Project Update and Axel’s Facelift

Wow! Thanks to kind internet folks such as yourselves, our Kickstarter has just about met its 2nd stretch goal of $3000!

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We’ve also updated two of our nearest stretch goal tiers to contain some more exciting incentives:

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Help us meet these new goals while there’s time left! We’re down to the last 4 hours!

I have felt for a long time that as my competency with MangaStudio and the Wacom tablet have improved, some of the older characters have required a facelift of sorts. The biggest offender? Axel.

Check him out now!

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I cleaned up the line art, and this time knew to “Export in Dimensions” rather than in pixels – creating smoother colors truer to how they were originally blended. Expect similar updates to Adin and Arinnel too 🙂

And as always, thanks a ton for the support! I know many of our readers have donated – if you could reblog this, you will gain an extra day of eternal gratitude! 😉

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Introducing a Love Interest

Wow, it’s been a while. With our friends’ wedding coming up, it feels like less time than ever that we’ve had to blog, and with less new developments, since we’re both currently embroiled in detail-oriented, time-consuming efforts. Have you ever animated before? I hadn’t. And now I never want to again.

Anyways, a recent change to a detail of the story has led us to create a new opening scene, which means a romp through Ren’s home town before he arrives, much less graduates from, the academy (don’t worry; you won’t need to go through the academy. What does this look like, Ender’s Game? Great book, btw). So now, we have a scene with Ren and Taya in their home town (and Justin wants to omit Axel, as well), in addition to the time they spend together at the academy, then traveling to the elves’ forest. That’s a whole lot of Taya.

Bet you can't handle too much of this ugly mug.

Bet you can’t handle too much of this ugly mug.

Of course, no complaints on my part, because she’s secretly (but not too secretly) kind of my favorite character. But when it comes to balance between her and Arinnel, there’s not very much as of right now. Arinnel’s met what’s seeming later and later in the game, and you’ve already had this much time to gain relationship points with Taya.

A way to balance it would be to have Taya out of the picture for a good run after Arinnel is introduced – an idea I’ve been playing with. But Justin (who wants to change my whole idea for an ending just for balance’s sake) is actually ok with the disproportionate screen time as it is, saying that Taya is the “primary love interest” and Arinnel’s… back-up?

You know... just like in real life.

You know… just like in real life.

But sometimes video game love interests just genuinely annoy people and they wish they had a second option. I mean, hopefully that doesn’t happen with our lovely cast. But let’s take, for a moment, Yukari from Persona 3. She’s a whiney, uppity, better-than-you super skank. And yet she seems to be the main/”canon” (or what would be if they had a canon) love interest for most of the game – even though Mitsuru is objectively better. I say that Yukari seems to be the main because she’s the date that the game defaults to if you have crap social links with the girls. But I did say “most of the game” for a reason (Spoilers ahead).

When Aigis walks into the scene, the game takes a bit of a change in direction: suddenly this kick-ass mega-droid seems to take the role of primary love interest. Not only does she get her own cut scene, which (to my memory) no other love interest does, but she’s the one that’s with you when you die, she’s the one that inherits your wild card abilities, and she’s the one that quite impossibly falls in love (since she’s a robot and all). Oh, and she’s the only one that remembers you when all is said and done and the world is safe.

I’m not sure how I feel about introducing the canon love interest so late in the game. You don’t get as much time to bond with her, and especially in a game with such a diverse cast that includes total butt-kicker like Mitsuru (although she’s by no means my favorite combatant), you really feel that lack of development. Not to mention, she’s a robot so she’s kind of lacking in the personality department.

To be able to do that, you have to make sure that the character you’re introducing is simply, in a word, awesome. But with so little time to show personality, it’s kind of hard to do. Especially when your interest is competing looks-wise with someone designed like Mitsuru.

We’ll see just how the characters are written, and proof-reading will always come in handy. In the meantime, how do you feel about late love interests introduced in video games? Do you prefer the time to get to know the character or the excitement that comes with an unexpected introduction?

Swapping Out Females?

Justin and I had an interesting debate about the end of our game the other day. We’ve mentioned before that your relationship with either female character affects the outcome of the game, but to what extent has been our debate.

