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! 🙂

Restart from scratch

Lana’s route is the one who got most changes in the new beta

First, an announcement! Volleyball Heaven new beta is out: https://winter-wolves.itch.io/volleyball-heaven

The base story is the same but we’ve made several adjustments to a certain abrasive character (Lana lol) and fixed some endings (like Zoe’s final kiss scene for example). Also, it should be generally easier to win all the volleyball matches to unlock all the beautiful CG scenes. For a full list of changes check my forums or itch.io latest version.

All the changes were based on the feedback we received from the first early beta versions, thank you all !

Being stubborn doesn’t always pay off

In today’s blog (or better I should say this month’s blog, since I’ve started blogging regularly only monthly from this year) I want to talk about something I wish I had done more times: when a game, an idea, is not working, in most cases it’s better to cancel it and start something completely new.

I did this only once so far in my indie career, and it was when I canceled Nicole yuri, but I can count at least 2-3 other cases in which I stubbornly finished the games, but it would have been better to not do it.

I am going to make some examples, but for all those games it’s only my fault, since in the end I was the one who took all the important decisions. No one else is to blame.

A classic situation was when I made a series of games, without knowing how the first did. It’s crazy. Doing sequels in general is not a good idea (I made a blog post long time ago talking about that) but sometimes it can be worth it, like Planet Stronghold 2 since I wanted to explore more that world and I felt that enough players were still interested in it. The very high review scores seems to indicate that the final result wasn’t bad !

But other times I did sequels, or even series of games set in a world, when it was really better if I paused first and looked at the numbers before going on, like with Vera Blanc for example.

The “cursed” games!

Other times instead, it’s even hard to find a reason why the project isn’t working. It can really be just bad luck. You know, when every single thing you do, doesn’t work. And maybe you start thinking it’s the writer, or artist, or it’s you, or you picked a wrong genre, or any other reason, but the reality is, and you might laugh at it but I swear is 100% true, that there are project that are lucky, and others that aren’t!

For example, when I did Loren, or Cursed Lands, I knew already from the very first steps that I was going in the right direction, not that there weren’t any obstacles or problems (those are ALWAYS present in any game I made) but that I knew I would overcome them, it’s hard to explain by words but was like I had faith, trust in the game. And then it continued, with first beta versions that people were really loving it, strong early sales, good Steam reception and so on.

But the same can be said in the opposite case. Games that starts badly, replacing writers/artists 2-3 times for example, or having hard time to design/plan a good gameplay or story, cold reactions even from fans when I post some previews, and so on. In those cases, I should have stopped and reconsidered everything.

Get early feedback

Another tip, even if it’s not always easy especially when doing story-based games (because it largely depends on personal tastes), is to get early feedback. Both during beta (like we did with Volleyball Heaven) but also in the very early stages, if you’re not sure about something.

For example last month I had an idea for a fantasy story, but as I was writing it myself, I had some doubts. It turned out more grimdark than what I usually do, and there were also other problems. I showed it to some trusted writer friends and their feedback was super enlightening.

Basically by doing so I saved myself a lot of time (rewriting /adapting it when it was only in the early stages was much simpler than doing it after I wrote 50-60k words!!) and I also understood how I had to write the remaining part.

From now on I think I’ll be doing this (asking private feedback) whenever I have some serious doubts about a story I’m doing. So in short: don’t have fear of cancelling games, or question your own ideas even in the early stages. It will pay off in the long run!

Volleyball Heaven beta is out

One of the many bonus CG you can unlock in the game

As the blog title says, Volleyball Heaven beta is finally out! You can find more info here: https://winter-wolves.itch.io/volleyball-heaven

The final gameplay and themes

As said before, the game was turned into a plain visual novel since the gameplay system wasn’t working, so there was no point in adding it if it wasn’t fun to play. Also, this game is very different from my past ones, including more mature themes and strong language, so be warned. This not to say that there aren’t many funny situations or moments, but there is also some kind of content that you’ve never seen in my games before.

So far from the initial comments I got people seems to enjoy it, and of course let me know what you think about it, if it’s something you’d like to see more, or not, in future games.

The end of an era

I just wanted to go back for a moment about my previous blog post…! Planet Stronghold 2’s reception was very good, and currently it’s my RPG with highest review score on Steam! This makes me very proud as you can imagine (also because I wrote it all myself).

