but the only sure thing is that if you’re looking to play Planet Stronghold 2, or any of the upcoming games, your best bet is to get them on desktop devices.

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