You see, I want a certain outcome for Taya to depend totally on your relationship score with her (I’m going to attempt to write about this while not giving away the end). I think that end, while in some ways not my favorite end… well… in other ways it’s a good ending; yeah, in a larger narrative sense, it is my favorite ending, absolutely and hands-down. It brings around certain plot points to a powerful conclusion that I think is very cool and very moving. Justin feels, though, that having such an ending for Taya necessitates an equal option for Arinnel, too. (Note: this does not mean that you if “choose” or girl or the other the event is triggered; rather, the event is triggered strictly by the number of relationship points you have with the character in question).

I’m going to use a totally fake example with no parallels to the real plot idea so that I can explain it better. Let’s say… if you have a high/low enough level of points with Taya, I want her to… um… get a bunny at the end of the game? A really happy, cute, fluffy little bunny. Because Taya… uh… has had a phobia of bunnies from the beginning of the game, and her getting one just totally rounds out her narrative. Justin feels, though, that if there is the option for Taya to get a bunny depending on your relationship points with her, Arinnel should also have the option to get a bunny… even though she hasn’t exhibited the same feelings toward bunnies. Just for symmetry, and not to show favoritism. By the way, this has nothing to do with babies.

My problem with both girls getting bunnies at the end of the game – which is a huge, game-changing event, really – is that the endings aren’t really different if we do that. It would render the endings the same, your choices won’t really matter; the endings would basically just be a mirror of each other. It’s not crafting a unique storyline based on the traits we’ve imbued into each girl. It’s treating them like stock-characters and plugging them in/out of one story. As much as I’ve made my girls out to be a bit of eye candy, I do agree that it’s time girls stop being just stock characters and start being… heroes, really. Or at least three-dimensional beings – not merely love interests (although yeah, that too).

Now, I’d be happy for Taya to get a bunny and Arinnel to get… a… guinea pig, or something, if Arinnel’s arc includes deep-seated feelings toward the little squealers. That would be fine. An equally important circumstance, although uniquely different to suit the character. That would be cool. It’s just thinking of what Arinnel’s guinea pig would be that’s the problem.

What do you think? Has media been lazy when it comes to developing their female characters, or do you think progress really has been made? Do you think it lessens the value of each character if their only function is to serve a particular purpose for the narrative of the protagonist?

Stamina Meter

One of the infuriating, yet totally understandable, aspects of Harvest Moon was the stamina meter. Remember in the SNES/Gameboy, especially, when you’d be busy chopping wood, clearing your field, planting crops, smashing rocks, whatever, and it just ate and ate and ate away at your stamina? And then you’d have to eat or go to the hotspring or just call it a day all together? That drove me nuts. I was on a mission, dammit! Those fields needed clearing!

Now, though, in developing our game, stamina is a feature that we’re looking into. If it bothered me so much in Harvest Moon, why is it something that I’m pushing for now? There are a couple of reasons.

With the more-open world we’re striving toward (despite the need for load screens, etc), a player could be tempted to speed through a game without ever setting up camp and getting the chance to converse with your party, have your party create items, or build relationships with either of the two girls. It’s fine for second or third play-throughs, but that type of play sort of ruins the experience of the whole game if that quick-play version is the only one the player knows. The player can just keep running and moving and lose all the other elements of the game.

Unlike KOTOR, another game with a homebase, there’s no way to force a player into the homebase as there is with KOTOR (the base is the ship, the player needs to enter the ship every time one world is finished to move on to the next). The stamina meter will encourage the player to take a breather and enjoy these other aspects of the game.

But, of course, there still need to be ways to keep this feature from being an infuriatingly dull-point for the players who do just want to finish – or to assist players who traveled a little too far and are now stuck in an area with no campsite and enemies all around. So it’s likely that food, potions, and other items will assist in alleviating stamina to keep a player going through moments like those.

What do you think of a stamina meter? Have you played any games with a similar concept? Was it a help or hindrance in your enjoyment of the gameplay?

Setting Up Camp

One option I want to incorporate into The Lotus War is the ability to set-up camp. Sometimes, I find the time spent in the homebase to even be some of the most interesting moments of the game. It’s a good cool-down time to talk to the other characters and get a feel for the stories, or even enrich the one you’re playing out.

KOTOR, my obvious favorite, is a good example of this. Because your ship is the mode by which you traverse from one world (or level) to the next, it’s a necessary break you need to take to advance in the game. During this time, the player can talk to Bastila, Carth, that cat chick, that annoying girl, the hilarious kill-bot, and get them to make great and useful items for you (btw, the aforementioned kill-bot was not the little droid, though T3-M4 was an awesome asset. I would not have survived my first fight with Malak had it not been for him!)