However, what I wrote in past blog still remains true, and it’s not only about the market and potential sales but the burn-out aspect. I am going to simplify things but I will still add RPG elements or mix between visual novels and other gameplay genres (sim/strategy/cards etc).

The Curse Of Mantras will be my last game to have a huge cast, but at least the card gameplay is easier (not by that much, but it is) compared to RPG gameplay.

For example if I had to redo PS2 today, I would:

  • make the main plot shorter lol, obviously
  • not have 12 love interests but 4-5 max
  • choose a starting romance or start as single and romance new characters only (and not the madness of breaking existing romance to pursue new ones etc)
  • have RPG gameplay but much simpler, more casual, less fights or quicker fights

The only thing I’d probably keep is much of the branching, but as said a shorter story. With all those changes, the game would have probably took me 6 months (because I am fast and work hard!) instead of 12 months, and I probably could have priced it more accordingly to today’s market.

Mine are just suppositions anyway, because this market changes so quickly that even us devs don’t really know what’s going to happen. It will be interesting to see my upcoming games like a match 3 / puzzle quest style game that I hope to announce on next month’s blog post!

Planet Stronghold 2 is out on Steam and future RPGs

The game has been out since a while on my site and a few days on Steam:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/857200/Planet_Stronghold_2/

Before I go on with the bad news, I want to be clear: the game isn’t doing bad, indeed is more or less in line with my other RPGs, but it’s definitely way below my expectations. It’s still early days of course, but I can already see a bit the future trend since launch week is the most important in a game and you can already see the long term outcome. And it’s not just Steam, even sales on my own sites during past months weren’t what I expected, but I was hoping that maybe most people were waiting to get it on Steam.

Now I’ve tried to understand why, since considering the amount of effort, I expected much much more. I thought about the setting (sci-fi will ALWAYS lose against fantasy, no matter what your opinion is about it) or the fact that was a sequel, or the bad release timing due to global pandemic or top AAA titles… the reality is that it could be all of those or none.

As I said, it’s not like the game “flopped”, also because it’s too early to say. It could just be “the new normal”, since talking with other indies they all had really terrible launches recently (something that after taxes and Steam cut, aren’t even enough for minimum wage!).

Future RPGs (the bad news for some)

this scene with Milo was some kind of prophecy? 🙂

In any case, even if maybe it’s just a bad moment and in future sales might pick up again, I realized that I simply cannot do such a thing anymore. I mean, embark on the journey of making such a big game. I’m not talking about “all RPG” in general, but the combination of big cast, long story and RPG gameplay. Of course, this means for example a game like Loren 2 is on permanent hiatus until further notice.

Doing this game really wore me out, both physically and emotionally and it’s pretty clear that I need to change. No worries I’ll still be making games: visual novels, maybe with some simple gameplay (card games or adventure or puzzle or things like this), but much “shorter” ones, and this time for real (they’ll still probably be much longer than the average though!). And maybe I’ll start exploring other game genres as well.

This doesn’t mean will slow down the releases, on the opposite once I recover from this burn out I might actually be increasing them (still trying to keep a good quality, because short doesn’t mean bad). Volleyball Heaven should be out in a couple of months max (last parts are being scripted right now). I expect maybe Summer In Trigue to be out too later this year.

But big long and complex games? Curse Of Mantras will likely be the LAST big game I’ll ever make (seriously 10 love interests!). Since I already started working on it and spent already a lot of money, I don’t want to give up (plus I really enjoy card games myself).

However, other RPGs like… Roger Steel? That one is canceled, sadly. I offered the rights back to the original writer so maybe he’ll still be able to make something out of it and I wish him luck. There’s a lot of art, so maybe I’ll see if I can put together a simple game (match3 or something) for cheap so people can see them and maybe I can recoup the costs a bit. But in any case, such big games are no longer in my immediate plans, for two simple reasons.

First, I fear doing such games it’s not economically feasible anymore in this climate/market. Cursed Lands did very well but it was 2 years ago (and it had “only” 6 love interests, not 10!!!), and 2 years is a lot of time in this business. But even if was economically possible…

It’s too draining (you might not believe it, but it is). It requires an insane effort on my side, and when I’m done, I am completely stressed and burned out. I kept doing it after Loren because I saw that fans seemed to like them, but I need also to think about my health. I’m not as young as before, and I noticed I get tired much easily. And this is of course bad for business. If I get burned out like this, means that other games will get delayed too. Thank God Volleyball Heaven was almost done beside some scripting. If I had to write it myself, or just the storyboard, I would be KO for months.

Also doing VN/RPG means people will judge both the writing and the gameplay. It’s much harder to please people with both things. If you make a game with a good story, like Heirs & Graces, it will have great ratings on Steam. If you make a game with gameplay too, people might love the story but not gameplay. Thumbs down. People might like gameplay but hate the story. Thumbs down. Etc etc you got what I mean.

Conclusions and future

In conclusion I’m sad for those who liked my big huge RPGs, but from now on I can’t possibly see myself doing another. Maybe I’ll change my mind in future but if this happens will be in YEARS. Not next year, not in two years. For real.

On the positive side (because I’m an optimist and I like to always look at the bright side) those who liked my more “simple” games will be happy since that’s what I’ll do next. And it doesn’t mean only games like Bionic Heart, C14 Dating, Nicole, Roommates. Also fantasy games. Because even if I don’t want to do insanely big games anymore, I can still make fantasy VNs set in Aravorn! And I can mix in some strategy or adventure or other gameplay elements. Just something that won’t require me to code 150 skills, draw 50 isometric maps, design 120+ enemies, playtest 100 encounters, etc etc 😛

I have already some story ideas in mind. Stay tuned.

Branching games and canon endings

Today I want to talk about a very particular topic for people like me making very complex, branching games with multiple endings.

As you know if you ever played any of my games (or of other developers making branching games) the story changes greatly based on your choices and usually ends in many different ways.

Now if the only point was the ending, things wouldn’t be even too bad. In path A, you become a King. In path B, you are a traveling merchant. And so on. The main issue is when the choices you take on a path don’t impact only your own character, but other recurring characters or worse, the entire world!!

one of the MANY different scenes in Planet Stronghold 2 based on your choices

Planet Stronghold 2 was particularly difficult to write (I’d say it was frakking hard!) because while the first title had only one possible ending, as I was writing the sequel I still had to take into account not just “who your romanced”, but who you sided with as well.

This is not a spoiler since it happens in the first game which was out… 9 years ago! In summary you could remain loyal to empire or become a rebel and side with the aliens. This, as you can imagine, changes everything. In every single scene you write, you need to be careful. You cannot for example write “I took refuge in an alien camp” if you were loyal to the empire. Or you can’t write “our aliens allies”. And so on.

So when an ending of a game reflects also a series of game-changing choices, things become really really complex. Thank god I don’t have to worry about Planet Stronghold 3 for now (and maybe it will never happen) but in that case, I would simply need to pick a “canon ending”.

Canon ending isn’t necessarily the only ending

I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. Unless it’s about the game world, in that case yes (otherwise would be impossible to write the story) if it’s about single characters romances/relationship, then all it’s possible.

Going more into details: as you know, you can romance many people in my games, let’s take for example Loren. If you play as Elenor, at the same time you could have romanced Karen, or Amukiki, or Mesphit, or any other love interest. Those romances/characters have no big impact to the game world (Karen was the Queen yes, but Loren would replace her no matter what happens in the end).

So, only because you played with a specific romance, doens’t mean that it was the only outcome possible! In Planet Stronghold 2 I offered different starting points for Tom and Michelle, depending on which faction you sided with (Empire/Rebels) in the first game. If you were a Rebel, Michelle goes away to work as bartender in some Marada settlement (but she’ll be back for you! <3) while if you were loyal to Empire she stays with you at the colony. And the opposite is true for Tom, going to colony Zero-Two if you were loyal and staying with you if you were rebel.

Both things are true at the same time, because this is the nature of branching stories. In a way it’s like the parallel universes theory: all paths exists, overlapping each other. In my case, as long as they don’t break irremediably the story!

Conclusions

In summary all my ramblings are to make a simple point: if in one ending out of 10 or more, a secondary character dies, or you romance someone or any other minor non-world breaking event happens, it doens’t mean that it’s true for all possible different paths.

At the same time it’s extremely hard to write sequels for such games unless you pick a “canon ending”, and it’s even more difficult if you want to allow players to tweak the starting conditions (like I did with Planet Stronghold 2!). Because of this, I am probably not going to do it again anymore, it’s really too complex and can lead to easy plot holes! So I’m definitely going to pick an ending and go with the canon ending in future, PS2 was an exception, but it turned out to be a much bigger effort than I could ever have imagined.