Setting up camp really came up as an idea because I wanted to be able to trigger conversations and events with the party members – and waiting for towns or specific buildings could’ve made the events sparse. Now, because the player can choose to bypass campsites, the events may be missed – but there will still be more of them. I really hope to use it as a way to keep from having the same, repetitive conversation with the party on every occasion (because we can set up events unique to each campsite).

The system by which the player travels the map is like FF7’s – the MC’s avatar is the only one present on the map during all of the running. The party members, then, are not visible all the time and therefore cannot be talked to at a whim to further story lines. While that may be a downside in the mode we’ve chosen to represent the party/travel, the upside is an un-cluttered screen and a less ridiculous look (it does look pretty silly for the party to be running in single-file like a game of Meerca Chase (am I the only one who remembers Neopets?) or you know… Caterpillar or whatever it’s called.

Not only does the party-travel mode look silly, but it does have draw-backs in progression and conversation. For example, it will be more difficult to script new and different dialog, or progressive dialog. At best, we could randomize the conversation. At least, we’d have to program a short greeting to each of them but save the meatier conversation for certain points in the game.

Setting up camp not only allows for the progressive conversation we want, but also for the ability to have characters craft items for you/the party, which is another fun aspect in itself.

 

What do you think about games that retain a home base? (even if that base is mobile)

The Importance of Realism in Video Games (or lack thereof)

Quick! Name some of your favorite video games!

Some may stick with the good ol’ stand-bys of long-gone days when life was simpler and games were simpler and your joy in playing was simpler. Mario. Classic Zelda games. Pokemon. Ah, the good ol’ days when you could be fully healed by walking into a town or finishing a level. When your Pidgeot would fly you from Cerulean to Pewter, or whatever. Realism wasn’t the focus. Living a fun little fantasy was.

Others may favor the hyper-realistic games of now, like Bioshock or Skyrim, with beautiful graphics and a detailed, textured world. The Amnesia series takes it to another level by being completely first-person, monitoring your character’s vital signs, and mechanism of chase by the monsters.

Still, even some of the more realistic games feature the fantastic: Diablo 3, PoE and many others have waypoints to save the player the frustration of running over the same terrain every time he dies or completes a quest. Several games don’t have a night/day system and even more, make you plant several vital shots into your enemy before he dies. Or one of your party dies… and then your throw a potion on him and he recovers. Save points. Guards that lose interest in chasing you after three minutes.

But wildly cartoony video games can (obviously) get away with a lot more. Super Meat Boy, for example, is the story of… a little slab of meat… that runs, jumps, and sticks to walls to avoid landing on giant, rotating saws.

Does the style of our video game aid or hinder our intentions with it?

Really, having throw-back graphics is pretty great. It enables us to focus less on the visual graphics and more on the story. We can make more visual jokes – and even the unrealistic aspects of gameplay can feel overall more authentic than an ultra-realistic game can with the same aspects. We more readily accept the game-logic bits – just as we accept cartoon antics more when drawn than when acted.

Still, we have real-world features. We have metered time. Weather conditions. Medicine. Player choices. But overall, the game is focused less on making you feel like you’re living in the real world with events that could actually happen and more like you have your own little open-world map to explore.

Anyways, what kind of games do you prefer? What are some of your favorites?

Playing a Role vs. Creating a Role

Back before role-playing game meant what it now means, back when people were playing D&D, role-playing meant having full control over said role. You’d come up with the player’s stats (including Charisma); you’d come up with the lines; you’d attempt the actions. Usually you or a friend could choose the setting, the quest, the costumes, etc. You could even choose your gender.

The nineties came around and started the RPGs we think of today: you’re playing Link or Ash or Cloud. It’s more like acting in a movie. Or sometimes just watching it. You’re watching what happens to them as you help them achieve their goals. But no matter how well you play Cloud, Aerith always died. Link always (in a successful game) defeated Gandalf and saved Zelda. Ash became a Pokemon master. There was a set role out there, and you fulfilled it.

Now, with advancing technology, the act of creating a role has come back around. Granted, Bioware games (and others with strong stories) more often contain several roles, and you select what role you fulfill through your choices. Truly open-world games like Elder Scrolls, or MMORPGS like WoW and PoE, though, are bringing back the act of truly creating a role. You choose your attributes. Your look is customizable. You choose how you interact with your environment, the words you say to fellow players who are also shaping the game play experience. It’s no wonder that people get so sucked in when you can quite literally be whomever you want.

Still, despite the availability of this kind of game play, you still have people like Hideo Kojima or games like BioShock that set out to tell a story. And often, they succeed wonderfully. Why?

I think, for a large part, it’s about making the audience think like the protagonist. “What would Solid Snake do in this situation?” “How would Booker talk to Elizabeth?” It creates a mindset in the audience that helps us to empathize with the character, and in that capacity can help us to accomplish a lot.

I read recently that Eiji Aonuma (producer for Zelda) wanted to make clear that upcoming Zelda games are not influenced by Skyrim, and tons of fans posted on the site, relieved. An interesting comment was “Zelda should always be an influence for other games, not the other way around.”And I think it’s because, in part, people like to relate to Link. People want Link to always choose the side of right. They want to rely on his noble honest-heartedness. They don’t want a Link who can “fall to the darkside.”

That’s really important for a plot-driven RPG. Because you’re pushing your player to be the character, the character should be someone that people want to be.

Now, it’s fun when games like KOTOR or Jade Empire allow the player to choose “darkside” or “lightside.” Heck, they can choose to sink the Republic and end freedom and democracy for all, with Revan living on as a malevolent tyrant. Or Revan can reach redemption and restore balance. But if the game has only one ending, one story line, and it’s one that the player must take part in, the character has to, overall, stand for the greater good.

Booker DeWitt is a good example. A troubled man with a dark stain on his past: he sold his infant daughter. If the game had ended that your character just ends up becoming the vile Comstock, would it have received the amount of acclaim it did? Instead, you have Booker sacrifice his life for the greater good, and the interpretation exists that he undid his past error. That kind of redemption is what draws audiences and elicits an emotional response from the audience (after all, who does not want to be redeemed of some wrong?)

It’s a fine line, though, between telling a story through an RPG or handing someone a visual novel. While I had a lot of fun with Phoenix Wright, I (initially) did expect that the cases could be won a number of different ways, with a number of different arguments and pieces of evidence. It was frustrating when I could figure out a way that a particular piece of evidence could support a certain defense, but due to the game play (and the fact that the game can’t read my thoughts), it was invalid. There really only exists one key argument that will enable you to progress in the game.

In The Lotus War, we do have a strong character present in Ren. While there are things about the plot that will depend on your actions overall, the game carries out one solid plot. Being this story-driven game, we hope to deliver something that leaves a good taste in your mouth. Since the player does not create the role that needs to be carried out, we hope the one we thrust you into is one you enjoy occupying for a little while.

Benefits of Video Game Storytelling

One time, Justin told a friend that we were excited about creating this game because we really want to play it ourselves. I don’t know that that’s my reason, to be honest. See, as much fun as that would be, and as much as it’s true, that’s never been my purpose in creating anything. It’s never just for me to enjoy or just for the self-satisfaction. And I think that’s what’s held me back from a lot of other projects: the looming thought that no one else would ever read/watch/play what I’m making, so what’s the point?

But video games are fun and exciting – it’s an interactive medium that catches attention and engages the audience. I mean, I’ve read (even made simple versions of) experimental comics in which you can make choices to affect the story you end up reading (it’s complicated but a lot of fun!) – but ultimately, you’re always aware that the parallel plot lines exist, physically, right on the next page – so there’s no sense of urgency. The same satisfaction in attaining an ending is gone.

In video games, and well-done RPGs especially, not only do you feel challenged and your competitiveness excited, but you may feel that impending doom looms unless you, the player, follows through and succeeds. Knights of the Old Republic was incredible in this regard. Every decision made could affect the ending but you didn’t know how. The universe hung on you! I loved the possible endings. The potential connection with Carth or Bastila – or the betrayal you could inflict. They actually cut one of the better endings for female jedi, which was a dark-side character still with a Carth romance (although I always went light side).

Anyways, off topic. Though we cannot possibly even attempt that level of control over the ending using RPG Maker, there will be significant events that can be averted or allowed based on player interactions – and it will be more than just who the player ends up with at the end of the day.

Arinnel-Blush Taya-Blush

 

Although, you know… I do want to know which one of them your character would end up with 😛 (please say there is one… if it’s neither, what a fail!)

Needless to say, though I’m a thorough fan of the written English language, and though I go to the local Barnes & Noble just about every week, and though I love DC’s New 52, video games have a little something special in their storytelling magic. It’s really exhilarating to become part of that magic, or to at least emulate it.